Fayte shaded his eyes with his hand as he watched the gryphon knights above them.
"Relax, boy," Master-Ranger Lenthil said. "None of them will bother coming all the way down."
According to the Master-Ranger, the arrangement between the Saldarians and the Gwedonians was that the gryphon knights would need to only mind the sky. Unless a small army was marching towards them, the Saldarians would take care of any visitors on the land. Their order was to turn away any travellers looking to enter the town. And right now the five of them looked just like travellers on horseback.
"Those are your men?" Captain Windon asked.
They were all tensed save for the rangers. Fayte counted five men by the south entrance. Harvesria had no walls or gates since it was located in the heart of Hylan. It was just houses built close together to serve as a funnel into the town. The people standing guard were all dressed in a uniform foreign to Fayte. It comprised just a few thin metal pieces on the chest, with the rest of the outfit made up of yellow fabric. The uniforms looked poorly made.
The uniform of a Saldarian soldier.
The ranger that came with them whistled a tune and one of the soldiers returned with a tune of his own. Like two birds singing to one another. The ranger nodded at them, answering the Captain's question.
"My men will pretend to search us, just in case one of the gryphon knights above is watching." Master-Ranger Lenthil was checking their surroundings as they approached the town. His eyes darted about, for what, Fayte was not sure but possibly for signs of an ambush. "After that they will escort us into a building where the idea would be to kill us for refusing to turn around and leave. We will sneak out through a back entrance and make our way to the square from there."
When they arrived at the south entrance of Harvesria, the Saldarian soldiers came up to them with spears in their hands. Their uniforms made be poorly made but their weapons were not. Fayte resisted the urge to draw his sword. It was only until the soldiers came up close to him that he relaxed, for while these rangers could dress like Saldarians, the colour of their eyes could not be made green.
"Fair noon to you, good priest," one of the rangers said with a smile even though he was shaking his spear threateningly at them. "I must ask that you dismount now, blessed one."
"Of course," Wilson said, slipping off the horse from behind Fayte.
"The patrols are thin. Most of the Saldarians are resting now," said the ranger reporting to Master-Ranger Lenthil. "Captain Yandor and his men put up a good fight."
"Captain Yandor is a good fighter and an honourable knight." Captain Windon got off his mount. He glanced at the sky before he pulled his hood lower. "How are his wounds?"
"Bandaged but blood still flows. Forgive me, Captain, but I'll need to shove you now." And the ranger did. "Move it now! All of you!"
No telling who might be watching us. Fayte looked about, trying to spot any signs of an ambush.
"You learn quick," the Master-Ranger said when he noticed what Fayte was doing. "It is usually the shadows that you need to mind, places where normally you would glance over."
Fayte nodded, understanding, and paid more heed to those places.
They went in the building and lingered for a while before heading out again. They split up to avoid drawing attention from above. Captain Windon went with the Master-Ranger while Fayte and Wilson was led by Ranger Tessa.
"Of the noble Vladertz family," she said, introducing herself as they moved through the dark alley. "Jeremiah is my cousin."
That surprised them both.
"You must have been quite surprised then to see him alive?"
"Aye, I was," she said, holding up her hand as she peered around a corner. After seeing that it was clear, she waved them onward again. "Normally we don’t get news so quickly, us rangers don't get much rest, but word of the East Kingdom assassin reached us quickly. The Lord-Ranger had to split us up because of this. The Lord-Ranger to support Rondiar defences while the Master-Ranger investigated this matter. I hear you were tasked to this investigation as well, Fayte Kayin, and by the King himself no less."
So I wasn't the only one looking into this matter. It made sense. After all he was a single squire and this was a matter that threatened the entire kingdom.
"I was and my investigation has led me here."
"Just as ours did. We were following a different thread. Gwedoniar was hiding something and our contacts there reported sightings of Saldarians. The Master-Ranger did not believe it, not until our ranger eyes saw those green-eyed bastards ourselves."
They crossed the street quickly into another alley and walked closed to the rear walls of the houses.
