The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Interlude - The Fifth




Quite pleased with himself, Hippolito strode into the large tent and took a seat at the table with six of the ten sh’ônfenn who’d left Eagles Rock with him. He’d suffered just the one small setback after his resurrection, but so far things were working out well – and besides, that failure had been a calculated risk. He wasn’t sure that challenging his formerly intended pa’amore would work, but it had been worth a try and in the attempt he’d learned a few things.


He now knew where he stood with the princes and the imperial legion. He knew how many orbs the usurper had absorbed. He’d gotten to see and assess some of the friends and allies the little rebel Imperial had gathered around himself. They were worthless on the whole, but it was always good to know the odds and exactly what one might be up against in a fight. And, he thought as a smile came to his face, little Jamie was quite the independent one. He’d managed to fight his own battle and Niklas and the Legionnaires – in fact all of them – had let him do it without so much as lifting a finger to help him when he’d told them not to interfere. How stupid and foolish, but how much easier it would be for him to formulate his plans against that pitiful little group, knowing what he now knew.


From his point of view, things were going along nicely – the events at the Imperial Academy being the sole exception – and he was, on the whole, content. ‘Let the little slave-lover have the bloody princes,’ he thought, ‘what good were they anyway?’ It had all been an artificial construct in any case, and he didn’t see it as a problem to worry about. While it may have been amusing to have them around, they were worthless baggage. As far as he was concerned, he could always reconstruct the houses if he wished.


Securing the legion could have been useful, but with the forces he now commanded, he wasn’t particularly worried about a thousand legionnaires; after Loran got done with them, that number would be whittled down a bit more. But he did have the sh’ônfenn aligned to him he reminded himself. The Legion of Red and Black was far more important to Hippolito than the Protectorate of the High Seraphic House and no one knew it more then he did, for it was the sh’ônfenn who’d kept order in the empire among the Icarian class - there was a reason their chosen symbol was the all-seeing eye. It was a pity that only a fraction of them had survived, but under his rule and given time, their numbers would swell again.  


“Have you chosen the 'toons to accompany us?” Hippolito asked, turning to Alpert, one of the sh’ônfenn sitting at the table.


“Yes, as you’ve commanded, Your Majesty," Alpert replied. “I’ve assembled five thousand troops. Our reconnaissance shows us that we could do it with as little as five hundred, but you’re correct, Highness – best to give them an impressive display. And when they find out that it’s only a fraction of what we control, it will make an even greater impression on them."


“Very well,” Hippolito said, “have them assembled and ready in an hour. I’d like to get this taken care of as soon as possible.”


All of the sh’ônfenn rose and departed, leaving him to his thoughts. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. Upon leaving the Imperial Academy after his clash with Jamie, he had one overriding goal. In the days that followed that goal grew into a plan – fueled by his hatred of Jamie and the humiliation he’d endured at Eagles Rock. Just the thought of the bastard renegade heading an army flying the battle standard of House de Valèn made his blood boil. He’d worked ceaselessly to rise as high in the hierarchy as he’d managed to climb, and his reward came when he’d been promised the crown. But the old empire was gone. Now it was as if he was starting all over again – a thought even more distasteful to him.


After departing Eagles Rock with his small band of followers, he was determined to seek out Loran in an attempt to make an alliance. Days of travel following in the wake of Loran’s path of destruction finally led him to Loran, but when he saw the mental condition of the once quiet and noble Imperial, he’d immediately changed his plans. The anguish and pain of disunion for any mating pair was difficult at best – many never survived it.  He’d had known Loran’s mate well enough to understand what strength and purpose Alexander brought to the union he and Loran had forged; when it was broken, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone what effect it would have on the surviving half of the pair.


Loran had his moments of lucidity – maybe even more than his moments of madness. But those moments of madness were exquisite in their perversion, and he’d used them to twist the insane and tortured Loran to his will. Not that it hadn’t taken all of his powers, but in the end his efforts at persuasion had worked beyond his wildest dreams.


His initial plan had been to ask Loran for a commission, and as a general, command up to twenty thousand of Loran’s forces. From there he’d have a bit of an uphill climb to eventually usurp Loran, but it was something he was sure he could accomplish. But his plans changed when he saw the condition of the once proud Imperial; he’d decided to ask for an even split – with each of them commanding forty thousand apiece. But as their negotiations went on and it was clear to him just how much he could manipulate Loran in his current fog of muddled confusion, he’d managed to walk out of Loran’s tent with sixty thousand Thrones under his command.


