The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part III – The Alliance


Chapter 34


One morning, a few weeks after my journey into the city with Cody and David, I woke up in bed to the sound of rustling. I was lying on my stomach and slowly turned onto my side. While all of the humans we met were amazed and intrigued with our wings, I often wished they could spend one night sleeping with a pair. It was always a real challenge to lay just right. There were only two logical choices: either lying on our stomachs, or on our right or left side. Rolling onto one’s back was usually quite difficult, but if the move was successful, circulation to the wings rapidly became restricted and in a short time the pain and numbness forced a move away from that particular position.


Of course, being Icarian I knew no other way to live than with the large appendages that emerged from my back just between my shoulder blades. But just as humans got sore feet or pounding headaches and wished they could remove the offending part of their body for a brief period of time, I occasionally felt the same way about the extra large pair I carried on my back. All of our wings were large – they had to be to support flight – but mine were by far the largest. As Charles kept reminding me, I was an Imperial and Imperials have the largest wingspan of all Icarians, but just once I would have traded them for the red and black marked wings Charles bore which, although still large, were about a fourth less in size than mine.


As the rustling continued, I slowly opened one eye to see Nic sitting on the edge of the bed. When I realized it was he, I opened both of my eyes and looked at him, surprised to see him already awake. I was usually the first to awaken and arise most mornings. Nic, on the other hand, would often linger for an hour longer before getting up.


Most mornings I’d slip out of bed, leaving him fast asleep. Stumbling sleepily to the beautiful and accommodating bath that was part of our suite of rooms, I’d finish waking up in the warm, bubbling water. After toweling off and getting dressed, I’d return to the bedchamber, give Nic a kiss as he slept, and sit down to a light breakfast from Master Arnod’s kitchen – usually delivered by Sandro or one of the kitchen staff.


Occasionally my kiss would awaken him and he would join me at breakfast in the large main salon of our apartment, where I enjoyed sitting by the tall windows and taking in the view of the forum of Konassas. During those times, he would appear with a wrap around his waist, sit on a nearby stool, and chat with me – discussing our plans for the day. Once our chat was over – since he rarely took breakfast himself – he would retreat to the bath and prepare for his day. More often than not, my kiss would only lightly disturb his sleep. He would sigh heavily or mumble something incoherent and drift back to sleep. I would adjourn to one of the outer chambers of our quarters, a few rooms away from our bedroom, and enjoy a light breakfast by myself.


This morning, I’d particularly enjoyed the soft, warm comfort of the bed. Sleeping on the ground in the forest had never been very enjoyable for me, and although I was an early riser by nature, there were days – such as this one – when the softness and warmth of the bed held me tightly in its grip.


As I stirred, I looked up, puzzled, at Nic. “Up early, are we?” I said, still shaking the cobwebs of sleep from my brain.


He looked back and smiled. At nineteen, His Highness King Niklas of Icaria was quite handsome. He was smooth and muscular, without a hair on his body. His taut, thin, yet strong frame was kept well maintained with all the exercise, sparring, and physical activity he engaged in. I could easily imagine him as a gladiator taking on an opponent at Castle Rood. Unlike the theatrical Twins – who were just as skilled and deadly as my mate – Nic was no-nonsense and all business when he fought; I often wondered if that was a positive or negative when it came to winning and holding a crowd’s attention.


I’d once asked Miro about Nic’s manner of fighting and while he, just like the rest of us, retained little of his past memories, he told me that one of the things he remembered vividly was watching Nic in the arena.


“David and I were good,” Miro said with a smile, “Well, better than good – great!” and his smile stretched into a wide grin. “But Nic,” he continued, pausing as a touch of awe and reverence crept into his voice. “When Nic fought, the crowd was silent and every eye was on him. He never needed to put on a show or impress the mob. His lightning speed, and practiced skill, was enough to hold their interest. They knew when they were watching perfection in action and they were in awe and respect of it.”


“Jamie?” Nic said, looking quizzically at me. “Jamie, is everything all right?”


Roused from my thoughts, I realized I’d been blankly staring at him – probably with a detached and dreamy look on my face. My eyes focused, and once more I took in the sight of him. Since we both slept naked together, I wasn’t surprised to see that he had still not bothered to get dressed yet. Suddenly it occurred to me that the reason that I’d awoken was that he had given me a kiss. I looked up at him with sleep-filled eyes, and saw him smiling sweetly down at me. He reached out his hand and gently stroked my face. Closing my eyes, I felt his hand touch me and a thrill rush through my body.


