The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Interlude - The Third



Miro, riding a spirited black stallion named Lightning for the white lightning bolt mark between its eyes, halted his horse on the crest of a rocky hill. Leaning back in his saddle, he lifted an arm to his forehead, and wiped beads of sweat from his brow. Looking up to the sky, he squinted at the sun as it beat down on his head. The day had been born damp and cool, wrapped in a blanket of foggy haze, but after riding a few hours, Miro was glad to see that by mid morning the sun had burned off the mist and began to warm the earth. Throughout the morning, he’d continued on his northward trek while the golden orb climbed the heavens, reaching its nadir in the blue cloudless sky. It was now early afternoon and the gladiator – dressed in his standard battle tunic and armor – was looking forward to evening and the cool breezes it usually brought.


Turning to his right, Miro watched Lieutenant Evan Mahon – his traveling companion – crest the hill and pull up next to him. Bringing his own horse to a halt, the Lieutenant scanned the terrain that unfolded before him. Gazing across the rolling hills until they vanished over the horizon, Mahon was reminded of the undulating waves of the sea – a sight he’d once seen on a trip to the seacoast of Aradamia. But these waves weren’t moving, nor were they blue. Instead, they were covered with carefully tended and trellised rows of grape vines – vines that produced the best wines in the Kingdom of Vorhalla – wines that were traded for gold and silver and drunk at the tables of princes and kings. Wines that were consumed with great pleasure in the cavernous refectory of the monastery of Saint Jansum in Wheems, home to the Sacred Diet of the Holy Office.


Their journey had begun days before when Miro and the Lieutenant departed Konassas as part of King Oslo’s entourage. For the first few days of their trek they rode with the elite Vorhallan cohort that accompanied the King and Crown Prince. They parted ways when the king’s party reached the juncture of the Rivers Schriff and Borsen in the valley of Gunter Platz – a rich and fertile plain that the Vorhallans referred to as their breadbasket because of the abundance of food it produced for the kingdom.


King Oslo’s party continued up the Borsen to Wrenstatten, while Miro and Mahon began following the Schriff to its headwaters in the mountainous glacial valley of Sonnen Taggen, where the vineyard and winery named Domain Carolus was located. It was from Domain Carolus that the mysterious bottle of wine containing the gladiatorial pin of Duet Scorpion had come. The publican at the tavern told them that Domain Carolus, by far the finest and most famous winery in all the kingdoms, was located in the Sonnen Taggen region of Vorhalla.


As they journeyed northward after breaking away from King Oslo’s group, Miro took notice that the fertile wheat and cornfields of Gunter Platz gradually gave way to gentle, sloping hills. Moving further north, the hills became both higher and rockier and grapevines began to appear on them. Now after riding a full morning through the lower half of the Sonnen Taggen valley, they’d arrived at the very center of what the Vorhallans affectionately called, in their dialect, Grappen Kronan – The Kingdom of Grapes. Acres of well-tended vines clung to hillsides surrounding ancient chateaus, where their fruit was carefully turned into wine. Here and there Miro could see that caves had been carved into the limestone hills that made up the vast network of storage and aging cellars. From his hilltop vantage point, Miro spied a small village far in the distance nestled in a narrow valley at the base of two large vine-covered hills.


“That’s Augam,” Evan said, pointing to the village, and Miro said nothing, only nodding his head in agreement.


The king’s men told them that once they reached Augam, Domain Carolus would be a half-day’s ride further north. Gently spurring their horses. Miro and Evan started down the narrow hillside path and urged their tired mounts onward, toward the village.


After an hour of riding, they reached Augam. As they rode in, Miro noticed that not a single person was to be seen. Dismounting and walking their horses down the main street, he carefully studied the ancient stone buildings and wooden houses that comprised the village. He turned his head toward one of the buildings when his eyes caught movement in a window, but when he looked closer he saw nothing. The village looked quite old, but for all its age, the streets and buildings were neat and orderly. The houses, shops, and buildings – while weathered and long-lived in – remained in good repair.


“Its very quiet,” Evan Mahon said, glancing at Miro.


“Yes, maybe too quiet,” Miro replied.


