CHAPTER 23 - A VIOLENT REMINDER

The massive iron doors of Eres Star City swung open with a giant's groan.

Ice on the hinges cracked and shattered, showering them with bits of snow that stung like needles. Preston even wanted to breathe fire but Wilson stopped him. The moment they were within sight, Fayte felt a deadly intent focused on him like how you would know when a person was staring at you. The soldiers on the high walls were masked by shadows, but the gleaming tip of their nocked arrows gave them away. He slung his shield behind him under his cloak while Wilson had Preston hide under his cloak as well.

Fayte turned and caught Wilson's eyes before he pointed to the ground. There were footprints left all over the path. It was impossible not to step on one as they entered the city. Wilson only noticed it after Fayte pointed it out. They were here for Emily and they had no intention of leaving without her. But suddenly they both felt a rising panic that urged them to turn back and run for it. The footprints only led into the city.

Not a single step led out.

Following suit, Wilson pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and kept his eyes low. The two knights that guarded the entrance eyed them openly with silent but accusing eyes. Behind them the iron doors slammed shut and the frost began to form again.

"Something is wrong," one of the travellers said. "Sir knight, why are there no people on the streets?"

"Curfew," the knight said, his tooth chipped and his beard white with snow. "Now move along and get off the streets."

No city in Hylan may enforce a curfew without the King's authority. Is this the Saldarians' doing or is King Eardon aware of Ra'gelor's being here?

"Curfew?" the man asked, a travelling merchant who had visited Eres Star City many times before. "Why is there--"

--he was struck to the ground.

Fayte reached for his sword but Wilson stopped him. The knight began kicking the man. His family watched helplessly and his lady on the wagon screamed for the knight to stop. She begged while the children, boys and girls in their fifteens and twenties, pleaded and cried.

"Ye' wagon shall be confisicated for disobeytion of knight's orders!" the other knight yelled from behind them, waving his sword at the lady. "Get off! Now!"

Wilson hurried over and helped the lady off while the knight continued to yell at her. He led her to Fayte and the children while two other men came over and drove off the wagon. The lady cried. Their livelihood and everything they owned was on that wagon.

 These men are not knights. Fayte reached to his back for his shield. I can take them.

Again Wilson shot a look at him that said, "No."

"Now get off the streets before I have all of you arrested for breaking curfew!" said the one who had assaulted the man. His two sons helped him up and Fayte quickly urged them along. "Move it!"

They went up the frozen stone path as quickly as they could without slipping. Not a single torch was lit along the road, wide enough for two wagons to be pulled through. The buildings in Eres Star City were tall and with this little light, they were also threatening. Not a soul was on the streets. Doors were shut and behind windows were only the faintest glow of candles. Sometimes they heard a whisper and other times they heard footsteps from within.

Quickly, the daughters led them up the road and deeper into the city. A three storied inn with walls of wood and a base of stone was where they would be spending the night. Greeting them was a closed door and a dark porch that was cold and very much unwelcoming. Inns did not leave their doors shut like this, lest there was a storm or perhaps snow like now. There should at least be some light.

One of the sons went up and pounded on the door.

"We cannot move like this," Fayte whispered. "Not with this curfew."

"Is this why the agent didn't want us to inform the Order?" Wilson wondered, watching the son continue to rasp on the door desperately.

"This is why we must inform the Order," Fayte told him, tired of waiting. He checked his surroundings to be sure there were no more 'knights' around. Once clear, Fayte drew his sword and jammed it into the hinge of the door. He had seen how ice mages made even the strongest steel brittle by freezing them. Sadly it was not the case with these hinges. "Alright. We're not getting-"

The door swung open.

A girl holding a candle lamp stood there, looking at each one of them timidly. It was hard to tell her age with just the light of a small lamp, but this girl was around Fayte's age.

"Who are you?" the girl asked, her voice hushed to a whisper.

Hers are not the eyes of a killer. Fayte removed his hood. "My name is Fayte and-"

"Are these your companions?" she then asked, raising her lamp.

Behind the girl, Fayte caught a glimpse of a group of people. The lamp gave them away with the glints of light in their eyes. They were all curious and very much afraid as they were. This girl is too busy protecting those people to be of harm to us.

"This is Wilson," he told her and Wilson pulled away his hood. "My friend. And they are a family of travelling merchants. The men at the doors robbed them of their wagon and assaulted their father. He is hurt and in need of healing that my friend here can provide. But we need shelter and warm hearth."

Preston crawled up from Wilson's back underneath his cloak and straightened up on his shoulder.

She knows a true priest when she sees one, for the girl relaxed when she saw Preston.

"Come in," she said, stepping aside. "Hurry."

The girl shut the door and bolted it behind them. For a frantic moment they were engulfed in darkness and Fayte feared that they were going to be ambushed. Clearly Wilson felt just as threatened for his friend had raised his hand and illuminated the room with a sphere of light.

