The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie

 

Part III – The Alliance

 

Chapter 28

 

Bathed in the golden glow of candlelight, I sat quietly on a padded stool in the small sitting room adjacent to Nic and my bedroom. Anyone entering the room and catching a glimpse of my quiet repose might think I was lost in thought, absentmindedly staring into space. But although I appeared to be gazing blankly across the room, I was actually studying The Screen, accessed in its cloaked mode – a process I’d mastered during the long months of trekking through the wilderness.

 

At the conclusion of Philippe’s dramatic story, I suggested to Nic that he and the others repair to the dining room, but informed him I’d be excusing myself to retire to our apartment. At first Nic protested, concerned about my obvious distress after Philippe’s revelation of my betrothal to Hippolito – an Icarian of whom I presently had no memory.

 

After strongly insisting and eventually raising my voice, I finally convinced everyone that I was fine, but needed a bit of solitude to collect my thoughts. I also reminded Nic of his desire to address everyone concerning some of the rules and etiquette needed in our new home, pointing out that no matter how I currently felt, these were issues that needed to be discussed.

 

Nic eventually acceded to my request and led the group down the hallway. Subdued, they made their way to the stairs that led to the lower floor and the formal dining room where dinner awaited; I watched as Nic turned back to look at me. I countered the concern that I could see on his face by giving him a small smile, then I turned away and wandered back to our apartment. All the way down the long hall, I found my thoughts jumping from topic to topic: the coffins, the plague, an asp-shaped bracelet that cost a life, monks, gladiators, orbs, a prince named Hippolito, and a great city called Küronas.

 

When I opened the heavy door to our apartment, I could see that the household servants had visited our suite as they made their rounds through the Amber palace, lighting candles and lamps. The salon glowed as the light from many candles reflected off mirrors and polished marble. Walking slowly through the apartment, I noticed all of the rooms had some form of illumination; a few rooms, like the private dining room and bath, only had a single candle or wall sconce lit, but the sitting room and the bedroom were well lit.

 

I paused for a few seconds before I turned uncertainly to the door of the small library. My first instinct was to follow Charles’ example and see what I could find among the rows of ancient volumes that lined the shelves of our small library. After a moment’s reflection, I laughed and shook my head ruefully – I carried a library far greater and older then anything I could discover in this present world inside my own head.

 

Finding a comfortable stool in the sitting room, I sat down and pondered the further questions Philippe’s remembrances had unexpectedly raised. For a brief period of time, I stared unseeingly at the candle-cast shadows on the walls as their flames wavered too and fro. After a few moments of reflection, I abruptly called up The Screen. The strange and marvelous device that resided in my head held a wealth of knowledge – even if there was much of it I didn’t understand – and it seemed the logical place for me to begin to gain further understanding and hopefully to unlock the puzzles presented by Philippe’s tale.

 

Months of practice with The Screen had made my mind nimble in accessing the information it held. I sped through a few thousand references and categories, scanning them for the singular topic I suddenly realized I needed. It took a few minutes, but then the words <Angelic Houses> flashed before my mind’s eye.

 

Bringing the reference into my conscious mind, I opened it. Each main reference usually held others within it – sometimes as few as three or four, other times as many as a few hundred. Opening one of these points of reference often reminded me of watching a bud unfold into a beautiful and intricate flower. I concentrated and the words <Angelic Houses> expanded into a wide variety of more specific topics.

 

Once more I ran down the list that blossomed in my mind. Under the main category many references appeared, but those that caught my attention were:

 

<Formation & Structure>

<Governance & Regulation>

<Hierarchy>

<NEM – Orb Designation>

 

Concurrent Notation <Angelic Castes>

 

Opening the references one by one and studying them, I discovered they substantiated Philippe’s story. Under <Formation & Structure> I learned that the so-called Angelic Houses – sometimes called The Houses of Twelve – were divided along the lines of function and purpose. Each had a formal and official titular designation, but often were referred to by an informal title – something akin to a sobriquet – and were subdivided into two classes: Imperial and Royal.

