The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part III – The Alliance



Chapter 25


The monk – an older, rotund man – was closely attended by two younger monks. All three had their cowls drawn over their heads. As the older man moved to take his seat, one of the younger men pulled out the chair for him. Dust and chips of plaster littered the seat – a consequence of my recent angry outburst. The younger man brushed it off. Once it was clean, the older man dropped into it and arrogantly surveyed the room. The two monks accompanying him backed away from the bench, taking up positions directly behind him.


Although his head was covered with the hooded cowl, I could see that the man was completely bald. After taking his seat, he let out a deep sigh of relief as if he was glad to finally be sitting. It appeared that he and his companions had rushed to the meeting; he was breathing rapidly, and beads of sweat stood out on his brow.


He paused, taking a few seconds to compose himself. Looking up at him, I could see that his face – framed by the black monk’s cowl – had a serious and stern look to it. Slowly he reached up and pushed the black hood from his head and as it fell back, coming to rest across his shoulder blades, I noticed even more sweat beading up on his flushed scalp. Finally, after fidgeting in his chair, he looked up and surveyed the room. Turning to scan the members of our group, he scowled. His gaze eventually came to rest on Nic, but then he abruptly spun around to spear Lord Ottavia with a hard look; he began to address the Council members, who by now were all watching him intently.


“I see the demons are already here, and from what I just heard as I was entering the council chamber, it appears that they have you under their power. I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard General Zakaria pledge to assist these monsters. How can you be such fools? Don’t you know that they’ll destroy all of us?”


“We don’t wish to destroy anyone.” I stepped forward, interrupting his tirade. “We’re peaceful and have never meant any harm to anyone.”


“It doesn’t look like you’re very peaceful,” the monk said, pointing to the holes in the wall behind him.”


“That was in self-defense,” I replied hotly. “Your so-called mage was going to harm King Niklas.”


“Ah... well… there ah… there appeared to be a bit of a misunderstanding, Abbot Carlos,” Lord Ottavia said as he stood and addressed the abbot. “They have just finished telling us their story. General Zakaria even concurs and thinks that there is promise in an alliance.”


“An alliance with the devil!” Abbot Carlos shouted. “What manner of fools are all of you – and members of the High Council at that! A few clever words from these vermin and you’re ready to turn your back on centuries of church doctrine.”


I was surprised to see Charles step forward, but remained silent. Moving in front of the abbot, Charles gave the man a slight bow – one that I certainly didn’t think was deserved.


“Abbot Carlos, I know that we upset the sacred universe that you and your order have worked for centuries to establish, but as you can clearly see, here we are alive and standing before your eyes. You may wish that we’d never appeared. You may even wish that we never existed, but even if you eradicate us from the face of this world, your days of absolute power and influence may very well be numbered. The religion that you established on the myth that creatures with wings will destroy your world is coming to an end.”


“And what proof do any of us have that you won’t destroy this world?” Abbot Carlos exclaimed. “You’re devils sent from the pit of hell. I would never listen to any of you!” Carlos was almost screaming now


“You can’t deny what you see!” Charles was now yelling back at the old monk.


“I can deny anything I wish, especially when it is one of your spells.” As Carlos said this, he pointed at me.


“The only spell that has been cast here is the truth,” Nic said, turning to Abbot Carlos as he spoke. I could see the anger flash in his eyes as he looked at the monk.


“We have sworn solemnly that we mean you no harm,” Nic continued. “All we want to do is establish our kingdom and live in peace. If you prefer that we go our own way and leave you alone we will happily do so; all we ask is the same from you regarding us.”


“That is impossible!” Carlos yelled as he rose from his seat. He glared at Nic and pointed a finger at him. “If you think you can come here and with a few words and lies convince this council to bow to your wishes, you are a fool.”


“We may be many things, Abbot Carlos,” Charles said glaring up at the monk, “But I can assure you, abbot, we are not fools.”


“Abbot Carlos…” Lord Ottavia began, but was interrupted by General Zakaria, who had remained standing next to Nic as the abbot conducted his tirade against us.


“Carlos, not only do I believe these Icarians mean us no harm, I personally believe they are one of the keys to many things that we don’t understand – things that have caused us strife since the fall of the City of Light. I think with an alliance we can not only change the course of the negative history we have lived – fighting and killing each other – but also set ourselves on a different and better path.


