The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part IV – 'A Crown of Thorns'


Chapter 44


The night was restful for me. For the first time in weeks, I didn’t have my recurring dream of the boy. Even the shocking events of the previous evening regarding the strange creature calling itself Lon Nol didn’t disturb me, and I suspect the absorption of the Orb of the Dragon contributed to my peaceful sleep.


Early in the morning, with dawn a mere promise over the rolling hills to the east, I awoke and went to the window. Feeling contented, I watched the morning sun touch the light clouds with the faintest hint of pink. Since it was early, I climbed back into bed, snuggled close to Nic, and drifted back to sleep as he curled himself protectively around me.


An hour later, a droning sound stirred me from a deep, dreamless sleep. Reluctantly cracking open one eye, I could see that our bedchamber was bright with the light of the new day. I heard the sound again, but this time realized it was a scream – one that ended and started again and again.


Although he was a sound sleeper, Nic had been trained to respond to anything out of the ordinary. Before I even lifted my head from my pillow, his Royal Dominion instincts took control and he was instantly out of bed and dashing across the room. By the time I’d blinked the sleep from my eyes, he was running naked from the bedroom – his sword in one hand and a dagger in the other. The sound of his bare feet pounding the floor was followed by a loud crash as he flung open the door.


Jumping from our bed and following in his wake, I ran through our apartment and into the hall. Another time I might have been mildly surprised to see Andrew, wearing only his small clothes, standing in the doorway of David’s apartment, but I virtually ignored the prince as I took in the scene of utter confusion and chaos before my eyes. Further down the corridor lay the bodies of the two guards I’d sent to stand watch in front of Luc and Jonathan’s room. Seeing them unmoving and face down in large pools of blood quickly confirmed that they were both dead. Near them stood Charles, dressed only in his cotton undergarment. He was wide-eyed and pale as a ghost – his hand clutched tightly over his mouth. Looking past him, I quickly discovered that what I’d taken for screams were coming from Sandro, who was leaning against the wall, weeping and shrieking as if he were being tortured. Viewing the surrealistic scene, I was frozen in shock until a hand touched my shoulder. Jumping and spinning around, I found myself eye to eye with Cody; like me, he was also naked.


“Lance heard it too,” he said giving me a fearful look. “He was out of bed and down the hall before I was even awake.”


“What’s happened?” I cried – a tight knot forming in the pit of my stomach – afraid of his reply.


“I don’t know,” Cody said, “Lance heard the screams and was out of our apartment before I even realized he was gone. I followed him – as, I’m guessing, you followed Nic.”


I simply nodded, took a deep breath, and turned once more to take in the bloody carnage at the end of the corridor. Staring for a few seconds, I was both sickened and terrified by what I saw. Suddenly my eyes grew wide and the knot deep in my stomach tightened when my mind finally began to comprehend what my eyes were seeing. Looking first at the bodies of the guards and the blood-spattered walls, my gaze moved beyond them, past Charles – who was bent over retching on the floor – and Sandro, leaning against the wall, weeping and wailing. Riveting my eyes on the floor, I gasped in horror when I realized that a trail of bloody footprints led from the guards’ bodies into Luc and Jonathan’s apartment.


Running to the door, I froze when my bare feet touched something wet and sticky. Looking down, I shuddered when I realized I was standing in the middle of a large pool of blood that had flowed from a deep and ugly gash slicing across the throat of one of the guards. Jumping from the bloody puddle in revulsion, I’d no sooner extricated myself from the gore, when I was all but knocked off my feet by David, who collided with me as he dashed from the boys’ apartment. Without an apology or the courtesy of asking if I was all right, he forcefully took my arm and pushed me up the hallway.


“Don’t go in there,” he ordered, dragging me over to the spot where Cody stood. Like Cody and me, he was also naked, and I grimaced when I spotted blood smeared on his chest and right arm.


Upon seeing him Andrew, who’d remained in the doorway of David’s apartment, approached us. Drawing near I saw David shoot him a grim look and shake his head when he thought I wasn’t looking.


“Are you hurt?” Andrew said carefully reaching out to touch David’s bloody chest. And I could hear worry and fear in his voice.


