Tag Archives: Snippet

Valor’s Calling Snippet One

Hey everyone, here is the first snippet of Valor’s Child, the second book of the Children of Valor series.  First, the blurb and the cover image, and the snippet is to be found below.  Valor’s Calling comes out on the 29th of September.  Enjoy!

The past calls you back.

Jiden made the decision to join the Century Military Academy after her attempt at a normal school ended in disaster.  She’s embraced this new chapter in her life and she’s ready to do her best.

Jiden’s best may not be good enough.  Her relationships with her friends have changed since she’s been away, her classes are harder than she expected, and things aren’t quite what they seem.  Jiden made enemies when she chose to return to the Academy, and those enemies will settle for nothing less than her death.

Jiden must fight with everything she has, not just to succeed, but to stay alive.  Jiden will prove that she isn’t afraid of the challenge, because the military life isn’t just a simple decision, the military is her calling.

 

Chapter One: I Should Have Known Better

While my parents had hardly been excited about me attending the Academy, I had expected a bit more enthusiasm from my best friend. After all, it would mean we’d be there together.

“You’re what?” Ashiri Takenata stared at me through my datapad.

“I’m coming to the Academy,” I repeated, feeling stupid. I’d meant to tell her and Alexander Karmazin the news as soon as the Admiral had accepted my application. But Mom had sort of freaked out about it and with all the chaos after my misadventures at Champion Enterprises, I hadn’t got around to it until now.

“But…” Ashiri shook her head. “I mean, the acceptance lists have already been posted, you weren’t on them, so we assumed…”

“I had a letter of explanation that I put in with my application packet, I’m accepted,” I answered. The Admiral hadn’t pulled any punches, either. Someone might assume that, being my grandmother and all, she would show me some favoritism. Of course, I’d say they were crazy. The Admiral had barely spoken a dozen words to me outside of what could be strictly viewed as professional terms. I hadn’t even met her before my fourteenth birthday… and as far as I knew, my Mom only spoke to her around the holidays, and then only in a formally stilted video call.

What can I say, my family is a mess.

“Did you tell Alex?” Ashiri asked.

“Karmazin?” I replied. I didn’t really think of him as an Alex. I mean, he was far too… imposing for that. Alexander Karmazin was almost two meters tall. With his olive complexion, curly dark hair, and handsome looks, he could have passed for an actor on one of those daytime shows.   When I’d first met him, I’d instantly hated him, he’d seemed to be everything I wasn’t: tall, confident, and his father was the richest man on the planet. Now I considered him a friend, maybe something more. He’d certainly hinted that he was interested in something more, the last time we’d talked in person, almost five months ago.

I flushed as I considered that, “No, I just had time to call you. I’ve been digging into all the course work. Did you see we have an entire research paper due on the first day of classes for Military Ethics?”

“What, yeah, I knocked that out a month ago. We… that is, Alex and I, we’ve had the past five months to do all that stuff,” Ashiri said, looking distracted. “You really should tell Alex.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that,” I said. “The welcome packet mentioned we can select our roommates, do you have one, yet?”

Ashiri looked nervous, “Uh, yeah, we can talk about that later, after we get in. You might change your mind, you know. Oh, I’m hitting the limit on my bandwidth for the month, got to go, see you later!”

She cut the call and I stared at my home screen for a long, puzzled moment. I’d met Ashiri at the Century Military Academy. We’d been in the same squad of Sand Dragon. We’d slept on the ground together, been shot at together, and struggled through some really rough times together. I wasn’t sure why she seemed nervous at being my roommate. It wasn’t like I was anything like her old roommate, Rakewood. I wasn’t going to dump on her or anything, I could pull my own weight.

For that matter, I had no idea why she was out of bandwidth. I sort of remembered that her family didn’t have the best financial situation. They’d come here as refugees or something, back when the Guard had annexed their homeworld in the Ten Sisters system. But bandwidth for video calls was plentiful. She’d have to have been spending eight or ten hours a day to put a serious chink in even a basic bandwidth plan with the planetary network.

