The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Part III – The Alliance
“How’s he doing, Sparrow?” Brotus asked, dropping into the seat next to me. I heard the chair creak in protest as his ample body took up every bit of the space it offered.
“Still sleeping,” I answered with a deep sigh. “Healer Crane is optimistic. He told me there’s still a chance of wound rot, but every hour he goes without showing any signs is good.”
“He’ll be just fine,” Brotus said, giving me a not-too-convincing smile. “I’ve seen men seriously wounded in battle Jamie, and he’s probably out of danger by now.”
Looking up at him, I could see that despite the calm, measured tone of his voice, his face showed concern and worry, as if his words were meant more for his own benefit than mine.
The night following the attack was filled with anxiety. Although the arrow had been safely removed within a few hours of the attack, Cody had lost a lot of blood. That, combined with his continued state of unconsciousness, and the fact that he hadn’t had anything to drink, was cause for concern.
The night had passed restlessly – every hour filled with stress and worry. Following the departure of General Zakaria and his staff, everyone but Lance gravitated to our chambers. Except for Jonathan, who napped on Charles’ lap, the night had been a sleepless one for all. Philippe and Barsetba huddled in one of the corners of the room and talked softly to each other. Luc sat cross-legged on the floor, silent and sullen. David had drawn out a few of his hidden knives and begun to sharpen them until the scraping sound of metal against whetstone was more than I could take. The small lightning spark I sent his way was enough to make him quickly stop. Scowling back at me, he replaced the knives and moodily slumped against the wall. Following that, even Prince Andrew, who’d chosen to remain with us after his uncle left the Amber Palace, couldn’t rouse the sulking young gladiator. I watched as the prince’s attempts at conversation were rebuffed or ignored until an exasperated Andrew dropped into a chair in a far off corner of the room, purposely choosing to sit with his back to David.
Out in the forum, the soldiers of Cohort Hawk, under the direction of Sergeant Blaze, rotated in groups of four through their self-appointed sentry duty. Taking hourly tours, each set of four split their assignment between guarding the portico at the entrance of the Amber Palace or standing inside the foyer leading to the grand staircase. Lance remained at Cody’s side occasionally holding his hand, but most of the time staring off into space, lost in a haze of despair that overwhelmed him. Throughout the evening and into the night, the healers tended to the Icarian ambassador, changing his dressings and observing his condition.
The overall mood in the palace was black. Cody, being a natural born diplomat, had made countless friends among the palace staff, and the worry and sadness they felt readily appeared on their faces as they silently went about their duties. Master Jaysune fretted over the fact that Cody’s finest tunic had been cut to shreds in the healer’s efforts to quickly undress him without further injury. He walked about insisting he would need to call Master Crown in the morning to fashion an exquisite new tunic for the ambassador. After the fifth tray of food arrived from the kitchen piled high with Cody’s favorite treats, Nic made his way to the kitchen to ask Master Arnod to not waste any more food and wait until Cody regained consciousness. And even though it was amusing in a macabre way, I knew that it was their way of letting us know how much they cared for the sunny boy who’d often made their days brighter.
In our apartment, I alternated between sitting next to Nic and pacing the length of the salon. Occasionally I glanced out the window, observing a group of men from Cohort Hawk, who’d recently been relieved of sentry duty and now huddled around a brazier. Grim looks could readily be seen on their faces in the glow of the crackling fire. Watching the occasional spark float up upward into the black night sky, my thoughts returned to Damian. “Please, not another one,” I thought to myself as tears came to my eyes. “Not Cody.”
Still restless, I’d left the apartment, and tread softly down the hall to Cody and Lance’s apartment. Walking to the bedchamber, I passed one of Master Crane’s assistants. I gave him a questioning look, and he whispered, “Nothing yet; we’re still waiting.”
Cody remained still and quiet in his bed; lying on his back with his wings carefully folded and cushioned with large pillows, he was wan and pale. Lance stared blankly ahead, ignoring my presence. I stood silently at the foot of the bed looking down at Cody. Reaching out, I gently laid my hand on the down-filled duvet that covered him and tenderly gripped his foot. Giving it a light squeeze, I concentrated on entering his mind, but I was unsuccessful. Releasing his foot and backing away from the bed, I stepped over to Lance. Bending over him, I placed my hand on his shoulder and kissed the top of his head. He continued to ignore my presence, and I turned and quietly left the room.
Back out in the hall, I began to pace the length of the long corridor until finally, exhausted and thoroughly depressed, I slumped into one of the large, throne-like chairs that lined both sides of the hallway. It was after a few minutes of sitting silently by myself that Brotus had found me and sat in the chair next to mine.
“We all know how he’s doing, Sparrow,” Brotus said, staring straight ahead at some imaginary spot on the far wall, “but how are you?”
“He can’t die,” I said so softly I was surprised he heard me.
“And if he does?” Brotus asked.
“Then I’ve killed him. Just like I killed Damian,” I answered.
During our practice sessions, I’d told Brotus our story from the time Nic and I were released from our coffins through all our adventures – including the tale of the life and death of Damian.
“Terrible how you’re such a killer, Sparrow,” he said. “I didn’t realize you were that cold and bloodthirsty.”
“You know what I mean Brotus,” I shouted at him, abruptly bolting upright in my chair.
Looking to my right, I could see the sentries at the end of the hall turn and look at us. Lowering my voice I continued, “It’s all because of me. Loran wants me dead; Gude, along with his monks and knights, wants me dead, and who knows how many others probably wish I never existed. Those archers didn’t care about Cody – they wanted me, Brotus, and probably Nic.”
“Oh, so you’re willing to admit that King Niklas is also in danger.”
“Yes, of course. And what do you mean by that anyway?” I said, my voice rising again.
“Well Sparrow, for a minute there it seemed like you were trying to tell me that you were the sole victim here.”
“Look Brotus,” I said, holding up my arm and just about shoving the asp bracelet that twined around it under his nose. “I just know that according to Philippe, Damian came to me in the Wizard’s Palace in Küronas by my request and when it was over he’d been tortured and horribly broken. He died when the tower where he hid a box that contained this bracelet collapsed – a bracelet I earlier ordered him to hide and then make sure I received. I also know that if Cody hadn’t been standing next to me, I might have taken the arrow instead of him.”
“Rather important then, are you?” Brotus said.
“What are you trying to say, Brotus?” I snapped.
“You seem to feel like you’re the only one who’s in danger.”
“Of course not,” I said, “We’re all in danger, but…”
“…but you’re more important than anyone else? Is that it?” he said, frowning down at me.
“You know what I mean, Brotus; don’t play with my words,” I snarled at the old soldier. “It just seems to me that because of my powers, and who I’m supposed to be, I’m not only in danger, but I have a tendency to put those around me in danger – a danger they never asked to share.”
“So you think that boy in there blames you for what happened?”
“I don’t know. Probably not.”
“Then don’t blame yourself,” he said. “Even though you have magical powers Jamie, you’re going to have to realize that there are things you can’t do anything about. There are forces now coming to play and swirling around all of you that you can’t always control.”
“Yes, that’s the problem,” I said, bowing my head.
“Ah, now we come to the real truth,” Brotus said. “Well Sparrow, you have to acknowledge that there are things you have power over and things that you don’t. Work on the things you can change or influence, and be as prepared as possible for the things you can’t. But don’t torture yourself when something happens that isn’t your fault or that you can’t control. ”
“Easy for you to say,” I said, staring dejectedly at the floor.
“Jamie,” Brotus said looking directly at me, “Sometimes you have to accept the thorns placed in your crown.”
“What are you talking about?” I said, sharply turning up to look at him.
“Every good and just ruler – one who truly cares for his people – is hurt every time something bad happens to them. A despot can send an army of thousands into battle and watch them be slaughtered without a thought – as long as their deaths help maintain his power and position. A just ruler suffers when his troops are killed or injured. He grieves when his people undergo trial or disaster. Every life lost, every hurt or injury his people suffer is another thorn he must endure. Derrick the Fat said that the despot wears a crown of gold, but a true ruler wears a crown of thorns.”
“And you’re telling me… just to accept it?” I said.
“No, that’s not what I’m saying, Jamie. If you care, you’ll never accept it, and I’m not telling you that you ever should. You’ll grieve and suffer every time they grieve and suffer, you’ll die a hundred deaths, but you can’t blame yourself for every misfortune. If and when you do something wrong, admit it, and take the responsibility that falls on your head; but when things are out of your control, don’t waste your time blaming yourself. Use that time for a better purpose: to see what you can do to help, or to formulate a new plan. You couldn’t possibly foresee that attack. You couldn’t stop it. But when it took place, you stood and fought; so did King Niklas, and that wild one – David. Then when it was over, from what I’ve heard, you took that boy’s pain from him – you took it on to yourself. That was brave, and it was good. That’s the mark of a ruler, and a leader. It’s also the sign of a true friend.”
I sat silently staring at the floor as he continued to speak. I felt a large heavy hand rest on my shoulder. The old soldier’s calloused fingers briefly rubbed the spot between my shoulder blades just above my wings. An instant later there was a quick but gentle rap against the side of my head.
“Mind what I say, Jamie. Thorns are sharp and they hurt, but some of the most beautiful and sweetest smelling flowers have them.”
I continued to look at the ground, but I slowly nodded my head in agreement. Then hearing a loud shout, I looked up and turned to see one of the healers rushing up the hall toward me.
“The ambassador has just awakened,” he said, his voice echoing down the corridor.
Jumping from my seat and running to the entrance of Cody and Lance’s apartment, I almost collided with Nic and the others as they emerged from our apartment. Fighting to get through the door our bodies and wings crowded and pushed each other. Just inside the door, Healer Crane stood before us with one hand upraised.
