In the bleak midwinter which engulfed this vast territory recently set under the civilized banners of the Commonwealth, an encampment of stone and iron stood in a sea of white, the fires within its tall walls burning bright and strong as siinarais, legions in strength, comfortably settled in for winter with the spoils of war they’ve won in their autumnal campaign. On the paved pathway leading in from the front gate of the impenetrable defensive walls walked down a man donning a crimson set of armor, the carapace of which bares the mark of a Battlemaster of the Trinterian XV Jadas from Kyri, accompanied by a dozen guards of lower rankings. The Battlemaster moved quickly through the labyrinth of the fortification before him, his guards rushing to take their positions as their lord closed the door to the chamber where he conducts his business behind him. The poorly-decorated chamber with a critical shortage of ornaments is undeniably ill-suited for a man of his rank, but he did not seem to mind as he sat down on a wooden chair by a table scattered all over with papers and documents both signed and unsigned. With a deep breath, he pulled an empty vellum scroll from a cabinet beneath his feet and placed it in front of him. Having had no trouble finding the necessarily ink and quill, he began to write.

"To Her Most Excellent Majesty, Gersi the Great of the Imperial Clan Elmear, Empress of the Commonwealth of the Mirhaimian Realm, Grand Protector of the Realms of Mirhaime, Nordlys, Varaus, Kunasau, &c.

May it please your Majesty,

Through great efforts both mine and my Jadas, diplomacy have resulted in the permanent halt of the mighty contest and disputes which had been fought between forces of the confederacy of barbarian tribes who populate the realm of Kirsak and Jadas of Siinarais loyal to the throne, chief amongst which is the XV Jadas at the helm of which I currently stand.

As you have known and commanded, I personally led an envoy of guards and scribes to negotiate peace with the remnants of the tribes who still resist your will, the terms and conditions of which you have personally agreed to. At the end of the meeting, Warchief Gunni, against whom I have led this bloody campaign in the name of Commonwealth righteousness, have agreed to lay down his arms and disband the bands under his command in return for your mercy and grace. Though visibly angered and distressed when the subject matter of exile was raised, Warchief Gunni reluctantly agreed. The meeting was a resounding success.

Relevant documents and vellums are currently in the possession of my Jadas’ cartographic and scribal division and shall be delivered to you along with this letter as soon as copies are written down for safekeep in the event that danger may meet the messengers and the letters be lost.

In the meantime, I shall ensure that the necessary preparations be made in expectation of the arrival of a Governor.

May your most gracious Majesty accept this success as a testament of the allegiance of I and the XV Jadas to you and the civilized cause of our Commonwealth. I wish long life and happiness to your Majesty, and am,

Your Majesty’s most Faithful and Obedient Subject,

Aedan Kiran Ouras nar Modraeth 
Battlemaster of the XV Jadas."

“May the Gods save us all…”

He said he waited for the ink to dry before neatly rolling the vellum into a scroll and enclosing it with a wax seal bearing the drake’s mark. He stood up and walked out of the chamber, not wasting a second, to present the newly written document to the messenger. The Empress is waiting.

Atop the ramparts of his fortress of stone and steel, the battlemaster cladded in his metal armor stood and observed the activities of the inhabitants whose settlement had recently formed around the safety of his Jadas’ garrison. They were a bag of mixed seeds, from Aeterite and Kyrasque settlers to even men and women of his Jadas who chose to stay as their service to the Commonwealth honorably ended. This land was the Empress’ gift to them and this safety in which they are slowly growing the battlemaster’s gratitude. His glassy eyes - the eyes of a hardened warrior - turned to look at the horizon and the mountain afar obscured by the curvature of this world he and everyone he knew resided on. He, the mastermind behind this triumph, could scantly believe that it had already been five long years since the decade-long campaign in this far-flung land had come to a decisive conclusion.
“The Grand Dominion of Cathal” he mumbled to himself much to the confusion of the guards who surrounded him either by the parapet or on the tall towers constructed on each commanding corner of the bulwark. To his ears, it had a nice ring to it.