Over the course of their discussion, he’d been able to convince an unfocused Loran that it was far better to make a quick and brutal attack on Wrenstatten, and then, with the human population subjugated and terrorized, the Wizard could easily march through Taldor Valoren and get to the Circle of Ondra before his younger brother. All he’d have to do was wait for the germinus in the Golden Orb to kill Jamie and then take possession of all the orbs. After he’d heard about the massacre at Günter Platz, he'd realized that terrorizing the human population was one thing, but killing them all was quite another. He needed live humans if he were to accomplish his plans. A long, protracted war would only use up valuable resources and take the focus away from his real goal.


A smile of self-satisfaction crossed his face when he recalled how brilliant it was of him to suggest sending the Orb of the Lion to Konassas as soon as he discovered Loran had it in his possession – he’d been extremely fortunate that even in his madness, Loran remembered about the germinus and the prohibition against absorbing the golden orb until all of the remaining eleven orbs had been absorbed by the candidate. It had taken a bit of persuasion on his part – Loran had been more than a little reluctant to surrender it to Jamie. But since he didn’t have, or know the location of, the Orb of the Unicorn, and he thought Jamie might, he talked Loran into relinquishing it with the promise of all twelve orbs without the danger of the germinus, once Loran blocked Jamie’s route to the Circle of Ondra. He’d even suggested sending an advance party to Taldor Valoren to secure it until Loran arrived there. But the best part of all was how he’d managed to snatch the sixty thousand thrones away from Loran while making the insane Imperial think it was his own idea – it was truly something glorious to gloat over.


Another important action he’d taken within days after he left Eagles Rock, was a diligent study of the history of the humans who’d survived the plague. As soon as he learned about the Sarjanians and the hold their religion held over the human population, he'd developed a plan. His particular genetic line had been bred for cleverness and intelligence, and he quickly put those talents to use.


After his resurrection and the conscription of the throne army, Loran left Eagles Rock and took his forces to the plains at the foot of the Sirenese Mountains; from there, he’d launched a series of raids and attacks to secure food and provisions, and to test the mettle of his troops. After the battle at Günter Platz Loran headed northward in a long and steady march to Wrenstatten, which was where Hippolito found him.


After joining with Loran, he’d advised the imperial to take Wrenstatten, since he knew that such a battle in the shadow of Wheems – the ruling center for the Sarjanian religion – would have the effect he was looking for. He’d even gotten his way in insisting that not all the humans of the city be slaughtered. Unlike Loran, he wasn’t filled with blind, mindless rage. He wanted the sack of Wrenstatten to be an example to the human population of the consequences of standing up to an army of Thrones, but he also wanted to avoid a mass execution of the population if they’d peacefully surrender. A little terror was a good thing - it could be a great motivator. But if death were the only possible outcome, then people would resist, knowing there was no hope of negotiation. It had been a hard point to teach Loran, and he’d almost failed, but persistence and Loran’s madness had paid off, and he’d succeeded.


It was after the subjugation of Wrenstatten that, with the help of the sh’ônfenn, he'd convinced Loran to take command of only twenty thousand of his eighty thousand troops and make his way South. Trying to bring such a large army south to the Poniçessian Mountains would be too time consuming, he’d argued to Loran. A force of twenty thousand could easily handle anything that came up – after all, they were Thrones. He told Loran that when the he went to the south with his twenty thousand thrones, he would be happy to look after the remaining sixty thousand, making sure they were well fed, well rested, kept in shape, and ready to march into Küronas when the time came for Loran to ascend the Seraphic Throne.


He was even able to convince Loran to send one thousand Thrones ahead to Taldor Valoren in order to secure it, thus making his passage to Gold Glass Flats and the Circle of Ondra trouble-free. Loran had agreed to the plan. Hippolito gathered sixty thousand of Loran’s troops from the countryside surrounding Wrenstatten and marched toward Wheems. Loran, in the meantime, prepared for his march with the remaining twenty thousand thrones – minus the thousand in the advance party – and would head south, eventually all the way to Gold Glass Flats and the Circle of Ondra.