"You were at Gwedoniar City then?" Fayte asked.
"Not my squad, no, but my comrade saw you. Her name is Ameris, says you're better looking than she expected." Ranger Tessa stopped and turned around to look at him. She nodded. "I agree."
Fayte fumbled for a response and before he could come up with one, the ranger turned and continued to lead the way.
"Hush now, we're close."
They slipped into a house filled with the scent of spice. Ranger Tessa ran all of a sudden, a burst of speed as she raced across the room and slit the throat of a man. She drew her bow before the Saldarian soldier even hit the ground, loosing her arrow into a second soldier who had barely turned around to find out what caused the noise.
"Come," she said, heading up the stairs with two dead men in her wake.
"Elites indeed," Wilson said, muttering a prayer for the dead soldiers.
The ranger led them to the second level through the window into the next house. She paused and placed a finger on her lips before crouching low. With her ear pressed to the floor, she listened.
"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?"
Fayte was startled by the noise outside and he grabbed his sword, but the ranger pushed down on his hilt, preventing him from drawing his weapon. She had her finger on her lips again before pointing at the floor. She held up three fingers.
Three soldiers beneath us.
Ranger Tessa pointed at the window but held up her hand telling them to wait. She pushed her foot on the wooden floor, testing, searching for something. The ranger was careful not to make much noise, but wherever she placed her foot the floor would creak ever so slightly. After a minute she found the spot.
A ceiling beam, Fayte realized, following the ranger as they crept across the flooring nailed to the solid ceiling beam underneath. Once across the room they crouched next to the window. The ranger peered out first before gesturing for Fayte to have a look. It was Raymius who shouted. And when Fayte saw who the Magister-Lord was upset with, he felt like screaming himself.
"What's wrong?" Tessa asked, noticing his darkened expression.
"I have no intention of betraying you!" said Magister-Lord Raymius. "You on the other hand, you have poisoned my gryphons!"
The Saldarian soldiers had their spears levelled at the gryphon knights who in turn had their swords drawn. None of the Gwedonians were on their mounts, the gryphons beside them had all fallen on their sides. It was a mixture of Saldarians and Hylanders in the town square with the Magister-Lord standing in the middle confronting the man leading the Saldarians.
"Lormio La'ou," Fayte said, staring at the man who kidnapped Emily and summoned Ra'gelor. "He's supposed to be dead."
Yet there he stood in his thick robe of green billowing in the afternoon wind. Lormio La'ou, the Scygard mage, wore only his golden armour but no helm. His slim head and sharp features resembled little to Rinmar La'ou, his royal nephew.
"Your men have given up your lies, you wingless swine," said Lormio La'ou. "I did not even need to stain my blade. A bag of gold sufficed to loosen their tongues."
"Rinmar slit his neck open," Fayte recalled the day at Eres Star Castle. "Spilled his blood but it was what he wanted. Lormio La'ou used the blood to summon Ra'gelor."
Fayte noticed the glimmer of white near the Magister-Lord. It was Captain Yonus, bounded and sitting on the ground behind a group of anxious gryphon knights. The Saldarian soldiers outnumbered them three to one. Unlike a knight of the Order of the White Shield, gryphon knights were not blessed with the Light of the Spirits. They relied on their companions in battle but right now the great mountain gryphons were all incapacitated.
A man draped in only his undergarments was flung out from behind a group of Saldarian soldiers. He was covered in lashes and festering wounds with little fat to his skin. Fayte saw the expression on the Magister-Lord's face and knew at once the Scygard's accusations to be true.
"The bag of gold may have loosened his tongue." Lormio La'ou looked at the man and his very gaze made the man shake and cry for mercy. "But we had to be sure all the same."
"He knew nothing!" said the Magister-Lord. "He is not even a knight!"
"Is that so?" Lormio La'ou drew his sword. "Very well then."