“No Andrew, its not mine…” David stammered, “its… ah…,” but then stopped when he realized Cody and I were staring intently at him.


Shocked and upset, my temper flared at the gladiator as he continued to tightly grasp my arm.


“Leave me alone,” I gritted out between clenched teeth. “I can do whatever I want. Let me go… NOW!” But try as I might, I couldn’t break free of him.


My shouting brought Nic to the door. Lance was close behind, and they stalked down the hall toward us. Their faces were grim. Lance looked as if he had been crying, and smears of blood soiled his hands.


“What’s happened?” I screamed. “Would someone please tell me?” For a few seconds no one said a word. I continued to struggle fruitlessly in David’s arms.


“What’s happened?” I cried, as tears formed in my eyes and began to cascade down my cheeks. “What is it? TELL ME, NOW!”


As I continued to fight David, Nic stepped up next to us. “Release him,” he said, leveling a cold gaze at David.


“But… Nic…” David began.


“Release him, David,” Nic repeated, and the flat, emotionless tone in his voice terrified me.


The instant he released me, I headed down the hall in the direction of the boys’ apartment, only to have Nic reach out and grab me.


“What?” I snarled. “You told him to release me. LET ME GO!”


“Jamie, please listen to me,” he began in a pleading tone. “I’m not trying to stop you, I just want you to know what you’re walking into.”


Looking into his eyes, I closed my own, forcing even more tears from them.


“There’s been another attack,” he said “It’s Luc…”


He didn’t have a chance to get out another word. At the mention of Luc’s name, an inner strength powered by the orbs boiled up inside me, and I jerked my arm away – easily breaking his grip. My heart pounding, I raced to the door, then stopped. Bloody footprints were everywhere; some were from Nic, Lance, and David’s bare feet, but others were the deep imprints of boots. Slowly I followed the gory trail, making my way into the boys’ bedchamber…and screamed.


Nothing could have prepared me for the horror I encountered. In the large bed the two boys had shared lay the twisted body of Luc. There was blood everywhere. It was spattered on the walls; it ran onto the floor and saturated the bed sheets. Looking up, I froze when I caught sight of Luc’s head spindled on one of the bedposts – his open eyes staring out vacantly. On the wall above his head, written in his own blood, were the words DEMONS RETURN TO HELL.


The shock that came over me was like an icy hand squeezing the hearts within my chest. I dropped to my knees as a second scream – now born of waves of rage and grief rose from my throat and shattered the silence of the room. I began to feel numb as all sensation drained from my body. Within seconds Nic and the others were gathered around me. Charles, temporarily recovered from his nausea, frantically ran through the apartment like a he was possessed, endlessly screaming out Jonathan’s name.


The foul news spread quickly. Within minutes Juston Tark, wearing only a tunic, appeared at the door. Accompanying him was a compliment of heavily armed soldiers. The instant he grasped the situation, he began angrily shouting orders – commanding his men to immediately secure the palace. But his voice, like the others around me, was far way and distant in my head. In surrealistic fashion I could still hear everything at one time – Charles frantically calling out for Jonathan then screaming at Tark to find his brother, sobs from Cody and Philippe along with a heated discussion between Nic, Lance, and David as they struggled to formulate a plan.


But none of that mattered to me. Still on my knees, I felt as if the entire Amber Palace had fallen upon my head. Tears flowed freely from my eyes. In shock, I looked about the familiar room, scanning it as if I was seeing it for the first time. It was clear from the damage that preceding Luc’s death, a violent struggle had taken place. The long velvet curtains on one of the windows were in shreds, furniture was overturned and scattered about the room, a great gilded mirror had been shattered, and a large vase was in pieces and scattered across the floor.


No one touched me. No one said a word. Stunned and dazed, I stood up. Looking through my tears, I tried to focus on my surroundings – a task made even more difficult when my eyes fell on the small body lying on the bed. Taking a deep and painful breath I haltingly walked toward the bed. Once I was close enough to Luc, I looked down at the headless body of the little slave-boy whom I’d declared an Icarian only a few weeks before in the Council of Kingdoms. My eyes took in what my brain refused to accept – Luc was dead… really dead. Not only murdered, but purposefully and brutally slaughtered in the cruelest of ways.


