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Golden Boy

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It's getting late, and Derek frowns in frustration. They still don't have a workable plan for dealing with the Argent advance forces that are closing in on their location, and there isn't much time left before they'll be cutting into their rest. It's coming hard upon the time when they'll have to make the decision to break camp and make an emergency retreat towards more defensible territory, or take their weary soldiers back for a risky battle.

He knows it annoys his Uncle that they're on a defensive campaign instead of an offensive one. There's much less anticipatory predatory excitement in it, and a bit more fear. Derek, on the other hand, finds he mostly prefers it, at least on principle. He's never approved of his Uncle's determination to expand his territory to the south or east, even in the limited ways his Mother has permitted.

"It's too risky."

"Not if we wait till morning and I flank them from here," Derek points out, moving the little carved wooden horses representing his cavalry around behind the meticulously-drawn maps. Isaac certainly has an eye for detail when given the time. These maps are from before the fighting had begun, when they'd mostly been doing patrol routes.

Peter rubs at his beard with his gauntleted thumb.

Derek is used to the long silences that accompany Peter's deeper thought processes. He just turns and finds his way over to the wine-skin sitting on the nearby table. He refills his mug and then Peter's, waiting while his Uncle thinks through the foreseeable outcomes. Probably even some possibilities that Derek hasn't and can't imagine. Peter's always had an exceptional level of foresight.

"Good. That should work. Just leave me a squad of horsemen with the main force."

Derek nods. "Very well. We'll move at first light. I'll notify the lieutenants, if there's nothing else?"

Peter waves a dismissive hand at him, still staring at the maps as he sips his wine. Derek nods and turns to go.

"Oh, one more thing," Peter interjects. Derek turns, completely unsurprised at the ploy to catch him off guard. Peter smirks at him. "I've brought you a present to enjoy in the meantime, just arrived today. I really think you'll like this one."

"I really wish you wouldn't," Derek says, but it's merely a force of habit at this point. He knows Peter won't give up on his little manipulations. He almost wonders whether it's Peter's only real form of entertainment in his life. He just shakes his head as his uncle waves him out of the tent into the cool night air.

Boyd and Isaac are waiting a little ways away at the main campfire. They rise as he approaches, and fall into easy step alongside him.

"We'll move at first light to flank them at bluecourt pass while Peter's troops will head them off at the base of the mountain backed by a squad of our riders. Isaac, be sure to have another discussion with Mahealani about what his scouts have seen. We don't have time to send out our own." By which they all know he means Peter won't let them. But such things are best left unspoken.

"Right, because going in blind is totally the best plan," Isaac mutters, earning himself a stern glance from Derek.

"So keep your eyes open," Derek orders, and Isaac ducks his head deferentially.

"Yes My Lord," he murmurs and Derek sighs, setting a hand briefly on his shoulder.

"I don't like it either, but it's what we have to work with."
When he turns his gaze on Boyd, he gets a precise nod from the tall soldier.

"I'll assign squads and arrange the watches so the holdbacks mostly get the last shift. And I'll let Erica know so she can organize the grooms to wake early."

Derek just nods, having nothing to add. At his approval, they both fall away from his flank, heading off to do their duties. They've both been with him for years now, and they all know each other's strengths and habits well. It makes for smooth operations and success in their campaigns.

Peter seems to enjoy the excitement of a bumpier ride. A campaign with him is never boring or straightforward. His 'gift' is typical disruptive behavior. Derek ducks into his tent with a resigned sigh, prepared to dress and reassign whatever new beauty Peter has brought him. His enclave is already rather full of such slaves, most of whom seem eternally grateful to him for sparing them from his bed and letting them do simple, useful work for him. He can't bring himself to sell them when they all do good work, each of them determined to prove themselves worthy of remaining under such a bearable master. They do make for loyal servants, so he can't really complain about Peter's 'gifts'. But it is annoying to deal with, to have to spend his evening sorting out a slave instead of being able to go right to bed. It's just something he has to learn to accept as a byproduct of serving alongside his uncle.

But when he lays eyes on the boy laying amid his furs, he finds his breath catching in his throat. His skin is golden with the candle-light glimmering against the sheen of oil that has been slathered on his bared body. His hands and feet are bound in turn behind his back by simple leather strips, a sister strip wrapped around his head, blindfolding him.

