Empire at War

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Chapter Two Prologue - The Two Wanderers

News of the war, which resulted in the burning of the capital, spread throughout the empire and many saw it as the end of the Ohm dynasty. Those remaining loyal to the authority of the emperor were few, and even fewer had the military might to raise their banners against the traitors that held him hostage. Of the Anti-Hesper Alliance, the majority sought personal gains and with it disbanded, each returned to their respective fiefdoms to gather troops and resources, to prepare for the wars to come. The entire continent was covered in a blanket of suppressed anticipation, everyone waiting for the first to make a move - and potentially a mistake.

For peasants, it meant increased taxes and military drafts that would serve to bleed out the many for the power struggles of the few. Even then, life continued and gossip was all that reached those who were far from the actual occurrences. People would lament the loss of earnings, but were happy that it would not extend to their loved ones for the foreseeable future. The war against Hesper had been a climax of sorts and a strained peace returned to the lands for a while.

Loukios and Miltiades were, compared to Hesper, the bigger evils. Coming from backgrounds of lower social positions, they tasted power and were consumed by it much more easily than their lord had been before them. Hierapolis was in the iron hands of these two, who allowed their soldiers to plunder the city for its riches and supplies, as they established a cruel rule over its inhabitants. Yet, they lacked interest in court matters and did not coerce the emperor into unreasonable decrees as often as Hesper had. Everything they did was out of self-interest, and they showed no concern for the events outside the new capital, leaving the various lords of the empire to do as they pleased.

Far from these occurrences, in a forest at the border between the fiefdoms of Bouthroton and Miletus, two boys were on a journey. They were both muddied and dirty, wearing what could only be described as rags, carrying small bundles that represented their entire belongings. To anyone seeing them they would only appear as orphans of war, travelling to find a peaceful place to settle in.

However, if one were to examine them closely, one would find that their skin was, under all the dirt, fair and smooth. Their hands showed not a sign of ever having done manual work, something only found in the children of nobles. Even then, at this point none would ever be able to guess their real identities. For under all the dirt the one that looked about fifteen years of age hid hair in the color of moonlight. Long pointy ears were concealed using a shabby leather cap and mud was deliberately smeared over his face to mask his light complexion that magically defied being darkened by the rays of the sun. This was Nerous Eventyr, the last male surviving member of the royal family of the Ljosalfar.

His companion was an equally dirty boy of around fourteen years in age, named Nimeton. The two of them had fled together and concealed themselves in the barrels on a merchant’s cart for two days with no water or food, never making a sound. They had dug themselves into the contents, with one of the two being covered in pickled plums and the other in dried mushrooms, and passed the checkpoints at the gates undiscovered. Their extraordinary patience and nerves of steel allowed them to remain still until the cart driver stopped nearly a day later in another town for rest. Pilfering some of the goods, the two left their hiding spots in the dead of the night and were able to pass through the gate unhindered, each now carrying a small bag of provisions.

Nimeton had not talked much about his past, but his street smarts and survival techniques in the wild, as well as his eloquence that helped on their travels many times, suggested that his parents were of low birth but had been able to provide their child with a good education. Nerous had grown up as a prince, and having been taken from his parents at the tender age of eight, he never learned anything about the outside world. Having a companion like Nimeton saved his life, and even being of royal birth he understood to show his gratitude.

Their journey had started as one with no aim, with them just trying to get away from their pedophile slave owner, but after some discussion, it transformed into a voyage back to Nerous’ homeland. He had witnessed his parents getting killed before his eyes, but still bore hope that the magnificent city in the forest would remain intact. During his time as a slave, he had not heard news about the outside world and was not aware of the Ljosalfar holocaust; those that were able to flee scattered and went into hiding, the survivors reduced to wandering beggars.

