The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part III – The Alliance


Chapter 35


After Nic’s birthday celebration, plans for the alliance between the kingdoms and the Icarians continued to move forward. Nic and General Zakaria were discussing an expedition to search for Küronas, and Charles was working closely with the members of the Council.


There being no Icarian army as yet, Lance was given a newly formed cohort of Xannameirian troops to work with and train. The young men who made up the cohort had recently joined the army of Xannameir and instead of undergoing their usual induction and training back in Tahkor, General Zakaria suggested assigning them to the garrison of Konassas, under Lancelot’s command, in order to see what he could do with them. Nic readily agreed, and although it was a small cohort, Lance’s new assignment allowed him the opportunity to develop his command and leadership skills.


Cody worked on crafting protocol for the new kingdom of Icaria based on his previous and slowly resurfacing memories, and what I could learn from The Screen. He also continued to serve as ambassador to the four other kingdoms. David seemed to spend much of his time around the Battlecom. Although Nic and Lance used it to train on a regular basis, their other responsibilities often took a great deal of time from their day, so David took on the task of assisting the troops from the garrison who wished to use the Battlecom.


Miro remained absent, and a few weeks had passed since the day we’d bid him farewell as he rode out through the city gates on his journey to the Kingdom of Vorhalla, searching for answers to the puzzling question as to why an ancient gladiator’s pin had found its way into a bottle of wine from the famous Domain Carolus vineyards. And although I knew he could easily defend himself, I occasionally found myself musing as to what adventures – or trouble – he might be getting himself into. Philippe also voiced his concern from time to time, especially in the late evenings when he would retire to their shared apartment alone and sleep by himself in their bed. But with Barsetba almost always in his company, along with a fairly large group of musicians, singers and performers who had by now formed around them and visited the Amber Palace quite frequently, he was kept occupied and on the whole remained fairly content.


I, on the other hand, entered into a much different existence than I’d previously lived. By now I’d totally given up the ruse of being even slightly interested in the High Council’s planning sessions. While the alliance with the four kingdoms was extremely important, I began to let Charles act as my surrogate.


“But Jamie, don’t you think you should be aware of what we’re doing?” he asked when he stopped by one morning to accompany me to the first meeting of the day. I’d just informed him of my decision not to attend any but the most serious of sessions.


“I will be aware, Charles – that’s why you’ll go in my place,” I told him. “You’re better at it than I am, and I can always count on you to give me a full account.”


“Very well,” he said, “but if something serious comes up, I hope I won’t have to drag you along, or tell Nic and make him force you to go.”


“First of all, Charles,” I said, not hiding my irritation. “If there is something serious I will not only freely accompany you, but also will be more than interested in what’s happening. And second, there’s no reason to drag Niklas into this. He has enough to do, and he’s not in charge of everything I do or don’t do.”


“Very well,” Charles said once again, and headed off to his meeting.


As I suspected it would, everything went well and Charles enjoyed his role. In fact, I’d created a new position and title for him – High Consul to the Wizardry. Day after day he would go to meetings, conduct planning sessions, develop and create committees, discuss legislation and laws, and then report the results back to me. If something came up that required my presence I would attend, but for the most part my absences never seemed to be noticed. The benefit of placing Charles in this position was that it allowed me to pursue other activities that I’d come to realize would be crucial to the creation and survival of Icaria – activities that I now knew could only be conducted by the Wizard.


As much as I would have liked to use it, the church of Abbot Gude, led by the mysterious Holy Office, had denied me access to the vast library at Eagles Rock – a name I purposely began to use instead of “Eyre,” since according to Philippe that was the name that had originally been given to the mountain academy in the days of the Enlightened Ones. With its thousands of volumes, folios, manuscripts, and scrolls it would have been helpful to conduct research there, but since I was barred, I was forced to explore other less direct and more esoteric ways of gaining knowledge.


