Prologue

The cold was strong, biting relentlessly into her soft yielding flesh. Three days she had been walking, and three days had unveiled to her what she could not have seen coming, or so she thought. Fate, it seemed, would find her, no matter where she sought refuge. Even the Moon served only to bestow upon her its omniscient gaze; her protector turned traitor.

Shan'ra's fingers protruded from beneath the heavy deep green cloak to clutch it more closely about her, only to have the cold chase them back inside.

"I never thought it would be you to betray me, brother," she cursed as her feet picked their way along the black mountain pass. She knew that soon, her feet would tread upon ground which did not belong to her.

The trees themselves then seemed to move to encompass her, as the path became blocked by the steady tugging of branches and twigs, until her movements were hindered to the point when any forward motion was neigh on impossible.

The clouds of rage had begun to subside then as she heard the scarce snapping of twigs nearby and surrounding her. She froze.

The small hairs on the back of her neck rose as silence returned, and she realized how foolish she had been, stomping through unknown woods like a rampaging boar. Her earlier tears had shrouded the path that she had followed to this point, but now it was so cold that even their constant flow was stayed.

Silver light spilled like small ribbons through the branches in front of her, and Shan'ra finally moved her head enough to see that the path that had been before her only moments earlier had vanished, and was replaced by several large tree trunks not an arms length from where she stood. A shiver ran down her spine.

How could I have gotten myself lost like this? She wondered, but before she could question herself further, her hood was viciously pulled from her head. The fierce cold followed the pull of the thick wool, and ran away with the warmth. A blade was pressed to her throat, and the trees surrounding her seemed to uproot themselves and enclose her.

Panic now broke through shattered pride as she gasped against the new found cold thrust against her warm neck. Her breath came quick and loud through her stuffed nostrils, her feet moving slightly to maintain her balance.

Ribbons of silver cascaded lightly over noses and broad shoulders only inches from her face.

'So Menrik, it seems that my death will be on your hands as well,' she thought as the blade pressed painfully into her flesh. Hot fluid ran down her pale throat and over her chest to her belt, staining crimson.

Now rough hands began patting her down, searching for weapons or valuables, but found nothing but a flask of water and a small purse. To her surprise, they were not taken.

When she spoke, her voice was frighteningly musical, like the sound of the wind as it blew through the cracks and chasms of the mountains.

"If you are going to kill me, then do so, do not humiliate me thus." The only response was the pressing of the blade as it slowly spilt more and more of her blood.

A face gradually appeared out of the darkness directly in front of hers, so close that their noses brushed and their breath mingled. It had no form, but melted back into darkness before reappearing before her, just as close but without the protecting shadow of a hood.

"You are far from the path little one. They say that dark creatures lurk about in these trees." The voice resonated in her ears despite the quiet tone with which it had been spoken. The deep thunderous sound reminded her of the growls of the ear'naz of legend, whose size was challenged only by the mountains themselves. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she watched the corners of his mouth twist ever so slightly into a smile.

The voice spoke again as she starred defiantly into the black eyes of he who stood before her.

"They say that those creatures know no such word for 'mercy'," he paused again; his face and eyes an imperceptible wall of stone. "Nor do they leave any alive to return home to tell of the monstrosities that they might have seen."

The black pools of his eyes starred back into ones that shone with the same intensity as the moon above, and with a power that made even him feel awe for this slight creature. "What say you to such words?"

The blade at her throat loosened slightly, allowing her to speak. Her mind ran quickly until if found words with which to reply, her chin lifting slightly with the return of her pride.

"I say that they are words spoken by those who still hide behind the skirts of their mothers."

The fine features of his face moved back slightly to rest intentionally beneath one of the moon's many delicate ribbons, and were accentuated by the new light.

The soft lips defiant to the cold, curled gently into a smile and the eyes danced. "So it is the fault of the mothers and fathers for their fear then, and not that of a petulant, ignorant Queen?"

Her nostrils flared and she tried to take a step toward him, but quickly found strong arms coil firmly about her and the blade pressed with new vigor into yielding flesh. The quick pain of the blade stung her, but it was his remark that brought tears to her eyes, her already wounded pride taking another foul blow.

"It is not your place to speak such words, heathen," she said through clenched teeth, her eyes burning into his.

"No?" he said, the smile spreading over his entire face before vanishing completely to be replaced with a mild hatred. His black eyes bore into her silver ones before he said, "Who is the frightened, lost little nasseth to say such things when it is she who trembles now, before me, her eyes so wide and full as the moon itself, and whose life hangs by a thread finer than the slivers of light that lay upon her face?" The dark voice had returned, shaking her thoroughly beneath the shudders of cold and adrenalin, the face reappeared directly in front of hers, speaking almost into her ear.

Heat was slowly penetrating through the back of her cloak and sinking greedily into her flesh from the one who still held her tightly.

A hand appeared then, and took the entire right side of her face, pushing the cold from her exposed skin. Still, she held his steady gaze without faltering until he moved to her ear and whispered, "What shall I do with outcast Royalty?"