The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Part IV – 'A Crown of Thorns'
I awoke in a room filled with brilliant sunlight, but the cheerfulness and warmth of the morning sun did nothing to improve the way I felt. I was disoriented, barely aware of my surroundings. I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids were heavy, as if weighted down. There was a soft buzzing in my ears and a dull ache behind my eyes.
“He’s awake,” I heard a voice say, and I felt a warm hand gently holding and stroking my hand.
The voice sounded far away. Part of me wanted to ignore the voice, just lie there and float in the fog that still wanted to wrap its soothing arms around me. But the voice would have nothing of it.
I tried to open my eyes, but as I forced them open, I was blinded by the brightness of the light in the room, and I quickly closed them. The hand squeezed mine even harder.
“Jamie? Wake up, Jamie.” The hand released mine, but moved to my cheek and gently caressed my face. “Jamie, come on, open your eyes. Tell us how you feel. We’ve all been worried.”
Prying my eyes open, I squinted as they adjusted to the light and began to focus. Looking up I could see that I was looking into the face of the King of Icaria.
“Nic, what happened?” I queried in a voice that was dry and a bit high-pitched.
“During the ceremony you lost quite a bit of blood, and fainted. We brought you here and treated your wounds. You’ve been asleep for a whole day. Everyone agreed you should rest, so we’ve all been patiently waiting for you to wake up.”
“Oh, yes… I remember… I think…” I croaked through the dryness in my throat.
“Your Grace… here.”
Another voice – it came from behind me, and I didn’t recognize it. I felt strong, arms lifting me into a sitting position. Slowly, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed. The headache suddenly flared into near agony in this position. I grimaced and struggled to lie back down, but the strong arms that held me were determined to keep me upright, and I was too weak to resist. As I sat there on the edge of the bed with my body slumped and head bowed, I did a quick self-check. Other than the headache and the buzzing in my ears – which was rapidly receding – I seemed to be fine. I felt something on my neck; as I reached up with my hand to touch it, I realized it was a dressing covering one of the wounds I’d sustained in the bonding ceremony. A sweep of my hand over my chest revealed another dressing where the points of the swords had entered my body.
The voice from behind me was back. “Please, Your Grace, drink this.”
A goblet appeared before me. I paused and studied it; it was brim full of a dark red liquid. I looked up from the goblet and the hand that offered it and realized that it was Bastian, with a grim look on his face.
Nic, sitting on the edge of the bed beside me, took the goblet from Bastian’s hand and raised it to my lips. “Drink this, Jamie.” As he tipped the goblet, I took a swallow.
“Yuuuuuck!” I winced, almost spitting the bitter tasting liquid out on the floor. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“Bastian made this especially for you. He says that it will give you strength,” Nic said, moving the goblet back to my lips.
“Well then, maybe Bastian should drink it! Uggghhh, this is horrible!”
I looked up at Bastian, towering over me. I could see that his grim look was now replaced with one of concern and alarm; in fact, he looked as if he were about to burst into tears.
“Your Grace.” Bastian was looking down at me. “Please drink the medicine. I know it’s quite bitter, but it will revive your strength. Part of our training, as your guardians, is in the healing arts so that we may minister to your special needs in every way. This draught is formulated for you alone. It will heal and revive you. Please, I implore you to drink it. It will heal the damage…” he paused, and looked away from me. “It will heal the damage that I inflicted.”
“Jamie,” Nic whispered. “Please, drink it. Bastian assures us it will help you. You know, we were all fearful for you, but Bastian was the most heavily affected. He personally insisted on carrying you from the caverns to your bed. He stood guard over you, all through the night. He kept apologizing for having hurt you.”
I looked back up at Bastian. In the light of day, I studied the angel standing over me. He was young and muscular. His face had a serious look. Beyond him, I could see his mate Esteban. When my eyes caught his, Esteban walked past Bastian, knelt in front of me, and took the cup from Nic’s hand.
“Why do I have to drink it?” I asked plaintively, glancing back and forth between them. “And what special needs are you talking about?”
“From the moment you assimilated the first orb, the structure of your body changed. Normal methods of healing won’t always work on you. Your altered body also will have specific needs that will have to be addressed from time to time.”
“What are you talking about?” I said. “What? I’m altered now? I’m some kind of aberration?”
Once more the goblet was placed before me. “Your Grace,” Esteban said, looking directly into my eyes, “please, drink it. It will make you feel much better than you do now.”
Looking into Esteban’s light gray eyes, it was hard to resist his plea. I took the goblet from his hand, looked once more at the dark red liquid that I knew tasted bitter and harsh. Raising the cup to my lips, I gulped it down as quickly as I could.
“Ahhhhh, ugggg, blaaaahh,” I shuddered and stuttered as I lowered the goblet from my mouth. Immediately, my stomach rebelled, trying to bring the vile medicine back up, but I swallowed manfully and kept it down. Barely.
In the blink of an eye, another goblet was thrust into my hand. This one held a clear liquid, with a slight greenish cast.
“Quickly, your Grace,” Esteban, still on his knees, urged me. “Drink this. It’s the activator.”
“More poison,” I grumbled, but I took the goblet and quickly swallowed its contents, expecting the same bitter taste. To my surprise it was sweet, and tasted of lemon. As I drank it, the bitter taste in my mouth vanished. Savoring the sweet, lemony flavor, a strange feeling came over me and I began to feel better. The buzzing in my ears disappeared. Amazed that my headache was completely gone, I raised my head and sat taller, feeling stronger, more awake, and more alive than I had in weeks.
“Jamie?” Nic was looking at me. “Are you all right?”
“Yes.” I paused, once more performing a quick assessment. “I’m fine. In fact, I feel good.”
I looked at Esteban still kneeling before me. He had a smile on his face. Bastian’s face also wore a relieved look. Nic kissed my neck, and I giggled as the tip of his tongue lightly brushed against the skin on the back of my neck. I could feel goose bumps pop out on my arms and legs.