Of course, I had the acquired essences of three of the orbs of Lon Nol. I had the knowledge of the amulet, the use of the Screen, and after an appeal to the High Council of Kalas, resources from the other kingdoms. After the formation of the alliance, I asked the High Council to allow me access to any old records, books or historical information that might be helpful in my search for knowledge. Lord Ottavia agreed and went one step further, spreading the word to the libraries and government bureaus in the other kingdoms. From that time on, seldom a day would pass when a courier didn’t deliver a scroll, a book, or a manuscript to the palace for my perusal.


If it looked old, historical, or valuable, was written in some unknown language, or just appeared to be unusual, then it seemed that it was made available to me. Anything with a reference to angels, Küronas, Jonas, Croal, Icaria, The Plague, and other important words from a list that Charles and I had compiled was sent to me.


Some of the things that arrived were quite old, but unfortunately completely worthless. I found stories, myths and legends that made for interesting reading, but in actuality were total fantasies. Apocryphal accounts abounded, but were simply fanciful stories of what the writer had guessed, surmised, or hoped was the truth. Other sources had scraps and bits of information that might be useful. Finally, a select few actually appeared to be genuine documents from the glory days of Küronas.


Good information was scarce. Even the seemingly genuine material was sorely lacking. Books often had many pages missing, scrolls were damaged and unreadable, and sometimes only scraps of manuscripts would be placed in my hands. Most of the time they would be so small and dissociated from any current knowledge, that they usually proved to be totally worthless. But even under these discouraging circumstances, I was still able to slowly piece together some information that was proving valuable.


The Amber Palace was usually a peaceful and quiet haven. So I began a series of long and solitary days, locked in our private apartment with one goal in mind – to become the wizard that I now realized Icaria would need. I’d already assimilated three of the orbs: Snake, Bat, and Owl. After having served as their vessel for many months, I learned quite quickly that each one was singularly powerful as an independent and separate entity; I also began to realize a few other things about them.


Almost immediately after acquiring an orb, I found that I was able to tap into its powers, but as time went on the subtleties of each orb gradually unfolded. Like a flower slowly bursting into bloom or a vine steadily growing and wrapping its tendrils around a trellis, the essences of the orbs worked their way deeper into me – growing greater in power and complexity.


The essences were somehow linked to each other in a vast and intricate network. In time, as more essences were acquired by a potential wizard, and they continued to grow and develop inside of him, they also began to interconnect and interact with each other, forming a matrix of strength and power. Each essence was a powerful force in and of itself, but together the sum of the whole was exponentially greater than just a simple total.


I also began to realize why I couldn’t have shared any part of the essence of the Snake with Loran when I naively proposed it to him back at the Abbey, upon our first meeting. And I came to understand why he sought my death.


An orb’s essence eventually became so intertwined with a wizard that if it were somehow removed, it would result in eventual death. In fact, the only way someone could acquire an orb’s essence was upon the death of the wizard who held it. At that time, the essences would leave the body of the dead wizard and enter the body of a new prospective wizard, or encapsulate themselves once again as orbs until a qualified candidate emerged.


By now I’d not only learned that I was an Imperial High Seraphim Archangel – often known simply as an “Imperial,” just as Royal Dominion Archangels of the High Throne like Nic and Lance were often referred to as “Royal Thrones” – but also, I’d more specifically begun to learn just what that designation meant. From what I discovered, I’d been genetically designed to be able to accept the essences of the orbs. No one but an Imperial High Seraphim could do this, and as far as I knew there were only two in existence – Loran, and myself.


I learned that there could only be one wizard at a time. And in order for that to happen, all of the twelve essences had to eventually be absorbed by the prospective candidate. Upon final absorption, the wizard was complete – although the growth, integration and intertwining of the essences would continue for many years to come. After the final orb was assumed by the wizard, an investiture ceremony would follow, conducted along with the coronation ceremony, and the pledging ceremony of the wizard and king. But all of this could only occur if the Kingdom of Icaria was established, and one successful candidate emerged as the true wizard.


The most important title of the Wizard of Icaria was Lord Protector of the Realm. A fully matured Imperial would, as wizard, have vast powers and knowledge, and act as the lord protector of the kingdom. Through the wizard’s powers, the infrastructure of the kingdom was created. A fully invested wizard was the source of the strength and power that held the kingdom together. I still didn’t have enough knowledge to understand why and how this occurred, but I knew that as wizard, I was to become the lynchpin of Icarian society.


