Wolves, bears, stags, and rabbits, these were no undead.
One blow from his shield and the animated earth stag crumbled to pieces. Amongst the horde there were those shaped like men. To those Fayte brought his sword and offed their heads and dropped their arms. Some would fall immediately and crumbled to bits, while others would continue to crawl even when left with just torso alone. His boots took care of those.
When he first heard the horn of a ram, Fayte was relived for help was coming. His plan had worked. The horde was drawn to them even if they were just animations. Yet as time went on Fayte grew weary and his movements began to slow. He was worried about his friends who charged in with him and disappeared. Sometimes he could hear them scream in defiance, a good sign, but still he worried. Sera watch over them and keep them safe, please…
Twice more the horn was blown and Fayte was losing focus. The wound Jason left on him was still trickling with blood. His shield was more burden than protection and his right hand had grown numb. Though his tunic was drenched Fayte was not perspiring anymore. When the wolf came at him all he could do was raise his shield. The wolf took him down and that was the last thing he could remember.
When Fayte saw light again, it blinded him so he brought his arm over his eyes. The smell of blood was strong and he could see dried blood in the shape of a bite mark on his arm. He slowly felt aches and pains all over his body. His right hand was sore and blistered from gripping his sword. Where the sword was now he was too tired to care. I need water… He tried to get up but his strength could not be summoned, so he lay there waiting for help.
Something touched his face.
Fayte felt energy seeping into his body and a cool touch to his forehead. The hand he felt was not Wilson's. It was softer and the energy he felt was different and stronger than what Wilson could give. Sweet water was poured into his mouth and Fayte drank in gulps, spilling as much as he drank.
"Are you the son of the Lord-Knight, squire?" the woman asked.
Her hair was black and they hung in curls above his face. She pulled them aside and gently laid his arm beside him. Her hands glowing, the priestess began healing his bruises and sealing his wounds. On his left was a dragon, thrice the size of Preston with hardened scales and a two mid-grown horns on its head. The dragon made a rumbling nose when he looked at it.
"Squire, can you hear my voice?" the priestess asked once more. "Are you Fayte of the noble Kaywin family?"
Fayte of the noble… I am Fayte… I…
"Yes," he said, trying to sit up but the dragon pushed him down with his tail. "Yes, my lady. I feel better now. Thank you."
The priestess nodded at her dragon and Fayte felt it snake its tail underneath his back and lift him up. Before him was a world washed with yellow. Healers with their glowing hands were all around the battlefield, attending to the wounded and injured. He heard cries so sorrowful it made his heart clench. There were mothers screaming for their children and men screaming for healers. Then the sound slowly faded as though he had gone deaf.
"The heat has left you confused and still dazed. The noise will not help so I have taken that away," the priestess said. Her eyes were like dark gems, beautiful yet seductive, kind yet strong. "Sit here and rest. I will send someone for you."
The lady priestess touched his face once more and sighed with relief before she left.
The horde was gone. All that was left was a blanket of dirt covering the open field. They were fighting them off, trying to keep them from advancing any further, but there were just so many. Before that Fayte slowly recalled that he was fighting Jason in his tournament's last duel. Jason had brought a sword with a sharpened edge. The Paven family will be dishonoured for years if I told on him. Fayte decided then that he would say nothing of it. He recalled winning the match though. Jason had tried to claim Emily for his own and somehow Fayte could not allow it. So he fought hard and-
The world rushed back to him and his senses sharpened. Fayte pushed himself to his feet and searched the ground for his sword, retrieving it before he looked up and surveyed his surroundings. The chaos no longer seemed so chaotic to him anymore. Soldiers and healers were all over the place, helping and aiding where they could. Mages did what they could with their spells, creating tables and stretchers, even little conjurations of elemental animals to distract the frightened children. Distract them while the healers tried to save their parents' lives. The earth element was conspicuously missing amongst the different animals.
"Sera, what did we do to deserve this?" he whispered.
"Sera did not do this."
Fayte knew the voice. "Emily, is she-"
"Safe." Wilson nodded, holding Amelia's hand. The girl was unharmed of course with her arm wrapped around Preston, hugging the white dragon like he was a doll. "Come, your father had me searching for you."
