The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Part III – The Alliance
After the first volley of arrows, I stood frozen in shock – as confused as everyone else who found themselves hemmed in on all sides by the high walls and buildings surrounding the parade grounds. Shouts and screams continued around me, and I looked out from under the canopy toward Nic, still standing in the open – an easy target for the flying arrows.
By now, the horses were wildly out of control as more of them took arrows to their rumps, flanks and necks. They snorted, screamed with pain, and reared upward toward the sky as their fear multiplied like a deadly plague – spreading rapidly from one terrified animal to another. Cavalry troops, mortally wounded by arrows, tumbled from their saddles – their rider-less horses threatened to trample any foot soldier unlucky enough to get in their way or worse yet, find themselves unwittingly under their kicking hooves. The infantry – by far the largest contingent of men in the courtyard – took their share of casualties as the arrows continued to sleet down in a ceaseless fusillade from above.
Whirling around to get my bearings, I heard another ripping sound as an arrow tore through the canopy and thudded into the chest of the Vorhallan ambassador, Nalus Rousa, who’d been standing directly behind me during the ceremony. The old man’s eyes bulged in pain and surprise, then he pitched forward into my arms. Catching him, I tried to gently lower his body to the ground, but dropped him like a heavy stone when suddenly a sharp, searing pain rippled across my right side. Placing my hand on the tender spot, I felt moisture and looked down to see my right hand smeared red as my tunic became soaked in my own blood. I looked around desperately for shelter, but other than the canopy, which offered no protection, there was nothing.
The only way out of the courtyard was through the small, open gate leading into the outer street, but it wasn’t particularly wide and even if it were, at that very moment it was blocked by fear crazed horses, and panic stricken soldiers attempting to escape.
Still disoriented and now in pain, I raised my eyes skyward to find that, standing at intervals on the high walls and roof tops surrounding the parade ground, were men wrapped in dark gray cloaks, each with a long bow in his hands and a quiver of arrows across his back. They all appeared to be dressed in the same plain garb. Each of them was nocking arrows, drawing his bow, carefully taking aim and releasing the deadly missiles with amazing speed and accuracy.
Suddenly remembering Cody, who’d been standing to my right, I turned to face him and watched in horror as he fell to his knees. An arrow stood out just above his left wing and shoulder blade, and my stomach churned when I saw its tip protruding from the front of his chest, above his heart. Wincing from the pain still burning in my side, I dove for the floor and caught him as he fell forward. Gently easing him to the wooden planking, I turned him on his side, trying to position him so that the arrow wouldn’t cause him any additional pain or injury.
“Oh, Cody!” I cried, then turned and looked skyward once again, only to see the archers mercilessly nocking and shooting their arrows as fast as they could draw. The instant Cody fell, I’d heard a cry; turning in the direction of the anguished sound, I saw Lance fighting to control his horse and looking in horror at Cody, lying lifelessly under the canopy. Then, in the midst of the chaos, a single voice rang out like a trumpet clarion.
“Icarian warriors, to me!” Nic yelled at the top of his lungs as he stroked his wings and shot into the air. I saw him parry an arrow with his sword, and flick another aside with a wing. David immediately leapt into the air, wings straining for maximum lift, grimly intent on reaching the rooftops. For a few seconds Lance looked up at Nic, then back to Cody, lying crumpled on the ground, but in a flash Juston Tark was at Lance’s side.
“General, to your king!” he shouted at Lance. “I’ll take care of him. Kill as many of the bastards as you can,” he added, nodding in the direction of the rooftops. With that, Captain Tark spurred his horse in the direction of the platform, plowing though the sea of bodies surrounding him as he forced his way toward the unmoving body of Lance’s mate. Once he reached the platform, Tark jumped from his horse and with his large, muscular and armor-clad frame, became a human shield for the injured boy. Lance, frozen on his horse, saw Tark cradling Cody, then glancing up at Nic, his face twisted with a look of pure hatred, and his sword seemed to leap to his hand. In an explosion of wings, he leapt directly from his horse into the clear, bright, midmorning sky.
It was the perfect ambush. High above the crowd, the archers had complete command of the ground below. The courtyard, packed with people, made movement almost impossible and once the attack started, the panic and confusion only made matters worse. Tark had tried to calm the men and instill order, even General Zakaria and Ronan Torken’s voices shouted above the din as they called for calm, but the Xannameirian troops, for all their ability and skill, were trapped like bugs in a jar – unable to get to their attackers perched high above their heads. The forces of the garrison had been caught completely by surprise and were reacting without order or discipline – all except the troops of Cohort Hawk.
Almost at the very instant the attack began, Lance’s cavalry troops, realizing what was happening and their vulnerability, flung themselves from their saddles and ran to the infantrymen. Aaron Blaze began shouting orders and with great speed and efficiency, Cohort Hawk created an amazing defense. The foot troops swung their shields up over their heads, interlocking their long and short shields. The cavalrymen joined them under this canopy of shields and within seconds, the arrows that were killing and wounding everyone else simply bounced off or stuck into the shields of Hawk. What was even more amazing was that at measured intervals, the barrier of shields would open for a few seconds and one of the pikesmen would hurl his pike like a javelin up at the archers above with deadly accuracy, while the horsemen seconded their efforts with the short bows they all carried. And while I didn’t know how such a thing could have been successful or even possible, after watching them take down a few of the archers, I knew what I had to do.
