The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part III – The Alliance


Chapter 42


When I arrived back in our quarters, I took a seat and waited for Nic. I understood my mate well enough to know that once he realized I’d departed the royal apartments, he’d come looking for me. My thoughts were confirmed when, less than ten minutes after entering our chambers, the door opened and Nic walked into the room. Spying me sitting in a darkened corner far from the light of the single candelabra that illuminated the room, he walked over, a little hesitantly for the darkness, and sat next to me. His shoulder brushed mine, and I could feel the faint warmth of his skin.


“When I saw you were missing, I guessed I’d find you here,” he said softly as he took my hand. “I realize dinner was difficult for you Jamie, but you were perfect. I know all of the questions and comments made you uncomfortable – probably angry.”


“Yes, they did,” I said. “I began to feel like an object, or maybe a dog that does tricks on command. It didn’t get any better in the king’s private chambers when I was all but ignored, but I’m over that now. Something more important has occurred that makes what happened at dinner completely unimportant.”


“What’s that?” he asked.


Leaning back on the bench, I told him about my recent encounter with Ferra. Listening intently, Nic nodded, leaned forward, and began to speak as soon as I concluded.


“Do what she asks,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any danger. She seems to be on our side for reasons we can only guess at. You even scanned her mind and found nothing to cause alarm.”


“True,” I said. “I couldn’t detect any negative feelings or deceit.”


“Do you think she’d be able to hide that sort of thing from you?”


“Mmm. Perhaps, but I think I’d still be able to detect something.


“Then go tomorrow, but I think you should take Charles with you; after all she didn’t say you had to go alone.”


“You’re right Nic, she never told me I couldn’t bring someone, and when I made it clear that I’d inform you about our encounter, she didn’t object.”


“Very well then, take Charles and do as she asks,” Nic said, ending the discussion.


The next day after breakfast, I set out to find the office of Captain Armin Wark with Charles in tow, having supplied him with a detailed explanation of my late-night encounter with the mage as he and I shared our morning tea.


The night before, Ferra told me that Wark was in charge of the palace guard, so upon exiting the royal palace, we approached a pair of sentries standing watch under the portico. After inquiring as to their commander’s whereabouts, we were directed to a small building behind the palace that served as the headquarters for the palace guard. We entered the building and found ourselves in a large room bustling with soldiers, all immaculately dressed in formal uniforms.


At one end of the room, a soldier with the rank of sergeant sat at a raised bench. It quickly became apparent that he was in charge, and I listened as soldiers approached him inquiring about their assignments or informing him that they had just been relieved of duty.


Our sudden appearance at headquarters attracted a fair amount of attention, and many of the men in the room paused in their activities to get a better look at us. Since we were in the midst of Xannameirian soldiers – the same soldiers who rotated through the garrison of Konassas – I was sure stories regarding our presence in Konassas had circulated back to Tahkor. But while we were most certainly a curiosity for them, I could detect no hostility or fear, and I was relieved to see that these men – like the soldiers from the garrison at Konassas – were open and accepting to our presence.


As Charles and I made our way to the bench, a smiling soldier intercepted us and I recognized him as one of the men who’d often guarded our quarters in the Amber palace.


“Your Grace, Lord Charles, it’s good to see you again,” the young man said, executing a small bow. “Do you seek assistance?”


Informed of our desire to meet with Captain Wark, he took us to the bench and stood before the sergeant, who peered down at the three of us. After making our request, the sergeant motioned for another man standing nearby to take his place.


“Corporal Dellos, carry on,” he said curtly as he rose from his seat. Turning away from the bench, the sergeant motioned for Charles and me to follow him. Exiting the room through a door behind the bench, we found ourselves in a small hallway. After ascending a flight of steps and passing through a series of rooms, we arrived at the office of Captain Wark.


The Captain, a thin, middle-aged man dressed in a formal officer’s uniform, was at his desk, writing. As we entered his office, he looked up, returned the salute of the sergeant, and then casually dismissed the man as he rose from his chair.