“I’ll permit only one of you to enter, and that visit will be limited in time,” he sternly said, looking at each one of us. “The Ambassador has just regained consciousness and he’s very weak; I will not allow what little strength he has to be expended trying to talk to everyone. I realize your worry and concern, but my responsibility is for his well-being and recovery. As he improves, knowing of your care and support will be therapeutic for him, but that will be in a few days. For now, he needs to rest and heal. So which one of you will it be?” He stood silently, waiting for our reply.
“It will be Jamie,” Nic said, before anyone could make any comments. “We’re all concerned about Cody but for now, he’ll see him.”
Nodding his head, Master Crane gestured for me to accompany him into the bedchamber. The darkness of the candlelit bedchamber had given way to the light of the early morning sun just coming over the horizon. My first sight was of Lance, who was sitting carefully on the edge of the bed with a cup in his hands. It appeared that he’d just offered Cody some water. Still looking very pale, Cody swallowed the small sip he’d taken and looked up at me as I entered the room. A weak smile came to his face.
“I knew you’d be the first one to come in,” he said in a voice so soft I had to strain my ears to hear him. But the ever-growing smile on his face meant more to me than anything.
Blinking away a few quick-forming tears, I swallowed hard and gave him a smile of my own.
“I’m…” I stopped and swallowed again.
“Did it hurt very much?” Cody asked, interrupting me.
“When they took out the arrow; Lance told me what happened,” he said, giving me a concerned look. “Was it very painful?”
“That? Oh no, I hardly noticed,” I answered.
“You don’t lie very well, Jamie,” he said, and I felt my face flush red.
“Well, it hurt a little, but seeing you alive makes it all worthwhile, Cody.”
Cody smiled even broader and when he did, what I’d just told him really did become true. Seeing his smile – even though it wasn’t half as bright as usual – was worth any pain I may have felt when the healer extracted the arrow. Once more I blinked back tears, but then startled when Master Crane sharply addressed me.
“Now that you’ve seen and talked to him, you need to leave and allow him to rest,” he said,
“But I just arrived!” I countered in protest.
“I said just a brief visit, and that’s what you’ve had. That goes for you too,” he said sharply, looking across the room at Lancelot. “You’ve been up all night and you need some rest yourself.”
“But, he just gained consciousness,” Lance said, “Now I can actually talk to him.”
“And that’s exactly what he doesn’t need now. He – just like you – needs rest. There’ll be plenty of time for talking, but for now he needs to work on healing.”
Grudgingly I left the room with Lancelot. As soon as we were in the main salon of the boys’ apartment, everyone crowded around us shouting questions.
“So how is he?” David said.
“Is he in pain?” Philippe asked with a deep look of concern etched on his face.
“Was there lots of blood?” Luc asked, wide-eyed.
One by one we answered their questions, although I did much more of the talking than Lance, who by now was sitting in a nearby chair, obviously relieved but thoroughly exhausted from the stress of the past hours.
After a few minutes of discussion, it was decided we would leave Cody to the healer, and Lance to get some much-needed sleep. The others quietly made their way back to their apartments and I suspected that most of them might also try to get some sleep. As I made my way to the door a voice called out to me. Turning back, I could see it was Healer Crane.
“Have you had that changed yet?” he asked, pointing to my side.
“Ah… no, not yet,” I said.
“Then come back here and sit down. I want to take a look at it and redress it. Just because it’s a superficial wound doesn’t mean that it can’t become mortified.”
I moved to a bench near the door and sat down. Master Crane approached me and called out orders to one of his assistants as he pulled up my tunic and removed my dressing. Once the dressing was off, his assistant approached with a basin of warm water, a cloth, some ointment, a few strands of Kafan grass, and clean bandages. Within minutes, the wound was swabbed and redressed.
“Remember, it must be changed regularly,” he said, sending me on my way.
I nodded and left the room. Entering our apartment I found General Zakaria in the middle of a heated conversation with Nic. Looking into a corner of the room I noticed that Juston Tark had accompanied the General.
“…I definitely think it would be for the best,” Zakaria crisply finished his sentence as I made my way to Nic.
“I’m not sure,” Nic said. “Everyone has gotten used to Konassas and the Amber Palace. Wouldn’t it be better if we launched our expedition to Küronas from here?”
“What are you talking about?” I said, interrupting the discussion and giving Nic a questioning look.
“General Zakaria feels that we would all be safer and more secure in Tahkor,” he said.
“Tahkor? The capital of Xannameir? But you have a garrison full of Xannameirian troops here,” I said to the general.
“The garrison of Konassas is comprised of some of the finest officers and soldiers in the Xannameirian army,” Zakaria said, “but it’s limited in size, and therefore limited in what it can do.”
“What do you think about this, Nic?” I asked my mate.
“I’m not sure. My first reaction is to stay here. The Amber Palace has been our home these past months and I think everyone is comfortable and well settled in here, but General Zakaria has made some strong points.”
“Pardon me, Your Highness and my Lord General, but might I offer a suggestion?” Captain Tark said, diplomatically easing into the conversation.
When Nic and General Zakaria both nodded their assent, Tark continued, “Your Highness, why don’t you first visit Tahkor? You could journey there by boat up the River Klee. It would be quicker and safer than a journey overland, and you’d arrive at the central port of the city. At most, it’s five or six day’s journey. You could stay at the royal palace, which is heavily guarded and quite secure. That way you’d have better knowledge of what you were getting into, and hopefully you’d have enough information to make a wise decision.”
“An excellent idea, son,” Zakaria said, giving Tark a thoughtful gaze. Turning back to Nic he added, “it would be a chance for you to visit another kingdom and its capital. And if you could be convinced to stay there instead of Konassas, suitable accommodations could easily be prepared for all of you. You’d definitely be more secure, and I for one could sleep better at night. I also have a feeling no one is going to mount an expedition to Küronas until the Icarian Ambassador has recovered enough to accompany all of you.”
“You’re correct about Cody,” Nic said. “When we journey to Küronas, I insist we all go together as a group. Actually, I was planning on waiting for Miro to return. I must say that I’m more than a little concerned that we haven’t heard anything from him yet.”
“Miro can handle himself,” Zakaria said, “and I instructed Lieutenant Mahon to send back a message when they arrived at Domain Carolus. I suspect they’re either almost there or have just arrived – we should be hearing something from them in the next week or two. In the meantime, I strongly suggest you come to Tahkor. I’d be pleased if you could see the city of my birth. It’s most unlike Konassas.”
“Very well, General,” Nic said. “Jamie and I will go, and we’ll take Charles as well. I’d like him to see Tahkor, and help us in whatever decision we make.”
“Excellent,” Zakaria said, obviously pleased. Turning to Captain Tark, he continued, “Juston, would you make the necessary arrangements? I want to sail as soon as possible – as early as tomorrow morning, if you can arrange it. Find a sound ship with an honest captain and engage them for a journey to Tahkor. Tell the ship’s master he’ll be paid half in silver at the start of the voyage and the other half in gold at its conclusion. Oh, and tell him he’ll get twenty extra gold pieces for every day less than the six it normally takes – that, I’m sure, will prove to be a proper incentive.”
“As you command, Lord General,” Tark said, bowing slightly toward the general.
As he moved to leave the room Zakaria called out to him. “Juston,” Zakaria said waiting for the young officer to turn and face him. Once more Tark faced his commander and silently waited for the general to speak.
“I want you to accompany us,” he said. “As military liaison to the Icarians, I feel it’s important that you’re in on this.”
“As you command,” Tark said, giving the General another bow. Then turning away, he quickly strode across the floor and exited the salon through the door, rushing off to make the necessary arrangements.
“I know from observing you, General, that you’re rather close to your officers,” Nic said, “but I can’t help noticing how keenly familiar you seem to be with Captain Tark. Although I can understand why, since you’re his commander and he’s by far the finest officer I’ve seen out of all the Xannameirian troops we’ve ever encountered – even Captain Torken, whom I personally hold in high regard.”
“The boy has turned into a fine officer, hasn’t he?” Zakaria sighed, looking at Nic and I. “I just wish he would allow me to get a little closer to him. He’s always so guarded, so careful, and so correct around me. I know I’m not the father he hoped and dreamed about, but I’m not an ogre, either.”
“Father?” I said, startled at Zakaria’s surprise revelation. “I was told by Brotus you never married.”
“Brotus would be better served to keep that gossiping old soldier’s tongue of his silent,” Zakaria said, wrinkling his forehead and making his brows knit together. “Although he’s right, I never married. But while I never had a wife, little boy, its not that I’ve never had a woman in my bed – there’ve been a few. There was one girl in particular I met many years ago – her name was Cilian.” Zakaria gave me a strange look. “It was after… well, after a particularly difficult time for me – something I suspect you already know about.” He stopped and leveled a long, silent gaze at me. I stood as still as a statue and met his smoldering eyes without comment.
“Anyway,” he continued, “Cilian was beautiful and loving – a spirited girl, quick to laugh, full of life, and always kind and loving. I cared for her, but not in the same passionate way she cared for me. We were together for a time when I was commander of the White Army in Sharborne, the second largest city in the kingdom. My father was still alive, and old General Goustan commanded the army; Wilum was crown prince, and had recently married. I met Cilian one night in a tavern. She was one of the cooks in the kitchen. She told me her parents had died when she was young and that for most of her life she’d been on her own. She and I were together for over a year. Then Father died, Wilum became king, and Goustan retired. Wilum immediately recalled me to Tahkor to assume command of the army.
