The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part III – The Alliance

Chapter 33


Life thus far in the Amber Palace had been comfortable. The best thing about having come to Konassas, the capital city of the Kingdom of Kalas, was our luxurious accommodations at the Amber Palace. Although long ago deserted, the small yet beautiful jewel of a building had been kept in perfect condition. The lower floors of the palace – years ago converted into a museum – had long galleries filled with historical paintings, elaborate murals, beautiful objects of art, delicate bronzes, and graceful marble statues. The upper floors held opulent apartments originally established for the use of the members of the High Council.


After the dark period following the collapse of Küronas, as conditions slowly improved and the kingdoms began to rebuild, the city of Konassas – an important trading center during the time of the Enlightened Ones – was reestablished as the capital city of the Kingdom of Kalas. Initially it was governed by a king, but the dynasty was short lived, for reasons I never learned.


Eventually, the government of Kalas coalesced around the members of the former king’s High Council, in the form of an aristocratic oligarchy that supplanted the monarchy. In the early years of the council, sessions could last for days and even weeks. During these extended meetings, it was difficult and inconvenient for the lords of the council to return to their homes, so they would remain in the luxurious apartments that had been created for them. But as years grew into decades, and decades into centuries, most of the council members eventually moved their families to large estates and chateaus they built in the beautiful countryside in the valley surrounding the city.


With their homes now only a short journey from Konassas, the apartments they’d once used became largely unoccupied. The upper rooms were reserved for visiting dignitaries and eventually, the lower levels of the palace became the museum that it currently was. And although the palace had been mostly unused as a residence, it had been kept in exquisite condition. Living in this environment pleased me immensely. We were living in luxurious surroundings amid beautiful and priceless works of art and best of all, sleeping in real beds with real pillows and warm down-filled covers.


The days that immediately followed the Grand Council of Kingdoms remain a blur in my mind. Our time was often taken up by meetings with members of the High Council, General Zakaria and his staff, and other officials and bureaucrats from the Kingdom of Kalas. Occasionally, representatives from the various other kingdoms attended. And while much of the diplomacy was tedious to me, Charles threw himself into the work with great enthusiasm, just as I suspected he would. He truly enjoyed his role. “Lord Charles” as he was known, was respected and admired by just about everyone with whom we came into contact. He diligently continued his studies, poring over the books in his library and quickly developing a knowledgeable background on the history of the land and its people.


I, on the other hand, found most of the administrative details and diplomatic posturing boring, and would often amuse myself by opening the screen in its cloaked mode during our meetings. Occasionally my mental lapses would be detected when a question was asked of me and I would continue to stare blankly into space, but Charles usually knew the answer better than I did, and would often cover for me.


In fact, it seemed that every time someone would bring up a proposal or idea, Charles would always have a comment, an additional idea, or a further clarification to make. As boring as these meetings could be, I often found amusement in Charles’ patient explanations as he attempted to educate the humans we encountered on the finer points of reason, law, and philosophy he seemed so readily to grasp. But as much as I remained amazed at his level of knowledge and scholarship I became even more impressed with his political skills. Charles had the ability to size up a situation or policy, and the talents to gently mould, alter, or move it so that Icaria’s interests remained safe and secure.


Nic’s first few weeks were initially spent with General Zakaria, and I knew that he and the general were planning an expedition to Küronas. But eventually the general returned to Xannameir and its capital Tahkor, to report to Wilum. At that point, Nic began spending a large part of his days with David and Lance, sparring and practicing. Just as Charles accompanied me to all of our meetings, Lance often remained with Nic. I could tell that they’d become good friends. For a “common battle angel,” as Lance had referred to himself when first we encountered he and Matthew, Nic more than once remarked to me that he was a natural military commander, and appeared to be a good leader.


Cody, on the other hand, was a born diplomat; Nic commented to me how glad he was that the young angel possessed these skills, although the revelation wasn’t a big surprise to me after witnessing his performance during the Council of Kingdoms. Looking back on our time wandering the countryside of Kalas, I remembered how helpful and agreeable Cody had always been. His warm and charming personality, along with his friendly and open manner, had endeared him to us from our very first encounter with him. Having learned from The Screen that he’d been a member of the diplomatic house of Icaria only served to whet my curiosity, but of course The Screen only listed facts, and I was not able to glean any further information regarding Cody from it.


I had to agree with Nic’s assessment of Cody. Unlike Charles who would argue his point or use political maneuvering to reach his ends, Cody operated like the diplomat he was. Nic reminded me that diplomacy and politics are often two different skills and I learned to see the differences in both boys. Cody was a good listener; he also was warm and personable. Rarely allowing himself to get flustered when someone acted rude or forceful, he was a master at defusing volatile situations. At the Council of Kingdoms, Charles was instrumental in making the alliance a reality. After the Council was over, Cody was responsible for keeping all the parties happy, and instilling in them the feeling that they were all were equally important and respected.


As Icaria’s ambassador to the kingdoms, Cody also had his share of meetings and planning sessions. Out of all of us, he was the one who traveled the most, and by the end of the first month after the Grand Council of Kingdoms, he had visited every one of the Kingdoms. He had even been taken to the border of the lost Kingdom of Ghröum.