As my eyes scanned the corpse of what had once been a loving, laughing, and warm-hearted boy, it was obvious my little knight had put up a tremendous fight. There were deep gashes on his arms and hands, and I could see scrapes, and cuts on most of the exposed parts of his body. Reaching out, I gently took one of his slashed and bloody hands in mine and discovered that his body – while cool – hadn’t yet taken on the usual cold stiffness that comes a few hours after death. Making contact with his skin, a shiver run up my spine as a searing pain gripped the pit of my stomach. It was the presence of evil – a black and ugly evil. Its odor was strong on Luc and still hung heavily in the air about him. Even though the perpetrators of the atrocity had long since fled, they’d left a vile stench in their wake.


I turned to look at Nic, but instead came face to face with Andrew, who’d quietly come up behind me. Staring intently at me, his tear-streaked face was a mask of grief. I released Luc’s hand and moved closer to the bedpost where his head was impaled. The gruesome act had surely been perpetrated as a sadistic and cruel act of desecration. Not content to simply murder the boy, his killers wished to make boast of their evil deed by creating a ghastly trophy for all to see.


A vision and a fire stirred and rose from deep within me. The fire was of the purple orb, the vision a dragon – a mighty and majestic beast, a snarl of rage on its face and fire bubbling at the back of its throat. The orb sang deep and dangerous in my head, a song of woe and despair to the enemies of House Imperial. The dragon – the symbol of my house – projected its mind to me and told me what must be done. Raising my arms, I reached up to remove Luc’s head, but discovered that it had been jammed onto the bedpost with such force that I couldn’t extract it. As fresh tears welled up in my eyes over my inability to end the callous desecration, from behind me a pair of hands reached over my head. Prince Andrew, who was much taller than I, reverently removed the boy’s head and laid it on the bed next to his body, covering both with one of the nearby bloody sheets.


“There’s no reason for anyone to view this,” he said in a soft voice that quivered with grief.


No sooner had Andrew covered the little boy’s body then I folded back the blood stained cover to once more reveal Luc’s head. Revolted and sick at what I saw, I still continued to move closer to Luc’s corpse. I was following the commands of the dragon, but as I reached out to touch it, I heard a commotion behind me.


“No, Your Grace, leave everything. We’ll take care of this.”


It was Tark. I could tell from his voice that he thought I was trying to clean up the carnage.


“That’s not what he’s doing,” a ragged voice called from across the room.


It was Charles, standing next to Nic and Tark and looking as pale as a ghost. By now he’d stopped screaming at Tark, but I could see him quaking with anger and grief.


“What?” Tark asked in surprise.


“Just let him go,” Charles shouted. “If it leads to Jonathan, then let him do whatever he wishes.”


Thankful for Charles’ intervention, I continued; I was glad it wasn’t necessary to discuss my actions, as I simply didn’t have the energy for a long explanation. He, more than anyone, knew what I was about to attempt. Fighting back tears while desperately trying to clear my head, I gently and lovingly placed my hands on either side of Luc’s head. Clutching it in my hands, I lifted it up to my face. It was light – far lighter than I would have thought. While most of the Luc’s blood had dried, some of it was still moist. I closed my eyes and shuddered when I felt its stickiness on my hands. And although it made me sick to my stomach, I took another deep breath and continued.


“I’m sorry to disturb you, my little love,” I whispered softly. “But I need you to tell me what you know.”


Peering into Luc’s vacant eyes I no longer saw a severed head, but the last moments of the little boy’s life. Concentrating with all the mental strength I could muster, I dove as deeply as I could until a series of images flooded my consciousness. Jolted by their realism and intensity, I gave a shout of pain, jumped back, and dropped Luc’s head onto the bed. Once again a sense of transcendent detachment washed over me as my mind and body were engulfed by a wave of fire from the orbs, propping me up and saving me from fainting dead away. Even so, I began to feel dizzy and the room grew dim and gray. Swaying back and forth, I took a halting step backward.


