Symil's innumerable high-vaulted towers and spires caught the setting spring sun like a sea of upright blades, their reflected light scintillating through the amber trees that bordered the long, wide street that led out from the Wright's Corner in the Amberlane District. Even in the busiest summer day, the courtyard and neighboring streets would comfortably fit thousands of tourists and denizens of Qalmoria's capital city, yet now it seemed like the cobblestones were daring to break loose under the weight of an army leaving the city. A river of plate armor dressed beneath scarlet fabric and gold accents marched through the district whose daily mongering of prices had been beaten by the downpour of combat boots slapping in unison against stone. With vambraces, helms, and shin armor decorated sparingly with large plumes from scorch birds, the Qalmorian soldiers each did their part in hiding the nerves beneath the hawkish design of their raiment.
Despite the early hour of the march that caught most of the city at the peak of its hangover, Symil's citizens, even those who had not been drafted, did their own part for the farewell effort. From every rooftop that would overlook the march, lesser scrolls given at discount prices from glyphologists had been hastily scribed with fire and explosive spells to be cast off as fireworks. Ash and remnants of minor conjurings sprinkled upon polished armor while tavern workers with less manners and more propensities for morning drinking did their best to squeeze through the formation to plant wet kisses on unsuspecting soldiers. And those faces beneath the helms, previously tear-stricken with clenched jaws, one by one, grew a bit lighter as chuckles swarmed the ranks from the increasingly obnoxious behavior of the citizens straining to hold the soldiers back from their dates with death.
After the city's throats had gone raw from shouting, at last, Commander Malphius shook out his raven black hair after taking off his giant, scorch bird-plumed helm, and after turning in his saddle, he gave a single nod towards his officers, who in turn did the same. And like dominoes, the entire formation dismantled just before the city gates, to give every soldier another chance to say farewell.
"Lethany! Lethany!" Miran continued to shout. His chest tightened the more frantic his cries became. All around him, men who were unspoken for were grouped together and laughing, their camaraderie already proving useful, but more commonly, older men, husbands, had their arms wrapped around their wives, their hands on their shoulders, exchanging parting words. Even beneath the slender and well-fitting Qalmorian armor, each of them looked like steel giants as they clutched their loved ones. "Elanor!" Miran hollered. He began to imagine how Commander Malphius would soon rally them together as coldly as he had dismissed them, and began to shoulder his way through people at random to sift through the crowd.
Miran collapsed onto his knees and smothered Lethany as soon as he caught sight of his daughter's fiery hair. Kneeling, his wide, feathered pauldrons, gauntlets, and cuirass enveloped her completely. He tore off his chain mail gloves to feel the silken surface of her fresh skin, to cup her face with two hands, though he could have easily done it with just one. Her wide, tearful eyes were as silver as her mother's, an odd hue that seemed to darken to hot iron at night. He removed his helm next, and pressed his forehead against his daughter's.
"Will you come home soon?" the child asked him.
"Of course he will, Leth," answered a voice behind her. "Or else he'll have more than just the Sun-elves to fear. Mormar will hunt him down if he doesn't."
"Elan," Miran did his best to not choke on his laughter, "is this really the time to be joking?"
More fireworks and cheers bloomed around them as an odd, upbeat jig was taken up in the distance, though Miran couldn't think of a single moment in his life when he felt more miserable.
Elanor shuffled her feet, what Miran knew to be the first sign of an uneasy display of happiness cracking. Then, her hands wrung together and her eyes fixed on his despite the tears starting at them. "Well what do you expect?" She bit her trembling lip. "Of course it's not."
Miran swooped up Lethany as Elan's tears started and, careful as to not pinch his daughter between his armor, embraced his family tight, tighter than he ever had.
"Ranks!" Commander Malphius boomed.
"Ranks!" another officer commanded.
"Oh, oh no," Elanor gasped. "It's happening."
"It's going to be all right," Miran promised.
"Don't go forfar ..." Lethany began sobbing.
"Yes ... yes, yes, it will be. She'll be so grown when you get back," Elan whispered into Miran's ear after hastily kissing him. Held in his opposite arm, Lethany gave his father a peck on the cheek, a sensation that nearly healed the fracture of the words that were meant as a hopeful kindness from Elan, but instead felt like an embittering stab.
Commander Malphius' orders echoed again, this time into a much calmer courtyard, and this time towards the few soldiers lingering on the sidelines, yet to attend to their formation, one of them being Miran.
"Forfar!" Lethany screamed after he placed her in her mother's arms.
With a petulant glance towards the assembling soldiers, Miran cursed and rushed back to his daughter, plucking a scorch bird feather from his vambrace before tucking it into her hand and repeating his vows and loves with another long, drawn kiss on her head before embracing both of them again. But the last words he heard before being hauled back into his line were from Elanor.
"Don't die," she whispered.
The river of scarlet, gold and silver began to flow again, joined this time by a gust of wind that seemed to push them out of Symil's gates. Many shuffled off as soon as the soldiers had gone out of sight, but Lethany had insisted on staying, so Elen held her, and protested little when the child insisted on screaming for her father to return.
At last, as the gates were shutting, the wind gave a final parting shove and tugged the plume from Lethany's hand. The child leapt from her mother's arms and sprinted for it as it danced in the air, catching drifts, its movements almost devilish as it cast itself about at the edges of her fingers before finally resting on the ground. When she returned to her mother's arms with the feather restored, her legs having been scraped and bloodied in the process, somewhere within the simple logic of a child's mind, she began to understand that some gifts are not given as promises.