The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Part III – The Alliance
Philippe paused and took a sip of the amber colored liquid in a tall glass goblet offered to him by Cody. It, along with several others, had been brought to us a few minutes before, borne on a tray by one of the household servants.
Earlier Sandro, who’d apparently been looking for everyone, discovered us gathered in Miro and Philippe’s apartment. He’d slipped in and quietly approached Nic, whispering in his ear that our evening meal was ready. Nic looked up at the smiling servant, then motioning for Sandro to come closer to him, he slowly shook his head as he responded quietly to the man Edward Cob had only hours earlier introduced to me as the person charged with overseeing our daily care and well-being.
Although I was sitting next to Nic, I’d been so intent on Philippe’s story, that I hadn’t paid much attention to Sandro’s entrance. It was only after he and Nic had spoken for few minutes and I heard the words, “Not now. Can you hold our meal? We should be done in an hour,” that I even noticed or realized the reason for his appearance.
While Philippe spoke, the late afternoon had gradually given way to early evening. An hour earlier the sun had set and as I listened to Philippe continue his story, I watched the household servants quietly enter Miro and Philippe’s apartment, lighting the various candelabra and sconces that illuminated their rooms. After Sandro departed, another servant arrived ten minutes later with the tray of goblets; a second servant followed on his heels, carrying a tray heaped with an assortment of food.
“Master Sandro instructed I bring this to you,” he said softly, then bowed formally to Nic. “It was to be part of the first serving at your evening meal. He thought you might wish to eat something since you will be delaying your dinner.”
Nic simply nodded and quietly thanked the man, while Charles gestured to a nearby table.
Philippe’s story had been captivating, and a quick glance around the room gave me the impression that no one was in a hurry to rush off to dinner. Everyone remained quietly seated around Miro and Philippe, waiting for him to continue. Taking a second sip, Philippe lowered the goblet from his lips and placed it back into Cody’s hands. Cody smiled at Philippe then gently set the goblet back on the tray with the others.
“So you went to the imperial court of Küronas?” Charles said, looking intently at Philippe.
“Yes,” Philippe said, continuing his tale. “Damian and I left that very day in the entourage of Savaron Loka. We were both very excited, but when we arrived we realized that something was wrong.”
“The plague,” Charles said flatly. “It would have been spreading rapidly by then.”
“Yes,” Philippe said. “At the academy, we weren’t aware that it had grown that serious. I heard a few rumors when I was at Tower Mount, but at Eagles Rock we were kept sheltered from the news of the empire. The academy was deemed a place of learning, and outside influences and distractions were discouraged.
“But when we arrived at court it was obvious that things had taken a downward turn. Although we were musicians and isolated from the day-to-day affairs of the court, rumor and speculation raged throughout the palace. Damian and I were shocked at some of the things we heard. The emperor attempted to keep an air of calm and normalcy at court, but fear and worry were always under the surface.
“Elaborate state dinners were still held and formal court ceremonies conducted, but it was obvious to those of us at court that chaos was slowly eating its way into the empire. Nevertheless, we preformed our duties. Damian became quite popular at court and he was often called upon to entertain at the balls, dinners and banquets of the imperial court.
“Anything that could be deemed a distraction or a means to calm the population was orchestrated. Concerts continued in the forum and ceremonies were conducted in the Square of Ondra. And of course the Fete of the Gladiators – the most popular of all the events in the empire – continued at Castle Rood.”
“Gladiators?” Luc asked.
“The Duel of the Gladiators,” Philippe said looking down at the young boy. “The most popular sport of the empire, enjoyed by nobles and commoners alike. The noble houses each had their teams, and large sums were won and lost over the outcomes of the contests. The people had their favorites and there was always a popular group of champions the crowd adored.
“It was after one of the great matches at the Red Castle that you first approached Miro,” Philippe said.
“I don’t remember,” I said, staring intently at the boy quite surprised to hear about something I had no memory of.
“I admit I don’t remember myself,” Miro interjected. “But Philippe assures me it happened.”
“Miro returned from practice one day and told me he’d taken you to Piropolis – the city of the gladiators. He said you’d requested a rendezvous with Nic.”
I looked intently at Philippe and felt a shiver run down my spine. For months I had hoped to learn more about my past, but suddenly now that the opportunity was staring me in the face, I wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be – in fact, I found myself chilled at the revelations I might receive.
“You had gone to the games at Rood, Your Grace; the Emperor included you in his entourage and you sat in the royal box. It was there that you witnessed Niklas from House Aradan battle in the arena. Some time after that, you approached Miro and told him you wanted to meet the gladiator, but I don’t know any of those details.