“At the very least, we can listen to and learn more about them. They’ve offered my men no resistance and it appears they have been cooperative up to this point. There are no good reasons to jump to unfounded conclusions until all the facts and evidence are presented. I see no evidence that justifies locking them up or submitting them to the kind of abuse and torture The Holy Office doesn’t seem to mind using.


“Furthermore, I intend to seek support for them from all the kingdoms. I plan to leave for Xannameir in a few days, and when I arrive there, I will inform the royal court of these events. I will be recommending to the King of Xannameir that a general council of all the kingdoms be held, so that these matters may be addressed openly by the leadership of all the kingdoms.”


Abbot Carlos stood glaring at Zakaria. At first I thought he was speechless, but then gathering himself together, he began to speak. His face was an apoplectic red, and a vein throbbed in his forehead as he spat out his words at Zakaria and the council.


“All of you are fools, and you will pay dearly for your stupidity. Months ago, after this one was captured,” he stopped and pointed at me. “The other one broke into your headquarters and murdered your men. Now you stand here and try to defend them?”


“I feel what happened in Tardon was a regrettable mistake,” Zakaria said. His demeanor remained cool, seemingly unaffected by the churchman’s histrionics. “Jamie was captured and King Niklas did what he thought necessary to save him. The circumstances were unusual. Knowing what I know now I would have handled it differently, but regrettable or not, I won’t let you twist those events to support your despicable actions. The Holy Office and your blessed knights have killed more people then all the men in my army put together.”


“You are all committing heresy,” Abbot Carlos shouted, “and the full weight of the Holy Office will be brought to bear against you. I will be sending word of these events to the Sacred Father. As you well know, he will not be so easily duped by these creatures.”


Suddenly he whirled around to face the two monks who had entered the council chamber with him. He turned so quickly the chair he was sitting on rocked back and forth, but before it toppled over, one of the monks reached out and steadied it. Grumbling angrily to both the monks, he abruptly quit the chamber, leaving his two companions hurrying to catch up with him.


For a few seconds there was nothing but silence in the High Council chamber. Finally, General Zakaria spoke.


“It’s time Gude, his predecessors, his monks and the entire Holy Office were brought to heel, along with their dogs The Knights of Sarjanus. They’ve cut a swath of ignorance, prejudice, pain, hatred, and death throughout this entire land for centuries. M’lords, enough is enough.”


I noticed that the general had his right hand in the pocket of his uniform and he appeared to be fingering something, but I didn’t think it prudent to enter his mind in an attempt to find out what it was.


“But General,” Lord Ottavia said, “What of the others, led by the one called Loran? It appears he is definitely not peaceful, and in fact, does intend us harm.”


“Your fight with Loran is also ours,” Nic said, interrupting Ottavia and Zakaria’s discussion. “We wish peace, and if he will not cease his hostility to all of us then we must stop him, not only for our sakes, but also for your welfare.”


“Lord Ottavia,” Zakaria said, looking up at the bench, “I suggest we begin talks with the Icarians immediately, but first let us extend to them a temporary home here in Konassas. I’m sure the Council can provide them with suitable accommodations that will be both comfortable and safe.”


As I listened to the General, I was pleased that he seemed to be a supporter of our cause, and was grateful that he was recommending that we find a safe haven in Konassas.


“Uhm,” Lord Ottavia said, pausing to think. “Yes, I believe we can allow them to stay in the Amber Palace. The lower floors have been a museum for the past two hundred years, but all of the upper floors are vacant; not only that, they have often been used to house visiting ambassadors and delegations from the other kingdoms, so I believe it will be suitable for them.”


Turning to Nic and I, he continued, “We will provide some of our troops as guards for your protection.”


“Very well,” Zakaria said. “Then I suggest that you have them escorted there and see to their comfort.” Then to Nic, he added, “Let’s put this episode with Abbot Carlos and the holy bloodsuckers behind us; we have much to discuss.”


Turning to me he continued, “While you and the others make your way to the Amber Palace, perhaps I could have a few minutes in private with King Niklas – if you wouldn’t mind?” He asked, glancing inquiringly between Nic and I.