Nic was immediately at my side. Tark rushed forward and grabbed me under my arms to prevent me from falling. Quickly the captain whisked me up into his arms and carried me from the room. Practically running down the hall, he crossed over into our apartment. In our bedchamber, he placed me gently on the bed. Cody, who’d been on Tark’s heels, took my hand as everyone gathered around the bed.


“Jamie, what is it?” Nic’s said. His voice seemed far away and distant.


I must have looked terrible, because when I gazed blankly into his eyes and then into the eyes of those around me, I could see only faces filled with worry and concern.


Because I was on my wings, I moved to sit on the edge of the bed, but continued to remain silent, unwilling and unable to speak. I bowed my head and moved to cradle my aching head in my hands, but stopped in horror when I saw Luc’s blood now staining them.


“What can I tell them? What should I tell them?” I thought to myself.


Hit with waves of grief, I began to cry and then sob. As my sobs grew louder, Nic held me tightly as the others stood silently around the bed. I cried in one long, unending fit of grief. I cried until I had no more tears left to cry and no more sound came from my throat. When I finally stopped, I sat in silence and felt the sharp and bitter pain of grief stab through my chest.


“I never told him what it meant,” I said after finally regaining my breath. And the rasping voice that came from my throat sounded so harsh and throaty I barely recognized it as my own.


“What?” Cody said, bending down to whisper in my ear and laying his hand gently on my shoulder. “What did you tell who?”


“I never told Luc what I said to him in Icarian last night. He hugged me and went off to bed, but I never told him.”


“What did you tell him?” Cody asked softly stroking my hair.


“The first three lines from the Canticle of Wings.” I choked and began to cry again.


“Oh Jamie,” Cody said as he sat on the bed and joined Nic in hugging me.


“It was Gude…” I began forcing myself to speak even as my tears still flowed like rain and the pain of grief stabbed deep within my chest squeezing my hearts.


“A band of them got in – I’m sure they were the Knights of Sarjanus. They came in on the lower level of the palace, through the ceremonial rooms that no one ever uses. They did it during one of the routine sentry changes. They snuck up to our level, then split into two groups. The first group continued to the third level, where no one lives. Once there, they managed to get out on to the balcony surrounding the third floor. From there they dropped back down to the window ledges on the second floor. They came in through the window. Luc…”


I paused, trying without success to swallow the lump that had formed in my throat. At my pause, Nic pulled me tight into his arms and held me. Finally releasing me, he looked into my eyes and gently put his hand against my cheek. It was enough to give me the strength to resume. Focusing only on his eyes, I continued.


“…Luc awakened first. He called out for the guards, but before they could enter the boys’ quarters, the second band made their move and dispatched the guards. Then the filthy beasts grabbed Jonathan, and began to tie and gag him. Luc leapt to Jonathan’s defense and fought… oh… and how he fought, Nic – like a lion. But it was over quickly. By the time they had Jonathan secured, Luc had been subdued. Since he wasn’t an angel, they weren’t interested in taking him prisoner. But they were interested in making him an example.”


“That’s obvious,” Nic said, spitting out his words in anger. “Their message was clear: death to anyone who aids the Icarians.”


“Poor Luc,” David added, “the monsters used him to make their point. They wanted every non-Icarian to know about it. They’ll do anything, no matter how horrible, to keep the human population obedient to their corrupt church.”


As David finished speaking, Charles bent down and stared into my eyes. There was a wild look of terror on his face. “Jonathan… Jamie, what about Jonathan? You said they tied him up? What did they do with him? Is he… Is he still… alive?”


“They took him with them,” I answered simply.


“Where… What have they done to him?” Charles wailed.


“They’re taking him back to Eagles Eyre.”


“Then we have to get him,” he shouted, looking at Nic.


“We will, Charles,” Nic said. “We’ll do everything we can to get him back.”


“Alive or dead?” Charles said, beginning to cry. “You saw what they did to Luc. What do you think they’ll do to Jonathan?”


“Nothing,” I said flatly.


“What do you mean, nothing?” Charles choked out between sobs.


