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The sun already touched the night sky in the east when Herre finally came to the end of the trail. It led to a low mound: a barrow of the folk who once lived in these parts. At the entrance stood a single sentry--or what passed for a sentry among the Trow. In between picking all manner of bounties from its vast nose, it occasionally eyed the rising sun with beady, suspicious eyes.

This was no challenge to one such as Herre. He rounded the low barrow under the cover of rock and shrub, crested it from the other side, and rushed at the Trow's back, dagger in hand. He smashed into the creature with all of his might, knocked it breathless to the ground, and straddled it. His dagger made quick, bloody work of the bearded, filthy neck.

A corridor led deeper into the mound, and soft light burned at the end of it. It was a simple affair, dug carelessly and supported by wooden beams that wore the black mold of centuries. The stench of Trow met his nose, but there was something else, too: a rotting smell of the earth. Herre hesitated for a moment. Then he heard soft snoring from within. He smiled, and slipped into the barrow.

These barrows were often small: no more than a simple mound in which the dead had been piled. So it was with this one. The corridor opened into a low chamber, round and braced with thick beams and rafters of ancient wood. The walls of packed, cold dirt revealed many an opening--graves, all. At the center stood a sarcophagus of dark stone that basked in the light of tallow candles. The floor was littered with sleeping Trow, but their snoring and heavy breathing was lost on Herre. He stared at that sarcophagus as a man lost in thought, and his feet slowly carried him towards it.

On the lid sat a maiden with skin as starlight and hair as flame-lit as that of the rising sun that warmed the cold soil outside. Even the filthy Trow that slept at her feet gained an aspect of calm and serene beauty in her presence. The slender fingers of her right hand trailed the stone lid of the sarcophagus, and the relief sculpted upon it resembled her in repose. With her left hand, she held up the jewel-encrusted, golden mirror that the Trow had stolen from Herre’s lord; the prize they had set out to retrieve.

Almond-shaped eyes looked up at Herre from under long, dark eyelashes, and gone were his fancies. Herre no longer thought of being the hero of Enkelby--or of Enkelby at all. His lord was but a shadow, the warriors he had ridden with a whisper, and even the Trow that slept restlessly at his feet were no more than dust in the corner.

He stepped forward. An icy fascination clamped around his heart, and the maiden welcomed him with her sweet eyes and her languid smile, cold as the tomb she sat on. He opened his mouth as though to speak, although even his sarcastic wit had left him at the sight of her.

As her arms reached out to meet him, Herre saw for a fleeting moment her reflection in the mirror she held. When he gazed upon her true countenance, his muscles became as frail as her flaking skin and brittle bone, his mind as empty as the eye sockets that leered eyelessly at him.

Then he resigned into cold arms, the forgetfulness of the tomb embraced him, and Herre thought no more.

[End]

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