“That would be acceptable, General Zakaria,” Nic said. “Jamie, would you take the others to this place they call the Amber Palace? I’ll join you when the General and I are finished.”


Although I was interested in what the general had to say to Nic, I was even more interested in seeing what kind of accommodations the High Council was giving us. I also knew that at the very least Luc and Jonathan were tired, and all of us needed a bath, clean clothing – if available – and some well deserved rest in a real bed, if such things existed here. I nodded my assent to Nic, and he smiled at me – probably more in relief then pleasure. I surmised he’d expected me to protest his private meeting with Zakaria, and when I acquiesced to his wishes, I could see that he was glad that he wouldn’t have to argue with me over the matter.


As the general was about to usher Nic out of the room, he abruptly turned to Tark and his men.


“Lieutenant Commander,” Zakaria said.


“Yes, My Lord General,” Tark said, as he and his men jumped to attention, quickly saluting.


“You are dismissed.”


“Yes, My Lord General,” Tark answered, and with a salute they turned and began to file out of the council chamber.


As Tark approached the door, Zakaria called out, “Juston.”


Tark spun around and immediately stood at attention.


“My Lord General?” he said, as his men, who suddenly realized what was happening, also turned and were now standing at attention behind their commander.


“Well done. This could have been a disaster; you and your men handled yourselves admirably. You are all granted a few days rest, and there will be commendations forthcoming. Go now, and I’ll send for you when I return to Tahkor.”


Tark gave a final salute, turned on his heels and led his men from the room.


The General turned to Nic and with a gesture, escorted him from the room. As I stood watching Nic leave, I felt a hand on my elbow. Still a bit wary over the incident involving Artus and the surprise entrance of Abbot Carlos, I jumped at the touch. Looking to my right, I saw that it was Lord Ottavia.


“Your Grace,” he said, giving me a slight bow. “While the general meets with His Majesty King Niklas and his staff in the next few days to discuss military and defense matters, I think that it would be good for you to meet with the Governing Council.”


“Governing Council? I’m afraid I don’t understand, Lord Ottavia.”


“The High Council is the formal ruling body of the kingdom of Kalas,” Ottavia said in explanation, “but it’s far too large to govern our kingdom effectively. When it comes to laws, legislation, taxes, tariffs, trade, judicial pronouncements and the like, it is divided into a series of lesser councils. The Governing Council creates and enforces all the laws – it is both legislative and executive. The Law Council is the highest judicial authority in the kingdom. Although both of these councils are subordinate to the High Council, it’s rare that the High Council overrules them. Because each has a bureaucracy and experts in these matters, the High Council usually defers to them and approves their proposals.”


“That’s fine Lord Ottavia, I’ll happily meet with the Governing Council; if it would not be an imposition, I have a request. I’d also like Lord Charles to be a part of these meetings,” I said, motioning toward Charles, who was talking to Lance and Cody. “His knowledge of such things is far greater then mine, and I value his opinion.”


“Very well Your Grace, as you wish,” and with that Ottavia bowed deeply and smiled at me. “I also want to extend the hospitality of the Kingdom of Kalas to you,” he continued. “I believe you and the King, along with your companions, will be pleased with the accommodations we can provide you.”


“I’m sure we will,” Charles interjected from behind my left shoulder. He had seen me point to him as I addressed Ottavia, and now stood beside me.


“Thank you Lord Ottavia,” he said sincerely. “I want you to know that we’re all grateful for your hospitality and your support. I realize you’re going against many years of negative traditions against us, but I want you to know that we’ll not deceive you or cause you to regret the decision that you’ve made today. The ability to think beyond the constraints of tradition is a sign of an enlightened mind.”


“Not so much enlightenment as trust, I fear,” Ottavia replied with a wry smile. “His Grace, the Duke of Lionsgate, is a man of worth, proven many times over the years that we have been associates. But you must all be very tired. Let me summon your escort.”


Ottavia then turned to the one of the guards who’d been posted at the door when we first entered the council room. “Escort the Icarian delegation to the Amber Palace,” he said. “In the meantime, I will have someone alert the palace attendants to their coming.”


The guard bowed deeply to Lord Ottavia, then straightened and approached Charles and I.


“If you would be good enough to follow me,” the young soldier said as he turned and started out of the room.


