Fire painted the stone walls of the throne room red. Corva Frostmache stood before her mother's throne, surrounded armed men. Dortel, the self-styled lord of the clan, sat forward, studying her, a hint of triumph in his too wide smile.
"The charge is sedition, Corva," he said. "How do you plead?"
"You sit upon the throne of the clans, my mother's rightful place, and you ask that question? The Gods strike you down for the murder of the queen and for usurping her throne," she replied.
"Enough." Dortel waved a plump sausage of a hand and sat back. "Put her out."
Elmat, a wizened skeleton of an advisor, hesitated, looking between Corva and his lord. "Sir. The vote."
"Am I not lord here? There will be no vote. Put her out."
"It's the frost moon!" the older man protested. "The cold . . ."
Dortel's self-satisfied smile turned Corva's stomach. "Mayhap the cold will cool Corva's temper and her attempts to stir up treason."
Her fists clenched. "We are the Frostmache. Justice is our call."
"You were the Frostmache," he corrected. "A new age has come. No more will our mothers rule our clans. The might of our arms will bring riches and new glory to our age. . . Damn your plucking at my sleeve, old man! What do you want?"
"You sought my wisdom, sir," Elmat said.
"Speak it, then!"
"You are young, yet. Much has been forgotten. Legend says the Forstmache draw their power from winter itself. If you mean to stamp out the line, you would do well to cut this one down where she stands."
"This is your advice? Fairy tales and the means to make a martyr of her?" Dortal demanded. "You're older than I thought. You would give a rallying cry to those mired in a past swept away."
"By your brutality," Corva said.
"I will not sully the edge of my blade with her blood," he spat. "Get out and die, witch. We'll seek your corpse for burial come the thaw."
The huge, iron-banded oak doors boomed. Snow and razor sharp crystals of ice snarled in on the wail of the wind.
Corva lifted her chin lifted and strode for the door the usurper's soldiers held.
Elmat met her at the door, a frown upon his lips that deepened the furrows already plowed across his brow. He held out a hand.
A single coal from the hall fire. That much tradition they'd observe?
Corva sneered. "Keep your pity, old fool."
His frown deepened and he thrust the warm clay holder into her hand. "It's cold outside."
She nodded. "Your wisdom is wasted when you speak it to one who will not hear. Cold you say? I'm counting on it."