CHAPTER 7

Water nymphs seemed to have a habit of doing that.

"Should we jump in and help or?"

Wilson shook his head. "Look."

The surface of the water rippled and John burst from beneath, spraying a mouthful of water into the air before he burst out laughing. Water nymphs in the shapes of fishes jumped from the water and splashed onto him.

They are playing with him, Fayte realized. "Does this happen often?"

"It would appear so," Wilson said, looking at the women who only glanced at the commotion. They were amused by the scene and no more intrigued by it than when they saw Preston. "Water nymphs can be rather playful and mostly harmless. Your first encounter with them was unfortunate."

Unfortunate indeed. The first time Fayte met them, they were busy dragging the Saldarian Prince underwater in an attempt to drown him. The water nymphs nearly did the same to him if not for Wilson.

"The sun will be setting soon in an hour or so," Fayte said as he turned away. "We should get-"

A jet of water hit him in the back of his neck.

"Hey!"

The water nymph giggled, its watery child-like form shimmering as it did, before it shot a jet of water at Wilson next. His friend smiled and blocked the stream with his hand, stepping closer to the edge of the lake. He kneeled as the water nymph moved closer to him, gesturing for him to come closer. Wilson waved his hand to reassure Fayte as he leaned in for the water nymph to whisper into his ear.

"Inform her that I will see to the matter personally," Wilson said, drying his ear with his sleeve.

In return the water nymph nodded at him before it spat out a ball of ice at Fayte. He caught it easily and the instant he did, he felt a presence touching his mind.

"We greet you, Fayte of the Kaywin family, son of the Protector, Frendon of the Kaywin family." Fayte shivered as he did the first time he heard the voice of a thousand speaking as one in his mind. This was the voice of the Queen of the Water Nymphs. "We wish you well for your pilgrimage."

The ball of ice melted in his hand and the presence along with it.

"I assume the Queen sent her greeting?" Wilson asked as he came over.

John coming out from the lake now, dripping from head to toe with water. At least he was clean again.

"And her well wishes for my journey," Fayte said. "Let me guess, she gave you a new command?"

"Aye, fortunately it's along the way." But Wilson wasn't smiling as he looked away. "What bothers me though…"

John came over and slapped the both of them on the back. "So where ye boys headed next?"

"The Fire Lake of Iredis," Wilson said, glancing at Fayte. "And it appears you will be joining us, John."

They flew on two gryphons, Wilson and Fayte sharing one while John had his own since he was heavier. Daylight was seeping away as they flew north under the clouds. Iredis was the magic city home to the Order of the Elements, a city of secrets and mystics. The city was said to be safer than even Rondiar. All the better for Iredis was the closest city to the world beyond the Northern Gate, as Zywedior was to Saldara.

"There is a taint in one of the rivers closest to the fire village," Wilson explained. "I have been asked to look into it."

"WOOOHOOOO!" John screamed, tossing his arms up into the air. "I'M FLYING!"

"And what about him?"

"I was only told to bring him along," he said, glancing at Preston when the dragon flew down and clung onto his shoulder. "I have little doubt that he has the bloodline of the Templars. What else can you tell from the way he fights?"

Powerful. "Offensively," Fayte said. "As how one would with a two-handed sword."

"Templars are known to focus more on the offensive than knights," Wilson said, wondering. "This man may be trained in the ways of the Templar. He might be in possession of more than just a Templar's sword."

"Like what? A book from the Order of the Eres Star? Only so few have been found."

"There could be more in the possession of collectors who keep it in secret," Wilson said. "There are also spells to preserve knowledge, be it in crystals or pages. The Eres Star Order had their mages and healers as well. It is a pity that we know so little about their ways and teachings."

Preston made a noise as though he was speaking.

"True," Wilson went. "We could just be overthinking this."

Fayte glanced at the sky. I doubt it.

"Hey, boys!" John called. "Ye think we'll get to see the Saldarian Prince when we're at Iredis?"

That reminded Fayte. Before her wedding, Emily would have to visit all major cities in Rondiar and pay her respects to the magister or leader of the city. Iredis would be her first stop and judging from the date… "I believe we will."

John cheered and nearly fell off his seat. The gryphon squawked angrily at him as though telling him to keep still.

"You cannot avoid her forever," Wilson told him. "She's still our friend and the Princess."

"I am not avoiding her. I am on my pilgrimage."

"Then you will not object if I hasten our journey so that we may return in time for her wedding."

"There will not be any hastening of our journey," Fayte said. "I don't want to rush my pilgrimage and end up not receiving the Light of the Spirits from Sera. And as I've said, you're free to leave earlier and attend the wedding. I will make do with another priest."

Fayte was sitting in front but he knew that Wilson was shaking his head now. Stubborn, but Fayte had no desire to see the girl he love join hands with the Prince of the people who murdered his family. He had failed his mother and sisters already. He will not dishonour them further by approving this marriage.

They watched the sun set from the air, admiring the sky as the sun gave hold of it to the luminous moon. Clouds obscured their view of the stars and Fayte dozed off a few times from boredom. Gryphons were highly intelligent so there was no need for him to steer the beast. Fayte roused when the gryphon began to descend. They paid for the flight to Iredis and Wilson had convinced the gryphon master to let them land earlier. Not a usual arrangement as there might be an ambush waiting for the gryphon on land, but it was easy to trust a priest of the White Rose.

"Will you require some rest, my friend?" Wilson asked. "We can stay and stand watch while you do."