 

But the division wasn’t what I’d expected. Houses were created along governmental, economic, cultural, educational and even metaphysical lines. Some, like The Royal House of Craftsmen and The Royal House of Music and Art, had clearly defined responsibilities while others, such as The Imperial House of the Metaphysical Arts, only offered vague statements regarding their mission and purpose.

 

Four of the twelve houses formed the imperial line, while the remaining eight comprised the royal line. Although parity existed among all twelve of the angelic houses, one house in the imperial line – The House of the Imperial High Seraphim – and one house in the royal line – The Royal Dominion House of the Throne – were first among equals, each within their line. It was also clear that The House of the Imperial High Seraphim held a singular, premier position above all the houses – imperial or royal. The ten other houses clustered around the two premier houses indicated their fealty to them by the designation of “Imperial” or “Royal” in their official titular designations.

 

Opening <Governance & Regulation> I learned that the angelic houses were under the direct oversight of an imperial commission – comprised entirely of non-Icarians and appointed personally by the emperor. Turning to the list of imperial commissioners, I raised my eyebrows when I came upon the name Savaron Loka – the emperor’s private counselor and the man Philippe told us had submitted the golden lot at Damian’s Grand Enchères – who was listed not only as one of the commission’s members, but also its chairman.

 

The section <Hierarchy> listed the names of the ruling heads of the houses – each an imperial or royal prince depending on the alignment of the house. In addition to the ruling princes, the hierarchical listing for each house also included the name of the scribe for each house. But since I was unable to quickly find a reference directly related to scribes, I had no idea as to the functions and duties they might perform. One thing was quite clear; the scribe of every house was shown in the second highest ruling position – out-ranked only by the ruling prince.

 

Quickly examining the names of the princes and scribes I blinked in surprise when I saw the names Loran and James under the House of the Imperial High Seraphim. Loran was listed as an imperial prince along with his titles of wizard and head of the House of the Dragon, James – a reference to me – listed my title as scribe and crown prince of the wizard’s house.

 

Then seeing a strange symbol after my name I accessed it, only to find a separate listing – <Addendum to Hierarchy>. Opening it, I discovered only one listing:

 

James de Valèn – wizardry candidate, provisional head of The House of the Imperial High Seraphim, Imperial crown prince.

 

I could only assume the change was a result of the death of the angel I knew of as Alexander, causing Loran to lose his position as wizard. I stared at the words for a long time, thinking about Loran, my dream of Alexander and the turmoil his death apparently had caused.

 

Studying the list further, I was surprised to see the name Cody Delacroix of Altamos listed as the scribe of the Imperial House of Diplomacy. If the reference referred to the same coffin-bound Cody that we’d found buried in the great forest, it would explain a few things. Continuing down the list of names I discovered that once more the words of Philippe rang clear and true. Under The Imperial House of History and Philosophy I found the name “His Imperial Highness Hippolito of Hypernia, Prince of The Imperial House of History and Philosophy, Titular Regent of the Seat of the Oracle and Founder of the Legion of Inquiry.”

 

Moving to other categories within the topic of Angelic Houses, I learned that each house was home to one of the orbs and directly charged with its defense and protection. Because of this, each house took as its primary heraldic color that of the orb it was charged with holding. Each house also contained in its heraldry the animal associated with its assigned orb, and sometimes used that animal as a sort of short hand when referring to itself. The Imperial House of the High Seraphim – The Wizard’s House – defended the Orb of the Dragon, thus making its chief color purple, and its primary heraldic symbol the Dragon. Because of this, it was occasionally referred to as The Imperial House of the Dragon or simply Dragon’s House. I reached down and drew up the hem of my tunic. My fingers lightly touched the outline of the tattoo on my leg, which somehow was tied into this scheme of houses, orbs, animals, and powers.

