The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Part III – The Alliance
I awoke slowly from a deep sleep – surfacing into consciousness in small and gradual stages. Once I was fully awake and aware of my surroundings, I felt disoriented as my mind attempted to integrate two very different realities.
I could feel the familiar and comforting embrace of Nic, as he’d wrapped himself around me. His soft, slow breathing lightly stirring the hair over my ear and tickling the back of my neck let me know he was still asleep. Yet while I found myself in his arms, I was slightly puzzled when I realized I wasn’t lying on the cold, hard ground, but was instead stretched out on a soft, comfortable bed in a beautiful room. It took a few seconds to realize that I was really awake, not dreaming, and this place I’d awakened in was, for now, my rightful place.
I carefully disentangled myself from Nic’s arms and legs. He sighed deeply, and snuggled closer to where I had been lying, but didn’t awaken. I was always amazed at how deeply he could sleep. I, on the other hand, was a light sleeper, yet ironically at the first hint of danger or trouble Nic could be awake, on his feet and ready for action in the blink of an eye – much faster than I could ever be.
Sliding from the bed, I stood and stretched both my body and wings. Looking around the room, I began to realize that quite some time had passed since we’d fallen asleep. When we went to bed, the sun stood high in the sky and its warm rays poured through the windows of our bedchamber. Now, although it was still bright outside, the light in the room was softer, and slowly fading.
I walked over to one of the windows – so tall it almost reached from floor to ceiling. Drawing aside the drapes, I peered out, looking down onto the Forum of Konassas. The afternoon had indeed turned to early evening. The forum was devoid of any life and as I quietly stood and listened, the only thing I heard was silence.
Turning back to the bed, I looked down at the still sleeping boy who I called my mate and king. We had both gone to sleep naked – a luxury we couldn’t afford when we were trekking across the countryside. Staring at the object of my love, I let my eyes roam the contours of his body. His spare, muscular frame, conditioned by months on the trail, retained the curve it had assumed while lying wrapped protectively around me. His arms and legs reached out, as if he were still trying to hold me.
His skin was clear and smooth, marred only by a small scar just above his left elbow. His face, calm and peaceful in sleep, was striking and handsome. Oblivious to my gaze, his long eyelashes fluttered as he dreamed. I smiled to myself as I watched his full red lips purse with each breath he took. I continued to stare at him, observing that his light brown hair had become lightly tousled from sleep; with a deep sigh, he moved his head so that his face was turned to the ceiling.
Making my way across the room to the head of the bed, I paused and studied some of the detailed figures that were carved on it. Trailing my fingers across the head of one of the cranes that had been carved into the headboard of the bed, I lightly traced the scales on the fish it held in its bill. Finally looking down once more at Nic, I bent forward and lightly kissed his lips. His eyes fluttered open and he stared up at me. Soon a smile appeared on his face.
“How did you sleep?” I asked, smiling down at him.
“Like I hadn’t slept in a thousand years,” he said as he rolled over and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Well, according to Charles we’ve slept a lot longer than that!” I said, slowly walking back to the window to take another look at the forum.
“Maybe so,” he replied, moving up behind me and wrapping his arms around me, “but the one thing I do know is I don’t ever remember sleeping in such a comfortable bed.”
“Nor do I,” I said as I bent my wings back, using them to give him a reverse hug.
“I think we should check on the others,” I said. “It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from anyone.”
Nic lightly kissed the back of my neck and I could tell he’d broken out in a grin. “You’re right Jamie, but I’m sure if we decided to go back to bed, and not for reasons of sleep, Luc and Jonathan would be pounding on our door.”
“Pounding at our door!” I said, almost shouting, “I doubt they would even bother knocking. Instead, they’d be standing at the foot of our bed wondering what we were doing and asking questions.”
Nic barked a laugh that echoed throughout the room. “You’re probably right, Jamieboy. We’re going to have to make sure we keep the doors locked, at least during the night.”
“Yes,” I said, “we’re not laying out under the stars around an open campfire anymore.”
Nic and I stood silently in our embrace for a few more minutes, enjoying the time and the opportunity to be close and intimate. But the moment was quickly broken when a loud knock sounded on the door of our apartment. Before either of us could call out, I heard the sound of a door handle click, followed by a low creak and then a loud BANG as the door of our apartment swung open and crashed against the wall. Then, as if they were the mind readers instead of me, Luc and Jonathan strode into our bedroom.
“You’re still naked!” Luc exclaimed. “But you took a bath hours ago.”
“We were tired and went to bed,” I said, trying to hide the irritation in my voice. “And besides, they took our clothes.”
“But then what’s out there?” he said pointing past the bedroom door into the small sitting room outside our bedroom.
Walking over to the door, I saw both Nic’s and my tunics neatly folded on the table; on top of them lay new undergarments. On the floor under the table, I could see two pair of beautiful new sandals.
“See,” Luc said, “your clothes are here.”
“They must have brought them while we were sleeping,” I said, turning to Nic. “When they saw we were in bed they probably didn’t want to disturb us so they left them here.”
Picking up our clothes, Nic and I quickly dressed under the gaze of the two young boys.
“So did you ever get into Miro and Philippe’s room?” Nic asked, giving the boys a grin.
“Yes, but Miro told us that whenever we wanted to come in we had to knock, and if no one answered we should go away.”
“I see,” Nic said giving me a smile. “I think we’re going to have to establish a few rules and practice a little etiquette in the future.”