“Oh my!” I said suddenly, as I opened my eyes and suddenly sat up in bed and stared at him. “Nic, of course… I’m sorry… how could I forget…? It’s your birthday!


He gave me a surprised look. “Pff… how do you know it’s my birthday?”


“Well, I do.”


And in fact, I really did. The day each of us was permanently removed from the maturation tank left some sort of permanent mark on our cell pattern. For some reason, one of the abilities the orbs imparted upon me as a wizard was to know when that moment had occurred, just by a quick scan of another Icarian’s mind. There was no doubt that this day was Nic’s birthday. I not only felt and sensed it, I knew it without a doubt. The other fact – unbeknownst to Nic – was the very special day that I’d planned for him.


“Jamie, aren’t you going to get up like you usually do?” Nic asked, sounding puzzled.


“I will when I’m good and ready,” I replied.


“You seem lazy today, which is a little unusual for you,” he said.


“Well, why don’t you join me, my love?”


I grabbed Nic’s arm and began to pull him into the bed.


“You know that I have a meeting with Zakaria and Lance this morning. That’s why I got up so early.”


“Well, I can assure you that you have no such meeting,” I said.


“What do you mean, Jamie?”


“I told them that everything was cancelled for today, and if they so much as showed their faces around our chambers this morning, I would show them what an angry wizard could truly do.”


“You didn’t… did you?”


“I most certainly did.”


By now I had managed to pull Nic back into bed with me, lying on his side next to me. I moved my legs over and entwined them with his. He moved a bit closer and soon our bodies were touching.


He reached over and stroked my knee, before running his hand up my thigh.


His face was just an inch from mine, his breath warm on my skin. Then he moved even closer, and we began to kiss. Our soft gentle kisses slowly turned into strong, deep ones.


By then, our hands were exploring each other. I felt Nic’s strong, gentle hands run down my back, and I broke away from his kiss and nibbled on his left ear.


“Mmmmm, you taste good today,” I whispered in his ear.


“Well, so do you,” he whispered back, after kissing my earlobe. “So is it really my birthday?”


“Absolutely, Nic – there’s no doubt about that.”


And with that, we made love in the soft and gentle way we always did. Afterwards, as I lay in his arms, I was amazed again at just how lucky I was. But although it felt good to be close to him, I forced myself to climb out of the bed and, still a little dazed, ambled toward the bath. Following closely behind, Nic reached out and grabbed me, turning me so that I was faced him. Holding me tight, he wrapped his wings around me and I did the same to him. An interesting sight – two bodies wrapped in a curtain of beautiful soft feathers. Then he bent down and kissed me tenderly. As I broke the kiss, I looked up and smiled at him.


“Ok, beautiful boy,” I said grinning back at him, “time to celebrate your birthday.”


“I thought we just did?” he said.


“Consider that a warm up, my love,” I said with a smile. “I intend to collect the remainder of the debt sometime later today.” Then I gave him a quick peck on the cheek and jumped away from him.


“Just what mischief do you have planned today, Jamie?” Nic said, giving me a suspicious look.


“Well, I guess you’ll just have to stay with me all day and see,” I said, still smiling at him.


As he stood in the center of the room, I danced around him, laughing and occasionally flapping my wings and jumping over him. The high ceilings in our apartment were great for this kind of play since I could leap and not bump my head on it as long as I didn’t get too exuberant.


“Now it’s time for a bath, then breakfast, and then…. well… you’ll see. I have a full day planned for you.”


I took his hand and led him into the warm, bubbling water where we lovingly bathed each other. One of the nicest things about the bath was the fountain in the center that sprayed warm water; it was perfect for washing our wings. After we were done, we climbed from the bath, dried ourselves and shook out our wings – much like birds do when they take a bath in a puddle of water, and then violently shake off the excess moisture: a fit of rapid, fluttering movements. We’d removed all the breakables from the bathroom early on.


Returning to our bedchamber, Nic went to the wardrobe to put on one of his more official tunic sets. When I caught a glimpse of him doing this, I quickly stopped him.


“I told you that I had the day planned,” I said. “There’ll be no meetings or strategy sessions. Today is your special day, and we’re going to enjoy it together, so put on your riding tunic.”


Nic flashed me a long-suffering look and began to get dressed. First in his white cotton undershorts, then one of his riding tunics – the one with the red and gold trim. He slipped on his sandals and was ready to go. As he got dressed, I quickly slipped on my undergarments, my blue and silver riding tunic and my sandals. Then I took his hand in mine and led him from our bedroom into the main salon, where I always took breakfast.