“There’s something they want far more than Jonathan,” I said, looking up at Charles. “And I’m going to give it to them.”


“No Jamie,” Nic said. “I’m not going to let you play into their hands.”


“I have no intention of playing into anyone’s hands,” I said in a tone of voice far calmer than I thought possible. The dragon had spoken to me, it had told me what I must do. The essence of the orb of my house was now in my veins, guiding and directing me. “Nic, please listen to what I have to say.”


Nodding he sat down on the bed, turned to me and he focused all his attention on me. Wiping my eyes, I took several deep breaths and although the pain in my chest remained strong, I tried with all my might to transcend it as I began to explain my plan.


“I know that you and Captain Tark will want to gather up as many of the cohorts as quickly as possible and use them to form an army that will storm and seize the abbey, but we don’t have that much time.”


“What are you saying?” Charles asked, his eyes wide with fear. “I thought you said they wouldn’t kill Jonathan.”


“They won’t,” I said, “But it’s complicated. There’s a spy in our midst, that’s for sure. Gude’s knowledge of us has grown greatly – supplied by someone here amongst us, someone who’s been watching and observing us. Someone who’s given the Arch Abbot and his henchmen everything they needed to know in order to carry out this plot.”


“A spy?” Andrew gasped, “But who?”


“I don’t know yet, but eventually I will,” I replied coldly. “And when I find out who they are, they’ll wish mightily they were never born.”


“Eventually?” David said.


“It’s not important now,” I said. “Their vile plan has already been put into play. What is important is Jonathan.”


“But then it’s just as you said,” Philippe interrupted. “If they really do want you, Your Grace, they won’t kill Jonathan.”


“That’s correct,” I replied. “They won’t kill Jonathan. They know that I can sense it as long as he’s alive, but they also know that they don’t have to kill him to force me to come to them.”


“Torture?” Philippe gasped, suddenly realizing what I was implying.


“Yes, torture,” I said, making a grim face.


Charles put his hand to his mouth. I could see he was fighting an internal emotional storm that seemed ready to take his sanity. Reaching out I touched his arm, and for the first time since I’d awakened, I was the one giving, not taking, comfort.


“We have time, Charles.” I was surprised at the inner strength flowing from deep inside me. “It will take a few days for the Knights to arrive at the abbey with him. They have a lead on us, but it’s less than four hours. When I touched Luc, his body was still not entirely cooled. But right now there isn’t time for a large army to assemble, storm the abbey, and rescue Jonathan; by then the torture will have begun.” At the word torture, I felt Charles’ body shudder under my hand.


“But a small group with fast horses may be able to either overtake them, or enter the abbey by stealth if they get there ahead of us,” I continued. “Either way, it’s quick and it can work. But that’s not enough. There has to be a second part.”


“Second part?” Nic asked, looking puzzled.


“A small force will eventually need strength behind it. We can enter the abbey, and even save Jonathan, but once inside the danger will be great. That’s when we’ll need the army. An attack on the abbey, a siege, will distract them and allow us to escape. Also, when we’re still inside we can open a way for the army to enter the Abbey and destroy that nest of vipers.”


“You keep saying ‘we,’” Nic said, “as if you’re going to be the one to do this.”


“I am,” I said. “And you, Niklas, will lead the army.”


Charles lifted his head. There were still tears on his cheeks but an inner light burned in his eyes. “The blood of Valèn and the blood of Agramon,” he said, looking at Nic and I. I gave him a puzzled frown, but in a quaking voice he continued.


“It was in the books Ferra gave me. I started to read them, but I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying. The words were easy enough to read, but their meaning was cloaked – buried deep within complex and strange allegories and stories. In one of the older books, I came across a long epic poem. Its narration was convoluted, and its references obtuse, but it was about two great heroes – Valèn and Agramon. Whatever they did together, no one could undo. Whatever they strove to accomplish, they always succeeded when they joined as a pair.”


“Ferra told me I was surely of the blood of de Valèn,” I said. “And you,” I added, turning to Nic, “She said you were of the blood of Agramon.”