Though so it would seem that one could only be happy when they’re blissfully oblivious. It seemed that a smile had almost formed on his scarred lips before his mind once again bombarded him with the subtle reminder that, with new opportunities, came new difficulties. It had been an arduous task guarding this frontier with the siinarayon and arms he had been provided with. Though Aeter had reassured him that there would not be a threat of warband, the grand Hysamal Forest was surely able to assist them - the Trinterians - in the task of dispersing them away. Though then, it was also Aeter who, not a year ago, promised him two more Jadason to assist him, yet here he on the March stood alone he and the XV. Even after the season for recruitment and campaigning gave way for the time of labour and farming, he still received no news of their imminent arrival. He felt like a fool for having waited for so long; falsely placing his hopes on promises that passed through the lips of a drunk bureaucrat and leaving tasks that should’ve been resolved so long ago undone in the hopes that they could be accomplished whole with greater numbers to aid him. Though he could only give a long sigh; who was he to question the authorities of the Empress?
He was, after all, Her Majesty’s Most Faithful and Obedient Subject. Or so he kept telling himself.

Pulling from the rucksack at his side a bidon of water, he took a small sip to refresh himself and clear his mind of this rushing wave of pessimism. Except for that liquid that he drank was not water but ale he had ‘commanded’ an errand boy to get for him from a tavern on the foot of the hill. It was a gross misuse of manpower, and ungentlemanly for a person of his caliber but he couldn’t care less. Up atop that wall, he could see no one with the dauntless bravery to tell him to stop unless, of course, the Gods deem him worthy of being struck by their thunder though he could only laugh as he entertained that humorous thought.

His mind turned to contemplate the question of the age: what will the future hold?
It all seemed uncertain to him. His martial function relied heavily on assumptions and guesswork yet now with no wars to fight, and no battles to win, he felt as if the age for soldiers and strategists like him had long passed and given way to people of a new sort - people skilled in the craft of creation than destruction. So it would seem, prayers for Zerka’s blessings would no longer be the wishes of red-clad siinarayon for an inevitable victory before they march into battle but rather the hopes of farmers for the strength needed for a fruitful harvest before they walk to the fields.

Bleak was the midwinter that engulfed this vast territory now made Fefsen by the blood of his brethren yet in fields stretching as far as the eyes could see, seeds of a new harvest were planted. Their banners arose and so did civility. Whatever the path ahead may hold, he’d accept for, after all, Trinteria’s future awaited.

It was but late into the day as the rapid, frantic trotting sounds of deer fleeing at the sight of vague silhouettes springing forth from a desolate corner of the forest to pursue them broke the quiet ambiance of nature’s domain. The prey - a deer whose menacing looking horns seem as if they could pierce a man clean - ran through the forest with great speeds, ignoring obstacles that made it so seemed as if it was but a field of grass. The hunter, as powerful as he may be with his titles and victories, Alwyn Caernar of the XV, however, did not fare as well as his rugged leather boots trampled onto the ground, tripping occasionally on fallen branches or rocks laid between him and his trophy of the day. He had missed his chance when his first hail of arrows whistled through the air with such intensity and accuracy only to pierce the bark of a tree. As the second grew into minutes, the weight of his boots grew ever heavier as still persistently he gave chase only to, much to his own dismay, abandon his effort as he stopped in his tracks, almost falling onto his knees as he tried to catch his breath. Finding his resting spot by a fallen tree, he closed his eyes and contemplated his wasted efforts of today. He had been spying on his game for hours ever since the sun was at its peak in the sky until now when it was about to settle in the far west. He could barely recall how many arrows he dispensed his hunt, arrows that he was quite certain he would never recover.

“You seem tired,” the young voice of a boy called out to him as his frustration and tiredness was soon replaced by sheer fright as he recoiled and opened his eyes to look at where the voice was emanating from. So it would seem that it weren’t the elusive spirits of the forest confronting but rather a young boy, from where he seemed, no older than 14 years of age.

“You frighten the soul out of me, boy!” Alwyn scolded as he leaned back to sighed a sigh of relief.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.” He said in response, his eyes shying away perhaps in realization that he could’ve been killed. It was

It was at this moment that Alwyn realized the bizarreness of it all as a question came to him: why was he there in the middle of the woods?
If the passage of time as he stalked his prey was not beyond him, he was quite certain that they were at least half a day’s walk away from civilization. In any case, this was the frontier of the frontier they found themselves in.