The wizard also held the title and position of Guardian of the Monastery of Infinity, which I was beginning to realize was an important function, although I had no idea what the Monastery of Infinity was, or its significance to Küronas or Icaria. I knew that one of Nic’s titles as king was Duke of Agramon, and I assumed that somehow my function and his title were interconnected. I knew that even Charles was unsure of the purpose of the enigmatic Monastery and its mysterious tower. I’d asked him about it numerous times and his reply was always that he didn’t have any answers for me regarding that topic.


Charles described a great tower located in the center of the Square of Ondra, bordered on all sides by the four splendid and ornate ceremonial gates: The Gate of the People, Ondra’s gate, Wizard’s Gate, and the Gate of the Dukes of Agramon. The tower itself rose majestically over the city. It was so tall that its top was sometimes obscured by clouds. Who had built it and why they’d created it had somehow been forgotten in the mists of time.


There was no visible entrance to the great tower and although there were structures that appeared to be something like windows near the very top of it, no one had ever been able to gain access to them. Even the Enlightened Ones, for all their knowledge and technology, could never get them open or see anything through their black, onyx-colored glass panes. Attempts to smash through them using everything from machines to explosives had failed. The tower just sat there, rising into the clouds. It appeared to be structurally sound and had never created any problems, so eventually it was just treated as a historical landmark, its meaning and function long since a part of the music of the past, and came to be an accepted, if mysterious, part of the great city of Küronas that rose up around it.


One late afternoon Nic came home from Battlecom practice and found me in my usual position – staring off into space as I accessed The Screen covertly in my head. Sitting next to me, he placed his hand on my knee, which was his way of letting me know he was there, without startling me.


“Still studying diligently?” he asked.


“Yes,” I said wearily. “I’m learning more, but just once I wish the person who assembled this information could have added some type of commentary or opinion. All I ever get is facts.”


“Maybe so, Jamie,” he said, “but I think you need to understand something – something I’ve been thinking about for some time now.”


“Oh? What’s that?” I said.


“Who ever did this to you – made you like you are – did it for a reason. From what we’ve heard from Charles, learned from Philippe, and pieced together from our pale memories, the Enlightened Ones knowledge of their world and how it worked was incredible.”


“Yes, but what does that have to do with me?”


“I’ve been thinking about it Jamie,” he said, pausing to take my hand in his. “If they had all this ability, why didn’t they make us all like you? Why didn’t they make themselves this way?”


“Well, there was the plague, and the opening of dimensions that Charles talks about,” I said.


“Still, if they could create this talent,’ he continued, “than why didn’t they use it on themselves?”


“It’s something I’ve never thought about,” I said.


“It’s something I’ve thought about a lot,” he replied. “Someone invested a great deal in creating the orbs and making you receptive to them. You’re something special – otherwise we all would have these powers. Your talents and abilities were structured for a purpose. I’ve always thought that from the moment we emerged from our coffins and learned you could read minds. Even though we don’t remember much of our past lives, I don’t need a good memory to understand this.”


“And what is my great purpose?” I said shrugging my shoulders and giving him an inquisitive look.


“We don’t know that – yet.” He said, and then looking hard and long into my eyes, he added, “But I do know one thing: mate or not, I ended up in that coffin with you for a reason.”


Of course – you’re my mate,” I said, giving him a small smile and squeezing his hand.


“Correction,” he said, continuing his unblinking gaze into my eyes. “Prince Hippolito was your mate, or at least your betrothed mate. I was a gladiator. Gladiators fight, they defend, they kill and they protect. I was put in that coffin to protect you. Of course I love you,” he said softening the tone in his voice. “I love you more than anything, but even if I didn’t, my purpose was, and is, to protect you.”


“From what, or who?” I asked. “Loran?”


“I don’t think so,” he said. “Loran is some type of aberration. When Alexander died, your brother lost his right to the wizardry. I don’t claim to understand it, but somehow that right passed to you. Although, I’m beginning to wonder if Loran ever had it to begin with – you and he are so very different.”


