The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part III – The Alliance


Chapter 36


“Care for a drink?” I said, holding up a metal cup filled with ice-cold water to Niklas.


Breathing hard and nodding his head, he reached down and took it from my hand.


“That was a very impressive demonstration,” I said, smiling up at him as I watched the sweat run from his face in thick rivulets and drip on to the fighting mat of the Battlecom.


It was late afternoon, and I’d just arrived at the training building to begin preparing for my evening sparring session. The other soldiers had completed their practice for the day, and Nic had just concluded a spectacular sword and dagger fight with a creature I had never seen before. Finishing his water, he descended from the Battlecom, gave me a quick kiss, and strode off to the changing rooms for a much-needed bath.


“I’ll see you later, Jamie,” he called out as he vanished into the changing room.


“I should be back at the Amber Palace at my usual time,” I shouted to him. Calling Luc and Jonathan to my side, I began to prepare for my practice.


Even as I was preparing for my future as the wizard of Icaria, the rest of the Icarians were also making their plans for our eventual journey to Küronas. A few weeks after the convocation of the Grand Council of Kingdoms, most of Nic’s meetings and strategy sessions with General Zakaria were complete and he began to spend more time training with David on the Battlecom. Lance would occasionally join them in their practice, and when General Zakaria reassigned Juston Tark to the garrison at Konassas with orders to act as liaison between the Kingdom of Icaria and the Xannameirian army, he also entered into the sparring sessions with the boys.


But while Lance would spar with Nic and David, he also had the responsibility of command for his own cohort – a mission that he took quite seriously. Nic often commented on how Lance’s efforts had turned his inexperienced soldiers into an efficient and deadly fighting unit. Since Lance’s cohort was composed of young men who had been recent recruits from Xannameir, most of their training had been with him – a fact he took great pride in. And with Nic and David’s help, he used many of the aggressive tactics taken from the Icarian gladiators’ training regime in working with the recruits he’d been chosen to lead.


At first, the young men – while not overtly resistant to his command – were at best not fully convinced that following a nineteen-year-old boy with wings was something they were eager to do. But Lance’s command style, paired with his amazing strength and fighting ability, quickly earned their respect. Cody recounted to me how most of the cohort, during Lance’s initial speech to them, exhibited everything from boredom and indifference to genuine disrespect for the young angel, whose tall, thin frame and attractive appearance made him appear more an aristocratic dandy of privilege than the true warrior he was.


Apparently it was not uncommon for young, inexperienced noblemen to be given an officer’s commission and a command as part of their training to become proper aristocrats. A few became competent, but most considered it one of the many requirements on the road to becoming a lord and gentleman. The unfortunate fact was that the men under these pseudo-officers were at best poorly led, and at worst sometimes placed in dangerous and life-threatening positions.


That all changed the second day the cohort met when, after rousing them before dawn, Lance ordered a forced march fifteen miles out of the city and then back again with complete battle armor, weapons, and full supply packs strapped to each man. Nic told me how Lance, outfitted similarly, led the boys out of the city into the foothills; then, as the heat of the day increased, ordered them back.


Chuckling with obvious delight as he recounted the story, Nic described how, as the cohort advanced toward Konassas, Lance suddenly ordered them to run. Immediately Lance, who’d been in the lead, broke into a sprint as they approached the eastern city gate. Passing through the gate, he waited in the garrison parade ground for the others to catch up. One by one, the boys dragged themselves into the city, having endured the hoots and catcalls of the gatekeepers and sentries perched high above on top of the city wall.


When the last of them, exhausted and out of breath, finally joined Lance on the parade ground, he engaged them one by one in a series of sparring matches. Most couldn’t even lift their swords and surrendered, and those that didn’t quickly went down in defeat. Dismissing them, Lance reminded them that they would be repeating similar exercises in the future and it would be best if they ate and went to bed. That evening in the barracks, a few of the more experienced soldiers who had fought Lance during his demonstration at the Grand Council of Kingdoms told the new recruits his skill – including the soldier whose wrist Lance had broken, who recounted his story with his arm still splinted and bandaged. The next day, the boys of the cohort appeared before Lance with a different attitude and greater respect for their commander.


