The path was rugged, and Faresoenn was constantly pricked by thorns and occasionally stumbled into a mud pit. However, little Avalel was untouched and he slept snugly inside Faresoenn’s cloak.
The forest was majestic and surrounded with an aura of mystery. The trees rose up tall but some branches lay low as if to speak to any forthcoming traveller the path to go. Thick bushes nearly everywhere obscured one’s sight and sometimes rustled in the wind, as if there was a Forester scout looking in curiosity. Flowers made the scenery much more pleasant, but there were many dark places where the sun couldn’t reach. Where sunlight pierced the thick forest canopy, it seemed like a holy and sacred place.
Faresoenn wandered around. He had left the forest when he was still young, and now the landscape seemed to have greatly changed. The paths he had taken in his childhood were in disrepair and in ruins. Even his old wooden house now was filled with termites, left to decay. He suspected they must’ve moved to another place, so he slowly walked towards the center of the forest, infamous in legend for being the bloodbath that cost about 250,000 deaths in the final day of the battle fought there years ago, ending with the slaughter of the losing force.
As he slowly reached the center of the forest, he sensed that someone must’ve been watching him. There were people who observed his actions - kids that curiously watched his every step and movement while others reported back to the forester village. Finally, one accidentally rustled some leaves in front of Faresoenn, and that was enough for him to confront the stranger.
“Whoever you are, friend or foe, please rise. I mean no harm. I’m just trying to reach the forester village. Tell your leader that Faresoenn has returned,” Faresoenn called out to the stranger.
“Why, Faresoenn, it’s you,” The stranger replied, “Never knew after this many years we’d meet again.” The stranger calmly rose up from the bushes, as if the entire event was expected.
The stranger was a woman. Tall in height, majestic in stature, she almost towers above Faresoenn by a head, and stands proudly under the canopy of the trees. She motioned the others to stand, and they all rose simultaneously, with precision and rhythm able to compete with the Achien army. They were all dressed in simple tunics with only shoulder armor, but each were heavily armed with either primitive beam pistols at their belts, shields stolen from battlefields, or their feared custom-made daggers, arrows and bows.
“Nadei, it’s you!” Faresoenn cried, “You’ve gotten so tall!”. The woman Nadei was in fact one of Faresoenn’s childhood friends and fellow hunter. Since foresters are hunters and gatherers, when Faresoenn was young, both he and Nadei would hunt small rabbits together. They sometimes also trained with each other. Back then, Nadei was a small, slim girl. Now she stands like a general in battle, tall and still.
“Faresoenn has come back from Achien!” Nadei shouted to her fellow foresters, “Let us escort him back and give him a warm welcome!” With that, the foresters hurried towards Faresoenn, but stopped when they saw the baby Avalel, partially hidden beneath his cloak.
“Faresoenn, who’s that? Your son?” Nadei asked.
“The hope of Achien. His name’s Avalel,” Faresoenn replied, “I took him back here because this is the only safe haven for him. Take me to the leader. I would like to adopt this little child as my son.”
“Hear this, my friends?” Nadei spoke to the group of foresters, “Treat this child as we would treat our own. Raise him like one of our own, for the fate of Achien rests in our hands.”
The group marched, with the one with shields forming a ring around Faresoenn, protecting him. Nadei marched in front, her pace hurried. They marched deeper into the woods until they reached the center of the Cursed Forest, where the leader of the foresters lives.
The forester settlement was clearly just recently built, as there were just a few houses completely built. However, the main house was well built, complete with an underground bomb shelter. Small groups of people walked by in the dirt roads, but the road to the main house was paved and clean.
“This is the main road,” said Nadei pointing the paved road they were walking on. Little carved cobblestones decorated the side of the road, but what made it truly beautiful were the trees hanging over as an arch. As they approached the gates to the main house, an old man leaning on an elaborate cane greeted them. “Well, Nadei, seems like you brought back an outsider,” he croaked.
“Not one, but two, Wise One,” Nadei replied, “One is Faresoenn who has returned to us, and the other is the heir of Achien, a weak little child named Avalel.”
“Ah, so little Faresoenn is back with the future king of Achien, eh?” The Wise One asked.
“Honored to be back where I belong, father,” Faresoenn replied, “You look quite the same as before if I remember well.”
“Ah, are you trying to please me or criticize me?” The Wise One joked, “I don’t look like this twenty years ago.”
A group of children now came to see what all this speculation was about. The older ones, ones who recognize Faresoenn, run up and embrace him with joy while the younger ones look around, confused and awkward. However, their emotions changed when the little Avalel was slightly shown to them, feeling as if he was one of their own.
“Brothers and sisters of the Foresters,” the Wise One called out in a clear, strong voice different from the looks of his body, “Today, a member of us has returned from his journey to the outside world. Please welcome my son, our brother, and friend Faresoenn!” A thunderous cry rose up from the audience. They don’t applaud like Achien citizens do, for it actually shows sarcasm instead of praise. However, the cry that each makes is genuine, embracing the return of Faresoenn. “Now Faresoenn will speak. Please be quiet, for he is far from my volume of sound,” the Wise One said. A burst of laughter from the audience that quickly died down when Faresoenn raised his voice.
“Dear all, it has been a wonderful journey in Achien,” Faresoenn began, “but I have decided to return here, where my family and friends are waiting. It will cause quite some trouble outside, knowing that one of their royal guards have disappeared.” More laughter. “However, I didn’t return solely because I wanted a vacation. I returned because I have a mission that requires my entire life to reach the end goal.”
A hush suddenly swept over the audience, knowing that there must be something that led Faresoenn. In the pause that followed, the foresters whispered to each other, quickly creating theories. “Now, now, my friends, please let Faresoenn speak,” The Wise One called out. As quick as the hush and whispers that have spread before, the audience’s noise died down, and Faresoenn once more continued.
“I have returned because there is a great turbulence outside in Achien. Both the king Stasibel and queen Macrera have died, the former in battle, the latter in childbirth.”
Noises quickly sprouted out from the audience, started with a few shouts and ending in an uproar. “Please, please, let me listen to you all one by one,” Faresoenn pleaded, “I cannot comprehend such noise and answer all simultaneously.” The audience again quieted down. “Now, who has a meaningful question?” he asked.
“Brother Faresoenn, why is it that the queen Macrera died in childbirth? We never had any news that she was even pregnant with a child? What proof do you have?” A tall and respected man by the name Eusecse asked。
“Brother Eusecse, that is what I’m going to explain,” Faresoenn replied, “When the queen was received with the news that she is going to have a child, she hid herself in fear of the nobles staging an uprising. And why would the nobles stage an uprising, you ask? For the nobles have actually organized the civil wars themselves in order to take power. Before the king died, he has entrusted me and my partner Nasition to the queen and prince Avalel. I have already failed his words on protecting the queen, I cannot completely fail his last orders. Now, I ask all of you to do me a favor - hide the secret from Avalel until he’s old enough to be revealed by me only. I will be his adopted father. Now, who is willing to keep this secret?” The audience all pledged to keep this secret until the correct time to reveal to Avalel.
With that, the foresters went quickly to work. They built a small dwelling for Faresoenn and Avalel, and Nadei was tasked to be guardian for them. Another recently orphaned child (a mere three days older than Avalel), named Kavlina by the Wise One, was given in the care of Nadei to be Avalel’s first companion. For the next eight years, this will be their home. Away from all noise and conflict, Faresoenn and Avalel finally snugly slept in their new beds, and awaited for the new day to come.