The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part III – The Alliance

Chapter 39


Jumping at the loud crash that echoed through our apartment as the door flew open and careened into the wall, my first thought was of the guards who should have been standing in front of it to prevent just such an occurrence. Following the recent daylight raid on the Amber Palace, we’d all found ourselves much more cautious. Seconds after the crash, the shout that followed caused me to jump a second time.


“Hurry, we’re already running behind! We don’t want to be late,” a voice full of excitement and anticipation called out. “Lance will wonder where we are if we don’t show up on time.”


“Don’t worry, we won’t be late,” I shouted back from my seat on a small stool next to the bed. “I’m just putting on my sandals, and I’ll be ready,” I added, securing the last of the leather straps of the sandal around my right ankle. Wiggling my toes to make sure they weren’t too tight or loose, I jumped to my feet and rushed from the bedchamber, dashing through our private sitting room and into the formal salon.


The voice that called out to me belonged to Cody, who’d announced his entrance with the crashing of the door. His eager shouts were meant to prod me along so we wouldn’t be late for the presentation ceremony. Once I reached the salon, I couldn’t make up my mind which was brighter – the warm rays of sunlight streaming through the windows, or the smile beaming from Cody’s face. Today was the day Lance’s cohort would be formally presented to the Xannameirian army, and as part of the ceremony Nic and I were expected to attend, representing the Icarian side of the alliance. As the Icarian Ambassador, not to mention Lance’s mate, Cody would also attend – although I knew that a whole phalanx of Icarian Thrones couldn’t have kept him away.


As soon as Cody saw me enter the room, he urged me to conclude my final preparations. Grabbing my cloak from Sandro, I whipped it around my shoulders and fastened the clasp. I was running out the door and down the corridor when I heard a shout behind me.


“Your Grace… YOUR GRACE!” Sandro shouted after me.


Turning, I saw him holding the small golden diadem in his hands.


“Your Grace, you should be wearing this,” he said disapprovingly, and sounding thoroughly exasperated with my behavior.


“Then give it to me,” I shouted back – irritation surfacing in my voice. I stood waiting, and when nothing immediately happened, I shouted, “Just throw it.”


Sandro’s face took on an expression of shock, as if I had asked him to desecrate a holy object.


“Do it!” I yelled, lifting my arms.


Sandro tossed the gold ring and it sailed through the air past the face of one of the guards, barely missing his nose. Reaching out I grabbed it, crammed it on my head, and ran off after Cody, who by now had a substantial lead on me.


Rushing out of the Amber Palace, I saw Cody waiting for me in the center of the forum fidgeting with impatience. My first thought had been to fly, but I quickly abandoned the idea since I didn’t think Nic would approve of Cody and me dropping into a crowd of delegates and important persons from the air. Hustling down the steps of the palace I caught up to Cody, and off we went, quickstepping through a series of alleys and passageways around the forum until we were at the entrance of the parade ground – a portal with a double-sided, iron-barred gate.


Standing at the gate to survey the scene in the courtyard, I saw rows of foot soldiers standing stiffly at attention in full fighting uniform. There were swordsmen as well as pikesmen, each with shields, battle armor and plumed, polished helmets. The light breeze blowing through the courtyard played with their short red and gold capes, making them occasionally flutter in its warm gusts.


To the left of the foot soldiers stood a small unit of cavalry assembled near the north side of the grounds in four short rows; at their head sat Juston Tark astride his black stallion – a large spirited war horse named Titan. Tark, now sporting the insignia of a captain, sat straight-backed upon his mount and displayed an air of confidence. He had only recently received his promotion, shortly after being named to the post of Liaison Officer between the Xannameirian Army and Icaria – a position he assumed with both pride and seriousness, according to Nic.


Looking to my right, toward the south end of the parade ground, opposite the cavalry, I spotted a large raised platform with a brightly colored canopy. Under the canopy were an assortment of dignitaries, ambassadors, and military officers – some I immediately recognized, while others were complete strangers to me. Planted at the very front of the platform was General Marcus Zakaria, and at his left stood the man whom I had come to think of as Zakaria’s key commander – Ronan Torken.


Torken, like the general, was in full military dress, including weapons and battle cloak. Both men were without helmets – customary for a ceremony like this. Torken stood grim and solemn next to his commander, and although he wasn’t as old as Zakaria, he seemed tough and hardened from years of military service. His large, muscular frame rose almost a half head higher than the general’s, who was himself a large and tall man. With his shaved head and towering stature, Torken was the easiest person to pick out of the crowd that had gathered under the canopied platform.


To Zakaria’s right, I could see Nic dressed in full Icarian battle kit. Behind him stood David, relaxed and at ease and I was surprised to see that for once he wasn’t in full uniform but instead had chosen to wear a lighter, more decorative set of armor. He was, though, still heavily armed; I noted both a long and short sword at his side along with his ever-present dagger. I mused a moment about just how many other weapons he was concealing, since I’d never known either he or Miro to be content with as few as three or four.


