Set your sails for Verglas, Champions, Sacrifice has arrived! Truthfully I’m struggling to think of something else to say, but I’m betting 90% of you have clicked on the link and zipped away to look at the new shiny, so I may as well shut up. For you poor souls who can’t get it yet, click the “Read More” link below for an excerpt of the first few pages.
I can’t wait to hear what you all think of it! After you finish it, please leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads! Just as I did with Heart of Ice, for every 25 reviews left, I’ll unlock a new Snow Queen freebie. (For the list of freebies check the top post.) Thanks, Champions. I really hope you enjoy it.
The wind stung Farrin Graydim’s face and pushed some of his black-brown hair into his eyes, but he didn’t stir.
His regiment—the First Regiment, or as it was fondly called by Tenebris, the Fighting First—glittered like a sea of metal behind him in neat, orderly rows. They stood silent as they faced the snow-covered road that wove through a thick, untamed forest.
Dryden—one of the magic users under his command—stirred at his side.
“It’s freezing.” She pulled her cloak tight and brushed her button nose, red with the cold. “Bluff, can’t you do anything to warm it up?”
Bluff snorted. “Sure, if you can stop an avalanche.” He sneezed and rubbed his ears.
Farrin ignored the idle chit-chat and kept his gaze on the forest. The field of snow that stood between the woods and his men created a terrible glare that was difficult to see past.
“I hate this wretched country.” Dryden was hard to understand thanks to her chattering teeth. “Spring is just weeks away, and it’s as cold as it was in the dead of winter.”
Bunny snorted. She was the only one of their bunch who appeared untouched by the cold. She wore nothing more than a long-sleeved tunic, pants, and padded boots. “I think we have Princess Rakel to thank for that.”
Her observations pulled Farrin from his dutiful watch. Princess Rakel. How things will change for her when Tenebris arrives.
“Princess Rakel,” Dryden growled. “If I could get one minute alone with her—”
“She’d freeze you solid, and then you would complain even more,” Bluff said.
“She would not!” Dryden said. “I would get her before she could work her magic on me.”
“Would not,” Bluff said.
“Enough,” Farrin said. He cast a critical eye for his troops, searching for the slightest blemish or relaxed stance. They need to be perfect.
The magic users fell silent.
When the first few soldiers on horseback stepped toward them from the darkness of the forest, his fingers twitched as he automatically reached for his two-handed broadsword—which wasn’t there. Clever Rakel, he thought, recalling, with admiration and irritation, the way she’d swiped the weapon from him. He missed the sword like an amputated limb.
The mounted party emerged from the forest. Farrin shielded his eyes to make out the army insignia on the lead horse’s saddle blanket—there! He raised his arm in the air and shouted, “Salute!”
The First Regiment moved as one, raising their arms in respect as Tenebris Malus—the leader of the Allegiance of the Chosen Army—and his retinue rode across the barren, snowy field.
When he reached the edge of their forces, Tenebris dismounted.
“Tenebris!” Sunnira—one of Farrin’s healers and friends—broke ranks and ran up to the esteemed leader, throwing her arms around him.
Tenebris laughed as she attached herself to his arm. “You look well, Sunnira. I hope you have been taking care of my army.”
“Of course,” Sunnira said.
Tenebris patted her hands and passed off the reins of his horse to one of his companions. He stretched his neck and strolled towards Farrin—who hadn’t yet broken rank.
He held his salute. “Sir.”
“At ease, Farrin,” Tenebris said. He slapped him on the shoulder and offered him a wide smile. It was a happy one, Farrin was relieved to see. Tenebris smiled whether he was angry or pleased, but his smiles of rage always showed more of his teeth.
Tenebris Malus was a mysterious man. Though he was short and thin through the shoulders, he had a heavy aura of power. His face was bland but pleasant, and he almost always wore a helm or cap of some sort—though one could see strands of his gold-brown hair leaking out on occasion. His eyes were unusual, though. They were round like marbles, and their pupils were more disk-like than circular. They were gold in color, and hooded, which gave him a calculated air.
“Thank you, sir.” Farrin motioned for his regiment to drop the salute. They complied.
“Still as well organized as ever—and a sight for sore eyes. Kavon lets his mercenary troops run wild like savages.” Tenebris nodded once. “I cannot fault him. Those without magic are little more than animals—though it is good to see you have broken yours into submission.” He smiled again, and something in Farrin twitched at the harsh words.
Farrin straightened his shoulders. “It is our honor to have you with us.”