“Hey,” I said. “Not fair! I wasn’t expecting that.”
“I know,” Nic smiled, and then whispered in my ear. “That’s why I did it.”
Looking around, I realized that I was in some sort of grand salon. The bed I’d been lying on wasn’t a bed at all, but a large divan. It was overstuffed, incredibly soft, and very comfortable. I guessed that I’d been placed there more for the safety of my wings than my physical injuries.
The room itself was bathed in brilliant sunlight that poured in through a large expanse of windows. They were draped with a luxurious fabric that had golden threads woven into it. Looking about and taking in my surroundings, I realized that the whole room was richly furnished and quite luxurious. The walls were painted in such a way as to make them appear like stone. There was a large majestic painting of a mountain range on the opposite end of the room that covered almost the entire wall. The frame it resided in was thick and ornate. As I looked up, I could see that the ceiling also had a beautiful fresco painted on it. The scene was of a group of angels in some type of council meeting. It didn’t make much sense to me as I stared at it, but it was quite detailed and very beautiful.
Taking in the rest of the room I noticed that the furniture, while very elegant and highly decorative, appeared to be extremely comfortable. In addition to the normal accoutrements, I noticed a desk for writing, and even a sitting area with shelves of books. I became aware of the sound of trickling water and I turned to look at the opposite end of the room where a small fountain emerged from the wall. It trickled into a pool on the floor and its pleasant, bubbling sound brought a smile to my face.
My sandals had been removed and now, sitting on the edge of the bed with my bare feet on the floor, I became aware of the lush, soft carpet I was digging my toes into. The rug filled almost the entire room and was beautifully woven, with intricate designs and beautiful floral patterns. As I quietly sat there, I began to realize that Nic, Bastian, and Esteban weren’t the only ones in the room with me.
General Zakaria stood by the door, along with Prince Andrew and some of his senior staff. Lance was also there, but I didn’t see Cody. David was beside Andrew and talking quietly to him, but I noticed that they’d occasionally look up and cast a glance in my direction. I turned my head and looked over my shoulder when a bit of movement caught my eye, and found I was looking at two tall and unsmiling Magisterial Seraphim. As if my very glance had appeared to be a request I was immediately informed by Esteban that as my personal army and private bodyguards, they’d been ordered there by Bastian, for the sole purpose of my protection.
Looking at them, I was overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility and obligation. All the initial talk of wizard and king was long behind us – this was real. The roles that we were now playing weren’t just for our pleasure and private amusement. The fates of more and more people, even kingdoms and races, depended on the decisions we made, and the actions we took. People had died – good people. Now, more than ever, I realized the seriousness of our situation.
I also had something precious and valuable inside me. While most would have thought it to be the essence of the orbs, I knew differently. I’d gained knowledge. The many hours of studying that Prince Andrew and I spent in private had provided me with important, and sobering, information. I’d shared everything with Nic as little by little, the secret history of Icaria came to light. The information had increased my memory and as I shared it with Nic, he also grew in understanding as some of his own personal recollections began to reawaken.
Although Nic, Andrew, and I had grown in wisdom, Nic has asked us not to share our knowledge with anyone else, or for me to suddenly exhibit any great increase in memory. What we had learned was to remain a secret until its revelation was absolutely necessary. But now, having awakened from the bonding ceremony, recalling what we had learned caused many thoughts and fears to rush into my consciousness.
I swallowed hard, bowed my head to the floor, and closed my eyes for a few seconds. Nic immediately sensed my mood. His arm wound around me. In an upbeat and pleasant voice, he started talking.
“Isn’t it beautiful Jamie? They’re calling it the Wizard’s Salon; I have one just like it right next to you – the King’s Salon – and they’re joined by a common door, although there’s only one bedroom in the apartment.”
I looked at him and caught the twinkle in his eye. I could see that my mate was trying to ease my fears and raise my spirits.
“Well, maybe the bedroom’s just for one of us. Do you have a coin? If so, let’s toss it to see who gets to sleep where,” I said with a sly smile.
Nic smiled back while chuckling at me. Then I leaned into him and rested my head on his shoulder.
“Nic, I’m a little worried,” I quietly whispered. “I guess I shouldn’t let anyone hear me say that, but I’m finally starting to realize what all this means.”
“To tell you the truth Jamie, I’m a bit scared too,” Nic said, wrapping his arm around me. “But we’ve gotten this far. We’ve already confronted some serious situations and won. Remember, this is the place where you made Loran vanish. You did it once love, and I know you could do it again if you had to.”
At the mention of Loran’s name, I shuddered. “I’m not so sure Nic. Remember, he’s absorbed a number of orbs himself.”
I knew Nic was trying to be optimistic and strong for me – I could feel it – but there was one fact that even he didn’t know, and although his words gave me great comfort, I knew that the road ahead had more than a few bumps in it. But as I looked into the King of Icaria’s eyes and felt his love, I couldn’t be anything but happy – happy that he was there by my side, happy that he was my mate, and happy that we were together.
“As always Nic, you’re right. Thank you. I promise I’ll do my best. But I’m still scared.”
“I know you are Jamie. Chin up, and we’ll do it together, even if we have to walk through hell hand in hand. I’ll always be by your side.”
“I know, and for that I’m forever grateful,” I said, and leaned in even closer to him.
I was about to continue when I was interrupted by a soft knock at the door. General Zakaria, who was standing closest to the door, reached out and pulled on the handle. When the door opened, a young angel stepped into the room and paused. He appeared to be about fifteen or sixteen years old, his wings had a light green and gold tint to them, and his medium length hair was an attractive light brown with bright blond highlights. He wore a white tunic trimmed in the same gold and blue colors I often wore. Pausing to scan the room, his eyes widened the instant he caught a glimpse of me sitting with Nic. Dashing across the room to stand in front of me, he immediately dropped to his knees and bent over so low his forehead bumped the floor, then he raised his head and rubbed his brow a little. Surprised at his actions, I simply stared at him.
