The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Part III – The Alliance
I eased Jonathan off my lap and stood up from my seat. Nic also stood and began to walk around the massive map table. Following close behind, I wasn’t sure what he had in mind – I could only assume he wanted to introduce himself personally to the assembled kings – but for my part, I intended to meet and talk to King Wilum. I knew that he was one of the keys to the future of Icaria, and anything that could be done to show him our true intentions and sincerity couldn’t hurt our cause.
As we neared the seats of King Oslo and his son, Prince Drakis, I could see that they were quietly talking between themselves. When we walked by, they quickly turned their heads and avoided our eyes. By the time we approached the Kalasian delegation, Lord Ottavia seeing us approach offered Nic his hand, telling him that he thought Nic had made a splendid showing as Icaria’s king and leader. Nic shook Ottavia’s hand and thanked him gravely for his kind words.
As Nic exchanged pleasantries with Ottavia, I walked past them and continued around the table toward King Wilum and Prince Andrew, who’d both gotten up from the table and were involved in what looked like an intense conversation with General Zakaria. I also noticed that Cody had moved from his spot at the table over to where King Juston was sitting, and that the king and the blue-winged angel had quickly become involved in a lively conversation. I could see Cody smiling and nodding his head as the King of Aradamia launched into a jovial and animated discussion with him. As I got nearer to Wilum, General Zakaria excused himself from Wilum and Andrew’s conversation and suddenly stepped across my path.
“What does Charles have planned?” he asked, looking down at me suspiciously.
“I don’t know, General,” I answered, looking up at him and remembering the time, many months ago, when I had gazed up at him in his provisional office in Tardon. “I suppose I could ask you the same thing. I know you’ve also been conducting talks with him.”
“Damned if I know what kind of tricks that red-and-black angel has up his sleeve,” Zakaria said.
“Well, tricks are my specialty, my Lord; remember, he’s not the wizard here.”
“Wizard or no wizard,” Zakaria snorted, “I hope he’s not going to do something foolish.”
“Foolish? Charles?” I said, trying to avoid staring at the scar that crossed his face. “Hardly, General. That’s the only reason that Nic and I aren’t more agitated. If it were anyone else, we’d be very concerned. And while we’re still a little apprehensive, we both know that Charles would never do anything that hasn’t been well thought out and highly orchestrated. Whatever he has planned may or may not work, but one thing’s for sure: if Charles has anything to do with it, it won’t be a disaster. You can count on that.”
“I hope not, Jamie,” Zakaria said. Then he shot a quick glance at King Wilum. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince him that you aren’t a risk to us.”
“I had that impression General, and thank you,” I said, offering him a smile. “We know your feelings in this matter, and Nic and I are very grateful for your support.” I lowered my voice and moved a bit closer to Zakaria, “But I’m a bit surprised – I had no idea that your aide was the king’s son.”
General Zakaria sighed, “Wilum asked me almost a year ago to take my nephew under my wing. He’s concerned about the boy.”
“Nephew!” I said in surprise. “Prince Andrew is your nephew? But that would make you…”
“The King’s brother,” Zakaria interrupted me. “Yes, Wilum is one year older than I. Our father, Hector, was the previous king of Xannameir. When father died, Wilum inherited the crown and I inherited the army.”
“I thought I saw was a resemblance, I just never….” I was sputtering in surprise as the realization dawned on me. “… b... but then you’re a PRINCE!”
“I’ve never cared for titles, little boy,” Zakaria said, giving me a stern look. “I’m the commander of my brother’s armies. That title most accurately describes my life. It’s the one I freely chose, and it’s the one that I live by.”
By now Nic was behind me and I felt the warm grip of his hand on the back of my upper arm. I turned to face him and blurted, “Nic, you’re never going to…” but then I noticed that King Wilum was standing directly in front of us, and I stopped. As I turned back to face the king, Nic stepped up along side of me; I slid my hand into his and squeezed it. The action didn’t escape King Wilum, because I saw his eyes glance downward for a second at our joined hands, and a slight furrow crease his brow.
As soon as Wilum approached us, General Zakaria seemed to take that as his cue to exit, and he quickly moved around the king and began to engage his nephew, Prince Andrew, in conversation. I couldn’t help but wonder what other secrets the Eighteenth Duke of Lionsgate might not have revealed to us.
“There’s something I want to discuss with you,” Wilum quietly began.
“Of course Your Majesty,” Nic quickly answered.
“It’s my son, Andrew.” The king paused, “he’s first in line for the throne, and I would like him to grow in knowledge and experience – it’s the main reason I sent him to be with Marcus. I’d like him to be as well-rounded as possible. A king needs to be intelligent, flexible, understanding, firm and determined, and yet have some knowledge of what is possible and what is not—first hand experience with the military is crucial, I think. I knew Marcus and the army would help him become a man.”
“Well, he certainly looks and acts like a man to me,” I answered.
Wilum frowned down at me.
“Jamie,” Nic gave me a sharp look. “Have some respect for His Highness. He’s discussing something rather serious.”
“I’m sorry, Nic.” Then I looked up at the king. “I’m sorry, Your Highness; I meant no disrespect to you, or Prince Andrew.”
I looked past the king to Prince Andrew. He was presently in deep conversation with his uncle and appeared to be unaware of what his father was telling us. Then I turned to Nic, only to observe that he was exhibiting a solemn and serious expression.
“For some reason I feel that if anyone would understand my son,” Wilum continued, “it would be you. It is a sad thing when a father must admit that the members of a different race, a different species even, would understand his own son better than he can, but Andrew and I are not close – he takes much more after his mother.” He paused a moment, sighed, and then seemed to collect himself. “Therefore, I have a serious request; actually, the request comes from Andrew, but he was too shy to approach you about it. My son has told me that if an alliance between our kingdoms and Icaria is formed, he would like to be appointed the chief liaison between Xannameir and Icaria.”
“Of course, Your Highness,” Nic said without hesitation. “Although we don’t know your son very well, it would be an honor to have him act as Xannameir’s representative to Icaria.”
And Nic and Wilum continued to speak. I glanced over at Andrew and as I did, his dark blue eyes met mine, but only for a second. As soon as we made eye contact, he dropped his gaze to the floor and I was left staring at his long eye lashes batting nervously as he feigned an intense interest in the patterned marble underfoot. His cheeks began to burn a deep shade of red. I was about to walk over to him when I heard a door open. I looked up to see Charles walk through the heavy bronze doors.
“We’re ready,” Charles breathlessly announced. “Please, may we adjourn to the forum?”
One by one everyone stopped their tasks and conversations and began to file out through the door. Charles, watching carefully, remained in the room, waiting for everyone to exit. As Nic and I approached the door, I gave Charles a frown.
“Don’t worry, Jamie; if this works the way I think it will, we’ll have an alliance before the sun sets today.”
“I hope so Charles,” Nic answered. “Once again, I have to say that I wish we’d known a bit more about this.”
“I know,” Charles said. “But you know that I wouldn’t do anything foolish.”
“Of course not, Charles.” Nic retorted, “it’s just that in a matter of this importance, a small clue would have been helpful.”
“You’re right, Nic,” Charles said. “In the future I’ll keep your more informed.”
“And me too,” I added with a frown.
