CHAPTER 18

The next morning Fayte was found asleep in the castle's great hall.

"You were told to rest," Lady Feralina said.

Fayte opened his eyes. They felt sore with gunk crusting on his eyelids. He rubbed them, feeling the strain and soreness of his back having spent the night here on the bench. He came out after failing to find sleep in his room. But as uncomfortable as his rest was, it was dreamless and for Fayte that could only be a good sign. Perhaps Jeremiah had stood guard over him as he slept. The black coffin lay on a bed of white roses at the end of the great hall. Two Vlazion knights stood vigil next to it.

"Do you accept that he is dead?" he asked.

The Master-Knight was wrapped in plain clothing with a worn traveller's cloak thrown over her simple shirt. Fayte could hear the soft clinks of a chainmail underneath them though. She looked at him, the sunlight gentle on her fair face, her piercing eyes now softened by loss.

"No," she said, turning around to look at the coffin. "And yes. For I see the truth that which my heart denies."

Fayte looked to where Jeremiah lay.

As do I… "The assassin will not strike with two knights of such renown protecting me."

Lady Feralina hardened her expression. "Yes, Commander Reyner and I have considered that. The plan is for us to guard you from the shadows, but neither one of us is trained in the ways of stealth. We have devised a method of communication with the good priest, Wilson Sayde. If you are in danger, the priest will send a bolt of light into the air or his dragon will let out a screech. Commander Reyner and I will come rushing at once."

"But you will not be at my side in an instant," Fayte said, wondering. "Father is no fool."

"Indeed," said a man.

Fayte rose at once when Commander Reyner joined them. The man was dressed as Lady Feralina was, plain, but the Commander's face was well recognized in Hylan. Both knights were without their shields and their swords spoke nothing of the Order or the name Vladertz.

"He has more faith in you than he lets on," said Commander Reyner with a sigh. "Torn between duty and kinship. You will both learn of this pain in time."

They nodded.

"What's the plan from here on, Sir?" Fayte asked.

Lady Feralina explained. "We received word a few days ago from an agent of the Underlord about the assassin. This was a day after you were attacked by the lake. We were also told that the Underlord believes more will come. The Order of the Elements knew about this and was supposed to have assigned an escort to you."

"There were no escort. Lord Quxtin only sent a mage," he said, but that made him wonder. "She did manage to subdue two of the attackers herself though."

"A single mage is hardly an escort," Commander Reyner said. "However Quxtin is not a thoughtless man. I trust he has his reasons and your father will be sure to hear them."

Perhaps he is still upset over father stealing the woman he loved from him. But Lord Fengoth had assured him otherwise. Could the old wizard be wrong?

"Why is the Underlord sharing these information with us? And doesn’t Lord Tyden believes that the assassins work for the Underlord?"

"We have informed him otherwise but my father is a stubborn man. And no, it is not uncommon," Commander Reyner said when he saw the doubt in Fayte. "Likely the assassin has caused a territorial dispute between the Underlords."

"And so the Underlord is using us to resolve the matter for him," said Fayte.

"A matter that affects us as well," he reminded Fayte. "It is for ourselves that we act and not the Underlord. However we do require his assistance. Since then we have attempted to make contact with the Underlord and his agent but to no avail. I understand you came into contact with both he and one of his agents before. I was hoping if you knew of any ways to contact either of them."

The first time Fayte met with an agent of the Underlord was in a massive slavers' camp. Emily had been kidnapped and was brought there to be presented to a group of people interested in purchasing her. The Underlord's agent was one of them. The agent subsequently provided Fayte with information on her whereabouts after they lost her at the slavers' camp. And that was in Redpath.

Fayte recalled how the agent had spoken with a poor old lady selling odd trinkets by the street.

"If she is still there, the woman might be able to tell us how to find him."

The two knights considered it.

"Are you done in Iredis with regards to your pilgrimage?" Commander Reyner asked to which Fayte answered a positive. "Very well, you shall make for the mercenary town. If we find ourselves without luck in the matter of locating the Underlord, we shall turn to Eronaxe and inquire about the bandits that ambushed you."

"The mercenary guild might not welcome our presence there," Lady Feralina said, unsure of the plan.

"Might not?" Commander Reyner laughed. "They will not welcome us there. But I doubt they are foolish enough to lay a hand on Lord Frendon's son."

There it was again, people speaking as though his father was invincible.

"Commander Reyner, if I may ask," Fayte said, raising his hand to wave Wilson over when he heard the doors to the great hall open. "My father threatened Lord Tyden with the lives of the entire Vladertz clan last night when Lord Tyden held his blade to me. I mean no disrespect, but Lord Tyden was taken aback by my father's words, as though he feared my father. And I oft hear, even from the Underlord's agent, that my father was not one to be reckoned with. Why is that?"

The Commander of the Whiteguards and Lady Feralina exchanged a look, greeting Wilson when he joined them.

"Your father is remarkably talented with the sword and shield, and some would say he is also favoured by Sera," said Commander Reyner. "Your father is strong, but it was not for strength alone that he was made Lord-Knight. Leadership and intellect, to name two. As to why so many fear your father, ask yourself, Fayte, in what circumstances do you find others making such a comment about your father."

It took a moment. "When my life is threatened."

Commander Reyner nodded. "Fear not a man who fights with valour and honour. Fear a man who fights with nothing left to lose."

They broke fast in the dining hall with hot bread and cheese. Fayte hadn't the appetite but Commander Reyner insisted he ate more to keep up his strength. His father had returned to Rondiar with the King and the Queen the night before. Emily was to resume her visiting.

It was in the dining hall when Fayte finally saw Priestess Joanne. She was seated at the far end of the table with two other older ladies. The priestess fed herself, fingers pushing a chunk of bread into her mouth, then she chewed, and later swallowed. Lifeless, her actions were.

"She will never forgive herself," Wilson said, a healthy spread in front of him. "The woman was tearless when I met her last night."

"I suppose you couldn't ask how it had happened?"

Wilson shook his head. "Her dragon led help from the nearby village to her and they found Joanne with his body. She was unharmed mostly, save for some scratches and a robe soaked with river water and blood."

They left quietly once they were done with their meal.

Outside the gatehouse, a foul stench of waste overcame them. With over a hundred gryphons and improper roosts for the animals, this was to be expected. Younger squires from the Order would surely be summoned to assist in the clean-up. Fayte and Jeremiah had often been sent to perform such deeds for the people of Hylan. Nobility had little weight once you were in the Order, even if you were the Lord-Knight's son.

"Hey boys!" John yelled, waving.

They were surprised to find the man waiting for them. He was sharing a cup of ale with the gryphon masters who hurried back to work when they saw the Commander.

"A friend?" Commander Reyner asked.

"A wanderer we met in Ironsville," Fayte said, explaining how John was found with a Templar's sword and how they were later asked by the Queen of the Water Nymphs to bring John along with them.

"Is that true?" the Commander turned to Wilson. "The Queen of the Water Nymphs herself commanded it?"

"A message passed on from her to me by her children," Wilson corrected him. "But aye, it was her command to bring this man along with us."

"Then it is not my place to interfere," Commander Reyner told them. "But beware, Fayte, for if this man fights as you say he does, he is no simple mercenary."

"I had intended to introduce him to Captain Resfield once we arrive at Eres Star City, but I understand the Captain is here?"

"Nay, Resfield returned to his city last night," said Lady Feralina.

The Commander nodded. "But it is a wise decision. The noble Jonar family has the bloodline of the Templars. Resfield may know more."

Fayte, Wilson, and John set off first, with Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina to follow soon. John had heard news about a squire's funeral at Castle Vladertz while he was in a tavern at Iredis. When he found out that Fayte was gone, he thought it was only natural that Fayte would be there. A plausible scenario, but Fayte doubt John was without help.

Sera guided this man to us, he thought, glancing at Wilson when John told them how he came to be at Castle Vladertz. Again.

With the remainder of their journey restricted to the air, Fayte expected his pilgrimage to end several days earlier than he had planned. Although the detours he might have to make for the investigation will likely change that. He doubt he would be able to make it for Emily's wedding still.

Nor do I wish to attend.

They soared across the sky under clouds and in the light of the sun. 

"Is it just me or is this gryphon panting a lot?" Wilson asked.

Fayte leaned forward to look at the beast. "What's the matter, girl? Is it the heat?"

It was still early in the morning, the sun yet fully awoken. This gryphon came from Castle Vladertz itself, properly fed and rested last night. Fayte had flown on enough gryphons to know that something was off when he saw the gryphon with her tongue hanging loose.

"Heal her," he said at once.

Wilson's hands were glowing. "She is not harmed nor exhausted."

"Hurry up, boys!" John yelled from ahead. "Or I might just leave ya behind!"

Just as the man finished his words, his gryphon ceased movement and they began to fall. Fayte wanted to save John and he would if his gryphon hadn't followed suit. They descended rapidly, the gryphon's legs writhing about but her wings refused to flap. Within her eyes Fayte saw fear swirling deep with them.

"Hold on!" Wilson yelled, his eyes and body flaring with light.

The light expanded and encased them. Fayte felt themselves slowing but it wasn't enough. A mass of green charged at them from below and Fayte braced himself as they crashed into hard land. For a while everything was dark. He lost consciousness briefly and was pulled awake by the sensation of falling. He pushed himself up and off the gryphon. His chest was sore and he could taste blood in his mouth, no doubt bitten his tongue or cheek during the crash.

Preston growled and whimpered as he nudged Wilson up. The priest sat up and groaned, flinching when Preston happily sprayed him with a blast of white flames.

"Alright, enough, enough!" He swatted the dragon away. "Go do Fayte."

"I'm fine, I don't-" A blast of white flames enveloped his face and he choked for a few seconds before Preston finally ceased. He felt renewed and his head not as dizzy as before. "Fine, thank you."

Unfortunately the gryphon didn't fare as well.

"She gave her life to protect us," Wilson said, kneeling beside the majestic beast. "I could sense her thoughts, her struggle, as she manoeuvred herself to take the impact for us."

"There was fear too, was there not?" Fayte said, to which Wilson nodded grimly. "It was as though she lost her ability to fly… in mid-flight."

Fayte could only imagine losing the ability to wield his sword in the middle of a battle.

"Looks like poison to me," John said.

They were both surprised to find the man unharmed. In fact he looked as though his gryphon never crashed, though it did. The poor beast sprawled on the ground some distance away from them.

"How did you survive?" Fayte asked, approaching the man.

"I'm a lucky man," he said with a wide grin that soon fled from him. "Someone is trying to kill ya again."

This man knows magic, he thought, finding no other way to explain his miraculous escape from death. "So it seems. And he was at Castle Vladertz."

They heard a screech and from above them two gryphons swooped down, slamming them with a gale of wind so harsh it knocked them off their feet. The beasts moved swiftly, riders on their back, and Fayte thought them to be Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina, but he was wrong. These were not even knights from the Order.

"What happened here?" the knight said, adorned with an armour the green of dark moss, spaulders carved into the shape of wings, and from their half-helm sprouted two more. "What have you done to these poor beasts?"

First Vlazion knights and now them. "We have done nothing. They were poisoned it seems."

The knight strode forward, a towering man at least two meters tall. It was hard to look upon his face with the sun behind him. Circling above them was his partner and a gryphon much larger than the ones now dead on the ground.

"Your words against those of two dead gryphons," the knight said, his wide jaws tight with distain.

He drew his sword and his gryphon leaped forward with a ferocious screech.

Fayte backed away and drew his as well along with John, but the second gryphon knight swooped down and knocked them off their feet. Even Wilson was not spared or shown any courtesy. Preston snarled and threatened to breathe fire but the gryphon could tear him apart with a single swipe.

"By the authority of Magister-Lord Raymius of Gwedoniar City," said the Gwedonian knight. "I hereby place the three of you under arrest for the murder of these gryphons."

CHAPTER 17

The white roses scattered to the ground and Fayte expected Jeremiah's grandfather to stab him with a sword right then. All he heard were noises from the nobles behind, disapproving and in shock. He dropped his own dagger as he shook his head and gently shut the lid. Fayte reached for Jeremiah's dagger and removed it.

I will kill the man myself with your dagger, he swore, turning around to come face to face with the tip of a sword.

Lord Tyden did not stab him earlier. That was only because his own father was holding up his sword to the old man's neck.

"You dare threaten my son in my presence?" his father, an unforgiving tone he did not know his father was capable of.

"You dare threaten me, Kaywin?" Lord Tyden said. "Your son defiled my grandson's resting tomb!"

"Then I will have him punished as accordingly, but I will not have you pointing your sword at him."

"And who are you to make demands?" the old man said. "I am no knight of yours, Frendon. I have no ties with this Order that my lineage now swear loyalty to. If it were not for that man you call King sitting there, my grandson would be a crowned Prince!"

"I will say this once, Tyden," his father warned. "Harm my son… and I will see to it that the name Vladertz is as rare as my own."

Fayte could hardly understand why his father's threat seemed to have weight against Lord Tyden, for a flicker of doubt appeared in the old man's eyes. His father, a lone knight, against the entire Vladertz family? He may be Lord-Knight but was his father's swordsmanship that feared in Hylan? It was a matter worth seeking an answer to, but Fayte was a little bit distracted at the moment.

"Father…" Fayte called, watching the Vlazion knights guarding the royal family slowly surround them instead.

"I am a little busy keeping this man from killing you," he said. "What's wrong?"

"ENOUGH!"

In that moment, Fayte swung his hand up and disarmed Lord Tyden. Or at least he tried to. As if it wasn't bad enough to think he could catch a Vladertz off guard, Fayte actually thought he could disarm one of the most skilled swordsman in the whole of Hylan. Thankfully his father was with him, driving the pommel of his sword into the back of Lord Tyden's head. Fayte pulled with all his strength and only then did he managed to free the sword from him.

"Is a suit of black armour all it takes for you to lose your vows?" Commander Reyner was the one yelling, his rage directed at the Vlazion knights surrounding the royal family. "I might be wearing this armour but I wear it only out of respect for my father and the name Vladertz."

The Commander of the Whiteguards drew his sword - the white sword of a knight of the Order of the White Shield. He was several yards away from the royal family, but the Vlazion knights there were visibly taken aback. At that moment, Sir Percson, Sir Airagon and Sir Jaylen all drew their swords and elemental glyphs appeared beneath their feet. The King showed not a hint of fear or bother as did his wife. Only Emily seemed frightened with Mailer quivering and hugging her as though she could protect him. Fayte resisted the urge to go to her.

"I am still a knight of the Order of the White Shield," Commander Reyner said. "Commander of the Whiteguards. By the laws that govern our kingdom, I can smite each one of you down this instant for treason against the royal family!"

The Vlazion knights continued to back away.

And still Sir Percson smiles, Fayte noticed, though his two comrades did not share his ease.

"Thank Sera none of you were mad enough to draw your sword," Commander Reyner went on. "Or my men would have beheaded the lot of you already. Now remove yourself from the presence of the King and keep your helms on, lest I have you removed from the Order."

"Can he do that?" Fayte asked.

His father shrugged as he watched the Vlazion knights hurried away. "Probably."

"And you!" Commander Reyner now turned to his father, Lord Tyden. "The Lord-Knight has been gracious enough today. Threatening the life of his son is no way to repay him."

"You dare speak to me with that tone? I am your father!" Lord Tyden said. "Did you not see what the insolent boy did?"

"You mean the very boy who grew up with Jeremiah in the Order?" Commander Reyner shot back. "The same boy who went through all the gruelling training with your grandson by his side? The same boy who kept Jeremiah alive when they were lost for days in the Frewe Forest? They might not share the same blood but those two boys are practically brothers. Not everyone has a heart of stone like yours, father."

Lord Tyden was fuming. He turned from his son to Fayte and struggled with himself, like he wanted to punch Fayte in the face yet at the same time he knew Commander Reyner was right. There was nothing for him to say so the man turned away. As he left the stage and departed from the funeral, Fayte's father seized him by his tunic and dragged him off the stage.

"What the hell was that?" his father asked once they were in the cover of darkness.

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry is not enough!" he father said harshly without yelling. "I know you are filled with grief. But tossing the lid open? By the light, are you mad?"

"I had to see it with my own eyes!"

"We could have arranged it after the procession!"

He had nothing to say to that. Fayte knew he was in the wrong for allowing his emotions to get the better of him. The King was reassuring Commander Reyner that they were unharmed. The remaining Vlazion knights present removed their helms upon the Commander's order. Lady Feralina was quite upset herself, storming about to assist Commander Reyner.

"Now that you've seen it, are you convinced?"

"That body in there," Fayte looked at the coffin. "How certain are you that it's Jeremiah?"

"It is," his father said. "The priestess accompanying him was there when it happened. Jeremiah fell into a river and we only recovered his body a day after. By then he was bloated and near beyond recognition, but his family has confirmed that it is him. His clothes and belongings were all there."

Fayte didn't know what to think after hearing that.

"This is not your fault, Fayte," his father told him. "No one expected this to happen."

"The assassin came for me after he was done with Jeremiah," Fayte told him, a plan forming in his head. "I shouldn't have killed him. But whoever sent the assassin might send more. I could-"

His father stopped him then.

"I did not risk war with the entire Vladertz family just to send you onto the path of danger." His father held him by the shoulders and stared at him pleadingly. "I know you are in pain for losing a close friend. You might not even believe me yet that it is Jeremiah lying in there, but the wound matches, Fayte. A stab through the eye, upwards, into the brain. There was naught his priestess or any in the White Rose could do, even if he hadn't fall into the river."

Fayte shook his head. His heart was heavy and his mind was clouded.

"The Order will find the mastermind behind this." His father let go of him. "Grieve, my son, but there is still a pilgrimage for you to complete. Jeremiah would want you to."

The remainder of the night went on without further disturbance. Soon the nobles were leaving, most to nearby towns to find a place to rest in until sunrise. Fayte and his friends were gathered near the gatehouse. They greeted the Lord-Knight when he came to address them.

He looked at each of them, his head shaking.

"The best of you has fallen," he said, flanked by Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina. "The Order of the White Rose will answer to me sooner than later for keeping the ambushes from me. As for all of you, I know my knights have trained you all better than this. This was not your fault but it could very well have been. Jeremiah's death-" His father met eyes with him. "-is punishment enough."

They lowered their heads, silent, guilty, and in grief.

"What of our pilgrimage now, Lord Frendon?" Jason asked.

"I leave that to your parents," said the Lord-Knight. "Fayte has ended the assassin who took Jeremiah from us, but I fear more will come. Most of you would have yet to hear but Fayte was attacked in Iredis again last night. Two mages and a mercenary."

Two mages from the Order of the Elements, but Fayte knew his father left that detail out on purpose. No use sowing distrust between the Orders at this time.

Julin nudged him with his elbow for not saying a word of this earlier.

"The man truly responsible for Jeremiah's death is still out there," the Lord-Knight went on. "That is why should your parents decide to allow you to resume your pilgrimage, a mage from the Order of the Elements will be sent to accompany you along with your priest or priestess. All of you will have to travel by air. Strictly by air. I will send word ahead to the affected gryphon roosts for those of you who cannot afford the flights."

A mage to accompany each of us? Hmm.

Jason nodded. "Thank you, my lord."

"Commander Reyner has arranged for all you to stay the night here in Castle Vladertz. Consider it an honour. These walls have witness much over the centuries." His father looked up at the black stone walls, prompting them to do the same. "Dismissed."

Fayte waited until his friends had left before he went to his father.

"You will return to Rondiar until this matter is resolved," he father said and went on before Fayte could object. "But what will happen is that you will find a way to escape. No doubt your friend here will aid you."

Wilson was standing by the side, stepping forward now to join them. "No doubt, my lord."

Preston agreed with a bark from Wilson's shoulder.

"When you were ambushed by the bandits," his father said. "I hear you were alone and you walked out unscathed."

Fayte nodded, glancing at Wilson, worried that his friend would be punished for leaving him.

"And though you had help and were injured from the fight last night, the fact remains that you managed to defeat a mage."

"He and Jeremiah are both on an entirely different level," Lady Feralina said, her long hair laying loose on her shoulder. "He is our best chance."

"I will guard him with my life, my lord," Commander Reyner said. "No harm will befall him."

Fayte was a little bit confused. "I do not understand?"

"A BAIT!"

Three of the highest ranking knights in the Order of the White Shield reached for their swords.

"MAILER!"
"MAILER!"
"MAILER!"

They all screamed, sending the court jester fleeing to the King. All three knights let free of their swords and lowered their heads respectfully.

"Have we come to a decision, Frendon?" King Eardon asked, wrapped in a thick sable cloak with the Queen and his daughter by his sides.

An ice glyph appeared beneath their feet and activated, encasing them in a dome of ice. And now we speak about matters of the secretive nature. An orb of light rose over the dome.

His father turned away from the King and looked at him. "The assassin you killed. He was neither a man of Hylan nor Saldara."

"It was hard to tell, what with his face being bashed in," Wilson added. "But the man had blue eyes."

Blue? "The East Kingdom."

"Beyond the Northern Gate," Commander Reyner said. "Aye."

No wonder the King is here himself. Fayte turned to his father.

"What happened to not sending me onto the path of danger?"

"Son, do you not see the man with the crown on his head behind me?"

"Forgive me, Fayte, that I have to ask this of you." The King stepped forward. "But if the East Kingdom intends to invade us, as absurd as that may sound, I intend to be a step ahead of them."

"This is more likely to be an individual or a small group of them acting on their own," his father said. "But we cannot rule out any possibility. We need to find out why squires are being targeted."

"Say no more," Fayte told them. "I'll do it."

The King smiled widely while his father rolled his eyes. "Relax, Frendon, your boy is gifted with the sword and he will have my Commander guarding him. I am even willing to part with Airagon and have him join Fayte. The man was a ranger before he became a knight if you recall."

Sir Airagon nodded humbly, his hair a curly mess.

"I have a Scygard walking next to your daughter," his father complained. "I cannot spare another Whiteguard for this matter."

Emily's eyes widened. Clearly she was not meant to hear that but thankfully she knew not to speak up at this time. Ever since it was decided that she would join hands with Rinmar in marriage, Emily had been persistent about making everyone accept and treat the Saldarians as friends, to the point of insolence if she wasn't the Princess. The Archimage had clearly given her a wakeup call with her lecture not too many days ago.

"Then Reyner and Feralina will suffice," the King said before clearing his throat. "Squire Fayte, hear my command."

Fayte lowered himself to his knee, pressing on his sword to keep the tip of his sheath from touching the ground.

"As King of Hylan, I hereby command you to investigate the matter of the East Kingdom assassin," the Majesty of Hylan said, his voice loud and formal. "Commander Reyner and Master-Knight Feralina will shadow you and keep you from harm. They will have to leave you on the eve of the wedding when the Grace of Hylan will join hands with the Prince of Saldara. I pray the matter will be resolved before then." The King glanced at Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina before he sighed and his tone softened. "You have saved Hylan from great peril once before, Fayte, no one has forgotten that. I regret that I have to ask you to do so once more. Squire Fayte of the noble Kaywin family, do you receive my command?"

"Aye, your Majesty," Fayte said. "It is my duty to serve and protect the people of Hylan."

"Then rise." And Fayte did, watching his father hand a small white object to the King. "I now present you, officially this time, the Royal Seal of Rondiar. It has aided you once before. I pray it does so again."