One feature of the Ljosalfar territory that stood out from the rest of Yggdra was the growth of massive trees that did not exist anywhere else on the continent. What little magic remained after the departure of the Aesir and Vanir had disappeared in the waves of history, stirred up by the wars of the humans, but the Ljosalfar possessed an inborn ability to communicate with nature. They were able to hear the whispers of plants, understood the language of animals and could make out the voice of the wind, carrying information from faraway places. The especially talented had the power to plant suggestions in the growth of living things, turning trees into works of art. They were called the Laulaya, “nature singers”.

“Wait until you see the palace. It is the largest tree in all of Yggdra, grown over many millennia.” Nerous’ memory of his home was still vivid enough for him to recall the magnificence of Alfar craftsmanship. Years of sexual abuse and psychological trauma had not been able to destroy his mind; maybe it was due to his own mental strength, maybe it was due to the instinct that as a half-Alf his incredibly long lifespan would allow him to outlive any tormentor, that helped him weather the hardships subconsciously, or maybe it was a combination of both. He was still able to brag to his companion about the beauty of his homeland.

When they climbed the last stretch of a slope and reached the top, the view before them took their breaths away; however, it was not in awe of the remembered and promised beauty. The forest of the Ljosalfar had disappeared, and in its place the abandoned stumps of dead trees dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see. The immense tree that was the center of Alfheimr was clearly visible, standing against the distant foggy mountains; it had been reduced to a leafless and charred state, the sorry remains of what was formerly spoken about by humans as the world tree.

Nerous sunk to his knees as he beheld the remains of his homeland, a landscape that could only be described as having sprung forth from his innermost nightmares. He had been too young to understand that human soldiers invading the palace meant that the entire city had fallen, and the outcome before his eyes should have been the obvious conclusion. Maybe he had lived in the wishful thinking that the Ljosalfar had been able to retake and rebuild their nation since then.

Tears of sadness formed in his eyes as he looked at the remains of Alfheimr, the dead remnants of a once proud and noble race, and the haven of his dreams, now but a distant memory. Screaming in pain and anger, the young half-Alf gave voice to his feelings, hammering his hands on the ground and clawing at the grass in impotence. His home, his last hope, was gone.

Nimeton stood beside him, looking over the scenery with a grim expression. It had been nearly seven years since the human invasion, as far as he remembered. Not content with taking the lands and enslaving the people, they had destroyed millennia of history in less than a decade. Pillaging the natural riches and burning what could not be taken, the humans had fallen over the peaceful Ljosalfar like a swarm of locusts. Disgusted by his own peers, the boy could only silently apologize for the crimes he committed by proxy. Therefore, he could find no words to comfort Nerous with.

“Is it frustrating, your majesty?” An alluring male voice suddenly resounded from behind the two. Nerous and Nimeton both immediately spun around, and what greeted them was a pair of crimson stars in the blackness of the night. Standing before them was a tall man, dressed in black robes covered with golden embroidery, making him look like he was cut out of the night sky itself. His skin was jet black, as if actively refusing to be illuminated by the sun that was barely its zenith, with only his crimson pupils on black sclera shining like rubies in an eerie light from underneath his hood.

“Who are you?” Nimeton was the first to speak up, taking a defensive stance against the much taller man. He rather wanted to ask what he was, but did not wish to antagonize him needlessly. There were stories of pitch black demons told among humans, especially as ways to make children who refused to listen to their parents more obedient. Cynicism, born from experiencing the harshness of the real world, had rendered these stories obsolete for the former slave boy, but were brought back into his memory from this bizarre encounter.

“You saw your parents get killed by humans in front of your eyes, were sold as a slave to a disgusting human, and escape only to find that your land has been defiled by those hateful humans. What is it that you feel, your majesty?” The man of darkness spoke, his voice a sweet poison that seeped into the very being of those who listened unwittingly. “Is it powerlessness? Sadness? Hatred? Anger?”

