The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part III – The Alliance


Chapter 38


Once Brotus pronounced me fit for fighting, we continued our training sessions. After extensive practice in hand-to-hand combat, the old soldier began to allow me to use the Battlecom, but only on a limited basis.


“Remember sparrow, it’s not for you,” he said, dropping down on a stool next to me during a break in my practice. “I’m only letting you use it to keep your body in shape. Every one of you boys is much stronger than most men. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, even if it’s hard to believe since none of you are very large or muscular. But remember sparrow, even though you’re stronger than a man, you don’t have the strength of King Niklas or General Lancelot, and you never will. The structure of your body doesn’t want to add either fat or muscle. You’re unusual. You’ve certainly gotten stronger since we started, but there isn’t an ounce more muscle on your body. The strange thing is, as I watch you drill, I can’t make up my mind if I’m watching a fighter dance, or a dancer fight.”


I turned and gave him a puzzled look. “I’m not sure what you mean by that,” I said.


“I was in the Lorrset Valley of Aradamia when I was a young recruit,” Brotus said, turning to look intently at me.


When he turned away, I rolled my eyes at Luc, who smirked back at me. Brotus always seemed to have a story, tale, or sage-like phrase for every occasion. But I kept quiet and listened as he continued.


“A great storm blew in from the sea.” Brotus said, “The heavens opened up and five days of torrential rain hit the valley. There were landslides, followed by a great flood when the River Lorrset spilled over its banks, washing away everything in its path. Many people died or were injured. Xannameir and Aradamia had recently signed a peace treaty and formed an alliance. In the spirit of the new alliance King Hector, Wilum’s father, ordered some of his troops to Lorrset.


“Of course, we recruits – who were lower than rock beetles – bore the brunt of the operation, and shouldered much of the work. Our commanders told us it would build character. I never knew if it did or not, but one evening after a long day, we marched back to our encampment which was outside one of the small mountain villages that had escaped the flooding and mudslides. That evening, to show their thanks, the villagers prepared a small feast for us. It wasn’t much, since they didn’t have much to give – I mostly remember there was some kind of stew; it was thin and didn’t have any meat in it, but it was good.


”The most enjoyable part of the evening came after we finished our supper. A small band of musicians played for us while a group of young girls from the village performed their native dances. The drums began to beat, and the girls slowly started swaying to and fro, but after a few minutes the drummers increased the tempo. I was in a trance as I watched the young maidens move around the fire faster and faster. I couldn’t believe how gracefully and quickly they danced. Their bodies were lithe, dressed in thin, gauze-like dresses, and they moved with amazing grace and beauty – I was young, my blood was hot, and as I watched them dance, I dreamed of sharing a bed with one of them. They moved like liquid poured from a pitcher into a basin – smooth, and fluid. Yesterday, watching you, I thought of that night, Jamie. You’re like those dancers. I’ve never seen anyone’s body move the way those young girls’ did until I watched you.”


I sat quietly, listening to Brotus talk. It was unusual for him to go on in such detail, especially when discussing his own life, since he always seemed to work hard at appearing gruff and tough, even though I knew there was more to him than the role of the old, broken-down soldier he played so well.


“Not only that,” He continued, “but once I show you a series of moves you seem to have them instantly memorized, as if your used to following carefully choreographed directions. It’s uncanny how no matter how complex I can make the moves, once I show them to you and then you do a slow motion run-through, you simply have them locked in your brain and your body follows along automatically.”


“I don’t know Brotus. I just move the way I move,” I said. “I thought I was mimicking your actions. After all, you’re the one teaching me. Maybe you’re the dancer,” I added, grinning at him.


“Bah, dancer indeed,” he snorted. “I dance like a boulder thrown into a lake. No sparrow, you take my moves and do something with them – I can’t really say what, but when you’re finished you’ve turned what I show you into something completely different. Part of it’s because you can fly, and part of it’s those large wings,” he said, reaching out to brush his hand along some of my feathers. “When you’re in the air, they just make you move differently. I’ve watched all the others: David, General Lancelot, and King Niklas. I even caught a glimpse of that smartass one, Miro, before he left with Lieutenant Mahon. They’re great fighters – greater than you. But I never saw any of them fly like you.”