Making their way through the center of the village they turned down a narrow passageway between two houses and stopped. The passage opened onto a grass-covered field. At one end of the field stood a large, two storied wooden building. Its rough-hewn siding was black with age, but its thatched roof appeared new. The sign hanging above the door announced it as The Wine Press Inn and showed a painting of a wine press filled to abundance with grapes. There were chickens clucking and scratching at the muddy ground to the right of the inn and a number of dependencies were scattered around it’s grounds – Miro guessed a smoke house, privy, and at least a few storage buildings. To the left side of the inn was a small stable. Beyond it, a muddy, fenced-in wallow held a large hog, and next to that a small corral with a few cows quietly grazing.


All in all, it looked like one of the typical inns of the area. During the course of their journey, Miro and Evan had seen a number of pubs, inns and taverns quite similar to this one. Typical that is, except for the large group of children huddled together in the yard directly in front of the inn.


“Indenture bands,” Evan Mahon said, spitting out the two words with such force Miro blinked and turned to Mahon, giving his companion a surprised look. The young lieutenant was by nature mild- mannered and quiet, and his unexpected outburst caught the gladiator off guard.


Seeing the puzzled expression on Miro’s face, Evan’s own face twisted in a sneer and he continued. “Traditionally, they’re known as Indentures of the Novitiate,” he began, his voice shaking in palpable anger. “In the cities and larger towns the power of the Holy Office is great, and they’ve managed to convince the urban population that the church can have whatever it asks. All a church official has to do is choose the slaves they want and although there’s much grief, there’s little opposition – years of being sheep have weakened the will of the city dwellers. Not so in the countryside,” Evan continued his voice rising in strength.


“The people of the provinces are fiercely independent – they always have been – and for centuries they’ve resisted the enslavement of their children by the Holy Office. This has forced the church to conscript their indentures by threat, force, and strong-arm tactics. Every five years, the Indentures of the Novitiate come to a region and cull a prescribed number of children.”


“But I don’t see any monks or church officials,” Miro said looking across the field at the children.


“That’s because you don’t realize what you’re looking at,” Evan said. “See those men over there?” and he pointed at six very large and heavily armed men standing guard over a group of thirty children as young as eight and as old as fourteen. “Those men are members of the Novitiate and in the strictest sense of the word they are ordained ministers of the church, but they’re slavers and they’ll gladly kill anyone who tries to oppose them – in fact they relish a fight, because they always win and it only serves to enhance their reputation. You can be sure there are more of the scum inside.”


Miro continued to stare at Evan Mahon. “You really hate them, don’t you?”


“Hate them?” Evan said, “No Miro, I more than hate them, if there is even such an emotion. When I was a child, these vermin came to my village and took my older brother. I was only six, too young for them, and they ignored me, but my brother Jossup, who was only ten years old, wasn’t so lucky. Nor was my father: he was a large, strong man – a teamster who drove a wagon, delivering grain. When he fought them, they killed him. My mother became a widow and lost her first born that day. The grief she suffered was great, and after a few years she killed herself in despair. I went to live with an uncle who was a drunkard and often beat me, until one day I was old enough to beat him. On that day, I ran away and joined the army.”


Miro sat silently and looked intently at the Xannameirian officer who, over the course of their journey, had become a friend. Then he turned and looked at the children in front of the Wine Press Inn.


“I’m thirsty,” he said turning back to Evan.


The lieutenant studied him carefully. “But…”


Miro gave the officer a broad grin and cut him off, “Come on Evan, we’ve been riding in the heat all morning. I could sit for a spell in the shade and have a drink. I think you could use one too.”


“There are more of them inside,” Evan said. “One group of them takes a break to eat and drink while the other group watches the children. Then they trade places.”


“Makes sense,” Miro said starting to grin. “Men like that need to keep up their strength. More for their large bodies though; certainly not for their tiny brains.”


Then giving a gentle tug on Lightning’s reigns, Miro continued toward the inn. Evan cautiously followed him at a distance. As Miro approached the front of the inn, he could see that the children were chained together in groups of four. Around each of their necks was a leather thong with a small brass disk. Each disk bore a number. All the children looked frightened. Some of the younger ones had been crying, and he could see tear streaks on their faces. Seeing them huddled together scared and frightened, brought tears to his eyes, but he quickly blinked them away.


“I’m really looking forward to that drink, Evan,” he said turning back to the lieutenant and flashing the officer his famously wicked smile – the one the crowds at Castle Rood always looked for when he fought in the arena, the one he showed his opponent right before making an especially daring and dramatic kill. ‘The Smile of Mayhem,’ it had been called on more than one occasion.