Once he and his large army neared Wheems, they camped in a highly visible location, and, in a series of meetings with the sh’ônfenn, refined his plans. In the weeks leading up to this moment, he’d made an intensive study of the dominant religion of the land, learning as much about its power structure, organization, and leadership as possible. Now he was poised to put another part of his plan into action – a plan that would set him in good stead for the future.


Getting up from the table, he strode to the entrance of his tent. Brushing the flaps aside, he exited the command post and stood quietly surveying the encampment. The sight of so many tents and thousands of thrones stirred his blood. Making his way through the camp he came to an open area where the toons he’d requested were being assembled. Giving them a quick inspection he nodded contentedly.


“It looks like we’re ready,” he said to Alpert after the sh’ônfenn, upon seeing him, approached and completed his report. “Arol, you will accompany me,” he added, motioning toward another of the sh’ônfenn.


“As you command, Your Highness,” Arol said.


“Do you wish any more of us to accompany you?” Alpert asked.


“No, I prefer that the rest of you work on the tasks I’ve assigned you,” Hippolito said. “I’ll be fine,” he added. “In fact, I’m rather looking forward to it."


As Hippolito made his preparations, in Wheems, Geron Gude sat musing quietly to himself. He was recalling how surprised he was to find that the chair he’d tried earlier had indeed been quite comfortable. The padded cushions were soft, and the high back – while looking rigid and stiff – had just enough give in it to allow whoever occupied the chair the luxury of leaning back while still appearing to sit upright and look imposing. 'It’s strange,' Gude reflected, now that he was back in his office –' the thoughts that often come into our heads in times of great tragedy, or fear… or triumph.'


He remembered how, as a young priest in the village of Tanhode, he’d once ministered to a family from an outlying farm whose only son had been suddenly killed in a tragic accident. At such a time, what could one do or say other than to offer the hope of eternal salvation? Everything had been as he’d expected when he went into the large parlor of the farmhouse to see the grieving family. The boy’s mother and grandmother were stunned with grief, and his sisters weeping in the corner. But then the father invited Gude onto the front porch, overlooking a field filled with cattle. As he stood with the man and prepared to offer a prayer for his son’s soul, the farmer went on about raising and breeding the animals they were looking at. He told of his efforts to increase their milk production and he even relayed some of the lore from old wife’s tales he’d tried to use – to no avail – to get the animals to produce a higher percentage of cream. Standing with the older man, Gude at first was surprised that the man wasn’t reduced to tears over the death of his only son, but as the farmer went on about his efforts with his cows, he realized that the wound was still too fresh and the man was doing everything possible to push the reality of what he had to face as far from his mind as possible. Now, he seemed to be doing the same thing.


Gude had thought and dreamt of this very moment for years. He’d imagined how it would feel, what his first decrees might be, what special blessings he’d give, or the dispensations he might grant to a prince who would be happy to open his treasury in order to once again gain good stead in the church and assure his salvation. Yet, here he was thinking about how comfortable the chair was. He actually smiled at the thought – something he rarely did. But he knew that he wasn’t smiling because he was sitting in a chair of comfort, but one of power – the chair of the Sacred Father of the Sacred Diet. He was smiling at how he’d snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Now he was savoring it, sitting in this very comfortable chair.


The plan to get the little demon had failed, though it had started well enough. When the Icarians - the word made his flesh crawl - had been given residence in the Amber Palace of Konassas, Galen immediately pointed out that the prophet’s favor was shining on them. Edmond Cobb, a former knight who’d reluctantly left the order due to an injury, was Head of Household for the palace. Faithful and devout, it hadn’t taken one of Galen’s agents much effort to convince Cobb to spy on the devils for the church. That Cobb’s information would pass from the agent, to Sharp, and finally to Gude himself without ever getting to Wheems was never mentioned to the former knight. All information from Konassas would rest with Gude, and would be passed on to the Holy Office only if and when he deemed it necessary - that necessity, of course, being the advancement of his own ultimate goal: procuring for himself the seat of the Sacred Father that resided in the Monastery of St. Jansum, in Wheems.


