The sacks were pulled off.
When his eyes finally adjusted, Fayte found himself in a small room with an open window his right and a large painting of a man on his left. It was the same man sitting in front of him behind a desk. The man was huge and could easily catch Wilson and Fayte in a bear hug and have room for one more. He wore only a leather vest over scarred and tanned skin, with hardened callous on the knuckles of his hands where he now rested his head.
A massive axe of ivory and silversteel hung on the wall behind him.
"Eronaxe." Fayte recognized the weapon, his eyes lowering to the man. "And so you must be…"
"Dontoros Eronaxe," the guildmaster of the mercenary guild said, lowering his hands to reveal a grin. "And you are Fayte Kaywin, son of the Lord-Knight."
Two bodyguards flanked Dontoros. One of them, a man, half-naked but armed with a mighty two-handed sword, while the other was a woman with a petite build and her face hidden underneath a hood. This woman had a sword tied to her belt, but it was the large casing strapped to her back that caught Fayte's attention. The dark case was as long as she was tall and judging from how the strap pulled on her shoulder, it was rather heavy as well.
Fayte could hear the wooden floorboards creak behind him. One more stands behind us, two maybe three in the next room. When he glanced out of the window and saw only the sky, Fayte listened keenly and judged from the sound that they were at least three stories up.
There’s no way out.
"Are you done trying to figure out how to escape?" Dontoros asked, his voice deep and powerful.
Fayte frowned at him.
"Bring a chair for the good priest, Peri. The squire may stand."
Wilson accepted the seat and Fayte took the chance to look behind them. Peri stood guard behind them while three other guards were in the next room waiting. Peri shut the door before Fayte was done looking.
"Now then, let's us be on to business." Dontoros looked to Fayte. "A squire's pilgrimage should not take him into Redpath and the Order of the White Shield has no authority in this town. So explain to me, little squire, why the Commander of the Whiteguards and the Master-Knight are both here in my town, and you, are walking openly in my streets seeking a man only a fool would seek."
Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina may not be welcomed here, but Dontoros knew better than to confront them.
"We wish to speak to the Underlord," Fayte said, noticing now that although he was disarmed, the royal seal was not taken from him.
"Matters that I cannot disclose," he told the guildmaster. "I am under royal command by the King himself."
Dontoros turned slowly and gave the hooded woman on his right a look. She nodded in return and nothing more.
"The King suspects an invasion from the East Kingdom," Dontoros said to their surprise, shifting about a few pieces of paper in front of him, settling on the one. "I hold here a request from a man who I suspect is spying for the East Kingdom. He seeks to hire fifteen of my best men. Two archers, three rangers, and the rest warriors."
Fayte had a suspicion. "Was it your men who ambushed me and my friends?"
Dontoros shook his head. "My men are mercenaries, not lowly bandits. And though Eronaxe is the largest mercenary guild in Hylan, it is not the only one. Eronaxe has an agreement with the Order of the White Shield, one that allows us to run this town, and one that I do not intend to see broken."
He set the paper down.
"Share with us information you possess," the woman said. "And information of the Underlord we will share in return."
Fayte looked to Wilson who had crossed both his legs and arms. He pondered on it for a moment but in the end Wilson nodded.
"The Underlord informed my Order that an assassin entered our country from the East Kingdom," Fayte told them. "One of them has assassinated a friend of- a fellow squire, before perishing. We believe there are more and we seek the Underlord's aid in finding these invaders."
"Your turn to share," Wilson said.
The guildmaster smirked. "Our information is much the same, though ours also came with a warning. A warning veiled as a reminder that we are still men of Hylan, living in Hylan, under the rule of the royal Whiteart family."
Even the guildmaster of Eronaxe took cues from the Underlord.
"The Princess's wedding, tell us more," said the woman.
"You are not from Hylan." Fayte stared at the woman whose body was honed for speed over strength. "I've met a man with an accent like yours before. You're from the East Kingdom."
Both the woman and the guildmaster smiled like they were impressed. The woman removed her hood, revealing the round face of a girl with thin eyes that beheld pupils blue as the vast sky.
"Her name is Wei Ling," Dontoros introduced her. "I just call her Ling. She is an ally to Eronaxe and she hails from the East Kingdom."
"Then we have said too much already," Wilson cut in before Fayte could speak.
"Tell us about the Princess's wedding, and the Underlord's agent I shall give you," said Dontoros.
Wei Ling smiled for she knew Fayte and Wilson would cooperate after hearing that. And so Fayte told them what he knew about Emily's wedding. They probed about his journey to rescue her, information about the Saldarians, and Fayte was glad when he saw the startled look on Wei Ling's face when he informed them that a Scygard was escorting the Prince now.
"I've fought two of them a long time ago," Dontoros spoke grimly, weaving his fingers together again. "They are not a foe to underestimate."
"And more will come on the day of the wedding you say?" Wei Ling asked, for the Emperor of Saldara had requested it as a show of trust from Hylan to their new Prince. "Rinmar La'ou, Prince of Hylan. One day you shall kneel before him and call him your King."
That was a very unsettling thought that Fayte was suddenly aware of.
"You say there are those in Saldara who do not accept the alliance," Wei Ling said. "The Skarm's Shadow tribe you say?"
The tribe whose men massacred the city of Zywedior. The people who murdered my mother and sisters.
"A headless snake," Wilson told Wei Ling. "Our High Sage has seen to that with the aid of the Underlord."
