It was a lonely night, but then, most nights here are lonely.
The Huns stood outside of Kiev, menacing as ever. We could see them from the ramparts – a whole horde of bloodthirsty, vicious killers, who wouldn't stop until all of us were dead. We knew this; they'd made it clear when they'd thrown the heads of the people of our city they'd captured back inside the walls.
I was scared then. I'm scared now.
I get to my post to relieve the man before me. Kiev is a large city, so it is not improbable that I don't know him. Still, it unnerves me to see his long, straight black hair and to hear his odd accent.
"You are late," he says to me, ice edging his voice.
"I am sorry," I say. "My family…"
"Will die if you neglect your duties now," he says. "They may die even if you do not neglect your duties."
At first, I'm offended. This is not the sort of talk one should engage in before a battle. "You are out of line," I say, trying to sound stiff and, in the end, just sounding scared.
He laughs, although I detect no mirth in his manner. "Are you scared, boy?" he asks, looking at me for the first time. His eyes bore holes in my head.
He looks no older than me.
"No, I'm not," I say, but the deception does not deceive so much as it informs.
"It is good that you are scared," he says, returning his gaze to the Hun army before us. It seems as though their camp stirs with a constant, maniacal energy, as though the Huns are demons incarnated for the specific purpose of bringing about our demise. The torchlight flickers and I wonder what I have done to offend the Gods.
"But fear…fear kills the mind," I say, dredging up something my instructor used to say.
"Fear might keep you alive," he responds. "You have it for a reason. Use it."
I consider this. The strange man does have a point. "Who are you?" I ask, intrigued.
"That is unimportant," he says.
We stand together for a moment, just looking at them. I get the feeling that he is studying them, seeing everything and recording every detail. His body is stiff, standing straight-backed and not moving an inch. His posture would make any commander proud.
Then, suddenly, he turns and walks away. He doesn't say a single word of farewell to me – he just leaves. As he turns, his eyes seem distant, and they miss me completely. His gait is slow, almost pained…such a change from a moment ago, as though once off-duty he was deflating.
The Huns are coming tomorrow.