The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part IV – 'A Crown of Thorns'


Chapter 45


Leaving Konassas at a gallop, we rode nearly nonstop all day. Once we’d left the city behind, Brotus slowed his horse to a ground-eating lope that it could maintain all day with only a few rests. We all followed suit and although we made steady progress, it took us a full day’s journey to cross the Plain of Harren and arrive at the border of the Ardentin forest. Reaching the forest’s edge just as dusk was falling, Brotus ordered a halt to our journey and informed us we’d stop for the night. Annoyed that he didn’t wish to continue, I complained loudly.


“If we keep going we might overtake them,” I groused. “I can’t believe you want to stop for the night.”


“Use your head, sparrow,” Brotus replied. “We’ve been riding all day, and except for a few brief rests to give the horses a chance to drink and catch their breath, we haven’t let up. You might think we don’t need to rest, but they surely do. If one if them goes lame, and can’t go on, we’ll be forced to leave someone behind or put two riders on one horse – and that will slow us down considerably.


“We’ve followed them this far without difficulty,” he continued. “The trail is fresh and we can easily pick it up in the morning. If it really is the Knights as you’ve said, they’ll also be stopping. Those cowards won’t brave the forest at night.”


Although I wasn’t pleased, I kept quiet and helped Cody make a fire while Brotus and David tended the horses. Master Arnod had supplied us with more than enough food and after eating, Brotus ordered us to get to sleep with a reminder to everyone that he’d be waking us hours before dawn broke. I ate little and went to bed with a heavy heart. As heartbroken as I was over Luc, I found I was growing more fearful for Jonathan.


In the morning we awoke and entered the Ardentin forest, heading northwest toward the Sirenese Mountains. We rode for hours, pausing only for a brief respite while the horses drank from a nearby stream and Brotus studied the lay of the land, then we were back in the saddle and plunging deeper into the darkness of the forest. By late afternoon, I realized that we’d been riding for hours without a break. Brotus hadn’t made any comments, choosing to keep his thoughts to himself as his keen eye studied the trail for signs of Jonathan and his captors.


At the end of the second day, as the sun hovered just above the horizon, Brotus called a halt to our trek and we set up camp for the night. While Brotus insisted he had a good sense of the trail, I hadn’t seen any signs to indicate that we were following the same route as Jonathan’s captors. But one thing was certain: if we kept up our present rapid pace, in a few days we would be gazing up at the abbey fortress of Eagle’s Eyre.


Upon stopping for the night, our routine remained the same. Cody and I prepared the fire and got out the food while Brotus and David curried, fed, watered, and hobbled the horses. After eating, Brotus checked the horses one final time, banked the fire, and began preparing for sleep. I picked up the blanket roll I’d brought and sighed as I prepared to roll it open. After we’d settled in Konassas, I’d gotten used to the luxurious bed Nic and I shared, and it was easy to put the months of sleeping under the stars behind me. It was a hardship I’d been forced to tolerate, but I’d never liked it when we were living in the forest like a band of vagabonds. As I got ready for bed, I could see Brotus moving toward a spot he’d chosen on the other side of the fire, while David and Cody found places closer to me.


Groaning inwardly, I grabbed my bedroll and I resigned myself to another night outdoors. Having slept poorly the previous night, I anticipated another equally restless night. I missed Nic. Even when we were in the forest, he’d always slept with me and I’d grown used to him curling his body around me. Waking up cold and alone in the early hours before dawn did nothing to improve my mood, which remained black after the murder of Luc. Preparing for sleep, I placed the blanket roll on the floor of the forest and untied it. As it rolled open, it created a small puff of air, just strong enough to stir up a tiny, red-tipped feather.


The feather immediately caught my eye. It was close enough to the heat of the fire that it floated up on a convection current radiating from the hot coals. Once airborne, it began to drift into the cool night air. Reaching out, I plucked it from the air. It was obviously an Icarian feather – a feather from one of Jonathan’s wings! I immediately recognized the feel of the feather along with the coloring on its edges and tips. Examining it, I knew he’d been brought this way. I took the feather over to Brotus, who was just about ready to lay his head on the saddle he was using as a pillow. He took it from my hands and examined it carefully for a full minute.