I looked up at him from my seat and shrugged not really knowing how to respond to his comments.


“Well, little boy,” Brotus finally said after a few minutes of silence, “sitting here talking isn’t getting you any further along on your training. Now get off your butt and get back to work.”


Getting to my feet, I sharply reminded him that it was he who had asked for the rest period. Ignoring my remark as if he hadn’t heard it, he cuffed me lightly on the side of the head and ordered me back into the ring.


Practice that afternoon went well. A few days earlier I’d confided my plan to Brotus. He considered it, but voiced alarm and concern. After I explained my position in greater detail, citing the reasons I thought it might work, Brotus – instead of either laughing or calling me foolish – thought that while it was risky, it might have merit as long as my assumptions were correct. So from that day forward he began to allow Jonathan in the ring with me for limited periods of time. But although the sessions went well, and Brotus expressed his agreement and encouragement, there was still quite a bit of fear in my heart, and I continued to have doubts about the wisdom of my actions.


I ended my practice earlier than usual for the day, since this was to be the night of the concert Philippe and Barsetba had worked so diligently to prepare. Instead of using the baths in the training hall, I rode back to the Amber Palace hot and sweaty, with Luc and Jonathan in tow, so I could bathe and dress in my own apartment.


As usual, David escorted us back to the Amber Palace, but shortly after I mounted Arax and began the ride home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched. Since we’d been in the city for some time, more and more of its inhabitants had become used to us – although it was still quite common for people to stop what they were doing whenever we passed to stare. But the feeling I had during the journey back to the Amber Palace that afternoon felt different to me. It seemed as if there was something intense – almost sinister – in the air and try as I might, I couldn’t ignore it.


As soon as I turned Arax over to a waiting stable boy, the four of us ran into the palace and bounded up the staircase. David made it to the door of his room first, I arrived at my door second and Luc and Jonathan ran on past me. Calling out to the younger boys, I warned them that we only had a short time to bathe and get ready for dinner. I also reminded them to dress in some of their best clothes, since there would be some important people at the evening’s concert. Just as I was finishing up my instructions to the boys, Charles’ door opened and he stepped into the hall. He helped me scoot Luc and Jonathan into their room and told me he would make sure they would be ready and on time.


Once in my own apartment I heard movement in the bedchamber and strode in just in time to see Nic finish drying himself off with a large towel. On the bed, Master Jaysune had already laid out what he felt would be proper attire for the evening.


“Hurry, Jamie,” Nic said as he dropped his towel and picked up his small clothes from the bed. “Dinner will be served soon.”


“I’ll be quick,” I said, peeling off my sweat-drenched tunic and throwing it on the floor.


“I hope Luc and Jonathan are ready on time,” he called out after me as I ran naked into the bathroom.


“Charles is seeing to them,” I shouted back as I slid into the warm bubbling water of the bath. “They’ll be ready. You know he’ll keep them moving.” And indeed I did. When Charles had a task to accomplish, it was always efficiently executed, on time, and completed to satisfaction.


All the Icarians met in the formal dining room a half hour later. Surveying the group, I could see Master Jaysune’s invisible hand in action as I took note of everyone’s dress. Nic and I were in our finest tunics – those that the tailor, Eston Crown, had fashioned for Nic’s birthday celebration. Cody was wearing a blue and silver tunic that highlighted the color of his wings. Lance’s white tunic had gold trim that perfectly complimented his light blond hair. David – always conscious of his appearance – had put on a striking new umber and beige tunic that he had tied with a golden sash. His new sandals had been dyed to look as if they were made of bronze rather than leather. A small scarf-like cloth was draped over the gladiator angel’s left shoulder and pinned with the black lizard pin of Duet Lizard. The two little boys were cute in matching white tunics and even Charles – always more interested in scholarship than appearance – was wearing a white tunic with red and black trim to compliment the red and black highlights in his wings.


