The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 27


When Jamie awoke the next morning, his room was awash in light – far brighter than normal – and he suddenly realized that he’d overslept. Jumping out of bed in a panic, he threw open the door of his room and started out for a mad dash down the hall to the bath, but the sight of Castor standing outside his room first surprised and then stopped him.


“I know. I’m late, and I'm in trouble,” Jamie quickly muttered. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes,” he promised as he began to push by the Kalorian.


“Wait,” Castor said in the firm, commanding voice Jamie remembered all too well from his days at Villa Mare Vista. Putting a hand on Jamie’s shoulder, Castor held him from going any further. “I hear that you had a very interesting time last night.”


“Yes, I did," Jamie replied, “but right now it really all seems more like a dream.”


“I think I understand,” Castor said. “The decision was made to let you rest. You can take your time getting up. First take a bath, then go to the refectory for breakfast. Some food has been saved for you. But don’t take too long. Today will be busy for you.”


Seeing Castor instead of one of the usual Kalorians who had charge of the junior dormitory and realizing he wasn’t going to be punished for being late puzzled Jamie. Since he’d bathed the night before and it was already mid-morning, Jamie decided to forego a long soaking bath; instead choosing a quick shower.


Discarding his sleep shorts he grabbed a towel and dashed to the bath. Quickly washing he noticed a large dark smudge on his upper right thigh. It appeared to be some of the black makeup he’d smeared on his body right before dancing The Redak. Surprised to see that he’d missed such a large spot, he grabbed some soap and a nearby sponge and began to scrub, but was soon frowning when the make-up tenaciously refused to wash away. It was unusual since the water-based make-up was formulated to be easy to remove, but since he was in a hurry he stopped trying to remove it knowing he’d have more time later. Back in his room he quickly dressed. Within a few minutes he was ready for the day and headed to the refectory. Once there, he saw his three friends lounging around at the end of one of the tables, laughing and joking as they waited for him.


“Your breakfast is here,” Jeremy called out, pointing to a selection of food spread out on the table where they sat.


Jamie approached, sat down and began to fill his plate. As soon as he did, his three friends all began to talk at once.


“One at a time,” Jamie protested. “I don’t understand what any of you are saying.”


“They’re trying to tell you that they want you to eat quickly so you can get started with your day. You have quite a bit to accomplish, including moving,” a familiar voice from behind him said.


Jamie dropped his fork and turned to find Cristophe sitting behind him. He hadn’t noticed the Master Prefect coming into the dining hall, but he smiled broadly to see him now.


“What do you mean, moving?” Jamie asked.


“Moving,” Yves bubbled, jumping from the bench he was sitting on. “You’re moving to the senior dormitory.”


“I am? Why?”


“For someone so smart, you really act dumb sometimes,” Jeremy teased, laughing. “Let me see...they don't let seniors live in the junior dorm, do they?”


“After that performance last night,” Yves cut in, “they couldn’t deny you. You’re going to be with us.”


“Yes, so hurry,” Lucas said. Then leaning across the table he pointed at the platters and bowls still filled with food from Jamie’s breakfast adding, “And if you’re not going to eat all of that, let me know. I’m still hungry.”


Rolling his eyes and giving Lucas a droll look, Cristophe continued, “After breakfast, you, Lucas, Jeremy and Yves can begin to move your things over to the senior dorm. When you’re finished, you have a meeting in the Impresario’s office – I’ll be accompanying you. After that, we need to talk about your performance for next week. And later...”


“Wait,” Jamie said cutting Cristophe off, “I have a meeting with the Impresario? Why?”


“To schedule your performances,” Cristophe said. “In addition to your weekly act, you already have requests to perform at some private functions and parties – one of which is a special performance for Empress’s birthday in the Petite Forum.”




“We’ll talk about it later, Jamie,” Cristophe said, smiling at the boy’s genuine shock and surprise. “First finish your breakfast, and then move your things to the senior dorm. A room’s already been prepared for you.”


“It’s right next to ours,” Lucas said, right before stuffing a sweet roll into his mouth.


When Jamie finally understood what was happening he dropped his fork, and jumped up. “I’m ready right now,” he said smiling, wanting to begin before anyone changed their mind.


