Chapter One The girl nearly didn't find out who she was. What she was. The house was dim, moist, heavy with a night's breathing and the ghost of the evening meal. Mira was impatient to be out. Her ivory-pale fingers tied the laces in quick, sure movements, so that the fabric cradled her feet tightly. Somewhere in the darkness Cobb was just up, shuffling about the cooking space, making a drink for Old Sarah. Mira paused an instant inside the door, closed her eyes, felt the warmth, the breath in her body. Then she was out, with her heart lifting. The cold met her body heat and caressed it. Clean fresh snow and rich sappy pine filled her nostrils; she could almost taste them. The clearing was as empty as she could wish. First light lay behind the eastern parade of mountains, picking out their scarred, worn outlines. Soon she would be up in that light, running the ridges, breaking the new snow. She walked softly to one of the trees and lifted her foot to its branch, disturbing a powder of white. The muscles along the back of her thigh pulled tight, and she pushed gradually down. A strand or two of hair escaped from her hat and fell across her face. She turned her head sharply to move it aside. And her eyes met other eyes. A woman, standing among the tree shadows across the clearing, watching her. The woman was not young, but held her body with grace and confidence. Maybe she was a dream from the shadows and the pines and the snow. She didn't look right for a raider. Then the woman was running toward her and suddenly there was sound. Two large shapes were moving fast through the trees. Mira heard the slap of snow-heavy branches on fabric and deep, urgent male voices. She took her foot lightly down from the branch and drew in breath to call out. Best to be sure. But she saw Gil was there too and let the breath go. Even as the woman ran to her and the shapes came from the trees -- huge men in light gray that blended with the snow -- Mira saw him come out from his house and move forward to intercept the strangers. He looked unworried. He would know if they should call, or fight. The woman was almost with her. Her hair was short, but the color of Mira's own: deep-red chestnut. Her movements were tired. She was putting out a hand, starting to speak. And then she pitched forward, rolling untidily across the snow. Behind her one of the gray giants let something fall to his side. The two came on, heavy footed but strong. They ran past Gil and he didn't stop them, just stood watching. Mira couldn't understand. The woman was rolling awkwardly back to her feet, clumsy with pain, the grace gone. Mira went to help her, but the two were there first and struck the woman down again. Mira let out a shout and flung herself on a gray shape, taking him sideways and down with her slight body weight hanging on his neck. It was hopeless. She felt a blow between her shoulder blades and all air was pushed from her body. Now Gil was there. She heard his voice speaking sharply, and a gray man was flung backward. Gil helped her up. He looked shaken now. The snow was red and the woman who had watched her from the trees a minute or two ago lay unmoving, slung over a gray shoulder like the carcass of a deer. Mira had the idea that Gil was speaking quietly to one of the intruders. Then they were gone, back into the tree shadows, the red-chestnut head bumping gently against a pale gray back. She turned to Gil. He was his normal self again. "Did you know them? Why didn't we help the woman? Why did you let them...'" She felt tears of shock and anger on her face. His eyes were gentle, concerned. "You know about police. I have told you." "They were police, those...'" Mira used a word she had heard Gil himself use. A bad word. "Yes. The woman -- sheCave, Patrick is the author of 'Sharp North ' with ISBN 9781416912224 and ISBN 1416912223.