“I’m sure.” Tenebris shielded his eyes from the brilliant sun. “It has been too long since I’ve ridden with you and the Fighting First. I look forward to speaking with you—and Sunnira.” He spared the healer another smile.
Sunnira cocked her head. “What took you so long to come?”
Beside Farrin, Bluff gaped in shock at her impertinent question until Bunny kicked him in the back of the knee.
“Varmints started stirring in the south just when I thought it was time to come north,” Tenebris sighed. “I stayed to help Grimick stamp them out, but they’re worse than sewer rats.”
“Varmints?” Farrin asked.
“Some farmers and commoners playing rebel. Though they should be easy to crush, they’ve burned two outposts and reclaimed several villages—all in the name of their beloved Snow Queen.” A frown lurked on Tenebris’s lips, making the gold of his eyes glow. “We razed a few villages, but they still prowl around in the hills. In the end, I decided it would be quicker to kill their ‘hero’ than to keep hunting them down individually.”
Farrin kept his expression passive, but he couldn’t stop his hands from curling into fists. The inevitable clash of his affection for Rakel and his loyalty to Tenebris had arrived. “I see. Shall I take you to your quarters, sir?”
“Yes, thanks, Runt,” Tenebris said, moving to walk shoulder to shoulder with Farrin. Sunnira still held his arm, and Bluff, Bunny, and Dryden fell in line behind them.
“Released,” Farrin shouted.
The foot soldiers and the rest of the magic users broke out of formation, moving on with their duties as Farrin escorted their leader to the best tent.
“I must say, Runt, I am upset,” Tenebris continued. “It isn’t like you to leave an enemy alive.”
“I regret that I have disappointed you,” Farrin said.
Tenebris slapped his shoulder again. “Don’t take it to heart. You haven’t ever failed me before. You were bound to do so eventually—though I must admit, I didn’t think your lesson of humility would come from a thin-skinned, worthless princess.”
“With all due respect, sir, no one who has met Princess Rakel would call her thin-skinned or useless,” Farrin said.
“We’ll see,” Tenebris said. “In the meantime, I’ve changed my mind about the Verglas citizens.”
Farrin dared to hope for a moment. “Oh?”
“Yes. We’ll have to cull most of them.”
“Cull?” Bluff asked. He swallowed hard when Tenebris glanced back at him. “I-I beg your pardon, sir.”
“No harm, boy. I meant we’ll have to kill ’em. They’re too stubborn and too prone to hope. They’ll make lousy slaves unless we limit their numbers,” Tenebris said. He wore a smile and spoke in a pleasant tone—as if they were discussing plans for a celebration.
Farrin stopped outside the black tent he had ordered to be pitched for Tenebris. “Do you really think it is necessary to found our country with such slaughter?”
“Necessary? No. But it will make it easier.” Tenebris swatted his free hand through the air. “And with the way this war has carried on, we need all the help we can get. I planned for us to hold the entire country by now. As my officers were unable to achieve that, we’ll have to cut corners where we can.”
Farrin looked at Tenebris as if seeing him for the first time. I have always known Tenebris is a man without mercy to those who oppose him, but this—the slaughter of thousands of innocent people?
As if sensing Farrin’s thoughts, Tenebris arched one of his eyebrows and gave Farrin a toothy smile. “Next time don’t fail me,” he said.
“Farrin did his best,” Sunnira said diplomatically. “The problem is Princess Rakel. She was much stronger than any of us could have predicted.”
Tenebris shrugged. “That’s an easy fix. Once she’s killed, the resistance will run out of traction.”
A muscle twitched in Farrin’s cheek. He made his expression apathetic and hoped no one noticed.
Sunnira shook her head. “You need to be careful with her, Tenebris. Farrin did well against her because of his magic, but she could trample anyone else.”
Tenebris grinned and pinched Sunnira’s cheek. “You think she’s better than me, you impudent brat?” he asked, his voice warm with affection.
“I think she’s a monster,” Sunnira said.
Farrin wished she would stop talking.
“Well, it’s a good thing I am one as well.” Tenebris pointed to the tent. “Is this it?”
“I hope it meets your expectations, sir,” Farrin said.
“I’m sure it will. Give me a few hours to get settled, and I’ll meet up with you and your little trainees for dinner,” Tenebris said. “That means you, too, Sunnira.”
Sunnira kissed Tenebris’s cheek. “You don’t need to tell me—you aggravating man. I have patients to attend to.” She winked at their leader, waved to Farrin, and drifted off in the direction of the medical tent.
Farrin bowed. “Welcome to the First Regiment, sir.”