The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part III - Baron of Rood
The gloom he was peering into looked very dark and uninviting, and Jamie paused.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Keep moving. You’ll see soon enough.” Nic’s reply was calm and encouraging. “It’s only a bit further.”
The tunnel Jamie was trying vainly to look down was long and dimly lit, and although he crept along in the Gahdar’s wake, he couldn’t help but continue to wonder where Nic was leading him. A few minutes before they’d been standing in front of a dimly lit red door situated in a dark and cluttered corridor in an underground transport station located a short walk from the Gahdar training center in Piropolis. The accumulated dirt, debris and general air of neglect gave Jamie the impression that the corridor had been abandoned, if not completely forgotten, for a very long time. The dark foreboding space brought back a memory of his disastrous mission with Stephen Perkinjius, and try as he may; Jamie just couldn’t avoid the painful memories of horrific sights and smells.
The fact that the door was clearly marked ACCESS RESTRICTED hadn’t deterred Nic, who’d covered a glass pad next to the door with the palm of his hand while punching a series of numbers into a nearby keypad. When the door slid back, Nic had invited him to enter, and then walked into the dark tunnel while Jamie cautiously followed, being both quite curious and mildly suspicious of Nic’s actions. When the door slid shut behind them with a solid thud of permanence, it did little to ease Jamie’s concerns.
Their current situation was part of Nic’s response to the events of the previous hour when Jamie, grim-faced, appeared in the doorway of Nic’s room, and began to relate the events surrounding his daring trip to Stone Gate prison with Stephen Perkinjius. After presenting Nic with a detailed description of the prisoners and the conditions of their confinement as he and Stephen Perkinjius had observed them, he laid out the details of the death of the flamboyant antiquities dealer who’d served as the leader of the Committee for Resistance. While Nic admired Jamie’s courage, his heart sank when he thought of what might have happened to the young prince. That Stephen Perkinjius had sacrificed his life for the boy was tragic and sad, but the fact that he’d put Jamie in such danger in the first place did not please the Gahdar.
“You shouldn’t have gone alone like that,” he said with very careful calm in his voice.
“I wasn’t alone, Nic; I was with Perkinjius,” Jamie retorted. His brash and defensive response made it clear that he hadn’t caught the Gahdar’s true meaning.
“You shouldn’t have gone alone,” Nic repeated, hoping that his implication was quite clear. He was silent for several long moments, during which Jamie finally puzzled out what Nic meant. In the silence that followed Nic worked hard at clearing his emotions with a grounding exercise he’d learned from Master Sakki.
“We need to go somewhere private so we can talk,” Nic said quietly after finally getting his feelings in check. “And I know the perfect place.”
And, after leading Jamie away from the Gahdar training center, Nic had brought him to this most unlikely of places.
After walking less than two hundred feet in the dark Jamie was forced to a sudden stop, almost bumping into Nic’s wings when the gladiator came to an abrupt halt. Peering around Niklas, Jamie could see they were standing at the opening of a large cave-like space filled with a soft yellow light and he immediately thought of the underground caves at Ghröum. The corridor emerged high above the floor of the cavern, and the light was too dim for Jamie to get a good sense of just how large the space actually was.
“There’s a ladder here, Jamie. It’s about a forty-foot climb to the ground. Do you want me to go first?”
“No, Jamie said, not sure whether to be excited or annoyed. “I’ll go ahead of you. I can certainly manage to climb down a ladder.”
“Fine, just wait for me when you get to the bottom. I’ll be right down. There’s something I need to do.”
The sturdy metal ladder anchored into the face of the solid rock wall appeared safe enough and Jamie quickly clambered down. As soon as his feet touched the firm solid floor he stepped back from the ladder and looked up to see if Nic was following, but just as he raised his head a bright light flooded the cave and he was able to examine the space where he found himself standing. Leaving the ladder behind, Jamie walked toward the center of the cavern, scanning his surroundings. He saw that while the cavern itself was quite large, it was only part of an even larger space that included a number of alcoves, grottos and side tunnels.
“Incredible,” he whispered to himself, taking in the whole of his surroundings.
A minute later, Nic was standing next to him.
Nic made a sweeping gesture, encompassing all of the huge space. “This is where I trained with Master Sakki.”
Jamie began a measured study as he slowly walked about the large cavern, allowing his eyes to take in as much as they could. It was obvious that someone had outfitted the cave for living, and not just with the necessities of life. While the space appeared more industrial than luxurious, it was nevertheless well suited for habitation. In some ways it reminded him of his father’s underground laboratory at Villa Mare Vista. The more he looked, the more fascinating he found the space, and as his examination continued, he quickly concluded that he could live here himself, if need be.
Peering into one section of the cave he could see what appeared to be a sparring area; with mats spread across the stone floor and rack after rack of both familiar and unknown weapons arranged against the walls, he could imagine Niklas practicing with his teacher.
Another small tunnel led to a storage room filled with all manner of things, and he was reminded of the basement of Stephen Perkinjius’ shop. ‘I guess I’ll never go back there again.’ The thought made him sad.
In a grotto-like alcove, he discovered a shimmering pool of water. As he approached it he could see it was large and deep. The water was so clear he could see all the way to the bottom. A spring flowing from an outcropping of rock fed it. Crouching down he dipped his hand into it and was surprised to find that instead of the icy coldness he’d expected, the water was pleasantly warm.