Nic always ordered Lancelot to accompany Cody, citing the need for protection for the Icarian Ambassador. At the same time, our commanding general was also given a mandate to meet with the military leaders of whatever kingdom Cody would be visiting and then report his results to Nic, but I suspected the real reason Nic ordered him to accompany Cody was that he knew that now that they were a couple, it wouldn’t be good to keep them separated for extended periods of time. Nic’s wisdom proved to be correct, because even though they often traveled, the two boys were still quite happy and contented since they always shared one another’s company.


Luc and Jonathan, our youngest members, usually found time to play together. And while I’d finished my exploration of the Amber Palace weeks before, it seemed the younger boys were always on some type of adventure – exploring some hidden place, or finding some new hallway or out-of-the-way passage that had been unused for years, if not centuries. When our meetings and council sessions began, I’d been concerned that the two youngest members of our group would soon become bored with their surroundings, but I’d been wrong. I was glad they kept themselves amused, although I often cautioned and reminded them not to leave the palace unescorted or to damage any of the priceless works of art in the corridors and museum wings of the palace. Nic, also concerned about their safety, expressly forbade them from leaving the protected space of the Amber palace and the buildings around the forum. Although I thought Luc might attempt to sneak out and do some exploring on his own, his overriding concern and care was for Jonathan, and it kept him near the little blind angel most of the time.


Even though Cody’s position necessitated travel from time to time, I was glad to see that he continued to take unofficial charge of Luc and Jonathan. He made sure they were occupied and safe. He even arranged supervised trips for them into the town, where the three of them would spend countless hours exploring the city and its many streets and buildings – always accompanied by Lance or David for added protection.


Exploring the city was exciting, and while we remained a curiosity to the inhabitants, the decree from Lord Ottavia and the High Council continued to assure our safety; once the alliance was officially proclaimed, it seemed to even further secure our protection. But although some of the others were able to leave the forum, most of my exploration – except for the day I had gone with David and Miro and brought back Barsetba – remained confined to some of the streets and passageways immediately around the forum.


The one member of our group who was markedly absent was Miro, having departed the city the day after the Council of Kingdoms on a journey to the vineyards in the famous wine-producing region of the Kingdom of Vorhalla. On the morning he left, we all got up early and after a hardy breakfast – during which time he and Nic discussed his trip – he walked to the forum, accompanied by Philippe and the rest of us. Saying goodbye to each of us and then kissing Philippe goodbye after giving him a long and loving embrace, the gladiator angel mounted his horse in his usual spectacular fashion and rode out of the city accompanied by Lieutenant Evan Mahon, a young Xannameirian officer from the garrison of Konassas.


Nic had requested that Miro not journey alone and although Miro initially protested, after meeting Lieutenant Mahon, he’d agreed to a companion. David surmised to Nic that it was probably Mahon’s swordsmanship that tipped the balance in his favor: in a sparring match –although eventually defeated by Miro – he’d gone toe-to-toe with the young gladiator, and impressed Miro with his skill and ability.


The morning sun shown brightly and began to warm the air as Miro left the forum that morning. When I turned to Nic I’d been surprised see a look of worry etched on his face. Although he’d given sanction to Miro’s trip, I also knew that he wished David could have accompanied him. But the situation being what it was, he and I both knew David’s presence was greatly needed in Konassas.


I was more surprised that Philippe, who’d shed a few tears at their parting, took Miro’s departure as well as he did. But Miro had been correct in telling us that his mate was a great deal happier and more contented, now that he had access to some musical instruments and someone to share his love of performing. He and Barsetba spent countless days practicing, and of late had enlisted a few other musicians in Konassas to join them. So although Philippe was sad to be separated from Miro, he had a number of activities to keep him busy. There was even talk of a concert sponsored by the Icarians as part of an event whereby we would host the members of the High Council, the ranking military staff of Konassas, and some of the representatives from the other kingdoms, allowing them to see us in a more relaxed and less formal setting. He and Barsetba were most excited about it, and Nic and I promised we would do what we could to arrange it.


For my part, I continued to be optimistic concerning our current situation, but I was also a bit cautious. On the side, without fanfare or declaration, I began a systematic study of the religion of Abbot Gude, and the more I learned the more I began to assume that some of his followers might be up to some serious mischief, if not outright violence. I knew the religious movement known as Sarjanism had grown into a powerful institution that was not going to just suddenly evaporate. I could foresee the beginnings of a hard and very serious fight, and it was one that I wasn’t looking forward to with any joy.


Another troubling aspect of the religion was my unexpected discovery of a paramilitary organization created under the auspices of the church and known as The Knights of the Blessed Sarjanus. They appeared to be a rather large and powerful group, with a substantial presence in every large and medium-sized town in the land. I’d even encountered a few of them by chance during one of my exploratory expeditions around the forum of the city. The blue-cloaked figures walking in a group caught my eye as I rode Arax on one of the side streets near the garrison. Bringing Arax to a halt, I stared at them. Likewise they also halted and stared coldly at me. Then they looked from me to each other, and without saying a word quickly turned on their heels and ran, as if fearing I might be planning an attack.


A few days later Nic told me that the Knights had abandoned Konassas. Talking to some of the officers of the garrison, they related to Nic how one evening they observed a large group of them pass through the gates of the city. Their headquarters were dark and locked, and there were no reports of any of them remaining in the city. I wasn’t sure if they’d been ordered to depart, or if their withdrawal constituted a form of protest against the alliance, but either way they’d vanished from the capital of the Kingdom of Kalas. 