He doesn't quite lay still, body shifting ever so slightly as he rubs himself against the furs beneath him. His lips are parted, and they work over inaudible words or sounds. His skin is flushed, nipples peaked and pierced with simple but unexpected golden rings. He's spectacularly beautiful in the candlelight. The many glowing candles that have been added to his usual lighting cast glittering edges and shadows, imbuing an almost unearthly golden color to his skin.

It's enough that Derek hesitates.

The slave's tense and, Derek realizes when he moves closer, he's hard as can be, cock glistening with oil and flushed almost purple. With the trail of hair on his belly and groin and the breadth of his shoulders he's clearly a man - a young man, yes, but not a boy, though in comparison to the battle-hardened soldiers Derek is used to, his physique seems particularly slim and youthful.

Before he can stop himself, he's crouching down and reaching out to run a calloused hand down the golden flank, reveling in the softness of it, the contrast. The young man moans, twisting his head though he's still blindfolded. His chest is fluttering rapidly with his breath, perhaps in fear.

"Oh please," he begs, voice accented enough to suggest he comes from the plains far, far to the north. "Please."

Derek amends his assessment. His tension is perhaps almost entirely arousal. When Derek doesn't move or speak, the foreigner lets out a frustrated little groan. He doesn't have much maneuverability, hands and feet bound as they are. But he does squirm onto his back, shifting his hips and setting his cock bobbing. He groans and grits his teeth when his length collides with his belly.

"It aches. Please, whoever you are, bring me off this time. I can't take anymore."

Derek's breath catches at the plea. Peter seems to be getting more persistent, dosing the poor young man with vainpetal and leaving him for Derek to find already teased and trapped in a state of desperate arousal. As much as he doesn't want to break his rule of not using slaves to satisfy his sexual urges, he thinks it would be more cruel to leave the young man to suffer. He could just free the boy's hands and let him take care of himself until the herb wore off. But…

The scent of oil and sex is thick and sensual in the air. Hot, slickened flesh pulses just a few inches away from his fingers. Derek feels the breath shuddering out of the young man as he squirms to his side again to try and put his cock into contact with something, even something as ineffective as the furs. It would be so easy just to reach out and touch him, to make the young man's necessary release something they both enjoy. Plus there's the fact that the boy doesn't seem to know who he is. Few in this region are not either familiar with his face or his reputation, but with the blindfold covering his eyes…

He can't help the hand that slides up along the golden creature's thigh. His skin is so soft, so warm with the oils and the heat of his own arousal. He doesn't shrink away in fear, doesn't bravely tolerate the touch of a monster. He begs for Derek's touch.

"Oh yes," the boy murmurs, "Oh. Please."

Derek's thoroughly aware that his trousers are uncomfortably tight, trapped under the leather armor and his sword-belt. He is not known for his patience, or for his indecision. He's certainly not known for his mercy except in this particular self-imposed regard. It only takes a moment for him to decide. He grimaces and stands away, stripping out of his weapons and his armor with quick, efficient and practiced motions. The clatter of objects on the table or chest are punctuated by the soft moans and occasional pleas coming from his furs. The excited thrill of anticipation curls in his abdomen at the forbidden and selfish choice that lays spread before him, literally begging to be taken this time. After a moment's hesitation he strips out of his tunic and trousers as well.

The boy is still rutting awkwardly against the fur, making filthy, needy sounds, throat long and taut and bare. Derek kneels again at the edge of the furs, then reaches out to set a hand to the long leg before him, savoring the smooth feel again.

"Yes, please, yes," is murmured deliriously in response, his muscles tensing while pushing back against Derek's touch.

Derek trails his palm up to the boy's backside, hand going slick with the oils as he kneads the firm curve of him, transfixed by the smooth golden tones in the dim light. The boy sucks in a tight breath as Derek dips his fingers into the cleft between his buttocks, teasing at the sensitive flesh that has plenty of slick oil coating it already. The boy lets out a stuttered moan when Derek presses a thumb into him.

"Oh yes," he moans.

Dosed or not, that's not a sound a virgin makes. Derek takes a slow breath as the last potential barrier to his progress falls away. There's nothing left that keeps him from reaching down to tug his cock free of his loincloth, so he does it. He runs slick fingers over it and then draws himself up the rest of the way into the piled furs, spooning his body tight behind the boy's, cock brushing at the backs of his thighs.