"Thank you, your Majesty," he said as he received the seal. We meet again.

The Royal Seal of Rondiar was a small medallion, carved in the same of a shield set upon a ring entwined with roses. It signified the King's authority and with it, Fayte spoke with the voice of the King.

"Rest for the night," his father said. "Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina will give you more details on the morrow. And know that as your father, I worry for you and would not want you to take up this task, but as the Lord-Knight… Fayte Kaywin, I do not know a better squire more suited for this task."

Fayte smiled at him, assured by his words.

"If ever comes the time when you find yourself doubting your own heart…" His father smacked him across the head, lovingly, if that was possible. "Remember that smack and that at this very moment both the King of Hylan and the Lord-Knight acknowledged your capabilities. Believe in yourself, my son."

"Thank you, father," he said, rubbing the side of his head. That was completely unnecessary.

When he noticed Emily coming forward to him, he turned away and asked if he could be dismissed now. The King granted him leave and the mage lowered the ice dome. He hadn't the time for Emily now. His attention was set on finding the mastermind behind the ambushes and the assassination of…

Fayte shook his head and averted his gaze from the coffin.

CHAPTER 16

The clash of thunder rolled in the distance but only tears fell on this night.

Castle Vladertz, once the stronghold of King Adrieyl Vladertz, stood with its black stone walls and looming towers, overseeing the procession in stoic silence. They landed outside the castle where a temporary gryphon roost was put up. Near a hundred gryphons were present, yet their squawks were soft and none screech nor cry.

There was death in the air and the majestic animals knew respect.

"Evening greetings to you, Your Grace," his father said, helping Emily from her gryphon. "We were not expecting you today."

"A squire has fallen," Emily said, accepting a fresh cloth to wipe her face from one of three servants who had hurried forward to attend to her. "It is my duty to be here."

In truth it was not, for people died every day and it was not the royal family's duty to attend all funerals. His father did not speak the contrary and bowed as Emily walked by him. She joined hands with Rinmar who greeted his father with a nod. Sir Percson and Lady Elisen followed. Mailer was right behind them, his bells still attached but if it was possible, none of them jingled with mirth or jest.

"Father."

They embraced each other before his father looked to Wilson.

"Lord Frendon, it was my decision to keep this from-"

"It matters not," his father said. "Your silence on the ambush and that of the other squires did not cause this. Your Order did well in informing the priests and priestesses taking care of my squires. Jeremiah and Priestess Joanne were aware of the danger. I would have preferred if I was informed, but even so, I would have done the same as your Order did at that time."

"Then how did it happen, father?" Fayte said, for he did not believe it did or could.

They heard noises from the drawbridge, a dispute of some sort.

"Later," his father said, turning away from the bridge to look at him. "I received word of the ambush in Iredis. You defeated a mage?"

"It was a narrow fight," he said, "and I had help from a new friend."

To see pride brimming in his father's visage eased some of the sorrow that filled his heart on this night.

"After you have completed your pilgrimage we shall resume your training," his father said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Just as I've promised you many years ago."

Fayte looked forward to that. He was only a page and to be trained by his father was not a painless memory, but he treasured those days and now Fayte looked forward to more of such times. The Light of the Spirits would not be easy to wield without guidance.

More gryphons were landing just as they left. Torches were lit and staked to the ground in place of lumastones. In fact, none of the glowing gems were to be seen. There was an ominous feel to it, but of course, this was hardly a light-hearted event. Two knights followed by his father's side. Fayte and Wilson right behind them. They could not find John in time so they left and would search for him later if time permitted. Estelle had bid them farewell in Iredis.

"I will show you the rest of Iredis on your next visit," she promised. "It was fun fighting beside you, Fayte Kaywin."

"Let us hope our next meeting will involve less excitement," he told her. "And please relay my gratitude to Master Fengoth once more for the letter and books."

At the drawbridge of Castle Vladertz, Fayte saw the two Whiteguards standing beside Emily protectively. Rinmar was behind her.

"Stand down," Sir Percson said. "You are in the presence of the Grace of Hylan."

"The Princess may pass," someone said, Fayte struggled to find the source. "But the Saldarian and the Scygard may not."

Then he saw it. A shine on a shroud of shadow on the wall in front of Sir Percson. It was no shadow but a man donned with an armour forged from night. Fayte had read about this armour before and knew what the knights who wore them were called.

"Vlazion knights," he murmured, looking at Wilson.

"An old custom of the Vladertz family," his father said. "One of the reasons why I kept this from the Princess."

Emily should have heeded Commander Reyner’s advice not bring Rinmar with her. Before the rise of the three Orders, there were knights but of many kinds from the different kingdoms. The Vlazion knights swore fealty to the King of Castle Vladertz. However like the knights of all other kingdoms, the rise of the Order of the White Shield united them with shields of white.

"Prince Rinmar," his father said, stepping up to the group. "I fear I may have to ask for your understanding in this matter."

Rinmar nodded at once but Emily would not give in.

"But Uncle Frendon!"

"Princess," said the Lord-Knight. "You are here to pay your respects. Nothing more."

"It is all well," Rinmar said, smiling at her, patting her hand before he let go. "I shall await your return outside."

"There is a village to the south just a few leagues from here," his father told him, hearing the echo of thunders to the distance. "You may seek shelter there for the time being. My men will send word ahead and Lady Elisen will escort you there."

Fayte expected a protest.

"As you command, my lord," said Lady Elisen.

Everyone could tell that the Lord-Knight was in a very dark mood right now.

They proceeded into the castle. The people present numbered more than a hundred for sure, all of them dressed in black and grey with not a shade of colour. Vlazion knights stood stalwart around the courtyard and on the walls, each one with their black armour and menacing horned helmets. In the centre of the courtyard, seats were arranged and candles were lit. They were given one themselves, a single stick held naked, with no means of keeping the burning wax from dripping on their hands.

"Bear with it," Wilson whispered, accepting his. "A simple gesture to show that all in attendance share pain on this day."

Yet this pain was not well received by others.

"Nonsense!" a man said, his voice loud and disruptive in the hushed night. "Fetch me a holder this instant. I will not have burning wax dripping on my-"

Fayte nearly drew his sword. One of the Vlazion knights came up from behind the man and pressed his gauntleted hand to his mouth. Fayte could see his father struggling to act as the knight dragged the man away.

"Rest assured, my lord," another Vlazion knight came to them and said. "He will not be harmed."

His father sighed. "Please see to it. And remind everyone not to go too far while you're at it. You all return to my command on the morrow."

"We leave only in tradition's sake, my lord," the knight assured him. "We are still knights of the White Shield."

"I am pleased to hear that," he said. "Escort the Princess to the King. And where is Feralina?"

The King is here as well? Fayte wondered if it was because Jeremiah was the greatson of Iyden Vladertz, the Lord-Knight before his father.

Two other Vlazion knights came forward, these two draped in cloaks of dark crimson, and led Emily away with Sir Percson.

"The Master-Knight is with her family at the front keeping vigil, my lord."

"Alright, thank you." His father turned to him. "Here. You will want this later."

His father pressed a dagger to his hand. It was of the same make as the one Fayte received from the Order when he first ascended from page to squire. They parted ways there. Wilson was led to join the noble guests at the rear while Fayte was brought further to the front. It was there he saw more clearly the guests at the front row, all of them standing, and most of them donned with the armour of the Vlazion knight. There were mages as well with red weaves humming faintly against the amber glow of the torches.

"Fayte," said Julin, his dark haircurly and his cheeks covered with freckles. "I'm glad to see you safe."

He nodded at his friends, squires the whole lot of them, and even Jason was in attendance who nodded in return when they saw each other.

"Is it true?" Fayte asked.

None of them answered, only lowered their heads.

Jeremiah is alive, he thought to himself again. Jeremiah won't die so easily.

"Where is he?" he asked.

Julin pointed to the front at the darkness. "Squint a little and you can see it vaguely."

Fayte did as suggested and he could see the outline of a coffin raised on a platform. That whole area was covered in darkness with not a single torch lit. There were stairs to the side of the platform so Fayte hoped that they would be seeing him up close later.

He is not dead. Fayte shook his head. Not until I see it with my own eyes.

"What happened back there?" Julin asked softly. "We heard a man shouting."

"A noble lord was asking for a holder for the candle."

Julin grimaced. "A mistake. Was he silenced?"

Now it was Fayte's turn to grimace. "Not in the manner that you’re implying."

"His throat would have been slit in the past," said Julin, the top of his hand piled with hardened wax. "The Vladertz are strong for a reason. They say a Vladertz is twice as harsh to the enemy as they are to their own. Judging by how they fight…"

Fayte had often listened to Jeremiah speak of his family. Noble families like his tend to have traditions of such. It was how they became strong and feared. There were little to no traditions for the Kaywin family. None that he knew of in any case.

"I fought him during the tournament…" Julin's voice softened to barely a whisper now. "I should be the one lying in that coffin."

As ashamed as he was to think it, Fayte agreed. Julin was a good squire, but he was nowhere near him or Jeremiah in terms of swordsmanship. If anyone could survive those ambush, it would be Jeremiah. But it was an assassin who attacked him. A trained assassin. Fayte doubt he would have survived himself were it not for the scale of the demon empowering him with rage.

"No one should be lying in a coffin," Fayte said, putting his arm around Julin's shoulder. "Do not entertain such thoughts."

A sudden flare startled all of them.

Fayte shielded his eyes as the flaring light eased into the glows of flickering flames. The torches on the platform were now lit and set in the centre was a coffin of black gleaming marble, covered from head to feet with a piece of red cloth that no doubt bore the insignia of the noble Vladertz family. A single man stood on the platform now, his black armour forged with cruel curves, sharpened, such that merely falling on him would cause harm. Held against his waist was a helm with three spikes. Behind him a thick cloak of crimson billowed in the dry breeze.

"We gather today for one of us has fallen," the man said, his hair a startling white and his face wrinkled with age. "One of the Vladertz. One of our blood. One I call grandson."

Lord Tyden Vladertz, son of the late Lord-Knight Iyden Vladertz, Lord of Castle Vladertz.

"My grandson did not fall in combat," he went on, his voice more tempered rage than grief. "His fall was without honour. Stabbed through the eye by the very dagger I gifted him with on the day he proved his worth as a squire. My grandson was murdered by an assassin. An agent of the Underlord."

There were gasps and noise of disapprovals coming from behind them. Lord Tyden looked irritated by that. He was expecting silence but the people present were not familiar with the traditions of the Vladertz family. Turning around, he stepped up to the coffin of his grandson and with a dagger in his hand, stabbed it through the cloth and lid. Once more there were gasps and sounds of disapproval.

"A promise," Julin said, understanding the gesture. "No wonder my father took my dagger away before we part."

A promise? Fayte wondered. "Of what?"

"Vengeance," Lord Tyden said, whose name reminded all of Bishop Tydon, but whose words and actions made the distinction clear. "Until I possess it, I shall not rest."

With that, the Lord of Castle Vladertz left the stage and slowly, one by one, members of the Vladertz family made their way up the platform to pay their respects. There was Jeremiah’s mother, a woman famed for her exquisite beauty but was now veiled with grief, and his father, whose wizard robes glowed a harsh red as smoke rose from the hand which he placed on the lid of the coffin. Fayte had met them before when he came to visit Jeremiah in the past.

"The Vladertz is a family of knights," Julin explained when Fayte asked. "Thus Jeremiah's father, being a mage, was not allowed to speak at such occasions."

Just as the man would never inherit the title of Lord of Castle Vladertz.

"With Commander Reyner serving as Commander of the Whiteguards, the next in line of succession for Castle Vladertz is Jeremiah," Julin said, shaking his head. "Was Jeremiah."

Fayte vaguely recalled Jeremiah mentioning that to him in the past.

Others followed, many were Vlazion knights but only Lady Feralina put a dagger through the coffin. Commander Reyner lingered by Jeremiah in the armour of a Vlazion knight, no doubt torn between duty and kinship. Fayte could not see the King denying the Commander of vengeance. Likely the Whiteguard himself never broach the matter.

"Reyner," it was the voice of the King. "By my command, you are to spend the turn of a moon searching for the man responsible."

The man who sent that the assassin. The true killer.

The Whiteguard looked to the King, Fayte followed his eyes to find the royal family seated at a side near the front. They were surrounded by three Whiteguards, wizards and sorceresses, and Vlazion knights draped in crimson cloaks. Fayte smiled. Gratitude welled on in Commander Reyner's eyelids.

"I will not rest, nephew," the old knight said, his hand grip firmly on the dagger he just impaled. "Not until the man who put a bounty on your head is met with justice."

As the Commander of the Whiteguards left, Fayte was wondering how they were stabbing dagger through marble.

"The lid is wooden and framed with marble," Jason said as he rolled his eyes after he overheard Fayte asking.

Once the members of the Vladertz family were done, King Eardon ascended the wooden steps and paid his respects. He was quiet and quick and behind him Queen Remilda and Emily each placed a stalk of white rose on the head of the coffin lid, adding to the bunch that Jeremiah had collected already. His father was the next to pay his respects and as he did a Vlazion knight came over and told them to rise. Fayte followed his friends as they were led to the side of the platform, waiting as Captain Resfield stood by the coffin where the squire who served him lay. He had not seen the Captain in a long while. Their first meeting in a dungeon in Eres Star City was still fresh in his mind.

When at last the senior knights had paid their respects, it was their turn and Fayte found himself lingering to the rear. He didn't want to go up there. He didn't want to step close to that coffin. He didn't want to accept that his friend was dead.

"Kaywin!" Lord Tyden called, his visage stern. "My grandson awaits you."

Sera urged him on with a sound of thunder.

Fayte nodded and took his first step forward and then another, and another, until he found himself standing in front of the black marble box. The coffin. The place where Jeremiah would rest in forever. He held up his dagger, a plain thing only squires from poor families would receive. Those of noble birth would receive a more lavish dagger, commission for them by their families, one that befitted their birth. Fayte's father was not one for such things and neither was Fayte.

Something landed next to him.

"What is it?" he asked, kneeling with his hand held out to Preston.

The white dragon dropped a dagger into his hand before he flew off. A dagger much more ornate than his own. The same dagger that forced a draw during his duel with Jeremiah. And suddenly Fayte found tears spilling from his eyes. All the hardships they had went through training together in the Order. The pain and the suffering and the laughter and the joys. The memories he shared with Jeremiah came rushing back.

Fayte twirled Jeremiah's dagger in his hand and stabbed it into the coffin.

"I've killed the man who took… who took your life," he said, though his words felt hollow to him. "And now I swear I will find the person… the person who…"

He could hear someone coming up the steps to comfort him, but Fayte only had his mind on one nagging fact. And it was that he could not believe Jeremiah was dead. The best squire he had ever known could not have perished so easily. His best friend was not dead. Not until he saw it with his own eyes. And so he did the unthinkable.

Fayte grabbed the head of the lid and flung it open.

CHAPTER 15

The Flaming Sword.

A tower that was neither aflame nor possess a sharpened edge. The tower looked dull and it was located near the edge of the city where there were no shops nor sights to be seen. Fayte found the quiet street more appealing than having a crowd follow him around. And the Flaming Sword was hardly dull. Not when Fayte realized the purpose it served.

"A watch tower for the Order of the White Shield you say?" Fayte said, nodding at the two guards who stood outside the entrance with noon sun beating down on them.

They seemed sterner and more serious than most guards Fayte had come across. This was likely due to a certain someone's presence within the tower right now.

After the incident last night, Sir Percson personally escorted him back to his quarter. They spoke little. Fayte had yet to fully recover from the corruption and the fight strained his body further. The wound on his back did not help. He was exhausted and sought only to rest.

"Would you like to postpone your meeting with the Princess tomorrow?" the Whiteguard had asked at the door to Fayte’s room. Wilson had joined them.

"Yes, please," Fayte had said.

"No you will not," Wilson told him. "Sir Percson, if you would be so kind as to reassure the Princess that Fayte will be there at midday tomorrow."

Fayte had little desire to see Emily. Especially since she was here with the Prince. Wilson would not allow him to avoid her though and so the Whiteguard bade him a good night’s rest and left.

"I will wait for you at the tavern," Estelle said, glancing at the guards. "You can find your way back to the main street I assume?"

"Aye, I'll see you at the tavern."

The Flaming Sword was a tower for the knights and soldiers stationed here to aid the defence and peace of Iredis. It was more of a guard post than a City Watch barrack. Fayte was expected so he passed the guards without trouble. Stepping into the tower and onto the wooden floor, he could feel the sudden rise in temperature. It was warmer in here and the lack of windows made it all the worse. It was small, this tower, with a door on the ground level that led to an office. Above him the stairway spiralled to the top of the tower.

Fayte sighed and began his reluctant ascend.

Sir Percson had no means of locating the Underlord for the Order of the Elements. He was however able to call upon the aid of High Sage Kestel who determined the cause of death.

"Cursed to death," said the High Sage, poking the dead man's cheek with a twig. "Not Hylan magic."

Administrator Langton and the rest of them watched as the High Sage stood up.

And proceeded to leave.

"High Sage," Master Skion called, confused by Kestel's abrupt departure. "We have more questions- High Sage!"

The only answer he got was Kestel's yawn and a tired bark from his dog as he climbed on and left. Administrator Langton apologized on his behalf and elaborated.

"Hylan magic would include the element of Darkness which means that this was not done by the Dark Lord."

"Are you saying they were killed by someone beyond the Northern Gate?" Sir Percson asked. "Or perhaps the Saldarians?

Despite the cool blue hues casting on his face, the Administrator looked grim when he nodded. "Killed, yes, but silenced would be a better word. Please have the bodies sent to the Crystal Citadel, Master Skion. The High Sage and I will investigate further on the morrow."

The Flaming Sword seemed abandoned, with little sunlight shining through windows near the tower's roof, and the wooden steps creaking underneath his feet. In fact there was a layer of dust on the railing and the torch holders on the walls had cobwebs hanging from them.

Near a third of the way up, Fayte came upon a balcony where the light of the sun poured through. A glimmer of white caught his eye in the shadows and when he squinted, Sir Percson's visage appeared.

"The Princess awaits," he said, remaining just a footstep from where the sun touched the floor.

Fayte nodded and stepped into the balcony. The skin on the back of his neck prickled and Fayte spun around all of a sudden. No one was there yet he swore he sensed someone behind him. It was not the Whiteguard. There was someone with a very deadly intent focused upon him.

"You are not imagining things," he heard her voice. "I've caught sight of them twice already on my trip so far. They watch me from the shadows on orders from either my father or yours. That is all I know of them."

That sounds an awful lot like the Underlord.

He turned and though the magnificence of the City of Learning was before him, all Fayte saw was a girl draped in white silk and silver jewelleries. The coronet, carved in the shape of four dragons, sat gently on her head catching the light of the sun. It did little to distract him from her eyes, shimmering with innocence and wide with ambitions. Emily brought her hands together in front of her, her cloak of white lace tied to her wrists.

"Hey, Fayte," she said, her tone soft and her smile softer. No longer energetic and eager as they once were for many years. Not since he lost her. "Are you all right? I heard about the attack last night."

Emily took a step towards him as he considered answering her.

"Squire Fayte Kaywin, offers my noon greetings to Her Grace," he said, kneeling and holding his shield out in front of him, his head held low.

For a while Emily was silent.

"Rise, please," said Emily, her voice without cheer. "If that is how you wish things to be."

"It is not my wish for it to be as such," he said, rising. "It is how things are."

Emily was staring at the floor, her eyes glancing at his only once.

"Rinmar is at the Crystal Citadel, asking again if the Archimage would receive us now and for permission to visit the Cavern of Knowledge."

He may as well ask for a kiss from the Archimage herself. There was no chance of the Order of the Elements allowing a Saldarian into the Cavern of Knowledge. Especially not the Prince who was once consumed by the demon that was now imprisoned there.

Fayte was looking at her, his eyes focused and his expression serious, but his heart longing. "I wish him luck."

She looked up at him. "Only with words and not sincerity."

"Her Grace is wise," said Fayte. "You have my apologies."

"I don't want your apologies," she said. "I want your friendship back."

"I am but a squire and you the Grace of Hylan," he told her, eyes set forward, standing straight with his shield held by his side and his sword arm held to his back. "It would not be appropriate."

Emily bit her lips and Fayte almost lost his composure.

She was close to tears now.

"Why can't we still be friends like before?" she asked, her voice choked as she tried to hold her tears back.

Because I love you. "Because your betrothed and I share an unfortunate past that I cannot overlook."

"Yet you are friends with Kamille," Emily said. "A girl training to be a Scygard. A Scygard, Fayte. The very warriors who- who…"

Who slaughtered my sisters and killed my mother. "Kamille is different."

"Then why is Rinmar not?" she yelled. "I don't understand you, Fayte. Why can you accept Kamille and not accept Rinmar? Even after seeing what he has done for our kingdom, what he has done for me! You used to hate her!"

Because it is not her who is stealing the one I love.

"Say something!" she screamed now. "Is it because you have feelings for her?"

Fayte met eyes with her then and though his mouth came ajar, he held himself from speaking, biting back his words.

"It is none of your concern," he ended up saying.

That was when a tear finally escaped her, like a deep fear she had finally came true.

"All I wanted…" she said, sniffing, dabbing her eyes with the lace of her cloak. "All I wanted…" Emily shook her head. "I see now where I have erred."

He dared not look at her, not when she cried, not when she was hurt. But she was none of those now. Fayte looked at her, for now she bore a look of defiance… and hate. He could feel his heart being impaled with that look in her eyes.

"And where would that be?"

Emily continued to stare at him and slowly Fayte began to wonder if those were indeed hatred in her eyes. He had seen hatred before and this look, though similar, did not look like hatred.

"I thought you loved me."

At that moment Fayte wanted to just lose it. He was sick of her running circles around his head. He loved her. He love her more than anyone else in this world, perhaps even his father, his one and only kin left in this world. But she rejected him and chose the Saldarian Prince over him instead. He would not be in so much pain if he didn't love her.

Fayte shook his head. I've had enough. "There is no one else… there is no one else in this world who I love more than-"

A screech cut him off.

In an instant, Fayte saw Sir Percson appearing with his shield swung around Emily to protect her, while Lady Elisen appeared beside them with her sword drawn. The floor even lit up and Fayte found himself standing atop an ice glyph. Fortunately there was no real danger.

Preston landed on the railing of the balcony clutching a letter in his mouth. He shook it vigorously, telling her to hurry up as Emily went up to him. Once Emily had taken the letter, the white dragon curled up his wings and he turned to Fayte. There were sadness in Preston's eyes. Great sadness.

Emily gasped. "Oh no."

She turned to him, both her hands pressed to her mouth after she handed the letter to Sir Percson. As the Whiteguard read, his usual smile faded away and Emily ended up walking to Fayte, her arms spreading to embrace him in a hug.

In that instant everything came together in his head. How his father could not make time to visit him. How his father had instructed the knights in Emily's escort to keep an eye out for him. How the Commander of the Whiteguards, the man who would surely be assigned to protect Emily on this trip, was nowhere to be seen.

"Sera, why?" Sir Percson whispered.

Fayte drew his sword and Emily backed away at once.

Lady Elisen was the first to disapprove. "Sheath your blade-"

"What happened," Fayte said, his hands shaking as he watched Emily cower from him, like the very look in his eyes frightened her.