Since I enjoyed the room so much, with its sunny ambiance and beautiful view, I’d asked of Master Sandro that the household servants always keep it decorated with plants and flowers. Master Jaysune, who had an especially good eye for design, gladly took over the task and constantly placed a wide variety of fresh flowers and plants about the room. The effect on a sunny day was like walking into a beautiful indoor garden.


Before retiring for bed the night before, I’d informed Master Sandro of my plans, along with giving him a menu to be delivered to Master Arnod in the palace kitchen. As we made our way into the salon, I was pleased to see that the drapes in the room had been drawn back to allow the warm rays of the morning sun to flow into the room. Fresh flowers had been arranged throughout the salon – even more than the usual enthusiastic display Jaysune routinely used to decorate the large room.


Moving into the salon, I could see a table by the window had been set with a wide assortment of food. Crossing to it I saw a tray of fresh fruit that I knew would be ripe and sweet. A basket of rolls and breads – including a loaf of Nic’s favorite fresh chocolate bread – sat near the fruit tray, and next to that were poached eggs, a platter of meats and cheeses along with a plate of tiny grilled sausages I knew Nic especially liked. Since Nic particularly enjoyed one of the more unusual blends of coffee Master Arnod brewed to perfection I also ordered that, and smiled when I saw a beautiful silver urn of the steaming beverage on the table.


Although neither of us was in the habit of eating large breakfasts in the early morning, the intimate games that we’d played earlier must have sparked our appetites, since we both quickly devoured the food that had been placed on the table. After our breakfast, I told Nic that we were going to go for a ride and explore the city.


As we were about to leave our apartment Nic turned to get his weapons.


“You won’t be needing those today,” I said.


Frowning he protested, “If we’re heading into the city I should have my sword and dagger Jamie.”


I continued to insist and as both of our voices rose I could see that what had begin as a nice day might quickly turn into a disaster due to a fight. I tried to calm down, and after a few more minutes of discussion managed to convince Nic to leave his sword but take his dagger. Although I could tell he wasn’t completely satisfied, he complied with my wishes and we left the apartment hand in hand. As we passed through the door the guards came to attention, bowed slightly and said, “Happy birthday, Your Majesty.”


We continued down the corridor when suddenly Sandro appeared, caught sight of us, stopped, and bowed deeply. “Happy birthday, Your Most Esteemed Majesty.”


“Have you told everyone today was my birthday?”


“Not everyone, but almost everyone.” I smiled at Nic.


As we continued down the hallway I turned back to see Master Sandro standing with a questioning look in his face. Suddenly Jaysune’s head popped out of one of the doorways giving me the same look. Still walking with Nic but looking back at them, I made a thumb’s up gesture and smiled. I grinned even wider as I saw the large smiles of pride and relief register on their faces when they realized that I was more than pleased with their extra efforts on this very special day.


We finally made our way to the forum where a stable boy waited with our two horses. Nic mounted the well-groomed brown stallion waiting for him – his large and powerful warhorse, Galad – and I mounted Arax, the smaller palfrey the garrison of Konassas had presented me upon my arrival in the city.


Once settled into our saddles, I told Nic to follow me. Nic, because of his many meetings and daily sparring practices, had seen less of the city than I. As we rode through the streets of Konassas, I pointed out some of the sights that Cody had first shown me. I made a point to swing by the large market so that he could see the general activity of the great city as it traded and conducted its commerce. We rode to one of the great gates, and since it was a bright and sunny day, left our horses with one of the gatekeepers and climbed the large tower built into the curtain wall. Making our way to the battlements, we stood viewing the great city contained within the high defensive wall. Turning to look outward, we watched the churning waters of the river Klee flow into the great lake surrounding Konassas before once more flowing out onto the fertile plains that lay throughout the valley.


When we got down from the tower and remounted our horses, I took Nic to the street of goldsmiths. Stopping in front of one of the shops I dismounted, and asked Nic to join me. The window of the shop displayed an assortment of beautiful objects fashioned from gold and silver. A set of platters gleamed as they caught the rays of the morning sun; a set of artfully fashioned silverware sat in a presentation box. Scattered about the larger objects were gold chains, rings, pins, and broaches – all beautifully polished and shining brightly.


As soon as we entered the shop, the master goldsmith and his workers jumped up from their benches and bowed deeply. Then the master went into the backroom of the shop and emerged with a small box. He approached me and opened it. After I carefully inspected it, I smiled at him, congratulated him on his expert craftsmanship, and took it. Then I walked over to Nic, who’d been observing our transaction. I handed him the small box and he opened it. In the box lay two exquisite rings. Made of gold, they had the appearance of angels wings fashioned in a band.