“What are you doing here?” He questioned the boy before him calmly.

“I’m gathering berries!” The boy said excitedly in return, showing him the basket that he slung on his side, filled with wild berries and fruits of all sorts - indeed gifts of the forest.

“You’re a long way from home,” Alwyn commented, leaning back on where was sitting. He had tried to stand up and continue to walk but he could feel that his strength was nearly sapped. A few more minutes won’t hurt. It was at this moment that he also realized that the rigorousness of his youth was no longer with him. He was an old man with nearly seventy winters with him and yet here he was, in the forest on a hunt with a surprising encounter to boot.

“And you as well,” slyly the boy returned.
It was this very moment that he knew that this boy before him may not be as naïve as he first thought,

“Indeed,” He responded, a smile blooming on his face. He had been chasing that prey all morning, yet it had slipped from his fingers. Once the heat of the chase was over as beast triumphed over man, he had few ideas of where he truly was - a fact perhaps he was too embarrassed to admit to the boy.

“But I’m on a hunt, it is a rite of mine,” he continued. The hunt was more than for leisure, for he was to capture that beast and, with its antlers, present them before the altar of Zerka in though now, he thought, it would be better if he paused his endeavor so that he may assist this boy if the need arises.

“The wood is no place for you, child,” he affirmed,
“But it seems you and I would be stuck together for a while,” he said, a finger pointing upwards to the sky. It had turned a colour of black and orange, signifying that the day was soon to end and dusk was fast approaching.

“Unless you prefer to travel alone at night.”

The boy weighed his options, either he stay and make camp for a night with this strange man he had just met, or travel alone through the blistering cold dark where he could be hunted. Though he knew not of his intentions, he figured that there was no better option. He had been eating berries for a while now, perhaps this man would carry with him in that rucksack visibly slung on his side something for him to eat as well, if he would be so inclined to share.

“We make camp here, nowhere else,” the boy demanded, and he agreed with a “Sure” to seal their agreement. Scanning his surroundings for yet another time, E came to the realization that, though it wasn’t ideal, it was a fair enough location to make camp though only for a night.

“Grab sticks and whatever you could find and back to me, then we’ll talk,” he commanded as he stood up and stretched. Though his tiredness had subsided, his aged joints, still stiff from the chase, for a moment felt as if they were about to break, leading him to let out a small, muffled grunt to which the boy gave a look of concern.

“It is fine,” he reassured the youth,
“I’m a young lad no more,” he said as he slung his satchel and pack forward. From within the pack, he pulled out a string of salted meat and showed it to the boy. What sort of meat it was wasn’t clear to the boy though he figured it couldn’t have possibly been human. He’s complete and utterly famished, anything that weren’t wild berries would be fine to him.

As the mind of the boy began to drift off to fantasize on what delicious meals that would come after, Alwyn stared at him before breaking him off from his carriage of thoughts,
“Hey!” He uttered, the boy instinctively turning to look at him,
“Go, I’m hungry too” he said, to which the boy nodded.

There he sprinted away, though still remaining in view to grab branches fallen off of trees and planks of woods that could be used to light this fire that they were preparing. While he was gathering wood, Alwyn began to set up the fires grabbing small rocks around him to form a circle with a makeshift stove made with two sticks as support and another one set sideways on top of them. It was nowhere near as, as one would say, professional or proper as the ones the Empress’ siinarayon bring along with them on their march but then, he was no heavy infantry and this would have to do if only to boil a pot of something to eat and pass the night without starvation hanging close to him and haunting his dreams. Placing his cooking pot hanging from the stick, he awaited the boy to return with the wood so that a fire could be started. It was only a few short moments after when the boy returned to him, his hands and arms barely able to hold the pile of twigs, branches and planks of wood that he had gathered. He was enthusiastic though Alwyn could, with the materials that he had gathered barely suitable to make a campfire, tell that he was scantily equipped with the skills needed to survive in the wilds. What would this boy do if he had not met him?

“Put them down,” Alwyn instructed the boy, “The branches only, scatter the leaves below them and get rid of the rest.”

And so the boy diligently followed what he said, scattering leaves at the ground inside the circle of stones that Alwyn had made and placing woods atop it. From his satchel, Alwyn pulled out a set of flint and steel, and held them near the wood, beneath the stove. With a strong and decisive clang of a strike, fiery sparks flew from them and started a fire.