Nimeton understood that this man was dangerous, but his body did not seem to listen to his mind while he was reflected within those crimson eyes. Nerous looked up to the man with suspicion, but his anguished expression soon changed into one of unbridled rage.

“All of it. I felt powerless when they killed my parents. I was sad when my sister and I were separated. I hated every minute with that disgusting Prokopios... and I am angry at the humans who did all that to me, to my family, to my people!” At these words, Nimeton looked at his companion in surprise. He had only ever known Nerous as a sensible and quiet person, a kind soul who endured stoically and majestically, befitting of his alleged high birth. Never before had he seen his friend so enraged.

“Then do you know what comes after anger?” A rift in the darkness opened, revealing pearl white teeth in a malicious grin.

“I do not... enlighten me.”

“Revenge.” The word passed his lips like a curse, taking grasp of the soul of whoever would hear it. “And do you know what comes after revenge?”

“Satisfaction,” Nerous whispered. The man’s grin widened at that word as his freezing cold eyes looked at the young half-Alf like a predator looking at wounded and effortless prey. It was at that moment that Nimeton jumped between them and broke their eye contact, a short knife in his hand, pointed at the darkness before him. “Begone, demon! You will not poison Nerous’ heart with those words imbued with black magic!”

“Oh, you are a brave one, youngster.” With the focus of the crimson stars shifted onto him, Nimeton felt a cold shiver run down his spine. Then, the man suddenly began to laugh. “Your majesty, treasure this friend of yours. In these times, somebody like this is worth more than anything else.” His laughter ended as abruptly as it had begun. Pointing in the direction of the charred world tree, or towards the mountains beyond, he spoke. “Go forth, your majesty! Your destiny does not end here.”

Nerous and Nimeton looked where he pointed, a gust accompanying their sight, as if to guide them. When they turned back to the man, he was gone, not a hint of his presence remaining, as if he had been a mirage. Even the grass on the ground where he stood was unbent, swaying in the light breeze that had settled in. The encounter had been so ephemeral that the two boys wondered whether it had been real or just a dream. However, the last words remained vivid in their memories, and with nowhere else to go, the two wayfarers decided to follow the destiny pointed out by the man of the night. Their sights were settled on the elevations in the distance behind the remains of Alfheimr, the beginnings of the massive mountain range called Jotunfjeldene.

The ruins of Alfheimr were testament to the horrors the frenzied human invaders brought upon the peace-loving people that lived there. The entire city, among the oldest in Yggdra, and described by many as the most beautiful, had been razed, not a hint of its original layout remaining. The forest that had been the heart of the Ljosalfar territory, had been logged off and had most likely been turned into furniture, tools of war or simply burned away as firewood. A field of stumps remained in its place, like a graveyard for all the innocent lives lost in these lands.

Walking through this landscape, Nimeton could only feel anger and shame; anger at those who would defile a magical place he had heard of in many breathtaking fairytales, shame for the fact that he shared a race with those who would commit such atrocities. He could not begin to imagine the maelstrom of emotions within his companion, who had grown up here. Unable to look at Nerous, who walked silently beside him, the young man only set one foot before the next, his eyes taking in the sorrowful sights. Deep in his heart, he felt that a tragedy like this should never be allowed to be repeated again.

Wordlessly, the two youths soon came to a halt before the charred world tree, he center of the former Alfheimr. If the surrounding tree stumps were gravestones, this was a monolithic mausoleum for the royal family of the Ljosalfar. If legends could be trusted, Nerous’ mother was among the oldest beings alive, a timeless existence that would have seen the end of eternity, if she had not been killed by the transient humans. According to mythology, the Alfar were a product of the love between the Aesir and the Vanir, a bond forbidden in their laws. As direct descendants of those transcendent beings, it would only be natural that their lifespan was equally unaffected by the passage of time.

