The strange man now having gotten rid of all the trouble makers gave his full attention to the golden-haired boy, whose green eyes questioned the man’s sudden appearance while still trying to figure out why he had been treated like that.

The man stopped right next to the little boy and sat down on his knee and passed him a reassuring smile. “It’s alright, son. They won’t hurt you now. The forest has always protected its own.” he said as he looked towards the tiger and bowed in respect. The beast accepted it and went its way back into the shadows where he had come from.

“But I just wanted to…I wanted to-”

“Make friends. I know.” The man shoved the child’s messed locks back as he looked at the pure eyes. It saddened his heart to be the one who had to explain it to this little soul why his innocence was beaten into the dirt.

“It’s not your fault, son. It’s the fault of the people who let their pain and hatred reach their sons and they pass it to theirs. The worst thing we do in our lives is teach our children the same hatred we either witnessed or were taught by our forefathers. We limit our future to stay behind the lines that we should not have created in the first place. We do not realise how we take away the good in them. Those kids did what they did because they were taught this way. Forgive them if you have the heart, little one, for they are but nothing compared to what I have seen.” and as he looked at the little eyes question him even more he whispered to himself, “and what you are about to see.”

The man looked at the boy as he got up and tried tidying up his clothes.

“Say, son. Do you like roaming around in the forest? What do you like in there?”

Without any second thoughts, the boy answered, “Plants.” and his eyes widened at merely thinking  about them.

“Would you like to study about plants? I have a friend who has a ship worth of books on plants he has come across in his life. And he is turning thirty on the second of the tenth this month.”

The green eyes widen even more at the mere thought of knowing how many books on plants could a ship hold? Was a ship as big as Moru-Moru, the blacksmith’s workshop that held  twenty donkeys as once? Or was it bigger than that? It was becoming harder for the little one to hold his curiosity and excitement inside.

“My friend would love to teach you. He is tired of infusing any enthusiasm about plants in my sons anyways.” The smiled reassuringly.

“Can I-can I come with you?” asked the golden-haired boy.

“Of course! But first lets ask your guardians for their permission.” the man gently stroked the little one’s hair as he turned towards the forest and went deeper into the parts where no one dared to go; where eyes looked from the shadows and leaves rustled without the winds. The man finally stopped at a small clearing deep inside the densest part of the forest and so did the boy. He then went down on his knees and called out to the guardian of the forest for their permission to take her son on a journey. And as both of them bowed their heads, a deer bearing a green stone similar to the eyes of the little boy on its heads appeared in front of them and bowed. The latter looked with questioning eyes at the stranger.

“The forest has allowed us to go and made me your guardian. And this” he said as he raised the stone on his hand, “is the symbol of the forest trusting me to protect you as they did all these years.”

Confused at first, the golden-haired boy smiled at the fact that the forest liked him so much. “The forest is my friend? The forest is my friend!”

The stranger laughed as he nodded. “Oh you brave little man, the forest is so much more than your friend!”

And saying so, both of them made their way back to the little one’s village.

“What’s your name, son?”

Zappa, our village elder, says my name is Dragnalius Na’ahzghar but everyone called me Drona. What is your name?”

“I go by many names. But most people call me Dar’zahor, the peacekeeper of the land, ally of the strongest pirates in the world.”

Little Drona’s excitement knew no bounds at the mention of pirates. So this was the man everyone at his village had been waiting for! He could not wait any longer to tell them what this man had done in the forest today and what they were going to do tomorrow onwards.

And so began a new chapter in the life of the golden-haired boy, from the village of Antal’In Caidya, that was going to shape him into the man who played a crucial role in this world’s history that was about to take place in an age so dark where humanity was about to stand at the brink of existance.