“I completely agree Nic,” I said, raising an eyebrow and nodding my head in the direction of Luc and Jonathan.
The four of us left our apartment and stepped out into the hall. As we did, David was coming out of his room.
“Are any of you hungry?” he said. “Someone brought a tray of fruit and cheese to my room earlier, but I ate that and then went down to watch the soldiers spar. I ended up joining them – it was fun, but I can see that practicing with them won’t to be much help to me – it’s too easy to beat them. In the end I was fighting two or three of them at a time. I can see that I’ll still get my best practice with Miro or you,” he said, looking at Nic, then quickly adding, “anyway, I’m hungry again,” as if we hadn’t heard him the first time.
“I hope there weren’t any injuries?” I said, giving the warrior boy a concerned look.
“No, I’m just fine,” David answered.
“I didn’t mean you,” I said, frowning. “We don’t need to begin our stay here with you and Miro slicing up the troops of the garrison.”
“No one was hurt,” David answered. “Ah... well, except for one soldier. I nicked his arm with my sword, but he’s fine.”
Still frowning, I looked at Nic. He gave me a slight smile and started down the hall. Turning back to David he said, “We’re just checking on everyone. Once I’m sure things are sorted out, we’ll go down to the formal dining room for dinner. Jamie’s already told them that since it’s our first evening in the Amber Palace, we’ll all eat dinner together tonight.”
David seemed satisfied with that and accompanied us down the hall. The next door we came to was Charles’ room; after repeated knocks on the door were answered only with silence, Nic opened the door and we all trooped into the first room of Charles’s quarters, which, as in Nic’s and my apartment, was a grand salon.
Charles’ apartment was almost as large and spacious as ours, and just as beautiful. No one seemed to be around as we made our way from room to room. David and the two boys called Charles’ name, but there was no response. On a table in the sitting room adjacent to the bedroom, we found a tray of fruit and cheese, similar to the one that had been brought to us, but it was untouched. Moving through the apartment, it appeared that nothing had been disturbed. It was clear that Charles’ bed had not been slept in and the bath was clean and orderly – indicating he hadn’t used it. Eventually we found ourselves at the entrance of the library. Nic pulled on the handle of the door and as it swung open, I spotted Charles sitting on a low stool at one of the three tables placed about the room.
When I’d left Charles hours earlier, we were all choosing our rooms. Edmond Cob had just finished showing Charles this suite, and as soon as the red-and-black-winged angel discovered the library, he immediately indicated to Cob that he would be taking the apartment. As I said farewell to Charles and followed Cob out the door, I caught a glimpse of the red and black winged boy entering the library. It appeared that he was about to pull a book from the shelf. He mumbled a soft goodbye to me, and I could see that his eyes had taken on a distant and far away look. It was then I realized he was completely lost in thought – mesmerized by the vast collection of accumulated knowledge that surrounded him.
Now, hours later, it appeared that he’d never left the library from the time I’d taken my leave of him. Looking across the room, I smiled. Surrounding Charles was a palisade of books. Piled high on the table and spread around him on the floor were at least two hundred books of various colors, sizes and thickness. Some were opened face up – ready to be quickly consulted. Others were opened, but turned over – probably marking a passage or reference he thought important. Looking beyond him, I could see even more books piled high on chairs and at least five stacks on a nearby couch.
The library was quite large – at least four times larger than the small library in our apartment. Shelves lined the entire room and stretched from floor to ceiling. Around the room were tables, and chairs for writing or study. The color in the green and gold carpet matched the moldings and ceiling of the room that had been finished in such a way as to resemble greenish, polished marble. The library had no windows and so candles, burning smoke-lessly in candelabra and wall sconces, lit the room.
Upon our entrance, Charles looked up from the large book he was poring over and gave us a quick smile.
“Do you realize that this library contains the history of this world for the last twenty five hundred years?” He asked, as the smile on his face grew ever brighter. “It’s amazing what’s happened here in that time. These shelves are filled with histories, military campaigns, biographies, and genealogies. I can’t believe how much there is to learn!”
“Well, you’re not going to learn it all in one day, Charles,” I said. “Why don’t you come down and join us? We’re going to the other apartments and visiting everyone. Later I’ve planned for all of us to eat dinner in the formal dining room downstairs.”
“You all can continue on,” he said. “I’m going to keep studying. Could someone get me when you’re ready for dinner?” Abruptly he turned away, got up from his seat and made his way to the far left corner of the room – his eyes scanning the rows of book lined shelves. I could hear him muttering to himself as his eyes darted from book to book, and realized our conversation was over.
“It’s no use, Nic,” I said turning to him. “Charles is in his own world – we might as well move on. We can have one of the servants fetch him when we’re ready for supper.”
Nic nodded his head in agreement; with my hand in his, we exited Charles’ apartment with David, Luc and Jonathan following closely behind. When we arrived at Cody’s room and knocked, there was no answer. A quick tour of his apartment revealed that no one was to be seen; unlike Charles room, it was apparent these rooms had been used. Most of the contents of the tray of fruit and cheese sitting on a table in the small main salon had been devoured. The bubbling pool in the bath still showed the remnants of soap bubbles floating on its surface. Some of the soaps and oils had been opened and wet towels lay about the room on the floor. The bed had obviously been used, but from the way the sheets and comforter had been bunched up it, wasn’t immediately apparent to me if it had been used for sleeping or other purposes. Still, no one was there. I looked over at Nic and frowned. He simply shrugged and led us out of the apartment.