Leaving the grotto he ventured into other sections, alcoves, and spaces of the cave and found that they were equally interesting.
“Over here,” Nic called out, getting Jamie’s attention. Once he saw Jamie looking at him, he waved the prince toward an opening in one of the rock walls. Striding through the opening himself Nic kept going, but then stopped when he realized Jamie wasn’t behind him.
“Jamie,” he called out. No answer. “Jamie?” his voice rose as he walked back to the opening. Looking out into the larger room he saw Jamie standing transfixed before a large, ornately framed mirror: one end of a mirror gate. Quietly staring at the device, Jamie reached out and touched the gold-leafed frame.
“Niklas, how did this get here?”
“It’s always been here,” Nic replied.
“Have you ever used it?”
“No, Jamie. I don’t know if it is even operable.”
“Oh, it works,” Jamie said turning toward the Gahdar with a beaming smile of delight. “It works perfectly. I’d just like to know how it got here.”
“I guess it belonged to Master Sakki.”
“This Master Sakki grows more interesting by the minute,” Jamie murmured, his eyebrows rising along with his curiosity.
“Come with me,” Nic continued gently taking Jamie’s upper arm and leading him back to the opening he’d earlier come through.
Jamie ducked through the passage and upon entering the space that opened before him he discovered a room that had clearly served as living quarters. A sturdy table with chairs, cabinets with books, an amazingly large bed, and other objects filled the room. Along one wall his eye was drawn to a tall bookcase filled with blue leather bound volumes stamped with gold that he immediately recognized as the Pentabulon, since it was similar to a set Edmond Croal kept in his study.
“The fifty and one,” Jamie said walking over to the tall bookcase and brushing his hand across the spines of some of the large thick volumes. “Who was this man?” Jamie asked turning away from the books to look at Nic. “Who was your Master Sakki?”
“He wasn’t a man,” Nic said, pausing to gather his thoughts since he wasn’t sure what Jamie’s reaction would be, but curious to see. Then he began to explain. Or at least he tried to explain.
“A Ghröum!” Jamie suddenly shouted out. “You’re describing a Ghröum. They never mentioned anything about another... about one named Sak’ki.
At Jamie’s unexpected outcry, Nic stopped almost in mid-word and shot the boy an astonished look.
“You know such beings?” Nic was more than surprised that Jamie not only believed him, but also seemed to have knowledge of other creatures like Sak’ki.
While Jamie had told Nic about Charlie and his brother’s present location, he’d purposely left out the Ghröum, assuming that telling the Gahdar about the unusual beast-like beings would only serve to raise Nic’s doubts as to the truthfulness of his tale.
Quickly Jamie told the story of he and Charlie’s visits to Ghröum and the fact that they now served as his brother’s guardians. When he was finished with his brief account, Jamie paused to give Nic an appraising look. Knowing a cue when he saw one, Nic related his own tale of meeting and then training with the Ghröum.
“Tutored by a Sh’ônfenn, and then trained by a Ghröum. Do you know who you are, Niklas von Agramon? And don’t even tell me ‘a simple Gahdar in the service of the Empire.’”
“But that’s all I am,” Nic replied with strong conviction, more in protest at the implication of Jamie’s inquiry, then to provide the boy with an explanation. Flashing Jamie an honest and unassuming look, he adding calmly, “Its all I’ve ever been.”
Jamie stared at the gladiator for a few seconds, not sure what to say. He knew Niklas’ true pedigree. He’d discovered it years before, but the sense he was getting from Nic appeared genuine. The Gahdar had no idea of his true lineage.
“You said you had a plan?” Nic said, breaking the silence and the mood. “I thought this would be a good place to discuss it.”
Jamie nodded. While part of him wanted to run from the alcove and examine the mirror gate more closely, he nevertheless strode to the table sitting in the middle of the room. Grabbing a tall stool that stood nearby he took a seat, kicking off his sandals as he did. Nic smiled when he saw the boy’s feet dangling off the ground. Although Jamie was a prince and often appeared unaware how regal he could sometimes be, in many ways Jamie’s simple, unpretentious nature reminded Nic of a little boy.
“I’d been thinking about it for some time, but after I learned from Perkinjius just how rapid the course of the plague has become and of the plans by the leadership of the Empire to evacuate the planet, I realized that immediate action is required,” Jamie began. “I was waiting for something from the council, but there is no more council. When I tried to tell Stephen about it, he told me to just forge ahead. The only other person who knows is Castor, and he said it was as good a plan as any, and maybe better than most. For once I didn’t have to argue with him. He agreed, and told me I could rely on his assistance. But I have to admit that I’m still not completely convinced. That’s why I wanted to talk to you first.
“I need to tell you about it Nic, and you have to be honest with me. I need to know if it’s impossibly crazy or even slightly sane. If we can come to some agreement, then I know that the next person who really needs to be informed is Alexander. I was hoping we could see him or that there might be some way for you to get a message to him. Maybe he’d come here and I could present it. I get the impression that with the council gone, he’s been isolated. He may even be in danger. Cristophe was the only Icarian captured, but who knows what any of the prisoners in Stone Gate revealed under the torturer’s instruments.”
