For a moment his sword was stuck.
The bird screeched in pain as he put a foot to its neck and yanked his sword out. A second longer and those talons that came at him next would have torn him apart. He rolled away and observed. Blood did not spew from its wound as he had expected, but one look at his stained blade assured him that he had injured it. The bird held itself lower now like it was painful to raise its neck. That was when Fayte noticed the rider atop of it, draped in a thick hemp cloak with two large black orb for eyes.
The bird turned to him and its eyes narrowed.
"Father!" Fayte yelled, wondering why he was doing all the fighting. "Any chance you could lend a hand?"
The monster surged.
By now Emily should have been brought away safely. He had done his part of keeping the monster away from her, and now he needed to let other more capable fighters take his place. Fayte spun around and broke into a sprint, only to trip on a slab of rock. He hit the ground on his shoulder but it was his wrist that made him scream.
"FAYTE!" It was Emily.
The monstrous bird was upon him. He held up his shield, but his sword wrist was broken. Sera, save me. The outline of a circle drew itself in front of him and flared blue. The bird screeched and opened its beak wide to bite his head off but the blue circle flared until its light was blinding. Fayte raised his shield to protect his eyes just as someone grabbed him by the back of his doublet and dragged him away.
"Come on," Wilson said, pulling him to his feet. "Can you walk?"
"Is Emily safe?"
She was. He found her standing a good distance away with her parents, surrounded by the Whiteguards with two mages in elaborate robes and magic staffs flanking them. Beneath their feet was a glowing pattern not unlike the one that appeared before him just moments ago. Ancient inscriptions and seemingly random lines connecting each inscription to another formed the ice glyph that now protected the royal family.
They made their way to safety and Wilson sat him down on the grass. Everyone had backed as far away from the bird as possible. Some even went down to the lower garden but most chose to stay and watch. He could still hear the bird screech and only after he sat down could he see who had saved him.
An old lady with silver-grey hair tied into a bundle faced the monstrous bird. She wore a robe the blue of the mysterious ocean, thin but numerously layered with different shades. Inscriptions and more ancient texts spellwoven into her garment as patterns. Sapphire jewels decorated her hair, ears, and wrists, with more dangling from her neck. But the biggest jewel of all was the staff of frozen ice she held in her hand, taller than she was with three lustrous blue gemstones swirling atop the staff, Icildix.
Archimage Lasandra tapped her staff on the ground.
Nine ice glyphs appeared all around the monstrous bird, each glyph a different size from the other. The glyphs rotated and glowed with varying intensity. The bird screeched and tried to shake the glyphs off but the magic circles were cast and mere movements would never dispel them.
"I urge you, rider, to take control of your mount now," the Archimage of the Frostsnap said. "You will not find my spells very comforting."
The rider was struggling to rein back the bird when it lunged to strike at the Archimage. She tapped her staff on the ground again and the ice glyphs flared to life. Fayte and Wilson had to shut their eyes and look away. A gust of winter wind sent a harsh shiver through his body, stinging his skin and misting his breath for a single puff. The monstrous bird had its four limbs encased in ice and all that moved was its head.
A screech pierced the air, this one familiar to Fayte's ears as he watched a gryphon swoop down from the sky and snatch the rider off his mount. The mighty gryphon promptly discarded him in front of a heavily armoured man.
"Unmask yourself, stranger," his father said, the tip of his gleaming sword touching the rider's chin.
"Can your father actually fight in that armour?" Wilson asked, cutting the straps off his shield. "Your arm is badly broken…"
Fayte grimaced when he looked at his arm. Broken in more than two places and covered in blood. The searing pain made him shake but Wilson placed a hand on his shoulder and Fayte instantly felt relief pouring into him. His arms still hurt when Preston showed himself, standing on his muscular hind legs and looking at him. The white dragon whelp was about the size of a small dog, covered in soft grey scales with a long hornless head that bore a set of vicious fangs. Preston's large eyes settled on his broken arm.
"Book," Wilson said, cutting off his sleeve.