Initially, my only complaint surrounding the first few weeks of our stay in Konassas was the endless round of discussions and meetings that were held on an almost daily basis. I knew they were important – Charles reminded me of this fact every day, constantly reiterating that it gave the leaders of the kingdoms the opportunity to trust and understand us better. I had to concur with him, but I was getting tired of sitting and enduring speech after speech, presented by long-winded and pontificating politicians. Although our first few months after awakening from our long sleep had been a bit harrowing, they’d also been full of adventure, something I was surprised to find myself beginning to miss – that, though, would soon change.


One day, during a particularly long meeting, I noticed that I was growing even more bored than usual. Charles was lecturing Lord Ottavia about one of the finer points of a series of laws that the Counsel was considering, and I found that – try as I might – none of it was holding my concentration. It seemed everyone was terribly interested in the discussion, except me. I’d been quietly accessing the screen from time to time. I even played a few small wizard’s tricks just to keep myself from falling asleep, but I was completely and utterly disinterested in the meeting, and slipped into a mental fog.


Emerging from my daze a few minutes later, I could see that Charles and Ottavia were engaged in a hot discussion on some esoteric topic, and as they debated I could see the other lords of the counsel leaning forward in their seats, hanging on every word. I looked up at the ceiling and began to count the carved and gilded flowers that were part of an elaborate molding that bordered the large fresco hanging over our heads. My count had gotten up to one hundred thirty seven when I finally couldn’t take one more minute of it. I stood up from the table, stretched and walked over to one of the windows overlooking the forum. As I did, the other members of the Counsel stopped and stood out of respect. Looking at them, I frowned. It was exactly this type of dry formality that was driving me to distraction. I looked over at Charles, who at least had the sense to remain seated. One thing I could always count on from Lord Charles was a healthy dose of reality.


“Please, be seated and continue, my lords.” I said, pasting a false smile on my face. “Lord Charles has proxy to speak and vote in my name. I have a bit of a headache, and am going to retire to my apartment and rest for the afternoon.”


Turning from the window and walking toward the door I reached out to take hold of the handle then jumped as the sound of a shattering window filled the room and shards of razor-edged glass exploded from the very window where I’d been standing. As I looked at the place I’d occupied in only seconds earlier, I realized how fortunate I was to have escaped being flayed by the flying glass – a bit of luck that eluded two of the council members, both of whom were holding handkerchiefs to cuts they had just received. I noticed that one of the councilors, Lord Kallon, had a long slice to the back of his neck, while the second councilor, Lord Perron, sustained a small wound to his left arm. I stared as Lord Kallon’s lacy-edged, white linen handkerchief quickly turned red as he held it to his bleeding neck.


Moments after the glass had shattered, the two soldiers guarding the room came rushing in. With swords drawn they were prepared to defend us and engage our attackers, but there was no one to defend against. Sizing up the room and its occupants, they suddenly froze – their eyes locked on what lay on the tabletop.


The sudden attack shocked me, but it was nothing compared to the reaction of rest of the group, many of whom had suddenly jumped from their chairs and backed away from the table, staring at the object now resting on top of it. Cautiously moving toward it, I could see that it sat directly in front of the chair I had occupied. Walking to my former seat, I stared at the glowing object. It looked very similar to one of the orbs only smaller, and as I got closer to it pulsed with an angry red glow.


“Watch out,” one of the council members shouted, “it’s some kind of weapon.”


I wasn’t so sure, and moved even closer to it. As I did, I felt a hand on my arm.


“Be careful, Jamie,” Charles said, looking at the glowing sphere instead of me. “I don’t know what it is, but I suspect it’s not a welcoming gift.”


“I realize that Charles,” I said, a bit annoyed not so much at him, but at the fact that someone had seen fit to launch an attack again us while we were meeting with members of the High Council.


I reached out my hand, but Charles grabbed it and drew me back. As soon as he did, the misty red light swirling inside the sphere began to concentrate itself and focus. I watched with interest and surprise as it coalesced into a large, unblinking eye. Its gaze darted around the room as if trying to focus, or study its surroundings. It stopped abruptly when it rested on me. I felt a chill run up my spine as it remained fixed upon me.


After a few seconds, a voice boomed out of it. “Greetings, little brother,” it said, and I shivered as I recognized Loran’s voice. “It seems you and your friends are making plans – plans that apparently don’t include me. At first my feelings were hurt and I was a bit upset about it, but then I realized that you probably inadvertently forgot about me, so I thought I’d remind you of my presence.”


I continued to stand motionless, gazing into the large eye. Charles, who’d been holding my arm, released it and backed off a few steps. While I wasn’t looking at him, I could imagine his face paling. Likewise, all of the others in the room had by now prudently backed away from the table and the glowing orb that rested there.


“I wanted to let you know that I’ve been following your progress; I’m glad you’re doing well. I was also concerned and wanted to make sure the essences you hold are safe, so that I can absorb them when the time is right.” There was a pause, but the eye continued its steady gaze on me.


“Oh, lest I forget,” Loran’s voice continued, “I have a message for Niklas,” and once more his voice paused and I noticed that the glowing eye got even brighter. “I’m sure you will tell him about this, and when you do, remind him that this is just one example of my ability to find you, and nothing he can do will keep you safe. So keep that in mind as you lay your plans and make your preparations.”


