When Jute and the Hawk returned to Hearne…

The cut portion below deals with what happened when Jute and the Hawk returned to Hearne toward the end of the trilogy. However, this piece was cut from the story long ago. Since its removal, I changed the plot quite a bit in this part of the trilogy. In fact, this area was changed so much that this portion, mostly dealing with finding the men of Harlech, bears no resemblance at all to how Jute and the Hawk actually did find them in the published version. Still, it’s interesting enough to see an alternative option. I find the thought of sending the ghost of on his own of particular interest. I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that, as the ghost (of all characters) is the least trustworthy. It’s not that he’s a bad fellow. He isn’t, but he’s easily diverted and, as you know, his memory is unreliable.

They flew out of the sky with the rain lashing down and the sky lowering and lowering until it seemed like the clouds were resting on the tallest towers of Hearne. The smell of iron was in the air and the wind felt as cold as ice. The gates of the city were closed. Torches burned on top of the wall. The firelight gleamed on spears and the wet stonework.

They landed on top of the tower of the guard. The sentry did not see them at first, as he was gazing out into the darkness and the night, leaning on his spear and miserable in the rain. But then he turned, just as Jute set his hand to the trapdoor. The sentry jumped, stumbling back and clutching his spear to him. His mouth fell open. He stared at the hawk perched on Jute’s shoulder.

“Er,” he managed.

“I think the word you’re looking for is halt,” said the ghost.

“Um,” said the sentry.

“Halt,” said the ghost encouragingly.

“Stop it,” said Jute, trying not to smile. And then the trapdoor closed over their heads and they stood on the landing with the stone stairs curving away, down into the tower. Torchlight relieved the shadows, much more so than the solitary window situated half way down the stairs. Rain and darkness streaked its glass.

“Well,” he said, “shall we? I suppose we should find Owain Gawinn first.”

“First,” said the hawk. “And then I’ve no doubt we shall have many other things to do.”

It was quiet at first. The only sounds were the whisper of Jute’s boots as he walked down the steps and the occasional quick rustle as the hawk flicked water off his feathers and settled his wings.

“Halt,” mumbled the ghost, chuckling a bit. “Did you see his face? Halt! Hehe! I thought he was going to faint. Keel over on the spot. Pity that he didn’t. Would’ve been well worth watching.”

At the bottom of the stairs was a wooden door. A heavy oak affair banded with iron straps. It swung slowly and heavily, hinges creaking in protest. They heard a confusion of sound that sorted itself out into the clatter of armor and weaponry being sorted or adjusted or hauled from one place to another, heavy bootfalls and anxious voices. Jute rounded a corner into a blaze of light. Faces turned toward him, faces that were blank and astonished, and then lit with recognition. A young officer hurried toward him and bowed.

“My lord,” he said, bowing again. “We had hope of your return.”

Jute moved past him, looking for a familiar face. They were soldiers, all of them, and older, more hard-bitten looking lot than the typical young guardsman seen on the street or standing duty at the city gate.

“My lord Jute.”

He turned. It was the duke of Thule. Galaestan. The weather-beaten old man inclined his head, not exactly in a bow, but certainly in respect and something else. Concern, almost a fatherly concern. It was there for a moment behind his eyes and then was gone.

“Your timing, my lord, is better’n my sheepdog at supper.”

“Just Jute, please. But I’m too late for supper this day. No rabbits roasting on the fire anymore.”

“No,” said the duke, smiling a bit, “maybe another day. A more pleasant day. But you’re right on time for our little party.”

“What’s that?” said the hawk. “And where is Owain Gawinn?”

There was a momentary silence in the room. The clink of armor and weaponry being assembled and laced up ceased. Eyes turned toward the duke of Thule.

“Well,” said Galaestan. He rubbed at the stubble on his chin and sighed. “I reckon he ain’t doing so good. He commanded at the Gap yesterday and his lines got overrun. Oh, they put up a fight, they did, but putting up a fight ain’t always enough.”

“What do you mean?” said the hawk, his claws gripping tensely on Jute’s shoulder. “Is he still able to command? Is he here?”

“Laid up in bed. Mostly in an’ out, if you know what I mean. Don’t really recognize most people other’n his wife. But there’re some good folk here. Maernes from Hull, Callas just rode in earlier from Dolan with his men, that young whippersnapper Lartes from Vo – he’s got a good head on his shoulders, an’ Gawinn’s trained up a solid lot of youngsters in his Guard officers here.”