Nimeton looked up at the tree, awed by its sheer size, even if they were only dead remains. When he closed his eyes, it seemed as if he could glimpse a hint of its majestic appearance in life, when the silver-white bark reflected the stray moonlights passing through its dense green canopy. He had heard his half-Alf companion explain it in such vivid details that the vision entered his mind unconsciously. The muted lights coming from the terrace-like structures growing directly from the trunk would illuminate the city, but not be overbearing enough to blot out the star-studded sky. The warm lights from the crystalline flowers would give a glow to the entire city that enchanted all who laid their eyes upon it for the first time.

When the boy opened his eyes again, the moment was over and only the black charcoal stood before him, silent and dead, a monument to lament the crimes of humankind. Shaking his mind free of feeling guilty by proxy, he turned to see Nerous’s face. The last living male member of the Ljosalfar royal family wore an expression of determination. If Nimeton had not been convinced before, he was now given proof of his companion’s majesty once again. Nerous had the countenance of a person who was willing to stake his future on retaking what was rightfully his.

With resolute steps, the half-Alf began to follow the path that circled around the remains of the world tree, leaving behind his fallen kingdom as he looked ahead on his path towards the mountains. There was not a hint of hesitation in his gait, never looking back at the place he had longed to return to for so many years. His future was the only thing he could see. That day, Nerous swore that he would rise up in the world and bring down the hammer of justice on those that had destroyed his home. Only then would he return to this land, rebuild his kingdom and bring back his people.

A two day’s journey northwest from the ruined city, during which they only came upon one small human frontier settlement where they rested for a night, the two wanderers entered the mountain range that had been towering in the far distance as seen from Alfheimr. Even though it was called Jotunfjeldene, the territory before them had been under human control ever since the war on non-humans. They would have to travel for a few more days before they would be able to enter the Jotnar and Dvergr territories in the mountains.

They had stocked up on food in the last village by selling herbs Nimeton had collected on their way. The boy proved proficient at surviving in the wild, despite the fact that he was a year younger and had become a slave at roughly the same age as Nerous had. It was another hint at the fact that he was of low birth and had been taught the ways of the world by his parents before he was taken from them. Between the two boys ranks were meaningless; they had escaped many hardships together and would remain friends no matter what happened. Nerous recalled the words of the man of darkness, telling him to treasure his companion for he was an irreplaceable existence in these troubled times. Glancing at Nimeton from the side, as they climbed an incline that would lead them to a pass into the next valley, the half-Alf let a smile show on his lips. Indeed, the boy beside him was somebody he would hold dear for the rest of his life.

“Look, there’s a house!” Nimeton suddenly turned around to him and pointed forward, causing Nerous to quickly avert his gaze in embarrassment. “Hm, what’s wrong?” Apparently the boy had not noticed him looking. “Let’s see if we can maybe have a rest there.”

Their appearance had changed after their last stop, when they had been able to take a bath and dress up in clothes that did not comprise primarily of discarded rags. Nerous still had to dye his hair, but at least he did not have to hide his complexion anymore; his ears were still a problem and remained hidden under the leather cap, until they safely left the territories held by humans. With their more presentable outfits they could dare to knock on some doors and ask for the goodwill of people not as beggars, but as normal wayfarers.

The house looked like it belonged to a scholar, the type that secluded itself from civilization to study arcane knowledge or old scriptures in peace. It was half a day away from the closest settlement and potentially the very frontier of human encroachment on the Jotnar dominion. Even if these lands had been taken almost six years ago, the empire’s colonization program had not progressed far enough for the entire area to be converted for human use. Those who came here were either desperate, especially hardy, or free spirited people who felt that they would be able to reason with the Jotnar and Dvergr, if they attempted to reclaim their lost territory.

Nimeton knocked on the front gate and waited for a response, which soon came; an elderly man opened the wooden door. He was dressed in plain clothes that suggested he was a servant of the household. A friendly smile appeared on his face when he saw the two boys.

“What can I do for you, lads?” He said, his warm voice soothing to the ears of Nerous and Nimeton; they had not been favorably received anywhere since they ran away.