“I was told you might come here,” he said, and I watched as his eyes slowly panned over me as if I were one of his soldiers appearing for inspection. “I wasn’t expecting you to bring anyone, but it’s of no consequence,” he added, giving Charles the same careful examination.


Placing the ring Ferra had given me on his desk, I started to explain our desire to see her. “We…” I began, but stopped when the captain waved away my explanation.


“No need for any of that,” Wark said cutting me off. “I know why you’re here.”


Picking up the ring from his desk, he handed it back to me without even looking at it. “Follow me,” he added brusquely.


Turning his back on us, he quickly made his way across the room and out the door into the hall. After a few twists and turns down narrow corridors and steps, we found ourselves exiting the palace guard headquarters. The rear of the building opened onto a small parade ground, similar to the one in Konassas. Racing to keep up with Captain Wark, whose long, measured strides propelled him quickly, we rapidly approached and entered a smaller building that sat at the opposite end of the field.


Once inside, we started down a narrow spiral staircase. I was surprised how far underground we descended as the staircase corkscrewed ever downward. Finally our descent ended when we reached a subterranean passage that opened onto a long corridor. Torches at set intervals lit the passage, and Captain Wark warned us to take care since the width of the corridor and the position of the torches might pose a danger to our wings. At the end of the passage was a door. Once we reached it, Captain Wark lifted his hand and gave a quick, loud rap. Without waiting for a response, he pushed at the door and bid Charles and me to follow.


Passing through the portal, I found we were in a room lit only by intermittent clusters of candles. The air was a bit musty and the chamber was dark and gloomy. Shelves crammed with books, parchments, and assorted objects lined the walls. Squinting to get a better look through the gloom, I was surprised when my eyes came to rest on a shelf that held only human and animal skulls. On the shelf above it sat a row of fluid filled jars, each containing a pair of eyes. Moving closer, I carefully examined them, wondering if they were human. To the right of the door sat a small chest case filled with an assortment of rocks and minerals. Reaching out to touch a bronze disk lying on a nearby table, I jumped when Ferra’s rasping voice called out.


“I guessed you’d bring him with you,” she said, appearing from behind one of the larger bookshelves in the far corner of the room. Emerging into the dull light I could see she was studying Charles.


“You didn’t say I couldn’t,” I said defensively.


“No I didn’t,” she murmured, turning to confront me face-to- face.


“What is this place?” Charles said, looking around and eyeing up the vast collection of objects in the small room.


“My private office,” Ferra said as a crooked smile came to her wrinkled face. “Now take a seat.” Ferra motioned to three seats near a large wooden chest. “Thank you, Armin,” she said nodding to Captain Wark “You needn’t wait. We’ll be here for a while.”


Without so much as a word, Wark turned and exited the room. I heard a click as the latch on the door locked in place. I turned back to Ferra, but was surprised to see that she’d vanished.


“Sit,” her voice suddenly commanded.


Once more I jumped. As my eyes quickly darted around the room, I looked down to discover she’d already taken one of the seats. Charles and I sat in the two chairs opposite her. I had no intention of saying anything until she revealed to us why she’d called us to this mysterious place to have what I assumed was a clandestine meeting. But before she could speak, Charles broke the silence.


“I have a few questions for you,” he began. “Jamie said you called yourself one of the Farzetti. I’m not familiar with the term. I haven’t encountered it in any of my research. You also said he was of the noble blood of de Valen gesturing to me. Where did you hear such a thing?”


“We don’t have time for that,” Ferra said. “Your visit with me is for a specific reason, what I do or don’t know is not at issue. You see Lord Charles, his young highness, the Crown Prince of Xannameir, isn’t the only one who’s discovered things.”


Charles gave her a puzzled look, and then turned to me. I raised an eyebrow, wondering if her reference was to the treasure trove of books discovered by Andrew in the monastery library of Tahkor, but since I hadn’t yet told Charles of his discovery, I said nothing.


“I’ve already made arrangements for a collection of books and parchments to be delivered to the Tairn,” Ferra said. “You can take them back to Konassas. I’m sure they’ll give you a few things to consider as you make your future plans. But for now, let’s turn to the business at hand.”