For over an hour Jamie described his plan, pausing to answer the many questions and arguments Nic raised. When he was finished, Nic reached across the table and took Jamie’s hand. It wasn’t something he’d planned, but he’d learned from his gladiator training and time spent in the arena to trust his instincts, so when the voice in the back of his head urged him to an act, he was inclined to follow it. With his fingers wrapped around Jamie’s hand, Nic was struck again by its warmth and softness. Jamie’s slender fingers and delicate hand seemed perfectly proportioned to the dancer; a perfect hand for the beautiful boy sitting next to him. And just as he’d experienced when he’d held Jamie the day Cristophe died, Nic felt as if a piece of himself, long missing, had once again clicked into place.
The moment Nic’s hand clasped his, Jamie felt a warmth grow inside him. First looking down at his hand lost in Nic’s, then staring into the eyes of the boy sitting next to him, Jamie gave Nic a long and intense look. A second later a surge of fear shot through him.
“Niklas,” Jamie paused to carefully study the boy sitting opposite him, “This plan is dangerous, probably deadly. Anyone... maybe everyone... involved in it could die.”
“I know, Jamie,” Nic’s tone far too calm for Jamie’s taste.
“You could die, Nic.”
A thin smile appeared on Nic’s face. “I’ve faced death every day of my life from the moment I went to Compari. Two of the boys from my own nest didn’t survive their first day. That was my introduction to death, and I’ve been in a dance with it ever since.”
“You don’t understand,” Jamie was quick to interrupt. His tone had become more urgent.
“Of course I do, Jamie,” Nic tone was firm and resolute. “There isn’t a Gahdar among us who doesn’t understand death, and how cavalierly we try to cheat it.”
Pulling his arm away, Jamie slipped his hand from Nic’s as he jumped off the stool. The young prince stepped away from the table and slowly walked to the center of the room. Keeping his back to Nic, Jamie stopped and then tilted his head upward. Although some might have thought the boy to be staring at the ceiling, to Nic’s keen skills of observation it was clear that Jamie de Valèn was in fact looking deep inside of himself. After a few seconds, Jamie’s introspective contemplation was finished and he bowed his head, looking blindly at the floor.
“I’m sorry, Niklas,” he finally replied in the softest of voices.
Gazing intently at the boy Nic was struck by just how isolated, how solitary Jamie appeared; the Gahdar was reminded of a small, lost, and abandoned child alone in the world with nowhere to turn.
“For what?” Nic also rose from his seat. Walking toward Jamie, he stopped when he was directly behind the boy. Reaching out and using the back of his hand he gently stroked the pronounced ridge of iridescent primary feathers near the elbow of Jamie’s beautiful wings. “What do you have to be sorry for?”
Closing his eyes, Jamie took a deep breath, trying hard to ignore both the soothing calm and intensely pleasurable thrill Nic’s touch imparted. He realized this was going to be harder to say than he’d thought.
“For dragging you into this, Niklas. I had no right. This fight has been, and should remain, mine. You have no obligation to me.”
Nic put his hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “There’s no obligation between friends. I learned that a long time ago at Compari. Each helps the other, in the end the greater good is served. Master Sakki...”
“No, Nic!” Jamie response was both sharp and vehement and the boy spun around so quickly that Nic had to duck in order to avoid the boy’s large wings. “I really don’t think you do understand. I’ve already lost so many people I’ve loved. I can’t lose one more.”
His words had spilled forth quickly and spontaneously. Nic paused and simply stared at the other boy, not sure how to respond. Seconds later Jamie’s thoughts caught up with his words. Unsure of what more to say, convinced he’d already said too much, he too stood in silence and waited.
For almost a minute neither boy spoke aloud, but their locked eyes spoke volumes. Nic’s hearts were pounding violently in his chest. In all his years facing the fiercest of opponents, every one of them determinedly intent on slaying him, he’d never felt the kind of raw emotion, even fear, now coursing through his body as he carefully regarded Jamie. Unable to stand the tension for a single second more, he spoke.
“Are you telling me you love me?”
The blue-eyed gaze of Jamie de Valèn suddenly sharpened, piercing Nic like a hundred arrows shot from a hundred bows, all hitting their target at the same second. The boy took a step toward Nic. A glistening pool of unshed tears began to fill the shining, bright eyes that were fixed on the gladiator’s face. At the same moment, a strong and noble look of unwavering determination bloomed on the young prince’s face.
“Of course I love you, Niklas,” Jamie finally replied. “I’ve always loved you. I think it’s the real reason I sought your help. And that’s why I can’t ask this of you.”
Once more silence ensued. The words had been spoken, there was no way to take them back. Jamie stood strong and resolute, the tears filling his eyes began to run down his face.
Taking two short steps toward Jamie, Nic wrapped the boy in his arms and pulled him against his chest.
“And I love you too,” he whispered softly into Jamie’s ear. “It’s the reason I agreed.”
Both boys stood quietly hugging each other for some time. Breaking their embrace they stepped away from each other, but not before Jamie placed a small kiss on Nic’s lips.
“What do we do now?” Jamie asked.
“I don’t know,” Nic replied. “Miro once told me that it would be very foolish of me to fall in love with you, but I did anyway. He warned me that it was doomed to fail for me. Later, he even told me some of the stories about you.”
“Stories? What stories?”
“You see, Jamie,” Nic paused. Jamie noticed the Gahdar’s face growing red. “Miro told me how you travel the Empire, dancing and entertaining. He said you’d been with... ah... a lot of others... that you... well... you know...”
“That’s not true!” Jamie offered up hotly when the meaning of Nic’s words and their true implication came to him. He pulled back and stared up into Nic’s eyes with fierce indignation.