“But we’re both Imperials,” I said.


“Maybe so, but to me it’s like Loran was created for one particular reason. You came after him, and were also created for a particular reason, but the reasons for his existence and yours are different.”


“Uhm, I can see you really have given this a great deal of thought,” I said.


“Jamie. I don’t have any answers, but I get a feeling deep inside when I think about it. I can’t describe it. I only know that I’m sure I’m right.


“From what you’ve told me about the orbs, you will eventually have to face Loran. That fight will be between you and him – two wizards, battling for the… what did you call it?”


“The Seraphic throne,” I said flatly.


“Yes, the Seraphic throne, but there’s more to it than that. Don’t ask me what; I have no answers, but I know there is much more to it,” he said, putting his arm around me. “The orbs are definitely a part of it, but only a part.”


I moved closer to him and laid my head on his shoulder; I didn’t answer him, but I knew in my heart that he was right. I also had some of the same feelings he had just related, and so as the days progressed I continued my solitary studies and research.


I had learned much about the orbs, but there were many other things about them I didn’t know, and The Screen and knowledge in the amulet I wore were of no help. Like Nic, I often had the feeling that the orbs were even greater and had a higher purpose than any I’d been able to discern thus far. But try as I might, I was unable to discover as much as I would have liked. I could only hope that if I absorbed more orbs, that portion of The Screen coded <Restricted> that blocked my access to additional information would continue to unlock as it had with my previous absorptions, for I suspected that in that presently forbidden place I might find the answers I needed.


I pondered all of these things as I studied the information brought daily to me, accessed the screen in my head and attempted to learn more about the power of the orbs that were now dwelling within me. I knew that knowledge would be our most valuable tool as our quest for Küronas continued, so I prepared as much as I could for the struggle I knew lay ahead.


In addition to my studies regarding the orbs, Küronas, and the old empire of The Enlightened Ones, I also undertook an intensive study of the religion of Abbot Gude, known as Sarjanism. I became obsessed with it, and worked in earnest to become an expert in it. After the meeting of the Grand Council of Kingdoms and subsequent discussions with various officials about the Holy Office, I decided that the more knowledge I could gain about this potentially dangerous enemy, the better our chances would be at accomplishing our goals of finding Küronas, establishing the Kingdom of Icaria and remaining alive in the process.


I learned more about the reign of Kartannus the Great, and the subsequent power struggle that led to the three hundred year War of the Kingdoms that had decimated the land – a land that had finally begun to recover from the plague and the unifying conquest of Kartannus. During the great War of Kingdoms, the political situation had been quite grim, and the survival of the remaining humans on this continent in serious doubt. But at the very end of the bitter three hundred year war, something occurred that caused its abrupt end – the rise of a new religion.


From my research, I learned that twelve hundred years ago there emerged a new leader, but this leader was not a general or a king, but a spiritual leader, named Sarjanus. Born in a small town in the kingdom of Aradamia, he came from a family of poor, illiterate peasants, but as a young boy of twelve he exhibited intelligence beyond his years and was sent to Farenta, the capitol of the Kingdom of Aradamia, to the royal school of Aradamia to become a scribe.


After his training, he remained in Aradamia where he worked as a scribe for one of the ministers to the king until he was thirty-seven years old. In the summer of his thirty-seventh year, he accompanied the minister and four others on a diplomatic mission to the court of Vorhalla, which had been allied with Aradamia during the most recent war. The current war had been particularly bloody, and both sides were at a stalemate. Thousands of lives were lost and important and needed resources exhausted. The mission of the minister – whose name I learned was Axon Bloss – was to journey to the court of Vorhalla carrying copies of the latest peace treaty proposed by Xannameir and its current ally Kalas, and to discuss a mutually agreeable response to them. One night, about a week after they had entered the Ardentin forest, they were attacked by a pack of wolves as they sat around their campfire. Only Sarjanus, and a younger scribe who was severely wounded, survived.


