Excerpt

Airs and Graces

They came across the water in the early morning, emerging from the fogbank like figures from a nightmare. The warboats pierced the rolling mist, long, narrow shapes of blood-red and midnight-black against the gray. Huge dogs with metal collars snarled and slavered in the bows, but the warriors themselves, squat, bearded men in leather helmets and jerkins, stood in ominous silence, swaying with the rocking of the boats. The long oars dipped again and again into the cold green sea. Every boat bristled with spears, and in each stern an archer poised, ready to send a covering barrage of obsidian-tipped death.

The men of Onmarin, which meant every male above the age of ten, were out in their own small boats, fishing for the cod and plaice that swam beneath the glacier. The village was empty except for the old men who stayed behind to work on the drying racks ranged along the docks, women and girls mending nets in their thatched cottages, and little children. There was no one to

protect them, but there was no reason to believe protection was needed. Old Duke Frederick had put an end to the raids from across the Strait, and the fishing villages of the Angles had lived in peace for more than twenty years.

The first shout from the docks brought only raised eyebrows and curiosity.

But the shout was too much for one of the dogs. He roared, and then leapt, huge and black and terrifying, over the bow of the warboat, crashing into the water with a great splash, swimming with powerful strokes toward the land. Moments later the first boat ground into the sand of the beach, and its ugly warriors swarmed over the sides, no longer silent, but yelling in their brutish language.

The fisher-folk of innocent Onmarin understood then. Women began to scream, and children to wail. Mothers clutched babies to their breasts, and herded toddlers and young boys ahead of them as they dashed inland, seeking the dubious safety of the dunes. The old men on the docks stood their ground, shakily, but bravely, wielding their filleting knives against the spears of the raiders.

The awful dogs bounded up the narrow lanes between the cottages, howling. Spears rose and fell, and the filleting knives slashed. Blood began to spill over the weathered boards of the docks and drip through into the icy water below.

And behind the furthest cottage, where a corridor of packed and rutted sand ran between the dunes, two winged horses rose, one shining black, one pale gold. Their powerful wings drove against the cold air, and their riders bent low over their necks.

One of the barbarians caught sight of them, and gave a gleeful shriek. A volley of arrows spewed into the air, but by Kalla’s grace, the winged horses were too far away, their ascent too swift and steep.

They flew as high and as fast as they dared, leaving the coastline behind, banking above the dunes and into the morning sunshine, escaping from the carnage on the ground, fleeing to the safety of Lady Beeth’s protection.