Entering the yard of the inn with long practiced cool and disinterested nonchalance, he could see the eyes of the six men guarding the children immediately rivet upon him. They were large muscular men. Each wore an impressive number of weapons. Miro was quite familiar with this kind of display. Although he had no doubt that each of the men were skilled, a public display of so much weaponry was just as much for intimidation as it was for battle, and Miro guessed that they’d probably been able to avoid many a fight with such an impressive showing. But although he easily sized up their displayed weapons, he quickly catalogued their concealed ones – knives hidden in boots and leather jerkins, shives tucked up sleeves or down pant legs. A small pick tucked into the hat of one, a tiny razor in the cuff of another’s pants. Throwing Lightning’s reigns over a nearby hitching post, Miro climbed the steps of the inn. The slavers, while still intently eyeballing him, made no move to stop him from opening the door and entering.


“So predictable,” Miro thought to himself as he breezed by them.


Striding across the threshold, he stepped into the cool public room of the inn and paused, surveying the scene before him. Although it was afternoon and the sun shown brightly, the small dirty windows of the inn restricted the flow of light and its public room was dark and gloomy. Directly before him were tables with chairs and benches – around which sat a few men. Beyond them stood the bar – a large wooden structure with a man standing behind it, who was most probably the innkeeper himself. A few men sat at the bar with mugs of beer before them.


For a public inn with a bar and a fair amount of patrons, the atmosphere was unnaturally quiet and subdued. All the men at the tables or at the bar were silent and most sat quietly looking into their mugs of beer. The only exception was a great round table in the corner where seven very large and heavily armed men were gathered. Five of the men sat at the table talking and laughing as they ate and drank. The remaining two were standing a slight distance from the others and were playing a game that involved throwing small knives at a wooden board with lines, numbers, and symbols painted on it. One of the men had just thrown one of the knives and when it’s tip embedded in one of the symbols on the board he slapped the table and laughed. Some of the others joined him in his laughter. His opponent frowned and cursed.


“He’s beat you again, Janno,” one of the men called out as he laughed at the angry man. “You’d think by now you’d have the good sense to know you can’t win against Diogo,” he said, lifting his mug and taking a large swallow of beer.


Miro crossed the floor to the bar and started to grin when he saw the eyes of everyone in the room rest on him. “Just like the arena,” he thought, striding to the bar with the confident assurance of one used to hundreds of eyes following his every move. Leaning casually against the bar, the gladiator angel smiled at the barkeep, ordered a glass of wine, and then turned to Evan, who’d followed him into the inn.


“My friend will have the same,” Miro said, pointing to the Xannameirian officer.


Without saying a word, the man behind the bar took out two glasses and a bottle of wine. But as he carefully uncorked the bottle and slowly poured out the wine, Miro noticed that the man’s hands shook ever so slightly. Handing him the glass he could see the barman carefully examining his wings. Picking up the glass he raised it to Evan in a toast and smiled, then put the glass to his lips and sipped.


“So it’s true,” a voice called out from the corner.


Turning to the direction of the voice, Miro could see that the speaker was one of the standing men who’d been playing the knife throwing game – the one named Diogo, who’d executed the winning play.


“Yes, it’s true,” Miro said, the smile on his face growing. “The wine of this region is exceptional,” and once more raised the glass to his lips.


“We were told the demons had risen,” the Diogo said, taking a step toward Miro. “Some doubted, and thought it was just a tale,” he continued, turning his head back to his companions sitting at the table, “but I believed it when the Prior told us. He said that one of his monks was at Eagle’s Eyre when they attacked the Arch Abbot.”


“I really wouldn’t know anything about that,” Miro said still smiling. “But I am interested in that little game you’re playing. It looks like fun, although it doesn’t seem like you have to be incredibly intelligent to play it – otherwise, I think you wouldn’t have won.”


Diogo glared at Miro and took another step toward the young angel. Miro turned away for a second, took a slow sip of wine, and then turned back to the man. He noticed that hanging from the man’s belt was a chain. Attached to the chain were keys, and each key had a brass disk attached to it with a number. It wasn’t much of a leap of logic to surmise that these were the keys for the manacles binding the children together, and that each number corresponded to the numbers he’d seen dangling from their necks when he passed them in the yard.


“I believe I’d like to play that game,” he said, a twinkle coming to his eyes. “I think it would solve your problem.”