But as the days went on and Nic and David delightedly regaled me with stories of Lance’s adventures – and sometimes misadventures – I realized that just as I’d gained additional respect for the young Royal Throne because of the compassion and concern he showed his opponents in the now legendary contest during the Council of Kingdoms, so too his cohort was coming to develop the same respect. While he worked them hard and demanded the best, Lancelot did everything possible to treat the troops under his command fairly and made every effort to show them he needed them just as much as they needed him.


When Aaron Blaze injured himself in a fall from the sparring ring of the Battlecom, it was Lance who personally carried him to one of the healers and sat with him throughout the evening and night, making sure he would recover. When word reached Lance that Sarum Gabbon’s father had taken gravely ill and was dying, he made the arrangements to send the boy home, taking care to make sure he had a strong and swift horse, and gold to pay his way. As Sarum prepared to leave, Lance instructed him not to return until he was sure his mother and younger siblings would be fine, in addition to reminding him that if he found he needed to leave the army to support them, he would be discharged from his service without any negative consequences.


Since it was customary for Xannameirian cohorts to take nicknames – Juston Tark’s cohort, for instance, had been designated Cohort Wolf – Lance’s cohort had also been given a designation. Called Cohort Hawk for obvious reasons, Lance quietly came to me one evening and asked if I would present his men with their battle flag and insignia since it was customary to do so at the end of their training, when they officially became a true, active fighting cohort. I agreed and the next day, dressed in my finest tunic and riding cloak, and wearing the small gold band on my head, I rode a fully caparisoned Arax onto the parade ground. Philippe and Barsetba procured the services of two trumpeters and a drummer, all of whom were former soldiers now residing in Konassas, to play a military tattoo. I dismounted as Lance’s cohort stood at attention, made a small speech, and formally presented the battle flag to Lance – a large black hawk diving to the earth on a field of red – to the cohort.


Then I presented each soldier with the cohort’s insignia – a pair of golden wings similar in design to the wings on the amulet that hung around my neck. And while I usually wasn’t comfortable with overt displays of my powers, for Lance’s sake – although he hadn’t asked me – I acknowledged his hard work and effort by making a display during the insignia awards ceremony, magically creating each pair of wings out of a brilliant flash of light that I formed in my hand. I couldn’t help but smile inwardly as I watched each young man approach me, and blink in surprise as the flash of light dancing in my hand suddenly transformed itself into a beautiful pair of golden wings. Each time I thanked them for their courage and steadfastness in completing their training as I pressed the wings into the breastplate of their armor just above their hearts. Once there, they became permanently fused into their armor and I watched as they all kept taking furtive glances at their chests, stealing yet one more glance at the golden wings while radiating looks of great pride.


As the days progressed, more and more soldiers were using the Battlecom. Since this valuable training resource was available, it was agreed that it should be used to its fullest capacity and so Juston Tark, with Nic’s assistance, created a master training schedule so that as many of the garrison as possible could train on it.


From the very beginning of the training sessions, it was interesting to see various individuals use the Battlecom. It had proven to be quite an effective tool for the soldiers and during the day when the building was active, it was always possible to see a crowd gathered around the ring watching the sparring and mock battles.


The Battlecom had initially been designed for Icarians who were much stronger than humans, so Nic and Lance soon learned that the higher and more advanced settings had to be restricted for the soldiers of the garrison, since many had been hurt in the early days of its use. No human was allowed above Intermediate Expert, and very few had even reached this stage. The size and ferocity of the opponents the machine could generate – even on lower settings – could be fatal.


Nic and David, on the other hand, were awesome creatures to witness when confronted with the complexity of the Battlecom. Because of their superior strength, swiftness, and wings, they reverted to pure gladiatorial mode once the program was engaged and they confronted their foes. The most powerful and terrifying creature one could meet on any field of battle was a Dominion Archangel – be they Throne or Royal Throne.


Starting with a strong, highly articulated and wonderfully flexible skeleton wrapped with incredibly powerful yet delicate musculature, Dominion Archangels were stronger than any human. Yet, they were light, slim and delicate enough that their powerful wings could easily and quickly carry them to great heights, or allow them to fly at blinding speed. Their lungs had the largest surface area of any Icarian, allowing for greater transfer of oxygen to their bodies, and their dual hearts and specialized circulatory systems were highly efficient. Lean, muscular, and incredibly strong, Dominion Archangels were created for battle. There were two classes, both of which had been engineered for mortal combat.


