His bones ached. He was frozen inside his flying leathers.
A glorious, richly red dawn swept over the mountains. He eyed it with relief. They were almost home. And morning meant they could stop for breakfast.
He was too old for endless scouting flights. But the war demanded. The blood-path offered many rewards, but it required many sacrifices. Ah, he was in good company.
He leaned over the creature, seeking its warmth. A large expanse of snowy fields, bordered by snow-splattered forest stretched out far below. If he hadn’t lost complete track, those were the Valley Lord’s lands. Hard to tell from this height.
He raised a hand, catching the attention of his soldiers, than pointed downward.
He tapped the beast’s belly with the riding crop. It dropped down closer to the ground with gratifying quickness. He patted the neck-frill, smiling. Its training was remarkable.
They skimmed above the trees. The piney forest scent was strong here, even through the musk of the beasts and the scent-deadening chill. Where – ah, yes.
He struck the beast’s tail gently, twice. It turned, bucking under him, and he tightened his grip on the neck-frill.
The rest of the squad slipped into place around him.
They flew directly above the fields now. It was a beautiful unbroken white vista. He moved his head in small arcs, straining for any sign of the Valley Lord’s people. A stray gust of wind carried the scent of unbloodied-flesh. The Valley Lord didn’t bleed their animals. Just farm animals, no doubt, left out to forge. No people.
Perhaps they should land and make certain. He glanced back at his soldiers. For all their diligence in following him, their scenting was slow. No doubt they were as weary as he.
No, best to move on and stop for breakfast when the sun was fully up. They would lunch at home today. The thought filled him with renewed energy.
If the commander asked, he could report he had paused briefly at the Valley Lord’s lands. It would do. They would still be here when spring came. The Valley Lord couldn’t go anywhere, not in the dead of winter, not without significant loss of face.