As we passed the next door in the hallway, Jonathan called out enthusiastically, “That’s were Luc and I live.” And indeed, he was right. I was amazed that he could have memorized the spot so quickly.
“Yes, Jonathan,” I said looking down at the little boy. “Do you and Luc like your room?”
“Yes,” Luc said giving me a smile. “There are two really big beds in our bedroom and…”
“…And they’re FUN to jump on,” Jonathan blurted out, interrupting him.”
I watched as Luc’s face began to turn red. He was a little too old to be jumping on beds, and I suspected that he wished Jonathan hadn’t given us that information. Yet for a poor slave boy used to being abused and mistreated, I could see where a few moments of silly boyish fun would be a joy in a life often filled with sadness. To ease his embarrassment, I turned to Jonathan.
“It sounds like fun to me. If you let me, I’ll come down sometime and you can show me. I wouldn’t mind talking a few leaps myself.”
Nic squeezed my hand and when I looked at him he gave me the tiniest of smiles and a surreptitious wink.
Jonathan was eager to show us their rooms, but just as Nic was about to open the door, a crash came from Lance’s room. Walking up to the door, Nic gave it a sharp rap.
“Is everything alright?” he asked.
The lever on the door depressed and opened to reveal Cody standing before us. Behind him, Lance was picking up the shards of a porcelain vase that had fallen on the floor and shattered.
“I was helping Lance rearrange a few things in his apartment to create more room,” Cody said, “but when we moved the couch against the other wall, I accidentally knocked a vase over. I hope no one gets mad at us. It was an accident.”
“It was probably valuable,” I said, “but you didn’t do it on purpose and I’m sure they’ll understand. Although I do think we need to try and be careful – after all, we are guests.”
“Jamie’s correct,” Nic said. “I really am looking forward to dinner, I think it will be a good time to discuss some of these things. We are very lucky that we’re staying in the Amber Palace, and not the dungeon. The way things started out earlier today, I thought that’s were we might find ourselves.”
“We probably could have fought our way out,” David interjected.
“Wonderful,” I said, scowling, “and killing half of the garrison of Konassas in the process, no doubt. That certainly would have made us welcome around here.”
“Well none of that happened, Jamie,” Nic said. “But we need to remind everyone that we’re guests and the better each of us gets along with the human population and their leaders, the more positive it is for us. There are a lot more of them than there are of us.”
“Exactly,” I said, nodding my head and frowning at David.
As Lance continued to clean up the pieces of pottery still covering the floor, Nic, David, Luc and Jonathan took a quick tour of Lance’s apartment.
“I noticed you took full advantage of your facilities,” I whispered to Cody, who had remained standing beside me.
I was surprised to see the blue and white winged angel blush at my words.
“Well, we wanted to get clean, and the bath in my room is so much larger,” he began.
“And so is the bed,” I interjected.
Cody gave me the slightest of smiles and I noticed the redness in his face grow even brighter.
As I was talking to Cody, Lance – who had overheard my conversation with Cody and now seemed to be purposely avoiding my gaze – quickly finished cleaning up the remains of the vase. His apartment was quite small, making Nic’s tour a quick one. As Lance disposed of the remains of the vase and Cody stood watching him in silence, Nic and the other boys rejoined us. Then both Lance and Cody agreed to join us as we made our way to Miro and Philippe’s room.
Our visit to the last two members of our group began with a sharp rap on their door by Nic, followed by a loud “Come in.”
Nic was the first to enter and I followed, still holding his hand. Miro and Philippe’s suite was slightly smaller than Charles’ apartment, but I could see that it was appointed in a similar fashion. As we entered, I noticed Miro was standing near one of the large windows in the main salon. He was no longer wearing his armor and instead was dressed in a simple short battle tunic – the kind Nic, David, and Lance all wore under their armor to prevent their skin from chafing. Like Nic he was thin, perfectly proportioned and tightly muscled.
Philippe was also there. The thin blond angel was sitting on a low bench that resembled a couch without a back. Philippe’s blue and white wings were draped over the back of the bench – their lower tips almost touching the floor. It appeared the two boys were in the middle of a conversation when we entered, but as soon as Nic and I crossed the threshold into the room, Philippe immediately stopped talking and began looking at the floor and his bare feet. As I walked across the room I could see he was flexing and digging his toes into the thick carpet as if he were anxious and upset about something.
Miro gave us a friendly greeting and walked over to Nic, placing a quick kiss on his lips. I looked over at the young angel and frowned. Miro had a casual friendliness toward Nic that I wasn’t sure I liked. Walking over to the window Miro had been standing at, I peered out. Because Philippe and Miro’s apartment was on the other side of the hall, the view from the window wasn’t of the forum, but a small parade ground. It, like the forum, was quiet and empty and I could observe the lengthening shadows of the surrounding buildings steadily advancing across it.
Turning back to the room, I realized that the rest of the group was now assembled in the main salon and – with the exception of Charles, whom we’d left in the library – all were accounted for.
“I was out sparring with the soldiers,” David said, turning to Miro who was still standing next to Nic. “But I told Nic I don’t believe they’re going to keep us in shape. I think the four of us are going to have to practice amongst ourselves.”
“Maybe we should set up a sparring schedule,” Lance said thoughtfully.
