CHAPTER 20 - WORRIED FAMILIES

Lady Elisen seized him by the neck.

Her gauntleted hand threatened to crush his neck. The fury in her eyes was completely uncharacteristic of her. Fayte did not blame her. Not when she wailed on him for his incompetency. Not when she berated him for dishonouring his father by aiding the Saldarian Prince. Not even when she told him that the Order had no place for someone like him.

They were in Spearfort, the fort of the Kayme family, gathered in the courtyard with high walls surrounding them. Knights from the Order arrived shortly after Wilson found him with the dead Scygard. At first the knights tried to assist the slavers and fight the horde, but there was just too many of them. They tried to take as many as they could but the gryphons could only carry so many. It didn't help when the slavers turned on them in the momentary truce, many trying to fight for their gryphons. They fought desperately but the knights managed to escape at least with the children. However, when they found the children, they did not find-

"I want the Princess found by sunrise!" Lady Elisen yelled at the fifteen knights standing with their gryphons after releasing him. Her pristine armour now smudged with dirt and blood and her head smeared with sweat. Lady Elisen was otherwise unharmed. "Go! Now!"

"Elis," Sir Percson placed his hand on her shoulder and said, "the gryphons are ridden to near their last breaths. They must rest. Even Keyran cannot fly without rest. Look at her."

The gryphon that fended off the mage and slavers for him and Emily had survived, though not without several burns and wounds from axes and swords. It was a wonder she could still fly Lady Elisen out.

"You need rest," Sir Percson said.

"I am a Whiteguard," she told him, pushing his hand away. "I will not rest until the Princess is safe and neither should you."

"You are a Whiteguard," Sir Percson told her, his voice still gentle like always. "But you are human too. Back at the encampment-"

"I killed those men to defend Keyran and myself."

"You butchered them, Elis," Sir Percson said, his tone still gentle but his smile was gone. That alone changed everything. "I saw for myself. After the Scygard escaped you acted not as a knight of the Order, but as a victim of slavers out for vengeance."

Lady Elisen stared at him harshly, her face flushed with anger while her eyes glistened with shame. Everyone knew the story of Elisen Fteor, the slave who became a Whiteguard.

"But you had flown for days without sleep," Sir Percson then said, his faint smile returned. "You are only human, Elis. Now you must rest." He turned to the knights. "Take leave and rest, all of you. I welcome you to Spearfort." For this was the fort of the Kayme family and he was Percson of the noble Kayme family. "The servants will take you somewhere to wash, eat, and recuperate. My family's healer will look at your wounds. I have a stable master who will tend to your gryphons so rest easy, your friends will be cared for." Then he turned to Fayte and Wilson. "Come. I wish to speak to you both."

The torches hung on the walls of the fort were the only light they had. Thick clouds kept the moon and her stars hidden. Thick rain clouds. A chilly wind swept past them as Sir Percson stepped through the heavy wooden doors, handing his shield to a page boy no older than twelve who followed behind them.

"Percy?" an old woman called, standing in the torchlit hallway with a young woman supporting her.

"Gran," Sir Percson said, going to her. He took off his gauntlets and tossed them to his page before holding his grandmother's hands. "What are you doing up so late? Was it the noise?"

"Is the Princess safe?" the old woman with a hunch said, wrapped in thick fabrics. Her grey hair was thin and loose around her neck. Sir Percson had to kneel to save her the strain of looking up. "Your uncle said word came from the castle. The Grace of Hylan was stolen by a Saldarian Prince. Is it true?"

"Yes, Gran, it is all true," he told her. "We still trying to find her."

"Mmm… Mmm…" his grandmother nodded. "Poor child, she must be so frightened."

Not when Rinmar took her. But now…

"The Princess is a brave girl," Sir Percson said with his usual smile like there was naught to worry. "Gran, you should go back to bed."

"Mmm… Find her, alright?" she told him as she turned away, head shaking slowly. "Poor child… Poor child…"

Once his grandmother was led away, Sir Percson sighed and got up. He gestured at the three of them to follow. Amelia held her brother's hand and walked with them while Preston padded on the ground next to her protectively, keeping her between them. Sir Percson led them to a dining hall, large enough to host fifty comfortably. The Whiteguard nodded at a servant who quickly went away, most likely for food and water.

"Sit," he said, taking a seat on the bench behind the table. The dark rosewood of the table was old but sturdy. Only nobles could afford such craftsmanship and the Kayme family had been a noble family for many generations. "Where is the Prince?"

Wilson shrugged and Fayte did the same.

"The Princess helped him escape," Sir Percson said to their surprise. "Now I ask you again. Where is the Prince?"

I wish I knew. Fayte looked to Wilson.

"We split up once we entered the camp," Wilson told them before turning to Amelia. "I went to search for her. He for Kamille. Ye'Jou had left earlier with Whitesong to meet us at the other end of the camp."

Fayte was more than relieved to find Whitesong waiting for him when they arrived at Spearfort.

"Can the Prince be trusted?" Sir Percson asked.

"Yes."
"No."

They looked at each other.

"He can't be trusted," Fayte said and shared with them what the Scygard had said to the slavelord.

"Torjun…" Sir Percson said thoughtfully.

The servant returned with roasted hams and stuffed sausages, creamy cheese and spiced bread, fruits of all colours, and a jug of juice to wash it all down. Wilson wrapped cheese with bread and placed an apple on a plate, giving them to Amelia before he poured her a mug of a grape juice. Many of the knights entered the dining hall then. They nodded at Sir Percson before taking the table closest to the door, furthest away from them to let them speak privately.

"Do you know this man?" Fayte asked.