A few moments earlier, just as Nic and I were leaving our apartment and preparing to go downstairs, Master Sandro presented me with my golden band, then turned and gave a similar one to Nic. As Niklas put his on, I noticed that while mine was a plain, very thin golden ring, Nic’s was wider and had a small amount of engraving work around it, a subtly attractive embellishment to the golden ring.


In the dining room we were joined by General Zakaria, who was recently returned to Konassas from Tahkor; Lord Ottavia, a few members of the High Council, Prince Andrew, and one of the ambassadors from Vorhalla – Nalus Rousa, a wizened old man whom Cody had befriended during one of his diplomatic missions to King Oslo’s kingdom. As we took our seats, I noticed that there were two empty chairs at the table and a pair of table settings meticulously arranged for two additional guests. At first I thought Philippe and Barsetba might be joining us, but quickly remembered that, like most artists preparing for an event, they were more concerned with their performance than dinner. After running into Barsetba in the hall that morning, he’d commented that he and Philippe would be far too busy to eat with us, and that Master Arnod would prepare a special feast for all the musicians and singers after the concert had concluded.


Even as I wondered to myself who the additional chairs might be for, I found my question immediately answered; I heard the door handle click as one of the soldiers guarding the door opened it, then stood stiffly at attention. Seconds later, Juston Tark strode into the dining room, escorting a beautiful young woman whose arm was intertwined with his. She was tall – almost as tall as Tark himself. She was dressed in a long gown with a beaded bodice, and wore a diadem similar to mine. Tark was outfitted in the typical dress Xannameirian officers reserved for formal occasions. As soon as he entered the room with the young women, everyone stood.


Smiling, Lord Ottavia rushed to her side, bowed, and turned to introduce us to Princess Alestra, First Minister of the Kingdom of Aradamia, advisor and sister to King Juston of Aradamia. Lord Ottavia beamed as he introduced all of us to her, beginning with Niklas and me and ending with the Luc and Jonathan. Once more taking our seats – this time with Tark and Princess Alestra at the table – the meal began and although it was delicious, Charles had instructed Master Arnod to keep it simple, since the principle event of the evening was the concert.


The conversation at dinner was light and interesting. The Princess appeared to be very intelligent and from her remarks, I could see she was most sure of herself and quite astute in the current politics surrounding the various kingdoms. She apologized for the intrusion on our dinner, but told us that she had sent word to Lord Ottavia requesting an invitation to both dinner and the concert as soon as she’d received word of it. She said she’d been most eager to meet our small group, since she’d heard so much regarding us from her brother. Mentioning that she’d also caught a glimpse of Cody during one of his missions to Aradamia, she confessed her curiosity over the boys with wings who’d suddenly appeared in their land as if by magic – thus seeming to fulfill one of the ancient prophecies of Sarjanus.


At the mention of the religion of Abbot Gude, my blood grew cold and I felt a shudder run up my spine. Carefully I reached out to her mind with mine and tentatively took a look, but I could feel no hatred or hostility present. Slightly relieved, I smiled when she turned and gave me a curious glance. It seemed she was at ease with everyone and everyone was at ease with her.


Tark appeared both amused and taken by the princess, and I laughed to myself when, after Alestra made a complimentary remark concerning the color of his eyes, the tall, muscular Xannameirian officer began to blush fiercely and then quite unceremoniously tipped over his wine glass as he reached for it to take a drink.


After dinner we made our way into the grand salon, which had been prepared for the concert. As we reached the doors leading into the room, Cody moved to stand in front of them and reminded us that part of the reason for the event was for the Icarians to play host to some of the advisors and ambassadors from the four kingdoms. He went on to say that just as we had done for the Grand Council of Kingdoms, we would be formally introduced. Then nodding to the guards standing on either side of the doors he stepped back as they grasped the handles and pulled the doors open.