Rushing across the parade ground with Cody at my heels, I could feel the eyes of everyone assembled boring into us as we hurried to the platform while attempting to maintain even a modicum of dignity. I slipped in beside Nic as unobtrusively as possible, while Cody quickly slid in next to me.


“You’re late, Jamie,” Nic whispered out the side of his mouth as he stared ahead in the direction of Juston Tark.


“Sorry, Nic,” I said. I was about to make up an excuse, but stopped when I realized that he probably wouldn’t have believed me anyway.


“And your gold band is crooked,” he continued, casting me a sidelong glance.


“Oh, sorry,” I said, reaching up with both hands and straightening it across my brow.


“Lucky for you,” he continued, now frowning but still staring straight ahead, “they haven’t started yet, so you escaped the embarrassment of walking in during the formal presentation.”


Pleased to hear I hadn’t missed anything, I stood quietly and glanced around the platform. It was crowded with important and powerful people. There were ambassadors and military commanders from all of the Kingdoms, along with a few others I didn’t recognize. Looking out across the flat parade ground, I once more took in the impressive sight. The Xannameirian troops looked magnificent in the morning light. Even the horses, meticulously groomed and outfitted, appeared majestic as they stood motionless – looking more like statues than flesh and blood animals.


Gazing upward, I could see the bright blue sky framed by the walls and buildings that bordered the parade ground forming the courtyard-like space I now stood in. Thick, high walls surrounded two and a half sides of the courtyard. One of the walls ended when it abutted against one of the buildings of the forum to continue the partitioning of the open space. To my back, behind the platform, another large building – the Garnet Palace – formed the fourth boundary, defining the space.


I jumped slightly when Tark gave a loud shout and a volley of drum rolls echoed through the open space, bouncing off the walls of the courtyard.


Although I’d presented Lancelot with the cohort’s battle flag and bestowed on each of his men their insignia a few days previous, the ceremony had been small and private as was the custom for such an event. But today, Lance would march his men out into the sunny parade ground flying their cohort’s flag and formally present them to the Xannameirian army – in this case the troops of the garrison of Konassas, of whom they would officially become part.


Normally this was a rather simple and uncomplicated affair. A battalion of troops from the garrison would march into the parade ground and stand at attention. One of the senior officers would then formally induct the new cohort into the garrison and validate the commission of the cohort’s commander, but today’s ceremony would be far from simple.


Even if the cohort and their commanding officer hadn’t been special, it still would have been a grand affair since this was to be the first official public display of the alliance forged from the Grand Council of Kingdoms. Nic would be appearing for the first time as the head of the alliance – having been given the titles of Silver King and Emperor by the council.


I still couldn’t quite believe that the three kings and Lord Ottavia had been able to come to an agreement regarding the formation of an alliance, especially given the initial negative response from the Kingdom of Vorhalla, and I became uneasy whenever I thought about the future. But nevertheless, the alliance had been formed and we Icarians – even with our meager resources – were bound to it. Nic’s title as Emperor of the Alliance in no way diminished the power and authority of the four kingdoms. As Charles carefully explained it, the titles were mostly honorific, and did not automatically confer any authority to Nic. At first I was puzzled by the arrangement and the fact that Nic had so readily agreed to it. But when he talked to me in private, Nic indicated that he thought Ottavia and the three kings had wished to make a public gesture to their citizens regarding the importance with which they took alliance, while simultaneously making an even more serious, though somewhat veiled, political threat toward the Holy Office.


“They all hate the church,” Nic said to me, one evening as we sat across the table from each other eating a late dinner in the private dining room of our apartment. “Wilum and Marcus Zakaria hate them the most, but the Holy Office is far too powerful for the kingdoms, and so far the kings have been unable to weaken the ability of the Holy Office to interfere in their internal politics. The king of Xannameir would love to smash their influence and power – so would the others, to a lesser extent. From what I’ve learned from past history, Xannameir has always chafed the most under the yoke of the church.”


“And how does this affect us?” I asked.


“In reality, very little Jamie,” Nic continued. “The church hates us and wants us exterminated. That fact, I fear, will never change. But Wilum is trying to use us as a wedge between himself and the Holy Office. If in our struggle to find Küronas and establish a kingdom we destroy or at least seriously weaken the church, then Xannameir, and the other kingdoms will be able to regain those portions of their sovereignty lost over centuries of intrigue and maneuvering carried out by the Holy Office.”


“They all think I blindly accepted the titles they conferred on me without understanding their motives. I’ve allowed them to think that I’m greatly honored and even overjoyed with the fact that I’m now Emperor of the Alliance,” he said, deftly spearing a piece of meat with the end of his knife and putting it to his mouth. In the silence that followed as he chewed and swallowed it I sat quietly, staring intently at him and waiting for him to proceed.