Sarjanus tended the wounded boy as best as he could, and for days he wandered the forest, carrying and dragging the young scribe. Finally, a week after the attack, the young man died and Sarjanus was left alone. As he continued to wander, he prayed for help. He was beginning to starve and suffer from dehydration, and his aimless wanderings had taken him nowhere.


On the eighth day after the attack, Sarjanus emerged from the forest into a rocky, mountainous area and slowly began to climb the foothills of the endless mountain range that stretched before him. Within hours of starting, he was caught in a terrible storm that rolled through the mountains. All around him, lightning flashed in the night sky and thunder roared as he was pelted first with hail, and then with great torrents of rain.


Screaming out for help, he prayed that his life be spared. Suddenly there was a blinding flash of light in the sky and a great clap of thunder boomed above his head. Sarjanus fell to the ground, weeping and praying. But as quickly as it came up, the storm passed on, leaving Sarjanus still lying on the ground praying incoherently. He prayed – his forehead pressed into the muddy ground – for hours. Finally realizing the storm had ceased and his life was spared, he lifted his head and saw a large tree on the slope of the mountain in front of him. It had been struck by lightning during the storm and was still burning. By the light it shed, Sarjanus could see the outline of something near the top of the mountain. He waited until daylight, and then began to climb the mountain.


Sarjanus was a scribe of the court of Aradamia not a mountain climber, but after two days of struggle he reached the summit of the mountain and a fantastic fortress. The fortress had a fresh spring with cool flowing water, and he was able to quench his thirst. Fruit trees grew around the outside of the fortress walls, and Sarjanus was able to satisfy his hunger. He thanked the gods for his salvation and as he explored the great fortress, he was amazed at what he found, not the least of which was a great library. He spent two months in the fortress, reading some of the books in the library and living off the fruit trees outside the fortress wall and the water that bubbled up from the spring.


As he continued to read, he found references to winged men created by the ancients who’d once lived in the City of Light, and he realized that these writings were a prophecy of the future. As he continued to study the ancient texts, he learned that these creatures the ancient texts described would someday come and take their place in the world… and rule it.


Sarjanus was amazed as he learned more about these beings. They were not men, but a new species that had been formed out of the alchemy of the ancient ones. The more Sarjanus read, the more he was convinced that this act of unnatural creation and the results thereof were dangerous and evil. He began to speculate that if this race of creatures ever did emerge as the ancient scrolls predicted, they would crush the world and drive all humans at best into slavery, and at worst, to extinction. As he continued to study, a revelation came to him and Sarjanus knew what he was meant to do.


During this time, he also meditated on the fact that of all the men in his party that had begun the journey to Vorhalla, he alone, had been saved by the gods. The gods had also saved him from the storm when it threatened to kill him, and through the storm and the light of the burning tree, the gods had guided him to this place and these ancient texts for a purpose.


The more he thought, prayed, and meditated, the more he came to realize that the gods had spared his life for the special purpose of the salvation of humanity. And he began to realize that his ordained mission was to stop the endless wars of the kingdoms and prepare his world for the eventual coming of the demons who would attempt to destroy them. After two months had passed, Sarjanus took a supply of food and some key books from the library and began the journey back to Aradamia. Then, a strange thing happened.


Sarjanus was not a soldier, hunter, or woodsmen. He was a simple scribe, and his sense of direction and ability to survive in the forest were questionable at best. So without map or compass, he began his journey back to Arademia. While he attempted to follow the rising and setting of the sun and the movement of the stars, within a few days he was again hopelessly lost. But unlike the first time he had been lost in the Ardentin forest, Sarjanus’ faith was now strong. He knew that the gods had spared him to be a prophet, and he knew that he would be delivered.


He continued to wander for two more days until, on the evening of the second day, he heard a noise ahead of him in the forest. He made his way to the source of the sound and there, lying on the forest floor, he found a young boy who had, it seemed, been brutally attacked and left for dead. Using what he could find in the forest, along with water from a nearby stream, Sarjanus ministered to the young man. He tended his wounds and fed him some of the fruit that he had packed for his journey to Aradamia. The boy had been gravely wounded but Sarjanus cared for him, and when he seemed strong enough to travel, the scribe carried him through the forest. For three days Sarjanus carried the boy, constantly monitoring his condition and caring for him as best as he could. By the fourth day, Sarjanus was exhausted, but he stumbled on.