It was different out here at Basalt Mesa Outpost. It was an archeological and research station, with a permanent population of only thirty. The video call had used up a lot of my family’s non-research bandwidth. In fact, I’d probably talked longer than I should have, but I’d wanted to see Ashiri. The past five months had been rough. I hadn’t really had any friends… well, none besides Ted. He’s dead now, I reminded myself. The accounting intern who’d been friendly to me had been kidnapped and probably killed by the smugglers who’d been buying stolen military equipment from rogue elements of Champion Enterprises.

Officially he was missing, but I’d talked with Ted’s parents. They planned on holding a quiet funeral after all this blew over. I felt horrible for them. If I were them, I would have blamed me. But they hadn’t. They’d actually thanked me for uncovering the corruption at Champion Enterprises… and for bringing their son’s killers to justice.

That left me feeling adrift. I shouldn’t have got Ted involved. I should have handled it all differently, should have gone straight to the Admiral when it all started, but I’d screwed it all up. I’d been kidnapped, nearly killed. Ted was vanished, as if he’d never been. I’d been able to fall back on my military training from the Academy Prep Course, which had saved my life… but I’d killed six men in the process.

I wasn’t fifteen Century years old yet and I was a killer. That was one more reason I’d chosen to attend the Academy. Someone should have been there to protect me, to protect Ted. Maybe I could prevent someone else’s family from having to hold a quiet funeral for their child.

For just a moment I felt the urge to call Alexander Karmazin. Of anyone, I felt he’d understand. He’d had to fight for his life, too. But some measure of Ashiri’s nervousness made me hesitate. Why had she been so insistent that I call him?

It can wait, I told myself. In a couple more days, I’d fly to Duncan City, and I could meet him and Ashiri there. I could talk to them in person and figure out any problems. Besides, I’d already used too much bandwidth and I had a full ethics research paper to knock out.

I flipped my datapad back over to the course material and got started.

***

 

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Fate of the Tyrant Snippet Four

Here’s the fourth snippet of Fate of the Tyrant, coming on Thursday.  You can find the first snippet here and the blurb and cover here.

Chapter I

Lord Hector the Usurper Duke

Castle Ember, Duchy of Masov

14th of Ravin, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

 

Lord Hector considered the map for a long while before he slowly removed the last yellow peg from the hole near Lower Debber and replaced it with a red one.  With the loss of Lower Debber to Lady Katarina’s forces, he had no garrisons remaining in the south.  Not that I believed I could keep it, he admitted to himself, but I hoped it would at least occupy some of Katarina’s forces over the winter.

The town’s militia had some loyalty to him, seeing as his father, the late and unlamented Lord Mikhel, had called the town home.  Moreover, he’d exempted them from much of the wartime taxes elsewhere in the Duchy, mostly because they had provided their taxes in quality steel that his smiths turned into weapons and armor.  Now that steel would go to Katarina’s forces.  The garrison had fallen to a mix of sabotage and diplomacy, from the little he had heard.

That left him with just handful of notionally loyal mercenary bands in the south, most of them little more than bandits at this point.  Covle Darkbit’s force was the largest, yet Hector felt little trust for the man.  The rumors passed along by his informants made it clear that while Darkbit hurt Katarina’s forces, they had utterly alienated the general populace.

I wish I had listened to Kerrel and executed him, Hector thought, at least then there would be less blood on my hands.  The weight of his mercenary’s actions had grown upon him.  It was one thing to sack an Armen raid camp… it was quite another to hear the reports of this or that village burned to the ground, its people turned out into the coming winter.

And not all of them at Covle Darkbit’s hand, Hector thought with resignation.  There were red pegs in other locations than the south.  Most, if not all, were isolated by his own forces, but some would hold out the winter and he knew that his forces would be too dispersed to defeat them all and still guard the south against the army that Katarina would field in the spring.

This had all spiraled out of control and Hector knew exactly whose fault that was.  At least he had savaged the Armen enough that they shouldn’t be able to come south in force.  If nothing else, they would have to overcome his forces on the Lonely Isle first, who would have the entire winter to fortify and ready themselves.

While the Armen could bypass the island, their raiding sloops would be low on supplies and their fighting men would need days or even weeks to regain their feet after such a long ocean journey on their light vessels.  Odds were, whatever Armen were desperate enough for such a journey wouldn’t be in any condition to be a real threat.