There was no danger. Only an inn filled with people. Tables and chairs were pushed aside. People were sitting on the ground covered with blankets, cloaks and whatever they could find to keep warm under. There were people of all ages here, old men and young ladies, little girls and infant boys cradled in their mothers' arms. There had to be at least thirty people here not even including them. At least the inn was large enough to accommodate them with room to walk about still.

Wilson waved his hand and the single sphere split into numerous smaller spheres. They flew off in different directions and lit the interior of the inn.

"No," the girl told him. "Please, good priest, the light will bring us attention that we seek to avoid."

These people are all afraid, suspicious at most. Fayte nodded.

"You will freeze," Wilson said.

"We have lasted many days like this," she said, pointing to the fireplace where embers of hot coals glowed dimly. "It is enough."

Wilson was not convinced but these were living people around him. "Very well."

He snapped his fingers and the spheres extinguished themselves, leaving them only with the light of the small lamp. The girl thanked him and a few more candles were lit on Wilson's insistence. They helped the injured man to a corner and Wilson began to work on him. Fayte was pulled aside by the girl and led upstairs.

"We must speak," she said.

She took him across a narrow corridor flanked with rooms. The cold wood creaked underneath their feet. Fayte could hardly see a thing save for the girl's back. She opened a door at the far end and hurried him in. Then he heard her shut the door behind him, engulfing him in pitch darkness.

Fayte reached for his sword-

"Relax." The voice was familiar.

A candle was lit and a second and a third. Fayte pushed his sword back into his sheath and nodded at the Underlord's agent.

"How did you manage to get here so quickly?" he asked.

The agent gestured for him to sit at the table in the centre of the room. Four beds at each corner of the room surrounded them. A good night's sleep would do Fayte much good right now. That and a warm bowl of soup.

"I have my ways," the agent said, pouring them both a cup of water. "Welcome to Eres Star City."

"Dreadful city," Fayte said, sitting down. "Those men at the city's entrance, they're not knights."

"Mercenaries," the agent told him. "Captain Resfield has been replaced by a man who goes by the name of Orson Reydar. He is a rich lord who comes from a family that had sought nobility for many generations. But the Reydar family has had frequent dealings with the Underlord that the King is well aware of. I am not surprised to see his name come up in such circumstances. Likely the Saldarians have promised him gold and power. It is what most men seek and it is what the Reydar family seeks the most."

Captain Resfield is one of the most skilled knights in Hylan. "How was it that the Captain was replaced?"

"The Magister ordered his arrest," the agent said like it was such a simple matter. "Captain Resfield didn't resist until he was poisoned by the Saldarians. By then it was too late. Now he is locked up in the dungeon with the rest of the city's knights, replaced by mercenaries and soldiers who do not know better. That, is assuming the Captain is still alive. Your Princess is there with him as well."

Fayte sat up. "How do I get to this dungeon?"

When the agent smiled at him, Fayte could tell that the man wanted something in exchange for that knowledge, but he said nothing. The door behind Fayte burst opened and Wilson was flung in, badly beaten up with a bleeding nose and lips.

"Wilson!"

The agent grabbed his head and slammed his face onto the table.

He held Fayte's face on the rough surface and drove a dagger into the table right in front of his broken nose.

"You were told specifically not to inform the Order," the agent said, his voice soft but laced with threat. If before he had sounded friendly, all sense of that friendliness was gone now. "Explain why my men have informed me that Captain Yandor of Harvesria has requested leave to pursue a certain squire to this very city."

Sera, let him not know of Whitesong and Spearfort. "The Saldarian Prince, he has a flying beast. It came for me when it believed that I was in danger. I had no choice but to flee." He struggled to free himself but the agent held him firmly. "Captain Yandor was convinced that I had aided the Prince in kidnapping the Princess. He would have had me arrested."

The agent looked at him, trying to decipher the truth from his words.

He released him.

Two men came into the room and lifted Wilson onto his feet. The agent waved his hand and they dragged Wilson out.

"Touch him again and-"

"Do not get comfortable with me, squire," the agent told him. "I may seem to be aiding you at this time but rest assured, the Underlord does not help out of mere kindness. Remember who you are dealing with, and take not my aid for friendship. As for that priest, he will not be harmed. In fact, I have a job for him. His healing skills will come in handy."

"Leave Wilson out of this."

The agent scoffed. "Believe me. You will have to convince your friend not to help once he hears of the job. Now before I give you your Princess-"

"Give me?" He has Emily? "What do you mean by that?"

Splinters sprouted from the wound the dagger left on the table after the agent removed it. He got up to leave, tucking his dagger behind him before he blew out all but one of the candles on the table.

"Present yourself to the City Watch tomorrow," the agent said, opening the door.

Fayte stood and drew his sword. He has Emily. "Where is the-"

A glint of silver shot across his face. Fayte felt a cut on his left cheek and the candle behind him went out. He rushed forward blindly only to have the door slammed against him. The door refused to budge and suddenly Fayte felt his strength leave him and his eyelids grew heavy.

"Sleep," the agent said from behind the door. "I will have you rested for what is to come on the morrow."