The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale
Cristophe’s chair came to a sudden stop. Jamie, lost in his own thoughts and secretly consulting The Screen, continued on for a few more steps. Seconds later he looked to his right to ask his friend a question, but stopped when he realized Cristophe wasn’t there. Turning back, he saw the former master prefect sitting quiet and still in his chair and soon realized why: he was listening to an argument. Loud, angry shouts filled the air as Jamie walked back, stood beside Cristophe.
A moment later Cristophe pointed to the left, indicating the direction of the commotion. Powering up his chair Cristophe crept it forward in the direction of the shouting, slowly inching ahead. Jamie, treading as lightly as possible, followed close behind. After progressing only a few feet, they were able to peer through a gap between two school buildings where they could see a red-faced Sprague, a vein pulsing in his forehead from the force of his yells, shouting at Giovanni, who was cowering in terror.
Weeks had passed since Jamie’d last seen Sprague. Rumor had it that the dance master had been disciplined for his actions on the night of the prince’s premier at La Mondele. The fact that Jamie had appeared at the impresario’s office the following morning with an ugly, black and blue palm print across the side of his face didn’t bode well for the dance master. It was said that while he remained an instructor, he’d been demoted and forced to work under the supervision of another teacher.
Cristophe and Jamie remained out of sight as they watched the unfolding scene playing out before them. Sprague had Giovanni cornered and was shouting at him so vehemently that spittle sprayed across his victim. Every few seconds, the dance master would scream curses and obscenities at the boy, punctuating his shouts with a pointed finger that he jabbed again and again into Giovanni’s chest.
“I told you to stay away from me, you little vermin,” Sprague shouted. “Apparently you missed out on the gift of avionne intelligence you’re all supposed to have. Is that why they stuffed you into Expedition and Service?”
“I’m... I’m... sorry,” Giovanni said, trying to speak between Sprague’s shouts and jabs. “I...”
Ignoring the boy’s efforts, Sprague reached out and grabbed Giovanni by the arm, whipping him around so forcefully he almost knocked the young Icarian off his feet.
“You’re coming with me,” Sprague barked. “First I’m going to show you a little device I had designed especially for me a few years ago. Maybe you’ve heard some of my students mention it. After you’re done with that, I’m going to show you the only thing you pretty little boys are good for,” Sprague added, shooting Giovanni a suggestive leer while pinching the boy’s cheek with his free hand.
“Please,” Giovanni cried, “No...!” Had Giovanni thought to use his natural Icarian strength he could have easily pulled away from Sprague’s grip, but the wide-eyed boy was terrified, literally frozen with fear.
“Stop him,” Cristophe said, turning to Jamie.
“What?” Jamie replied, “But...”
“You know he won’t listen to me, he never did. How many times did I try to intervene on your behalf, and to no avail? Maybe it’s the chair, since he knows there isn’t much I can do, but you can stop him, Jamie.”
“Me? But Cristophe... I... I can’t.”
Although Jamie was now one of the premier performers at La Mondele and far removed from Sprague’s influence and control, years of abuse had taken their toll. A lingering fear of the man was still tucked in the inner folds of the boy’s psyche, and Jamie began to back away.
“He can’t be allowed to get away with this,” Cristophe countered grimly. “Jamie, you have the power to stop him. Don’t you comprehend that? Please, do what you know is right.”
Although no longer retreating, Jamie stood frozen like a statue.
“Jamie,” Cristophe commanded, “It’s Giovanni! Get out there.”
Suddenly Cristophe’s words struck him like a bolt of lightning. Reminded that it was Giovanni, not himself who was in danger, Jamie took a deep breath and strode forward. His hearts were pounding and he forced down a powerful urge to lose the breakfast he’d eaten only a half hour before, but putting one foot in front of the other, he walked out from between the buildings and onto the small plaza where Sprague continued to harangue and brutalize Giovanni. Though bathed in a cold sweat, something snapped inside him when he saw the dance master clutching the terrified younger boy. For a brief second, he felt himself in the library at the Emperor’s party, but this time it was not he pinned to the sofa, but Giovanni – Giovanni, who was as kind and gentle as a lamb and utterly incapable of resisting the horror of the abuse the evil lordling and his bodyguard had planned for him. In that moment, he was galvanized into action and the blood coursing through his veins erupted from icy fear to volcanic rage.
“Take your hands off him,” Jamie shouted angrily as he stalked into the open and made himself known, his wings mantled half open in unconscious threat display.
Still clutching Giovanni’s arm, Sprague turned and glared at Jamie.
“I said, you take your dirty hands off of him,” Jamie hissed, his words dripping with venomous rage and his wings cocked at a dangerous angle. There was peril in his voice, an aura of potential violence that even the dance master, in his state of ecstatic pleasure at abusing a defenseless victim, could feel.
Hearing Jamie’s voice, Sprague released his grip on Giovanni and faced his former student head- on. The instant the dance master let go of Giovanni, the younger boy stumbled away from the man and retreated, making for a place behind Jamie; when he was safely behind his friend, there was no doubt from the boy’s stance and his genuine look of relief that Giovanni felt as if he’d taken shelter behind an unbreachable wall of steel.
Jamie continued his advance. Seconds later he was standing only inches away from the cruel and unscrupulous dance master. He felt a flush of heat race up his spine and silently explode at the base of his brain, and he knew he could make this man burn like a torch if he wanted to.
“It’s always the same, Sprague,” Jamie shouted. “You never pick on anyone who can fight back.”
Giving Jamie a look of surprise and wariness, the dance master took a step back. Jamie, seeing Sprague retreat, took two steps forward to maintain his close, threatening stance.
“Here.” Jamie looked up at Sprague and locked eyes with the dance master. His voice was soft now, and even more threatening than his earlier shouts. “Hit me, just like you did the last time we were together. It only took two weeks for the bruise to go away.” And then Jamie turned his face to expose his cheek, inviting a blow.
Nothing happened. Sprague stood silent and unmoving.
“No? Go on then, and show Giovanni what you’re capable of. Or maybe you’d like to show Cristophe?” At the sound of Cristophe’s name a soft whirr filled the air and Sprague, glancing in the direction of the sound, saw the former master prefect of the junior troupe emerge from between the buildings.
“No, I guess I’ve forgotten,” Jamie continued. “You prefer not to have any witnesses around when you abuse someone weak and powerless.”
Sprague turned from Cristophe to again stare, narrow-eyed, at Jamie.
“Go ahead, Sprague,” Jamie taunted, taking another step closer. “I’m sure I can come up with a believable story for the Impresario when the only dancer the Emperor specifically requested to perform at the Imperial birthday celebration can’t practice because of an injury. Feel like giving it a go?” Jamie sneered.
An instant later Sprague was spinning on his heel and walking away so fast he appeared to almost be running out of the courtyard.
Immediately forgetting Sprague, Jamie turned to face Giovanni.
“Are you ok? Come here, little brother.”
Tears of fear and shame streaked down Giovanni’s face. Jamie stepped forward and hugged the boy. Safe in Jamie’s arms, Giovanni began to sob.
“He’ll never hurt you again,” Jamie said softly as he stroked the younger boy’s hair. “No one will ever hurt you as long as I’m alive.” Then looking over Giovanni’s shoulder at Cristophe, he continued. “I’m not finished with Sprague, but when I am, he’ll never teach at this school again.”
A pale and sober faced Cristophe looked into Jamie’s eyes and slowly nodded in agreement.
After a few minutes Giovanni stopped crying. Jamie released the boy, stepped back and wiped away Giovanni’s tears with his hand. He hugged the still shivering boy again, and then putting his arm around Giovanni’s thin shoulders, he and Cristophe escorted the younger boy back to his room in the senior dormitory.
During their trek Jamie occasionally glanced at Cristophe who, unaware of Jamie’s gaze, was talking softly to Giovanni. Thinking back on what had just occurred, Jamie was grateful that the older boy had once again helped show Jamie the way. Friend, mentor, older brother: Cristophe Metz was all of those things and more, and Jamie was so very grateful for Cristophe’s constant presence and cool headed guidance in his life. With Cristophe close by, Jamie felt much like Giovanni did around himself – safe and protected.