The first class of Dominions, usually just referred to as Thrones, were engines of destruction with wings, and as of yet we had not encountered any of them. The second class of Dominions – known as Royal Dominion Archangels of the High Throne, or just Royal Thrones for short – had been created to both rule and defend. In addition to the same awesome physical characteristics of average thrones, Royal Thrones had a highly developed nervous system and brain structure.


Royal Dominion Thrones had the capacity to not only defend the kingdom, but the intelligence to rule it. Nic, and Lance possessed an innate ability to learn, grasp and retain new concepts. They also had superior cognitive and logical skills, and the ability to think and react very quickly. I often shuddered when I thought that Matthew, the Royal Throne who had gone with my brother Loran, was probably serving at his side in the same capacity that Lance was serving at ours, though I took some comfort in the hope that Loran’s rampant egotism might prevent him from utilizing Matthew’s abilities to their fullest.


David & Miro, on the other hand were a sub-class of the Dominion class. The Twins, along with the other gladiators who fought in the arena at Castle Rood, were of the Archangel Avenger sub-class. Charles told me the differences were small since they were still Dominions, although one of their traits was the different markings and coloration of their wings.


Nic and David were already masters of combat and it only took Lance a short time to work his way through the levels of the Battlecom and fight on the Advanced Expert level. Watching them was an incredible sight, as they vanquished foes from Lavonian Mud Demons to Acid Spitting Battle Ghouls. The most fun of all was watching Nic fight with a clone of himself on Injury Level Engagement, Advanced Expert level, with the full physical contact setting engaged.


In addition to everyone else, I also had time scheduled on the Battlecom. My time was always in the early evening, after the hectic schedule of the daily training sessions was over. I’d gotten into the habit of leaving right before Charles was done with the last council session of the day, so that I would not be caught and trapped into listening to a long and boring summation of the day’s activities.


I would have three horses ready and after changing, would spirit Jonathan and Luc out of the palace with me. By the time I arrived at the training building to begin using the machine, Nic would be finished for the day, have taken his bath, and be on his way to the palace; Lance would be with his cohort. By Nic’s orders, David would stay behind and wait so that he could escort us back to the Amber Palace after my session was over. Since it was always dark by the time I bathed and left the building, Nic had been concerned about the two younger boys and me leaving on our own and traveling through the darkened streets of Konassas without an escort.


After a few days of training, I established a schedule and plan. Upon first entering the building, I instructed the soldiers that they should always leave and allow the boys and me private use of the training center. So as soon as we arrived, those using the facility would always excuse themselves. Locking the doors, the two younger boys and I would have total and private use of the Battlecom and any other training devices that had been installed.


I made both boys swear that these sessions were strictly confidential and private between us, and they were not to discuss them with anyone. Even David, although he was escorting us back to the palace after we were finished, would leave for the hour I scheduled, spending time with some of the Xannameirian soldiers he’d befriended. After our sessions I would take a bath, and then we’d usually return back to our palace with David leading the way. Most of the time we arrived just in time to have dinner with the other members of our group. Nothing was ever said, and therefore we were able to remain discreet.


Nic had seen to it that a bath and changing rooms were installed in the training building so that those using the facilities could change from their normal clothing to proper battle attire, then clean up and change back into their daily clothing after their session was over.


Now I stood silently next to the Battlecom, prepared to begin my session. Early on in my sessions, I taught Luc how to monitor the Battlecom and access its settings. So while Jonathan and I changed into our sparring armor, Luc adjusted the settings to my personal preferences.


As usual I called for my opponent and set the scene. After I shouted engage I gripped my sword and began to fight my opponent. Although Nic had forbidden it, I continued to set the machine for full physical contact, using an advanced expert setting. As a warm up exercise, I’d called up a Farsian cave ogre. The massive creature, wielding a large spiked club, came at me. For one split second I lost my concentration, and it clipped the top of my left wing. I winced in pain and shouted ‘STOP.’ Instantly, the Ogre froze and then disappeared.


“Got your wing clipped did you, little sparrow?” a voice called out from one of the darkened far corners of the training room.


Startled, I swung around on the balls of my feet.


“Who’s there?” I called out.


“You’re doing it all wrong, sparrow,” the voice called back.


“I demand that you show yourself,” I called out.


