Autumn’s grief was not long, and the cold came down early from the north, bringing the ice that gathered between the islands and ground like stones trapped between the hard shores. The night skies came alive with the northern fire, and the wind bit through fur cloak and leather jerkin. The winter would come early, and hungry, in this year of battles.
Vane made his way up the stony hillside to where the cave crouched like a yawning maw, as though he could go in and be devoured by the powers that lay enchained beneath the earth. The headland was heavy with grass just browning in the cold, and the winds whipped at him across the sea. When he looked northward he saw the trails of ice flowing down from the north, the clear water between it narrower every day. This would be a hard winter, and his task would be made simpler.
He was a sea-watcher, charged by King Arnan to watch the coasts, and when the summer season of trade and warfare died, he might put away his guardianship. When the straits and narrows lay locked in ice, there was nothing to watch for, and he would shut himself away within his earthen fort and wait for the thaw. He had one slender ship and twenty men to row her, if need be. He did not need much else.
But now Kamlath sent word to him, and he had sought a reason to ignore her, but a seer-woman could not be lightly disregarded. Even if she was no bane-witch, still he did not trust her powers. He was a man of steel and leather and wood, and he did not wish any contact with the great powers that flowed unseen through the world.
Yet his dreams had been dark. All summer he had watched for an invasion, for a counter-blow to come from the usurper Hror after the bloody invasion of his land. He watched for ships upon the dark sea, and waited, and nothing came. And now, as the year ended, he woke from twisting dreams, seeing iron ships upon a bloody sea, feeling them close.