“What do you mean?”
“Everything that’s ever been said, written, or broadcast about me have been stories from the Impresario’s office. I never denied them; I guess I even encouraged them. I’ve already told you a lot, but I couldn’t let anyone else discover the truth. It was too dangerous... for me... for Charlie. I’m not who I seem to be; at least to those who watch me dance.”
“Then how many boys have you... I mean... how many boys... did you...” Nic stammered and his face grew even redder. “No, I’m sorry, I have no right to ask such... It’s certainly none of my affair. I apologize.”
“The answer is none,” Jamie replied softly, his momentary anger fading.
“None?” Nic blinked in surprise. “But...?”
“None,” Jamie repeated. “Life wasn’t easy for me when I came to the École Danse. I know my struggles are insignificant compared to what you’ve been through Niklas, but for me it was a lot. For a long time no one but Lucas, Jeremy and Yves would even talk to me. I was often isolated. I won’t deceive you: I’ve had a few crushes, but nothing ever came of them. I watched some of the seniors fall in love and eventually choose mates, but I also watched boys get hurt. I saw what could happen when it went badly. I learned just how serious unification is for our race and I promised myself that the first person I... well, you know... I promised myself that I’d try to be as sure as possible. I swore that I’d have to really be in love with him, and he with me. All the tales that say otherwise are lies.”
Nic nodded, indicating his acknowledgment of Jamie’s words. “So, you really never...”
“Never,” Jamie said with such a firm conviction Nic knew he was telling the truth. “And you?” Jamie asked. “A Gahdar of Rood... not just any gahdar, but the premier Gahdar of Rood – the Baron himself. You are surely a special prize to be won. Have you ever...?”
“No,” Nic was quick to reply. “The way you just described it, I’ve felt the same way.”
“I promised myself the first time would be with my mate,” Jamie said in the softest of whispers.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I guess I did too.”
“So what do we do now?” Jamie repeated the question he’d first asked.
Nic stood silently for a while, looking down at Jamie. He knew what he was feeling, and in the space of a breath, it came to him. It was so obvious what he must do. Extending his arm he reached out to Jamie, presenting an empty hand to the prince. Nic’s fingers were extended, his palm held upward. The voice in his head urged him on, so without pausing to think or argue with the feelings growing inside him, he eyes met those of the Prince. Their gaze was intense. The air about them electric.
“Taer tá mé, aer tá tú.” Nic finally broke the silence between them. He spoke the Icarian phrase slowly, softly and deliberately. The words came without trepidation or hesitation, as if he’d said them a thousand times before. As momentous as they were, he calmly voiced them, and as he did he was surprised to notice that the turmoil boiling up inside him only moments before was gone; replaced by an inner peace that filled and strengthened him. This was right.
Jamie looked at Nic and then at Nic’s outstretched hand. For a brief moment, it was all he could do. He knew the words had come from Nic. He’d watched the boy’s lips move, heard the phrase slip off the Gahdar’s tongue. He’d dreamt of this moment, knowing in his heart that it would – could – never happen, but it had, and now it was his turn. Suddenly he felt as if he were on the stage of the opera house, but instead of a thousand eyes upon him there were only one pair meeting his gaze, and they belonged to Nic, and they meant more than all the other thousands put together. His path lay clear before him.
The words of the gladiator were simple and direct: There you are, here I am. They were, in essence, the oath that formed the core of the Avionne mating ceremony. Spoken first by one half of the future whole, they were plain and unpretentious, yet they were the most powerfully intimate words any Avionne could say to another.
“Taer tá mé, aer tá tú.” Niklas gently repeated the short and simple phrase. But it was the look that he gave Jamie that spoke of the profound depth of trust and love that the phrase represented. Then the shyest of smiles came to the gladiator’s face. The sight caused Jamie’s hearts to pound excitedly.
The response, to be spoken by the other half of the future whole, was equally simple and profound.
Jamie’s eyes sparkled and Nic, staring into them, felt as he were standing under a star-filled sky watching the most intense fusillade of fireworks he’d ever experienced. The amazing, breathtaking smile Jamie beamed back at him was the brightest thing Niklas had ever seen. It lit up Jamie’s beautiful face and warmed Nic’s heart. Reaching out, the prince’s small, perfectly formed hand clasped that of the gladiator firmly. The tightness of Jamie’s grip surprised Nic. It bespoke strength and conviction.
“Synne flona te•torré.” Jamie confidently replied. “We fly together.”
The large sturdy bed that had been tucked into one of the spacious coves of the underground vault the Ghröum Sakki had called home was overstuffed and extremely comfortable. Nic told Jamie that it had belonged to his Ghröum teacher. With lots of plush pillows it was luxurious, but given Ghröum size and weight it made sense. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, his wings draped over the edge of the mattress, Jamie looked down at Nic’s flawless body. The Gahdar was stretched out on top of the bed, his head turned away. Jamie gently ran his hand between the wing cleft in Nic’s back then continued downward brushing his fingers gently across Nic’s lower back and bottom. The young prince stared down at the amazing man lying prostrate beside him and was tempted to pinch himself for fear he was dreaming.
“A lovely mating ceremony,” Jamie said, unable to suppress the giggle that accompanied his statement.
“We may be inexperienced, but I guess we didn’t need anyone to tell us what to do,” Niklas chuckled.
