Captain Landon clenched his fist but he did not move for his sword.
Flight or death?
"However," the Magister-Lord said. "On account that you are the son of the Lord-Knight Frendon Kaywin, and your companion is a holy follower of the Order of the White Rose, you are all pardoned."
Pardoned? The Magister-Lord's words confused them, but not the Captain judging from his expression. "We were not guilty to begin-"
The Captain placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.
"Count yourself lucky that your father is the Lord-Knight, Fayte Kaywin," the Magister-Lord said, his fat face resting on his triple chins was so smug that Fayte wanted to just punch him. "Now be gone from my domain!"
"Thank you, my lord," Captain Landon said. "Come, we shall take our leave now."
Fayte wondered if he should be glad that their trouble with this matter was over. He could not help feeling as though he had lost a greater battle here. Captain Landon would not speak and had hurried them to their gryphons. They descended and returned straight to the White Shield's tower. Lady Peila, Sir Esmus, and a few other knights rose upon their arrival. Captain Landon shook his head at them and left without a word.
Fayte, Wilson, and John followed him into his office with the Sky-Commander.
"Flight or death means you either fly or you die," the Captain explained. "They meant to throw you off the edge."
"We are not guilty," Fayte said.
"I know that," said the Captain, seating himself behind his table. He pulled out a parchment and a quill and began to write. "So does Raymius."
"Dissent," said John, running his finger down the face of a white shield hung on the wall. "Dusty."
"Please do not touch that," the Captain said after a glance.
Fayte turned to John and asked that he explained.
"Ye can't take over a country if the people hates ya," he said, plopping himself down on a seat by the wall. "And if ya can't make them love ye, ya make them hate whoever's ruling more than they hate ya."
"The lesser of two evil," Wilson said, his head shaking. "This will never work."
The Sky-Commander begged to differ. "The Princess's marriage with the Saldarian Prince has sowed great dissent within the kingdom already."
"That matter has been dealt with," said Wilson, though he said it unsurely. "The Underlord has aided the King's Council in quelling any potential rebellions."
"It is not that simple," said the Captain, still scribbling away. "Dissent is a seed watered by discord. Numerous representatives from small towns and city Magisters have expressed their opposition to the marriage. The fact that we almost had a rebellion speaks a mighty deal on its own. The King's Council may have convinced the representatives and Magisters that this was the right move to take, but it does not mean that they like it."
"I do not understand," Fayte said when even Wilson seemed lost still. "If they understand where the council is coming from, why would there still be dissent?"
"Because the King's Council speaks to them smart people with their books and big words." John was flipping through an old book now. "These smart people will have to go back and speak to their dumb people, like me!"
Now Wilson was nodding. "Put it this way, Fayte. Lord Jacob may understand that the marriage would bolster our strength against the Black City. But to the ears of Renee and her family, and others like them, they will likely not see past the fact that the Princess is about to join hands with the enemy. And that they, the peasants, will have no choice but to accept that."
"Then we help them understand," Fayte said.
"A matter made all the more difficult with people like Raymius stoking the flames," said the Sky-Commander.
"Pardoning you was just another way to throw wood to fire," the Captain said, sighing, as he held a block of white sealing wax over a candle. "The Magister-Lord will no doubt let word spread that you were convicted. But it will also be known that he pardoned you in light of your father's title and Wilson for him being a priest. Raymius will appear as though his hand was forced, and the integrity of both our Orders will come into question."
He let the wax drip onto the envelop before pressing his seal on it.
"Good priest, would you do me this favour of seeing this letter to the hands of Commander Reyner?"
"Of course," he said, receiving it. "Might I inquire its content?"
"A simple report but one of great importance. The Commander of the Whiteguards is an insightful man familiar with the situation in this city. My brother and I have taken to the habit of sharing information with him in light of that."
"I did not expect to see Lord Reyner here last night," Commander Darius said, addressing Fayte. "Officially he was here to investigate the assassination of his nephew. But he was quick to ask of you when we were alone. Why is the Whiteguard on your tail?"
Fayte hesitated to share due to the nature of his task.
"These walls are spell-binded for privacy and the Sky-Commander is a man to be trusted, I assure you," said the Captain. "But do not feel compelled to share if you cannot. The King would not have commanded a squire on a mission if he had not intended for secrecy."
"How did you know?" Fayte said, to which Wilson made a disapproving noise.
"I did not for sure, but now I do." The Captain smiled and dipped his head. "Forgive me. I sometimes grow gravely bored within this city and seek some excitement for myself. If there is anything I can offer to assist your mission, you need only to speak."