While I didn’t want to show it, I could hear the fear rising in my voice. The last time a disembodied voice spoke to me from the shadows, it had come from my older brother, and the possibility that he was here sent chills racing up my spine.


“Relax sparrow, I’m not going to hurt you.”


The voice grew louder and as I strained my eyes, a figure emerged from the shadows.


“Brotus,” I shouted, both annoyed and relieved. “What are you doing here? I ordered everyone to leave while Jonathan and I train.”


Slowly and deliberately a stout and hardy man strolled from the shadows of the corner of the room to the Battlecom. He was dressed in a dirty battle tunic, and walked with a slight limp. His name was Brotus, and he was one of the senior soldiers stationed with the garrison. He was much older than all of the other young and fresh-faced men who formed the elite corps of the garrison of Konassas. I guessed him to be as old as General Zakaria, maybe even a bit older. His hair was iron gray and a rough, untrimmed beard framed his face. He looked fat and out of shape, and his left eye was covered by an eye patch, fixed there to hide the empty socket he carried, courtesy of a sword fight many years ago. I couldn’t believe that the garrison of Konassas, which prided itself on having the best troops in the entire kingdom, would still keep a man so obviously old, disabled, and out of shape.


“I ordered everyone to leave when I do my training,” I repeated as Brotus continued to approach the Battlecom.


“I’ve been here for the past few nights little sparrow, watching you and your friends play.”


By now I was bristling with anger. First this dolt of a soldier had defied my orders, and second, he insisted on insulting me by referring to me as a tiny bird. Brotus continued to advance toward us, and as he got closer I could see a smile come to his battle-scarred face.


“You’re going at it all wrong, sparrow,” he once more repeated, calling up to me. “Your wings are too large for you to be using that sword and dagger as weapons.”


“And what do you suggest?” I barked back. I almost added the words “you fat old bastard,” as an insult, but I held my tongue.


“I know what you’re thinking, sparrow. You think I’m some fat, old, broken-down, poor excuse of a soldier, don’t you?”


I could feel my face turn red. He was right, that’s exactly what I was thinking as he made his way towards us, and I was a bit embarrassed and ashamed that I’d so readily projected those emotions to him.


“Well, they keep old Brotus here for a reason, sparrow. Why don’t I show you?”


“Show me what?” I said as I glared at him.


“Show you what I know.”


“Do you mean to engage me in a match?”


I couldn’t believe he was asking me this. If he was telling me the truth and had indeed been spying on the three of us, he would see that I was trained in the combat techniques. And while the initial training I’d received back in Küronas was now only a fuzzy memory in my mind, it was apparently stuck in my subconscious, because my speed, agility, and ability were quite good.


“Yes, a friendly match, sparrow,” Brotus said.


“You’re on,” I sneered back.


Brotus made his way back to one of the darkened corners of the room; when he emerged, he was carrying a wooden staff. Leaning on it, he made his way to the Battlecom, climbed up the steps, and stepped into the ring.


“Where’s your weapon, and your armor?”


“This is my weapon, little boy, and as for armor – I don’t think I’ll need any of that.”


“Fine,” I barked back. “Then let’s engage.”


I took a defensive stance in the center of the ring and Brotus stood opposite me. He raised his staff to guard, and I charged him with my sword.


Suddenly I was down on the mat. Seconds earlier I had been charging the fat old man and in the blink of an eye I was laying on the floor, staring up at him.


“Clipped your wings, did it sparrow?” he smiled down at me.


“I wasn’t ready,” I said. “And besides, I slipped”.


“Whatever you say sparrow,” Brotus said, chuckling at me as he spoke.


“And stop calling me that ridiculous name,” I shouted as I charged him.


In two quick moves Brotus outmaneuvered me, got behind me, and smacked me on my behind with his staff.


Luc began to giggle, but his face turned red and he looked to the ground the second he caught my icy glare.


“Clipped you again, little boy,” Brotus laughed.


By now I was angry and embarrassed; this clown of a soldier was making a fool of me, and I was beside myself. I charged one more time. As I did, the old soldier placed his staff in such a way that it wedged between my legs and I ended up on the floor once more. My face was turned away from him, and I heard him once again chuckle under his breath.


By now the tears I’d held back began to run down my face and fall onto the mat. Luc took one look at me and cast his eyes down at his feet. At first Brotus stood there waiting for me to arise, but I continued to hide my tear streaked face from him. Suddenly he gently poked me in the back between my wings with his staff.