“I don’t have any problem, but you’re about to have a few, demon,” Diogo said and put his hand on the hilt of his sword.


“Do you really want to fight when you can get what you want in a much easier way?” Miro asked.


“What nonsense are you speaking?” Diogo said.


“I told you, I’d like to play your little game,” Miro said. “If I lose, then I’ll drop my weapons and become your prisoner. None of you will have to fight and risk injury or death. This good innkeeper won’t have his establishment damaged, and you will have the singular honor of presenting me to your hierarchy. I’m sure they’d hold you in high esteem – and possibly reward you richly.”


“Lies,” Diogo spat out as he sneered angrily at Miro.


“Not at all,” Miro said continuing to smile, “You have my solemn word.”


“And what happens if you win?” Diogo asked, eyeing Miro suspiciously.


“You release all of those children I walked past on my way into this inn,” Miro said.


“You’re not serious,” he said.


“Of course I am,” Miro said. “I win, and the children are released. You win, and I become your willing prisoner. It seems rather simple to me. But as I said earlier, I guess one doesn’t need much intelligence to play this game – it’s certainly not among your more abundant blessings.”


At Miro’s words, Diogo bristled and gripped the hilt of his sword even harder. Just when he was about to draw it, he stopped. There was something in the angel’s face that made him hesitate. The boy was still smiling broadly at him, but something in his eyes had changed, and the man suddenly had the feeling he was looking into the eyes of a savage wolf ready to leap at his throat.


“What if someone else plays you?” Diogo asked, a tone of hesitation creeping into his voice. “Valak here never loses,” he said pointing to one of his companions – the largest man at the table.


“Sure,” Miro said. “He looks even less intelligent then you, so I can see why he must be a grand master.”


The instant the words left Miro’s mouth, the large man Diogo had pointed out scowled at the winged boy and with a low growl in his throat began to stand. As he rose from the table Miro watched him come to his full height and tower at least a full head and a half above him.


“So how does this little game work?” Miro asked, sounding bored and disinterested.


Valak turned to his colleague. “Tell him Diogo,” he said.


“Each player gets five knives,” Diogo said, and then pointed to a square board hanging on the wall. “The board is divided into four quarters. Each quarter is divided into eight quadrants; each quadrant is worth the points painted on them. Each quarter also has a symbol above it. Hit one of those symbols squarely in its center and your points for that quadrant double. The one with the highest points wins. There are more rules, but it doesn’t matter since you will be playing your first and last game ever.”


“You’re probably right,” Miro said, “but can I ask one question?”


“What?” Diogo said.


“In the middle of the board I see a very tiny star with a small dot at its center. Is that important?”


Diogo smiled, “That’s the star of victory,” he said. “If the point of one of your knives score a direct hit in its center you immediately win the game. But it’s rarely ever done. The tip must go directly into the dot and the blade can’t touch any of the outlines of the star. I only ever saw it done twice, so I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about it.”


“Ok,” Miro said, grinning and showing his teeth, “thanks for the advice. I’ll keep that in mind.” Then he finished the rest of his wine in a quick gulp and set the glass down on the bar top. “This really is delicious wine; don’t you think so, Evan?” he said looking at his companion. “I think I’ll have another,” he added, then turning to the innkeeper he finished, “just fill my glass and leave it on the bar. I’ll have it when I’m finished playing.”


During his conversation with Diogo, Miro noticed that the other patrons of the inn continued to ignore him, their heads bowed, there eyes focused on their glasses, the tops of the tables, or the floor. Walking confidently over to the men at the table he stopped when he reached Diogo.


“I guess we should start,” he said, and before he could say another word Diogo shoved five small knives into his hand.


“No tricks,” Diogo said, looking menacingly at Miro.


“Tricks? Oh no, of course not,” Miro said, “But can I ask one more question?”


“What now?” Diogo said impatiently, “I thought you wanted to play, not talk.”


“I just wondered if I could take one practice throw. You know, to get a feel for the knives and all.”


Diogo turned to the large man at his side and raised an eyebrow. Valak simply shrugged.


“One free throw,” Diogo said, “After that they all count.”


“Thank you,” Miro said, giving Diogo a warm smile of gratitude.


Walking to a line that had been drawn in chalk on the floor he paused, gently tossed the knife in his hand, gripped it, and prepared to throw. Raising his arm he flicked the knife from his hand. It turned over and over until it reached the board. There was a soft thump and the tip of the knife imbedded itself in the wall – two inches above the board.


