CHAPTER 22 - A BIG AND NOISY BIRD

"Eres Star City? Not happening, squire."

"Why?" Fayte went after the gryphon master when he walked off to tend to his gryphons.

There were at least ten gryphons here, all of them resting on piles of hay underneath a clay tiled shelter in an orderly row. A wide open field was where gryphon holds were usually built. The large space allowed gryphons to land gently from a gradual descent as most nobles would prefer. The day was warm and Fayte and Wilson were drenched with perspiration. They had both begun to stink, wasting the time they had spent scrubbing themselves in Spearfort. With the Order on the lookout for Fayte, he had to throw a hood over his head to hide his face, making it all the more stifling. We are only one flight away from Eres Star City now. We could be there before noon.

"My children aren't coming back," the gryphon master told Fayte, helping a noble get off from a gryphon before he started pulling off the saddle from his gryphon. "I send them flying to Eres Star, not one of them flew back. No one knows what's going on there. I've lost four of them already and I am not about to lose another."

Wilson stepped up. "Have you informed the knights?"

The gryphon master scoffed. He pulled out a large brush the size of his head from his belt and began brushing his gryphon. The mighty bird let him handle it however he liked while it drank from a basin of water. Around the basin were slabs of raw meat for the gryphon to feed on.

"The knights are doing nothing, sir squire," a boy behind him said, no older than Fayte was.

He was dressed in an old shirt yellowed with sweat, hefting a bucket of water to refill the gryphon's basin. The gryphon master's helper.

"You do not have to address a squire by any title," Fayte told him and told him his name. "Now tell me, what do you mean the knights are not doing anything?"

"Captain Yandor, our commanding knight, he says he's not the men to send to Eres Star. Says Captain Wes… Captain Wesfield?"

"Captain Resfield," Fayte corrected him. "He is the commanding knight in Eres Star City. What of him?"

The boy dried his forehead on his sleeve. "Captain Yandor says there is nought to be worrin' about with Captain Resfield commanding the City Watch. Says perhaps no one wants to fly out of the city, or that the gryphons have fallen ill. We were asked to write to Eres Star."

"And not one sparrow came back," the gryphon master said, waving his brush angrily. "Wasted my coins and lost my gryphons. I be reporting this to Gwedoniar I will!"

Wilson tapped him on the shoulder and gave him a look. I agree. Fayte nodded to show him that. This has all to do with the Saldarians. He clenched his fist to steady his hand. No. Captain Resfield is one of the strongest knights in the Order. He would not allow another Zywedior to happen.

"Lend me one of your gryphon," he pleaded. "Please, I will investigate for you, find out where your gryphons have been."

Again the gryphon master scoffed. "Why'd you think I lost four gryphons and not just one or two?"

He pushed past Fayte and Wilson and led the gryphon to a stack of hay to rest on. The gryphon was tame and strode with a grace befitting a noble, squawking gratefully at the gryphon master before settling down on the hay stack.

"The others said the same," the boy told him. "They did not return."

"Now get out of here, you two, you're in the way!" The gryphon master shoved through them again. "Only way I'm letting another one of my babies fly there, is if Captain Yandor himself wants to go there, find out what Sera's stirring up in that city! Now, OUT!"

Harvesria, the town of harvest. It seemed they had found themselves in Hylan's main source for crops. Harvesria may be called a town but her land was twice as large as the whole of Rondiar, possibly more and Fayte would not be surprised.  It was more of a settlement. Houses were built wide apart, each with their own plot of land for farming and rearing of animals.

"This is the hub of the town," Wilson told him, looking at the single-storied buildings around them. "The plantations are all around the town. I came here during my pilgrimage for priesthood. And a second time during the plague."

The plague came from a single nest consisting of various insect species. Fayte did not know the details but the plague afflicted more than half of the town's population which was easily over a thousand. The town had to be cut off from the rest of Hylan. Quite a task considering the size. His father had to send out most of his men and for a brief time left Hylan quite vulnerable to an attack from Saldara. At the height of the plague, King Eardon was asked to consider wiping out the town to prevent the plague from spreading further. It was a time of great despair and Wilson was one of many who selflessly entered the town to aid the people, despite the risks of being infected himself.

