Violet hues swirled across the sky with golden rays lancing from the rising sun.
The abandoned village was eerie and unsettling. Not a single home had its roof still. The stone walls were worn over the centuries, now short like stumps of tree and hardly resembled walls. What wood that were used here had long decayed and returned to nature.
Fayte ran his hand down the back of Whitesong's head, calming the girl as they rode through. This was the first stop of his pilgrimage and judging from the tracks on the soil beneath them, other squires had recently come and gone.
"The King should have this place rebuilt," Fayte said, dressed in linen and leather with a cloak thrown over his shoulder.
His black hair was short, the ends running past the top of his ears. The purple sky reflected in his eyes as the unsettling village kept him alert.
"No," said Wilson, the youngest priest in Hylan properly dressed in his white robe. "This village remains the way it is to remind us always of how terrible a time Hylan was when the Great Evil was upon us."
Before the rule of the royal Whiteart family, Hylan was torn by civil war with numerous Kings laying claim to the land of Hylan. Then came the Great Evil which tore across Hylan, leaving only death and destruction in its wake. No army could withstand it, not even the might of combined armies. Faced with an impending doom, the Templar Order sacrificed itself to summon Hylan's last hope with the aid of the Chosen Herald.
"And this is the Temple of the Heralds," Fayte said, arriving at their destination.
It was more a ruin than a temple. The walls stood but half its height were destroyed and more had weathered away over the centuries. If the temple still stood then it would be a small one. Historians had written that the temple housed less than fifty heralds, their purpose in Hylan was negligible until the summoning of the nine heroes. Hylan's last hope.
The nine heroes defeated the Great Evil and brought Hylan under the rule of the royal Whiteart family. An era of peace followed for centuries until the darkness in the south appeared.
The darkness that had a hand in stealing Emily from him.
"Fayte," Wilson said from atop the stairs, the wind sweeping across his golden hair. "Come on."
Fayte got off his horse. "Wait here for me."
Whitesong nuzzled him before she went aside to graze.
He ascended the narrow steps carefully, his sword clinking against his leg guards and his shield strapped to his back underneath his cloak. A low cry drew his attention to the sky as a white dragon swooped down and grabbed onto Wilson's head. His friend nearly lost his balance and topple over.
Preston barked at him to hurry.
Together they approached what should be the entrance of the temple. There was barely any vegetation here, neither grass nor tree. There was a scent of smoke as though something was burning, but there were no embers or any signs of flame around them. It was a painful sight for Fayte, one that resembled too much like his own home in Zywedior.
"The Temple of the Heralds was destroyed by the Great Evil," Wilson said, holding up his hand when Fayte was about to continue further in. "Thankfully the Chosen Herald managed to escape."
A small section of the temple's entrance remained, a doorway with a stone arch about two maybe two and a half storey high. The archway was where all the tracks ended. The interior of the temple was too dangerous to be exploring in.
"The heralds saw the Great Evil coming," Wilson went on, sharing the history of their kingdom. "Soldiers tried to make them leave, to run, but the heralds refused as did the villagers."
"For we should stand against evil and not flee from the sight of it," Fayte said, recalling his history lessons.
Wilson nodded. "Personally, I think they took it a little too far, as did the Templars. Two sacred Orders wiped out in the span of days. But those were dark days and I am not one wise enough to judge them."
Live and fight another day. Wilson lost his parents in the War of Darkness and Light. From what Fayte had heard, his parents could have fled but they chose to stay and stand against the darkness. It was an honourable death, but Wilson would sooner take the label of cowardice than two dead parents. An irony, for Wilson refused to speak to his aunt because the woman chose to flee than stand with his parents.
"As a knight of the White Shield, you are the shield of Hylan, the protector of the weak, defender of the helpless," Wilson said, these words he read from a little book he received from the Order of the White Shield. "Just as a knight would not lower his shield to let himself be cut, Hylan will not lower her shield to allow herself to be injured. You are the shield of Hylan and so it is your duty to protect her."
