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