“Protector,” he said, raising his head slightly and affording me a better look at his face.
Looking down at him, I felt a smile come to my lips. “Giovanni,” I breathed, reaching out to him. Gently cupping my hand under his chin, I lifted his face to the light to get a better look at him. “Oh Giovanni, you’re here and you’re safe,” I said, gazing into his eyes.
“Safe because of you, Protector,” he said, breaking away from my hand to once more bow low before me. “Safe, just as all of us are safe because of your courage, my Lord Regent.”
“Oh please Giovanni, no formality, at least in private,” I said taking his hand and pulling him from the floor. “There will be none of this.”
As I drew him closer to me, he wrapped his arms around my neck and hugged me so tightly I thought his Icarian strength might snap my neck. Laughing softly at the pleasure of seeing him, I returned his hug as he whispered in my ear. “You promised Protector, you promised me with all your heart. I was so afraid. I knew I would die, but you promised that I’d be safe. I’m here because you kept that promise, my Lord Regent.”
Taking his arms from around my neck, I put my hands on his shoulders and studied him from an arm’s length distance. “Why all the formality Giovanni, after all we’ve been through,” I said smiling at him “But if you insist in any titles Giovanni, it would be best if you didn’t call me that.”
“But My Lord Regent, it is you who…”
Gently I placed a finger to his lips. “Only a few know that, Giovanni – and you, only by accident. Its something we must keep between us for now. We’ll talk of this later, but if you want to thank anyone, it should be the boy sitting next to me.”
Turning to look at Nic, Giovanni’s eyes grew as wide as saucers. In seconds he was once more kneeling on the floor, his forehead touching the floor. “Your Most Royal Highness,” Giovanni whispered, “Forgive me, I only saw My Lord Reg… Protector, I mean,” he said, changing what he was about to say. “I was so happy to see him; please forgive me, my King,”
Nic, who been beaming from the moment the boy entered the room, did as I had done, and pulled him to his feet, hugging him fiercely. “One of our goals was to make sure you were safe Giovanni, and I can see that we succeeded” Nic said, grinning at the boy. “Besides, we need your skills; as you well know, Jamie and protocol have never mixed.”
Smiling shyly at Nic and then at me, he looked down at his bare feet and in a voice that was barely a whisper replied, “I know.”
“Well then, it’s back to work, you lazy boy,” I said, grinning at him. “You’ve overslept by a few thousand years.”
“I am happy to serve you, My…”
“I know you refuse to call me Jamie, so I think it’s best if you just call me Your Grace, or Prince de Valèn, First Wizard of Icaria from now on, when you’re performing your duties,” I said, giving him a wink.
Frowning, he gave me a puzzled look. “But… you’re…”
“Oh Giovanni, what a frown on such a handsome face,” I said, smiling at him and caressing his cheek with my hand. “We’ll talk of this later, but I know you remember what to do.”
“Of course, Your Grace,” Giovanni said. “Be assured that I will continue to serve you with honor.”
“Of that, I have no doubt,” I said, smiling at the boy.
Just as I was about to add something to our conversation, a second knock on the door interrupted me. Once more General Zakaria opened the door, and I looked up as Charles and another angel entered the room. Charles murmured something to Zakaria, who pointed to Nic and I. Charles and the second angel paused and studied us from their spot by the door, then after a few seconds, began to approach us from across the room. As they drew closer, I blinked, looked away for a second, looked back, and blinked again. The first thought that entered my mind was that Charles had somehow acquired a twin, since he and the other angel appeared to be identical. But as they drew closer, I could see that the second angel – while exhibiting some similarities to Charles – was not his exact double.
I inwardly drew a sigh of relief. One Charles was enough for all of Icaria, but two… well, it could have made life quite interesting.
Charles and his companion stood opposite Nic and me. I’d only ever seen Charles in his short red and black tunic, but this time he was wearing a long, formal robe. The robe was also red and black, but fell to the ground around his ankles. It had long, billowing sleeves and a hood that was folded back and lay between his shoulder blades. The robe actually reminded me of a monk’s habit, except this one seemed to be made of silk and had beautiful gold trimming around the neck, hood, sleeves, and bottom hem.
The other angel was wearing a similar robe, and as I looked at them a bit more closely, I realized why I’d thought they were twins. The flowing robes covered most of their bodies, thus hiding their individuality and highlighting their similarities. As I looked closer at the second angel, I could see that his hair was light brown, his eyes green, and he was a few inches shorter than Charles. His robe was identical to Charles with three exceptions. Charles’ robe was tied with a gold sash while the other angel’s robe had a black sash. Charles also had a pair of snakes embroidered up the length of his robe. The snakes started at the bottom hem and wound their way up to his waist. He was also wearing an elaborate golden chain around his neck that was pinned over his shoulders and hung down across his chest.
I could see that the other angel had the same unusual white wings with red and black markings – identical to Charles’ – that had further enhanced the illusion of similarity between them. Charles had a formal and serious look about him. The other angel standing a few feet behind him in silence had a similar look on his face.
“We’re ready for him,” Charles said to Nic. “How’s he feeling?”
“He’s fine, Charles; a bit weak yet, but otherwise fine.”
“Pardon, my lord,” Bastian interrupted, and bowed deeply to Charles. “He just finished the medicine and it’s still taking effect. It will still be about an hour until he’s feeling totally well.”
I sat there uncomfortably silent as three people entertained a discussion about me as if I weren’t present. But my silence was short-lived.
“Well, HE would like to know what you’re talking about, Charles,” I interrupted.
Charles didn’t miss a beat as he turned to me and withdrew from his sleeve the slim book that was my key to The Screen and handed it to me.