Entering the senior dormitory Jamie was once more tempted to access the screen, but he repressed the urge, wishing first to make sure Giovanni was truly alright. He would have time for his mental exercises later. They ran into Castor and Trio Chrysalis after arriving on their floor and Cristophe recounted the recent sequence of events while Castor, Lucas, Yves and Jeremy listened in astonished surprise. Giovanni, shaken and still a little teary-eyed, received hugs from each of the boys before they headed off to practice. Castor took charge of Giovanni, suggesting a strong cup of tea and some chocolates. Cristophe agreed and then retired to his room while Jamie - still feeling the rush of adrenalin from his encounter with the dance master - decided to take a brief walk across the campus as a means to cool off.
Once outdoors, Jamie headed for one of the nearby parks on the Canon of the Arts. As he walked along he reactivated the screen, knowing that concentrating his energy on a task would have a calming effect on him.
A month had passed since Jamie’s acquisition of the Screen, and he’d spent much of his free time accessing it. Although he concealed his new ability from his friends, Jeremy, Lucas and Yves were constantly chiding him about missing large parts of their conversations. They also began to notice him spending an unusual amount of time staring blankly into space. Jamie often made light of it, claiming the extra work he was putting into his performance for the imperial birthday celebration was making him more tired than usual – an explanation that, for the most part, appeared to satisfy them.
The trio could sympathize, since they were also practicing long hours rehearsing for the gala event. And while they’d tried to pry from Jamie what he was planning to perform for the special celebration, they’d been completely and frustratingly unsuccessful.
“What’s the big secret?” Lucas asked one day during lunch. “You’ve seen our act. You even helped with some of the choreography.” His remarks carried a tone of irritation that Jamie couldn’t miss.
“Lucas is right, you know. It’s only fair you let us in on it,” Jeremy added.
“You’ll all find out soon enough,” Jamie said with a smile.
“Meaning we’ll find out the first time you perform it live. We’ll see it the first time the audience sees it.”
“What’s wrong with that, Jeremy?” Jamie laughed. “You don’t have to know everything. Surprises can sometimes be quite fun. Besides I’ve already told you one secret, and a rather important one at that.”
“Yes, but I’d like to know a little more,” Lucas sighed.
“Me too,” Jeremy added, shooting Jamie an annoyed look.
“I can wait,” Yves said. “I know it’s going to be special. And I agree that sometimes surprises are nice. But I’m really curious as to what you’re doing with all those designers and engineers. We’ve learned that you have technicians working with you who’ve never done anything in the theater. One of them told me he works in the city’s hydrology department, and another comes from the company that maintains the heating systems for the palace. Just yesterday after we finished practice, I saw an amazingly large pallet stacked with sheet metal arriving at the Mondele. The stage manager told the delivery company that they were in the wrong place and directed them to the Crystal Sphere. When they left I heard him grumbling about that bloody little prince and his crazy schemes. What was that all about? You’re a dancer, not an engineer, Jamie.”
“He’s a lot of things,” Lucas said still sounding resentful at being excluded from any knowledge of Jamie’s plans. “And while no one else at the school knows as much as we do about him, there’s one thing for sure that Jamie isn’t, and that’s a dancer. He can dance, but he’s not a dancer.”
“What do you mean?” Jamie asked, surprised and suddenly worried because of Lucas’s statement.
“We’re dancers,” Lucas said pointing to himself, Jeremy and Yves. “It’s all we know. It’s what we’ve trained for all our lives. We love it, we breathe it, we understand it. You certainly can dance, Jamie – probably better than all of us put together - but you’re no dancer. You don’t live to dance. Dance for you is... well, it’s something else. I don’t know how to explain it. There’s so much more to you and I know that even we don’t know the half of it.”
“Is that a problem?” Jamie asked. Although Trio Chrysalis were his friends and he’d shared many secrets with them, there were still large parts of his life and actions he’d kept hidden.
“No,” Yves was quick to add. “It’s no problem at all. We’ve talked about it between us. You’re our best friend, but we’re Trio Chrysalis. We’ve been together from the beginning... since we were decanted. We know you didn’t come here voluntarily, and we know there are things you haven’t told us. Maybe some day you will. Maybe you never will, but we’re your friends anyway and you’re ours. We’ve proved that to each other, and that’s all that matters.”
“I know,” Jamie replied softly. “From the beginning I couldn’t have asked for better friends. Without the three of you I don’t know what I would have done these past years. I’ve never tried to deceive you, but you have to understand that I don’t want anything to happen to you. I’ve already put all of you in grave danger. You’ve seen and heard things that at best would mean severe punishment, but more likely death. I feel terrible about that. If anything happened to any one of you, I don’t know...”
“Thank you, all powerful prince, for your concern and protection,” Lucas interrupted, but Jamie could see a smile finally coming to his friend’s face. “But we were getting into trouble long before you arrived, and if you left today, we’d continue causing problems.”
“You know what I mean,” Jamie said. “Crashing a set elephant, breaking windows, even flooding the basement of the junior dormitory aren’t the same as some of the things you’ve seen and done with me – and you all know it.”
“Of course we know it, Jamie,” Yves said. “We’re just saying we’re your friends. We’ll always support you. We know there’s danger involved, but we love you.”
“I love you, too,” Jamie said softly, “ and I...” but he paused, and his three friends looked at each other in shocked surprise when they saw tears leaking from the corners of Jamie’s eyes.
Public crying was something the boy rarely did. It was more a matter of stubborn pride than any shame in showing emotion. Years of punishments under Sprague had stiffened the boy’s resolve not to breakdown in front of anyone – especially the cruel dance master. Now, for the first time in recent memory, genuine tears were falling. “I’ve already lost a lot of things I’ve loved. I don’t want to lose any more.”
For a few minutes there was an uncomfortable silence. While all three could have easily hugged Jamie and comforted him, they sensed it wasn’t anything he was looking for. There was something far more serious involved than the normal tears of homesickness or of a stern punishment. Finally, after a few silent minutes, Jamie wiped away his tears and became composed.
“I understand,” Lucas said, solemnly putting his hand on Jamie’s shoulder.
“I understand,” Yves said, putting his hand over Lucas’.
“And I understand,” Jeremy said, adding his hand by placing it on top of Yves’.
Jamie looked deeply into the eyes of his three friends and knew that they really did understand, although he knew their confident assurances still wouldn’t be enough to quell his growing fears that something terrible could happen to them.
Jamie was on the verge of playing a dangerous game. Finally old enough to act on his own, with fewer restrictions placed on him and an ability to access information in ways he couldn’t have dreamed of months before, Jamie was beginning to chafe from inactivity. He continued with his daily life at the school where he lived and practiced – now as one of the principle acts of La Mondele Royale – but Lucas’ remarks had landed on the mark. He was more than a dancer and no one knew that better than he did. And as the days went by, he continued to ponder what he should or could be doing to finally start fulfilling the many promises he’d made.
But in addition to the difficult questions Jamie was asking himself, one particular question – born out of curiosity – began to dominate his thoughts. Shortly after Jamie’s acquisition of The Screen, he began noticing a series of frequent and lengthy disappearances by Castor – long absences that the old kalorian refused to discuss. He’d even asked some the other kalorian servants at the École about Castor, but never received a credible explanation. And so, Jamie started to spy on the man who’d played such an important role in his life, against every expectation he might have had before.
It all began innocently enough. In fact, Jamie never started out with the intention of conducting covert surveillance on Castor. The boy’s actions didn’t spring from distrust or malice, but were born out of curiosity. He could have ignored his feelings, but their roots were a strong, irritating pull grown deeply into him, and the more he pondered the question, the more he was determined to find out where Castor was vanishing to and why.
It all began one day after he returned from rehearsal. He entered his room to find Castor bustling about. The usually reserved Castor seemed to be in an uncharacteristically chipper mood. Since such occurrences were rare, Jamie decided to take advantage of the moment. So as he began to prepare for his bath, Jamie casually brought up the topic of his father.
Although Castor supplied Jamie with information regarding Edmond Croal’s young life growing up at the family estate of Tower Hall. He’d glossed over much of Croal’s early years as the boy genius of Gold Glass Flats, fueling Jamie’s insatiable need to know.
Sitting on the edge of his bed, Jamie removed his dance slippers, rubbed his feet, and began to tug off his leg warmers. Pausing to glance up at Castor he began. “You never told me about the first Icarian.”
“There’s not much I can tell you, young master,” Castor said. “Your father’s parents put me in charge of taking care of their youngest son when he left Tower Hall to study at the university in Tower Mount. He was a young boy – far younger then any of the other students. Lord and Lady Croal wanted to make sure he was properly cared for, so the original plan for me to take over as head of household when old Cassius retired was abandoned. I accompanied your father to the university and remained with him for the rest of his life.”
