By the second week winter had totally taken over the kingdom, if not the entire realm. The air was frigid and nobody wanted to stay outside for long. The palace guards donned their fur-lined coats and thick gloves. And still they huddled at their positions, staring resolutely out into the distance. Later, they would retreat to the kitchen where they sipped hot soup and warmed their frozen fingers at the fireplace.
I couldn't rest. The thought of war haunted my dreams. I practised drills in the chamber. I made the girls practise, much to Lisbet's amusement. I was nervous. The walls trapped me in. I paced up and down, like a caged animal.
"You are like a rose with thorns," Lisbet told me one night, when we simply curled up under the sheets, enjoying our body heat. It was too cold to do anything else. I nuzzled Lisbet's cold nose, and she giggled softly.
"Really?" I pulled her down next to me. The servants had strewn dry orange reels on the sheets. It smelled beautiful, invigorating.
"Lovely to look at," Lisbet murmured against my neck, her breath hot."But so... thorny, so hard to hold onto."
"Your observations or someone else's?" I chuckled.
"Mine," she purred.
Oh my lioness. She was precious.
An eerie ululation pierced through the air, loud enough to be heard past the windows. We both stiffened, recognizing the sound: a wolf's howl.
"Too close," Lisbet whispered. "Too close."
It is a warning, I thought with a shudder.
"Look at this," the palace guard poked at the cow's carcass with his halberd. Half-eaten with red broken ribs poking out, it reeked, even in the cold. His nose was reddened by the chill. "Fresh kill."
I stared at the dead animal. A gaping hole had been torn out by vicious teeth, the organs ripped away and eaten. The cow's eyes stared vacantly into the air. The wolves had even consumed her tongue.
"The packs must be desperate in the hills, Lady Morgan," the palace guard continued. "They are lean at this time of the year."
"They might be," I stalked away from the carcass. "Have you noticed anything amiss?"
"Besides the wolves," the man shook his head. "No."
I stared at the bright blue sky, breathtakingly beautiful in the cold crisp morning. The wolf packs would not stop their hunt.
"Keep your eyes out for anything," I said.