Nic turned to face the boy who was now his pa’amore, sitting in the bed next to him. Looking up, he watched Jamie smiling down at him. Returning Jamie’s smile, he looked lovingly at the beautiful young man, a true prince, sitting as unpretentiously as a playful child next to him. Reaching out, he stroked the warmth and softness of Jamie’s thigh; one of his fingers sliding across the strange tattoo on Jamie’s upper thigh. But for all the pleasure and sheer joy of their recent lover’s bed, he was slightly distracted.
“Jamie, be serious for a moment,” Nic said as he tucked in his wings and pulled himself up to a sitting position so that he was eye to eye with his mate. “Is what you just told me really true? Are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t have mentioned it if it weren’t,” Jamie said. “The genetics prove it. Your DNA and the DNA of Escalad Agramos, the Baron von Agramon, aren’t even extremely close, they’re identical, save the normal Icarian markers that include our wings, intelligence, strength, and longevity.”
Nic moved his hand down the boy’s leg to lightly stroke one of Jamie’s feet. He was amazed at how soft the boy’s skin felt, but even more amazed at Jamie’s tale; a tale that involved him.
“Let me try to explain.” Nic’s touch felt electric against the sole of his foot, and for an instant Jamie felt like stopping so that they could make love once more, but he fought the urge and pushed on. “Genetically speaking, I’m anywhere from ninety-four to ninety-six percent based directly on The Founder. Charlie exhibits ninety-one to ninety three percent, but in each case our father added other things. The older I get the more I discover why, but you Niklas... well...” “Jamie paused looking for the words,” Well... I guess... it’s as if they simply reanimated Agramos and put wings on him. Sorry, that just sounded like I was talking about you clinically, as if you’re not your own person.” Jamie reached down, picked up Nic’s hand from its resting place on his thigh and gently kissed it. “You’re very much your own man, Niklas von Agramon, but on the other hand, in many ways that’s what was done: a genetic copy of Agramon was created, and you’re him.”
“It’s strange that you say it that way,” Nic said, scooting even closer to Jamie. “When I first met Master Sakki, he said the same thing... as if they’d taken Agramos and put wings on him.”
“Wait,” Jamie interrupted. The look of shocked surprised he shot Nic caused the gahdar to blink. “Are you saying that your Ghröum, your Master Sakki, as you call him, knew Escalad Agramos?”
“He never really talked about it, after our first meeting” Nic answered calmly, “but from the way he said it, yes Jamie, I’m almost sure of it.”
“Then that means they’re far older than I ever thought.” A whisper of a reverent amazement colored the tone of his voice. “It convinces me more and more that there has to be some part of them in us.”
“What do you mean?”
“That whole story about bird markers and their incorporation into our genetic profile never made any sense to me,” Jamie said, his eyes suddenly alight with the revelation of a new truth. “I accepted it, because I never discovered the slightest evidence to the contrary. Still it seemed quite strange, but I knew father was a genetic genius and when I never came across evidence suggesting anything different, I just accepted without question. Its one of the most foolish things any scientist can do: accept without proof, agree without examination. But it all makes sense when you add the Ghröum to the equation.”
Nic smiled. Looking at the inquisitive glow forming on the face of his pa’amore, he could see Jamie’s eyes begin to glisten with flashes of curiosity and wonder, and he could just imagine the mental gymnastics the boy’s mind was going through, for Nic knew that he was witnessing genius in action.
“But that would mean...” Jamie continued but then stopped. A flash of inspiration went off in his head and while he felt as if he’d been hit by a bolt of lightening, it wasn’t painful or shocking, but rather a pleasant sensation: a sign of achieving a mental juncture where raw genius and hard learned lessons combine in a new and exciting way.
“Nic,” Jamie began, “Do you see...?” A second later, Jamie bounded off the bed. Stunningly naked and standing on the balls of his feet, his beautiful body stretched out in a mischievous yet seductive pose, the smiling boy unexpectedly performed the graceful spin of a trained dancer. Then, laughing in delight, Jamie did a gentle leap into the air and stopped to stare intently at his pa’amore.
“Nic, they’ve got it all wrong. I don’t know how Father did it, maybe it doesn’t even matter, but he deceived them all. They think they have the formula to recreate us, but they don’t. We have it... I have it!”
“What do you mean Jamie?”
“I thought – and certainly they thought – they had us. I was convinced that they controlled our means of reproduction. If they did, we could never become a true race. We could never truly break free. But it’s not true. They don’t have the knowledge they need to recreate us. If they also believe the bird marker theory, then they have no idea how father did it.”
“I don’t understand,” Nic replied. “They’ve been creating Icarians for years, both proper Icarians and Thrones, so they must know something.”
“Its a logical conclusion to make if you don’t know the whole story,” Jamie said, bounding back into the bed.
Getting up on his knees, he looked down at Nic. “Father told me that he’d created a few thousand special Icarian stem-cells that could eventually become embryos. It was one of the conditions placed on his retirement from Gold Glass. But even if they dramatically accelerated the program, they couldn’t be more than half-way through them. The current limits on how many Icarians the Empire allows to exist at any one time would mean they still have many more at their disposal. They haven’t needed to try and create more embryos from scratch, because they still have a large supply. And thrones are a different story. We’re closely related, but not completely. Perkinjius told me the process had become industrialized. It’s one reason there’s always a steady supply on hand to fight against the Gahdar. But for us, it’s a completely different story. When they get to the end of their supply, they’ll discover they can’t duplicate father’s results, and they’re going to be so very angry.” Jamie’s lips twitched up into a mischievous smile as he thought about that scene for a moment.