Sarjanus was rapidly becoming weak and dehydrated, and as he staggered along carrying the boy, he began to hallucinate. He started to hear voices all around him, but he continued to push his body to its limits. Finally he lost consciousness and collapsed on the forest floor under the weight of the boy.


An hour later he awakened to the same sound of men’s voices – voices he though he’d imagined, but were in reality those of nearby soldiers from the Kingdom of Vorhalla who were on patrol. Looking up, he could see a soldier hovering over him, and when he saw that Sarjanus was awake he called his companions, who surrounded the half dead scribe and carried both he and the young man he’d tended back to their camp. Offered food and water, Sarjanus quickly regained his strength. It was then he learned that the boy he’d found was Prince Oliver, the son of King Vladimir of Vorhalla. Oliver, along with some of his companions, had been on a scouting mission, and was ambushed. All had been killed except for the young prince, who’d been left for dead. After their attackers had fled, the prince had managed to drag himself a few hundred yards through the forest to a clearing where he collapsed, and was later found by Sarjanus.


Sarjanus and Oliver were taken to the court of Vorhalla where their story was told to the king. In gratitude for saving the life of his son, Vladimir offered Sarjanus whatever he desired: money, land, even a title, but instead of grasping for the rewards Vladimir offered, Sarjanus related his tale of the angel creatures to the king and his court, who were captivated by it.


Sarjanus asked the king only for the chance to tell his story throughout the land of Vorhalla without persecution, and to warn the people of the prophecy. Vladimir agreed and soon Sarjanus was traveling the countryside, preaching his own strange religious message of prophecy, salvation, vigilance, and redemption. Quickly he drew followers to himself and within a few years his disciples were throughout the Kingdom of Vorhalla. They, in turn, went to the other kingdoms preaching their message and just as in Vorhalla, the war-weary citizens of these lands flocked to the message of Sarjanus.


Promises of peace along with everlasting life, coupled with the threat of a supernatural enemy, created a strong religious elixir for the illiterate masses, and soon the religion of Sarjanus grew by leaps and bounds. The people had grown weary of the endless wars of the nobility, and only desired peace. Sarjanus offered them that and more – redemption.


But not everyone was enamored by Sarjanus’ message. One such individual was Axil, the King of Aradamia, who was not too pleased that his former scribe had become a great prophet. Aradamia had become wealthy as a trading kingdom and Axil feared that Sarjanus’ message could undermine his base of power, which relied heavily on slave labor to produce the goods that Aradamia traded. Sarjanus himself decried slavery, and this message alone was enough to convert great hordes of slaves and make them rebellious.


Five years after the conversion of Sarjanus, the scribe journeyed back to his homeland. The king’s spies followed him constantly, reporting his every move to Axil. As Sarjanus began to convert more and more of the slaves of Aradamia, Axil decided that the scribe must be killed.


Axil sent Sarjanus a message telling him that he had been reading some of the writings of the prophet and was so moved by them that he was ready to be converted and baptized into this new and marvelous faith. He suggested that Sarjanus and he meet by the river Dorn, where he’d allow Sarjanus to baptize him and the entire royal court of Aradamia. Sarjanus and his followers journeyed to the town of Dornsource – the headwaters of the river Dorn – and waited for the king and his court. But instead the king sent an army, who attacked Sarjanus and his followers, and killed the prophet. His body was taken to Farenta, where it was lashed to a stone pillar in the middle of the city and allowed to rot in full sight of the inhabitants of the capitol city.


But Axil’s treachery returned to haunt him. When the sun next arose on the city of Farenta, Sarjanus’ body had mysteriously disappeared; in its place, surrounding the stone pillar, were hundreds of flowers. Claims of Sarjanus’ resurrection raced throughout the land. The slaves of Farenta, under the leadership of a renegade slave named Galaxon, who had converted to the new religion, marched on the city and engaged the army of Axil. The fighting was so fierce that it was said that a man couldn’t walk from one end of the great forum of Farenta to the other and avoid stepping on a dead body.