"Yes," the boy murmurs again, "Please."

It's been a long time since he's satisfied himself with someone. Longer since he's satisfied someone else, preferring to keep his very occasional visits to brothels as brief as possible and avoiding the formality of Kahlah's temples.

He slides his hand around to cup the painfully-taut flesh of the slave's erection, getting a filthy, wrecked moan for his troubles. He starts a slow, steady stroke, knowing any more than that would be painful. Vainpetal is rare and expensive, but growing up a wealthy member of the aristocracy and now a hardened soldier, he's seen its effects and other exotic debaucheries before. The young man squirms against him, thighs pressing against Derek's cock, slickened skin making it an easy pleasure no matter the location.

He could satisfy himself quickly like this, pressing the boy's thighs tight and fucking the cleft of them, but he finds that he doesn't want to do that, not yet. He pushes himself upright, sacrificing the delicious contact on his cock for the more intriguing pleasure of watching the heated flesh pushing against his palm. He twists his fingers, leaving the boy gasping and thrusting more desperately despite the awkwardness of his bonds.

It's hypnotizing, watching his tip push through the fingers curled around the head of him. His accent isn't the only foreign thing about him. The foreskin has been shorn short, though the scars are old and barely visible now. Something probably done when he was a child. Derek's heard that the practice existed up north, but he's never held such a one in his hand. In addition to the foreign cut of his cock, there's the glint of gold on his chest. Leaning over him and reaching with his other hand he slides a rough palm over the soft skin at the boy's chest, framing the peak with his fingers before he teases at the gold ring that pierces exotically through his nipple, giving it a tug. The young man keens.

He likes that. Oh he likes that a great deal. Derek lowers his head to his skin, dragging in the scent of sweat and sex and desire. There's a faint spice to his scent that just adds to the exotic impression. Derek lays down again, pressing himself tighter to the boy's back as he redoubles the efforts of his fist. He presses his nose in behind the boy's gold-pierced ear, darting his tongue out to feather against the delicate skin of his neck where it's curved before him.

Dosed as he is, it doesn't take more than a couple more strokes before the boy cries out against the fur, going stiff and spilling himself in thick, hot spurts against Derek's hand. Derek slows to let him catch his breath, touching him gently with soothing little strokes. But as expected, even when they pass the point of a normal comedown, the stranger's cock only eases a little, nowhere near the place it should be after eruption.

"What… why isn't," and for the first time Derek hears something other than lust in the boy's voice. For the first time he hears frustration and fear, perhaps even the edge of angry tears.

Derek sighs and finally breaks his silence. "It appears they dosed you with vainpetal. It won't wear off for a while yet."

"Oh," comes the soft reply, sounding distinctly washed-out.

The young man lays silent for a long moment, still pressed tightly to Derek's body, chest rising and falling rapidly as he struggles to catch his breath and remain calm. Derek grimaces at his selfishness and reaches down to undo the leather strip binding his legs. But as he does, the young man twists his head. The blindfold means that the boy hasn't seen him. It means that Derek doesn't have to see the inevitable fear, or the nervous stares that his scars often evoke. He leaves it, is glad of it.

The boy wets his lips in a gesture that blends nerves with desire. "You haven't…"

"No," Derek admits, all too aware of the pulsing hardness at his groin.

"Are you going to?" the boy asks, surprisingly bold for a slave. As far as he can see his back bears no scars from the whip, though, so perhaps he has only recently been put up for sale. There are some fortunate enough to have grown up in a comfortable and benevolent household or groomed specifically for the purpose which the boy has been bought.

"Do you want me to?" Derek asks, lips brushing against the shell of his ear. The foreigner's breath hitches.

"I think… yes." The nerves are still there, but the lust is clearly back in his voice.

Derek shifts his hips, dragging the head of his cock up that soft oiled skin and positioning himself behind the boy.

"Yes. Definitely yes," he adds, voice a little breathless.

Derek doesn't hesitate or second-guess. It's not in his nature, not anymore. He puts a hard hand on the boy's hip to steady him and then starts pressing forward, slipping himself into the tight ring of oil-slickened muscle.

"Oh please," the man begs, even as Derek pushes too fast, too deep to possibly be comfortable. His bound hands splay awkwardly against Derek's chest, clutching at the ripple of muscle that bunches as Derek drags back out of him. He moans, a long, low sound as Derek slides deep again, burying himself to the hilt.