The gryphon they rode on shook her head before she lowered it, a bow, at Wilson and Preston, then took off with her friend to the sky. Wilson summoned a sphere of light and sent it up to light their surroundings. Trees stood close together in front of them. Following the edge of the forest they quickly found the path leading in. Preston took off into the sky while they followed on foot. The wide path would lead them straight to Iredis, used mostly by merchants and traders with their wagons and carts. Otherwise gryphon was the way to travel if one had Iredis as a destination.

At last after an hour of walking they found a narrow path cutting into the forest. They followed it and shortly after that they could hear the running water of a river. The water was slow moving when they came upon it. A long bridge had been constructed out of stones and likely magic. Wilson went around the bridge and approached the river bank.

"I don't see any taint," Fayte said.

"Nor do I sense any," Wilson said, troubled. "Anything from the sky?"

Preston screeched from above and since Wilson said nothing, Fayte guessed that meant no. They proceeded across the bridge and into the forest. It was near pitch dark if not for the sphere of light. The moon above them was nowhere to be seen. Night creatures would be up and about now, but only silence followed them. Soon they started hearing noises, human noises, and as they approached the village the noises they heard had them breaking into a sprint.

Flaming torches were lit and staked to the ground or hung on holders on the walls. The earth beneath them was dry and firm and the air cool even with all the torches. Houses were made of clay and sand and Fayte spent only a few seconds admiring the architecture. The village was large and tall columns were made to hold the upper levels. This was the fire village of Iredis, one of four villages situated outside the City of Learning.

"Put down the sword, Orwell," a man yelled, standing at the head of a crowd. "Let the child go!"

A lone man stood in front of him, holding a short sword to the neck of a little boy. "NO! This noisy brat needs to be a taught a lesson! A LESSON! Noisy, noisy, NOISY! I will have my peace, Tyson! I WILL HAVE MY PEACE!"

Fayte raised his hand and they came to a stop. The man, Orwell, stood with his back towards them, caught between them and the crowd in front of him.

"Orwell, let the boy go," the one called Tyson said, clenching his fist as a fire glyph appeared beneath Orwell's and the boy's feet. "Let the boy go, OR I WILL KILL YOU WHERE YOU STAND!"

"Well that got out of hand rather quickly," Fayte whispered.

Now the crowd was backing away from Tyson. A woman was crying and begging him not to do it, that her son would be caught in the flames as well. Another was screaming that Orwell wasn't being himself, that they should not hurt him and help him instead.

"Fayte, if you intend to do something," Wilson said, "now is the time."

This would be easier if not for the mage. He glanced at the flaming torches around them, of which none felt warm at all. And a village filled with magic. "Preston, circle around and distract the mage. Wilson, can you heal the boy if his neck gets cut open?"

Wilson was unsure but he knew the situation was dire and that Fayte needed a clear answer. "Yes."

Preston leaped from his shoulder and jumped through a fence into the tall grasses. Fayte had his shield strapped to his arm and he crouched, moving to his right until Orwell was directly between him and Tyson. The mage might very well attack him as well if he saw him approaching.

"I AM SICK OF YOU AND YOUR MAGIC, TYSON!" Orwell was backing away, trying to get out of the glyph but it kept following him. "I AM SICK OF IT!"

"THEN I SHALL CLEANSE YOU OF YOUR SICKNESS!"

The fire glyph flared to life just as Preston leaped out and bit down on Tyson's hand. But the spell was not broken and both Orwell and the boy screamed as their feet began to burn. Fayte was on them the next moment, tackling them both out of the glyph just before a column of fire burst from the ground. They rolled across the ground and Fayte saw the boy squirming away. A woman cried out in joy as she embraced the boy, her son most likely. Fayte was relieved until he noticed something burning.

"AH!" He started patting his leg to put out the fire. "Hot! Hot! Hot!"

"DIE!"

Orwell came charging at him with both hands on his sword. Fayte wasn't done putting out the fire on his leg but he had no choice, raising his shield to guard the first blow before he reached for his sword. Fortunately three other men jumped on Orwell and held him down, just as others did to Tyson.

Fayte let out a sigh of relief and- "By the light!"

The fire was spreading up his leg and it refused to be put out until a girl splashed a bucket of water on him.

"The fire was on my leg," Fayte said, after taking a bucketful of water right in the face.

"Magic flames spread fast and are harder to snuff out," the girl said. She was about his age, draped in a robe sewed with silver threads in the shape of runes. "I had to drench you in order to prevent any latent mana from reigniting."

Fayte had no idea what latent mana was. "Fine. You have my thanks, mage."

"Estelle," she said, extending a hand, "of the Lowell family."

"A pleasure to meet you, Estelle Lowell. I am Fayte-"

"Fayte of the noble Kaywin family," Estelle said, a grin escaping her. "It is my honour to rescue the Hero of Hylan from a fiery demise."

He had to laugh. "Well then it seems I owe you one."

She was about his height, shorter, with auburn locks laying on her shoulders. Her eyes were scarlet in the light of the torches while her face was round and small. And her hand was soft when he held it.

"Tell me, Estelle, what happened here?"

Wilson gave the boy a pat on the head and smiled at him, nodding at Fayte to assure him that the boy was fine. The two men however were still struggling and screaming wildly. It took five men to hold each of them down and still they were putting up a fight. John was just being a nuisance wagging a finger at Orwell and scolding him.

"I'm not sure," she said, her hands placed behind her. "I was in my house on the upper tier when I heard Orwell screaming at the children. It's common for the children to run around the village and play. Sometimes they get a bit noisy and rowdy and they would be yelled at for it, but never has someone reacted so… violently. And Orwell is not one to act like this. Nor is Uncle Tyson."

Taint, was what he and Wilson were thinking of right now. "We may have an explanation for this."

Estelle raised a brow. "So do I."