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Excerpt for The Peril of Winter: A Gay Snow Queen Retelling by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Peril of Winter

M. K. Hobb



Dramatis Personae



Das'lin Saret, a soldier and war hero in Silovale

Ptolios Saret, his father, a former soldier of Silovale

Lady Sybeal de Courcel, a sorceress

Valerie, a friend of Sybeal's

Micah, King of Silovale

Erich, Emperor of Aragonia

Imryiel Lud, his Commander

Kratos, his Commander

Nemaeh Rada, his Vizier

Lionette Dève, his High Priestess



Locations



Silovale, a free human kingdom

Tarvinberg, home city of Das'lin

Aragonia, the Empire of Frost

Malkier, the Kingdom of Elves



Prologue

The wind howled with wrath as snow plummeted from the dark sky. It descended heavily onto small trees that were littered over a desolate frozen land. Thousands of men in scarlet clustered around small campfires under the few trees that existed to protect them from the harsh and unforgiving weather.



A large man with brown hair wrapped in a grey scarf struggled to one of the camp fires as he cradled twigs and wood in his arms. “Bloody freezing,” complained Private Laveau. He dropped some of the twigs and wood into the fire and he watched the flames spiral upwards.



Private Ptolios Saret was fed up of the cold. He was also fed up of the wind but most of all he was fed up of the whinging. Why join the army if you weren’t willing to test yourself to your absolute limits? Ptolios was cold just as much as anyone else but there were much bigger dangers here than the stupid weather.



They were in Aragonia and the natives also happened to be the enemy. A lot of his fellow Silovalian soldiers seemed to have forgotten that. They’d rather just moan about the weather or how hungry they were, thought Ptolios. No doubt half the men he was with hadn’t even seen a battle, let alone participated in one. However, neither had Ptolios but the difference was he understood the main reason he joined the army for. To fight, not to sit and moan like a little girl.



Ptolios watched as one of the fires slowly started to die out. “We’ll need more wood soon.”



Laveau’s eyes flared. “Then, why don’t you get some, eh? It’s always me getting the fucking wood. Have a look around! Do you see any fucking wood?”



“Stop your whining Laveau or I will have you digging latrines in the snow,” said Sergeant Lief, a red haired veteran of twenty years.



Laveau sat down as he glared at the ground. Fucking cunt, Ptolios accidently listened in on Laveau’s thoughts. He didn’t mean to but sometimes it just happened as if he was to accidently prowl in on a pair of lovers making love with each other. If he wanted to he could listen in on anybody’s thoughts but he chose not to. He would often hear the most inappropriate things that would make liking people a very difficult thing to do. Other people might like the ability to eavesdrop on others but Ptolios considered it a curse. And the less people who knew of it the better. Ptolios frowned.



Corporal Urist Fulvia grinned at Laveau. “Cheer up, you fat bastard. Tomorrow you’ll be so busy that you’ll probably hardly even notice the cold. Either way you’re not going to last ten minutes, eh?”



Ptolios scowled at Urist. If there was person Ptolios despised, it was this man. In addition to being rude, he was also obnoxious and way too cocky for his own good. Unlike most of the Silovalian soldiers who had bronze skin, Urist seemed to be as pasty as the snow. He had brown, rumpled hair that fell down to his shoulders. His dark eyes were far apart from each other that he looked more like a frog than a human. The corporal always seemed to be smiling with his crooked, yellow teeth, almost as if he believed everyone was beneath him.



Crazy Marc laughed. “Won’t this be your first battle, Urist?”



“I didn’t earn my chevrons by luck. I had to earn them. It’s not like I grabbed them out of a bleeding piss pot.” Urist looked slyly at Sergeant Lief to see if he was watching and grinned when he saw he wasn’t. “Unlike some people.” The pair of them roared with laughter, Crazy Marc the loudest amongst them both.



I wouldn’t be too surprised if you became a corporal by cleaning piss pots your entire life, thought Ptolios. He picked up the last pieces of wood and tossed them into the dying fire and saw how it surged upwards. “Hey Sergeant, when are they thought to attack again?”