Preston turned around and bent his neck low. Behind him was a leather backpack and from it Wilson took out a thick tome framed with gold. He held it by the spine with one hand and opened it, the pages flipping themselves until they arrived at where he wanted them to be. But when Wilson looked underneath his arm, he shook his head and the tome flipped three pages from the right. He looked at the text.
"Shouldn’t you know how to mend bones by heart already?" Fayte asked.
"I'm trying something new," Wilson said, showing the open book to Preston.
Preston could read too.
"Wilson, I trust you with my life," Fayte said. "But you are not going to experiment on me."
The guy waved his hand dismissively. "Be calm. Nothing will go wrong."
Before Fayte could protest further, Wilson's left hand began to glow with a white aura. He brought Fayte's arm lower and closer to Preston. That was when Fayte saw that the little whelp was glowing white as well. Preston opened his mouth and breathed fire along his broken arm. He would have jumped and pulled his hand away if the fire Preston breathed hadn't been white.
Fayte smiled. Preston finally had enough magic to perform healing spells.
Once Preston had shut his jaws, Wilson examined his arm and touched it at different spots, checking and mending the different areas accordingly. He didn't say anything but Preston looked on intently. They were sharing their thoughts with one another and from each other they learned. Fayte shook as he felt the bones in his arm shift and mend. This wasn't the first time he felt bones move and muscles heal underneath his skin. Even so, it could be the hundredth time and Fayte still couldn't see himself getting used to the feeling.
"Rest the arm for a day and you'll be fine." Wilson got up and pulled Fayte up with him. "Come. I want to see that thing up close."
Five swords were now pointed at the rider's neck.
His father stood in front of the rider with his sword by his side. Behind him was the royal family with Emily standing as close to him as Commander Reyner would allow her, which was barely three steps away from the King. The Whiteguards circled them and the guests surrounded them all. Fayte made his way nearer to the royal family, nodding at Emily to assure her that he was well. He watched as his father made his way to the King.
"Well?" King Eardon asked, his face passive for now.
His father did not answer the King until he saw him. Fayte nodded as he did to Emily.
"Your son is safe," the King said not unkindly. "What of the attacker?"
"He claims to be here under a flag of peace," his father said, holding out a white cloth dirtied from travel. "I believe it wiser for you to hear him out yourself, my King. My men have searched him. It is safe."
So the King led the way with Commander Reyner and the Lord-Knight by his sides. The rider looked up. What were black orbs for eyes before were now hung around his neck - goggles - no doubt to shield his eyes while flying. Yet Fayte saw it only as a means of hiding the truth from them. He crossed his arms and his brows furrowed.
"Skin browned from the sun," King Eardon said, his head shaking slowly. "Eyes green with envy."
"Green pupils," Wilson said, looking immediately at Fayte. "Then he must be a-"
"Kill him," the King commanded.
Emily gasped. Her father had already turned away. The rider's eyes went wide and even Fayte himself was surprised. When his father saw his knights move, he flailed his arms wildly in silence and gestured for them to stay their swords. He turned from his men and went after the King.
"My King," he said, glancing at Queen Remilda and Emily, "perhaps we should give him a chance to speak first?"
"You are a noble man, Frendon," King Eardon said. "But I will speak only to the ghost of a Saldarian."
Queen Remilda touched him on the arm. "My lord husband-"
"The boy is a Saldarian," the King announced and of those who heard but could yet see the rider's eyes, all were shocked. His voice lowered. "He brought a beast to our daughter's party and nearly killed her."
"Father it is only just a scraped elbow," Emily said, raising her arm. "Look, it's healed already."
"What if it had been worse?" the King said. "What if you had broken a bone and the Bishop could not mend it? And you say it as though a scratch was a simple matter. My dear, precious daughter, hurt! I will not stand for such treachery."
"Father, you're overreacting," Emily said, though not irritated. "I'm fine!"
She did a twirl on the spot and smiled adorably.
"See?" Emily held her father by the arm and began working her charm. "Please, father, let us hear what he has to say. Look at him. He seems rather harmless and in fact quite dashing."