And with that, the light in the glowing sphere faded and finally extinguished itself. I watched as the sphere itself started to melt like hot wax. It began to become soft and then sag, finally collapsing in on itself until it simply dissolved into a puddle of thick steaming goo. I stood watching it as it flowed towards my end of the table, making me think of warm honey. Once it reached the tables edge it ran on the floor in a thin steady stream forming a second puddle. Finally I turned to Charles and looked at him. I’d been correct; his face was as pale as the white handkerchief Lord Kallon still pressed to his neck. I didn’t say anything to him, but put my arm on his shoulder and motioned for us to leave the room. As soon as we reached the door I turned to the council members, most of who were still staring at the syrupy puddle now slowly dripping, drop by drop, onto the floor. In what I was proud to note was an admirably steady voice, I told them that Charles and I were done for the day and would meet with them tomorrow. I suspected they would also adjourn as quickly as possible. And I could hear one of the guards now standing outside the room call someone further down the hall for a healer to tend to the two injured counselors. Then with Charles closely by my side, I calmly left the room.


Neither of us said a word as we walked back to the Amber Palace. When we finally reached my apartment I ushered Charles in, called for Sandro – who came scurrying – and ordered a cup of warm tea for the still pale red-and-black winged angel. After the tea arrived and Charles took a few sips, he sat back on his stool and looked ahead in silence.


As soon as Nic returned from sparring that the afternoon and entered the apartment, he was surprised to see Charles and I both sitting in the grand salon waiting for him. No sooner had he crossed into the room and kissed me, then Charles – who’d been silently sitting with me – began describing what had happened only a few hours earlier. Listening intently and without interrupting until the end of the recitation, Nic simply shook his head.


“We all know Loran is a great threat,” he said. “Of course I’m surprised that he was this overt and brazen, but he obviously did it on purpose. He’s demonstrating his growing power and we need to take this as a serious warning.” He paused reflectively, then went on. “Still, it may make the High Council take our discussion of Loran as a threat a little more seriously. In any case, there’s nothing we can do at the moment, except be vigilant and careful,” he concluded. “For now, I’d prefer that we inform Lance and David, but I don’t see any reason to upset Philippe, Luc or Jonathan. They’re all relaxed and happy at the moment. Philippe is content to remain here in the palace with Barsetba, and the boys seem to be fine keeping close to the forum, but we’ll need to redouble our vigilance.”


Charles and I both agreed with Nic’s point of view, although for my part I was concerned lest he become too restrictive of our movement within the city. I pointed out that Loran’s intrusion had come in the Palace of the High Counsel in broad daylight and in a room full of people, and that nothing could have been done to stop it. Nic concurred, and after a bit of a discussion, he agreed that future trips would be fine as long as we continued to go in groups with he, Lance, or David accompanying us. Nic added that without going into detail with Philippe, Barsetba, Luc and Jonathan concerning Loran’s attack, he would never the less make a general announcement at dinner reminding everyone not to leave the area surrounding the forum unaccompanied. Our discussion concluded, Charles got up to leave. Half way across the salon he paused and turned back to me.


“Jamie?” he began. “Do you remember what you said to me during the Council of Kingdoms about Luc guarding Jonathan.”


“Yes,” I said.


“I had a talk with him about it,” Charles said. “It seems he took something I said some time ago very much to heart and that’s why he looks to himself as Jonathan’s protector.”


“What’s that, Charles?” Nic asked.


“You both remember how upset Luc was after we were attacked in the forest by the monks and Luc accidentally killed one of then with a dagger?”


“Of course,” I said rolling my eyes. “You just don’t forget those kind of things Charles. That was a terrifying night.”


“After it was over and Luc was so distraught that he killed a man, I told him that sometimes one has to fight for what they believe in – to take a stand.”


“I remember,” I said.


“Apparently he took what I said quite seriously. He told me that since Jonathan was young and also blind, someone had to look out for him. He decided that since he couldn’t be a warrior like Nic, Lance or the Twins, or a diplomat like Cody, or musician like Barsetba and Philippe, he would do something he thought he could do well – watch over Jonathan, and make sure he was safe.”


“I see,” I said reflectively. “I guess now I understand why he has taken the task of looking over Jonathan so seriously. I was just concerned that he was feeling undue pressure to do something he is too young to be responsible for.”


“Well he doesn’t feel that way Jamie,” Charles said. “In fact, he’s pleased to be Jonathan’s knight – he’s really taken the responsibility to heart and seems to find fulfillment in it.”


“Fine, Charles,” I said, “I understand. I know he’s watched all of us take on tasks and responsibilities, and if he’s truly a member of our group, I’m sure he wants to do something to contribute to the cause. But I’m glad you talked to him. Now that you’ve relayed his thoughts and motivation, I think I understand,”


“That’s why I mentioned it.” Charles said. “But now I’m going back to my apartment. This has been an upsetting day, I must admit, and I think I’m going to rest a bit before dinner.”


Nic and I nodded our agreement and we bade Charles goodbye.


After Charles left our apartment, Nic – quite sweaty and overheated from his sparring – followed his usual routine of stripping and taking a bath. Although I’d bathed earlier in the day, I decided to join him in the soothing waters of the bath – more for the comfort and warmth of having his arms wrapped around me than for the water. Although I’d tried to put on a brave face in front of Charles and the members of the High Council, the fact was that Loran’s sudden invasion had left me shaken. I knew that the future held its inevitable confrontation with my older brother, but for the moment I wanted to banish those thoughts.


