The two guards came to attention.
Emily hurried past them with Sir Percson behind who was futilely asking her to slow down lest she tripped and fell. The Whiteguard had reasons to be concerned. Once the heavy door shut behind him, Fayte found himself engulfed in darkness. Emily held the only lamp so he had to hurry and keep up. The stairway down to the dungeon was narrow and could fit only one person at a time. Stone steps worn over the centuries left them jagged and uneven. Cobwebs hung above his head and a sourness laced in the air stung his eyes and made them water.
"I never would have thought I would run into you here."
"Administrator," Emily said, holding a brass lamp box that held a glowing lumastone within. "Are you here to see the Prince as well?"
The tall and slender man nodded.
"The High Sage has finished going through the books, so he had me come down here and counter check some facts with the Prince," he explained, holding up a scroll box. "Everything checks out. As far I am concerned, these history books the Prince gave you are legitimate."
"I see," she said, distracted. "Is the Prince well?"
"Well?" The Administrator found the question odd. "He is as well as a Prince imprisoned in the dungeon can be, my Princess. As is his Scygard protector, though, I am doubtful of her claim."
Fayte leaned against the dusty wall and listened intently.
"What do you mean?" Emily asked.
"I have heard descriptions of the sinister Scygard warriors and this girl… this child appears nothing like them." The Administrator shook his lamp when his lumastone went out. "This stone will need charging soon. But yes, I do have doubts that the girl truly is a Scygard. Likely she may be a Princess as you are or someone of other interest. The Prince did mention that her blood is needed to save our kingdom. Erm, may I inquire as to why you are here, my Princess? There is quite a commotion down there right now."
"Commotion?" she asked.
"That would be the guards you sent, Your Grace," Sir Percson softly reminded her.
"Oh!" Emily pushed past the Administrator. "Forgive me, Administrator, but I must hurry. I fear I might have overreacted to an earlier concern."
"Oh, now there, I see nothing to forgive," he said, awkwardly pushing himself against the wall as Emily, Sir Percson and then Fayte himself went past him. "Ah, Fayte! Marvellous fight today. I regret not being able to attend. I was told that it was an excellent tournament… until the earthquake of course. Pity, but yes, most excellent tournament."
"Thank you, Administrator," he said.
"Now run along after your Princess." The Administrator laughed. "Ah such sweet love at such a tender age."
The dungeon was not a small place but it felt cramp with the five or six cells - it was too dark to tell - built in a single row facing the wall. Fayte stepped aside to let the five castle guards pass after Emily thanked them and had them return to their post. That's about as much action as you guys will see in a whole month put together. Guarding the castle was an important job but none denied that it grew stale at times. However there could be no staler job than that of the dungeon guard's.
"Lord Frendon has commanded that no one is to speak with the Prince," Sir Iservan said, his white armour cast with a blue hue from Emily's lamp.
Sir Iservan was a knight who had served Hylan for over thirty years. The shadows cast across his visage in this sunless room made him look a whole decade older and wearier.
"I am the Princess," Emily said. "I believe my command supersedes even his."
Emily was not one throw her title around carelessly, but when the Princess wanted things to go her way, she would do everything in her power to make sure they did. It bothered Fayte very much to see that she was doing this just to speak to the Prince. Fayte could be stabbed in the heart and a mere mention of the Prince would likely draw her attention away from hearing his dying words. Still, I should not be the one to judge here. For he too would like to get a look at this girl who claimed to be a Scygard. It is time I start learning more about these Scygards if I hope to ever kill them.
Sir Percson stopped him from following Emily. "Can I trust you will remain calm?"
Fayte untied his sheath from his belt and set his sword against the wall. I don't need my sword to choke the life out of one. "Will that suffice?"
The Whiteguard shrugged and allowed him through first. Sir Iservan led the way. Each cell was held with iron bars and without the lamp, there was not a ray of light in any of them. Fayte could only imagine how long a prisoner's sanity would last being held in here. The air was chokingly thin. Somehow Emily's hand managed to find his in the dimness and she held it tightly. The girl was frightened and Fayte could not blame her. He himself felt as though the walls were closing on him and that the air was getting thinner by the moment. A figment of his imagination no doubt, but more than vivid enough to give him the chills.
Three hard hits on the iron bar with his gauntlet hand.
"Awaken, prisoner," Sir Iservan said, holding up the lamp. "And conduct yourself proper in the presence of The Grace of Hylan."
The edges of the lamp's glow only reached midway into the cell. They heard the crunch of dry straw and a figure stepped into the glow. Stripped of what little fineries he wore and given only an old hempen robe, the Prince somehow still managed to look… Princely, dusting his robe with his hands before he bowed low and humble.
