If Captain Landon shared the intellect his brother possessed, Fayte saw no harm in sharing his mission with the knight. Unfortunately the Captain was not studied in the affairs of kingdoms beyond the Northern Gate. His knowledge extended only to the Arcane Scholars, an Order which his brother was a member of.
"The truce between the kingdoms forbids any unprovoked invasion," the Captain had said. "And the Orders of Rondiar are not to be reckoned with. The East Kingdom may have a greater army but unless they can teleport their soldiers onto our lands in an instant, an invasion would not be in their favour."
"Not unless civil war erupts within Hylan," said the Sky-Commander.
It was a matter to ponder upon but the Captain had no doubt that the Lord-Knight had long taken measures against such a scenario. Civil war would not erupt so easily, though it was at its greatest risk since the plague in Harvesria. The town that supplied Hylan with the majority of her crops was struck with a plague, and the King was nearly forced to set the entire town ablaze.
The people along with it.
Fortunately it never came to that. Fayte asked that he be allowed to remain in the city to further his investigations. The request was strongly opposed by the Captain who said that he would look into it himself.
"You're a walking hostage waiting to be taken," Captain Landon had said. "No. I will look further into the Magister-Lord. You will be of more use trying to make contact with the Underlord again. Share what we have learned today with him. The Underlord will likely be more efficient in finding evidences against the Magister-Lord than I am."
Wilson agreed that it was not safe for him to remain in this city. Besides, Fayte still had his pilgrimage to complete. Once they were fed, Fayte, Wilson, and John were escorted to one of the many gryphon roosts where three gryphons from the Order awaited them.
"Renee is a fragile girl," Melanie said after Fayte told her about the ambush. "Lord Jacob should start assigning guards for when she rides into Oaksblade for supplies."
"I am sure he will."
It was past noon but Fayte could barely feel the heat at the rooftop of the tower. There were only seven gryphons present at the moment, some fast asleep while others were eating. As always the gryphon roost was clean though the gryphon master's assistants were filthy. Two boys perhaps ten or twelve were running around fetching buckets of water for the gryphons. Once they were done they got to sweeping the floor again.
"Gryphons cannot rest if their quarters are not clean," Melanie shared, walking them around the roost. She approached one of the gryphons, this one fast asleep, and gently stroked its green feathers. "They are more temperamental than you would believe."
Wilson was smiling quite proudly as he watched Melanie handle the next gryphon, feeding it a slab of meat before scratching the beast under its neck. Riders were often reminded not to do that, for each gryphons enjoyed being handled in a very specific manner and hated all other ways. Melanie was a natural with the gryphons as she was with all the other animals in Ironsville.
"Our visits to Ironsville can be more frequent once Melanie returns," Wilson said as they approached the next gryphon.
"There will likely be more visitors as well," Fayte said, thinking aloud. "Travellers who wish to avoid the crowd at Oaksblade while on their way to the capital. Lord Jacob and the smiths could make some extra coin selling their wares to passing travellers."
"Jayden will see more customers as well," Melanie added, before throwing at a wary glance at John. "Then again…"
John was too busy picking his teeth with a straw to notice.
They approached the three gryphons, saddled and packed with their supplies. The majestic beasts lowered their heads and bowed to Wilson, who returned the gesture respectfully. Melanie stepped forward and embraced Wilson, receiving a kiss from him on the forehead and a word of blessing. She hugged Fayte next, squeezing him tightly before she pecked him on the cheek.
"The next time we meet, you had best be wearing a knight's armour." She turned away without waiting for an answer, ignoring John who had both his arms spread apart expectantly.
They mounted the gryphons and waved goodbye before taking off to the air. When Fayte looked back, he saw Melanie waving at him and Captain Landon beside her, nodding, assuring Fayte that he would watch over her.
It was day when they took off and night had fallen when they arrived at Redpath. The gryphon master snapped at them and complained that he hadn't the space for extra gryphons.