“That’s a good idea Lance,” Nic said, agreeing with him. “From what David tells me, the training grounds the soldiers practice on seems like a suitable area – that is, if they don’t mind sharing it.”
“I don’t think they will,” David said. “When I was with them, they certainly appeared to be nice enough. And I could see they were most impressed with my abilities,” he added with a self-satisfied grin. “I noticed something interesting this afternoon, too.”
“What’s that?” Miro asked.
“Although we had a bit of initial trouble with the council and some the people in Konassas seem afraid or hostile to us, not one soldier I’ve encountered appears to object to our presence. They are all open and friendly. When I was sparring with them, they were joking and laughing with me. They requested that I bring you, Lance and Nic along when I want to engage them again. They even wanted to see the little boy who throws the fire balls.”
“So that’s what they think of me? A little boy who throws fireballs? I’m as old as both of you,” I stated a bit indignantly.
“It’s just that you’re smaller than us, Your Grace,” Miro said with a smile. “And you definitely don’t look like a warrior.”
“Yes,” David’s smile mirrored his brother’s. “Miro’s right. You’re an aristocrat. You certainly don’t look like the powerful weapon you are. I like it that way – you’re like the dagger I hide in my boot: small and secret, but ready to teach a very sharp and pointed lesson when the need arises.” Seeing the embarrassed grin I tried to suppress, he went on. “Anyway, the soldiers were asking lots of questions about you. They’d heard all about your attack on the High Council. Apparently, it’s grown larger in the retelling. They told me they heard you killed three council members, and the fire you caused in the chamber took two hours to extinguish,” he finished dramatically, as a huge smile spread across his face.
My frown was back. “That’s certainly not something to be happy about David,” I said. “I was only trying to protect Nic. I don’t need exaggerated tales about what happened to circulate the entire city. Half of the population will run in terror from me, and the other half will be devising ways to kill me. So don’t encourage any of this. If they bring it up again, tell them the truth.”
“Well anyway, they really want to keep sparring with us in the future,” David said, ignoring my last comments.
“As long as no one gets hurt,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” Miro interrupted with a laugh, “we’ll only inflict injuries on them that will heal, and we won’t mortally wound anyone.”
“That’s not something to joke about,” I said, scowling at the laughing boy.
“I hope you like your rooms,” Cody suddenly interjected, obviously trying to steer the conversation away from the topic of killing or hurting the troops of the garrison of Konassas.
“They’re perfect,” Miro said, “we both like them very much.” Then turning to Nic, he asked, “I wonder if there are any musical instruments available?”
“Musical instruments?” Nic said. “What makes you ask that?”
“For Philippe,” Miro said, “After all, he is a musician. I think it would be nice if there were some instruments available for him to play. He’s rather sad at the moment,” Miro continued, and I could see a look of concern on his face as he glanced at Philippe. “I think it might make him feel better if he found something he could play.”
I turned to look at Philippe, and realized that what I originally took to be agitation or worry appeared to be sadness.
“What’s wrong?” Luc asked, looking in the direction of Philippe, who was sitting quietly with his head bowed.
“It’s my fault,” Miro said. “I brought up the subject of Damian, the singer. He and Philippe were very close friends.”
“Really?” I said walking across the room toward Philippe. “I didn’t know that.”
As I approached him, Philippe suddenly stood up. He lifted his head for a few seconds, giving me a furtive glance and stepping backwards. It appeared as if he were trying to get away from me, although his attempt failed since the bench he was sitting on blocked the way. Once more he lowered his head and stared at the floor.
“Philippe,” I said quietly standing in front of him. “How did you know Damian?”
At first Philippe’s made no response to my question, but continued to keep his head bowed. Then he took a deep breath and released it in a long soft sigh. As he did I could see his body start to shake and I realized that he was beginning to cry.
Miro immediately went to Philippe, put his arms around him and hugged him to his chest. Gently stroking the back of his head, he held the boy in his arms as he suddenly erupted into deep sobs. A torrent of tears flowed from his eyes and ran down his face. I knew what it felt like to cry like that. As I stood silently watching Philippe pour out his grief, the depth of his emotional outpouring touched me, and I began to feel my own sense of sadness over the loss of Damian as I recalled the tragic events of his death.
For a few minutes there was an uncomfortable silence in the room as everyone stood listening while Philippe continued to cry. Eventually his sobs grew quieter and less frequent. Finally he stopped, but remained standing locked in Miro’s embrace.
I gently reached out my hand and touched the boy’s shoulder. Philippe turned his head to look at me. His tear strained face and red eyes made me feel even sadder.
“I’m so sorry about Damian,” I said. “I don’t know what else to say. I’ll never know why he went into that tower to get this,” I said, and as I spoke I lifted my arm to show Philippe the bracelet of the snake entwined around my arm.
For a few seconds Philippe huddled against Miro, laying his head on his chest as he stared – no, glared – at the bracelet.
“He told me that you gave it to him, Your Grace,” he answered in a quavering voice. “You told him to keep it safe. He said that you told him that it was very important and it would remind you of something.”
I stared into Philippe’s eyes. The look I gave him must have surprised him because he tried to retreat further into Miro’s arms.
“I gave Damian this bracelet?” I said, shocked at Philippe’s words.