“That was when Cilian and I separated, and went our ways. I returned to Tahkor – at least outside the city, to the land belonging to the Duchy of Lionsgate, and took residence in the hereditary castle of the Dukes there. Fourteen years later, an old man appeared at the castle with a boy of about thirteen. When he entered my presence, he recounted for me the story of a woman who met and fell in love with me, and how after we’d parted, she bore a child – my child. As proof he offered a necklace, a ring and a few letters I’d written to Cilian.
“He told me that Cilian was his granddaughter, and that after our separation she returned to the small village she grew up in. It was true that her parents were dead and since he was the only surviving member of her family, she appeared at his door pregnant, and in need of help. He took her into his home and there she resided, giving birth to a son she named Juston. The boy lived and grew up with his mother and great grandfather. Cilian worked long hours in the kitchen of a local pub. One day, an errant spark from the baking oven set her skirt afire. She was carried home, badly burned. The burns were quite serious. They quickly mortified and within days of the accident, she was dead.
“Since Juston’s great grand father was an old man, he feared that he might die and leave the boy an orphan. He was relieved that before she’d died, Cilian – who had never named the father of her child – told him the full story. She gave him the letters, along with the necklace and the ring. She told him to seek me out, and present Juston to me. I never knew she was with child when we separated. Although I didn’t love her as she loved me, I would have made sure she was comfortable in life and taken care of – I certainly had the means to do so. And I surely would have acknowledged and supported my own son. Sadly, she never gave me the chance until the old man showed up with Juston at his side. Although he placed the objects Cilian had given him in my hands, I didn’t need them to know he was my son: one look at him and you can easily see it.”
I nodded my head in agreement, having noted more than once how similar in appearance both men were – as close in appearance as Marcus Zakaria was to his own brother Wilum.
“Unfortunately, since his mother was dead,” Zakaria said continuing his story, “there was nothing I could do to expunge the fact that he was born a bastard. But in Xannameir the sexual exploits of the aristocracy are such that a simple thing like illegitimacy rarely has any negative stigma attached to it, and Xannameirian law is a bit more flexible than Kalian – and certainly Vorhallan law – in these matters. So without hesitation, I formally adopted Juston. At his request, when he turned 16, I allowed him to join the army. He’s risen through the ranks – spurning any and all help I ever offered him – all the while receiving his honors, medals, and promotions through merit. There was a question as to if he would be able to inherit my title and property as the nineteenth Duke of Lionsgate. That was taken care of when he recently became a Captain in the army and Wilum decreed the hereditary duchy would now pass to Juston upon my death, as long as he attained the rank of General first order and continued his impeccable military record – something I have no doubt he will easily accomplish.
“I must regret to say,” Zakaria continued, bowing his head and speaking a little softer, “there’s a distance between us. There has never been any open hostility or rebellion – Juston’s done whatever I asked of him, and to perfection. But the truth is, we’ve never been very close as father and son. He was already thirteen years old when he came to me. He loved his mother very much and even though I explained the situation, he’s never completely forgiven me for her death. But he’s a fine man, and a natural leader. As an officer and a commander, he’s one of the best in the army. There are fathers who are closer to their sons who can’t claim half that, so I consider myself lucky, but there are days…”
His voice trailed off into silence. Nic quickly broke it. “After he found us, he treated us with great respect, and honored his promise of bringing us to Konassas safely. From the first, I could see he was a man of integrity and honor.”
“I wouldn’t have expected any less of him,” Zakaria said.
“But now we’re going to journey to Tahkor,” I said, purposely interrupting the conversation with the goal of changing the topic from one that obviously bothered the General to one that was a bit lighter.
“Yes,” he said, bestowing on us one of his rare smiles. “You will come to Tahkor, the imperial city – the city of Kartannus the Great!”
“We look forward to it,” Nic said, smiling back at the general.
Zakaria nodded and told us to be ready in the morning, informing us that he would send an armed escort to take us to the docks and our ship. Then he said goodbye and took his leave. Turning to Nic, I beamed him a wide and happy smile.
“We’re going to Tahkor,” I said, “and I already know that it’s going to be a great adventure.”
“It should prove interesting,” Nic said. “Go and tell Charles, won’t you? You heard Zakaria – he wants to leave in the morning, and knowing Tark, he’ll move mountains to make sure the General’s request is granted. I want the three of us up and ready by first light.”
Quickly agreeing, I went racing out the door, heading to Charles’ room – eager to tell him the news.
The following morning, as the sun was just beginning to crest the horizon, we stood in our apartment dressed, packed, and ready to leave. The evening before, Master Jaysune carefully stuffed large chests with our clothing and belongings. Servants carried the heavy chests out of the palace and loaded them onto a wagon, bound for the docks. I watched from a window as the wagon left the forum and disappeared around a corner. We, on the other hand, waited in the Amber palace for some of the troops of the garrison to escort us. After what seemed like an unbearably long time, there came a loud knock on the door. The heavy door was pulled and held open by one of the guards, to reveal Captain Tark.
“It’s time to go,” he said. “Your horses are in front of the palace.”
“Fine,” Nic said, turning to Charles and me. “Let’s get moving.”
“Wait,” I said, suddenly remembering something. “Go ahead, I’ll join you in five minutes,” I called back as I left the room. Running down the hallway, I entered Cody and Lance’s apartment. Cody was awake but still resting in bed; Lance sat nearby. “I just wanted to see how you were, and also to say goodbye,” I said, looking down at the blue and white winged boy lying in the bed. His color had improved since the day before, but he still looked frail and a bit pale.
“Thanks,” Cody said. “I know you’ll love Tahkor. It’s an amazing city.”
“He’s right,” Lance said, “it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” I said, remembering that they’d both been there when Cody was on his diplomatic mission of making rounds to the capital cities of all the kingdoms.
“Make sure you visit the tomb of Kartannus the Great,” Lance said.
“And the treasure vaults,” Cody added.
“I will, but I’d better leave; Nic and Charles are waiting for me. We’ll be back in about twenty days,” I said, quickly adding up the five to six days to and from Tahkor, plus the ten days we’d planned for our stay in the city. “I’ll tell you all about it when we get back.” I stepped over to the head of the bed, bent down, and kissed Cody’s cheek. “Get better Cody,” I added, “Nic promised we wouldn’t go to Küronas until you were well enough to come with us.”
“I know,” he said looking up at me, “Lance told me. But you know we Icarians all heal fast – much faster than humans. By the time you’re back, I’ll be fine.”
“Do you promise?” I said, smiling down at him.
“I promise, Jamie.”
Calling out one final goodbye as I tore out of their apartment. I raced down the hall, bounded down the grand staircase, and met the others who were waiting patiently for me in the foyer of the Amber Palace. Philippe and Barsetba were there to send us off, along with Luc, Jonathan, and David. After they wished us well, we exchanged kisses and said goodbye.
“Take care of them, David,” Nic admonished the gladiator.
“I will,” David replied, smiling brightly and appearing to enjoy his new role as the unofficial leader of the Icarians remaining in Konassas.
Nic, Charles, and I accompanied Juston Tark and two cavalry soldiers to the Forum, where our horses waited. By now the eastern horizon was beginning to give off a glow showing bright pink. The few wispy clouds that could be seen were touched with pink as well, but the early morning remained cool and there was a light mist in the air. After mounting, Tark turned to us.
“The docks are located on the eastern side of the city. We’ll be taking a circuitous route instead of the more traveled streets. We’re not taking a chance on another ambush.”
His words reminded me of the attack and I involuntarily shuddered. As I did, my wings shuttered slightly and Tark looked over at me. “You all right?” he asked.
I simply nodded, urging Arax into motion and followed the others out of the forum at a trot. The trip was quiet and unremarkable until we reached the docks. Tark led us down the quay to a tall, double-masted ship. Since it was early morning, the docks were mostly quiet, except for the activity around the tall ship. Barefooted sailors and burley dockhands scurried along the wooden boardwalk of the dock and moved quickly up and down the wide planked ramps leading to the deck and holds of the ship. Booms and tackle were in place on both the dock and the ship as cargo was loaded for the voyage.
As soon as we dismounted, our horses were tended to and I was surprised to see their bridles, and saddles quickly removed and taken aboard ship. I looked on in amazement as one by one they were bound with heavy straps and lifted onto the ship.
“Why are we taking our horses?” I said to Juston Tark. “Don’t they have any in Tahkor?”
“Of course there are horses in Tahkor,” Tark said. “But your horses are used to you and I prefer to ride Titan, so General Zakaria agreed to bring them with us.”
“You mean your father?” I said.
As Tark looked down at me, his eyes narrowed to slits. Without saying a word, he walked away.
Nic hearing my conversation with Tark moved closer to me. “It would be best if you didn’t cause any trouble Jamie,” he whispered in a reproving tone.
“You know exactly what I mean, Jamie,” he added, “you have a talent for chaos, and now’s not the time to brew up trouble between Zakaria and Tark.”
“Come on, let’s get aboard,” Nic said taking my hand in his. I pretended to sulk a bit, but gripped his hand and followed him aboard.
With Charles in the lead, we strode up the gangplank onto the ship. Once we reached the top railing of the large vessel, we stepped onto its deck. General Zakaria was there to greet us, along with Prince Andrew and Captain Ronan Torken. As soon as we were on deck, the general motioned in the direction of a skinny but wiry man with a long beard who was standing nearby.
“Please join us,” Zakaria said to the bearded man. Then turning to us, he introduced him. “This is Captain Boden, the ship’s master.”