“What I do remember is that your very first rendezvous with Nic was in the barracks of Piropolis. Miro and David brought you. After that you journeyed there quite a few times – Miro often remarked that he saw you with Niklas. There were rumors, but I don’t know anything substantial to tell you.
“I do remember something of a scandal involving you and Niklas after one of the state banquets.”
“Me?” I blinked. “Involved in a scandal?”
“Maybe scandal isn’t the right word, but it occurred at one of the imperial banquets. Since the banquet was still just one more ruse to demonstrate normalcy within the empire, the invitation list was large.” Philippe said. “I remember Patrik complaining about how many places needed to be set in the banquet hall.
“All of the noble houses were in attendance, along with the chief representatives of each angelic house since it was ostensibly held to announce the grand imperial plan regarding Avionnes set forth by Savaron Loka and personally approved by the emperor himself.”
“Avionnes?” Nic interrupted.
“Yes what we were called by humans. It was the term given to us by our creators. Eventually we came to call ourselves Icarians,” Philippe continued.
“At the great banquet, all other areas of society within the empire were represented, from civil servants to the craft guilds – including a delegation of gladiators. Niklas had been among those chosen. You told Miro that you wanted to see Nic alone and asked his help. Since Miro and David were already members of the imperial household and automatically invited to the banquet, it was easy for them maneuver him into the garden. After the meal, the concert began. At that point you excused yourself, and made your way to the garden to be with Niklas.
“Everything was going according to the plan, but a few minutes after you left, Prince Hippolito noticed your absence and went searching for you.”
“Prince Hippolito?” I asked.
“Yes, the head of the Angelic House of History and Philosophy,” Philippe said quietly while he looked down at his feet, as if purposely avoiding my gaze.
I nodded my head, vaguely remembering some information regarding royal and imperial angelic houses from The Screen, but since it hadn’t seemed as important as some of the other things I was learning from the strange entity that resided in my brain, I’d pushed it to the back of my mind, not considering it a topic of priority. I was now regretting that error.
“Prince Hippolito began to search the imperial palace,” Philippe said. “Upon entering the garden he heard voices and quietly approached them. That’s when he discovered you and Niklas kissing. There was an incident – I wasn’t there to witness it so I have no idea what happened, but from that day forward you were banned from seeing Nic.”
Philippe paused. Not wishing to look at Nic, I turned instead to Charles. The expression on his face was a mixture of surprise, and interest. I could tell by the look he returned to me that he was finding all this quite fascinating. I gave him a scowl, suddenly distressed to find that I was one of the main characters in Philippe’s story. When I finally turned to Nic, his face continued to be an unreadable mask. As our eyes met, he gave me the tiniest of smiles and gripped my hand even tighter.
During the brief break in Philippe’s story, David had walked over to the tray of food, sampling some of the delicacies that were heaped upon it. At one point he lifted the tray, presenting it to everyone else in the room, but no one accepted his offer. Shrugging, he set down the tray, picked up a few more of the savory morsels, and resumed his seat near the door. Jonathan moved to sit on the floor in front of his brother, leaning back against Charles’ legs. Lance was as still as a statue, his eyes looking straight ahead, almost as if he couldn’t comprehend or even believe what he had been hearing.
There was no doubt about Cody’s feelings: sitting next to Lancelot, his head rested on Lance’s shoulder and his arms were clasped around the battle angel’s waist, every so often during Philippe’s story, I noticed Lance reaching up to stroke Cody’s hair. It was nice to see, but any feelings of warmth I had regarding the scene were overshadowed by the fact that I knew Philippe had more to say, and I really wasn’t sure how eager I was to hear it.
Miro leaned over and gave Philippe a light kiss on the cheek. At the same time I noticed he gave the boy’s waist a tighter squeeze. Luc continued to sit at my feet, gazing up at Philippe in rapt amazement as the story unfolded. More than once I caught the little boy’s glances at me whenever Philippe brought up my name. My mind was reeling, my emotions running high from what I’d been hearing, but I knew there was more to come as Philippe breathed a deep sigh and continued.
“A month after the banquet everything fell apart – at least that’s what seems to have happened,” Philippe said. “Nic remained at Rood.”
“You,” he said, pausing and looking at me, “you were placed under surveillance by Hippolito.”
I felt my face flush when everyone turned and looked at me.
“Then one day Miro came back to the palace ashen faced.” Philippe continued. “He told me that King Alexander had been killed in an accident.”
“Loran’s mate?” I asked.
“Yes, Loran’s mate and titular royal head of all the houses. Miro was shocked and told me word was that Loran had taken the news vary badly, especially since you were to take his place.”