“Yes, Your Grace, you gave it to him,” Philippe said, his voice sounding raspy from his earlier sobbing. “You presented it to him a few days before we fled to Piropolis. The same day you asked him to deliver a message to Niklas. Damian told me that you gave it to him. He said that you told him to hide it. And he did, just before…”
Philippe closed his eyes tightly; his face became a mask of terror. Reaching up he covered his mouth with his hand and began to cry again. For a minute no one said anything. Miro gently rubbed the boy’s back. Finally taking his hand from his mouth and using the back to wipe away more tears that had run down his cheeks, he turned to me and cast me a look that could have been of fear, anger or grief – maybe it was all three blended together.
“He hid it, at Castle Rood” Philippe continued, once more gazing steadily at me. “He did it just before he was captured and taken to the oubliette at the Prison of Pain, where they…” Once more his voice faded into nothingness and he began to cry.
“An oubliette?” Luc said in a startled voice. “The castle of the Knights of Sarjanus has an oubliette! It’s a part of the prison at the castle. Everyone says it’s the worst dungeon in the land.”
I turned to Nic, giving him a puzzled look. He returned my gaze with a strange look of his own and shook his head in an indication that he too had no idea what Philippe was talking about. Walking over to me, he put his arm around my waist.
“Let’s all have a seat,” he said, giving Miro a serious look and gesturing toward the bench where Philippe had been sitting.
Miro gently lowered Philippe to the seat and took his place next to him. Once more he stroked his head and gently took Philippe’s hand into his. Gradually Philippe calmed down. As he did, the rest of us began to assemble around them.
Cody and Lance sat down on a similar bench to the right of Miro and Philippe. David took a seat closer to the door and Jonathan, who had been standing near him, climbed on his lap. Nic brought over two stools, placing them directly in front of Miro and Philippe. He and I sat on them while Luc sat on the floor at my feet.
Nic took a deep breath and began to speak. “I know you’ve only been with us a short time Philippe, but I think you know that none of us, including Miro, remember very much from the time before we were placed in our coffins. Yet in the past few minutes, it seems you’ve given us more information than all the rest of us put together can remember.”
Philippe sat silently, looking at Nic through his red and puffy eyes. His tear-streaked face seemed to have turned into an emotionless mask as he continued to hold Miro’s hand.
“How much of the past do you remember?” Nic asked, and I could sense a tone of eager hope and anticipation in his voice.
Once more Philippe sat in silence. Then Miro cupped his hand and gently stroked the back of Philippe’s head. “Go on, tell them what you remember,” he said with a soft gentleness in his voice.
Philippe looked into Miro’s eyes for a long time; the atmosphere in the room was thick with anticipation. Then Philippe looked from Miro to Nic. He paused to lick his lips, then looked down at the floor and back up into Nic’s eyes.
“I think I remember almost everything,” he said quietly.
Cody and I simultaneously gasped in surprise. Lance sat up in his chair. David stared intently across the room at Philippe. Luc’s eyes were as big as saucers as he leaned in closer to catch every word from Philippe’s mouth. Only Nic remained motionless – his face calm and devoid of expression.
Philippe,” I interrupted, “could you please tell us what you remember about Damian?
For a second time, Philippe wet his lips. He took a deep breath and looked directly at me.
“I remember everything that I saw, heard or was told, Your Grace, but you might not be satisfied with it,” he said, once more dropping his eyes to the floor.
“We remember so little, Philippe,” I said, “Why wouldn’t we be satisfied? Even the smallest amount of information is important to us.”
“How is it that you can remember?” Cody said, “None of the rest of us seems to remember much of anything.”
“I think it was the tea,” Philippe said.
“Tea?” David said, “What do you mean, tea?”
“I was with Patrik when… when they brought Damian back after his interrogation at the Prison of Pain … it was horrible… they… it was horrible!” Philippe paused and took a deep, unsteady breath.
“Who was Patrik?” Nic asked.
“Damian’s mate. He was head of imperial household. When they brought Damian back, Patrik took care of him,” he said, turning to Miro, “he’s the one who eventually put Damian in the stasis unit to hide him and keep him safe. He said the tea would preserve his memory. He also gave me some. Then you came for me, Miro, and we went to Piropolis.”
“What’s Piropolis?” Luc asked.
“And why did you have to escape?” Cody said.
“We both served in the imperial household,” Philippe said still looking down at the floor. “And Piropolis was…”
“Philippe,” Nic said interrupting the boy, “maybe it would be best if you could start at the beginning – before this escape you talk about, before Damian was taken. Can you do that? Can you start at the beginning, if there is a beginning?”
Philippe said nothing, but gazed at Nic and slowly nodded his head.
“Wait,” I shouted, suddenly remembering the missing member of our party. “Before you say anything, I think we better get Charles. He’ll want to hear this.”
Luc was immediately on his feet and running across the room. He passed through the door and I could hear the sound of his running feet on the soft carpet as he raced down the hall toward Charles’ apartment. After about a minute of silence, I once more heard hurried movement in the hall. The sounds grew louder and Luc burst through the door, followed closely by Charles, who had a puzzled look on his face.
“Luc flew into my apartment, shouting something about Philippe remembering everything,” he said. “What’s this all about?”
“Take a seat, Charles,” Nic said. “Yes, Luc is right. Philippe apparently has most – maybe all – of his memory. He was just getting ready to tell us what he knows.”
Charles blinked in surprise. Then, grabbing a nearby stool, he brought it over to where Miro and Philippe were sitting. Placing it next to me, he sat on my left while Nic remained at my right, now taking my hand. Luc resumed his place at my feet, giving me a look of eager anticipation as he flopped down on the soft-carpeted floor.