"They are from Gwedoniar City," Wilson told him. "Hired straight from the hands of Sky-Commander Darius."
Upon hearing that the gryphon master's attitude took an immediate turn.
"The Sky-Commander eh? Well you shoulda' said it so earlier!" He yelled at his assistants to find empty roosts for the gryphons. "There, might be a little squeeze but they should be comfortable enough."
"Will you require payment for their lodging?"
"Oh no of course not, good priest," the man said, who earlier didn't even acknowledge Wilson. "How could I accept coins from one of the holy Order?"
Wilson smiled and thanked the gryphon master before leaving with them.
"Straight from the hands of the Sky-Commander?" Fayte asked. "Melanie never said that."
"No she did not," Wilson said with a smile. "I was merely testing if the Sky-Commander's name still held weight amongst those affiliated with the gryphon city."
"The man's a royal," John said, sucking a deep breath as he stretched his arms apart. "And I'm feeling like a royal here myself!"
The coarse sand of Redpath was a dull red in the night. Their last visit to the town of mercenaries was in the day. Fayte shuddered as he recalled the shrine he and Wilson nearly lost their lives trying to protect. Wilson had the situation controlled from the start, but it was still an incredibly tensed moment to be surrounded by so many armed mercenaries.
Sera's shrine was now surrounded by a round patch of grass. It stood out as soon as they saw it, a figure of a white dragon no larger than a barrel. The grass was soft and damp and had clearly spread since their last visit. Wilson pointed out signs of the grass being trimmed. A good sign, for it meant the people of Redpath had accepted the presence of Sera here.
Something yawned next to Fayte's feet.
"There you are," Wilson said. "And our escorts?"
Preston was half-asleep still, pointing with his tail somewhere to the right. Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina were both in Redpath, but now was not yet the time to make contact with them. The day was gone and the streets quiet. In spite of that Fayte could feel eyes set upon him, and mercenaries walking about stared at them openly, recognizing his shield and the garment Wilson wore.
"In the morning," Fayte said. "When the streets are crowded and we are not so conspicuous."
Wilson agreed. Two lumastones glowed beside the shrine as Fayte watched his friend waved his hands over them. Together, the three of them kneeled and remained in silent prayer for a few minutes. Preston clung onto Wilson's back and proceeded to fall asleep. Fayte was surprised to see the solemn look on John after he and Wilson had both risen. He sensed a strain of pain from the frown upon John's lips.
Not all who laugh are happy, Fayte recalled his father telling him once.
Once John was finished, he laughed and claimed he had dozed off. An obvious lie, but neither of them pointed it out. The wanderer led them through the town. It was near midnight now. Only a few armed men walked about, mercenaries going about their own business. Fayte felt that it was strange for he had expected it to be livelier at Redpath even at this hour.
"The Bloody Blade!" John declared as they arrived in front of an inn.
The inn was triple-storied and warm light glowed behind dirty glass windows. They heard noises from within, songs and music, and the voices of men yelling and laughing. It was warm and very much cosy when they stepped inside. The men and women were cheery and friendly as John joined them by the fire.
"Ho, stranger!" a burly man with rippling muscles greeted John. "Traveller or sword?"
"Traveller," John said. "I got me a sword and used to be one though!"
"I'm guessing sword means mercenary," Wilson said, standing awkwardly by the door with Fayte.
"Why would Sera have us bring a mercenary with us?" asked Fayte. "Protection?"
They noticed John gesturing at them and the eight or so men sitting around the fire quietened at once. The bard by the corner ceased his lute and a serving girl hurried away.
"Oie, Billy!" the burly man who greeted John called, all signs of friendliness gone. "You got them Order squeakers at ye door!"
A tall man in a blood-stained apron and a meat cleaver in his hand stepped in from another room. His arms were toned and covered in scars and when he spoke, the missing teeth made it clear that he had been in many fights. They were not welcomed here, that was clear, but the men and women there accepted John as one of their own. Fayte and Wilson were given a room upstairs on account of that.