“Yes Jamie, you too,” Charles answered, with marked annoyance in his voice
As we slowly made our way to the forum, Charles walked alongside Nic and me, explaining his plan. By the time we had gotten to the square, Nic actually had a slight smile on his face.
“It’s not a bad idea, Charles. Let’s just hope it works,” he said to the red-and-black angel.
“It has every chance of succeeding,” Charles said with a smile.
“I’m glad you think so, Charles,” I added. “Like Nic, I am optimistic, but it’s still a risky move and I can certainly think of a million things that can go wrong.”
As we left the map room and entered the corridor of the building, I suddenly remembered something that had been on my mind for a few days.
“Charles,” I called out.
He turned and moved from Nic’s side to mine, giving me a questioning look. As we walked together, I began to question him.
“Charles, did you tell Luc that he was responsible for protecting Jonathan?”
My answer came immediately when Charles’ look went from puzzlement, to surprise and then understanding.
“Well no, Jamie,” he said, as we left the dark recesses of the corridor and walked into the light of the forum. “He’s a little boy, I’d never put that kind of responsibility on his shoulders.”
“Ah, I didn’t think so,” I said, “but Jonathan mentioned something about Luc being his ‘knight,’ and that you had told Luc to look after him.”
“Uhm,” was the only thing Charles said as he paused, and I could tell that he was thinking. As we approached the others he began to shake his head, then he looked at me and replied, “Yes, I told him that since he was older than Jonathan he should be aware of some of the dangers a little boy who couldn’t see might get into. But I never meant to assign him the role of protector and defender of my brother. I only hoped that he wouldn’t let Jonathan get into trouble as they were exploring around the forum, but I always assumed if there would be trouble Luc would call for help – after all, that’s what all the guards in the Amber Palace are for.”
“Then you might want to mention that to Luc,” I said, “apparently he’s taking it very seriously.”
“Don’t worry Jamie, I will,” Charles said
Since Charles, Nic and I had been the last ones to leave the room, and had taken a few moments for discussion, we were the last to take our places in the forum. By the time we caught up with everyone, all of the kings, lords, ministers, and others were standing together in a loose group.
Once we came to a stop, I paused to carefully study the scene before my eyes. It was obvious that Charles – in his usual meticulous fashion – had carefully orchestrated the setting. The first thing I noticed was that in the middle of the forum stood a small platoon of soldiers from the city garrison. I counted fifteen of them, all dressed in full battle armor. In addition to their uniforms, each one was also wearing a sparring helm. These were standard issue headgear, but outfitted with a heavy metal mesh that covered the face for additional protection. I’d seen soldiers from the garrison wearing them from time to time when they sparred, or practiced mock battle maneuvers. They had apparently been designed to minimize injury.
In addition to the sparring helms, every man had heavy leather bindings on their arms and legs. They covered the parts of the soldier’s bodies not normally protected by armor. They were not part of the soldiers’ standard uniform, and I assumed that they, like the helms, were used in sparring to minimize the risk of injury. Turning to Nic, I asked him if my guess was correct, and when he confirmed my assumption, I smugly smiled. All of the soldiers had weapons of one type or another; most carried swords, although a few held pikes. Two wielded maces, and one carried a whip, equipped with sharp metal barbs, attached to his belt in addition to the standard issue sword.
Across from them stood Lancelot, and beside him, the twins. When our day had begun, I’d wondered why Lance had chosen to dress in full Icarian battle armor, and the twins had even more armor on than they usually wore. At first I thought that they wanted to make an impressive showing: Lance as Commander of the Icarian army, such as it was, and the twins because their gladiatorial training seemed to have reinforced the fact that they must always exhibit some degree or another of showmanship whenever even the smallest of crowds might be involved. But in the map chamber, I’d noticed that General Zakaria had eschewed any official military uniform save for his sword and dagger. Now, I understood.
To one side of the forum stood a small group of soldiers dressed in battle tunics, but without armor or weapons. They projected an air of eager anticipation, and it seemed they had assembled as observers. Near them stood a smaller group of men, neither soldiers nor servants, and I was unable to guess their purpose. Between Lance and the platoon of soldiers I could see a small round platform, or pedestal. It rested on the paving, and appeared to be about a foot high and no more than two feet in diameter.
Charles grasped Jonathan’s hand and guided his little brother to where Lance and the soldiers were standing. He placed Jonathan on the small round pedestal and handed him a small piece of cloth. It was bright red and looked like a piece of soft velvet. Then Charles bent over and whispered in Jonathan’s ear. After Jonathan nodded his head in agreement, Charles turned his back on Lance, Jonathan, and the soldiers and walked over to the assembled courtiers and kings.
“Before our demonstration begins, I would like to ask Lord Ottavia a question.”
“Certainly Lord Charles,” Ottavia nodded in agreement.
“Lord Ottavia, do you recognize the soldiers standing before us?”
“I do, Lord Charles. They’re all from the garrison that guards Konassas. They are battle-hardened Xannameirian troops.”
“And how would your assess the fighting ability of these men, my Lord?”
“The soldiers who act as the protectors and defenders of the capital city are some of finest in the kingdom of Xannameir,” he said, then turned toward King Wilum. “His Majesty is gracious enough to send us some of his finest troops. They are specially chosen for their strength, bravery, ability, and courage. King Wilum and General Zakaria have made it a great honor to be chosen to be part of the guard of Konassas. Only the top ten percent of the entire army of Xannameir is even considered, and of those chosen, only half of them actually complete their training successfully. We are most grateful for Xannameir’s graciousness, and their protection.”
Wilum, like his brother Marcus, didn’t seem like a man easily flattered or one used to graciously accepting praise; nevertheless, he nodded slightly toward Ottavia.
“So you would assess them as being superior in ability?” Charles continued, seemingly oblivious to the slight diplomatic dance Ottavia had just performed out of deference to Xannameir, and its protection of his city.
“Absolutely,” Lord Ottavia said, once more looking toward Wilum and the General. “They are a superior fighting force.”
Charles then turned to his right and continued. “Lieutenant Commander Tark?” he shouted, calling out the name of the officer who had found us in the wastelands, site of the former city of Piropolis.
The young officer, dressed in military finery, emerged from behind the group of soldiers. I hadn’t noticed him, since he had been in the rear of the group of soldiers, apparently talking with Sergeant Gris and giving him some final instructions.
“Yes, Lord Charles?” Tark answered, and approached Charles.
“Two days ago I approached you and asked you to supply fifteen of your best fighting men for a demonstration before the Grand Council of Kingdoms.”
“Yes, my Lord, you did.”
“And have you done as I asked?”
“Yes my Lord, I have chosen the finest soldiers that the garrison has.”
“You are sure of this?” Charles asked again.
Tark’s amiable expression disappeared, and his stance stiffened into a perfect ‘at attention.’
“My lord, you requested the finest of our troops. If you have any doubts as to my competence in making that determination…”
“I apologize.” Charles cut Tark off. “It was not my intention to question your compliance with my request; it is only to assure Their Majesties and Lord Ottavia that they are looking at the very finest of the troops presently in Kalas.”
“Indeed, these are they,” Tark responded.
“Very well. Thank you, Lieutenant.”
I tucked away a mental note to myself to seek out Tark in the near future and assure him of our regard for him.