Cobb’s information had proved invaluable in its depth and detail. If he’d wanted, Gude could have had a description of the color of their daily outfits. The attack in the courtyard wouldn’t have been possible without Cobb’s information and accurate descriptions. But, it had been a failure. They’d never counted on the strength of the demons, or the little one’s use of sorcery. The debacle had made Gude look incompetent in the eyes of Sacred Father Torban Honore. But he’d been given another chance – also a failure. Cobb had been clear that the two leaders of the Icarians occupied the same apartment. All Galen and his knights had to do was find the one apartment that was guarded. But it turned out to be the wrong apartment. Galen had lost an eye, their plot was discovered, and the little demon Sharp had brought back with him to the abbey had been rescued. Worst of all was that the rescue had precipitated the capture of Eagles Eyre Abbey. Once more, Cobb’s information had been crucial when he’d warned them of the army that had been assembled to storm the abbey. He’d gotten away – just in time – but Galen ended up licking his wounds and Gude his bruised pride at Castle Leiche. Now Cobb rotted away in prison, and his usefulness as a spy was ended.


It was at Castle Leiche, with the help of one of his old pupils, Prefect Kato Brunn, that a plan was hatched – not to capture or kill the demons, but to seize the Apostolic Cathedra of the Sacred Father. Gude was convinced that he could be victorious over the Icarians, but as Abbott of Eagles Eyre his options were limited. His strongly orthodox views had kept him from a seat on The Holy Office. Torban Honore was an administrator, not a spiritual leader, and Gude could see no progress from Wheems in dealing with the Icarians. Gude couldn’t believe that Honore and his council were ignoring one of the sacred prophecies –possibly the most important one of all. It hadn’t taken Brunn much time to convince Gude he had to take action. It was something he, himself, had thought about for quite some time – since long before the demons had ever shown up.


The knights had been his vision. In the early years, Gude knew others privately laughed at him behind his back, but if they wished to be spiritually lax, he never would be. The knights had grown in strength and numbers, as did their network of spies and agents – carefully cultivated and highly reliable. Gude had also recruited his own network of soldiers of fortune and devout followers with military backgrounds. It was from that base that he’d assembled the archers he’d used in the failed attack in Konassas. He’d also wisely cultivated his own network of church officials – a list of abbots, vice abbots, prefects, and others who were also highly orthodox and often disagreed with Wheems. These were men who, like Gude, were often allowed to get close to the real source of power in Wheems, but because of their theology would never have the opportunity to wield it. Cultivating this network was the most important part of the plan. It would be one thing to seize power, but another to effectively hold it and rule.


The coupe had its risks but things had gone remarkably well – far better than the plots and plans against the Icarians had. Although Gude could have marched on Wheems with his own private forces, by working with Brunn, he was able to stage an almost bloodless coupe. There were enough orthodox and sympathetic monks based at Wheems. The poisons they’d been given to administer were quick and effective, and within a day after being given their orders, Torban Honore and those members of the Holy Office who were loyal to him were all dead. Less than a day later, Gude was sitting on the Apostolic Cathedra. Events had moved quickly, and all in his favor. When the dust settled he was the Sacred Father, controlling a Holy Office full of orthodox clergy that was more than agreeable to his desires and demands. Yes, the chair was quite comfortable, he thought to himself as he settled into the plain, utilitarian chair behind his desk in the Sacred Father’s – now his – private office.


Without warning the door of his office slammed open, and his secretary – a young prefect named Egbrich – came dashing in, but the pinched, angry look Gude gave the man upon his entrance was quickly discarded when he saw the usually calm and placid young prefect’s face.


“What is it?” he asked, a bit of both irritation and concern registering in his voice


“Sacred Father, they’re here. By the prophet, they’re here!” His high-pitched voice grew even more so as the words rushed from his mouth. “They got in… flew in… there are thousands of them, right here in Wheems! They just seemed to appear out of the air. They bypassed the gate watch completely. They’ve taken hostages and easily over-powered…”


“What?” Gude shouted, rising from his seat. “Who… what… talk sense, boy… how can I respond if you don’t give me all the information I…”


“That won’t be necessary. I’ll be more than happy to give you all the information you need… ah… Sacred Father, I guess they call you,” a languid voice said.


Before Gude could say another word, a tall boy of about twenty appeared at the door – a boy with gold-tipped wings. Calmly making his way past the prefect, who was only slightly older than himself, he strode up to Gude’s desk and looked down at him. His brown eyes were sharp and piercing, and reminded Gude of his old master of novices when he was a young seminarian. Like Novice Master Saratom, this boy's expressive eyes made no pretense to hiding his emotions, which appeared at the moment to be annoyance and impatience.  In one hand the creature was holding a book that looked like the Sacred Verses of the Prophet. Once he passed through the door another angel - with wings tinted the same strange red and black color as those of the boy he’d captured in the abbey – walked in behind him. In his hands he held a number of papers and a scrolled parchment.