"But they are still a strong tribe even after the campaign by the Order of the White Shield to reduce their numbers," Dontoros noted. "Couple their strength with the cunning minds of men in the East Kingdom and Skarm's Shadow remains a threat."
"So there are men in the East Kingdom working with the Saldarians," Fayte said, his gaze shifting to Wei Ling now.
"Men who do not represent the Emperor of the East Kingdom," Wei Ling told him as she crossed her arms. The sleeves of her tunic were short, exposing her toned arms.
She is definitely a warrior.
"Not forgetting those in Hylan who reject the marriage," Wilson added, sharing with them what they had learned of Magister-Lord Raymius.
Fayte was beginning to see the whole picture now. The joining of Hylan and Saldara would make both nations a great threat to many others. Those who would not gain from the alliance would do what they could to prevent it from happening. But the King only allowed this marriage to happen for them to face one threat.
"The Dark Lord," said a new voice.
Standing behind them now was a young man in shirt and breeches of thin linen and a pair of worn leather boots. His hair was brown and his built was slender but toned, not unlike Wei Ling. The Underlord's agent smiled at Fayte.
"However his interest is only with the demon held within Iredis," said the agent. "Greetings, squire Fayte. "
"How do I find the other assassins?" he asked without hesitation.
The agent laughed and looked to Wilson.
"Fayte," his friend called, "I don't think you grasp the whole situation yet."
"Hylan is being attacked from both outside our nation and within it," he told Wilson. "Jeremiah was caught in the middle. I will avenge him by finding the rest of the assassins and then the King can do as he like. Now tell me where they are."
Wei Ling tilted her head but they were all quiet. Wilson looked at him with sympathy.
"So you accept that Jeremiah is gone now?"
"JUST TELL ME HOW TO FIND THEM!" He didn't mean to yell but his voice exploded from within him.
Jeremiah was dead, just like his mother, and just like his sisters.
And the Saldarians had a hand in all of it.
"We don't know," the agent said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. His face solemn. "We are watching the Magister-Lord but his domain is… inconvenient. Our eyes beyond our border are few and unreliable in this matter. We have nothing to tell you."
"Everyone is depending on you now, Fayte," Wilson explained, softly. "As Mailer had said, you're the bait."
"They've killed Jeremiah and they know that we are now on the alert," Fayte said, his fists clenched. "Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina failed to remain disguised in Redpath. How do you expect the assassins, the ones even the Underlord cannot find, to not be aware of them? Wilson, they know that I am a bait now. They won't come after me anymore."
For that Fayte found in his heart that he blamed his father for being so protective.
"They will," the agent said certainly. "For you are the key to breaking Hylan's defences."
Fayte stared at him, looking at Wilson and Dontoros before he turned back to the agent. "Why?"
"If you fall, your father will relinquish his title as Lord-Knight because he knows that he no longer has the mind to lead the Order. Then he will go on a hunt to find the man who killed you and he will not rest until then."
"Feralina Vladertz will ascend to the rank of Lord-Knight," Dontoros took over. "She will need time to adjust to her new position. Her grandfather, Tyden Vladertz, will pressure her to manoeuvre the Order to grant advantage to her family. The Princess's marriage will place a great stress upon her shoulders while her heart will be distracted by Lord Frendon's thirst for vengeance."
"She will be vulnerable," Wilson ended it off. "And her vulnerability is our enemies' greatest advantage."
"And it sounds like your death might very well end the marriage on its own," Wei Ling commented.
Fayte didn't understand. "The sun rises and set even in my absence. The wedding will go on."
"Not if the bride is in too much anguish to even rise from her bed," the agent said. "Let alone go through an entire wedding."
"Emily won't let my death keep her from performing her duties as Princess."
"Then you are a fool," the agent said. "The only fool in the whole of Hylan who cannot see how much you mean to the Grace of Hylan."
Fayte bit clenched his jaws. "If I mean that much to her, then we wouldn't be here right now. There would be no wedding save for mine and hers."
The agent shook his head.
"The Underlord has left me to handle matters in Hylan while he seeks aid beyond the borders of our kingdom. The Underworld is not without our troubles thus I can do little to assist at this time. But I can tell you for a certainty that more assassins will be coming for you and you cannot hope to defeat them alone."
Fayte stood his ground as the agent walked up to him, staring at him in the eye, before he raised a vial between them.
"You will not go on without aid from us." Encased in a steel wire frame, the vial contained a swirling mixture of white and silver with stands of luminous cobalt, glowing in pulses like a beating heart. It was entrancing and Fayte only looked away when the agent shook it. "I require at least one of the assassins alive in order to interrogate him."
"I am a squire of the Order of the White Shield," Fayte told him firmly. "I will not use poison."
The agent smirked. "These assassins will appear before you when you are at your weakest and when you are alone. That I have no doubt. As I have said, you cannot hope to defeat them alone. But you are the squire who saved our Princess from the demon Ra’gelor, and in the process, all of us."
He pressed the vial into Fayte's hand.
"This is no poison," he whispered.
"Dragon Essence," Wilson said, rising from his chair, his mace is his hand now. "How did you come upon this?"
"Calm yourself, good priest. The Underlord is not in the business of dragon-slaying as do some beyond the Northern Gate."
"And beyond the East Kingdom," Wei Ling added.
The agent nodded. "This was a gift to the Underlord. Now it is a gift to your friend."
It was hard to tell whether Wilson believed him. Regardless, he put his mace away and seated himself. Dragon Essence was exactly what it was named as, the essence of a dragon. One would not come upon Dragon Essence without a dragon dying… or killed.