The shadows on the snow were blue, not black, in the moonlight. The top layer had melted in the sun and then frozen again, forming a brittle crust. An approaching black lion would be seen or heard before it could strike.
Faldur would have preferred to wait inside the barn, but it was too risky. The door, which bore deep scratches from the lion's last attempt, was securely bolted to protect the sheep on whom the farmer relied for his living. Instead, the captain had taken a position in the shadow of the south wall. The lion would come from the north, from the treeline on the ridge. Faldur glanced at the large pine about fifty yards to his left, behind which his friend, Lieutenant Harth, waited with his bow. Another Ranger was positioned near the corner of the stone farmhouse, whose chimney puffed smoke cosily into the frigid air.
Brilward, the recruit hunched beside him, couldn’t stop fidgeting. “D’you think it’s a nightstalker?” he whispered.
There was a crunching sound of something approaching in the snow. Something with a long, quick stride.
(added Wednesday, Jan. 6th)
Interestingly enough, I was editing some more today, using the version that went to FTQ. If I take out some of the background in the second paragraph, more information gets moved up from the next page, which seems to address some of the issues that were raised on the site. Here's how it looks:
No new snow had fallen since morning, so the lion’s tracks were clearly visible in the lantern light as the farmer showed them to the four Rangers. It had paced back and forth in front of the barn door, searching for a way in. Deep scratches showed on the wood.
“These were made by a male. A large one,” said Faldur, the captain, stooping to examine the prints. He was as lean and cautious as the cats he pursued, with grey eyes deeply set beneath dark brows, and smoothly-weathered features that concealed his true age.
“It came out of the woods around suppertime,” said the farmer. “The dogs barked fit to wake the dead, and the dories were screaming and kicking the stalls. It gave up, but ‘twill be back. Good thing the sheep were in.” Faldur knew that the loss of even a single ewe would be a heavy blow to him, for the fine, soft wool of Glenhym sheep was worth its weight in silver.
“Show me the rest of the tracks,” said Faldur.
The farmer moved forward with the light, while the Rangers followed in silent procession. The lion had emerged from the woods on the opposite side of the barn, circled it, then come within a dozen feet of the farmhouse before disappearing into the woods again. Faldur glanced at the window, where three small faces peered out at them. He didn’t like the fact that it had come so close to the dwelling.