CHAPTER 20

Unfortunately only one royal family was recognized in Hylan.

The Sky-Commander had no choice but to have them sent to a prison cell, following accusations that they had ridden their gryphons to death. The words of his men against theirs and Fayte understood that Commander Darius needed to demonstrate loyalty to his men in this case. Fortunately word seemed to spread quickly and barely an hour after the cell door was shut, it swung open again.

"Good priest, forgive me for my tardiness. I should have been here sooner to prevent this disrespect."

"Worry not, sir knight," Wilson said, dusting his robe as he got up from the floor. "And to whom do I owe this rescue?"

The knight came to attention. "I am Captain Landon of the noble Netis family, knight of the Order of the White Shield."

Netis… I've heard that name before… but where?

"Captain Landon." Wilson shook his hand. "You are younger than I expected."

Indeed, for the man looked no older than thirty. His hair was black with streaks of brown from dyes. His complexion fair and his eyes gleamed with energy. The eyes were what set him apart from the other Captains Fayte had met. Captain Teynier and Captain Resfield both had energy in their eyes still of course, but you could also see the weariness of age within them. Not for Captain Landon though. Fayte did not recall anything of significance about this man. Even so, to be promoted to the rank of Captain at such a young age, and on top of that assigned to Gwedoniar City, there was definitely something more to this man.

The Captain was embarrassed. "Thirty-one is hardly young I think, good priest."

"Young for a Captain and please, call me Wilson," he said, turning to gesture at Fayte. "I believe you know my ward."

"Squire Fayte." The Captain hurried forward and shook his hand eagerly with a warm smile. "It is an honour."

Now Fayte was embarrassed. "I uh… thank you, Captain?"

"I hear that Teynier told a marvellous story of your adventure rescuing the Princess," the Captain went on, still clutching his hand. "You must tell me more when we find the time."

"I'm John if anyone cares."

The Captain laughed. "Apologies, friend, pleased to meet you."

John grinned as they shook hands.

"John is an acquaintance following us on our journey," Wilson explained.

"Ah! Your pilgrimage," the Captain said. "How fares it if I may ask?"

A man outside the cell cleared his throat. "Captain…"

"Oh my, of course, Commander," the Captain said, waving for them to leave the cell. "This is hardly the time or place for chat. Commander Darius and I must see to certain issues pertaining your arrest. Your imprisonment will be seen as a slight to the Order of the White Rose and the Order of the White Shield. Both the Commander and I wish not for any dispute to rise out of this matter."

"As do we," Wilson agreed, assuring the Captain.

"These soldiers here will escort you to the White Shield tower," Commander Darius said, gesturing at two soldiers from the Order. "If all goes well tonight, perhaps we can avoid a trial tomorrow for your alleged crime."

"You believe us then?" Fayte asked.

The Commander scoffed. "Gryphons will sooner drop you than allow themselves to be ridden to their graves. Yes, and I have heard of the incident with that boy from the Vladertz family. I do not doubt that this is another attempt on a squire's life. A pity that two of our friends have to fall because of this. Now the assassin has made an enemy of Gwedoniar City as well."

"I have assigned one of my knights to guard you, Lady Peila," Captain Landon said. "There will be others off-duty and resting in the tower as well, so be assured that you are safe for the night."

Fayte glanced at the Sky-Commander.

"Worry not, I do not take offense," the Gwedonian knight said. "That is just the way it is here in our fair city."

They went their separate ways. The three of them were led through narrow corridors and down steep stairways spiralling down. There were the odd lumastones embedded on the wall every now and then, but for the most part their journey would be in dark if not for the torches the soldiers held. Wilson even had to summon a sphere of light when one of the torches went out. When they crossed bridges connecting one tower to the other, the cold night wind swept their hair aside. It was both refreshing and intimidating, for the landscape beyond was dark and Fayte could hear from the wind how far a drop it was if they fell.

"Netis," Fayte said as they entered another corridor. "Does the name mean anything to you?"