The men at the table immediately began to laugh.


“Uhm,” Miro said, walking over to the wall and pulling the knife free, “it’s a little harder then I thought.”


“If you’re trying to back out, it’s too late,” Diogo said.


“No, I intend to keep my word,” Miro said, “as long as you’re willing to free the children if I win.”


“Of course,” Diogo said, smiling at the angel.


“Please,” Miro said smiling in return and gesturing toward Valak.


The large man walked to the chalk line and paused. Gripping the knife in his large hand he raised his arm and threw. The knife flew threw through the air and landed in the upper left quadrant on the number eight.


“Eight points to Valak,” one of the men sitting at the table called out.


“Very good, you can count,” Miro said, chuckling as he walked to the line.


Without pause or thought Miro threw the knife. This time it landed on the board, but embedded itself in the edge that had been painted around it.


“No points for the demon, eight for Valak,” Diogo said, a smile coming to his face.


Miro stepped away from the line to let Valak make his next throw; as he stepped back into the room his eyes caught Evan’s and the Xannameirian officer blinked when he saw Miro send him a surreptitious wink.


Valak’s second throw landed in the same quadrant as the first, but on the seven.


“Seven for Valak, total fifteen,” the scorekeeper intoned flatly.


Miro followed after Valak and threw for the second time. The knife went high as is spun in an irregular arc. It hit the wall above the board handle first, and then bounced off and hit the floor, clattering and skittering across the worn and polished boards.


“Fifteen for Valak, zero for the demon,” Diogo said and the smile grew broader on his face.


Walking away from the line, Miro’s grin never faltered as his eyes made steady, unblinking contact with Evan’s.


Valak’s third throw hit the eight in the same quadrant his first knife had landed on.


“Eight for Valak, total of twenty three,” the scorekeeper called out.


Miro’s third throw made contact with the board for his first score – a six in the lower right quadrant. The score was now twenty-three to six. When Miro departed from the line for the third time, he noticed that a few of the men in the inn who at first had purposely ignored him, were casting furtive glances in his direction.


For his fourth throw, Valak squarely hit the symbol within the borders of the same quadrant his other knives rested in, thus doubling his score.


“A doubling,” the scorekeeper said, “Valak, forty six.”


On his fourth throw, Miro’s knife hit the upper right quadrant on the number four.


“Forty four for Valak, and only ten for you demon,” Diogo said now openly laughing and reaching for his beer.


Stepping away from the line, Miro gave Diogo an engaging smile. “You keep calling me a demon, but actually I’m an Icarian,” Miro said. “You might want to remember that.”


“I don’t give a rats fresh turd what you call yourself, demon,” Diogo said replacing the large mug on the table and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. He gave a loud and long burp and the other’s laughed. “After this last throw, I’m going to be calling you mine.”


As if to seal his already certain victory, Valak’s last knife once more hit the symbol in the upper right quadrant.


“Another doubling,” the man keeping score shouted, “Valak, ninety two.”


Stepping up to the chalk line, Miro glanced toward Evan who was watching him with intense interest. Giving the lieutenant an almost imperceptible nod of the head, his eyes moved to the door of the inn. Evan looked at Miro, then to the door and back to the angel. Gently nodding his head in agreement he turned his back on Miro and lifted his wine glass. During the exchange between them Miro noticed that even more of the patrons of the inn were casting furtive glances towards him as he prepared to throw his final knife.


“I guess it will take a miracle to win this game,” he said, looking at Diogo.


“You might as well come over and get into your chains,” Diogo gleefully called out. “It’s going to be a pleasure to present you to the Sacred Diet.”


“Well, I should throw my last knife, no?” Miro said. “It would be a shame not to finish the game.”


Diogo stared at Miro. “Just shut up and throw the damn thing. This has gone on long enough.”


“I quite agree,” Miro said.


Standing a few feet back from the line and completely ignoring the board while staring at Diogo, Miro nonchalantly flicked his wrist as if he were discarding something unwanted. The knife twirled through the air and hit the board directly in the center of the star of victory. Diogo’s eyes grew wide. Miro continued to stare at him, still completely ignoring the board.


“A trick,” Diogo screamed. “A bloody trick!”