Now it was the King's turn to have his eyes go really wide.
"DASHING?" He turned to the knights. "Drop his head."
The knights moved. Fayte shut his eyes.
"Prince of Saldara!"
Fayte heard Wilson finishing off a verse of prayer as he opened his eyes. The rider had his eyes shut tightly with his body tensed in fear. The knight behind him had raised his sword high. He only stopped when the rider yelled.
"Please do not have me executed, your Majesty," the rider said. "I am the Prince of Saldara. Please hear what I have to say."
King Eardon looked at him.
"There, you have spoken and I have heard," he said. "Now kill him."
The knight moved.
"Oh for Sera's sake," the Queen exclaimed. "Stay your blade. All of you, lower your swords."
Fayte noticed his father nodding slightly before his men put away their weapons. One might think the King to be rash, but Eardon was no King by mere succession. The way he held himself now with his back to the rider and his expression unfathomable, with not a word spoken to his Queen for overruling him… this was a play on the rider's fear for his life. And it was well played for the King and the Queen had now seen the rider frightened sufficiently.
"I am Queen Remilda of Hylan," she said, her chin held high. "Daughter of Magister Percius of the noble Faris family. You called yourself Prince of Saldara. Would that be your name or a title?"
"Title," the rider - the Prince - said, breathing hard. "I am Rinmar La'ou of the Severing Sands. Son of Emperor Ringor La'ou of Saldara and the Severing Sands. I am Prince and sole heir to the sands of Saldara."
"Sole heir," the Queen repeated with a glance to the King. "Tell me then, Prince Rinmar of Saldara, what brings you, an enemy of my kingdom, to my daughter's party unannounced?"
The Prince took a deep breath to steady himself.
"I come asking for peace," he said, nervous but steady enough. "For Saldara and Hylan to be allies."
There was no doubt to Emily's feelings regarding that proposal. The Princess didn't even bother turning away, leaving the brimming hope and smile on her face wide open for the Saldarian Prince to see. From the guests came disbelief and also chatter, many of whom clearly did not share the same thoughts as Emily did. Fayte observed that his father had kept himself without expression as did the Queen and King Eardon. Their silence that followed as the guests grew noisier was a good measure of their shock. But Emily was too excited to notice that and it was why she was the first to speak up.
"Our countries have been at war for almost seven years."
Six years and five months, Fayte noted silently.
"Why the sudden change of-" Emily shook her head. "I forget my manners. Please rise, Prince Rinmar, and tell us why you have brought such heartening news to--"
"--if the Saldarian so much as shifts a knee," the King said, "kill him."
After saying it so many times the King finally sounded murderous.
"Father, he's here to bring us-"
"-Hush, Emily," Queen Remilda said, placing her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Before this discussion goes any further, we will require proof of your claim. Any one of your people can declare himself a Prince who we have never seen before or knew existed. And as well claim to bring a call for peace."
The Prince nodded. He must have expected this. First he removed the goggles from his neck and dropped them on the ground. Next he removed his rough hemp cloak and set it aside. Then he began to remove a leather vest which he wore underneath, and lastly a bright scarlet tunic befitting a Prince. Lady Elisen stepped forward to block Emily from the Prince as he revealed his bare chest.
"I bear the mark of Saldara across my heart," Prince Rinmar said, his sun-brown skin covered with numerous scars from blades and whips, fire and teeth, and others not known to Fayte. "If you have a historian or any intellectuals versed with the Saldarian ways, please bring forth them and have them examine the seal."
"Saldara truly is a harsh place if even the Prince is so battle worn," Wilson said.
Or he could be a false Prince, sent to assassinate the King. Still, Fayte considered the possibility that this Prince was true. "There must surely be motive behind this sudden call for peace."
"You think it's a lie," Wilson said and he shrugged. "I cannot say I blame you."