Croal’s last words trailed off softly as his eyes took on a distant look, and Jamie knew Castor was thinking about Edmond Croal’s premature death at the hands of the Empire. Worried that Castor’s lighthearted mood was rapidly evaporating, Jamie tucked one of his legs under him, shifted his wings, and quickly tried to think of something to say. His bed creaked as he scrunched further back on the mattress so he could get more comfortable and in the most carefree tone he could muster asked, “But what about the first Icarian? What can you tell me about him?”
“I wasn’t a member of your father’s research team,” Castor paused to chuckle softly and Jamie knew he’d succeeded in breaking Castor’s impending melancholy mood. “What little I know centers around things he occasionally mentioned when he returned from the lab. But you remember how your father could be circumspect and often chose to be reticent. He was never one to discuss his private work at great length.”
“Then what can you tell me, Castor?” Jamie prodded insistently.
“Well, let’s see.” Castor paused briefly to think before continuing. “I told you your father was between seventeen and eighteen commonwealth standard when he created the first Icarian. He’d progressed through the university at an accelerated pace – finishing before most people even gain entrance. And because his remarkable intelligence was special and quite singular, he quickly caught the eyes of a number of influential members in the imperial scientific community. The day he graduated he was given a modest laboratory and small staff at Gold Glass.”
“You said he was seventeen and a half – my age right now,” Jamie said trying to sound as interested and enthusiastic as possible as he beamed Castor a broad smile. He wanted the story to continue and was eager to make it clear he was interested in everything Castor was saying.
“Edmond Croal was a well-rounded scientific genius,” Castor continued, seeing the light of curiosity burning in Jamie’s eyes. “Although genetic research eventually took most of his time, there were few areas of science that didn’t interest him – and even fewer he couldn’t quickly understand, master, and manipulate. Officially his project was the plague. At that point it was still in the early stages. The commonwealth interdict had been imposed, and although the planetary gate system was still operational, all off-world exogates had been taken off line. Travel off planet – except to Altinestra’s moons – had ceased.”
“So Father was working on...what? A cure?” Jamie asked.
“I can’t say,” Castor continued. “Its one of the things I have no knowledge of from those early years. As was customary for most of the young scientists starting at Gold Glass, he was assigned a mentor. A very senior scientist, Giomo Farzetti, acted as his mentor, and helped direct some of Edmond’s early research. I remember that Farzetti was doing work on human subjects, because Edmond mentioned it to me, and I do know that some of it upset your father. Farzetti died a few months after Edmond arrived at the facility, but I have no direct knowledge as to why the man died, and if was natural or accidental. No one picked up Farzetti’s work, and it was abandoned. I recall Edmond saying that he thought it was for the best.”
“Uhm, Giomo Farzetti,” Jamie said softly under his breath. He’d never heard that name and made a note to explore the reference.”
“I do recall that your father was doing some private research on his own regarding we Kalorians, and that’s only because he mentioned it at the same time he asked if I’d give him permission to collect some blood and mouth swabs from me.”
“Oh, and you had no objection?”
“No. He did tell me that although Kalorians were just as susceptible to the plague, he’d heard of a few rare cases where the victims not only survived, but didn’t succumb to the crippling brain effects after their recovery. Many thought it was just a myth since no one had actually seen any of the so-called survivors. I never truly believed it, myself. I do know that Kalorians were used for plague-related laboratory experiments – much like they are today. At some point, I suspect his plague-centered research and his curiosity regarding possible Kalorian plague survivors merged. That’s when he began the work that led to you.”
“The first Icarian, you mean?” Jamie excitedly interrupted.
“Yes, I suppose.”
“So?” Jamie asked impatiently, “What happened?”
“He created the first Icarian,” Castor said with a slight smile.
“And...?” Jamie frowned at Castors off-handed tone.
“And that’s the most I can tell you Jamie,” Castor replied. “After that happened, he was given more laboratory space. Eventually a whole wing was built just to accommodate him and his staff. More Icarians were created until the situation became as it is today.” Castor paused when he saw the frown deepen on his young charge’s face. “I’m sorry Jamie, but that’s all I can tell you. I wasn’t working with him in his lab. I was taking care of his household.”
“I was hoping for more.” Jamie said sounding dejected. “I always remembered you living with us at the villa involved in so many things.”
“That was true later when your father left Gold Glass and set up his secret research labs at the villa, but even then I took care of the household. I wasn’t in the labs doing research,” he added, giving Jamie a gentle smile.
“It’s ok,” Jamie said trying not to appear too despondent.
“But I do remember a very special day about ten years ago,” Castor said, as he began to smile. “Your father and two assistants came up from the lab. They were pushing a small chamber. Your father called out to me and bid me follow them. I accompanied them to one of the bedrooms he’d earlier told me to prepare. After raising the lid, Croal reached in and gently lifted someone out of the chamber. It was a little Icarian boy – perfect in every way. He appeared to be about five years old with blond hair, pale skin, and small iridescent wings. ‘His name is Jamie,’ your father said to me.
“After laying you on a table, he instructed me to get a basin. After giving you a quick bath, we patted you dry, dressed you in a pair of cotton shorts and then put you to bed. Your father had a small diagnostic comp with him. He gave you a quick examination, pronounced you fit and healthy, and told me you’d need some time to rest until the mild sedative you had been given during decantation wore off. A few hours later I came back to your room and found you awake, sitting on the floor with pieces of the diagnostic comp scattered all around you. The device had caught your eye and your natural curiosity took over. I remember being shocked and telling you what you’d done was wrong, but you simply looked at me with your big blue eyes and smiled. Then you got up and tore out of the room. It took me over an hour to catch you. That’s when I really started to learn about Icarians.”
“I never made it easy for you, did I, Castor?” Jamie grinned.
“It’s just in your nature, young master,” Castor said. “Now off to your bath. I have something for you when you return,” Castor added, smiling warmly.
Jamie took off for the bath, satisfied that while he hadn’t gained as much as he’d hoped for, Castor had at least managed to supply him with some additional information. It was during his bath that Jamie noticed that the troublesome dark spot on his thigh had grown larger and darker. What’s more, instead of appearing as the palm-sized smudge it had first resembled, the spot was beginning to acquire both definition and a detail he’d previously not noticed. Jamie examined the mark closely, convinced that it was becoming more circular in shape. Moreover, it looked as if it were developing a pattern; something in its appearance reminded him of the tattoos he’d seen on the arms of the kalorian stage hands.
After bathing, Jamie returned to his room, intent on showing Castor the ever-expanding blemish, and curious about Castor’s remark that the kalorian had something for him. But, much to his disappointment, Jamie discovered that he was gone. Frowning, he wondered what Castor had for him. It wasn’t like the old kalorian to break his word. Tossing his towel in the corner, he dropped onto his bed next to the neatly folded pile of clothing set out for him. The second his bottom hit the mattress he felt something move and skitter underneath him. The loud screech that issued from under the sheets confirmed it.
Startled and shocked, he bolted upright from the bed, looked down at where he’d just been sitting, and blinked in surprise when he saw a large lump moving under the blanket. Half afraid of what might be skulking in his bed, Jamie picked up one of his sandals and grabbed hold the blanket prepared to attack whatever he might find. With one forceful tug, he snatched the blanket off the bed.
The assault on his ears was loud and jarring: Akkk, akkk, akkk. He flinched, caught his breath and for a few seconds just stared, then dropping his sandal he jumped on the bed where Spinoza was flapping its stubby wings and trumpeting its excited call over and over. Jamie reached out to Spinoza, but before he could pick up the garga lizard, Spinoza flapped its wings even faster, leapt off the bed, and crash landed on top of Jamie’s head, all the while trumpeting out akkk, akkk, akkk.
For a few seconds Jamie sat smiling as Spinoza pawed around on top of his head, while the lizard’s tail gently whipped Jamie’s face. Reaching up he pulled the garga lizard off his head and held Spinoza in front of him.
“Spinoza!” Jamie said, beaming at the lizard. “Are you my surprise?”
Ecstatic to see its master, Spinoza wriggled in Jamie’s hands until it broke free, dashed up Jamie’s arm, and came to rest on the boy’s shoulder, wrapping its tail around its master’s neck.
Just then the door to his room opened and Castor entered.
“I see you’re getting reacquainted,” Castor said.
“Castor, thank you! But how?”