“Jamie, the codes,” he quietly said. “Convening the Council of Houses.”
I reached out my hand, took the tiny book, and immediately went to one of the pages of endless numbers while I simultaneously opened the screen. This time I did so openly, not in my mind as I usually did, so that anyone standing close to me could easily see it.
Quickly I found the heading <ROYAL AND IMPERIAL HOUSES>. I was prompted for a code, and using both the guide I found contained in The Screen and the information in the book, I began to enter a series of numbers. After I did, a new screen flashed before me with a number of options. The one that caught my eye was titled <GENERAL COUNCIL>.
I went to it and focused my thoughts on it. As I did, the words <GENERAL COUNCIL> turned into three additional headings.
Charles had told me to go to <CONVENING>, so I did. I was still studying the information from The Screen when Nic and Bastian pulled me to my feet.
“What’s this all about, Charles?” I protested as I stood.
“Just keep accessing the screen until we get there, Jamie,” Charles said. “You’ll get the general idea.”
“Here,” Charles said, turning to Giovanni and handing him a pair of exquisite sandals that I hadn’t noticed he was carrying in his voluminous sleeves. “And don’t forget this,” he added, turning to the red and black angel and securing from him a beautifully embroidered white and gold cape that Charles also handed to the Giovanni.
Quickly slipping on the sandals and securing the cape, Giovanni headed for the door, moving ahead of Charles and the other red and black angel. Pausing at the door, Charles turned and spoke to Zakaria and his officers who, along with Lance and David, seemed to be preparing to accompany us.
“My profound apologies General, but this is a matter for Icarians,” were his only words. But they were enough, because Zakaria nodded graciously and moved back with his officers and allowed us to pass. I noticed that Lance and David turned from the general’s group with quiet apologies and moved toward us. Lance showed no outward sign of emotion, but bowed slightly to Charles and stepped in behind him as Zakaria resumed his conversations with his officers, while David did the same. Before we left the room, I stopped and looked at Prince Andrew. I’d noticed him studying me intently as I sat on the divan from the moment I’d awakened in the apartment.
“Join us, dear friend,” I said.
“Jamie, that’s not possible,” Charles said.
“Why not, Charles?”
“He’s not an Icarian.”
“He’s a titled noble of Icaria.”
“Because you made him one, Jamie.”
“That’s correct, and I am the wizard, aren’t I?”
“That’s right, Charles…” I replied blandly. “I am.”
And with that, I continued through the door and out into the hallway. Prince Andrew, who by now was red faced and definitely embarrassed over my exchange with Charles, approached our group and followed behind as we exited the room.
We went through the doorway and entered a corridor that extended for some distance in either direction. Giovanni – who appeared to know where we were going – led the way. Charles and the second red and black winged angel followed immediately behind him. Behind Charles came Lance and David, followed by Prince Andrew, and then Bastian and Esteban, followed by Nic, myself, and finally the two Magisterial Seraphim who were acting as my bodyguards. As we passed into the hall, I noticed that two additional Magisterial Seraphim had also been stationed as guards outside my salon door. I couldn’t help wondering for a moment what had happened to Cody, having expected to see him soon after I’d awoken.
We walked in silence as I continued to access The Screen – which by now I’d shut off for public viewing, privately accessing it only in my mind. What I was learning sent chills up and down my spine. I continued to access large amounts of information at an increasingly faster rate and as I did, I felt the blood drain from my face.
We continued on until we reached a second corridor perpendicular to the first one. Giovanni made a right turn. We advanced a few feet and stopped just in time for me to yell, “No, Charles!”
Charles turned and walked back to me. Bastian and Esteban turned aside and Charles and I now stood face to face.
“If you’re about to do what I think you’re about to do, then I refuse,” I said angrily.
“You can’t refuse, Jamie,” he calmly said.
“I most certainly can, and I do!” I countered.
“I’m sorry Jamie, but we must. There’s no other way.”
“No other way?” I was shouting loudly by now. “This is crazy! I’m not ready for this; I don’t even know what to do.”
“We know that, Jamie,” Nic said. He was now resting his hand on my shoulder. “But Charles presented me with the facts, and it’s something that I feel we should… no, must do. It’s really that important.”
“But what will they say; how will they react?” I said hotly, “Nic, I know none of the protocol; I don’t even know what I’ll say.”
“That’s part of the plan,” Charles said. “You are the one chaotic force that no one has thought about or planned for. I know you’ll succeed.”
Gently Nic took me by the arm and escorted me down the hall in the direction that we had just come from. Once we were out of the hearing range of the others, he looked me in the eyes and began talking quietly.
“Jamie, we all know what we’re asking of you, and that it’s a bit of a risk, but it’s a chance we have to take. I can’t stand here and debate it with you, or even explain it in detail. We honestly didn’t think that you would be unconscious for so long. I planned on discussing this at length with you, but as it is, they’ve already been waiting more than a few hours to see you. I know it scares you, but if we’re going to succeed at what we pledged we would do, then you must do this. I know you don’t feel ready. I know you feel unprepared. But look at what you’ve done already: You fought and defeated Loran at least once – twice, if we count the time when we found Lance. You’ve absorbed four orbs. You defended me in front of the High Council of Konassas, from their so-called wizard. You’ve faced Abbot Gude, freed Charles from the Abby, and saved Jonathan once from the circus and again from Gude’s monks. You are ready; you may not think so, but I know you are. You can do this.”
“But Nic, consider the consequences,” I said, looking pleadingly into his eyes. “Charles is probably one hundred percent certain how this meeting is going to go, but you and I know that his vision is probably quite far from what may actually happen here today. You, Nic, know the facts better than anyone else. You know the truth. Are we really ready for this?”
“That’s hard to say Jamie, but everything has come together very quickly, partly due to the murder of Luc and the capture of Jonathan. I know we didn’t plan it this way, but…”
“But there are still things you don’t know, Nic,” I said, tears now filling my eyes at the mention of Luc’s name.