“These are really fantastic, Jamie.” Nic looked at them in surprise.


“Watch this,” I said, smiling at him.


I took the rings from the box. One ring was slightly larger than the other, since Nic’s hand was just a little bigger than my hand. I manipulated the rings, placing the smaller one into the other and showed Nic.


“Jamie, they’re holding each other.”


And in fact, when the rings were placed in this way, it gave the appearance of two angels hugging with their wings wrapped around each other, just as Nic and I had embraced a few hours before in our bedchamber.


“Well, happy birthday my love. They’re for our pledging ceremony.”


“Our what?”


“I’ve been spending a lot of time using the screen in those boring meetings. Even though we have been mated for life, there is still the formal pledging ceremony when we get to Icaria.”


“Uhm… I see.”


“Yes, it’s tied in with the coronation and investiture ceremonies,” I said.


“You really have been doing some studying.”


I carefully put the rings back in the box and gave it back to the goldsmith instructing him to have them delivered to the palace.


“What, we’re not going to wear them?” Nic asked.


“Not yet,” I said, “it’s for the pledging ceremony, but since it is your birthday, I wanted to surprise you with them.”


“I must say you have, Jamie.”


“Now come on,” I said, smiling at him, “we still have other places to go.”


I took his hand in mine and whisked him from the shop and the toiling craftsman once more scrambled to their feet and bowed.


Our next stop was the street of the tailors. We dismounted and I took Nic into a shop that had a pair of beautiful tunics and an exquisitely crafted riding cape displayed in its window. As we walked through the door, I had to step over and around large bolts of cloth. Once inside, I could see that in addition to the many types and colors of fabric lying in corners and stacked in piles, there were hundreds of paper patterns lying on the shelves, along with colorful spools of thread and bands of braided trim. There were drawers and baskets filled with buttons and clasps along with yards of rolled ribbon and embroidery work strewn about the shop.


The tailor, Eston Crown, bent over in a corner hand stitching a garment, looked up. He set down his work, arose from his stool, and with a broad smile on his face greeted us with a bow before he ushered us into a small side-room. He rushed out and after a few minutes, returned with two beautiful tunics draped over one arm – one red, white, and gold, one blue, white, and silver – along with two matching sashes.


“What’s this?” Nic asked.


“Our new tunics,” I answered. “Let’s try them on.”


Eston Crown was the same tailor Master Jaysune had engaged to fashion all our clothing at the beginning of our stay at the Amber Palace. I’d arranged today’s appointment through Jaysune, who suggested I use Crown since he already had all of our measurements and, in fact, was the best tailor in all of Konassas. A few weeks before Nic’s birthday, Jaysune brought samples of fabric to me and had made all the necessary arrangements with Crown.


Nic and I took the garments from the tailor who, after presenting them to us, turned and left the room. Quickly stripping, Nic had begun to put on his new tunic when I noticed something.


“Wait,” I said, stopping Nic. “You can’t wear that exquisite tunic without a proper undergarment.”


Nic gave me a puzzled look but I ignored it and stuck my head out of the room, calling to the tailor.


“Master Crown” I shouted, “didn’t you forget something?”


There was silence, but I could hear hurried movement out in the shop. Seconds later Crown entered the room holding two sets of new undergarments, all the while profusely apologizing for his oversight. I thanked him and assured him everything was all right before he turned and exited the room. The new undergarments were woven of the finest silk; they were smooth and soft in my hands. Holding them up and examining them more closely, I could see they were white with very light silver threads woven through the fabric.


“Now take those cotton ones off,” I commanded Nic, who did so and stood before me naked.


In a second I was also naked and smiling at him. Then I went to him and hugged him. He bent down and kissed me and we embraced. I broke our kiss and hug and stepped back to admire him.


“As much as I want to Nic,” I said with some regret in my voice, “we can’t tarry long. We have to keep moving.”


I bent down and threw him the underwear. As he slipped it on and tied the drawstring at the waist, he smiled.


“Jamie, these are so light and soft they feel like I’m wearing nothing.”


“And they look almost as good as nothing on you too,” I grinned. “Now put on your tunic.”


We both got dressed and stood facing each other, admiring our views. Both tunics were almost identical except for the color and the sashes that bound them. Both had short sleeves for easy movement and came right to our knees. They fit perfectly, and looked beautiful. Nic was so handsome, I wanted to attack him on the spot, but I knew there was more to accomplish this day.


As we left Easton Crown’s shop I instructed him – just as I had the goldsmith – to return our old clothes to the palace upon which time he would be paid for our new garments.