Sir Percson turned to him, looking at him with no means of smiling or hiding his sorrow.

Fayte shook his head. "What happened to my father?"

Footsteps rushed up the stairway behind him and Fayte spun around to find Wilson with Estelle panting behind him.

"WHAT HAPPENED TO MY FATHER?"

Wilson shook his head. "Your father is well, Fayte, it’s not about him."

For a moment Fayte was confused, but when it finally occurred to him, the blow struck so hard and sudden that he lost grip of his sword.

Jeremiah.

CHAPTER 14

Estelle locked the front door with magic.

A faint glow lit their faces before Fayte heard the click of metal behind the wooden door. They turned and leave with lumastone posts lighting the street. He had spent the entire day reading the books his mother gave him. Each one of them were filled with notes and scribblings. Added facts and information obtained from other books. She even pointed out errors such as conflicting accounts of the same events.

Reading her notes felt like hearing her speak again.

Fayte was not one to cry and sob but throughout the day his eyes never became dry. With Zywedior put to the sword and his house razed to the ground, this letter had easily become one of his most prized possessions now. There were other items of course given to him by his mother. A leather bag, a waterskin, some whetstones which he kept and did not use, a set of writing instruments, and of course books. Basically everything that he had on him the day he left Zywedior with the knights to travel to Rondiar. But this letter was different. This letter held words written by his mother.

"You shouldn't hurry to finish them," Estelle said, looking at the book he was reading.

In truth Fayte was a fast reader but yes, on this occasion he was in a hurry to finish all of them. To read the notes that his mother had made when she read these very same books herself. He had not felt so close to her ever since he left Zywedior that day.

The streets were quiet and cast in blue by the light of the lumastones. It was past midnight and most were in their beds resting for the morrow. It would be the same in Rondiar though there would be night patrols making their rounds. Fayte wondered if they might run into one of such patrols here. He was curious to see those elementals up close and speak with the mages.

"Strange," Estelle said, her steps slowing. "It is very quiet."

Fayte looked up while he turned a page. "Not unusual at this hour I would say."

The lumastones around them began to dim.

"Do the stones go out at a certain time?"

Estelle nodded. She summoned an earth glyph in both her hands, dispelling the darkness with auburn light.

"At dawn."

Three streaming firebolts came at them. Fayte hugged the book and spun around to protect it. He felt the rumble of earth and heard a wall erupting behind him. The firebolts clashed against the wall of dirt before Estelle allowed it to crumble.

"Start screaming," Estelle said.

"What-"

"HELP! SOMEONE HELP US! HELP!"

A fire glyph appeared beneath their feet. They dove aside, Fayte unslinging his backpack, before a column of fire erupted from the ground. He tossed his bag and the book onto the upper balcony of a building before he drew his--

--an explosion knocked him away.

Scalding rocks seared through his tunic and into his skin. He screamed as he scratched at his face, tearing away the bits of burning dirt from his cheek and temple.

"KEEP MOVING!" Estelle yelled. "SOMEONE HELP!"

Fayte picked up his sword and unslung his shield while Estelle threw up another wall of dirt. The same trick did not work twice. This time a glyph appeared over their heads and showered firebolts on her. Thankfully she was quick, bending the wall of dirt over to shield herself. He could hear her scream as the embers of the firebolt burned her legs but Estelle was fine. He tried to look ahead but the lumastones had gone out and he couldn't see anyone.

"How many are there?" he said, running over to her where they kept their backs to each other. "Where are they attacking from?"

"Just one but I can't tell from where! SOMEBODY-"

"If someone was going to come then they would have heard you already." Fayte was scanning their surroundings, buildings on both sides with the street extending both ways in darkness.

Ambush. Patrols, diverted. Inside job. Enemy, single fire mage.

The ground lit up with a fire glyph again.

Fayte began to recall what his father had taught him.

"To cast a spell a mage must have visibility of the target or location," his father told him many years ago over lunch one day.

"Get out of here!" he said.

They dove away but the glyph did not activate. Instead a firebolt came straight at him. Estelle intercepted it with another wall of dirt but this time the firebolt took apart the wall. Burning rocks came spilling onto him. Fayte was prepared this time around with his shield held up while he yelled at Estelle.

"RUN!"

The burning dirt lighted her face and through her eyes Fayte knew that she understood him. He was telling her to run not so to protect her and play the hero. He told her to run for he had a plan. Estelle took off up the street.

This mage is after me. He was quite sure since the last firebolt came straight for him. This mage is going to give me some answers.

Two glyphs appeared in the distance as he raced down the street in the other direction. Fire glyphs, small and directed at him right before two firebolts appeared. He rolled and shielded himself allowing the explosion to knock him in the direction he wanted - towards the mage. Fayte scrambled to his feet quickly and resumed his charge.

There you are!

A man with his face concealed by his hood. The robe he wore was dark and blended him with the night but his fire glyphs gave him away and Sera was glaring at him with moonlight. Fayte loosened the straps on his shield as he closed in on the mage.

"You see the problem with fighting mages," his father said, setting down his fork and knife as he got deeper into the subject, "is that they are very powerful from a distance. But when you get close to them, by the light, they become even more powerful!"

The mage wore victory on his lips as he held up a hand and summoned a fire glyph. Fayte was only a few yards away and at this range he could not miss. The mage launched his firebolt.

And Fayte tossed his shield at it.

"Our shields are useless against mages and their elemental bolts, especially firebolts," said his father, stabbing the yolk of the egg with his knife. "Without the Light of the Spirits reinforcing our shields, a collision with a firebolt will result in a blast of smoke and burning metal shards."

The ensuing blast lighted up the street but threw a cloud of dark smoke in the air. His skin reddened from the heated air but Fayte was otherwise unharmed. He scurried along the side of the street and emerged beside the mage, catching the spellcaster off guard who was pelted with shards of metal. Fayte was too fast. He spun and slashed the mage across the back of his knee before he knocked the man out with the flat of his sword.

The lumastones began to light up again as the flames died down. He breathed hard to catch his breath, looking at what remained of his shield scattered across the street. Shards of steel had pierced into the wooden walls of the buildings around them.

"I hate magic- argh!" He winced hard when he tried to move his left arm.

It felt like he was being lashed with a rope across his back. Slowly he turned his neck and saw a large piece of metal embedded into his shoulder blade. Blood was flowing freely.

"Are you hurt?" Estelle called.

"A small wound," he said, turning to look at Estelle.

She was pulling two men over by their arms. Both of them unconscious.

"Another fire mage and a mercenary with a sword." She dropped them both, sweat dripping off her forehead. "Not bad. You managed to defeat a mage."

An ice elemental was the first to arrive. The falcon perched itself on top of a roof and shortly after a wizard came running down the street with a sorceress and her flaming lion. Soon the street was alive with members from the Order of the Elements as well as curious folks who heard the commotion. Fayte and Estelle sat on the side of the street close to the bodies. A priestess tended to Fayte's wound while he held on to his mother’s books.

"That man is the High Wizard of Iredis Watch," she said, pointing out a wizard in an elaborate robe of smoky grey, with inscriptions glowing on his robes. "Master Skion of the noble Lendex family."

A Captain of the City Watch in other words. Though Fayte had a feeling that this High Wizard was much stronger than Captain Teynier or even Captain Resfield.

The sound of a knight's armour clinking prompted the High Wizard to wave his hand behind him dismissively.

"The Order of the Elements will take charge from here-" Master Skion glanced behind him and met eyes with the Whiteguard. "Sir Percson. Excuse me, I was expecting a knight from The Flaming Sword."

"A knight would have been stopped by your mages keeping the citizens at bay," he said, smiling as always. "The Grace of Hylan is concerned and has sent me to offer assistance on behalf of the royal family."

"Her Grace is most kind, Sir Percson, but as you can see we have everything under control here."

"Two of your Order has made an attempt on the life of the Lord-Knight's son," Sir Percson smiled as he spoke though his words spoke differently of his mood. "I understand the politics of your city, High Wizard, but believe me when I say that now is not the time. How can I be of assistance to you?"

Master Skion was not pleased but only at first. His expression softened and he stepped aside to show Sir Percson the prisoners. Fayte squinted thinking his vision was blurred but Estelle's outburst confirmed what he say.

"We took them alive!" she said.

Sir Percson looked at her and glanced at Fayte. All three men were bleeding from their eyes and noses.

"If you would like to assist us, Sir Percson," said Master Skion, "we could use some help contacting the Underlord."

CHAPTER 13

By midday it became clear that Estelle was also quite famous herself.

"You have many friends," Fayte noted, smiling at the couple before they left after having a short conversation with her.

"Acquaintances," she said, leading him down the street to another store. "My mother is a noble and she often brings me to social gatherings. It's tiring but she insists we keep up appearances despite being mocked behind her back for marrying a peasant and taking his family's name."

Fayte did not recall her introducing herself as being of the noble Lowell family. It was not unheard of but sometimes men and women do give up their nobility by choice after marriage. Fayte could understand a little how Estelle felt. His father is often invited to such social gatherings, but likely not as often as Estelle's mother due to his job as Lord-Knight. He recalled attending such gatherings before but he always felt out of place.

"Let them laugh and whisper words behind your back," his father told him one night after leading him away from a group of noblemen's sons. They went out to the balcony and joined the company of the moon. "They are just boys who know only of silk cushions and overpriced grape juice."

He was crying that night. The boys had said that his father only became Lord-Knight because Lord Iyden gave his life in the war. And that he only became the Master-Knight in the first place because he was friends with then Prince Eardon. Fayte wanted to hit them but his father pulled him away before he could.

"I don't like it when people talk about you that way," he said. "It's not true what they say."

His father smiled at him. "I care not for what little boys have to say of me."

"They say that it is their fathers who told them that. They say it’s their fathers who told them that we're just filthy peasants who lucked our way into nobility."

"I am not surprised." Fayte watched as his father leaned in closer to him. "But imagine now how much it must irk their fathers to bow and smile and call your filthy peasant father, Your Lordship, and then shower me with pleasantries and expensive food all throughout the night."

That got Fayte smiling again.

His father straightened up and stood with his chin held up like the Lord-Knight he was.

"My son, men who find their hands idle will often end up wagging their tongues. Be honest in your ways and do good whenever you can. Your conscience will be your shield against such people."

Estelle paused after hearing him share his father's words.

"Your father is a wise man," she said. "Thank you. I will remember that. Now allow me to introduce you to another wise man."

A chime rang soothingly as Estelle pushed through the door. Fayte stepped in behind her and felt a shift in the air. It was dry in here but the temperature cooler. The scent was that of old pages from the thousands of books waiting on the rows of shelves before him. Directly ahead of them on the other side of the large room was a counter. Behind it sat an old man, his hair thin and white, curly like a wisp of cloud.

The storekeeper gazed at him for a moment before he revealed a familial smile.

"My, my, we meet at last."

The old man set down the book in his hand and hopped off his high stool, disappearing behind the counter. Estelle gestured for him to follow and led him through the rows of darkwood shelves. Hundreds of books surrounded him here with hundreds more waiting on the second level. The shelves stood humbly. Each of them held knowledge from a hundred minds and together this book store housed the knowledge of generations.

He wondered who this man was but the lure of the books was too great. No doubt Fayte would have already read many of the books here already, but he was just as certain that there were many more new to him. New adventures awaiting in each one.

"A bright noon to you, Master Fengoth." Estelle bowed while the old man nodded.

"A bright noon to you, Estelle. And to you as well, Fayte Kaywin."

A wizard? The man stood with a walking cane and though he did not hunch he only came up to their shoulders.

"Fair noon to you, Master Fengoth," he said.

His joy showed through the wrinkles on his face. "I believe an introduction is necessary here. I am Fengoth of the noble Yonus family. Former Headmaster of the school of fire and now the owner of this humble bookstore."

A relative of the High Wizard then.

"Think of our headmasters as the Captains in charge of the different regions in Hylan," Estelle explained to him. "Or the Fearsome Five guarding our border to Saldara."

In other words I am in the presence of a very powerful fire mage. Fayte nodded. "It is an honour to meet you, Master Fengoth."

"As is mine to meet the squire who saved our kingdom." He sighed. "You will forgive me for saying this, but you have your mother's eyes."

Fayte was taken aback. "You know her?"

Master Fengoth nodded slowly. "Your mother was quite a horrible girl."

They were both caught unaware by his words as he gestured at a table by the window. Fayte felt like he should be offended but was too confused to be. They each took a seat by the window where a small garden kept the noise of the bustling street at bay. Master Fengoth smiled at them and waited.

Estelle rolled her eyes. "Master, you were saying his mother was a horrible girl?"

"Oh yes, yes, horrible girl that Pecilia was. Always searching for adventure and playing pranks on me when I was but a wizard."

Fayte was very confused. "Mother? Pranks? Wizard? Mother was a mage?"

"Oh no, of course not. That girl hadn't a drop of elemental magic in her." There was a look in Master Fengoth eyes now as he peered into his memories. "No, she could not cast a single spell, but she was quite magical that one."

It got awkward again when the old wizard just kept staring into distance. Estelle knocked on the table and brought her Master back.

"She was studying in the Crystal Citadel to become a Historian. Your mother loved history and archaeology trips were her favourite. Of course she did step on a few priceless artefacts during her early days, but that did nothing to dampen her passion."

All Fayte knew about his mother was that she was a loving woman who took care of him and his two sisters. She was loved by her husband and while he took care of the kingdom she took care of their home. Her mother was the last person he would imagine being the sort to play pranks or go searching for adventures.

"The boys were all smitten by her," he went on. "And the girls hated her. She wasn't a mage but even the most talented of our initiates wanted to win her heart. It got so bad that the teachers had to step in. The boys were spending more effort courting her than studying, while the girls' plots to mock your mother were getting far too out of hand."

Master Fengoth gave Estelle a knowing look then.

"But one whose fire burned for the knowledge of the past cannot be stoked by elaborate spellworks or gemstones and sweet words. The greatest treasure to be found from history are not the relics and baubles, but the lessons that we can learn. Adventure and stories. Those were the things that a young squire visiting our city used to win your mother's heart."

"Even today we still hear of how the peasant squire took on five noble mages," Estelle said, "claiming victory with a broken tourney sword and just a few strands of singed hair."

"Though brats they were, your father claimed victory over mages who knew their elements well. I should know for one of them is my nephew who will one day lead our Order."

It took a moment. "Father defeated Lord Quxtin Yonus when he was just a squire? When he was yet to be blessed by Sera?"

A nod and hearty laugh was what he got from Master Fengoth.

"But of course my nephew was no High Wizard then and only a mage blinded by jealousy."

The fact that Estelle was sent by Lord Quxtin to show him around the city bothered him now and she was quick to notice it.

"Fayte is now wary because of the task Lord Quxtin gave me," she told Master Fengoth.

"Ah, then you should know that Lord Quxtin has found his partner in life. He and your father share nothing more than just a healthy dose of rivalry now. I am sure if my nephew has any motives then it would be that you would fall in love with one of our younger mages. For example, Estelle here."

"Master!"

"Now, now, child, you should be honoured if Fayte Kaywin here fancies you. Marrying the son of the Lord-Knight will make you the envy of every girl in Hylan I believe."

"That is not my point, Master!"

"Is that why you're being so kind and showing me around?" Fayte teased.

"Tease me further, Kaywin, and I will bury you," she warned, but the way she shifted in her seat and her cheeks flushing told them otherwise. "Besides, I would not be wasting my time with a mere squire. The Whiteguards are much more charming."

"Enough, you are both young and have many years ahead of you for love." Master Fengoth moved to get up and Estelle went over to help him. "Come, Fayte, I have some books for you."

It was a slow walk around the store. Master Fengoth had Estelle fetch books off different shelves. When his assistant returned from her noon break, he had her retrieve a few more from the second level. They returned to the desk with a stack of dusty tomes.

"I want you to have these novels as a gift from me," he said, pushing a stack of four books to Fayte. "I knew your mother personally. She was a student of mine for a few classes. These, I know, were some of her favourite stories. I thought to send them to you but certain things are best done in person."

They were novels of which Fayte had read two. His father gave them to him for the same reason Master Fengoth gifted him with these books now.

"May the stories within these page bring you closer to the mother you have lost."

Fayte accepted them and nodded his thanks.

"As for these, they are yours and you will surely find them useful for they are stories of leaders and warriors from ages past." He watched as Estelle placed the sixth book on the other stack. "It is common knowledge amongst bookkeepers that both the Lord-Knight and his son hone their minds as much as their swordsmanship."

The book Estelle set down was written by a man named Duriel Emerald-Talons. A leather tome dyed green and spined with silver. Emerald-Talons was once a royal family before Hylan was united.

"During times of war the Gryphon King Duriel Emerald-Talons led his army as Sky-Master," said the old wizard. "He will try to convince you the need for cruelty in war. I myself am left unconvinced but he made me see reason in his actions. Now I find myself sympathetic with the man, though I do not condone his actions. Learn from the past as your mother did, Fayte Kaywin. Let these men and women long passed be your teachers through their deeds."

Fayte turned the cover over.

"Thank you," he said, noticing scribblings on some of the pages. Paragraphs circled and words underlined with notes scribbled by the side. "The novels I will accept as gifts but the rest I will pay for them."

That was when Master Fengoth and Estelle exchanged a look. The old wizard nodded as he set down a pouch of coins on the desk, before he pulled out an old envelope from within his sleeve.  

"As I said, these are yours, my dear boy." He handed the envelope to Fayte and had him open it. "The letter came, I believe, some time after you left for Rondiar to join the Order of the White Shield. I never intended to sell any of them. They’re all there. Sadly I never got the chance to deliver them to Zywedior."

Master Fengoth watched as Fayte read the letter. When he saw Fayte begin to blink away his tears, the old wizard turned and began to leave. Satisfied and relieved having fulfilled a task that fell into his responsibility many years ago.

"Come, my girl," said Master Fengoth. "Let Fayte here have a moment with his mother."

Fayte fell onto the chair clutching the letter.

Dear Master Fengoth,

I hope my letter finds your flame burning as ever strong as when we last met.

You should be pleased to hear that my second child, Primrose, has shown signs of magic. We are not yet sure but if so then I can only imagine the look on my son's face, to hear that his sister is a mage and will no doubt best him in combat until the day he is blessed with the Light of the Spirits. Then again, Frendon had no need for the spirits. Perhaps it will be so for Fayte as well.

Rest assured that we will come visit should my daughter's path be bound for Iredis. Oh imagine how wondrous it would be then if my baby Priscilla was to be a priestess? My very own Orders of Rondiar!

I am excited and so I have digressed. I write to you seeking a few of my old possessions.

Many years ago I left with you a few books of mine which I thought myself no longer having a need for. I fear I had been mistaken. I should like to purchase them from you again.

My firstborn, Fayte, has joined the Order of the White Shield. It is my wish for him to receive them the day he leaves for his pilgrimage so that he may read them on his journey. He is but a page now, I know, alas I am impatient and I worry you may have already sold my old books. In such an event I shall have to make do with a new copy instead. Enclosed is a list of the titles I am seeking and a pouch of coins for them.

May your flame continue to burn bright and light the way.

Sincerely,
Lady Pecelia of Pranks

P.S. Those really are coins in the pouch. No trickery here. Please do not discard them.

CHAPTER 12

Fayte was famous.

That much Estelle made clear to him as they continued on their way to the statues. He had long been favoured by girls in the Order of the Elements, and across Hylan as Estelle would believe, even before he saved Emily. A marriage with the son of the Lord-Knight would please any parents. And it helped that Fayte was a talented squire bound to end up at a position of high ranking within the Order. Sadly it was also a known fact that he and the Princess were on close terms, so close in fact that everyone expected them to join hands one day.

How delighted these girls were when word came that the Princess was now betrothed to the Prince of Saldara.

"Happy that you are no longer taken, I mean," Estelle added. "I don't think anyone is happy with her new betrothed."

Fayte could see why Wilson enjoyed the attention and wondered how Jeremiah had remained so passive towards all these swooning girls.

Many whose hearts will be broken if something ill was to befall you, my friend, he thought with a prayer for his safety to Sera.

"Ah, you, yes yes, an enchanted trinket for you, young squire?" a merchant called.

They were in the market district, Fayte guessed, with all the stores and merchants shouting. The day was still early so Fayte approached the man with the long silver beard and beheld the trinket hanging from his hand. It was a silver locket bounded to a chain.

"Enchanted you say?" Fayte said, noticing the man's blue eyes. "Wait. You look very familiar."

The merchant grimaced before he burst out laughing. "Me? Familiar? No, no, I am not! I am from the East Kingdom, yes yes, but familiar? Oh no no. But ah yes, this locket here has been enchanted with a ward that prevents-"

Estelle snatched the locket from the merchant.

"Hey!"

She brought the silver necklace close to her eye and tapped it with a finger. Satisfied, she tossed it back to the merchant. "My eyelash is more enchanted than that flimsy bauble."

The merchant's smile twisted into a sneer immediately. "If you have not the coin for it then be gone!"

"You're that merchant who got outsmarted by the High Sage!" Fayte remembered now. "My-aching Poong?"

"MA-IK OONG!" The man was quite outraged. "You Hylanders have not the tongue for such an exotic name! Be gone now, be gone!"

The Order should have this man sent back to the East Kingdom, Fayte thought after they left.

"Are there such things though," Fayte asked. "Enchanted trinkets I mean."

"Yes, but nothing like the sort portrayed in plays." Estelle tapped on the single gemstone set in her necklace. The accessory was worn like a loose bracelet around her neck. "Gemstones can hold mana depending on its grade. However it is rare to find a gemstone that can hold enough mana for any practical use."

"Does yours hold any enchantments?"

Estelle answered only with a grin.

"The gemstone of Icildix, the staff of Archimage Lasandra, is no ordinary sapphire. Some say it is made from the eye of a frost dragon from beyond the Northern Gate, but it is known within the Order that the origins of her staff is, well, unknown."

"Unknown?"

"Passed down from one mage to another, the history behind the staffs are lost. At least that's what our teachers tell us. For all we know these magical staffs were stolen from the lands beyond our kingdom." Estelle shrugged and opened her hand to create a yellow earth glyph. The glyph flared and in its place now was a dark leather tome. "Most of us prefer not to concern ourselves with it. You can count the number of magical staffs with a hand or two. The rest of us cast spells with our tomes, as you've surely seen before with your friend, Wilson Sayde."

She squeezed on her spellbook and it crumbled like one of Amelia's dried mud pies.

Girls and boys were following him still, men and women as well who knew why Fayte was here. The city square was large and spacious with old trees standing stalwart and bushes blooming with flowers. Buildings stood over four stories high with the walls painted beige and fabrics of myriad colours hanging from balcony to balcony.

Fayte descend the steps into the city square. The Mystic River was gushing through a deep fountain drain on his right, its waters running swift into a pool in the centre of the square. There were no carts or vendors here and in their places were seats and tables. The scent of breakfast made his mouth water.

It reminded him of Jayden and his tavern as he walked by the tables. Fayte made his way to the pool where in the middle stood four statues with their backs to one another. These were the four heroes said to be the founders of the Order of the Elements, each one presumed to represent one of the elements.

"Does Grand-Rosia have only two statues?" he asked, for Rondiar had all nine rather than the three which represented the Order of the White Shield.