“So what happened?” Luc asked breathlessly, his face full of eager anticipation as if he were listening to some epic mythical saga and not the true story of our lives.
Seeming to ignore his remark, Philippe continued. “A few weeks passed and things once again were quiet. You went back to your normal routine, but it was announced that you and Hippolito would lead the royal and imperial houses. But then one morning we were suddenly all gathered up and placed under guard?”
“Who are we?” Nic asked.
“All Icarians residing at the palace. There was also a rumor that all of the princes and scribes of the royal and imperial Icarian houses were also under guard. We were told that it was for our own protection, but some how that explanation didn’t appear to be true.
“But Damian wasn’t with us. And neither was Miro or David. We didn’t know what was happening.”
“So what did happen?” Cody quietly asked as he raised his head from Lance’s shoulder.
“I really don’t know,” Philippe said. “We remained confined for four days. No one told us anything. By the evening of the fourth day Miro appeared at the palace – more like broke in to where we were being held. I could tell he’d been in some kind of a fight, but when I questioned him he shouted that we all had to hurry and leave. Miro had Damian with him. He’d been horribly tortured and his… his…”
“We know,” Nic said, cutting off Philippe’s story and sparing him from telling us the details of seeing his friend – a singer with the most extraordinary voice in the empire, returned to the imperial palace tortured and his tongue cut out.
But Philippe did tell us. He told us in detail how Damian had returned beaten, bloody and tortured. How he and Damian’s mate Patrik had tended to him. How his mind had been damaged during the torture, and of course how the instrument he was famous for across the entire empire – his voice – had been rendered useless.
“After Miro slipped into the palace he told me we didn’t have much time and I needed to come with him immediately. We escaped from the palace to a nearby courtyard where David was waiting for us. Then we fled to Piropolis. We were met by a group of men, but I don’t know who they were. They placed us into the chambers that you found us in, and that’s the last thing I remember until I was awaked a few days ago.”
“And what about Damian?” I asked anxiously.
“Patrik took charge of him. After Miro returned with Damian, Patrik took us to the apartment he and Damian shared. He got Damian into their bed. I was shocked to see how horrible he looked. It was there that Patrik made Damian and I drink the Darroot tea. Then leaving Damian to rest, Patrik took Miro and me to the kitchen by way of the servant’s passages. I remember him laughing about that, telling me that servants were so insignificant no one ever thought them smart enough to think – if only the emperor knew. There was an edge to his voice with an underlying tone of revenge. I told him not to do anything dangerous, but he didn’t respond.
“Once in the kitchen, we were greeted by a group of kalorian servants.. One of them – an older man – asked about you, Your Grace,” Philippe said as he once more stared into my eyes. “He was adamant in stressing how important it was that you remain safe. Miro told him that you had fled with Nic but he didn’t know where you were. Miro grabbed my arm and told me we had to leave immediately. I turned back to give Patrik a kiss goodbye. I told him to take care of Damian. He smiled and told me he would. Then we left.
“On our way to Piropolis, Miro told me how the Emperor’s Council had determined that the gladiators were too dangerous, and must be dealt with. All of them had been taken to Castle Rood for execution in the arena. Two full divisions of thrones were dispatched to Rood and when the gladiators were pushed out onto the floor of the arena they were surrounded by the might of the empire.”
Philippe paused and turned to look at Miro for a few seconds, then once more staring forward he continued. “Miro said that you were also brought to Rood, bound in chains to sit in the imperial box and witness the execution. That’s when what Miro refers to as ‘the end of the world’ took place.”
“And that was what, exactly?” Charles said.
“I don’t know, even what Miro said at the time didn’t make any sense. He talked about fighting for his life, and fire from the sky, and an earthquake. He was trying to explain as we entered Piropolis, but it was more then I could comprehend.”
“Do you know anything about this?” I asked holding up my arm to show Philippe the asp bracelet.”
“Damian told me you gave it to him.”
“I gave it to him!” Why? How?
“I just know you gave it to Damian,” Philippe said. “A few days before the banquet Damian told me you’d given him something, and then he showed me the bracelet. I asked him about it, but he said the less I knew the better. He told me it was extremely important and that he had to hide it for a while. He remarked he’d meet with you and that at the end of your meeting you turned to him and placed the asp bracelet in his hands. Then you ordered him to hide it telling him that someday – and Damian would know the day – he should give it back to you. You told him it was very important, and that when you saw it you would remember.
“Damian was very intelligent. Most people thought of him only as a singer, but there was much more to him than that,” Philippe said. “I know he was involved in some activities, but even though we were best friends he never revealed anything to me. I’m sure he wanted to protect me, and after what happened to him...” Philippe paused and sighed, “...I now understand why.”