“We would like to seek shelter for the night. It does not matter if we have to sleep in the barn,” Nimeton did the talking, since Nerous did not want to stand out.

“Please, come on in,” The man invited them inside without even a hint of hesitation. Surprised at the immediate response, the two boys did not react immediately. “The master welcomes any and all travelers,” He added and opened the gate wide. “He only asks to hear some stories of the world over supper in recompense for his hospitality. You see, the master is a writer, and always seeks new inspirations.” Silently exchanging a look with each other, the two wayfarers nodded and accepted the proposal.

“Bring us to your master quickly so we can thank him for his generosity,” Nimeton urged, and followed the elderly servant inside. The estate consisted of three single-story buildings, with the largest reserved for the family of the master, while the second largest housed the servants, and the smallest was used for storage. The two boys were led through the front garden and to the main building, into a reception room, where they were told to wait, for the master would come out and greet them momentarily.

Looking around, Nerous became aware of the fact that the interior was tidy but not very luxurious. However, the lack of decorations was compensated by the fact that the walls were covered with shelves, stacked with books and paper scrolls. They numbered in the thousands, suggesting that the master of the house was well-read and most likely very wise. Nimeton and Nerous approached the shelves and looked over the many books with great interest, when a voice came from behind them, startling them.“If you like, you can read them.”

The boys spun around to find a man in his late thirties, sporting long brown hair and a goatee, wearing black and white robes typical for scholars. His sharp but gentle dark green eyes were looking over his guests with a welcoming gaze, and a smile played on his lips. “My name is Theoron,” He introduced himself with a slight bow, his tone filled with the confidence gained from intellect and wisdom. “I welcome you to my abode. Please, make yourselves comfortable.”

Nerous and Nimeton quickly returned the gesture with a deeper bow. “My name is Kaneis and this is my friend Filon. We will only bother you for one night, Sir Theoron,” The latter responded. “We are grateful for your hospitality and wish to repay your kindness with all our capacity.” The silent half-Alf nodded in affirmation, wondering about his friend’s eloquence once again.

“Do not worry, young man. It can get lonely in these parts, so I appreciate the little company that comes along from time to time,” Theoron said with a smile. “Gennad, go prepare supper, and call Sophia to meet our guests.” The elderly servant bowed and immediately went to take out the orders given to him. “Since my sons left to study in Boura, it has been only my daughter and I.” The master of the house gestured for the two boys to sit down at the table in the middle of the room, as he rounded it to place himself in the seat of the host.

“If you do not mind me asking, why did you choose to move here, Sir Theoron?” Nimeton asked, as he sat down. Nerous remained silent, waiting to judge the character of their host before risking to reveal his identity by bringing unwanted attention to himself. “Is it not dangerous here, so close to the Jotnar territories?”

“You will learn that the greatest dangers in these lands are not the Jotnar or Dvergr, but humans. Bandits have killed more people in the frontier territories since their acquisition, than any of the free races. I have long studied history and learned that the free races are much nobler than us,” Theoron replied, voicing his high opinion of the races that existed in Yggdra before the arrival of humans.

“Sir, praising the free races is still punishable by law! The war is officially still not over,” Nimeton quickly warned, trying to gauge the man’s reaction. To his surprise, he was met with hearty laughter, as he waved off the notion that there were any consequences to his words. “As long as you do not report me, I have nothing to fear. The servants that did not share my sentiment have left my services when I decided to move here. The settlement you passed on your way here are filled with people who came here for the same reason as I. To be closer to the free races, now that they have been pushed back from their lands. Most of us had contact with one or another and lost that when the war broke out, but we seek to reestablish our friendships.”

