Fate of the Tyrant Snippet One

Here’s the first snippet for Fate of the Tyrant!

Prologue

 

Commander Covle Darkbit

Near Tymbark, Duchy of Masov,

12th of Ravin, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

 

Covle Darkbit had undergone something of a transformation over the past months of bitter cold-weather fighting.  His perfectly trimmed beard and mustache had become a ragged, unkempt thing.  His finely tailored tunic and hose had been replaced by a practical — and warm — woolen coat and heavy overcoat.  His cheeks, normally slightly plump from his love of good food and wine were gaunt, kept from the edge of starvation only through ruthless efforts to keep himself and his men fed.

The internal changes, though, would have surprised those who had not known him before he took up Lord Hector’s service.  He stared through the sparse trees with a hungry look.  Yet he remained motionless, a patience driven home by the hard fighting here in the borderlands between what Lady Katarina and Lord Hector’s armies claimed.

Covle would never have waited motionless for hours in the miserable cold and snow, not without the desperate patience earned through dozens of skirmishes in these border lands.  He had seen several of Lord Hector’s other mercenary commanders give in to eagerness or impatience… which was why only his force remained of those sent by Hector to savage the rebels.

Well, he admitted, that and the fact that I have some help.  He stroked the hilt of his sword, warm to the touch, a gift from Xavien at their last meeting.  Xavien had told him that it would draw power from those it killed and that it was an old, and valuable, weapon.

At the time, he had felt flattered by the gift and took it as a sign that Xavien did not blame him for the mess at Zeilona Gora.  Now, it was just a tool to keep him alive.

The sun came out from its hiding place in the clouds.  He squinted against the sudden glare of sunlight on snow.  What a sad, pathetic thing I have become, he thought, a thing of the cold and darkness.  Yet he felt a cruel smile part his lips as his patience was finally rewarded.

Bundled figures moved against the bright snow.  At least fifty of them, wrapped in blankets cut into jackets and laden with packs.  They had only three wagons with them, the oxen that pulled them were gaunt, as near to starvation as their owners.  Refugees from the lowlands, seeking safety and protection from Lady Katarina.  Some part of Covle Darkbit was tempted to allow them past.  More mouths would stretch things even tighter in the southern highlands.  While in the north the farmers were getting in the last of the season’s crops, frost and snow had fallen early here in the highlands.  Covle and his fellow mercenaries had burned stockpiles of food where they could.  Yet he knew that the rebels had some supply routes through the Ryft Guard.  And in spring, these starving refugees would be more hands to help get crops in… and more volunteers for Katarina’s army.

No, he thought, while I would prefer to kill rebels, I’ll leave refugees dead in the road just as gladly.  Besides, these poor fools would have their most valuable possession with them and he had already accumulated a tidy stash of loot from the others he had hit.

The thin snow of late fall slowed them as they trundled along the road.  It tugged at their wagon wheels and dragged at their feet.

“At them!” Covle snarled and his men leapt to their feet.  His handful of bowmen loosed a volley and threw aside their bows to join the charge.

A few of the refugees fell from the arrows, but most of them seemed to hunker down.  Covle felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise as he saw them withdraw to their central wagons.  Most of the refugees he had attacked had either fled or cowered, but this lot had consolidated, almost as if to form a fighting rank…

“It’s a trap!” he shouted out as he stumbled to a halt.

The laden wagons had looked heavily laden… and they were, save with fighting men instead of furniture or supplies.  At least thirty more men rose up from the wagons, many armed with bows.  They took aim and loosed as Covle’s men stumbled to a halt in shock.

Those arrows scythed into his men from close range and Covle felt his stomach sink as dozens of his men went down.  On fair terms, he would have taken any hundred of the enemy with his own company… but now the enemy had the numbers and advantage… and they had already proven the had the element of surprise.

“Fall back!” Covle shouted out.  They closed ranks as his sergeants shouted commands and began to withdraw, even as the enemy started to advance.  Covle felt his mouth go dry as he hoped, for a moment, that the rebels would charge him.  If they broke ranks to pursue him, his men could hammer them, for his men had the better armor and weapons for this fight.

Covle felt his hopes dashed, though, as a big, one-eyed man moved to the front of the rebel formation and slow their movement.  Damn, Covle thought, it would be good to salvage something of this.

The enemy volleyed more arrows towards him, but Covle’s men at their shields up, and Covle swept out his sword to dash a couple out of the air that were headed his way.  He had become used to such feats, no longer certain if his skill had improved or if the sword somehow sensed such threats and used his arm of its own volition.

In truth, Covle didn’t care.  He was still alive… and he would live another day.

He nodded at Savino, his second in command, “Orderly withdrawal, once we get back to the trees we’ll mount and head for Myrtai.  If they’ve a company here, then they’ll be thinner there.  We might take one of their patrols as payback.”

“Yes sir,” Savino said.  The former mercenary captain had signed on under Covle after the losses he took at Zielona Gora.  He hesitated though, “Their leader, do you think that was the Swordbreaker?”

Covle grimaced at that.  The rebels had a number of commanders who had garnered fear among Lord Hectors mercenaries.  Swordbreaker was one of them, purportedly the same who had killed Grel.  Covle didn’t believe that any one man could have killed Grel, the Duke’s Hound.  More than likely it would have taken dozens of men and left most of them dead in the process.

Still, Swordbreaker had a reputation and Covle could understand the importance of such things.  “Him?” Covle scoffed.  “Any man can wear an eyepatch and wave a sword.  Probably half of Katarina’s forces have someone looking like that, just to scare piss-ant cowards.”

He saw Savino nod and look a bit more confident at that.  Then again, if the rumors were right, half of his company had died when they ran into Swordbreaker’s Ghost Company.  Have to put some spine back into the men after this fight, Covle thought.  Though he had mentioned a patrol, he would probably have them burn out some more farmers to give them their confidence back.

Covle gave a last glare at the rebel formation before he turned his attention back to his men.  “Alright, move it out!”

***

You can find Snippet Two here.  Fate of the Tyrant will be available on June 30th

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