“Now Philippe, why don’t you tell us what you remember,” Nic said, giving the boy a slight smile of encouragement.
Philippe paused for a few seconds and took a deep breath. Then looking back at Niklas he began.
“It’s hard for me to believe that none of you remember any of this,” Philippe began, “but Miro tells me it’s true, and I believe him.”
Pausing once more, he took another breath. Miro clutched his hand, and with his free hand gently stroked Philippe’s hair.
“After I was born and completed my cortical training, the final evaluation procedures I went through showed that I have a talent for music,” Philippe began in a soft measured voice. “I was told that good musicians were needed in all of the noble houses. Of course, I didn’t have to agree with the evaluation; there were other tasks I would have been allowed to perform, but I accepted the judgment of the evaluators. And although I readily agreed, I knew from rumor that those who didn’t accept the first evaluation often ended up in undesirable positions.
“I began my studies in the music school at Tower Mount. Most new musicians don’t start there – they generally begin as apprentices in the local schools of Küronas, and then if they show additional or exceptional skill and merit they are sent to one of the more prestigious schools. But it was judged that my innate abilities were great enough for me to be sent immediately to the School of the Mount – and outside of the academy at Eagles Rock, it was considered the finest conservatory in the empire. My studies were challenging, but the assessment of the incubation team was correct and I not only loved, but also excelled at, my studies.
“From the moment I arrived in the city, I fell in love with Tower Mount. It is a place I came to adore and call my home. The city was a small jewel of beauty – I found it was like living in a great open-air museum. The city was under the care of House Marché, who governed it. I also loved the high mountains that surrounded the city. They were spectacularly beautiful and when I wasn’t occupied with my studies and practice, I often hiked or flew to the great falls where the rivers Swift and Argus met before plunging into the gorge below. I’d would sit for hours on the bank of the Argus, practicing my flute and watching the rushing waters of the two great rivers join, then drop a half mile over Angel’s Fall into the chasm of the valley where the large stone quarries mined the famous stone of Tower Mount.
“I was very happy to study at the School of the Mount and live in such a beautiful city. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t wake up eager to learn more. I completed my initial studies rather quickly, having mastered a great number of instruments in a short period of time. And because I excelled in all of the instruments I learned, I was eventually selected to study as a conductor. Conducting a chamber orchestra for one of the noble houses is a singular honor and I was surprised that I’d been chosen, but I was also very proud.
“It was then that I had to leave Tower Mount and journey to Eagles Rock and the Academy. Conductors were taught at the great academy, as were all the exceptional artists and master craftsman of the empire.”
“Would this have anything to do with Eagle’s Eyre? It’s the name of Gude’s monastery,” I wondered aloud.
“I don’t know,” Philippe said. “I was sent to the Academy of Eagles Rock. I don’t know anything about a monastery or a place called Eagle’s Eyre.”
“Where is this place?” I asked.
“The Academy of Eagles Rock was in the high mountains – the Sirenese – and it sat at the summit of Mt. Savat.”
“It sounds similar to me,” I said. “I think…”
“Jamie,’ Nic said, interrupting me “we can question Philippe more about these things later. I’d like him to continue uninterrupted, please?”
“Yes, please go on, Philippe,” Charles said. “This is very important.”
I scowled at Charles’ interjection, wanting to shout back that of course I knew how important Philippe’s story was, but I remained quiet.
“The academy was difficult and challenging, but I continued to perform well at my studies, and soon I was conducting the student orchestra. That’s when I met Damian. He was the best singer at the academy – some said the greatest in the entire history of the academy. I can’t say if that is true, but I never heard a voice as beautiful as his, and from overhearing some of the discussions of our teachers, no one else had either.
“But the beauty of his voice was only a reflection of the beauty of his soul. Damian was not only a singer, but also a gifted poet, and many of the songs he sang were based on the poetry he wrote. He also had a reputation for being one of the kindest and friendliest students at the academy. Everyone loved and respected him. He was always one of the first to introduce himself to the new students who entered each year, helping them through the initial confusing weeks at the academy.
“And as his stature grew and it became obvious that he was one of the greatest singers the academy ever produced, he remained shy and humble. He never acted in a superior manner or played the part of prima donna that other, less talented, students sometimes did. Instead of being aloof as many of the senior master students were, he often worked with and helped the younger singers and eventually became a tutor under Master Peros, the headmaster of song for the academy. He could have received many privileges and honors – like a special apartment, or private meals. But he always refused them and lived with the rest of the students. I don’t think there was anyone who knew him who didn’t like him,” Philippe said, uttering a deep sigh.
“Damian and I became close friends – actually he was my best friend.” Philippe paused for a few seconds and looked down at the floor, once more staring at his feet. Miro gently put an arm around the boy’s waist and urged him to go on.
“I often accompanied him when he practiced, and I usually led the orchestra when he sang in one of our concerts. We both worked hard in anticipation of the Week of Choosing, even though we knew that we might be separated, and when it finally arrived we were both excited and nervous.”
“Week of Choosing?” Cody asked.
“Yes, after one’s studies were completed, the masters of the great noble houses would visit Eagles Rock during the annual Week of Choosing, in order to select candidates to join their houses and enter into their service. Damian and I were sure that we would end up in different houses. On Choosing Week all of the craftsmen, scholars, musicians and artists would exhibit their portfolios. Then each would stand before a Committee of Defense and present themselves for examination. It was always a stressful yet exciting time for the graduating students of the academy.