The initial attack had shaken me, and like everyone, my first reaction had been to scramble for cover. But the instant I saw Cody take an arrow and watched Nic spiral into the sky to engage in battle, my blood began to boil. The fear I was feeling drowned under a wash of the purest fury as I watched Juston Tark huddle over Cody, cradling and protecting the wounded body of the Icarian ambassador.
Dodging a barrage of arrows, I rushed into the center of the parade ground, where Cohort Hawk remained shielded under what looked like the shell of a giant turtle. I eventually was at the perimeter of their outer shields on the far right side of the cohort, closest to First Sergeant Aaron Blaze, who was still shouting orders and keeping his men in a tight formation. Yelling to be heard over the noise crashing around us, I outlined my plan. Blaze nodded his head and pointed to his left. Stooping low, I moved quickly under the upturned shields toward the center of the cohort.
Meanwhile, Nic had crested one of the high walls where at least ten archers were standing, and began slaughtering them with brutal efficiency. Caught off guard, the attackers realized far too late that the fight had come to them. Peering between the cracks in the canopy of shields, I watched Nic smash into them in a whirlwind of flashing steel. By ones and twos, they fell as he carved a path down the line of attackers, mowing them down like a farmer harvesting a field of wheat. It wasn’t until only the last two archers were left on the wall that they looked up and realized their compatriots had been killed, but by then it was too late. As they raised their bows and pointed their arrows at Nic, he quickly, almost effortlessly slew them, as easily as a man would swat an insect, killing them before they could get off another shot.
David also attacked with a vengeance as he flew to the wall opposite Nic and engaged the archers standing on a wide stone ledge high above the parade ground gate. With quick, powerful thrusts, David’s sword pierced the chests of the first two men, and I watched them fall from the wall. As the third man turned to look up at his attacker, he never saw what hit him; with one swift and powerful swing, David’s sword cleanly severed the archer’s head from his body. I watched the head as it rose upward through the air, twirling gracefully, then lost its upward momentum and fell quickly to the ground. For a few seconds the headless body of the archer stood before David, then fell backward as blood, pumped by his still beating heart, shot out of the severed vessels in his neck, showering the man standing next to him.
David, sure and deadly as a viper, didn’t pause for a second to watch the havoc he created. Rather than gloating over the kill or even watching the dead man fall, his gladiatorial instincts seemed to control his every action. The instant the man’s head left his shoulders David ignored him, turning his back on the headless body and slamming his dagger through the neck of another archer who had come up behind him with a long knife. Before I could blink David’s dagger was ripping the windpipe from the neck of his attacker. The man spun and fell from the ledge, landing with a thud on top of the mounting pile of corpses.
But as fiercely as Nic and David battled, their fight was nothing compared to Lancelot’s assault. From my position on the ground, I could feel waves of anger blazing from him – his heart filled with grief and despair as the image of Cody crumpling to the ground with an arrow in his back drove all rational thought from his brain. Attacking the men on the rooftops, Lance flew at them like a swooping falcon, completely ignoring the arrows they shot at him. I watched in macabre fascination as one by one by one, long bloody trails streaked across the terra cotta tiled roof as the hacked and broken bodies of one archer after another slid from their rooftop perches and tumbled into the court yard below.
My own anger was a firestorm, fueled by what I’d seen and the emotions I was absorbing from the crowd. All rational thought flew from my mind. Without even calling it up, The Screen burst into my consciousness. An overwhelming blur of images flooded my brain. Thoughts of <ATTACK> and <TARGETTING> shot into my consciousness. My eyes automatically locked onto the largest group of archers perched high above me. Under the protective shields of Cohort Hawk, I stretched out my hand. The ball of energy that formed began to pulse with a singular intensity and then shine like a blazing star. It grew to enormous size as its light turned the deepest and deadliest red. Crackling veins of energy crawled across its surface.
The soldier nearest me almost dropped his shield as he stared in disbelief. Elbowing him out of his trance, I yelled for him to slide his shield to the side. I turned toward the fourth wall – the only one Nic, David and Lance hadn’t had time to attack – and my eyes locked onto the last remaining row of gray cloaked archers. For a few seconds I stood exposed to their endless volleys of arrows; giving them a look of pure hate, I stared into their faces. Cursing them, I released the brilliant ball of fire and watched as it shot toward them, propelled by my anger and rage.
The first ball took out the entire right side of the wall and I heard screams as the brick, mortar, and stone that three of the twelve archers were standing on suddenly turned to dust and they plummeted over forty feet to the ground below. The screams continued when the second ball flew between two more of the attackers and ignited their cloaks. Quickly engulfed in fire, their cries finally ended when they, too, tumbled from the wall. A third ball – the most powerful of all – took out seven of them at the same time. The concussion of the blast was so powerful it shook the ground, rattled my teeth, and left my ears ringing. As the wall crumbled and fell, a large cloud of dust filled the courtyard. The cloud rolled through the parade ground as swiftly as a galloping horse and soon it blocked out everything, including the light of the sun shining brightly overhead. In the confusion that followed there were more shouts and screams, but after a few minutes the dust slowly settled and filtered light once more filled the courtyard.