"If not the name of his family, surely the man's own name rings a bell?" Wilson said. "No? Goodness. Landon of the noble Netis family, brother to Langton of the noble Netis family. As in Administrator Langton."

"Ah…" That explained much of the Captain's behaviour. "They seem to both be gentle men."

"It's not a sharp sword that ye need here," John chipped in from behind. "It's a sharp tongue."

Wilson was nodding at the front. "The Netis family is renowned for their intellect. I am not entirely surprised to find him here. Gwedoniar City and Rondiar have always had a tensed relationship. Having your usual Captain here would be a harm to both the Captain and the uneasy peace kept in this city. No, your father needed someone of wits and intellect to hold this post. Captain Landon seemed very much appropriate for the task."

Sounds like a man who spends more time with his books than his shield and sword. Captain Landon may be smart but Fayte wondered if his tongue was sharp enough to keep him away from battles here.

They were drenched with sweat and their legs were sore by the time they arrived at the White Shield tower. The soldier leading them explained that the gryphon knights would fly from point to point. Men of the White Shield were deprived of that privilege here. Wilson thanked them and apologized when it was clear both men were disappointed to find Preston missing from their party. In return he blessed them each and even healed a bad knee that had been bothering the soldier for months.

Within the tower, they stepped right into the dining hall upon entering. It was a large place enough to seat at least sixty men. At this hour the tables were mostly empty. Those who were present had removed their armours and were having supper. Only a hooded figure by the corner of the room drew Fayte's attention. A bow leaning against the table and Fayte could feel the person staring at him from the dark corner. A girl approached them.

"Welcome to our humble home," she said, both her stature and her hair short. She noticed the look on their faces and frowned. "I am not a squire."

"Yes, of course not," Wilson said, quick to flash a charming smile. "Lady Peila I presume?"

The knight crossed her arms and did her best to look authoritative. It wasn’t very effective.

"Yes," she said, looking up at them. "Come along now. I’ll show you to your rooms."

They made the slow climb up to the resting quarters. They washed themselves and consumed a light supper brought up to them with their belongings. John hugged his sword and went to bed. Wilson was worn out as well having caught little sleep on the flight here, so he too turned in. Fayte lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling for a long while before sleep finally found him.

Hours after sunrise, they were roused and Lady Peila was there to greet them. They broke fast at the dining hall with other soldiers, many of them natives of Gwedoniar City, but all much better men than the ones they met last night. They asked many questions about Fayte's adventure, all of them familiar with his quest. They even knew about Emily's version of the story, of how the Prince was the one who saved her and made no mention of Fayte ever being part of the rescue. Not one of the men were happy with that.

"Fancy that! Giving all them credits to a Saldarian!" said one of them.

"An attempt to place the Saldarian Prince in a more favourable light," Captain Landon said, often dining with the men though he had his own private quarter and office.

"Her Grace thinks us too daft if she thinks us to believe her story," a knight with a thick beard said, joining them at the table.

"This is Esmus of the Smior family," Lady Peila introduced. "And you did believe her story. Right up till my cousin’s letter came with the real story!"

The men laughed and slapped the table only to have a flicker of green end their banters. Three gryphon knights stood at the doorway with the Sky-Commander in the centre.

"My apologies for interrupting your meal," he said to the men before his eyes settled on Fayte. "The Magister-Lord has requested for the presence of Squire Fayte and his companions."

Captain Landon rose. "Unbelievable. Come along, Fayte."

"You be fine, squire," Sir Esmus said, patting him on the back. "Our Captain there will take care of you. You be in good hands."

The soldiers echoed after the knight, agreeing that their Captain always took good care of them. They also agreed that it was important he did not forget his sword.

"I thought you said the matter was resolved," Wilson whispered.

They were now led by Commander Darius with the other two gryphon knights following behind them.

"I had thought it was," the Captain said, his forehead creased with worry. "We have an unexpected visit from a man of high ranking last night. I was informed that he was here to make our issue go away."

"A man of high ranking?" John asked.

"A man who fancies the colour of white," was the Captain's response.

