Winter

The rich, ripe corn spilled out of its austere sheaves, the bright yellow cobs brushing gently along the shoulders of all who trod the narrow cart-road. They stretched away to the Eyrlyndyne in a myriad waving, whispering rows, simmering green and glorious gold. Scare-crows leered in vain. Upon their straw-heads, their stick-arms, their stump-legs – nay, even in the malignant eye-sockets and the crooked mouth the indomitable chirpers fluttered, pecking complacently at the spoils of their latest foray. At every thud and rustle they rose cackling and squawking and shrilling their outrage …It was lilting and swaying and rippling in the sun, like harps and bird-song and river-music, wrapt in one long sea of love and light.

Slowly, reluctantly, the crimson sun sank behind the snow clad peaks, darkening the world. Night stripped its fire, layer after layer, from the snow-hardened peaks of the mountains, from the mellower slopes coaxed into terraces, from the roaring river. Ripple by ripple, they faded, leaving their voices behind to haunt the new world beneath the velvet-mantled sky. The rhythmic whisper of the trees persisted, and the clamour of the water as it dashed itself again and again on stubborn rock. Diamonds scattered upon the black cloak of the night, the stars began to sparkle boldly, lighting the last of the flocking birds home.

High, beyond the ken of the Kani, the skies of the Ves ni Talori began to fret and rumble. Too long had they smiled upon the eager mountains straining every nerve to mingle with them, the lush valleys sparkling and radiant, the raucous river – they were astir now, and wrathful. Virgin snow effaced rock and tree, cave and shelter, erased brown and green and grey, leaving behind an unsmudged mantle of white. The Valuné found its pettish plaints choked under the onslaught, found its leaping and bounding waters stunned to still hard ice. The skies thundered and roared, launching their fury upon the cowering world.

To Caledorne, safe upon its broad-bosomed, chuckling Eyrlyndyne, the few gusts that seeped past its twice-curtained fortress of hills brought the veriest chill, the first hint of sky-sheathing cloud. Moonlight danced in and out of the wind-ruffled trees, beckoning and alluring, turning the placid gardens and fluttering cornfields into a forest of mystery where shadows and half-shadows chased each other in a sinuous, serpentine dance.

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