Neal sat astride a golden charger, his velvet-gloved hands stroking through the stallion’s white-blond mane.  He wore rich burgundy fabric under elaborate gold and red armour, a jewelled sword at his hip.  Neal stroked his hand through the golden beard on his chin, and then saluted his troops.  They cheered for him loudly, earning a wide grin from their leader.  Their king.

            “Today, we begin the last leg of a journey.”  He told them.  “We have struggled for years against out-riders, bandits, thugs and thieves.  Today, we march towards their safe haven, to prove that nowhere is safe for them!”

            His army cheered again, lifting their fists to the sky, certain of their triumph.  Neal smiled broadly, pumping his fist in the air in time to their cheers.  Behind him on a fine black horse, dressed in finely tailored brown riding gear, Simon Lamb looked on nodding his approval.

            “Look at that posturing fool.”  A cold voice said beside him.  Lamb looked down and saw Reza standing at the flank of his horse, his eyes filled with malice as he looked upon Neal, giving the order to march to his troops.

            “Yes, but he is a useful fool.  Let him have his moment in the sun.  It will set when the time is right.”  Lamb said.  “What of the sun on Evan Kimball?”

            “It has gone down in the west unto darkness.”  Reza smiled.  “He will not be joining us on this expedition.”

            “What’s that?” Neal asked, as he jogged his horse up to them.  “Evan isn’t coming?”

            “He felt that his lack of experience would hinder us in battle, and I think he does not savour the hard ride, nor sleeping in tents.”  Reza told Neal.  “He would rather stay here with his golden hoard.”

            Neal laughed.  “Well, it’s his prerogative, should he wish to miss out on all the fun.  We ride, men!”  He directed this last comment to the soldiery, and the column began to march.  The stomping rhythm of thousands of booted feet echoed through the streets as the army began its long walk to the home of its enemies.

            Reza mounted upon his pale white horse, and joined Neal and Lamb at the head of the cavalry.  They paraded through the streets of the city, resplendent in their armour and finery.  Neal seemed in good spirits for a man who had just begun a war.

            “You lift the morale of our troops, Neal.”  Lamb said to him.  “You spoke well.”

            “Why shouldn’t they have good morale?”  Neal laughed.  “We’re going to win.  I only told them what I believe.”

            “Such confidence.”  Reza said simply.

            “Why shouldn’t I be confident?  Look at this army!  All who see it will tremble.”  Neal’s voice became less light and amiable, and became darker.  His eyes brooded.  “Our enemies will know our wrath.  That we are not to be taken lightly.”

            “I know how hard it has been for you, to see your soldiers ineffective thus far.”  Donovan said.

            “Ineffective?”  Neal glared at him.

            “Well, certainly.  For seven years you’ve been pursuing them, and they elude you at every turn.  I am certain you must relish this opportunity to corner them like trapped animals.  It must bring a certain self-satisfaction.”

            “I fight this war for the good of our people.”  Neal said flatly.

            “You and I both know you fight this war because Alex and Genevieve spoke out against you.”  Donovan said in a low voice only audible to Lamb and Neal.  His eyes were cold as he continued.  “You seek to pay them back for betrayal.  I know this war is about their slap in your face, for every small victory their band of freedom fighters has scored against you and your vaunted leadership skills.  I know that you fight this war because every night she sleeps in his bed and not yours.  This is about pride.”

            “That’s enough!” Neal bellowed, raising his hand as if to strike Reza.  Donovan simply caught his eye and held it.  That empty, murderous gaze caused an almost imperceptible backing down, as Neal’s eyes lost their ferocity and filled with a quiet fear.  His hand returned to the reins of his horse.

             After a few moments of riding in silence, Neal found his voice again.

            “Your words accuse me, Ethan.”  He said quietly.

            “Your words were false.  You might be able to convince your soldiers with your flowery speeches, Neal my boy, but we know you better than that.”  Simon told him.  “You need not play the hero with us.  We do not disagree with your motivations, we think you are right to strike down this rebellion and get your vengeance.  Just don’t pretend to us that you do this for higher purposes.”

            “I chose my words carefully, Neal Osborne.”  Donovan told him.  “If you go into this battle laughing, you will choke on the enemy’s arrows.  We need your confidence, your pride, to lead these men in a war, and for that we need your anger at their treatment foremost in your mind.  Consider my words a spur to coax you on to greater fury.”

            “You’re right.”  Neal said softly.  His hands were slack on his reins, but now they tightened in a fierce grip.  “You’re absolutely right!”  He said more confidently.  “They will feel the iron grip of this army squeeze them tight about the throat, and they will look in my eyes and see no mercy.  No quarter.  I will have their heads on a plate!”

            Reza stifled laughter at this cliché as Neal directed his horse into a faster canter so he could encourage the men marching ahead.  He turned to Lamb and they both smiled.

            “You see how we make the fool our puppet?” 

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