Sergeant Lief studied Ptolios with his dark eyes. “How many times have we been through this, Ptolios? The scouts have reported that a large enemy force is on route and should be here in the early hours of the morning. Our regiment and the 25th will muster on the Memnon road and will be used as bait but the bastards will get surprised attacked on both flanks by the remaining forces. They’ll get destroyed. No prisoners unless they are commissioned and no mercy for any men from the ranks. We don’t have enough rations for their army as well as our own.”



Ptolios didn’t ask for a battle plan that he already knew but he decided to bite his tongue. He thought of his wife and child at home. Little Das'lin five going on eight. “Sounds like a stupid plan to me.”



“You scared Private Saret?” Urist the little shit grinned, revealing his yellow teeth.



The Sergeant interjected. “Our job is to follow orders, not to question them, Ptolios. General Kratos and his officers have decided on their own accord that this plan is good enough to fool the enemy so we as their subordinates are supposed to have faith in them. But yes in my opinion, it’s a damned awful plan and I am sure to pray to the gods that the enemy is foolish enough to walk into our trap.”



The few people sat around the campfire shuffled awkwardly when the Sergeant said that.



“Why do we have to be used as bloody bait?” Private Laveau whined.



“Go get some more wood, Laveau.”

Laveau muttered something under his breath as he stood up before trotting away. Ptolios considered amusing himself by listening in to his thoughts but decided against it. If he was to tempt himself this time, what’s to say he wouldn’t do it another time and take advantage of the situation?



Private Pierre clapped his hands and waited until everyone had turned their heads towards him. “This reminds me of the battle of 67 or was it 68? No definitely 67… We tricked ‘em at Ireeli with the exact same tactic but it was entirely my idea! I told General Vral my idea, god rest his soul and he listened to it and said ‘that’s a great plan, Private! We shall use that!’ we won the battle but the general took the bleeding credit for it. The damned bastard.” Pierre looked offended. “I imagine that’s where Kratos got his plan from.” Pierre considered himself an old dog within the army and that he was as he served the army for twenty five years. However he was also known as Tales for the past twenty five years also.



“I’m surprised you’re not at least a Colonel by now,” said Crazy Marc.



“I should’ve earned a battle field commission in 58 but I wasn’t a Sergeant so they offered me money instead,” explained Pierre with a sad face.



A battle field commission was a rare occurrence in which a man from the ranks could get promoted to become an officer. He had to show valour and bravery in combat but also needed to be a Sergeant or above to meet the criteria. Ptolios only heard of one person who was able to achieve this.



Just when Pierre was about to open up his mouth to no doubt spout more nonsense, he saw something and froze. When Ptolios turned his head to see what he was looking at, he saw a tall man on a white horse being trailed by two menacing looking shaggy dogs with black fur. The man sat on the horse had sandy hair which fell down to his shoulders and despite his long hair there was a visible horrendous scar where his right ear used to be. Under his thin eyebrows, he had hazel coloured eyes that looked angry and resentful. His sword scabbard clattered against his leg as his horse plodded forward. Ptolios couldn’t see his epaulettes as he was wearing a huge scarlet greatcoat but it was plainly obvious that this man was an officer. But why was Tale’s so interested in this man?



“I think Tales is in love.” said Urist.



Pierre gasped. “It’s him!”



Sergeant Lief sighed. “Captain Grenn Malevein.”



“Who?” asked Ptolios.



“The man you see there was once a young lord of a rich and powerful family that also happened to be cousins to the Mazraim’s. Unfortunately for the Malevein’s they believed that high treason was a good idea to win the throne. Every member of the family was executed apart from Captain Malevein over there who was sentenced to join the army until he died. The only reason he escaped execution was because he was believed to have no part whatsoever in the high treason crime.”



Ptolios looked at the Captain with sad eyes. He never knew his own family but he could truly understand how the man felt.



“What were those two dogs with him?” asked Marc.



Pierre seemed ecstatic. “’’E saved those two dogs in the battle of 74. Since then they have become his loyal companions and fought by his side in every battle ‘e’s had since. Some say he killed their previous owner, some say he summoned them from the hells itself.”



Urist eye-balled him. “You do talk some shit at times.”



