Once a month the Captain of the City Watch would take to the streets on his war horse, Leor, named after a monstrously large lion that lived at the base of mount Tyrus with its pride of a hundred. Though Leor the lion was but just a legend, the wild beasts did indeed roam the foot of the mountain in that large of a number. It was there Captain Teynier found his destrier. Leor was the biggest warhorse Fayte had ever seen, almost twice the size of Whitesong, with chestnut skin and a sable-black mane. Muscles ripped through the body of the animal down to its hoofs. Few could match Leor’s stamina and no man or woman could withstand a kick from Leor’s hind legs.
The crowd before them gave way.
"Easy, girl," Fayte said, mounted on Whitesong as he brushed her mane. The girl had gotten a well-deserved rest yesterday. "Leor's not that scary."
"Then perhaps you should ride closer to us," Captain Teynier said.
Fayte was on the other side of the street, far away from the big scary horse. He smiled nervously and shrugged, patting Whitesong on her back. The Captain glared at him and only then did he urge Whitesong closer to them. Leor could hardly be bothered with them. The majestic beast held his head high with the high sun glinting off his head guard.
"Must you put spikes on his armour?"
"Back before I joined the City Watch, I rode through the plains in search for bandits' hideouts and slave traders' encampments. Whenever we got into a fight, Leor would start head butting the enemies and I figured, why not put a spike on his helm?"
Fayte looked at the intimidating faceguard that Leor wore. Helm or faceguard, that thing made Leor a very dangerous animal if Captain Teynier ever lost control of him. Many had tried talking Captain Teynier to take the spike off, at least during his monthly patrol, but the Captain would not listen.
"Leor likes it on," Captain Teynier said. "He gets… rowdy, when I take it away."
The Captain did patrols on random days to make sure his men were performing their duties properly. It was also by his father's order that Captain Teynier and all City Watch's Captains showed themselves to the people more often.
"We are here to serve the people, not hide in our office behind stacks of parchments and scrolls," his father had said. "The people will feel safer if they see, listen, and speak to the man in charge of their protection.
The people would feel safer with Leor chained in the stable. "The streets are getting more crowded by the day," Fayte noted.
A group of armed men with swords and daggers by their waists came out from the tavern. They were fierce looking men even without their weapons, battle-scarred and strongly built. They saw them both riding by and one of them quietly nodded at Captain Teynier. The leader of the group brought out a seal, the size of his palm, holding it up for the Captain to look at.
"Men of Eronaxe," Captain Teynier said after raising a hand to return the greeting before the men went on their way. "Even mercenaries are here to watch the tournament."
"The tournament," Fayte said, grinning.
"Someone seems excited," he said. "As you should. Ah, I remember my squire's tournament. The roaring crowd. The shaking excitement. The screaming girls…"
Fayte pictured Emily screaming and cheering for him. No, the Princess has to be neutral. Still, a little part of Fayte hoped that Emily would at least let slip a gasp if she saw him get hurt. Not that he intended to get hurt though. They may be duelling with blunt swords but hammers were blunt and many great warriors chose it for their weapon. Captain Teynier was lost in reminisce as they rode slowly down the street, past stores and merchants and children and shoppers.
"Were you the champion for your squire's tournament?" Fayte asked.
Captain Teynier sighed. "I was almost the champion. Yet the title could only be a dream for me."
"I don't quite…"
"I came in second," Captain Teynier explained, his left hand gripping the handle of his sword. "But I stood no chance against the champion."
"Who was the champion?" Fayte asked. "Do I know him?"
The man thought for a moment but shook his head. "Not likely. Does the name Resfield Jonar sound familiar to you?"
Resfield of the Jonar family… Jonar… Noble Jonar…
"The noble Jonar family has the bloodline of the Templars," he said, not yet done thinking. "Resfield of the noble Jonar family is the Captain of Eres Star City's Watch."
Captain Teynier nodded, impressed.