Wasting little time, Jamie rushed out of the refectory with his friends in tow. With the help of Lucas and Jeremy he was moved into the senior dorm in less than an hour. Yves, although on crutches and unable to help, still came along to watch.


“I told you I didn’t have much to move,” Jamie said, sitting cross-legged on the bed in his new room with his wings draped over the edge of the mattress.


“Well, that will change,” Lucas said.


“What do you mean?”


“He means that from time to time you’ll get gifts,” Jeremy said. “As a senior performer and headlining act, you'll have...”


“Headlining act?” Jamie asked. “What are you talking about?”


“He still doesn’t get it, Yves,” Jeremy said, shaking his head.


“I think we have time to show him,” Yves said. “More time was planned for his move than we needed, so we’re ahead of schedule. I think we should take Jamie to the Mondele, before he goes to the Impresario’s office.”


Quickly agreeing, the boys pulled Jamie from his new bed and headed off to the grand opera house. The trip took a little longer than usual since Yves' crutches slowed him down, but eventually they arrived at La Mondele Royale.


“There, look,” Jeremy said, pointing toward the opera house just after the boys had climbed the broad staircase that rose up from the park and opened onto to the great elliptical lawn in front of La Mondele.


Standing at the far end of the ellipse, Jamie turned toward the Mondele and paused. After a minute of staring, he slowly began to walk down the pathway that demarcated the ellipse. Keeping his focus on the facade of the opera house, he continued until he was in front of the Mondele’s tall stone steps. Flanked by the larger than life statues of the former Emperor and empress he tilted his head and looked upward, still finding it difficult to comprehend what his eyes were seeing. High above his head, suspended from the portico of the opera house and flapping gently in the breeze, was a great banner at least thirty feet high. It was a holo banner with an image loop programmed into it.


Looking up at the banner, Jamie could see holo images of himself playing on the banner. The images were all taken from his dance of the previous night. One sequence showed him leaping about the stage, another highlighted a series of airborne maneuvers midway through his dance, and a final segment showcased his spectacular flying arabesque. At the conclusion of the arabesque Jamie’s image faded as dark purple letters outlined in gold bloomed onto the banner – PRINCE OF THE MONDELE – they read, as the time, and date of Jamie’s next performance was revealed. The images repeated over and over again. After staring up at the banner for some time he was brought back to reality by a hand on his shoulder.


“See what we mean?” Lucas said.


“I’m sorry,” Jamie said softly.


“Sorry?” Lucas said, giving Jamie confused look. “About what?”


“Trio Chrysalis is the headline act. I would never want to interfere with...”


“Wait a minute,” Yves said, hobbling over to Jamie on his crutches. “We’re really excited...”


“...and happy,” Jeremy jumped in.


“It’s always the same,” Lucas added. “Week in and week out, we always have to come up with something new. Now we get to alternate with you. For once it’s not all on us.”


“You’re not angry?” Jamie asked.


“No,” Yves said. “ Of course not! Why would we be angry? First, we always wanted you in the senior troupe with us. Second, you’re a fantastic dancer and deserve to be highlighted. And third...”


“...third, we get a break,” Jeremy volunteered.


“And that’s the best part of all,” Lucas said smiling.


“But I only performed one time,” Jamie said, still in shock at seeing the giant holo banner flying high above his head.


“Things move quickly around here,” Yves said smiling.


“Especially when you have talent,” Jeremy added.


“And the Emperor favors you,” Lucas chimed in.


“I danced one time – last night. Remember? I don’t think I’d call that being favored,” Jamie said skeptically.


“A lot of things happened while you were sleeping last night," Jeremy said. “You’re favored alright, but you don’t have to believe us,” he added, pointing once more up at the holo banner flapping above their heads.


“What happened?” Jamie asked. “What are you talking about?”


“A few hours after your performance, the palace informed the impresario’s office that they expect you to dance a regular schedule at the opera house, and that means at least every other week. That’s also when the impresario was informed that the Empress wants you to perform as part of her birthday celebration in the Petite Forum," Yves said.


“And Cristophe told us that the requests have started coming in to have you perform for the upper nobility," Yves continued. “You know how sometimes we perform at special events and functions hosted by an aristocrat?”


“Yes,” Jamie said as he struggled to grasp everything his friends were telling him.