“Now will you believe that old, one-eyed Brotus knows what he’s doing, sparrow?” he said staring up at me with his good eye. “We’ve never strayed from their trail more than a few feet. It’s a good sign, but there’s nothing we can do about it at the moment, Jamie. We need to rest. We’ve at least two more full days of riding still ahead of us.”


I returned to my blanket, where I lay on my side and tilted my head, staring into the starry night sky. I thought about Luc, and once more the grief I’d managed to push away in our pursuit of the Knights welled up inside me and I began to cry. I tried not to make any noise, as the tears ran down my face, but realized I hadn’t succeed very well when Cody – dragging his bedroll over next to mine – lay down without a word and wrapped his arms around me.


I didn’t respond, but my tears stopped and I began to think about what lay ahead in the Abbey. It was then that my thoughts turned to Nic and the army he was leading. They also would have had a long day’s march. By now they’d probably made camp for the night. I was tired; tired from the stress of Luc’s death, tired from the day’s ride, and tired of thinking about what lay ahead. But for all my fatigue, I was also restless. Somehow my exhaustion over-came my racing mind, and I managed to fall asleep, but my last waking thoughts were of screaming – horrible screaming, and rivers of blood.


As I slept under the forest canopy, a contingent of the Xannameirian army was beginning to set up camp on the edge of the Ardentin forest. After we’d left for the abbey, Nic and Lance mustered as many troops from the garrison as they dared, being careful not to leave the city unprotected. Juston Tark sent immediate word to General Zakaria and was surprised when, less than three hours after sending a messenger to his father, the General and Ronan Torken rode into the city. They’d left Tahkor a few days earlier accompanied by a routine contingent of the replacement soldiers who rotated between Tahkor and the garrison of Konassas.


After learning of the events of the previous night, Zakaria ordered the replacements to join Nic and Lance’s force, and without fanfare the assembled army quickly set off after us. Arriving at the edge of the Ardentin forest, Tark found the tree blazes Brotus had left behind to mark our way, but since it was dark the General decided it would be easier to pitch camp on the open plain of Harren than venture into the forest their first night away from Konassas. The next days would be spent trying to move a large army through the dense Ardentin forest – a task Zakaria was not keen to pursue, knowing that it would slow their movement considerably. As night fell, the Xannameirian soldiers pitched their tents while Nic and Zakaria had a meeting with the officers. When their strategy session was finished, they arose and prepared to eat their evening meal before retiring.


Both the Royal and General staffs had chosen to pitch their tents in a circle around a common bonfire. Nic and Charles shared one tent; Zakaria had his own private command tent. Lance and Prince Andrew were together in a third, while Torken and Tark shared a fourth. Key commanders and officers clustered around the central command tents, while the remaining lower-ranking officers and enlisted men clustered around the many fires dotting the campground.


Although it was customary for officers and commanders to be served their meals, Zakaria vetoed that protocol in order to save time, and ordered everyone to use the common mess tent. Queuing up in the mess line, they each got a plate of food and a flask of water and sat down on logs that had been placed around a nearby fire.


“Once we enter the forest, it’s going to be slow going I’m afraid,” Zakaria commented.


“That’s exactly why Jamie went ahead,” Charles spoke up.


“I hope that wasn’t a bad decision,” Nic said as he stared into the fire.


“When he looked into Luc’s eyes he saw something, Nic – something terrible,” Charles said. “I think he fears Jonathan won’t be alive by the time we get there. He feels responsible for Luc’s death, and he doesn’t want Jonathan’s blood on his hands.”


“Well that’s just foolish, Charles. I know why he feels the way he does; Jamie’s the one who insisted that we take Luc with us when I rescued him from Tardon. At the time he felt responsible for Luc’s brother’s death, and he was adamant that we take Luc with us. He’s always been protective of him. But Luc didn’t die because of Jamie, and Jonathan wasn’t kidnapped because of him either.”


