CHAPTER 39

They shook hands.

"Thank you for your timely aid."

"I serve my own purpose so you need not thank me," Wei Ling said, her eyes were blue and pale, and her features fierce and piercing. "I did not get to introduce myself properly the first time we met. I am Wei Ling of the Jade Feng family."

"Jade?" Fayte was not familiar with the word but it was not the first time he had heard it. "That is a kind of metal isn't it?"

"Royal metal in the East Kingdom," Jeremiah explained. "It is rare in Hylan."

"So you're royalty?"

Wei Ling shook her head as she slung the huge fan over her back. "It is a title granted to families with close ties to the royal family. My family has served the royal family for generations."

"As what, assassins?" Fayte asked.

"Guardians, warriors, assassins." She shrugged. "Choose what you prefer. I think of myself as a peacemaker."

"Wei Ling was sent to Hylan to spy on the Princess's wedding with the Saldarian Prince. When she arrived she found out that there were hired swords targeting specific people. Mainly you and I. And it also came to her knowledge that there were others from her kingdom in Hylan."

Fayte turned to him and listened on.

"I was ambushed by an assassin from the East Kingdom," Jeremiah said, his brows heavy and his fist clenched. "I was with a boy then, a boy who wanted nothing more than to be a squire like me, but could not for his mother was frail and he had two younger brothers to care for. That was when the assassin struck. We fought and I held my own, but then the assassin went for the boy."

"The boy who now rests in your coffin," Fayte realized. "His body was bloated."

"He drowned in the river and in my attempt to rescue him, the assassin took me." He pointed to his eye. "The river dragged me away and that would have been the end of me if not for Wei Ling."

"The boy was dead when I found them, the side of his head was caved in, likely hit a rock while the river was dragging him down stream." She whipped open the fan in her hand and started cooling herself off. "I was taking a bath. Hylan is much warmer than I am used to."

Jeremiah let out a laugh. "I tried to close my eyes to protect her dignity, but it hurt too much. I passed out and when I roused, I had lost an eye but I kept my life."

"And you made it look like the boy was you," Fayte said, understanding now. "So that you can join her and find the assassin."

"Yes," Jeremiah said and smiled at him. "But you took care of him, so we turned our attention to the others and why they were here."

"That was highly unnecessary," Fayte told him. "Everyone thought you are dead. So does Priestess Joanna and the woman is inconsolable."

Jeremiah lost his smile then.

"It was I who convinced him to feign his death," Wei Ling said. "I sensed a plot and feared for his safety, hence the ruse."

"We know who are the men behind this," Jeremiah told him. "The ones from the East Kingdom at least. Wei Ling has confirmed their identity here. She needs only to report back to her Emperor and we can put this matter to rest."

"My kingdom has no intention of invading Hylan," Wei Ling said clearly. "But there are those who desire power and they wish to obtain it here. I have seen to the end of one of such attempts today, with help from the two of you. And my Emperor will see to the end of the rest of them back home."

That would resolve the group from the East Kingdom trying to prevent Emily's marriage. As for Magister-Lord Raymius, Fayte was still concerned. Killing Jeremiah was only part of his plot, he would need to be rid of King Eardon and Emily as well.

"I will wake him," Jeremiah said.

"I'm not so sure you needed our help," Fayte said, digging into one of the wounds on the ground. "Those gusts of wind made this."

Wei Ling smiled and she, like Lady Feralina, was beautiful when she did. She flicked her wrist and swept her fan away from them. A shallow line cut across the ground and sent dust shooting off from the end.

Magic, Fayte realized, when he saw inscriptions on her fan glowing right before she flicked her wrist.

"They call her the Red Wind," Jeremiah said, dragging the last gryphon knight over. "For her wind draws blood."

That made her cringe. "I do not like it. They make it sound as though I bleed each time I let out wind from my rear."

They laughed heartily, for it was amusing and they were sore and tired from their adventure. A good laugh was what they needed after all that has happened.

"I should not like to meet you in battle," Fayte told her, admiring her skills. "How does one shield against a blade made of air?"

"With a shield like the one you use," she said. "For I am no master of the wind and I cannot cut through steel in a single move. But I know a man capable of such a feat and he is a wise man whom I have much and more to learn from."

The Order of the Elements would have much and more to learn from him as well.

