The young warrior exited the inn with the haste of a man escaping a burning building. The cold and dark night embraced him willingly. He wore a blanket over his shoulders, wrapped around his neck, in an attempt to shield himself from the cold that the lack of his lost coat condemned him to. Sweat froze at the tips of his short black hair, giving birth to pearls that matched his gray eyes.
Neither the cold air nor the trail’s icy snow seemed to discourage him as he ran toward the woods. Nor did the voices of those who called him back from the inn’s entrance. The cold was not important, even this intense cold at the heart of the Season of The Ice. The voices did not matter, either. They belonged to good people, people to whom the warrior owed his life, but such people were not his brothers. They were not the ones Eregar had abandoned in the middle of the woods.
They called it the Razor-Teeth Woods, because they stood at the feet of the Razor-Teeth Mountains, and also due to the aggressiveness of the region’s wildlife. Eregar did not meet any such creature as he staggered through the bushes and pines until he reached the trail where he and his brothers had stood hours ago.
The footprints of the horsemen were still fresh in the snow. His chest ached from the sudden exertion, and as the warm air poured out of his mouth in the form of white mist, so did the cold make its way inside his chest in larger quantities, giving him tremors. But the warrior ignored the pain and discomfort, and continued his run through the woods. Until he reached the clearing.
There they were – what was left of them. His brothers had been slaughtered while he had escaped. Eregar fell to his knees on the snow, and his shame was the only thing that kept him from crying. Yingmir, Orbus, Luut, and the others, not even one of his brothers had survived. Before him, in those few yards of beaten dirt in the middle of the woods, stood the sight of the greatest slaughter Eregar had seen in his short career as a Squire of the Tower. Here and there lay a leg, an arm, sometimes a severed head. The warrior approached one of the most intact bodies, trying to ascertain its identity, but the wounds made it unrecognizable.
Eregar did not know what kind of creature could have caused this. A while back, it had been shadows and roars and screams that made him lose his mind, run through the forest until he stumbled and lost consciousness. He had not seen the attacker, but he had felt in his heart that it was not a thing of nature.
And now, the young man thought, for the first time, whatever it was, it is nearby. Close to me, and I’m alone.
The warrior drew his sword. He had no target in sight, but the gleam of steel in his hand helped him calm himself. In his other hand, his new shield, shining with the three snowflakes of his order, crossed by a saber – this also made him feel safeguarded. And it was precisely as his heart began to calm down that he heard what seemed to him to be a dry, guttural laugh – behind him!
When he turned, it was already too late to dodge, and the impact on his shield caught his arm against his chest, as he was thrown to the ground.
Over him stood a huge wolf, larger than an ox, with one of its legs pinning his shield arm, and the other pinning his sword arm. Its muzzle hovered directly above Eregar’s face, and the squire could smell the fresh blood in the monster’s breath.
Goddess, he thought, forgive my weakness. So ends my path.
Enjoyed this tale? Consider buying “A Silvery Moon,” my novel set in the same universe.