Still, he thought musingly, some will probably try it.  His last messages from his spies in the north had reported the winter infighting to be particularly brutal.  It sounded as if Tarjak Rusk had begun an attempt to unify the Semat Armen, much as Marka Pall had unified the Solak.  If that were the case, Hector could expect a number of raiding parties from those forced out, made up of the desperate survivors.  In a cycle or two, Tarjak Rusk would probably come south in force, backed by a larger, more cohesive army.  I can only hope that bastard Tarjak comes within reach of my blade, Hector thought.  He would have to plan for that… assuming he could survive the civil war in his own lands, of course.

Hector turned to face the woman who had stood silent as he pondered the map.  “No words of wisdom?  No criticism of my tactics?”  He saw her lips go flat in disapproval and he restrained a sigh.  The barbed comment had been out of line.  Despite Commander Kerrel Flamehair’s stated disapproval of his tactics, she had backed him in every way that mattered.  Furthermore, she’d nearly been killed by Grel the Hound, who had proven to be an agent, witting or otherwise, of a sorcerer.

At least I can thank Katarina’s forces for dealing with that particular monster, Hector thought with some minor relief.  The mercenary had been his tool for dealing with the least pleasant of tasks.  He had become a monster somewhere along the way and Hector had simply used him as a blunt instrument, to smash his foes and create fear.

“I’m sorry,” Hector said to Kerrel.  “That was out of line.”  He sighed as he stared at the map of the Duchy… and considered the areas where he didn’t know enough to put a peg.  “What do you think about Countess Darkriver?” Hector asked.

Kerrel sighed, “I would say that holding two companies of hers as hostage to her good behavior would be enough, but I’m not certain anymore.”  She shrugged, “She has no way to contact them, not since you locked down on passage to and from the Lonely Isle, but she’s a hard one to read.”

Hector nodded, “And she’s capable enough of risking her people.  If she thinks signing on with Katarina will swing this civil war to a close before I can have her people killed in response… or that I would hesitate to do so, then she might do it.”

“Would you kill them?” Kerrel asked

Hector sighed, “To set an example?  I wouldn’t hesitate.  I know you trained with them, I know you served with them.  Andoral’s black balls, I know they saved my ass when the Vendakar mercenaries betrayed me… but if they turn to Katarina’s side I will have their officers executed and their enlisted men hung.” Hector shrugged, “I cannot allow any of my men to think that I will tolerate rebellion… or that I won’t punish disloyalty.”

“And Covle Darkbit?” Kerrel asked in an echo of Hector’s earlier thoughts.

“I should have strung him up,” Hector shrugged.  “But now he’s the only commander left south of here.  Which means when the spring comes, I’ll have to move my forces north.”

“You’re abandoning Castle Ember?” Kerrel asked in surprise.

Hector sighed, “Not entirely.  I’ll leave a small garrison, enough to hold it against anything but a full out attack and possibly even then since the rebels will have little experience in siege craft.” Castle Ember was the Ducal Seat.  The stone walls around them had seen thousands of cycles of history and legends said that the first Starborn to arrive in the Duchy had helped to design the fortress.  It was the cultural and symbolic center of the Duchy as well as one of the strongest fortifications in the known world.  Yet so was the Ryftguard, Hector thought, and Katarina took it away from me.

Hector stared down at the floor beneath his feet.  In truth, it pained him to abandon the place.  It went beyond its symbolic value.  This was the place he had been raised… and it was where he had risen to power, over the cooling body of his aunt and uncle.  To abandon it now felt as if he had them killed for no reason, that his rise to power had already been undone.

Kerrel didn’t seem to have an answer to that.  Hector waited though, and soon enough she asked the question that he knew was on her mind.  “Have you considered another attempt at peace?”

“I think that between them, Grel and Darkbit thoroughly destroyed all chances of that,” Hector responded.  During the talks at the Ryftguard, the two had attempted to seize the gates and someone, presumably Grel, had stabbed Kerrel.  In the process, they had destroyed any credibility that Hector might have.  Worse, they had then attacked the rebellious city of Zielona Gora which backfired in the destruction of most of Covle Darkbit’s forces and Grel’s death.

“I’ve met Katarina,” Kerrel said.  “She doesn’t want a civil war any more than you do.  Maybe if you send me…”

Hector shook his head, “At this point, winter has closed most of the roads.  You’d have to travel in strength, carry all your supplies in… you’d need an army to pack everything in and you would look like an invading army.  No, if we do something like that, it will have to wait for spring.”