Present in the throne room were the King and Queen, along with his father who looked no less battered than Fayte was. There were also two standing mirrors the height of a grown man, framed with ivory and silver, with an emerald stone the size of a fist embedded at the top. Within the two mirrors were the images of Archimage Lasandra and Bishop Tydon. High Sage Kestel only joined them at the very last moment when they got tired of waiting. Only the King and the Queen sat while the rest stood around the Prince and a girl his age, both of them bound and on their knees. His father took him by the shoulder when Fayte arrived and kissed him on the forehead.
"I'm thinking," the King started, his chin resting on his hand while his eyes were fixated on the Prince, "we send a message to your father, telling him that unless your country fixes this curse that you've placed on us…"
"…we did not-"
"-we will have you executed."
No one present seemed comfortable with it. They may have fought off Saldara once but it was not without casualties. War breeds vengeance and vengeance breeds itself. Saldara would not rest until they had their revenge if they actually went ahead and executed the Prince. No one blamed the King though. That sinkhole had claimed many lives. Some old and many very young.
The Prince paused, thinking, picking his words carefully.
"I will fix this for you," he said and he said calmly. "It is why I returned, to warn you and to help you. I am a good fighter and Kamille's blood is needed to banish the demon. Yes, I admit that I had hope to make you reconsider my offer by placing my life at risk to help your country. But we did not put this curse on your land."
The King looked at the mage standing behind the Prince. The sorceress nodded and an ice prison formed around the two prisoners.
"They cannot hear us now, Your Majesty" she said.
"Share your thoughts," the King said. "All of you."
"If their ultimate goal is to conquer us," the Bishop said, speaking through the mirror, "why send their Prince here to help us?"
"Perhaps they really are seeking an alliance," Archimage Lasandra said.
"Or another motive."
They turned to the High Sage who was now sitting crossed-legged on the floor, reading his book as usual.
"Explain," said the King.
"Orders of Rondiar," Kestel said.
"They want to learn the secrets of our three Orders," his father said with a shrug. "I imagine most would."
"Which they have yet done after so many years," the Archimage said. "It does not however change the fact that Saldara wants this alliance for all the wrong reasons."
"Are the reasons very wrong though?" Queen Remilda said. She got up and went to the prison of ice, looking at the Prince sitting inside who was now talking to his friend. "All nations have ulterior motives, even mine when Hylan was not one." She glanced at her husband. "But still we make alliances. Why? To prevent bloodshed, to prevent war, to exchange knowledge, and to bolster ourselves against a bigger threat if ever there exists one."
"The Black City," said the High Sage. "Scygards are strong. Saldarian magic interesting."
Scygards are murderers…
The Queen gestured at the High Sage. Case in point. But just as the Queen was going to continue…
"…Saldara thinks different," Kestel went on. "Likes to conquer. Likes to own. Likes to rule. Don't play nice."
He got up.
"We are not done yet, High Sage," said the King. "High Sage… High- Kestel! Get back here at once or-"
The High Sage left the room.
"The child may not say much, but sometimes our words make him think we have forgotten what he shall always remember," the Bishop said, stroking his beard. "Saldara made him an orphan."
"Saldara made a lot of children orphans," his father added, squeezing Fayte on the shoulder. "An alliance would be ideal. A stalemate does not give us access to their country to keep them from becoming too strong. Still, it would be difficult and the risks are abundant to say the least. We cannot know if they truly want peace or if they are actually planning something."
"Keep your friends close," said the Queen. "And your enemies closer. As Frendon has said, an alliance would mean access to their city."
"You sound just like Emily," the King said, shaking his head. "Well, start voting then. Kestel is a definite no… I think. My wife is a yes. Lasandra?"
The surface of the mirror shimmered as the Archimage shook her head. "Saldara has more to steal from me than I have to learn from them."
"Yes," he said. "I stand with the Queen."
No surprise there. The Bishop had been trying to spread the teachings of his Order to the Saldarians for the longest time. He believed that it was the ultimate way to peace with Saldara. But the Saldarians are more likely to enslave a dragon than worship one.
"Alright then, two against two and I am not voting," the King said, turning now to the last person. "What say you my friend?"
The creases on his forehead told everyone that his father struggled with this question. On account that this had been a long day for them all, King Eardon dismissed his council and decided that they would convene once more in three days. The Prince would be held prisoner until they decided what to do with him.
"The dungeon?" Fayte asked. "I never knew Rondiar had a dungeon."
"The first King had one built to hold his enemies," his father explained as they walked out from the throne room. The evening sun cast long shadows of the columns across the open hallway. Just beyond these walls was the aftermath of a disaster that no one saw coming. "There was a time when Rondiar was a harsher place… and I fear we might be on our way to harsher times again."
