Winter was coming.
He could feel it in the crunch of dead leaves below his feet, in the faces of the poor he passed along cities roads, the misplaced spilling out of war torn lands in a desperate last bid to find shelter before the snows came.
No Lord in his right mind enjoyed a blizzard-bogged campaign. A campaign that would drain the summer's grain stores, slaughter all the meat, take much needed supplies and food from his own people to feed an army.
No Lord in his right mind would let his army starve in the winter, either. A thousand men with nothing in their bellies are as wont to turn on their masters as a wolf pup to bleeding babe.
So, winter was coming. And wars were put on hold for now, grizzled men with gray in their hair, scar tracked, tired eyes, young boys disappointed they had missed spring's killings trundled off home with eager eyes. And he was forced to idle about for months on end, though he doubted he would idle long. There was always some insipid rich fop who needed someone killed.
A sea of them along the dusted, cold packed earth roads, swords beside pitchforks splintered, creating a void in the movement to let a rider pass.
The mare was a pitch pure black, and proud. Her neck curved beneath the reigns clutched tight in his hands. She was no warhorse, certainly. Yet, every hire the man would mount in battle the same mare. Quick she was when she wasn’t worried about showing off.
The rider, dressed in standard all black, was not a man who seemed to have suffered. In fact, it appeared that this man had been paid well. His clothing bespoke of wool, exceptionally woven, his cloak voluminous and deep and its cowl hanging low over his face. Chain mail was occasionally caught from its shimmer along his chest as well as against upper thigh, the craftsmanship seemed suburb. No human hands melted or molded that interlocking shirt.
He kept his hood up, even in the bright of midday and as the people along the road parted for him, one could almost catch the impression the face beneath that black cowl smirked down at them all, widely. The old mercenaries who knew what to look for, spat on the ground near his horses hooves as she cantered past; the younger ones who’d not yet understood what it meant, looked up with widened eyes in curiosity. Some of the women along with husbands covered themselves then shivered; some of the women without husbands eyed him far shrewder.
He laughed at them. He laughed at them all, the sweet, eerie trill of an elven voice, inhuman, smooth, and rough as rocks of the earth all at the same time. He mocked them all with the sound, pressing his knees into the horses round rib cage with a cluck of tongue urging her to start forward in a thunderous gallop, the black of his cloak spreading out behind him as dark as the plague itself.
In the wake of winter, in the wake of them all, he laughed.