Estelle nodded. "Rondiar is the capital city of Hylan, thus statues of all nine heroes were erected."

Fayte shielded his eyes as he looked up.

The four statues were no different than the ones in Rondiar. Four figures hooded with their heads unseen. Legends they were and some even doubt the nine heroes truly existed. But the Light of the Spirits was enough to convince Fayte of their existence.

A couple, two mages, watched him as he sat down next to the pool and removed his boots. He glanced around himself from time to time, noticing that more and more people were turning their attention towards him.

Just have your breakfast and leave me be, he thought, setting his footwear aside neatly before he stood up on the rim of the pool.

"I will only be a moment," he told her.

"Take as long as you need, I'm going to get some food."

The water flowed around the pedestal that the statues stood on, but the pool was at least forty yards wide so the water had slowed enough for Fayte to step into it easily. His trousers became wet instantly with the water coming up to his knee. Fayte had to be careful. He was standing on a narrow bridge of the sort and in truth the pool was much deeper than it would have one believe.

Fayte Kaywin, he announced himself, stepping forward to the statues with the entrance to Iredis behind him and the Crystal Citadel to his front behind the statues. Here to pay my respects to four of the legendary nine who defeated the Great Evil and brought about this age of peace to Hylan.

He held up his white shield in front of him, his right hand clutching his left arm, and slowly Fayte went onto his knee, submerging the lower half of his body into the water. There he kneeled with his head held low and his eyes shut gently.

From this point on Fayte was no longer instructed on the words to say. All his father and the knights he met told him was to speak his heart and tell the spirits of the heroes the purpose of his visit, and ask for their blessings on his pilgrimage. How long he should remain kneeling was up to him.

I am a squire on my knight's pilgrimage, he told them, breathing slowly and feeling the water run gently across his abdomen. I seek knighthood within the Order of the White Shield, to join ranks with the protectors of Hylan and help defend this peace that was fought for and given to us by you, the nine heroes. And I kneel before you today to humbly ask for your blessings on my journey.

At this point Fayte waited for a moment, hoping that he would receive a sign of some sort. Wilson had told him that this was mostly tradition so he should not spend too long waiting for any signs.

"Just say what you have to and then leave," Wilson had told him. "There is more to Iredis than kneeling in a pool of water."

But Fayte realized that he was not done speaking with the heroes. In light of recent events, he would need more than just their blessings moving forward. He could use some guidance as well.

Princess Emily Whiteart, a descendant of the family that the nine of you have chosen to rule Hylan, is to be wedded to a Prince from the desert nation of Saldara. The same nation that put one of our cities to the sword. He paused, contemplating his words. The Princess believes this to be the right move, a move to bolster our strength against the Black City to the south, where sits the Dark Lord who wields the power of darkness and evil.

Fayte struggled for a moment for the next part, but realized the folly in that and instead…

I do not think this to be the right move. There was nothing for him to hide from them. I do not think this marriage is right. But I cannot decide if I think as such due to my feelings for Emily, my hatred for the Saldarians, or that I truly believe this is not the best move for our kingdom. He was here to seek guidance so perhaps the four heroes could help ease his struggle. I seek to become a knight to protect others. Yet I fear I am allowing the girl I love walk blindly into danger. I fear that I will fail again, to protect Emily, as I had failed to protect my mother and sisters.

Those were the troubles that he had to share with them.

I seek your wisdom in this matter and I hope that you can show me a sign to guide me. And that was about all Fayte had to say to the heroes. Thank you for your deeds and I swear, as a member of the Order of the White Shield, to defend this peace that the nine of you have given us.

Fayte open his eyes and squinted as he got up. It was bright and when his eyes had gotten used to the light, he turned away from the statues and saw a Whiteguard waiting by the pool.

A Whiteguard, he thought. Is this your sign for me then? That the Whiteguards are there to ensure the safety of the Princess?

He ignored the crowd that had gathered to watch him and made his way back.

"Fair noon to you, Lady Elisen," he said, surprised to meet her here since he didn't see her with Emily earlier on.

"To you as well, squire Fayte," the Whiteguard said, her shield strapped to her arm and her helmet clutched by her side. "You took quite some time to pay a simple respect."

Fayte sat down and dried himself with a towel from his bag.

"I had… other matters that I sought guidance from the heroes," he told her. "Is there something you need, Lady Elisen?"

The Whiteguard looked at him for another moment, as though examining him or judging him. Fayte rarely spoke to Lady Elisen and they once had quite an unpleasant meeting with the Whiteguard berating him for losing the Princess and helping her fake her own kidnap. The situation was of course much more complicated than that, but that was the gist of it and Fayte could hardly blame the Whiteguard.

"The Lord-Knight had asked personally of the knights within the Princess's escort to keep an eye out for you," she said, smoothing back the loose strands of dark hair before she lowered her helm on her head.

Lady Elisen could be pretty if she smiled more and let loose her hair that she always kept bundled up tightly. Lady Feralina, for example, was fierce but the Master-Knight's looks were on par with her swordsmanship. She often said that people addressed her as 'lady' first before her name, and as such she should live up to the name. Truth be told everyone knew that Lady Feralina was just insanely competitive. She just wanted to be pretty because she enjoyed it. Lady Elisen on the other hand only knew duty and honour and nothing more.

Fayte could only imagine the two having a meal together.

"He shouldn't have." For Whiteguards were the royal family's personal guards and not that of a squire's.

Lady Elisen held out a note with his shield hand.

"The Grace of Hylan had asked that I see this to you," she said, her face unsmiling. "It seems the court jester had forgotten to slip the note to you after catching you off-guard."

That last sentence was a disapproving one.

Fayte received the note from her. "I have seen Mailer startling even my father."

"Excuses," Lady Elisen said. "Sharpen your senses or one day it will be your undoing."

With that the Whiteguard took her leave.

Fayte sighed and unrolled the note as the girls came up to him.

"My, my, I've never imagined the famous Elisen Fteor to be such a stern woman," Estelle said, holding a large and long bun the length of her arm as she watched the crowd part to give way to the Whiteguard.

"The woman rose from a slave to the honoured appointment as Whiteguard," said Fayte, glancing at her bread as he unfolded the note. "I doubt her journey had been a smooth one."

And if you find her stern now, you should see her when she's angry, Fayte thought, reading the note.

The Flaming Sword. Midday on the morrow.

- Emily

CHAPTER 11

This was not Hylan.

The tower was connected to a larger building where Estelle brought him to the roof. Fayte had preferred to head to the ground level and leave this building to explore the city. They could just as easily find a tower later for a better view of the city. But the moment Estelle led him out into the sunlight, Fayte felt as though he had stepped into a whole new land.

Azure sky with wispy clouds claimed half the landscape. Beneath the sky to the distance was a great field lined with the forest that granted a natural barrier for the City of Learning. And all else that Fayte could see was wonders beyond his imagination.

A city built on the face of a mountain.

Below he could see the roofs of buildings, white and tiled, with towers and great walls dividing the city neatly. Elemental guardians stalked the walls, fire lions, ice hawks, earth behemoths, and shimmering forms that made Estelle smirk when he pointed them out. Some of them even crackled with lightning. Trees and gardens and bushes of flowers painted the city with colours much like Harvesria. The city levelled out near the base, four, maybe five levels down, with more buildings and there even more gardens and patches of green.

Above he looked, shielding his eyes and turning around, was the Crystal Citadel, home to the Order of the Elements. The citadel alone was larger than Castle Rondiar and Iredis was no doubt larger than the capital city. Standing stalwart around the Crystal Citadel were four towers, each a colour of the four elements, guarding a palace of white. There stood also a fifth tower coloured with white and black. The White Light resided in that tower and it represented the two divine elements of Light and Darkness.

"You remember the Citadel I hope?" Estelle asked.

Yes, but this is a different view entirely.

It was not the first time Fayte had visited Iredis. Part of their training included visiting the home city of the other two Orders, to learn more about their ways and those whom they would go into battle with. Grand-Rosia no longer took visitors ever since the War of Darkness and Light, but Fayte had spent an entire week here in the Crystal Citadel.

"A full week confined to the walls of the Crystal Citadel," he said, feeling the wind on his back. "It was… an eventful stay, but I should like to see more of your city this time."

Beneath the Crystal Citadel and outside its walls was the Mystic River, its sprays joining hands with the sunrays to cast a great rainbow across the waterfall. The brilliant water rushed down and disappeared from sight before it continued its course through a gaping cavern further down on their level. Fayte knew what that spot was, the place where the waterfall ended.

"Did you get visit the Cavern of Knowledge when you were last here?" asked Estelle, to which Fayte shook his head.

The Cavern of Knowledge was a library. Its collection said to challenge even that of the Arcane Scholars' beyond the Northern Gate. Many secrets were kept hidden in the Cavern of Knowledge, including those of the Orders of Rondiar, along with the history and the vast knowledge gathered over the centuries in Hylan. And it was a cavern for good reason.

"If ever Iredis falls and the secrets of Hylan and the Orders of Rondiar are at risk," Estelle said as she stepped forward to lean against the railing, "Ancient spells that lie dormant within the mountain will be activated."

"Destroying all enemies," Fayte continued, "and burying them with our secrets forever."

This was why even the secrets of the Order of the White Shield and the White Rose were not kept in their own cities. Iredis was a city built to withstand all threats. It was a city where the very citizens were wielders of devastating mystical arts. Fayte had little doubt that Iredis was a much better defended city than Rondiar, but it was not safer for the city held too much that tempted too many.

Especially now with the city holding Ra’gelor as prisoner.

"You asked about the four statues when we ate." She turned and led him to the other side of the roof. "They're over there. All the way down there…"

At the very base of the city.

Fayte couldn't help but glance at the sky. This felt very much like a jest on Sera's part. Still, with all the wonders in the city, Fayte found himself eager to make the slow trek down to the ground level. The roof they were on was connected to the upper tier of the sixth level where they were at. Estelle nudged him on the arm and led the way.

Iredis was filled with life, men and women, old and young, animals and elementals. Few people wore tunics with trousers, most wore robes for here in Iredis most were born with the birthright of magic. But even with robes alone, Fayte could tell who was well-off and who was poorer, for some wore robes of silk while others wore that of wool and cotton. And just when he thought he could tell who were the nobles, for they were often the richest, he saw those whose robes were sewed with intricate runes that seemed to glow and hum even in the daylight.

The runes on Estelle's robe were just… shiny.

"I am a Mage," she said when she noticed him comparing their outfits. "Along with an Acolyte from the White Rose, you could say that we are of the same rank as Squires. Pages in your Order are the equivalent of Novices in mine."

"And Initiates in the Order of the White Rose."

Estelle nodded. "You have your Knights, the White Rose their Priests, and we our Wizards and Sorceresses depending on your gender. But on a whole those of my Order are usually known as just mages."

There was little fear of misrepresentation between the ranks of the mages though. Wizards and Sorceresses were usually older and the robes they wore were much more elaborate. They walked past a group of girls, mages, with their simple robes of various elemental colours. The girls giggled and pointed when they passed them.

"How far along are you on your pilgrimage?" Estelle asked as they went by another group of mages who became hushed and whispered amongst themselves.

"Not very," he said, noticing others who stared while some giggled and pointed when they passed them. Fayte had seen girls behaving like this before when they swooned over Wilson. This might be the first time he was experiencing it himself. "Is there a reason why so many people are curious about us?"

Estelle looked at him, wondering. "You mean you really don't know?"

"Don't know what?"

She shook her head. "Fayte Kaywin, son of the Lord-Knight, the squire who bested Jeremiah Vladertz in the tournament."

He kept himself from frowning at the mention of his friend.

"You are famous enough without rescuing the Princess from the Saldarian demon. When word came that it was through your actions that saved our kingdom, no one could stop talking about you. Even the jealous boys mumbling how a mage could have gotten the job done all the same."

"You should not take the words of Sir Percson and Captain Teynier so seriously," he said, nodding at bunch of girls who started waving at him. They started flapping their hands at one another when he smiled at them. It was very strange. "I am sure they told their stories with much more dramatism than necessary."

"Of course they have," she said. "But unlike others I have seen you in action with my own eyes."

She was at the tournament? "I got lucky during the tournament."

"Perhaps. But I saw no element of luck when you fought that Scygard in the slavers' camp."

"You were there?"

Estelle nodded. "My Order had received reports of a hidden camp shrouded by magic. Illusion magic, from beyond the Northern Gate. I was in the party sent to investigate. We had been searching for days without luck until we saw fire bolts shot into the air."

That would be when Ye'Jou was spotted, the large roc that crashed Emily's birthday party. They were nearly shot out of the sky that night.

"We moved in when earth animations started rising. I saw you from afar but we were being swarmed ourselves. Only thing we could do to lend assistance was to keep more of the earth creatures from going after you." They cut through an alley and entered a house to escape the crowd that had started following them. Estelle smiled at the old lady sitting by the window before leading them out through the front. "I was sent after the Princess when we saw you engaging the Scygard. Forgive us but ensuring the Princess's safety took precedence… even though we lost her anyway."

"The Scygard mage," Fayte said. Rinmar’s uncle. "Lormio La’ou."

"Is that his name?" Estelle sneered at it. "We were taken by surprise when he used magic. Even the Whiteguard, Lady Elisen, was caught off guard."

"Well he’s dead now," Fayte told her. "We did not find his body so likely he was consumed by the demon."

"Good. Anyway, you bested a Scygard at the slavers’ camp and you managed to aid the knights at Eres Star City." Estelle smiled at him. "Give yourself some credit, Fayte Kaywin."

He had grown used to being praised and commended for his actions, but it was different hearing it from Estelle. He found more sincerity in her words than from others who did not witness his actions. It was comforting and Fayte felt his face warming when Estelle looked at him. When her eyes wandered from his and she lost her smile, Fayte frowned and turned to see what had stolen her attention from him.

The Whiteguard smiled as though nothing in the world could bother him.

All around them people hurried to kneel, setting down their baskets and goods. Most of the mages had to lift their robes before kneeling, while others wore robes that restricted their movements less. Estelle's robe was shorter in the front, a skirt lined with lace exposing her knees, and longer at the back to give the outfit some grace. As he went onto his knee Fayte couldn’t help but notice how Estelle's outfit was actually quite different from most of the mages around them. Her sleeves were slimmer and she did not wear loose bangles around her wrist, only two white gold bracelets with ruby and amber gems embedded. Even the necklace she wore was plain like her bracelets, unlike the ornate one worn by the wizard who now spoke.

"We offer our greetings to the Grace of Hylan, Princess Emily of the Royal Whiteart family," the older mage said, a wizard in his late twenties who was seemed to be the most senior here. "And to Prince Rinmar of Saldara, and to Sir Percson of the Whiteguards. We bid you all welcome to the City of Learning."

Sir Percson nodded in return, and he gave Fayte a wink.

"Rise, masters of the elements," Emily said, her eyes met with his for a moment, her expression… hurt? Fayte couldn't tell because the next moment she was smiling her Princess's smile at the crowd. "And I thank you all for having me and my Prince here in your wondrous city."

"You humble us with your words, Your Grace," the man said, speaking on their behalf. "I am but a wizard and these children only mages."

Emily nodded gracefully before Sir Percson said, "You fail to give credit where it is due, wizard. You are Lewis of the noble Reinor family, are you not?"

The wizard was surprised. "That I am, Sir Percson."

"A wizard who battled the minions of the Dark Lord alongside Captain Windon during the teleportation of the demon," the Whiteguard explained. "And also Sir Jaylen's cousin I believe."

"Ah," Emily went. "Forgive me for not recognizing you, wise wizard. I have heard of your bravery along with those present that day. Hylan thanks you for your courage."

"It is only natural for I to defend the land that which I call my kingdom and home," Lewis said, bowing.

A tall and slim man stepped forward and tapped Emily on the shoulder. Administrator Langton whispered a few words into her ears before he stepped back. He met eyes with Fayte and they exchanged a nod.

"I would love to stay and hear more of the incident, but I fear I have not the time," Emily said, touching the sides of her dessert-gold dress, lifting them as she curtsied. "Have a pleasant day ahead, all of you, and thank you once more for having my Prince and I in your brilliant city."

The royal party turned and left with Sir Percson behind laughing softly.

You have your Prince. Fayte rose and offered Estelle a hand up. Perhaps I should find myself someone else as well.

"Tsk, tsk."

Fayte flinched and half-drew his sword. "MAILER!"

The court jester, in his motley of yellow and white today, screamed in fear with his 'OH-NO!' mask on his face and marotte.

"Oh my, you loudy-loud-mouth little squire," he said, wiping imaginary sweat off his forehead. "You gave me quite a scare there, oh yes you did, you loudy-loud-mouth little squire!"

"How many times have I told you not to sneak up on me like that?" Fayte said, still unable to comprehend how a man dressed like that with bells on his hat could be so stealthy.

Mailer rubbed his chin with his 'Thinking-Hard' mask.

"I honestly cannot remember," said Mailer with a laugh. "Oh well!"

Laughing boisterously, the Court Jester skipped away through the crowd to catch up with his Princess. Fayte shook his head and was about to sheath his sword when he found a parchment stuffed between his sheath and blade. Quite sure that it was Mailer who did it, he removed the paper and put away his sword before unrolling it.

"What does it say?" Estelle asked.

'HELP! The Prince is hitting poor Emily every night!!!'

Fayte's eyes widened until he saw the next line.

'Only jesting! Heehee!'

CHAPTER 10

For the next three days Fayte was confined to his room.

Not because he shoved a highly esteemed knight of his Order, but so that the corruption could run its course. Wilson explained that while he could calm Fayte with his healing if Fayte was fully conscious, it was not advised to rely on magic to soothe the mind.

The room was a lavish one with furniture carved from rosewood and polished. Thick carpet covered the floor and plush pillows and thick sheets made his rest all the more comfortable. Bookshelves were aplenty too, four of them in fact, and the High Sage often came in to read by a corner. Fayte tried to speak to him a number of times but had yet to successfully engage the boy. There were windows but they were too high up in the wall for him to look out through them. In fact, judging from how tall the ceiling was and the way it curved, Fayte believed he was at the top of the tower.

Fayte spent his time resting in bed. They had to knock him out with a spell while Commander Reyner held him down. He didn't wake until the next night. The scale had corrupted Orwell when he was fishing that night out of leisure. It seemed that the corruption could spread from one man to another but Wilson had yet to determine how exactly.

"The mage, Tyson, he did not have any physical contact with Orwell," Wilson said on the second afternoon. "The boy showed no signs of aggression even till today yet the mage did. It is as though the corruption knows to seek for a stronger host or one capable of magic."

In any case both Orwell and Tyson were back to their old selves now. The scale had been sealed away by the White Light, it's location now unknown. Word had been sent out to all towns and villages near the path Ra’gelor went when he was teleported to Iredis for imprisonment. The fact that the demon was teleported raised more questions about how the scale ended up in the river.

"Captain Windon was here last night when you were asleep," Wilson told him. "During the teleportation they were attacked by minions of the Dark Lord. He believes it might be them who are responsible for the loose scale. In any case, the scale has been sealed and is no longer our concern. Captain Windon sends his regards and wishes to inform you that your father would very much like to be here, but with Jeremiah missing and squires from wealthier families admitting to being ambushed... he's busy."

"Do you think…" Fayte did not have the courage to ask.

"Jeremiah is a Vladertz and Joanne is a talented Priestess in the Order of the White Rose." Wilson smiled to reassure him. "They will be fine."

I pray they will. "What now then?"

"Your father has ordered a halt to the pilgrimage and for all squires to seek out the nearest town or city and remain there until further notice." Wilson got up from the chair beside his bed. "You will do the same."

Fayte could only imagine how angry his father must had been to find out that so many squires were ambushed yet none of them spoke up. He should have done something the moment he saw Jason. Informing the Order of the White Rose wasn't enough. This concerned the Order of the White Shield as well.

"Bandits and an assassin from-" Wilson paused.

"From…?"

His friend was hiding something. "From parts unknown, are two entirely different matters. Do not be too hard on yourself. We both agreed to keep this from your father as did everyone else. The fault is ours to share."

Wilson was definitely hiding something from him. "Alright. By the way, where's John?"

"Our quarters are just a level below. I don't know where he is now exactly, probably getting kicked out of a tavern somewhere. But I did see him speaking to the High Sage yesterday."

The both of them turned to the boy sitting by the bookshelf. Kestel turned a page, ignoring them.

"A higher power has brought him to us," Fayte said. "I guess we just have to wait and see how events unfold."

"Aye. Now if you would excuse me." Wilson got up from the chair beside his bed. "I have a Princess to keep an eye on for you."

Emily… "How is she?"

Wilson placed his hands behind him as he thought. "Busy. The Archimage refuses audience with her despite protest by Commander Reyner. Something about her safety placed at risk being so close to Ra’gelor for so long. The Archimage claims that the Princess is safe and that it was the Prince who was in danger, which just so happens to not fall under her concern."

Fayte found that unsettling. "Even so, the Archimage is acting very strange. It's like she's being corrupted as well, only more slowly."

"As the leader of an Order, the Archimage should be displaying more respect and less of her opinion regarding the union. Hitting the Prince and chiding Emily like a child the other day…" Wilson shook his head. "I have spoken with Master Quxtin about the matter. He is aware as do the White Light herself and it is also why he is here. Isn't that right, High Sage?"

The boy sitting on the floor beside a bookshelf ignored him.

"For now there is no cause for concern," Wilson assured him. "Not when we have the White Light in the same city. Emily is paying her respects to the nobles in Iredis. She will attempt to seek audience with the Archimage again when she is done."

On the morning of the fourth day, Fayte finally stood up.

"No, not yet it seems," he said to himself as he sat down again, feeling his head spin. He shut his eyes and waited until the dizziness subsided. Three days in bed without exercise. He needed to train again. "One more time."

Fayte pushed himself onto his feet, slowly now, and sent his arms up over his head. It felt good to finally stretch properly. The corruption had left his body weakened. Wilson had tried to heal him a little but the effects didn't last. His body had to recover on its own.

The doors to his room swung open on their own.

Magic, he thought, intrigued, as he watched a girl step into the room.

"How are you feeling?" Estelle asked.

Silver threads in her yellow robes caught the morning light. Her footsteps were soft as she circled the table and set a basin of water on it. Estelle tucked a loose strand of her fringe behind her ear as she turned to look at him.

"Better," he said. "Where's Wilson?"

"He is with the Grace of Hylan." She dipped a towel into the water and wringed it dry. "Catch."

The towel flew over his outstretched hand. Fayte glanced at Estelle before reaching over his bed to get it.

"A few days in bed will do that to you." The girl crossed her arms and sighed deeply.

"What?" he asked as he wiped his face.

"I've been asked to show you around the city."

"By who? Wilson?"

Just then the doors swung open and the High Sage entered, mounted atop his dog. The handsome animal gave a bark when they saw Fayte. Before he could greet the High Sage, Kestel patted his friend on the head three times, prompting the dog to turn around and leave.

As strange as ever, he thought as he went up to the basin of water to finish washing up.

"The High Sage seems to have an interest in you," she noted, turning away from the door. "And no. It is Lord Quxtin who asked that I give you a tour."

Quxtin Yonus…

"You know who he is don't you?" Estelle stepped away as Fayte started to wash his face.