A few seconds later, everyone in the room stood and Cody made his way to the front where the orchestra sat. As he walked down the aisle, I glanced into the salon and was surprised to see over two hundred people sitting in rows of chairs that had been arranged facing the orchestra. All of the members of the High Council were there, along with their wives and a few of their older children. I recognized some of the ambassadors and advisors from my earlier meetings. Still others were strangers to me, but I noticed Charles smiling and nodding to a few.


When Cody reached the front of the room, he paused before the orchestra, which was sitting on an elevated stage, and bowed slightly to Philippe, who stood at the edge of the stage, clasping a baton in his hand. Then moving slightly to the side, Cody began to announce us. He started with the non-Icarians: Prince Andrew, General Zakaria, and Lord Ottavia along with the others; eventually he introduced Princess Alestra, whom Lieutenant Tark escorted up the aisle to her seat. Finally he came to the Icarians, and one by one he called off our names as we walked up the aisle. Nic and I were the last to be announced, and as we processed to the front of the room, Philippe waved his baton and the orchestra played a formal, dignified march that ended when we reached our seats.


As soon as Nic and I sat, everyone else in the room followed suit. Philippe bowed to the audience, then stepping forward and addressing the crowd, he welcomed them to the evening’s performance and introduced the orchestra. As I counted the number of musicians in the orchestra, I was more than a little impressed. I knew Philippe and Barsetba had found a number of performers to join them, but I was surprised to see just how large the assembled orchestra was – at least twenty musicians, not counting the group of singers I knew who were waiting in the wings.


After his brief welcome and introduction, Philippe bowed and turned to face the orchestra. Raising his baton I could hear him softly giving his final instructions to the musicians, then suddenly his arm dropped, indicating the downbeat and the orchestra sprang to life. The first piece they played was a fast moving rondo that was bright and full of spirit, immediately followed by a gentle pastoral concerto that was solemn and hymn-like.


The evening was entertaining and fun, as the program Philippe and Barsetba had so carefully arranged unfolded. There were a number of orchestral pieces that were profound and moving. Some of the musicians played solos, while others preformed in duets and trios. Even Philippe and Barsetba preformed a few pieces together – Barsetba on harp with Philippe accompanying him on the recorder. Philippe also played a lively solo piece on Barsetba’s flute, the Marsotti – the very one Philippe claimed once belonged to one of his old master teachers, two millennia before.


When the concert ended, there was one final loud and rousing round of applause. Philippe called Barsetba over to stand next to him, and both boys bowed. Then they pointed to the orchestra who also rose and bowed as the applause increased in volume. After the clapping faded away, Cody approached Nic and I as we stood at our seats.


“Now that the concert is over, you should both exit first,” he said, whispering to us. “Then stand in the foyer in front of the grand salon, and acknowledge and say goodbye to the guests as they leave.”


We did as Cody suggested, thanking our guests for coming as they exited while exchanging pleasantries and small snippets of conversation with them. Princess Alestra was one of the final guests to leave. Walking out of the salon on Juston Tark’s arm, she was smiling as she approached Nic and I.


“I hope you’ll visit my brother and me in Aradamia soon,” she said with obvious sincerity. “It’s a beautiful kingdom. Farenta, our capitol, is one of the loveliest cities in the land. It’s near the coast, and I’m sure you would fall in love with it.”


Thanking the princess, Nic and I bid her good evening and a safe journey back to Aradamia, in addition to sending our best wishes to her brother, the king.


When all the guests had left, Barsetba approached us. “Philippe and I were wondering if you would like to join us,” he said. “All of the musicians are going to have dinner now, and I know they would like to meet you – if that would be ok?”


Nic and I looked at each other, smiled, and then turned back to Barsetba.


“Yes,” Nic answered, “We’ll join you, Barsetba. You and Philippe put on an outstanding performance tonight,” he said, putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “But remember you did all the work, your dinner should be honoring the two of you. Jamie and I are happy to join you, but you are the stars of this evening. We’ll be there shortly to give all of your friends a proper thanks for the entertaining evening they’ve provided for us.”


