Loyalty shone brightly in their eyes. They all stood at attention, ready to follow whatever command I chose to issue to their grave. A few of the younger soldiers trembled slightly. They were trying to hide their fear quite intently. The older warriors stood still. Any trace of fear that resided within them remained invisible. These men had fought alongside me through numerous victories. Their experience with my leadership prevented them from doubting my judgment.

The standing torches nearby illuminated my face for all to see. My eyes drifted momentarily to the flame to see its arms dancing about in the night. I raised my arms to signify that I was ready to speak. The fearful shaking amongst the young ceased.

"I roused you all from your homes," I began, "without explanation. For that, I apologize. I have interrupted a peaceful evening with your families. Though, as I have come to understand, Mikael, yours may not have been as peaceful as others."

The group erupted in a small riot of laughter and whistles as Mikael, blushing, was pat on the shoulders by those he considered brothers. Tonight is his wedding night.

I clapped twice to signify that I was not yet finished talking. The listeners fell silent once more. I could tell they understood my graveness.

"I now wish to tell you why you have been gathered so. A scout reached my ears not but an hour ago with some knowledge. A band of raiders have captured my sister."

Murmurs broke the silence at the time, and I clapped twice again for silence.

"As I said before, I apologize for having to summon you. Even more so than you could know, for," I stammered, not quite able to say it. "For you will not see your families again after tonight. You see-"

I was cut off by objections from my men.

"Why can't you just go?"

"She's your sister! I hold no relation to her."

"I've got half a cow sitting at me at home to get eaten. Fetch that wench yourself."

With the last remark from the soldier, Unlesten was his name, I reached down to the small sheath that hung on my right hip. I drew the knife, gripping the ebony handle and threw it in the man's direction. It met its mark, the blade driving through Unlesten's right hand. He cried out in pain as he stared at the blade that was protruding from his palm.

I approached Unlesten slowly, placing my face just inches from his. With one motion, I yanked the blade from his hand, cleaning it on his red tunic. "Go eat your half a cow. I don't want you in my ranks for another second. Get out of my sight."

Unlesten, tears in his eyes, removed himself from my meeting. I turned to look at the rest of my soldiers. Each and every one was completely silent.

"You have an hour before you must meet me here once more. Just as you always have before a battle. Say your goodbyes," I said as I walked over to Mikael. "Say nothing of your reasons for leaving. I do not wish to worry our families further. And Mikael," I said as I embraced the boy. "Return to us a man." I released him and turned my back to my men. "Dismissed," I told them as they left the grounds in search of their homes, their families, their former lives.