All Darkness Met

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Authors: Glen Cook
Kratchnodians, at the Trolledyngjan mouth of the Middle Pass, stood the inn run by Frita Tolvarson. It had been in his family since the time of Jan Iron Hand. The main trade road from Tonderhofn and the Trolledyngjan interior passed nearby, spanned the mountains, formed a tenuous link with the south. For travelers it was either the first or last bit of comfort following or preceding a harrowing passage. There was no other hospice for days around.
    Frita was an old man, and a kindly soul, with a child for almost every year of his marriage. He didn’t demand much more of his customers than reasonable payment, moderate behavior, and news of the rest of the world.
    There was a custom at the inn dating back centuries. Every guest was asked to contribute a story to the evening’s entertainment.
    Winding down from the high range, a path had been beaten in the previous night’s snow. The first spring venturers were assaulting the pass from the south. The path made a meandering ribbon of shadow once it reached the drifted moor, its depths unplumbed by the light of a low-hanging, full Wolf Moon. A chill arctic wind moaned through the branches of a few skeletal trees. Those gnarled old oaks looked like squatting giants praising the sky with attenuated fingers and claws.
    The wind had banked snow against the north wall of Frita’s establishment. The place looked like a snowbound barrow from that direction. But on the south side a traveler could find a welcoming door.
    One such was crossing the lonely moor, a shivering black silhouette against the moonlit Kratchnodians. He wore a darkgreat cloak wrapped tightly about him, its hood pulled far forward to protect his face. He stared down dully, eyes watery. His cheeks burned in the cold. He despaired of reaching the inn, though he saw and smelled the smoke ahead. His passage through the mountains had been terrible. He wasn’t accustomed to wintery climes.
    Frita looked up expectantly as a cold blast roared into the inn. He put on a smile of welcome.
    “Hey!” a customer grumbled. “Close the goddamned door! We aren’t frost giants.”
    The newcomer surveyed the common room: There were just three guests.
    Frita’s wife bade him quit gawking and offer the man something to drink. He nodded to his oldest daughter. Alowa slipped off her stool, quickly visited the kitchen for mulled wine. “No!” she told a customer as she passed him on her way to the newcomer. Frita chuckled. He knew a “yes” when he heard it.
    The newcomer accepted the wine, went to crouch before the fire. “There’ll be meat soon,” Alowa told him. “Won’t you let me take your cloak?” Her blonde hair danced alluringly as she shook it out of her face.
    “No.” He gave her a coin. She examined it, frowned, tossed it to her father. Frita studied it. It was strange. He seldom saw its like. It bore a crown instead of a bust, and intricate characters. But it was real silver.
    Alowa again asked the stranger for his cloak.
    “No.” He moved to the table, leaned forward as if to sleep on his forearms.
    There’ll be trouble now, Frita thought. She won’t rest till she unveils the mystery. He followed her to the kitchen. “Alowa, behave yourself. A man deserves his privacy.”
    “Could he be the one?”
    “The one what?”
    “The one the Watcher is waiting for?”
    Frita shrugged. “I doubt it. Mark me, girl. Let him be. That’s a hard man.” He had caught a glimpse of the man’s face as he had turned from the fire. Fortyish, weathered, thin, dark-eyed, dusky, with a cruel nose and crueler lines around his mouth. There was a metallic sound when he moved. The worn hilt of a sword protruded through the part in his cloak. “That’s no merchant trying to be first to the prime furs.”
    Frita returned to the common room. It lay silent. Thehandful of customers were waiting for the newcomer to reveal something of himself and his business. Frita’s curiosity grew. The man wouldn’t push back his hood. Was

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