"Of course," he said, straightening up. "The High Wizard of your Order."

Lord Quxtin was to her Order what Lady Feralina was to the Order of the White Shield.

"Why would he ask you to do that?"

Her arms were still crossed. "You're the son of the Lord-Knight. I'm surprised he didn't ask someone of higher rank in my Order to attend to you."

"I am a squire of the White Shield," he said, opening the cupboard to find a change of clothes. "I don't need to be treated any differently."

Estelle sat down on the chair and rested her arm on the table. She sighed again. "Very well. In that case consider yourself being treated like a squire… who rescued the Princess from slavers and rebel Scygards, as well save our entire kingdom from the wrath of a Saldarian demon."

He had Sir Percson and Captain Teynier to thank for this then.

"It's fine," Fayte told her, tossing a fresh set of clothes on the bed. "Tell Lord Quxtin that I appreciate the gesture but I do not need a guide."

"Why not?"

"Because you clearly do not want to spend the day showing me around."

That made her laugh. "I'm just hungry. Change and grab your gear. We'll have breakfast together and you'll find me in a much better mood."

CHAPTER 9

Thick blood seeped through the gaps in the road.

Bodies lay slumped against stalls and houses. Most were dead, others dying. The ones who were gone made no sound while those on their way moaned and cried. Some begged for help while others cried in fear, and there were those screaming for others to run.

Two men appeared before him, each brandishing a pike. They lunged at him but he ducked and swung out his sword, cutting their abdomens open. The two men cried as their blood spilled to the floor before they fell onto the pool of red. He carried on up the road.

Thunder.

Though the day was bright and the sky was clear, there was a sound of thunder. A greater power disapproved. He would welcome rain now for the air was sweltering. A door to his right opened and he met eyes with a women. She held the crying baby close to her chest while her other hand pushed a little girl behind her back into the house.

A warrior charged at him, this one armoured better than the last two. They exchanged blows and traded wounds but at last the warrior fell. More came to engage him and more fell to his sword. He grew tired and weary but something empowered him, giving him strength when he felt weakened. He felt his blood boiling and his muscles tensing.

The woman did not scream when he kicked the door open. She stood at the far end of the room, a look of defiance firmly gripped on her face. Behind her the little girl held on to a bundle. The little girl whispered and coaxed but the baby kept on crying. Now the woman was shouting at him, warning him and threatening him. But when he approached her, she lost hope and her tears betrayed her. She fell to her knees and she begged.

For her baby she begged. For her daughter she begged. For her son she also begged.

Mother, Fayte said, reaching to help her up. Mother, I am here to save you!

As he reached forward and pulled her up, Fayte saw instead his hand drawing his sword. A blade of gold curved with malice. His mother lunged forward and seized him by the waist, holding him down as she screamed. Primrose shook her head once, twice, before she knew she had to escape. She ran with Priscilla in her arms.

Fayte swung and cut down his sister.

"NOOOO!" He turned to his mother and raised his curved sword. "NO! NO! NOOO!"

A flash of light blinded him and he felt his ears go deaf. He fought and he struggled and soon his vision returned. Fayte heard voices everywhere, yelling at him, screaming at him. Slowly he could feel arms holding him down and he saw strange faces all around him. Faces and arms that resembled men’s but were hard and grey like stones.

Three earth elementals were holding him down.

"Fayte!" The voice was familiar. "Calm down, my friend! Fayte, listen to my voice, listen to it and calm yourself. You are safe now. It was only a nightmare!"

"Knock him out," another voice said plainly.

"No!" said the familiar voice. "I will not have him return to his nightmares again. Fayte! Calm down now, calm yourself! Please!"

I killed Primmy, he thought. I killed Primmy! It was me! I was the one who killed Primmy! "I KILLED PRIMMY! NO! NOOO!"

"Losing his mind."

"I can see that!" the other voice snapped. "Fayte, that is not true! You did not kill Primrose, alright? Listen to me, you did not kill Primrose! The Saldarians did it, not you! It was a nightmare. Just a nightmare. You didn't kill your sister."

"I killed her!" Fayte could see the face of a human now, a guy with blonde hair. "I killed Primmy! Then I killed Priscilla! And my mother as well! I KILLED THEM! I KILL THEM ALL!"

"Fayte!"

Emily. He stopped. Emily.

Another face came into view, a girl with large clear eyes and long dark hair, spiralling down as they hung over him in curls. She swept her hair aside and touched his face. Her hand was cool on his cheek and Fayte found himself relaxing, longingly to hold her hands again.

"Wilson, he's burning up!" Emily said. "Why haven't you healed him?"

"Not a fever," a voice said, one that sounded neither bored not interested. "Remnants of corruption."

"Fayte was corrupted by a scale of Ra’gelor," Wilson said, shaking his head. "I didn’t expect he would just pick it up."

"Ra’gelor?"

Wilson and Emily looked away from him. He saw Wilson rolling his eyes before glancing at him. Fayte could feel himself shaking now and he was covered in cold sweat. The elementals holding him down were hurting him and as if they read his mind, he felt them easing off though not completely.

"How did one of his scale fall loose?"

"I don't know," Wilson said. "Perhaps the demon bumped into a tree or something."

"And it resulted in this? We could hear his cries outside the tower. It sounded as though the demon had possessed him." Wilson was getting irritated. "How do we know that Fayte hasn't been- Hey!"

Wilson turned back to look.

"Leave this room," Kestel said, following by the sound of a book being flung into the air. "You are unwanted."

His friend was grinning. "Are you feeling better, Fayte?"

Fayte did his best to nod. It was difficult enough with an earth elemental holding him down. The shivers and shakes were not helping.

"Who killed your family?"

"The Saldarians," Fayte said weakly, but his thoughts were clear now. "I dreamt that I was one of them. I… I've never had that dream before."

That seemed to assure Wilson.

"Kestel, please, he means no ill," Emily said. "He is only here to defend us."

"Make, him, leave," Kestel said, his patience tested and soon to be lost.

Emily's expression hardened. "Kestel, sooner or later you must accept that-"

Fayte felt a rumble from underneath him and suddenly there was a loud barking. The sudden appearance of the large dog made Emily jump and Fayte could hear the sound of swords being drawn. The thing is Fayte had spent years hearing the sound of sharpened steel leaving its sheath. He had grown used to it so it was distinct to him when he heard a sound unfamiliar to his ears, though it wasn't the first time he heard it. There was a distinct sound to steel sliding against steel.

As there was to gold sliding against steel.

"Scygard…" Fayte could feel his strength returning.

Wilson was surprised when he heard him.

"SCYGARD!"

Fayte slipped from the elementals and he shoved Wilson aside. There were more people in the room than he realized, but Fayte's eyes were locked onto the figure with the golden curved blade. He reached the Scygard in a mere second.

"I WILL KILL YOU!"

There were screams and yells before a flash of light blinded him. The chill of winter scratched his skin but Fayte was unfazed.

"SCYGARD!" he screamed, hearing the ice hardening as his tried to reach the Saldarian warrior. Fayte was bruising himself and the ice was not giving way but he did not care. "I WILL KILL YOU! I WILL TEAR YOUR HEAD FROM YOUR-"

A strip of ice formed over his mouth and Fayte felt someone grab the back his head. A soothing energy began to pour into him and slowly, he felt himself growing weaker but he was calming down too.

"It bothers me to see how foolish the Princess has become," an old woman said. "As well as those around her."

The Scygard stepped aside along with Commander Reyner and two other knights. Only the Whiteguard seemed wise enough to have not drawn his sword when the only threat was a single dog. Kestel's companion was now sitting in front of Fayte, licking at the ice as though trying to free him.

"Archimage Lasandra," Emily said, stepping forward with none other than her betrothed.

Rinmar La'ou. Fayte met with the Saldarian's green eyes as Wilson removed his hand.

Emily and Rinmar hurried in front of Fayte, holding hands as the old lady stepped through the wide doors. Behind her was a wizard draped in a flowing robe of crimson and amber. The two royals bowed.

"Princess Emily Whiteart and Prince Rinmar La'ou offers our greetings to-"

"Quiet," Archimage Lasandra said. "Idiots the lot of you."

Emily flinched at the harshness of her tone while Commander Reyner's eyes widened though he said nothing.

"You as well, Reyner."

"But I said not a word, my lady," the Commander of the Whiteguards went.

"Exactly! Have you no mind of your own to lend your voice to the High Sage?" Archimage Lasandra turned around to Emily, her sapphire robes swirling. "And have you no common sense? Or has your coming wedding dull your mind to the point where you think yourself wise enough to chide the High Sage of Hylan, you insolent child?"

Rinmar stepped in front of Emily. "I will not have anyone speak to-"

A staff of ice flashed into existence and smacked the Prince across the face. And just as the Scygard moved to defend his Prince, Icildix, the ice staff of Archimage Lasandra, touched the ground and the Saldarian warrior was trapped in ice just like Fayte.

"I am the Archimage of the Order of the Elements. I’ve lectured the King himself when he was a boy and not even his father dare threaten me. Know your place, Saldarian."

Prince Rinmar was bleeding now but it was his pride that was wounded. Emily didn't dare to go to him, not when the Archimage was in such a foul mood. Instead she went to her knees and Rinmar was quick to follow.

"Forgive me, Archimage," Emily said. "I… I have spoken out of place in the presence of the High Sage."

"It is obvious that the scale of Ra’gelor corrupts with rage," the Archimage explained. "And we all know the history that the Kaywin family shares with the Saldarians. Did you think it was wiser of you to introduce your friend to your Prince's guardian at this time?"

Emily shook her head. "No, it was not."

"It was not indeed," said the Archimage. "He is a boy but he was not named the High Sage of Hylan without reason. Here in our nation we find it queer that he speaks in threes and only threes. But there are those beyond the Northern Gate who would name him ruler for that very reason. The next time you think the High Sage speaks out of his own grudges, I advise you, Your Grace, think again."

She tapped Icildix on the ground and the two ice blocks crumbled to the ground. Commander Reyner jerked his head at the Scygard who promptly sheathed his sword and pull his green cloak over it. At first Fayte just kept glaring at the Saldarian warrior, but there was something calming about being trapped in that block of ice. Whatever Wilson did helped as well. When he finally looked away, he met eyes with the Archimage and Fayte held his head low in respect.

"Would it be true of me to send word to your father telling him that you are well now?" she asked.

Fayte wasn't exactly sure but he nodded.

"Can I trust that nod, High-" Archimage Lasandra paused when she found the High Sage sitting at a corner of the room reading his book. "Sage…"

"Ask the priest," was all he said like he didn't want to be bothered.

The Archimage turned to Wilson.

"I have sealed the scale with a null-barrier," Wilson said. "It has been sent to the White Light herself to be reinforced for I am only familiar with the basics of nullification magic. Fayte will recover as remnants of the corruption we witnessed earlier fade."

"Good, then I will tell your father that you are well and advise him not to halt your pilgrimage."

Not to halt? It was only then that Fayte realized they didn't know about Jeremiah's dagger.

"The assassin that attacked me had Jeremiah's dagger with him," said Fayte, his frustration rising. "Didn't any of you know that?"

From the look on their faces, no one did.

Commander Reyner stepped forward. "What do you mean?"

"That dagger belongs to Jeremiah?" Wilson said. "Why would the assassin have it on- Oh no."

The Whiteguard took Fayte by the shoulders. "What of my nephew? What happened to him?"

"I DON'T KNOW!" Fayte yelled, shoving the Commander of the Whiteguards away with little effort. "I WAS KNOCKED OUT! YOU PEOPLE WERE AWAKE! AWAKE! AND NONE OF YOU DID ANYTHING!"

CHAPTER 8

Iredis was built at the base of a mountain with a river cutting through the magic city. Beyond the city walls the river splits into four other rivers, each of which connected to a village named after the four elements. Estelle brought them out of the fire village through the north exit, following a path to a lake.

"This is where Orwell fishes with a few other men in the village," said Estelle. "The surface may appear calm but the currents below are strong. The Mystic River feeds this lake and carries on out from there. You would have passed it when you crossed the bridge to approach our village."

Fayte nodded. "Mystic River?"

"The river that flows through Iredis," Wilson explained, approaching the lake with Preston on the ground next to him. "They say the waters are enchanted because of all the magic in Iredis."

"There is no more truth in it than the Wyvern Claw mountain range being actual claws," Estelle added. "I was in the city when the Queen of the Water Nymphs sought my assistance. It was near sunset when I got here so I had planned to investigate at daybreak tomorrow."

They had the same idea as well but clearly time was not a luxury they could afford.

Dark elm trees pressed upon the lake all around. Fayte found the place unnerving but Estelle appeared completely at ease here. She must had memories in this place having grown up in the village. Fayte had fond memories playing around his home as well, only this lake was untouched while Zwyedior lied in ruins.

Preston snarled and uncurled his wings.

"There's something down there," Wilson said, unlacing his boots.

"I'm the stronger swimmer," Fayte told him, taking off both his boots before Wilson even got one off. "I'll go down."

Wilson laughed. "You can't swim."

He pulled his chainmail over his head and dropped it on the floor. It was a relief to finally take it off and he could smell the stench of his sweat at once. He glanced at Estelle, embarrassed of the odour, but Estelle had her back towards him now.

"That was in the past," said Fayte, dipping a foot into the water. "Hmm."

"What's wrong?" Estelle asked, looking over her shoulder.

"The water is warm," Wilson told her. "Is it normal?"

She shook her head as she approached. "Perhaps right after sundown, but not at this hour of the night."

I hate magic. "Any idea what I am looking for?"

"It's probably glowing and quite large to have affected this entire lake, but finding it should not be your concern," Wilson said, sending a larger sphere of light over the centre of the lake for Fayte. "It is what happens after you find it that you should be worried about."

He nodded and dove headfirst into the lake.

The lake where the Queen of the water nymphs dwelled was bursting with life. Corals and fishes of a myriad colours welcomed Fayte to a world beneath land that he could never have imagined. Where one was filled with life, this lake Fate dove in was desolate and grey. He could feel the current pulling at him but Fayte had spent many weeks in the water. Swimming was an uncommon skill in Hylan for most did not see the need for it. However his first encounter with the water nymphs could have been his demise if not for Wilson. He was helpless underwater to save himself, just as he was helpless to save his mother and sisters.

He refused to stay helpless.

The water was warm and comfortable to swim in. He kicked his legs and pulled with his arms going deeper and deeper. He swam towards a faint glow, red and pulsating. It was as Wilson had said. Whatever Fayte was looking for was quite obvious, but the closer he got the smaller he realized the object really was. Laying on a bed of stones, Fayte reached for it and picked it up between two fingers.

His ears were hurting and he could hardly keep his eyes open now. Quickly, he clasp the red object in his palm and kicked himself towards the surface. The water grew colder fast as he ascended, losing heat like a fire going out. It became uncomfortable and then painful, stinging on his skin before his chest tightened. Fayte was running out of air.

Just as panic began to set in, his head emerge from the depth and he gasped a breath of air.

"Fayte!" Wilson was calling as he swam to land. "You're going the wrong way!"

Fayte was on the other side of the lake now. He didn't care, only wanting to rest and catch his breath. There was still something about the water that frightened him. Something unknown about that world where one could not breathe. He crawled onto land and sat down to examine the object.

It was small like a piece of coin, glowing a faint red that brightened and darkened like it was breathing.

"By the light, did you touch it?" Wilson yelled. "I didn’t tell you to- Fayte, behind you! FAYTE!"

"JUST GIVE ME A MOMENT TO REST!" he yelled in return, irritated by Wilson's incessant voice.

"Behind you!" Estelle said. "Someone’s coming!"

He turned around and saw a dark figure sprinting towards him. Fayte stuffed the object into his pocket and met the wanderer head on, only it wasn't John. The man had remained behind at the village. Fayte caught the attacker by the wrist and saw a dagger in his hand.

A silversteel dagger with the letters 'J.Vz' etched in gold on the blade.

Jeremiah!

Fayte looked at the man. Even with the hood over his head and the mask covering his mouth, Fayte could tell that this wasn't Jeremiah. This wasn't his friend who he had trained with for years in the Order. This man took Jeremiah's dagger from him. This man was no friend.

"WHERE'S JEREMIAH?" he shoved the man back onto the ground like he was no more than a dummy made of hay.

The man's eyes widened in shock, caught unaware by his strength. Fayte had no concern for that. He reached for his sword but it wasn't there. He left it with Wilson so he reached down to seize the man but he rolled away before Fayte could get him.

"WHAT DID YOU DO TO HIM?" he screamed.

The attacker steeled himself and lunged at Fayte again. Fayte caught his wrist easily once more and this time he pulled the man in and drove his fist into his nose. The attacker, clearly an assassin, yelled in pain but Fayte still had a firm grip on him, squeezing down on his wrist. He punched the assassin again, catching his leg when he tried to kick him before Fayte sent his shin up between the man's legs.

"TELL ME!" Fayte grabbed him by his robe and shook him. "WHERE IS HE? WHERE'S JEREMIAH? TELL ME OR I WILL CRUSH YOUR NECK! TELL ME! TELL ME! I SAID TELL ME!"

The man refused to say anything. Fayte realized he had to be more persuasive. He searched and found Jeremiah's dagger on the ground.

"Talk!" he said, pressing the tip of the dagger to the man's neck. "TALK! I SAID TALK! CURSE YOU, TELL ME WHERE JEREMIAH IS! TELL ME!"

Still the man was silent. No matter how much Fayte yelled at him, no matter how hard he pressed the dagger against the man's neck, he refused to speak a single word. Soon his throat was sore and his head grew lighter. The ground grew brighter and though his vision had become blurred, he could see the glow of white light from the corner of his eyes.

Estelle stepped into view and her eyes were filled with horror. Wilson showed no fear though because he was strong. He would not cry like some weak girl. Weak, as his mother and sisters were, no more capable of defending themselves than they were chasing away a stray dog. He and his father survived because they were strong but not his mother and sisters.

They were weak.

Just like this man who took Jeremiah's dagger. This man who now lay limp on the ground. This man whose neck tilted at an unnatural angle, whose face was red and filled with holes. Then came darkness as Fayte felt himself falling to the ground.

CHAPTER 7

Water nymphs seemed to have a habit of doing that.

"Should we jump in and help or?"

Wilson shook his head. "Look."

The surface of the water rippled and John burst from beneath, spraying a mouthful of water into the air before he burst out laughing. Water nymphs in the shapes of fishes jumped from the water and splashed onto him.

They are playing with him, Fayte realized. "Does this happen often?"

"It would appear so," Wilson said, looking at the women who only glanced at the commotion. They were amused by the scene and no more intrigued by it than when they saw Preston. "Water nymphs can be rather playful and mostly harmless. Your first encounter with them was unfortunate."

Unfortunate indeed. The first time Fayte met them, they were busy dragging the Saldarian Prince underwater in an attempt to drown him. The water nymphs nearly did the same to him if not for Wilson.

"The sun will be setting soon in an hour or so," Fayte said as he turned away. "We should get-"

A jet of water hit him in the back of his neck.

"Hey!"

The water nymph giggled, its watery child-like form shimmering as it did, before it shot a jet of water at Wilson next. His friend smiled and blocked the stream with his hand, stepping closer to the edge of the lake. He kneeled as the water nymph moved closer to him, gesturing for him to come closer. Wilson waved his hand to reassure Fayte as he leaned in for the water nymph to whisper into his ear.

"Inform her that I will see to the matter personally," Wilson said, drying his ear with his sleeve.

In return the water nymph nodded at him before it spat out a ball of ice at Fayte. He caught it easily and the instant he did, he felt a presence touching his mind.

"We greet you, Fayte of the Kaywin family, son of the Protector, Frendon of the Kaywin family." Fayte shivered as he did the first time he heard the voice of a thousand speaking as one in his mind. This was the voice of the Queen of the Water Nymphs. "We wish you well for your pilgrimage."

The ball of ice melted in his hand and the presence along with it.

"I assume the Queen sent her greeting?" Wilson asked as he came over.

John coming out from the lake now, dripping from head to toe with water. At least he was clean again.

"And her well wishes for my journey," Fayte said. "Let me guess, she gave you a new command?"

"Aye, fortunately it's along the way." But Wilson wasn't smiling as he looked away. "What bothers me though…"

John came over and slapped the both of them on the back. "So where ye boys headed next?"

"The Fire Lake of Iredis," Wilson said, glancing at Fayte. "And it appears you will be joining us, John."

They flew on two gryphons, Wilson and Fayte sharing one while John had his own since he was heavier. Daylight was seeping away as they flew north under the clouds. Iredis was the magic city home to the Order of the Elements, a city of secrets and mystics. The city was said to be safer than even Rondiar. All the better for Iredis was the closest city to the world beyond the Northern Gate, as Zywedior was to Saldara.

"There is a taint in one of the rivers closest to the fire village," Wilson explained. "I have been asked to look into it."

"WOOOHOOOO!" John screamed, tossing his arms up into the air. "I'M FLYING!"

"And what about him?"

"I was only told to bring him along," he said, glancing at Preston when the dragon flew down and clung onto his shoulder. "I have little doubt that he has the bloodline of the Templars. What else can you tell from the way he fights?"

Powerful. "Offensively," Fayte said. "As how one would with a two-handed sword."

"Templars are known to focus more on the offensive than knights," Wilson said, wondering. "This man may be trained in the ways of the Templar. He might be in possession of more than just a Templar's sword."

"Like what? A book from the Order of the Eres Star? Only so few have been found."

"There could be more in the possession of collectors who keep it in secret," Wilson said. "There are also spells to preserve knowledge, be it in crystals or pages. The Eres Star Order had their mages and healers as well. It is a pity that we know so little about their ways and teachings."

Preston made a noise as though he was speaking.

"True," Wilson went. "We could just be overthinking this."

Fayte glanced at the sky. I doubt it.

"Hey, boys!" John called. "Ye think we'll get to see the Saldarian Prince when we're at Iredis?"

That reminded Fayte. Before her wedding, Emily would have to visit all major cities in Rondiar and pay her respects to the magister or leader of the city. Iredis would be her first stop and judging from the date… "I believe we will."

John cheered and nearly fell off his seat. The gryphon squawked angrily at him as though telling him to keep still.

"You cannot avoid her forever," Wilson told him. "She's still our friend and the Princess."

"I am not avoiding her. I am on my pilgrimage."

"Then you will not object if I hasten our journey so that we may return in time for her wedding."

"There will not be any hastening of our journey," Fayte said. "I don't want to rush my pilgrimage and end up not receiving the Light of the Spirits from Sera. And as I've said, you're free to leave earlier and attend the wedding. I will make do with another priest."

Fayte was sitting in front but he knew that Wilson was shaking his head now. Stubborn, but Fayte had no desire to see the girl he love join hands with the Prince of the people who murdered his family. He had failed his mother and sisters already. He will not dishonour them further by approving this marriage.

They watched the sun set from the air, admiring the sky as the sun gave hold of it to the luminous moon. Clouds obscured their view of the stars and Fayte dozed off a few times from boredom. Gryphons were highly intelligent so there was no need for him to steer the beast. Fayte roused when the gryphon began to descend. They paid for the flight to Iredis and Wilson had convinced the gryphon master to let them land earlier. Not a usual arrangement as there might be an ambush waiting for the gryphon on land, but it was easy to trust a priest of the White Rose.