"I am glad to see that the town has recovered so well," Wilson said with Preston nodding approvingly. "The White Shield's office is at the town centre. "

Harvesria was a rich town with a richer magister, but it was a town made up of humble people who led humble lives. The path may be stoned and even and the buildings may be sturdy and clean, but there was little gold and silver to be seen anywhere. Statues and fountains of elaborate designs were nowhere to be found. Men and women dressed in simple clothing, sewed with more comfort than embroideries. Still, Harvesria was not without her beauty, with flower bushes and fruit trees sprouting at every corner. Even the air itself felt fresher and sweeter to breathe.

Emily will want to visit this place, he knew. So would my sisters…

"Wait for me at the south entrance," Wilson told him, tossing the pouch that contained the last few pieces of coins they left. "I will ask about Eres Star City. Hopefully the knights there will not recognise me as your friend."

"The knights will not recognise you." A third person joined them. "But I will."

By the light… "Jason," Fayte said, remembering now. "I had forgotten you were squiring for a knight in Harvesria."

"Sir Willior of the Tayr family," Jason told him, sitting atop his armoured destrier in his grey squire armour. "He is second-in-command of Harvesria's town watch."

And Captain Teynier commands the watch for the capital city.

"A fine horse you have here," Wilson said.

"The finest actually," Jason said, proud. "Hurricane is his name, and no other stallion in the whole of Hylan could wish to best him in both speed and stamina. My uncle gifted him to me the day I entered the Order."

Fayte struggled to keep himself from laughing. Hurricane…

Then Jason drew his sword.

"A mere hood will not hide the dishonour reeking off from you, Kaywin," Jason said, his face shadowed with the sun behind him and its rays flashing off his ornate sword as he held it towards Fayte. "You are wanted for the kidnap of my Princess."

"Our Princess," Fayte corrected him as he pulled away his hood. "And I did not kidnap her, in fact, I am trying to get her back."

"Save it, Kaywin. You shall explain yourself to Captain Yandor. Loose your sword belt and come quietly."

Some of the townsmen set down their carts to look. Ladies with baskets around their arms paused, while their children screamed and pointed at Preston.

"Put away your sword, squire," Wilson said while Preston bore his teeth at Jason. "We can talk this out."

"Quiet, priest. You have no say here." Jason kept his eyes on Fayte. "Loose, your, sword belt. Now."

His sword cannot reach me without him leaning out far from his saddle. Fayte reached for his sword.

Jason had proven during their tournament that he was more than willing to cut him down, but that was exactly what Fayte was counting on. Without hesitation, Jason leaned forward from his saddle and swung his sword. All Fayte had to do was turn his body and grab hold of Jason's sword arm. He pulled with both hands and swung Jason on the ground.

"You have a very big horse," Fayte said as he disarmed Jason, tossing his finely crafted weapon to the ground. "But your sword is too short."

"What is the meaning of this?"

A knight in a suit of white called out to them. Flanking him were two soldiers in duller armours, armed with a sword by their waists and a pike in their hands. The eyes of the knight were tree-bark brown and his build was massive much like a tree. Underneath his white armour was a tanned skin covered with a film of sweat.

"Captain Yandor!" Jason screamed. "It's him! The son of the Lord-Knight! Arrest him!"

"QUIET!" Captain Yandor snapped at him as he looked at Fayte.

"It is a warm day, sir knight," Wilson said, his arms opened before him as a show of peace. "Let us talk this out under the shade shall we not?"

Captain Yandor eyed Wilson and Preston. "Forgive me, good priest," he said, glancing at someone behind Wilson. "Take the priest away."

Three other soldiers hurried out from behind them to seize Wilson, but Fayte jumped in front of them with his sword drawn. Preston leaped to the ground next to him and let out a puff of flame, snarling with as much ferocity as a little dog could manage. If only you were bigger.

Fayte spun his sword and adjusted his grip. "No one touches my friend."

"Stand down, squire, and lay down your weapon," Captain Yandor told him.

"I will as soon as your men do, Captain Yandor."

The Captain of Harvesria's Watch took a step forward.

"I'll say this once more, squire." Captain Yandor drew his sword. "Lower your sword, surrender the Saldarian Prince and hand over the Grace of Hylan."