“I won fairly,” Miro said, “And you know it, but maybe this will convince you.” And with lightning speed, the gladiator gripped the small battle-ax hanging at his side and sent it hurling through the air. It struck dead on the handle of the knife resting in the star of victory, dividing it in two as one arrow splits the shaft of another. The broad blade of the ax continued it trajectory, entering the center of the star of victory and breaking the board in half. The two halves flew off the wall, spun in the air, and crashed to the floor, one slightly after the other. The surprised reaction Miro saw on the men’s faces was exactly what he was counting on.


In one fluid motion, as the ax left his hand, his arm continued its follow through and came to rest on the hilt of his short sword. Miro drew it and on the upswing, effortlessly brought it across the neck of Diogo who never had time to react. Without making a sound, the body of the slaver fell to the floor – a gaping hole now visible where his windpipe used to be. A second later, the large dagger strapped to Miro’s leg was drawn and in his left hand. Without a second’s hesitation as Diogo’s corpse slumped to the floor, Miro rammed the dagger with all his might up under Valak’s chin. The deadly weapon crunched through flesh, cartilage, and bone and as the tip emerged out the top of the tall man’s head, he also crumpled to the floor.


By now the remaining five men were on their feet, but even though they overturned the table they’d been sitting around, it still hemmed two of them into the corner. The one on the right was the first to go down – one of Miro’s concealed knives now protruding from his right eye, its blade resting deeply within his brain. The second had his head split with the battle-axe Miro quickly pulled from the wall and sent end over end until it came to rest in the slaver’s face, cleaving it from chin to crown.


The noise had alerted the men outside who burst through the front door of the inn, but Evan Mahon, correctly interpreting Miro’s signal, met them at the door. The first man was taken completely by surprise and paid with his life as Mahon’s sword buried itself in his chest. The second fared no better when, with a quick thrust to the belly, Evan brought him down. With two bodies blocking the door, Evan had a few precious seconds to recover and prepare for the next attack.


In the meantime Miro had dispatched two more of the slavers – one with a quick sword thrust, the other with another of his concealed daggers. The final man standing backed away from Miro, but clutched his sword menacingly. With the iciest of glares frozen on his face, the gladiator hammered the man’s sword aside and in the brief second the slaver was open and vulnerable, Miro thrust his sword into the man’s chest and twisted it upward, feeling bone crack and break.


With the seven men inside the inn now dead, Miro turned his attention to the door, and Evan. Recovering from their surprise, the four remaining slavers were attempting to enter the inn, stepping over the bodies of their dead colleagues. Evan had engaged the first man trying to cross into the room, and their fight blocked the way of the remaining three.


Evan’s skill as a swordsman was exceptional – it was one of the reasons Miro had agreed to allow the Xannameirian officer to accompany him – and his natural ability had improved in strenuous hand-to-hand combat practice with Miro. Satisfied that Evan was holding his own, Miro ran through to the back of the inn and into the kitchen. There was a clatter and a scream as he startled an older woman who’d been carrying a large pot. Miro leapt over the lake of hot soup now spreading on the floor and hurled himself through the back door. Once in the back yard, a powerful thrust of his legs and a broad sweep of his wings got him airborne and he took off, flying overtop of the inn and landing in the front yard.


Evan was still dueling with the slaver as the other three tried to push through the door. With their backs to the front yard and unaware of Miro’s presence, they were unprepared for his ambush. In a leap Miro was on the front porch, sword in hand. He plunged it into the back of the man closest to him and as he fell, he did the same with the second. The third, suddenly realizing the absence of his two companions turned to face the angel and promptly lost his head. As his body fell backward, it hit the slaver Evan was fighting, throwing him off balance. That was enough for Evan to take advantage of both the opportunity and the man’s hesitation, and he quickly dispatched him. Both men now stood facing each other over the bodies of the hapless slavers. The gladiator nodded his head at the lieutenant and they stepped back into the inn.


The mood in the inn was very different from what Miro and Evan encountered the first time they’d come into the tavern. Some of the men were standing over the bodies of the slavers. Others were talking animatedly among themselves. Once they were back in the public room, the barkeep slapped his hand on the bar.


“You said you wanted a second glass of wine,” he shouted.


Miro nodded, but walked past the bar and headed toward the corner where the bodies of the seven slavers lay. Stepping over the pools of blood, he bent down over the corpse of the one called Diogo. Drawing yet another hidden knife from under his armor, he gripped the chain of keys and numbered discs, pulled taut the leather thong tied to Diogo’s belt and cut it. Standing up he lightly tossed the chain of keys in his hand. Striding back across the public room, he walked through the front door of the inn and out into the yard.