“Welcome aboard the Tairn,” Boden said, smiling and shaking hands with each of us. As he did, I watched some of the sailors glancing in our direction and eyeing our wings. “This ship is one of the finest vessels sailing out of Tahkor; I hope your quarters are sufficient, although…” he paused, glancing at my wings, “you might want to make your way slowly in the lower passageways. The space is narrow and the doors small.”
Nodding to indicate I took his meaning, I thanked him for his hospitality. After everyone was on board and our horses tied safe and secure, there came a shout from the first mate. I looked around to see sailors scurrying about. Some quickly hauled in the heavy mooring lines the longshoremen released from the mooring piers. Two additional lines – one on either side of the ship’s bow – were tethered to two small boats filled with oarsmen. The oarsmen dipped their long oars into the water and began to stroke with all their might. Slowly the great ship was eased into the flowing current and steady winds of the river. A group of sailors on the Tairn began to climb the mast and unfurl its sails, and within minutes of casting off from the dock we were under way, heading upriver with Takhor as our destination.
After setting sail, Prince Andrew joined me on deck. During our introduction to the Captain, he’d gone below deck to secure his cabin. When he emerged, he was holding a small book. It was half concealed in his military cloak.
“Now you will see my city,” he said smiling. “The second city of the Enlightened Ones, and the imperial city of Kartannus the Great.”
“The second city?” I asked.
“After the City of Light, the second largest city to be founded on the continent was Tahkor” Andrew said, obviously pleased to tell me something I didn’t know. “And after Tahkor came Aradamia forming what was known as The Great Triad. After the fall of the City of Light and the civilization that built it, Tahkor fell into partial ruin, but was reconstructed by Kartannus when he established it as the seat of his empire. It’s a city that is at least three thousand years old, and is the oldest continuously occupied city on the entire continent.”
“Is it very large?”
I blinked in surprise when Andrew began to laugh. “Large? Well, wait until you see it. Yes, I think you will agree that it’s very large.”
“Lance told me I should visit the tomb of Kartannus, and Cody said I should see the treasure vaults.”
“You will,” Andrew said. “Uncle Marcus has already sent word of your arrival, and he asked me to be your personal escort – along with a compliment of body guards.”
“Excellent,” I said. “Now what’s that book you have hidden in your cloak?”
“I think it’s something important,” Andrew said. “When I first brought the other books and papers I forgot I had this, so when I was told I was going to accompany Uncle Marcus, I brought it along. I thought we could study it during the voyage.”
“Good,” I said, “but it’s probably best if we do so privately.”
Andrew stuffed the book into one of the pockets inside his cloak, and then calling Nic and Charles over, he gave us a brief tour of the ship.
After the terror of the attack in Konassas, the journey to Tahkor was a quiet and peaceful interlude for me, and I welcomed the decreased stress our days of travel brought with them. The river Klee was broad and deep and easily accommodated the draft of the Tairn. The strong steady breezes that constantly blew over the river sped us on our way.
During parts of our journey the tall ship passed into land filled with gorges and deep valleys where the river had cut its path through the craggy hill country of Kalas, and I stood on deck looking up as great mountains rose out of the river and towered above us. Other times, the river’s meandering path led through stretches of empty and desolate areas. For part of our journey, the Klee flowed through territory that opened up into broad and flat plains or cut through gentle, undulating hills. Occasionally we would sail by cities, towns or villages built on the river’s edge. Some of the cities and towns appeared quite old and were largely populated. At other places, we encountered tiny villages with only a handful of people.
The cramped quarters on board the Tairn were adequate, but a bit uncomfortable for someone with wings sprouting from their back. In fact the cabins were so small Nic, Charles, and I each had one to ourselves. As much as I was used to sleeping with Nic, the size of the cabins on the Tairn would never have permitted such an arrangement. Everyone seemed at ease on the ship. The only person who was conspicuously absent for most of the voyage was General Zakaria. Halfway into our first day, I casually mentioned to Nic and Charles that I hadn’t seen the General since our departure from Konassas.
“That’s because he’s below decks, as green as a lizard,” Andrew volunteered after overhearing my query.
“The General?” I replied, surprised at the revelation.
“He can’t stand boats. He’s always said he was meant for the land – that’s why he became a soldier, and not a sailor. He gets terribly ill when he travels by boat.”
“Oh,” I said as a vision of the formidable Marcus Zakaria bent over vomiting and sweating filled my conscious mind.
“The only reason he agreed to this,” Andrew continued, “was because it was the fastest and safest way to get you to Tahkor. But I can assure you that he won’t accompany us on the return trip to Konassas. He’ll either stay in the city if my father needs him, or he’ll ride back to Konassas with either Tark or Torken.”
Life on the ship was generally without incident. But I noticed that throughout the voyage, all of the sailors gave us a wide berth. More than once I caught one or two of them conducting a careful, if not cautious, examination of us when they thought we weren’t looking. I even saw a few make the common sign to ward off evil, but no one gave us any trouble. On the morning of the third day of our voyage I climbed up to the deck after a cramped night in my small cabin to find a group of sailors leaning over the railing of the ship, looking out across the river.
“Look how tall they are!” I overheard one of the sailors say.
“I’ve never seen them that big,” another said.
“They must be heavy with fruit,” replied a third, rather wistfully I thought.
“And at this time of year… it’s probably sweet as honey,” a fourth man said, sighing deeply.
“What are you looking at?” I asked as I approached them.
The sailors startled and turned quickly in my direction. At first no one said anything, and I couldn’t tell if they were ready to flee or attack me.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I guess I shouldn’t have listened in on your conversation.” I turned and began to walk to the stern of the ship.
“Come back,” one of the sailors said. “Here, take a look.”
With that, he motioned for me to join them near the railing. We were in an area of the country that was generally flat and sparsely populated. Tall grass grew up to the river’s edge, and occasionally groves of trees dotted the landscape. Pointing to one of the large groves, the sailor asked, “See those trees?”
I nodded my head.
“They’re honey-fruit trees. They only grow in this part of the country. Many have tried to grow them elsewhere, but they always die. This is the only place they grow on the whole continent. It’s their natural environment. They flower and produce a fruit that takes ten months to ripen. It’s as sweet as honey.”
“And it’s only around for a few short days,” added a second sailor, interrupting the first. “Because they’re in such a remote area, most of the fruit is never picked. Instead, it’s devoured by animals, and what isn’t eaten quickly rots.”
“And here we are,” sighed another man. “So close, and we can’t get our hands on any of it. By the time we pass this way again, when we return you to Konassas, it will all be gone.”
“So why don’t you lower a boat, go ashore, and pick some?” I asked.
“Because,” one of the sailors growled, “his lordship the Duke has promised our captain extra gold the quicker he gets you to Tahkor. We don’t have time to stop and pick honey-fruit.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, turning away now understanding their irritation. An instant later I spun around as an idea suddenly came to me. “Do you have a basket?” I asked the men still leaning on the railing and looking wistfully at the honey-fruit trees.
“Yes,” one of the men answered. “There’s one right there.” As I looked in the direction of his pointing finger, I noticed a basket hanging from a wooden dowel pegged into the nearby mast.
Rushing up the deck, I grabbed the basket. Climbing up on the railing of the ship, I stroked my wings and jumped. I caught a gust of the ever-present breeze over the river and soared upward. I crossed the edge of the river near one of the groves of trees. Gently fanning my wings and hovering near the tree branches I reached out, and began to pick some of the fruit. The pods were large and heavy, and within a few minutes I’d filled the basket and glided back to the ship. Upon alighting on the deck, I turned over the basket sending the fruit spilling out onto the smooth wooden planks. The excited men grabbed up the large yellowish fruit pods as they rolled across the deck. With the empty basket in hand, I once more stroked my wings and flew to another grove a bit further up the river.
Time after time I flew to the groves lining the river, keeping up with or just ahead of the ship. Each time I would return with a full basket, dump the fruit onto the deck and then fly off to pick some more of the sweet smelling pods. By now almost all of the sailors, including the first and second mates, were on deck snatching up and then sinking their teeth into the firm, pulpy fruit and laughing at each other like children as the juice of the fruit dripped off their chins. With each trip the sailors cheered as I landed with another load. Finally, once I was sure each man had more than enough, I flew back to the deck with my last load.
By now Nic, Charles, and Andrew were on deck watching me. Juston Tark, and even the usually somber Captain Torken, were each savoring the delicious fruit I’d procured. As I returned the basket to its peg, there came an unexpected shout from above us, and everyone looked to the rigging. Other shouts followed from on deck as the sailors realized what was happening. One of the men stationed in the crow’s nest on the tallest mast was in trouble. Seeing my exploits, he must have wanted some of the fruit and in a rushed attempt to scramble down to the deck, slipped from the climbing net that was wrapped around the mast and got himself fouled in one of the ropes. While this, in itself, wasn’t of great concern, the fact that one of the ropes was now tangled around his neck was a serious problem. One of the sailors grabbed a knife out of his belt, set it between his teeth, and started up the climbing net, but it was clear he wouldn’t make it in time to save the man’s life.
Everyone stood frozen, watching from below as the sailor strangled to death before our eyes. Without a moment’s hesitation, Nic sprang from the deck, his wings fanning in broad, steady strokes. Quickly he reached the man. As he was making his ascent, he reached for his dagger and by the time he got to the man he had drawn it and slashed through the rope. After cutting the man free, Nic gripped him firmly around the waist and gently floated down to the deck. Once Nic’s feet were planted firmly on the gently rolling deck, the injured man’s anxious comrades crowded around them. They took the unconscious man from Nic’s arms and laid him on the deck.