Rising from her chair, Ferra gave me a flat, hard stare; turning her back to us, she walked slowly to one of the large bookcases lining the back wall. After rummaging around a shelf in the furthermost corner of the room, she returned tightly clutching a folded piece of parchment in her right hand. In her left hand, she held a small cage. Peering into the cage, I flinched when I saw the shiny black eyes of a common gutter rat staring back at me. Its whiskered snout twitched back and forth as it regarded me apprehensively.


Seemingly amused at my reaction, she set the cage on the floor and took her seat. As soon as she was comfortably ensconced in her chair, she began to unfold the parchment.


“Master Crane, the chief healer to the garrison of Konassas, was once a pupil of mine,” she began, continuing to carefully unfold the paper. “I received this message from him yesterday when you arrived in Tahkor. He placed it in the hands of the first mate of the Tairn, who put it in my hands an hour after your ship docked.”


Once unfolded, Ferra smoothed out the parchment in her lap. Studying me for any reaction, she shrugged when she saw none and began to examine the piece of parchment. I watched as her eyes danced over the words inscribed on it, wondering what it said.


“Master Crane wrote to me in great detail of how you entered the mind of your friend – I believe he’s the Icarian Ambassador? He told me that while he has no idea how you managed it, you shielded your friend from the pain of an arrow extraction.” Pausing, she once more resumed her examination of me.


“Yes, that’s right,” I said. “I entered his mind and found the place where the pain was. I wrapped my mind around it and shielded him from it.”


“You wrapped your mind around it?” Ferra asked, as her eyes narrowed to slits. “Can you explain that to me?”


“No,” I said. “Not really. I just know I found the pain. When I encountered it, I found a place in his mind that glowed like a dull red fire. Somehow, I knew what it was. When I wrapped my mind around it, I took on the pain. I could feel it, but Cody couldn’t. I think my thoughts acted as a shield, but I’m not sure. I only know that I was successful in my effort.”


“Had you ever done this before?” Ferra asked.


“No, never.”


“But that’s not unusual,” Charles interrupted. “Jamie’s always doing new things as the Orbs he’s absorbed entwine themselves ever deeper into him.”


“Of course,” Ferra said, nodding her head thoughtfully “The Orbs.” She sat in silence for a moment, clearly considering this information.


“There’s something I want you to do,” Ferra said, suddenly standing. Bending down, she picked up the cage from its spot on the floor. She walked across the room and placed it on a table opposite me. “Look closely at this rat,” she said. “I want you to enter its mind.”


“What? Is this some kind of trick?” I answered angrily. “Do you want me to amuse you?”


“Of course not, little boy,” Ferra said, giving me her crooked smile. “I didn’t call you here to perform parlor tricks. Now do as I say please, and enter the rat’s mind,” she commanded, immediately losing her smile as she spoke.


I glanced at Charles, who simply shrugged and returned my stare. And although I was a bit wary, I did as she said. My mental powers, fueled by the energy of the orbs, had grown greatly over the many months since my awakening and it was a simple task to enter the rat’s small and primitive mind. Random feelings touched my consciousness, as they did whenever I entered the mind of an animal. It was something I’d attempted on a number of occasions shortly after I’d discovered that I could connect my mind with others, but I quickly grew tired of it. The minds of animals were filled with random sensations and the most basic concepts such as pain, fear, well-being, danger, and safety. They certainly never revealed any concrete thoughts or abstract ideas.


Touching the rat’s mind, I sorted through its feeling of fear at being caged, mixed with a growing sensation of hunger since its last meal had been many hours before, along with a sense of relief because it had just finished emptying its small bladder. As was usually the case when I scanned the mind of an animal, I found the lack of focus in the rat’s thoughts made me feel uncomfortable, but just as I was about to leave its primitive mind, Ferra called out to me.


“Its mind is small,” she said. “Try to wrap your own mind around it, like you wrapped your thoughts around the pain of your friend.”