Minutes passed and the guests had not once ceased their discussions with one another. News of how a Saldarian Prince crashed the Princess's birthday party would soon spread throughout Hylan. For now the guests here grew more excited when they saw a little boy, no older than ten and standing just a few inches taller than Fayte's waist. The blonde haired boy was escorted by Sir Percson himself, a man in his early thirties with youthful eyes and an aura of calm.
The boy looked up from the thick book he was reading.
"This is Kestel Loctk," his father said, sword in his hand as he led the boy up to the Saldarian. "High Sage of Hylan."
"High Sage?" the Prince said, looking at Kestel in his white robe lined with a sapphire blue like that of his eyes, with long flowing sleeves that stretched past his hands to hang just an inch off the ground. "He is no more than a boy."
"No more than a boy," his father agreed, his sword held closely to the Saldarian, "but smarter than you and--"
--Kestel stabbed the Prince in the heart with a dagger.
The air seemed to halt.
The High Sage removed his dagger from the chest of the Prince where the intricate patterns of his royal seal were inked over. Not even his father knew what to say. No one knew in fact. Perhaps it was a mistake to have neglected the fact that Kestel himself had suffered losses from the Saldarian's attack more than six years ago, but surely no one would have thought the child to act in such a manner.
"He speaks truth," Kestel said, his voice as dull as his expression was, handing the bloodless dagger to his father. "I advise execution."
The boy flipped his book open and read as he walked away.
Prince Rinmar touched the spot where Kestel had plunged his dagger. There was not a drop of blood nor the hint of a wound. The Prince was fine and unhurt save for a mild shock that no one present was spared from.
"The High Sage's method is quite intense." Wilson was laughing now as did many others.
While others bore respect and awe in their eyes as they watched Kestel disappear into the crowd, Fayte looked upon him with sympathy and empathy together. That boy had hoped for a different result.
"Interesting…" his father said, trailing the tip of his sword on the Prince's chest. "May I try?"
"I would prefer if you didn't… Sir," Prince Rinmar said with a nervous smile.
"He is Frendon Kaywin," the King said, stepping forward as he gestured for Frendon to put away his sword. "Lord-Knight of the Order of the White Shield. One half of all that remains of the Kaywin family… because of you."
The Prince's smile disappeared.
"Father, he came to propose peace--"
The force of his words drained all manner of noise from the garden. Emily visibly shook from her father's sudden outburst, shying into her mother's arms. The guests became silent and Fayte rested his arm on his sword to steady himself. The King's rage was not to be taken lightly. Even the Queen herself dared not look her husband in the eye.
"You have disrespected your Uncle Frendon enough by speaking so… kindly, to this Saldarian," the King said, turning back now to address the Prince. "Six years, five months, and twenty three days ago, a great city fell under the curved blades that you have inked on your chest right now."
The King snapped his finger and swirl of light shot from his hand, bringing forth a sword of celestial silver and divine white that was now pressed against the Prince's sweaty neck.
Serayen, the Sword of the Nines. Fayte had thought to only see this sword again during his knighting.
"An entire city of men, of old, of women, of children and of infants," the King said, his voice just a whisper yet they all heard him. "Tell me, Saldarian, why I should not take your head here. Tell me, Saldarian, why you believe that I would even consider an alliance, with a race of people who cared not for mercy and brought an unprovoked attack upon my people."
Prince Rinmar knew not what to say.
"The King asked you a question," his father said, his voice impartial.
Only then did the Prince look up and met eyes with King Eardon.
"There… there must be an end to the bloodshed," he murmured and grew braver. "There is no need for us to fight!"
King Eardon smacked the Prince across the cheek with the flat of Serayen's blade.
"Blood is already shed," the King said.
The Prince was hit so hard he was knocked off his knees. The skin of his cheek split open by the force of the strike. Emily turned away, others gasped, while Fayte steeled himself and watched on. Serayen disappeared with another twirl of light that wisped the sword away. The King pulled a signet off his finger and dropped it on the floor next to the Prince's bleeding face.
"Twelve thousand lives were taken that day," the King said as he turned and walked away. "Bring my ring to your father and tell him that. Tell him the price for my consideration of an alliance… is twelve thousand heads."