“Sit.” Alwyn looked up and told Aeron, who had been standing to look at him as he prepared the stove, gesturing for him to roll a trunk opposite of where he was sitting to nearer to the fire.

“How long has it been since you ate anything proper?” He asked Aeron as he pulled from his satchel a small tin of pig fat, which he, with a spoon from his cutlery set, scooped a small part of and set it into the pan where it melted off with a pleasant aura came from the hot pot, striking Alwyn’s nose and seeming to awaken that gluttonous part of him. He hadn’t eaten anything since he departed at early dawn, and though he had fasted for so much longer, he couldn’t help but to impatiently pull from his sack beef neatly cut into small pieces covered entirely with salt and put it inside the pot. As the meat touched the fat made boiing hot by the heat of the pot, a loud sizzling sound emanated, followed immediately after by a pleasant odor that drew Aeron in a better smell. His mouth near the point of watering, Aeron gazed at the meat being cooked, one for Alwyn and another for him.

“You never told me your name,” Alwyn said as he watched the meat cook, flipping them to cook their other side. Perhaps the fire was too hot, and the meat would not be as tender as he would usually like it but Alwyn had never been much of a practitioner of the culinary arts of fine food; as fine as ration pork fat and salted meat would get you anyways.

“Nor have you,” the boy answered. Though Alwyn himself realized how narcissistic it would be for him to expect the boy to know, he couldn’t help but to raise an eyebrow in surprise; after all, he was the Battlemaster who made this region Fefsen.

“Alwyn Caernar of Modraeth,” he told the boy, who, with a gaze of disbelief, looked at him dumbfounded. Questions raced over his head of how or why it came to be. He had not expected to meet anyone this far into the forest, let alone.

“Battlemaster Caernar of the XV?” The boy asked incredulously.
“I-I…” he tripped on his words, trying to string together something to say. Alwyn could feel almost as if the boy was about to jump up in excitement.

Alwyn could only let out a chuckle to ease the boy,
“What’s your name then?” He asked, grabbing a stick from his side to put the sizzling hot pot of cooked meat aside, pulling out from his satchel two oval metal bowls neatly put together to conserve space and giving one to the boy. It smelled all too divine to Alwyn and him and by the way his eyes hungrily looked at the meat, Alwyn could tell that he had not eaten in a while. Poor boy, he thought to himself.

“Aeron Cerrig of……” he stopped for a moment to think of his home, and, with a hesitation, followed with “…Merydh, I guess.”

As he began to carve the meat into smaller pieces with his cutlery, it occurred to Alwyn that Cerrig was a familiar name - it was of a siinarái under his command.
“Do you happen to know a certain Rionach Cerrig?” He inquired as he enjoyed the first, the hot comfort relieving him of a day’s worth of tiring physical stress.

“I’m his son!” Aeron answered in excitement, it was clear that he was proud of his father,
“My father was the best engineer I’ve ever seen!” With pride he proclaimed,

“He was,” Alwyn nodded in agreement, another slice of meat he ate as he did,
“He was the ketyron of the engineering auxiliary that came along with us on our campaign. In Modraeth, and Kyri, it seemed no one could construct bridges or fords as quickly as he could.” He recalled the feats of Rionach in the past campaigns to Aeron, though he couldn’t help but notice how his face frowned as he did.

“I heard he’s settled in the Jyraoite Circle, Miredh. If so then you’re a bit far from home to be foraging for berries,” Alwyn commented, his eyes occasionally drifting from the tin of food to Aeron’s eyes.

“I’m lost,” Aeron said with a sense of timidness in his voice - a telltale sign to Alwyn that he was lying.

“Why did you leave?” Alwyn asked with a suddenness that seemed to have taken Aeron by surprise. The franticness in his eyes as it moved whenever Alwyn turned to look at it confirmed his suspicions.

“Wha…” Aeron uttered in surprise, trying to scramble together something to say - something to help him deflect the situation.

“I’m no fool, Aeron,” Alwyn said. The way he said his name with such vehemence insistence reminded Aeron of his father and the times that he was mad, or worse, dissapointed at him.

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” Aeron deflected him, his eyes shying away from Alwyn.