Charles took a few more steps forward, bowed at the waist, and addressed the assembled group of kings, lords and ministers.
“Your most esteemed Majesties, Arch Lord Ottavia, Distinguished Lords and Honorable Nobles, Ministers and honored guests…”
“Can’t he ever do anything the simple way, Nic?” I whispered.
“Shhh Jamie, not now.” Nic whispered back.
Once again I took Nic’s hand in mine; as did, I noticed that Prince Andrew was lost in thought as he stared at our clasped hands and entwined fingers.
“As you already know,” Charles continued. “The angel standing before you, dressed in battle armor, is Lancelot, Commanding General of the Army of Icaria. Lancelot is a Royal Dominion Archangel of the High Throne, as is His Majesty, King Niklas. Royal Dominion Archangels are also known as Royal Thrones, and it is their sworn duty to protect the King and the Royal House of Icaria. To his right are Miro and David, members of an… “Charles paused and shot me a glance; entering his mind, I read his thoughts and gave him a slight nod. “…well, they are members of an elite Icarian fighting unit,” he said, now looking at Nic.
“For this demonstration, I have placed my brother Jonathan on the pedestal before us, and have given him a piece of cloth. I have chosen him because he is blind, and therefore cannot be accused of aversely affecting the outcome of this demonstration through fear or movement.”
“The platoon from the garrison of Konassas has been ordered to capture and secure the red cloth in any way that they can, while General Lancelot has been ordered to defend the red cloth against all odds. For this part of the demonstration, only Lancelot will engage the troops. There will be a second part involving David and Miro, but that will come later.”
The twins suddenly grinned, and I could see that dangerous look in their eyes, the one that I’d come to associate with general mayhem. I tried to give them a serious look, but they were studiously avoiding any eye contact with me.
“Do you understand your mission, gentleman?” Charles asked the soldiers.
“Aye, sir!” they chorused in their best parade ground voices.
“Do you understand your duty, General Lancelot?” Charles asked Lance.
“Yes,” Lance answered loudly and clearly.
“Gentlemen, I believe we should step back,” Charles said to the assembled group. “I would suggest we all retire to the steps of the forum so that we can get a better view.”
With that, the group moved to the steps overlooking the forum. Once everyone was in place and Charles was sure that all of us had a good view, he shouted. “Let the contest commence.”
An instant later, the platoon of soldiers, who’d formed up into a small phalanx, charged Lance. In response, the young Royal Throne leapt forward and met the charging soldiers before they even saw him move. With two quick blows from his sword, he severed the shafts of two pikes, leaving their wielders holding two foot long pieces of haft. He caught the sword blow of a third man on his shield, and struck the man under the chin with the upper edge of it, knocking him senseless. With a quick blow to each side, he knocked the two pikesmen – whose weapons he had neutralized – unconscious, with a blow to the helm of each. By the time the rest of the soldiers realized what was happening, he’d already leaped back out of range, and three of his opponents lay dazed on the white marble paving. The soldiers’ aggressive charge faltered, and they retreated to regroup.
As the fight continued, Charles mentioned to everyone watching the contest that Lance had been instructed not to kill or severely injure the soldiers… a prohibition that Charles pointed out had not been given to the soldiers. They had been told to secure the small piece of cloth at all cost, including the injury or even death of the young defending angel.
The contest was truly amazing. The platoon’s initial attacks were organized as a group; the soldiers charged Lance, who time after time single-handedly beat back the advancing column of men. They continued to regroup and charge a few more times, but when they finally realized that this approach was not going to work, they quickly broke up and engaged Lance individually on various fronts in the hopes that one of them would get to Jonathan and secure the red piece of cloth. Jonathan silently stood like a statue, seemingly oblivious to the fight raging around him.
Lance was spectacular, weaving an impenetrable wall of steel around his young charge. Whether attacked by a large group, two or three smaller groups or even by individuals, he engaged and repelled them so swiftly and efficiently his opponents were helpless against him. Even attempts to lure him away from Jonathan while another man tried get to the little angel failed, since Lance’s ability to fly allowed him to move with blinding speed in any direction. After fifteen minutes of non-stop attack, some of the soldiers were obviously flagging, which further slowed their reflexes. A few others were bleeding from cuts inflicted by Lance’s sword and several were on the ground, either dazed by blows to the head or with injuries that prevented them from standing.
In desperation, one of the soldiers threw his pike at Lance who not only managed to dodge it, but was able to jump in the air, somersault backwards, and kick it aside when he suddenly noticed it was heading towards Jonathan’s head. Seeing Jonathan unharmed, Lance turned back to his remaining opponents, but the instant he did the man scooped up another spear that had fallen to the ground, dropped by a pikesmen Lance had bested a few minutes earlier.
His aim was better this time; this spear arrowed directly at Lance. I averted my eyes as it flew toward his chest, afraid of what I would see, but I was forced to look when I heard a gasp rise up from the assembled crowd. Lance had knocked the spear out of line, then as the butt swung around, caught the spear by its haft. Sheathing his sword in one smooth motion, he gripped the pike in both hands and whipped it around in a flat arc, striking the pikesman on the side of the head with its butt end. There was a loud clang as it made contact with the sparring helm and I watched the soldier hit the ground, knocked senseless.
After ten additional minutes of combat, the platoon was reduced to three men, who were obviously exhausted. Lance, still fit and energetic, charged at them full out, his sword at the ready. The man with the whip came at Lance from behind as he was dueling with the two remaining swordsmen. As the soldier raised his hand to bring the whip slashing down on Lance, the young angel spun around. In the blink of an eye, Lance’s sword flicked out at the man’s wrist. Screaming in pain, the soldier dropped the whip and fell to the ground, clutching his obviously broken forearm. Only the strong piece of leather that he wore saved him from having his hand completely severed from his wrist by Lance’s blow.
The remaining two soldiers fell quickly, and Jonathan stood secure on his pedestal. Lance went over to the little angel and took the cloth from his hand, patting him on the head as he did. He took the little boy’s hand in his and the two of them walked silently across the forum toward the steps where we all continued to stand. As he approached us, I could see that he was carefully looking at the assembled group.
As Lance got closer I noticed that the movement of his eyes, which had been darting about in an attempt to pick someone out of the crowd, suddenly stopped as he focused a steady stare on someone in particular. I turned and looked behind me in the direction of Lance’s gaze just in time to see Prince Drakis looking intently at the face of the warrior angel.
Lance continued to stride forward, pausing only long enough to leave Jonathan at Charles’ side. Although he was sweating, it was obvious he was not exhausted like the soldiers he’d just fought; in fact, he didn’t even appear winded. He walked up the steps and stood in front of Prince Drakis. He extended his hand and dropped the red cloth into the hand of Oslo’s son as he executed a deep and formal bow to the Prince. I glanced to my left and smiled as I saw a proud and broadly smiling Cody glance adoringly at his mate.
Drakis just looked down at the cloth in his hand. Everyone was silent. Then the young battle angel surprised me by turning his back on the illustrious group assembled to watch him fight. He quickly strode to the center of the forum were the defeated Xannameirian troops remained – three of whom were still unconscious.
The group of men I noticed earlier standing near the crowd of soldiers watching the contest moved quickly into the forum and began to assist the injured. Realizing they were healers, I watched with interest as they moved with speed and efficiency from soldier to soldier, assessing their injuries. When it became clear no one had been killed or mortally wounded, the healers – along with some of the soldiers who’d been watching the match – began to assist the fallen.