Taken aback by that revelation, Nimeton and Nerous shared a glance between the two of them, before the latter finally spoke, for the first time. “Sir Theoron, you...” However, he was interrupted when a young girl, judging from her looks not even ten years of age, entered the room. She had long light blonde hair that reached her waist, and her emerald green eyes were half-closed from what appeared to be drowsiness. Due to this trait her otherwise expressionless face gave her a constantly bored appearance.

“Ah, Sophia. Come, introduce yourself to our guests,” Theoron beckoned his daughter over. Coming to a stop before the two boys, she gave a curtsy and stated her full name. “Sophia Claris, a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Her voice was bell-like and clear, befitting of her apparent age. She looked from Nimeton to Nerous, as they introduced themselves in response. Her gaze remained on the half-Alf and an eyebrow shifted upwards slightly, but it went by unnoticed. Turning around wordlessly, she rounded the table and sat down beside her father. “Mister Nerous, you were about to speak,” Theoron turned around, remembering that the boy had begun to say something when Sophia’s arrival interrupted him.

“Yes, Sir Theoron, I just wanted to hear what kind of connections you had with the free races,” Nerous said, slightly nervous from the eyes on him. He was still wearing his leather cap, bad manners to do indoors and more so at the dining table; by shifting everyone’s attention to him, he was making them aware of that fact.

“My wife was a Ljosalf,” The host responded unhesitatingly, turning to look at his daughter with affection. Nimeton and Nerous were shocked by this revelation and watched Theoron pet Sophia’s hair. “She was in Alfheimr when the imperial army attacked. Sophia was with me at the time, which saved her life.” Sadness crept into his features as silence fell on the room like a heavy blanket. The one to break it was the young daughter.

“You are just like me,” She said, looking at Nerous, her drowsy eyes belying the glint of attentiveness within them. “You are a half-Alf, are you not?” At these words, Theoron turned in surprise, as Nimeton held his breath in astonishment. Only the one who had been called out appeared composed at his identity being seen through so easily by this little girl. “You may hide your ears and hair color, but your eyes give you away. They are like mother’s.” When pointed out, it became obvious that the emerald of her irises were much brighter than her father’s and contained the light of the stars, too, a trait unique to Ljosalfar. The same was true for Nerous’ sapphire blue ones, which seemed to have captured a part of the night sky. The only reason he had not been discovered based on that was because the common people were not aware of that fact, and those who were had not paid enough attention to him to notice it.

“It is as you say, Miss Sophia,” Nerous confirmed and took off his leather cap, for his ears to become visible. They were pointy and twice the length of a human’s, almost the same size as those of a pure Alf’s. The mixing of human and Ljosalfar blood could produce a wide range in physical appearances; Sophia fixed her open hair behind an ear to reveal that hers were only slightly pointed and not particularly longer than a human’s. “I am Nerous Eventyr, son of Ihana Eventyr, queen of the Ljosalfar, and Isidore Ohm Zenter, from the imperial family of Zenter.” For the first time since the day he saw his parents die in front of him did he announce his own name and lineage so openly.

“I had no idea, your majesty,” Theoron stood up and motioned to pay his respects, but was quickly stopped by Nerous.

“No, Sir Theoron, there is no need for you to prostrate before a member of a fallen dynasty. In fact, we are in your debt for giving us shelter and food.” With these words, Nerous stood up and showed his gratefulness with a deep bow. Nimeton quickly followed and did the same. Taken aback, Theoron was speechless and could only look on, while the hint of a smile appeared on Sophia’s lips. He was saved from responding to the gesture when Gennad and two other servants entered to serve the food.

Over dinner, Nerous told Theoron of his past and the events that led up to him coming to stand before him. He also told him about his plan to seek refuge with the Jotnar for the time being, revealing that he intended to retake the lands of the free races and rebuild Alfheimr for the surviving Ljosalfar in the future. Sophia remained silent throughout, listening intently, as her father discussed the matter with their guests.

