Just like Joe, Captain Crae has never much cared for Gordath Wood. But as the captain of the guard of Red Gold Bridge, the stronghold that holds back the eerie forest from the rest of Aeritan, he has no choice but to ride its borders and its winding trails every day. Unlike Joe, he knows exactly how dangerous the woods can be.
The forest is full of gate magic tonight, thought Captain Crae. He looked out over the forest from the walls of Red Gold Bridge, his back to the torches that lined the stronghold’s stone stairs and walkway. The forest was a mass of darkness in the night. He could sense the restlessness that it hid at its heart. Red Gold Bridge may have been carved out of the mountain ridge that backed up against Gordath Wood, but it quivered beneath his boots.
Crae knows that the forest has gotten out of control. Only a guardian can calm the gateway that links the worlds. But the only guardian he knows has been shot and left for dead, and war and portents have spread far beyond the woods.
Snow had drifted over the dark bodies of several of Jessamy’s smallholders. Crae dismounted with the rest of the hunting party, letting the reins trail in the snow, and looked around. Smoke rose fitfully from windows of the little house, and the thatch was burned away. He heard the sound of retching – one of the Trieve stablemen. Crae knelt by one of the bodies, bludgeoned to death, and covered the dead man with his ragged cloak. He breathed out, stood.
“Who did this, captain?” asked one of the Trieve men.
“Crows. Come. Mount up, and look to your weapons.”
Stavin would have led the winter hunt – in his absence, Crae had wanted to help provision his friend’s House before he journeyed on. A change of plans, he thought, stepping into the stirrup. The deaths of the smallholders meant that the crows were getting bolder. He would have to ride out with ill-trained men and hunt them down before they decided to take on the House itself.