"They say those who have the blood of the Templars are born stronger and more gifted," the Captain told him. Leor gave a stomp on the ground when a group of children got a little too curious. They ran screaming. "Resfield was unmatched with the sword and the spirits blessed him generously. If not for his temper and lust for battle, Resfield may very well be in Feralina's place right now."
Blood of the Templars…
"But I thought that rage and lust were both sins unpardoned by Sera and forbidden in a knight's heart."
"Nothing is unpardoned by Sera," Captain Teynier said. "All men and women are capable of repenting. Sera condemns none. And I am beginning to sound like priestess Dana."
Who was Head Priestess of Rondiar's church.
"Rage are lust are both sins, yes, but no one is perfect, Fayte, always remember that." Captain Teynier looked at him. "Resfield has a short temper but never has he allowed it to rule him. He may lust for battle but he does not seek it without control. As a squire you are taught the Knight's Oath. You are taught to remember each verse and every word by heart. What your teachers do not tell you is that remembering does not necessarily mean understanding."
They stopped by the town's square and stood beneath the shadow of a great monument as tall as the buildings around them. The nine faceless heroes stood side by side in a circle, with their hoods pulled over their heads and their robes draped over them. It was said that thousands of years ago the nine heroes, summoned by the Chosen Herald, defeated the Great Evil and brought peace and harmony to the land of Hylan. Before their departure they founded the three Orders of Hylan, to guide and to protect the people of Hylan in their absence. Of the nine statues standing before him, three of them held a plain shield in front of them.
Fayte looked upon the three heroes said to be the founders of the Order of the White Shield.
On bended knee, under Sera's watch, I take this oath.
To swear loyalty and faith to the Order of the White Shield.
To defend and to guard, never to grieve or shame,
With my sword as my honour, I wield it only when I must.
To protect the weak, the innocent, and the oppressed,
With my shield as my life, I rest only when peace is kept.
In the face of despair, under the blitz of blows,
with the memories of my loved ones as my strength,
I stand unwavering.
For I am Fayte Kaywin…
For a moment then Fayte felt a presence behind him. He turned around only to find Captain Teynier looking at him having wandered closer to the statues without realising it.
"When the heroes departed from our world, they left behind a power," Captain Teynier told him, his eyes squinting as he looked to the faces of the statues. "An essence of themselves, some say, while others call simply call it their spirits."
The Light of the Spirits, Fayte knew, was the power granted to a true knight when blessed by the spirits at the end of the pilgrimage.
"Many squires never receive the Light of the Spirits because they do not understand the words that they have spoken," Captain Teynier told him as they continued on with their patrol down to the market. "Some learn the true meanings of those words as they grow older. That is why some squires only manage to receive the spirits' blessings on their subsequent pilgrimage."
"Can't you just tell me?"
To that, Captain Teynier only laughed. "If I tell you then you will know. Knowing and understanding are two different matters entirely."
How can I understand if I do not first know?
"So what am I supposed to do?" Fayte then asked. "Do I live by the oath or do I live my life trying to find its meaning?"
"To be a knight is to live by the oath," Captain Teynier said. "To live by the oath is to understand its meaning. You are young and inexperienced. As you add years to your age you will eventually come to understand what I am trying to tell you."
Or fail to and never become a knight. Most of the soldiers and guards in Hylan were evidence to that.
"The pilgrimage," Fayte said. "That is what it's for, is it not?"
"It is not simply a journey to the different major cities in Hylan," Fayte said. "It is a journey of discovery… self-discovery. To see the world and to meet people. To learn and to understand."
Captain Teynier smiled warmly and nodded. "But understanding that only will not ensure you Sera's blessing."
"At least now I know what to look out for." Yet Fayte did not feel more confident after he heard himself say it aloud.
"Do you, really?" Captain Teynier smiled and did not wait for an answer.
Down the market street they went, stopping once to exchange pleasantries with a lord, twice to settle a little quarrel between two bickering ladies, and then a third when a friendly merchant offered them a free taste of pies. Thomson Bayke claimed to make the best buns and pies in the whole of Hylan. For the many years that Fayte had bought from him, Thomson the baker had lived up to his claim. They did not stop for long, greeting the shopkeepers and citizens who they knew well now after living in the same city together for so long.