“During the Week of Choosing I exhibited my portfolio to all of the noble houses – two in particular, House Brabon and House Kier, seemed the most interested, and they attended my Committee of Defense. It was there that I played all of the instruments I’d mastered, conducted the academy chamber orchestra in a short concerto, and answered a series of questions. At the casting of lots, House Brabon won my Grand Enchères.”
“Grand Enchères?” Cody once more interrupted, beating me to the question.
“The Grand Enchères were the process by which the noble houses cast lots to see who would get the right to take the Candidate of Defense into their house.
“I was quite pleased and also lucky to be going to House Brabon. It’s reputation for art and culture was the highest in the land. And outside of the Emperor’s house, it was reported to be the greatest house in the empire.
“Damian’s Committee of Defense was the day after mine, and while I had two houses show interest in me, every noble house in the empire was interested in him. Not only were the great houses like Brabon and Kier – who were famous for their musicians and singers – excited at the prospect of adding Damian to their households, but even lesser houses like Corté and Zeyling, who weren’t even noted for their love of culture, were most eager to have the chance to select him. They all knew that having a singer of Damian’s stature in their house would be a great coup, and would probably increase their social standing at court.
“Damian’s Committee of Defense was amazing. In fact, it was the most amazing thing that every occurred at Eagles Rock. By ancient tradition, Committees of Defense are always closed and only the Chancellor of the Academy, some of the candidate’s principle teachers and those members of the noble houses who express a desire to enter into the candidates Grand Enchères are allowed to take part. But there was so much interest and excitement surrounding Damian’s performance that it was declared open for the entire academy – an amazing thing in and of itself. For the first time in the history of the Academy of Eagles Rock, a candidate would take their Committee of Defense before the entire school.
“In the weeks leading up to his Committee, Damian was excited by the prospect of his singular honor, but he was also more than a little scared. He came to me in my room one evening and asked if I would accompany him as he sang. I, in turn, approached the Chancellor of the Academy, Barron Carlon, and while such things were usually not allowed, he decreed that since my Committee of Defense was to take place before Damian’s, and I would have already gone though my Grand Enchères, I would in fact no longer be a student, but a graduate of Eagles Rock and a member of one of the noble households.
“Because of the anticipated attendance, Damian’s Committee was held in the courtyard of the academy, the largest space at Eagles Rock. As the time approached for it to begin, it was obvious that even that large space wasn’t ample enough to hold everyone since it soon became clear that not only teachers, students, and leaders of the noble houses and their families and retainers would be gathering to attend, but also the cooks from the kitchen, the stable boys, and all of servants and staff of the academy would be trying to crowd into the open courtyard to hear him.
“When I entered the courtyard, I was astonished to see how many people were there. The entire open space of the courtyard was filled with people. Looking up at the buildings surrounding the courtyard, I could see groups of people massed on balconies and even leaning out of windows to catch a glimpse and hear Damian sing. Most of those there that day knew that in all probability this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear him, for once Damian was chosen in his Grand Enchères, he would only perform within his noble house or for those chosen guests who would have the honor of attending an event hosted by his house.
“A raised platform had been constructed at one end of the courtyard. The orchestra sat on it, ready to accompany Damian. To the right and left of the stage, at long tapestry-draped tables, sat the representatives of the noble houses in comfortable high backed seats that looked like small thrones. After I made my way to the orchestra, I looked out at the crowd. I had never performed for a group so large. Glancing at the house banners flying behind each of the seated designees, I could see that every house in the empire was represented.
“Directly in front of the platform, a small table had been set up. At it sat the Chancellor of the Academy, and three of Damian’s master teachers. Behind them stood the Master of the Grand Enchères, who would oversee the casting of the lots – his scarlet and gold robes fluttered in the light breeze that blew across the courtyard.
“I took my place in front of the orchestra and nodded to Barron Carlon. He lifted a small silver bell that sat in front of him and rang it gently. It’s light, bright, ringing tones floated on the air. As the sound of the bell faded and the crowd waited in silence, Damian emerged from the doorway of the hall of music. Accompanied by two acolytes and Master Peros, his primary master teacher, he made his way to the platform. Silence filled the courtyard as all eyes followed the procession to the platform. Upon reaching it, Damian stood before the platform with his back to the crowd, and looked up at me. Then the acolytes broke away and stood opposite each other at the Chancellor’s table and Master Peros extended a hand and gently placed it on Damian’s shoulder. Leaving Damian, he strode to the Chancellor’s table and took the remaining empty seat.
“For a few seconds Damian stood, with his back to the crowd looking up at the tall tower that overlooked the court yard. Then he fluttered his wings, lifted off from the cobblestones of the courtyard and hovered over the platform. Slowly he descended, turning to face the assembly. He bowed his head to the Chancellor’s table, then turned to the right and left, bowing to the representatives of the noble houses. Finally, he gave a deep bow to the assembled crowd.
“While we had been waiting for Damian, I’d been looking out over the crowd and was surprised to see that interspersed here and there were some of the great musicians and singers of the noble houses who had also come to hear Damian perform. I felt honored that he’d asked me to accompany him. Finally he turned to me and smiled. I nodded my head, signaling that the orchestra was ready and he nodded back at me. Then I raised my baton and the orchestra sprang to life.