“I told you everyone at the villa got out safely,” Castor replied. “That included Spinoza. He’s been safe all this time. He was well cared for, but it’s been clear that he’s missed you over the past few years. You know garga lizards imprint soon after hatching, and you were the first thing he saw.”
“Where... how...?” Jamie sputtered.
“None of that’s important,” Castor said. “You have him again and that’s all that counts, no?”
“Yes, but still... uhm... how will I explain him?”
“A clever boy like you, and one of the premier performers of La Mondele,” Castor stared down at Jamie with a knowing look on his face. “I think you can come up with a reasonable explanation.”
“Can I really keep him?”
“I haven’t discovered any restrictions on pets – within reason,” Castor quickly added. “You’re in the senior dorm, on your own floor. You’ve certainly gotten many other more valuable gifts. What’s a small garga lizard compared to them?”
“Just the most valuable gift I’ve ever received,” Jamie said, beaming at the Kalorian. “Thank you, Castor. I know we’re not home, but it almost makes me feel like we are.”
“I do have something else for you, young master,” Castor added, and then he handed Jamie a long, slender box. “I was able to keep it with me all these years. So, just as I did with Spinoza, I had to wait for the right moment to give it to you.”
Jamie took the box and examined it. It was made of polished amberwood, and it had a simple a decorative border of ivory inlay around the lid. Carefully releasing a small brass clasp, Jamie slowly lifted the lid and peered inside with eager anticipation. A look of surprise crossed his face followed by a smile of great joy, for inside the box, resting on a velvet cloth, was the beautiful asp bracelet that he’d received from Charlie at their last joint birthday celebration.
“Castor, thank you! I’d almost forgotten about it.”
Castor smiled. “You’ve received so many gifts of jewelry lately that I thought it would be a good time to present it to you. No one would think it odd for you to be wearing it, and you can always say it was a gift from an anonymous admirer if anyone inquires as to where you got it.”
Within the hour Jamie was introducing Spinoza to his friends. Flitting from boy to boy, Spinoza crawled up arms, sat on shoulders and perched on heads. Everyone adored him and Jamie was pleased that the often-finicky garga lizard easily accepted all of them. Spinoza seemed to take a particular liking to Cristophe. Jamie wasn’t sure if it was the chair or if Spinoza sensed something different about the master prefect, but when it wasn’t with Jamie, Spinoza’s second most favorite spot was on Cristophe’s lap where it would curl up and purr while Cristophe gently scratched behind its ears.
For a few days after being reunited with Spinoza, Jamie quizzed Castor as to where he’d hidden the garga lizard and how he’d gotten it to the École. Much to Jamie’s frustration, Castor deflected or ignored every question. It was during that time Jamie noticed Castor’s unexplained absences were growing in both frequency and duration. Finally realizing he’d never get the answers he desired from Castor, Jamie came up with a plan. If Castor wouldn’t tell him, then Jamie would learn the truth.
Jamie’s plan was direct. He’d keep a watchful eye on Castor, and when the Kalorian prepared to disappear, Jamie would simply follow him. But shortly into his plan Jamie encountered one major problem. Castor was always vigilant when Jamie was nearby and would never leave the dormitory. So it happened that Jamie enlisted Cristophe in his plan. The master prefect was often about when Jamie was in rehearsal and over time Cristophe was able to learn more about where Castor went during his absences than Jamie would ever have discovered on his own.
Cristophe was careful in his observations. For a few days he simply watched Castor leave, noting the time of day and direction of his route without making any attempt to follow. A few days later he stationed himself near Castor’s regular route and watched the Kalorian’s further progress. Little by little Cristophe, changing his location, would hide down hallways or in small alcoves until he was reasonably sure where Castor might be heading. And that’s how one day Cristophe and Jamie found themselves making their way along one of the dimly lit, low-ceiling service tunnels leading from the school to the Le Mondale.
Jamie had just returned from practice when Cristophe quickly wheeled up to him. “He just left,” the master prefect said. “He saw you weren’t around and took off. If we’re quick, we can follow him.”
Without a seconds hesitation Jamie agreed and soon they were quietly following Castor at a discreet distance as he went from the upper level of the École to its basement and then entered one of the deserted service tunnels that opened up into the lowest level of the school.
“He just went down another tunnel, Cristophe,” Jamie whispered, turning around to make sure the master prefect was still close behind him. Before they’d begun their journey Jamie warned Cristophe not to go too quickly. “They’ll hear the servos of your wheelchair whirring,” he’d cautioned.
Cristophe crept along behind Jamie as slowly and quietly as possible. The corridor was dark so even without Jamie’s admonition, the master prefect proceeded with care.
For a few minutes they traversed the maze of tunnels matching their turns with Castor’s, but the lighting was dim and it wasn’t easy for Cristophe to maneuver his chair and keep the servos completely quiet, so little by little they lagged behind, until Jamie completely lost sight of Castor.
“By the emperor’s beard,” Jamie whispered in frustration. “We lost him.”
“Don’t be so quick to give up,” Cristophe replied. “We know he went down this tunnel and it’s a long one, so we might as well enter and follow it as far as we can. Maybe we’ll discover a clue as to where he headed.”
“You’re right,” Jamie said, feeling sheepish that his impatience almost caused him to call off their pursuit.
“If nothing else, we’ve at least followed him this far. Even if we’ve truly lost him, we can start from this point in the future.”
“Of course,” Jamie agreed, glad that he’d recruited someone for the task with a calm and level head.
Cautiously picking their way along the shadowy tunnel, they took their time looking for even the smallest clue. After traversing nearly the full length of the tunnel Jamie’s frustration resurfaced. “Its hopeless,” he said. “We’ve completely lost him.”
“Wait,” Cristophe said reaching out and putting a hand on Jamie’s arm while laying a finger of his other hand over his lips. “Listen.”
Without making a sound both boys remained still and completely quiet.
“Do you hear that?” Cristophe finally broke the silence.
“Yes,” Jamie said. The neural effects of the virus in his system served to heighten all of his senses and he could clearly hear the softly muffled voices. “Up ahead,” he said softly to Cristophe. “It’s coming from one of the side tunnels.”
Creeping along as quietly as possible they approached the juncture of the two tunnels and paused.
“There are people up ahead. I can hear them talking.” Jamie whispered.
Their progress slowed to a snail’s crawl. The service corridor opened onto a small room that was only slightly larger than the tunnel. Light poured into the small space from an arched opening opposite the tunnel. So did the sound of voices. Crossing the room Jamie cautiously peered around one of the stone pillars supporting the archway while motioning Cristophe to join him. The sight that greeted him was one of the greatest surprises he’d ever had in his young life.
The archway opened up to a larger chamber with a low vaulted ceiling. Three tables in the shape of a U stood in the middle of the floor. At the open end of the U was a small riser that created a makeshift dais upon which sat a single table facing the open end of the U. At each of the tables Jamie saw a varied collection of people: human, Kalorian, and Icarian.
Castor was sitting at one of the lower tables. Next to him was a human – a man Jamie thought he recognized as one of the set designers for the opera house. At another table Jamie was surprised to see the young singer, Damian, whom he’d met months before rehearsing in the Petite Forum of the opera house.
An even greater shock was the red and black winged Icarian sitting a few chairs down from Damian. And although he wasn’t wearing the traditional garb and regalia of the Sh’ônfenn, his inquisitive eyes and vigilant demeanor marked him just as much as his snowy white wings with their midnight black and blood red highlights. Jamie couldn’t help but shudder when he saw him, wondering why such a creature wouldn’t have been killed rather than be allowed into such a secret group. Every one in the empire feared the Sh’ônfenn, and their presence at any venue could quickly bring a chill to a room. Jamie had attended a few parties where uncomfortable silence and a feeling of palpable tension filled the air when one of the Legion of Red and Black had been in attendance. Even children knew of the Sh’ônfenn and their ways, for as a young boy he’d learned a nursery rhyme from the Kalorian children of the settlements:
Say a word and be heard
Sh’ônfenn come and swoop like a bird.
Wings of black and of red,
Blood will flow, and then you’re dead.
When he was little he thought it was a bit stupid. Growing older he realized it was a warning, created to teach even the smallest Kalorian child of the danger.