 

 The more I learned, the more amazed I became regarding the complexity I could see had been woven into one of the central structures of Icarian society. I couldn’t help wonder why such a system had been created, and who was responsible for it. In some respects it seemed strange and cumbersome, but while the information provided by The Screen was helpful, it offered no commentary or explanations.

 

Lost in thought and speculation, I jumped and started when I felt an unexpected hand on my shoulder. Turning around, I found myself looking up into Nic’s face; to his right stood Charles. Both of them had serious looks on their faces – made even more severe by the shadows cast across them in the flickering candlelight.

 

“How are you, Jamie?” Nic asked.

 

“I’m fine Nic.” I answered. “I see you brought Charles with you. Did you think I’d be in distress?”

 

“We weren’t sure,” Charles said. “I saw the shock on your face when Philippe told you about Prince Hippolito.”

 

“Of course I was shocked, but for the last hour I’ve been sitting here browsing The Screen. I’ve learned a bit more about the Angelic Houses Philippe talked about.” And I proceeded to tell them some of the information I’d just acquired.

 

Nic and Charles listened with quiet thoughtfulness. Occasionally Nic frowned, but Charles’ face remained an unreadable mask of concentration. After I finished, Nic sat down beside me and took my hand.

 

“Apparently I’m not a King,” he quietly began, “but instead, one of the Legion of Gladiators Philippe talked about.”

 

“Does that trouble you, Niklas?” I asked, looking into his eyes.

 

“Of course not. Only one thing really matters to me, Jamie, and that…”

 

I raised my hand and put a finger to his lips to silence him. And although I could read minds, I didn’t have to read his to know what he was about to say.

 

“I think you know the answer to that question already,” I said, giving him a warm smile. “Who saved me in Tardon, protected me all these months, endured my outbursts and temper tantrums, held me when I was scared and loved me more than I could ever have hoped for or imagined? What you were is a brave and courageous warrior. What you are is my love and my betrothed, the King of Icaria. That hasn’t changed, nor will it ever change.”

 

“I never expected this,” Charles said, and I could sense the surprise in his voice. “The reason I accompanied Nic was because we were afraid you would be…”

 

“Hysterical? Irrational? Distraught?” I said, leveling a steady gaze at my friend.

 

“Frankly, yes!” Charles said. “And I must say I’m surprised.”

 

“Many of the things I’ve learned from Philippe’s story I’ve been able to confirm through the screen. Yes, I’m an aristocrat – a prince, according to the hierarchies. And since there was a Hippolito, I can only assume he was betrothed to me for reasons I have no way of knowing. But that was over twenty five hundred years ago. How do I know who has survived that time period and who has not? Cody’s coffin-mate – whom I now suspect was the prince of his house – is dead. Damian would have been dead if we’d gotten to him a few days – maybe even a few hours – later than we actually did.”

 

“Do you know if Hippolito is alive, Charles? Do you know if any of the princes of any of the houses are alive? Certainly all of the humans from that time – the so-called “Enlightened Ones” – are dead all these centuries and millennia. We’re living in the present, and we must move forward. And furthermore, I discovered that under the terms of organization set by the commission, whoever is the betrothed of the Wizard automatically ascends to the Icarian throne – at this moment and in the future, that person is Niklas,” I said, turning and smiling at Nic. There are so many things we have to accomplish yet, and now isn’t the time to fall apart. All we have is each other,” I said, squeezing Nic’s hand. “And there is much more to learn and to do.”

 

“The Screen is a marvelous encyclopedic resource,” I said. “It’s a wealth of knowledge regarding dates, facts, places and historical events, but it also has its limitations, and they’re significant. It gives me information, but never includes a point of view or commentary. For example when I access information on the imperial and royal houses,” I continued, “It tells me the house this Hippolito of Hypernia ruled, and his titles, but offers no information regarding his character, personality or motivation. And it’s that way with everything I access. If I want millions of facts, they are instantly at my fingertips, but there’s never anything other than hard and factual information. I need to learn more – we all do; and not just cold hard facts, but the meaning and motivation behind them.”