I frowned at her request. I was eager to leave the rat’s mind, and the dungeon Ferra called her office, but doing as she ordered I expanded my thoughts until they formed a cloud around those of the rat.


“Now concentrate and compress the rat’s thoughts,” Ferra said. “Don’t allow them to escape. Just like you contained your friend’s pain, contain the animal’s thoughts.”


Since I’d done this with a small part of Cody’s brain I understood what she meant, although now instead of wrapping my thoughts around a finite part of a sentient being’s mind, I was surrounding the entire animal consciousness of the rat. It wasn’t very difficult since its thoughts were primitive, and I found the task easy to perform – much easier than containing the pain I’d encountered in Cody’s brain.


“Have you enveloped its mind?” Ferra asked.


Not wanting to break my concentration, I simply nodded.


“So. Now compress the rat’s thoughts. Squeeze them together.”


Slowly I began to constrict my thoughts around those of the rat as I squeezed them together. It was as if I’d taken a piece of paper, formed it into a ball, and began to crush it in my hand. Wrapping my thoughts around the rat’s I squeezed, and as I did, I knew I was crushing them with those of my own.


“Harder,” Ferra urged. “Squeeze harder.”


Doing as she said, I began to feel the same sensation that I’d felt when I had enveloped the pain in Cody’s brain. My mind started to distance itself from the room as all my conscious thought was brought to bear on the task at hand.


“Harder still, Jamie,” Ferra said once more. “With all your strength.”


Although Ferra’s voice sounded far away I could still hear her, and without thinking about the consequences, did exactly as she said. Squeezing ever harder with my mind, I reduced the thoughts of the rat to a small point, crushing and overpowering them with my own. As I continued my efforts, the small animal began to squeak. As I squeezed even harder, the rat began to thrash around in the cage and squeaked even louder.


“Now, compress it as much as you can,” Ferra said.


Its mind squeezed with all my might, the rat suddenly flopped on its back, squeaked once more, convulsed briefly, and died. Quickly becoming aware that there were no more thoughts to wrap around, I emerged from my trance-like state and looked at the lifeless body of the small animal.


For a few moments, I just stared at the rat’s dead carcass. Turning to Charles, I could see a look of horror in his face. I’m sure it matched the one I wore.


Ferra, who’d once again taken her chair, simply stared at me without speaking.


“You killed it,” Charles finally said after a few moments of silence. “You killed it with pure thought.”


“I… I… didn’t mean to,” I said looking back at him and shaking my head in disbelief. “I just did what she told me to do. I… wasn’t trying to kill it!”


“Could you do this to a human or an Icarian?” Charles wondered, pale and wide-eyed.


“In time it might be possible,” Ferra said, finally choosing to assert her presence. “The rat’s mind was small, but with practice…”


“Practice?” I shouted. “Practice on what? On whom? I just killed something by overpowering its own mind with mine. Ferra, this whole thing sickens me. Should I begin with more complex animals, and then if I’m successful, should I move on to humans – maybe start with infants first, then progress to little children? How many should I kill as my practice until I’ve mastered it?”


“The day may come…” Ferra began, but I cut her off.


“I hate killing anyone or anything,” I shouted at her. “I told everyone last night at dinner that I didn’t find any satisfaction or pride at killing those archers. It had to be done. It was pure self-defense. They would have kept up their attack until they were out of arrows, but it certainly didn’t make me happy; I can’t gloat over it and I certainly don’t think of it as a noble accomplishment. I’m not proud of it, and I don’t look forward to killing again.”


“Very well,” Ferra said coolly. “But now you know you have the potential to do it.”


“I don’t thank you for this, Ferra,” I said, spitting out the words. “It’s evil.”


“I’m sure the one you call Loran would have no problems practicing this skill.”


“I have no idea,” I said angrily, although the mention of my brother’s name sent chills up my spine. “Maybe he has this ability, and maybe not; we’ve each absorbed different orbs and I’m not privy to his powers. But this is evil. I would be no better than him if I engaged in it. I have no intention of practicing this vile activity.”


“Very well,” Ferra said, “but now you know you have the ability.”