The rest of the tables sitting on the floor held a collection of people Jamie had no knowledge of. But the raised head table offered the greatest surprise of all. Only three people sat at it. On the far right was Jakobus, and Jamie was astonished to see the Kalorian who was in charge of the general service operations of the Dance École sitting in what appeared to be a position of power and authority. Next to Jakobus sat a human – a very large human. Jamie had seen the man a few times before at some of the aristocratic parties he’d attended. Each time the corpulent man, who appeared to love gossip and scandal, was always surrounded by a group of nobles who seemed to relish the man’s breezy stories, off color jokes, and scathing social commentary.
Evidence that the tall rotund man had achieved his present large corporeal status from eating was quite clear as Jamie watched the man dip a large hand into a bowl of nuts sitting before him. As they talked he would take a nut from the bowl, easily crack the hard shell in one of his large meaty hands, carefully extract the sweet meat, pop it in his mouth, and then reach for another, repeating the process over and over. The look on the man’s face made it obvious that he was enjoying every morsel.
Next to the human sat an Icarian and Jamie had to stifle an exclamation of surprise. Although he’d seen countless pictures of the handsome young man and knew a great deal about the Icarian from his research, he was still quite unprepared to see him in person. Just as the Sh’ônfenn sitting at the lower table exuded a strong presence, so did the Icarian at the head table. Poised and confident Jamie could sense a regal air that the young man carried with comfortable ease – as if it were as natural as breathing. Dressed in the immaculate short white sparring tunic of the Gahdar, his only ornamentation was an elaborate bejeweled dagger strapped at his side. His white wings, with their sparkling golden highlights immediately identified him as a royal throne, making him only the third such Icarian Jamie’d ever seen. But unlike the quiet stoicism of the Gahdar Niklas von Agramon, or the boyish charm of young Giovanni, Prince Alexander left no questions as to his rank and status. Yet Jamie couldn’t detect even the slightest trace of haughty pride or pompous arrogance in the boy – an annoying trait many of even most minor of human nobles seemed to exude.
Jamie quickly counted fifteen in the room: three Icarians, three humans, and nine Kalorians. He began to edge a little closer to the opening and started to crouch down when a tug on one of his wings stopped him and he turned to Cristophe.
“I think we should go,” Cristophe whispered. “We’ve seen what he’s up to and we can always come back. I’m sure there’s a place we can hide that’s a little less conspicuous than this.”
“Just a few minutes more,” Jamie said, his curiosity taking a firm gripping on him. He’d tried for weeks to discover what Castor was up to. The scene now before him was far beyond his wildest imaginings, and he was hesitant to leave.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea. What if we get caught?”
“If we’re quiet we’ll be ok,” Jamie replied. He’d come this far and wasn’t about to prematurely abort without learning anything.
Cristophe sighed and frowned, but sat back in his chair and remained quiet. He’d learned once Jamie’d made up his mind, the boy’s stubborn tenacity would be impossible to sway.
For a few minutes Jamie, still dressed in his tights, racerback and leg warmers and standing unconsciously in first position, remained as still as a statue, mesmerized by what he was seeing and hearing. As he watched, it quickly became clear that the large human sitting at the head table was in charge of the assembly. The man would often interrupt conversations, or referee impromptu debates. More than once he raised important points or made suggestions that the other participants deferred to. All in all, the man conducted his business with such thorough efficiency and attention to detail that even the often-critical Jamie was impressed. Again there was a tug on his wings. Annoyed, Jamie turned to Cristophe and frowned.
“Jamie we really should go,” Cristophe whispered forcefully.
“A few minutes more,” Jamie said. “They only just started. I’d like to get at least some idea...”
He stopped when suddenly he heard movement in the room behind him. Turning back to the group, he noticed the Icarian Sh’ônfenn had risen from his seat, but it was unclear if he was preparing to approach the front table or exit the room through the doorway Jamie and Cristophe were hiding behind.
“Fine,” Jamie said, now even more annoyed but also slightly worried that they might be caught. “We’ll go.”
In an attempt to turn around, Cristophe, who’d also caught sight of the Sh’ônfenn, backed up his chair a little too quickly and its servos whirred loudly.
“Shhh,” Jamie whispered, “We’ll be...”
“Please come in,” the unmistakably strong and forceful voice of Castor’s voice rang through the chamber. As he spoke the Sh’ônfenn appeared at the boy’s side, firmly gripping Jamie’s upper arm. Jamie was surprised the Icarian had moved across the room so quickly.
His eyes went from the Sh’ônfenn, to Cristophe and then back into the room where he found everyone quietly staring at him. Castor was on his feet, heading toward the two boys.
“Come in. We’ve been waiting for you,” the large man at the head table said, leveling a hawkish gaze at Jamie.
Hearing the man’s words Jamie frowned. How... why would they be waiting for him? It took a moment for Castor to cross the room, but once he was at Jamie’s side, he nodded to the Sh’ônfenn and the red and black legionnaire released his grip on Jamie’s arm and returned to his seat.
“Come with me,” Castor said. His tone was firm, but Jamie could sense from the mental energy in the room that even though he’d come upon the assembly through spying and subterfuge, he somehow wasn’t in trouble. “They don’t know about Charlie,” Castor managed to whisper into Jamie’s ear as he led him into the room. Behind him, Jamie could hear the servos of Cristophe’s chair whirr as the master prefect followed closely behind. Once they were standing before the head table Castor addressed the group.
“I’d like to present Prince James de Valèn,” Castor said offering a small bow. His tone of voice and posture held such formality that Jamie was taken back by the kalorian’s demeanor. Although the former head of household for the villa was well aware of Jamie’s pedigree, Castor had never openly acknowledged either Jamie or Charlie’s titles, treating them instead as normal boys. That he was now formally introducing Jamie had obvious meaning and importance – a fact that made Jamie uneasy as he stood in the midst of the small assembly.
“Welcome,” Prince Alexander said, first standing, then leaning across the front table and extending a hand to Jamie.
Jamie paused, stared at Alexander, took a few steps forward, and slowly extended his hand. Alexander smiled and clasped Jamie’s hand firmly. “It’s remarkable,” he said as he studied the boy standing before him. “There’s no doubt you’re Loran’s brother, yet for the many similarities I can see, the differences I notice are almost equally striking. Now it becomes clear to me what you were referring to, Castor,” he added nodding toward the Kalorian.
Jamie was puzzled. What was Alexander talking about, and more importantly what had Castor told Alexander?
“Now that the prince has joined us, I think we need to get back to the task at hand,” the large man said, and Jamie could hear a commanding tone in his voice. “Our time is limited and if we wish to continue to avoid detection, we must immediately get to the point.”
“Yes. Of course, Stephen,” Alexander said, releasing Jamie’s hand and resuming his seat.
Castor also headed toward his seat, but before doing so whispered to Jamie, “Remain standing here.”
Although Cristophe had entered the room with Jamie he remained at its perimeter, leaving Jamie alone and isolated.
“We don’t have time for formality or long drawn out introductions, my young prince,” the large man continued. “We’ve been patiently waiting for you... for a very long time,” he added as his eyes carefully scanned Jamie from head to toe. “And now that you’re finally here, we must get down to business.”
“You’ve been waiting for me?” Jamie asked..
He was the one who’d contrived to follow Castor. He’d spied on the Kalorian and he’d come across this group of people quite unexpectedly. How could they be waiting for him?
“Take a seat,” the man named Stephen said. It was then Jamie noticed that the Icarian Sh’ônfenn had approached with a chair and placed it next to Jamie. Jamie cast a weary eye on the legionnaire, but if the Sh’ônfenn noticed he ignored it. Slowly sitting down, Jamie turned from side to side and scanned the room.
“How...” Jamie began, but was cut off.
“The time for questions will be later – if we have time,” the man said making it obvious he was in charge. “You will sit quietly and listen. I don’t wish to appear harsh, but time is precious. You are here for a reason, the sooner you hear and understand that reason, the sooner you can play your part in all of this.”
Jamie blinked. ‘My part?’
“My name is Stephen Perkinjius, and I’m the titular head of this council,” he said reaching out and plucking a large plump calnut from the dish set before him. “Now tell me: other than Castor, do you know anyone in this room?”
Jamie’s eyes scanned the room; when he finished, he turned back to Perkinjius and slowly nodded.
“Well, who is it? We can’t read minds,” Perkinjius said, cracking the nut in his hand.
“I guess I don’t really know his name,” Jamie said, turning to look at one of the humans in the room. Pointing at the man he continued, “I recognize him from the opera house – one of the set designers, no?”
The man sat stone-faced without replying.
“I guess I also know Prince Alexander. Well, I mean I don’t know him, but know of him and...”