One by one they helped the injured to their feet – most of whom could walk on their own, although a few needed to be carried from the forum on stretchers. Juston Tark, who’d not participated in the event, was assisting Sergeant Gris – one of the first causalities in the contest – to his feet. Lance, having made his way back into the midst of the injured, approached one of the dazed soldiers and helped him to his feet. Once he could see the man was able to stand on his own, he moved to assist some of the others who had fallen.
I watched as he knelt down beside the man whose arm he’d broken. He remained with him until one of the healers arrived to tend to him, and helped the healer lift the man to his feet. Going from man to man with a look of concern on his face, Lance took the time to check on the condition of all of his defeated opponents. As the last of the men were taken from the forum, Lancelot approached Tark and Sergeant Gris. He paused in front of them and began quietly talking to them. A few seconds into their conversation, Lance reached out and shook hands with Gris. Then Lance gave a shy smile as the sergeant patted him on the shoulder. After their exchange, Juston Tark also shook Lance’s hand before assisting his still slightly dazed sergeant from the forum. Finally Lance turned and walked back toward the group on the steps.
Slowly nodding my head in approval as I watched Lance work his way through the crowd to Cody, I was more impressed with his actions after the contest than the contest itself. This wasn’t the first time I had seen Lance spar, so I was very much aware of his abilities, but it was the first time I’d seen him deal with a defeated foe. In his victory I didn’t see him gloat, or tower above his opponents. Instead, he knelt and offered them assistance, and showed concern for those whom he’d defeated.
Once things were cleaned up and the injured had been removed, Charles stepped in front of the group. As he did, David and Miro, who’d been standing on the steps watching Lance, moved out toward the center of the forum.
“For the second half or our demonstration,” Charles announced to the group, “I have asked Captain Ronan Torkan – commander of the cohort that General Zakaria brought with him to Konassas – to assist us. Captain Torkan?” Charles called, and immediately the ground vibrated with the sound of pounding feet as from around the corner of one of the buildings bordering the forum, a large contingent of troops appeared, marching in perfect order. There must have been thirty or forty of them. They, too, moved to the center of the forum opposite the twins and were called to a halt by Captain Torkan, who followed them on horseback.
“This is one quarter of a standard Xannameirian battle cohort,” Charles began. “Their goal is simple. They must kill both of these glad-… ah… warriors.” Charles said, quickly correcting his slip of the tongue.
“This is totally absurd,” King Oslo shouted. “I didn’t come here to watch two young boys get butchered by a battle cohort. What sense is this? I admit I was impressed with the fighting skills of this one,” he said, turning to Lancelot, “but let’s be realistic: sheer butchery is insanity.”
“There will be no butchery,” Charles said. “But these troops have their orders. David and Miro are to die, and the men who successfully kill them will receive handsome rewards.”
“Insanity,” Oslo repeated once more. “Do you condone this?” he demanded, now glaring at Wilum. But the King of Xannameir stood stone silent, his face an unreadable mask. Turning away Oslo shook his head in disapproval, and then the old king grumbled something under his breath into the ear of his son.
While I had been distracted by Oslo’s comments, Miro and David – although completely armored – had been approached by a group of servants bearing all of their weapons, shields, and spears. Donning a few more small pieces of armor, along with helms bearing thick mesh face guards, and mail gauntlets, they each took a shield and picked up their long swords. I could see great grins on their faces and watched as they raised their swords in a salute to the Xannameirian cohort.
Executing deep bows, they called out in unison. “Come forward to defend your honor, and meet your doom…for we are death… at the point of a sword!”
At their challenge, my blood grew cold. “King Oslo is right Nic, this is madness. I didn’t come here to see people die.”
Charles, obviously overhearing me, stepped to my side. “No one is going to die, Jamie. The twins have been carefully instructed not to kill anyone, and the troops have been ordered to disengage when contact is made and assume a mortal hit.”
Looking more carefully, I could see that both swords the boys held were blunted, and at the tips of them there looked to be something attached.
“A sponge,” Charles said, “with paint. Their spears and other weapons are the same. If they tag one of the soldiers in a vulnerable area, the soldier must step out and assume they have been dealt a serious or mortal blow.”
“I don’t see the same thing on the Xannameirian troops’ weapons,” I said, leveling a steady gaze at Charles.
“No, of course not, “ Charles said matter-of-factly. “Their weapons are real, and they really have been ordered to kill the boys.”
“I’ve heard of some crazy things, Charles,” I said exasperatedly, “but this one is the craziest. What ever possessed you to set this up?”
“From my earlier meetings days ago with the royal delegations each king sent, I knew that it would be almost impossible to get Oslo to agree, and the vote has to be unanimous. This will assure that we have a good chance.”
Just then the cohort charged the twins, and I could hear the sounds of metal striking metal. I had never actually seen the twins fight in tandem. Over the first weeks of our stay in Konassas, I knew that they, along with Nic and Lance, had begun the sparring schedule they’d set up with the troops of the garrison, but since I had often been with Luc and Cody exploring the forum or Charles, meeting with the High Council, I hadn’t witnessed their practices.
What I was witnessing seemed to defy all logic. With their wings stroking, the boys seemed to be battling in a multi-dimensional plain with the ease of master chess players. First on the ground, then in the air, in front of and then behind the troops, they were blindingly swift and utterly efficient. The soldiers were tagged, one by one, by the paint soaked sponges; then David dropped his shield and picked up the spear in his left hand. Still wielding the sword in his right hand, he began tagging soldiers, one after the other. Miro, not to be outdone, dropped his shield and sword and picked up the strange, fork-like spear. It too had blunt edges, each wrapped in paint-soaked sponge, and using an exotic, looping attack style that seemed to completely bewilder his opponents, he proceeded to skewer the attacking troops.
The most amazing part of the match was when, with three quarters of the Xannameirian troops defeated and tagged, the boys once more picked up their swords, and laughing, began to duel with each other as they waited for the remaining soldiers to catch their breath and regroup. When it was all over, there wasn’t one scratch on the twins, but the Xannameirian troops lay beaten, bruised, and exhausted – each one tagged with a paint mark.
Allowing Torkan’s troops a few minutes to catch their breath, Charles walked quietly to the center of the forum. By now the twins had laid down their weapons, removed their extra armor, and taken off their headgear. As their helms came off, the grins that they had sported before they donned them were even wider now. Clasping each other’s hands in a shake of brotherly solidarity, they bent down and picked up their blunt-edged swords. Bowing to the Kings and crowd on the steps, then to the troops they had just defeated, the boys raised their swords high above their heads.
“We – les Gemeaux of Duet Lizard – salute the bravery of those who have died today. We honor them, and thank you for once more allowing us to defend our honor.” And again, they bowed deeply in the direction of the kings. I could only assume that this was part of the standard speech given in the arena at the conclusion of one of their matches. By then, Charles was standing between the Twins and the Xannameirian troops. He asked Captain Torkan to line his men up for a visual inspection.