Kerrel nodded, though he could tell from her expression she didn’t like to leave it for so long.  Still, she hadn’t read some of his reports.  Even now in late fall, there were rumors of heavy snows and bitter cold.  Those storms had driven normal people down out of the mountains… but it also sounded as if the Norics had been driven down out of the peaks… along with some of the sorcerous spawn from around Black Mountain.  Even assuming the rebels didn’t attack her, she still might have a serious fight on her journey, and Hector wasn’t about to put her to pointless risk as the only field commander he trusted in the south.  Especially not since I nearly lost her already, he thought.

The long seasons of Eoriel were both blessing and curse.  While he had accomplished so much in the long spring and summer, with how the weather had come in so suddenly in the southern highlands, he had lost four months of the fall and would lose all six months of the winter.  Even assuming that spring broke early, he would lose ten months, ten long months in which Lady Katarina’s people would have to plan and prepare for a spring campaign.  And though winter had closed down the roads to large forces, the southerners knew how to handle those heavy snowfalls better.  Their towns were designed with interconnected homes and steep roofs to shed snow.  Their people knew how to travel with snowshoes, pack-sleds, and skis, while many of his mercenaries and recruits from the lowlands had less experience with such heavy snow.

Hector had two companies from the fallen Duchy of Taral, but he didn’t want to feed them into the borderlands that had become such a charnel house.

Besides, he had some doubts over their loyalty in fighting the southerners.  While it was true that most of the mercenary companies from Taral had few ties, it wasn’t inconceivable that they might feel some sympathy or even camaraderie with the southerners, being high country folk themselves.  Even if they didn’t change sides, they might well desert if given a free route through the Ryftguard and back to their homeland.

“If you’re withdrawing, when do you plan to march?” Kerrel asked, even as she moved up to look at the map.  Once again, her odd mix of strength and beauty struck Hector.  Her bright red hair matched her fierce temper, the powerful muscles and her lean frame told of her toughness, yet still held more than enough feminine curves to make his blood stir.

“In the next couple weeks,” Hector said.  “My quartermasters are still reviewing their plans.  I’ll need to crush a couple of the rebel outbreaks here in the south to cow any chances at a general uprising.  His gaze went to a red peg at Castle Redcoast.  He had not expected the jolly Baron of Redcoast to rebel.  The man had seemed far too comfortable in the enjoyment of good food and his barony’s fine table wines.  Yet rebel he had… and as the only lands to do so, he was a marked threat.  If the rebels somehow linked up with him, or worse, he somehow forged an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Boir, Hector would find his forces flanked and any defense almost impossible.  “We’ll march as soon as the logistics is sorted out.”

She nodded, “Well, then, my Lord, I’ll go and check on my command’s preparations.”

He winced at her chill tone, but he nodded to her in dismissal.

As she stepped out of his conference room, his gaze went again to the red pegs on his map.  It would be a long winter.

***

Fate of the Tyrant Snippet Three

Here’s the third snippet for Fate of the Tyrant:

Chapter I

Lord Hector the Usurper Duke

Castle Ember, Duchy of Masov

14th of Ravin, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

 

Lord Hector considered the map for a long while before he slowly removed the last yellow peg from the hole near Lower Debber and replaced it with a red one.  With the loss of Lower Debber to Lady Katarina’s forces, he had no garrisons remaining in the south.  Not that I believed I could keep it, he admitted to himself, but I hoped it would at least occupy some of Katarina’s forces over the winter.

The town’s militia had some loyalty to him, seeing as his father, the late and unlamented Lord Mikhel, had called the town home.  Moreover, he’d exempted them from much of the wartime taxes elsewhere in the Duchy, mostly because they had provided their taxes in quality steel that his smiths turned into weapons and armor.  Now that steel would go to Katarina’s forces.  The garrison had fallen to a mix of sabotage and diplomacy, from the little he had heard.

That left him with just handful of notionally loyal mercenary bands in the south, most of them little more than bandits at this point.  Covle Darkbit’s force was the largest, yet Hector felt little trust for the man.  The rumors passed along by his informants made it clear that while Darkbit hurt Katarina’s forces, they had utterly alienated the general populace.