“Come on sparrow, get up,” he gently said.


“Get away,” I angrily shouted at him, and I wildly waved my arm in his direction as if to repel him.


It was then he got a good look at my face and could see that I was crying. Quickly he dropped his staff and got down on his knees in front of me. Before I could protest, he took me into his arms and held me. Part of me was so angry I wanted to kill him, and the other part was so embarrassed I wanted to flee from the room; instead, I cried. Brotus continued to hold me until my sobs had lessened.


“I’m sorry, Jamie,” he said, “I just wanted to show you a few tricks that would improve your fighting ability.”


“I guess embarrassing and humiliating me in front of my friends is your idea of showing me some tricks,” I choked out.


“No, no, little boy – that’s not what I was trying to do. Fighting isn’t some game. Old Brotus can tell you that. I learned that when I was in Derrick’s regiment, during the Vosh War.”


I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked at the old soldier.


“You mean Derrick the Fat?”


“Yes, sparrow.”


“You were in the Iron Regiment of Derrick the Fat?” I said, now blinking away my tears.


“I said yes, didn’t I, little boy?”


From my recent studies, I knew that the latest threat to Kalas was from a break away ethnic group called the Vosh. They had been rebelling for years. The largest battle in this ongoing conflict had been fought thirty years ago, during a time often referred to as the Vosh Wars.


The Vosh had become a particularly bloodthirsty and warlike people. The Duke of Palmenter, nicknamed ‘Derrick the Fat’ by his troops, was the leader of a battalion of soldiers called the Iron Regiment because they were known for their skill in battle, their heroic bravery and the fact that once they took a defensive stand, they could not be moved. The last reference I remembered reading about them was regarding a key battle where they were required to hold a strategic pass in the Sirenese Mountains.


Every man, including Derrick, died in the defense of that pass, but they held it long enough to stall the Vosh until back-up troops arrived and finally crushed them. They were great heroes in Kalas, and their heroic deeds had become woven into myth and legend.


“But everyone in the Iron Regiment died except Derrick’s first lieutenant,” I said.


“That’s right, sparrow.”


“You?” I looked up at Brotus through tear-filled eyes.


“That’s where I lost this,” and the old Soldier lifted his eye patch revealing a shriveled, empty socket.


“Now why don’t you get up, and I’ll show you some of the tricks I learned in the Iron Regiment.”


Brotus helped me up and led me to the center of the ring.


“Now the first thing you have to do is forget this stupid machine,” Brotus said.


“It’s not a stupid machine; it’s a highly specialized unit for training soldiers.”


“Maybe so sparrow, but it’s not for you. You’re not a soldier, and you never will be. We’ve yet to see if you’ll be a warrior.”


“What do you mean ‘not for me?’? Nic and Lance use it, and they’re training some of the other soldiers of the garrison with it.”


“Their fighting skills surpass yours, and they were built for fighting. You’re more delicate, Jamie – not as strong as they are. Besides, those wings of yours are the largest I’ve ever seen on any of you angel boys.”


“That’s because he’s a High Imperial,” Jonathan piped up.


“That’s right Brotus,” I responded, “Imperials have the largest wing span of all the Icarians.”


“Well, even more reason to train without that machine.”


“What do you mean?”


“This machine is preset for certain conditions. After using it for a while you get used to it, and to what it’s going to throw at you. Your boyfriend, David, and General Lancelot can compensate for that when they fight in real life. But I can see that you play the machine, not reality.”


“Nic is my mate,” I said with a hurt expression.


“Yes, your mate. I will remember that, and I didn’t mean any offense, sparrow. Now come over here.” With that, Brotus positioned me in the ring.


“Now the second thing you have to do is get rid of this,” Brotus growled. He picked up the sword I’d been using and threw it to the side of the ring.


“What am I supposed to fight with, my bare hands?” I answered angrily.


“No Jamie, this.” Brotus picked up the wooden staff that he had used against me and handed it to me.


“A wooden stick? You’ve got to be kidding!” I shouted back at him.


“I’m not kidding, Jamie,” he said. “A standard long sword is simply too large and heavy for you to wield,” he continued, “and a short sword is just too short for you. Your lack of reach means you’re forced to come in closer to your opponent, making your wings more vulnerable to injury. That’s why that creature you were fighting nicked your wing.”