“Excellent men, all, I’m sure,” said the hawk, “but this city needs Owain Gawinn to command its defenses. He is the city, even more so than its regents or its lords. But, pray tell me, is not the duke of Harlech here? In all of Tormay there is no wiser in the matters of war. If Gawinn must mend on his sickbed, then Harlech must command.”

“I was, er, about to come to that,” said the duke of Thule. He hefted the spear in his hand. “We’re heading out to find Harlech. He and his boys were the last to retreat from the Gap, so we’re told. A farmer made it through the valley on his old nag, just stumbled through the gate not ten minutes ago, an’ said he saw ‘em up on the north slope. Looked like they’d lost their horses, on foot, retreating before the first line of enemy skirmishers. We could sorely use your help, master hawk, you and Jute.”

The hawk stared at the duke blankly, not answering. His beak clicked, iron on iron, but he still did not speak. The room was still silent around them, every soldier and officer standing in painful expectation.

Bleak news, said the hawk in Jute’s mind. We need them both. They are strong and wise as oaks, those two. Men will stand beside them, even though the Dark comes falling like the tide. If I could but whisper a word at Gawinn’s bedside, I do not doubt he would be healed, but we must hasten at once to Harlech’s aid.

What about the ghost? Jute turned his head to look at the hawk. Could he not speak your word for you?

Of course! Well thought, youngling!

“We will go with you!” said the hawk. “Come, let us waste no further time! Quickly!”

Immediately, the room sprang back into action. Weapons and armor were checked, one last time. There was a tension in the air, a brittle, tight quiver that seemed to resonate in the flickering flames of the torches on the walls. The men did not talk, other than quick, muttered discussions of gear and straps and the quality of this axe versus another. A door swung open and let in the cold night air. Jute could hear horses stamping and nickering somewhere close by outside. The hawk fluttered to one side and perched on an empty spear rack. The ghost drifted over to him.

“I want you to do something for me,” said the hawk.

“Of course!” said the ghost. It grinned and rubbed its hands together. “Delighted! Anything! I’m here to help!”

“Go to the house of Owain Gawinn. I’ll have one of the young Guardsmen bring you there. Once there, go to him and –”

“Wait just one second!” said the ghost, looking decidedly less cheerful now. “You’re asking me to leave? You and Jute are gallivanting off to who know’s where and you’re asking me to go? You can’t do that! I can’t do that! I’m not supposed to leave him!”

“Says who?” said the hawk, trying to keep his temper.

“It’s the rule,” insisted the ghost. “He spoke to me, so I have to stay close to him. It’s an old, old rule.”

“No it isn’t. You’re just saying that. You probably don’t even remember if there is a rule. I daresay all you ghosts just made it up.”

“We did not!” The ghost looked as if it were about to burst into tears.

“Keep your voices down!” hissed Jute. Soldiers nearby were stopping what they were doing to stare at the peculiar trio of hawk, ghost and boy.

“Alright, alright,” said the hawk hastily. “Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. What’s important now is that I need your help. Do you understand, ghost? Jute and I aren’t running out on you. We need your help!”

“You do?”

“Yes!”

“Oh, very well,” mumbled the ghost. “What do I have to do?”

They left then, in a clatter of hooves echoing back from the stone walls around them, the troop of horse riding out through the gate and into the night. The guards at the gate saluted them as they rode past. The gate swung shut behind them and they were alone in the night. There were, perhaps, no more than a hundred soldiers in the troop, a grim looking lot comprised of men from Thule, Hull and Vo, as well as a small contingent of Guardsmen. They were led by Galaestan, the duke of Thule, though he seemed to defer in many matters to a short, wizened old Guardsman who rode by his side.

The moon floated high in the sky, lighting their way through the rent clouds with a pale, gloomy light. Mud flew up from the horses’ hooves as they trotted along. The soldiers were silent as they rode, but the river rushed and sang in the darkness of the valley floor.

Jute nudged his horse up closer to Galaestan.

“Is there a plan, my lord?” he said.

“Don’t call me that,” said the duke. “You’re just a boy, right enough, but you’re much more ‘n that.”

“Bleedin’ anbeorun himself,” said the little man riding alongside the duke. He grinned at Jute. “We’re ridin’ right into the legends. Can’t say it enough, but I’m right glad to see you. My name’s Hoon.”

“The plan is,” said the duke grimly, “to find Harlech, or at least what’s left of them, and help them get back to the city. Hoon, here, is the best tracker in Tormay, so he says –”

“Besides Declan Farrow,” said Hoon. “I’m best the best besides him. I’m a humble man, an’ I ain’t one to take credit where it ain’t due.”