Nic took me in his arms as the tears ran down my cheeks.
“Don’t you think I know that, Jamie? Remember a long time ago, when we were still wandering around in the Ardentin forest and Charles told us there were things only for you and I to know, and also things only for you to know? Well, I know that you’re holding some of them deep in your heart. They worry you, they scare you, and I know they frighten you, but realize that I know you’re only doing what your heart tells you. I’m not jealous of any information that you may have had to keep from me. I suspect part of your fear is the worry you have over my reaction. Am I correct?”
“Yes, Nic.” were the only words I was able to get out.
“Don’t worry about my reaction. I certainly realize from what knowledge I already have that this will be a serious and possibly acrimonious meeting, but Charles and I both decided it must be held – Charles for his reasons, and I for mine. I know it seems that I’m trying to force your hand, but I’m not. If you really want to turn back to your room, go ahead – I won’t abandon you. But I know you remember just enough to realize what you started over twenty five hundred years ago. You were scared then, but you seized the moment when no one else had the courage to step forward.”
“But Nic, look what’s happened. Look at the price we’ve paid,” I said, and then lifting my head from his chest, I looked directly into his eyes. “You listed all the things you think I’ve done. Well, I didn’t save Luc. I might as well have killed him myself!”
“Oh my sweet Jamie, you carry the responsibility of Luc’s murder in your heart as if you were the one who swung the sword.”
“Well, I might as well have.” I said, feeling hot tears run down my cheeks. “My proclamation in making him an Icarian, my insistence that he remain with us, and my pronouncements of his being under my direct protection sentenced him to death.”
“No it didn’t, Jamie,” and as Nic spoke he released me from his embrace and stood back so that I was looking at him through my tear-filled eyes. “Luc was the happiest and most contented in his whole life during his time with us. You told me that he said he would rather have been your slave than a freed man anywhere else. He was murdered by evil; you’ve already made a start at bringing that evil to justice, and now it’s our duty to finish that work. Every human in this world is a potential Luc Tourney if we don’t act, and act soon. None of the humans in this world fully realize that, and that goes double for the members of the Grand Council of Kingdoms,” he said, gently stroking my hair as he gave me a sweet and loving smile. “They need us. They need you. I doubt they’ll survive without us. None of them know that yet, but at some point they will.”
“You know Nic, they gave him a choice,” I said quietly, looking down at the floor.
“The Knights of Sarjanus.” I said, swallowing hard. “After they broke into the Amber Palace and took Jonathan prisoner, they gave Luc a choice. They promised him they wouldn’t touch a hair on his head, that he’d remain unharmed – all he had to do was return to the church and resume his position. They assured him he had nothing to fear. The leader told him the only condition was that he co-operate with them to expose the Icarians for the devils we are.
“He explained to Luc that he wanted him to repudiate his actions during his time with us and to expose us as evil. That’s when he fought, Nic. Luc – my Luc – gathered himself up and stood before all of them and with the courage of a lion told them what they could do with their offer. He proudly told them that he was an Icarian under the protection of the wizard. He told them he would never consent to being a slave again, and that death was a better alternative. Then he attacked them. There was a writing stylus on the table; Luc grabbed it and leapt at them. The knights finally subdued him, but only after he took out one of the leader’s eyes. That’s when they killed him. The pain Luc inflicted on the leader was nothing compared to the righteous fury that boiled up inside of the fanatical knight. He, alone, wielded the sword that killed Luc.”
“But they’re all dead, no?” Nic asked.
“All but the leader,” I replied. “There was no one-eyed knight among the dead.”
“But none of that was your fault, Jamie,” Nic said putting his hands on my shoulders. “Because of you, Luc tasted freedom; he experienced warm and caring friendship; and he felt deep love. What person would agree to relinquish that for slavery? Luc didn’t just fight because you made him an Icarian. He fought because he’d experienced a better way of life, and losing that way of life was no different than dying for him. He could have lived as a slave, but instead he chose to die free. Remember the day you put the cloak on – the one that sits in the treasure vaults of Tahkor? Remember what you promised that day? Luc Tourney made the same choice all of us have – freedom, or death.”
Looking into his eyes, I remained silent.
“Now, head up,” he said. “Go in there and do what you know the Wizard of Icaria must do. After all,” he whispered in my ear, “you are the Lord Protector. And as far as the protocol, well that’s what you have Giovanni for – remember?”
I looked up at his smiling face. Then I launched myself onto him and hugged him with all my might. I heard him chuckle and he hugged me back. I felt him kiss the top of my head.
“I’m scared Nic,” I said, “but I’ll try.”
“That’s all any of us ask. Now come on, little sparrow,” he chuckled, “dry your tears, be the wizard you can be.”
“Uhm… since when did your name change to Brotus?” I said, frowning up at him.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It’s always so cute when he calls you that.”
“Uhm, well, it’s not that cute to me,” I said.
“Come on Jamie,” Nic said as he grabbed my hand and led me back to the group.
Charles was waiting for us with a serious look on his face.
“Jamie.” Charles turned to me with an almost pleading look on his face. “We know it’s a big risk, but big risks also can bring big rewards. Trust us, and trust yourself.”
“Yes Charles, but big risks can also bring big disasters. I hope you’re prepared for some.”
“We’ll take them as they come,” he answered, serious and grim-faced.
For a few seconds there was silence. I closed my eyes. From what I had gathered from the screen and mental images I had accessed from everyone including Charles and Nic, I knew what had happened during my period of unconsciousness, and what I was now being asked to do.
Somewhere in the bowels of this great Academy turned abbey/fortress slept the princes of the Royal and Imperial Houses of Icaria in their coffins. Accompanying them, these royal and imperial angels, were their scribes. Each prince governed a single house and every prince had one scribe – a second noble born angel personally chosen by each prince to be their closest advisor and confidante who would, at their death and with the permission of the Wizard, take their place as their rightful heir and successor. After the Imperial House of the Wizard and the Royal House of the King, they formed the leadership of Icaria.