His father noticed his silence and smiled a tired smile.
"One of my knights told me he placed you in command of the squires," he said, clasping his hand on Fayte's shoulder. "And you commanded your men to cut through the horde and charge to the middle."
Oh boy. "I know it sounds reckless, father, but-"
"I am not here to chide you." Fayte looked up to see his father grinning at him. "Outnumbered and caught between the horde and a great fall. You had to act quickly and think quicker. Work on thinking through properly now."
"I… do not understand?"
"Cut through the enemy and fan out," he father said, gesturing with his hands. "You learnt that hearing from Captain Teynier's battle didn't you?"
Fayte nodded. During the many times he went on patrol with Captain Teynier, the Captain would tell him stories of his past battles and how bravely he fought, winning magnificent fights against terrible odds. One of those battles was the battle of Fort Uelms against the rebels from Castle Gwedoniar. It was Captain Teynier's first battle as a commander. He had only been knighted just a month before and was given command of his own men.
"A thousand men against the three hundred of Fort Uelms," his father recalled, nodding. "He had to delay them and wait for my arrival to turn the tide of the battle. And so he did madness and cut through the host of a thousand."
"He caused disarray and confusion within the rebel army," Fayte said, remembering how excited Captain Teynier was as he told the story. "Captain Teynier managed to hold them off long enough-"
"Captain Teynier was a knight back then, blessed with the Light of the Spirits." His father's smile saddened somehow. "Against the men of Castle Gwedoniar, not one of them a knight of the Order, Teynier was unstoppable. But of the fifty he took in to charge with him, he lost thirty-six. Of the remaining fourteen, ten died protecting him as they tried to escape after I arrived."
They stopped before the grand stairway down to the main entrance of the castle. Castle guards stood at attention beside them, guarding the hallway. More guards straightened themselves when they heard his father's voice. One guard even had to be shaken awake after dozing off while on guard. His father acted as though he saw nothing.
"You have experience fighting those earth animations," his father told him. "But not one of your friends did. And I dare say that, though brave they were, many of them were quite afraid."
"Jeremiah gave them confidence and his bravery helped them-"
"What good is a commander who cannot inspire bravery in his men?" His father placed both hands on his shoulder. "I am not scolding you, only teaching you. Kaywin meant nothing before I become Lord-Knight and to many it still is nothing. Especially when compared to a name such as Vladertz. Bring honour to your family's name and someday people will come to respect the name Kaywin. Until then, you will have to rely on yourself to lead your men."
Fayte nodded. "I understand, father."
"Though this day is truly not one to be cheered for, there is no need to look so gloomy." His father took his hands away and nodded respectfully at someone at the other end of the hallway. "Smile. And look who has been searching for you all day."
She threw her arms around him and squeezed. Fayte felt a dampness on the shoulder of his shirt as they hugged. His father left them alone, shaking a finger at the guard who dozed off earlier to warn him.
"I tried to get you, but the Whiteguards wouldn't allow it." Emily looked at him and touched his face. "And you couldn't hear me when I kept calling you."
Fayte dropped his gaze. I was too caught up fighting with Jason. "I'm sorry and you don't have to worry, see, I made it out one in piece did I not?"
As if she didn't believe him, Emily held him by his arms and looked at him from head to toe. She tugged at a piece of his armour and the whole shoulderguard came off.
"Barely," she said.
Emily had changed out of the dress she wore earlier in the day. She was in trousers and leather boots now and she even had a pair of gloves tucked into her pocket. Fayte knew her well enough. No doubt the girl was going to head back and help out with the recovery.
"Is Lady Elisen aware that you are returning to the field?" he asked, a cheeky grin on his face.
"Well… not exact-"
"Lady Elisen is not aware," a man said from behind her. "Sir Percson is though."
Emily groaned and gave Fayte a shove.
"If you hadn't said anything-"
"Sir Percson isn't blind, Emily!" he told her, laughing.
"He might not be blind," she whispered harshly. "But he doesn't hear well!"
"I heard that."
Once more Emily shoved him. She then turned to Sir Percson and put on her most adorable smile to ask if she could-
"-Nay, Your Grace," Sir Percson said with an apologetic smile. "The King has commanded that you are to be kept within the confines of the castle."