“Well, now they’re also asking for you. Cristophe told me that Duke Yasmos wants you to dance at a gala he’s hosting to celebrate his twenty-fifth anniversary as head of the Duchy of Mons."


“Along with quite a few others,” Jeremy said. “They all want the latest sensation from La Mondele Royale. It’s the fashionable thing to do. You’re in demand, Jamie – great demand.”


“But it was only last night, and only one dance,” Jamie said, still finding it hard to believe that his friends weren’t just having fun with him.


“You’re new, your different and your really talented,” Lucas said. “And they all want to be the first to announce that you’re going to attend one of their boring events. They won’t all be able to have you, you know. You’re going to have to be given time to work on new dances and performances. You’ll need time for your exercise regime and also to rest, and any special events the Imperial Palace requests automatically trumps everything, so you won’t be able to perform at every function. That will make you even more desirable. Deals will be made and favors exchanged just to have you.”


“I need some time to think about this,” Jamie mused, stunned at what he was hearing.


“Well, you can think on the walk back,” Yves said. “You have to be in the Impresario’s office in an hour. That’s when they’ll start to plan your schedule. But remember, you’ll need practice time and time to rest, so don’t let them push you too hard.”


Jamie simply nodded and walked in silence as he and his friends went back to the school. His head was spinning as he tried to fit what was now happening to him into the overall plan his father had often discussed with him. Back in his new room in the senior dormitory, he changed his tunic at the suggestion of his friends. Just as he was ready to leave, he suddenly remembered something and paused. Turning back, he walked over to his new desk and picked up the Emperor’s ring, the gift from the night before. Sliding it onto the middle finger of his right hand, he walked out for his meeting with the Impresario. Cristophe sat patiently waiting for him at the entrance to the senior dorm, and then led the way across the campus.


Upon entering the small, opulent building that served as the Impresario’s office, they passed the fountain topped with the sculpted figure of Cristophe. Jamie stared at it for a few seconds, but noticed that Cristophe continued onward without pause.


“Hurry, Jamie,” he called out, the whirring sound of the servo in his chair revving up as he sped across the marble floor of the lobby.


Rushing to catch up, Jamie arrived just in time to grab the handle of one of the heavy brass and cut-glass doors leading to the Impresario’s office. Holding it open he waited until the Master Prefect’s chair cleared the doorway, followed him through, and only then realized they were standing in the antechamber of the impresario’s office – a place he’d never been before. A young woman sitting at a low desk looked up at them.


“Oh good, you’re here,” she said. “I’ll inform them of your arrival.”


Standing up from her desk, she crossed the room and stopped in front of a tall, ornately carved wooden door, gave one quick, firm knock and opened the door. It appeared to be heavy and its hinges gave out a gentle creak in protest. Not entering the room, but instead standing in the doorway as she held the door ajar, she announced, “They’re here,” to someone in the room.


“Have them wait,” a voice replied from inside the room. “We’ll see them in a few minutes.”


The woman didn’t reply, but simply stepped back from the doorway and closed the door. Turning toward Jamie and Cristophe, she opened her mouth and was about to speak when Cristophe replied, “We heard.”


Giving a small nod to the Master Prefect, she went back to her desk and began to consult the informatics screen that sat on a small table next to her. Within seconds she appeared lost in thought as she consulted the screen and made notes.


A few seconds after the woman returned to her desk Jamie, hearing the soft low squeak of hinges, turned towards the door of the impresario’s private office. The young receptionist hadn’t closed the door properly, and he watched as it slowly swung open a few inches – just enough so that he could catch some of the conversation coming from inside the next room.


“...and we’ve been getting inquiries all morning,” an excited high-pitched voice was saying.


“That’s all well and good,” a deeper voice replied, “but we have to weigh all of the requests and choose carefully.”


Jamie stood quietly next to Cristophe and listened intently to the conversation. Every so often his eyes would glance toward the woman at the desk, but she was so absorbed in her work she appeared not to notice that the door had slipped open.


“Right now I have so many requests, Impresario, that we won’t be able to honor them all,” the high-pitched voice continued.


“We don’t have to honor them all, Eldon,” the deeper voice replied and Jamie could hear in its tone and cadence that the speaker was much calmer and more relaxed than the excited-sounding man with the high-pitched voice.