I wish I had listened to Kerrel and executed him, Hector thought, at least then there would be less blood on my hands.  The weight of his mercenary’s actions had grown upon him.  It was one thing to sack an Armen raid camp… it was quite another to hear the reports of this or that village burned to the ground, its people turned out into the coming winter.

And not all of them at Covle Darkbit’s hand, Hector thought with resignation.  There were red pegs in other locations than the south.  Most, if not all, were isolated by his own forces, but some would hold out the winter and he knew that his forces would be too dispersed to defeat them all and still guard the south against the army that Katarina would field in the spring.

This had all spiraled out of control and Hector knew exactly whose fault that was.  At least he had savaged the Armen enough that they shouldn’t be able to come south in force.  If nothing else, they would have to overcome his forces on the Lonely Isle first, who would have the entire winter to fortify and ready themselves.

While the Armen could bypass the island, their raiding sloops would be low on supplies and their fighting men would need days or even weeks to regain their feet after such a long ocean journey on their light vessels.  Odds were, whatever Armen were desperate enough for such a journey wouldn’t be in any condition to be a real threat.

Still, he thought musingly, some will probably try it.  His last messages from his spies in the north had reported the winter infighting to be particularly brutal.  It sounded as if Tarjak Rusk had begun an attempt to unify the Semat Armen, much as Marka Pall had unified the Solak.  If that were the case, Hector could expect a number of raiding parties from those forced out, made up of the desperate survivors.  In a cycle or two, Tarjak Rusk would probably come south in force, backed by a larger, more cohesive army.  I can only hope that bastard Tarjak comes within reach of my blade, Hector thought.  He would have to plan for that… assuming he could survive the civil war in his own lands, of course.

Hector turned to face the woman who had stood silent as he pondered the map.  “No words of wisdom?  No criticism of my tactics?”  He saw her lips go flat in disapproval and he restrained a sigh.  The barbed comment had been out of line.  Despite Commander Kerrel Flamehair’s stated disapproval of his tactics, she had backed him in every way that mattered.  Furthermore, she’d nearly been killed by Grel the Hound, who had proven to be an agent, witting or otherwise, of a sorcerer.

At least I can thank Katarina’s forces for dealing with that particular monster, Hector thought with some minor relief.  The mercenary had been his tool for dealing with the least pleasant of tasks.  He had become a monster somewhere along the way and Hector had simply used him as a blunt instrument, to smash his foes and create fear.

“I’m sorry,” Hector said to Kerrel.  “That was out of line.”  He sighed as he stared at the map of the Duchy… and considered the areas where he didn’t know enough to put a peg.  “What do you think about Countess Darkriver?” Hector asked.

Kerrel sighed, “I would say that holding two companies of hers as hostage to her good behavior would be enough, but I’m not certain anymore.”  She shrugged, “She has no way to contact them, not since you locked down on passage to and from the Lonely Isle, but she’s a hard one to read.”

Hector nodded, “And she’s capable enough of risking her people.  If she thinks signing on with Katarina will swing this civil war to a close before I can have her people killed in response… or that I would hesitate to do so, then she might do it.”

“Would you kill them?” Kerrel asked

Hector sighed, “To set an example?  I wouldn’t hesitate.  I know you trained with them, I know you served with them.  Andoral’s black balls, I know they saved my ass when the Vendakar mercenaries betrayed me… but if they turn to Katarina’s side I will have their officers executed and their enlisted men hung.” Hector shrugged, “I cannot allow any of my men to think that I will tolerate rebellion… or that I won’t punish disloyalty.”

“And Covle Darkbit?” Kerrel asked in an echo of Hector’s earlier thoughts.

“I should have strung him up,” Hector shrugged.  “But now he’s the only commander left south of here.  Which means when the spring comes, I’ll have to move my forces north.”

“You’re abandoning Castle Ember?” Kerrel asked in surprise.

Hector sighed, “Not entirely.  I’ll leave a small garrison, enough to hold it against anything but a full out attack and possibly even then since the rebels will have little experience in siege craft.” Castle Ember was the Ducal Seat.  The stone walls around them had seen thousands of cycles of history and legends said that the first Starborn to arrive in the Duchy had helped to design the fortress.  It was the cultural and symbolic center of the Duchy as well as one of the strongest fortifications in the known world.  Yet so was the Ryftguard, Hector thought, and Katarina took it away from me.