Responding to the shouts of the sailor’s on deck, the ship’s carpenter – who doubled as the healer – hurried up from below and knelt over the unconscious man. He placed a bit of silvered glass over the man’s mouth and nodded with satisfaction as it fogged slightly, showing that he still breathed. The part-time healer placed his ear on the man’s chest, and visibly relaxed before announcing that the man’s heart was beating steadily and that he should be ok. He dug into a small satchel he’d brought with him and pulled out a glass bottle and dapped a bit of its pale green and oily contents on the raw ligature marks on the sailor’s neck, then sat back and waited for the man to come to. After the man regained consciousness, the first thing he wanted to know was if there was any more honey fruit left. One of his shipmates threatened to run him through with a sword for that remark, but it was clear that they were all relieved to see that, outside of the bright red ligature marks around his neck, he was fine.
After the excitement, I picked up some of the pods and joined Nic, Charles, and Andrew in the stern of the ship where we too sampled the delicious, honey flavored fruit. A few minutes into our feast, one of the sailors who’d first pointed out the honey-fruit trees approached us.
“We thank you for saving Zakkis’ life, my Lord; you didn’t have to do it, but you did,” he said, bowing to Nic. Turning to me he added, “And we thank you, my little Lord, for the treat of the fruit.”
“No thanks are necessary,” Nic said. “Your comrade was in grave danger and I did what needed to be done.”
“And I when I saw you couldn’t get to the fruit, it just seemed like something nice to do for all of you as a thanks for being kind enough to sail us to Tahkor,” I added.
The sailor didn’t respond. Instead he turned and went back to his mates. I watched them talking quietly among themselves. A few minutes later, the first mate made his way back to the stern where we were still enjoying the delicious fruit.
“We thank you deeply, my lords,” he said, “The men are starting to realize that maybe you aren’t demons, as we’ve been told.”
He was about to continue when I noticed a scuffle behind him and we watched as another sailor dragged Zakkis – the man Nic saved – back toward us.
“Go on, fool,” the sailor said sternly, now holding Zakkis in front of Niklas. “Tell him.”
“I thank you deeply, my Lord, for the savin’ of my life.” Zakkis bowed, his voice still raw and rasping from the choking grip of the rope.
“Saving your worthless life, you mean,” interrupted the second man. “And you apologize…” he prompted, shaking Zakkis by the scruff of his neck.
“…for bein’ a greedy and stupid clot,” the sailor continued in a broad, backcountry accent.
I watched as Nic stifled a smile, and saw Andrew and Charles snickering from the corner of my eye.
“My thanks is seeing you alive and well, sir,” Nic said. “I hope you have a chance to enjoy some of the fruit.” There was a pause as the sailor visibly gathered himself, then his expression became very serious and earnest, and he shook off his compatriot’s hold on his neck.
“It’s my life I’m owin’ you, my Lord. If ever you’ve need of a clumsy sailor in your train, you’ve only to send word, and I’ll be your man.”
Nic paused a beat, as if considering the man’s words. “I’ll bear it in mind,” he replied seriously, nodding his head to the sailor.
“Now off with you,” the first mate shouted to both men. “Leave our passengers alone.”
“I’ll also take my leave, my lords,” he said, turning back to us. “Enjoy your fruit, and if you need anything, please let me know and I’ll see to it that the men take proper care of you.”
“You’ve already been most hospitable,’ Nic said, nodding his head, “but if we require anything, we’ll let you know at once.”
“Yes, my Lord,” the first mate said once more bowing, and then he turned to make his way back to the group of sailors congregated around Zakkis, who by now was sinking his teeth into a large pod of the honey fruit.
For the rest of the journey, the sailors were friendly and hospitable to us. Even Captain Boden remarked during the evening’s dinner how the mood on the ship had changed.
“They like you,” he said. “I must confess that when I agreed to grant you passage on the Tairn, the men voiced opposition. Sailors are a superstitious lot. They were convinced you would bring us bad luck – I even lost a few men who quit, refusing to sail on this voyage. Now they’re convinced you’re not evil. More importantly, they trust and respect you.”
I smiled at his remark, happy that the events of the day had unfolded in the way they had. The voyage continued uneventfully until the early morning hours of the fifth day when a shout came down from the ships lookout.
“Tahkor, ahead,” the lookout called.
Standing in the bow of the ship, Nic, Charles, Andrew, and I stood watching the city grow in size as we approached it. Andrew was right when he described it to me. Tahkor was a large city – a very large city. Even approaching as we did from the water, I could see that it seemed to go on and on, stretching out before us into the horizon.
“Welcome to my city,” Andrew said giving us a grin. “Welcome to Tahkor.”
I could see from the look on his face that he was proud and happy to introduce us to the place of his birth. Giving Nic a searching look, and then glancing skyward I broke out into a large smile when he said, “Ok Jamie, you can go up and see it from the air; just don’t fly too low and terrorize the inhabitants.”
I was moving back from the bow and preparing to leap into the air, when I turned to see Charles following me.
“I think I’ll join you,” he said. “I’ve been studying the history of the Kingdom of Xannameir lately, and I’d like to get an overview of the city myself.”
I leapt into the air and Charles followed on my heels. Once we were airborne and reached a sufficient altitude to better see the city, I blinked in surprise.
“Does it ever end?” I said, looking over at Charles.
“It’s the largest city on the continent,” Charles answered, and proceeded to tell me what he knew of the history and evolution of the city as we spiraled upward on a rising thermal.
Tahkor, Charles told me, was the first major settlement on the continent of the people who were ancestors to the ones who came to be known as The Enlightened Ones. Like most places where people settle and successfully take root, the area that eventually became Tahkor was optimal for the human population who first settled it.
“Over there,” Charles called out to me, pointing to the horizon. “See those mountains?”
Straining my eyes and squinting in the light morning sun, I looked to the horizon and saw a large band of hills in the distance.
“Those are the Etole Mountains. They only look small because they’re a great distance away, but they’re the tallest mountain range on the continent.” Charles said, now flying closely by my side. “They stretch all the way to the sea in the north, and are mostly uninhabited.”
From my position high in the sky, I couldn’t see any more of the mountains than the long band directly before me that formed the foothills of the great, expansive range. At the base of the foothills lay vast open plains, and it quickly occurred to me exactly why the ancient people of this land first settled here. Protected by mountains, near a great river and surrounded by fertile plains, it appeared to be a logical and hospitable place to establish a village – a village that grew to a town and that finally evolved into the great city I was now flying over.
“The first settlement started near the river,” Charles said, once more pointing out landmarks. “From there it developed and grew in two places. The first was here at the river’s edge, the second a few miles upriver where ditches and eventually canals were dug to irrigate the fields. From that point two distinct cultures, one agricultural and one urban, developed side by side. At the end of two hundred years, three villages had grown up and prospered on what is known as the Etolian Plain. The towns of Mose and Yarren were built on the eastern and western sides of the plain; Tahkor, the first settlement, simply grew from its toe-hold on the river, occupying more and more land as the population increased. From what I’ve learned, Takor expanded until it overran Mose and Yarren, which are now large districts within the main city.”
“But how did it grow so big?” I asked, still overwhelmed by the size of the city stretching out before me.
“It was already quite large at the time of the plague, mostly because of its location,” Charles said. “After the plague, much of it was deserted and began to fall to ruin, but over time the location was just too important to ignore, so once more it became a place people naturally settled. When Kartannus united the continent and Tahkor became the center of his rule and his imperial city, he leveled whole parts of the older, decayed city. He also restored old palaces and buildings and built many more new ones. He had parks, and green vistas created within the city. As the center of the empire, Tahkor continued to attract people from everywhere on the continent. The old walls of the city that had mostly crumbled to rubble were abandoned and a great outward expansion took place. New districts were created and the outlying areas continued to grow together – in fact they’re expanding to this very day as the population continues to grow. Although large parts of the continent still remain sparsely populated due to the plague, wars, and conflict, Tahkor is the most densely populated place on the continent.”
As he finished, Charles pointed to the ship below is. It had docked, lay tethered to the quay, and I could see the sailors scurrying about, lowering sails and securing lines.
“We’d better go down,” he said. “I’m sure they’re getting ready to disembark, and we shouldn’t keep them waiting. I suspect there will be someone official waiting for us.”
Nodding in agreement, I turned and flew down to the ship. Charles followed at my side and in less than a minute, we were back on deck.
“I’m glad you’re back, “Nic said after we touched down. “There’s a delegation on the dock ready to greet us.”
Charles turned to me with a smug and satisfied look. I simply stared back without any reaction. Since he was obviously enjoying being correct yet one more time, I decided to ignore him, hoping to deny him any additional satisfaction.
Once all the mooring lines were secured, the gangplank was lowered to the docks and a few members of the small crowd that were congregated on the dock below made their way up to the ship. Stepping from the gangplank onto the deck of the Tairn were three men and one woman – each well dressed. Two of the men wore large gold chains that were draped over the finely embroidered cloaks that covered their shoulders. The woman wore an elegant dress, a velvet cloak, and a small diadem. One of the men bowed toward Nic and was about to speak, when the woman suddenly broke from the group, rushed over to Prince Andrew and gave him a hug and a kiss.
“When I heard you were coming with them I begged father to allow me to come and greet you,” she said, once more hugging him. “And where’s Uncle Marcus?” she added, stepping back and looking over everyone standing on deck.
“This is my older sister Gabriella,” Andrew said, turning to all of us.
Smiling, she gently took each of our hands and did a little curtsy. “I’m so pleased to meet you,” she said as her voice bubbled with excitement. Turning back to Andrew she once again questioned him as to the whereabouts of General Zakaria.
