Daniela finally allowed Ronan to help her into her breastplate just in time before Captain Johnson arrived. Every soldier suddenly stopped talking and stood to attention. Daniela craned to see what her commander looked like, expecting some short fat man with a moustache in uniform. But Captain Johnson wasn’t anything like what she’d expected.
“He’s so young,” she breathed as he walked past.
“Don’t let that fool you,” Stuart warned. “He’s a good friend and an incredibly good person but he knows how to lead a company of soldiers and when he needs to crack the whip.”
“You’ve worked with him before?”
“I haven’t served in a company with him before but I know him very well. We see a lot of each other at court and we share a lot of the same views. I’ll introduce you later if you like.”
Daniela didn’t reply because she was watching the Captain walk across to his horse and mount it. He was tall, very tall, with blonde hair hanging around his ears and his helmet under his arm. He couldn’t have been much older than Daniela. She saw the muscles in his arms flex as he pulled himself up onto his horse, showing his strength.
“Prepare to march,” Captain Johnson shouted across the gathered men.
“Do you need me to give you a hand up?” Ronan asked Daniela, snapping her out of her little bubble.
“No, I’m fine thanks,” she replied, taking Oblivion’s reins in her hand and handing them to Ronan. “Just hold her still while I mount.”
Ronan obliged by taking the reins and moving to stand in front of the horse and hold her bridle. Daniela bounced on the balls of her feet for a few moments before putting one foot in the stirrup and throwing her other leg over Oblivion’s back.
“Nicely done,” Ronan said, giving the reins back to Daniela as she made sure she was seated properly in the saddle.
There were about thirty other horses in the company including the Captain’s horse and from her seat on Oblivion Daniela could see them all. None were as fine as Oblivion, except perhaps the Captain’s horse but that didn’t bother Daniela. No one was going to take her horse away from her.
“Hey you! The boy on the horse.”
Daniela didn’t take any notice of the shouts as the voice grew gradually closer until the man was practically standing underneath her.
“Captain wants all the horses up the front,” he shouted up at Daniela. “Get moving before he gets impatient.”
“But I like it back here,” Daniela protested, not wanting to leave the familiar faces she had begun to trust.
“But the Captain wants you and your horse next to him. Now move.”
“I’ll find you later,” Ronan called after Daniela as she walked Oblivion towards the front of the company.
Over the heads of everyone else, Daniela could see the other riders moving towards the front. But Daniela was the first to arrive at the Captain’s side. Her heart sank as she saw Adan sat astride a black stallion next to Captain Johnson. Adan smirked as he saw Daniela approaching, knowing she was no longer protected by her friends.
“Well look who it is trying to be all grown up,” he observed. “What’s the runt doing on a horse? Surely that’ll just make him an easier target.”
“Watch your tongue, sir,” Captain Johnson warned, his voice surprisingly clear and controlled. “You know I do not approve of that kind of behaviour in my ranks. Other officers may encourage a level of bullying but I certainly do not. Apologize to the boy.”
“That was an order.”
“I apologize for any hurt I may have caused,” Adan said insincerely. “I didn’t mean it.”
“I want you down the other end of the line my lord,” the Captain ordered, knowing full well that if he kept Adan and the boy together there would be no end of trouble. Adan always picked on one person smaller than him and this was clearly his newest victim. He had heard that there was a small boy who had dared to talk back to Lord Adan earlier and this must be him. If Captain Garrett kept the boy where he could see him, he would be able to limit the damage. He couldn’t afford to have a divide in the ranks.
Adan nodded towards Garrett before swinging his stallion around and galloping off down the line.
“I want you to behind me,” Garrett ordered Daniela. She hastily obeyed, falling behind the Captain and keeping her head down. She had already drawn too much attention to herself by talking back to Adan; she couldn’t afford to allow anyone else to notice her.
“Well done for standing up to Adan, boy,” Garrett said, surprising Daniela. “It takes a lot of courage to stand up to a man like that.”
“Thank you sir,” she replied, dazed.
“What’s your name boy?” He asked, turning to look at Daniela.
“Danny sir. Danny Gilbert.”
“Then welcome Danny Gilbert.”
“And thank you, sir, for standing up for me just then. It seems everything I’ve heard about you is true.”
“What have you heard?”
“That you are a good man and fair.”
“And where did you hear that may I ask?”
The Captain chuckled and grin lighting up his sharply defined features. “I thought it would he him. You’ll do a lot worse than to make friends with Stuart Maxwell. He’s helped me out on a number of occasions and I’m sure he’d do the same for you.”
“He already has sir.”
“Then make sure you stay on his good side. He’s a valuable ally to have.”
“I will, sir,” Daniela replied, feeling an involuntary smile spread across her face.
“We’re ready to march Captain,” an officer on a horse called as he galloped along the front of the line.
“Very good Lieutenant. Give the order to march.”