CHAPTER 33

Grand-Rosia, home of the Order of the White Rose

The holy city was located south of Hylan and was the closest settlement to the Black City. Ever since the War of Darkness and Light, Grand-Rosia had been deemed too dangerous for travel, with many high ranking officials barred from visiting the city at the same time. The royal family was not allowed to visit at all.

Even initiates of the holy Order could not study there as they used to before the war. Now they were sent to the cities of Iredis and Tyrox where they were schooled and only the gifted ones would make their way to the holy city itself.

Emily had planned to visit the holy city and though her father forbade her to go, she had made her own plans to visit the city in secret. However the Whiteguards could not indulge in her little pranks and disobedience this time around, and quickly put a stop to her plan to slip away and force them to follow her to Grand-Rosia. Fayte wanted to see the holy city as well where Wilson had studied and received his priesthood. Sadly squires were no longer allowed to set Grand-Rosia as a destination since the war as well.

"Has there been any attacks since the war?" Fayte asked, tossing another branch into the campfire.

John was chewing on stale bread while lying on the grass damp with morning dew. The man had complained noisily that this was not enough to sate his hunger, but it was all they had left since they were nearing their destination. Wilson was drying his head after washing up by a nearby stream.

"Only when people of importance visited," Wilson told him, sitting down on a log. "Mostly darklings were sent after wizards and sorceress. They fought and though many were injured each time, the darklings have never made off with anyone nor have they killed anyone purposefully."

"Purposefully?"

Wilson unwrapped his breakfast. "Many were killed from crossfires and accidents. The darklings never seem to truly make an attempt on the lives of the people they were after. The Bishop believed that the Dark Lord was merely testing the mages, to see how far their skills had improved."

After breakfast they began their journey into the forest after travelling for days now on horseback. Understanding now that John was no common mercenary or wanderer, Fayte intended to learn as much as he could from the man, for he clearly had deep knowledge of the Templars.

They sparred and fought often in the day and during the night. Fayte never won. He observed and learned even when John refused to teach him anything specific, claiming that he had nothing to teach. Fighting with John made Fayte realize how easily his shield got battered. Steel was a tough material and much heavier than wood. Making it thicker would increase its durability at the cost of weight, stamina, and manoeuvrability.

"Emily mentioned about Templars who used shields," Fayte asked during dinner last night. "Can you tell me more about them?"

John chewing on a twig as he lay on his back gazing at the stars.

"They're better fighters than ye knights, that's what I'll tell ya."

"Why?"

"For one thing, they're not sissies who hide behind their shields." John stood up and took Fayte's shield, running his finger along the edge of the steel. "See? Blunt. A Templar's shield is more sword than shield."

Fayte immediately thought of many fights where he had used his shield as a weapon to bash his opponents. If the rim of the shield was sharpened as well, that would grant him another method of fighting back. Interesting.

"And their shields are larger." John held up the shield to his chest. "See? Goes down to ma waist. Theirs go down to the thighs. Bigger. Stronger. Lighter."

"Lighter?" Fayte knew the reason at once. "Eresteel."

John nodded, tossing his shield aside. "Too bad they're so rare now."

Eresteel equipment were lost during the fight against the Great Evil. Many were looted and sold and wounded up beyond the Northern Gate. Others were kept as heirlooms and passed on from generation to generation. But according to records by historians and scholars, there should be a great deal more Eresteel yet there were none to be found. It was as though they vanished. Some speculated that they were consumed by the Great Evil. Later on it was believed that the Dark Lord had stolen them for his own use.

The trees packed tightly together and the leaves above them were dense, leaving them with only shafts of sunlight to light the way. They travelled for hours through the forest, which according to Wilson was somewhere west of Redpath. There was a fragrance in the air, sweet and flowery, one that Fayte found rather familiar. He had thought it important to visit Grand-Rosia, for it was home to one of the three Orders of Rondiar. However circumstances prevented him from visiting the holy city so Wilson offered him an alternate location.

The trees opened up and a field of white greeted them.

"Welcome to Roseville," Wilson said, a sea of white roses before them. "The hidden rose village."

It was said that the first Bishop chosen by the nine heroes to lead the Order of the White Rose came from this village. His name unknown but it was the white rose that grew in abundance around this village that became the namesake of the holy Order. How much truth there was to it Fayte would not question for that was centuries ago.

They got off their horses and led the animals on foot down a steep path. Bushes of white rose lined neatly along the path and in even rows. There were men and women tending to the flowers, some of them just spots in the far distance. The bushes stretched at least a league to each side, and beyond that there was a sea of red and further to another direction a sea of blue.