The first thing I noticed, other than the dust that covered everyone and everything, was that there were no more arrows flying through the air. While there were still frightened horses to calm and wounded men to tend, the level of noise and confusion dropped until the only sounds remaining were those of the moans and cries of the injured and the dying. At the first sign that the attack was over, Cohort Hawk set down their shields and began to assist their comrades – the Xannameirian troops they had just joined. Marcus Zakaria, his beard and hair white with dust, was shouting commands to Ronan Torken. I looked to the gate and saw a number of healers bounding through the portal, having been alerted to trouble by David who, after slaying his compliment of archers, flew out into the city on Nic’s orders and sounded the alarm, alerting the remaining troops of the garrison to what was happening.
Brushing the dust from my body, I walked towards the reviewing platform – its canopy tattered by the countless arrows that had pierced and ripped the fabric. All around me were scattered the dead and wounded. The lifeless body of Nalus Rousa draped over the edge of the platform where I’d dropped him after I’d been hit. His eyes were wide open and blood oozed from his lips. Beyond him lay Cody. Captain Tark was no longer shielding him, but remained crouched beside him, bellowing for a healer to minister to the injured boy’s wounds.
Troops from the garrison began to stream through the gate, along with more healers. Turning my head in the direction of a loud cry, I saw Stable Master Barzo bury his face in his hands and weep at the sight of so many of his horses dead or injured. The short, stocky man was normally quiet and reclusive, choosing to spend more of his time in the stables than the pubs of Konassas. One day a few weeks earlier, when I’d stopped by the stables to give Arax a treat of fresh fruit and a few lumps of sugar, I’d overheard some of the officers kidding Barzo that the reason he’d never married was that he couldn’t find a woman whose face was ugly enough that it resembled that of a horse. But like many quiet and reclusive people, Barzo loved animals, especially the horses and dogs that inhabited his stables, and in his tears I could see genuine grief over their needless slaughter.
Turning back to Cody, I moved to kneel down beside him when I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. Turning, I saw a grim-faced Nic still clutching his sword. It was speckled with congealed blood.
“Jamie, you’re hurt,” he said. “You need to see a healer right now.”
“I’m fine Nic,” I said. “The arrow only passed by me. It’s just a shallow cut. Right now the healers have much more important work to do.”
Nic shook his head in agreement, then took his sword and slammed it into one of the heavy, wooden hitching posts sticking up in the parade ground. It cut into the wood with such force I jumped back, thinking he was going to split the post in two.
”We were fools,” he said bitterly. “I should have known something like this would eventually occur. From the day the alliance was created, this was bound to happen. Our first warning was the attack on the Amber Palace. I can’t believe I was so blind.”
“You did what you thought was right Nic,” I said quietly, touching his arm. “You doubled and redoubled the guards. You restricted visits into the center of Konassas and made everyone remain in the palace.”
“Maybe so,” he said, “But…
He abruptly stopped when a shadow fell across us, blocking out the sun. Looking up, I saw Lancelot floating down to the ground, his right hand clutching his sword, his left hand wrapped tightly around the throat of a man – one of the archers, and from what I could see the only one still alive. Alighting, Lance continued to grip the man’s throat. He was shorter by inches than the Royal Throne, and his feet dangled and kicked freely in the air.
As soon as Nic saw him, he ran over to the red-faced angel. Seconds later, General Zakaria pushed past me and joined Nic.
“He’s the only one left,” Lance shouted, spitting out the words.
The man dangled like a child’s doll in Lance’s grip. His face was purple and he was fighting for air.
“Set him down, Lancelot,” General Zakaria said quietly to the warrior angel. “If he’s the only one left, we need to question him. Set him down, now.”
Lance remained perfectly still as if he hadn’t heard or even noticed Zakaria. His arm remained outstretched, his hand clutched the archer’s throat as he stared at the man with a look one might reserve for a piece of maggot-infested carrion lying alongside a road.
Moving past Zakaria, Nic gently placed his hand on Lance’s shoulder, “Lance, please put him down. He’s the only answer to our questions. He’ll be properly dealt with, I promise, but you must let him down now or you’ll kill him, and we won’t know anything.”
As if coming out of a trance, Lance turned and looked at Nic. Without a word, he opened his hand and the man dropped like a stone to the ground. Choking, coughing, and retching, the captured man desperately tried to get his breath. On his knees, he ignored everything around him as he stared at the ground, reached for his throat, and continued to gasp and gag. After a few a minutes, the purple color of his face lessened a bit, but not by much. When it looked as if he could breathe again and was otherwise unhurt, General Zakaria approached him.
“You have one chance at this,” Zakaria said, putting his boot on the man’s back and pushing him further to the ground. “You talk, or you die.”
The man, who earlier had taken his hand from his throat, placed it on his chest. Suddenly his hand was clutching something. He gave a quick tug and yank and, still coughing and sputtering, said three words.
“I… choose… death,” he rasped. He raised his hand to his mouth, then crumpled to the ground taking one final gasp of air, and then abruptly stopped breathing. His body convulsed once and then lay still.