Hippolito, former Prince of Hypernia, gave Gude a long and careful appraisal – much as one would examine a dead bug mounted for scientific study. A smile came to his face – but it wasn’t a warm one.


“Have a seat, Sacred Father,” Hippolito said, still smiling. “There are a few things I’d like to discuss with you.”


Gude stood – his mouth agape – for a few seconds, but quickly recovered. He’d not gotten this far by being so easily cowed.


“You can kill all of us, but the words of the prophet will prevail,” he shouted, trying to keep the fear from his voice. Only two days had passed since his ascension, and at that very moment it looked to him as if he might be the shortest reigning Sacred Father in the history of the Diet.


“Sit,” Hippolito said, the smile now gone. “I don’t have time for all of this nonsense and fanaticism. No one is going to kill you. I’ve come to have a reasonable discussion with you; one that will be beneficial to both of us.”


“I won’t deal with demons,” Gude shouted.


“Oh, I think you’ll deal with this demon once we’ve had our little discussion,” Hippolito said, then added in irritation, “I was warned you Sarjanian’s aren’t very hospitable. I can see that the assessment was correct. Honestly, Sacred Father,” he said, pausing to sigh, “if I were in your position I’d have already ordered a pot of tea and some light refreshments for us to enjoy while we talked. I can certainly see how low this world has fallen. Do you realize how appalled your ancestors would be at such behavior? Now sit, so we can talk.”


If Gude was good at anything, it was sizing up situations, and suddenly the tone, temperament and actions of this Icarian seemed… different, far different from the others he’d dealt with. The boy had no fear or temerity in him. He acted just as Gude himself would have – like one used to being in authority and having his orders followed without question.


Trying to hide his worry, Gude resumed the seat behind his desk. As soon as he was seated, there was a thud as the book the winged demon carried was thrown on the desk. Realizing that it was in fact the Sacred Verses, Gude’s skin crawled when he thought of one of these filthy demons touching the sacred pages holding the blessed Prophet’s words, without their fingers being burned by the sacred pages.


“It’s rather interesting reading,” Hippolito said flatly. “I mean, it’s a lot of the usual thing rearranged – you read the writings of a few cults, and after examining the fourth or fifth, you realize that ninety-five percent of all the doctrines are the same – just worded differently. But it’s always the other five percent that makes the difference. One learns to skim over the generalities and concentrate on the specifics. I’ve learned a lot. Probably not what you would have preferred me to learn, but I found it quite instructive.”


Pausing, he looked down at Gude’s desktop where the book had landed, surprised to see two carefully rendered portraits. One was of his pa’amore – well, his promised pa’amore. Looking up at him from the monk’s desk was the little Isewierian bastard, Prince James. Hippolito wanted to spit on it; that he was of the blood of de Valèn was a scandal beyond words. Shooting a look to Gude, he understood fully how the old monk felt about the desecration of his orthodoxy, for Hippolito was faced with the reality of an even greater desecration – that of a once pure and noble bloodline. The face on the second picture was hopelessly smudged, but it didn’t matter: he knew only too well who it was. 'Filthy Gadhar,' Hippolito thought, cringing. 'With his made-up title, and his equally made-up pedigree. I had everything going just the way I wanted it until that arrogant Gadhar came along, stirring up the pot. Whatever did Jamie see in him? Creatures like that were good for only one thing… well, maybe two: the arena and the bedroom.'


His thoughts were interrupted when Arol slid a comfortable, low-backed chair over to him and stood next to it. Without acknowledging the sh’ônfenn who’d accompanied him, he sat down slowly, his back straight, his wings carefully folded back, looking every bit a king – the king he was supposed to be. His eyes went to Gude and he stared right through the old monk as angry thoughts of James and Niklas boiled under the surface of his calm exterior. Fighting the urge to shout he once again sighed, thinking of the pitiable state the humans had sunk to.


“Now that we’re friends,” Hippolito said, once again smiling at Gude, “I think it only polite that you offer me that tea.”


Gude, astounded at the arrogance and audacity of the creature, spat out a few words and the young prefect disappeared. At the same time, Hippolito addressed Arol and after the sh’ônfenn laid the scrolls and parchments on the Gude’s desktop, he too left the room.