“Your parents oughta be worried sick,” Alwyn told him calmly as he continued his meal,
“Do you have any siblings, Aeron?” He asked.

“Two, an older sister and a younger brother,” Aeron answered. An expression of melancholy began to appear on his face, dirtied from the long trek he had had for the past few days.

“Do you miss them?” Alwyn once again asked,

“I do.” He answered. Indeed, he missed them perhaps more than anything.

“Do you think they miss you?” Alwyn continued to ask, pressing on that homesickness that he knew still lingered within Aeron.

“I…do” With tears near pouring, he answered. Regret began to catch up to him. He was angry, overwhelmed with emotions when he set off from his home yet now the weight of his decision was coming back, in all of its strength, to haunt him.

“Then you miss home and home misses you,” Aeron said, “We’ll leave at dawn, I’ll get you home.”

"But I don’t want to!” Aeron protested defiantly. It seemed to Alwyn as if something was bothering him, so much so that he was willing to take the risk and flee away to a place the brutality of which he had yet to see in its entirety.

“So you would rather escape and be torn apart by wolves or worse?” Alwyn asked him,

“I know your father, a fair but demanding man. Makes me wonder if he’s ever done you wrong that’d make you flee this far.”

“It’s not him,” Aeron answered, leading to Alwyn raising his eyebrows followed by a “Hm?” pressing for him to elaborate further.

“It’s……” he said, before being cut-off half-way through,

“Your mother?” Alwyn asked to which Aeron only gave a slight nod as an answer.

“First priority now is getting you back, I’ll see to talking to your mother once we’re back.” Alwyn told Aeron as he finally finished his meal, he noticed Aeron’s was still full.

“Help me set up a tent after you’re done with the food, then rest up, I’ll be on guard.” Alwyn said, standing up to unroll the sheet neatly packed into a roll set atop his marching pack. Some sticks and they’d be done for the night.

It did not take long for Aeron to finish as the both of them helped one another set up camp. Aeron had wanted Alwyn to rest, but still he insisted that he stay on guard.
And so, for the night, as tired as he was, Alwyn stood guard diligently, his eyes scanning the woods before him. Oftentimes, his eyes wandered to gaze at the stars in Tinkaor above, bringing him that greeting that he had always longed for from his distant homeland. Though Cathal was the domain wherein he had helped raise the banner, nothing here seemed to rival the serene meadows of Kyri, her endless rolling plains and blue sky that he had previously played and trained beneath in his childhood, yet they all reminded him of home. He reassured himself that eventually, he will pass the torch of responsibility to a new generation and home he shall go. But the night still remained, and to his duty he’ll stay true. Tomorrow morning, they’ll go. Tomorrow morning.

The morning arose with the chirping sounds of burst joyfully swaying on the branches of trees almost as if welcoming a spring morning. Aeron’s eyes slowly opened as he hazily walked out of the tent, his eyes still blurred from the sleep of the night. He had thought that his sleep was to be a difficult one, but yet it was one of the soundest nights he had had. He supposed he had one person to thank for it. His eyes looking towards the fire were still lit with a kettle of herbal tea from slowly boiling to perfection. Aeron had figured that it was Alwyn’s comfort drink, and he wondered what it’d taste like.

“Good morning…” He said to Alwyn who turned his head around to look at him,

“How did you sleep?” He asked him, his eyes focusing on the fire to make sure that it doesn’t burn too hot.

“I slept quite well,” Aeron answered, sitting by Alwyn as he shifted the sticks aside, giving the fire less fuel to burn, “How about you?”

“I slept well,” Alwyn answered, though, from his eyes, Aeron could tell that the previous night was a sleepless one for him though the eyebags that he carried with him told the stories of greater struggles.

With a bubbling sound, the kettle finally boiled as a pleasant odor with sweetness and a hint of an earthy taste filled the air. Alwyn took from his satchel two small metal cups and gave Aeron one before lifting the kettle up from the fire and pouring him a cup half-full. Placing his cup on the ground, he poured himself a cup as well fuller than Aeron’s.