Shocked and surprised, Zakaria stretched out his leg and rolled the man over onto his back with the tip of his boot. The wide-open eyes of the archer stared unseeing up into the brilliant blue sky. A few small flecks of blood stained the side of his mouth. Crouching to examine the dead man, Zakaria cursed to himself, then stood. Facing Nic he opened his hand; a few pieces of glass littered his palm. The glass was bloody, and had a few drops of a thick, yellow substance on it.
“Poison,” Zakaria said. “It was in a glass vial that he had around his neck. It was hidden under his shirt – that’s what he was grabbing.” Zakaria continued as the anger and frustration rose in his voice, “He put it in his mouth and bit down on it. When it cracked under his teeth, the poison was released. It looks like Pargor – a powerful poison that kills instantly in its pure form.”
Looking from the body of the dead man to Zakaria, I was about to comment when I heard a commotion coming from the direction of the platform. I turned just in time to see Lance arguing with one of the healers.
“No, I’ll take him to the Amber Palace. He needs a bed, and to be tended properly,” Lance was shouting at the terrified healer. “Meet us there or send someone.”
With fear in his eyes, the healer motioned for two men who were standing nearby to bring a stretcher over to Cody’s side. Ignoring them, Lance gently swept the blue and white winged angel up in his arms. I winced when I saw the arrowhead still protruding through Cody’s chest while the shaft remained firmly planted in his back.
Turning quickly to Tark, Lance simply said “Thank you, my friend. I am deeply in your debt.”
“There’s no blood debt between fighting men on the field of battle, General. You would have done the same for me.”
After giving Tark a nod of agreement, Lancelot was airborne, heading over the wall toward the Forum and the Amber Palace.
“You heard him,” Tark barked at the dazed healer standing nearby. “Get over there immediately, and take some help with you. This is the Icarian ambassador you’re dealing with. You’re not taking a splinter out of a child’s foot.”
The healer quickly got up and rushed from the parade ground. As he passed through the gate, I noticed that two more healers followed in his wake.
Still standing with Nic, General Zakaria, and Captain Torken, I turned to my mate. “I need to be with Cody,” I said, now that the reality of my friend’s situation fully registered in my mind.
“Of course Jamie,” Nic said giving me a serious look. “But be careful – as far as we know we got them all, but there could be others.”
Just then David appeared at Nic’s side, and he ordered the gladiator to fly back to the palace with me. Stroking our wings we lifted off the parade ground – a place I suddenly felt I never wanted to see again. Flying silently, we quickly arrived at the palace, which lay just beyond the high walls bordering the parade ground.
Edmond Cobb met us at the door. “General Lancelot took him to their apartment,” he said, giving me a grim look.
Bounding up the grand staircase, we ran down the hall toward Lance and Cody’s room. Passing the apartment Nic and I shared, I called to the soldiers who were guarding it to leave their posts and stand watch at the door of Cody and Lance’s quarters. Although I knew that any further attacks weren’t very likely, it was a gesture – something I felt I should do out of concern and respect for both Lance, and especially, Cody.
The guards stationed themselves on either side of the door. Apparently they were well aware of what had occurred and took their posts standing much more stiffly at attention and looking more imposing than I had ever remembered.
Passing into the apartment with David, I strode into the bedchamber. The sight I faced made me shudder. There, with the unconscious body of Cody still cradled in his arms, stood Lancelot; the look of grief on his face was more than I could bear, and I felt tears come to my eyes. To the side of the door stood Philippe and Barsetba – both motionless, their eyes as large as saucers. Across the room was Charles, with Luc and Jonathan at his side.
A few seconds later, the three healers hurried breathlessly into the room – having dashed from the parade ground across the forum and up the staircase of the Amber Palace. Quickly stepping up to Lance, the first healer called for scissors and quickly began to cut Cody’s tunic from his body.
“All this blood and dust,” he said, exasperated. “He needs to be cleaned up – and quickly. If he survives the arrow, he’ll be in grave danger of pustulation and wound cancer. Take him into the bath.”
Cradling the now-naked body of the boy, Lance carried him into the bath chamber. The healer and I followed together. Dressed in full Icarian battle armor, still wearing his sword and heavy military sandals, Lance waded into the bath and gently lowered Cody into the water while cradling him in his arms. Kicking off his sandals but otherwise remaining fully clothed, the healer followed close behind.
“Give me some soap,” the healer barked, looking up at me where I stood by the edge of the bath. Walking over to one of the baskets Master Jaysune always stocked with oils, soaps and perfumes, I picked up a round, greenish piece of soap. As soon as I turned to give it to the healer, he snapped back at me, “No, not that one – it has perfume in it. I need something that will just cleanse the wound. That one,” he said, pointing to a flat, light yellow bar.
Handing him the soap, I watched as he quickly and efficiently bathed Cody’s body. When he got to the arrow, he gently washed around both the entrance and exit sites. I swallowed hard when I saw the water near them turn pinkish as the healer washed away the blood that had caked and clotted both around the arrow and on Cody’s body. After they were done Lance lifted Cody from the bath and one of the other healer’s gently dried him with a thick towel.
