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Chapter One

Beneath the sullen clouds the sea heaved like an angry beast. Grey-green waves crashed against the rocky shore, hurling salted spray skyward. High overhead a lone gull circled, reluctant to fish the cold and violent sea.

Elsbeth, wrapped in a heavy blue cloak, her hands warmed in its ermine trim, watched the gull’s endless circling. It squawked once as it neared the rocks, dropping altitude then rising, beating its wings against the flat grey sky. At last it braced its courage and dove into the spray. A brief skirmish, a flick of beak, a flash of silver, and the gull rose once more. Wet and tired, its hard-earned meal struggling in its beak, the bird curved its wings and flapped away.

Elsbeth watched after the gull until it was no more than a speck against the sky. She blinked, and it was gone.

Sighing, she turned her back on the sea and crossed to the parapet that looked away to the east. Although the vantage point, high on the castle wall, was an excellent one, there was little new to see. Only bare land, broken here and there by a few patches of sedge, stretched away to the rocky hills.

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