Charles and I led the way, and everyone else followed. We quickly left the council chambers and made our way out of the building by the same route we’d entered. After a few minutes, we were standing under the portico, facing the forum of Konassas. Without pausing, the guard led us out onto the white paving of the square. Once in its center, we turned left and headed toward a large, palatial building. It was a structure over six stories tall, capped with a small marble and copper dome. Like the Council Palace, it too had a portico held up by graceful marble columns with elaborately carved capitals.


Climbing the steps to the portico I turned to Charles, who was walking next to me


“I don’t know about you Charles, but after that surprise visit from Abbot Carlos, I think this is far from over.”


“I have to agree with you, Jamie. We’ve struck a small spark that I fear may turn into a raging firestorm before it’s finished, with Gude and the Holy Office directly in its center.”


“How safe do you really think we’ll be here?” I said.


“The General promised us protection, and Lord Ottavia agreed,” Charles replied.


“The thing I wonder about is are the guards they’re stationing here meant to keep danger out, or us in?”


We passed underneath the portico and Charles gave me a troubled look and a shrug.


“I guess some of both,” he finally replied.


“That’s what I thought,” I whispered back to him.


Once we passed through the large open door of the Amber Palace, we were greeted by a tall, thin man who stared at us with a serious and somber look etched on his face. He waited until everyone was assembled before him, then he took a deep breath, and began to address us.


“I am Edmond Cob, Master of Household for the Amber Palace. I, along with the servants of this palace, have been directed to serve you and attend to your needs. But first it will be necessary for all of you to choose your quarters. The first floor of this building is a museum. During your stay here, you are permitted to pass through it and view any of the objects on display, but you are not allowed to use any of the first floor rooms with the exception of the grand salon and the formal dining room, of which you are granted use if you choose to host a special dinner or reception. The upper floors contain a series of rooms and private apartments. Each apartment has facilities for bathing and sleeping, in addition to general living space. Some of the apartments have salons and private dining rooms. There are many rooms and suites to choose from, and we will be pleased to accommodate your requests and needs to the best of our abilities. Please be welcome to the Amber Palace.”


Cob paused, and once more cast his gaze over us. “If you have brought any possessions with you, we will see that they are taken to your rooms.”


“We have very little,” Charles said.


“Speak for yourself,” Miro said as he and David, with the help of Luc and Philippe, set their additional weapons and armor on the floor with a loud clatter. Initially they had been ordered to leave them at the entrance to the Council Palace, but upon leaving the building they’d retrieved them before walking across the square to the Amber Palace.


“Why do you need all those things?” I said, giving the twins a frown.


“To kill people, of course,” David said – his mouth turning up in a grin.


“Well, there isn’t going to be any killing of anyone,” Charles said, giving the boys one of his famous scowls.


“That remains to be seen, Lord Charles,” Miro said with a smile. “From the way that monk was looking at us, I think we better plan some sparring practice. What do you think, David?”


David nodded his head enthusiastically, and Charles and I continued to frown at them while we all followed Cob as he started up the large marble staircase in the foyer of the Amber Palace.


After reaching the second floor of the palace, we found ourselves in the residence quarters of the building. As a group we moved down the hall with Edmond Cob in the lead. Moving a few feet forward at a time, we would stop in front of a door waiting for Cob to open it in order to give us a view of a particular suite, room or salon. Methodically we walked up and down the hall more than a few times, stopping at room after room – sometimes looking at the same rooms two or three times – while everyone tried to decide which apartment they would take.


Lance was the first to choose, and although his apartment was quite small, it was beautifully appointed. Cody’s apartment – an entire suite next to Lance’s room – was open and spacious. Upon initially viewing the blue-winged angel’s rooms, I was impressed at how bright and well-lit Cody’s quarters were, due to the warm, glowing sunlight that poured through a large span of windows set into the far wall of the main salon.


Charles chose a small but cozy suite for Jonathan and Luc that seemed perfect for the two boys. I was also glad to see that it sat between Lance’s apartment and the one Charles chose for himself.


Miro and Philippe took a large suite across the hall from the younger boys’ apartment, and once more I was pleased with their choice. The fact that Miro would be near the youngest members of our group, thus adding to their protection, gave me a greater sense of security.