 

“You were right Charles, we have an opportunity to learn more from Philippe. Maybe he was just ‘a simple court musician’ as he says, but he can add color and depth to the lifeless facts that we know now.”

 

And suddenly Charles broke into a wide grin. “As you say, Your Grace,” he said, giving me a slight bow. “You are indeed a prince of the blood, and you’re finally acting like one.”

 

“We’ve come this far together,” I said returning his smile with a dubious smirk, “But if you start calling me Your Grace, then I’m going to have to toss a lightning bolt in your direction.”

 

The response from Charles was a long and melodic laugh. “Jamie, the little boy who throws fire balls!”

 

Giving him a mock scowl, I turned to face Nic. “Well my love, what do you think?”

 

His only response was a warm and affectionate smile. I smiled back, moved close to him laid my head on his chest and was quickly enveloped in his arms. At the end of our embrace I turned to Charles. “Would you please get the others, Charles?”

 

Without any response, Charles left the room, returning to the grand salon. I heard the door open and shut, and Nic and I were left together in silence.

 

“You are a king, Niklas. You are the king of my heart, and you are the king of my life, but you are also the King of Icaria. Not just because a long dead commission gave me, as wizard, the power to say so, but because you really are one. I don’t know how to explain it, but I just know it. You may have been a gladiator, and a warrior, but you are also a king. And not just a king that rules because he has the right, but also a king that has a heart and cares for those he rules. You have never acted in any other way.”

 

“And what of Hippolito?” he said, looking into my eyes.

 

“You heard Philippe’s story. I was with you in the royal garden and a few times before that. I’m guessing that somehow, we met and fell in love. It was Hippolito who banned you and me from seeing each other and also placed me under surveillance, so I get the feeling that he wasn’t that fond of the idea. I also have an innate feeling that I wasn’t all that pleased about him, or he would have woken up in the coffin beside me instead of you.”

 

I was about to continue when I detected the sound of the door to our apartment opening. I could hear soft muffled sounds and quiet conversation. Taking Nic’s hand, I led him from the sitting room to the salon. As soon as we entered, I saw everyone standing in the middle of the room crowded around Charles, quietly asking questions. As soon as everyone saw us, they immediately quieted. They were clustered together. Cody was holding Lance’s hand, and Philippe was holding Miro’s. David stood casually next to Charles and Luc behind Jonathan with his hands on the little angel’s shoulders.

 

For a few seconds, I stood and looked at them: Charles, the scholar, historian, and oft times my foil, a boy who couldn’t fight or command if his life depended on it, yet my closest friend and advisor. Cody, an angel with a heart of purest gold, and from my recent research, a true diplomat. David and Miro – egotistical performers and gladiators, fighting for sport and the cheers of the crowd – who’d apparently risked their lives to bring me Niklas. Lancelot, a battle angel who was gentle and kind, with a love for art and culture, and who had chosen to stand with us, and repudiated Loran. Little Jonathan – sightless, but somehow not blind. Philippe, a gentle angel whom I now knew for the great and talented boy he was. And finally Luc: very much an Icarian, and although it wasn’t apparent to anyone else, as I stood looking at the former slave boy I could see a beautiful set of wings emerging from his back, as graceful and beautiful as his heart and soul were. What a group we were, but we were all we had and I knew if anyone was going to find Küronas and establish the kingdom of Icaria, it would be these boys led by Nic and me.

 

Leaving Nic’s side, I walked toward them. Lance and Cody released each other hands, and gave me guarded looks. David had a smirk on his face as if he could read my mind. Miro’s eyes gleamed mysteriously as the candlelight caught them. Philippe leaned his head against Miro’s chest, yet never took his gaze off of me. Charles had taken Jonathan by the hand and I smiled at the two red-and-black-winged brothers. Luc gave me a shy grin, and then almost as if he had been caught doing something he shouldn’t have, his eyes went to the ground and his smile faded. I stopped in front of Miro and Philippe; as soon as I did Philippe raised his head from Miro’s shoulder, looked at me, and took a slight step back. I reached out my hand and put it on his shoulder.