Derek curls his hand hard over a trim hipbone and pulls him tight, pressing as deep and as close to the beautiful golden warmth of him as he can. Now that he's made the decision to do this, he does it with abandon, giving his impulses free rein. He sets his teeth against the nape of the boy's neck, scrapes his fingers still slick with spilled seed through the narrow trail of hair that edges up from his groin.

He savors the sensation for a long moment, dragging in a breath against the side of his neck. Then he lets his hand relax its hold and sends it sliding over the boy's belly as he strokes steadily out and back into him, starting up a pace that's focused and a little ungentle.

It's not unappreciated. The slave puts his newly-freed legs to good use, tangling one among Derek's and curling the other over Derek's thigh. Then he starts pushing back against him, with a slap of skin on skin to accompany his hum of pleasure as he picks up the pace.

Derek obliges him readily, tightening his grip and matching his rhythm. The stress of the impending cold night and weight of the day are a sort of intangible thing. His senses are full of the heat against him and the slick sound of skin on skin. It's been so long… but it's not enough. With a frustrated noise he turns them, pushing the boy's top thigh forward so that he can push into him with more leverage. He doesn't quite roll him to his belly, a concession for where he must still be almost painfully hard. But it does give him leave to thrust more quickly, more firmly than before, and the change is met with some very encouraging sounds.

He scorns himself for enjoying the way the binding on the young man's wrists twists his arms back, the way the muscles in his back stretch and tense against it. A part of him knows he should rein himself in, but the harder he pushes, the more weight he uses to pin this stranger to the ground, the more wanton his moans become. He even thinks he spots the edge of a grin on the boy's mouth as he twists his face against the furs on a shuddering gasp.

It spurs him on even further, and despite his reservations, the heaviness and apprehension the rest of the day had left him with have fled. Now all he feels is the drive onward. To drive this young man right to the precipice and then watch him fall. He aims a hand down the creased line over his hipbone and strokes a rough palm over his length. He abruptly breaks his rhythm to time his hips to his hands and with two more rough thrusts, the boy tightens around him. It's both rougher and weaker than before, what little breath he has left rushing from him on a silent cry as he shudders through his peak.

Derek gives him no more than a moment's reprieve, still chasing his own release. The boy is almost boneless in his hands as he wraps his arms around his waist, holding him tight and burrowing his face into the curve of his neck as he continues at a punishing pace, letting himself go completely. The soft moans that vibrate against him are echoed in his chest as he pushes on towards his finish. He comes silently but intensely, as always, leaving him gasping for breath against the slave's soft skin.

He lets his weight drag them to one side, though he doesn't disengage just yet, savoring the sensation for a few minutes longer. The boy leans heavily against him, still breathing a little fast, perhaps from their shared exertion, perhaps from the vainpetal not quite having run its course.

Derek slips from him, running soothing hands over his skin before laying back in the furs and covering his face with an arm thrown over his eyes, more than ready to be done with the night. He'll give him a minute or two of rest, to give his body a chance to ease back from where the herb is pushing it.

"How long, how long will it…," the boy gasps when it becomes clear his hardness isn't lessening.

Derek reaches forward to run a hand over the slave's cock to check and finds it still mostly hard.

"Fuck," the boy mumbles, shuddering at the touch.

"Not long," Derek replies. His voice is low and rough from the effort expended. "Faster if you come. There should be no lasting effects."

The boy twists his face into the furs with a pitiful sigh. Derek's exhausted, but he can hardly go to sleep when the boy is panting against the furs next to him, faint mewls of need coming every few breaths. When his hips start slowly rocking against the ground, Derek takes pity on him and strokes his hands up his thighs.

He earns himself a grateful moan when he pulls the slave's hips over so that he can reach the straining erection. Even so thoroughly spent twice already, smeared with sweat and spilled come, his cock is throbbing, swollen and reddened as it struggles to harden the rest of the way. It would be just as cruel to try and rush it as it would be to leave him untended.