Torkan barked out the order, obviously annoyed and possibly embarrassed at the outcome of the contest. The weary troops hurried to comply. Lined up as they were, it was easy to see the potential damage David and Miro had inflicted on them. Each man had a distinct paint mark on his body. Most had been tagged over the heart. A few had mortal wounds to the abdomen and the rest had smears across their necks, indicating a severing of arteries, veins and windpipe at the least – and hinting at real decapitation, if the swords had been sharp and the twins had really meant to kill.
“That concludes the demonstration,” Charles said, his voice echoing across the forum. “And since it is becoming rather warm outside, I suggest we once again retire to the map room.”
Charles’ words were met with sobered silence, but within seconds after he had spoken, the group slowly began to filter back into the building that housed the great map. Although no one had anything to say as we walked back across the forum, I was surprised to see King Oslo and Prince Drakis cast impressed looks at the twins, then approach Lance as he walked along with us. Oslo took Lance’s arm and gave it a squeeze in his wrinkled and boney hands. I could have sworn that Drakis was suppressing a smile.
After a few minutes, everybody – including the Twins – was back in the map room, sitting or standing in their previous places.
“Your Highness,” Charles stood to be recognized. “May I continue?”
“Certainly,” Wilum said.
“What you have just seen is one Royal Dominion Archangel of the High Throne, Lancelot, make a concerted defense against a platoon of skilled warriors. After that you saw David and Miro...”
“Miro and David,” Miro stage whispered.
I couldn’t suppress a soft chuckle. Turning to Nic I saw a slight grin on his face.
Charles raised an eyebrow, but didn’t miss a beat as he continued. “You then you saw the twins; also Royal Throne warriors, but of the Archangel Avenger sub-class, make a stand against one quarter of a battle-hardened cohort. Now to put those two events into perspective, I would like to point out that there is another class of Icarian warrior, known simply as a Throne. These angels, although less sophisticated intellectually and in powers of cognition and logic, are much larger and more powerful than General Lancelot, David, Miro, or King Niklas, who I previously mentioned is also a Royal Throne. Thrones are the angels who make up the great army of Icaria, and quite simply, they are killing machines with wings.”
Suddenly there was a stir around the table. “Are you making a threat against us?” King Oslo shouted.
“No, Your Highness. I make no threats against you or anyone seated at this table, and I sincerely apologize if I’ve given you that impression. I tell you this because it is my unfortunate duty to remind you that we who sit here with you are not the only Icarian presence on your continent. Loran, the older brother of His Grace James, and a pretender to the title of Wizard of Icaria, is even now roaming the countryside. That is a fact of which I know you’re already aware. What you may not be aware of is that Loran’s desire is to become both king and wizard of Icaria. After securing the crown and staff, I assure you that it is his plan to lay siege to this continent and bring it under his banner.
“Imagine, King Oslo, if you will, an army of thousands of these killer angels all under the command of the Wizard/King Loran. I must respectfully tell Your Majesties that nothing your great Kartannus ever did will match the death and destruction that Loran will unleash on this land. The blood that will flow when he sends his armies throughout this continent will turn the waters of what you call the Sea of Infinity red.”
At the end of Charles’ statement, I could see the rulers of the four kingdoms beginning to look at each other with worried and troubled expressions.
Nic stood up and his voice cut through the silence. “Your Majesties, Arch Lord Ottavia, the logical choice seems clear to we Icarians who now sit with you in this council. We can’t force your hand and even if we could, we wouldn’t do so. We want an alliance forged in peace and based on mutual respect, not on coercion and fear.
“We need, and we ask for, your support. Now we are weak, but if we can gain Küronas, the place you call ‘The City of Light,’ we will have a chance at success. I can only ask all of you to join with myself, and Jamie, in a peaceful alliance. But make no mistake that the alternative is to be subjugated by a ruler who will grind you and your kingdoms to dust under his heel. If you can think of another solution we welcome your council, but for now we can see no other alternative.
“As for us, we have no choice but to move forward and find Küronas. His Grace and I have no intention of allowing the mad prophecy of the Holy Office to come true, and the Icarians who now stand before you are pledged to the death to stop both it, and Loran. We ask your help; we need your help. But with or without it, we will continue our quest. If you choose not to help us, then at least pray that we succeed, for if we don’t, the destruction that has occurred in this land over the last twenty five hundred years will pale in comparison to what Loran will unleash upon you.”
When Nic had finished, there was total silence in the room. He moved from where he was standing and approached the seats of Oslo and Drakis.
“So, Your Majesties, what will it be? An alliance with the Wizard and myself, or a new reign of terror?”
Drakis rose to his feet. “You may think that it’s fine to talk about alliances,” he said, addressing Nic. “But you seem to forget one very important fact: the Holy Office is not sitting at this table, and any alliance formed without including them will be doomed.”
“It already seems that your Holy Office has a stranglehold on you and your kingdoms,” Nic replied.
“That’s easy for you to say,” Drakis snapped, “If you’ve been asleep, as you claim, for twenty five hundred years then you’ve missed all the turmoil – the plague, the wars, the poverty, and the deaths.”
“From what I can see, your world is still in the throes of both these and other problems,” Nic countered.
“And from what I can see, you’ve just added to them,” Drakis said.
Nic and Drakis were now standing across from each other, shouting. The tension in the air was thick.
“Enough,” Wilum’s voice boomed through the room. “Except for the rulers of the Kingdoms, and the Icarians, I want this room cleared – NOW!” He roared.
The room emptied quickly as the soldiers, ministers, and servants who were in attendance seemed to quickly and quietly vanish. Finally, when the last man had left and the door had been secured, the only people remaining were the three kings, Lord Ottavia, Prince Drakis, Prince Andrew, General Zakaria – whom Wilum had motioned to remain behind – and all of the Icarians, including Luc.
Originally Luc had been ordered to leave by Chancellor Dunham, who sent a soldier over to the Icarian delegation to escort the small boy out with everyone else.
“He stays,” I quietly said.
The soldier who had approached us gave me a puzzled look and turned back to Chancellor Dunham, who frowned and quickly strode over to us.
“His Majesty said that everyone who is not the ruler of a kingdom, or an Icarian, is to leave the room,” he whispered in my ear.
“Yes, that’s correct, but this boy is an Icarian.”
“With all due respect, Your Grace,” Chancellor Dunham said in a low, condescending tone. “Our information shows that this boy is an indenture of the Holy Office, kidnapped from his rightful owners. We received a letter of protest from the Holy Office, which demanded his return.”
“Luc Tourney is not a slave.” My voice was rising as I stood up from my chair, my wings mantling in threat, though I tried to suppress the reflex.
Suddenly Cody was standing between Dunham and me; again, he was politely smiling at the Chancellor. “Luc has been granted citizenship as an Icarian, and as a citizen of Icaria he is under both the protection of the Kingdom, and the personal protection of the Wizard of Icaria.”
“And he stays with this delegation,” I angrily chimed in.
With my words, Dunham turned on his heel and began to leave the room in a bit of a huff.
“Chancellor Dunham?” I called out to Dunham, who was distancing himself from the Icarian delegation as quickly as possible.
“Yes?” he answered as he turned around. As he turned back to look at me the expression on his face, which had been a sour one, suddenly turned into a slight smile, although its forced nature made it look more like a sneer. I could tell that as every second passed that the smile was getting harder and harder for the Chancellor to maintain.