“Anyone else?” Perkinjius abruptly cut short Jamie’s ramblings.
“Damian,” he said, looking at the singer. “And Castor, and Jakobus.”
“Yes, I’m sure. I don’t know anyone else in the room.”
Jamie was starting to become annoyed at the man. He was trying to be cooperative, yet it seemed this Stephen Perkinjius was purposely trying to be confrontational.
“Then don’t expect to be introduced, and don’t try to find out who they are. Anonymity and stealth are our greatest weapons for the moment; it’s important that you understand that. Do you, Prince de Valèn?” Stephen Perkinjius leveled a fierce, unblinking gaze at Jamie.
Still trying to be deferential, seeing as how much trouble he might be in, Jamie silently nodded his assent.
“You told me he had a sharp tongue and a fiery temper,” Perkinjius said glancing at Castor. “But he’s as mild as a lamb, and shy as a plains-grazing gelter doe. You assured me that behind that pretty face there was a brain. At this point I’d welcome any evidence of that. Is there anything up there?” Perkinjius added, tapping the side of his head with his finger. “Rumor has it the students at the École Danse are pretty boys and not much else. Is that true? Are there any thoughts in your head, Prince de Valèn, or is your brain pan like the cavern cliffs of Ghröum: so empty that when the wind blows through them, you can hear the sound for miles around?”
“I guess... “ Jamie stammered, but once more was cut off, and the scowl he tried to suppress was beginning to bloom across his face.
“You guess what?” Perkinjius leaned forward across the table and frowned at Jamie as he grabbed another nut. Squeezing it in his very large hand the shell made a popping sound that echoed through the chamber. Opening his hand he began to separate the savory meat from the shell as one by one he popped the pieces into his mouth while never taking his eyes off Jamie. “For your information, my prince, we’re not here to guess, we’re here to do. I see you’re attired in your dancing clothes. Well, we’re not here to watch you perform.”
By now Jamie’s fear of getting caught and punished was quickly evaporating. After he’d been discovered Perkinjius had invited him into the meeting – had even told him he was expected – but instead of being welcomed and introduced, the boorish man was hectoring and belittling him. Worse still, every time Jamie tried to talk he was interrupted.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” Jamie shouted, bolting out of his seat as his chair toppled over. Ignoring the clattering sound it made as it skittered across the stone floor Jamie took two steps forward toward the man.
“I followed Castor. I spied on him. It’s true. I admit it. I thought I was in trouble when you discovered me. But you not only told me you were waiting for me, you actually welcomed me. Then you start asking me questions, but refuse to let me answer. You wonder if I have anything in my head? How dare you when I’m not even given the courtesy of time to respond. Well, I must say that I wonder the same thing about you, sir. I was taught one learns by asking questions and then listening to the answers. If nothing else, it’s commonly referred to as being polite. What do you ever hope to learn from me if you don’t allow me to speak? By the emperor’s bloody beard, welcome me or punish me, but don’t ask me question after question and then refuse to allow me to give a proper answer to your questions – even if most of them are childish. You have the gall to insinuate that all the dancers on Canon Mon Arts are idiots. Maybe you should first learn something of us before you open your large mouth and show yourself to be the idiot you accuse us of being. When I first came to the École the students bullied me, then Sprague bullied me, but I won’t be bullied by you... or anyone else... ever again! Do I make myself clear? So do what you wish, but if you persist on acting like an ass, then I’ll be pleased to show you that I can act the same way.”
By now Jamie’s face was bright red and his hands were balled up into fists. Taking another step forward, his eyes flashed as he looked up at the head table, and shot Perkinjius a defiant glance that would have melted cold steel.
The smug look on Perkinjius face fell away, but instead of displaying the anger Jamie expected, a smile came to the man’s round face and he began to chuckle. A few seconds passed and the chuckle turned into laughter. Jamie assumed the man would grow angry, threaten him, even try to punish him, but the reaction he received was completely the opposite of what he’d expected, and he grew even more furious. Smoldering at Perkinjius mockery, he lost all sense of his surroundings. Continuing to glare at the man, he opened his fists and without being aware of what he was doing Jamie flexed his hands. As he did, sparks danced around his fingertips. Their sharp crackling echoed off the walls of the room and an acrid smell quickly filled the air.
The firm hand of Castor gripped his shoulder, and when the old kalorian’s voice resounded in his ear, Jamie dropped from the heights where his angry fugue had catapulted him.
“That’s enough, young master,” Castor added staring deep into Jamie’s eyes to make sure the boy was regaining his control.
As the sounds of the stout man’s laughter
faded from the chamber, Perkinjius leaned forward across the table and with a
twinkle in his eye gave Jamie a sharp appraisal. “I think you’ll do, my prince.
I think you’ll more than do,” he said raising an eyebrow. Then turning to Castor
added, “I see you weren’t exaggerating, my friend.” Glancing back at Jamie, he
let out another chuckle. “If we put this one and six hungry fire cats into the
arena, the poor cats would have my pity,” he added as he allowed one final
guffaw to escape his lips.
“Do you know, my Prince, that it’s been said that when Jacques de Valèn was truly angry he could turn a pack of wild plains dogs into a whimpering brood of scared pups. I’m glad to see that part of The Founder in your blood.”
Jamie clenched and unclenched his fists, then took a deep breath. Castor recovered the fallen chair and motioned for the boy to resume his seat. After sitting Jamie felt a slight pressure on his shoulders as the Kalorian’s hands came to rest on them.
“I dare say I think you’ve had enough of me,” Perkinjius said raising an eyebrow at Jamie. Taking another nut from the bowl, he turned to Alexander, “Maybe you should continue.”
Nodding his agreement Alexander rose from his seat. Placing both hands palms down on the table in front if him, Alexander leaned forward as if about to speak, but paused, first giving Jamie a careful examination. After a few seconds of silence had passed, a half smile came to Alexander’s face, but quickly faded as his eyes took on a piercing gaze. He took a deep breath, and began to speak.
“All stories start at the beginning, but in your case Prince Jamie, while you may not know the exact beginnings, I do believe you know enough of the tale that in the interest of time and the danger of our being discovered, I’ll go directly to your role in this matter.” Alexander paused and his eyes locked on Jamie’s.
“Am I correct in assuming you already know about the joint Kalorian and Icarian desire for independence and freedom?” Alexander asked with a sudden shift in the tone and tenor of his voice that made Jamie’s eyes grow wide with surprise.
The young man paused and few seconds passed before Jamie, his eyes riveted on Alexander, indicated his assent with a single nod of the head. Although Alexander exuded a commanding presence that demanded full attention, Jamie’s surprise and shocked reaction, came from the fact that Alexander not only used the word Icarian, but had smoothly switched his speech from Commonwealth Standard to the forbidden Icarian language.
Seeing Jamie’s surprise, Alexander smiled. “Yes, in addition to Commonwealth Standard, I speak Icarian, and Kalorian. Everyone taking part in this assembly speaks all three languages. Knowing of your intellectual curiosity, I’m sure if we had the time, you’d find a discussion on the creation and development of both languages quite fascinating, but that is not our mission,” Alexander said. “After the failed Kalorian rebellion,” the prince continued, “the Empire thought it was secure – one might say invincible, but in the intervening time something changed,”
“Icarians,” Jamie said softly.
“You’re correct, of course,” Alexander said, nodding in agreement. “The Empire created us. By accident or by design, we emerged from Gold Glass – in large part because of the man you call your father. But even Edwin Croal in the early years of our creation couldn’t have guessed we’d arrive at were we are today.”
“Slaves of the empire,” the Sh’ônfenn interjected, spitting out the words in Icarian so forcefully it could have been taken for a curse.
“Yes, Jerrond, we are slaves – just as much as our Kalorian friends,” Alexander said addressing the Sh’ônfenn legionnaire before glancing sympathetically at the Kalorians sitting in the room. “Of course their lives have been much more harsh than ours. For the most part, the Empire has given us comfort and privilege. Our cage is made of gold, while theirs is of iron.”
“But a cage is still a cage,” Jerrond angrily replied.
“The Empire fears us,” Alexander said, deflecting Jerrond’s comment while turning back to Jamie. “It crushed the slave rebellion and feels secure that Kalorians won’t rise again in insurrection, but Icarians are a different matter. We never had a hand in our own design. We were a successful experiment – one might say too successful. They made us superior in every way. Our intellects are sharp – we’re quick to grasp, learn, innovate and create. Our strength is superior and our lifespan, it would seem, is destined to be long. Barring murder or accident, we may outlive many generations of humans. Such traits were interesting – a curiosity – when we were few in number, but the scientists at Gold Glass persisted in their experiments and now we are many.”