"The Princess is not--"

--a flash of light blinded him.

Fayte's sword was snatched from his hand and he felt a hard surface slam against him, smashing him into the ground violently. Wilson moved to attack but could do no more when he found himself surrounded with the pointy ends of five pikes.

"Where is the Princess?" Captain Yandor demanded, the tip of his sword pressed on Fayte's chest.

I have no chance against him… against a knight blessed by Sera.

"Not with me," Fayte said, groaning and coughing. He had the wind knocked out of him. "I only took my father's seal and it was to save the Princess!"

"That is not what I was told. I was informed that you had worked with the Saldarian Prince to kidnap the Princess," he told Fayte. "You attacked one of the gryphon riders sent out to rescue the Princess, dropping him into a lake. My kindness and respect for your father ends with my asking this question one, last, time. Where is the Princess?"

She is at Eres Star City. But Fayte could not tell him that. "I don't-"

A large shadow enveloped them.

Captain Yandor looked up. When he saw the massive beast landing on them, he yelled for all of them to scatter as he pulled Fayte to his feet and dove away with him. They hit the ground just moments after Ye'Jou landed, buffeting a cloud of dust into the air. The mighty roc let out a screech so sharp it felt like their ears were being cut. In the midst of the chaos Fayte shoved the Captain away and fled.

"The Princess is not with me," he yelled though he could barely see the Captain with all the dust. "And I cannot tell you where she is, but by my oath as a squire, I will bring her-"

Sir Yandon seized him by the arm.

Before the Captain could pull him away, a small cloud of flame seared his brows and made him let go. Preston pushed Fayte on with his head and growled for him to follow. Through the cloud of dust he went after the white dragon until he found Ye'Jou. The roc was so busy screeching that he hadn't even noticed Fayte arriving with his hands pressed tight against his ears. "ENOUGH! SHUT UP!"

Ye'Jou stopped and snarled at him.

"Fine, thank you," Fayte said, climbing onto his back. "Now let's go. WILSON!"

"I'm here!" Wilson yelled, appearing next to Ye'Jou with his sleeve covering his mouth and nose.

Fayte helped him onto Ye'Jou while the roc flapped its great wings, buffeting the soldiers with a cloud of dust and gusts of wind to keep them from getting to them. Once they were on, Ye'Jou kicked himself off the ground and began to lift off when a knight came down on them from above.

Sera, please, I need to get to Emily!

Ye'Jou banked left and the knight missed them completely.

They gained altitude quickly and Ye'Jou boosted himself further by kicking off a roof, knocking bricks and wood pieces onto the men below. Into the air they soared as mages stationed around Harvesria sent elemental bolts at them. Fayte protected Wilson and himself with his shield while Ye'Jou did his best to dodge them. An easy task. The mages had not been expecting them and Ye'Jou flew much swifter than Hylan gryphons.

"They're not chasing after us," Wilson said, looking behind them. "Why?"

Captain Yandor won't give up just because of what I said. "Harvesria is a key location. Captain Yandor cannot leave his post nor can he send his men after us and leave their defences crippled."

"Thank, Sera," Wilson then said but Fayte shook his head.

"He is not one to give up either," he told Wilson. He was ready to strike me down just because he believes I kidnapped Emily. Captain Yandor was beyond reason. All who knew my father knew he had lost his family in Zywedior... Yet Captain Yandor still believes that I was working with the Prince. "Captain Yandor is a zealous man devoted to the Order and the royal family," he concluded. "He will learn from the gryphon master that I am headed for Eres Star City."

"The Underlord's agent," Wilson reminded him, worried.

"I know…" The agent had said nothing of the consequences should the Order learn that Emily is there. In spite of that, Fayte would prefer not to find out if he could help it. "It will take them at least a day to gather the men to fly to Eres Star City. Ye'Jou."

The roc squawked in response.

"There is no more need for stealth and care," he told Ye'Jou, dismissing what Rinmar had said before when they were escaping from Rondiar. "Rinmar had oft boasted of your speed. Show us."

Ye'Jou folded his wings and dove.