"What do you wish to learn from this man?" Wei Ling asked.

"How Raymius intends to get rid of our royal family," Fayte said. "These men were sent after me. Surely there are more."

"Jeremiah here has sent word ahead before we came to your rescue, but members of royal families are always in danger," Wei Ling said. "That is why they have personal guards. Is the danger that threatens your King on this day too great for your Whiteguards? I do not think so, for we have survived the same danger that threatens him. And though she will surely face greater numbers, stronger warriors and wiser minds are around her."

Her words reassured him. Captains and individuals with high command from the Orders of Rondiar may not be present during the wedding, but the Whiteguards were out in full force and the Heads of the Orders of Rondiar were with her as well. Not forgetting that danger could not reach her without first passing through the Captain of Rondiar City Watch.

But when it came to Emily, he would always worry.

"Your name," Jeremiah said, standing next to Fayte and Wei Lin now as they looked down at the gryphon knight sitting on the ground.

The dazed warrior looked around himself and saw the aftermath of the battle.

"You kill Reelis," he said, staring at the dead gryphon. "YOU KILLED-"

Both Fayte and Jeremiah flinched when Wei Ling kicked the gryphon knight across the face. She moved without warning, snatching the dagger from Jeremiah and held it just a hair away from the man's eye with her hand around his neck.

"Focus, warrior," she said, her voice only a whisper but deadly like her slicing winds. "There are questions that need answering. Answer truthfully, and perhaps you may join your companion."

Fayte exchanged a look with Jeremiah. Did she just threaten to not kill him if he refused to talk?

"Fine, ask your questions," the man said, his eyes tearing up.

Again they exchanged another look. Did that actually worked?

Wei Ling released him and returned to join them. She nudged Fayte when no one spoke.

"Why did Raymius send so many to kill me?" he asked.

The gryphon knight was still looking at his dead companion. These gryphon knights may be fighting for a false belief, but there was nothing false about the bond that they shared with their gryphons.

"You are Fayte Kaywin," the man said. "Everyone knows how close you are to the Princess. Your death would devastate her. Her and your father."

Wilson had already anticipated this possibility.

"How does Raymius plan to get rid of King Eardon and the royal family?"

"The Saldarians." He shrugged and shook his head. "That's their job. I don't know how exactly."

That troubled Fayte. His heart would be at greater ease if he knew their plans, but Wei Ling was right about trusting the people around Emily now. The Whiteguards would take care of her. His father would take care of her.

"And once the royal family is killed, Raymius will proclaim himself King." Fayte shook his head. "You serve a fool, gryphon knight. Hylan would never accept him. Even if Raymius was successful in killing Jeremiah, there are other families who were once royal. And even if the people were willing then, the Orders of Rondiar would never-"

"The people of Hylan would have no choice," he said, turning away from his companion at last. "The Magister-Lord Raymius is no fool. All you Order filth think us Gwedonians as fools. You despise us and look down on us, yet without our gryphons you could never get anywhere in this kingdom."

"So what, Raymius will hold the gryphons hostage? The gryphons are Gwedoniar City's only source of income. Without them all of you will starve."

The gryphon knight laughed.

"It is you who will starve!" he said. "As we speak, the soon-to-be King Raymius is leading a host of gryphon knights and Saldarian troops to lay siege on Harvesria."

By the light.

"We know that a single White Shield knight is worth ten of us," the gryphon knight said. "We are no fools, we are not blind, so we will bring a hundred of us! Harvesria is poorly defended with no walls or natural barriers. Even if there were, our gryphons will just fly over them and lay waste to your City Watch from the air!"

Wei Ling left them, likely to find transport since their gryphon perished in the fight.

"We need to get reinforcements to Harvesria," Fayte told Jeremiah. "My father bolstered the defences in every city, town, and village. Captain Yandor is not helpless but he won't last."

"Bolstered defences?" The gryphon knight spat. "Mercenaries from Eronaxe. The Saldarians will make short work of them! You may have won this battle, Fayte Kaywin, but you lost the-"

Wei Ling drew her sword and ended the gryphon knight.

Fayte reached for his weapon. "Why did you do that?"

"Keeping my end of the trade," she said, sheathing her weapon before leaving the body. "Come, it seems we must hurry off yet again."