“I know, but he feels that it was his fault,” Charles said. “I’ve had some discussions with him lately – usually in the early evening when he’d return from using the Battlecom with the boys. That’s why he turned over the responsibility of managing the alliance to me. He’s been working hard to become a true wizard. Something happened to him in his last encounter with Loran. I am not sure what it was, he would never tell me, but I can tell you what I think.” Charles paused and looked around the fire to discover that everyone had stopped eating and was now listening to him. “He knows that there can only be one wizard. The true wizard of Icaria must carry all of the orbs. Their power is absolute and non-divisible. They can’t be shared. He knows now that the only way for him to have the power of the orbs Loran now carries inside his body is if his brother dies and that he’s the instrument of that death. He also realizes the same is true for him. Jamie knows very well that only upon his death will Loran be able to take possession of the orbs he now carries.”


“That would explain the Battlecom program LORAN that he has been practicing with,” Nic said.


“When all the orbs are finally absorbed, either by Jamie or Loran, final convergence and alignment will occur and that person will be the true Wizard of Icaria.”


“What do you mean?” Nic gave Charles a puzzled look.


“Well Nic, since Jamie is your mate, you already know a lot about the orbs: their symbols, characteristics, and negative sides.”


“Of course, Charles –Jamie and I have discussed them many times.”


“Did he ever tell you about CHARM?”


“Charm? No, never.”


“Each orb, in addition to all its other assets, has one special, singular element attached to it. That element is called charm, and each orb has its own special and unique charm. Each charm imparts a special talent or power on its possessor, but all of the orbs have to be absorbed and assimilated within the wizard for charm to be unlocked. Once that happens, the essences of the orbs, melded with the life force of the wizard, converge and align and at that moment the charm bound tightly in the essences of each orb unlocks. It is only then that the individual becomes the wizard in body, mind and spirit. It’s never actually happened yet, because there has never been a true and complete wizard, but from what little I know, it’s supposed to be an awesome event.”


“So after the charm is unlocked, what happens?” Nic asked, giving Charles a concerned look.


“Well, the wizard can make use of charm and it becomes a total and complete part of the wizard down to the very structure of the cells and molecules of his body. Each charm has many degrees and subtle nuances that accompany it called flavor, and as the years go on the flavor of the each charm grows, spreads, and deepens within the mind and body of the wizard.”


“So what are you saying, Charles? Jamie becomes some kind of god?”


“No, not at all Nic,” Charles said. “Jamie is very Icarian, and he will always be Icarian. Although a true wizard with all his charm in full bloom and its diverse flavors flowing through him can be an awesome thing, the wizard is not a god, but a person who channels and directs the life flow of Icaria. If anything, instead of a god, he becomes a servant, and a tool to protect Icaria and its citizens. It’s a bit hard to describe, and I don’t completely understand it myself.”


“Does Jamie know about Charm?” Nic asked.


“I’d suspect that he does. He’s spent these last weeks and months learning as much as he could from the orbs that he now possesses. He’s studied as many of the ancient texts that he can find, and he’s accessed The Screen for hours.”


“You don’t have to remind me,” Nic said. “Every time I came into our apartment I would see him staring off into space, looking at that damned screen.”


“He’s been learning what it really means to be the Wizard of Icaria. You know Nic, it’s not just a meaningless title. Just like your title of King, carries serious duties, obligations, and consequences, so to does Jamie’s title. Jamie has begun to see this, and he’s started to take his role quite seriously.”


“I know that it’s serious, but I’m worried about him, Charles.”


“Of course you are. You’re his mate, and you love him. I’m worried too Nic, but you can be sure that he’s just as worried about all of us… and Jonathan. Do you remember his face when he looked into Luc’s eyes? How he shouted in pain and then dropped the head on the bed?”


“Yes, he looked as if he has seen the face of evil.”


“I think he did, or at least something horrible. Somehow, he and Jonathan are bound. I know that I’m Jonathan’s brother and right now I would give my life to free him, but there’s some higher connection between Jonathan and Jamie.”