“We’ll examine each request,” the deep voice slowly and deliberately continued, and Jamie felt as if he were hearing a wise and knowing teacher admonish an overly anxious pupil. “The request from the Duke of Laxin, for example, comes with a promise of two gifts – a large one for the École and a smaller, but still most generous one, for any special project we see fit to endow. There will be others like it.”


“But won’t we anger those we turn down?”


“They know the rules,” the deep voice replied. “If they want special services, they’ll bestow special favors. We’ll use this to our advantage. It’s been some time since we’ve had requests like this. In fact, they weren’t this eager when Trio Chrysalis began to perform. The last time would have been...”


“...Cristophe,” the high-pitched voice interrupted. “The last time was Cristophe after he perfected the flying arabesque.”


“That’s right,” the deep voice said, “but this time it’s even better – that boy created a sensation last night. Why do you think I had the holo banners placed so quickly? I have at least two hundred throughout the city. And they all show that move. Even those who actually attended last night’s performance still can’t believe their eyes. By the Emperor’s beard, I was told he held it for over forty beats – forty beats! Incredible! There’s gold in every one of those beats, Eldon – not just for the school, but for this office – and I intend to use it to our advantage.”


Throughout the conversation Jamie stood silently and listened. Occasionally he would look down at Cristophe. The Master Prefect also had to be listening, but if he was, Cristophe gave no indication as he simply sat quietly and stared ahead, never making eye contact or even looking at Jamie.


After a few more minutes, the door to the impresario’s office swung completely open to reveal a short, thin man dressed in a frock coat. He turned toward Cristophe and Jamie. “Come in,” he said with a beckoning gesture of one hand. Jamie realized that he was the owner of the excited, high-pitched voice.


Entering the private office of the Impresario, Jamie's eyes danced about the room, taking in the lavish splendor of the office. After crossing the threshold and sinking what like felt like inches into the thick red carpet that overlaid the patterned parquet floor of the enormous office, Jamie carefully began to assess his surroundings.


A rich, dark wall covering of tooled leather accented with silver leaf served as a backdrop for the many paintings that covered the four walls, giving him the impression that he’d entered a small private art gallery instead of an office. A few statues artfully placed in various parts of the room served to reinforce the feeling. The domed ceiling of the office featured a detailed fresco of putti at play. In the scene, a band of the little cherubs were in a forest, having just captured and roped a stag. The small angels seemed to be arguing over who would be the first to ride the noble, almost haughty looking animal resplendent with its magnificent rack of antlers – all except one small putto who looked down from the fresco into the room, causing Jamie to imagine for a few seconds that the little angel was looking directly at him.


“This way,” the frock coated man impatiently called out, breaking the spell Jamie felt he was under.


Returning to the moment, Jamie stopped staring at the fresco and glanced across the room. At the opposite end of the long room sat a large carved desk and high chair which were vacant. Instead, a man sat on one of the couches in a small sitting area in front of the desk. When the seated man caught Jamie’s eye, he motioned to the boy to approach, pointing to a nearby stool. Jamie approached the man while the frock coated man helped Cristophe with his chair, which the Master Prefect was having difficulty maneuvering across the thick rug.


“Impresario Bollini,” the seated man said, more like a proud statement of fact than an introduction, and held out his hand as a smile appeared on his face. “And you must be our little prince.”


Leaning forward, Jamie took the man’s hand and shook it as he repressed a strong urge to frown. Looking at the man, he was taken back to the night he’d first been brought to the Mountain of the Arts by Archduke Loka. The man now before him was the same one he’d seen that night, but if the Impresario remembered, he didn’t acknowledge it.


“Sit,” the impresario said, once again pointing to the stool next to him.


As Jamie took his seat, Cristophe, with the help of the frock coated man, joined them.


“Would you care for anything to drink?” the Impresario asked. “Maybe a coffee, or would you prefer something cold?”


“No, thank you,” Jamie and Cristophe both replied after quickly glancing from the Impresario to each other.


“Fine, but I think I’ll have a coffee,” the Impresario said, and as he spoke he let his gaze meet that of the frock coated man. “And Eldon,” he continued, “please bring us a plate of sweets.”


“Of course, Impresario,” the frock coated man said. Quickly turning he strode purposefully across the room, opened the door of the office, and vanished.