"Will you require some rest, my friend?" Wilson asked. "We can stay and stand watch while you do."

The gryphon they rode on shook her head before she lowered it, a bow, at Wilson and Preston, then took off with her friend to the sky. Wilson summoned a sphere of light and sent it up to light their surroundings. Trees stood close together in front of them. Following the edge of the forest they quickly found the path leading in. Preston took off into the sky while they followed on foot. The wide path would lead them straight to Iredis, used mostly by merchants and traders with their wagons and carts. Otherwise gryphon was the way to travel if one had Iredis as a destination.

At last after an hour of walking they found a narrow path cutting into the forest. They followed it and shortly after that they could hear the running water of a river. The water was slow moving when they came upon it. A long bridge had been constructed out of stones and likely magic. Wilson went around the bridge and approached the river bank.

"I don't see any taint," Fayte said.

"Nor do I sense any," Wilson said, troubled. "Anything from the sky?"

Preston screeched from above and since Wilson said nothing, Fayte guessed that meant no. They proceeded across the bridge and into the forest. It was near pitch dark if not for the sphere of light. The moon above them was nowhere to be seen. Night creatures would be up and about now, but only silence followed them. Soon they started hearing noises, human noises, and as they approached the village the noises they heard had them breaking into a sprint.

Flaming torches were lit and staked to the ground or hung on holders on the walls. The earth beneath them was dry and firm and the air cool even with all the torches. Houses were made of clay and sand and Fayte spent only a few seconds admiring the architecture. The village was large and tall columns were made to hold the upper levels. This was the fire village of Iredis, one of four villages situated outside the City of Learning.

"Put down the sword, Orwell," a man yelled, standing at the head of a crowd. "Let the child go!"

A lone man stood in front of him, holding a short sword to the neck of a little boy. "NO! This noisy brat needs to be a taught a lesson! A LESSON! Noisy, noisy, NOISY! I will have my peace, Tyson! I WILL HAVE MY PEACE!"

Fayte raised his hand and they came to a stop. The man, Orwell, stood with his back towards them, caught between them and the crowd in front of him.

"Orwell, let the boy go," the one called Tyson said, clenching his fist as a fire glyph appeared beneath Orwell's and the boy's feet. "Let the boy go, OR I WILL KILL YOU WHERE YOU STAND!"

"Well that got out of hand rather quickly," Fayte whispered.

Now the crowd was backing away from Tyson. A woman was crying and begging him not to do it, that her son would be caught in the flames as well. Another was screaming that Orwell wasn't being himself, that they should not hurt him and help him instead.

"Fayte, if you intend to do something," Wilson said, "now is the time."

This would be easier if not for the mage. He glanced at the flaming torches around them, of which none felt warm at all. And a village filled with magic. "Preston, circle around and distract the mage. Wilson, can you heal the boy if his neck gets cut open?"

Wilson was unsure but he knew the situation was dire and that Fayte needed a clear answer. "Yes."

Preston leaped from his shoulder and jumped through a fence into the tall grasses. Fayte had his shield strapped to his arm and he crouched, moving to his right until Orwell was directly between him and Tyson. The mage might very well attack him as well if he saw him approaching.

"I AM SICK OF YOU AND YOUR MAGIC, TYSON!" Orwell was backing away, trying to get out of the glyph but it kept following him. "I AM SICK OF IT!"

"THEN I SHALL CLEANSE YOU OF YOUR SICKNESS!"

The fire glyph flared to life just as Preston leaped out and bit down on Tyson's hand. But the spell was not broken and both Orwell and the boy screamed as their feet began to burn. Fayte was on them the next moment, tackling them both out of the glyph just before a column of fire burst from the ground. They rolled across the ground and Fayte saw the boy squirming away. A woman cried out in joy as she embraced the boy, her son most likely. Fayte was relieved until he noticed something burning.

"AH!" He started patting his leg to put out the fire. "Hot! Hot! Hot!"

"DIE!"

Orwell came charging at him with both hands on his sword. Fayte wasn't done putting out the fire on his leg but he had no choice, raising his shield to guard the first blow before he reached for his sword. Fortunately three other men jumped on Orwell and held him down, just as others did to Tyson.

Fayte let out a sigh of relief and- "By the light!"

The fire was spreading up his leg and it refused to be put out until a girl splashed a bucket of water on him.

"The fire was on my leg," Fayte said, after taking a bucketful of water right in the face.

"Magic flames spread fast and are harder to snuff out," the girl said. She was about his age, draped in a robe sewed with silver threads in the shape of runes. "I had to drench you in order to prevent any latent mana from reigniting."

Fayte had no idea what latent mana was. "Fine. You have my thanks, mage."

"Estelle," she said, extending a hand, "of the Lowell family."

"A pleasure to meet you, Estelle Lowell. I am Fayte-"

"Fayte of the noble Kaywin family," Estelle said, a grin escaping her. "It is my honour to rescue the Hero of Hylan from a fiery demise."

He had to laugh. "Well then it seems I owe you one."

She was about his height, shorter, with auburn locks laying on her shoulders. Her eyes were scarlet in the light of the torches while her face was round and small. And her hand was soft when he held it.

"Tell me, Estelle, what happened here?"

Wilson gave the boy a pat on the head and smiled at him, nodding at Fayte to assure him that the boy was fine. The two men however were still struggling and screaming wildly. It took five men to hold each of them down and still they were putting up a fight. John was just being a nuisance wagging a finger at Orwell and scolding him.

"I'm not sure," she said, her hands placed behind her. "I was in my house on the upper tier when I heard Orwell screaming at the children. It's common for the children to run around the village and play. Sometimes they get a bit noisy and rowdy and they would be yelled at for it, but never has someone reacted so… violently. And Orwell is not one to act like this. Nor is Uncle Tyson."

Taint, was what he and Wilson were thinking of right now. "We may have an explanation for this."

Estelle raised a brow. "So do I."

CHAPTER 6

Fayte stroked her head and patted her on her strong neck.

"I'll see you in a few weeks, girl," he told Whitesong. "Renee and Amelia will take care of you while I'm gone."

"Safe travels, Fayte," Renee told him, riding on Whitesong.

They had finished purchasing supplies for the tavern, filling the wagon up with crates and plump sacks. Jenson must had been carrying a fair bit of coin for all of that. It was a wonder they hadn't been robbed yet. Ironsville defences were lacking even if most of the men were brawny smiths. Perhaps training some of the men to form a small militia would be a good idea. Fayte made a note to raise it to his father as he saw Amelia coming up to him.

He kneeled and hugged the girl.

"Will you come by Ironsville to visit once you've become a knight?"

Fayte laughed. Amelia was already convinced that he would return a knight, while others so far had held back on their words. They had their reasons. Skill alone is not enough to secure the spirits’ blessing. Many promising squires over the generations had returned without success. Some would succeed on subsequent pilgrimages, while others would leave the Order entirely, unwilling to become a grunt as a soldier.

"I will," he told the girl. "And so will your brother."

Wilson smiled widely at her and Preston tried to do the same from his shoulder.

"HUMPH!" Amelia gave Fayte another hug before she ran up to Jenson who helped her onto the wagon.

Fayte sighed. "Find her a gift at Iredis. She'll forgive you then."

"Perhaps a crystal flower," Wilson said, nodding at Jenson before he pulled himself onto the wagon. "Captain Windon, you have my gratitude for offering to ride with my sister and friends."

The Captain sat atop his warhorse with just a shield strapped to his arm and sword tied to his belt.

"It is my honour to escort the daughter of two brave war heroes," the Captain said, turning to Amelia. "Are we ready to depart, my lady?"

Amelia stared at him for a moment before turning away. "They're not heroes…"

Wilson's words, Fayte knew, for Amelia was only a baby when her parents gave their lives in the War of Darkness and Light. "Take care."

Renee nodded, nudging Whitesong with her heels to get her moving. With an escort of a Captain and four soldiers, Fayte was assured that they would get back to Ironsville safely. Besides, the bandits were sent after him so there was no reason to believe that they would still be in a danger. The soldiers were sent to patrol the route and search the surrounding area. Captain Windon offered to join, saying that a ride would do him well before his return to work on the morrow.

"I'll see you soon," Wilson mumbled, watching sadly as the party left.

Just as Fayte and Wilson were about to turn away, the wagon came to a halt. Fayte prepared to draw his sword but realized there was no need when he saw Amelia climbing down from the wagon. The little girl ran all the way back to them, her little box of flowers and vials bouncing against her back. Once she reached her brother, she jumped and gave him a hug.

"Love you," she said.

Wilson kissed her on the forehead. "I love you too."

After a moment, she let go of him and ran back to the wagon where Jenson was waiting to help her up again. Once they were out of sight, Fayte and Wilson turned to make their way back to the inn. It was high noon now and Iredis was a long way from Oaksblade. The gryphon master would surely refuse them a direct flight to the magic city this time of the day when the heat was at its peak.

The crowded street had eased up a little thanks to the noon sun, with most travellers taking shelter at taverns to have their meal or a cool drink. Wilson stocked up on dry food and water for their journey, while Fayte waited by a weapon store. Swords and axes hung at the store front, with smaller blades and maces laid out on the table.

"Looking to commission a sword, squire?" the skinny storekeeper said.

Fayte could hear the clanging of hammer on steel and anvil at the back.

"Nay," he said. "My father insists that he sees to that for me."

"Ah! Likely he's got an heirloom to pass down to you," the man said. "Your greatfather's sword perhaps?"

Fayte shook his head. "My grandfather and greatfather were both simple men, farmer and merchant. A pity. I would've like to wield a sword handed down to me from my father and his."

The storekeeper was sympathetic as he nodded. "Well look at this way. I hear the Lord-Knight himself only uses swords crafted by the Order. Lord Frendon came from humble beginnings as well. Work hard, young squire, and perhaps you could pass down your sword to your son in the future. My brother is a master smith and we use the finest steel. I assure you, your grandson would see no need for a new blade if you had us make you one."

A merchant was still a merchant in the end. Fayte declined. The idea of a son and grandson was far from his thoughts now. Further than they were before he saved Emily.

"Two whetstones, a skin of oil, and a rag please."

"Very well then. Ah, another squire! Just a moment please," the storekeeper said, reaching below his counter. "Let's see here… and a rag you said? Fair noon to you there, squire. Dirtied your sword swinging at hay targets?"

Of course the merchant was only jesting, but the man was no longer amused when a blood-stained sword was dropped onto his counter.

"Haystacks don’t scream when they die," Jason said.

Patches of dried dirt stuck to his face and his clothes were torn at several places where his cuts were healed. Even without the sword, Fayte could tell from his eyes that Jason had just walked out from combat. Not to mention his hands were shaking as well.

"Jason," Fayte said, carefully reaching over. "What happened?"

"Shut up, Kaywin," he said, arms stiffed by his sides and both his fists clenched.

Jason and Fayte weren't exactly the best of friends. The last time they duelled in a tournament, Jason brought a sharpened sword and almost took off his arm. But Jason was still a fellow squire and well, a friend in some ways. It was clear to Fayte that he was in shock from a bloody fight for his life.

"Go see a priest, boy," the storekeeper said, his jovial tone was lost. "The first kill is always the worse."

Was he attacked as well? It had to be. If Jason had murdered someone by accident, he wouldn't be here looking to get his sword cleaned.

"I was attacked not far from here as well," Fayte told him, and that made Jason look at him.

His short and usually combed hair was in a mess with bits of dirt still stuck to it. Jason was a good fighter even if he behaved like a spoiled child sometimes. Right now his tanned skin was covered with dirt and dried blood. There was a hole in his left boot as well but his foot inside was unharmed though healed more likely.

"Did you tell anyone?" Jason asked in a hushed tone.

Fayte shook his head. "I'm beginning to change my mind though."

Jason seized him by the shoulders. "You better not. The men I cut down were bandits. They just wanted to kidnap me to ransom me for gold. I took care of them. You hear me? I took care of them. Don't be a coward and start running to your father, Kaywin. Some of us still intend to complete our pilgrimage."

Proud until the end, at least you’re still behaving like your usual self.

"I won't," Fayte said, holding Jason by the wrists now to pry him off gently. He was still tensed and shocked from what was clearly a brutal fight. He doubted Jason would have survived if a priest hadn't accompanied him. "But be wary, there might be more of them. Keep to the air."

Jason swallowed as he nodded awkwardly. "Does... does it get easier?"

"No," Fayte told him. "Thankfully no."

It wasn't the answer Jason was hoping to hear, but he accepted it all the same. Fayte wasn't sure about letting him walk off alone until he saw a priest in his late thirties waiting for him. They met eyes and Fayte nodded at the priest who looked just as battered though nowhere near as shaken. When Fayte met up with Wilson back at the inn, he shared his encountered with Jason.

"We should raise this to your Order," Wilson said. The look on Fayte's face made it clear what he thought of that idea. "Would you rather wait until someone dies?"

A valid point. Jason and he were both good fighters, the better ones in fact. If someone like Julin was ambushed by so many bandits, the chances of him surviving was low.

"Fayte, you will be mad at me for this but I must raise this matter with my Order," Wilson told him.

He was not mad. "The priests accompanying us are in danger as well."

That was why Wilson felt compelled to tell someone. "Let me inform the White Rose. I will make a request to keep this within our Order. Your father won't like it but at least it keeps him from worrying and stopping the pilgrimages."

It was a fair compromise.

A sparrow was sent to High Priestess Dana, head of Rondiar's church, and the current leader of the Order of the White Rose until a new bishop was chosen. The former bishop, Bishop Tydon, gave his life alongside his dragon, Rhastior, during the battle against the Saldarian demon, Ra’gelor. If not for Bishop Tydon and Rhastior, Fayte's father would not have had the chance to defeat the demon. Alas the Bishop was old and soon expected to pass, so most agreed that the man had been happier to give his life defending Hylan, than to pass on quietly on his bed in Grand-Rosia.

They spent the rest of the noon by a lake just outside of the town. There were women there with their sleeves rolled up and large bundles of sheets in their hands. They were washing bed sheets and clothes, hanging them up to dry on lines tied to trees. Preston went ahead and walked around the women, letting them touch his head as they said a quick prayer. Fayte and Wilson decided to spar.

Followers of the White Rose used blunt maces as their main choice of weapon. Wilson was however no less skilled with a sword. While he couldn't best Fayte without magic, he wasn't a pushover either. It was more practice than spar really, with Wilson healing himself while Fayte went on pushing his endurance.

"Hey now, ye not too bad!"

"You again," Fayte said, panting and sweaty. That was quick. "I see you got your sword back."

John hugged his old sword and kissed it on the hilt. "Yeap! Now how's about you and I have a go at each other?"

"Why were you released?" Wilson asked, while Fayte was only eager for a new opponent.

The man scratched his head as he thought about it. "Tell ya what, if Fayte over there beats me, I'll tell ya how. Deal?"

Wilson wasn't so sure.

"You don't suppose he broke out?" Fayte whispered.

"I doubt it," Wilson said, stepping away. "Just beat him anyway."

Easier said than done. Three times they duelled and thrice Fayte lost his sword. John was a fierce fighter and the way he moved made it clear to Fayte that he was a mercenary, albeit a highly trained one. His movements were similar to Lord Jacob, wild and messy, but John was faster and immensely stronger. Fayte had little trouble keeping up with him, but every time he parried an attack from John, Fayte felt like his wrist was going to break.

"I just had this mended at Ironsville," Fayte said, looking at all the dents on his shield. "There is more to you than you let on, John."

The man grinned at him. His hair was a shaggy mess and his chin covered with an unevenly shaved beard. The clothes he wore were old and stained yellow with sweat, while the boots on his feet were covered with holes that were mended and torn again. John stood several inches taller than Wilson. It was the way his shoulders sagged and his back hunched a little that made the man look unimpressive.

He could have easily defended himself back in Eres Star City. Fayte met eyes with Wilson and they both knew John was no simple wanderer. What are you hiding from us?

"Why would ye look at that," John said, stepping closer to the lake. "It's one of them water nymphs! Hello, there, little water nymph!"

The water nymph waved at him in its child-like form.

"Aren’t ye cute? Hello!"

The water nymph responded by pulling John into the water.

 

 

CHAPTER 5

Fayte flung his shield to the other side and deflected an arrow.

The bandit leader attacked at the same time but Fayte drew a dagger hidden in his shield and stabbed him in heart. It was reassuring when the bandit leader crumpled to the floor. The last time Fayte stabbed someone in the heart, the man laughed it off like he was being tickled.

He slipped his sword onto his feet and kicked it up into his hand before turning to the vagrant-

"Woah."

The two men who held the vagrant were laying on the floor with their swords embedded in each other. A third body was on the ground not too far from them, the arm severed from the shoulder. Fayte watched as the vagrant swung his sword and viciously cut down the fifth bandit. When the last bandit realized he was outnumbered, he turned to flee only to run right into Whitesong.

She whinnied at him before proceeding to trample him into the ground.

"Good girl," Fayte said, sheathing his sword as he went over to the bandit. "Now, tell me who sent you?"

The bandit looked from him to the vagrant. He could see that he was surrounded. There was no way out for him. And just as he dropped his bow, the bandit's eyes rolled back and he fell over. Dead.

"Hey." Fayte tapped his face. "Hey, get up. What's wrong?"

The vagrant came over just as the bandit began to foam in the mouth.

"Poison," he said, leaning on his sword. "Seems his boss dun' want him spilling any secrets."

Fayte set the man back down and turned to face the vagrant. "Who are you?"

The vagrant smiled confidently. "I am a Templar of the Eres Star. See the sword?"

Fayte reached for his own sword.

"Alright, alright!" he said. "I'm just a wanderer! I used to be a mercenary, it's how I learn ta fight."

"Is that sword yours?"

"Yes!" the man said. "Used to belong to ma papa and his papa, and his papa as well as-"

"Enough," Fayte said. "It was handed down. I get it."

Papa… He rarely heard that word, in fact, the last time Fayte heard someone use that word was more than six years ago. Back in Zywedior. "So you have the bloodline of the Templars?"

He shrugged. "Dun' know, dun' care. Makes no difference."

Those whose ancestors had been a part of the Templar Order were said to have the bloodline of the Templars. It had been observed that people from these families tend to excel whether physically or magically. If this man had the bloodline of a Templar, then it would explain how he managed to dismember a man with a blunt sword.

The vagrant noticed him looking at the dismembered arm. "I used his sword to do that if you were wondering."

That would make more sense than his blunt blade, Fayte admitted. "What is your name?"

The vagrant scratched his chin. "John. Or was it William? Hmm, Wilson?"

This man is beginning to remind me of Mailer, who was the court jester in Castle Rondiar and perhaps the most irritating person in the whole of Hylan. "Let's go with John, alright?"

John gave it a thought. "Sure!"

The man seemed harmless enough. In fact, once Fayte assured him that he would return his sword when they reached Oaksblade, John had no trouble giving it up. Fayte almost felt bad for lying to the man. They made their way to Oaksblade, Fayte on Whitesong while the man walked beside her.

"You know, we’d be there much sooner if ya just let me ride with ye."

"You're still my prisoner," Fayte reminded him. "Just be glad I didn't have your hands tied again."

John said nothing more until someone approached them. "Hey, look it's the priest!"

Wilson had switched to a fresh horse and was galloping fast down the path. When he saw them, Wilson slowed to a halt next to Fayte where he was punched in the face.

"By the light!" Wilson nearly fell off his horse.

"That's for leaving me," Fayte said.

"They could have hurt Amelia, Fayte!" Wilson yelled back but his temper subsided when he saw that Fayte was barely even mad.

"I know," he said. "It's why I've forgiven you already."

Wilson scoffed. "Great, I think you cracked one of my tooth. We can't heal broken teeth you know?"

Oaksblade town was about twice the size of Ironsville but three times the population. Stepping into the breezy town, it was easy to think that there were a lot more people living here. However most of the people on the streets were just travellers passing through as Oaksblade was a flight hub in this region.

Wide open lands covered with verdant grasses surrounded Oaksblade. The two stables were especially large, housing the many horses that travellers hired after their gryphon ride. Travelling by air was costly because while horses were happy with grass and hay, gryphons needed to be fed with meat. Not to mention that gryphons took much longer to train and were more temperamental.

"The town is as busy as always," Fayte said, following behind a carriage in a line leading into Oaksblade.

Flight hubs were mostly similar in that they were always crowded and filled with inns and taverns. Travellers outnumbered townsmen and pickpockets were aplenty. The wooden houses stood neatly in a row, but the streets were narrower than Rondiar City's making it difficult to get around during the day. Their first stop was to the town watch, a double-storied building with a white shield of the Order hung on the face.

"Fair noon to you, sirs," Fayte greeted the two guards posted outside. They each stood with a pike in their hands. "I'm here to report an ambush about half a league to the north-east. You'll find six bodies there."

"Ambush?" the guard said. "And whose bodies are those?"

"The ambushers," Wilson said, his white robe of the Order of the White Rose made them straightened up when they noticed. "Send people to have their bodies collected and buried. But see if they can be identified first. If they can, send a report by sparrow to the post in Iredis addressed to Wilson of the Sayde family."

Fayte and Wilson had discussed on their way here. Those men were after Fayte specifically, but judging from their skills, they were likely just ordinary mercenaries part of something larger that they weren't aware of. If Fayte had this reported to his father, he would be worrying the man needlessly. Worse, his father might just postpone his entire pilgrimage. They decided to wait until they had more evidence.

"As you say, good priest," the guard told him. "Is he one of the ambusher?"

John shook his head very quickly.

"No, he is a prisoner from Sir Ian in Ironsville," Fayte explained.

"What are his crimes?" a guard asked, gesturing for his partner to seize John.

"Nuisance and possession of a possible stolen weapon." Fayte handed him the sword. "Be mindful, that's a Templar's sword."

The guard was intrigued, resting his pike on his chest before he held up the sword with both hands. "Doesn't look like one."

"You can tell from the craft of the weapon," Fayte told him, though he doubt the guard could see it. Fayte could tell only because he had spent time with the smiths in Ironsville forging swords for many days. "Can you take it from here?"

 "Yeh, we'll hand this to the Captain," the guard said. "Come along now."

John looked to Fayte and gave him his most pitiful frown.

"Don't worry," Fayte told him. "You'll spend a day or two doing some work for someone in the town and then they'll release you. As for your sword, the Captain will send word to Rondiar to see if anyone has reported a missing Templar sword. That might take a few weeks but you must understand, Templar artefacts are rare."

The man sighed. "Ah, alright then. I'll see ye around, boy!"

If Sera intends it, he thought.

The door to the watch swung open from inside and a knight stepped out. The man was in plain clothes but Fayte knew his face having seen him many times before with his father.

"Fair noon to you, Captain Windon," Fayte greeted formally.

"Ah, if it isn't the Lord-Knight's boy," Captain Windon smiled while the two guards were surprised to discover who Fayte was. "The Hero of Hylan!"

I must have a word with Captain Teynier and Sir Percson. "I am no hero, Captain, just a squire."

"A squire who saved Hylan," he said, rubbing his nose when he noticed a scent. "And a squire on his pilgrimage- what is that smell?"

Captain Windon turned and saw where the stench was coming from.

"Hello," John said, grinning.

"Greetings." The Captain turned to his men. "And he is?"

