They shivered in the dark as they approached, pulling furs close around them and watching their breath crystallise before them in the weak, flickering light of their lamps.

Although they had been seen shortly after sunset, it had taken them hours to navigate the valley, led by subtle signs which had been placed on the hidden paths for them to follow.

As they finally drew near to the appointed place, he stepped out of the shadows. They drew swords and swore, but he simply bowed.

“Greetings, friends,” he said quietly. “I am Eborias, and I am to lead you to my father, the Lord of the Adharrim.

Unsettled by his soft step and calm manner, they lowered their swords and followed him, peering into the darkness around them and wondering how many waited in the shadows.

Ahead, fires leaped into life, and the courtyard burned suddenly with light and warmth. They were shown to chairs, and when all were settled the Lord of the Adharrim appeared.

“We are gathered here in the darkness of the longest night,” he said. “What would you have us do?”

The men hesitated, looking to one another for courage. None spoke.

Eborias took a deep breath. “Lord father, it was Alfstan of the West who first sent word to us. His death has left an empty chair at this gathering, so with your permission I would speak for him.”

His father nodded, and Eborias stood to speak. He told the gathered group of the fall of Alfstan, of the fear and evil that had spread over the Western lands, and the dangers that his sister had left to battle that very evening.

As expected, his father was resistant. “Their battles are not our battles,” he said. “Their lands are not our lands and their woes are not our own.”

The sound of a horn split the night, and all leapt to their feet. A messenger ran into the light, breathless.

“Your daughter has been taken, my lord,” he said, falling to his knees.

One of the men stepped forward. “Taken as was my own daughter,” he said. “Do you share our woes now? Will you help us fight?”

The Lord of the Adharrim rose slowly, his face blank and devoid of expression.

“We ride,” he whispered, and he turned and swept away into the shadows before any could see the tear in his eye.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: I forgot to post yesterday – I was too busy with Christmas shopping and present wrapping! This is a bit of a follow-up to Wednesday’s post, suitable because of the date, I think.)