“I’ve often thought about it myself, Charles, but I could never get Jamie to explain it to me. He’s always been protective and secretive of him.”


“Same here, Nic. I questioned it time and again, but he would always avoid or change the topic. There was a reason why Luc and Jonathan accompanied him to every one of his Battlecom sessions. I don’t know what that reason was, but I know that it exists… if nothing else, in Jamie’s mind.


“Nic, Jamie has to rescue Jonathan or at least try,” Charles continued. “I honestly don’t think that he would be alive in the time it will take us to get there. Jamie is his only hope.”


“But didn’t Jamie say they wouldn’t kill him?”


“It’s Gude and his monks,” Charles said, giving Nic a dour look. “Do you think they’d have any qualms about killing him?”


“Of course not, Charles. I know how Gude is – we all do. I just hope Jamie succeeds in rescuing him and not getting himself killed.”


“Remember, Brotus is with him and you know as well as I do he couldn’t be in better hands. Besides, fate is rolling the dice now, Nic. I can feel it. There are just too many things that can occur and are up to chance. For the present, we must be content to continue our march to the Abbey and capture it.”


“You say that as if they’re going to toss down ladders for us to climb up, and then throw open the doors to welcome us,” General Zakaria growled.


“No, but I have a plan that might work.”


Nic and Zakaria both looked at Charles in surprise.


“So our scholar has a plan. Are we going to have a battle of ideas?” Zakaria gave a hardy laugh, but quickly suppressed it when he saw Charles glower at him.


“I can see that you think I am making a joke, General,” Charles said stiffly.


“I don’t mean any disrespect Charles,” Zakaria snorted, “But it’s just that of all people, you certainly don’t strike me as a military tactician.”


“Maybe not,” Charles said, turning to Nic and continuing, “But do you remember the time a few months ago when we were wandering around in this very forest and Jamie asked me about where my coffin was, and who Cody’s mate was?”


“Uhm… yes… and you said something to the effect of ‘what made him think that the dead angel buried with Cody was his mate?’ You also made the comment that you weren’t in a coffin. Yes, I recall. I thought it was a strange answer at the time. It was right after that when you called the first Circle of Jonas and began to tell us about our history, but you never mentioned anything more about your not being in a coffin.”


“Well, I never was buried in a coffin because I was in the Abbey.”


“You mean, for the past twenty five hundred years you have been in the Abbey of Eagles Eyre?”


“No, for the past twenty five hundred years I’ve been in The Royal Academy of Eagles Rock – the Church of Sarjanus converted it into an Abbey and renamed it Eagles Eyre. But when I first went there, it was the Royal Academy. Gude’s fanatical predecessors turned it into the abbey fortress it is today, but yes. I was interred there for as long as you and Jamie were interred in your coffin.”


“How did you get there?” Nic asked. “Why were you there?”


“I was sent there to prepare it for all of us after the fall of Küronas,” Charles said.


“You were sent there?” Lance asked.


“Yes. I was implementing my orders.”


“But you never told us,” Nic said, surprise and a hint of anger rising in his voice.


“No I didn’t, and I’m still following my orders as best as I can. Granted things have changed dramatically, but I’m sworn to follow the dictates of Jonas and his successors, and that’s what I’m attempting to do. This was all supposed to come to light to you and Jamie over a period of time. I was given a specific task to perform; what I couldn’t have ever imagined is that the time period I was to accomplish my task changed from one hundred to twenty five hundred years, but I was given the discretion to instruct you as I saw fit, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.”


“I can’t even begin to react to what you’ve just told me,” Nic said, standing and glaring down at Charles. “Part of me is happy to learn more; part of me wants to run you through with my sword.”


“Nic, we were all given tasks. You’re performing yours; Jamie’s performing his. No one of us knows everything. I was completely surprised by the Battlecom, but you and Jamie were certainly very familiar with its use and operation. I was instructed to perform various duties and tasks. I have been trying to carry them out to the best of my ability given a twenty five hundred year span of time.”