At the mention of my little accident with the Ogre, I could feel a sharp twinge where its club had nicked me. ‘At least he’s calling me Jamie,’ I thought to myself.


“Do you know there’s a story told, little boy, that no soldier or swordsman ever defeated the great Kartannus in battle,” Brotus said, “but he was once bested by a simple farmer with a staff who wanted to cross a bridge the king and his men were holding, in order to check his cattle grazing in a nearby field?”


“That’s just a story,” I said, frowning. “There isn’t one bit of truth to it.”


“That may be so, but it may also be true,” Brotus said. “One thing is certain though, Jamie: a wooden staff like this will give you more balance and it’s not too heavy for you to use. Because of your slight build and those large wings, you can attack an opponent without having to come in too close. Here, watch.” And with that said, Brotus took the staff from my hands and demonstrated a few simple moves.


“Think you can do that, sparrow?”


“Of course,” I responded, but frowned. He was back to calling me sparrow.


“Ok then, show me.”


Then he threw the stave back at me and picked up the sword. As I caught it, I had a sudden flash of holding another staff, facing a tall and regal Royal Throne in a sunlit grotto. I shook my head and focused my attention back on Brotus.


“Now let’s try it,” he said. “Use the moves I just showed you.”


Brotus came at me, but he did so very slowly, almost like a dancer choreographing a new move as he let me carefully practice the moves he had shown me.


“Good, now again, but this time a little faster.”


Once again the old soldier attacked me, but this time he was quicker and a bit fiercer. I used the moves he showed me and he smiled. “One more time Jamie, but do it quickly – don’t even think about what you’re doing.”


And suddenly, without warning, Brotus screamed and charged me.


I fought him off, countered his every move, and finally ended up behind him just in time to deliver a sharp blow to his ample ass.


“Ouch!” he yelled.


“That’s what you did to me.”


“So I did sparrow, so I did. I guess what’s good for you is good for old Brotus as well – is it so? You did well, though. Do you see what I’m talking about now?”


I had to admit that everything he’d just shown me made perfect sense.


“Yes,” I quietly said, looking down at the ground.


“From now on and every day you come here, old Brotus will be waiting for you. You’re not going to use that damned machine. Will you work with me, boy?”


“If you show me some more of those moves, old man, I will,” I said, almost smiling at him.


The exercise with Brotus had left both of us hot and sweating. I climbed out of the ring and sat on one of the upper steps of the Battlecom. Brotus plopped down beside me with a grunt. I could hear him breathing hard. A few minutes passed then he looked at me quizzically.


“So is he as big and powerful as everyone says he is, sparrow?”


I looked up blankly at him. “Who, Brotus?”


“Your brother, the one they call Loran.”


“How do you know about him?” I said, my eyes narrowing as I carefully studied his face.


“Soldiers are the worst gossips in the world. I’ve heard a few stories,” Brotus said removing his eye patch for a few seconds and using a nearby towel to wipe the beads of sweat from his face.


“He’s strong and he’s powerful, Brotus,” I said. “And he could crush me like a bug,” I quietly finished, as my voice faded away to nothing.


“You know, little boy, there’s more than one way to win a battle.”


“Well Brotus, I have a plan,” I said, wondering of I could trust the battle-scarred old man with something I hadn’t breathed so much as a word of, from the very first day I thought of it.


“A plan now? Well, maybe you’ll tell old Brotus about it?”


“Maybe I will, but not today. I have to get back to the palace before Nic starts to worry.”


“Yes, His Majesty the King. He’s a good boy, that one. Lucky to have him, little sparrow.”


“I know Brotus,” I answered, “very lucky.”


That evening I went home with a new respect for the old man whom I’d originally thought was a dried up husk of a soldier. In the days that followed, Brotus continued to work with Jonathan and me, and I eventually came around to telling him my plan. That evening had been a particularly strenuous one, and Brotus had tripped me over ten times. Frustrated and angry, I lashed out at him with the staff until I caught a lucky break and landed a square blow to the side of his head. Staggering, he regained his footing, but I dropped my staff and ran over to him.


“I’m just fine, sparrow,” Brotus growled. “And besides, every time you fight an opponent and injure him, are you going to drop your weapon, run to his side and comfort him? You won’t win many fights that way, little boy.”