The nearer they got to Brados Gate the more foreign merchants there were with their wares and goods laid out on tables and on carpets on the ground. There was always something new to see here and on this day, there seemed to be one rather popular travelling merchant. His wagon was small but elaborate with striking colours and glittering adornments. It even had a standing platform on the side for the merchant himself. A chubby man he was with the wildest beard that Fayte had ever seen, one that curled outwards from his mouth in four spirals and a single braid down the middle past his neck.
"BEHOLD! The sword of Ice and Fire!" they heard.
Curious now, Fayte and Captain Teynier rode closer to the crowd and watched from atop their mounts. The side of the wagon had its side board propped up, revealing an entire shelf of glimmering ornaments and fantastical objects from swords to vases, of different shapes and sizes and colours that many Fayte could not describe with the words he knew. The sword the merchant now held up was an equally strange item. It was a thick broadsword with a leather handgrip, but the blade itself was coloured blue like the unknown seas and orange like the untamed fire at a different angle.
"This be the sword the legendary smith of the Templars, Quenar Pronox, forged with the fires of the sun and the water of the vicious seas!"
Fayte shook his belt to make sure his sword was bounded tight. Rare items of magical nature were not unheard of in the market, but a magical sword forged with the fires of the sun was clearly no true magic blade. The common folks, though, were easy to fool with bright colours and a loud voice masked with false sincerity. Even the nobles who were better educated may too be tempted to own an item of magic. Yet more often than not these trickery and lies brought harm to the people, be it the loss of a lifetime's savings or sometimes the loss of a life from a supposed immortality potion. And so more often than not they had to intervene.
"A hundred gold coins for it!" someone yelled.
"A hundred and ten!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" the merchant said, laughing as he bowed humbly before wrapping up the sword. "I fear you mistake my intention of showing the blade. An item so rare, it be a fool of me to ever have it sold, a fool of me it would be, yes, yes. I show you this blade only to prove to you that I am no con or swindler, no, no. That sometimes a sale too good to be true, yes, yes, may be too good to be true. I am no fool, I part with what I can and what I must to put bread on my plate. Now…" The crowd chattered eagerly as he carefully locked the sword away in a gold-framed box, slipping the key a little too conspicuously into the pocket of his robe. "The first item for sale."
This man has eyes of sapphire. He turned to Captain Teynier. "This man is from the East Kingdom, is he not?"
"I believe so."
"Aye, brave squire!" a lady with a yellow sash tied around her waist eagerly told him. "He calls himself Maik Oong, sorcerer-turned-trader of sorcerous artefacts."
Fayte thanked her kindly for the information before he turned back to Captain Teynier. A little crease appeared between the Captain's brows. The Northern Gate would never permit the entry of an Eastern Sorcerer into Hylan, but it was possible that the mages at the gate may have missed one. There were much the Order of the Elements know not of foreign magic still.
"What good is there of a box that cannot be opened?" a man asked.
Maik Oong the Eastern merchant was holding a brass box in his hand.
"Ah, hear me out first, my noble lord, hear me out first, yes, yes." Maik Oong looked across the crowd in front of him, his chin held high. "For all the riches you have and the lustrous jewels that you own, do you not fear that a thief may steal himself into your house and take what does not belong to him?"
The noble folded his arms and listened.
"This be a box that only I know the secret to open, yes, yes." The lid of the box flipped open with a burst of golden dust from inside, adding to the specular. Maik Oong shut the box once more. "I am Maik Oong of the East. I need not your riches or jewels, no, no. But you, you need of this box to keep your coins and fineries from those who do lust for such luxuries."
The noble noticed them watching.
"It is a small box but yes, it would do well to keep my lady wife's heirlooms safe," the noble said, touching his chin with a finger as he pondered. "Yet I cannot feel safe when your box looks as though it would shatter upon a single blow from a sword. Squire."