“I don’t care if you have the blood of a sparrow in your veins, little bird, we’d best get ourselves sorted out and ready to ride.”


Looking up, I saw Brotus towering over me. The old soldier had a grim look on his face. Seeing the fresh tears on his cheeks, I knew that he had just come from Luc’s room. Since Luc had often accompanied Jonathan and me for our sparring sessions, Brotus had gotten to know him well. He would often talk with and tease the little boy. After he learned Luc’s story, he was always kind to the boy who had been forced to become a slave – often bringing him treats and telling him old war stories while Jonathan and I practiced. For all his gruffness, Brotus was one of the kindest humans I’d ever known and his interest and concern over Luc was deep and genuine.


“Well, don’t just sit there,” he bellowed, “do we ride for the abbey or not?”


“You’re coming?” I asked, puzzled. “When I… well, I didn’t…”


“You didn’t think a fat old soldier would be worth the trouble of taking. More of a drag on you huh?”


“No, Brotus! I didn’t say…”


“Very well then, sparrow. Do we ride or not? Is the body in that room down the hall not worth avenging?”


At his words my head snapped up and my eyes bored into him. I was about to give him a cold and scathing look, but didn’t when my eyes met those of the old soldier and saw the fire and anger rising in them.


“Then let’s go,” another voice said as David, now dressed in full gladiatorial armor, strode into the room. “Miro will be ever so angry that he missed it all.” Then he added with a smile, “I can’t wait to see the look on his face.”


“So this is our group?” I said, standing.


“No. You’re still short one,” a soft voice spoke from beside me.


I didn’t have to look to see who’d spoken, but my knowledge of the speaker still didn’t lessen my surprise. Turning, Cody and I came eye to eye.


“I can help, Jamie, and you know I can,” were the only other words he uttered.


Pausing to think of an objection, I stopped when I realized he was right. Nodding my agreement, I saw Lance suddenly jump to his feet, but before he could speak, Cody lifted a silencing hand. Much to my surprise Lance remained quiet, gave Cody an intensely serious look, and then a nod of agreement.


“Very well,” Nic said. “Let’s take a few minutes to finalize everything and then we’ll put our plan…,” he paused and looked at me, “…your plan… into action.”


Within minutes it was decided David, Brotus, Cody, and I would immediately leave for the Abbey in the hopes of overtaking Jonathan’s captors. In the meantime, Captain Tark would get word to General Zakaria while Nic, and Lance assembled a fighting force from the troops of the Konassian garrison. During our discussion, Charles offered a surprising revelation when he turned to Nic and announced he’d suddenly remembered something of strategic importance concerning the abbey. When we all pressed him for more details, he simply replied that he’d explain it all to Nic during the army’s march to the Abbey, since he planned to accompany them. But because every second of time involving the preparation and quick departure of the rescue team was of greatest importance, it would be best to begin that phase of the plan as soon as possible.


As our plan took flesh, the apartment became a whirl of activity as people entered and departed. A few of Tark’s junior officers approached the captain to make their reports. Tark, between issuing orders and listening to their reports, talked with Nic about the best way to execute their part of the plan. In the meantime Jaysune came in with a warm towel and began to wash the blood from my hands and feet. Those of us who were still naked, or half clothed, finally dressed. When I was finished, I got up and left the room with Cody, David, and Brotus. Passing Luc and Jonathan’s apartment I could hear Master Cob giving orders to some of the household servants.


“Get this butchery cleaned up,” he was bellowing. “Remove the boy’s body, and see that it gets a respectful burial.”


“NO!” I shouted, quickly rushing into the room.


Surprised at my sudden appearance and outburst, Master Cob and the servants cleaning the room stopped what they were doing.


“What’s the matter, Your Grace?” he said. “This horror needs to be attended to.”


“Clean up the room and care for Luc’s body,” I said, “but I order you not to bury him.”


“But why not?” Cob asked.


“He was an Icarian. He may not have had wings, he may not have come from a coffin like we did, but he was an Icarian. He was our companion, and our… my… friend.”


As I spoke I could once again feel hot tears begin to run down my face.