“– and he’ll lead us straight to ‘em. Won’t you?”

“Of course, guvnor. Of course.”

They rode down the valley, the horses’ hooves heavy with mud and their shoulders hunched under a freezing rain that spat and blew in the wind. There was ice in the air, ice invisible and treacherous on the ground in black stretches, ice frozen on the horses’ reins and in their manes. The moonlight was not particularly bright. On any other night it would have been regarded as a paltry, miserable light, not even strong enough to lay a glimmer on the river or a sheen in the eye of an owl. The moon hid behind clouds, darting from bank to bank as if it no longer wished to shine, but it satisfied Hoon.

“Keep us hidden, mostly. Still enough to keep us from breakin’ our necks.”

But the troop rode slower and slower, the further they progressed east through the valley. The wind was in their faces and, at times, some thought they heard a muttering and a whispering in the wind’s passage. The further they went, the louder the whispering grew. There was no reason to the sound, no distinctness, no words that could be identified in it, not even a hint of language, no matter how foreign. There was a sound of metal in it, of metal and fire and a thousand heartbeats jumbled together in a madness of rhthym galloping and hammering and tip-tapping in dreadful, dark concert. The horses faltered in their strides. Their ears flicked up, twitching and swiveling. The soldiers trembled in their saddles. They did not understand the sound, but they heard it well enough. Each one interpreted it as his own thoughts saw fit. One saw a cold hearth in an empty home, another a dead child, a blasted and fruitless harvest of withered life.

The wind chuckled in its madness. The whisper strengthened. There were words now. Almost. Jute could hear them, and perhaps the hawk, but no one else could listen as they could.

Moon stare with a dead man’s eye

Winter cold to freeze the sky

While shadows reach and shadows creep

From stoney keep and mountains steep.

The wind paused, giggling to itself, but there was desperation in the sound, as if it could not help what it did, as if it were held captive, broken to some hideous will.

Aye, said the hawk in Jute’s mind. The dream of the Dark itself is abroad this night. The wind cannot bear up under such a weight. Be careful how thou dost listen, for thy strength is not grown and equal to such a task.

I will be careful, thought Jute grimly. But can we not do anything? Poor, poor wind!

We can find the men of Harlech.

“By the sleeping god!” cursed Galaestan. “What in stone’s name is that sound?”

“Something very old,” called the hawk, swooping down near through the air. “Something full of dreadful hate for men. A thing that hates the men of Harlech even more.”

A mist rose out of the dark night. It rose suddenly, almost as if out of nowhere. Curling up from the river’s sullen, swollen flow. The mist thickened and blew along on the wind’s breath, weaving itself into suggestions of strange forms that gained legs and strode across the frozen fields toward them. Fantastic creatures, the forms of men without heads or arms or perhaps with three legs instead of two, crawling spiders and scurrying crabs – all of grey, damp mist melting and collapsing into the broader wall of fog that rolled along behind them under the blast of the wind, and then suddenly springing fresh in definition from the indistinct vapors.

Horses screamed and thrashed, plunging and rearing while their riders shouted in terror. The horse under Jute spun and then bucked. He could not hold on. He suddenly found himself weightless, flying through the air with his heels over his head. The wind caught him, set him down gently. Galaestan swore and sawed at his reins. His horse’s eyes shone white. Foam dripped from his jaws. All around them, soldiers went sprawling into the mud, the muck and the snow. Riderless steeds galloped off into the dark. Galloping anywhere, anywhere that would take them away from the moaning in the wind and the fog peopled with its horrible apparitions. The fog surged closer. The wind blew through it, swirling the vapors into a madly whirling dance.

Jute scrambled to his feet and looked around him. He wiped frozen mud from his face. There was no one else in sight. The fog blew by him in wisps and tatters. He thought he could hear the pounding of horses’ hooves, but the sound rapidly diminished away and was lost in the moaning of the wind.

“Hello?” he called. “Is anyone there?”

The hawk suddenly appeared out of the darkness and landed on his shoulder.

“No – no one’s there,” he said crossly. “The last I saw of Galaestan was his horse galloping madly away, with the duke holding on for dear life.”

Jute sighed, and then nodded. “Very well. I suppose we’ll have to find Harlech on our own. Just the two of us? Is that how it will always be? I hope they’re still alright. I could do with a mug of hot ale right now.”

“Or even a bite of toasted rabbit,” said the hawk in a melancholy voice.

“What? Getting soft on me?”