After the bonding ceremony with the Magisterial Seraphim had taken place and while I lay unconscious, Charles had made his way to a secret chamber where the princes and their scribes lay – along with Giovanni and a small group of Icarians not directly of the noble houses. He activated the sequences to resurrect them, and they were now awake and ready to convene their first council – a council that would be headed by their rightful leader – the Wizard of Icaria.
The only problem was that there were two wizards: two Imperial High Seraphim who had both absorbed essences of orbs and were tapping into their powers. The gamble Nic and Charles were taking was that the princes and scribes of the royal and imperial houses would accept me as the rightful wizard and unify Icaria against the rogue wizard Loran.
But there were problems – problems I’d discovered during the months of my research. All those hours of reading, accessing the screen and studying old manuscripts had taught me many things. It had also stirred my memory. The final key was the information Prince Andrew had provided in his secret cache of documents and the book he’d presented to me on our river journey to Tahkor. I knew the truth, even more than Nic or Charles. I knew what the stakes were, and I also knew the consequences. Standing there, surrounded by my closest companions and friends, I felt torn by conflicting emotions and fears.
“Trust yourself…” I heard a voice say.
At first I thought it was Nic, continuing his encouragement. But then I realized I was still standing silently with my eyes closed and my head bowed and that the voice was coming from inside my head.
And suddenly, standing before me was the handsome angel whom I’d fought, long ago in the dream. He was radiantly beaming at me with the same warm smile he had given me after we had fought in the secret mountain cave with the cold clear spring that flowed from the rock.
“Trust yourself…” he repeated once more as he smiled, his warm and gentle smile like a benediction.
He extended his hand, and in it he held the same silver staff that he had given me in my dream. “Every wizard needs a staff…”
He touched my hand with the staff as if he wanted me to grasp it. I did, and felt a strange sensation flow through my body.
Then he was gone, and I was standing back in the corridor with Charles and Nic, who were still talking at me, oblivious to the fact that moments before I’d mentally been in a different place. As I studied them, it seemed they assumed I’d been standing there quietly listening to them.
Looking first at Charles then at Nic, I finally nodded my assent. “All right,” I said, “but I’ll need all your help and support.”
“Of course, Jamie,” Nic replied. “You know you don’t even need to ask.”
“I’ll also need your help,” I said, turning to Prince Andrew.
“I’ll do what ever I can Jamie… I mean, Your Grace,” Andrew said as he gave me an uneasy look.
“You, of all people, will need to be strong. The card I play with you will be the deadliest one of all, Andrew.”
“I’m from the blood of kings, Your Grace,” he said proudly. Then bending low to whisper in my ear, he added, “Remember, I know what to do.”
Charles raised an eyebrow during my private exchange with Andrew, choosing to ignore it I turned to Esteban. “And I’ll need your help Captain,” I said, catching the surprised look he gave me. “Please come here.” And I waved him to my side.
He bent down, and I whispered in his ear. It only took a few seconds. But when he finally stood upright, he looked down at me with a serious look on his face.
“As you command, Your Grace,” he said curtly, turned on his heels, and headed back in the direction from where we’d come.
“What do you want, Jamie?” Charles asked.
“Esteban will take care of it,” was all I’d say.
Charles shrugged and turned his back to me, then he walked forward, resumed his position behind Giovanni and once more we were all processing forward. As we continued our journey, I couldn’t stop thinking how different this procession was from one I had taken many months earlier in Tardon, when I’d been taken to stand before General Zakaria. We continued onward until we reached a series of double doors, each guarded by a pair of Magisterial Seraphim. As we passed through each set, the Magisterial Seraphim would salute me as I passed. As was customary, I acknowledged their salute with a direct look into their eyes and a slight nod.
Finally we arrived at an antechamber and the largest pair of double doors that I’d yet seen. But although I’d never walked this way before, there was something about this place that seemed very familiar. Then I remembered – I had been here before; we were right outside the entrance to the Library of Eagles Rock – The Royal Library of Donas, so named for the emperor who’d built it. We’d come a different way from the route Nic and I had taken the night we’d rescued Charles. It was also daylight instead of night – a simple fact that made everything look very different – but there was no mistaking where we were.
Charles quietly spoke to the Magisterial Seraphim standing on either side of the doorway. They reached out and placed their hands on the heavy bronze door handles and tugged them open. One by one, we entered the library. As I approached the door, the Magisterial Seraphim saluted me. I looked each one in the eye and nodded. I almost swore that they each gave me a glimmer of a smile as I acknowledged them. But the moment passed in an instant because after only three additional footsteps, I was standing in the Royal Library of the Academy at Eagles Rock.
In the light of day, the library was even larger and more beautiful than I’d remembered it. It was grand yet also intimate, ornate but highly practical, inspiring and at the same time calming. As I looked at the endless shelves of books that extended in every direction and rose five stories above my head, I was every bit as amazed and in awe as I was when I first laid eyes upon it.
Standing in front of the great atrium of the library, the first things I noticed in the center of the expansive space were twelve chairs, arranged to form a circle. Five of the chairs were empty, whilst the remaining seven had an angel sitting in each of them. Behind some of the chairs stood a second angel, although I noticed that some of the chairs had no one standing behind them at all. Two of the chairs were not only empty, but were also without the second angel behind them. The angels sitting or standing around the circle were silent and stone-faced.
I walked forward and looked up. Soaring above my head were the balconies where Nic and I had climbed the night we secretly entered the Abbey in search of the orb and found Charles chained to the copy desk. I paused and stared at the topmost railing. It was from there that we’d jumped, carrying Charles and ourselves to safety. I proceeded into the atrium until I was standing directly under the great dome – the very one that Nic and I had crashed through with Charles in our arms.
