Dytha wiped the dusted snow from her downy eyebrows and took in the warmth of her home. It was good to be back in Fréasburg. Had a month really passed since she’d traveled to Aldburg to prepare for their Yuletide? Then Edoras, then Aldburg again. She’d lost count. Even in winter it seemed there were no ends to her roads. Now, at last, she was home.
The house was empty, but servants had left the fire simmering in the hearth. She tossed a few logs on to raise the flames before she slipped out of her cloak and mantle. It flecked snow on the hearth as she shook it out and lay it across a chair to dry. She crawled out of her boots and kicked them into a corner, then wiggled her frozen feet. Numbness turned to tingling, then to feeling as she walked around the bear-carpet, stretching her toes. A bowl of dried fruit awaited her on the table and she plucked a few shriveled berries to plop in her mouth.
She frowned when she reached for a pitcher of mulled mead and a clean mug and found a scroll of crisp parchment on the table—an unfamiliar relic in any Rohirric household, even a noble one. She picked it up gingerly and held up the seal to the candlelight. The horse-helm of Cliving glinted in the rich, reflective wax.
She cracked it with her fingers and hurriedly unfurled it, swallowing the sun-dried berries and taking a quick swig of mead. She paced the wide one-roomed home as she read, glad to be alone so her expressions might unravel easily in the quiet space.
She read it quickly at first, then again, slowly, meandering about the room in her socks, trailing her snow-sodden hem across the floor. Though her brow was at once furrowed and remained so for most of the letter, it lightened on the last paragraph, and his endnote drew a gleeful bark of a laugh.
She held the letter as she looked off at no particular corner of the room, vaguely taking in the patchwork of domestic tapestries and shelves of wares and heirlooms. Her free hand tapped a random tune against her thigh as she thought.
Winter had meant many roads, but few of them she’d had to patrol. Since the Dunlendings had sneaked over within a fortnight of their New Year to plant their black banner in the cold soil, she’d heard little else from across the Isen, and barely anything from her own shores. The disappearances of the commoners of the Mark had lessened. Whether or not winter was naturally hostile to raids, or her actions in drawing her hold’s farmers and fishermen behind the walls of Fréasburg had kept her people safe, she was grateful to either cause.
With the Isen-port quiet, the Burg safe behind its frost-filled trench, and travel to and from the town at a crawl, she was needed little. Needed little, or else needed in the dull, draft-less council-rooms of the witan-hall.
If there was a time to go to Cliving, it was when the West-march was quiet and the men and women at and above her rank sought to fill the snow-muffled earth with their own bickering drivel.
She rolled up the parchment and settled it atop a stack of others in a small pewter chest on the mantle. She hoisted up her pack from the door and upended the whole thing on the bed at once, then stood there a moment, hands on her bronze medallion belt, surveying the upheaval. With a decisive grunt, she set right to work repacking the satchel for a winter’s trip north. She would be there within a day of any letter, and she would likely spend two, at least, writing one. If Lord Graevewillow did not like surprises, well...she was about to find out.