“Nonsense,” said the hawk. “Let’s fly.”

And the hawk launched off his shoulder. Jute followed him into the air. At least, he tried to. Something was wrong. The air felt sluggish, ponderous, heavy. The wind slipped through his fingers. He could not grasp it. He stumbled, legs and arms windmilling, as he tried to climb up into the air, tried to climb like he was running up a staircase. With every foot he gained, he seemed to slide back an almost equal height. The fog flowed around him, damp and cold on his skin.

What are you doing?! The hawk’s voice snapped into his mind.

I’m trying to fly! Something’s wrong!

Stop concentrating! Just… 

The hawk abruptly went silent. Jute realized he was panting out loud, gasping, as he tried to claw his way up into the air.

Get out of there! Fly! Fly! The hawk’s voice screamed through his mind.

Jute turned. Looked over his shoulder. The air was suddenly much colder than it had been. For a split second he saw nothing except the blowing mist. But then something loomed in the mist. Grew closer and gained form. A galloping horse, blacker than a starless night. Its eyes shone red in the gloom. Steam billowed from the horse’s jaws. On its back rode a figure completely encased in black armor. And though the night was dark, and the coat of the horse was black, and the armor was black, the eye-slit in that helm was even blacker still.

Mud and ice flew from the horse’s hooves. The ground shook beneath it. The horse’s jaws gaped, reaching for Jute. The rider sat its saddle like a rock, immovable, the helm staring at him. But the horse’s jaws snapped and tore at the air. Ice cracked in its mane.

Jute scrabbled at the wind, gasping. He was falling. He was sure to fall to the earth. Within reach of those terrible jaws. Torn apart. The rider finally moving. A gauntleted fist taking hold of him. Crushing him. Bringing him before the eye-slit in that black helm. Like a dead window in a black tower. Like the silent and staring windows in the walls of Daghoron he had seen in his dreams.

And with both, those dead windows and the helm’s dark eye-slit, he knew something watched him. Knew him.

He mounted up into the wind like a child scrambling up a many-branched tree. Finding sanctuary in the air, up in the darkness. Higher and higher. Up into the night sky. Lifting his face to the stinging touch of the falling snow.

The horse screamed in fury far below him. Once. A horrible, shrill sound. But the rider was silent. And though he was now far above them in the sky, he could feel the tremors of the ground shaking under the furious speed of the horse’s gallop. It knew where he was. Could smell him. And it raced along far below him, hidden in the mist and the darkness, but as surely tethered to him as his own shadow.

It’s tracking us! How can this be so? Do we leave a trail through the air?

Nothing can track the wind, said the hawk grimly. The thing simply senses your fear. We must fly faster and leave it with nothing but the cold of the night. It cannot fly. Come away.

They hurried through the night sky, hawk and boy, winging their way through the snow and cold. The valley lay below them unseen, but Jute could sense it somehow, the shape and lie of the land. It rose and fell beneath them in slopes and fields of dirty snow, or ice cracked and bobbing on the coursing river cutting through the heart of the valley.

What was that thing? Jute asked. He looked about, trying to see the hawk in the darkness and the falling snow. He saw him, after a moment, black wings outstretched and even blacker than the night.

I am not certain, said the the hawk in his mind. The bird spoke slowly, as if he were examining each word. There was something strangely familiar about the horseman. My memory will not give up what it knows, yet, I am sure I have known him before. Something is hidden here, but I am not so eager to discover what it is. Even though the true Darkness sleeps still, I think it is nearly awake in that rider.

Well, said Jute, I’m sure the rider is quite terrible, but I’d be happy enough to stay clear of his horse! Did you see the teeth on that thing? I’m sure it would’ve bitten my leg right off!

Hisst! Do you hear that?

At first, Jute heard nothing except for the wind. The moaning, howling, muttering wind rushing along with them through the sky. The wind. Surely a friend, the best of friends, but fretful now, cunning and deliberately forgetful of old ties in the dischordant music of its sound. Almost apologetic.

And then Jute heard it. The rumbling tramp of an army on foot. It was a slow, steady murmuring sort of sound, easily lost in the louder voice of the wind. The sound came up from far below. It drifted up through the falling snow. An army. Marching in the dead of night. Marching toward Hearne. There were no voices that he could hear. It was simply the stamp of feet. Thousands upon thousands. Even more, countless, a vast multitude.

There, whispered the hawk inside his mind. There. Higher up on the slopes of the valley, just to the north. In a stand of pines growing among the rocks.