Looking up at the dome, I could see that the monks had repaired the damage, although they’d used clear instead of colored glass, since the intricate pattern was no longer complete. It appeared to be a quick fix, done to keep out the rain and prevent any damage to the precious contents of the library. Eventually they probably would have done a proper repair, but we’d arrived on the scene and changed the balance of power at Eagles Rock. Taking hold of my senses, I paused and looked around. Without knowing it, I had wandered right into the middle of the atrium, leaving the others in my group far behind. I also quickly realized I was standing directly within the circle of chairs and their occupants.
I stopped and looked around at the angels both sitting on, and standing behind, the chairs. I looked down at the floor, and realized I was standing directly in the center of the great marble mosaic that I’d first viewed from the upper most balcony the night we’d entered the abbey in search of the Orb of the Bat – a design repeated in the tattoo on my leg. Standing within the inner most circle of the design, I could see the three intertwined figures: the snake biting the tail of the eagle, the eagle biting the tail of dragon, and the dragon biting the tail of the snake.
Looking out from the inner circle, my eyes traveled beyond the second circle of decorative knots to the outermost circle, with twelve figures equally spaced around its circumference, each figure a different creature, and each with a symbol below it. One throne-like chair had been carefully placed directly over top each one of the figures. Turning to look at the angels making up the circle, they appeared to be close to Nic’s age and they were all carefully studying me.
A flicker of movement beyond the circle caught my eye and I turned in its direction. Standing to the right of the circle were ten additional angels. They were lined up in a single row. I could see that every one of them had fixed a grim and serious gaze upon me. All of these angels were dressed in the same type of red and black robe as the angel who’d accompanied Charles to my salon. Continuing to study them, I could see that their beautiful, snowy white wings with their bold black and red markings only added to their dramatic appearance. Charles, and the angel who’d accompanied him, strode over to them and joined the ten, making a single row of twelve.
As I continued to look around the circle of chairs, I knew that I was looking upon the heart and soul of Icaria. Before me were the original founders and leaders of the royal and imperial houses of the crown and staff. It was through them that the government, economics, philosophy, defense, art, culture, and knowledge of Icaria flowed and was governed. I also knew these princes and scribes were now carefully examining everything about me.
It was then I became self-conscious and embarrassed by my appearance when I realized that everyone in the room was dressed in regal and stately attire. The angels forming the circle all wore exquisitely crafted robes and cloaks that matched the color of the symbol and figure their chairs were positioned over. Each had a golden or silver sash around their waist. Their sandals were of finely tooled leather, and looked soft and comfortable. Upon their heads sat golden bands.
While I hadn’t noticed it earlier, I could see that both Lance and David were dressed in beautiful, brightly polished ceremonial armor. Nic wore the armor that I’d commissioned to be made for his birthday. It too had been polished, and its gleaming luster complimented the golden flecks in his wings. Charles and the red and black angels that stood with him looked magnificent in their robes and ornamentation. Even Prince Andrew looked smart and striking in his battle tunic and wine colored cloak. His blond hair cascaded over the thin golden crown that rested lightly on his brow, and his breastplate gleamed in the sunlight filtering through the dome and tall windows of the library.
Yet here I stood before the Council of Houses in my short tunic, worn thin and soiled during my hasty journey to the abbey, ripped and torn from my rescue of Jonathan, and spotted with blood from the bonding ceremony. I noticed the cold marble floor against the soles of my feet, and realized that Charles and Nic had taken me from my salon so quickly that I’d never even put on my sandals. Now I stood, as the Wizard of Icaria, barefoot, dressed in torn and dirty clothes before those I’d been commanded to govern.
Still feeling a bit disoriented, I startled when Giovanni’s melodic treble voice rang out, filling the library with the language of Icaria. Unable to suppress a smile, I looked over at him, and projected one singular thought to him: ‘Do what you do best.’
Faltering at my mental intrusion, he gave me a shy smile, then turned away, and continued.
“Princes and scribes of the Royal and Imperial Houses of Icaria,” he sang out, “I present to you His Imperial Highness Prince James de Valèn, Wizard of Icaria, Lord Protector of the Realm, Defender of the Gates of Justice, Vessel of the Orbs of Lon Nol, and Guardian of the Tower of Agramon.”
After he was through he paused. Turning to me he asked in a soft voice, “Your Grace? With your permission, may I present their most imperial and royal highnesses of the houses of Icaria and their scribes to the assembly?”
I nodded my head and I smiled once more as his clear and lovely voice rang through the Royal Library of Eagles Rock, chanting the Litany of the Houses.
“Representing the Royal House of Science and Education,” he began. “His Royal Highness Prince Ivan of Karn and his scribe Lord Thomas, Earl of Black Sands.” At Giovanni’s words, the angel called Prince Ivan, who’d had been sitting on the throne placed atop the image of the owl stood, while a slightly younger winged boy standing behind it stepped forward and moved to the right of his prince.
“Representing the Imperial House of Diplomacy, its scribe, Arch-duke Cody of Altamos.” At those words Cody, who had been standing behind the empty chair placed on top of the image of the bat, moved from around the chair to it’s right and gave me a broad smile. But Giovanni never stopped as he continued his introduction, “Regrettably, Prince Akteon, Baron of Grapf, did not survive his stasis, leaving the chair of the Imperial House of Diplomacy unfilled.
“Representing the Royal House of Government, His Royal Highness Prince Zaratanins of Drexsos and his scribe Lord Anthony, Barron of Lax.” Once again, the angel sitting stood, while the one standing behind the throne moved to his right.
“Representing the Royal House of Defense, its scribe Lord Geoffrey, Barron of Batwig. Regrettably, Prince Tryon of Overland did not survive his stasis, so the chair of the Royal House of Defense is empty.
“Representing the Royal House of Expedition and Service, His Royal Highness Prince Boran of Celeste and his scribe Lord Antoine, Earl of Trége.