“He’s still pulling himself together,” Andrew said with gleam in his eye. “You know how he is Gabby. I think the color of his skin is almost back to its normal shade.”
No sooner had Andrew finished than the sound of footsteps on creaking stairs could be heard, and we all turned in the direction of the stairway that descended from the deck to the ships private cabins. I watched as General Zakaria slowly made his way up the narrow steps, lifting one leg then another as if each were made of lead. Once he made it topside, he stood silently before us on the deck of the Tairn. He appeared to be slightly pale and it was obvious that he was still a bit unsteady on his feet.
Gabriella immediately rushed to him, and threw her arms around him. “How are you, Uncle Marcus?” She asked.
“Bloody boats,” were the only two words that came from his lips.
“Well, you’re home,” she said, “and I, for one, am happy to see both of you.”
“I’ll just be happy to stand on something that doesn’t move under my feet,” Zakaria said slightly under his breath.
“Ahem,” came the sound of a clearing throat.
I turned toward it’s direction to discover it had come from the man who a few minutes before attempted to speak to Nic, but had been interrupted by Gabriella in her haste to greet Andrew.
“Your Highness, I am Chancellor Elgar Sloss, first minister to His Royal Highness Wilum of Xannameir,” the man said. “The king sends his greetings and bids me escort you to the royal palace. We have prepared quarters for you and your companions.”
“We accept King Wilum’s gracious hospitality, and thank him for it,” Nic said. “Our horses are being unloaded, so as soon as they are made ready, we’ll be at your disposal.”
“Very good, Your Highness,” Chancellor Sloss said.
“We also have some chests in the hold,” Charles cut in.
Sloss took a slow and deep breath, as he did I could see his eyes examining our wings. “I will leave a man with a wagon here at the dock. I’ll instruct him to see that your possessions are brought to your rooms at the royal palace.”
“Thank you,” Charles said.
Without any further words spoken, Chancellor Sloss turned and started back down the gangplank, the others in his party following. Gabriella, taking General Zakaria by the arm, had him escort her down the gangplank to her carriage while the rest of us followed closely behind. Watching the general and the princess, I had the feeling she was steadying him more than he was escorting her. Gabriella and the general boarded the nearby carriage and the driver waited patiently until all of our horses were readied.
Once mounted we were off, heading into the city with the carriage close behind. As we rode away from the docks into Tahkor, I was fascinated by the different styles of architecture and the strange mixture of buildings in such close proximity to each other. There were some very old and strange looking structures made out of unusual materials – these I assumed dated back to the time of the Enlightened Ones. But there were also buildings that, although they didn’t match those of the Enlightened One’s, also appeared to be quite old.
Interspersed with the older architecture were large and imposing imperial-looking structures fashioned from marble and granite. Everywhere we rode, we encountered trees, small parks, and wide boulevards. The city was full of squares and plazas, some large and impressive, others small and intimate, and unlike Konassas, where shops of a similar nature clustered together, it appeared that the entire city was a diverse collection of official buildings, shops, private dwellings, monuments, and fountains all brought together in an unusually chaotic manner – a style which, though at first strange in its unplanned development, was actually quite pleasant to view.
We rode down a few narrow streets until we emerged onto a wide boulevard. Riding and observing, my senses were bombarded with the sights and sounds of the city. A bit further down the boulevard, I realized that the expansive thoroughfare met up with a series of wide streets that eventually converged like the spokes in a wheel – the hub being a large grass and flower covered circle where a gleaming, white marble arch rose to the sky.
“The victory arch of Tarris,” Andrew said to me as we drew ever closer and the massive arch loomed overhead.
I turned and glanced over at the prince waiting to hear more, but Andrew remained silent as to who Tarris was and what victory the arch commemorated. Upon reaching it, we rode one quarter of the way around its circle. Reigning our horses to the right, we started up another of the wide boulevards radiating outward from this spot. This avenue, like the others, was lined on both sides with large, stately trees. Looking ahead I could see that the cobblestone paved road terminated at a park with a high stone-and-iron fence around it. Beyond the green lawns and trees of the park sat a building with long, wide, stone steps leading up to it.
As we approached the green island at the end of the boulevard, it became obvious that we were now riding up a slight incline as the grade of the boulevard tilted upward. I also realized that the building within the green park sat high on a promontory. Riding closer, I noticed that the fence surrounding the large green space was made up of massive pillars fashioned from granite blocks, with thick iron bars spaced between them. Each iron bar ended in a sharp, twisting spiral, that while artistically beautiful, also served as an obvious deterrent to anyone trying to climb over it. Even the large columns anchoring the iron sections were topped with decorative, although sharp, spikes.
Approaching the fence, the sunlight glinted off two large golden shields, one set into each of the opposing sides of the double iron gate. Each shield displayed a different coat of arms. An honor guard had formed up on both sides of the gate. A small, stone guard house stood to the right.
Approaching the gate, the guards quickly drew themselves up to attention and I knew at once that we’d arrived at the royal palace. Charles, who was riding alongside me, pointed to the shield on our left. “That is the seal of the Kingdom of Xannameir,” he said, “the other is the crest of the family Zakaria.” I looked at Charles and raised an eyebrow. While I shouldn’t have been surprised at his scholarship, I nevertheless found myself in awe of his knowledge.
Once through the gate, the sharp clopping sound of the horse’s hooves against the hard gray cobblestones of the boulevard gave way to soft muffled thuds as we entered the palace grounds and began to wind our way up a wide and neatly tended gravel path. To our right and left, perfectly manicured lawns of green grass, groves of ancient trees and beds of bright flowers seemed to stretch on forever. Straight ahead the path before us split to form a large oval. It too was covered with grass and beds of flowers. A large fountain stood in the center of the oval. It was filled with a collection of carved marble water nymphs and sea serpents. Drawing nearer to it, the sound from the many jets of water cascading from it and falling into the bright blue pool surrounding its base, rose in volume and grew to a roar as we made our way around it.
Charles looked over at me after staring at the fountain for a short time. “The scene is based on an old mythological tale,” he shouted to me over the sound of the rushing water. I simply nodded, choosing not to try and conduct a conversation over the noise.
Proceeding around the fountain, the pathway once again joined together to form a single avenue. Ahead it opened onto a square paved with polished blocks of stone. In the center of the square a bronze, oversized statue – green with patina – sat atop a round marble base. Making our way to it, I discovered that it was of a man draped in long flowing robes. He was standing tall, with a large book in his left hand and a sword in his right. GARGARUS II was carved in deep letters on the marble base.
“Grantor of the first code after the rise of the second empire,” Charles said quietly to me out of the side of his mouth.
At the terminal end of the palace square, a series of steps and landings led up to the palace, which was an amazing structure. Constructed entirely of granite and marble, its size alone was impressive, but if the massive bulk of building wasn’t enough, its entire edifice was supported by mammoth carved columns, and capitals that surround all four of its sides. Long arched windows were set into carved openings. Leaves and scrolls decorated the eaves and pediments. Spires and ornately carved trim abounded. Statues lined the entrance and made their way in a procession of sorts up the steps. More statues were placed about the roof. Their gleaming white bodies contrasted with the gold leaf highlights of their helmets, shields, swords, and spears. Reigning in Arax in the middle of the palace square next to the statue of Gargarus II, I sat in my saddle and studied the grand structure rising above me.
“The main part of the palace was built by Kartannus the Great,” Andrew said, halting his mount beside me and pointing to the central building at the top of the mountainous staircase. “Later kings added the wings and then after a time, further sets of wings were added onto them. Once that was complete it remained as such for a few centuries, then King Alexis, who was superstitious, decided to tear off all the roofs and add three more floors, so the original four story buildings became seven stories. It was said he felt the number four to be unlucky while the number seven was special to him. He died long before the work was complete. It took five more kings and one hundred twenty years to finish the structure you see today.”
After Andrew completed his explanation, we nudged our horses onward and joined the others, who’d arrived at the base of the steps and were beginning to dismount. The carriage carrying Princess Gabriella and General Zakaria also pulled up to the steps and halted. The second it came to a rest, the door swung open and the princess quickly alit, not waiting for any assistance. General Zakaria, who looked a bit more like his old self followed closely behind. As we approached the group, I could hear Chancellor Sloss grumbling.
“…and I told them to have stable boys waiting here to handle the horses,” I could hear him grouse loudly as Andrew and I approached.” “Ride over to the stables and get someone,” he said, curtly addressing one of the soldiers who’d accompanied us from the docks.
Just then there was a flourish of activity as a whole army of young boys appeared out of nowhere and came racing across the square. Upon reaching us, one of the older boys bowed to the Chancellor.
“Beg pardon, my lord, we came as quickly as we could. A large, early morning hunting party returned to the stables a few minutes before you arrived and we were just finishing up the last of their horses. I am very sorry for the delay,”
“Just take charge of these horses,” Chancellor Sloss barked, “We have important business to attend.”
“Get these horses out of the square and into the stables at once,” another of the ministers commanded.
The stable boys gathered up the horse’s reigns and as quickly as they arrived, they were running back across the palace square, leading the sweating animals to the stables while the driver of the carriage followed closely behind.
“Rather harsh, wasn’t he?” I said turning to Andrew. “After all, we just arrived and I didn’t think we were in such a hurry – at least Nic, Charles, and I aren’t.”
“Chancellor Sloss is a rather impatient man,” Andrew said.
Quickly and without ceremony, we all climbed the stairs. As we moved ever higher, I kept glancing back watching the city fan out below us. Finally after reaching the top of the stairs, I turned around to see Tahkor spread out at my feet.