“I can think of a hundred questions, but you sound so sure.”
“Father’s team was very large by the time he departed Gold Glass. He employed countless assistants, and they worked around the clock. He told me he pushed himself to the limit spending long days in his private laboratory at Gold Glass completing the process. He did it by himself in secret. He always made a huge show in public, but it was all misdirection. Only he could really do it. Because they all watched they thought they could too. In the end he created an incredible amount of embryos. I know that he feared being ordered out retirement; forced to abandon his own private work at Dragon’s Cove.
“But once he was gone wouldn’t they have tried to make some on their own?”
“Or course. Logically it would make sense. And under normal circumstances they would have and then they’d have discovered the ruse, but I’ve told you about the plague. Its also reeked havoc at Gold Glass; more there than anywhere. I only found that out later by tapping into the classified data bases of the Imperial Network. The scientists at Gold Glass have been on the front line of fighting the plague for years. Many were lost. Some of Father’s team were put on the plague project and succumbed. Gold Glass has been a chaotic mess for years. They put on a good front, but nothing could be farther from the truth.”
Nic attention was fully focused on his pa’amore, “So they didn’t even try?”
“From what I learned they haven’t had time. With the situation continuing to deteriorate, now more rapidly then before, they’ve had their hands full. Remember they’ve been ordered to continue experimenting on the Icarian embryos Father created. They’ve also been heavily involved in the preparations around the flight of the planet’s leadership from Altinestra to Argon. Whole departments have been working on perfecting cold sleep technology and improving the stasis units. They’ve also continued to monitor the creation of the thrones. Another group has been working on the technology I found at Angel’s Haven. I’m sure of this chaos is one of the reasons my brother Loran has had difficulty in his tasks. There just aren’t enough qualified personal to carry out everything that needs done. And the closer we get to the end the worse it gets. It’s one reason they decided to abandon the Tenth Canon Project; too few people for too many problems.”
“It does make sense.” The thoughtful nod Nic gave Jamie indicated his understanding. “I’m starting to see.”
“I can’t say with complete certainty that I’m right, but when I think of some of my lessons with father and I recall some of the things he told me, it makes complete sense.”
“So if you have the formula, why didn’t you realize it before?” Nic moved to the edge of the mattress, threw his legs over the side of the bed and sat looking at Jamie.
“Because it hadn’t occurred to me. It was only when you mentioned Sak’ki and his having known Escalad Agramos that my mind made the connection. Both de Valèn and Agramos lived a very long time ago. If the same Ghröum that are alive today knew them then, it would make the Ghröum very old indeed. Gold Glass has passed off our longevity as some kind of happy accident – laboratory serendipity – but it’s just not logical when you study Icarian genetics.”
“And you have?” Nic asked.
“Yes, of course,” Jamie’s tone conveyed such self-assured casual confidence that Nic was left with little doubt as to the boy’s convincing conclusion. “I know samples from the Ghröum were taken – Ga’dhat told me himself. When the Ghröum saw Charlie and me they were convinced that there were similarities. Not only things like our wings, double hearts or even Charlie’s ears, but....”
“Your brother’s ears?” Puzzlement crept into Nic’s voice.
“Yes, sorry I never told you that, but I can discuss it with you later. It’s not important now,” Jamie impatiently replied. “What is important is that the samples were taken before the time the Ghröum call The War of the Destroyers. I think the findings are what led to their destruction. The scientist who took them was Terrot Almuron, one of the Cohort of Twenty-four and the founder of Gold Glass,” Jamie continued. “The Ghröum samples were examined at the time, but some of them were stored away for further study. It wasn’t until eons later, when father started his work at Gold Glass, that he discovered and used them. It’s incredibly stupid of me. I’ve known all of this for some time. But because parts of my knowledge came from the Ghröum, parts from father, and also quite a bit from other sources, each separate and distinct, I never tied them all together, though the facts were right under my nose.”
“Then where is the Icarian blueprint?” Nic asked amazed not only by Jamie’s revelation but the mental effort that had gone into its discovery.
“Mobley,” Jamie replied, giving Nic a devilish smirk.
“Your little comp teacher?” Nic frowned. “The one you told me about?”
“Yes,” Jamie’s smile grew brighter as he climbed into Nic’s lap. Putting his arms around the Gahdar, he gently kissed him. As he did, Nic, echoing the same tender touch Jamie had performed on him, lightly ran his fingers through the wing cleft on Jamie’s back, brushing gently down the boy’s lower back until his hand rested firmly on Jamie’s bottom. A giggle bubbled up in Jamie as he shivered at Nic’s touch, but then once more he was bounding out of the Gahdar’s lap to stand in front of his pa’amore. “Castor told me that hours before the imperial troops arrived at our home, Father was adamant about what Castor should take with them when the staff fled the villa. For one thing, he made it clear quite that Castor was to take Charlie and our battle flags.”
“Battle flags?” Nic asked, a frown of puzzlement on his face.