“I was specifically ordered to allow things to unfold as gradually and as naturally as possible,” Charles said, now standing and looking Nic in the eye. “I’ve attempted to do that, given the strange circumstances that have occurred. There was to be a one hundred year hiatus while the civilization the Enlightened Ones built collapsed under its own weight of hubris. We were to emerge from our stasis and build a new and viable society.


“Though we would have to deal with a population of humans ravaged by the plague, our task was specific – take possession of Küronas and rebuild society in our own fashion as Icarians.


“In the meantime, errors occurred. Stasis was forced on those of us left at the Abbey prematurely. The Royal Academy wasn’t prepared properly. You, Jamie, Cody, and apparently a great many other Icarians never made it to Eagles Rock as originally planned. Loran was never neutralized; twenty five hundred years of history unfolded on its own and thrust itself upon us. I am only grateful that Jonas was a proponent of Chaos Theory. If I hadn’t been instructed in it, I think I would have lost my mind when I emerged from stasis.”


“I don’t know what to say, Charles.”


“You don’t have to say anything, Nic. Events will continue to unfold. I swear that I’ve never withheld valuable information that would jeopardize our quest. It’s just that I’m following the dictates of Jonas to the best of my ability. He warned me that things like this might happen. I was convinced that everything would go very smoothly. I can see now that he was right, and I was terribly wrong. But above all, we were created to adapt to change. Icarians are the children of Chaos Theory; we were meant to function and excel in the face of it.”


“Well what I want to know now, General Charles, are your thoughts on storming the Abbey,” Zakaria said. “I’m still waiting to hear your plan.”


“Alright,” Charles said turning to Zakaria. “Let me begin with a brief history of the building of the Royal Academy.”


“Well Charles, from what Philippe told us,” Nic said, “ in the days of the Enlightened Ones, it was a center of intellectual activity. It’s where he and Damian went to study. I always thought it was a place for musicians and artists.”


“Well yes,” Charles said. “It was that, and more.”


“What do you mean?” Lance asked.


Charles took a deep breath, sat back down, looked into the fire, and began. “As The Enlightened Ones grew in strength and power, their influence expanded,” he said. “Eventually, they established their cities, through out the continent.”


“Yes,” Nic interrupted. “We already know this.”


Ignoring Nic, Charles continued, “In addition to Küronas, there were five great cities founded throughout the continent: Tahkor, Konassas, Rundstat, Aradamia, and Imperialas. I know that in the Grand Council of Kingdoms we were told how Kartannus the Great founded the existing kingdoms of his empire, but quite logically he chose the major cities that already existed during the time of The Enlightened Ones – with the exception of Wrenstatten which replaced Rundstat after he destroyed it. Whether he did so on purpose or by chance, the major cities that exist today aren’t much different in territory than they were in the glory days of Küronas. Certainly time as passed, decay set in and changes were made, but logically most territorial areas are often formed by natural boundaries – a mountain range, a deep canyon or gorge, a large river – all naturally define borders.


“The Sirenese Mountains form a natural border between the Kingdom of Kalas and the Kingdom of Vorhalla. The highest peak within that range is Mt. Savat. It was on the summit of Savat that the rulers of Küronas built The Royal Academy of Eagles Rock.


“The Enlightened Ones built it in a remote and distant area in order to give them a place for quiet study, and contemplation. Actually, Eagles Rock was more of a philosopher’s academy than a royal one. The great philosophers and thinkers from all over the continent would often retreat there from time to time.


“Over the centuries it grew in stature, and splendor. The seventh emperor, Donas the Wise, established the great library there and eventually it became filled with the vast knowledge that had been acquired. In fact, it was in the Library of Donas that we first met,” Charles said, turning to look at Nic with a small smile.


“Eagles Rock was a place where great matters of philosophy, science, ethics, morals, and logic were considered and debated. Although Küronas had its own academies, schools, scientific forums and governmental structures, as did the other great cities, it was always at Eagles Rock that many of the great concepts that became the foundations of the society of the Enlightened Ones originated.


“There was also a school established at Eagles Rock, where the elite of society were trained and taught. The emperor even had a small residence there.