“Yes, I do,” I shouted, “and I curse you for showing it to me.”


“I think our time together has concluded,” she said impertably, rising from her seat and making her way to the door. “I have other business requiring my attention. If you wish, I’ll have Captain Wark escort you back to the Royal Palace.”


“That won’t be necessary,” Charles said. “We can find our way back by ourselves.”


“As you wish,” Ferra said. She moved to leave the room, but turned back when I called out to her.


“Madam, I believe this belongs to you,” I said with cold formality, reaching out my arm and offering her the serpent ring in my upturned palm.


“Keep it,” Ferra said. “Keep it as a reminder of this day. It’s yours anyway.” And then she slipped out the door and was gone.


I stood seething for a few seconds, staring at the ring and turning it over and over again in my hand. It wasn’t until she mentioned it that I could see it exactly matched the asp bracelet I never removed from my arm. Turning back to Charles, I could see him eyeing me warily.


“Never, ever mention this to anyone,” I said in a low, quiet growl.


“As you wish, Your Grace,” Charles said in a tone of voice as respectful as that of any inferior speaking to a superior.


I was about to chide him for suddenly acting so formal, but then I abruptly turned my back on him and strode out the door in anger as he offered an ever so slight and formal bow in my direction.


The trip back to the royal palace passed in silence. I had no idea what Charles was feeling, but I was seething – mostly over how Ferra had tricked me, but partly from Charles’ sudden cold and distant demeanor. After entering the palace we parted company and I stomped away to my quarters.


Upon entering the apartment, I was surprised to see Nic locked in a serious discussion with Ronan Torken and Juston Tark concerning King Wilum’s plans to move us from Konassas to Tahkor. And although no voices were raised, I could tell from the climate in the room that the discussion had been heated. For a few minutes I stood silently listening to the debate. When I’d first entered, Nic and the two Xannameirian officers acknowledged me, but continued their conversation. After giving me a few additional glances, Nic could sense a problem and tabled any further discussion, telling the two men he would consider the proposal, but needed time to evaluate both the positive and negative aspects of the King’s plan.


Excusing themselves, Torken and Tark left us. It was then, as Nic crossed the room to me, that I began to cry. Looking surprised, he reached out and I buried myself in his chest, sobbing as he wrapped his arms around me. After a few minutes of tears, I calmed enough to tell him about my encounter with Ferra and the vile exercise I’d performed in her somber, subterranean chamber. Releasing me from his embrace, Nic moved away from me and walked to a nearby table. Pulling out his sword he set it on the table, then he did the same with his dagger. Putting a hand under his tunic, he extracted a small knife then reached back behind his neck and pulled out a second knife. Placing them both on the table with his sword and dagger, he turned and looked into my eyes.


“Jamie, what are these?” he asked.


Thinking he was making light of my outburst, my melancholy turned to anger. “What kind of question is that, Nic?” I almost shouted.


“I’m asking you to tell me what you think they are,” he returned quietly.


“Fine,” I said, “I’ll play your game. They’re your weapons. You kill people with them. Is that what you’re looking for?”


“In a way,” he said. “You answered as most would. Yes, of course you’re correct: they’re weapons. And as you know all too well, these very weapons have been the instruments of other’s deaths. But they are much more than that, Jamie – they’re tools. They perform a function, and that function depends on the will of the one whose hands wield them. They can be used to murder, injure, terrorize, or intimidate. But, in the hands of the just, they can also be used to protect, defend, and even save lives.”


I stood silently listening, but made no comment.


“Jamie,” Nic said staring into my eyes with a searching look. “Do you think I like to use them to kill?” For a few seconds I continued to look into his eyes, then reaching out and putting his hands on my shoulders, he asked again, “Do I?”


“Of course not,” I said quietly. “You hate violence and killing. I know that if you could, you would do anything to avoid it.”


“That’s correct,” he said. “What about Lance, or Torken? What about General Zakaria and Captain Tark? Do you think they love to kill, to injure others, to make them suffer? They are soldiers, after all.”


