Into the Darkness

Into the Darkness by Harry Turtledove Read Free Book Online

Book: Into the Darkness by Harry Turtledove Read Free Book Online
Authors: Harry Turtledove
sticks won the Star of Efficiency—posthumously, of course—but expending a captive was more efficient still.
    It didn’t matter, not here. For one thing, he had no captive, only a corpse. For another, no mages, first-rank or otherwise, were around. He crawled back behind his boulder and waited for the Gyongyosians to press the attack.
    For several minutes, they didn’t. Maybe they weren’t sure how much damage the dragon attack had done. Or maybe they weren’t any more enthusiastic about the war than Leudast was. He listened to somebody, presumably an officer, haranguing them in their unintelligible twittering language. Knowing what an Unkerlanter officer would say in such a spot, Leudast guessed the fellow was telling them they’d get worse from him than from their foes if they didn’t start moving.
    Here they came, the fuzzy bastards, some of them blazing, others darting forward while the rest made the Unkerlanters keep their heads down. Leudast popped up, took a couple of blazes with his beam, and then ducked again before the Gongs could puncture him as he’d punctured their trooper.
    When he heard more of them getting around to his right, he fell back. A beam came horrifyingly close to him, lighting up a rock just in front of his face. But then he was in good cover again, and blazing back at the enemy.
    And then, rather to his own surprise, more Unkerlanters came moving up from the rear, shouting King Swemmel’s name as they advanced. The Gyongyosians shouted, too, in dismay. Their chance was gone, and they knew it. The reinforcements even had a small portable egg-tosser with them. How the Gongs howled when they were on the receiving end of eggshells full of light and fire!
    “Forward, men!” an Unkerlanter officer shouted. “Let’s drive them out of the mountains and into the flat. King Swemmel and efficiency!”
    As far as Leudast was concerned, thinking a couple of platoons of soldiers could drive Gyongyos out of the Elsung Mountains wasn’t very efficient. He lay panting behind his heap of rocks. He’d been in the mountains for a while. No overeager fool was going to get him killed, not when he’d just come through a skirmish in one piece. “Staying alive is efficient, too,” he muttered, and sat tight.
    Fernao stood at the bow of the Leopardess as she bounded north and west across the waves from Setubal, the capital of Lagoas, toward the Algarvian port of Feltre. The mage felt harassed. Not only did he have to bear in mind the pattern of ley lines on the sea—harder to read than they were on land—but he also had to be alert for any trace of Sibian warships, and perhaps for those of Valmiera, too.
    Captain Rogelio came up to him. “Anything?” he asked.
    “No, sir.” Fernao shook his head, and felt the ponytail flip back and forth on his neck. Like most Lagoans, he was tall and on the lean side. In some lights, his hair was auburn; in others, a rich brown. His narrow eyes, with a fold of skin at the inner corners that made them look set at a slant, told of Kuusaman blood. “All seems as quiet as if we were still at peace.”
    Rogelio snorted. “Lagoas is at peace, I’ll thank you to remember. It’s all the other fools who’ve thrown the world into the fire.” He twiddled at his mustache: he wore a big waxed swashbuckler, in Algarvian style.
    “As if the world were at peace.” Fernao accepted the correction; like any mage worth his salt, he craved precision. After a moment, he went on, “In the Six Years’ War, we chose sides.”
    “And a whole great whacking lot of good it did us, too,” the captain of the Leopardess said with another snort. “What did we get out of it? Thousands—tens, hundreds of thousands—dead, even more maimed, a war debt we’re just now starting to get out from under, half our shipping sunk—and you want to do it again? Here’s what I think of that.” He spat—carefully, over the leeward rail.
    “I never said I wanted to do it again,” Fernao

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