Derek toys with him gently then, indulging himself in exploring the strange cut of the foreigner's cock while the fire still moves through his veins. His fingers are sticky with the boy's drying excess, letting him create a mild friction and drag little trembling sparks of sensation from him. It's not often that Derek does this, touches someone else. Partly, that's due to his status, to the fact that if he's paid for some satiation of his needs, it's not necessary to satisfy the professional whose services he has acquired. It's also due, however, to the fact that most people are too frightened or disgusted by the sight of him to enjoy his touch anyway. This boy knows him not, sees him not, and it pleases Derek to watch his unadulterated pleasures. He thinks that perhaps, in the future, any whores' services he purchases will be done with the preemptive inclusion of a blindfold. Assuming he survives the campaign long enough to return to a city at some point.

After a while the boy's cock hardens to full-mast, and his body tenses and presses against Derek more and more frequently, his voice tightening on breathless little hums. He opens for Derek, knee lifting and spreading his backside wider, the slickened smear of oil combined with Derek's release glistening around his opening, inviting him in.

Derek waits till his moans are more desperate before sliding fingers slowly inside of him. Stretching him, gliding into him in search of the extra sensations that will bring the boy release, Derek slides two fingers through the loosened rim, smearing his come back into him. It may have been a long time since he's done this, since he's put aside his own needs for someone else's like this. But he hasn't forgotten how, if the crescendoing broken moans are anything to judge by. He keeps it up until the young man spills himself again with a choked whimper, body limp and completely exhausted.

This time the swell of his cock dissipates much more, finally leaving him some relief. Derek eases the binding on his hands then, but he just murmurs incoherently, too tired to do anything but curl into the furs piled beneath his slim body.

Derek grimaces at himself as he stands away, gazing down at the debauched young man, skin smeared with oil and come and hair dark with sweat, wrists and ankles red from his bindings. This anonymous slave he's wrecked. He tries to keep his mind quiet, to avoid the internal remonstrations he'll inevitably have to face. Regardless, now is not the time. Nor is tomorrow, considering he may not even return from the battle. He cleans himself with sharp motions, then extinguishes the candles and returns to the furs to finally sleep. What he should have done hours ago. Despite the fact that his cock twitches with renewed interest as he slips in against the warm skin, he pushes the idea from his thoughts and surrenders himself to sleep.

He'll need his strength in the morning.




He rises well before the dawn, at the changing of the early watch. He always rises earlier than everyone else on days of war. Of course, he'd like more sleep, but he'd squandered half of his night on other physical pleasures. The remaining couple hours of sleep will have to be enough because he has much to prepare. To him, his status and honors as a prince have always meant that he needs to be the most prepared of all his troops, not the most indulged.

Plus he still has to deal with the boy snoring softly amid his furs. He watches him sleep as he silently dons his clothing and armor. As he belts on his sword, he is momentarily tempted to keep him as he is, naked and beautiful and, most importantly, in his bed. But a wave of self-recrimination overtakes him, reminding him that he has never before slaked his desires with someone he owned. Never taken something he hasn't paid a negotiated fair wage for or been given freely. And he would not.

Last night had been an anomaly. And a mistake.

So he finishes strapping on his sword and ducks out of his tent. Despite the many preparations needed with his soldiers, his first stop is the slave pavilion.

He finds the tent in question and ducks inside, nudging the toe of his boot into the footfolds of the piled blankets on the floor, earning a grumbling curse. When she peeks out from the blankets and sees that it's him above her, Erica quickly fights her way upright in the bedclothes, casting about in the dark for her discarded tunic. Boyd doesn't stir, only grunting when her elbow connects accidentally with his solar plexus.

"Don't bother yourself. It's nothing urgent," he murmurs, and she relaxes. "Just wanted to catch you before I leave."

"Of course," she says, brushing sleep out of her eyes, unselfconscious about her nudity. Six years they've known each other now, and the trust is as strong between them as it is with his two lieutenants.

"Peter's bought me another present."
She grunts in annoyance and shoves her mass of golden hair back, the move causing her bared breasts to bounce sympathetically. As Boyd had once remarked when a cup too deep into the wine, they have a voice all their own. A pair worthy of admiration indeed. Mind still fuzzy from lost sleep, he wonders if she would have felt more at home in the northern plains where women tended not to wear any more clothing than the menfolk. She has the rich blonde hair that speaks to some northern blood in her.

If he lives through the day, perhaps he'll ask her of it.

"They dosed him, too," he remembers to add, forcing himself to focus back on his duties instead of his companions. Feeling nostalgic will only get him distracted and subsequently killed.