“Well, you’re just not some hostile opponent,” I angrily snapped back. I’d come to like Brotus, and was genuinely concerned that I’d hurt him. Now the fat old man was rebuffing me. “I thought you were hurt,” I continued angrily, “next time I’ll make sure you’re knocked unconscious, then I’ll run a sword through you.”


“Oh now, don’t get all mad sparrow,” Brotus said. I could see him starting to smile while still rubbing the side of his head. “You need to control that temper of yours, Jamie. Fights are won with cool heads, not hot ones.”


“Well, I also need to be able to defend myself,” I snapped back.


“You’re worried by that brother of yours, aren’t you?” Brotus said quietly, placing his hand on my shoulder. I didn’t respond, but moved to the edge of the fighting grid on the Battlecom; although we didn’t use the machine, the ring itself was quite well suited for individual combat training. Leaning up against the one of the iron chains that encircled the ring I looked out into the open and empty room that the large machine occupied.


“Just what is this secret plan of yours, Jamie?” Brotus asked, looking down at me.


Turning my face upward to meet his gaze, in measured sentences I told him. I talked for quite some time, explaining all the intricacies of the plan and my reasons for creating it. I felt I’d nothing to lose, since he might actually be able to train me for what I felt I had to do. As I went on Brotus simply stared at me – his face an impassive mask. He listened quietly and didn’t interrupt me once. When I was done, I lowered my head and looked back out into the darkened room.


“You think it’s crazy, don’t you?” I said, feeling dejected.


“Did I say that?” Brotus said, “I’ll admit, a tricky one it is, sparrow, and it just might work from what you’ve told me, but to be successful you’re going to have to be well-trained and ready.”


“Can you help me, Brotus?” I asked pleadingly. “If Nic knew, I’d never be allowed to practice here again. I’d never even be allowed to leave the Amber Palace.”


“Oh, I suppose so,” he grunted.


“Thank you,” I said as I hugged him warmly.


He seemed caught off guard, but he wrapped his large arms around me and hugged me to his chest.


“And when you get a little better, I may even let you play with this stupid machine again,” he said.


And so my sessions with Brotus continued, and he drove me to the limits of my abilities. Whenever I would complain or shout for him to stop, he would push me even harder.


One day, we were engaged in a sparring match. Brotus had taken my staff and given me his sword in order to demonstrate a move he wanted me to learn. As he went through the drill, a metal cup that had been precariously balanced on one of the drinking fountains that had been installed in the room fell off its perch with a crash. The noise distracted me, and I turned to look.


Without warning, I was caught on the side of the head by the heel of the staff and found myself looking up at the ceiling. I was dazed, and seemed to be spinning back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness. The room wheeled around me as I gazed upward. I shook my head to clear my vision and shake off the pain, but when I finally opened my eyes, it was not the training room I saw.


I was standing on a grass-covered hill. Below me, a group of young boys fought a mock battle with wooden swords. Each of the boys had white wings with golden or silver tipped feathers. They were loud and boisterous, and their reckless abandon and wild, unbridled play scared me a bit.


I looked down; I was holding a small ball in my hand. It was green, and sparkled as if made of crystal. I held it tightly, but it slipped from my fingers, dropped to the ground, rolled down the hill, and came to rest in the middle of the young angel-boys’ field of play. The boys looked up at me, then one of them kicked the ball and another ran past the first kicker and kicked it even harder. Soon all of the boys had dropped their wooden swords and were chasing after the ball – all but one. At first, he just stood there staring at me, and then he turned to watch the others. Without warning, the ball rolled to his feet. He stopped it with his sandal-clad foot. He bent down, picked it up, and turned it over in his hand.


The other boys were calling for him to throw it to them, but he turned and once again looked up the hill to me. Our eyes met, and he walked up the hill and stood in front of me. The sun was shining on his wings and the gold that tipped each of the feathers sparkled brightly. He paused for a few seconds and smiled at me. His eyes sparkled almost as brightly as the gold in his wings, and he gave me a warm and open grin. Then he handed me the ball and ran back down the hill, where he picked up his wooden sword and resumed playing with his companions.


It was then I became aware of someone standing behind me. I turned in the direction of the tall figure that was looking down on me.


“Him,” I said, as I pointed at the young boy who had given back my ball. “I choose him.”