That evening after dinner, at Philippe’s invitation, we all met he and Barsetba in the large public salon where the two boys, and three other musicians who’d joined them, gave us a small concert, previewing some of the music they intended to play at the special concert they were planning in a few weeks. The music was exquisite, but I was too distracted by the events of the afternoon to really appreciate it. Following the performance, Nic and I retired to our quarters.


I awoke the next day curled up in Nic’s arms, but after climbing from our bed, we quickly dressed, ate a hasty breakfast, and resumed out duties. Nic was to meet with a military delegation from Vorhalla – principally one of King Oslo’s senior generals. I was due at another session with one of the committees of the High Council.


On my way down the hall, I saw David emerge from his room. He was carrying something, and since he was at the opposite end of the hall and I couldn’t see what it was, I shouted out after him to wait. Turning in the direction of my voice, he looked down the hall and broke into a grin when he saw me. Striding up to him, I pointed to the device he was holding and raised my eyebrows inquiringly.


“It’s a crossbow,” he said, anticipating my question before I was able to ask him. “It came from the museum in the palace next to the Amber Palace. They have a whole wing devoted to armor and weaponry.”


“You took this from one of the museums?” I asked – a note of surprise in my voice. “David, you can’t just walk into one of the museums and take things.”


“Well, they had an entire wall of them,” David answered, a bit defensively. “Besides, have you ever walked through the grand halls and rooms that make up all of the museums surrounding the forum?”


“Yes, you know I have,” I answered, a bit annoyed.


“And have you ever seen anyone other than yourself looking at anything?” he asked.


I paused, a little perplexed, and had to admit that I’d never seen anyone in any of them. Occasionally I’d observe a servant dusting objects or cleaning one of the rooms, but I had never actually seen a visitor looking at or examining any of the objects on display. I looked at David and slowly shook my head.


“Exactly,” he shot back. “Neither have I. It’s like they collected all of this and put it on display, but everyone’s forgotten it exists. Either that or they’re just not interested.”


“But that still doesn’t give you the right to take something,” I responded.


“Weapons are made to be used, not put on display,” David shot back. “Look at this – it’s amazing. I’m at least going to practice with it.”


I’d been too busy arguing with David to look closely at the weapon in his hand, but when I finally did, I was surprised. I knew that archers made up part of the contingent of troops that Xannameir sent to man the garrison of Konassas. I’d seen them – some armed with long bows and others outfitted with crossbows – stationed on the walls of the city interspersed with the other troops of the garrison from lookouts and swordsmen to soldiers with spears and other weapons, and I’d never seen any of them carrying a weapon quite like the one David held out to me to examine.


It looked like a crossbow, although it appeared slightly bigger than any I’d seen carried by the soldiers on the wall. It was fashioned completely out of metal and appeared to be heavy, yet when he handed it to me I was amazed at how light it felt in my hands. The mechanism to draw back and lock the bow string was a strange collection of gears and screws that looked more like the mechanism of a fine clock than the more simple devices I’d seen employed on the crossbows of the archers of the garrison. It terminated in a small lever instead of the usual winding device I was used to. The bowstring also appeared to be made of metal, more closely resembling one of the strings on Barsetba’s harp than a typical bow string. David also had a quiver of bolts slung across his back – taken from the same museum, he quickly confessed. The bolt tips were thin and sharp as razors and each one – from tip, through shaft to tail – was made entirely of metal, yet light as a feather.


“Come with me,” David said, giving me a conspiratorial look as he ducked into his nearby room.


Upon entering the room he quickly strode to the window. “First I need to draw back the bow string and lock it,” he said.


I’d occasionally observed the crossbowmen of the garrison shooting at straw-stuffed dummies in the practice area that Philippe and Miro’s apartment overlooked. Part of their training involved firing, then rewinding the bow, setting a bolt, and firing again as quickly as possible. After shooting one of their large wooden-shafted, metal-tipped bolts, they had to quickly rewind the mechanism to reset the bow, and although they practiced diligently to perform the exercise as rapidly as possible, it still took time and a fair amount of muscle. I watched, amazed as David gently turned a small lever on the side of his crossbow and in the blink of an eye, the mechanism drew the cable back and locked it place with a loud click and snap. Drawing out one of the flechettes from the quiver and placing it on the slide, he raised it to his shoulder.


The view from David’s room was of the same training ground that could be seen from Philippe and Miro’s apartment. It was a large square courtyard bordered on all four sides by buildings. A breezeway had been constructed as part of one of the buildings to allow entrance and egress to the courtyard, and the area was designed in such a way as to allow it to be used for many types of training. In addition to archery practice, I’d seen it used for training soldiers in hand to hand combat, wrestling, sword fighting and even cavalry exercises, when two cavalrymen on horse back would spar. To the right of the passage at the entrance to the courtyard stood a stone obelisk, one and a half times the height of a man and three to four feet wide on the base. Anchored in the stone were a number of iron rings, which I’d seen used as a hitching post.


“Watch this,” he said, turning to look at me before aiming the bow out the window and sighting it.


Taking a deep breath and holding it, I stood motionlessly as he aimed at the large stone pillar. Suddenly I flinched at the sound of a loud snap and I watched as the arrow left the crossbow. A second later there was a clink and a small puff of stone dust when the metal arrow hit the post and embedded itself at least four inches into solid stone.


