“Twelve stars dance through the sky. Each one shining bright and following its own path. Occasionally the stars will meet one another and their light wil shine ten-fold. And for a time, this is the way of things. Then, a shadow rises, hidden in the depths of time and space. One by one, the stars flicker and vanish. Where they once shown, the void is filled with the shadow. The consuming darkness does not cease until the universe is rewritten in its image”
Svell scowled and turned to his wife, the firelight from the hearth accentuating his already gaunt features.
“Is that it?” he asked gruffly.
Sana lowered the strip of bark she had been reading from and shrugged.
“That’s all there is,” she replied.
Svell grunted. “Utter nonsense,” he muttered. “Twelve stars? A hidden shadow? That witch has no idea what she’s talking about.”
“That ‘witch’, as you so call her,” said Sana, clearly irritated, “is the only one who saw this unnatural winter coming in the first place. It’s her we have to thank that we’ve survived this long.”
Svell sighed and nodded. “And if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have listened to her in the first place. But still, what does this so-called prophecy mean? How does it pertain to us?”
Sana began rolling up the strip of bark. “I’m not sure yet. But it sounded like anything and everything may be affected by this… event.”
There was a soft knock on the door before it opened and the face of a guardsman peered in.
“My lord?” the guard asked.
“Yes, what is it?” Svell answered gruffly.
“There is a Liliana Thiorlan here to speak with you, my lord.”
Sven nodded. “Let her in.”
In stepped a lithe blond woman. Sven immediately recognized her as the weaver woman. He’d seen her around town, often with a perpetual carefree smile on her face.
Liliana nodded at Sven. “My lord.”
Sven nodded back. Sana merely narrowed her eyes.
“Hello, Liliana,” she said coldly.
Liliana’s smile only broadened and she nodded toward Sana. “My lady,” she replied.
“I bring news, my lord,” she continued, her smile fading. “The people in town are… concerned.”
“We all are,” Svell grumbled. “This winter affects all of us.”
“Yes, but it’s more than that,” said Liliana. “Siegard said he saw Jorgan walking by the coast.”
“He is mistaken,” said Svell. “Jorgan died on a hunt two weeks ago, and his body burned on a pyre.”
Liliana looked very nervous suddenly.
“Liliana,” said Svell slowly. “Jorgan’s body was burned on a pyre. Was he not?”
“It’s just,” Liliana stuttered. “The winter had gone on so long, and we were running low on firewood to heat our homes. You were still on the hunts and couldn’t attend the funeral, so they decided to bury his body until the winter ended.”
Svell sat down angrily. “My own people hiding things from me.”
“And,” Liliana continued, “when the grave site was checked… there was nothing but disturbed earth.”
Sana put a hand on her husbands shoulder in an attempt to calm him.
After a moment, Svell spoke. “Who organized this?”
“Olaf Stormbreak organized the burials.”
Svell rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Of course! I should have know- Wait! Did you say burials? How many?”
Liliana figited nervously before answering. “Twently-two at least.”
Svell was fuming. “And you did not think to tell me sooner?!”
“Svell!” said Sana, placing both her hands firmly on her husbands shoulders. As much as she didn’t like Liliana, she didn’t want to see her take the full wrath of her husband. “Svell,” she said again, more calmly. “She was probably being pressured by Olaf and his men to keep quiet.”
“Olaf…” Svell grumbled. “He’s turned my own people against my. He wants my position for himself! Well, he can’t have it! I’d die first!”
Suddenly, the door burst open. There was a guard, different from the first. He was breathing hard and leaning heavily against the door frame.
“My lord,” he said, once he’d caught his breath.
“What is it? What’s the matter?” Svell shot up and was at the guard’s side. “Are we under attack?”
“No,” said the guard, shaking his head. “I do not think so. There was a loud noise, like we’d never heard before. When we went to see what had happened… there were people. Strange people. They were lying on the ground, the ice and snow had melted around them, and the ground was charred, as if by a fire. However, the people aren’t burned, but they were unconscious.”
Svell frowned and furrowed his brow. “You said they were strange. How were they strange?”
The guard shook his head. “Their clothing is like nothing I’ve seen before, and not nerely suitable to survive the winter. The woman’s especially. She wears very little, and has the strangest things …”
Svell nodded. “I see. Where are they now?”
“The others are taking the strangers to the medicine tent. There were three strangers, two men and a woman .”
Sana nodded. “I must be going then. If they need medical attention I’ll see what I can provide. Though with all the people already needing it…”
She quickly donned her winter gear and rushed out the door. She called out behind herself, “I’ll be back soon, love!”
Liliana nodded. “I should be going, too. If Olaf saw I was here…” Liliana didn’t finish her thought as she hurried out the door.
Svell grabbed his cloak that was warming by the fire. He turned to the guard, still catching his breath. “Take me to where they were found. I want to see what else we can find there.”
As he turned to leave, his eyes caught side of the rolled-up bark strip containing the nonsense prophecy. The hairs on the back of his neck tingled and he felt uneasy. Maybe he’d have to consult with the witch later. In a time of desperation and confusion, of revolt and deception, maybe the mad ones had the answers.
Svell quickly put out the fire and left with the guard, leaving the room quiet and empty, the cold slowly creeping in.
The Shadow made its first move.