“Jamie, Jamie?” a worried voice called out to me.


I blinked my eyes and groaned, my head throbbing.

“Jamie? Are you hurt?”


As my vision cleared, I could see Brotus and Luc kneeling over me.




“I’m ok,” I finally managed to say. “I’m ok.”


“I’m sorry, little sparrow! You turned your head and before I could stop, I hit you full force.”


“It’s not your fault, Brotus,” I said as they helped me to my feet. Staggering a bit, I stumbled over to the chains and hung on. Brotus sent Luc to fetch me a cup of water. “I should have been paying closer attention,” I finally added. “I shouldn’t have allowed myself to become distracted.”


“Well, that’s enough for today,” Brotus said. “And don’t come back for a few days; you need to rest after a blow like that.”


I could still hear bells ringing in my head, so I wasn’t about to argue. I gingerly nodded my head in agreement. Luc helped me undress, get cleaned up, and climb onto my horse. When David arrived to escort us back, he whistled.


“That had to hurt,” he said, touching the side of my head.


I winced as his fingers brushed against the lump and growing bruise that had formed on the side of my head, but offered him no explanation as we rode back to the Amber Palace in silence. As usual, it had grown dark and only the light from the twin moons lit our way through the now quiet streets of Konassas.


When I arrived for supper, Nic wasn’t very happy to see that I’d injured myself, and I had to fight to be allowed to keep up my training regimen – reminding him that Brotus had already forbade me to return until I was healed. That evening after we ate, Nic and I retired to our apartment. As we began to get undressed I suddenly felt a hot jab of pain in my head, and my vision blurred as I slumped to the floor.


Once again, I was standing in an open sunny place.


‘Here’s your ball,’ a young angel was saying to me, as he handed me the sparking green ball.


‘Your ball… here’s your ball…’


“Jamie, what’s?” Nic asked, concern and worry quite evident in his voice as he bent over and held me.


‘Your ball… here’s your ball…’


Nic began to lift me from the floor.


‘Your ball… your ball…here, take it…’


Nic led me over to the bed. “Jamie, what’s the matter?” he said, concern coloring his voice.


Almost as quickly as it came, the pain and the memory it triggered vanished. Lying down in the bed, I found myself looking into Nic’s eyes – a look of concern and worry etched on his face.


“It was you,” I said finally.


“What, Jamie?” Nic said, giving me a puzzled look.


“It was you,” I said once more. “You got my ball and gave it back to me. You were so kind; that’s why I chose you.”


“What are you talking about?”


“When I was ten years old, I was told that I had to choose someone to be my friend. They told that it was going to be a very special friend, and we would be friends for the rest of our lives, and I had to choose. You gave me my ball… I chose you.”


Nic stood silently before me for a few seconds, and then he began to smile.


“It was you, wasn’t it? I remember you dropped your ball. I gave it back to you.”


“Yes Nic. Do you remember?”


I put my hand to his head and shared the memory with him as I entered his mind.


Nic’s smile grew even broader.


“It was you,” he said. “I always wondered what happened to that beautiful little angel after I handed the ball back. For the longest time I thought it was a dream, but even after I awakened it would linger in my mind.”


“That was the day I chose you, Nikki. They took me to see all of you. They wanted me to choose. You were so kind. They asked me to choose, and I chose you.”


“I’m glad you did, Jamie.”


“So am I.”


With that Nic bent down and kissed me. Soon we were in our bed, and in each other’s arms. As Nic embraced me, I lay my head against his chest and heard his double heartbeat ringing in my ear.


Sometimes love doesn’t mean wild passion. That night, as Nic held me close to his body, as warm skin touched warm skin, I knew that I was totally and completely loved by the one and only person that really mattered in my life.


I snuggled closer and closer into him, and even though the room was dark, I could sense him smiling at my almost childlike actions. Pushing against him even closer, I nuzzled as tightly against his naked body as possible. Suddenly, I felt one of his feet stroke my left foot, and as his toes brushed against the sole of my foot, little sparks of pleasure danced through my body.


“Oh, I love you so much, Nic…” I sighed.


Nic didn’t respond – he didn’t have to. He moved his soft lips to the warm, tender spot on my neck just under my left ear and kissed me softly. The last thing I remember was feeling his arms around my body and his foot rubbing against mine as I drifted into blissful and contented sleep.