“Now comes the first challenge,” the healer said. “We need to get him to bed, but we can’t lay him down with the arrow still in his back. First we’ll shear off the shaft near his shoulder blade, and if that goes well, we can lay him in bed; once he’s there, we can eventually pull the arrow out the front of his chest. But I want to break the shaft of the arrow here, then we can take him into the bedchamber and finish the job. We’re lucky this arrow is clean,” he added. “I’ve seen them dipped in feces or smeared with rotting ordure to ensure the wound would rot.”
As the healer began to move toward Cody, I looked across the room to see Charles standing in the doorway with the two little boys. I could see him beginning to turn green. Giving him a sharp look, I nodded in the direction of the boys, and he quickly got my meaning and exited, dragging Luc and Jonathan with him.
“Now hold him tightly,” The healer said to Lance.
“But he’s unconscious,” I said.
“He might not be when I start manipulating this arrow,” the healer said grimly.
Carefully turning Cody so that more of his back was exposed, Lance approached the healer. The man took a small tool that resembled a pair of snippers out of his pocket. I’d seen something similar used by the farriers at the stables to trim hoof nails before shoeing a horse. It looked like a very heavy and thick pair of scissors, but was much too rough and heavy to cut paper or cloth, and I guessed it had been fashioned to grasp and cut metal. Placing the tool on the arrow shaft as close to Cody’s back as he could, the healer gripped both hands around the handles and squeezed with all his might. There was a ‘snap!’ followed by a cry of pain as the rear shaft and tail of the arrow fell onto the marble floor of the bath with a soft clatter.
The healer had been right; his actions had awakened Cody, although only briefly. But his cry had been sharp and loud – loud enough to bring the third healer to the door, followed by Nic and David who entered the bath to see what was happening.
“Very good,” the healer said, sweat beading on his brow but visibly relieved that the first part of the operation had gone well. “Now take him into the bedchamber and lay him down.”
Lance carried Cody into the bedchamber. Following behind them I could see that the healer’s assistants had arranged the blankets and pillows on the bed in such a way that Cody could be safely and gently placed on his back without damage to his wings. Once he’d been placed on the bed, it reminded me of how all of us had lain in our coffins – also on our backs, but in such an ingenious way that it had caused no problems with our wings.
Once Cody was in bed the healer approached him with another instrument. Glancing around the room I could see it was crowded with an assortment of people, from Icarians to palace staff and servants.
“I need all of you to leave now,” the healer said sharply. “This is the most difficult part. I need to concentrate, and it will most likely cause a lot of pain. None of you need to see this.”
When no one moved, he shouted, “I said, clear the room! It’s not going to be easy to watch, and it will be painful.”
“No, it won’t,” I said, looking solemnly at the principal healer. “I can help.”
“How?” he asked frowning at me.
“I can enter his mind; I can take away the pain. It should make your task much easier.”
Looking at me but not speaking, the healer nodded his head, then rounded on the crowd in the room.
“Now the rest of you, OUT,” the healer shouted. “The sooner I get this out the better his chances are.”
Slowly and reluctantly everyone turned and made their way to the door – everyone except Lancelot, who stood unmoving near the foot of the bed, water from the bath still dripping off his uniform to puddle on the floor.
“That especially means you!” the healer said.
Lance started to speak, but Nic quickly approached him. “He’s right Lance.” He said, putting his arms around the warrior. “Let him do his job; when he’s finished you can come back, isn’t that right?” Nic said, looking in the direction of the healer.
The healer simply nodded. Then, with his shoulders sagging, Lance allowed Nic to lead him from the room.
“Lance,” I called out as he approached the door.
Turning back, he looked at me with tear-filled eyes.
“He won’t feel anything, I promise.”
For a few seconds Lance stood and stared at me, then Nic took him from the room.
“What do you intend to do?” the healer said, giving me a guarded look.
“I can link with his mind,” I said, remembering all too well how I had done the same thing with Damian moments before his death. “I can go to that part of his brain where the pain is and take it from him.” I continued.
“And you?” the healer asked. “Will you feel this pain?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I wasn’t hit in the back with an arrow, and I haven’t lost a lot of blood. I’m not unconscious, or in danger of death. I should be strong enough to accept it.”
The healer said nothing, but gave me a suspicious look. I watched as he took a strange-looking tool from the hands of one of the other healers and placed it in a basin of greenish colored liquid.
“Now I’ll ask you the same question sir,” I said leveling my gaze at the healer. “What do you intend to do?”
“I’m going to grip the head of the arrow with this extractor and pull it out tip first,” he said. “If you’re really going to take the pain from him, then I need you to do a thorough job of it. Once I grip the arrowhead, I’ll need to twist it out. If I grip it too firmly or twist too hard I might break it off, then he’ll have the shaft embedded in his body and we’ll have a really serious problem. I need him to remain calm. If he doesn’t thrash around in pain it would be a blessing, and will make my task that much easier.”
Nodding my head in understanding, I knelt beside the bed. Taking Cody’s hand in mine I reached out to his mind. As soon as I made contact with it I felt a sharp pain in my chest that went through to my back. It was so sharp that I could hardly breathe nor could I detect any other thoughts coming from the mind of the unconscious boy. Pain was the central element now occupying his brain.
