Alvin Morse is a teenage boy living in Rionnag, a small but important city in the western part of the Sysaran Empire. When the Empire goes to war with its neighbor and longtime enemy, the Kingdom of the Southlands, Alvin is recruited to fight to defend his city.
The mind of young Alvin Morse generally only had room in it for one thought at any given time, and in this particular moment, that one thought was Maili Mae Albright. Thus, there was no space left for the bread that his mother had sent him out to buy, nor was there even any available for navigating the streets of the city of his birth; indeed, he was probably not far from forgetting his own name and surely would have needed, if someone had asked him to identify himself, a moment’s hesitation before responding. As his feet carried him aimlessly through the narrow ways of Rionnag, he knew only one fact for certain: Maili Mae Albright had smiled at him. All else was trivial and insignificant. It was a marvel that he managed to find his way home that day.
He was still grinning dreamily as he entered through the front door, but he dropped this expression upon hearing voices from the kitchen.
“Surely he couldn’t be of much use to you,” his mother was saying. “He isn’t very bright, you know.”
“If he can lift a sword,” a gruff male voice replied, “we can use him.”
“Use me for what?” he wondered, poking his head through the kitchen door.
“Oh, Alvin,” his mother sighed. Then she turned to the two decorated men standing by the woodstove. “You see? He can’t even remember to fetch the bread. How do you expect him to follow more complex orders?”
“’Kill the Southlanders’ is not an especially complex order,” noted the smaller of the two men.
“You don’t know my Alvie. He’ll become distracted by the butterflies.”
The men ignored her, focusing their attentions instead upon Alvin. “You look to be a fine, strong lad. How many summers have you?”
“Good, good. Can you read and write?”
“Even better!” declared the smaller man, who had a rat-like countenance. “If you would come with us, please, young Mr. Morse.”
The two men began to step towards the door, gesturing for Alvin to follow them.
“Now? Wait, where are we going?”
“To war, lad,” answered the larger man, he of the gruff voice. “To the aid of the Empire. To honor, to glory, to victory! That is where we are going.”
“But…” began Alvin in a small voice. “What if I don’t want those things?”
“What do you want, then? Money? Recognition? For those too can be found where we go.”
“No,” replied Alvin. “I want Maili Mae Albright.”
He of the gruff voice laughed heartily. “When you return home a hero, lad, you will be able to have any girl you desire. Women fall for bravery as quickly as bees for flowers.”
“Really? All right, I’ll come.”
“There’s a good lad.”
So young Alvin Morse went to war.