Charles picked a large, beautifully furnished and decorated suite further down the hall. It had a grand salon filled with beautiful marble and alabaster statues and busts. It also had a sunny bedroom, luxurious bath suite and a large library with shelves of books lining the entire room – the main reason, I suspected, Charles had been drawn to the apartment.


At first David couldn’t find anything that suited him, until he came to the last room on the right side of the hall. It was small, but for some reason he was quite pleased with it.


Finally Edmond Cob directed me to a door on the left at the end of the long hallway.


“These are the apartments we have chosen for both you, Your Grace, and His Majesty King Niklas,” Cob said, giving me a slight bow. “I was informed that the two of you would be living together, and these are the finest rooms in the palace.”


At first I was ready to protest that all the others had gotten to choose their own apartments while Nic and I were being assigned ours as if we were children, but the impulse quickly died when Edmond opened the door of the apartment and ushered me in.


The large, formal salon was grand and beautiful. Along the far end of the main room, a long expanse of purple-and-gold-draped windows allowed for a spectacular view overlooking the forum of Konassas, in addition to drenching the room in warm, bright sunlight. Frescoes adorned the ceiling and the hand woven carpets placed on the marble tiled floor were soft and plush. There were mosaics on some of the walls, and many beautiful pieces of art had been placed about the room. Colorful, hand-painted porcelain vases filled with great bunches of sweet-smelling flowers were everywhere. As I made my way around the salon, I noticed that the furniture included many pieces without backs, which would allow us to sit comfortably in them.


Walking to the far end of the room through another door, I came upon a small anteroom. At first I wasn’t sure what it was for, but when I glimpsed a view of a large bed in the next room, I realized it was a small, private sitting room that adjoined the bedchamber that lay beyond. Although the room wasn’t very large, it was quite beautiful. A fresco adorned the ceiling and large tapestries, reaching from floor to ceiling, hung on two of its walls. The room was carpeted with a red and gold rug; it held a few pieces of comfortable furniture and a small table where correspondence could be done or a light breakfast might be taken.


Passing quickly through the bedchamber, I entered the bath and found myself taking in a deep breath when I realized how opulent and impressive it was. The bath itself was a large sunken pool in the center of the floor, filled with warm water. A small fountain bubbled up in the center of it and I could see that the spacious bath would easily accommodate six or seven people at one time. There was also a tiny room that was attached to the bath, filled with moist warm steam that billowed out at me when I opened the door to look inside.


I couldn’t help noticing that the marble floor felt warm underfoot, and even though the room was on the second floor and devoid of normal windows, light poured in through strange-looking openings in the ceiling. Anticipating my questions, Cob explained that fires stoked in the basement of the palace warmed large reservoirs that provided hot water for the bath, steam for the sauna, and also flowed through pipes in the floor, keeping the marble slightly warm for anyone walking across it in their bare feet. The light, he explained, was a mystery. It gave the illusion of being from a window, but with four more floors above us that was impossible; according to Cob, no one had ever discovered how the effect was created. I thought back to the glowing bars in the underground chamber where we’d met Tark and the cohort, and smiled to myself.


Making my way back to the bedchamber, I found myself standing in a small sitting area. Looking further across the room, I was pleased to see a grand bed sitting at one end of it. The massive bed was big enough to comfortably accommodate two boys with large wings. Open and low to the ground so it would be easy to climb into and out of, its headboard, footboard and sides were adorned with amazing carvings featuring a wild assortment of birds and fish. They looked so real, I expected to see one of the swans carved into the foot board begin to swim, while in the headboard the pair of large cranes, each with a freshly caught fish in its mouth, appeared to be ready to take off into the sky. More large windows overlooked the forum, and the sunlight they brought into the bedchamber made it a warm and inviting place.


Leaving the bedchamber, I walked through the rest of the apartment, taking in as much as my overloaded senses would allow. Off of the grand salon, there was a private dining room for intimate dinners. Above the large carved and marquetry decorated table that stood in the middle of the room, a domed ceiling loomed overhead, held aloft by gilded stone columns and decorated with an amazing fresco of huntsmen and dogs chasing a brace of stags. Opening onto the dining room were two more rooms. One was a small parlor, the other a library – not as big as the one in Charles suite, but perfect for Nic and me.