“I know,” Jamie said softly, still staring intently at Alexander. “Father told me our development started as a hope against the plague, but the Empire...”
“The Empire awoke to the potential,” Jerrond cried out, pounding his fist on the table. “It suddenly saw its chance for revenge – an opportunity to break free of the Commonwealth. And what better way then with an army of warriors?”
“But not just independence,” Perkinjius interrupted, directly addressing Jamie. “And not just the warriors. Some think the Empire saw its chance to conquer the Commonwealth and rule over five hundred worlds in a vast galactic Empire centered here on Altinestra. An Empire using not only superior Avionne troops, but also clever Avionne tacticians and talented Avionne bureaucrats, directed by a layer of Avionne nobility working under the human imperial system as sub-viceroys, under-governors and sub-commissioners answering to the human viceroys, generals and governors they would serve.”
“And their longevity over human populations would assure a stable continuation of order and stability the likes of which no empire has ever had access to,” a new voice interjected. Jamie turned and saw that the speaker was the singer Damian.
“Young prince,” Alexander said leaning even further across the table, “Do you know about the Tenth Hill?”
Jamie, a puzzled look coming to his face, stared into Alexander’s eyes and shook his head no.
“So the boy that can tap into the most secret vaults of the empire doesn’t know one of its greatest secrets?” Stephen said giving the tabletop a sharp rap of his hand.
“I remember seeing a reference somewhere. I thought it was a plan to expand the city further. Jamie frowned, “But with the plague I assumed all that was abandoned, so I didn’t look into it.”
“Maybe you should have,” Perkinjius said, but before he could continue Alexander resumed.
“The Empire has devised a plan,” Alexander continued ignoring Perkinjius remarks. “You say you don’t know anything about it?”
Jamie shook his head.
“Begin asking why, and you’ll get as many answers as there are people inhabiting the city, but a project this huge can’t be hidden. There are too many engineers, and technicians involved. And the pool of workers, human and slave, is great. The project code named The Hill of the Tenth Canon is to be the seat of an Avionne-based government – a state within a state,” Alexander said.
“Both non-autonomous and directly under the control of the Emperor,” Perkinjius quickly added.
“It’s a plan devised by Savaron Loka,” Castor softly whispered in Jamie’s ear.
“But why?” Jamie asked.
“While the empire knows it simply can’t dismiss our desire for independence, and it feels greatly threatened by what a potentially superior race might do. Faced with a number of options, Loka has proposed a solution: subvert our desire and make it work for them.”
“You see, my prince,” Stephen Perkinjius interjected, “they could simply stop their work at Gold Glass and on Ajax Prime. Since your race has no natural means of reproduction, no new Icarians need be created. They could then simply let those that exist live out their lives, and allow the race to become extinct.
“Or murder us in a campaign of elimination,” the Sh’ônfenn added sharply. “If extermination is their goal, they’re under no obligation to preserve the lives of those they’ve already created.”
“Leave it to a Sh’ônfenn to bring up extermination,” one of the Kalorians that Jamie didn’t know said angrily. “Its something they understand so well.”
The Sh’ônfenn shot the Kalorian a stern look and was about to speak when Perkinjius intervened and told them both to be silent.
“The reality is, the empire has a vision and a plan,” Alexander said ignoring the testy exchange between the Sh’ônfenn and the Kalorian. “It involves breaking the bonds now imposed on it by the commonwealth, and spreading its rule from this isolated planet on the edge of known space to the rest of the Commonwealth.”
“That sounds impossible,” Jamie said.
“The Imperial House of Blackwell has grand designs,” Perkinjius said, “And your race is the tool it plans to use to make it’s dreams a reality.”
“Savaron Loka’s plan was accepted without any protest and very little change,” Alexander said. “Twelve ruling houses – each one dealing with some aspect of state and led by an Avionne elevated to noble status – are to be created. Under each Avionne noble is a Scribe and other lesser nobility, followed by the core cadre of each house, and ultimately its membership. Every Avionne would fall under the jurisdiction of a house, some with a royal, and others with an imperial designation. The heads of the two groupings of houses are the Imperial Wizard and the Royal King; together they will govern the Avionne state and answer to the Emperor and his council.”
“Wizard and king?” Jamie replied. “You make it sound like some child’s magical fantasy.”
“One man’s science can be another’s magic,” Perkinjius said. “Use a common ghoster to vaporize a rock in front of an aboriginal and they’ll worship you as a god. The empire rules with ritual, fear, mysticism and strong-arm tactics – whichever combination is the most expedient at the time. Just look at the Sh’ônfenn. History is full of secret police organizations formed around codes of honor, dress, ritual, stealth and overt displays of power – all meant to keep the population they’re tasked to control in fear. It’s the perfect model for dictatorship. The empire has no less plans for an Avionne ruled government. They’ve created creatures that are obviously different. It won’t take much more to give them an aura of mysticism, power, and terror.”
“The Empire can create Avionnes.” Alexander continued, “thousands now, and even millions someday – if they desire. But only Edwin Croal was able to create a few special ones.”
“Two so-called Imperials,” Perkinjius said his eyes resting on Jamie. “You and your older brother Loran. Only the two of you have the ability to control and channel energy in ways that give you power beyond even the advanced abilities of the rest of the Icarian race. How Croal actually managed to do it remains a secret – though not for want of the Empire’s frantic attempts to duplicate the results.”
“With a distinct lack of success,” the Sh’ônfenn added drolly.
The instant Perkinjius mentioned that there were only two imperials, Jamie felt Castor’s fingers dig into his shoulders as a reminder that the group had no knowledge of Charlie.
“But what do they hope to accomplish?” Jamie asked, now even more puzzled by what he was learning.
“By giving Icarian’s limited rule they hope to prevent a possible desire for real independence. While Kalorians have been enslaved by the state, most Avionnes have led lives of privilege. Even those assigned to expedition and service have only been given desirable assignments. It is hoped the King and Wizard will give the Avionnes the feeling that they are somehow independent, ruled by their own kind.”
“But a wizard?” Jamie said in a voice mixed with curiosity and puzzlement. “What does magic have to do with any of this?”
“Nothing,” Alexander said. “But you have to agree that that the abilities you and Loran exhibit definitely have a supernatural air.”
“But our abilities are the byproduct of a virus acting in concert with our nervous system,” Jamie protested. “A virus my father injected into me.”
“But not Loran,” Alexander continued. “He’s to receive each one differently – in an externally encapsulated form. Direct injection of the virus would kill him.”
“You’re saying he’s not infected yet?” Jamie asked.
“No,” he’s been in training all these years to receive it. His assimilation with it, done too quickly or improperly, would result in dire consequences for him.”
“No one prepared me.” Jamie said, surprised at the revelation. “Father just gave it to me. He began to teach me a series of exercises a few months before I was captured, but I had no real preparation.”
“That’s because when you were created, Prince de Valen, Croal had learned so much more from Loran,” the Sh’ônfenn interjected from across the room.
“How does he get it?” Jamie asked. “How does Loran incorporate the virus if not by injection?”
“That’s not important,” Perkinjius replied, raising his voice and ending the line of conversation. “What is important is that Loran and Alexander will be Wizard and King, respectively – rulers of the Avionnes.”
“Rulers who are expected to answer to the Empire,” Jakobus softly said, under his breath.
Jamie turned to face the Kalorian who’d up to now remained silent and saw an uncharacteristically worried look on the man’s face.
“No,” Alexander said abruptly, turning to Jakobus and giving the Kalorian a look as if he’d just been slapped. “A slave king who rules a kingdom of slaves isn’t much of a king.”
“You’re not agreeing to the plan?” Jamie asked.
“On the face of it, yes,” Alexander said, “All outward appearances imply our acceptance of the situation. But that doesn’t mean we do agree with it, or accept it in our hearts.”
“You don’t?” Cristophe inquired, and everyone in the room turned toward the heretofore silent boy who’d been sitting in the corner.
“No,” Alexander said, glancing at Cristophe. “We Icarians might be given privilege under the proposed system, but we know that we still won’t be free. That’s why we’ve formed an alliance with the Kalorians and a small group of humans, and that alliance is manifest in this council. Our goal is total freedom for both Kalorians and Icarians.”