There wasn’t much else for Ptolios to do other than to sleep. He was getting fed up of the moaning, the made up stories and the cold and the wind. He also felt a ting of nervous excitement about tomorrow’s battle. He wrapped up in his sleeping bag and closed his eyes.



He dreamt he was on a horse galloping forwards. He lifted up his sword and swung down at a dark faced man who held his arms up trying to shield himself from the oncoming slash. The sword cut through him as if he was butter and the man collapsed to the floor in a mess of blood, bone and flesh. He was quick to parry a slash to his left but all the sudden he was surrounded by three horsemen. They attacked in fury and Ptolios parried as much as he physically could. Alas it was too much for him to handle and he felt a sharp pain on the right hand side of his face. His heart started to race and before he knew what was happening another dark faced man was dragging him off his horse resulting in him sinking into the sand.



Ptolios woke up and instantly touched his right ear. It was only a dream. When I’m fighting I won’t be on a horse, I’ll be in the front rank and I’ll do what I’ve been trained to do. To kill. He closed his eyes again.



When Ptolios awoke the next morning, the snowing had stopped but the cold air still stung his face. It had been a two hour march to the Memnon road, yet he still felt tired and groggy from last night’s sleep. Seven hundred and fifty men were stood in the front rank on the road and seven hundred and fifty men were stationed behind them. On either side of the men rose steep snowy hills that would have been difficult to run up if anyone was foolish enough to desert. There were junior officers and Sergeants at the very front of the ranks and the most senior officers were behind both ranks on their horses.



Ptolios himself was in the front rank. He struggled to prevent the thoughts of his comrades flooding in to his own mind. Aside from the fact that Ptolios himself was almost pissing his breeches, all his comrades also appeared to fear for their own lives and could only pray they’d get out of this situation alive. No, must not listen in. I can’t have any distractions.





“Sergeant’s, prepare the men! Have them load their rifles and have their bayonets fitted!” bellowed the Colonel from behind.



Lief was one of the Sergeants. “Alright, lads, you heard the Colonel, load!”



Ptolios did what he was trained to do. All the measurements were prepared the day before. Tilting his rifle so the muzzle pointed upwards, Ptolios scrounged through his ammo pouch and grabbed the charge. Tearing the top of the charge with his teeth, he tasted the salt and bit down on the rifle bullet. He poured the powder down the barrel and spat the bullet into it shortly after. Ptolios then grabbed his ramrod out of his utility belt and shoved it all down the barrel so it was sat at the bottom. Finally he grabbed a different type of powder from his belt and poured it into the pan of the rifle. Ptolios cocked the rifle. All the training comes down to this, I can’t be scared thought Ptolios. Though he was expecting the two flanks to charge in and obliterate the enemy forces, there was still a slight possibility he and his fellow soldiers may be needed to help in the battle.

“Private Laveau, quicker next time! Alright lads, fix bayonets!” ordered Sergeant Lief.



Ptolios took his bayonet out of his utility belt and slid it in place on the top of the rifle so that it clicked.



After forty minutes, they came.



It seemed to Ptolios that there were thousands of them. A mass of vagabonds marching steadily towards sixteen hundred or so men. Unlike the Silovalian army, they didn’t seem to have any discipline. Almost every one of them was out of step and out of line. The people who were in command were striding at the very front of the ranks at a quick pace with red girdles tied around their waist. All of the Aragonia soldiers were dressed in various ways too. They were wrapped up heavily in a variety of different bleak coloured scarf’s and robes, colours Ptolios didn’t even know existed. The Aragonia soldiers had their own weapons of sorts. Some had rifles that Ptolios had never seen before but most carried swords, axes or scythes. However they seemed to outnumber the 22nd and the 25th regiment by so much that their weapons could actually pose a huge threat. They were about five hundred yards away.



As they got closer, Ptolios heard their chanting.



“S-shouldn’t the flanks be here by now?” Somebody from the ranks asked.



“Yeah, where the hells are they?” Somebody else screamed.



Ptolios wondered the same thing. Where were the flanks that were supposed to surprise attack the Aragonia forces? They should have arrived by now. He felt his heart begin to beat as his body began to quiver.

“Stop your bickering! Front rank, get ready!” Sergeant Lief growled. The other Sergeants imitated the order.