“Will this be suitable, Your Grace?” Cob asked, his voice suddenly rousing me from my self-absorbed wonder.


“Ah… yes….” I said, pausing. “…Yes Cob, this will be perfect, although I didn’t think His Highness and I really need such a large suite. The grand salon is beautiful, but it seems much larger then the two of us require.”


“In the past, Your Grace, it has been used for private meetings and receptions, and that is one of the reasons we chose the suite for you. If you aren’t pleased, we can make other arrangements.”


“No, it’s quite suitable – it’s just more then I expected. I know King Niklas will be quite pleased.”


“Very well,” Cob said giving me a slight bow. “I will take my leave now. All of the apartments that have been chosen should include everything you will need, but if you desire anything, I can assure you that there have been servants assigned to you. I will see that they introduce themselves. Clothing will be provided, but you will have to give us time…” Cob paused, looking directly at my large wings, “I will see that a tailor visits all of you since certain adjustments will have to be made.”


I nodded my agreement and walked to the windows overlooking the forum. Turning back to ask a question, I was surprised to see that he was gone and I only caught sight of the door rapidly closing, followed by a soft click as it shut. For a while, I stood looking out the windows, taking in the view. Finally rousing myself from my thoughts, I decided to take another walk through the apartment. Slowly I went from room to room, taking time to study the beautiful suite once more, in greater detail. A few minutes into my tour, there was a gentle knock at the door.


“Come in,” I called.


The handle of the door turned and an older man entered, followed by a few other men and women.


“Your Grace, I am Sandro,” the first man said, giving me a deep and respectful bow. He was dressed in formal clothing and had a velvet jacket with gold trim “Edmond Cob has assigned us to see to your needs during your stay here. I am the steward for the guest residences of this palace.”


He turned to the others and one-by-one, introduced them.


“Jaysune” Sandro said, indicating a man dressed plainly in brown trousers and a cream-colored shirt, “is in charge of those who clean and maintain the rooms. If you require anything, please ask and he will see to it that you are well supplied.”


“Arnod is head of the kitchen,” he said, pointing to a large, smiling man dressed in a smock, wearing an apron, and with wooden clog-like shoes on his feet. “Marget and Corin,” he continued, while at the same time gesturing toward two older women dressed in the same style as Arnod, “are his assistants. They will provide your meals, and will try to accommodate any special requests you may have.” 


“Barzo,” Sandro said, pointing to a thin man wearing a blousy linen shirt, leather leggings and boots, “is our stable master.  If you wish a horse, one of his boys will see that it is brought to you.”


“Thank you,” I said, nodding and smiling at all of them.


“Your Grace,” Arnod said as soon as the introductions were complete. “Would you prefer a private dinner with the king this evening?”


“Uhm,” I began, realizing it had been a while since we had eaten. “If you could bring all of us something in our rooms as soon as possible, I would be grateful. We haven’t eaten since early morning. For this evening though,” I added thoughtfully, “I think we will all eat together downstairs in the formal dining room. If that’s permitted?”


“Of course, Your Grace,” Sandro said. “I will see that you and your delegation have something immediately, and this evening we will prepare the dining room for you and your companions to have supper there.” Then turning to Arnod and the two, he motioned for them to leave, and I assumed that he was sending them to the kitchen to begin preparing our food.


“The bath should have everything you need, Your Grace,” Jaysune said, bowing slightly, “but I will go and set everything out for you, if you wish to bathe now.”


“Yes, that would be fine,” I said, as visions of climbing into the warm steamy water began to fill my head.


Jaysune smiled, quickly bowed, and then he walked past me as he entered the bedchamber, making his way to the bath.


“Will that be all, Your Grace?” Sandro asked. “If so, we will take leave of you and attend to our duties,”


“Ah… yes… “ I said, my mind suddenly snatched back to reality from my fantasy of a hot bath.


But as Sandro and Barzo were getting ready to leave, I called out to them. “Barzo?” I said, giving the stable master a questioning look.


“Yes, Your Grace,” Barzo said, turning to face me.


“Do you know the two horses King Niklas and I rode when we arrived in the city?” I asked.


“Yes, they belong to the Xannameirian garrison that guards the city. The large brown stallion is Galad, and the gray is Arax.”