“And Loran?” Jamie asked.
At the mention of Loran’s name Alexander’s face took on a distant, almost pained look.
“Loran is why we need you,” Perkinjius said.
“Loran does not agree,” Alexander said.
“But why?” Jamie asked, surprised at the revelation.
“Loran has had a difficult life. Raised in isolation from other Icarian’s at Gold Glass, he doesn’t know any other way.”
“But you’re his mate, no?” Jamie said the words slowly as he looked up at Alexander.
“I love Loran, and he means everything to me,” Alexander said, now appearing clearly pained as he spoke. “Loran is like a beautiful, wounded bird that’s lost its ability to fly.”
“Alexander is the leader,” Perkinjius said, “but we also need an Imperial who can use the special skills imparted to aid him to assist Alexander. Remove Loran, and there’s only one other.”
“Me.” Jamie’s voice was flat, unsurprised. “How?”
“As the time draws near, you will learn more.”
“In the meantime, practice,” Perkinjius said. “You are practicing, aren’t you? I’d be very surprised if you denied it.”
“Yes,” Jamie said softly.
“It’s fairly clear. That little display of fire and brimstone was clue enough,” Perkinjius said, a half grin coming to his face – a grin that Jamie thought suddenly made the large man look sinister. “Could you punch a hole in that wall?” Perkinjius added turning from Jamie to the thick, stone wall behind him.
“I never tried,” Jamie said.
“It’s something you might want to consider,” Perkinjius said. “Along with some other practical applications of the little tricks you can probably do.”
“They’re not tricks,” Jamie protested, making no attempt to hide the anger boiling up from deep inside him.
“Don’t be so sensitive, my fiery tempered prince,” Perkinjius said. “I have a good idea what you’re capable of.”
“What do you know of me?”
“Personally? Virtually nothing, but I aided in the escape of four of Croal’s assistants. They found sanctuary with me for some time. Conversations with them were quite interesting, although I always thought they were more circumspect than I would have liked them to be. Three of them didn’t have much to say about you, but the fourth apparently didn’t have... shall I say... warm feelings toward you. He said you were an overly indulged child who got his own way and lived by his own rules.”
“ENOCH!” Jamie interrupted. “After the day I burned his eyebrows off, he never liked me.”
“You’re correct; Enoch was his name, and yes, he did mention something about losing his eye brows to a spoiled little brat,” Perkinjius said, chuckling.
“There are two sides to every story,” Jamie began. “He...”
“It’s not important,” Perkinjius said. “You assume that I accepted what he said and think poorly of you. On the contrary, my boy, when I heard what had happened and his opinion of you my heart was filled with hope. I could see Jacques de Valèn doing the same thing and not being concerned about the consequences.”
“But I was concerned,” Jamie replied, “I didn’t want to hurt him. It was an accident and I was punished for it – I didn’t even resent my punishment. I knew I deserved it. I felt bad... even afraid that I might have killed him.”
“Ah, and that’s where you and The Founder differ,” Perkinjius added. “But that’s also not a negative. You have a singular power and ability – even more than your brother Loran. Would you give a child a magnum grade ghoster and let him play with it in a school yard with his friends?”
“Of course not,” Jamie said frowning.
“In some respects, that’s what Croal did. How old were you when he infected you with the virus?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jamie replied, his frown growing more pronounced at what he perceived as an overt attack on his late father’s character.
“It matters all too much,” Perkinjius said. “That you’ve survived your capture and eluded the labs of Gold Glass; that you’ve lived at the academy under the eyes of the Empire without revealing your abilities; that you haven’t punished those who’ve punished you... these things, my prince, matter more than I think you understand. The child with the ghoster didn’t foolishly run into the playground and start using it indiscriminately. He hid it and kept it safe. When no one was looking, he made sure it was clean, fully charged and kept in good order. Most importantly, he practiced using it – perfecting a skill he knew he didn’t immediately possess, but might need in the future. That is singularly more important than any other talent or ability you may possess, my young prince.”
“I think it wise if this assembly soon ends,” Jakobus said and his words instantly changed the mood of the group.
“You’re right, Jakobus,” Alexander said crisply. “It’s time to adjourn.”
“May I make a suggestion, before we separate?” Perkinjius asked in a tone that indicated his suggestion would be more of order then request.
“Of course, Stephen,” Alexander said.
“I think Prince de Valèn should visit me for a series of lessons,” Perkinjius began, his eyes resting upon Jamie. “Why skulk around and incur suspicion when he can come to my shop in broad daylight?”
Jamie raised an eyebrow. He was surprised to hear the man worked at all. Given Perkinjius’ invitations to so many imperial parties and his behavior at them, Jamie’d assumed the man might have been an untitled son of a nobleman; not first in line for a title perhaps, but nonetheless sharing in the family’s inheritance and privileges. To discover he was a shopkeeper was an even greater surprise. “Your shop?” he asked.
“Don’t concern yourself about any of that at the moment, young man,” Perkinjius said. “Continue as you have and don’t do anything to arouse suspicion. You’ll hear from me soon enough.” Then Perkinjius turned to Castor giving the older Kalorian a knowing look. Castor simply gave a slight nod of his head and turned to Jamie.
“Time for you to leave young master,” Castor said. “Go back the way you came, quickly and quietly. I’ll see you in your room within the hour. Now go.”
Jamie gave the room and its occupants one final scan, and approached Cristophe. Cristophe’s chair whirred as he rotated it around, turning his back on the assembly. Then he and Jamie passed through the archway and vanished up the dimly lit corridor.
“And so it begins,” Perkinjius said, rising from his seat and preparing to go.
“Is he ready?” the Sh’ônfenn asked.
“That’s what I intend to find out,” Perkinjius said, looking squarely at the red-and-black winged legionnaire. He bent down, reached into the bowl, and extracted one final nut. After cracking and discarding the shell he popped the sweet meat into his mouth and as he chewed a smile came to his face – a smile that made the legionnaire frown. “Yes, that’s exactly what I intend to find out.”
Once they were back in the dormitory, Jamie and Cristophe separated. While Jamie had nothing planned, Cristophe was already late for an appointment at the impresario’s office so, servos whirring loudly, he quickly sped off.
Since it was that time of day when his friends from Trio Chrysalis were attending practice, and Castor was still with the secret council, the floor was quiet. Arriving at his room Jamie opened the door. No sooner had he entered then Spinoza, trumpeting a loud akkk, landed on Jamie’s shoulder and wrapped his long tail around his master’s neck. Walking to his desk, Jamie lowered himself on to the nearby stool. Scattered across the desktop were a few invitations to parties. Jamie stared at them for a minute until his eye caught sight of the Emperor’s ring – the one he’d been given after his first solo performance at the opera house. Picking it up, he rotated it with his fingers as the beautiful large sapphire and its attendant ring of diamonds sparkled in the light. Putting it on he held out his hand, looked at it, and sighed deeply.
His mind was chocked with so many thoughts – far too many to properly sort them out. Instead they seemed to blend and meld; bleeding together like the beautiful chalk paintings of the street artists drawn on the paving blocks of the great square of Ondra whose colors flowed together like melting ice cream after a passing summer storm.
An Icarian state, a new slave rebellion, an empire desiring to rule the Commonwealth, the ever expanding plague, the story of The Founder, Savaron Loka and his strange plans, his father’s murder, his years at the École... and Charlie, now close in thought, but still so far away.
But there was much much more. And the more he pondered all the possibilities, the clearer one thought above all others jelled in his consciousness, becoming as concrete as the densest block of almand stone – neither the rebel council, nor the empire, nor possibly anyone in the Commonwealth knew what Jamie had discovered in the Monastery of Infinity.
Perkinjius and Alexander had talked about the special Icarians that Edmond Croal had created. They didn’t know about Charlie – and he’d keep it that way. But why had Edmond Croal created him, along with Loran and Charlie? To foment a rebellion? As an interesting lab experiment? To prove he could do it? His father was too deliberate for capricious actions – that Jamie knew with iron-willed certainty.
Once more the glittering ring caught his eye. For a few seconds he looked passively at it. Then, an angry look bloomed on his face as feelings of hate and frustration grew in his chest. Quickly wrenching the ring from his finger as if it were burning his hand, he threw it across the room. It hit his closet door with a ping and dropped to the floor, to lie glittering in the sunlight.
Why me, Father? Why did you choose me to wade through this ugly mess?