The sudden drop forced the air into their faces and neither one of them could manage a scream. The ground charged at them as Ye'Jou dove until seconds before they hit the ground, Ye'Jou spread its wings and they swooped into the sky faster than ever before. They soared with incredible speed up into the sky, cutting through wind and covering a great distance. The roc screeched at them and Preston growled at Wilson.

"Cling on to him!" Wilson yelled.

"What do you think I've been doing?" Fayte shouted back, scared witless.

Once they had both hugged tightly to Ye'Jou's body, the roc dove again and swooped into the sky at the last moment. Shooting across the air and cutting through with a sharp whistling noise, Ye'jou flew across great plains and rolling hills, leaving Fayte with great worries.

Hylan gryphons are no match to Saldarian's rocs. Not even the slightest bit. It felt conflicting but for once he prayed that Rinmar was truly on their side. Even Sera might not know what other fearsome beasts Saldara has hidden under her sands.

The air thinned somewhat and the landscape of rolling hills and evergreen grass slowly paled and turned white. Ye'Jou slowed down as they climbed and entered the colder region of Hylan. Eres Star City was located at the far west of Hylan. Built after the Temple of Eres Star was created, the city was a stronghold for the Templars when they kept peace in Hylan before the three Orders were formed.

King Danfred Greyblade sat upon the stone throne of Eres Star City. Back then Hylan was a land made up of numerous kingdoms. Many a time different kings tried to conquer another, for land, for wealth, and most of all for power. The Templars took no part in the affairs of Kings. Their allegiance was to no King - not even King Danfred - or Queen, but only to their Order and to Sera.

Their temple was built on the peak of a mountain in the Wyvern Claws mountain range. It was a harsh place to live in and a harsher place to build a temple, but they did it nonetheless. It was said that the temple was evidence to their unbreakable and unwavering dedication to the Eres Star Order. Fayte had always felt that the temple was just there to give the Templars something to brag about.

"Who builds a temple at the peak of a mountain?" Wilson asked, his arms wrapped around Fayte and his body hugged close to Fayte's back.

He was very cold.

"Who builds an entire city in the middle of a mountain range, I ask," Fayte said, shivering just a little.

It would take some time before they got used to the climate. Besides, they were in the air now so doubtless it would be colder. Once they landed and got closer to the warm earth, the shivering should cease.

"We need thicker clothes," Wilson noted.

Ye'Jou was fine with his thick hide and feathers, but still the cold temperature was not what he was used to. Flying any closer to the city would be a risk. Sure, if the Saldarians had taken over the city then Ye'Jou would likely be a welcomed sight. But from what Ye'Jou had communicated to Preston, it seemed that Rinmar was now in the company of the Scygard mage who had taken Emily.

"It seems we have no other choice but to waste much of the day travelling by land," Wilson said.

Hours passed and scarlet streaks lined the sky as the sun began to set.

Their boots sank through a layer of snow and dug into dirt. Little vegetation grew here and the road they travelled on was frosted and snowed on. The mountains around them erupted from the ground like deadly spikes in a trap hole. The mountains all curved slightly to their peaks, much like a claw and hence the name of Wyvern Claw. At dusk, very little of the sun's rays could get in with the mountains in the way. It grew dark quickly and once the last of the sunlight was out, both of them felt colder right away.

Thankfully they caught up with a band of travellers, a group of six with a wagon, two horses and the often taken for granted torches. The travellers gave them both a thick cloak of sheep wool and let them share their warmth. A lady even offered Wilson a seat on the wagon, but he declined and much to Preston's disapproval, Wilson declined a loaf of bread and meat as well.

"The warmth of your torches and cloaks are more than we could ask for," he told them.

Slowly the snowy road began to level. They trudged on in silence until one of the men whispered and pointed ahead of them. Fayte saw specks of light in the distance. Torches and lumastones. Slowly the outline of a high wall revealed itself to him. The grey stones of Eres Star City's great walls were darker than the dirt beneath their feet. Turrets glowed ominously with torches and silhouettes of soldiers. Shadows stalked along the top of the walls, more like ghosts than men patrolling if Fayte had not known better.

Somewhere up there. Fayte looked skywards at the tallest mountain behind Eres Star City. The peak was shrouded with darkness. Ra'gelor is waiting.

"I'm on my way, Emily."