Axil was overthrown and Galaxon seized the crown. In gratitude for his victory, Galaxon ordered all of the slaves of Aradamia freed if they would convert to the faith of Sarjanus. He built a sacred shrine at the site of the pillar where Sarjanus’ body had been tied, and it became a great center of pilgrimage through the entire land. The pilgrims brought with them their money, and the Kingdom of Aradamia continued to grow in wealth and power.


One year after the death of Sarjanus, Galaxon surprised the world by publicly proclaiming his desire to continue the work of the Prophet and stepped down from the throne, placing the crown on another’s head – Eglet, a general in his army. In his year as king, Galaxon came to realize just how strong an influence the religion of Sarjanus had become throughout the land and its people – and how much more it could grow in power and influence under the right leader. Turning his back on the throne of Aradamia, Galaxon shaved his head and took to wearing the robes of a monk. He, along with Sarjanus’ closest companions, created the Holy Office – a type of religious council, which eventually established its seat in Wheems, a small town outside Wrenstatten – the capitol city of the Kingdom of Vorhalla. The fortress of Eagles Rock was claimed for the sect and turned into an abbey, and as the years turned to decades and the decades to centuries, the Holy Office and the religion – Sarjanism – that it promulgated established dominance throughout the entire continent.


As I studied the history of Sarjanism I was amazed at its development, and while I learned much, every new revelation brought with it more questions. The church had acquired vast political and economic power, and had on more than one occasion removed entire dynasties from thrones. They played geopolitical and economic games with the masterful strategies of a chess player, and were able to exert influence in every aspect of society – only ignoring areas they deemed minor or insignificant to their purposes and plan.


They were like a disease that takes over a body, spreads rapidly, and will not relinquish its grip no matter what treatment is used. I wasn’t sure how or why, but I suspected Galaxon had seen a great opportunity to achieve dominance in the land – not as a king, but as a religious leader. And while Kartannus the Great’s death had left a great power vacuum that led to three hundred years of terror and war, Galaxon – in a masterful stroke – became in effect the new Kartannus, ruling under the mantle of religion.


As often happens when institutions become rich and strong, money and power led to corruption, tyranny, and domination. While freed slaves had originally been the base of Sarjanus’ followers, and the prophet himself denounced slavery, the Holy Office currently had the greatest number of slaves in the land. In fact, although slavery itself had been outlawed, the Holy Office actually perpetuated it by creating a new class of citizens – Indentures of the Holy Office who, while not slaves in name, were slaves in fact. Much of the wealth and power that the Sacred Diet of Wheems wielded so effectively had been built on the bones of these so-called Indentures of the Holy Office.


It started, as most things do, rather innocently. Some of the followers of Sarjanus were so devout and fervent in their faith that they pledged their lives and fortunes to the Holy Office. These individuals didn’t wish to become religious leaders, priests, or monks since they felt they were unworthy of that honor, but instead offered their lives through work, sacrifice, mortification of the flesh, fasting, and prayer to the Holy Office. In time, the demand for these volunteers grew – so much so that the demand soon far outstripped the supply of the willing. Eventually they were replenished by other Indentures who weren’t so willing to become slaves of the Holy Office, but were recruited through trickery, coercion, poverty, hunger and threats – just as Luc and his brother Jon had been heartlessly taken from their mother when she was forced to sell them for a meager ration of food to the “Holy Bloodsuckers”, as King Oslo had called them.


The more I studied the history of the Sarjanist religious movement, the more I realized that over time, the entire hierarchy of the Holy Office had become an edifice built on terror, intimidation, and fear. They were a powerful force throughout every kingdom, and I came to understand the fear that had been exhibited in The Great Council of Kingdoms when King Oslo and Prince Drakis first voiced their objections to an alliance with Icaria. And little by little a feeling grew inside me, a feeling that chilled me to my bones, for I knew that it would only be a matter of time until we would have to confront the real power that resided in Wheems.