"Rinmar La'ou, Prince of Saldara and the Severing Sands, greets The Grace of Hylan," he said, his eyes squinting, not yet adjusted to the light.
"You may call me Emily, Prince Rinmar," she said, holding a finger up to her nose.
There was a stench not of waste but decay. Fayte wondered if the other cells were as empty as they should be. Another chill made him hold Emily's hand tighter.
"Ah," the Prince said, "so The Grace of Hylan is the Princess. I see. Well then, Emily, I ask that you address me only as Rinmar. You honour me with your visit."
A few fine words and this Saldarian has her smiling to herself. Fayte directed his gaze to the darkness behind the Prince. I can feel your stare, murderer.
"I hope you have not been treated poorly," Emily said.
Fayte noticed the glance Sir Iservan gave Sir Percson. Her words had offended him but Emily did not realize it.
"I am treated as a prisoner should be treated," he said. "I have no complaints."
"Very well," Emily said, letting go of Fayte's hand. She took a step forward. "Do you-"
Sir Iservan held up his hand and stopped her.
"Show yourself," Fayte said, staring at the darkness.
Prince Rinmar turned around. "Come, Kamille, you need not be shy."
The girl was given the same hempen robe that the Prince wore. She was no taller than the Prince. With this little light, it was hard to make out the features on her face, but she had a round face and small eyes that the light seemed to bother little. Fayte met her eyes and he felt his body warm up. Seeing her brought it all back to him. Though he was never there, Fayte had nightmares of his mother and sisters being killed for many, many nights. He could hear their screams and the cries of his baby sister, how they screamed for their father and how his sisters screamed for their brother. And I failed them. He failed them all.
"This is Kamille," the Prince introduced her. "She is my friend and personal guard. My first journey to Hylan made her very worried. She would not allow me to leave Saldara without her a second time. She is here only to protect me though I have told her many times that there is a no need."
Protect? Fayte wanted to scoff. "What would a murderer know about protecting?"
The Scygard said nothing in return though the Prince smiled in response.
"I assure you, friend, Kamille is-"
"I am not your friend, Saldarian," Fayte told him, his eyes kept on the Scygard.
Emily tapped the back of his hand but did not chide him. "Forgive him. Fayte has his reasons."
"Many of your people have much hatred for mine." The Prince nodded and sighed. "I do not blame them, nor he. The King spoke truth during my first visit. There is a debt of blood to be paid."
"It is a debt I do not wish to collect," Emily said to him firmly. "Blood for blood, life for life. It is a cycle that will not end."
Prince Rinmar smiled and nodded. "I am very glad to hear that there is someone in the royal family who shares the same view as I do."
"That is why I am here," Emily said. "You and I both seek peace between our countries. It is something that we cannot achieve alone for there has been too much blood spilled in our shared histories."
"Our blood," Fayte added. "Spilled by them."
"Fayte." Emily turned to him. "Please."
He looked away. I was fool to think that I could ever forgive them.
"You claim to know what the cause of our troubles is," Emily continued. "My father believes that this is too convenient. He thinks your country is behind our troubles and that you offer aid only to win our trust."
"The timing is bad," the Prince said. "Yes, I admit so, and I do admit that I hope to earn your father's trust by helping your country. But you must believe me, Saldara is not behind this curse that which has been inflicted on your lands."
Sir Percson was not present during the council.
"Yes, it is a curse," the Prince explained. "Rather, it is a demon that plagues your lands."
"The curse is a demon?" Emily asked.
Rinmar nodded. "His name is Ra'gelor."
"Per-thor-keel?" she repeated, unfamiliar with language.
"Yes, he was named by the ancestors of my sands centuries ago," Rinmar explained. "An ancient demon born of plague and death. Saldara nearly fell for good when we were struck by his curse again many years ago. It took many brave heroes and many more sacrifices before we managed to defeat him. But it seems we were mistaken. Ra'gelor's defeat was not his demise. We merely chased him from our sands and into your plains."
"Did you explain this to my father and his council?" she asked.
"I tried but the King refuses to hear me. He hears only lies from me and sees only his own truth. This will serve only to bring more harm to his people. The curse will worsen. Ra'gelor grows stronger by the day."
"Worsen?" Sir Percson then asked. "How?"
"Today you have one earthquake. Soon you will have ten. Your crops will wither, your dead will rise as ghouls and along with it, abominations formed by earth."
Ghouls, Fayte thought. So that's what I've been fighting.