Back on horseback, I continued our tour of the city, showing Nic many of the places Cody had first shown me. I could tell that he was enjoying himself. All those long hours of meetings and planning sessions had taken him from the outside world, just as they had taken me, and it was great to be free – even if only for a short time.


As the morning approached mid afternoon, I began to change our direction. Traveling down the street of butchers, then left onto another, and right again, we made our way to one of the older, mostly abandoned, parts of the city.


“There’s nothing here, Jamie; it looks deserted,” Nic said giving me a puzzled look.


“Yes, for the most part it is,” I said, “but just follow me. I want to show you something.”


We continued to ride, turning down a series of narrow, deserted alleyways until finally we came to a small open square and the old warehouse that Cody had shown me on our very first excursion together. I rode up to it, stopped my horse, and dismounted.


“This place looks dangerous, Jamie.”


“Well it is, but not in the way you think.” I said. “Just please come in with me.”


I took Nic’s hand and led him through the old broken doorway. When I had first found the building it had been abandoned, dirty and in disrepair. I had left it that way on the outside so that it would appear to be a worthless old wreck of a structure. But two weeks of frantic work in secret and under cover of darkness had paid off. As soon as Nic and I crossed the threshold, I quickly stepped back as a loud cheer sounded.


Happy Birthday!!


Nic jumped and instinctively reached for where his sword normally would have been. Then he looked around the room as well wishes and cheers continued to sound, and finally at me.


“Jamie, you little…”


But he couldn’t continue, since I was now kissing him. I broke the kiss and as I pulled away, whispered “This is all for you. Happy Birthday.”


The old warehouse had been transformed into an elaborate banquet hall. Heavy oak tables had been set up in a U shape. Seated at one set of tables were the all of the members of the High Council, General Zakaria and some of his key staff. At the remaining tables sat Prince Andrew. David, Cody, Lance, Jonathan, and Luc, along with Barsetba and a few others whom we’d become friends with during our stay in the city.


I nodded at Philippe, who’d been standing at one side of the room in front of a small group of men holding musical instruments. He executed a rapid downbeat, and I jumped as a trumpet suddenly blared and drums rolled. One of the court attendants standing at the head of the table stepped forward and shouted:


“All rise for His Highness Niklas of Icaria, First Lord of the Realm, Defender of the Five Kingdoms, Duke of Agramon, Lord Protector of the Wizardry, Heir to the Seat of Escalad.”


After the formal announcement, the drums and trumpets sounded again, and Nic and I walked to our seats at the table.


“So where did all the titles come from?” Nic whispered to me as we strode down the room to take our seats.


“I told you I was doing my homework with the screen.” I squeezed his hand and smiled at him.


Soon, along with everyone else, we were eating a splendid repast and drinking the finest and choicest wines. The laughter and conversation continued for a few hours. Through Philippe and Barsetba, I’d arranged for music during the dinner and I could tell that everyone was having a good time – especially little Jonathan.


Much to Charles’ distress, I’d started a game with him. I instructed the servants to place a basket of freshly baked rolls in front of the little angel, then I would have someone at the table state their name (Lord Ottavia was the first to play along and shout his name). As he called out, Jonathan lobbed a roll in the direction of the voice, hitting Ottavia squarely in the forehead. One by one others sitting around the table would cry out their names only to be pelted on the head with a sweet roll. It was uncanny how accurate the blind little boy was. He could see better with his ears than most people could see with their eyes. I couldn’t stop laughing. Finally I felt compelled to end the game when I noticed Charles scowling at me, but only after I smiled at him and winked.


As the meal came to an end, I quietly slipped from the table and inconspicuously made my way to the rear of the large hall. I’d caused the workers who were under my direction to create a curtain across the room. Anyone not familiar with the hall would have just thought that it was an attractive backdrop for the dinner setting, but I had it constructed for a purpose, and it had been designed for just this moment.


“If I may have everyone’s attention,” I shouted over the laughter and talking. When no one seemed to hear me or respond, I picked up a small iron bar that had been left by the workers during the restoration of the building. Banging it against one of the iron columns holding up the roof, the ringing noise filled the room. “Your attention, please,” I shouted once more but now even louder.


The group finally became silent.


“Please join me back here at the curtain,” I called out.


Soon everyone was gathered in a small group around me. I insisted Nic stand directly in front of the large curtain as everyone else crowded around behind him. Once I was sure everyone was in place, I reached out grasped a cord hanging in front of the curtain and handed it to Nic.


“Happy Birthday Nic,” I said. “Now pull on this cord!”


Nic gave a sharp tug on the cord and suddenly the curtain that had been across the room split in two and fell to the right and left sides of the room.