Before the tortured man could beg for his life, the Scygard mage ended it. Yet it was not the swiftness of his strike that made them all gape. It was how Lormio La'ou's eyes glowed crimson from the kill, as if energized by the man's death. The gryphon knights were visibly upset by that act.
"They knew that man," Fayte realized, seeing the anger and hearing the cries from the Gwedonians.
"Moris is one of our finest gryphon masters." Even Raymius is shaken by this man's death. Fayte felt sympathy he did not expect when he saw the sadness in the Magister-Lord's movement. The man fell to his knees, his hands outstretched and shaking as if afraid to touch the body of the man. "He was a dear friend… He… He knew NOTHING!"
And right when Raymius lashed out and rose to his feet, Lormio La'ou lunged forward with his curved blade and swung the killing blow. The golden scygard blade drank blood and life, but not from the Magister-Lord. Ranger Tessa gagged Fayte right before he screamed, pulling him away from the window lest he drew the Saldarian's attention. But Fayte's mind was already past his emotions. He knew that he had to act now and join Captain Windon, for the knight would not allow Captain Yonus's sacrifice to be in vain.
A horn was blown. A signal from the Order of the White Shield to attack.
"Really?" Ranger Tessa was surprised, rising to her feet as she began loosing arrows into the square. "This is suicide!"
Why? Fayte thought, as he vaulted out of the window and landed into a roll. He drew his sword and cut through the Saldarian soldiers, catching them unaware from behind. Raymius is not worth it? Why? WHY?
Fleeting shades of arrows raced across the ground. Enemies fell before Fayte could even touch them with his sword. He ran forward, bounding over dead men and striking down living ones. When he came upon the first gryphon knight, he rushed to strike the man first but the knight dropped his sword and surrendered.
Coward, Fayte thought, running towards the Magister-Lord. Cowards, all of them. You gave your life for cowards!
He slid down and shoved the fat and unharmed magister away.
"Captain Yonus!" Fayte called, assessing the wound on the knight's chest. The wound was many things, deep, long, bloody, but all Fayte needed to know was that it was fatal. "WILSON!"
He was in such a rush that he had forgotten about his friend. Wilson was nowhere to be seen behind him. Only soldiers from the Order joining the fray, while rangers rained arrows down from the rooftops. Captain Windon was engaged in a fierce battle with Lormio La'ou. The white knight blazing with the light of the spirits, while the Scygard was shrouded in a dark mist.
"Captain, hang on, I have a priest on the-"
The Captain pulled Fayte in close.
"F-f-fool!" The knight coughed blood on Fayte's face. "Go! S-save them!"
"You're the one who needs saving!" Fayte said, a flash of anger when he recalled how the Captain had went after him when he was trying to save Emily.
"Gr-gr-gryphons," Captain Yonus was choking and each time he strained blood would flood out from his wound, "m-men! S-save, save them!"
"The gryphon knights?" Fayte was at a loss with what the Captain asked of him. "They attacked your town and betrayed-"
Captain Yonus cried and yanked Fayte close to his pale face. The scent of death heavy on his breath as he heaved a breath before speaking.
"They are men of Hylan!" Captain Yonus hurled a mouthful of blood before his grip weakened. His hand fell while his eyes rolled back. "Shield… them…"
As the Captain went limp in Fayte's arms, he felt his own limbs give way from the purity of the knight's dying words. Captain Yonus was always described as a zealous man, and he was indeed for even until his dying breath, he remembered his oath as a knight of the Order of the White Shield. An oath that Fayte had forgotten in his moment of rage and spite for the gryphon knights.
"Why…?" mumbled the Magister-Lord, who remained where Fayte had shoved him and could only stare at the dead Captain with a lost expression. "I attacked him, his town. I… I hit him with my own hands. Why…?"
They are men of Hylan. Fayte lay the Captain down gently and picked up his sword and shield again. That is why he did it.
"Because he is a knight," Fayte said, dragging the Magister-Lord onto his feet. "And as a shield of Hylan, it was his duty to protect a man of Hylan. It was his duty to protect you. Just as it is mine now."