Every sign on earth and in the sky suggested that a fierce Winter was coming that year. If the previous one was so unusually mild that the Steppe burst into life long before its time, so this new Winter promised a severity without parallel. The soil was already as unyielding as a slab of stone under the horses' hooves. The horseshoes clicked and rattled on the country tracks as if they were striking city cobblestones. The long, dark fields lay in the grip of such deep early frost that the soil in the furrows was as hard and flinty as Carpathian granite. Snow lay in broad sheets on the mounds and hillocks, and the banks of the streams and rivers that they forded were stiff and gray with a covering of ice. The nights were freezing. The days were dry and pale. The sun barely warmed the air at noon. At dawn and in the first hours of the evening twilight the sky burned with a crimson fire that was the surest herald of an early and severe Winter. And yet the few survivors they came across in the fields and ruins said that they looked forward to the killing snows because a bitter Winter meant the end of war. They might die of the cold. They might starve to death before the snows melted. But, as they said whenever they were questioned, snow and ice brought peace.

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