"Aye," Fayte said, his eyes set to the sky. A duty I failed when the Saldarians took my mother and sisters from me.
"Aye," said another voice from behind them.
Wilson smiled at the two newcomers. "Joanne, your beauty is a ray of sunlight in this forsaken place."
The older priestess smiled but shook her head. "Always with the charms, Wilson."
"Greetings to you, good priest," said the other squire. "And to you, child of Sera."
Preston flew over to the squire and perched on his shoulder, greeting him in return with a warm snarl.
Fayte went over and clasped hands with his friend. "Jeremiah."
"And how are you, young squire?" Priestess Joanne asked. "I do hope you remember me."
Fayte could not recall all of the priestesses he had spoken to over the past few months, save for one a little longer back. "You are the priestess who healed me on the day of my tournament. After the horde of earth animations attacked us."
Priestess Joanne smiled. "I am glad you remember still."
"Thank you for your aid, my lady," he said, remembering how he had lost consciousness and woke in her arms with her energy pouring into him.
"Joanne is a member of the noble Vladertz family," Wilson said. "I am unclear regarding how the two of you are related though."
And here I thought Vladertz were only good with swords.
"Jeremiah is my nephew," Joanne said, looking at Jeremiah who was slowly leaning away. Her hand shot out and she started rubbing his head, messing up his hair. "My sweet little adorable nephew who is about to become a knight!"
They laughed as Jeremiah fought to get his aunt away. The two of them looked more like cousins than aunt and nephew, but Fayte knew that followers of the White Rose were able to maintain their youth longer than most. Wilson guessed it was because of the holy energy that they channel through their body so often. Others claimed that the followers had their own fountain of youth within Grand-Rosia.
If Fayte had to guess, Joanne may looked like she was in her late twenties, but she would most likely be in her mid-thirties now. He judged from the size of her dragon, twice the length of Preston and now flying above them. To be the companion of a white dragon was proof that Joanne was no ordinary priestess. Only few followers of the White Rose would have the miracle of a dragon egg hatching for them. But now as Fayte watched Preston get distracted by Jeremiah's long tied up hair, he was beginning to wonder if miracle was the most appropriate word.
"Preston, please stop chewing on my friend's hair," Fayte said.
They left the temple after a silent prayer and rode out of the village.
"I am headed straight to Iredis from here," Jeremiah said, a glint of chainmail escaped from underneath his shirt. "From there I head home before making my way to Eres Star City."
Every squire would plot a different journey for their pilgrimage. Most would choose to begin at where they were born, while others chose to start from Rondiar as Jeremiah did for the capital city was also where their journey would end. From there on each individual squire would visit places of interests or importance to them, including common ancient sites such as the Temple of the Heralds and the Temple of the Eres Star. A squire may choose to spend however long he wishes on his pilgrimage, but most would finish in around a moon turn's time.
"I ride for Ironsville from here," Fayte said. "From there I leave for Oaksblade where I will hire a gryphon to Iredis."
Jeremiah's mount shifted about as he thought. "Eres Star after Iredis?"
Fayte nodded. "Perhaps we will meet again there."
"I hope so," Jeremiah said. "The journey to the temple up Mount Erestor is harsh and brutal. It would be like old times during our earliest days as squires if we could make the journey together."
Oh the horrific memories of them going through insanely intense trainings back then. Fayte shuddered.
"Old times indeed," Fayte said.
Once more they clasped hands.
"If we do not meet, pay a visit to Captain Resfield when you are at the city," Jeremiah told him.
"Of course," Fayte said, recalling the time he fought alongside the Captain to save Emily... and the Prince. "Stay safe, my friend."
"You as well," Jeremiah said, before a dagger appeared in his hand and he prodded Fayte gently on the heart. "Now stop being lazy and put on your chainmail."
Fayte rolled his eyes.
It was the same dagger Jeremiah used to force a draw during their duel in the tournament.