"I have seen my desert split open and a whole gathering of tribes disappear forever, swallowed by the earth. Centuries ago Saldara was not a nation of sands… not until Ra'gelor arrived."
Sir Percson did not betray his thoughts through the expression on his face, rubbing his chin and gave only a nod. "Then I suppose the only solution is to kill this Per-thor-keel?"
"Ra'gelor," the Prince said. "Yes. But it is not that simple. You will first have to find him and you will need Kamille's blood to kill him."
I am more than happy to spill her blood.
"Wait," Emily said, thinking. "You were here before the tournament began. Did you know then that the earthquake and the horde of ghouls and earth creatures were coming?"
The Prince lowered his head. "I tried to warn the King. I did not know when exactly or what will happen, but I knew the tournament was at great risk."
There was a change in Emily's mood.
"Don't be mad at your father," Fayte said, putting his hand on her shoulder. "He-"
"Your Princess is not mad," Rinmar explained. "She is sad and remorseful because she feels that the incident could have been prevented."
When Fayte heard her sniff, he felt embarrassed and angry to have allowed the Prince to shame him.
"I'm fine," she said, pushing his hand away. "Still, do you not agree that the timing of this demon's arrival is too coincidental?"
"Many of my people do not weep over this," Rinmar said. "That I must admit to you. But they have no control over the curse. A bounty has already been placed on my head. To my people, this is an act of dishonour and betrayal."
Two things your people should be very familiar with.
"Yet still you came," Emily said, her voice shaky.
"I believe that my actions are just."
Emily's expression softened and her eyes glistened in the glow. She held the iron bars as though she wanted to free him. Her eyes met with the Prince's as two royals from two warring countries sharing the same hope. I need to break this up. Now.
"Saldara is going to attack soon," Fayte said, turning to Sir Percson who only shrugged like it was no cause for worry at all.
"It's what I would do," the Whiteguard said.
"No," the Prince told them. "Ra'gelor cannot be predicted. We know too little of him and his curse. My people will not chance bringing the curse back to Saldara by attacking now."
"Then they will wait and watch," Fayte said, looking at Emily to make sure she was listening to him, "until Hylan is destroyed."
Emily took her hands from the iron bars and this time the Prince reached out by stepping forward. He held the bars looking straight into Emily's eyes and told her, "I will not allow that to happen."
At first Emily looked uncertain. This is when you decide whether you trust him… if you haven't already done that.
"Tell us how," Emily said. "Your people have defeated him once. Teach us."
"That I cannot answer." The Prince stepped away. "Not without sentencing me and Kamille to death."
"I swear to you as Princess of Hylan that no harm shall come to you and your guard."
"We have met your father," the Scygard said. "Your vow means nothing to us."
The Prince shot a stern look at her.
Fayte grimaced. "We are people of honour. Something that you would not know."
This time the Scygard took offense. "A Scygard knows more honour than even your most gallant knight, child."
"Child?" Fayte stepped closer to the iron bars. "You are not much older than me, murderer."
Kamille did the same, meeting him face to face. "The Scygards had no hand in your family's death!"
She dies! "LIES!"
Fayte reached through the bar and seized her by the neck. The Scygard reached forward and grabbed him as well, but Fayte took hold of her outreached arm and yanked her to him, slamming her face against the iron bars. By then Sir Percson had pulled him away and shoved him against the wall.
"Calm yourself, squire," the Whiteguard told him.
Emily had nothing to say. She knew why he acted as such so she did not judge him even if she did not approve of his actions. I know you wish that I can let go of this hatred, but I-
"Squire?" Kamille scoffed. "As I said. You are but a child."
"Kamille." The Prince warned her.
"I will kill you where you stand!" Fayte stepped forward before Sir Percson lazily shoved him back again.
"Fayte, please!" Emily said.
"Please yourself, Princess," he said, pushing past Sir Percson to leave.
"Your nation is doomed if you do not act quickly," Kamille said. "My Prince can find the demon faster than any of your searchers."
"How?" Emily asked when Fayte felt that she should be chasing after him.
"That we cannot say."
"No," the Prince disagreed. "I think we can."
"I am tired and it seems my weariness has clouded my judgement." The Prince turned away from the Scygard and looked to Emily. Fayte lingered on to listen. "The blood that runs through my veins. Ra'gelor desires it. He cannot resist himself when he senses my presence."
"This information was not given to the King and the Lord-Knight," Sir Iservan said.
Sir Percson laughed. "I can see why."
Emily could not.
"Take this information to your King, Emily, friend of Saldara." The Prince smiled at her though his gesture was shrouded with dismay. "You shall know why once you do."