“What is it?” Charles asked.


“You really don’t know, do you Charles?” I asked.


“Well, actually no,” he said in an irritated tone of voice.


I started to jump up and down; I stroked my wings and flew over the crowd. I landed, and as I did I shouted, clapped my hands and laughed.


“I knew it! I knew that you wouldn’t know what it is, but I bet Niklas does.”


For his part, Nic just stood there looking at the massive object. Then slowly he left the little group and began to walk around it, every so often pausing and touching a part of it, feeling it and examining pieces of it.


The object was in the shape of a circle. It was about forty feet in diameter and rose off of the ground about ten feet. It rested on its own platform. Small pylons that were connected by chains bordered the circle. Three of the pylons were much larger than the rest and rose forty feet into the air above the circle and were connected by a large cable. A second cable issued from each of the taller pylons into the center of the circle and attached to a large globe or sphere that hung about thirty feet overhead.


The whole apparatus was made of black, gleaming metal with polished bronze and silver ornamentation. To the left and right side of the large circular object were two large square towers that had many ornaments, knobs, and levers on them.


Finally Nic worked his way around the other side and came back to where I was standing.


“Jamie, where did you get this?”


“Cody found it. I’m sure its been here for over two thousand years.”


“What’s the source of its power?” Charles asked, obviously fascinated.


“I have no idea,” I replied. “But I do know that it works.”


“Really?” Nic asked.


I smiled at him and shouted “Power.”


Suddenly the room began to vibrate as the mechanism sprang to life. A low but steady hum echoed through the large room.


“What is it?” Charles asked.


“Would you like to tell them, Nic?” I said, looking at my mate.


“Well, it’s a Battlecom,” Nic said and I could tell by the sound of his voice he still hadn’t gotten over the initial surprise of being presented with it.


“And just what’s a Battlecom?” Charles continued.


“I think a small demonstration will do more than any long explanation,” I said with a smile.


I moved back around the ring, nearing one of the large towers. I took off my tunic and handed it to Cody who had joined me. Then I removed my underwear and stood naked before the group. Cody then handed me a strap that I slipped over my legs; as I wrapped it around myself, it formed a cup to protect my genitals. Then Cody helped me put on a very short battle tunic and a small light armor breastplate. I walked up a narrow pair of steps, bent down under the chain that was attached to the smaller pylons and stood in the center of the large ring.


“Prepared.” I shouted.


Suddenly a disembodied voice answered.




“Jamie of Icaria.” I answered.




A small hole opened in the sphere above my head, and a light began to shine on me. I lifted my face to it and looked unblinking into it.


“Jamie of Icaria, Participant 001, Code: Silver/Blue 0000, Command: Wizard,” I said as I looked into the light


“CONFIRMED,” the voice said.




“Great Hall of Agramon,” I called out.




“Tivolian Fire Demon.”




“Full contact.”




“Injury Level.”


“JAMIE,” Nic shouted ‘NO.” As he did, I could see David raise his eyebrows.


I looked down at the group; I knew that only Nic and David realized what I’d requested.


“I’m fine Nic, I’ve had a few weeks of practice. I’m just as good as I used to be.” I smiled at him.


He didn’t return my smile.


“Jamie, I said no.”


“Fine.” Now it was my turn to scowl back at Nic.


“Correction,” I shouted.


“PROCEED,” the voice said.


“Level of Engagement – Spar Level,” I paused, looked down and frowned again at Nic and added, “Advanced Expert.”


Nic just shook his head.


I looked back and smiled a wicked smile at him. If he was going to make me limit the physical injury level, I was going to increase the difficulty.




“Five,” I added.




“Settings confirmed,” I responded.




Suddenly a creature materialized before me. It was frozen and immobile, like a statue. Because it was at least three feet taller than I, it towered over me. It was naked, with green scaly skin. A single horn protruded from its head. It had massive hands that ended in sharp claws. It stood on two strong stocky legs that had talons where feet normally would have been. It was holding a Morningstar, a haft attached to a large chain that ended with a metal ball with spikes.


I looked down at Cody who climbed up and handed me a dagger, which I slipped into one of the straps of my sandals, a sword, and a shield.


I positioned myself within three feet of the creature and shouted, “Engage.”


Instantly, the creature sprang to life. It took one look at me, and headed toward me, swinging the large spiked ball and chain. I ducked out of the way and moved behind it, grazing the back of its head with my sword. Again it charged at me and I dodged, but I wasn’t fast enough because the ball struck my right shoulder and knocked me to the ground; my arm was numb, and I lost my grip on my sword. It went skittering across the ring.