Picking it up, he held it close to his nose and spent a moment taking in the pleasant odor. Aeron watched and soon followed his movement. Breathing in too much of the fume, Aeron could feel an unpleasant sensation rushing through him and down to his lung. Though eyebrows already frowned as he coughed uncontrollably, he did not dare pour the tea away perhaps out of respect for Alwyn, rather setting it carefully down onto the ground as he tried to compose himself.

Alwyn, as cruel as it might’ve been, laughed at the poor boy as he saw an image of his past self when he had first had the tea before his very eyes.

“What is this tea?!” Aeron asked him as, despite his best effort, he could not quite get the bitter aftertaste of the fume out of his throat.

“I remember when I first had it too,” Alwyn laughed as he took a small sip of the tea, “I told myself that I’d never drink it again.”

“And you are drinking it right now,” Aeron said, trying his best to gather the courage for another sip. Just as Alwyn said, he felt like he could never get used to it.

“I never drank it again until I was wounded in battle,” He paused, taking another sip, his hands still nursing it to feel the warmth in his hands, “Kanarite arrow, piercing through my shoulder as I collapsed from my mount.”

A moment of reminiscence came to him as he recalled the events of that day, a warm smile appearing on his face.

“I thought that I was to be left there to rot and yet when I finally awakened, I found myself in a camp where an apothecary was nursing me,” he said, Aeron could see his fingers holding his cup tighter

“She was helping me with it that she just brewed. I remember her face, and her excitement when my eyes opened.” Alwyn continued on with his story before turning to look at Aeron, “Do you know what happened to that nurse?”

Aeron followed the story closely, his mind running wild with thoughts and imaginations. It was the sort of story that he’s always liked to hear, be it from his father or, now, Alwyn.

“You…” Aeron tripped on his words as he hesitated on his guess, “…married her?”

Upon hearing the word escape Aeron’s lips, Alwyn could not control himself as he bursted into laughter much to Aeron’s own confusion.

“No, child,” Alwyn said, still holding himself from furthering his laughs, “She became the Empress’ own apothecary, at the age of 32 no less.”

Aeron was mildly disappointed though his young brain supposed that not all stories necessarily need to have a romantic ending to them. As he listened to the story and thought about it, his cup of tea was finished and so too was Alwyn’s as he decided that it was time for the two of them to leave.

“Pack up the tent, rolled it up and hand it to me,” he told Alwyn as he poured whatever tea that was left into his bidon and let it dilute with the water inside, “and quick, boy.”

Following his order to the letter, Aeron hastily and happily carried out his command, finishing it in a matter of seconds though clumsily as it was.

If there was one thing that Aeron was good at, it was rolling up a piece of fabric and tying it up tight. Handing it to Alwyn who held it in his hands and inspected them, he gave Aeron an acknowledging nod as he packed it up on his backpack along with the rest of the tools and cooking utensils that he had brought along with him. Kicking some dirt onto the fire as it died down just enough for him to step on it and extinguish its tongues until they were reduced to but an amber, Alwyn’s direction headed to a certain side of the forest that Aeron could tell by the direction of the sun to be the East.

“Are you ready?” He asked Aeron who stood by his side,

“All ready!” He answered enthusiastically, his hands clenching tight the backpack that he brought along filled with fruits and some other forested things for them to eat on their journey.

With Alwyn’s acknowledging nod and warm smile, the two of them began their journey across the forest and back to civilization. Small talks were exchanged along the way as they both came to know each other more and more. Alwyn enjoyed Aeron’s company and, in many ways, he saw his younger self within the enthusiastic young boy, an encounter with whom seemed to have been destined. Aeron was growing on him, and soon, his questions about his families were to be answered as they neared their final destination: Merydh.

They arrived at Merydh just as dusk nearly settled with the sun slowly descending down on the sea in the far West. It was a humble settlement though one that was undoubtedly growing fast ever since Cathal was made a Grand Dominion at the behest of Her Imperial Majesty. Alwyn could vividly remember when the first campaigns for colonization were called as settlers from Aeter, his native Kyri and even Varaus flooded the land and brought along with them the cultures and customs of their homelands all of which were beginning to merge into something that was distinctively Cathaine.

