• A crisp wind bit through the air, tearing through the thickest fur-lined cloak. Winter was well on its way and a thin blanket of white covered the land, crushed along the most-travelled roads, but virgin and untouched atop the houses and shacks. Cobblestones retained the moisture and turned it into ice, making even the ramparts treacherous under the hard soles of guards’ boots. The dark night seemed darker as few candles flickered in the sleeping city and ominous black clouds blotted out the stars and moon. It would be a perfect night for a raid, but one guard’s eyes were not on the lush threatening forest surrounding the high walls. His light green sight was directed towards the inside of the city where only the poor stirred, trying to find some warmth.

    There will be many bodies to move in the morning, he observed drily as his exhaled breath lingered in front of his face. Even dressed as he was he could feel the cold. As the guards did, he was clad in a white tunic beneath a black mantel, all belted around his trim stomach with a simple leather belt. Over that was additional hide armour that was thin and simply a precaution. On top of that he wore a full set of dented and scuffed plated metal armour made identical to all of the other guards’, commissioned by the palace from a local smithy. Finally a modest fur-lined cloak was settled over the entire ensemble. Through all of this he could feel Winter’s bite and knew that those without a merry fire dancing in their hearth would certainly freeze to death tonight.

    For a moment his gaze lifted from a nearby home with a candle glinting in its windows to the palace that was far from his post. All manner of activity was happening there as the royal family hosted a gala for their prince to find a suitable first wife. Disgusting, but necessary he supposed. More than once he’d had the pleasure of meeting the prince at one of the many war camps designed for training, and he knew the royal’s preferences were not for female companionship. A wry smile tugged at the corner of his lips as he recalled their last endeavor together; certainly not a story fit for royal court.

    Off in the distance the call of a lone wolf broke the silence and tore the guard from his reverie. He was still on duty, but the regularity and barrenness of the land outside the walls bored him. Inside there were strange people, some of which could be witnessed through their windows from his vantage point twenty feet above. A woman calming her bawling child, forbidden lovers entwined by the fire, and thieves sneaking about were all commonplace sightings, but the activities of regular folk when the candles were snuffed and the city slept intrigued the guard. Such problems did not plague him, as he was unmarried and lived in the barracks with other single soldiers.

    As usual for the late-night guard his back was to the land outside the fortified city. It was the gurgled scream of a fellow guard and the soft thud as he hit the ground that drew the man’s attention away from the city. Turning quickly, his fierce features glowing in the dim light from a torch.

    “Atta-!” Was all the seasoned warrior had time to shout before a well-directed arrow thudded through one of his vibrant green eyes to lodge in the back of his skull. He would have fallen from the rampart if not for the rope attached to the arrow, which was suddenly pulled taut, tugging the guard forward against the back of the battlements. Up and down the ramparts the guards were being overwhelmed at first with roped arrows and then with the enemy that found their way across the slender ropes.

    There was no time to react. The city still slept as dark-skinned figures crawled over the stone battlements like wave after wave of four-legged spiders. They were silent and quick, as if enhanced by some sort of magic. Any lone person that stood in their way was effortlessly felled.
    And still the city slept in blissful ignorance. Come morning none would remain, save for one small thief. One young boy hidden away in a dead chimney carried the tale from the desolate city across a forsaken landscape.