"A troublemaker. For the Captain," the guard said. "Erm, our Captain."

"Well take him in then," he said. "And dump a bucket of water over his head while you're at it."

"Not another one!" John whined as the guard brought him in.

Fayte remembered the recent incident Captain Windon was involved with. "Are you feeling better, Captain?"

The man knew Fayte wasn't referring to his injuries, those were easily healed. No, Fayte was referring to the reason why the Captain was without his armour right now.

"I am well," he said, nodding. "And now I must agree that a week of rest was the wise decision. Your father knew what he was doing when he insisted I took a break. Losing so many men in a single day…" Captain Windon shook his head and smiled widely, forcefully. "I am well."

They parted then with the Captain wishing him a safe journey ahead before lamenting the pile of paperwork he would be returning to on the morrow. Fayte and Wilson made their way through the street slowly, headed towards the Golden Mare Inn where they were supposed to meet with Amelia and the others.

"YOU'RE ALL RIGHT!" Amelia jumped into his arms and hugged him as tightly as she could. "Did they hurt you?"

Fayte laughed, standing up with Amelia in his arms before he made his way to a table by the window. "Hurt me? That would never happen. They were just a bunch of bandits who didn't know who they were dealing with."

Amelia wasn't convinced. There was a time when those words would have had the girl cheering and smiling again. It reminded Fayte that the girl was growing up. It would take more than fairy tales and old legends to convince the girl now.

"Did you kill them?" she asked.

"No," Fayte lied. Amelia was growing up, but some things was still best kept from her. "I had to hurt some of them but I didn't kill them. Your brother came and rescue me just in time."

Amelia turned to her brother who gave her his best smile. "I'm still mad at you for leaving Fayte! Humph!"

She pushed her way out of Fayte's arms and ran to Renee. The girl tried to coax Amelia into speaking with her brother, but she wouldn't and kept asking that they went up to their room. Most wouldn't understand but Fayte knew that Wilson did the right thing. If his sisters were still alive and their positions were swapped, Fayte would have done the exact same thing. When you've lost too much in too short of a time, you end up wanting… needing, to protect what you have left with all you've got. It didn't help that Wilson nearly lost Amelia a few months ago when she was kidnapped by those slavers with the Princess.

Fayte patted him on the back as Renee went up with Amelia.

"I don't blame her," Wilson said, his hair catching the wind the moment they stepped out of the inn. "But I hope one day she'll come to understand why I am so protective."

"She will," Fayte told him. "But you need to understand as well that you can't protect her forever."

Wilson nodded. "I know."

CHAPTER 4

Amelia led the party.

"We're going on a trip! We're going on a trip!" she sang, with Preston barking along. "On a trip to Oaksblade, where there’s strangely no Oaksblade!"

There really weren’t any oaksblade trees in Oaksblade Town.

Fayte was amused by her singing with Preston. Amelia was only seven and to think she had already passed the entrance examinations to join the Order of the White Rose. Most initiates only begin when they were between ten and twelve. Exceptions were made in cases such as Amelia's, whose brother was Hylan's youngest priest, parents were war heroes in the Order, and her current guardian a renowned priestess.

Jayden needed to stock up on supplies so he had his daughter and Lord Jacob's son, Jenson, travel to the town of Oaksblade with them. Jenson drove the wagon pulled by one of Melanie's horses, while the vagrant with the Templar sword rode on the back. Renee rode with Fayte.

"Are you all right?" Fayte asked. "You seem rather quiet."

Renee sat behind him and held his waist. They had known each other for years now though they spoke little to one another. Fayte spent most of his time in Rondiar City with the Order, and his visits to Ironsville were usually short. Renee was a fair girl to look at, the tone of her skin light for she spent most of her days in the tavern. Her hair lay past her shoulder in a braid, brown like the chestnut horse Wilson rode with Amelia.

"Oh, I erm, I was just thinking," she said, her voice soft and shy.

Fayte glanced back. "Thinking about?"

"Erm, Melanie," she said, and the mere mention of the name made Whitesong lift her head higher. "I was just wondering how she was doing."

Melanie was the daughter of Ironsville's stable master. The girl was quite the opposite of Renee who was soft-spoken and demure like a proper lady. Whitesong was trained by her and Fayte had expected to see her at Ironsville.

"I'm sure she is fine," he said. "Melanie can take care of herself."

"Melanie is too rash and loud," Renee said, clearly worried. "She's prone to getting into trouble like that outside of Ironsville. And what if the gryphons hurt her?"

Listening to the girl talk about the world outside of Ironsville made him smile. Renee was a peasant, simply put, and she was one who preferred the safety of Ironsville than the unknown outside her home. The furthest the girl dared travel to was Oaksblade. Not that the girl was to be blamed though. She was raised in her father's tavern and Jayden was a simple man himself who had little desires for adventures.

"Gryphons are much gentler than you imagine," Fayte told her from experience.

"But they are so big and they look so… so clever," Renee said. "Father always says not to go near them when we visit Oaksblade for stocks."

That would have to change soon once Melanie returns to Ironsville. "Trust me, gryphons are noble beasts. I’ve seen one protecting the Princess before. Once Melanie has learned how to care for gryphons, the Administrator of Castle Rondiar will assign a few to Ironsville and you can get to know them yourself."

Ironsville was too secluded for her own good, the King had said and his father agreed. The horde of earth animations that attacked Ironsville could have wiped out the town, and no one would know until the horde moved on to the next settlement. It was why the King had asked that arrangements be made for Ironsville to have its own gryphon hold. Of course, this would mean that someone had to be trained to care for the gryphons and Melanie was the obvious choice.

"I don't know…"

Fayte looked back at her. "Tell you what, after my pilgrimage is over I'll introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Rakhor."

"A gryphon?" Renee was beginning to dislike the idea already. "I don’t…"

"Don't worry," he said, assuring her with a smile. "Just bring some treats with you and you'll become Rakhor's best friend right away. In fact, he might just forget me once he sees the treats you brought for him."

"You really think so?" she asked.

"I really do," Fayte said, glad that he managed to convince her.

Renee really was a fair girl to look at, especially when she smiled. She looked away as if shy when Fayte gazed at her longer than he should.

"Fayte," Wilson called, his tone cautious.

Their party came to a halt with two men standing in their way.

"Good sirs," Wilson said, smiling all so charmingly. "If you would be so kind as step aside and allow us to pass. The noon sun is warm and my sister is fast getting a headache. We wish to reach Oaksblade as soon as-"

Both men drew a short sword from their back.

"Alright then," Wilson said, dismounting before he sent Amelia with Preston and his horse to Jenson. He smiled at the two men. "Tell me then, is this daylight robbery? Because that wagon back there is empty save for a vagrant who had too much to drink too early in the-"

"Quiet, priest," one of the man said, a black head sash tied around his head.

They wore thick leather jerkins and had various trinkets hanging from their necks and clothes. Both men were battle hardened, likely fast as well judging from their lithe builds. The men were searching for someone, eyeing each one of them, but it was a short search.

Both men stared at Fayte.

"Take the reins, Renee," he said, dismounting. "We do not wish for any trouble, sirs. Put away your swords before someone gets hurt. If it is coin you seek then take this and leave."

Fayte pulled out a pouch of coins from Whitesong's saddle back and tossed it to the two men. A common practice that most travellers shared. Better to lose a pouch of coins than your life. One of the men caught it and tied it around his belt. But still they approached him.

Short swords were as named, short, which meant their reach weren't as far as a typical long sword that Fayte used. This however gave them more speed and manoeuvrability like a dagger. If the wielder was quick enough, short swords can be an advantage against long swords, especially knights who tend to move slower with their armour. But these were just two bandits and Fayte was not encumbered by any armour save for his chainmail.

"I am Fayte of the noble Kaywin family," he said as the two men continued their approach. "Son of Frendon Kaywin, Lord-Knight of the Order of the White Shield."

Both men were still approaching.

"Fayte," Wilson said, shaking his head as he summoned his mace with a flash of light.

If these men didn't want coins and they weren't intimidated by who he was, it means this isn't a random attack. Someone was after him.

Fayte drew his sword and-

"Fayte!" Renee called and Preston let out a low growl.

More bandits stepped out from the trees around them. Now there were eight of them in total, surrounding their entire party. This part of the road was supposed to be safe with Hylan soldiers making regular patrols.

They were definitely waiting for me.

Fayte set his sword back into his sheath and held up his hand. "Leave my friends alone. You can have me."

One of the two men turned to look at Wilson. "Priest, take your sister and leave."

Wilson paused for a moment to consider his options. Assure the safety of his sister and leave Fayte and the rest of them to fend for themselves, or risk having Amelia get hurt. The choice was obvious for him.

"Come," Wilson called and his horse trotted over before he mounted it. "May I take the other girl as well?"

"Take them all," the bandit said. "Leave the squire."

"Thank you." Wilson gestured for Renee and Jenson to join him.

They were both hesitant but Fayte would never expect Wilson to even risk putting his sister at harm's way. He smiled at them and assured them that he would be fine. Besides, now that they had left, Fayte could fight without having to worry about them.

He swung out his sword and parried an attack from behind him. With his shield, Fayte jabbed the bandit in the throat, killing him instantly. He spun around and exchanged strikes with another, landing nicks and cuts with his long sword on the bandit before he eventually drove his sword through the man. They were quick but not quick enough to have the upper hand.

The six remaining bandits surrounded him.

"No squire fights like that, this one’s a knight," the one Fayte assumed to be the leader said before he spat on the ground. "We should be paid twice the amount!"

So someone has placed a bounty on my head.

"I am a squire," Fayte said. "You are paid correctly. But I fear for you should you manage to claim this bounty, for I owe the Underlord a debt once I am knighted."

His father had explained that owing the Underlord a debt had its perks. One of which being an unspoken assurance that none of his assassins would come after him. Even if these bandits didn't work for the Underlord, they would surely be wise enough than to kill Fayte now.

"This is bigger than the Underlord," the bandit leader said. "Lay down your weapon, boy, or he gets it."

He? Fayte spun around and was relieved when he saw who it was. "I have no ties with that man."

"What?" The vagrant was stunned. "But I’m your prisoner! You have to save me! Please!"

The vagrant was forced onto his knee with two swords placed beside his neck in a cross. Before they left Ironsville, they had thrown him on the back of the wagon with his sword to make him quiet about it. The bandits must had pulled him out when Jenson drove off.

Still, the man was right. I can't let him die. "I'm just a squire. At least kill me honourably."

"Honour?" The bandit leader spat. "I know a better swordsman when I see one. I'll take dishonour than death. Now drop your sword!"

"Ouch, ouch, hey watch it!" the vagrant complained. "Ye boss din say kill me yet did he?"

Wilson was counting on him to make it out of this alive on his own. He would have to escort the others to Oaksblade first before turning back to aid him. Of course by then it would surely be too late. Fayte was going to have to fight unarmed at this rate.

He dropped his sword.

"Alright," the leader said. "Kill them both."

CHAPTER 3

The whole town had gathered to see him off again.

Tables were set outside the tavern and a feast was prepared for a morning celebration. Lord Jacob and the townsfolk of Ironsville was there to send him off at Zywedior where Fayte began his pilgrimage. But Lord Jacob's wife, Lady Linda, said there was no reason why they could not send him off again with a celebration. They led a peaceful life in Ironsville and sometimes peaceful was just a nicer way of saying boring.

"Some laughter and cheer will do no harm," Lady Linda told him.

So they cheered and laughed, danced and sang, and chattered excitedly about the duel they just witnessed. Everyone agreed that Lord Jacob had put up a good fight. It was Fayte who had surprised them all. Even Wilson had to admit that Fayte's skills had improved tremendously over the past few months.

Fayte could not tell the difference himself, but accepted their praises humbly. In the midst of the celebration he excused himself and went to the town's gate to share some of the food with Martin.

"Ah, breakfast from Jayden?" Martin said, rubbing his hands together as he accepted the plate of meat and skin of juice. "The man’s a fine cook for a tavern keeper I say."

Fayte agreed and he left Martin to enjoy his meal while he went up to Sir Ian. The knight was standing outside the gate alone. His knight's armour was pristine in the morning sun, holding his gauntlet hands behind him as he looked to the distance.

"Sir Ian," Fayte greeted. "Fair morning to you."

"Fair morning to you as well," he said. "I believe we ended things off on an unpleasant note the last time we met."

Indeed. The last time they met, Fayte had just arrived at Ironsville with Emily after she helped the Saldarian Prince escape from Castle Rondiar. Later that night Emily was kidnapped by slavers and Fayte had rashly put the blame on Sir Ian. Alas it was Emily who got herself into trouble, as usual.

"I apologize for speaking out of place," Fayte said and Sir Ian smiled, accepting his apology. "Sir Ian, if I may ask…"

"About what I said early during the duel?" Sir Ian guessed.

He was right.

The knight looked away and stared off to the Green River. "We live in a rather peaceful time even though we are surrounded by dangers. Well, perhaps not surrounded since the Saldarians are our friends now."

Fayte could tell from his tone that Sir Ian hardly believed that.

"That is why most squires and knights rarely see any action until they are older," Sir Ian went on. "It is different to duel with a comrade, even with real swords, when you know that the other party does not mean to kill you. Do you agree?"

I do. Fayte nodded.

"I thought so," the knight said. "It changes you once you've experienced having another man come at you with the intent to take your life. It changes you when you are forced to cut down that very man, even if you do not wish to. Lord Jacob and the others neglected that fact and when I saw that look in your eyes…"

Fayte thought back to the moment before Sir Ian spoke up. What did he see? Confusion? Fear?

The knight looked at him, realizing that Fayte didn't know what he saw. "I saw focus and calm in your eyes. A look that said you were not panicking, though you may be confused. A look that said you were not afraid of death, though you fear what you must do."

And killing Lord Jacob was what I feared at that moment. Sir Ian's words made Fayte wonder, for the knight was rather young himself, yet he spoke with such wisdom.

"Truth be told I may have been too worried," the knight said, smiling again. "The thought may have occurred to you, but I doubt you would ever hurt Lord Jacob just to win this duel."

"I would have let him tear me open than put my sword through him," Fayte said aloud to hear the words himself.

"And I believe you," Sir Ian said. "Well fought, squire. With skills like that I have little doubts the Whiteguards would not accept you. Well hello there, little girl. Tiring out Lord Jacob for Fayte here was a very clever idea."

Amelia hid behind Fayte as she peeked at Sir Ian. "Thank you."

"Did you need something, Amelia?" he asked.

The girl had her hair tied into a ponytail today, with her box of miniature flower collection slung across her chest. She looked at Sir Ian curiously for a moment before she turned to Fayte.

"Will you become taller like Sir Ian once you become a knight?" she asked.

Fayte forced a smile. "Are you saying I'm short?"

The innocent girl nodded with hesitation.

"Alright, let's go find your brother," Fayte said, lifting up her into his arms. "Will you come join us, Sir Ian?"

The knight shook his head.

"But Lord Jacob is asking for you," Amelia told him. "I was told to come look for you. There's a rowdy stranger at the tavern and he won't pay for his meal. Uncle Jayden is really mad at him."

They returned to the tavern to find the celebration died down. A few of the men had surrounded a guy laying on the ground. Jayden was standing by his head with his arms crossed.

"What happened?" Fayte asked as Amelia squirmed out of his arms.

"Drunk customer who can't pay for his meal," Wilson said with a shrug. "Nothing new. Until he pulled out a sword."

That was when Fayte noticed a red fire glyph underneath the drunk man. Just a few steps away he saw a mage dressed in a simple tunic and pants. The young man had his right hand held out as he stared intently at the drunk man. Normally mages wore their robes so Fayte wasn't surprised that he missed him.

"No wonder Randon is nervous," Fayte said, watching Sir Ian approach the drunk man.

Randon was from Ironsville but he was young and timid by nature. That wasn't to say that Randon had no place being in the Order of the Elements. Magic was not used for combat only. And in a town of iron smiths, one who could wield fire would surely come in handy.

"Randon, you can relax now," Wilson said.

The mage glanced at him and saw Sir Ian approaching. He curled his fingers back and slowly lowered his hand, causing the fire glyph to disappear. He sighed a breath of relief and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Fayte and Wilson went in for a closer look.

"Oooohhh! Hello shiny man!" the drunkard said, rolling on the ground.

Jayden shook his head. "That's it, I am never allowing travellers into my tavern anymore."

"Then we may as well shut our gate to all outsiders," Lord Jacob said. "Don't worry, Jayden, I'm sure Sir Ian will sort this out for us. Jenson, show Sir Ian the sword."

Lord Jacob's younger son stepped forward and held out an oddly familiar sword to Sir Ian. Fayte swore he had seen that sword somewhere before. However it was not for the same reason why Sir Ian recognized it. Definitely not, because Sir Ian drew his sword.

"Good priest," the knight called. "If you would be so kind as to lend a spell to make him sober."

"Don't bother," Jayden said. "Sweetheart?"

Fayte watched as a girl his age walked over with a bucket of water.

And emptied it over the man.

"I'M DROWNING!" he screamed. "AHHH, SAVE ME! I'M DROWNING! I'M- Ooohhh pointy!"

Sir Ian held his blade to the man. "Who did you steal this sword from, vagrant?"

Fayte stared at the man and he swore he had seen that long and sickly thin face somewhere before.

"Sword?" the man said, lost, until he saw the old sword Sir Ian was holding in his other hand. "Ma sword… Give me ma sword-"

"I remember you now!" Fayte exclaimed. "You were there at Eres Star City! I sat next to you in the tavern and later that day you were attacked by those false knights!"

The man tilted his head as he stared at Fayte. "Hey! Ye that dumb squire who pretended to be a knight but got caught! Ye not too bright aren't cha?"

Fayte nearly went over and kick him in the face. "Why are you here in Ironsville?"

"Do you know him?" Sir Ian asked.

"We've met before but I know not his name nor origin."

The knight turned back to the man and sheathed his own sword. "This sword, did he have it with him when you met him at Eres Star City?"

"That's mine!" the man said but was promptly ignored.

Fayte nodded. "The false knights were going to imprison him for carrying it out in the open."

"Hmm," Sir Ian went, thinking. "Still, I can hardly believe that this sword belongs to him."

"But it's mine…" the man whined.

Wilson stepped forward. "Why so?"

"It's a Templar's sword," Lord Jacob said. "No way a vagrant like him could own one."

"A slim possibility," Sir Ian said. "Likely this was stolen from one of the families with a bloodline of the Templars. It may be old but I can't imagine anyone throwing this out."

The weapon was rusty and badly corroded. Fayte had seen Templar swords. The most prominent distinction that set them apart from a knight's sword was that they were made from Eresteel. A rare metal found deep within Mount Erestor. Templar swords were usually more elaborate as well, with black leather handles that were sometimes bounded with silver wire. This old thing Sir Ian was holding now looked more like a mercenary's sword than a Templar's blade, but Fayte could see it now after examining it. The weapon was old and corroded, but he could see the work of a master smith in the joints and how the rust were largely isolated around the crossguard. If this sword was sharpened it could still be used as a lethal weapon.

Jayden was eyeing the Templar sword now. "I'll gladly take that sword as payment for his drinks and lodging." Then he turned to Lord Jacob. "I'll sell it to you just enough to cover his bill."

Lord Jacob raised a thumb. "Deal."

"No deal," Sir Ian said. "I am confiscating this weapon on behalf of the Order."

Both men started grumbling but they knew it would never happen.

"But that's ma sword!" the man said, then he started kicking his leg and spun on the ground in circles. "It's ma sword! It's mine! It's mine! It's mine- OUCH!"

The man sat up and looked at Amelia. Lady Linda hurried over and carried the girl away, tossing away the stick that Amelia used to hit him on the head.

"Aunt Silvia says we shouldn't be spoiled children and cry when we're punished," Amelia told him.

Wilson beamed and gave Fate a nudge. "See that? That's my sister."

"Lady Sera eats children who are naughty and spoiled," Amelia added.

"Best have a word with your sister about that," Fayte told Wilson with a nudge in return.

Sir Ian shook his head at the vagrant. "Fayte, I assume you are headed for Oaksblade from here?"

"Aye." Fayte answered. "Just have him bounded and I'll take him there for you."

CHAPTER 2

The Green River ran underneath the bridge as they rode across it.

They could see smoke trailing into the air in the distance. Ironsville, the town of iron smiths. Neither Fayte nor Wilson were born in this town, but this was the closest place to home for the both of them now. Daylight poured across the land as the sun made her slow ascend. Fayte had put on his chainmail but not because Jeremiah caught him off guard again. No, he put it on for he was riding to a fight.

Fayte pulled on his leather glove and took out his helm from Whitesong's saddlebag.

"Don't worry," Wilson said, riding next to him. "You'll beat him this time."

They came to a stop outside the town where the townsfolk had already gathered. Ironsville had watchers placed along the path leading to the town. No doubt they were informed of their coming.

"Halt!" a man called, his head wrapped with a thick leather cap, and his body armoured with more boiled leather. This was a town of iron smiths, but a suit of iron was too heavy for his style of fighting. "Dismount and name ye-self."

Fayte did as he was told, getting off from Whitesong before he approached the man. He left a good five yards in between them.

"Fayte of the noble Kaywin family," he declared. "I am on my knight's pilgrimage and I seek shelter in your town."

"Denied," the man said, holding up his hand as a brawny blacksmith handed him a sword.

The sword was large and forged to be wielded with two hands, though forged would be an inaccurate word to describe its making. This sword was made with steel wires bound and twisted with more wires, forming a blunt edge and the crossguard, while its handle was made out of an iron pipe. It was a mess of a sword but Fayte had never once best it.

"If ye want to enter our town, then ye must first defeat me in combat," the man said, raising his sword.

Fayte wrapped his fingers around the hilt of his sword and drew it. Amber rays scattered around his feet as the sun hit the face of his sword. The townsfolk were quiet. Only the rustle of the wind could be heard. No smiths were hammering now for they were all here to watch. This was the tradition in Ironsville for their squires to return and challenge this blade of wires. It was a very solemn event.

"Go Fayte!" a little girl yelled and jumped. "Uncle Jacob is old! You can beat him!"

Behind him, Wilson was stifling his laughter while Fayte could see an old lady shushing Wilson's little sister, Amelia.

Lord Jacob is old, Fayte agreed. But his strength has not aged. His stamina however…

The humble magister of Ironsville took a step forward. "Begin."

With his blade of wires, he surged at Fayte and wailed on him, slamming on his shield over and over in a frenzy of attacks. Fayte was caught off guard by the sheer intensity of his blows. Lord Jacob is not holding back at all! Never had Fayte felt such ferocity in his attacks from their duels in the past. In fact, Fayte found himself knocked to the ground and for a terrible moment, thought he had lost. Lord Jacob raised his sword and swung it down. Normally he would stop at the last moment, but on this day Fayte felt an intent he never once sensed in their past duel.

Fayte rolled aside as the blade of wires stabbed into the ground.

He looked to the townsfolk, and saw that the older men were clearly amused to see how shocked Fayte was. This was why they were so solemn. This was why the event had to be quiet. Lord Jacob had to get himself into the right frame of mind to make this duel real.

Real like it was life and death.

