The storm is on the horizon when I wake up. Low, tumbled clouds loom over the forest, gray as soot in the wind. I go for water at the stream, same as every other morning, but it’s choked with ice, and the branches hanging over the water are furry with hoarfrost.

Winter is coming.

I’ve known it for a long time, watching the leaves stripped from the trees, the birds flying south, the grass drying up, turning red and orange and yellow. Blossoms dried to seed pods, opened and shed their treasures for the next year. The deer I watch over stay close to my cabin now. They know I’ll feed them during the ice storms, the snowy months. The king’s huntsmen are tasked to care for his game in the winter, to hunt down poachers, feed his animals during the starving months so that he can shoot them when the weather is warm. I hate the practice, but I love my forest, my herds. The deer come because they trust me, the squirrels and raccoons because I feed them.

I know winter, nearly as well as I know my forest, and I’m not afraid of it.

The deer hear me splitting wood. They come to the edge of the clearing, watching my little cabin, watching me. Their noses twitch, catching the scent of woodsmoke from my fire, and they know. I’ll be feeding them soon. After this storm, probably. The king sends his own corn for them. They don’t have to know why.

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