I blinked in surprise, not believing what I was seeing. David turned and smiled at my stunned look. “Yes, it really went into the stone that far, I wasn’t aiming for a crack or hole,” he commented casually. Removing the bow from his shoulder, he gently pulled the lever and with a click, the bow was quickly and easily reset.


“That was a blue shaft,” he said, turning to me.


“A what?”


“Look,” he said, holding out one of the bolts he had used.


I took it in my hands and examined it. As I did, I noticed a thin blue line that spiraled down the shaft of the arrow from point to nock.


“Now watch this one,” he said, pulling another arrow from the quiver and setting it into the crossbow. “See the marking,” he continued, checking to see that the arrow was properly set in the crossbow and motioning me closer so that I could get a better look at it. “This is a green.” And in fact, just like the blue-shafted arrow, this one had a green, spiraling line on the shaft.


Once more raising the crossbow to his shoulder he aimed at the stone and fired. I heard the click, watched the arrow leave the bow and flash through the air. A second later, the sound of metal hitting stone echoed through the empty parade ground as once again the arrow embedded itself into the stone. Seconds after it pierced the stone, I watched in disbelief as smoke began to curl up from the bolt. I thought I was seeing things, but then the shaft of the arrow began to glow. Within seconds, a strange greenish-colored fire ignited both the bolt and the stone. After a minute the arrow disintegrated, half of it burning up and the remaining half falling into the dirt of the parade ground. My eyes widened when I saw the substantial hole it had left in the stone.


Taking the bow from his shoulder and resetting the mechanism, David reached into the quiver and brought out another bolt. “A red shaft,” he said.


I stood silently as once more he repeated the process of aiming and firing, but this time instead of simply imbedding in the stone or catching on fire, the arrow exploded five seconds after it entered the rock. I jumped at the sound, and when the smoke cleared a large chunk of the rock had been blasted from the stone and was lying on the ground. The hole it left in the large stone was big enough for a man to put his head in.


“It’s great, isn’t it?” David said with a sunny smile on his face. “And it’s got about three times the range of a normal crossbow.”


“Well, it’s very impressive, and quite deadly,” I said, pausing for a few seconds before speaking. “And you said there’s a whole wall of these on display.”


“Uhm, well sorry,” David said. “I guess I didn’t make that clear. There is a whole wall of crossbows on display in the weapons gallery; this was the only one of these. I took it for the very reason that is was so unusual compared to the others I examined.”


“What about the bolts?” I asked.


“There were a few of them on display. That’s how I realized they belonged to this particular crossbow. The other bolts wouldn’t fit, and the bolts for this one wouldn’t fit in the standard crossbows. After looking around I found a whole closet full of them. They were piled up with some other things that were being stored.”


“And no one has noticed it or the bolts are missing?”


“Not that I can tell.” David said. “But I didn’t take a lot of bolts. I plan on going back and getting some more. As I said, I’m going to practice with it”


“Very well,” I said, “just be careful.” I began to walk toward the door. Stopping and turning back to look at him, I added, “Don’t advertise that you have it, do you understand?”


“Completely,” he said giving me a smile and a wink.


I opened the door and walked into the hall but just before closing it behind me I turned back and I stuck my head into his room. “Will you be around this afternoon?” I asked.


“Yes, I’m going to spar this morning, but I’ll be done by the midday meal. Why?” he asked.


“Are you up for an exploratory expedition into the city?” I said.


“Of course,” he answered back as his smile grew ever wider.


“Very well, then be prepared to leave after the noon meal,” I called out as I closed the door behind me.


After saying goodbye to David, I pondered his little demonstration as I made my way out of the Amber Palace and across the forum to the Palace of the High Council. Arriving late, I had to endure a frown from Charles when my entrance caused an interruption to the proceedings. One of the council members who’d been speaking abruptly stopped as all the counselors arose to their feet to greet me. Quickly taking my seat I turned on the screen and began accessed its information as I half listened to the council members and Charles drone on about yet another topic I had little, if any, interest in.


The morning session went quicker than I thought, partly because I’d once again activated The Screen and had become engrossed in an interesting study of the orbs. During a break, the door opened and servants brought in our midday meal. More often than not council members took their meals in the meeting room where the morning’s business was conducted, so upon finishing they could once again resume their meeting without overlong delays or interruptions.


The session after lunch was much the same as the one before it. After waiting what I thought was a reasonable period of time, I stood and informed everyone that since I hadn’t slept very well last night, I’d developed a headache. Excusing myself and telling Charles I was returning to my apartment to lie down, I quickly left the meeting. As I left the Council chambers and heard the heavy oak door softly thud shut behind me, a smile quickly came to my face. The truth was, I had no intention of going to my chambers and resting. I had escaped from at least three or four hours of boredom, and I was going to have some fun.


I quickly strode down the corridor that led away from the council chamber, bounded down the large stone staircase, and nearly ran out the door. In sheer exuberance, I leapt off the steps of the Counsel Palace and flew low and fast across the short distance to the Amber Palace, landing with a forward somersault on the steps. I winked at a gawking servant as I strode beneath the grand portico to the massive front door of the palace.