“Artists and craftsmen were also located there, along with schools for their advanced training. The most interesting thing about Eagles Rock was that it was never a permanent home for anyone. As any large complex does, Eagles Rock relied upon a large complement of workers, artisans, craftsmen, scholars, and servants in order to operate, but no one ever lived there on a permanent basis.”


“What are you saying?” Lance asked. “Wasn’t Eagles Rock a permanent center?”


“Yes, of course it was,” Charles continued. “Please let me continue my explanation. Citizens of the empire were chosen to go to the Academy and create. Even among the servants, who are usually considered lowly and inconsequential, only the most skilled and talented were permitted to come and serve. The only condition of appointment to Eagles Rock was excellence. Only those who had striven for and achieved excellence in their field were allowed to live and work there.


“A person would be appointed to Eagles Rock by direct order of the Emperor for a period of five years; during that time, they would practice their craft or skill under the direction of masters who were chosen for their great knowledge and excellence in their fields. The masters were also appointed, and had terms of ten years. At the end of a five-year term, the appointed person would return to kingdom from where they’d come. If a person displayed remarkable growth and excellence during their five-year tenure, they might be allowed to remain as a master, but after that ten-year period of being a master ended, they would return to the society from whence they’d been chosen.


“During their stay at Eagles Rock, the elect were encouraged to participate in other areas of growth. The library was open to all. Forums and discussion were constantly being held. Classes were offered. No matter what the person’s station or class, knowledge was encouraged.


“Just because a man was a servant, for example, he would not have been looked down upon or excluded from learning. Excellence in his profession would have gotten him appointed there. While there, he would work under the guidance a master who, although also a servant, was the best at his occupation. The master would help him to become even better in his skills. The appointed servant might become a master himself and teach others. While at Eagles Rock, he would be encouraged to go to the library, to participate in cultural events, to attend classes or lectures on topics that might interest him in areas other than his profession, and to join in philosophical forums and discussions.


“So when he returned to his society, even though he was still a servant, he would have grown in skill, and wisdom, and knowledge. No job, task, or profession was looked down on. All were encouraged to grow and mature. All had opportunities to strive for excellence, and those who did were constantly rewarded.


“In this way, the Enlightened Ones were always raising the level of excellence within their society. Citizens striving to get an appointment to Eagles Rock would perform to the highest level of their abilities. Likewise, those who had been at Eagles Rock for their five year terms returned to their societies more gifted and knowledgeable in their craft or skill. When a master returned, they brought with them even greater knowledge and were encouraged to form schools to train others who might eventually become chosen for service at Eagles Rock.”


“And from what Philippe said, even Icarians were allowed to go there,” Lance said.


“Yes, talented Icarians were also chosen to attend – that’s exactly how Philippe and Damian were chosen. Although, unlike the human population, when they emerged they sat for their Grand Enchères. But after the fall of Küronas, Eagles Rock was abandoned for many years. As the sect of Sarjanus grew in numbers and strength, its leaders claimed it and transformed it into an abbey fortress – it was after all the place where Sarjanus first sought refuge and formulated his idea for the religion that’s overwhelmed the land. After coming to Eagles Rock, the Abbots and their monks reinforced the walls. They created towers and battlements and turned it into the impenetrable fortification it is today.”


“Gude is just one of a long line of tyrant abbots that have controlled it.” Zakaria bitterly exclaimed. “They, along with the Holy Office, have created a religion that has given them a strangle hold over the land. That’s why we’ve made no progress all of these centuries. The abbots and the members of the Holy Office have prevented any type of advancement, freethinking, or technological progress. They have kept society poor, ignorant, and dependent on their religion – claiming that it is the only means of salvation.”


“Then I say it’s time for us to reclaim Eagles Rock for Küronas and its king,” Lance quietly said.


“Agreed, Zakaria said.


Throughout the evening, Charles continued his narration, and discussed his plan. When the discussions were over, General Zakaria retired to his tent shaking his head and mumbling to himself: “Its crazy, but if it works, I’ll never doubt that red and black angel again.”