They dove down from the sky. The snow was falling down around them so quickly that it seemed almost motionless. Each snowflake spinning in slow motion. Turning end over end. Each snowflake perfect, distinct and different. White lace as fine as cobwebs, yet certainly whirling down from the sky as fast as they were! Jute looked on in amazement and delight. He reached out a hand and caught a snowflake. The flake rested on his palm like a flower, a spray of white crystal intricately woven in countless angles and ridges and tiny planes. A whole world in his hand. And then the snowflake drifted free from his palm and continued its fall beside him. Diving down through the night.

The stand of pines rose up suddenly out of the darkness below. Branches heavy with snow bent under the wind. Jute slowed in his descent, loosening his grip on the wind, shielding his face from the branches and snow and pine needles that brushed against his face. It was a dark night as it was, but it was even darker still beneath the canopy of the trees. The hawk landed on his shoulder. Jute stood and listened. He could hear nothing except the moaning of the wind in the treetops. But there was something there. Something watchful. He could see nothing except the indistinct black columns of tree trunks blending into the night.

“Hello?” he said softly.

He stepped forward. Pine needles crunched under his boots. Something whispered in the trees. Moonlight shone on a sword blade.

“Master wind,” said the duke of Harlech.

The shadows moved around them in the darkness. The men of Harlech. A few solitary horses stood among them, but only enough to mount one in a dozen men.

“We were cut off,” said the duke. His face was lined with weariness. “They overran our lines. Our horses picketed below the heights. We fought our way clear, slowed them to give young Lartes time enough to bring off the men left standing. Thankfully, the night came.” He smiled a bit. “We can use the shadows as well as them. But their army is between us and Hearne now, though they know it not. Not yet, at least.”

“The Scarpe,” said the hawk. “Let us simply climb up the valley’s side. Once we’re on the plain, we can head back west toward Hearne.”

“A good idea, old wing,” said the duke, “and one that we determined to pursue, but there are riders on the Scarpe, troops of horseman riding west. We observed them in the first moonlight when we reached these trees. If we were fully horsed I would not mind them, but there are many of such companies. If we are caught afoot by them on the plain then we shall all surely die. Now, if we had your wings, master hawk, we could fly.”

“I only have the one pair,” said the hawk. “I’m afraid they won’t do you much good.”

“No matter. It is good to have you two with us. The solution shall present itself shortly, I do not fear.”

The pine forest was silent again around them except for the sighing of the wind in the treetops. The duke vanished, but Jute was aware of him somewhere nearby. He was aware of them all. If the wind touched them, then he somehow knew of them as well. Each one. Most were crouched at the edge of the little forest, staring into the night and the deeper darkness that moved far below on the valley’s floor. Hands at swords, at spear, bowstrings kept dry under cloaks from the night’s wet chill. A murmur drifted on the wind, and they all listened to it. The murmur of the army that marched far below them.

“I do not think the solution shall present itself so easily,” whispered Jute to the hawk. “We must think of it ourselves. Perhaps cut south across the valley in the morning once the army has passed? Go on toward the border of Vo and then head west for the sea. There are little fishing villages there. We could find boats and so sail up the coast to Hearne.”

The hawk shifted from claw to claw on his shoulder. “Not a bad idea, but it would take days. We must bring these men safe back to Hearne. Soon! They are fierce and hardy warriors. There is none their like in all of Tormay. They very well might prove the difference between defeat and victory for the city.”

A low whistle came from somewhere further down the slope. The old duke appeared out of the shadows.

“My lords wind and wing,” he said, bowing slightly. “We have guests.”

They went with him, then, through the trees and the darkness until they came to the edge of the little forest. A few stars shone among the rents and tatters of clouds in the night sky. There was little light to see with, but enough. Enough to pick out the differences between blacks and greys and the deeper swaths of shadow that lay across the ground like ice. At first, Jute saw nothing  except the slopes disappearing down into the impenetrable blackness of the valley floor. But then he saw movement, a crawling creep of movement surging up toward them from the valley below.  It was a line of soldiers, he could see them now, marching through the falling snow. He saw the starlight glinting on their helms, on their speartips. But there was one place where the starlight would not fall. The horse and rider, darker than night, a well of darkness that swallowed up the meager light. The horseman rode before the marching soldiers and they seemed to follow in fearful haste.

The hawk hissed in disbelief through his beak. “The horseman! What is this?!”

“This is our doing!” said Jute, his voice stricken. “I fear the one who rides there somehow followed our path.”