“What they don’t know,” Nic finally said, continuing with his observation, “is that because of both you and Charles, I know much more than they think I do – all three of us do, for that matter. And I’m not about to be used as a puppet for anyone’s purposes. Our goal, Jamie, remains now as it always has from the beginning – to find Küronas and establish our kingdom, with or without the alliance. I’ve always been truthful with them and will continue to be. If we succeed, we will assist them – if that is what they truly desire. If they don’t want anything from us, we’ll leave them alone as long as they extend us that same courtesy. But we’ll play the game, my love, and we’ll play it to the end.”


I nodded my head in agreement, giving him a knowing look. Then I smiled as I realized I was truly in the presence of a king and that if Nic was willing to play the game, I would be by his side to the very end.


So that is why, with drums rolling, flags flying and dignitaries watching, I found myself standing beside Niklas of Icaria, now Emperor of the Alliance, to witness the first visible manifestation of that alliance – a Xannameirian cohort led by an Icarian commander would make its début upon the great stage of history for all to see.


At the conclusion of the drum rolls, a trumpet sounded; seconds later another joined it, and finally a third entered into the fanfare. There was a second loud shout, but this time it came from the opposite end of the parade ground, beyond the gate and I recognized the voice as Lance’s, as he continued to bark out a series of commands. Then the sound of many feet hitting hard ground floated into the courtyard and I turned just in time to see Lance, astride a white destrier, enter the parade grounds through the gate Cody and I had, just moments earlier, slipped through.


Riding into the courtyard, his golden wingtips and armor glinting in the bright light of the midmorning sun, Lancelot came forth leading his men – Cohort Hawk. Because of the narrow breadth of the gate they entered in double file before fanning out and forming their standard marching configuration. One quarter of Lance’s men were mounted cavalry, and followed directly on the hooves of Lance’s horse. A solitary rider rode directly behind the young General, carrying the battle flag of the cohort. Behind the mounted troops, the remaining three fourths of the cohort followed: foot soldiers, some with swords and bucklers, the rest with pikes and kite shields.


As they passed near the platform they turned to the left, heading for the north side of the parade ground where Tark and his cavalrymen waited. Halfway across the courtyard, Lance raised his arm. With a shout of “Cohort, Halt!” from Lance’s First Sergeant – Aaron Blaze, who was to the right of the first row of foot soldiers – everyone came to an impeccably timed halt.


For a few seconds there was silence as Cohort Hawk stood at attention, motionless under the bright, cloudless sky. Cody grabbed my hand and squeezed it.


“Isn’t he amazing?” the young angel said a beaming smile lighting his face.


As Cohort Hawk stood silently, Juston Tark spurred his horse gently and rode a few feet forward.


“Cohort Hawk, ready for inspection.” Lance called out in a strong and clear voice. Once more he raised his arm this time twisting it in a slightly circular motion.


Immediately Sergeant Blaze turned and shouted, “Present arms!”


The swordsmen of the cohort, in unison, drew their swords and held them upright, points to the sky, while the pikesmen stretched out their arms as their hands gripped their long pointed spears. Both pikesmen and swordsmen, their shields in their left arms, turned them to the side – exposing their full battle dress for all to see.


Descending from the platform, General Zakaria and Nic walked across the parade ground to Cohort Hawk. They passed through the ranks, moving up and down each row of infantrymen. Upon completing their inspection, they strode side-by-side to the front of the cohort. Lance saluted Nic and Zakaria, and they returned his salute with their own.


“Why do you approach?” General Zakaria said curtly and without emotion as he looked up at Lance.


“I come presenting this cohort to the Army of Xannameir and to you, its commander,” Lance said, looking down solemnly at Zakaria. “They are trained, and ready to follow your orders without hesitation.”


“Then I order them to join these troops,” Zakaria said, motioning to the rows of soldiers from the garrison of Konassas standing to his right. Then turning back to Cohort Hawk he added, “Take your rightful place beside them. Obey your leaders, defend your kingdom, fight bravely, and live honorably.”


Then his face softened slightly as he extended his hand. Lance edged his horse toward the general, bent down in his saddle and shook Zakaria’s hand.


“Welcome,” Zakaria said as he shook Lancelot’s hand, “and congratulations on a job well done.”


There was a great shout from the troops of the garrison followed by an echoing shout from Cohort Hawk. Juston Tark coaxed his horse up next to Lance’s, and soon was smiling and shaking the young Icarian general’s hand. There were applause and cheers from the dignitaries on the platform, and more shouts rose up from the soldiers on the parade ground.


It was at that moment that I saw one of the soldiers of the garrison who was standing in the front row suddenly faint, a sight that surprised me since it was still only midmorning and certainly not hot enough to cause heat stroke. Then I blinked in amazement as a second soldier, two rows further back, also fainted. No one seemed to immediately notice it, and I was about to call out when, from directly above my head, there came a strange sound like the ripping of cloth, and I watched in shock as an arrow sliced through the fabric of the canopy and embedded itself into the wooden floor of the platform.


Looking out into the parade ground, I saw a torrent of arrows fall from the sky. Some embedded themselves in the ground, others into soldiers and horses. The horses were the first to panic, rearing up and screaming – their eyes rolling in fear. More shouts and screams followed as pandemonium spread like wildfire throughout the courtyard.