“Finally, I’m free,” I said to myself. I was out for adventure and knew exactly where to find it. I passed under the grand portico of the palace, walked through the foyer, and finally bounded up the grand staircase. I was exuberantly happy as I dashed down the hall to the apartment I shared with Nic. In the weeks following the formation of the alliance and the High Council’s proclamation of protection, guards had been stationed outside our door. As I approached, the guards on either side of the door snapped to attention and one of them opened it for me. The apartment was brilliantly lit as sunlight from the large windows poured into the grand salon. It was quiet, just as I’d expected since I knew Nic would still be meeting with the military representatives from Vorhalla. Suddenly I heard a sound and jumped when a figure emerged from the sitting room adjoining our bedroom.


“Your grace, I didn’t expect to see you so early in the day.” Sandro said, noticing my surprise at finding him there. Then he gave me a slight bow. “I was just checking the work of the household servants. Some of them can be lazy, you know. It’s always best to inspect their work; it keeps them alert and on their toes.”


I absent-mindedly nodded at him. Then putting my finger to my lips I whispered, “Shhhh – I managed to escape, Sandro. They think I’m here to lie down and rest. I’m counting on you to keep our little secret.”


“Of course, Your Grace,” he said, and he bowed again.


“Would you please help me out of these clothes, so I can put on something more appropriate for riding. Oh… and Sandro?” I said, pausing as Sandro’s eyes followed me across the room. “Please ask the guards to see if the Ambassador and David are available, and send word to the stable to have Arax ready, along with David and Cody’s horses.”


“Yes, Your Grace, as you request.”


I walked into the bedchamber. Sandro, having passed my messages to the guards, came into the bedchamber to help me remove the heavy formal robe that I wore for council meetings. It draped to my ankles and actually had a slight train that dragged behind it. It was a splendid and beautiful garment, dark blue and ornately embroidered with stars and moons, and comets with golden tails. The sash was fashioned out of real gold strands that had been carefully interwoven with strands of silk.


But like much of the ceremonial clothing that had been created for me, it was heavy and hot and often scratched my skin. The collar – stiff, high and highly embroidered – forced me to constantly hold my head straight up, since any bowing of my head or movement from left to right would cause it to cut into my neck and chafe my skin.


Putting it on and off, especially with wings, was an exercise in frustration. Sandro, sensing my discomfort, quickly helped me open the heavy clasps and hooks until it dropped to pool around my ankles and I stepped away from it with a sigh of relief.


I continued to shed clothing until finally I was clad only in my white cotton small shorts. It felt good to finally be free from the robe’s hot and heavy embrace; I stood enjoying the cool air against my bare skin. I stretched like a cat awakening from a nap. I flexed my wings and tried to loosen the knots from my neck.


Behind me I heard a door open and turned to see Cody standing there.


“Sandro sent word that you wanted to see me.”


“Yes, I’ve slipped the noose of the council meeting for this afternoon, and I feel like a bird that’s been freed from a gilded cage. I’m anxious to go riding and explore the city. David agreed to come as an escort, and I thought that you’d be the perfect companion.”


Cody gave me a broad smile. “That’s great!” he almost jumped into the air as his wings gently beat for a few seconds. “Jonathan and Luc are taking a nap – we were playing earlier, so this is perfect timing. There’s something I wanted to show you and Nic anyway, and now is as good a time as any.”


“Fantastic,” I said, as Sandro helped me into a short white and blue tunic and hooked the clasps in the back around my wings.


I turned to Cody. “There are horses down on the street, saddled and waiting for us.”


“Great, Jamie… err, Your Grace…”


“Just Jamie…please Cody…we can drop all the formality when we’re alone…I am so sick of it I could vomit.”


“Sure Jamie,” Cody smiled at me.


As we prepared to leave the apartment, I turned to Sandro. Again I put my finger to my lips.


“Remember Sandro, shhhh.”


Sandro put his fingers to his lips in a mimic of my actions. He looked so silly that Cody and I broke out in laughter.


“Shhhh,” he foolishly grinned as we slipped out of the door into the hall.


Once we reached the end of the long hall we approached David’s room and knocked on the door. Within seconds David was opening the door, dressed in his finery and ready to accompany us. Bounding down the grand staircase, we walked through the foyer, through the front door, and down the steps to the forum.


Just as I had instructed Sandro, by the time Cody, David, and I had reached the street, we found our horses, saddled and ready for us. The stable boy that had prepared them for our ride was standing in front of them, holding their reins in his hands.


“May I assist you?” he said.


“No, thank you,” I said. And in an instant the three of us bounded up and were sitting in our saddles.


“We’ll be back in about three hours. Could you please return around then and take the horses when we’re done?”


“Of course Your Grace, as you wish.”


I turned and looked at Cody who was grinning at me. I in turn couldn’t help but return his grin with one of my own.


“Ok, let’s have some fun,” I said. I spurred Arax with my heels, and with Cody and David riding beside me, we headed out of the forum, ready to explore the city.


Since I’d been spending day after day in meetings, I was’t very familiar with the city. My only real foray had been with the Twins on the day Miro discovered the gladiator pin in the wine bottle, and I’d found Barsetba and brought him back to the Amber Palace. Cody and David, on the other hand, had spent more time exploring than I and were quite familiar with the layout of the city.


Drawing on that experience, Cody gave me a tour of the city, showing me the many places he, Luc, and Jonathan had discovered. He took us to the market place where I sampled an assortment of delicious fruit. We went down a street populated by weavers, dyers, and tailors. Then he led us down another street where jewelers and silver and goldsmiths were fashioning jewelry, silver candlesticks, golden rings, and chains.