I could hear the healer talking to me, but as he spoke it sounded as if he were very far away instead of right beside me – his voice faint and distant as I, like Cody, began to wrestle with the pain he was feeling.
“I’m going to begin,” the healer said, but his voice sounded like I was at the bottom of a deep, dark well and he was on the surface calling down to me.
I didn’t answer the healer, but kept my mind focused on Cody and that part of his brain where the pain lived. Then I wrapped my own mental powers around it, compressed it, and took it to myself.
Suddenly I cried out as sharp, stabbing agony shot though my chest. Keeping my mind locked with Cody’s, I opened my eyes. The edges of my vision were dark, but in the center I could see the healer gripping the head of the arrow while he gently pulled and twisted it. Watching him pull upward on the tip, I was once again hit with a searing, burning pain. My stomach churned and heaved in reaction. I heard a buzzing sound in my ears, and I sucked in a quick breath.
Every part of my conscious mind was filled with pain as explosions of bright white light flashed before my eyes. I gasped another halting breath and gritted my teeth against the scream that wanted to burst out of me, but then there was nothing. Still sharing my mind with Cody, I looked up to see the healer holding the arrow tip and its bloody shaft up to the light. It was no longer embedded in Cody’s chest, but rested instead in the healer’s hands intact, except for the fletching that the healer had shorn away earlier. Releasing Cody’s mind I slumped to the bed, laying my head on the soft mattress next to Cody’s unconscious body.
“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been witness to it,” the healer said, touching me on the shoulder. “Thank you. I was able to extract the rest of the arrow safely. He’s very lucky,” the healer said, looking down at the gaping wound in Cody’s chest. “It appears it missed all the important structures and organs.”
Gathering my senses to me, I stared at the wound, surprised that blood wasn’t freely flowing from it. As if reading my thoughts, the healer pointed to the wound and spoke.
“The arrow entered his back and turned upward, missing his lung, upper heart and any major vessels. He’s quite lucky, but now we still have to worry about wound rot.”
Once more seeming to ignore me, the healer called for his assistants, who brought him more liquid – this time a yellow-filled vial – along with a cloth, linen wrappings and a small clay urn. First he poured the yellow liquid onto the cloth and gently cleaned the area around the wound. One of the other healers lifted Cody gently and the principal healer repeated the procedure to his back. Then he opened the urn and withdrew something wet, slippery and green. It looked like some kind of a plant or strands of grass. Sensing my unasked question, the healer began to speak as he withdrew more of the green material from the urn and started packing it into the open hole in Cody’s chest.
“It’s a lake grass called kafan. It comes from Lake Norran in the Kingdom of Aradamia. Many years ago, someone noticed that the fishermen who live on the lake rarely got pustulation or wound rot from their cuts or wounds. It was discovered that if a fisherman had a wound, he would go to the edge of the lake and wash it in a place where the Kafan grass densely grew. So the local healers began experimenting with the grass and discovered that if one had a wound or cut, a small amount of the grass placed in or on top of it, would cause it to heal faster and with less danger of rot or disease.
“I’m going to pack this into the wounds on his chest and back. The dressings and Kafan grass will have to be changed twice a day, but it will help, and hopefully take care of any pustulation. My only worry now is the loss of blood. I hope he regains consciousness soon so that he can at least drink. If he becomes dehydrated that, along with the loss of blood, will be reason for grave concern.”
I listened quietly to everything the healer said. Finally feeling strong enough to stand, I got up from the floor and stumbled to the door. My head swam and my knees shook so hard I could barely walk. Reaching the main salon of Lance and Cody’s apartment, I leaned hard against the doorframe. Nic jumped to his feet as soon as he saw me.
“Jamie, are you alright? You’re whiter than the marble statues in the grand salon.”
“I’m fine Nic,” I said, “The arrow is out. The healer’s have done their best, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
As I talked, Lance strode by me and into the bedchamber. Everyone else stood or sat around the room.
“Sit down before you fall down. You need that tended,” one of the healer’s assistants advised, walking out of the bedchamber and pointing to my right side.
“He’s right you know,” Charles said.
Looking down, I was surprised to see how much blood had soaked into my tunic. In all the confusion I had almost forgotten about the wound, but now that I had been made aware of my injury again, the pain I had repressed for so long once more began to spark and burn in my side. Bending down to get a better look, the healer raised my tunic.
“It’s not very deep, but there’s still the danger of rot. Go and bathe immediately; when you’re done, I’ll tend to it and you should be fine.”
Not saying anything, I began to walk out the door.
“And use the same kind of soap on it Master Crane used on the Ambassador,” the healer called after me. Turning to Luc, the healer snapped at him, “You, boy – attend him and make sure he doesn’t fall in the bath.” Luc jumped to his feet and rushed to my side, steadying me as I tottered to the door. I was annoyed by the healer’s presumption, but too tired and nauseated to say anything.
Nodding after him I left the room. Leaning on Luc, we made our way down the hall and entered my apartment. After shedding my clothes in the bedchamber with Luc’s help, I looked down at the wound in my side. I had been correct about the arrow slightly grazing me. The wound appeared superficial, but it had been a near thing – the laceration was nearly four inches long and I could feel it sting as I moved.