Ptolios aimed his rifle. Okay, must keep calm, thought Ptolios.



“Aim low and wait until my command!” yelled the Colonel.



They waited and waited and still the flanks didn’t arrive to save the day. They were getting dangerously close now and Ptolios could even see some of the enemy soldier’s smashing their fists against their chests.



“Fire!” screamed the Colonel.



The seven hundred and fifty men of the first rank pulled their triggers. There was a crackling roar as the muzzles of the rifles were set alight.

The butt of the rifle slammed into Ptolios’s shoulders, he was used to the kickback from months of training so it didn’t seem to hurt him much. He did however have trouble seeing past the smoke fog that the rifles caused. He wondered if he had struck anyone but judging by the screams, groans and moans, at least a hundred people were struck down.

“Front rank, load!”



Along with his comrades, Ptolios crouched down and started to load his rifle. He knew he had to remain calm but he also knew he had to do it as quickly as possible. Just like the way he had been taught in training.



“Second rank fire!”



Ptolios heard the deafening roar of the rifles as the rounds flew overhead. He finished loading his rifle, stood up and waited for the orders.



Ptolios had expected the next order to be ‘front rank fire’ but when the order ‘second rank load’ didn’t come he soon came to realize that he wouldn’t be ordered to fire. Beyond the smoke there was screaming and panic as men were scurrying about. Enemy gunfire was going off beyond the smoke but the rounds were flying way off target as all rounds flew overhead. Ptolios glanced to his right and saw Sergeant Lief grin.



“Forward!” yelled the Colonel.



Ptolios didn’t expect that order.



Ptolios, along with the rest of the 22nd and 25th, marched slowly through the smoke with their rifles aimed ahead and still in line. Ptolios had wondered if he was to be struck down by a smirking soldier ready for him on the other side but what he saw, he just couldn’t comprehend.



It was complete and utter disaster on Aragonia’s behalf. Whilst hundreds of their soldiers lay dead on the floor, most of them were running away! Or trying to at least. The Majority of them were tripping themselves up or tripping up over dead bodies. While only a small number of them screamed at each other trying to get themselves back in order.



And the order Ptolios had hoped to come, came. “Charge! Get the bastards!”



Ptolios screamed along with everyone else as they sprinted towards the enemy, the enemy soldiers faces were full of shock and dismay. Horsemen galloped ahead to get to their prey before everyone else. Ptolios could hear barking and howling as he ran.



Ptolios found his first victim, a man who was trying to drag a fallen comrade away from the mess. The man, rather than attacking, held his rifle in the air in hopes of blocking any forthcoming attacks that might befall him. Ptolios at first feigned with his rifle, swinging it downwards. However he redirected it and speared the rifle under the enemy soldier’s own rifle, digging his bayonet deep into the poor man’s gullet causing blood to pump out of his throat.



Some of the Aragonia forces were trying to fight back but the men who once outnumbered the Silovalian forces were now finding themselves outnumbered three to one. Ptolios looked to his left and saw a comrade fire a round point blank into one of the enemy’s faces as his head exploded into clutter of skull, hair, blood and brain onto the snow.



Ptolios heard the crunch of snow behind him and urgently turned around as a bearded soldier held an axe high towards him. Ptolios jumped backwards and the axe missed him by an inch. He thrust his bayonet hard into the bearded man’s chest and forced the bayonet through a gap in the ribcage. Pulling the trigger, he heard the thundering roar as smoke almost consumed him. Ptolios struggled to yank the bloody bayonet out of the dead body, the smell of burnt flesh almost made him gag. The dead soldier slumped onto the floor in a muddle of blood, bone, tissue and flesh.

Ptolios heard a cry and faced right to witness Private Laveau being impaled by a sword and then being lifted upwards by perhaps the biggest, most hairiest man he had ever laid his eyes on. With only one arm the man had simply lifted Laveau from the ground as if he was perhaps a little toddler. The hairy man dropped Laveau onto the ground and roared a war cry as he lifted his bloody sword toward the cold sky.