The demon stood directly over me, and I didn’t hesitate: I curled my legs up and smashed the heel of one sandal directly into its crotch. It bellowed in agony and bent double, and I lunged at its face with my dagger and jabbed it in the eye. I felt the blade scrape against something hard just before the tip lodged in the tough bone of its eye socket and snapped off. Green blood oozed from the wound and the demon screamed. It knocked the dagger from my hand and tried to kick me, but I rolled away. I had lost my sword and dagger, and now I had to rely on my magic.


The demon recovered and came at me again. From six feet away, it opened its mouth and spat a ball of fire at me. I barely dodged it, and could feel the heat as it sizzled past my head. Once again I was on my feet, trying to avoid the creature.


I continued to dance around the demon, but it charged me again. It spat another fireball, but this time I was ready, and used my powers to throw it back. Lightning swift, it dodged and charged again. I backpedaled but suddenly stumbled over my sword, still lying in the ring.


It came charging at full force, swinging its ball and chain. A lightning ball flashed into being in my right hand. I cocked my hand back, ready to hurl it and kill the beast. It swept its weapon up over its head to strike me. I smiled, seeing that as I had hoped, it was completely exposed. The lightning ball pulsed in strength; the fire demon prepared to take a swing at me …and suddenly froze.


“TIME LIMIT EXPIRED,” the voice said.


The demon vanished. I stood up, walked over to the steps I had climbed up, ducked under the chains that cordoned off the ring and climbed back down to the group below.


“Get the idea?” I said, turning to Charles.


“It looks like some kind of a training machine for soldiers,” he said.


“Exactly,” I agreed. “The gladiators trained on this back in Küronas, and after I met Nic and he taught me how to use it, I practiced on a similar one in Küronas. I don’t remember a lot about the past, but I remembered the Battlecom the minute I laid eyes on it – so did David. For the most part, it worked perfectly from the first time we activated it. It was mostly dirty and a little rusty. I used some of the servants and craftsmen at the palace to help me clean it up. I also had them fix up the hall and create a training area for Nic, the Twins, and Lancelot.” Then I looked at Nic and smiled. “It’s your birthday present, my love. I knew you’d remember it.”


“How do you think it got here, Jamie?” Nic asked.


“We’ll probably never know, but my guess is that since this was a city with an active army and garrison in the old days before the fall of Küronas, it was put here for training purposes. From what I’ve learned, it seems this one is slightly different from the ones that you trained on, but I’ve been able to make some modifications using the knowledge of the orbs and the screen. I think you’ll find it very similar to the one you used in Piropolis.”


“How does it operate?” Lance asked.


“First you have to enter yourself into the machine. It won’t operate unless it recognizes a valid participant. That’s what happened when I gave it my name and it shone the light on me.”


“From there it’s pretty simple,” Nic added. “It asks you questions like the location of your engagement, your opponent, and the level of engagement, and you supply the answers.”


“What’s this ‘level of engagement’ you’re talking about?” Lance continued. “And why did you get mad at His Grace when he chose one of the levels?”


“Well, you can go from a light and easy practice round with imaginary characters and creatures all the way to potentially deadly duels with real life people,” David interrupted, and by the sound of his voice I could tell he was excited about the prospect of giving the great machine a try. “You can actually even clone yourself and have a sparring match with your clone,” he added.


“You can choose to only have a point taken off if you are hit, without any physical contact or pain,” Nic said. “You can also choose to have every action have a physical consequence. If you are struck, you’ll feel pain and probably get a bruise. If you get cut with a knife or sword, you’ll bleed. Jamie originally chose to have full physical contact, which means he could have been seriously injured.”


“So this thing can kill you if you’re not careful?” Lance asked.


“Yes and no,” Nic said. “There is a failsafe that will not allow the machine to kill anyone, but it can be overridden by a special code that certain participants are allowed to get. As far as I know only I had such a code, but apparently my mate also managed to get one,” he added, giving me a disapproving look.


“You can also choose up to ten levels of experience and skill,” David continued. “There’s student, beginner, first level, expert, advanced expert etc…”


“That’s correct,” I said, interrupting him. “When Nic forced me to remove full physical contact and replace it with a modified version, I made the program more difficult by choosing advanced expert.”


“Do you think I could use this?” Lance looked eagerly at Nic and I.


“Well, it is Nic’s birthday present,” I said. “It’s up to him.”


“Of course Lance,” Nic said, “it’s a good training device.”


“Thank you, Your Highness.” Lance was smiling.


“But maybe I’ll lock Jamie out,” Nic added looking at me.


