For centuries in villages of the valley, the tradition was that a child became an adult in their seventeenth Winter Solstice year. His birthday had landed on the exact date of the winter Solstice that year, making his passage even more special.
The majority of the region’s population was well past working in the fields or doing manual labor, leaving most of the work to the few still able-bodied citizens. The Winter Solstice ceremony brought more of the population old enough to do the adult work.
The ceremony was grand and lasted well into the night. The children of the surrounding villages had gathered together with their families to honor their passing into adulthood. Finnian had attended many ceremonies in the past, but this was different. There seems to be a sense of urgency about the whole thing.
While never saying anything, the elders seemed eager to end the ceremony quicker than in the past. Many had reached their seventeenth-year milestones, more so than in the past, and the abrupt ceremony was a surprise.
The following morning, the elders informed the newly “ recognized” adults what the hurry was the day before.
“Finnian, you have proved yourself to be an able leader, dependable, and our best hunter. That is not to say that any of the others are less able or dependable but, there must be a new leader. The council had decided that you are to lead this group into battle tomorrow morning.”
The small group stood in stunned silence. The elder continued. “There have been no new adults in several years. The elders and the council have been preparing you for this day. We are aging and need young, hearty men to fight.” He paused. “What the village doesn’t know is that we have been under threat of attack for a long time. Tomorrow, you must defend the village and our way of life.” The elder paused to let them think for several minutes.
Finnian spoke up first. “What or who are we fighting?”
Before the elder could answer, the sky darkened, and the light shining through the windows dimmed to as though twilight had fallen. The elders exchanged glances, and the chief elder pointed out the window. “Them.”
Finnian and the others turned to look out the window. Outside on the edge of town was an army of soldiers on horseback, led by the legendary General Akitia, a warlord from a distant empire. The young men had not thought to be a threat to this region. Finnian now realized the talk of the village’s resources and their value he had heard over the years was real.
He turned to his peers, and Finnian realized the years of sword fighting, hunting, and tracking they endured was for a reason. He took a breath and addressed his men.
“We have an enemy to fight, and we are ready.”