Hector stared down at the floor beneath his feet.  In truth, it pained him to abandon the place.  It went beyond its symbolic value.  This was the place he had been raised… and it was where he had risen to power, over the cooling body of his aunt and uncle.  To abandon it now felt as if he had them killed for no reason, that his rise to power had already been undone.

Kerrel didn’t seem to have an answer to that.  Hector waited though, and soon enough she asked the question that he knew was on her mind.  “Have you considered another attempt at peace?”

“I think that between them, Grel and Darkbit thoroughly destroyed all chances of that,” Hector responded.  During the talks at the Ryftguard, the two had attempted to seize the gates and someone, presumably Grel, had stabbed Kerrel.  In the process, they had destroyed any credibility that Hector might have.  Worse, they had then attacked the rebellious city of Zielona Gora which backfired in the destruction of most of Covle Darkbit’s forces and Grel’s death.

“I’ve met Katarina,” Kerrel said.  “She doesn’t want a civil war any more than you do.  Maybe if you send me…”

Hector shook his head, “At this point, winter has closed most of the roads.  You’d have to travel in strength, carry all your supplies in… you’d need an army to pack everything in and you would look like an invading army.  No, if we do something like that, it will have to wait for spring.”

Kerrel nodded, though he could tell from her expression she didn’t like to leave it for so long.  Still, she hadn’t read some of his reports.  Even now in late fall, there were rumors of heavy snows and bitter cold.  Those storms had driven normal people down out of the mountains… but it also sounded as if the Norics had been driven down out of the peaks… along with some of the sorcerous spawn from around Black Mountain.  Even assuming the rebels didn’t attack her, she still might have a serious fight on her journey, and Hector wasn’t about to put her to pointless risk as the only field commander he trusted in the south.  Especially not since I nearly lost her already, he thought.

The long seasons of Eoriel were both blessing and curse.  While he had accomplished so much in the long spring and summer, with how the weather had come in so suddenly in the southern highlands, he had lost four months of the fall and would lose all six months of the winter.  Even assuming that spring broke early, he would lose ten months, ten long months in which Lady Katarina’s people would have to plan and prepare for a spring campaign.  And though winter had closed down the roads to large forces, the southerners knew how to handle those heavy snowfalls better.  Their towns were designed with interconnected homes and steep roofs to shed snow.  Their people knew how to travel with snowshoes, pack-sleds, and skis, while many of his mercenaries and recruits from the lowlands had less experience with such heavy snow.

Hector had two companies from the fallen Duchy of Taral, but he didn’t want to feed them into the borderlands that had become such a charnel house.

Besides, he had some doubts over their loyalty in fighting the southerners.  While it was true that most of the mercenary companies from Taral had few ties, it wasn’t inconceivable that they might feel some sympathy or even camaraderie with the southerners, being high country folk themselves.  Even if they didn’t change sides, they might well desert if given a free route through the Ryftguard and back to their homeland.

“If you’re withdrawing, when do you plan to march?” Kerrel asked, even as she moved up to look at the map.  Once again, her odd mix of strength and beauty struck Hector.  Her bright red hair matched her fierce temper, the powerful muscles and her lean frame told of her toughness, yet still held more than enough feminine curves to make his blood stir.

“In the next couple weeks,” Hector said.  “My quartermasters are still reviewing their plans.  I’ll need to crush a couple of the rebel outbreaks here in the south to cow any chances at a general uprising.  His gaze went to a red peg at Castle Redcoast.  He had not expected the jolly Baron of Redcoast to rebel.  The man had seemed far too comfortable in the enjoyment of good food and his barony’s fine table wines.  Yet rebel he had… and as the only lands to do so, he was a marked threat.  If the rebels somehow linked up with him, or worse, he somehow forged an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Boir, Hector would find his forces flanked and any defense almost impossible.  “We’ll march as soon as the logistics is sorted out.”

She nodded, “Well, then, my Lord, I’ll go and check on my command’s preparations.”

He winced at her chill tone, but he nodded to her in dismissal.

As she stepped out of his conference room, his gaze went again to the red pegs on his map.  It would be a long winter.

***

Sutek Press releases Fate of the Tyrant on June 30th!

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