Chapter 4     

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Rough, lilting voices and the crackling warmth of a small fire slowly thawed Seraph into wakefulness. Eyes still closed, she assessed her new company: all men, around five of them including the boy who found her in the snow. She could very faintly make out the sounds of a sleeping village around her, making escape difficult if it came down to that. There were many slavers who would pay a small fortune in gold for a well-bred young maiden who could hold her own in combat, and the supplies that gold could buy would be a welcome sight to a tiny village deep in the mountains. They would need to sell everything they could spare as it was to afford food for winter. Suddenly, a stronger gust of wind whipped across the area, and as she opened her eyes. Snow began to pour from the roiling clouds, so thick it was impossible to tell how late in the day it was. She thought the sun might have just finished setting. Soon, however, the men were snuffing the fire and rolling their long woven mats into tight bundles. One of the older men motioned to the boy.


"Grab your girl and let's go, Hrafin. Look at how the storm moves."
 The boy nodded. Turning, he noticed Seraph had awoken, and strode over.

"Roula," he motioned to a lanky man with a billowing mane of white hair still sitting down by the smoldering remains of the fire. "Our guest is awake."

Roula betrayed no sign of emotion as he leaned over her. His body, like many of the older men, was laced with long, jagged scars. He smelled of the forest, and had eyes like snowflakes, ringed in deep purple. She didn't believe she had ever seen eyes so beautiful on a human, despite her innumerable travels.
"Hrafin did not tell me much about you, so I admit I am very curious. Who are you, to run with an avalanche and not be crushed in its fury?"

Another man, the last save for Roula and Hrafin not to have left, turned to Seraph with raised eyebrows as Roula spoke, motioning to her wounds.  "These, they were from the avalanche a few days ago?"   Seraph nodded, still looking up at Roula.  He smiled grimly.

"Hrafin did not wish for any of us to disturb you since the two of you arrived an hour ago. There will be a gathering when the storm..." Roula's expression darkened as lightning crackled in a pass between two enormous mountain crags in the distance. Seraph had been through enough storms to think little of it, but here, high in the mountains, she knew it was enough to send people running into their homes at the first roll of thunder. For a split second, their eyes met, and she suspected he was trying to read her face to little avail. This, she thought, would prove to be an interesting experience. "The village will congregate here when the storm passes, but for the moment, as Head of the village, you will rest in my home."

Without another word he rose to his full stature, lifting Seraph in his arms. She consented, satisfied for the time being that she was in little danger of being sold into slavery, at least until it was no longer suicide for a wagon to cross these mountains.