The King of Winter trudged through the deepening snow. It was cold, very cold. There had been no food for him in two days. The soldiers of the brotherhood had gone without for much longer. He had no words for the feeling of loss, exhaustion and grief that nearly consumed him.
From the heights, he could see ahead to the north. The foothills of the mountains diminished, blending slowly into the vast forest of the world’s edge. He felt in his bones the cold that waited there.
His guard were worn, as tired as he was. Their long beards were caked with frost and ice, each one wrapped in cloaks and blankets enough to hide their gaunt forms. Privation and grief had wasted them away; though still strength remained, and endurance.
Juru, his royal cousin and king before him, had sacrificed himself and his gens to provide this path he walked. He would sacrifice himself and everyone with him to give even a few hours more for the city that marched a day ahead. The city was all the invaders had left him, though he feared he would never see it.
When kingdom after kingdom fell before the invaders it was clear that Gaure Bar, the Kingdom of the Crescent Moons, would fall in turn. The council in hiding had formed and orchestrated the evacuation. Fifty thousand had been chosen, and the rest doomed to spend their lives so that one in a dozen might live. Might. A season ago, the Winter King had stood at the head of two dozen regiments of soldiers, well-trained and well-equipped; and another ten dozen regiments of the spear levy. This morning he had counted seventeen of the brotherhood left breathing.
The fifty thousand might make it to the fastness carved from the cold wastes. Heat from hot springs could provide life; and the isolation would protect it from the invaders, perhaps long enough to rebuild.
He laid a hand on his sword. Mai Soior had drunk deep, and long. The invaders had paid in blood for the lands they raped. But not enough, and so have we. Mikolas looked up to the sky and saw the crossing moons that were the sigil of his house and his people.
The dawn lights illumined the road ahead, partially obscuring the faces of the moons and casting wavering shadows limned with red and green behind them. Lightning in the lower heavens carved many-branched rivers of fire before fading to nothing. Many moments later, a soft rumble of thunder reached their ears. The storms were worse to the north; snow and fire were brothers there.
How much longer? He sensed a watching. They were close, then. He drew his sword. His family had wielded this sword in the service of Gaure Bar for thirteen generations. Since Ander Gan forged the steel and gave it a soul we have held it. Ander the smith was our greatest swordsmith and Mai Soior was the greatest of his works. Thirteen generations of care and blood had made the steel strong, one of the seven legendary blades. Three were lost, three were broken. Only one remains.
My son will never touch it. The horns sounded behind.