“Good,” Hippolito said, appearing to relax a bit. “Now that we’re alone, we can talk privately. And I’m sure the small cohort I brought with me will have no problem guarding the door,” he added with a knowing smile.


“I won’t talk to any demon,” Gude said angrily. “I told you, I’d rather die.”


“Please, enough of this ‘martyr to the death’ nonsense," Hippolito said. “First of all, I’m not a demon. I don’t know what you’ve learned from the others, but I prefer the term Icarian, and I expect to be referred to that way. Or you can use my title and name, which is Prince Hippolito. Let's establish a little courtesy here, Sacred Father. If you'll notice, I haven’t called you a shriveled up, bitter, religious fanatic, even though that’s what I think you are,” he continued. “I’ve learned my proper manners, as should you. I don’t care what you think of me, or what you call me in private behind my back and among your… followers. But please be civil to my face, dear Sacred Father, as I am to you. Secondly, I think I’m just what you’ve been looking for – the solution to many, if not all, of your problems.”


Hippolito’s face took on an amused look as he rose regally from his chair. “Actually, if you don’t want to talk, that’s fine. It will make my… proposal... easier to make if I’m uninterrupted.”


“Proposal…?” Gude sputtered as he started to rapidly pull at his hands


“Now you’re starting to interrupt,” Hippolito said as his amused look decreased in intensity just a degree or two.


With a flourish Hippolito picked up one of the rolled parchments the black and red winged boy had placed on Gude’s desk, and unfurled it across the desktop. And although the desk was large, the parchment’s ends hung over the edges of the desk.


“I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to recognize this?” Hippolito said, no longer smiling.


Gude found that he was looking at a detailed map of the continent. It appeared quite old, and quite valuable. As the premier arch abbot in charge of the largest collection of ancient documents among the four kingdoms, he was sure it was worth a fortune. What also surprised him was it’s exquisite detail. He looked up, ready to speak, but the demon – Icarian – continued.


“You recognize the general lay of the land,” Hippolito continued, obviously not looking for a reply from Gude. “I realize the map is quite old and there have been a few… ah… changes since it the imperial cartographers drew it, but it will serve our purpose.”


Although the map was in a different language and had features drawn on it that he didn’t recognize, it was a clear and accurate rendering of the geography of the continent.


“Now,” Hippolito said tracing a finger roughly down the middle of the map. "Here’s where the energy field lies that’s prevented you humans from entering this part of the continent. It’s an area you haven’t been in for over twenty-five hundred years, and I’m sure you can live without it. You certainly have enough territory on the other side – although what you’ve done with it is appalling,” he sniffed. “But nevertheless, it’s the land you’ve claimed, tilled, bred upon, died on, and are buried in. So, other than killing all of you and reclaiming this cesspool, the other option is to let you keep it, and live in your own filth.”


Then Hippolito bent down over the desk. For a second, Gude thought he was going to attack him, but instead the Prince grabbed the map in the middle, near where the Icarian had talked about an energy field – whatever that was. Taking the old and brittle map in his hands, he tore it in one long continuous rip and Gude watched in shock as a document, worth a fortune, was quickly and methodically torn into two separate pieces. When Hippolito was finished, he laid the two pieces back on Gude’s desk, sat back down, and looked across the space between them.


“Now, Sacred Father, it’s as simple as this,” Hippolito began. “You get this half – which you already have. And I get the other half – which you’ve never had – to do with as I wish. The energy field will remain in place and we will stay on our side, so you don’t have to worry about us contaminating your faithful flock - although the contamination we’d get from you would be much worse, I’m sure.”


“My forces will help your secure your half of the continent and make sure everyone bends a knee or bows a head or both, if you prefer, to you and your Sacred Diet. I’ll remove the little problem you now have with my enemies, and you’ll be free to do whatever you wish with your half. In fact, when I’m through, every one of your enemies now in power will be gone – all you need do is tell me who they are. Then, when we’re through, we’ll leave you alone and ignore you. It’s that simple. A wonderful – and quite fair – deal, I would think.”


Looking down and appearing to suddenly notice something on the map, Hippolito frowned. Again he reached over the desk and took to one of the map halves – the half he’d offered Gude. Putting his hand on the ripped edge he began to tear the map once more. But when he was finished he’d taken out only a tiny thumbnail piece in the Poniçessian Mountains.