 

“Thank you for telling us your story, Philippe,” I said, “it’s the most information we’ve gotten up to this point.” Philippe remained silent, his eyes boring into me. “I know it was difficult for you, but I’m very grateful that you told us what you remember. As Charles suggested, I’d like you to spend some time with him so that we can learn more, if you’ll agree?”

 

Philippe slowly nodded his head.

 

“Thank you,” I said, then continuing to look at the boy I added, “I’m very, very sorry about Damian. From what you’ve told us, I can see he sacrificed much.” Lifting my arm so that he could see the snake wrapped around my lower arm, I said “I only hope that I remember the importance of this.”

 

I turned away to face David and Miro, but then quickly looked back at Philippe. “I’ll see about getting you some musical instruments.” Once more Philippe nodded his head and I could see the faintest hint of a smile on his face.

 

As soon as David and Miro realized I was looking at them, their faces broke out into huge grins.

 

“So, when does the fighting start?” David said.

 

“Probably sooner then we’d like or are ready for,” Nic observed.

 

“But remember, our goal is Küronas, not war,” I said.

 

“Well, you heard that monk,” David said. “I don’t think he likes the idea of us being alive. It’s just like in the arena, Nic – we’re going to have to watch each other’s backs.”

 

“Agreed,” Nic said. “No one goes anywhere outside the Amber palace without a partner – preferably someone who can fight,” he added, looking at Charles.

 

“Does that also mean me?” I said with a frown.

 

“That especially means you, Jamie,” Nic said, leveling a steady and unwavering gaze at me. “It’s not an issue of you being helpless. I know you can defend yourself, but I don’t want your temper getting the better of you. You told Miro and David to exercise restraint, but the same goes for you. You already have a bad reputation, with the rumors flying about the city about your actions in the high council chamber.”

 

“But…”

 

“I know,” he continued “you were only trying to defend us, but we all need to exercise restraint.”

 

“Very well,” I said wrinkling my forehead and giving him a frown. “As you wish.”

 

“Now, I think it’s time we all go to bed.” Nic continued. “Tomorrow’s another day, and so is the next and the next. We must use all of them wisely to meet with Zakaria, and the High Council. We also have to plan our next series of moves. For once, we’re not wandering aimlessly across the countryside. We need to utilize this time as best as we can.”

 

With that, everyone began to move toward the door.

 

“Wait,” I called out.

 

En masse, the group turned and looked at me.

 

“Is there anyone here that disputes Niklas is our King?”

 

Every head shook, indicating there was no dispute.

 

“Very well,” I said, looking back at Nic. “Then let’s get some sleep.”

 

When the last of them exited the room and a few minutes later I heard the door in the grand salon click shut, Nic turned and looked at me.

 

“So what else did you learn, Jamie?” he said, quirking an eyebrow as he spoke.

 

“What makes you say that?” I replied coolly.

 

“I saw how upset you were when you found out about Hippolito,” he continued. “I know how agitated you were when you told me to take the others to supper, but when we returned, you were cool and calm. Do you forget who you’re talking to? I know you only too well. What else did you discover?”

 

“First of all the differences.” I said.

 

“What differences?” Nic asked giving me an intensely probing look.

 

I looked up to the ceiling and the frescoes painted on them, taking in their design as I gathered my thoughts. Looking back at Nic, I began:

 

“When we were aimlessly wondering all over the countryside and Charles told us his story about The Enlightened ones and Icaria, it sounded good. But with Philippe’s version, it’s obvious some things don’t agree or make sense – at least to me.”

 

“Well, remember Charles didn’t have much of a memory either, and Philippe for some reason – he said the tea – retained his.”

 

“Maybe so,” I said, “but then there’s the issue of Damian’s Grand Enchères. Savaron Loka, Philippe said, represented the emperor and cast the golden lot for Damian. And he was also the chairman for the Commission of Oversight for the angelic houses. I can’t help, but feel there’s a connection. And remember how Philippe said the heads of the angelic houses had been placed under guard?”