Fayte mentally rolled his eyes.
"Yes, my lord?" Fayte said.
"How fine are you with your sword?" the noble asked.
Too fine to waste on testing this box. "As fine as-"
"There is no need for such." Maik Oong placed the box on a table. From out of nowhere he pulled out an axe and struck it with a blow so savage the people at the front jumped away. Even Whitesong raised a leg at the sound of the violent blow and Leor blew air through his nostrils. "Behold. The box is undamaged."
Maik Oong held up the box and the crowd gaped in awe. He then tossed it to the noble who inspected it and was convinced that the box was without a single scratch.
Now that I can believe. The box would make a fine gift for his father.
The noble tossed the box back and Maik Oong set it down on a small pedestal beside him.
"Now, if anyone doubts that this box can only be opened by I and only I, come forth and- ah, child, please this is no place to play, or would it be that you wish to try and open this box?"
Fayte grinned as did many others in the crowd.
"How adorable, but I am sorry, child, this is no toy. Go back to your mother," Maik Oong said, shooing the boy away gently with his hand. He looked back to the crowd and rubbed his hands together. "Now then, perchance we have a scholar here, yes, yes, or any man or woman with a studied mind who can- CHILD! Hand that box over right now or-"
The child returned him the box… opened.
"Just a puzzle," Kestel said, slowly climbing off the platform. "No magic here."
And as quickly as they came the crowd dispersed and left. Maik Oong, the conman from the East, was left with his mouth hanging open.
"I-I-I am no con or liar!" he declared. "The box- the box was not locked properly, yes, yes, it was not! No man or woman save for myself would be able to open it, no, no, no, no!"
When his words seemed to have no effect…
"E-Even if it can be opened, have you not saw for yourself its tenacity? The box is unharmed, unscratched and undamaged from a blow so mercilessly savage! It would make an exuberant gift still! Please, my good people, please, please, do not leave, no, no, I have many more phenomenal treasures to show!"
"Save your effort, man of the East," Captain Teynier said. "Your cries and big, studied words are but a flower-tailed mouse's squeak next to the voice of our High Sage."
Fayte laughed as he rode forward. He found Kestel two merchants down standing in front of a humble fruit seller who sold exotic fruits. From the way the merchant smiled and called Kestel by name even when the boy was without expression or word, Fayte could tell that this was not the first time they had traded.
"Kestel," Fayte called.
The boy was draped in his usual… unusual robe with sleeves that were long and large and flowed past his hands. Being only a child, Kestel was too small to mount even a pony, so the boy chose to use his dog as a mount instead. The large wolf-like hound had a coat of black on its back and white below, and streaks of black fur curled around his blue eyes gave the dog a handsome visage. Unlike Kestel, the dog was much more animated and friendly, barking and jumping about with its tongue out when Fayte approached them. Kestel looked at him with his large round eyes, squinting from the sun.
"Nice work back there," he said, smiling at him. "I didn't expect to see you out shopping. Are you done with Emily's gift from the Saldarian?"
Kestel stared at him and blinked once and twice. He looked away and reached into his bag. From it Kestel took out a round fruit the size of his palm and held it up to Fayte. The sun was in his eyes so Kestel strained to keep his eyes opened as he waited for Fayte to take it.
"For me?" Fayte took the fruit. I can finish this in less than three bites.
Kestel raised his hand and waited until his dog stopped jumping about before patting him on the head three times. The little boy nearly toppled over when the large animal licked the side of his face in return with a bark.
"Thank you," Fayte said, "but have you… hey, Kestel. Kestel. The book- Kestel."
The High Sage of Hylan rode away on his dog, fruit in hand, and not a word spoken in reply.
"The boy must like you," the merchant who sold Kestel the fruit said. "For years I have saved and sold him those plums. Never once have I seen him offer it to anyone."
First with Captain Teynier and now Kestel. Fayte smiled and nodded, turning back. Why is it so hard to get a straight answer?