Barsetba smiled, blushing slightly at Nic’s kind words, and then he left the grand salon. After checking to make sure we hadn’t missed saying good night to any of our guests, Nic and I left the salon and strolled over to the banquet room where Barsetba told us the musicians’ dinner would be served. With Jonathan and Luc in the lead and David, Charles, and Prince Andrew behind, we walked through the halls of the ground floor until we came to a long corridor near the kitchen. Walking down the hallway, I began to hear music, laughter, and shouts that appeared to be coming from a room near the end of the hall. As we drew closer to the room, the sound grew in intensity.


When we finally arrived at the entrance, I smiled at the sight before my eyes. The room was filled with people. Most of those in attendance were the musicians and singers who’d performed for us, but there were others I didn’t recognize. Philippe stood to the side of the door talking with two young men – one holding a violin, the other drinking a glass of wine. Tables had been set up around the edges of the large room, and seated at them were even more people eating and drinking. Here and there, members of Master Arnod’s kitchen staff scurried about carrying large platters and bowls of food. Pitchers of beer and bottles of wine were passed about, and the clink of glasses and mugs punctuated the friendly chatter as cheers or toasts were given. If that weren’t enough, the noise in the room became even louder when an enthusiastic group of musicians sitting together began playing their instruments as they accompanied a pair of singers who had broken out into song.


“What is all this?” I asked, turning to Barsetba, “A dinner, or a party?”


“A little of both, I guess,” Barsetba said, “Since the musicians needed to eat after the performance, Philippe and I asked Master Arnod if he could provide everyone with a meal and a place to eat it in – he showed us this room and suggested we use it, since it’s very close to the palace kitchen.”


“And what about all these people?” I asked, “I recognize less than half of them from the performance.”


“Well,” Barsetba paused, as his face grew red. “Some of them are friends of the musicians and singers, some are members of their families, and others are… well, people they just invited. I’m sorry, Your Grace. It started off as a manageable group, but somehow it grew a bit out of our control,” the boy said with an apologetic tone creeping into his voice.


“Oh it’s fine,” I said smiling at the worried look on the boy’s face. “This is the first opportunity we’ve ever had to meet any of the real citizens of the city. With the exception of the servants in the Amber Palace, most all of our contacts so far have been with kings, lords, ministers, ambassadors, and generals. Let them all have a good time. As long as they don’t destroy the palace and get us in trouble,” I added, giving Barsetba a wink.


Just then Philippe broke away from the two young men he was talking to and approached Nic and me. Putting my arms around him I hugged him and kissed his cheek. “It was wonderful Philippe, thank you.” I said pulling back and giving him a warm smile. “It was a perfect way to introduce us to some of the nobility of the four kingdoms.”


Philippe gave me a shy look and thanked me. Then grabbing his hand I lead him to the center of the room.


“You did a wonderful job Philippe – you and Barsetba,” I said as I pulled him along with me, “Thank you so much. But now it’s your time to relax and enjoy the moment.”


Once we arrived in the center of the room, the noise and movement that swelled around me made me feel like I was standing in the middle of a storm. And although I rarely displayed my powers for foolish whim or amusement, the failure of my efforts to gain everyone’s attention prompted me to create a small fireball and hurl it toward the ceiling. As it rose, it gave off a brilliant light and then erupted in a small explosion. Suddenly there was silence as everyone in the room turned to me with startled expressions crossing their faces.


“Now that I have everyone’s attention,” I giggled. “I just want to thank all of you for the wonderful performance tonight. His Highness, King Niklas, and I are very pleased and grateful for what you’ve done for us. I wish to thank Philippe...” I added, raising the boy’s hand high in the air, “…and also Barsetba,” I continued, while nodding my head in his direction. Then looking around the room I went on, “you have performed with exceptional skill and great talent, but now is the time for you to celebrate your success. Enjoy your feast and enjoy the hospitality of the Amber Palace.”


No sooner had I stopped speaking then the room erupted in loud and boisterous shouts and applause. There was more clinking of glasses and mugs, and the musicians, who had stopped playing, once more took up their instruments.