A horseman galloped to the hairy man with his own sword in hand ready to strike him down. Unfortunately for the horseman, the hairy man was quicker and struck both of the horse’s front legs as it tried to evade the blow. The horse and the horseman both tumbled headfirst into the snow. Ptolios saw how the majority of the native forces were struggling to defend themselves from the onslaught of invading soldiers.



As the rider struggled to move, it took Ptolios only a moment to realize that the horseman was Captain Garr Malevein!



The hairy soldier screamed another war cry and held his sword in the air as the sun bounced off the steel. The hairy soldier then held his sword with both hands in the air, ready to hack down at Garr Malevein. Ptolios sprinted towards him in a state of blind rage. He felt he had to save Captain Malevein from this man, he just had to. Just as the hairy soldier started slashing down to finish off the captain, Ptolios was able to tackle the man to the ground, his rifle still gripped firmly in his right hand.



A small shiny stone fell out of the man’s pockets. Ptolios looked at his opponent as he gradually stood up. The hairy man stared at Ptolios in a state of amusement as he said something in a foreign tongue that Ptolios could not begin to fathom. The man held his sword towards Ptolios and started to hop about on his left leg mockingly. Don’t be scared, don’t be scared, thought Ptolios.



He jumped on his left leg towards Ptolios slowly and clumsily as he started to cackle manically. Ptolios looked around quickly in hope of help. He realized that everyone was occupied and that he had to fight this beast of a man himself.



The hairy man swung first trying to cut Ptolios in half, but Ptolios was able to leap backwards. The hairy man then said something else in a foreign tongue and laughed so loud that the gods were bound to hear him. Ptolios thrust his rifle forward in a hope of goring him through the guts but the hairy man parried the rifle away with his bare hand. The hairy man swung again. This time in an upwards to down movement but lucky for Ptolios, he was able to avoid the blow by stepping aside as the sword made a thunderous bang in the snow.



Ptolios thrust again. This time instead of the hairy man parrying with his bare hand, he snatched the rifle and yanked it towards him, yanking the bayonet over his right shoulder. The man kicked Ptolios in the stomach, driving his breath away. He then used the butt of Ptolios’s musket to crunch his nose, causing his nose to erupt into a bloody mess on his face. The hairy man shoved him to the ground so Ptolios was facing the clouds.



Tears streamed down Ptolios’s face as he struggled to breath, feeling dizzy and disorientated. He looked up at the hairy man as he cackled again and as the hairy man held his sword upwards.



Before he could bring the blade down, the hairy man gurgled and spat blood. In shock he looked down and saw a sharp sword through his guts as his intestines began to spill onto the snow. He fell to his knees and looked at Ptolios one last time before collapsing.



Ptolios looked up and saw Captain Garr Malevein looking tired and bloodied. “I believe this is yours.” He threw a shiny shard of glass towards Ptolios. “I believe it fell out of your pockets when you tried to save my life.”



Private Ptolios Saret picked up the glass that he'd never seen before and saw how in the sunlight it radiated a blue glow.

Chapter I



Wood-smoke from the hearth fires clouded the low ceilings and moldy, wooden walls of the Gilded Trumpet, but the tavern’s patronage did not mind. Almost every set of eyes was engrossed in the dice game being played by five men in the corner of the establishment. Verin, the Trumpet’s owner, didn’t know why everybody was so interested.

“One game of knucklebones is the same as any other,” he grumbled behind the bar while he scrubbed an empty mug. “It’s not like a tourney or a cockfight. Don’t see why everyone’s so interested.”

“Verin, you old fool, don’t you know it’s not the game that’s got the Trumpet so livened?” said Leper Rob, one of his regulars, wiping foam from his patchy beard. “It’s the player! Look at him. Don’t you recognize who that is?”

The innkeeper squinted through the haze, trying to make out this mysterious stranger that had stolen the public interest. Usually, when Verin took over the bar after dinner, he comforted himself with listening in on the local gossip. As much as he would deny it to himself, he found the local goings-on in Tarvinberg’s Lower City to be absolutely enthralling. Some nights, he’d hear about Captain Col’s newest mistress, or how Tayne the herbalist would put a pinch of jinxberry in her poultices so they wouldn’t work too well and run herself out of business. Verin liked those sort of rumors, but this whispering tonight was likely to drive him mad.


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