Asherah rode her black pony through the valley as the snowfall grew heavier. The clouds hung low, blotting out almost all the dim light of what was called day here in the very north of the world. She knew there were other lands, warmer lands where there was bright sun and no snow lay upon the earth. It had never been given to her to see those places, and it never would be. Asherah was one of the Karkahd, the people who dwelled here in the dark. They were charged to always guard the sacred land where their kings lay buried.
She kept her fur drawn up over her mouth and squinted into the snow. This was the last part of her regular route, and she would not give it up because of a little storm. Her horse knew the way, and she was warm enough. In her left hand she bore one of the torches of eternal fire – a cast iron and brass handle that was set with a shard of the burning star that burned and never faded. It lit her way and gave heat even in this cold place.
Hers was the most remote path, the road that led north out of the lands inhabited by men and into the forbidden lands. Her way took her to the very gates of the burial grounds, over the pass and to where, on a clear day, she could look upon the stone pillars that marked the border than no man might step across.
She thought of her way home. Soon she would return to the keep and find warmth and food and her companions. Her mind was occupied with her thoughts, and then she found the trail. There, through the drifted snow, lay a wide path, a trail left by many horses along the pass, and then it turned north to where no one was permitted to go.
Her heart began to beat faster, and she drew rein, looked around her and saw no other sign, no light and no motion. She drew her saber and swung down from her horse, pushed through the snow to get a closer look at the trail. She thrust the pointed tip of her torch into the ground and bent to examine the tracks. The snow was marked by the tread of shod horses, and she saw the marks of sled runners. They were in narrow file, so it was difficult to say how many, but she guessed at least a dozen horses, perhaps more.