After about two hours of riding, we found ourselves in a small square right inside the main gate of the city. It was an area that housed the garrison. Just as the first time when I rode through this area, I observed the many solders practicing drills, combat exercises, and self-defense. We paused and watched them for a while. After a few minutes, Cody turned and bent closer until his mouth was near my ear.


“Remember the thing I said wanted to show you and Nic?” he said.




“Well, it’s not too far from here. Want to go?” he asked, giving me one of his sunny smiles.


“Of course,” I replied.


My curiosity was piqued as we left the garrison and headed down a narrow side street. Cody was slightly in the lead and suddenly turned left down another even narrower street. Half way down this street he abruptly turned to the right into what looked like a blind alley. I was suddenly reminded of the alley where the man and boys had discovered me back in the city of Tardon. It caused me to shudder, but I made an effort to push the thought from my mind.


Cody rode to the end of the alley and suddenly I realized that we were in front of an old, decrepit building. This area of the city was almost completely abandoned, and consequently very quiet. From what I could see, it seemed like people had once inhabited it, but now it was deserted and most of the buildings were in disrepair.


Cody swiftly dismounted and hitched his horse to an old, broken lamppost. David and I followed, and soon we were standing in front of the door into the building. It looked like an old warehouse, or storage building. One or two windows were broken; the right side of the large double door was hanging from its only remaining hinge.


“So what’s the big secret, Cody?”


Cody smiled at me.


“You’ll see.”


We walked up three steps to the entrance and carefully opened the door. The building was old and dirty, and a few birds had roosted in some of the rafters. Large, dirt-streaked windows allowed a bit of afternoon sunlight to leak through.


The building was essentially one large, open room. There were a few pillars on the right and left side of the room to hold the roof up, but otherwise it was just an empty open space, except for the hulking object that bulked large and dark at the far end of the room. Walking carefully in case the floor was rotted, I stepped over to it. I stopped and took in its size and shape.


I shook my head in disbelief. It was enormous and complex…and just as I remembered it!


David, unable to restrain himself, ran up and placed his hands on it. “Do you know what this is?” he asked in a voice so excited I could tell he was about to burst.


“Yes I do,” I said, “And I’m not surprised that you know about it either.”


“I wish Miro were here right now,” he said.


“Cody?” I said, turning to the young angel, “how long have you known about this?”


“For about two weeks now.”


“And who else knows of its existence?”


“No one, Jamie.”


“What about Jonathan and Luc?”


“They were with me with I found it, but they never entered the this building. When I saw how old the building was and how fragile it seemed, I was concerned that they might get hurt so I made them wait outside while I explored inside. I just happened upon it. It was just sitting here in the middle of this large space, but I have no idea what it is or what possible use it could have.”


“So no one else other than you, David, and me know about this?”


“Yes, that’s correct. But what is it?”


I flashed him a slight smile, but I couldn’t control my excitement as my smile widened into a wide grin.


“You know, don’t you, Jamie? You know exactly what it is, don’t you? Both you and David know, I can see it in your eyes.”


“Yes, but for now it has to remain our secret. I’ll tell you about it on the way back, but both of you promise me,” I said, looking intently at David and Cody, “this is just between the three of us – agreed?”


“Agreed,” both boys answered in unison.


“Good,” I said. “Now lets get back to the Amber Palace. I told the stable boy three hours, and our time is just about up. I don’t want anyone to know what we’ve been doing.”


Cody and I talked on the way back as I explained what he’d found. David – too surprised to contain his excitement – constantly interrupted my explanation, interjecting information of his own. Every so often Cody would just stare at us. Other times he would exclaim “really?” or “You’re serious, aren’t you?”


By the time we got back and handed our horses to the stable boy, I’d not only given him a complete description of the object and its function, but had recruited both he and David as accomplices in my plan As we entered the Amber Palace, I turned and headed to my apartment. David made his way to his door and Cody headed to the suite that he and Lance shared. Before they vanished into their rooms I called out to them, “Remember, tomorrow at the very same time.”


“I’ll meet you both on the street and have the horses ready,” David answered.


“And I’ll be ready,” Cody replied.


“Great, then we meet tomorrow,” I said as I approached the door to my apartment; the guard snapped to attention and then opened the door for me.


From that day on, for the next two weeks, I attended the morning council but always found reason in the afternoon to excuse myself. I made excuse after excuse, but no one seemed to really care. Charles and the council members were more than content to release me from their sessions, as long as I was content to accept their legislation.


David, Cody, and I timed our exits carefully and always left the palace without anyone but Sandro noticing. I was also fortunate that no one ever saw me return from these excursions hot, sweaty, and often tired. One evening, Nic pointed out that I had a cut on my lower lip, but I was able to explain it away as a slight fall from not paying attention to where I was walking. Actually it was the truth, but not in the sense that he took it. It was a bit harder to explain the bruises that he occasionally found on my body, but I continued to fault my clumsiness.


Equally interesting was the lack of notice taken for the sudden absence of a select group of servants and palace craftsmen that I was able to spirit from the palace from time to time. Only once did Edmond Cob question me about this, but I was able to contrive a story that he readily believed. After all, being the wizard and explaining that I had a very special project they were working on was enough to ease his concerns. And other than that small incident, my actions were never enough to garner any suspicions.


After a few weeks of afternoons with Cody, and some serious effort from my secret band of servants and craftsman, I was ready for the next step. And I knew exactly when I would take it.