For a few seconds there was silence. The smile on Impresario Bollini’s face grew even brighter when he tuned to Cristophe and thanked him for bringing Jamie. For the next few minutes, the Impresario entered into an animated conversation with the Master Prefect.


Jamie, perched on the small stool next to the impresario, remained silent. As Bollini and Cristophe spoke, Jamie's eyes wandered one more time around the office before finally resting on the man seated to his right. The Impresario wasn’t as old as one might think a man holding such a position might be. Although he was human, the tall and muscular man sitting before him sported a physique that more resembled that of a Kalorian field worker. Dressed in a morning coat, he looked both formal yet relaxed, and while Cristophe replied in a calm and measured tone to the Impresario’s questions during their conversation, Bollini exuded an air of exuberance and barely concealed excitement.


As the impresario and Cristophe continued to talk, the frock coated man returned with a large silver tray. He carefully placed it on the low, small table in front of the couch where the impresario was sitting. On the tray rested a silver-and-gilt coffee decanter along with a gold-rimmed cup and saucer, a bowl of sugar lumps, and a small pitcher of cream. Next to the coffee service was a plate filled with cookies, petits fours, sugar wafers, and chocolates. The frock coated man picked up the decanter and moved to fill the coffee cup.


“That’s fine, Eldon,” the Impresario said, waving him off. “I’ll serve myself.


“This is Eldon,” Bollini said nodding toward the man in the frock coat, “he’s my assistant, in charge of bookings."


Eldon smiled brightly, stepped away from the coffee service and took a seat at the far end of the same couch the Impresario was sitting on.


The Impresario grew silent as he carefully picked up the empty cup and, using a small set of tongs, dropped two lumps of sugar in it. As each lump fell into the cup they made a soft staccato ting as the hard sugar cubes hit the creamy white porcelain of the empty cup. After placing a measured splash of cream over the sugar lumps, he set down the creamer and took up the silver decanter, carefully pouring hot coffee into the cup. Returning the decanter to the tray, he gently set the cup on its saucer. Picking up both cup and saucer, he took the small spoon that had been placed on the saucer and began to slowly stir the coffee in a tight figure eight pattern as wispy clouds of steam rose from the cup. Moving the cup near his nose, the impresario took a whiff of the aroma coming from the newly poured cup. Jamie watched Bollini’s actions with fascination and he could sense what he’d just witnessed had become a long-practiced ritual for the Impresario. Settling back into the couch, the Impresario raised the cup to his lips and took a sip as he closed his eyes, and Jamie began to think he was watching a well planned and carefully choreographed performance – one that had played out countless times before.


“So you like your new room, no?” Bollini said, finally breaking the silence after lowering his coffee cup and turning to face Jamie. “I welcome you to the senior troupe. But then you’re already friends with the Trio Chrysalis boys, I’m told.”


“...ah... yes,” was all Jamie could say, suddenly surprised to be the focus of the impresario’s attention.


“Good, very good,” Bollini said. “Cristophe told me that it’s been your wish for some time to join the senior troupe. I hope that you’re happy there.”


“I’m happy to be with my friends,” Jamie said.


“That’s good,” Bollini said still smiling, but Jamie quickly noticed a slight change of tone in the Impresario’s voice. “The reason you’re here, Jamie, is so that we can plan your schedule. I think you’ve already been told that you will be performing a new solo dance at least every other week at the opera house, unless of course you already have an approved, privately booked performance. And I know you’ve been informed that you’ve been asked to dance in the Petite Forum for the Empress’s birthday celebration."


Jamie simply nodded his head.


“Excellent,” Bollini said, smiling as he returned his cup to its saucer, “but you’ll have to practice rigorously, and you’re expected to change your routine on a regular basis. Do you think you can do that?”


“Yes,” Jamie said replying quietly. He was only half listening, for as Bollini begun to speak, Jamie could sense something in the air. After a quick scan of  Bollini’s mind, he was starting to understand a bit more about the Impresario and his motives.


“As a solo performer, much will be expected of you,” Bollini continued, once more lifting the cup to his mouth and taking another sip of his coffee.


“Do I get to choose where and when I perform, and for whom?”


“No,” Bollini said a little too forcefully, and although his smile remained Jamie noted its strength diminishing. “All bookings are handled through this office, but you will be informed in advance of all your performances.”