Squeezing Philippe’s hand and giving him one final kiss on the cheek, I released him and told him to enjoy the evening and the much-deserved congratulations he and Barsetba had earned. Smiling, I walked back to Nic’s side and we strolled about the room, meeting with and talking to all of those who’d assembled for the feast.


As the evening progressed, the party continued along with sprightly music, lively conversation, and much laughter. I looked across the room to see David with a large joint of beef in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. He was most animated, talking and gesturing to Prince Andrew who stood in front of him, listening. I watched with mild chagrin as David spoke to the prince, stabbing the air and gesturing with the large piece of roasted animal leg in his hand, and I was a little afraid he might take Andrew’s head off as he waved it around like a sword in the air.


Seeing Cody standing with Lancelot, I pushed through the crowd toward him. When I finally reached him, I motioned for him to move to a corner and once there, engaged him in a discussion on Princess Alestra and her possible role in the newly created alliance. As I spoke to the blue and white winged angel, I casually surveyed the room. It was then that I noticed Jonathan sitting on Nic’s lap. Occasionally Nic would say something to him, and the blind little angel would whisper back. More than once I saw Jonathan shake his head ‘no.’ Becoming curious about their conversation, I left Cody and headed across the room with the intention of finding out what Jonathan was saying that seemed to be holding Nic’s intense interest. But as I made my way across the room to join them, a shout went up, followed by a cacophony of instruments.


One of the musicians loudly announced that there had been enough sitting and eating and it was time to dance. Seconds later the musicians, who had briefly ceased playing, broke into a sprightly tune; seconds after the music began, many of those seated began to clap their hands as more musicians wandered over to those already performing, adding the sound of their instruments to the song.


Eager hands seized the tables and pushed them out of the way, creating an even larger space in the center of the room and I looked on as men and women began jumping from their seats to form couples. Moving their feet and clapping their hands, the dance began. Lining up in rows and dancing in pairs, one by one the couples stomped their feet and careened across the floor as the orchestra played and the floor shook.


Very quickly the music grew louder and faster, and an unstoppable urge began to form inside me; it grew in intensity until I could no longer resist. Walking over to Luc, I grabbed him by the arm and led him into the midst of the dancers. Tugging wildly away from me, Luc gave me a frightened look.”


“I… I… don… don’t know how to dance, Your Grace,” he sputtered.


“Oh, it’s easy Luc,” I said, laughing. “Listen to the music and watch me… don’t pay attention to any of the others. Just watch and follow me.”


Still holding his hand, I pointed to my feet. “First take a step here,” I said, showing Luc where to place his foot, “now take another step here,” I went on, pointing my other foot in a different direction. “Now another one here, then another one there,” I said, all the while demonstrating the moves I was making.


Reluctantly, with a look of fear in his eyes, Luc followed me – at first slowly and cautiously – but since I purposely showed him steps that were quite easy and perfectly timed to the music, he quickly began to perform them with ease.


“Now once more here, and once again there,” I called out, laughing when I saw him stick out his tongue and bite it lightly between his teeth in a display of serious concentration as he diligently followed my example.


“Now turn to the right,” I said with a grin, “now to the left. Then repeat it once more all over again,” I added with a smile. “Their just the simple basic steps of the junior troupe,” I added, but upon hearing the words come from my own mouth, the statement caused me to pause I as I wondered where the thought it had generated had come from.


Step by step, we danced and turned in a simple but elegant capriole that, as far as I knew, had not been danced in over twenty five hundred years. At first I kept pace with Luc as he moved to the music, concentrating on the series of simple steps I’d taught him. But as the pace quickened, I couldn’t resist the urge to move ever faster and I began adding more and more steps, turns, and even a few leaps as I danced with increasing abandon. The tempo accelerated as the dancers flowed around the room, forming a large circle. Occasionally I stroked my wings and jumped into the air, moving to the rhythm of the music. Whenever I did Philippe, who was now leading the musicians, would punctuate the air with his baton in a forceful downbeat and the percussion would crash.