"We seek ways to contact the Underlord," Wilson told John before the man returned downstairs to join his newfound friends. "See if they know of one."
The sleep was not good with drunk men yelling and stamping their feet downstairs through the night. When morning came Fayte rose with a headache. John was on his bed and stank of ale when they approached him. The other men knew naught of the Underlord, so they left him where he was and went downstairs.
They ate stale bread and a bowl of cold, lumpy potato soup for breakfast.
"Looks good," a lady said as she sat down between them. "The tavern just down the street serves better though."
Fayte let Wilson finish the cold meal.
"We only arrived last night," he said.
"We know." The dining area was empty but Lady Feralina lowered her voice still. "I believe Landon and his knights were with you during your stay in Gwedoniar?"
Fayte nodded as Preston was coughing out the horrendous potato soup that Wilson somehow managed to enjoy. Once the good priest was done with his breakfast, he retrieved Captain Landon's letter and handed it to the Master-Knight. They shared what happened in the gryphon city and that Captain Landon shared their suspicion of the Magister-Lord being involved in this plot with the East Kingdom.
"He was right to send you away. It seems that the situation in Gwedoniar City has grown worse since Landon's last report." She rubbed Preston on the head as she rose. "If that is all, I shall return and report that you are both well."
The innkeeper eyed Lady Feralina as she left, not out of suspicion but lust. They took their leave several minutes after and stepped into the morning light. Redpath's market were not quite as lively as Rondiar City or the streets of Oaksblade. Most here were mercenaries who walked with their weapons in the open, while the merchants were the fiercest looking merchants Fayte had seen anywhere.
They searched for hours trying to find the old woman who spoke with the Underlord's agent. It was a fruitless search and they gave up by noon, choosing instead to ask in hushed voices if one knew of a way to contact the Underlord. The beggars and shady merchants they approached either chased them away or became frightened quickly. Two even ran, leaving behind their wares as though fearing for their lives. And there were the few who fell to their knees at once and begged to be spared.
There were those, however, who were dismissive but knowing.
"They hold knowledge but refuse to speak," Wilson said, drawing quite a bit of attention with Preston on his shoulder.
Fayte was not worried. "If they are spies for the Underlord then word would have surely spread by now. Give it time, Wilson. We'll find what we are here for soon enough."
"I hope you are right," he said, glancing at Preston. "Will you stop feeding strange food to my dragon?"
Preston was happily licking up a stick of brown molten goo.
"It is only melted sugar," Fayte said, holding up the stick while he had another for himself. "Look, the children behind us are having it as well."
A group of scruffy looking children had been following them for hours now. A common sight whenever Wilson walked about with Preston. It was only then that the both of them stopped and took a closer look at the children. They exchanged a glance before lowering themselves.
"Children," Wilson called, a kind smile on his face as he held up a piece of coin. "I have a question and whoever helps me will receive this coin."
When the children seemed suspicious, he bit on the coin and convinced them easily.
"We seek the Underlord," Fayte told them. "Does any of you know how we might contact him?"
The boys and girls looked at one another, mumbling and whispering. Then, a girl, who stood at the front of the group and clearly the leader, pointed behind them. That was when a tall shadow fell upon the both of them and Preston took off from Wilson's shoulder. Both of them swallowed the lump in their throats and turned around slowly. Three men armed with broadswords and throwing axes stood behind them.
The girl took the coin from Wilson’s hand and the melted sugar from Fayte's.
"Greetings," Wilson said, smiling as he started to rise. "A fair morning this-"
One of the children pulled a sack over Wilson's head and Fayte caught a little girl trying to do the same to him. She screamed in his face, just as Fayte reached for his sword to counter the men who would now surely strike him from behind. He was too slow though.
A sack was thrown over his head, tightened, and they dragged him away.