“Damian’s defense started with a light and lively tune from the Harvest Canticle of Teel. Then he performed three ballads – one from each section of the Golden Harp trilogy. He continued with two love songs – one sad and languid, the other bawdy and humorous. Then he launched into the Song of Annett, and finished with an aria from the Opera of Light while I accompanied him on a recorder.
“After the last note had faded, there was total silence. Damian turned and gave me a worried look. For more than a few seconds everyone just stared up at the platform, at the boy who had just finished singing. And then it came like an avalanche. The audience, all at the same moment, leapt to its feet and the applause roared like thunderclaps through the courtyard. It was so loud it bounced against the walls and vibrated the air. Damian stood there, accepting it with genuine surprise. He bowed slightly and his face turned red. I threw my arms around him and hugged him.
“After a few minutes of shouting, whistling and clapping, the applause finally died down and the audience, in one great voice, called for an encore, pounding their feet on the ground of the courtyard with such force that I could feel the vibrations through my body. Damian turned, whispered in my ear, and made a request. I couldn’t help but break into a large grin and I nodded my head in agreement. After I exchanged my recorder for a small whistle, Damian gave a shout and we launched into The Merchant of Orr from the Tone Poem of Jakar – one of the greatest virtuoso pieces ever written. I raced to keep up with his soaring voice, and when he was done the applause from the crowd was even greater than before.
“When the applause finished and the crowd was again silent, it was time for Damian’s Grand Enchères to begin. Making his way to the platform, the Master of the Grand Enchères stood before all those assembled to hear Damian sing. He acknowledged the great performance they had all just witnessed, along with the precedent breaking first public Committee of Defense ever held. Then he announced that it was time for the casting of lots.”
“Once more silence filled the courtyard as the representatives of the noble houses took up their pens and began writing on paper that had been set before them. As each one finished, they took their lot, folded it twice and placed it in an ivory envelope embossed with the crest of their house. Sealing wax was placed over the flap of each envelope and pressed with the seal of the house casting the lot, and one by one the sealed lots were placed in a basket that was passed around to each representative.
“When the last of the lots had been put into the basket, it was brought to the Master of the Grand Enchères and placed on a small table that had been set up before him. One by one the lots were removed from the basket and read, each offering a price to the academy for the services of Damian.”
“The amounts that were bid were incredible. Even the lesser houses were prepared to offer up large sums of money for such a talented performer. Midway through the lots, the Master of the Grand Enchères reached in the basket, picked up an envelope and frowned. Each time he’d previously retrieved an envelope he held it up in order to view the seal of the house that cast the lot. Each time he would read the name of the house casting the lot. Then breaking open the seal, he would take out the paper and would read the bid from the house that had submitted it. The bid was recorded and he would move on to the next envelope. There would eventually be three rounds of lots cast as each house would determine if it would continue to bid and just how much it would pay.”
“But the envelope the Master of the Grand Enchères now held up was blank, even the seal was a flat piece of wax without any seal or coat of arms appearing on it. His frown grew deeper and his forehead wrinkled, as he broke the seal and reached into the envelope. He blinked in surprise and pulled out a small red card with a golden crest embossed on it. Holding it up for all to see the crowd stirred, for they all realized they were looking at a golden lot – a lot from the imperial household – a lot that trumped all others.
“Looking around the courtyard for a few seconds the Master of the Grand Enchères appeared confused and disoriented. Then I watched as a figure hidden in the shadows of the courtyard came into the light and began to walk toward the platform. He was dressed in a dark blue robe with silver trim, and as he approached I recognized the Archduke Savaron Loka, one of the emperor’s principle advisors.
“He moved quickly with a confident stride not stopping until he reached the Chancellor’s table, where he gave Barron Carlon a nod.
“‘I’ve come to claim the Emperor’s Privilege to the Grand Enchères,’ he said in a resonate voice that could be clearly heard throughout the courtyard. ‘The Emperor chooses Damian for the Imperial Court.’”
“‘Of course, My Lord,’” Barron Carlon said. ‘We acknowledge the Emperor’s Privilege to the Grand Enchères. The singer Damian will be transported to the royal court of Küronas.’
“Damian stood in silence and I could see that he was shocked at the outcome of his Grand Enchères. ‘Damian,’ I said quietly, you’re going to the Imperial Court!’ He turned to me and gave me a shy smile, but then it was gone.
“‘But we’ll be separated,’ he said, his face taking on a look of sadness.
“‘I’m sure we will see each other from time to time,’ I replied, although I too was sad over the prospect of losing the daily companionship of my best friend.
“Savaron Loka remained standing before the Chancellor’s table for a few seconds longer. Then smiling at Barron Carlon, he nodded, and turned to leave. Walking away from the platform with his back to the Chancellor’s table, Loka suddenly stopped and without turning to look at the Chancellor, spoke.
“‘One more thing, Chancellor Carlon,’ he said. ‘Since I wasn’t here to cast a lot for the accompanying musician yesterday during his Grand Enchères, I also invoke Emperor’s Privilege for him. I can see he too has a great talent that would be most appreciated these days at the imperial court.’
“I was shocked at the Archduke’s words. Looking over at the representative of House Brabon, I could see distress etched on his face as he realized what Loka was saying.
“Turning to me, Damian had a joyful smile on his face. ‘You’re going with me to the Imperial Court. Philippe, we’re going together!’”