“The areas around Alfheimr have been all but abandoned by humans, and none wish to settle there, fearing that the Alfar have cursed the land in their dying breaths. With the death of the Mad Emperor and General Kleitos of Iasus, the war against the free races has unofficially ended, even if prejudice and animosity linger.” Theoron explained the developments of the past years to the guests, as he learned that they had been practically imprisoned and cut off from the outside world since the fall of the Ljosalfar. “The humans are currently busy fighting amongst themselves, with the tyrant Hesper of Naxos controlling the court. The empire has practically given up on this land after taking it, and settlement projects are stalled, if not outright cancelled, so they will not pay much attention to the free races. In the times to come, all eyes will be on the central plains, so your majesty could try and gather your strength among the Jotnar, Dvergr and human sympathizers.”

“You say there would be humans willing to fight for our cause?” Nerous asked, hesitant to rely on the race that betrayed friendship and repaid peace with war on the orders of a madman.

“Indeed, there were those who rose up against the Mad Emperor and defended the free races. In the south Rhamnus under Galeno Solaris, resisted the imperial decree and fought alongside the Fire Jotnar, then rose up in rebellion and marched on the capital. North of here, Alexis Mala of Aegae defended the northern borders of the Jotunfjeldene from the incursions of Kios and Dorylaion forces. If not for her help, the Jotnar and Dvergr would have had to fight enemies all around their borders,” Theoron elaborated on his statement. “They could become great allies in the future, but what your majesty needs the most right now is a basis.”

“I understand. I have neither a home nor followers, safe for my trusted friend Nimeton.” At these words, Nerous turned to look at his companion with a smile of conviction. Returning the gaze with one of affirmation, Nimeton showed that he would remain with him. “Would sir be willing to lend me his strength and join me on my path to restore my people?” The half-Alf finally asked their host, impressed by his knowledge and insight.

“I am very sorry, your majesty, I am but a humble scholar. A person such as I has no role in these troubled times,” Theoron responded after a moment of contemplation. It appeared that his decision was based on the fact that he had a young daughter he needed to look after.

“Can I not persuade you in any way?” Nerous probed again, understanding that the look Theoron gave Sophia was a definite indication that he would not change his mind. Affirming his decision with a face filled with regret and a slow shake of his head, the host showed that under different circumstances, he would have gladly accepted. “I wish your majesty the best of luck.”

This concluded their dinner, which had continued into late at night. Sophia was dozing off in her seat, showing that despite her quick wit and insightful personality, she was still just a child. Standing up from his seat, Theoron signaled that it was time to go to their own rooms and rest for the day. Nerous and Nimeton followed Gennad, who was ordered to show them their room. With lingering disappointment, each retired for the night.

The next morning, the two wayfarers prepared to be on their way again, even as Theoron told them that they could stay as long as they wanted and rest from all the hardships they encountered on their journey. When they declined repeatedly, thanking the host for his selfless hospitality and advice for their future, he could only let them leave. Still, he presented them with provisions to last them for many days and robes that would more adequately shield them from the coldness of the mountains they would soon traverse.

“My two sons in Boura are of greater potential than I could ever be. In two to three years, they will conclude their studies and be on the lookout to serve outstanding people. I will send them a letter and tell them about your aspirations. They will surely become a great help to your majesty,” Theoron said before their parting. “Please do not lose heart, I believe that the Heavens will look over your majesty’s path.”

“Thank you so much, Sir Theoron. I will never forget your kindness, and I will be sure to repay it manifold!” Nerous announced, before turning away and leaving, looking back several times to wave goodbye. Nimeton did the same, thinking what great luck it had been to come upon a person of such inspirational intellect. He made sure to remember Sophia as well, convinced of the fact that she would doubtlessly develop an incredible mind and grow up to become an individual of note. Their goal was an undertaking that would take decades to realize, so in ten years time, they could return and try to recruit her for their cause.

For now, they remained two homeless wanderers, aspiring to deeds that turn into the fabric legends are woven from.

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