“Incredible,” I gasped, leaving the others to proceed ahead while I stood and viewed the great city that now ran from the palace all the way down to the docks and the river where we’d begun our journey. Off in the far distance, I could barely make out the tops of masts of the Tairn… at least I thought they might belong to the Tairn.
“Remember Jamie, you’re only seeing one part of Tahkor,” Andrew said. “We’re now in the center of the city; you can see the rest of it from the other side of the palace.
Shaking my head, partly in surprise and partly in disbelief, I ran to catch up with the others. Chancellor Sloss was standing at the entrance to the palace, frowning at me as I raced to join them. As we passed through the main portal into the entrance hall of the palace, we were immediately greeted by a host of servants and attendants.
“Jorse will take you to your rooms,” Chancellor Sloss said, nodding toward a short, round little man. I could tell that he was probably one of the senior household attendants since his livery was similar in style to that of Master Cobb and Master Sandro’s – our attendants in the Amber Palace of Konassas.
“You will be joining King Wilum, Queen Isabel and the royal family for their evening meal,” Sloss said. “You may rest this afternoon and then prepare yourselves for dinner.”
Making our way up the grand stairs of the entrance hall with Jorse in the lead, General Zakaria called after us, “I’ll also be joining you at dinner.”
“And I’ll come an hour or so before to make sure you’re ready,” Andrew said, heading off in a different direction with his sister Gabriella.
Once in our chambers, Nic and I relaxed for the afternoon; later, when Jorse rapped on our door and informed us we would be called to dinner in two hours, we took baths and chose what to wear from the clothing Master Jaysune packed for us. After we finished dressing, there was a knock on our door and Prince Andrew, accompanied by Charles, entered our chambers.
“We have about an hour before dinner,” he said smiling, “and I thought I’d prepare you.”
“Prepare us?” I said, puzzled. “For what?”
“Well, our family dinners are rather informal – at least by the standards of the majority of the royals in the other kingdoms. As I mentioned before, Father isn’t one for much pomp and formality, but there are a few things I thought I should tell you.”
“Go on,” Nic said, raising an eyebrow.
“Present at dinner tonight will be Father and Mother, of course,” Andrew said. “And Gabriella, whom you’ve already met. I will be there, along with my younger sister Annis and my little brother Franzay, who everyone calls Fritzy. I have another sister Arletta. She is younger than Gaby, but older than me. She’s married to the Duke of Orgase, and has two small children, but since they live a day’s journey from here you won’t meet them until tomorrow. Uncle Marcus told you that he would be there, and you might see a few ministers and courtiers – one can never be sure who might show up and with the three of you as guests, I’m sure quite a few people tried to get invited. Chancellor Sloss will also be there, along with Ferra.”
“Who is Ferra?”
“Well, uhm… Ferra…” Andrew stammered and paused, then stammered again. “Ferra is… well she’s a bit strange.”
“Strange,” I repeated, first frowning then sending Andrew a questioning gaze, “how so?”
“Uhm… ah… she’s a magus, I guess you’d say.”
“You mean like Artus… the one who tried to kill Nic?” I said, as the timbre of my voice suddenly rose.
“Ah… well… uhm… yes. I know all about that,” Andrew continued to stammer. “She’s a little different, but don’t worry she’s nice, not like that puffed up Artus. Uncle Marcus always said he was a fraud anyway.”
“Well Andrew,” I said, “as long as she doesn’t start throwing fireballs at us, or try to cast some type of spell, because that might make for a rather uncomfortable evening. But I hope you realize that if she’s another one of these so-called magical people and comes looking for trouble, I won’t hesitate to show her what trouble really is,” I added rather forcefully.
“Oh don’t worry, I know she wouldn’t do that,” Andrew said, growing a little red in the face. “She asked to be present. She wants to meet all of you – especially you, Jamie.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” I said glumly. “Probably so she can test me?”
“Oh, no, I don’t think so. Ever since Father returned from the Council of Kingdoms, she has been asking lots of questions about all of the Icarians, but especially you, Jamie.”
“Great,” I said shaking my head in obvious disgust, “yet another person interested in me. Suddenly I think I’ve lost my appetite.”
“Don’t get upset, Jamie,” Nic said moving to my side. “Give her a chance, ok? Let’s not judge her before we meet her. Andrew says she’s fine, and if King Wilum is allowing her to join us with his family present, I think it should be safe. I don’t think he would put everyone in danger if he thought there would be any hostility.”
“What is her position and rank, and why is she attached to the court?” Charles asked.
“She has the ability to sense when people are being truthful, or if they’re telling lies. That’s seems to be her principal talent and power. I’ve never seen her throw fire balls or even try to cast spells on anyone. She’s valuable to father, and he often has her present during meetings, or formal court presentations of foreign ministers.” Andrew turned from Charles back to me. “I really don’t think you have anything to fear, Jamie. She has no reason to do you any harm.”
“I’ll go, I’ll be nice, and I’ll even try to be friendly,” I said still frowning. “But I’m also going to be on guard.”
“There’s no harm in that, Jamie,” Nic said, putting his arm around me. “I learned to be on guard a long time ago. Just don’t jump to conclusions or do anything rash.”
Nodding my head, I was spared the need to answer him when a sharp rap came at the door. When it opened, we could see Jorse accompanied by another servant. “It’s time for dinner,” he quietly said, “please follow me.”
Making our way down the hallway, up a few flights of stairs and down two more corridors we came to a door flanked by two guards in bright, ceremonial uniforms. As we approached, they sprang to attention and opened the door. We entered the room, which I assumed was the king’s private dining chamber. The room – its walls covered with deeply embossed leather dyed green with silver accents – was small and intimate. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling, which had a beautiful mural showing a peasant feast during harvest time. The thick, hand-woven rug felt soft and springy as I stepped onto it. In the center of the plush carpet sat a large table that was set with crystal glasses, painted porcelain plates and an array of silver flatware. It looked almost too perfect to disturb. Tiered silver compotes holding an array of delicacies and tall silver vases filled with bouquets of fragrant flowers completed the scene. Placed around the table I counted twenty chairs. I noted that just about that many people were standing around the perimeter of the room or huddled in its corners.
“Come on,” Andrew said, a sudden smile coming to his face. “I’ll introduce you around.”
“Of course, you know Chancellor Sloss,” he whispered, skirting the dour-faced minister who was talking to an equally grim-faced, short and stocky man. “That’s Minister Dorenzo,” he said quietly. “He’s Sloss’s principal assistant. I guess he’ll also be joining us.”
Following behind him as he led on, we skirted another group of four people – three men and one woman. The woman looked up as if ready to say something, but Andrew quickly rushed by.
“Lady Ester,” he whispered. “If we start talking to her, we’ll never get away.”
Moving to one of the corners of the room we approached Princess Gabriella, who was talking to a young girl and boy. The girl had brown hair and appeared younger than Andrew – possibly fourteen or fifteen years old. The dark haired boy next to her looked younger than Luc – I guessed ten or eleven.
“Hello,” Gabriella said, smiling as she watched us approach. “I’d like you to meet my brother and sister.” She gestured to the girl. “This is Annis, and this my brother Fritzy,” she said, continuing to smile.
“Your Highness,” Annis said curtsying in Nic’s direction. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Turning to me, she prepared to make another curtsy, but was interrupted by the boy.”
“They really do have wings!” he said, his eyes sparkling with wonder and surprise as they darted from Nic to Charles to me. “Andrew says you can actually fly with them. I’d like to see you move them. Would you?”
“Fritzy!” Gabriella said with a start, “you’re a prince! Act like one, not like some uncultured oaf staggering out of a tavern.”
Casting his eyes down, the boy looked embarrassed.
“It’s ok,” I said smiling at him. “Here – touch them, everyone else seems to have the urge, so go ahead.”
“Although, Fritzy,” Andrew said looking down at his little brother, “you should only do so if you’re given permission.”
The little boy gave Andrew a puzzled look.
“Touching an Icarian’s wings shows closeness or familiarity,” Andrew said. “It’s something one doesn’t do unless you have permission, or are very close friends with them. It would be as if someone in the room came up and touched Gaby’s breast.”
Andrew blushed slightly when he said the word breast, and Fritzy’s eyes opened wider, but I noticed he also managed a snicker.
“I guess I have two brothers who need to learn better manners,” Gabriella said, although she was laughing as she spoke. “But it’s good to know – it’s something that should be relayed to a minister of protocol. It certainly might avoid any insult or misunderstanding.”
“Correct,” Charles said, then turning to Andrew he added, “I’m surprised you know that, Andrew.”
“You mean about touching an Icarian’s wings?” Andrew asked.
“Yes, it’s not something we’ve told many people.”
“Well Charles, David told me about it the night of the concert,” he said. “As we entered the banquet hall for the musician’s feast, I allowed him to pass in front of me. When he did, my hand brushed against his wing and I felt his feathers. David wasn’t upset or angry, but he did use the occasion to explain the general prohibition.”
Warily, Fritzy extended his hand and brushed against some of my feathers. He pulled away and gave me a questioning look.
“Not what you imagined?” I said, smiling.
“No,” he said, “They look soft just like a bird’s feathers, but they feel like leather,” he said with a puzzled look.
“Most people say that,” I agreed.
Just then the door opened to reveal King Wilum. He strode purposefully into the room. On his arm was a woman in her middle years. She was almost as tall as Wilum. Her demeanor appeared quite serene and she was regally beautiful. Instantly I could see the resemblance between her and both her son Andrew and her daughter Annis. Behind the royal couple, Marcus Zakaria followed and for the first time since I’d known the Duke of Lionsgate, he wasn’t dressed in a military uniform or tunic, but rather a simple tunic with a short cloak.