I awoke the next day stiff and sore. Sleeping on the ground hadn’t gotten any better since the last time I’d done it. The sun was already up and when I looked around, I could see that Brotus was already up, and he and David were readying the horses.


“Time to get moving, Jamie,” he called.


I tried to clear the sleep from my head and hurried to ready myself for the day’s ride. After quickly gathering my things, I was packed and mounted. Leaving our encampment, we rode as quickly as the density of the woods would allow and by nightfall, I was sure we’d covered a fair amount of ground. The next day was a repeat of the previous one. Around noon we stopped for a rest. Brotus had come across a small spring bubbling out of the forest floor and it seemed like a good place to stop.


As I sat on a nearby rock, I suddenly got a whiff of something. As I looked around, I caught sight of a small, darkened patch of earth. I pointed it out to Brotus, who walked over to the spot and informed me that it was the remains of a fire. Looking around the forest even more closely, I realized that this had been where Jonathan and his captors had spent the night. I approached the remains of fire, reached down into the ashes and felt the earth still warm to my touch. Knowing that we were not that far behind them raised my spirits. There was still hope that the little angel could be saved. In less than a minute we were back on our horses, tearing through the ever-darkening forest.


It took five days of riding with only brief periods of sleep at night, but by midmorning of the fifth day we had reached the Sirenese Mountains. That afternoon, the four of us stood at the foot of Mt. Savat, looking up at the massive walls of the abbey. We went back into the forest and rested. Brotus and I discussed our options, and it was decided that David, Cody, and I would wait until nightfall to attempt entry. That wait was the most difficult I could remember – even more difficult than the time I’d waited to be presented to General Zakaria back in Tardon.


I knew that by now Jonathan was in the Abbey with his captors. I also knew what the monks had done to Luc. As I sat and fidgeted restlessly, I kept worrying that every minute we waited to act was just one more minute of pain and suffering for the little angel. But even in that worry, I also knew that our chances of success grew ever greater with the increasing shadow of nightfall. Seeing Brotus stretched out beneath a nearby tree, snoring quietly, did not improve my mood. I waited impatiently for what seemed like forever. Finally, I couldn’t stand the agony another minute. Dusk had fallen, and with every passing minute the sky turned a bit darker. I stood up and turned to Brotus.


“It’s time, Brotus,” I said. “We should go now.”


The old soldier, who’d awakened an hour earlier and was sitting on a fallen tree trunk carving a piece of wood with his knife, just nodded his head. We got up and walked to the edge of the forest. It occurred to me, as I moved out of the tree line and into the open area at the base of the mountain, that the last time I’d done this was with Niklas at my side.


“I wish you were here, Nic,” I thought to myself.


I had told Brotus my plan for entering the abbey, and he offered no resistance and few suggestions. He knew that if he had trained me well, this was the moment of truth. The plan was for us to fly into the abbey and locate Jonathan. If possible we would rescue him; if that seemed unattainable, we’d at least be inside the abbey, a fifth column ready to assist Nic and Zakaria in storming the place.


“Remember Brotus, meet up with the army when they arrive,” I said.


“Don’t worry about me Sparrow, I know what to do.”


Then I rushed into Brotus’ arms and hugged him. He hugged me hard, and then in his usual rough soldier’s manner, pushed me away and looked into my eyes.


“Now remember sparrow, and don’t forget what I told you: head up, eyes and ears open, and no heroics.”


“I promise, Brotus.”


“And you,” he pointed to David, “no nonsense about you. Keep an eye on them and do whatever you must to protect them.”


“It will be a pleasure,” David said with a grin.


“Then get on with ye, and good luck,” Brotus said.


I turned my back on Brotus and walked a few feet away from him. To my right and left stood Cody and David. Before I could think too hard about what I was about to do, I leapt into the air and stroked hard with my wings, working for altitude. I heard a rustling sound behind me and turned to see both Cody and David leave the ground, pushing off into the air. Looking up, I could see the dark outline of the abbey silhouetted against the starry night sky.