“Yes, that is correct,” I said. “I was wondering if His Majesty and I could use them during our stay here. I’m not sure if it is allowed, but we rode them here. I know King Niklas was pleased with Galad, and Arax seems the perfect horse for me.”


“I will submit your request to the garrison, but at this moment I do not see any difficulty in granting it. One of the General’s aides came to us earlier, informing us that we are to see you well cared for.”


“Thank you, Barzo,” I said, giving the man a warm smile. Since we were now guests of the High Council and General Zakaria, I didn’t see any reason not to be pleasant and mannerly.


As the two men were leaving, Jaysune came scurrying out of the bedroom.


“Your Grace,” he said, once more bowing. “Everything is prepared for your bath. I regret that we don’t have any fresh clothing for you, but if you remove your garments, I will see that they are cleaned immediately and ready for you to wear this evening.”


I nodded in agreement and began to make my way through the grand salon with Jaysune following. Just as I started to enter the bedroom I heard the door open once more and turned to see Nic standing there.


“Is this our apartment?” he asked, looking around the room in amazement.


“Yes,” I said. “And I was about to take a bath, if you wish to join me,” I added, giving him a smile.


“Is the water hot?” Nic asked.


“It will be,” I said with a grin, “especially if you join me.”


I could see Jaysune looked a bit puzzled and he quickly said, “But the water is already hot, Your Grace, everything is ready for you,” then seeing Nic and suddenly realizing who was standing before him, he bowed deeply and added “and also for you, Your Highness.”


Nic and I made our way into the bedroom where we disrobed, handing Jaysune all of our clothes. Like all humans, as soon as we were naked, I could see that he was fascinated with our wings and how they really were a part of us. As soon as he was in possession of our clothing, Jaysune told us he would get them cleaned immediately and have them returned to us. Then bowing, he exited through the bedroom. A few seconds later, I heard the door to the salon close, and Nic and I were finally alone.


Moving to the bath, I approached the marble steps that led down into it and slowly stepped down, feeling the hot water surround my body as I moved lower and lower into its depths. Nic followed, and soon we were waist deep in the bubbling, pulsing water. The fountain in the middle of the bath sprayed water out in a circle and I moved under it, wetting my hair and face, not to mention the upper half of my wings. Nic did the same, then without warning, he brought his hand down hard on the surface of the water, creating a large splash that drenched me.


“I’m going to cast a wizard’s spell on you for that,” I said, laughing and sputtering.


“You already did, Jamieboy,” he said, smiling at me. “A long time ago.”


Looking to the side of the bath I noticed a basket filled with soaps, oils and fragrances. A pile of large fluffy towels sat next to it.


Treading through the water, I made my way over to the basket. I withdrew a round piece of clear, yellow-tinted soap, and then moved back to Nic. I began to soap his back and then moved to his chest. I scrubbed every part of him, making sure he was clean and fresh smelling. When I was finished, he did the same for me. After he was finished, he wrapped his arms around me and leaned up against the edge of the bath. I lay my head on his chest and felt the strength of his arms around me. For the first time in months, I relaxed. I could almost see the stress and anxiety of our life on the trail sluicing off of me and running down the drain with the hot water.


After a few minutes I looked up at him.


“So what happens now, Nic?” I asked.


“I guess I continue meeting with General Zakaria, and you meet with the High Council,” he said. “The General is an amazing man, Jamie. He’s not just a soldier, but also a scholar and an aristocrat. He didn’t tell me he was a noble, but his aides kept bowing to him and calling him My Lord. I think he’s a Duke from the way they addressed him.”


“He is, Nic,” I said, suddenly remembering the proclamation he had signed back in Tardon, and Ottavia’s comment. “If I remember, he’s the Eighteenth Duke of Lionsgate, whatever that means.”


“I think it means he’s rather important. A general, who is commander of the entire armed forces of a country and a nobleman with the title of Duke – I’d say he has a fair amount of influence. Did you see how the members of the High Council paid him deference?”


“Yes, but I was even more impressed in the way he stood up to that Abbot – one of Gude’s lackeys.”


“Well Jamie, we’d best be careful of that. Zakaria may be influential, but remember what Tark told us about the church. It’s a powerful and all-pervasive institution in this land.”