“If anyone were to make even the slightest attempt to send Luc back to the Holy Office, the consequences would be regrettable…in the extreme. Do I make myself clear?”
“Completely, Your Grace.” Dunham kept the half-smile on his face, quickly turned, and almost ran from the room.
Throughout this conversation, I’d noticed Luc standing quietly to the side. His head remained bowed and his eyes on the ground during the entire exchange between Dunham and me. I walked over to him, put my arm around his shoulders, and lightly ruffled his hair, but he still continued to stare down at the ground.
“It’s ok Luc,” I said, trying to make light of the awkward situation that had just occurred.
“Did you really mean what you said?” the little boy said in a very small voice as he continued to look down at his feet.
“What? About you being an Icarian?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Of course I did. You really are an Icarian.”
“Thank you, Your Grace. I don’t know what else to say, but thank you. I was so afraid I’d have to go back to the Holy Office and leave all of you.”
“You never have to go back to the Holy Office again, Luc. You’re no one’s slave.”
“I would be your slave, Your Grace, or the slave of His Majesty, as long as I could stay with all of you.”
“Look at me, Luc – no, not at my shins. Look me in the eye.”
With some reluctance, Luc lifted his head and looked into my eyes. I could see an ocean of sadness and worry on his face. With no thought to how it must appear to the august company we were currently in, I knelt down and hugged him with all my might.
“I love you so much, Luc. Please don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
Then I kissed him on the cheek and stood up.
“Besides, who is better at taking care of us than you? We’d be lost without you – and Jonathan needs his knight.”
Finally the little boy’s mouth turned up in a slight smile, and I ruffled his hair once again.
While I’d been talking to Luc, the room had been cleared of any extraneous personnel, and King Wilum began to address the group.
“I asked for these chambers to be cleared so that we can have a frank discussion of our options. A discussion, I might add, that is away from the prying eyes and ears of the Holy Office. We all know that the Holy Office has had a stranglehold on this land for centuries, and none of you can look me in the eye and deny it. Oslo, I can understand your position.”
“Can you?” King Oslo shouted, “The Sacred Diet of Wheems is located just outside of Wrenstatten. Before you start talking about independence, Wilum, maybe you should have the headquarters of the governing council of the Holy Office reside in your kingdom for a few years.”
“Oslo, I realize that the heart of the Holy Office resides in your kingdom, but Ottavia and his council have Eagle’s Eyre in Kalas, and Juston has the shrine of Sarganius in Aradamia. We all know how pervasive the Holy Office is throughout this entire land. They sit on every governing council and body in every town and village. They extract taxes over and above what is already taken from our people. They’ve plotted and executed coups, assassinated kings, and overturned whole kingdoms when they didn’t get their way. Their spies are everywhere.”
“You seem to admire General Lancelot’s fighting skills, your highness,” Nic said as he addressed the King of Vorhalla.
“If I’d had an army like this when I was a young man, I would have been invincible,” the old king said with admiration.
“You still can be, Your Highness. In fact, you all can be,” Niklas continued. “There are two clear choices: join with us and we will build a new and better world for everyone, or you can follow the illogical hatred of the Holy Office and be forced to take your chances with Loran.”
Wilum, now standing, slowly began to walk around the table towards Oslo and Drakis.
“I know that when it comes to the Holy Office, Vorhalla is the most orthodox of the kingdoms while we in Xannameir are probably the least orthodox. I’m also fully aware of the power that emanates from the Sacred Diet at Wheems, and the constraints and restrictions that is has placed on Vorhalla for too long.
“But Oslo, what if those bonds Wheems holds on you could be broken? What if you could hand your crown to Drakis as leader of an independent and free kingdom, without him having to constantly look over his shoulder for approval from Wheems?”
Oslo sat in silence looking down at the table and I could see that the eyes of the other kings and Lord Ottavia were focused on him.
“I would die a happy man,” he quietly said.
“Father, you’re talking heresy,” Drakis interjected with a worried look on his face.
“Yes Drakis, I know,” Oslo said. “But Wilum is right. I haven’t been able to say what I really think since I took the crown from my own father, your grandfather, who was placed on the throne simply because he was willing to bow down to Wheems and the Sacred Diet.”
“But grandfather was a great king, you’ve told me that ever since I was a young child. He was a hero; he defeated King Zarren, who was a tyrant and a heretic.”
“Your grandfather was a general in King Zarren’s army. When the Holy Office discovered that Zarren was keeping more of the taxes that he collected for himself than he was supposed to, they organized a coup. Your grandfather was chosen to lead it. In return, he and his descendents were promised the throne of Vorhalla as long as they complied with the wishes and desires of the Sacred Diet.
“The coup was successful, and once your grandfather ascended the throne of Vorhalla, he followed all the dictates that Wheems gave him… as have I.” The old man now bowed his head, but continued speaking.
“Zarren wasn’t a tyrant; he was a just and fair king who was trying to help his people with the money he was withholding from the Holy Office. The taxes they impose are so severe that there’s never enough money to bring needed improvements to our country.
“I knew what happened to Zarren, and I was afraid to say or do anything against the Holy Office. I was also thinking about you and making sure that you would have a kingdom to rule and a throne to ascend. I’ve always hated the Holy Bloodsuckers, but I’ve been afraid of them. I’m sorry to tell you this Drakis, but it’s the truth. I will die soon; I don’t want you to follow in my path and live out your reign constantly looking over your shoulder, worrying about what Wheems approves or disapproves of, wondering how many spies they’ve placed among your ministers and counselors, and how many members of the royal household answer more to them than to you. Our people suffer and our kingdom suffers, because the Holy Bloodsuckers take and take and take, but give nothing in return except pious words and the promise of an afterlife full of ecstasy and joy.”
Oslo became silent. Drakis sat back in his chair and just stared at his father.
“Everything you’ve said is true, Oslo,” Juston said. “There’s no reason to be ashamed; we’ve all been prisoners of the Holy Office, and my only worry is that we might fail in our efforts to break their power.”
“It’s a big risk, I’ll admit it,” Wilum said, “but if we don’t try, we’ll never be free of them.”
“Then, I think it’s time for a vote,” Lord Ottavia’s voice rose throughout the room, “I propose that we form an alliance with King Niklas of Icaria. I propose that through this alliance we assist the Icarians in finding the City of Light, the one that they call Küronas and I propose that if what they say is true, we look to them to assist us in creating a better world for all of us.”
“Thank you, Lord Ottavia,” King Wilum said, “that is a fine proposal, but the truth is, all of the details can be worked out by the ministers and bureaucrats – that’s why we all have so many of them.” With that, everyone in the room chuckled.
“The proposal should simply be – do we or do we not form an alliance with Icaria and King Niklas?” King Juston interjected.
“I agree, Juston,” Wilum said “And so Your Majesties and Lord Ottavia, the proposal now before us is: do we, or do we not, form an alliance with King Niklas and Icaria?”
Wilum paused for a few seconds then looked at Lord Ottavia. “My lord, what is your vote?”
“I vote yes,” Ottavia said.
“Juston, what is the vote of Aradamia?”
“Aradamia and her king vote for an alliance,” Juston quietly said.
“King Oslo, what is your vote?”
Oslo who had had his eyes averted ever since he had finished speaking continued to stare down at the tabletop. Then, barely whispering, he spoke: “Vorhalla votes yes.”