Fayte grinned at them in return. I have faced a horde of ghouls and creatures risen from the earth. He raised his shield as Lord Jacob landed his sword on him. I have face an ancient demon larger than a castle. The clang of steel would ring in his ears if Fayte hadn't stuffed it with candle wax earlier. He rolled aside when Lord Jacob raised his sword again and jumped onto his feet. I have slain men before.

"You can't scare me so easily," he said.

The townsfolks lost their smiles but underneath the gap of Lord Jacob's leather cap, Fayte saw a grin.

Fayte dove in and went on the offensive, striking at Lord Jacob and forcing him to turn his weapon into a shield. Every time he blocked, Fayte would swing his shield and try to catch his arm, but Lord Jacob was fast and he would dodge or jump away. The man had once told him to control his shield and not let it control him. Fayte had trained long and hard with his shield since. He had built up his strength and now his shield, like his sword, was an extension of his body.

Lord Jacob threw a wild slash and force Fayte to jump away.

"Now…" he said, panting hard. "Now you're finally fighting like a knight."

Fayte allowed himself to enjoy the praise for just a moment before he swooped in with his sword again. His relentless blows wore on Lord Jacob quickly. The man was strong but his stamina had withered over the years. While Fayte had never seen another squire challenge Lord Jacob, he suspected that most would fall within the first minute of the duel. That was when Lord Jacob unleashed all his strength in a sudden burst of attack.

Withstand that and the match is mine.

"Yield," Fayte said, the tip of his sword held to Lord Jacob's face while the blade of wires lay out of reach on the ground beside them.

Lord Jacob and Fayte were both drenched with sweat. The match was his but the reaction was much quieter than what Fayte had expected. He saw Wilson approach and touched Lord Jacob on the shoulder. Light radiated from Wilson's hand. In just a few moments, Lord Jacob was healed and his energy revitalized while someone handed him his sword again.

"I won," Fayte said. "Right…?"

"No," was all Lord Jacob said.

The blade of wires scratched him on the cheek when Lord Jacob swung it all of a sudden. A moment slower and Fayte would have had his face cut open. Now he was confused. He had clearly won the match. But the way Wilson came forward and heal him while Lord Jacob was handed his sword back, it was like this was planned.

He raised his now dented shield and focused on defending himself.

If winning this duel by disarming him isn't the way. Fayte ducked a slash and answered with his own, only to take a knee in the face from Lord Jacob. Then what? Am I supposed to kill him?

"This is not a duel to the death," someone said, and Fayte stole a glance to see a knight standing next to Wilson behind him.

"Quiet!" Lord Jacob yelled, holding off to catch his breath. "Do not interfere, Sir Ian."

Fayte was worn out as well and he wasn't healed when the match was restarted earlier.

"My lord, this is a squire who has seen more than most of the younger knights in the Order," Sir Ian said, the knight who had been assigned to help guard Ironsville back when the horde first attacked. Fayte did not expect him to still be stationed here. "You fight like you wish to kill him while he holds back. I assure you that will soon change had I remained hush. And this test will quickly become a tragedy."

It sounded as though Sir Ian was saying that Fayte would kill Lord Jacob. Nonsense, I could never best Lord Jacob in a true fight let alone kill him…

And that was when Fayte looked at Lord Jacob again and remembered that the man was fighting with all his strength. This was unlike their past duel. Lord Jacob was attacking him like he was a real enemy. Yet Fayte had managed to disarm him and defeat him cleanly once. It occurred to Fayte now that he had improved much more than he realized. So much that he had surpassed Lord Jacob.

Suddenly, Sir Ian's words shook him and Fayte felt his arms going weak. I was going to kill Lord Jacob?

"Calm yourself, Fayte," the knight said as if reading his mind. "Now if I understand the point of this duel well enough, I believe Fayte has won."

"What?" Lord Jacob pulled off his leather cap. "Nonsense!"

Wilson laughed. "Raise your sword, Lord Jacob."

The man took the handle of his sword with both hands and heaved.

He could barely hold it up. "You didn't heal me properly!"

"I did, Lord Jacob," Wilson assured him.

"Well then I'm just a little tired," he said, waving him off. "Give me a minute to catch my breath, Fayte."

Some of the men in the crowd started laughing, one of them even said, "Give it up, Lord Jacob. You lost! Look at Fayte's shield. He passed the test."

Fayte looked down at his shield. It was a dented piece of steel and there were even holes in it now. Bits had fallen off and Fayte found his arm caught in the straps. The shield was so severely dented that it was keeping him from taking it off.

"I am tired and very confused," Fayte conceded. "Someone please explain what is happening."

That was when Aunt Silvia stepped forward, holding Amelia's hand while the other clutched tightly on a short walking stick. The old lady let go of Amelia and the girl ran up to Wilson and Preston. With a wave of her stick, light poured into the both of them and Fayte felt his energy returning. The cut on his cheek and the bruises on his limbs faded away.

"The match was restarted because you won the match offensively," Aunt Silvia said. "The point of this duel is to remind you that you are on a journey to become a knight of Hylan."

"A knight of the Order of the White Shield," Sir Ian added.

Now Fayte understood. "I was supposed to win by wearing Lord Jacob out, until he could no longer fight."

To that, Aunt Silvia nodded along with many of the townsfolk. "But that was assuming you could not defeat him. None of the squires in the past could. It was up to them to realize that the only way they could win was to rely on their shield. To defend and guard and protect, to stand unwavering against the enemy, yada yada yada. I believe those are the words of your oath?"

Fayte nodded, they were something like that.

"Clearly he's too old to be conducting the test now," Aunt Silvia added.

"Pah! I'm not too old," Lord Jacob said. "It's them children playing with me and making me run about before Fayte arrived."

Fayte turned and looked at Amelia.

"We wanted you to win," the girl said shyly, hugging Preston.

"Thank you," Fayte said, touched by her ingenious plan to help him.

"Excuses. I healed you before you went out remember?" Aunt Silvia shot back. "Just hurry up and declare him the winner, you old furnace."

Lord Jacob grumbled bitterly as he walked up to Fayte. "Ah well, she's right."

He grinned at Fayte and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Congratulations, Fayte," said Lord Jacob. "Ye finally beat me!"

CHAPTER 1

Violet hues swirled across the sky with golden rays lancing from the rising sun.

The abandoned village was eerie and unsettling. Not a single home had its roof still. The stone walls were worn over the centuries, now short like stumps of tree and hardly resembled walls. What wood that were used here had long decayed and returned to nature.

Fayte ran his hand down the back of Whitesong's head, calming the girl as they rode through. This was the first stop of his pilgrimage and judging from the tracks on the soil beneath them, other squires had recently come and gone.

"The King should have this place rebuilt," Fayte said, dressed in linen and leather with a cloak thrown over his shoulder.

His black hair was short, the ends running past the top of his ears. The purple sky reflected in his eyes as the unsettling village kept him alert.

"No," said Wilson, the youngest priest in Hylan properly dressed in his white robe. "This village remains the way it is to remind us always of how terrible a time Hylan was when the Great Evil was upon us."

Before the rule of the royal Whiteart family, Hylan was torn by civil war with numerous Kings laying claim to the land of Hylan. Then came the Great Evil which tore across Hylan, leaving only death and destruction in its wake. No army could withstand it, not even the might of combined armies. Faced with an impending doom, the Templar Order sacrificed itself to summon Hylan's last hope with the aid of the Chosen Herald.

"And this is the Temple of the Heralds," Fayte said, arriving at their destination.

It was more a ruin than a temple. The walls stood but half its height were destroyed and more had weathered away over the centuries. If the temple still stood then it would be a small one. Historians had written that the temple housed less than fifty heralds, their purpose in Hylan was negligible until the summoning of the nine heroes. Hylan's last hope.

The nine heroes defeated the Great Evil and brought Hylan under the rule of the royal Whiteart family. An era of peace followed for centuries until the darkness in the south appeared.

The darkness that had a hand in stealing Emily from him.

"Fayte," Wilson said from atop the stairs, the wind sweeping across his golden hair. "Come on."

Fayte got off his horse. "Wait here for me."

Whitesong nuzzled him before she went aside to graze.

He ascended the narrow steps carefully, his sword clinking against his leg guards and his shield strapped to his back underneath his cloak. A low cry drew his attention to the sky as a white dragon swooped down and grabbed onto Wilson's head. His friend nearly lost his balance and topple over.

Preston barked at him to hurry.

Together they approached what should be the entrance of the temple. There was barely any vegetation here, neither grass nor tree. There was a scent of smoke as though something was burning, but there were no embers or any signs of flame around them. It was a painful sight for Fayte, one that resembled too much like his own home in Zywedior.

"The Temple of the Heralds was destroyed by the Great Evil," Wilson said, holding up his hand when Fayte was about to continue further in. "Thankfully the Chosen Herald managed to escape."

A small section of the temple's entrance remained, a doorway with a stone arch about two maybe two and a half storey high. The archway was where all the tracks ended. The interior of the temple was too dangerous to be exploring in.

"The heralds saw the Great Evil coming," Wilson went on, sharing the history of their kingdom. "Soldiers tried to make them leave, to run, but the heralds refused as did the villagers."

"For we should stand against evil and not flee from the sight of it," Fayte said, recalling his history lessons.

Wilson nodded. "Personally, I think they took it a little too far, as did the Templars. Two sacred Orders wiped out in the span of days. But those were dark days and I am not one wise enough to judge them."

Live and fight another day. Wilson lost his parents in the War of Darkness and Light. From what Fayte had heard, his parents could have fled but they chose to stay and stand against the darkness. It was an honourable death, but Wilson would sooner take the label of cowardice than two dead parents. An irony, for Wilson refused to speak to his aunt because the woman chose to flee than stand with his parents.

"As a knight of the White Shield, you are the shield of Hylan, the protector of the weak, defender of the helpless," Wilson said, these words he read from a little book he received from the Order of the White Shield. "Just as a knight would not lower his shield to let himself be cut, Hylan will not lower her shield to allow herself to be injured. You are the shield of Hylan and so it is your duty to protect her."

"Aye," Fayte said, his eyes set to the sky. A duty I failed when the Saldarians took my mother and sisters from me.

"Aye," said another voice from behind them.

Wilson smiled at the two newcomers. "Joanne, your beauty is a ray of sunlight in this forsaken place."

The older priestess smiled but shook her head. "Always with the charms, Wilson."

"Greetings to you, good priest," said the other squire. "And to you, child of Sera."

Preston flew over to the squire and perched on his shoulder, greeting him in return with a warm snarl.

Fayte went over and clasped hands with his friend. "Jeremiah."

"Fayte."

"And how are you, young squire?" Priestess Joanne asked. "I do hope you remember me."

Fayte could not recall all of the priestesses he had spoken to over the past few months, save for one a little longer back. "You are the priestess who healed me on the day of my tournament. After the horde of earth animations attacked us."

Priestess Joanne smiled. "I am glad you remember still."

"Thank you for your aid, my lady," he said, remembering how he had lost consciousness and woke in her arms with her energy pouring into him.

"Joanne is a member of the noble Vladertz family," Wilson said. "I am unclear regarding how the two of you are related though."

And here I thought Vladertz were only good with swords.

"Jeremiah is my nephew," Joanne said, looking at Jeremiah who was slowly leaning away. Her hand shot out and she started rubbing his head, messing up his hair. "My sweet little adorable nephew who is about to become a knight!"

They laughed as Jeremiah fought to get his aunt away. The two of them looked more like cousins than aunt and nephew, but Fayte knew that followers of the White Rose were able to maintain their youth longer than most. Wilson guessed it was because of the holy energy that they channel through their body so often. Others claimed that the followers had their own fountain of youth within Grand-Rosia.

If Fayte had to guess, Joanne may looked like she was in her late twenties, but she would most likely be in her mid-thirties now. He judged from the size of her dragon, twice the length of Preston and now flying above them. To be the companion of a white dragon was proof that Joanne was no ordinary priestess. Only few followers of the White Rose would have the miracle of a dragon egg hatching for them. But now as Fayte watched Preston get distracted by Jeremiah's long tied up hair, he was beginning to wonder if miracle was the most appropriate word.

"Preston, please stop chewing on my friend's hair," Fayte said.

They left the temple after a silent prayer and rode out of the village.

"I am headed straight to Iredis from here," Jeremiah said, a glint of chainmail escaped from underneath his shirt. "From there I head home before making my way to Eres Star City."

Every squire would plot a different journey for their pilgrimage. Most would choose to begin at where they were born, while others chose to start from Rondiar as Jeremiah did for the capital city was also where their journey would end. From there on each individual squire would visit places of interests or importance to them, including common ancient sites such as the Temple of the Heralds and the Temple of the Eres Star. A squire may choose to spend however long he wishes on his pilgrimage, but most would finish in around a moon turn's time.

"I ride for Ironsville from here," Fayte said. "From there I leave for Oaksblade where I will hire a gryphon to Iredis."

Jeremiah's mount shifted about as he thought. "Eres Star after Iredis?"

Fayte nodded. "Perhaps we will meet again there."

"I hope so," Jeremiah said. "The journey to the temple up Mount Erestor is harsh and brutal. It would be like old times during our earliest days as squires if we could make the journey together."

Oh the horrific memories of them going through insanely intense trainings back then. Fayte shuddered.

"Old times indeed," Fayte said.

Once more they clasped hands.

"If we do not meet, pay a visit to Captain Resfield when you are at the city," Jeremiah told him.

"Of course," Fayte said, recalling the time he fought alongside the Captain to save Emily... and the Prince. "Stay safe, my friend."

"You as well," Jeremiah said, before a dagger appeared in his hand and he prodded Fayte gently on the heart. "Now stop being lazy and put on your chainmail."

Fayte rolled his eyes.

It was the same dagger Jeremiah used to force a draw during their duel in the tournament.

Prologue

The toughest part of his journey was over.

The books were stacked taller than his head in his arms and a bundle of scrolls were tied to his back. It would take all afternoon to move them from the library to the Lord-Knight's office. If he did it in one trip, he would have all afternoon to practice with his sword instead.

Stepping off the grand stairs of the castle, he paused for a breath and smiled, for the remainder of his journey was just a straight walk and a turn. Balancing the books were easy. Bearing their weight was what troubled him, but once he was a squire he would have to train with much heavier equipment. This was good for him. It is never too early to start training.

Even if Fayte was only just a page now.

He slowed down as he made the turn. If the books weren't blocking his view, Fayte would be able to see the door to the Lord-Knight's office now. And he would also be able to see the girl running around the corner. They crashed into one another and the entire stack of books came tumbling onto him.

"Ow…" said the girl. "What happened?"

Fayte sat up and rubbed his forehead where the books hit him. By the light, I was almost there!

"Didn’t you see where you were going?" he said, before he saw who it was on the ground with him.

Oh great.

"You came from nowhere!" the Princess said, dressed in a yellow gown but with riding boots tied around her feet. "I didn't see you coming around the corner!"

A pair of white metal boots stepped behind the Princess.

"Now do you see why you were told not to run in the hallway, my Princess?" the Whiteguard said.

"Who are you?" he asked.

The Princess glared at him. "I am Princess Emily of the Royal Whiteart family! How could you not-"

"I wasn't asking you, Princess," Fayte said, irritated by her loud and squealing voice. "I was asking him."

The Whiteguard smiled at him like there was nothing in the world that could bother him. "I am Sir Percson of the Noble Kayme family. Pleased to meet you. Now, on your feet, my Princess. Up you go."

He lifted the Princess up onto her feet.

"Sir Percson just joined the Whiteguards," the Princess said in a royally proud and Princess-like tone. "From this day forth, he is my eternal protector and personal knight!"

"I guard all members of the royal family, my Princess. Not just you."

"But father says you are to protect me!" Princess Emily said, turning around to look up at the tall knight. "You have to protect me! Especially from stupid boys like him!"

Fayte pushed himself to his feet. "I am no stupid boy!"

"You walk without being able to see and you lack manners when speaking to the Princess of Hylan," the Princess said, crossing her arms again. "Boys like that are called stupid!"

Fayte had met girls like her before back in Zywedior. They were nothing like his sister even if she was an irritating snot. At least she wasn't rude and dumb. The Princess was behaving just like the girls from the rich merchant families.

"My mother says you shouldn't call others stupid," Fayte told her. "It's mean and unkind!"

"Are you calling me unkind?" the Princess was shocked.

"I am!" he said. "Hylan will be doomed when you become Queen! You are unkind and you behave like a spoiled child! "

The Princess's eyes suddenly got teary. "I AM NOT SPOILED!"

She started crying.

The Whiteguard sighed and knelt on the ground to comfort her. Fayte mumbled sorely as he gathered up his books and counted the scrolls behind him. After he was done stacking the books again, he noticed the Princess was still in tears. He started feeling bad about it.

"Hey," he called. "Stop being such a baby."

That made her cried even harder. The Princess had her face pressed against Sir Percson's chestplate now.

"Perhaps you should apologize," the Whiteguard suggested. "It would not do for a young page to upset the Princess."

The Princess is such a baby, he thought, digging into his pocket. "Here. I'm sorry."

Sir Percson smiled and nudged the Princess to make her look. Her eyes were red and teary when she turned around. But the sparkly object on his hand caught her attention.

"What's that?"

Fayte clasped his fingers around it and squeezed. When he felt the little object in his palm heating up, he uncurled his fingers and what the Princess saw made her hurry over to get a closer look. Her mouth hung open and her eyes were wide with wonder as she looked at it.

"It's a lumastone ring," he said. "You can have it if you stop being such a-"

Sir Percson was shaking his head.

Fayte bit his lip. "You can have it if you stop crying."

Princess Emily looked from the stone and then to him.

"Really?" she asked. "I can have it?"

No. "Yes."

She hesitated, turning to Sir Percson who nodded at her before she carefully picked it up.

"Now what do we say when we receive a gift?" Sir Percson reminded her.

"Thank you," the Princess said, her eyes fixed on the stone as she shook it curiously.

Fayte turned when he heard someone coming over.

"Well now, what do we have here?"

When the Princess saw who it was, she ran up to him and started jumping up and down while holding up the lumastone ring.

"Look, Uncle Frendon, look! That page there gave it to me! It's a lumastone ring! Isn’t it pretty?"

"Wow, that's a really pretty ring," he said, bending over so that the Princess could stop jumping and show it to him. "Now why would that page give you this ring that I so clearly remember was meant for his little sister?"

Because the Princess is a spoiled cry baby.

"I'll get another for Priscilla, father," Fayte said, lifting the tall stack of books again. Do I even have enough coins?

"Father?" the Princess said. "That page is your son?"

"Why yes, my Princess," his father said. "He is here for a short visit. Do you think you can show him around the castle once he's done delivering those books to the Lord-Knight?"

"Father, I don’t want to be-"

The next thing he knew, Fayte was on the ground again with books falling all over him.

"Why'd you do that for?" he yelled, sprawled on the carpet with the Princess next to him.

The Princess giggled and started picking up the books. "Come on, I'll help you! Then you can come play with me!"

Fayte snatched one of the books from her. "I don't want to play with you! Father!"

"Play with the Princess," he said, standing next to Sir Percson now. His father's armour looked dull next to the Whiteguard's. "The old man has enough pages to serve him."

"But Lord Iyden said I could train with his greatson once I finish moving the books over!"

That gave his father an idea. "Perhaps Jeremiah could join you and play with the Princess as well. Would you like that, my Princess?"

Surprisingly, the Princess gave his father a bewildered look. "Who’s Jeremiah? No! I just want to play with Fayte."

She hugged him and for a spoiled cry baby, the Princess was quite strong.

"Let go of me!" he said, trying to push her away but it was hopeless. "Fine, fine! You can help and I'll play with you, but only if you stop-"

"YAY!" The Princess let go of him and went to gather the books and scrolls. "Oh wait, I don't even know your name."

He looked at her, at the Princess who was so eager to play with him that she didn't even care about her hair and dress being in a mess.

"I'm Fayte of the Kaywin family," he told her. "And one day when I'm big enough, I'm going to be a knight of the Order of the White Shield just like my father."

At that moment the Princess's eyes lit up. She dropped everything in her hands before grabbing him into a hug again. This time she didn't squeeze him really hard so Fayte just stood there and waited. The Princess was oddly silent though. After she released him, she looked at him and smiled while holding his hands.

"I'm Emily," she said. "And from this day forth, you shall be my best friend!"

What? No!

And though Sir Percson said it very softly, Fayte could hear, "It seems the Grace of Hylan has finally made a friend."

The Story Thus Far

For those of you who have waited long for this book, here is a brief summary to refresh your memory of what you read in A Squire's Quest. The following is a list of details important to A Knight's Pilgrimage.

1.       The series is set in the kingdom of Hylan, ruled by King Eardon of the royal Whiteart family who resides in Castle Rondiar in the capital city of Rondiar. To the west of Hylan is the desert nation of Saldara, ruled by Emperor Ringor La'ou, and to the north immediately beyond the Northern Gate is the East Kingdom.

2.       Hylan is defended by the three Orders of Rondiar: The Order of the White Shield, The Order of the Elements, and The Order of the White Rose.

3.       Fayte Kaywin, the protagonist of this series, is a squire in the Order of the White Shield. He is the son of Lord-Knight Frendon Kaywin. His mother was murdered when their home in the city of Zywedior was attacked by the Saldarians during the War of Darkness of Light. He has two younger sisters whose graves are placed beside their mother.

4.       Emily Whiteart, Princess of Hylan, is a close friend to Fayte Kaywin. She seeks to make peace between her kingdom of Hylan and the enemy kingdom of Saldara, and bolster Hylan's defences against the Black City through an alliance with Saldara.

5.       Wilson Sayde, a Priest from the Order of the White Rose, and his white dragon, Preston, are both close friends to Fayte Kaywin. Wilson has a younger sister, Amelia, who he loves deeply. Their parents were both heroes who gave their lives in the War of Darkness and Light.

6.       Rinmar La'ou, Crown Prince of Saldara, seeks to make peace with Hylan. Saldara is torn by civil war and famine. Only with aid from Hylan will his nation be able to survive. He sacrificed himself to save Emily and in the process earned the King's trust, though his life was spared in the end thanks to High Sage Kestel for discovering a banishing spell against the demon.

7.       In A Squire's Quest, Fayte unknowingly found himself on a quest to rescue his best friend, Princess Emily Whiteart, when the Prince of Saldara appeared in Hylan to propose peace between the two nations. Fayte's journey took him across Hylan battling slavers, earth animations, and elite Saldarian warriors known as Scygards.

8.       His quest took him to many places: Ironsville, a small village of iron smiths; Redpath, a town of mercenaries ruled by the guild Eronaxe; Harvesria, the town of harvest and main supplier of crops for the kingdom; and Eres Star City, where Captain Resfield resides.

9.       The events culminated to a massive battle between Lord-Knight Frendon and the Saldarian demon, Ra'gelor (previously Phtor'kiel). Supported by members of High Command from the Orders of Rondiar, and a blade imbued by blood magic with the blood of Kamille, Rinmar's half-sister, the Lord-Knight successfully defeated the demon and weakened it enough to be imprisoned with magic.

10.   When Fayte was finally able to reunite with Emily, he found her in the arms of the Saldarian Prince instead. Soon after that Emily announced that she would be marrying Rinmar, and both Hylan and Saldara would join in peace as well. Unable to see the girl he loved join hands with the Prince of the nation who murdered his family, Fayte focused on his next journey and set off on his knight's pilgrimage.