“No, I never heard of an honorable soldier wishing for a war simply so that they could kill people.”


“You’ve seen me fight. You know how I feel,” he continued, “and you know to what ends I would go to avoid ever killing anyone.”


“But sometimes you must,” I added.


“Yes, sadly sometimes I must.” he said. “Today, you learned that you have a power you didn’t realize you had. It has the potential to be a deadly one. Killing a rat isn’t the same as killing a human or another Icarian, and maybe you’ll never have to resort to it, but it’s something you now know you might be able to do. Don’t run from it, and don’t let it control you, but at the same time don’t abuse it. You’ve received wisdom from the Orb of the Owl, but long before that Jamie, I’ve always known you to be wise. Let your wisdom guide you. You now have a tool, just like these weapons. Using it is a choice, but it should always be your choice. Let your wisdom guide you. You can’t change what you’ve learned today, but you can change your attitude regarding it.”


I looked long into his eyes and took a deep breath, and then I went to him and hugged him with all my might.


“Ok, I understand,” I said, “but I still hate it, and I’m still afraid.”


“Just like me when I’m forced to battle someone to the death?” Nic said.


Getting his point, I nodded.


“I’d be lost without you, that’s for sure,” I said.


“Just like I’d be lost without you, my little love,” Nic said as he bent down to kiss my lips. “Let’s find Charles; I think we need to talk to him about this.” And taking my hand, he led me from the room.


The days that followed during our stay in Tahkor were a blur of activity. The exercise Ferra had ordered me to engage in continued to trouble me, but I made an effort to temper my fears and worries with Nic’s words of wisdom as I tried to enjoy our visit to the imperial city. And although Nic continued to meet with King Wilum and his advisors, we took our meals privately and weren’t asked to attend any further royal functions.


Charles and I – with Nic’s encouragement – were able to discuss what had happened during out meeting with Ferra, and within a few days, the red and black winged angel began to act his usual self around me. And during our remaining days in Takhor Prince Andrew came by daily and took great delight in showing us some of the sites of the city.


The tomb of Kartannus the Great was as spectacular and impressive as Lance had said it was. One afternoon, Andrew took us to a spot near the central forum of the city; there, a large, domed, marble building with giant gilded, rampant lions at its entrance opened onto a great marble staircase that led down to a subterranean chamber. The torch-lit chamber was a large, perfectly round room. Its walls were decorated with murals of the Emperor’s accomplishments. Above the murals and circling the room, a mosaic frieze composed of sayings and quotes from Kartannus formed a decorative border – forever preserving the words of the great ruler for all to read. In the center of the chamber, towering above us, sat a massive block of black granite. It was smooth and devoid of design except for two words deeply inscribed into it: KARTANNUS – EMPERIOR. High atop the great stone rested the gilded marble sarcophagus of the king – a winged eagle alighting on its lid. Surrounding the monument were more rampant stone lions. An honor guard dressed in the ancient uniforms of Kartannus’ army stood constant vigil at the entrance of the tomb and before the elevated sarcophagus itself.


The royal treasure vaults were equally impressive, and Andrew delighted in showing us the accumulated wealth of Xannameir. Under heavy guard and housed within a maze of rooms and galleries that comprised the great treasure hall, golden crowns, orbs, and exquisitely fashioned scepters, along with jewel-encrusted swords, richly woven tapestries and gems had been put on display for all the citizens of Tahkor to see.


Charles and I spent over two days making our way through the vast treasure trove, discovering one amazing object after another. The most surprising discovery of all was when we learned that the most valuable object housed there was not a spectacular gem or some golden treasure, but a garment. Charles and I knew we just had to see it.


On the afternoon of the second day of our visit to the vaults – and our last full day in the city – we entered a room filled with textiles. In addition to tapestries, there was a large collection of hand embroidered ceremonial robes and cloaks – among them the coronation robe and mantle of Kartannus himself. Each garment had been hand woven; most were carefully crafted and embroidered – often with gold and silver thread along with thousands of small pearls and gems large and small.