The king and queen made their way to the table and everyone else followed. One of the servants was on hand to direct us to our seats, and while I noticed everyone else had high backed chairs with arms, Nic, Charles, and I were directed to bench-like seats so that we could sit comfortably without cramping our wings.
Once everyone was seated, King Wilum looked around the table. “Welcome to Tahkor, Your Highness,” he said, looking at Nic. “May I present my wife, Queen Isabel?”
“A pleasure,” Nic said rising from the table and nodding his head in the direction of the queen.
“The pleasure is all ours” Queen Isabel said, smiling at the three of us. “Andrew has regaled me with tales about you for the last few weeks.”
As the conversation flowed around the table, the servants began serving the first course – a clear soup with small pieces of vegetables floating in the golden broth.
Wilum was the first to pick up his spoon and begin to eat. As soon as he did, everyone else followed suit. After taking a few tastes of the soup Queen Isabel turned to me and smiled. “Jamie, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” I said quietly.
“Is it true what they say about you?”
“I’m not sure, Your Highness,” I said, trying hard not to frown. “What do they say about me?”
“It’s said you are a wizard of sorts,” she continued, still smiling. “The magi and sorcerers we have aren’t very powerful; I’ve never known any of them to do more than a handful of small, harmless tricks. It appears their talents are quite limited, but Marcus told us you thoroughly destroyed the chambers of the High Council of Kalas.”
“Well, I didn’t say he destroyed the council chamber, Isabel,” General Zakaria said, “but after his… ah… demonstration, shall we say… was over, the room had to be re-plastered,” he added with a chuckle.
I could feel my face flush. I caught movement in the corner of my eye coming from the other side of the table and when I turned away from the queen to see what it was, I noticed one person at the far end of the table lean slowly forward and look at me. The dark eyes that fixed themselves on me were those of a very old woman. She looked rather frail and shriveled. Her face was lined with wrinkles and her hands, twisted and almost claw-like. And while no one said anything, I knew that it had to be Ferra – the magus of whom Andrew had spoken.
“We were attacked in the chamber,” I said softly, looking down and not meeting her eyes. “Well, Nic was about to be attacked, by Artus. I thwarted the attack, and I guess lost my temper. Things got a little out of hand after that.”
“You should have seen them, Isabella,” General Zakaria said chuckling, “the entire High Council hiding under the council bench.”
I frowned at General Zakaria’s words. Although he thought it funny, I could feel strong negative emotions growing towards me from many of those seated around the table.
“It’s said he’s quite dangerous,” Chancellor Sloss added, talking as if I weren’t present, “I’ve heard stories from some of the officers of the garrison at Konassas who have returned to duty in Tahkor. It’s said he single-handedly killed over twenty archers in a matter of two seconds with a massive lightening bolt during the recent attack at the parade ground in Konassas,” he readily volunteered to the rest of the table.
By now all eyes were upon me including those of Nic and Charles. I could see a look of alarm register on Charles face as he stared intently at me trying to shake his head no as imperceptibly as possible. Looking across the table to Nic, I saw concern in his eyes. Ever so nonchalantly, in a move I’m sure no one else noticed since I was now the center of attention, he lifted his right hand to his face while brushing two silencing fingers across his lips.
Taking a deep breath, I looked down at my plate and the small bowl of soup in front of me. Slowly swirling the spoon around the bowl and watching the steam rise from it, I spoke in quiet tones. “It wasn’t twenty, it was less than that,” I said as my voice fell to a mere whisper. “It took more than two seconds, and it wasn’t something I found very enjoyable.”
Mercifully the servants came around and removed the soup, replacing it with another course and ending the conversation. I picked up a fork and prepared to spear one of the small green vegetables set before me.
“Could you do one of your tricks for us?” Lady Ester said. “I’ve always enjoyed magic shows.”
Still looking intently at my food, I pushed it from one side of my plate to the other and back again. “I really don’t do tricks,” I said.
“Magical power isn’t a child’s toy, Ester,” came a low raspy voice down the table from me. I turned to see that, just as I suspected, it was Ferra who had spoken.
“The power this boy has isn’t some minor talent to amuse aristocrats sipping after dinner drinks in the salon,” Ferra added. “It would be wise not to talk about something you know nothing about. My mother always said it’s best if idiots keep their mouths shut, so that no one knows how stupid they really are, rather than speak and leave no doubt.”
The room became deathly quiet. Lady Ester’s face grew bright red and Chancellor Sloss coughed. Quickly sensing the need for a change of topic, King Wilum began to question General Zakaria about the voyage to Tahkor. This gave Marcus Zakaria a chance to present to everyone his opinion regarding travel by boat. From there the conversation turned from one topic to another. But although the awkward moment was broken, I continued to sit quietly and pick at my food with my head down. For the rest of the meal I made no direct eye contact with anyone at the table, although I occasionally glanced out the corner of my eye to where the old woman sat. Every time I did, I could see that most of the time she was looking at me – her face an unreadable mask. Once, when I unwittingly looked into her eyes, I felt an involuntarily shiver run up my back as my wings ruffled ever so slightly.
The dinner proceeded without further incident. Nic occasionally answered a few questions and Charles entertained the entire table with Icarian history. He answered question after question and I could tell he was enjoying his favorite role as a scholar and teacher. Throughout the rest of the meal, no one spoke to or questioned me and I was more than relieved to suddenly find myself being ignored. With each course I kept my head down, ate what was served, and remained silent.
After dinner, Nic, Charles, and I were invited to the royal family’s private apartments. Everyone else bid the king and queen goodnight. In the grand salon of the royal suite, we were served a bit of honey wine and some sweets. Nic, King Wilum, and General Zakaria went off to one end of the room and talked. The queen, along with Gabriella, Annis, Fritzy, and Andrew sat at the opposite end of the room and continued to question Charles, who was more than happy to keep them entertained. Noting that everyone’s back was to me, I glumly sat on a bench near the door, more than a bit uncomfortable and feeling very much an oddity – “the little boy who throws the fireballs,” – recalling the title Miro revealed I had been given by the soldiers of the garrison in Konassas.
Finally, after sitting for a few minutes in silence, I arose from my seat, opened the door, and exited the room. Wandering through the maze of corridors, rooms and stairways that made up the royal palace, I soon found myself hopelessly lost. Looking down corridors and peering into open rooms, looking for a servant who might direct me to my room, I suddenly froze when a hand came from behind and lightly touched my shoulder.
“Lost?” a deep throaty voice said. And while I didn’t have to turn around to know the voice belonged to Ferra, I did so and met her smoldering stare with one of my own.
“Do you have a fire ball, a lightning bolt, a curse, or a hex to throw at me?” I angrily shouted, “because if you do…”
“I can’t do any of those things,” Ferra said as a harsh, rasping chuckle – sounding more like a cough – rose up from her throat.
“Andrew told me you were a magus,” I said, looking warily at her.
“There are but a few of us in the entire land,” Ferra said. “Artus is said to be the strongest of us, and look what you did to him. Do you think I’d fare any better? No, my Lord Wizard, I seek only to talk with you.”
Choosing not to answer, I stood and stared at her in silence.
“I see, you don’t trust me,” she continued. “It is understandable, but I would like to talk to you privately, Your Grace. There are some things I think you should know.”
“Aren’t we talking right now?” I said, eyeing her suspiciously.
“Now is not the time for a long conversation. The hour grows late, but perhaps tomorrow…” she said, then paused in thought. “Yes, tomorrow would be better.”
I continued to study her as she reached up and grasped a thin golden chain around her neck, tugging firmly on it, I heard it snap and watched it fall to the ground. Unconcerned, she reached out and grabbed my hand, and into it she placed an object. Looking down, I opened my hand and stared at the small delicate ring now resting in my open palm. It was fashioned in the shape of a snake – an asp, similar to my bracelet. The asp coiled around itself, biting its own tail to form a circle. Its small eyes were chips of green emerald.
As I examined it a long hidden memory tugged at the back of my mind. “Where did you get this?”
“The same place we got the cloak,” Ferra said, a peculiar smile coming to her face. “But that’s not important now. Go to the office of the captain of the palace guard tomorrow,” Ferra said. “His name is Armin Wark. Show him the ring, and tell no one.”
“I keep nothing from King Niklas,” I said. “We have no secrets.”
“I know you don’t trust me,” she said as a crooked smile came to her wrinkled face. “I suppose you have every right to feel the way you do.” Then I watched her slowly and painfully lower herself to the floor. I was shocked to see her do it. When she was finally kneeling before me, she looked up into my eyes. “Enter my mind, Your Grace,” she said, “and don’t be afraid. I’ve planned no deception; you will see the truth. I am of the Farzetti.”
Looking into Ferra’s dark eyes, I entered her mind, but only remained a few moments when I realized she spoke the truth. When I finished, I reached out my hand and offered it to her. After helping her to her feet, I looked intently into her eyes.
“I will still tell King Niklas,” I said.
Pausing to study me she smiled. “Very well, you may tell the young Duke, for he is truly of the ancient blood of Agramon – of that there is no doubt – just as you are of the noble blood of de Valèn.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
Putting a finger to her lips, she smiled. “Tomorrow, go to Captain Wark. He’ll be expecting you.” She turned and began to walk away. Coming to a halt, she looked back at me and smiled. “Follow this corridor to its end, Your Grace, then turn to the right and go up the first flight of stairs you come to. Near the second landing, you’ll find your room. Now good night Your Grace, and a peaceful sleep to you.”