“And my dances?” Jamie asked.


“For the most part you, as the artist, are given great creative license. You can create a new work or reinterpret past work. The only exception is if a special request is made of you to perform one of your previous works – especially if it’s a request from the imperial or high noble houses. For example, I’m sure that spectacular dance you performed last night will be requested in the future.”


“Will I study with the senior troupe?”


“No,” Bollini said sharply. “You will live with the senior troupe and be a member of the senior company, but you will train separately – much like your friends Trio Chrysalis. I’m sure you’ve noticed that their quarters, like your new room, are on a separate floor from the senior troupe?”


Jamie had, in fact, noticed. He'd even asked his friends, and they’d told him that because headliners were given larger rooms, and often more privileges along with the occasional gift, they were kept apart to prevent jealousy and ill feeling from arising within the general senior troupe.


“Who will be my teacher?” Jamie asked.


“You’ll have a senior teacher assigned to you. You will also have a trainer to help you with your exercises, along with other specialists as the need arises.”


“So you haven’t chosen my teacher yet?”


“Not yet, but we were thinking...”


“I want Cristophe,” Jamie cut short the impresario’s sentence.


At the sound of his name, Cristophe shot Jamie a surprised look, but remained silent.


“Well, we’ll discuss...”


“I said, I want Cristophe,” Jamie interrupted again. Now it was his turn to speak forcefully. “I was only able to perform the dance I presented last night because of him. I need Cristophe’s help. And I want Cristophe to move to the senior dormitory so that we can work together.”


By now the smile had long vanished from the impresario’s face. “As I’ve already said, we will discuss it in the future.”


“No, I want an answer now,” Jamie said, “or don’t I have any choice in what happens to me? Am I just a slave?”


At Jamie’s words, Bollini turned to Eldon and both men frowned. “Slave? Of course not. What are you talking about? You’re an artist – and a very talented one. We plan to promote and support you. You’ll be one of our premier...


“...slaves,” Jamie once again interrupted, giving the Impresario a cold, hard look. “I’m just as much a slave as any Kalorian. If I’m to be caged and given no say in the matter, I’d prefer that my cage be gilded. So, if you wish me to perform for you, you’ll let Cristophe be my teacher. Otherwise, I won’t dance.”


As Jamie spoke, he conspicuously placed his right hand in his left and began to play with the Emperor’s ring. He was sure that although the Impresario pretended to ignore Jamie’s overt display of Imperial favor, Bollini nevertheless had taken notice.


“It doesn’t have to come to this,” Bollini said, a worried look coming to his face after once more taking a furtive glance at the ring on Jamie’s finger.


“Then let Cristophe be my teacher.” Jamie said matter of factly before sitting back silently on his stool.


“Give us a minute,” Bollini said setting down his cup and saucer so quickly, some of the coffee sloshed from the cup and spilled onto the silver tray. Once standing, Bollini walked across the office while motioning for Eldon to follow him. Both men exited the room and shut the door behind them. Seconds after the door closed Jamie could hear the sounds of an animated conversation begin in the next room, and although he couldn’t hear what was being said, he had a good idea.


“What are you doing?” Cristophe said in a calm, but worried voice.


“I won’t be a total slave,” Jamie said. “Not anymore.”


“But we’re not...”


“...slaves? Yes, we are,” Jamie said angrily. “We don’t pick their crops, watch their children, do their dangerous jobs, or clean up their messes, but we’re still their slaves – maybe even more so than the Kalorians.”


Cristophe was about to reply when the door opened and both men returned. Instead of sitting, they stood before Jamie and Cristophe.


“Alright, Cristophe will move into the senior dormitory and act as your instructor, but you’ll be expected to perform without exception,” Bollini said in a tone both sharp and curt, his previous charm and bonhomie having withered in the chill of their earlier exchange.


“Then I’ll perform for you,” Jamie said. Pausing, he reached out his hand – the one with the ring – and plucked one of the rich chocolate truffles from the plate. “But remember, dancers sometimes get hurt and then they can’t perform,” he said, right before popping the decadent sweet into his mouth and smiling guilessly.


“Are you threatening me, little boy? Because if you are...” a suddenly red-faced Bollini looked like he was ready to explode.