“You know that’s impossible, Nic. At this point we each have independent codes.”


“Yes, unfortunately I know,” Nic sighed. “But you’d better be careful Jamie, so help me. None of that full physical contact nonsense.”


Although I frowned at his words, I knew from his reaction he was serious.


“Whatever you say Nic.” I said, giving him a properly contrite look, but then turned away to look at Cody and winked.


The truth was I’d been running the machine on full physical contact for at least two weeks, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell Nic that fact.


“I had a feeling that maybe you would want to use it Nic, so I took the liberty of having Sandro send your armor, sword, and dagger. Maybe you would like to show Lance how it works.”


Before I could say another word Nic was stripping off his clothing. Soon His Majesty King Niklas was standing completely naked in front of the group. He put on his protective undergarment, and battle tunic. When it came time for his leather and armor, He stopped.


“This isn’t my armor.”


“Yes it is,” I smiled. “It’s your last and final birthday present. I had the palace blacksmith and arms-maker fashion a new set for you.”


“Well it’s just… it’s just fantastic,” he said.


And in fact it was. I had told the arms maker to spare no expense. The shiny armor had been fashioned from strong yet light alloys for fighting AND flying. It bore a small amount of gold and silver ornamentation and design, but nothing too ostentatious. The armor maker’s designer had fashioned the breastplate to mimic the natural muscles of my handsome mate only in slightly more exaggerated form. The design was ingenious, because the slightly budging muscles of the armor were actually a clever device to allow a slight space between the armor and Nic’s skin and battle tunic, thus avoiding chafing and allowing for a margin of safety if he sustained a blow to the chest. If that happened, the muscular bulges would crumple, thus giving its wearer some protection from a direct, full frontal, and possibly fatal blow.


In addition to the magnificent armor, I had one of the master leather workers from the royal guild fashion a leather battle tunic to be worn over top of his cloth battle tunic. It was light brown and quite soft and subtle… it was made up of a series of leather strips sewn together to form a protective layer that extended from Nic’s waist to just above his knees. The strips provided flexibility while the whole garment was tough enough to protect Nic from arrows or glancing sword blows. Much to my delight, the artisan had placed a small silver button in the center of the bottom of each strap, keeping with my intention of creating a practical yet attractive garment for the King of Icaria. This leather design theme extended to a band of leather strips that had been placed around the armholes of Nic’s breastplate, transfixed with the same silver buttons as the battle tunic.


Nic picked up his new sword and admired it. It was similar to the one he always carried. I knew that he was used to its weight and balance, and I had been sure to instruct the blacksmith to keep the design similar to the original so that the new sword would not be awkward or unwieldy. After the blade had been forged and fashioned, the arms maker added a grip and handle that was both ornamental and attractive. The pommel was a small golden ball, similar to the metal that made up the breastplate. The quillons were a small set of golden wings that seemed to sprout from the top of the very workmanlike, leather-wrapped hilt.


As he examined his new dagger, I could see a smile come to Nic’s face. He’d lost his original dagger when he’d rescued me, and used the one he had picked up from General Zakaria’s desk as a replacement. The new dagger was similar to Nic’s old one, but was slightly longer and thinner… it had a perfect heft and balance and could easily be thrown accurately. Its handle also mirrored the small set of wings that was on the sword, and a plain yet attractive scabbard that could be strapped to Nic’s waist protected it.


The final piece to complete the set was the leather baldric for the sword that Nic always wore on his back, between his wings. A leather strap that lay across his chest and was the same color and design as the battle tunic secured it.


Nic quickly slipped on the new armor, strapped on his new sword and dagger and stood before us looking like the Royal Dominion Archangel of the High Throne that he was. I was warmed by the pleasure I saw in his beaming smile.


“Magnificent,” I said. “I’m going to return to the palace now, and let you have some fun.”


“Lucky you,” David sniffed, looking disappointed.


“Don’t worry,” I said. “I guessed what your reaction would be, so I had your armor and weapons brought here while we were eating dinner. They’re in the changing rooms in the back – so are Lance’s.”


Without answering, David charged from the room through one of the small doors in the back, heading to the changing rooms.


I walked over to Nic, hugged him, and kissed him lightly on the lips. As I broke our kiss and embrace, I leaned over to him and whispered in his ear.


“If you’re not too late my love, this won’t be your last birthday present, if you know what I mean.” I gave him a smile.


“Don’t worry Jamie, I’ll be home in time… just keep the bed warm.”


I winked back at him, and as I left the hall I could hear the disembodied voice of the Battlecom begin its series of questions, as Nic began the process of activating it.