He spoke without intending to, the word slipping past his lips before he realized it was anything more than a passing thought. Startled by the sudden noise, a crow took flight from a nearby branch, clipping him in the head with its wings as it passed.
The blow stung. There had been a time when he had called crows friends and welcomed them as companions, but those birds, and those times, had been left far behind. They were memories from back home—from before such things had become bitter and left the taste of ash in his mouth.
He shivered and pulled his cloak tighter around him as he walked. Fresh snow underfoot softened his footsteps, thick enough to muffle sound, but not deep enough yet to drag around him and wear him down. As the sun set, the shadows lengthened, and he faded into the trees. Once, he had worn nothing but the colors of his family or his country. Now, he wore only shades of grey.
Off in the distance, warm firelight spread as houses lit fires to keep the cold and growing dark at bay. There was no reason to believe he would be welcome there. He was a shadow without family, rank, or name. He didn't belong there.
But his heart refused to listen to reason, and his path slowly curved toward the lights. Behind him, the lone crow followed his path through the trees.
prillalar you're up!