“My lady?” came a voice from behind her. Domitia, Imperia of the Sylvan Imperium was startled but remained still as a pool of water, continuing to look out upon the city of Tirion from atop the Marble Citadel that stood taller than the oldest trees surrounding it. Her ability to not react was more important than her ability to react. It was why she had been Imperia for nearly four centuries. Her features were set in such a way that they appeared benevolent, yet inscrutable. At some point in her youth it was a put-on, her mask that allowed others to see in her that which they wanted to see. In her old age, she was no longer sure that she had a true face anymore.
Domitia turned and looked upon her youngest son, Celsus. He was fair and tall, a handsome young man of 150. He was as open as the sky in equal proportion to his mother being a closed and curtained window. Celsus was one of the finest archers in the Imperium, and his need for his mother’s approval was so clear and so desperate that alone in her chambers Domitia allowed herself a deep sigh in regret that she would never be able to give him that which he sought.
“Mother, I bring news from Shard. Goblin raids come from the west in greater numbers every day. They have grown bold and attacked fortresses and burned villages to the ground in search of pillage. Refugees swell into the citadel of Shard with only the clothes upon their backs even as the grain that keeps the city fed no longer reaches the millers and bakers. Ill tempers seem to fill the void in the people’s bellies. The oldest humans in Shard cannot remember the last days of war, much less the soldiery who are more used to pickpockets and cutpurses than bloodthirsty raiders. And the elderly Lord of Shard sits silent upon his throne, either unwilling or unable to respond.”
Domitia nodded. “Yes. All of this I know.”
Celsus’ cheeks grew red as emotion flushed across his face. “What shall we do, then?”
Celsus sputtered. “Nothing? But what of our trade with Shard? What about the goblins? Surely you do not believe they will be satiated with Shard and not turn toward our lands?”
The boy’s passion would be either his salvation or his undoing, though Domitia. “The merchants will suffer, yes, but we will still have trade with the Dwarves of the north and the peoples across the Inland Sea. As for the goblins…I have lived from a time before Shard existed. To our people, the civilizations of humanity rise and fall and are rebuilt. We of the Imperium survived before the first Lord of Shard and we shall endure beyond the last Lord of Shard. When the goblins come – if they are so foolish to attack us – we shall repel them. The roots of the arbors will greedily drink of their blood as we repel them, as we have repelled so many others who believed they would find anything but death between the trees of the Great Sylvan.”
Celsus remained unconvinced, though even as emotional as he was he realized that this argument would go nowhere. The calm certainty of his mother was not to be argued with, no matter how much he disagreed. In stillness was his mother’s strength. “Very well, my lady. Then I seek your leave to travel to the City of Shard and offer my services to its Lord. I will do so not as the son of the Imperia, but merely as a bowman offering the strength of his arm and the clarity of his eye.”
If there had been a moment where Domitia’s resolve would break, it would have been this moment. She could feel the furrow of her brow – no one but her would notice, certainly not Celsus. “My son…you have come of age and you owe no fealty and no service to myself or the Imperium. If you wish to offer your bow to the Lord of Shard, I cannot stop you.”
“I ask for your blessing, mother,” Celsus said. He stared at her with a steely resolve that surprised Domitia. Truly her son had become a man.
“I cannot give you my blessing as Domitia, Imperia of the Sylvan Empire and guardian of the Elven peoples of this continent. However, I do give you leave as your mother to leave the home of your parents and seek your own path in this world. I will pray for you to Father Corellon and Mother Sehanine, and may you return to me safely before I leave this world in the bosom of the Raven Queen.”
Celsus bowed deeply upon one knee at his mother’s feet. He held his mother’s hand as he rose to his full height, so that he looked down upon her as he embraced her. “I love you, Mother, and I will return to you.”
Domitia said nothing, and embraced her son. Later than night, in the privacy of her chambers, she cried.