"Yes, but there is one last matter that we must see to if we are to be more help to Harvesria." Jeremiah placed his hand on Fayte's back and led him to the stone table. "Come, it is time for a knight's pilgrimage to come to an end."

Jeremiah was right. Time was of the essence but with the Light of the Spirits, Fayte would be able to do much more against Raymius and the Saldarians. And so Fayte went to his knee and closed his eyes in front of the nine stones with his shield and sword. He took a deep breath and cleared his mind before he began.

"On bended knee, under Sera's watch, I take this oath…" Fayte went on, recalling the days when he just became a squire and was so excited that he recited the oath to himself each and every night.

He had come a long way, surviving through gruelling training and suffering through many punishments and guard duties, for he was the son of the Lord-Knight and thus subjected to harsher rules. There lived in Hylan only two Kaywins now. His father had brought glory to their family name and on this day, Fayte shall make his own contribution, and it shall be the first of many.

"…In the face of despair, under the blitz of blows, with the memories of my loved ones as my strength, I stand unwavering."

He opened his eyes and looked upon the nine stones of the nine heroes whose spirits now looked down on him from the heaven.

"For I am Fayte Kaywin," he said. "Knight of the Order of the White Shield."

The sky was blue, the sun was glorious, the winds were gentle, and the clouds were thin. It was a beautiful day, a magnificent day in fact, one suited for the joining of two nations and the marriage of the Grace of Hylan. But not the blessing of one squire.

"Wei Ling," Jeremiah said, smiling without mirth. "I fear I must ask that you step off from the summit of this mountain. It seems that the spirits of the nine heroes will not respond when there are-"

"On bended knee, under Sera's watch, I take this oath," Fayte said, for he knew Wei Ling was not the problem here. "To swear loyalty and faith to the Order of the White Shield."

He said each word carefully and went through every single verse just the way he had done for years and years. There was no doubt in his mind that he memorized the oath correctly.

"For I am Fayte Kaywin," he said loudly. "Knight of the Order of the White Shield."

He waited and he waited but there was nary a breeze. Fayte clenched his fingers around the strap of his shield. He said it again and once more after that. Nothing. Not even a breeze or a sign. The judgement was as clear as the day itself.

I am not worthy.

"Is that it?" he said, looking to the sky. "IS THAT IT? You deem me unworthy?"

"Fayte…"

He rose to his feet. "I won the squire's tournament! I saved the Grace of Hylan, I saved Emily of the Royal Whiteart family! It was my actions that kept Hylan from being invaded by a horde of undead creatures! It was me! Or perhaps you too have been taken in by her tales? Is that it?"

"I do not think it wise to speak to your God in such a manner," Wei Ling said.

"SHUT UP!" he snapped at her, turning back to face the sky. "Sera, spirits, whoever you are up there, am I not worthy then? Is that it? I have served you my whole life with all my heart! I have served the Queen of the Water Nymphs and she herself had saw fit to reward me! I led John back onto his path as you had directed me to on my pilgrimage! I met the Templar spectres and that ancient wyvern living in that cave! Yet still you judge me unworthy?"

Fayte clenched his fist.

"ANSWER ME!"

The sky lit up and for just an instant Fayte thought that his words had moved Sera into blessing him with the Light of the Spirits. That was not the case, in fact it was far from it, for a bolt of lightning arc down from the sky and smite the very spot where he was standing. He would have been dead if Jeremiah had not pulled him away.

"I know that you are confused, Fayte, but that is no way to speak to Sera!" Jeremiah yelled at him, shoving him aside. "This is what happens when you disrespect a God!"

"How does this work?" Wei Ling asked. "Does a squire only have one chance to be judged? Or can he return and try once more?"

"He can should he chooses to," Jeremiah told him as he got up, glancing at the blackened spot on the ground. "Do you remember that, Fayte? You can try again. Sera is wise and she does not act without reason. It is not the first time that she and the spirits have judged someone unworthy, only to bless the very same person again on his subsequent pilgrimage. It happened to Sir Percson and look who he stands amongst now!"

"Never resent a God," Wei Ling said. "They work in their own ways."

But it was not resentment that fuelled his rage now. Fayte may had lashed out at Sera but he was not angry at her. He did not mean his words and he knew Sera was aware of that. No. He was angry not at Sera but at himself.

For he had failed.

Again.