Andrew was quick to point out that every one of the garments and textiles on display had taken armies of craftsmen years to fashion. Making my way through the collection I was impressed with the great craftsmanship and beauty each piece offered. After lingering over a particularly beautiful robe, I turned a corner, walked past a display of ancient heraldic flags and then stopped, frozen in place at what I saw.


Before me, in the center of the room, stood a large case holding a cloak. It was fanned out, and since the case that held it was two-sided, it allowed the observer to see both the outside and inside of the garment. I slowly approached it, and its incredible beauty revealed itself to my eyes. The heavy cloak of purple and gold had been hand-decorated with rich, silk thread embroidery. Gold and silver threads were interspersed among the silk. Thousands of seed pearls, along with tiny garnets and amethysts, formed the border; even the red silk lining was embroidered with a series of intricate geometric patterns. The panels of the cloak were embroidered in an intricate pattern of sunbursts that changed color depending on the angle from which it was viewed. At the neck of the cloak, a golden chain fashioned to look like the flowering buds and leaves of a fire bush had been anchor-stitched into it. The cowl of the cloak – added for effect, and not actually meant to be worn as a hood – was just as richly decorated as the cloak, and sported a golden tassel at its tip. Its lining, unlike that of the cloak, was gold to compliment the obverse of the garment when it was worn.


“It’s the most valuable object in the treasury,” Andrew said with a hushed reverence. “We think it belonged to the first Silver King, and was his coronation robe. The scholars of the treasury think that from that point on, it was used for the coronation of every subsequent Silver King.”


“They’re right about its age,” Charles said. “It predates this era, and they’re also correct to think that it took quite some time to fashion, but they’re incorrect as to whom it belonged to.”


“Then who could it have been made for?” Andrew asked, giving Charles an inquisitive look.


“It was made for me,” I said quietly. “I clearly remember the day I wore it.”


“Impossible,” Andrew said. “The treasury scholars are quite firm on this.”


“You may be skeptical Andrew,” Charles said, “but look down here.”


Crouching down, Charles began to study the bottom of the cloak. Andrew joined him, and I watched as Charles pointed to the cloak’s lower border. There, woven into it, was a series of swirls and lines that looked at first glance as if they might be more of the same geometric decoration that covered the rest of the garment. Careful examination, though, would reveal that instead of a repeating design, the swirls and lines formed a random pattern.


“See that?” Charles said, pointing to the swirling bands at the base of the cloak. “It’s the Icarian language, and it says…”


Prince de Valèn, Lord Protector,” I said, not bothering to look down at the cloak and read the words that I already knew to be embroidered there.


Charles arose and gave me a searching look. “So this garment has obviously stirred a memory.”


“Yes,” I replied. “I remember the day I wore it. It’s like a painting frozen in my mind. There are people standing all around me. It was an important moment. I can’t remember much else, but I retain the impression that it was rather serious.”


“Maybe you’ll remember more,” he said.


“Maybe,” I nodded in hopeful agreement.


For a few minutes, Andrew was speechless. I watched as he arose from his crouched position and slowly circled the case that held the cloak. “You’re not serious?” he finally asked in a muted voice, giving me an incredulous look.


“Quite serious,” I said. “Stand back away from it and look more closely at its overall design.”


Doing as I suggested, Andrew took a few steps back.”


“Do you see the way it opens under the cowl?” I said, pointing to slits and laces almost hidden under the cowl.


Andrew nodded his head in agreement.


“That’s so it can be worn by someone with wings.”


“You?” Andrew said, turning to give me a stunned, unblinking gaze.


“Me,” I affirmed.


“But it’s our most valuable treasure,” Andrew sputtered, “We just can’t give it to you.”


“You don’t need to give it to me,” I said, smiling. “It’s long since served its purpose. Although, I might want to borrow it for the coronation ceremony,” I added, as my smile turned into a grin.


As we left the treasure vaults and emerged from the darkened museum-like galleries into the bright sunlight of a warm afternoon Charles turned to me and whispered, “I wasn’t there for it, but I’ve heard about it.”


“How so?”


“There were a rumors circulating.”