“I know,” I said, turning my head away and looking down, “and then there’s Loran to worry about.”


“I guess we’ll sort it all out as time goes by.” Nic said, holding me tighter. “Zakaria told me he’s going to his king – the King of Xannameir – and recommending he convene a Council of Kingdoms. He said it’s only the third time in his lifetime one has been called, so it must be something rather special and important.”


“I know something else that’s important,” I said quietly as I moved closer to the King of Icaria, raised my head and placed my lips on his. We began to kiss, but then I startled, stopped and backed away from Nic when I once more heard the door of our apartment open.


“What now? Is there no such thing as privacy around here?” I said in a vexed tone.


Hearing still more movement, I turned toward the door of the bath to find Luc and Jonathan traipsing into the room. They stopped at the edge of the large pool.


“I thought our rooms were beautiful,” Luc said looking around the room in amazement. “But your rooms are ten times more beautiful.”


Nic unwrapped his arms from my body and made his way over to the boys.


“Aren’t you happy with your rooms?” he asked.


“Yes, Luc said, “I was just surprised to see how big your apartment is – you even have your own library.”


“So does Charles,” Jonathan piped up. “And David can watch the soldiers fight.”


“From that remark,” I said, raising one eyebrow and looking at Luc, “I assume you’ve visited everyone’s apartment.”


“Yes, we did,” Luc said. “First we took a bath, then we slept for a while. When we woke up, we started to explore everyone’s rooms. We came here last, and here we are.”


I noticed that Luc had on a new tunic. It was exquisitely fashioned and made him look quite handsome. The snowy white garment was trimmed in blue and gold and he had a blue sash tied around his waist. I also noticed that he was wearing fine new leather sandals. Jonathan also had on new sandals, but was wearing one of his old but clean tunics – in fact, it was the one Cody had given him when we first rescued him from the circus people. I assumed that since Luc was human, it had been easy to outfit him with new clothes. Jonathan, like the rest of us, would have to wait for new clothing until we could be properly fitted.


“And what did you discover in your exploration?” Nic said, starting to make his way up the steps of the bath.


“Well, like I said,” Luc answered, “David’s room overlooks one of the sparring places for the soldiers. When we went to see Charles he was looking at some of the books in his library – he already had a pile of them on one of the tables.”


“Lance was with Cody,” Jonathan interrupted. “He was taking a bath with him like you and His Grace are.”


“Miro and Philippe’s door was locked. When we knocked, Miro shouted for us to go away.” Luc said.


“Uhm,” Nic said as he reached down to pick up one of the soft towels at his feet. “It seems you two have a talent for interrupting certain activities – maybe we should move you to another floor,” he said as he began to dry himself with the towel, all the while looking down and smiling at Luc.


“NO!” Luc shouted. “We want to be with all of you. We just wanted to see what everyone’s place looked like,” he added innocently.


“And except for the apartment of Miro and Philippe,” I said, stepping out of the bath and reaching for a towel. “It looks like you have.”


“Why don’t you go back to your apartment for a bit?” I said, looking down at the two boys. “Nic and I have some things to discuss. And anyway, this evening we’re all going to eat together. Ok?”


“Sure,” Luc said, taking Jonathan’s hand and leading him out of the bath.


After drying off, I wrapped one of the fresh towels around my waist and followed Nic out of the bath. Upon entering the bedchamber, I saw that a large basket of fruit and cheese had been set on a table near the small sitting area in the room. Nic had already made his way over to it and was eating a red and green speckled piece of fruit. I reached into the basket and pulled out a small yellow fruit and bit into it. It was tart at the first bite, but it grew ever sweeter the more I chewed it.


After eating a few more pieces of fruit and a little cheese, I looked over at the bed and dropped my towel.


“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I said, looking at Nic.


“If you’re thinking about finally going to sleep in a real bed, then we’re thinking the same thing,” he said with a smile.


Smiling back at him, I said, “I’m so tired, that’s just about the only thing I feel like doing right now.”


And with that I lightly stroked my wings, glided across the room and landed in the bed just as Nic threw off his towel and rolled onto the mattress. In a short time I was fast asleep, contented and safe with Nic’s arms and legs wrapped around me, holding me close to him.