He quickly closed the distance between himself and the crowd of children, smiling as he approached them. At first the boys and girls huddled in the yard stared at the winged boy with surprise and a little fear. Miro noticed them moving closer to each other, and eyeing him suspiciously. Reaching the first boy, Miro looked down at him then reached out his hand and lifted the metal disk lying against the child’s chest. The number stamped on it was twelve. Looking at the ring of keys he found the key labeled with the same number. He pulled on the leather thong wrapped around the little boy’s neck and ripped it off in a gesture so quick and swift, the little boy didn’t even realize it was gone.


“What’s your name?” Miro said, smiling at the boy as he placed the key in the manacle chaining the boy to the one next to him.


“Ah… Tai, sir,” the boy answered with hesitation.


With a twist of the key, the manacle snapped open, freeing the boy’s wrist.


Standing up Miro looked once more at the metal disc. “People should have names, not numbers,” he said to himself and threw the disc far out into the yard. “And you,” Miro said to the boy wearing the number six, “What is your name?”


“Jasari,” he answered softly, his eyes carefully examining Miro’s wings.


As the boy gave his name, Miro turned the key in the manacle holding Jasari’s wrist and smiled as it snapped open.


“What about you?” Miro asked looking the small tow-headed child who’d been holding Jasari’s hand.


“Nisha,” the wide-eyed little boy said, looking up at Miro.


By now, everyone who’d been in the inn was outside in the yard, watching Miro. They stood back and observed as one by one Miro freed the children, asking each one their name as he undid their bonds.


As the last of the chains fell from the children, he looked up just in time to see a throng of people running into the yard. Men and women – some shouting, some laughing, some crying – rushed up to the children. Miro watched as one after another, a child would be plucked from the ground and hugged or kissed lovingly. Some of the children stood alone, but not for long as the adults called out to each other.


“Yes, it’s Yahsi, he’s Marko and Abian’s son. I’ll see that he’s returned safely to them.”


“This one is called Reya; I remember seeing him at the market with his mother. He belongs to the Gavote clan – I’d know that shock of red hair anywhere. He can stay with me until his parents come for him.”


And so it went, until all the children were with their parents or someone who would see that they were safely returned to their families. Miro stood smiling as he watched the grand sorting out. Evan, who’d by now moved to his side, handed him the glass of wine he had ordered earlier. From the gaggle of laughing children and smiling adults, a tall muscular man emerged and approached Miro.


“I’m Johann Sobains,” he said. “I’m the mayor of this village. I don’t know what you are or who you are, but I do know that we owe you a great debt – one that I fear we will never be able to repay. But since you have returned to us our greatest treasure, ask what you wish and we will do our best to grant it.”


Finishing his wine, Miro turned to Evan, who smiled at him. Looking back to Johann Sobains, he said, “Well, if you give us another glass of this wonderful wine and a chance to tell our tale, we’ll consider it even.”


Surprised at Miro’s words, Sobains looked around at everyone assembled. “We’ll give you all the wine you wish for the rest of your lives,” he said. “And as far as hearing your tale, I dare say there’s not a man nor woman among us that isn’t curious as to who and what you are, so it’s a deal.” Then the man reached out his hand and shook Miro’s as he placed his other hand on the angels shoulder. Turning to Evan, he grinned and also shook the young lieutenant’s hand.


“But before you start telling tales,” the innkeeper shouted, "there’ll be a feast. I don’t have enough to feed everyone, but if all the good wives of the village go home and make something, I’m sure we can have a grand party this evening.”


Nodding their heads, the women began talking among themselves and soon orders were given and the crowd evaporated as quickly as they’d appeared. Smiling at the activity, Miro and Evan strolled back to the inn at the invitation of the innkeeper. And that evening a great feast was held in Augam. There was eating and drinking, dancing and song, and Miro told the tale of the angels he called Icarians.


As the last of the revelers made their way home, Miro and Evan – stumbling slightly with all the wine pressed upon them by grateful townsmen – retired to one of the bedrooms of the inn, which had been graciously offered to them by the innkeeper. In the morning, at the rising of the sun, they would get up, depart Augam, and journey to Domain Carolus in the hopes of finding some of the answers they sought.