Soon the group of dancers who were around Luc and me backed away, leaving us in the center of the floor, surrounded by an ever-growing ring of spectators. I spun and danced around the little boy, moving even faster as the musicians increased their tempo. Luc, still working on his simple steps, looked up and smiled at me. Reaching out a hand for him to grasp, I shouted for him to spin me. At first he looked at me in confusion. Still dancing, I told him that when I gave him my arm, he should spin me, pulling me in and then unwinding and releasing my arm, like a child throwing a top.


As we danced I showed him what I meant, then moved around him in a sequence of quick and graceful steps. Luc was dancing his same easy, repeating steps over and over to the beat of the music when suddenly I reached out my hand to him and he grabbed it. I turned, coiling myself around his small, wiry arm. “Now throw me,” I shouted over the sound of the music, and he did.


Spinning away from him, I took to the air in a lunge, my right foot pushing off of the floor with my knee bent and my left leg extended straight behind. My body, now arched and upright, soared like a bird into the air. Then I turned, extended my wings, arched my back, and floated gently into a layback spin. I could hear surprised shouts from the crowd below, who’d by now completely ceased dancing and were looking up at me as they clapped and stomped their feet to the beat of the music.


Smiling, I did a short air dance that led into a spectacular spiral sequence, as my wings stroked and my body spiraled round to the beat of the pounding drums. Looking down at Luc, who was still doing his basic steps, I flew toward him, executing a pair of turns – the first from front to back, the second from back to front – and then landed at his feet.


Dancing wildly around him, my feet – half touching the floor and half in the air – were by now a blur. Once more I thrust out my hand, “Now really throw me,” I yelled to Luc – and he did! I bounded into the air, performing a dizzying quadruple axel that quickly turned into freeform dance and then moved to a combination spin.


Still moving to the beat of the music, I headed for the floor in an all out scratch spin – my body straight, legs crossed and arms folded in front of me while I spun like a top. Hitting the ground with one foot, I brought myself to an instant stop with an aerial dismount step. The crowd applauded wildly as I smiled, bowed, then grabbed Luc by the arm and exited the circle, making my way back to Nic and Charles, who were staring at me with eyes unblinking and mouths agape.


“What was that?” Charles finally said after staring at me for a full minute. “Dancing or flying?”


“A little of both,” I said, laughing at him.


“That was amazing, Jamie,” Nic said, taking my hand. “Where did you learn to do that?”


“One does pick up a little culture when living at court,” I said, giving him a coy smile.


“I never knew you could do that,” he said.


“Well Nic,” I said, “A boy doesn’t get much chance to dance trudging around forests and fields, storming abbeys and fighting monks. This is the first in a long time that I’ve been near music.”


“Memories coming back?” Charles said, giving me a hopeful look.


“I don’t know, Charles.” I said reflecting on my statement about a junior troupe, “somehow I remember learning all of this long ago. I’m not really sure where or how, but I do know when the music started, I knew exactly what to do.”


“Uhm,” Charles said frowning slightly. “I vaguely remember a dance I once attended at what might have been a court function; I can’t recall where it was or much about it, but I do know that no one danced like you just did. What you did was different – special.”


“I just did what my feet and body told me to,” I said, giving him a small shrug.


As the night wore on, it appeared the musicians and their friends planned on celebrating until dawn. I was becoming increasingly tired, and knew it was time to retire when I saw Luc sitting on a chair, his head resting on the tabletop, fast asleep. Jonathan was unconscious in Nic’s arms, and every few seconds Cody would let out a big yawn. David and Prince Andrew seemed to still be locked in their discussion, but other than the two of them, the rest of us were quite exhausted.


Announcing that it was time to retire for the night, I told Cody to wake Luc and get him on his feet. So with Jonathan in Nic’s arms, we said goodnight to Philippe and Barsetba, once more thanking them, as we exited the banquet hall and left the celebration behind us. Making our way back to our rooms, Nic took Jonathan into the boys’ apartment. Charles went with him to tuck them in, while I made my way past Cody and Lance as I headed to my apartment. As I passed the two boys, I could tell from the way Cody was smiling at Lance that even through he was tired, they would not immediately be going to bed.