Thankfully the Sky-Commander brought gryphons for them so they need not walk to the Magister's Court where the Magister-Lord resided. As it turned out the only way to get there was by flying. To the tallest tower they flew, passing other gryphon knights, ones whose armour grew more ornate as they ascended.

"Royal knights," Captain Landon said to Fayte who rode with him. "Do not underestimate them. Even without the Light of the Spirits, these men can rival even the Whiteguards in an aerial fight. Unity is their strength. These men do not fight alone and that is where their strength lies in the air."

"What if they were on the ground?"

"You have found yourself in that situation just last night I believe. What do you think, young squire?"

They are helpless, was what he thought.

High above them Fayte saw that they were flying towards a platform extended from the tower. A giant gryphon carved of black stones, poised to strike, emerged from the side of the tower. It was massive. An entire street from Rondiar City could fit on it. Upon the head of the gryphon was a round platform. On the outer half at the most precarious edge was a wall that had numerous large openings at regular intervals. It was not unlike the shelves used in stores to display wares, only much bigger of course. They flew to the rear of the stone gryphon and landed.

Strong wings assailed them. They were now above the clouds as though in a whole other world. The sky was a brilliant blue and clear save for gryphon riders circling about. Sky-Commander Darius led them across the back of the stone gryphon to the platform. As they approached the structure, gryphon riders began descending and each one landed into the large openings on the wall. The mighty gryphons screeched and a herald announced their arrival.

The Custodian of Castle Rondiar was decades older than this herald, yet the old man's voice was much louder.

"My lord," the Sky-Commander said. "As you requested, this is Squire Fayte of the noble Kaywin family, son of Lord Frendon Kaywin, Lord-Knight of the-"

"Yes, yes, we all know who he and his old man is, Darius."

Seated upon the throne carved to the likes of two gryphons was a burly man. His skin was dry and his lips chapped. The man had frizzled white hair and his belly threatened to overflow from his lavish silk robe. Two gryphons, living ones, lay resting beside him. And behind them on the wall was an impressive display of more than thirty gryphon knights mounted on their companions. Fayte met eyes with the Magister-Lord and saw what was set upon his head.

Treachery.

"Fayte Kaywin," Magister-Lord Raymius said, the wind tousling his hair but the emerald gryphon crown remained unmoved. "You should be kneeling in the presence of a Magister-Lord."

"I kneel to no-"

"Kneel," Captain Landon whispered, going to his knees. Wilson and John did the same.

Fayte hesitated. He could feel Wilson's eyes boring in on him and John tapping his knee for him to kneel as well. Fayte shook his head and he stared defiantly at the Magister-Lord.

"I kneel only to one King," Fayte said.

The Magister-Lord grinned and the riders around them rose to a chaos of laughter.

"You stand in my domain, child," he said, his arms extending apart. "High above the clouds in the realm of the gryphons. Your Order has no power here. Your King has no power here. In the sky, I am the King. Now KNEEL!"

A strong hand pressed on his shoulder and Fayte was forced onto his knees. The Sky-Commander stood behind him without looking at Fayte. Captain Landon shook his head disapprovingly, whether it was at Commander Darius or Fayte himself, he did not know.

"Fayte Kaywin!" the Magister-Lord called. "You stand accused for the death of two gryphons of Gwedoniar. Do you plead guilty?"

Fayte bit his lip. "I do not."

"My men beg to differ, boy. My men claim that they had witnessed with their own eyes, you and your companions forcing two gryphons to bear your party beyond their strength, exhausting them beyond hope, causing their inglorious demise."

"Lies! We did not ride them to-"

"SILENCE! You do not speak unless spoken to!" he said. "I have heard enough from you. Prepare to receive my verdict."

"What?" Captain Landon said, rising to his feet. "My lord, what is the meaning of this?"

"As Magister-Lord of the great Gwedoniar City, I find you, Fayte Kaywin, and your party of Wilson Sayde and one John of no family, guilty of murdering two of my city's gryphons."

And the audience around them rose into a mix of piercing screeches and shouts.

"I sentence the three of you to flight," the Magister-Lord said, a cunning grin on his face, "or death!"