Heading into the bath, I walked down the steps leading into the pool of warm flowing water. As soon as the open wound touched the water I gasped and flinched at the sharp stinging sensation running up and down my right side, but after a few minutes in the warm water, it decreased in intensity. Using the same soap the healer had used on Cody, Luc washed me gently, removing the dust and dirt from both the attack and the collapsing wall from my body. Then rubbing the soap in my own hands to make a lather, I gently washed the gash created by the arrow while Luc carefully balanced me. I winced slightly, but once I washed the soap away, the sting lessened.
After washing my hair and wings, I climbed out of the bath and took a towel from Master Jaysune, who had suddenly appeared to assist me. Feeling stronger, I toweled myself dry, then wrapped the towel around my waist and walked to the bedroom, with Luc close beside me.
Once there, I saw the assistant healer standing near the bed. Nic was sitting on a bench at the foot of the bed, talking to General Zakaria and Captain Torken. As soon as I entered, Zakaria and Torken began to excuse themselves, but I asked them to stay, telling them that I wanted to hear what they had to say. I gravely thanked Luc for his assistance, and getting a proud smile in return, I sent him to rejoin Charles and Jonathan.
The healer ordered me to lie on my side in the bed. Dropping my towel and then gently folding my wings, I climbed into the bed and lay on the soft mattress. The healer knelt down beside me and began to treat my injury. Lying on my side, I looked up at the two men towering over me and listened intently to Zakaria and Torken as they discussed the attack with Nic.
“We found nothing,” Torken said in an angry and frustrated tone. “Their clothes were all the identical – plain and nondescript. They had nothing to identify them – jewelry, tattoos, or documents. There wasn’t so much as a copper in their pockets. The only thing each one had, other than weapons and clothes, was this.”
And he held out a thin leather thong with a small glass vial hanging from it. From where I was lying it looked like a delicate piece of crystal, but I immediately recognized it. Even from where I was, I could see the amber colored liquid held within the glass structure.
“It was a suicide mission,” Zakaria said. “That’s certain. They never planned to survive it, and they were prepared to make sure they didn’t, if captured. Their one hope was to get as many of us as they could – mostly Icarians and the leadership of the kingdoms.” He cursed angrily, then added, “I can tell you, this has the hands of the Holy Bloodsuckers all over it.
“Was it the Knights of Sarjanus?” I asked.
“Those filthy insects?” Zakaria snorted. “They only act when the odds are heavily in their favor, or they’re dealing with the weak and helpless. They like to sneak around like rats in dark alleys. This attack was directed from Wheems, but the Knights had nothing to do with it. The men who attacked us today had their orders directly from the Sacred Diet. They were professional assassins – of that I have no doubt. The Sacred Diet employs all manner of vermin to do their bidding. We just can’t prove it,” he added with a sigh.
As he and Torken continued to talk, the healer also continued his work. What he did was similar to what the first healer, Master Crane, had done to Cody, only on a lesser scale. Washing my wound with the same yellowish liquid, he then took a few strands of the Kafan grass and laid it across the wound on my side. Once he was satisfied with its placement, he proceeded to lay a linen dressing on it. Then he wrapped a gauze-like strip around my waist that held the dressing in place. Telling me that it would have to be changed twice a day until it healed, he left, heading back to assist Master Crane with Cody. After the healer had finished with me, I put on a simple tunic and with Nic, General Zakaria and Captain Torken walked slowly to the main salon of our apartment. Just then Sergeant Aaron Blaze stepped into the room. He looked both shocked and surprised to see us.
“Oh, Your Majesty… ah, Your Grace…” he stammered when he saw Nic and I, then turning even paler, he blinked and stuttered still more when he saw Zakaria and Torken in the room with us. “Beg pardon General… I mean my Lord General… I mean… ah Captain… I’m… I…” Suddenly a look of determination crossed his face and he snapped to rigid attention and saluted crisply. “Sergeant Blaze of Cohort Hawk, sir.”
“I know who you are, son. What do you want?” Zakaria said easily, looking at the young, recently promoted sergeant.
“Permission to speak freely, my Lord?”
“Granted, but make this quick. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover here.”
“M… my… Lord,” he continued to stammer, but carried on with determination. “I came to see how our commander, General Lancelot, is doing. I was told he was here… and I was trying to learn if he has any further orders for us. Captain Tark dismissed us, but… well, my Lord General… he’s our commander… and well, the ambassador… the men and I all felt that one of us should check.”
“It’s fine, son,” Zakaria said, “Circumstances being as they are, I can certainly understand Cohort Hawk’s allegiance; in fact, I’m pleased to see your concern. It’s the sign of a good officer and commander when his men respect him enough to be concerned about his welfare off the field as well as on it.”
“Where is the Cohort?” Ronan Torken asked, looking at the young soldier.
“Well, My lord… ah, Captain Tark… well…. He dismissed us, but we just couldn’t just go back to our barracks, not with what’s happened to His Excellency, the ambassador,” Blaze answered, still flushed and stammering. But General Zakaria remained patient and let him finish. “We… well, we’re all in the forum in front of the Amber Palace. We thought he might need an extra guard in case of attack. We didn’t just want to be dismissed and sent back to the barracks – we’re his men, sir.”