“Representing the Imperial House of the High Seraphim, His Most Imperial Highness James, Wizard of Icaria.” I looked around the room in surprise. My eyes caught Charles’, who began to motion to me, but I was still a bit disoriented and continued to stand there. Cody left his place and, walking over to me, took my hand and led me to the empty seat that had been placed above the figure of the dragon.
“Just stand here, Jamie,” he whispered.
As I made my way to my throne, Giovanni continued, “As Prince de Valen has assumed the office of wizard in place of his brother Loran, the office of scribe of the Imperial House of the High Seraphim is empty.
“Representing The Royal Dominion House, His Most Royal Highness Niklas, King of Icaria.” With those words Nic strode across the room and into the circle. After looking around at the other angels, he stood in front of the empty chair that had been set on the figure of the Lion. As Nic approached his seat, the young angel continued, “As Baron Von Agramos has assumed the office of king in place of Prince Alexander, the office of scribe of the Royal Dominion House is empty.
“Representing the Royal House of Craftsmen, His Royal Highness Prince Stephan of Tours and his scribe Lord Jason, Earl of Clarion.” As each name was called, I carefully studied those who where being announced to the assembly, while at the same time desperately searching my memory for at least a glimmer of remembrance, yet finding none.
I was knocked from my mental daze when Cody, who’d returned to his place to the right of the chair of the House of Diplomacy, coughed to get my attention. I looked over to see him wink at me then turn away, continuing to listen to the presentation speech as Giovanni continued his introductions.
“Representing The Royal House of Music and Art, His Royal Highness Prince Lex of Blackgate and his scribe, Lord Johan of Casta.
“Representing the Imperial House of the Metaphysical Arts, its scribe Lord Longworth, Duke of Angel’s Fall.” During this introduction I carefully studied the young angel who was the scribe of this esteemed house, also known as The House of the Oracle. I wondered what his reaction was going to be before this meeting was adjourned. Giovanni continued, “The chair of The House of the Oracle was never filled, therefore it remains empty.”
I looked at Nic and offered him a slight smile. He returned a puzzled look to me.
“Representing the Imperial House of History and Philosophy, His Imperial Highness Prince Hippolito of Hypernia and his Scribe, Lord Jeremy of Hells Gate.” As the name of Hippolito was called, I turned my head toward the most breathtakingly handsome angel I’d ever seen. His tall and slender body was perfectly proportioned. His face was young and handsome. He looked as if he were close to Prince Andrews’s age of eighteen. Dark black hair crowned his head, and his circlet – although similar to the other princes’ – also bore dark green gems. He was wearing a shimmering, dark red robe that was covered in black, gold, and silver with dark green embroidery. He, alone of all the princes of the imperial and royal houses, wore an exquisite gold chain that draped over his shoulders and across his chest. He was also wearing a striking black cloak, with intertwined snakes embroidered on either side of its front panels. As I looked at him, his dark eyes pierced through me as if he were looking into my soul. Slowly he stood as his name was called, and then simply looked ahead, coolly ignoring everyone around him.
But the introductions still weren’t over, and for the final time Giovanni raised his melodic voice: “Representing the Royal House of Arts and Letters, His Royal Highness Andrius of Splados and his scribe Lord Robert, Earl of Karin.”
Looking around the room after the introductions were complete, I could see that each of the chairs except three were now occupied by a royal or imperial prince – the only exceptions being Nic and myself, who were King and Wizard. There were also empty spots to the right of two chairs where a scribe should have been standing. I realized that that these unfilled scribe’s posts were for The King’s and Wizard’s houses, headed by Nic and myself; I turned to Andrew and gave him a slight nod of my head. Raising an eyebrow, he slowly nodded back.
Although I’d been paying attention to the introductions as they had been announced, I’d also been accessing the screen to learn as much as I could about what was about to happen. I already knew that there were twelve orbs, along with the twelve houses, and that each house governed a key part of Icarian society. I also knew that each house had been assigned an orb to protect and hold, and each was represented by one of the creatures and symbols that appeared on the floor of the library, and again on the tattoo I carried on my leg.
For a few minutes everyone stood silently in front of his chair, waiting for something to happen. As I looked around the room I could see that all eyes were upon me.
Cody caught my eye, and I noticed that he seemed to be trying to signal me. For my part, I kept accessing the screen. I’d been reading through the section marked <CONVENING> and had been earnestly studying the procedure for convening a General Council of the Royal and Imperial Houses. As I searched through sections named <HISTORY>, <CONSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE> and <MEMBERSHIP>, I finally found a heading titled: <RULES OF ORDER>.
Racing through the Rules Of Order section, I’d uncovered some critical information. When I was finished, as I stood quietly pondering what I’d just learned, a mental image of the Grand Council of Kingdoms flashed through my mind and I remembered King Wilum bringing the council to order. Recalling Wilum’s actions, I turned off the screen, took a deep breath, and began to speak.
“As the Wizard of Icaria, I hereby call The Council of Houses to order.”
With that, all of the angels standing in front of their chairs sat, and the scribes who had been standing to their right once again moved to their former positions behind the chairs of their princes. I was caught off guard by this move and remained standing. Glancing over at Cody, I could see him giving me a covert hand gesture, signaling that I should also be seated. As I took my seat, Charles left the line of red and black winged angels and strode determinedly into the center of the circle.
“Under the circumstances, I believe it best that I start the proceedings,” he began.
“Why, Charles?” a cool and languid voice called out. “We do have a wizard, don’t we?”
“Yes, but under the circumstances...”
“Under what circumstances, Charles? Either we have a wizard, or we don’t.”
I looked in the direction from where the voice had come just in time to see the head of the Imperial House of History and Philosophy, His Imperial Highness Prince Hippolito, rise from his seat and stride, unacknowledged but with absolute poise and confidence, into the center of the circle.