“I’m just stating a fact,” Jamie said as he carefully chewed and swallowed the truffle. “Dancers do get injured. But there is one more thing I’d like to request."


“What’s that?” Bollini asked his eyes narrowing.


“Cristophe will continue to need assistance, and I would also like to have someone to assist me.”


“A Kalorian will be provided for you,” Bollini said, sounding relieved that Jamie’s request was easily granted.


“Thank you,” Jamie said. “But for Cristophe, I want the boy named Giovanni. He’s an... Avionne," Jamie added, choking as usual on the term. “He’s only been on the Mountain for the Arts for a short time. I think there would be no one better to care for an Avionne than another Avionne. And I want a specific Kalorian – the one called Castor. He too has recently come to the school, and I don’t think he has any specific duties yet. I would like him to serve me.”


“I know nothing of the Kalorian, nor of this boy named Giovanni,” Bollini said. “I’ll see that someone is assigned...”


“I don’t want just anyone,” Jamie said forcefully. “I want the one called Castor for myself, and Giovanni for Cristophe.”


Turning to Eldon, the Impresario gave his assistant an exasperated look.


“I’ll see that it’s done, Impresario,” Eldon said, looking from Bollini to Jamie. “You say the Kalorian’s name is Castor?”


“Yes, Castor,” Jamie said. “I believe he’s currently working in the kitchen.”


“I’ll see that he’s assigned to you,” Eldon replied. “And this other boy,” Eldon continued, “what is his name?”




“An Avionne? That’s a bit unusual.”


“Maybe so,” Jamie said forcefully, “but he’s here with Expedition and Service. You can check if you don’t believe me.”


“I’ll see what I can do,” Eldon said.


“And I’ll see if I’m up to dancing in this week’s performance. I’ve been noticing a pain in my right leg that would make a flying arabesque completely impossible.”


“You’ll get them,” an exasperated sounding Bollini interjected, leveling a cold stare at Jamie.


“Good. I can feel the pain in my leg easing a bit.” Jamie stared, unflinching, into the Impresario's eyes while still playing with the Emperor’s ring. “Now, was there anything else?” Jamie said, reaching out and taking another truffle as he rose to his feet. He took a bite of it, looked at the sweet for a moment and then placed the remainder delicately back on the tray. Impresario Bollini’s eyes grew wide with surprise. He had summoned the young dancer, but now the boy was acting as he were in charge of the meeting.


The sudden arrogance of the boy was unbelievable, and Bollini was in shock at this sudden change in behavior. From the start, he’d expected to meet a young performer eager to please and grateful for the incredible chance he’d been given – every Avionne in the schools and academies on the Mountain of the Arts dreamed of such an opportunity. Instead, the boy acted almost if he knew how valuable he really was – something that Bollini couldn’t even allow himself to believe. The boy was a simple dancer – talented beyond belief – but a dancer nonetheless, and nowhere near sophisticated enough to understand the sometimes byzantine machinations of the Empire.


“Yes, that will be all,” Bollini said, speaking through clenched teeth and surprised to find himself actually struggling to remain calm. “You’ll be informed of your schedule, and you’ll be expected to perform,” he added, frowning and looking as if he were trying to make a clumsy threat.


“You won’t be displeased,” Jamie said, giving the man a gentle smile. “As long as I’m not displeased,” he added, a seemingly careless afterthought as he turned towards his companion. Then Jamie, assisting Cristophe with his chair, headed for the door.


Bollini stood silently watching their backs. After they were gone he turned to Eldon and glared at his assistant.


“Trouble?” Eldon's tone was worried as Bollini continued to look at him. “This one could be a problem, no?”


“Possibly, but I don’t think it's anything we can’t handle,” Bollini said. “A prima donna – he’s an arrogant little prima donna. I’ve seen them before. All wrapped up in themselves. He’s talented, and he knows it. But remember, Eldon, he’s only a dancer and far too unsophisticated to understand how valuable he really is to us. We’ll play his little prima donna games. I’ve dealt with such things before. I can throw him a few bones while we, on the other hand, take the meat, but keep an eye on him. We don’t want this investment to turn sour on us.”


“Of course, Impresario,” Eldon said. “We’ll watch him. Now, would you like to continue with the scheduling?”


“No,” Bollini replied. “Leave me for awhile. I’m no longer in the mood.”