“I understand sergeant. I understand quite well. Your Commander is holding up well under difficult circumstances,” Zakaria said.
A tiny smile of pride appeared on Blaze’s face. “He’s a game one…beggin’ your pardon, my Lord.”
“Cohort Hawk has my permission to remain in the forum, so long as you are orderly and quiet – the ambassador was seriously wounded, and needs to rest. You can establish a rotating guard on the palace perimeter, but I’m putting you in charge and I’ll brook no nonsense, Sergeant – do you understand?”
“Yes, my Lord, of course, my Lord, completely, my Lord,” Aaron Blaze said, bowing more than once in the direction of Zakaria and Torken.
”You’re dismissed to the forum Sergeant, but mark my orders.”
“Yes, my Lord General,” Blaze said, crisply saluting. Then turning briskly, he walked hurriedly across the room in an attempt to escape as quickly as possible.
“Wait,” Ronan Torken called out as he reached the door.
Turning back, Blaze snapped to attention. “Captain?” he said, a look of fear coming to his face.
“I want to know something,” Torken said, walking across the room and standing face to face with the young sergeant. “What kind of maneuver were you doing today after we were attacked? I’ve never seen anything like it. It was effective, but damned unorthodox.”
“Ah… well, sir… ah… it was General Lancelot,” Blaze said turning red and once more fidgeting. “The general told us that before Icarians arrived, our armies only thought about fighting in terms of face to face or hand to hand combat, along with various types of siege tactics. But he told us if we ever were to fight Icarians – especially the one he called Loran – we would need to think about fighting enemies from the air, and would have to defend ourselves accordingly. Then General Lancelot taught us The Tortoise.”
“The Tortoise?” Torken asked, giving the young man a puzzled look.
“Well, he called it something else, but Jess Ellin called it the tortoise because it reminded him of a turtle drawing into its shell. General Lancelot laughed when Jess said it, but he didn’t seem to mind, so the name just stuck. When the arrows came from above, I called for the men to form The Tortoise, and we did.”
“But you were also attacking from that defensive position?” Torken said. “I saw the pikesmen throwing their pikes at the archers – with fairly impressive results.”
“Yes Captain,” Blaze continued. “General Lancelot had all the pikes modified. He instructed the garrison arms maker to make them lighter and slimmer, and had their hilts refashioned so that they can be thrown like a spear. They’re strong enough to be used as a pike in a conventional battle, but light enough to hurl. Part of our training exercises was to practice throwing them with speed and accuracy. He made us practice for hours, but by now most of the pikesmen can easily hit their target from one to two hundred paces with great accuracy.”
“So they can,” Torken said, turning his back to Blaze, suddenly lost in thought. Then, as if suddenly remembering the young Sergeant, he turned back and quickly added, “That will be all, Sergeant. Dismissed.”
Blaze briskly saluted, then turned quickly and almost fled from the room in what looked like an attempt to vanish before anyone else could ask him any more questions.
Watching Sargent Blaze make his exit I smiled inwardly, remembering the day I promoted Lance to general of a non-existent Icarian army, and his protests that he wasn’t a leader, but a “common battle angel.” In all the time I had known him, I had never seen anything less than uncommon excellence from the usually reserved and quiet warrior.
Once Aaron Blaze left our apartment, Ronan Torken approached General Zakaria. “I think we might want to consider incorporating General Lancelot’s tactic, my Lord General,” Torken said, facing his commander.
“I think so, too. It’s hard to believe, but not one of Lancelot’s men was hurt or injured. Even the cavalry escaped harm.”
As he continued to speak to Captain Torken, General Zakaria looked over at me, and suddenly stopped.
“Ronan,” he said quietly. “I think we should continue this later. Today wasn’t one of the army’s better days. Right now these boys have only one thing on their mind, and that’s the life of their friend. At the moment there’s nothing we can do but wait.” Then turning to Nic and I, he added, “We’ll leave you for now, but I want to be kept informed of any changes – good or bad – in his condition.”
Nic nodded his head in agreement, “Of course General, we’ll update you. If anything changes dramatically I’ll make sure that you’re properly informed.
“Very well, Nic,” he said, then turning to me added, “I’m sorry this had to happen Jamie. I know what it’s like to lose friends and comrades in battle. In a war one expects it – although it’s always difficult to accept. But something like this… a treacherous ambush…” he said shaking his head and scowling, “We’ll try to learn as much as we can, but with all the attackers now dead, it will be difficult.”
“I appreciate your efforts, General,” I said. “But for now, all I care about is Cody.”
Zakaria nodded in agreement. Then he bid us goodbye as he and Captain Torken left our apartment. At the sound of the door closing behind them, I approached Nic.
“I keep hoping this is just a bad dream – a nightmare – but I know it’s not, Nic. And as much as I wish I could change what happened today, I know I can’t.”
“You did what you could Jamie,” Nic said, approaching me and putting his arms around me. “You helped the healers remove the arrow when you took away his pain. Now we have to wait and see what happens.”
“Yes wait,” I said, putting my head on his shoulder, “and that’s the hardest part of all.”