"Roseville is the largest source for roses," Wilson explained, bowing his head as the gardeners yelled their greetings. "If there is Harvesria for crops then there is Roseville for roses."

"Yet Ironsville is not famed for iron ores," said Fayte.

"But we are famed for our ironwork," he said in return. "An iron mine would make us much more prosperous, but mining is a dangerous job."

This village was truly hidden. Fayte had not expected to find such a place in the middle of a forest. A river cut through the village they were approaching. Small houses stood tightly together though there were the odd few on the hills around them. They were descending to the town and it reminded Fayte of the slavers' camp where Emily was taken after she was kidnapped. But this place was much larger and shared nothing else with the slave camp.

"The soil here must be very rich for these roses to grow so well," John said.

Wilson agreed. "The water here is clearer than even the vast and vicious seas to the west and beyond. Roseville is famed not only for her roses but also… that."

As they neared the village, Fayte saw to the south what he knew from books and pictures to be a waterfall. It was not large nor powerful like the ones in the books, but it was a natural waterfall nonetheless and it fascinated him. A group of children ran up to them as they approached the village, and they offered to hold their horses and take them to the stable. Their caretaker, a lady in her thirties, assured them and encouraged them to head on to the waterfall.

"Can't we grab a bite first?" John complained. "I'm hungry!"

"This won't take long," said Fayte.

They thanked the lady and they thanked the children before heading in between the rows of rose bushes towards the water. It was only when they came up to it that Fayte realized how wrong he was. The waterfall was not small. It was mighty and the water that fell thundered onto the rocks beneath. The morning sun and the mist even made a rainbow over the clear water.

Even something as calm water can have such power.

"Have a drink," Wilson said. "You too John."

Fayte dipped his hand into the water and helped himself to a mouthful.

"It is cold and refreshing," he said. "Much colder than I had expected in this area."

Then a blast of water hit him in the face.

Fayte drew his sword but he was hit again and again until he fell over onto his bottom. He felt something hardening around his ankle and it dragged him across the riverbank into the water. His ankle was released once inside the water, and the water nymphs continued to pelt him with balls of water.

"Alright, stop it already!" he laughed. "Children, please!"

They stopped and Fayte watched as the shape of three children formed on the bank of the river, seated next to each other with their legs swishing in the water.

"They bring word from their Queen," Wilson said, standing next to the water nymphs. "She thanks you… …"

"We greet you, Fayte of the Kaywin family, banisher of evil, friend to the water nymphs." A thousand voices in his head was drowning out Wilson's and the water crashing upon the rocks.

Greetings to you, my lady, he thought in return to the Queen of the Water Nymphs.

"We thank you for banishing the taint from our domain. We thank you for bearing the taint for the sake of our children."

Fayte was careful with his thoughts but the Queen heard when he wondered if there were more than one Queen.

"We are many speaking as one," was her answer. "Such is our way."

He noticed Wilson staring at him in concern so he gestured that he was well before pointing at his head. Wilson understood his meaning and left him alone.

"We grieve with you for your loss."

Jeremiah.

"If that is his name then we grieve for the loss of the one called Jeremiah."

I've avenged him.

"Yet still you grieve and so too we grieve and share your pain."

If killing the man who murdered Jeremiah was not enough to end his grief, Fayte wondered if killing the Scygards who murdered his family would help.

"We sense a turmoil in you, friend of the water, it has grown wilder since our last meeting."

During the time you sent us to the slavers' camp?

The Queen did not answer but Fayte felt an energy in the water that indicated to him a positive.

"We wish to aid you for you have aided us, friend of the water, son of the Protector."

I did not ask before, but how do you know my father?

"Your father is known to all and he too is a friend." The Queen became quiet for a moment but the current in the water sweeping his leg began to slow. "We bring you this gift for we sense a deep curiosity. And to aid you, we leave you with these words, friend of the water."

There was no gift that Fayte could see.

"Release what you hold behind you, and swift shall be your blade. Fret not what comes towards you, and enduring shall be your shield. Stand unwavering and resolved shall be your mind."

I don't…

"Farewell, Fayte of the Kaywin family, friend of the water. We bid you well on your pilgrimage."

Fayte felt the voices of a thousand leave his mind, with the roaring of the waterfall filling his ears again. He waded out of the river and joined Wilson and John who were both staring wide-eyed with their mouths hanging open. Fayte followed their gaze and he too found himself in wonder.

"John, what did you do?" Fayte asked.

"Might've drank a bit too much," he said.

The mighty waterfall had split into two.