Fayte and Wilson exchanged a look just to be sure the other didn't require anything else.
"Transport to Redpath," Wilson said. "If you could arrange that for us, we would be very grateful-"
The door behind them swung open.
Fayte was too slow to draw his sword as the person dove into him and took him to the floor.
"Oh thank Sera you are not hurt!" the girl said, grabbing his head and turning him about to inspect him. "You're not hurt are you?"
"Melanie?" he said, getting a good look at her after she let go of him. "Well I wasn't before but I think I hit my head when you took me down."
She rolled her eyes and got up, extending a hand to help him to his feet.
"What are you doing here?" Fayte asked.
"Did no one back home tell you? I came here to be trained as a gryphon master. Hello, Wilson." She hugged her friend and glanced around the office. "You lost your dragon again."
"I did not," Wilson said. "When have I ever?"
Melanie said nothing. She just stared at him.
"Fine, so I've misplaced him a few times when he was a hatchling but not this time. He awaits me at the town of Redpath."
Melanie had never been so far from home but the girl looked just the same. Her cheeks were brown with dirt and there were straws from haystacks caught in her clothes. The girl had her old leather boots on, worn and crusted with mud. On her belt were her leather gloves as well as various brushes, knives, and scissors. The blades were new additions to her belt. One would easily mistake her for a boy with her short amber-brown hair, if not for her fair face and small feminine eyes.
"I thought you were dead for sure when I heard you were summoned by the Magister-Lord," she said, glancing at the door. "Go shut the door please."
The Sky-Commander crossed his arm. "I am no servant, child."
Melanie wasn't even listening. She pulled up a chair to sit down on in front of the Captain's table. "What happened when you- why is that door still open?"
Noticing the anger rising in the Sky-Commander, Fayte quickly went and shut the door himself. Wilson filled her in on what transpired when they met with the Magister-Lord. John made a comment about how Melanie sounded like a girl. Then he realized she was a girl and started laughing to himself by the corner.
"My master managed to get a hold of the gryphons. The ones you were accused of riding to death I mean. The fact that he had trouble getting permission to examine them was peculiar enough. It wasn't until he drew the gryphons' blood that he understood why it was so."
"Why was it so then, my lady?" asked the Captain.
Melanie glanced at the Captain before turning back to Fayte.
"Poison, without a doubt," she said. "Very similar to the ones used by your Order after the unification of Hylan against Gwedoniar City."
So that's how they took the city. Fayte found that troubling. There is no honour in poison.
"The earliest of our Order was made up mostly of Vlazion knights," the Captain said, deeply troubled by her words. "And you took your gryphon from Castle Vladertz. Oh this does not bode well."
"Why would the Vladertz family wish harm upon the squires?" Wilson asked. "One of their own was the first to perish. A setup perhaps? To call into question the loyalty of the Vladertz family?"
Commander Darius was nodding, his expression grave. "The noble Vladertz family is one of the greatest families in Hylan. They are loyal to the crown, that I have no doubt even with the reputation of Lord Tyden. Driving a wedge between them and the royal-"
"The Vladertz family have nothing to do with this matter," Melanie said, as if she was just waiting to interrupt the Sky-Commander.
Wilson and Fayte began to notice that as well. They know each other.
"The recipe for the poison was provided by the Underlord," she went on. "When Gwedoniar City finally came into the rule of the royal family, the Vladertz gave the recipe for the concoction to the gryphon knights, as a show of trust. It was meant to be studied and countered for the poison was extremely effective and could be adjusted to take effect after specific amounts of time."
"Poison your own gryphons." John was picking his teeth with the tip of his Templar sword. "Vicious."
"You're saying the Magister-Lord is the culprit behind this?" Fayte asked, his eyes set on Melanie's and his hand gripping the handle of his sword. "Raymius had a hand in Jeremiah's death?"
This time Melanie took a moment before answering. "The first generation of the poison has no more effect on the gryphons. This is a new poison with an improved formula. My master believes that there can only be two suspects."
"The Underlord," said Captain Landon.
"Or someone with great knowledge of gryphons," Melanie added. "Someone from Gwedoniar City."
The Underlord is already assisting us with the investigation. Fayte met eyes with Wilson again, both of them likely sharing the same thought now. And Raymius has already demonstrated just how loyal he is to the royal family.
"Magister-Lord Raymius is working with the East Kingdom," Fayte concluded.