“Our battle standards,” Jamie said. “Like the one a ruler carries in battle to mark his position and to identify him to his troops. They always hung over our beds. When I was younger I thought they were just for decoration, but right before I was captured I realized what they were. Father felt we’d need them if it ever came to a war. He also had Castor take some other things, and he was insistent that the staff take Mobley. Castor told me that he’d suggested to Father that they just erase Mobley’s memory in such a way that it would be destroyed beyond retrieval and leave the comp behind. Father had the means to do so, but he wouldn’t hear of it. That little comp was hidden until it was brought to Stephen Perkinjius’ shop, where I finally saw it again. It’s still there, and somehow I have to retrieve it and then hide it again.”
“Jamie, going back to your friend’s shop would be very dangerous,” Nic said.
“Possibly. I’ll discuss it with Castor; maybe he can come up with a solution. But for now I think we should get dressed and go find Alexander. From what you said, he should be at the training center now.”
Jamie leaned over the bed, gave Nic a passionate kiss followed by a strong hug, then quickly retrieved his clothes that were scattered about the floor and began to dress. Nic smiled at his pa’amore’s exuberance. The boy’s energy often seemed boundless. A few minutes later they were headed back to the training center. Jamie, smiling and full of excitement, eagerly pulled Nic along; the happiness he exuded was infectious.
Entering the main hall of the center, the boys noticed a crowd gathered at the base of one of the Battlecoms. Glancing around, Jamie noticed that there were more people than normal scattered about the entire room; what’s more, many were rushing about as if in some sort of panic. A few were huddled together in groups, conferring in hushed tones. As they walked across the floor, Jamie saw Miro and his brother David engaged in an animated conversation. Both boys had uncharacteristically serious and troubled looks on their faces. Just then Miro looked up. Realizing that Nic had entered the training bay, he stopped David mid-sentence and dashed over to his friend.
“It’s Alexander,” Miro said, before Nic could ask his friend what was happening. “There was an accident in the Battlecom. Prince Alexander is dead!”
The next thirty minutes consisted of Miro and David giving Nic a detailed description of what had occurred after Alexander had entered the ring of the Battlecom. As they talked Nic’s friend Julius also joined them, adding his point of view since he had been standing closer than anyone else to the Battlecom Alexander had been using at the time of the accident. Jamie listened in shocked silence as a feeling of numbness swept over him. While he’d barely known Alexander, Jamie’d put his hope in the confident and charismatic young royal throne. Alexander had seemed the perfect Icarian to lead them, and Jamie was counting on the prince to listen and approve his plan; a hope that was now dashed. The meaning was clear, but he was having a hard time dealing with it. He was the leader of the revolution now, and it was up to him to see it succeed.
As Nic’s friends were finishing their narrative of events, the training center was ordered cleared and the Gahdar ordered to return to barracks. Jamie followed Nic to his room and when they arrived, Nic closed the door behind them.
“With Alexander gone, Loran has lost his mate,” a solemn-faced Jamie said. “According to Hippolito I was to be Loran’s scribe. I don’t even know what that means, but at this point it doesn’t matter.”
“Why?” Nic asked.
Jamie had explained some of Savaron Loka’s plans to Nic, but he still hadn’t gotten around to telling him everything. “I’ve become the wizard,” Jamie said softly as he slowly sat down on a nearby stool. “And my mate becomes the king.”
Nic head snapped up and the boy gave Jamie a look to suggest that his pa’amore just imparted the most shocking revelation the gladiator had ever heard.
“What do we do?” Nic asked.
“I don’t know,” Jamie said. “I honestly don’t know. I have to return to school. Castor needs to know. He was waiting to hear if Alexander would give my plan his approval... but now...”
Jamie paused and Nic could see that the boy was thinking.
“What?” Nic shot Jamie an inquisitive look that did little to mask his growing concern.
“I’m in charge,” Jamie said softly, giving Nic his own worried look. The gladiator could see that Jamie had grown pale and his brow was creased. After a moment, Jamie’s gaze grew even more intense. He flashed his pa’amore a grim and troubled expression and as an afterthought added, “No, that’s not right. Nic, we’re in charge.”
The soft yellow light that constantly lit the underground city cast a pale faded glow across the faces of the two boys sitting next to each other on a rough stone bench hewn from the cold hard rock wall that curved up to become the ceiling of the alcove where they sat. Between them sat a small tin of candied berba nuts.
“Have another,” Charlie said handing one to a smiling Giovanni.
“No more, please. I’ve already had enough.”
“Not me,” Charlie grinned, “They’re my favorite, you know?”
“No, I didn’t know,” Giovanni replied affecting a solemn look that he fought valiantly to maintain, but then he giggled and his composure crumbled, “Since you’ve only told me a thousand times already.”
Charlie pursed his lips trying to pout but it was hopeless, so giving up, he joined Giovanni’s laughter.
“Not a thousand,” he giggled, “but maybe a hundred.”
“Try a few hundred,” Giovanni quickly added with a chuckle.
Although they’d never inquired as to the source of the Ghröum’s foodstuffs, the large creatures nevertheless always seemed to have a ready supply. Berba nuts had not been a favorite of the large creatures, as Ga’dhat had confessed. Chosen for their nutritive value, they weren’t very palatable to the Ghröum, therefore, when given an alternative option, all of the Ghröum living in the underground city would always find reason to make another choice. Consequently their stockpile of berba nuts had grown quite large; a fact that Charlie found completely delightful.
As Charlie popped the offered berba nut into his mouth, Giovanni’s laughter receded. When Charlie looked over at the boy, he could see that a thoughtful look of concentration had replaced the mirthful one.