As Philippe related the story of the bracelet I found myself running my fingers along the blue enameled scales of the golden snake wrapped around my arm.
“What does it mean?” Luc said, looking up at me – his eyes sparkled in excitement. “What are you supposed to remember?”
“If I knew, don’t you think I’d tell you?” I said, releasing Nic’s hand – exasperation and frustration coloring my voice. “Apparently Damian did exactly what I told him, and now I find out that not only was I responsible for his death, but also instrumental in his torture. And I can’t even remember what I was supposed to remember. How do you think I feel?” I said, as hot tears rose quickly in my eyes. I took a deep breath and fought them back. I had just seen Philippe sob his heart out hours earlier and since everyone in the room had seen me cry on numerous occasions, I vowed I would not do so yet again. Thinking to regain my composure, I stepped over to the tray with the goblets containing the sweet amber liquid and took one. I blinked back tears as I lifted the rim of the glass to my lips.
“You talked about the twelve houses – the angelic houses,” Nic said, addressing Philippe while making his way over to me. “What were they?”
“The twelve great Icarian angelic houses of the empire?” Philippe asked, sounding a bit confused, “I don’t know what you mean. They were created after we were and became a part of the empire. All Icarians were pledged to one of them. Damian and I were from the Royal House of Music and Art; His Royal Highness Prince Lex of Ramsgate was our head, and his scribe was Lord Johann of Casta.”
“And the others?” Nic asked.
“The Imperial House of Diplomacy, the Royal House of Defense, the Royal House…”
“I remember some of this,” Nic said, interrupting Philippe. “That’s what’s been in my head all these months that we’ve been journeying through this land. It’s what I was trying to tell the High Council of Kalas. But I can’t remember much. Hard as I try, I can only remember pieces, and most of them aren’t big enough to form a picture.
“What do you know of the governance of these Angelic Houses and how did they fit into the empire of those we call The Enlightened Ones?” Nic queried, turning back to Philippe and looking intently at him.
“I was a court musician, trained in various instruments and taught the skill of conducting,” Philippe said. “I know nothing of any of the politics, government or structure of the empire. I don’t even know where Küronas, Tower Mount or the Academy is. They were all places I was taken to, but I never had to go myself. I was isolated for most of my life until I arrived at the imperial court.”
“Nevertheless,” Charles interrupted. “You remember so much, even your collateral knowledge could be of importance to us.” Then turning to me, Charles continued,” Jamie, I think I will need to spend some time with Philippe. There are things I can ask him. He may not know all the information, but even simple, insignificant things may be of future importance.”
“Very well, Charles,” I said, “If anyone can get useful information out of him, I have no doubt it will be you. Please just don’t bore him to death with hours of trivial questions.”
Charles frowned at me, Luc giggled, and Cody smiled into a hand quickly brought to his mouth.
“No question is trivial,” Charles said, giving me a piercing look.
“Maybe it’s time we take a break and go down to supper,” Nic said. “What we’ve heard for the past few hours may take the next few days to digest.”
Slowly everyone began to make their way to the door and downstairs to the formal dining room where our meal would be awaiting us.
“Wait,” I said turning to Philippe. “You said that the Icarian members of the imperial household were under heavy guard. What did you mean?”
“One of the rumors circulating was that Icarians were immune from the plague.” Philippe said.
“That’s true,” Charles said, “they were.”
“From what he had overheard at some of the dinners and banquets Damian suspected as much, and he told me so,” Philip said.
“Ok,” I said, “that makes sense. Then just one more thing.” I paused and looked Philippe directly in the eye. “Who was Prince Hippolito – the one who discovered Nic and me in the garden?”
Philippe, who’d been gazing back at me, suddenly turned away and looked down at his feet. He took a deep breath and sighed.
“You really don’t remember, do you?” he said raising his head and looking into my eyes. He spoke so softly I was barely able to make out what he had said.
“No,” I answered, “who was he?”
“His Imperial Highness, Prince Hippolito of Hypernia, was head of the Imperial House of History and Philosophy. Titular Regent of the Seat of the Oracle, Founder of the Legion of Inquiry, and…” Philippe paused taking in another deep breath, “…your betrothed mate.”
The goblet I was holding slipped from my fingers and headed toward the floor. I watched as the soft thick rug it landed on absorbed its fall; it bounced, unbroken, several times in front of me, a growing stain forming at my feet as its spilled contents rapidly spread across the surface of the rug, soaking into the intricate pattern that had been expertly woven into it.