“Oh,” I said. “Well, maybe you can enlighten me.”


“I will,” Charles said. “This chance encounter has been a good thing, no?”


“Of course,” I said, nodding my head. “Seeing it opens up some long-forgotten memories. It also reminds me of those I promised to protect, and honors those who sacrificed everything to help make the day I wore that a reality,”


Charles nodded his head. Turning back to him I added, “Let’s get back to the royal palace; I’d like to tell Nic.”


Strolling back to the royal palace, we talked as Andrew listened, and I could tell that he was surprised at what he was hearing. Later, when Nic returned from his session with King Wilum and General Zakaria, Charles and I discussed what had occurred within the treasure vaults. Although the event was absent from his consciousness, he quickly grasped its significance and encouraged me to keep probing for more hidden memories.


The next morning, we boarded the Tairn for the return trip to Konassas. I was pleased to see that this time the sailors greeted us with open smiles. The voyage to Konassas was peacefully uneventful, although I was disappointed to see that when we sailed through the land were the honey-fruit trees grew, they were devoid of any fruit. I’d hoped that some would be left so that I could once again treat the men of the Tairn to the sweet and exotic fruit.


True to Andrew’s prediction, General Zakaria remained behind, relaying a message to us through Juston Tark that he would be departing Tahkor for Konassas by horse with Captain Torken five days hence. Andrew snickered at the message, winking at me, although Tark neither offered comment nor displayed any emotion when he told us.


The current and wind were in our favor and we arrived at Konassas within four and a half days. After our horses were unloaded, we mounted them and rode into the city. It felt good to be back in a familiar place. Riding through the streets, I realized that despite the beauties of Tahkor, and the way that they overshadowed the homely charms of Konassas, I would always consider this city first in my affections.


The forum was ablaze with sunlight, but when I looked to the Amber Palace, the sight that met my eyes warmed my heart far more than the sun’s brilliant rays. On the steps of the palace stood Cody. As we rode closer, he gave me a smile of delight. At his side stood Lance – his arm wrapped tightly around the waist of his mate and looking lovingly down at him. David, Philippe, Barsetba, Luc, and Jonathan were also there, along with Master Cob and a large portion of the palace staff.


Unable to contain my joy, I stroked my wings and pushed off from Arax. Gliding across the forum, I landed in front of Cody and gave him a kiss and a long, tender hug.


“I told you I’d heal fast,” he whispered in my ear as our hug continued for several minutes. I nodded into his shoulder, and his tunic soaked up my tears of joy.


Ending our embrace and standing back, I examined him more closely. Other than appearing a little thinner, he looked hale and hearty.


“Is he really ok?” I asked, turning to Lance.


Lance responded with a simple nod, then once more put his arm around the boy, and held him tightly to his side.


“I told you they wouldn’t feed them properly,” Master Arnod said, commenting to some of the kitchen staff that was gathered around him. “You can see he’s thinner – they all are. They have no right to call themselves chefs. The Xannameirian’s have no concept of proper cuisine!”


“Did you have enough clothing? Were you appropriately dressed? Did I supply you with the correct attire?” Master Jaysune asked anxiously.


“We were the best dressed visitors they’ve had in years, Jaysune,” I said, laughing. “They all want to come here and have Master Crown make them outfits.”


“Oh, Your Grace,” Master Jaysune said, catching my tone, “now I know you’re just teasing me.”


By now, Nic and the others had dismounted and were climbing the stairs. After a round of hugs, kisses, handshakes, and pats on the back, we all felt properly welcomed home. As we turned to pass under the portico and enter the palace, I was startled to hear a small shout of “Wait!” Recognizing the voice, I turned to Cody whose smile grew even larger.


“What’s wrong?” I asked, looking at the smiling boy.


“Don’t you hear it?” he said, letting out a laugh. “I thought it would be evident to you as soon as your ship docked.”


Pausing, I looked intently at him, and my eyes narrowed as I listened. Turning back to him, I gave him a grin of my own. The sound in my head was unmistakable. Someone had brought an orb into the city.