“What is it?” Charlie asked.
“I was just thinking about your brother,” Giovanni said. “It’s been a few days since you’ve heard from him. I’m a little worried that something might be wrong. I mean, after Alexander’s death and...”
“I understand your feelings,” Charlie replied. “I know we haven’t had any news, but Jamie’s more than capable of taking care of himself.”
“I know that,” Giovanni rejoined, still displaying a touch of the hero worship he ascribed to Jamie de Valèn. “But I wish we could find out something, anything. Do you really think his plan can work?”
“I don’t know, Giovanni. I know you have a lot of faith in him... so do I, but this plan of his is... well... it’s...”
“A lot,” Giovanni injected.
“A lot,” Charlie nodded in agreement. “That, and dangerous too. Along with being a bit fantastic, and... when I think of my brother, probably recklessly crazy.”
“I know you’re worried, Charlie.”
“I am, and I’m glad you understand. But I am also happy that at least he and Niklas have mated.”
“It’s still hard for me to believe,” Giovanni said. “I never knew Jamie to be interested in any other boys at the school.”
“That’s because he wasn’t. He’s been in love with Niklas von Agramon since he was ten years old. I can’t believe he finally admitted it to himself, let alone the Gahdar.”
“A Gahdar,” Giovanni replied breathlessly. “I never would have guessed.”
“I’ve always known,” Charlie grinned, “at least from the time Jamie first told me, by not really telling me anything. It’s strange, though...”
“I’ve never met Niklas, yet since Jamie and I share our thoughts, I feel like I know him quite well. And I do know that they love each other.”
“Jamie and Niklas are pa’amores now.”
“Yes, they are.”
“So they really did it?” Giovanni whispered almost as if to himself, and as the full meaning of his own words hit him, his eyes darted from Charlie to the ground as a bright red blush of embarrassment flushed his cheeks. “Sorry... I... ah... didn’t mean...”
“Well, we have an agreement between us,” Charlie mercifully intervened as he watched Giovanni’s face grow ever redder while his ears began to look as if in a few more seconds they’d burst into flames. “Although we can read each others thoughts, some of them are private and we’ve promised each other that we won’t dig. In addition, if we do find out anything by accident, it remains just between the two of us.”
“I think that’s wise,” Giovanni added thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t want anyone to know anything if we...”
“Yes,” Charlie countered and for a few seconds each boy stared intently into the other’s eyes.
Both boys abruptly stopped after speaking at the exact same time.
They shot each other a sheepish look when it happened a second time.
Charlie raised his hand to stop any further occurrences.
“The days ahead are going to be dangerous,” Charlie began, not looking directly at Giovanni. And although he and Giovanni had come to know each other very well, he was quite surprised that suddenly his hearts were pounding violently in his chest as his palms started to become sweaty. “I know we’re younger than my brother and his mate. We haven’t even fully completed our puberty cycle, but...”
“Yes?” Giovanni’s voice was filled with nervous expectation.
“Well... ah...,” Charlie faltered.
Standing up, the young royal throne took a step towards Charlie.
Charlie studied the boy standing before him, drinking in the serious and determined look etched on Giovanni’s face that he’d come to love. He’d begun to call it the royal throne look, and although he couldn’t prove it, he suspected that Jamie had also been on its receiving end of it when Niklas von Agramon gave his brother the same intense, serious look of honest conviction.
“I want this if you do,” Giovanni finally replied so softly Charlie could barely hear him.
Looking at Giovanni, Charlie nodded recalling that the first time he’d had laid his eyes upon the boy, he’d immediately known why Giovanni had made such an impression on his older brother. There was no doubt that the young Icarian standing before him was virtuous and pure. Possessing two hearts filled to the brim with an abundance of compassion, courage, and kindness, the boy had no idea what a rare and beautiful being he was, but Charlie knew.
Sliding off the bench, Prince Charlie de Valèn stood facing Giovanni. Beaming a warm and loving smile, the prince struck a regal and confident pose. Giovanni blinked, then smiled back because even if he hadn’t realized Charlie and Jamie de Valèn were brothers before, he’d have instantly known it at that moment: both boys had the same noble poise and bearing that, if they wished, could make every eye focus on them when they entered a room. If asked, Giovanni suspected each brother would have denied any knowledge of it. It was such a natural part of them that he was sure they weren’t even aware of the effect their countenance and demeanor had on most people. But there was no doubt that both boys could summon a commanding presence when one was needed. From what he’d learned from Charlie, it was one of the inherent traits both brothers received directly from The Founder.
Slowly as if suddenly conscious of the solemnity of the moment, Charlie extended his arm and watched as Giovanni’s eyes darted back and forth between Charlie’s face and the young imperial’s open palm. Seconds passed. To both boys it seemed much longer.
“Taer tá mé, aer tá tú.” Charlie’s voice finally broke the silence. And for one brief and special moment, the words seemed to hang in the air before the young royal throne.
A few seconds passed and Giovanni, still staring at Charlie’s soft and delicate hand, stood like a statue frozen in time. Charlie remained firm and resolute, his hand rock steady, an unwavering smile on his face. Then, moving with a speed so fast Charlie’s eyes couldn’t follow, Giovanni’s hand gripped the hand of the prince. Leaning forward, Giovanni gave Charlie a light kiss, and then leaned back slightly to stare into Charlie’s devastatingly beautiful green eyes.
“Synne flona te•torré.”