There were paved roads conveniently leading the both of them inwards to the settlement, the houses of which were built on solid foundations of bricks and ketvyn. He was not surprised, for Merydh itself holds the crossroad connecting the port city of Dakor to the rest of the Dominion’s inner settlements. As they walked, however, he could not help but notice that Aeron’s steps were becoming increasingly hesitant, heavier the longer they walked as eyes peered out from the windows and by the streets to look at them. They were focused on Aeron.

“Where is your house, boy?” Alwyn turned to him and asked, a question to which Aeron could only answer by pointing his finger forward to the town square where stood an impressive residence two stories with flowers and such ornaments hanging from its balconies which, in an instant, he could tell had a commanding view of the rest of the settlement even past the outer walls that protected it. They were all lit up by lights from within that flashed so brightly that they illuminated the streets outside as well.

As they approached, from within the house, emerged the silhouettes of two persons at the sight of whom Aeron could only hide behind Alwyn for protection not from their strikes but rather judgemental gazes. Before them appeared a man dressed in a honfes tunic draped across his body with an ornamental dark blue cloth slung across his shoulder, and a woman whose posture surely commanded respect as complemented by her gwyer - the clothes of a Glaithonist premier priestess. The way they stood with their attires was a clear sign that they were a part of the upper echelon of society.

“Aeron,” the woman said, calling out to his name in the tone of voice suggesting nothing but trouble, her face still tilted ever high in an expression of highness.

“M-mother,” Aeron responded shyly, understanding the things that he’s done.

“You’ve been away for long,” she told him, her hands placed behind her, “your father and I have been worried.”

“I-,” before Aeron could muster up the courage to utter a second word, Alwyn stepped forth in his stead.

“I found the boy in the woods,” he said, fearing not to look into the eyes of those before him before turning to look at Aeron once again, “He was quite brave.”

“Surely not brave enough to stay,” angrily his mother responded, her eyebrows frowning as he could see her fists clenching even as they were hidden from behind.

“Perhaps you’d be willing to settle for a talk,” Alwyn suggested, stepping up to protect Aeron from his mother’s wrath as his father stood on the side, having not uttered a single word since their interaction began, only ever casting upon Aeron a look of disappointment that he knew frightened Aeron more than anything else could.

“Kind hunter, though your rescue of our son is greatly appreciated, what occurs after is none of your business,” she retorted angrily, subliminally urging him to leave as she stepped forward and stretched her hand to grab her son’s arm before being prevented by Alwyn.

His free hand grabbed for the chain hanging around his neck and pulled it free, showing a medallion. Given to him by the Empress’ own hands, it featured silvery images of Zerka and Awrae standing firm by each other’s sides as The Dagger of the XV floated above them, all flanked by a laurel wreath. Even through the lowering lights of a dying day, it sparkled like the light of the sun.

As they recognized who they were in the presence of, their expressions were filled with horror and astonishment, and they both fell to their knees. Rionach, Aeron’s father, then walked forth

“Battlemaster,” he said, his voice once again evocative of the fire he once held in combat.

“Rise, Rionach, you do not need to bow.” Rionach could only rise in response to what Alwyn said, even as a tinge of humiliation rushed through him.

“Are you refusing to welcome me into your home?” Alwyn inquired, preferring to keep the event private so as not to create a commotion, especially since the neighborhood’s eyes were fixed completely on them.

“Y-yes, Battlemaster,” Rionach said nervously, urging his wife to follow him inside, where he hastened to prepare seats and place them at the table where they frequently conversed with guests.

Alwyn sat down by the table, Aeron beside him, and looked into the eyes of the two people in front of him. It wasn’t until the lights of the house illuminated the woman’s face that he realized who he was greeting - an auxiliary healer named Neirin who had been brought along with the legion’s march to the North. At the thought, he could only shake his head.

“Do you know why your son left?” He began their discussion with that simple question, to which Neirin and Rionach could only look at one another until Neirin shook her head. Alwyn turned to look at Aeron who had, only by Alwyn’s side, gathered the courage to speak.

“Mother wanted me to enroll with a Tasidarah. They were about to collect me the day I went away.” Aeron spoke, his eyes face falling down as his voice turned a disagreeing tone.

In an instant, as anger overwhelmed her, Neirin raised himself with a contemptuous finger pointed in judgment at her son,
“I have granted you every opportunity to succeed, don’t you dare raise your voice in objection.”