"But there are people-"
"His Majesty is aware of the situation and he knows well that Your Grace would want to help with the relief efforts. However the situation at hand is too unpredictable. We cannot know--"
"--UGH!" And the Princess took her leave.
Fayte bowed to Sir Percson hastily, noticing that the man with the wavy brown hair looked surprisingly clean. He wondered if the people would ever say that the Whiteguards were only for show, and that the soldiers and knights were the ones doing the real work. It had been a long time now since the Whiteguards last had a chance to prove themselves in combat.
"I beg for your leave, Sir Percson," Fayte asked since he was no Princess or Prince.
"Tell the Princess that once the situation is under control, she may go and help her people," Sir Percson told him with a faint smile, all too used to Emily's tantrums. He nodded at Fayte. "You have my leave."
He followed her down a spiral stairway and out into one of the many gardens in Castle Rondiar. Before Queen Remilda came, these gardens used to be spaces for knights and soldiers to spar and train. With a square perimeter and an open ceiling, they were built to be open so that servants and guards could watch when they had the time. There was a range as well for when King Eardon was a Prince, young and always seeking adventure, his father taught him to use the bow and arrow and often took him out for hunts. Now the King was older, and though he was still more than fit to go hunting, other matters took precedence over his little hobby.
"Father worries too much," Emily said, stepping into the blue garden filled with tulips and orchids and other flowers the colour of the pale moon. A small stream ran across the garden with a little bridge built over it. Fayte followed her to the bridge where she sat down with her legs hanging off from the side. "People are out there suffering and I am here doing nothing!"
"Sir Percson said-"
"He doesn't allow me to help our people and he refuses to do anything about my gifts from the Prince!" Emily searched around her and when she found no rocks to throw, the Princess made an irritated noise and hit Fayte on the arm.
"That is called unnecessary abuse," Fayte told her. "Stop being so-" Do not say spoiled, do NOT say spoiled.
"Stop, being, so, what, Fayte Kaywin?"
The way Emily glared at him made it clear that his next word was going to mean his life.
"Unsettled," he said, as though he meant to from the start. "Didn't Kestel allow you to read the first book?"
"Allow? The High Sage didn't allow anything." Emily looked around her and found a servant standing quietly by the corner of the garden. "Winnie, could you have some bread, meat, and cheese brought over? A flagon of juice as well."
"At once, Your Grace," the servant said and gracefully strode off.
"Got so mad that you're beginning to feel hungry?" he teased.
Emily looked at him and poked him in the tummy. "It's for my best friend who has had nothing to eat since this morning." Her eyes met his for a brief moment and during that moment, Fayte reached out for her hand but Emily looked away. "Anyway… Kestel was out of the Library so the Administrator took the chance to let me see the book, knowing how eager I was."
Sounds like Langton. "I wonder how he puts up with Kestel."
"The boy may be a genius but he drives me crazy at times." Emily clenched her fists and started waving them around. "He returned when I was just a chapter in. At first he said nothing, well, Kestel hardly ever says anything, but then he just took the book from me and used it for his reference."
"Did he return it to you though?"
Now Emily seemed a little guilty. "When he was done. He gave the book back but he kept returning every few minutes and just took it from my hands. I couldn't have a proper read so I left."
Fayte laughed. The boy was a genius. Perhaps he really was trying to be understanding and allowed Emily to read it whenever he wasn't using it. But Fayte believed that Kestel knew she would become so frustrated that she would just leave.
"It is amazing though, isn't it, how Kestel is no more than ten or eleven, yet he is brighter than all of us."
"Brighter but not wiser," Emily told him. The servant returned with the food and she watched as Fayte stacked bread with meat and cheese and more meat before taking a big chomp out of it. The grease was all over his mouth. "You are disgusting."
Fayte smiled all silly at her. "Want a bite?"
"Sure." And she only managed to chew off a bit of meat and bread. "So, what do you think of the Scygard?"
"What Scygard?" he asked, so hungry that he was using the juice to wash the meat down his throat. "The Prince isn't a Scygard."
"The girl with the Prince is a Scygard, Fayte."
He stopped chewing. "WHA--"
--Emily grabbed his food and shoved it against his mouth.
"Calm down! Swallow your food first, yes, there, is it all gone?" She let go of his hands. "Alright."
"WHAT?" he burst at her. "WHY WAS I NOT TOLD?"
"They must have thought you knew or perhaps thought that your father would tell you."
