Sera looked up from her table in the back corner of the tavern to see a group of sailors come in. A slight chill
swept in with them and the ancient ship’s bell that hung over the fireplace pealed the early arrival of winter on the
“The captain is crazy,” one of the sailors said.
“Keep your voice down,” one of the others said as they settled at a table near hers.
“Wench, a round of your best ale for the lads and I,” one of the men jiggled his purse at one of the serving girls.
Sera leaned further back into the shadows. She knew these men. They were off the Black Witch—a privateer
ship that raided along the northern coast of the lakes. It was rumored her captain had made a deal with
Kalkiolucue, an ancient sea goddess, to always protect his ship from the fury of the wind and waves. But, even
with the divine protection, it was rumored the Captain of the Black Witch knew how to read the weather and seas
better than most.
“Cap’n’s wanting to do a late season raid. Was told about a silver hoard hidden on the Sleeping Dragons,” another
man said. “If you haven’t signed out at the harbor master’s an’ drew yer pay, you might still be contracted.”
“So we’d have no choice in the matter?”
“Aye. Unless, ye wish to forfeit the pay coming to ye by being found in breach of yer contract.”
Sera leaned forward a bit, pulling her hood down to hide her face and her elven ears. The Sleeping Dragons? The
humans wouldn’t dare!
“He seems to think the Witch’s blessing will be enough to protect us against the magic of the elves.”
“Kalkiolicue is an elven goddess!”
Sera grinned softly. Yes, Kalkiolicue was an elven goddess. Nominally associated with the lakes, but humans
referred to her as the Witch of Winter. The Captain of the Black Witch might have forged an agreement with the
goddess-but she was capricious and the Sleeping Dragons were sacred to her.
Silence settled in the bar as most of the patrons turned to looked at the group. The use of Kalkiolicue’s name was
considered an ill-omen by the humans.
Another man entered the tavern and Sera watched as he looked around, his gaze finally settling on the group at the
“Cap’n’s flying the Raven calling fer the crew to return.”
“I’ve signed the release at the harbor master’s, Mr. Kyle,” one of them said.
“Aye, that ye have Robert.” Kyle held up a piece of parchment. “However, none of the rest of ye have. Let’s go.”
“We’ll get along as soon as we finish our drinks, Mr. Kyle.”
“Drink fast and drink to the foam lads, Cap’n’s raising anchor within the hour.”
The group of men chuckled and all of them raised their mugs in salute then downed the bitter ale quickly.
Sera waited as the rest of the men at the table stood, and followed Kyle out of the tavern. Once the rest of the
patrons went back to their own business, she stood, dropped a couple of coins on the table and quietly followed
The scene that greeted her when Sera stepped out of the tavern was that of a mid-winter landscape—even though
the winter solstice was still several weeks away. Winter rarely if ever came this early to the southern shores of
Glancing around, she saw the streets were starting to fill with people staring at the white blanket covering the
ground and the snow falling around them. Sera pulled her cloak tight around her and hurried toward the harbor
and the ships currently docked there.