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I do not steal victory.

Alexander the Great

This particular morning, the army carried the reek of death. Carried into the shadow by the desert, Avalan abandoned his horse tied on a dead tree, glancing at the surrounding folly. Around the exhausted knight, men-at-arms and knights screamed as they climbed the piles of bodies of the men who had attempted to drink before their companions. As the other great lords and fellow kyai knights, Avalan Den had been escorted through the human maze by imperial vigils into the Oasis of Carathay. Only his status as a Prime knight had enabled Avalan the luxury of water in the burning sand, while many of his own soldiers had died out of thirst nights ago.

Suddenly hammering, the sun threw Avalan down on his knees, his reddened limbs drowning into the sand. Desperate for life, he dragged his scabbed hand towards the cold water then voraciously swallowed its life, a hound more glorious than him. Almighty, forgive me! the knight prayed, teary. Before washing his sweaty and greasy face within the oasis’ water, his dark raven hair had softened and had also left his skin tanned. By next dawn if the almighty allowed, he would be recovered for the battly, he would be plenty awake. Finally raising his face, Avalan heard his liege’s voice’s: “Ser Den”, the bloody king had barked his name with an obvious disdain, his heavy steps echoing down from the sand hill below the smoking ponds of the oasis.

Standing in silence, the knight saw the obese warlord stepping forward, dressed in his extravagant robes of scarlet leather, his grey mail and his wyvernscale’s plate which was spattered with jewelry, its bronze plastron shining under the sun while carrying his burnt body. Flayed under the sun, his majesty, Tristemer the first of his name, king of Rubaron and prince of Thyriacried his orders with such vigor its mad thundering voice grasped the present men-at-arms, binding them in submitted reverence. “You’ deaf, ser? The bastard, Imrik the whoreson! has called his ban ! We’ve no time to drink…” Despite their mutual dislike, Avalan had given Tristemer-king respect, even if his grace’s dead twin’, dead long before birth, begged for life struck on the monarch’s jaw. He could be a monster in flesh and a greedy tyrant, the king of Rubaron had a keen mind of war. Before putting on weight, Tristemer-king had served in his brother’s host during the raids on Temeros, mentioned in the sons as part of the victors in Fredegar. A son of Ashtown, Avalan Den had grown siding along the Temerians in heart, never actually affected by the battlefields, too young of a noble boy to ride to battle. If he sided with Airn’s puppet king this last day of summer, it was as a Prime knight, send by his order to assist Rubaron’s ruler against a rebellious nephew, Imrik of Rubaron. His order had always followed the strong, in both virtue and disgrace.

“I will make the men walk at once, sire“, Avalan vowed, striking his fist into his heart, this symbol of sacrifice meant unquestionable obedience.

His baby brother’s eyes crying black blood ever since its death, the bloody knight’s remaining eyes were grey and fierce, a cold but cruel sternness sculpted into his iron face. Brought up into the royal palace of Airn, ser Tristemer viAgryn had trained under the king-of-the-islands, groomed for a fertile province’s governance, and his folk had proven their mastery of the seas. Raiders and barbaric, the islanders has burnt monasteries, torched mansions and farms alike and threatened the Temerian crown for over two hundred years. The king glanced at the oasis, and said, his voice carrying a candid sorrow.

“In the songs, oasis are like dawn, they shine in time of great need, their light embracing the thirty who regains strenght, one that is pure…” Avalan heard him, feeling that tightness in their hearts: “- Yes sire, so does your servant.’ The knight had made his voice softer, strong enough to earn his kings’ acknowlogdement. It reached its target, and Tristemer-king said: “- Have you heard of the sirens? They say Carathay had once been an ocean… Whispers of wraith in maiden shape have abducted men from caravans and post guards. Even if I have never accredited these… tales, I now suspect smoke had sparked the fire of these rumours…” This remark left Avalan thoughtful, his knighthood dictating him medidation. The king left, flanked by his sworn shield, a thrall dedicated to serve his liege until death or his liege’s – a giant of a man who fought with a illyrian trident.

Obeying his king, Avalan walked down back to his own war camp in search for his lieutenants.The reigning tension amongst these men explained the black-haired knight why the holy crusades themselves hadn’t appeased the hatred between Temeros and its invaders from Airn, the kingdom of islands. Serving for Tristemer had inserted Avalan’s respect for the islander’s way of life. Unlike they, Avalan had suffered through the blazing heat, his bronze armour blackened by its consistent use had such a burden the knight had dropped it behind in the desert. Never had he conceived a land where winds didn’t freeze but burnt the flesh and where snow was a dream and water a rarity. These Airns have a solid composure, Avalan had thought many times during the campaign. But they hadn’t survived Nalgarroth just yet.

Then finally, he rested beneath his tent.


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