"My father told me no such thing!" Fayte dropped his food and got to his feet, began pacing back and forth on the bridge.
"The Prince returned with a Scygard this time?" he said. Unbelievable! "Does he intend to have the King assassinated? Or did we frighten him too much the first time he came?"
"Well if the child is frightened then he should not have returned!"
"Fayte he saved-"
"What is father thinking?"
"Fayte, calm down--"
"--THEY KILLED MY FAMILY!" He drew his sword and stabbed it through the wooden bridge.
The guards around them moved, but it was the distinct sound of a Whiteguard's sword being drawn that he noted. It reminded him that he was with the Princess, but it did nothing to quell the torrent of emotions that raged in his chest. The Scygards were Saldara's elite guards, not unlike the Whiteguards, only larger in number and much, much more vicious without an ounce of honour in their blood. They murdered men and women alike and spared not even children, or a baby girl no more than a month old...
"The day my father brought me back to Zywedior, to see our house where my mother and sisters were murdered, I cried and I cried and I cried some more because back then I was no more than just a page. I wasn't even a squire. I could do nothing." Fayte clenched his fist. "When I was finally done crying, I swore to myself, I swore that the day I become a knight, I will kill every single Scygard that I come across."
Emily went towards him and reached out for his arm but he pulled it away.
"That is not the way a knight should-"
"They are to be judged for their sins," Fayte told her, his eyes moist with tears. "A knight shall not turn a blind eye to evil committed. A knight must always and forever keep peace and harmony."
"Taking another life will not keep peace," Emily told him, getting up, "or harmony."
"Then at least it will quell my rage," he told her. "Our rage. I'm not the only one who swore vengeance."
She did not know what to say to him then. Emily reached again and held his arm. Feeling the warmth of her hands soothed him and her presence alone calmed him. Then her grip tightened.
"Oh no," she said with a gasp. "You don't think- oh no."
"Lady Elisen!" she called, but it was Sir Percson who stepped out from the shadows and into the garden. "Sir Percson, you must act swiftly. I believe the Prince may be in danger."
"Why so, my Princess?"
"Who did Lord Frendon assign to guard the dungeon?" she asked. "Who did he place to watch the Prince and the Scygard?"
The Whiteguard spent a moment to think. "Lord Frendon knows better, my Princess. Sir Iservan is watching the prisoners."
For a moment she seemed at ease, but Emily did not looked like she was convinced.
"Sir Iservan is honourable and wise," Sir Percson assured her. "The prisoners will be treated fairly. You need not worry, my Princess."
"He is close friends with Sir Howlen of the Salen family," Emily remembered, and now she was worried again.
"Sir Iservan wouldn't-"
"Sir Percson," Emily said with her Royal Princess voice, "I command you to make haste to the dungeon and ensure the prisoners' safety."
Even Fayte was impressed when Sir Percson kept his nonchalant expression, smiling ever so faintly still like the world could do nothing to worry him. He was a pleasant man and a righteous knight, but father had once said that he fought fiercer than even the most determined Vladertz during combat.
"I am a Whiteguard," he told her, spreading his hands like he was helpless to do anything. "You cannot command me to leave you."
"Fayte can protect me and I am safe in the castle, please!"
"He may be the son of Lord Frendon, but, no offense, Fayte, the boy is just a squire." Sir Percson rubbed his chin and shook his head. "No, no, I definitely cannot place the safety of Your Grace in the hands of a single squire."
Emily looked as though she was going to hit him.
"Guards of Castle Rondiar!" the Princess said, and five men came forward. "Hear my command. Make haste at once to the dungeon and ensure Prince Rinmar's and Lady Kamille's safety. Go."
"My Princess," Sir Percson said, watching Emily storm away. "My Princess, may I ask where you are going?"
"Sir Howlen and Sir Iservan will make quick work of those guards, so I need you there and the only way for me to get you there-"
"Is by going there yourself." Sir Percson sighed yet still he smiled. "Are you sure you want to marry this girl, Fayte?" But the Whiteguard left before he could answer.
Fayte stood there for a moment, watching the fishes in the stream swirl about in the water. He could hear their cries. He could hear them scream for him. He used to hear them only when his eyes were closed and sleep had taken him. Of late he would hear them throughout the day. It was a painful sound that would forever haunt him. Fayte took his sword by the handle and pulled it out, slipping it into his sheath before he went after Emily.
His mother and sisters screaming after him as he ran.