“When he’s put to rest, it will be in Küronas, where his story and his deeds will be told and retold forever.”


“Yes, Your Grace,” Master Cob quietly answered in a shaky voice. “It will be as you command.”


Once assured that my wishes would be obeyed, I turned and left the room. With my three companions surrounding me, we began our trek to the stables. Just before we exited the palace I heard a shout as Nic’s voice called out to me. We stopped and waited as he approached. I could see Charles, Philippe, Prince Andrew, and Lance following close behind. Behind them came Barsetba and two of Master Arnod’s assistants. After a minute’s wait, they caught up to us.


“Master Arnod prepared food for you to take,” Barsetba said. “He insists.”


Nodding our agreement, Cody and I took the bundles of food. By their size and weight, I could see Master Arnod probably thought we would be riding for weeks instead of days.


Studying Barsetba’s face as he and Arnod’s assistants handed over the food, I could see a look of fear in his eyes.


“Don’t worry Barsetba,” I said, “The danger is passed. The vipers have fled, but when I catch them…”


“Remember, take no unnecessary chances,” Nic said interrupting my tirade.


“Don’t worry Your Highness, I’ll keep him in line,” Brotus said to Nic.


“I can take care of myself, thank you,” I said, frowning and growling at the old soldier.


“Like I said Your Highness,” Brotus continued looking at Nic, as if he hadn’t heard me. “I’ll keep him in line.”


Nic approached and put his arms around me, hugging me tightly while pulling me close to his chest, and I began to cry.


“He’s dead...,” I sobbed, “really dead…. I saw his body. I saw what they did to him, but I don’t want it to be true.”


“None of us do Jamie,” was all he replied.


For a few minutes, Nic simply held me. No one made a move or said a word until Brotus, impatient to begin, loudly cleared his throat and in a voice softer than I was used to hearing, said, “It’s time to get moving. We want to take full advantage of the day.”


“Right,” David agreed as a malicious smirk crossed his face. “The sooner we catch up with them, the sooner we can start killing them.”


Wiping my eyes, I could see Lance kissing Cody goodbye and whispering his last minute farewells.


I was surprised when Andrew stepped forward and kissed David on the lips. “Be careful,” he said quietly to the gladiator as David wrapped his arms around the Prince, giving him a hug and returning his kiss. Turning to Nic, I put my arms around him one last time and hugged him with all my might.


“Thanks for letting me go, Nic. Thanks for believing in me.”


“Just be careful Jamie. And be cautious,” he said, giving me a final kiss.


“I will be, but justice will be done.”


“We’ll all be careful,” Brotus said, and then added with a shout, “time to be off. We’re not going to accomplish anything standing here crying.”


Although giving Brotus a frown, I nevertheless hurried along behind him. “I’ll see you in a few days,” I called, looking back at Charles as we started across the forum, “…with Jonathan, I promise. We’ll meet you at the Abbey.”


“We’ll be keeping no promises if we don’t leave NOW,” Brotus shouted. We raced to catch up with him, and I was surprised to discover the old, one-eyed warrior could move so fast.


Upon arriving at the stables we helped the stable boys ready our horses. After mounting, we made one final stop at the building that housed the Battlecom. Nic had insisted that I don the set of light armor I wore during my practice sessions. I entered the building, threw on the armor, and ran back out to join my friends.


Flying to my horse, I caught up his reins. “I’m ready,” I shouted to Brotus from atop Arax’s back as the horse curveted and danced sideways. Without further delay we spurred our mounts on and with Brotus in the lead, began our ride out of the city.


Making our way through the garrison of the city, I was heartened to hear shouts of encouragement from some of the troops. Their cries were a welcome reminder that not everyone hated us. At the gate, Sergeant Raff and the Gatewatch gave us crisp salutes as the portcullis was raised and the drawbridge lowered. Once through the portal, Brotus kicked his horse into a gallop and the rest of us followed suit. Riding swiftly onto the Plain of Harren, I turned to look back at Konassas with reddened eyes still blurred by tears – my two hearts heavy in my chest over the loss of Luc – and wondered what events would unfold before I’d see the great city again.