“As does Xannameir,” Wilum added.
“Very well then,” the King of Xannameir continued, “The Grand Council of Kingdoms has unanimously voted to form an alliance with the Icarians, and in doing so invites Icaria and its king to become a member of the Grand Council. King Niklas of Icaria, do you accept membership within our council?”
“I do, Your Majesty,” Nic said
“Then let it be proclaimed” Wilum continued. “The Grand Council of Four Kingdoms is now the Grand Council of Five Kingdoms. King Niklas of Icaria, welcome to our alliance.”
“Yes, welcome,” King Juston said, smiling.
“Welcome,” added Lord Ottavia, who finally seemed to have replaced his worried look with one of relief.
“Welcome,” King Oslo quietly said. Then he added, “And may God help us.”
After the vote was taken and the proposal approved, everyone who had been ordered from the chamber returned and was informed of the decision of the council.
There was a flurry of activity while the various ministers huddled with their kings as they began discussing some of the formal, legal, and diplomatic processes of incorporating Icaria into the Grand Council and forming an alliance. Suddenly, in the midst of the confusion, King Oslo stood up and pointed a finger at Lancelot.
“Since we have agreed to form this alliance, I would like to extend the good will of the people of Vorhalla to Icaria by making this brave young general an honorary citizen of Vorhalla, and giving him the title of Barron of Gast. Gast is the city of which my father was Barron, before he became king. It’s a title that hasn’t been used for many years, and I would be honored if you would accept it,” the old king said as he looked into Lancelot’s eyes.
Lance immediately got a serious look on his face, and then bowed deeply to the King. “No, Your Majesty, it is I who am highly honored by your gesture. I would proudly take the former title of your father, and I promise to uphold it with dignity and honor.”
“Thank you,” Oslo said.
“That is both a noble and courageous gesture Oslo,” King Juston said. As he spoke, Juston arose from his seat and crossed the room. Finally he arrived at Icaria’s place at the table and stood directly in front of Cody. Smiling at the young angel, he put his hand on Cody’s shoulder and continued:
“I have spent the past few minutes speaking with this intelligent and charming young man and even though I’ve just come to know him, I’m quite impressed with both his knowledge and kindness. And so, in the same spirit of friendship that King Oslo extended to all of you by conferring a title upon your general, I would like to follow his example in making this young diplomat an honorary citizen of Aradamia, and in doing so confer upon him the title of Duke of Farenta, our capital city.”
Cody beamed a bright smile at Juston then stepped back and gave the King of Aradamia a deep and formal bow. When he was again upright he smiled at Juston and said, “Your Majesty, I am humbled by your offer. I accept this title, and will always strive to carry it with honor and virtue.”
I reached under the table and found Nic’s hand; as I clasped it, I gave it a squeeze. For once, our fortunes were looking up. Nic looked me in the eye and smiled; my hearts fluttered and I could feel my face get warm as I began to blush. Then suddenly my blush was cut short as a sharp and powerful thought materialized in my mind like a flash of lightening. I quickly released Nic’s hand and stood up at the table. I could see Nic giving me a puzzled look.
I left my seat and began to walk around the table. Everyone’s eyes upon me, but I continued without hesitation until I was standing directly before King Wilum and his son, Prince Andrew. Wilum, who had been quietly sitting throughout Oslo and Juston’s pronouncements, gave me a cool and impersonal look. And while I could perceive from his speech and actions that he’d connected with Nic as a fellow king and ruler, that same feeling of mutual respect didn’t carry over to me, even though I was the King’s consort and the Wizard of Icaria.
I knew Wilum didn’t know quite how to respond to me. While he wasn’t fearful of me, it was obvious that he wasn’t open and friendly. I’d formed a closer and stronger bond with his brother, General Zakaria, but from the beginning of our acquaintance, the King of Xannameir had projected a cool and reserved image towards me.
As I stood there looking down at the King and his son, I could almost feel a curtain of ice between us. My eyes quickly went from Wilum’s stony face to the young prince’s. For one brief second his eyes met mine, but as soon as our gaze connected it was quickly broken as he looked down at the table. As he glanced away, I could see the back of his neck slowly begin to redden as he flushed intensely. He was a handsome boy – tall and slim, his blue eyes had the tiniest bit of gray in them and his blond hair framed a face whose features were both striking and attractive, giving him a strong yet delicate appearance.
“Your Majesty,” I said as I returned my gaze to Wilum. “With your permission, and in the same spirit of peace and cooperation that Kings Oslo and Juston have bestowed titles on Lancelot and Cody, I would like to confer upon your son, His Royal Highness Prince Andrew of Xannameir, the title of Imperial Barron of Isewier, a beautiful territory on the eastern coast of Icaria and part of the Wizard’s own lands in the Duchy of the Imperial High Seraphim and, if I may add, my favorite place in all of Icaria.”
After uttering these words, I heard a gasp come from across the room, and as I glanced around, I noticed that it came from Charles, who was staring at me with an open mouth.
The young Prince arose and gave me a slight bow. “I accept your title,” Prince Andrew quietly answered, and then he resumed his seat.
I walked back to my chair and sat down. Charles was still staring at me.
“What?” I whispered, giving him a question but, Charles just sat there shaking his head.
In the meantime, the voice of Wilum sounded through the chamber. “Since there is no further business before this council...” he began, but suddenly General Zakaria stepped up to his brother from behind, bent down and whispered something in his ear.
“Yes, Marcus, that’s a good point,” Wilum said to the general.
General Zakaria stepped back and Wilum arose from his chair. “Your Majesties and Lord Ottavia, my brother has made the observation that if we are to formally go through with this alliance, we should extend to His Majesty Niklas of Icaria the same honors and privileges that existed in the days at the end of Kartannus the Great’s rule. Do you concur?”
Each monarch, along with Lord Ottavia, nodded in agreement.
“Very well, then. Niklas of Icaria, please rise.”
Nic stood and faced Wilum.
“By the order of the Grand Council of Kingdoms, we confer upon you the titles of Silver King, and Emperor of the Alliance of Kingdoms.”
I could see a fleeting look of surprise on Nic’s face, but he was able to quickly mask it and I was positive that I was the only one to notice it.
He bowed deeply and responded, “I humbly accept this honor, and I promise you that I will work unceasingly to create a better world for all of us, even if it means the sacrifice of my own life.”
I sat quietly as Nic made his reply, but my stomach churned when he mentioned the part about sacrificing his own life.
Finally Nic was finished and resumed his seat. Once again Wilum spoke. “Since we have concluded this last business before the council, we will now adjourn. I’m sure that we’ll all be quite occupied in the next few weeks.”
And with the King of Xannameir’s final pronouncement, everyone rose and began to file out of the map room.
As we walked from the room, Charles came up behind me. “Jamie, can you tell me why you gave Prince Andrew title to Isewier?”
“I thought it would be a suitable gesture to make in light of the fact that Oslo and Juston offered titles to Lance and Cody.”
“…But Isewier? What do you know about it, Jamie?”
“I know it’s a beautiful place Charles. I know I like it very, very much. I guess I was thinking about it just as the kings were conferring titles on Lance and Cody.”
“Where did the thought come from?” Charles was now looking intently into my eyes, half in hope and half in fear.