"There were reports of such a person before," he said, taking a bottle of wine from the servant before dismissing the man. "Lord Frendon had once ordered a search for this man but nothing turned up. Your father began to ignore further reports of Torjun unless evidence of his existence was produced. He could not spare the men."

"Illusion magic is not native to Hylan," Wilson said. "And judging from the latrines around the area, that encampment was there for a very long time."

"Hylan has always had mages from foreign countries and she always will." Sir Percson nodded. "But yes, I know what you mean. To have stayed hidden for so long and have such a large camp still. All those slaves…" Now he was shaking his head in dismay. "I will send a report to your father and the King. They will send word to the Northern Gate and have it closed for a time. Foreign trades will have to stop until we sort this out."

"The Underlord," Fayte reminded him.

"Yes, the Underlord will have to be contacted as well, but do not misunderstand him, Fayte. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Underlord had wanted the Princess only to have her returned to us."

"You sound like you know him," Wilson said.

Sir Percson grinned. "We've… Well, let's just say we've crossed paths before. The Underlord is an evil man, no doubt, but one would be wiser to name him a necessary evil."

"Do you think he can help us find Emily?" Fayte asked, hoping.

"I believe he can. That is why the Underlord must be contacted. He would have the resources to find the Princess sooner than us and time is of the utmost importance here. The Saldarians are planning something. With this demon under their control, Hylan is in grave danger. By finding the Princess we will also find that Scygard mage."

"Mage…?" Fayte asked.

"He made the rocks shoot from the ground," Amelia said, waving her bread about. "Then he made these monsters appear and they took the Princess… She tried to fight them, Roland too, and so did I. But they got her still… Sorry…"

Her brother smiled and kissed her, telling her that it wasn't her fault and that she was very brave for trying to help the Princess. Preston nudged her gently with his head before he pushed the apple on her plate closer to her.

"I didn't know Scygards could do magic," Fayte admitted, wondering how he would ever defeat a Scygard now. One who wasn't half dead already.

"Neither did I," Sir Percson said with a casual shrug. "Perhaps he was special. After all, he was sent to invade the camp. And he managed to force Torjun to back off. What matters now is that we find him and have him questioned. Whatever plans he has got for Hylan, he must be stopped. That demon is too powerful. We lost too many lives that day…"

"What of the Prince?" Fayte then asked.

"That is why I wished to speak to you both," he told them. "I understand why you chose to assist him. An alliance between our countries. An end to the bloodshed. It is a tempting idea even to those who had lost people they love in Zywedior."

"But he lied to us," Fayte said. "Now we know that."

"Not for certain," the Whiteguard told him, taking a drink of his wine. "If Saldara is in civil war right now, then this Scygard mage we met could be an enemy to the Prince."

"It makes sense," Wilson agreed, his face pale though he ate heartily. "Their actions go against each other. Why risk his life proposing peace to ultimately destroy us if he already controls a demon that can do it all the same?"

Fayte had to agree. The Prince was about to tell him more about his nation when they were interrupted. Unfortunately they never got the chance to resume their conversation. We need to learn more from Rinmar, else we cannot decide whose side he is on.

"Indeed. Now the Prince will attempt to contact the both of you," Sir Percson began to explain. "But he will be unable to as long as you remain here."

"What will you have us do?" Fayte asked.

"Rest," Sir Percson said, sitting up. "At sunrise you will head south towards Mount Tyrus, since that is where the demon is believed to be. If the Prince had yet contact you by the time you arrive at the city of Tyrox, then I have little hopes that you will meet him. If that is the case, surrender yourself to the city watch."

Surrender? "We are wanted?"

The Whiteguard nodded. "Your father has ordered you to be held and escorted back to Rondiar for the theft of his Royal Seal."

Father wants me arrested? Fayte got up and dropped the Royal Seal onto the table. "How could my father want me taken just because I took this piece of metal from him, while I am out here risking my life trying to rescue the Princess? If he cares so much for his seal then he can have it back. I have no need for-"

"Your father is worried that he is going to lose his only kin left in this world," Sir Percson told him. The Whiteguard held Fayte's eyes for a moment before he looked to the Royal Seal. "That piece of metal means nothing to him, only an excuse to put on paper. It is you that he truly wants returned."

Fayte bit his lip. He sat down quietly and said nothing else. Wilson and Preston looked from Fayte to Sir Percson and then back to Fayte again. The Whiteguard reached out and pushed the Royal Seal back.

"And… I wouldn't condemn an item to be of no use if it came from the High Sage himself."

Kestel was not one to act without intention. Fayte kept the seal.

"What of the demon?" Wilson asked, ending the silence. "I can-"

"You may be a priest, Wilson, but you are young." Sir Percson glanced at Amelia. The girl was trying to stay awake, swaying sleepily with her eyelids shutting, but still determined to finish her yummy bread and apple. "Too young. If the demon is truly hiding at Mount Tyrus, the Orders of Rondiar will take care of it. You will return to Rondiar or back to Ironsville if you wish."

Wilson seemed to neither agree nor disagree. He must wish to assist in the fight against Ra'gelor. Why isn't he saying anything?

"What of my sister?"

"She may stay here for the time being. I have many nieces and nephews her age and the fort is well guarded, especially so with my lord father around." But Sir Percson could see that Wilson did not like that idea. "Or she could travel with Lady Elisen and be taken back to Ironsville. I intend to send Elis back to Rondiar. She… she should not have been at that camp."

Fayte remembered what Sir Percson had said, '…acted as a victim of slavers out for vengeance.' His words and Lady Elisen's actions unsettled him. Even a Whiteguard could not keep her emotions from getting the better of herself. How am I, a mere squire, to accept the Saldarians? Sera, how am I to let go of this hatred?

That night Fayte slept to the screams of his family again.