“I demand silence!” Alwyn commanded with one hand clenched into a fist that slammed on the table with a loud bang, “I shall hear no more of this!”

Shaken, and with a look of defeat on her face, Neirin calmed himself and reluctantly sat down and recomposed herself again.

“The boy is old enough, let him choose for himself,” Alwyn said, his eyes once again looking at Aeron as so too were his parents, “I shall offer him an alternative.”

From his pocket, he pulled out an amulet bearing the insignia of his legion and placed it on the table. His eyes once again looking squarely at Aeron,
“The Tasidarah or the Guards,” with a heavy and sincere tone of voice he asked him.

His life is split in two in front of his eyes. As he weighed the two options, questions raced through his mind. Though he craved adventure, the monotony of the Tasidarah could pave the way for him to become an academic - a life that offers immeasurable comforts over the life of a siinarai. After a brief moment of hesitation, he reached out his hand to grasp the amulet that Alwyn had brought to him.

“I choose the Guards,” He said, his eyes closing for a moment only to open again to see anger boiling within his mother’s eyes that was soothed only by the reassurance of his father. Alwyn, on the other hand, had known his answer since the beginning.

Neirin lets out a deep sigh to recompose herself, her heart seeming to have been shattered perhaps out of disappointment in her own son.
“Very well,” she said, her face reddening, “You can have him, Battlemaster, and my signature for it as well.”

“Bring me a scroll and a quill,” Alwyn commanded as Rionach obeyed, retreating from the room to retrieve a scroll and a quill, and a well-kept bottle of ink for him to write on.

Holding the scroll in his hand, he began to write,
“I, Alwyn Cathalgorchfy Jaosaryon Caernar, Battlemaster of the Guards, and Her Imperial Majesty’s Own XV, henceforth recognize Aeron Zerkaryon Cerrig’s enlistment to the Guard and the Oath of Loyalty to Gods, to Realm, and to Dominion.”

Having finished the main article of portion, he passed the paper the ink on which had yet to dry to Aeron’s parents who all read through them with care, silently nodding and giving their signatures to give their approvals. Passing the paper onto Aeron, who held it on and read it aloud for the room to hear, Alwyn gave an approving nod when he uttered a single meager “Yes,” in response.

“On your knees on, boy, over there” Alwyn commanded, Aeron whose heart still shake with stress slowly walked to the center of the room and knelt. Alwyn stood before him, his tall stature towering over him.

“Repeat after me,” Alwyn commanded as he began to recite the oath that for so many years he had not, Aeron following him after every small break,
“I swear undying loyalty to my faith, and to my Empress. I swear to faithfully execute all that the She commands, that I shall never desert service, and not seek to avoid death for the Gods, for Realm, and for Dominion. So help me, O Gods Above.”

The strong, solid words for the oath resounded across the room, its rhythm echoing across even beyond the confines of the room and gracing the ears of former siinaryon who call the settlement their home.

“Rise,” Alwyn commanded, and Aeron obeyed. A hand was placed on Aeron’s shoulder as his head lifted to look into his eyes, Alwyn nodded approvingly before turning to look at his parents. From Rionach’s eyes, he could tell that it was nostalgic for him even as his wife could only sigh in defeat.

“Would you be so kind as to provide us with lodging before we depart at dawn?” Alwyn asked, and all they could do was nod while their other children - Aeron’s sibling - returned from playing with the other children. Though they were relieved that their brother had returned home, the realization soon dawned on them, and their souls were as well overwhelmed with emotions.

For the night, as the family laid down their heads, emotions rushed through every one of them. Aeron thought about his future, and how things would be from then on whilst his parents, trapped in thoughts of losing their son to the Guards, could only lay in their bed in silence. Neirin shed a single tear despite her firm words and decisive mind; Aeron was her son, and he will remain so even as he leaves home. Tasidarah or not, all she wanted was for him to realize, if not now, then one day that she still loved him. Alwyn, on the other hand, slept peacefully. They had a long day ahead of them, one that he felt he would never forget until the day he died.

They left early in the morning after Aeron said his final goodbyes to his family. Alwyn accompanied him all the way to Dakor, where his own XV was encamped. There, a door to Aeron’s new life opened, one that, unbeknownst to him at the time, would bring about enormous changes to himself and the Realm that he serves.