I was no sooner in the bedchamber of our apartment then Nic entered the room.


“Are the boys in bed?” I asked.


“Almost. Charles is finishing up with them,” he said as he quickly began to shed his tunic and undergarments. I followed suit, making my way into the bath to wash away the sweat I’d brought on as I danced. After our nightly preparations were complete, we both climbed into bed.


I lay on my stomach with my head propped up on my pillow. Nic sat cross-legged allowing his wings to hang over the edge of his side of the bed, while he lightly traced his finger over my naked bottom.


“Mmmm,” I purred.


“Jamie, I have to ask you something,” Nic quietly began.


“Sure Nic,” I said dreamily as his hand moved up my back.


“Well, lately whenever I set up the Battlecom first thing in the morning for our daily practice, I can’t help but notice the setting of the last person who uses it.”


“Yes… and?”


“Why do you have a program titled ‘LORAN COMBAT SESSION’ in the Battlecom?”


I quickly jumped up, staring daggers at him.


“What are you talking about?” I shouted.


“Jamie,” Nic continued calmly, “whenever I setup the Battlecom for our daily training sessions, I always see that you are usually the last person who has programmed it from the night before. I’m not spying on you, but I can’t help but see the program.”


As he attempted to further explain himself, I began getting angry with myself for being so stupid in overlooking something as obvious as this. I immediately went from defense to offence.


“My settings are personal, Nic, and no one’s business. What are your settings, by the way?”


“My settings aren’t any big secret Jamie,” he said, “anyone can see them. I don’t know why you’re getting so upset. It was a simple question."


“Well, my settings are personal,” I snapped back.


“Jamie, I was just making an observation on what I’ve seen.”


“I just don’t want to discuss it, Nic.”


“Fine,” he said not sounding mad or even upset, “just be careful. I know it’s bothering you that he’s out there, but you know as well as I do that there’s nothing we can do about it. Now come back to bed – please.”


I frowned a bit, but sat down on the edge of the bed. Nic moved over to me and kissed my neck.


“I just want you to be careful. Ok?” He whispered in my ear. I jumped because his warm breath tickled.


“Ok, Nic,” I said quietly.


He moved closer, put his arm around me and began to kiss me. The kiss turned into a deep one. Soon we were in the throes of making love – more gentle than passionate since it was late, and we were both tired. After we finished we fell asleep, our arms and legs entwined together.


That night my sleep was disturbed by a dream. It was the same one I’d dreamed months before in the Ardentin forest, after rescuing Charles from the abbey. Exactly as before, I found myself looking into the face of the boy I’d dreamt about many times before – a boy younger than me, with haunting green eyes. He was talking – or at least trying to talk – to me, but while I could hear sound coming from his mouth, his speech was too soft and garbled for me to understand him.


The dream was intense and real enough to awaken me and chase away any further thoughts of sleep. Once fully awake, I was aware of the rapid beating of the twin hearts in my chest. At first the dream left me disoriented, but soon I felt the familiar arms of Nic wrapped around me. Disentangling myself from him, I crawled from our bed. Wandering out of the bedchamber into the main salon of our apartment, I squinted as the light of the two full moons cast a bright and silvery glow throughout the room. Passing into the salon, I could see a tray of silver cups and a large pitcher filled with water sitting on one of the nearby tables – probably left behind by Master Sandro, or one of the servants.


Picking up the pitcher, I poured some of the water into one of the cups. Lifting it to my lips I took a sip, then a swallow. My mouth was dry and although the water wasn’t cold, it was still refreshing. Clutching the glass, I ambled across the room to the windows overlooking the forum. After taking another long drink from the cup I set it down, and gazed out at the empty forum – its white marble paving stones reflected the light of the moons, giving the vast open space an eerie glow. Turning my eyes heavenward, I gazed upon Ajax and Argon for a long time. As I watched them floating above me in the dark mantle of the night sky, I absentmindedly fingered the asp bracelet entwined around my arm, and pondered the future.