The long dark was coming. The very air and the ground had changed; they seemed to be receding into darkness, leaving naught behind but cold. The harvest was long laid away; villagers would try to store and save whatever they could. The winds would begin blowing down from the north, and each passing day grew shorter.
The long night would begin, and the village women would tell tall tales around roaring fires to chase away the dark. Each year they prayed, seeking to coax the spring and sun to return once more, to not abandon them to winter’s harsh graces and unforgiving spirit.
Rey shuddered, and drew her cloak more tightly about herself. It was nothing extravagant, nothing as fine as what rich traders wore. But it was hers, it kept her as warm as it could, and it would have to do.
She worked hard each day, tilling her patch and keeping up her little dwelling. She made do, as she had done since she was a girl, and she would pass the dark winter just fine.
This is what she told herself, day after day, year after year.
The passage of time seemed even longer as the dark bled into the weak light more and more, and Rey tried to conserve her candles for the true worst of the winter. She loved the way the flames seemed to wink at her in the darkness, the way they seemed to her to be tiny embers of hope--a reminder that the winter would end and the light would return.
Her village shared a communal harvest; she would take her crops in and receive portions of candles, vegetables, wheat, and so on. They had to depend on one another to survive--and on the goodwill of Unkar Plutt, the portions master. Everyone in the village would bring in their crop, or the labor of their hands, to be assessed. If Plutt found one’s bounty lacking, suspecting that some had been saved and hidden, the portions received would be diminished according to his judgment. Families with children were supposed to receive more, but generally Plutt’s cronies received the most. Rey had worked hard all her life, and Plutt counted on it. He had slapped her more than once for arguing with him, and after that she just kept quiet like her neighbors. He knew he held the village in thrall with his iron key to the grain house--and his equally iron heart.
Many would light their spirit candles in hopes old Plutt would be in a good mood the day the portions went out.
Rey put these memories behind her, and hurried along to finish her last chores before the sun went down. The wind seemed to whisper to her as she went, telling her to pick up her pace. There was much yet to be done.
The portioning and the bonfires would begin soon.
Darkness. Rage. Power.
A warrior moved silently in the dark, his sword already dripping with blood from the attack on the enemy village.
Behind him, a small dwelling with a thatched roof went up in flames.
“Sir, the villagers?” Phasma asked from behind him. Her armor glinted in the darkness; a rare and precious possession in these dark times. Few could afford such a kingly--or queenly--suit of armor. Their troops were all armored, though none so handsomely as Phasma.
“Kill them,” he said.
The Master of the Knights of Ren was not known for his magnanimity. He would fight to the death for his emperor, had slaughtered many for the greater glory of his expanding empire. They had built roads across a continent, and brought order and justice through might wherever they went.
Blood ran through formerly green fields that night.