The old king was dying.

The power that had once dwelt in his frame was gone, its only relic the knotted hands that once had been strong. His voice was dim and his face gone hollow-boned and stark. Now and again, when he raised his eyes, something of that old, imperious glare was in them; now and again, his voice had the snap of its old command. Oftener, though, it failed in mid-word, and men did not catch its meaning.

He spoke in a rasping whisper: “Where is my Elissa? I have not seen her today.”

His chancellor, who had been speaking of the captain who held the west, the levies that mustered to the north, and the lords that gathered to the city, went abruptly silent. It was another, a lesser counsellor, who said: “She is at the tower gate, Sire. She will come with news, soon.”

“I have not seen her today,” the old king said. His eyes, half-open, regarded them. “What news will she bring?”

The chancellor said, “My son sends his word to her word daily, Sire. She will have all the news that comes from the north.”

“At the tower….” the old king said. “…she will look down to the way of kings to Zamora. What news from Zamora?”

Again, the chancellor hesitated. The other lord said: “My lord, there is no news from Zamora.”

“Then Zamora stands.”

“Aye, my lord.”

“Jaiko holds.”

“Aye, my lord.”

“–And Jalra the Younger gathers men in Vanaheym.”

His chancellor said, “He has sent all word of the latest levy, my lord. I have their numbers–”

The old man laid back his head. His eyes were a gray glint beneath the blue-veined lids. “Where is my Elissa? Send for her. I have not seen her today.”