“I don’t know, Charles. All I do know is that immediately before I got up to speak, I was suddenly transported in my mind to a beautiful beach. I found myself standing and facing out to sea. I could smell the salt air and I could feel the warm sand squish between my toes. I looked down and saw that the sand was light pink and the individual grains that formed it sparkled like diamonds. Then I looked out to the sea and saw great rolling waves crashing in on the shore. A little beyond the shore line I could see large reddish colored rocks that looked like tall towers rising out of the water. The sun was to my back and it lit the rocks so that it looked like they were bathed in blood. As I stood there, I knew that I’d been in this place many times before, and not only that Charles, I knew that I loved this place more than any another place on earth.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful land Jamie, and I must say that you certainly have described the coast of Isewier quite accurately. It’s one of the more spectacular regions of Icaria, but I’m caught by surprise that you suddenly seem to have remembered it. This could be a positive sign.”
How so, Charles?” I asked
“Do you remember at the beginning of the day, when you and Nic were upset with me for not telling you about Cody?”
“You mean when we discovered that Cody had negotiated the agreement of protocol?”
“Yes. I didn’t have time to explain it to you this morning, and even when it initially happened, it occurred so quickly that I never had a chance to discuss it with you or Nic; believe me, I would have if it had been possible. But when Chancellor Dunham and his aides started the negotiations, Cody happened to be there and suddenly he began to make comments, and his comments made complete sense. As a ranking member of the Diplomatic House of Icaria, his knowledge suddenly spilled forth. Even he was surprised. Something happened in his mind that made him begin to remember his duty. I don’t know what exactly triggered it, but there he was, discussing diplomatic protocol.”
“What else does he remember?” Nic asked.
“Other than the terms of protocol not much more, but don’t you see, Nic? First it was Cody and his diplomatic training, and now Jamie and a part of his memory about the coast of Isewier. It seems you’re slowly recovering your memories.”
“Well, that’s all I remember. I have no other recollections,” I said.
“Yes I know, it’s the same with Cody, but its a start and the important thing is that you’re beginning to remember something. We can only hope that more will surface in the next few days and weeks.”
“What about you, Nic? Have you recovered any memories?” I asked.
“I’m not sure Jamie,” Nic said. “Philippe’s story caused a few vague memories to surface but I don’t remember much. Although for the past few weeks, I’ve been having a recurring dream. I’m standing in a field with other boys. We’re all quite young, and each of us has a wooden sword, and we’re fighting a mock battle. Then suddenly I’m no longer with them; I’m standing on a hillside in front of another angel. The sun is in my eyes and I can’t see his face, but I do notice that he’s smiling at me, but by then I always wake up. That’s the only recollection I’ve had so far.”
“You may get more memories as time goes on,” Charles said.
“Yes,” I added. “It does seem that at least some things are surfacing, at long last.”
Nic, Charles, and I continued to talk as we strolled across the forum of Konassas back to our palace, and that talk was full of excitement and hope: excitement that we’d achieved the alliance, and hope that our memories would continue to grow. Arriving back at the Amber Palace, we split up and went to our rooms. After changing from our formalwear to more comfortable tunics, Nic motioned for me to join him in the grand salon to discuss the events of the day.
No sooner had I taken my seat beside him on the long bench he’d chosen to sit at, then there came a loud knock on our apartment door. Nic called out, and when the handle opened and the door swung back, I was surprised to see Miro standing there. It looked like he had just finished bathing. Although he wasn’t naked, he was only dressed in a wrap around sash. His still damp hair had been carelessly finger-combed straight back from his forehead. Ambling into the room, Miro sat down with boneless grace opposite Nic. I’d never seen so much of the young gladiators body exposed, and I suddenly realized one of the reasons for Philippe’s attraction.
Completely comfortable with his appearance and not in the least self-conscious – much like Niklas – Miro extended his hand toward Nic. There, resting on his palm, was the scorpion pin. I’d relayed the incident of the pin in the wine bottle to Nic the very day David, Miro, and I returned from our exploration of the city with Barsetba in tow, and I knew it was something that David and Miro had discussed with Nic at some length, especially during their sparring sessions. But I was surprised to see Miro suddenly approach Nic, sufficiently concerned that he’d come immediately from his bath to our apartment.
“I promised Charles I would assist him in his demonstration,” Miro began, “but now that its finished, I want to journey to the Kingdom of Vorhalla and Domain Carolus – the vineyard where the bottle of wine we were given came from. The King of Vorhalla was accompanied by some of his troops, and I have been talking to them. I would like to ride with them to Vorhalla and then on to Domain Carolus from there.”
“Do you want anyone else to accompany you?” Nic asked.
“No,” Miro said. “At first I thought maybe David, but since you need protection here, we both decided it best for him to remain. I’ll be fine – you know that, Niklas.”
Nic shook his head. “Yes, of course I do, Miro. And I have to admit that I’m just as curious about this as you are. From the first, after I found you and David, and again when parts of my memory were stirred with Philippe’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the other gladiators. So yes, you have my permission to leave for Vorhalla, but you might want to reconsider, and think about having someone accompany you. I’m not so much concerned about your ability to defend yourself, but it might make communications easier if two go. That way if a message needs delivery there will be at least two of you instead of one.”
“Thank you Niklas,” Miro said, “I understand your point. I’ll think about it, but I don’t want anyone accompanying me who will slow me down.
“What about Philippe?” I asked, giving Miro a serious look. Will he be ok?
“Thanks to you,” Miro said, smiling at me, “Philippe is much better. He and Barsetba have been practicing and playing together every day. Edmond Cob even brought some other instruments, and he and Barsetba have made contact with some of the palace musicians that play for the dinners and events the High Council hosts. I think they are forming a small orchestra, with Philippe as its conductor.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” I said, and in fact I was, since I’d been most concerned about Philippe’s wellbeing. “But be careful, Miro. He already lost his best friend; he doesn’t need to lose his mate.”
“No fear of that,” Miro said, smiling. “You saw what David and I did today?”
“Nevertheless,” Nic said, giving the boy a serious look, “be careful. Yours and David’s talents are going to be sorely needed in the future, and…” he paused. “I don’t want to lose my best friend.”
“You won’t,” Miro said with a gleam in his eye. Then he stood, stepped over to Nic, and planted a kiss on his lips.
Still a bit uncomfortable with Miro’s affection toward Nic, I couldn’t help but frown – something Miro noticed.
“Don’t worry, Your Grace,” Miro said, leveling his gaze at me. “Philippe is my mate. I love him more than anything in the world. This gladiator,” Miro said, nodding in the direction of Nic, “is all yours to tame.”
Nic shot Miro a frown. I tried to suppress a small smile, but was unsuccessful. Miro noticed and grinned at me. Standing up to his full height, Miro adjusted the wrap around his waist, which by now was threatening to fall off. Sticking the scorpion pin in the fabric to act as a fastener, he turned and headed out the door.
“Don’t be too long, Miro,” Nic called out as the young gladiator headed toward the door. “And watch your back.”
“I won’t, and I will,” Miro tossed back over his shoulder, still striding across the room. Once at the door he opened it, stepped out into the hall, and closed it behind him. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the next morning when we all stood in the forum to bid him farewell would be the last time we’d see Miro for many weeks.