24 AD, Southeast Coast of Britannia
Princess Catrin reined in her horse at the edge of the precipice overlooking the sea below to study the pattern of her raven’s flight, seeking an omen. Her dream of the skull-faced moon, bleeding crimson, still plagued her. It was as if she had glimpsed both into her soul and into the future, yet she did not know how to interpret it.
The raven shot like an arrow into the thickening mist partially obscuring the sun when the sudden nip of a cool, salty breeze made her shiver. Longing for the disappearing sun’s warmth, she nestled into her plaid cloak and focused on the bird’s aerial acrobatics, first diving at the sheer cliff, then darting up. This close to the edge, one misstep of her horse could dash them both onto the jagged rocks below. Only her raven, a divine messenger, had the power to overcome such a fall and rise into the heavens to soar with the gods.
The raven disappeared into the fog and suddenly, out of the haze appeared the red-striped sail of a flat-bottom ship. Driven mainly by oars, it thrust to and fro in the turbulent water; it was unlike the deep-hulled vessels of seafaring merchants powered by air currents over their sails. At the bow of the ship was a strange looking beam shaped like a bird’s beak.
Catrin’s eyes followed the raven’s movement beyond the white cliffs where more striped sails were emerging from the mist. She counted ten, but there might be more. A chill feathered up her spine.
From the distance, she could not determine the total number of ships or the country of their origin. She needed to see through her raven’s eyes for that. To do so, to meld her thoughts with the creature’s, she had to be alone. Uneasy that her sister, Mor, and their companion, Belinus, might disrupt her connecting with the bird, she scanned a clump of brambles, some distance down the grassy slope, where she had left them. The couple met at Beltane’s spring festival, a few weeks back, and had become intoxicated with each other.
Catrin was still rankled that Belinus had tricked her into weapons training. His real purpose came to light the evening before, when he told her to wait on the hillside, so he could finish practicing with Mor. A warm blush spread across Catrin’s face as she imagined their legs entangled around each other. Did they think she was deaf and blind? That she was too stupid to understand what they were doing? The king would not think kindly if one of his trusted warriors charged with training his daughters for battle was “gallivanting” with one of them.
Now barely discerning the couple through the thick brush, she surmised they were again fully occupied with each other. That left ample time to take the next step with her raven before they joined her.
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