“One other minor thing,” he said, holding the small piece of map under Gude’s nose. “I get to keep this. Don’t worry, I’ll see to it that the energy field extends to it. It’s in the high mountains, and all of you humans avoid it anyway. I believe you call it Taldor Valoren?”


Gude nodded and watched as Hippolito laid the small piece on his side of the map.


“I’ll need the slaves back, of course,” Hippolito said. “After all, it’s only fair,”


Gude’s eyebrows raised slightly at the word slaves. Were there slaves in Taldor Valoren? If this… this… Prince understood the use of indentures, maybe they did have some points of agreement. Part of him couldn’t believe he could agree to such a thing, but given time, the church could grow strong, and if all his enemies were truly subjugated, in time they could muster enough forces to claim the whole continent.


“It sounds… interesting,” Gude said. “But there are problems. All of you creatures – Icarians – are our sworn enemies. The words of the Prophet....”


“Yes, I’m quite familiar with the words of your prophet,” Hippolito said, quickly cutting Gude off. “I’ve taken the time to carefully study them. I think your blessed prophet Sarjanus spells out a wonderful plan for us.”


Gude frowned. Blasphemes! This creature was talking blasphemy of the prophet.


“Oh, don’t get so easily offended,” Hippolito said when he noticed Gude wringing his hands and the old man’s face taking on an expression that would curdle milk to sour cheese. “We both want the same thing, no matter if we’re on different sides of the fence. Now, if you’ll look here,” he said, picking up the book and quickly flipping through the pages, then laying it back on the table and pushing it towards Gude, “You can see for yourself that the verses in question are vague enough, and I think your skilled clergy can certainly help in their interpretation,” he continued as he watched Gude pick up the book and began to read.


After a few minutes of quietly studying the parts of the sacred writings Hippolito had shown him, Gude understood completely what the Icarian had in mind.


“Religious writings are often bent to the purposes of the interpreter,” Hippolito added. “Always rather convenient how that happens. But I’m sure you’re more of a master at that than I am."


Hippolito was once again smiling. He was a good judge of character, and from Gude’s expression, he’d sized this one up perfectly. He’d be glad to agree with the old monk for now and even might accept the arrangement between them for a while, but eventually, given the advanced technology of Altinestra, he certainly wouldn’t have any problems subjugating the other half of the continent – if he so desired.


Once more leaning over Gude’s desk, Hippolito picked up the two pictures.


“Now that we understand each other,” Hippolito said, “and as a gift of thanks for your cooperation in all this, I’ll give you this one to do with as you please,” he said, placing the smudged picture back down on the desk. “A public execution after a long torture can only bolster your position.”


“And the other one?” Gude asked, quite sure of the answer.


“He’s for me,” Hippolito said passively, laying the second picture on top of the first. “What happens to him is my decision alone,” and Gude noticed that he gently traced his finger around the boy’s lips. Suddenly aware that he was being watched, Hippolito stopped, looked across the desk at Gude, and grinned. “So, do we have a deal, Sacred Father?” he asked.


Gude didn’t say a word, but instead nodded his head in assent as he pulled nervously on his hands. Just then a knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.


“Enter,” Gude said.


The door opened and his secretary, the young prefect, entered carrying a tray of tea and a few small sandwiches.


“Your tea and refreshments,” Gude said, waving his hand toward the tray. “As you requested.”


“Oh, I really didn’t want them,” Hippolito said, smiling as his eyes made it perfectly clear to Gude what was going on in the brain that lay behind them. “I just wanted to see if you’d do it… and apparently you have.”


With that he got up, turned his back on Gude, and headed for the door. But just as he was ready to pass through and leave the room, he turned back to Gude.


“I’ll be in touch,” he said giving Gude an almost toothy grin. “In the meantime, do what ever you normally do: you know, promulgate some doctrines, raise the tithe, and persecute a few heretics. When I’m ready, I’ll let you know what your part is in all of this – and believe me, dear Sacred Father, it will be a good one.” Then he passed through the open door and was gone.


For a while Gude stood silently, staring at the steaming pot of hot tea and the plate of sandwiches sitting on his desk. Suddenly filled with rage, he gripped the edge of the tray and flipped it up. The tray, teapot, and food went flying through the air. The tray hit the ground first with a clang, while the teapot and cups smashed in a loud crash, and hot water flowed across the floor. “Clean up this mess!” he screamed at his secretary and stormed out the door, wringing his hands.