The icy wind whipped the sides of the sheer peaks and howled and moaned in the crags. The narrow mountain path was slick with ice, and great snowdrifts had piled up wherever a nose of rock or an outcrop gave a respite from the incessant wind. Shards of ice whirled in the gale, punishing trespassers into this frozen hell with their cold sting. Yet the warriors who negotiated the rocky slope showed no sign of discomfort, though their chests were bare and their frost-rimmed fur cloaks carelessly open.
Calum En´Nuadha, Lord of the Gouged Eye, turned on his stag´s broad back and looked back at the line of his fellow warriors. Lean skirmishers sprinted past, clad only in checkered loincloths of deep red and carrying leather slings tied around their waists, misty breath trailing behind them. Their strong legs pushed against the wind, never faltering on the slippery path. Behind them came deep-chested men and women, bearing reaver axes and swords, and overhead, strange leathery wings flapped – flying devils of the terrifying Dusk Realms, called to this plane by the sorcerous arts of the Skatha.
Calum turned again and gazed at the skyclad witch squatting on the outcrop. Her long black hair billowed around her like a cloak as she hacked at the intestines of a dismembered crow with a knife. Her lovely face, incongruously peaceful, seemed rapt in her work. It was the face of a child of thirteen winters, with not a care in the world, though Morag the Crone was said to be more than a hundred years old, cruel and cunning as a badger, and to hold the most terrifying secrets of witchery. Watching her, Calum shivered.
More crows had landed around Morag, watching her as intently as the warrior. They tilted their heads as if listening. She laughed, a piping innocent sound, and put out a slender finger, marking them on the tip of their beaks with their fellow´s blood. Then she looked up, and Calum suddenly felt numb. Her pearl-blue eyes held him fixed in their piercing gaze.
"The elves are there, on the other side of the ravine... three score and more, with bows of yew and feathered rock-crystal darts. They will reach the bridges if you are not swift, and block your path. Their leader is a strong and cunning man, and his steed flies nimbly through the storm, but his men are so very young, untried and afraid." Her voice grew soft, lost in some pleasant reverie, tasting the words and savouring them. "Bring me his living body, as a sacrifice to my Lord Bile. Do with the rest as you please." Calum nodded his assent and spurred his mount towards the head of the marching men. Silvery laughter followed him.
As long as there were enemies to overcome, a warrior had no right to be afraid. Calum En´Nuadha had fought many a challenge, slain many foes that had been reckoned mighty. He had never flinched from steel or fire or any number of fell beasts. But that innocent, lilting laughter turned his manhood to water, froze his spine and drained the strength from his arms. With nerveless fingers, he touched the reassuring firmness of the great battle-spear that lay across his lap. Then he cleared his throat.
"To the bridges, brothers!", he called. "There are elves to slay!" His men and women took up the call and eagerly drew their weapons.