"So unnecessary."

Derek nods his agreement with the sentiment. "He's sleeping it off in my tent but please see to him later and put him to work."

She nods sleepily and he rises. He has no need to direct her otherwise, knowing she'll do her duty well. He steps back to leave her to the last hour or so of sleep she'll get.

"Don't die," she calls after him, and he grunts in reply before ducking out of the tent.


The next few hours are spent reviewing plans with his lieutenants, checking on preparations of his troops, and finally making sure his horse Camaro is prepared. The black warhorse has almost as much of a reputation as he does, standing seventeen hands and bearing a coat of perfect unrelieved black. She has a temper to match and will accept no hand save Derek's. He keeps her separate from the other horses, nearer his tent. It serves his purposes as well as those of the other horses and men. Both sorts have members among them who bear the scars left by her teeth and hooves.

So Derek tends to her alone in the pre-dawn haze, cleaning her hooves and brushing down whatever dirt she's been rolling in this time. It also means that it's almost time for them to move out. He traditionally saves this for last, the repetitive grooming motions centering after the tensions of the morning plans. It fails, however, to keep his mind from wandering to certain other repetitive motions he'd engaged in last night. Still, it does keep him from thinking about anything in depth, keeping him focused on making sure it's done correctly. When he finishes buckling on the last bit of studded-leather tack and mounts, the sun is just cresting the horizon. He cuts back through the camp to join his cavalry gathering beyond its bounds.

The slaves' tents and those of the common footsoldiers are ahead of him, people slowly spilling from them and preparing for their days. The slaves will begin by tearing down the tents and loading up the pack animals in preparation for the inevitable movement of the camp after the battle. The infantry prepare breakfast and arm themselves in preparation for the march that will begin sometime after the cavalry has gone.

Erica waves to him in parting, one of the only people who would ever be so bold as to do so. Then again, she manages his pavilion, having the highest rank among his slaves.

She had been the first slave Peter had bought him and left in his bed on their first tandem campaign in the south. A gift, to celebrate his nephew's first real war and show him what he was supposedly missing about the spoils of being a lord even at war. Derek hadn't touched her, of course, though she'd spent the night in his bed, for lack of anywhere else to put her. In the morning she'd prodded him about her fate, nervous that he hadn't done what she'd expected him to do to her. Exasperated with the entire situation and anxious about the mission at hand, he'd told her to make herself useful and not spared her another thought.

When he'd come back, exhausted but successful in his first battle of that campaign, he'd found that she'd set up simple triage stations at the forward edge of his camp, prepared to deal with casualties in efficient tiers rather than at one centralized location. And within hours of his confirmation that they'd be breaking camp, she'd thrown herself into a determined effort to prove her worth and organized the slave tents to prepare to move such that the most important supplies were in even distribution throughout the group, making for the smoothest march he'd experienced yet.

He's never gone to war without her since.

She's been with him the longest and has built a strong rapport that allowed her to keep the fiery side of her spirit despite her long term of indentured servitude. Loyal as they are, none of the others are so bold as to wave at him, most of them pausing to watch him pass, nervous and attentive expressions on otherwise happy faces, and he hardly does more than glance at them, much to their probable relief.

But when he passes Erica he sees the newest of his acquisitions standing just beyond her, gazing up at him with wide eyes. Those eyes, which he hasn't seen till now, are a startling amber, so unlike the blues and greens and deep browns of the people of his lands. Eyes which are now flicking up to meet Derek's, wide with awe.

As he approaches, he realizes he should have looked away long ago but he hasn't, too drawn-in by exotic eyes. He frowns and braces himself against the impending inevitable reaction of fear or disgust in the young man's first sight of Derek's face and the mottled scarring that mars much of one side of it.

It never comes. In fact, the one thing he doesn't expect is what happens; a look of blatant appreciation passes over the man's features.

He wonders whether he knows. Whether he's spoken to the other slaves or Erica and discovered whose tent he'd been in last night. Who exactly it was that had fucked him halfway till dawn and left him blindfolded and trembling his way to sleep. A wistful little voice wonders whether maybe, just once, the young man is looking at him that way yet ignorant of his personage.

But he has other, far more important things to attend to now, so he gives Camaro her head and they ride quickly to take their place amid the gathering soldiers.