 

“Because of the plague,” Nic said.

 

“Was it? I’m suspicious.” I countered. “In fact, I’m feeling much more then suspicious about everything I’ve learned. And then there’s the restricted zone,” I added, looking directly into Nic’s eyes.

 

“Restricted zone?” Nic asked giving me a puzzled look.

 

“When I access the screen, there’s always a section called ‘the restricted zone’. I’ve noticed that it gets smaller with every orb I collect– it appears that each orb unlocks a portion of it.”

 

“You never mentioned this,” he commented.

 

“Well, each orb has allowed me access to vast amounts of information – so vast that it’s impossible to examine everything currently available to me. Therefore I’ve never really worried about it, assuming that as I absorbed more orbs I would learn more. But even from the beginning, each section of information I get access to after absorbing an orb seems to assume prior knowledge – knowledge I don’t have. Tonight, I think I’ve found out why.”

 

“Why?” Nic asked.

 

I paused and sucked in a long deep breath and held it. Reaching out and touching the body of the asp that made up the bracelet entwined around my arm, I gently ran my fingers over the blue and gold scales along its back. Releasing the breath I was holding, I continued.

 

“Each house is charged with the safe keeping and defense of an orb. The orbs were to be assimilated by the candidate for the wizardry, in an elaborate ceremony created to facilitate that assimilation. For example, the first orb to be absorbed was to have been The Orb of the Owl. It was the easiest and mildest to absorb. Each orb grows in power and strength. That’s why The Orb of the Snake almost killed me. It was never meant to be the first orb assimilated.”

 

“Likewise, the knowledge each orb unlocks is apparently dependent on previous knowledge granted the candidate by the orbs he has already assimilated, but at this point Loran and I are each absorbing orbs out of sequence. That can cause all kinds of problems.”

 

“Obviously,” Nic said, and in his response I could detect that he, too, was remembering my experience with the Orb of the Snake and the frightening situation it had placed me in – a situation that had necessitated my rescue at his hands.

 

“But there’s something else,” I said, pausing once more to study the frescoes on the ceiling.

 

“And that is?” Nic asked.

 

Continuing to look at the ceiling, I remained quiet for a few moments until I felt a warm hand on my arm.

 

“Jamie?” Nic said.

 

Lowering my head to look into his eyes, I continued. “There’s something else I suspect about the orbs,” I said. “I think they hold an unnamed power of some sort.”

 

“Well, each orb is quite powerful in and of itself – that’s obvious from what they’ve allowed you to do,” Nic said. “So what do you mean by ‘an unnamed power’?”

 

“That’s just it, Nic,” I responded sharply, with an exasperated tone rising in my voice. “I don’t know what it is. The screen only hints at it, and even then I’ve only discovered a veiled reference to it through the information the Orb of the Snake grants me access to. But it’s not enough to allow me to gain any meaningful knowledge regarding its nature.

 

“All I’ve been able to discover so far is that somehow, when the power of all the orbs are joined, they grant the wizard a very special and specific ‘ability’ or ‘power’ and that power seems to be the real reason for the orbs creation,” I said. “But I can’t find out what that power is, or its use.”

 

“It all seems quite complex,” Nic said.

 

“Yes,” I agreed, “very complex. As complex and intricate as the Icarian hierarchy and society that was created for us around the same time we all came into existence.”

 

For a few minutes we both sat in silence – neither of us had anything more to add to the conversation. Finally Nic put his hand in mine and stood up.

 

“We sent the others off to bed a while ago, Jamie. I think it’s time we followed our own advice.”

 

Nodding in agreement, I rose and walked with him, hand in hand, to our bedroom.

 

“Is the door locked?” I asked, smiling at him.

 

“I’ll check,” Nic said returning my smile with one of his own. “And if it’s not, it will be.”