“Tracked you through the sky from his saddle? If he has such magics, then it is doubtless that he would found us in either case.” The duke shrugged and smiled, but his eyes were as hard and as cold as the steel of his sword. “A few minutes more and we shall have some hard work here. I do not mind much. It is a good thing we do.”

His son Rane appeared silently before them, as noiseless as a wraith.

“My lords,” he said, “I have it in mind to blood them before they reach the trees. I am curious as to their mettle with the rider at their head.”

“They will fear him more than you,” said his father.

“I have Gorman and his cousins. Their arrows are as sharpsighted as master hawk’s eye. We shall see.”

Rane bowed and disappeared down the edge of trees. A moment after that, seven dark shapes advanced from the trees some distance down the snowy slope. They knelt, spaced from each other a few paces. Jute could see them stringing their bows in quick, graceful movements. They were huge bows, easily as tall as himself. And then they began to shoot. Not a single arrow was wasted. Soldiers in the front line crumpled further down the slope. They lay unmoving in the snow. The bowmen seemed to shoot almost as fast as Jute’s heartbeat. He could hear the vicious twang of their strings. But as fast as the soldiers fell, even more of them came marching out of the darkness and falling snow. They neither faltered nor hurried their pace, but marched on up the long slopes toward the pine trees and the waiting men of Harlech. The horseman rode at their head and it was only with him that the bowmen failed. Time and time again, an arrow hissed through the air to slam with sharp and abrupt claim upon his helm or his armored body. The arrows might have been but gnats to him, for he did not flinch or make any acknowledgment of their impact as they hit and fell away.

“He is wrapped in sorcery,” said the hawk. “Look you at him. Do you see how the arrows fly? They will find no purchase in him. Pull your men back!”

“A moment more,” said the duke of Harlech, his voice calm. “He is armored well enough. Look at his horse. See how the arrows will not touch the beast? There. There speeds one straight at the thing’s head. And there – it suddenly wavers to the side as if blown by the wind. If that had flown at any other horse, it would have near split his skull in two. But, a moment more. We will take a few more lives from them.”

And still the soldiers marched on. They were much closer now. Close enough, despite the night, to see their pale and staring faces. Close enough to see their mailed fists, the stamp of their boots and the swirl of their cloaks. They were dreadful in their implacability, in the pitiless manner in which they stepped over the dead bodies of their comrades. The arrows flew, swifter than thought and heartbeat, killing, killing, and killing again. The soldiers marched on. But the horseman was more dreadful still, for, with each step, the horse and rider seemed to grow larger and taller until they loomed against the snow-driven sky. The few stars peering down between the clouds were blotted out. There was no light except for the glaring red of the horse’s eyes. The heat of the steed’s breath melted the snow to rain in the sky and mud on the ground. With a dreadful sort of shrieking cry, the horse broke into a gallop.

“Now!” whispered the duke.

The seven bowmen turned and ran. They left it until the last moment, but it seemed as if they would surely have enough time to reach the relative safety of the trees. Six of them did. The seventh did not. The horseman loomed larger and taller, mud flying from his steed’s hooves. The ground shook under his advance and the seventh bowman stumbled. The horse trampled him into the ground. Fire dripped from the horse’s jaws. The rider sat motionless in his saddle. He was close now, so close that Jute could see the last gleams of starlight burning on the man’s armor. His helm and hauberk were fashioned of black iron, but even blacker still were the lines and whorls and loops carved across their surfaces as tight and as intricate as the lines on the palm of a hand. There was only darkness behind the eyeslit in the helm, but it swiveled slowly and surely until staring directly at Jute.

Thou…

The word slammed into Jute’s mind with all the force of a striking hammer. He staggered. The wind caught him and bore him up. The hawk launched from Jute’s shoulder into the deeper reaches of the trees.

Come! We must fly!

No! It is our doing that this thing has come here! We must stand with the men of Harlech!

Of course! snapped the hawk. Do you take me for such an ingrate! We stand, but we will do our fighting on the wing. Now, fly!

Jute caught hold of the wind and flew, flashing through the trees, only aware of them as dark hard shapes flickering through his mind, columns of near stone at the speed with which he was moving. He darted in and out of them. A branch whipped across his face and he felt blood streaming down his cheek. Something galloped behind him through the trees. Fire crackled somewhere below him. He could smell smoke in the cold air. A tree fell with a tremendous crash. The clash of weapons rang in the darkness.

A memory nudged him in his mind. No. It wasn’t his memory. It was someone else’s memory. The other wind. The one before him.


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