Here is the opening of Just The Messenger, hopefully soon available from Darwin's Evolutions. As a note, this is my version of the story - the editor hasn't taken a pass yet - so may differ somewhat from the final version:
In the borderlands binding the northern kingdoms together, babies died frequently and were only named on their sixth birthday, usually for traits they showed. Thorn had just such a name.
The rider crouched, stretching out worn leg muscles from the trip through the shadow realms. The guardpost had been burned down to its foundations, if it could be called that - it was only a hut, occupied when the village beyond could spare an able-bodied man. The scent of smoke and charred flesh stirred dread in the rider, unwelcome visions of the scene. The tethered mare did not react to the stench, but there were reasons for that.
The figure rose, then hesitated. Under the hood, one dark eye flickered with apprehension. Easier to keep walking, not confirm the carnage. Thorn had a mission, one that did not call for detours.
Yet forward into overhanging trees, through the arch cut by frequent passage. The crows had beat the rider there, as had other scavengers. Impossible to guess how many homes, though probably not more than thirty. Just enough that every farmer could walk to his land.
"Scion? Are you real, or is my mind finally betraying me?"
Thorn might have initially mistaken the figure for a corpse, so grey was his skin, so unkempt his appearance. The man straightened, flashed a smile that missed half a tooth.
He strutted closer, poked Thorn in the chest. "Real, then," he said, "or I'm poking a tree I never noticed growing here before."
Thorn resisted the urge to bat the hand away, irritated. "What happened here, old man?"
"Old?" Blue eyes swept down, and he chuckled hoarsely. "I suppose I am, at that. Thank you for the reminder. You can call me Squirrel."
"I'm Thorn. Are there any other survivors?"
Squirrel sighed gustily. "None. The raiders came, they slaughtered everyone like animals - except the animals. Those they set loose. Some came back to their barns." He smiled without mirth. "I would be eating well, except it's beyond my ability to kill a pig on my own."
Thorn placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and started to lead him up the path. "I'm sorry for your loss. I'll escort you to the next town, where you'll be provided for."
Squirrel cocked his head, an inquiring gleam in his eyes. "Where are you bound, young Scion?"
"Coerth's capital. Dangerous things are happening," Thorn said. "The king needs to know before it's too late."