So instead of a Shadows teaser I bring you...a FrostFire teaser! This bit's been revised about four times now so it should be fairly typo and blip free (although I know writing that has just guaranteed at least a hundred mistakes will show up in it). Remember, too, that this novel has not been submitted yet, which means it has a lot of hoops yet to jump through, and any and all scenes are subject to change or even (gulp) deletion.
Enjoy, my pretties!
“Outside, if you please,” Luca said, heading for the entrance.
The drizzle had worsened, water running into Frost’s eyes as she followed Luca out and streaming down her face like tears.
“Listen here,” Luca began, almost shouting to be heard over the sound of the rain. The water darkened her hair to the colour of ripe wheat, and her narrowed eyes were very blue.
“You’re good. Good for a girl who never fought anyone more skilled than a half-drunk bandit. But compared to the rest of the Hill Guard? You’re a liability. You nearly got killed yesterday and it was only luck that you made it out. From now on you’re going to be fighting professional soldiers, ruthless warriors with years of experience in staying alive and making their enemies dead. It’s your job to kill them, and keep on killing them until there’s no one left to kill. Do you understand? So the faster you get it into your head that you’re nothing more than a novice recruit, the better. Your axe is a noble weapon that deserves to be wielded by a skilled warrior. I’ll return it to you when I decide that you are ready for it. In the meantime you’ll be using the practise weapons, designed to prevent you hurting yourself.”
Frost stared at Luca, speechless. She was gradually sobering up enough to realise that something was wrong with the Captain this morning. There was a febrile air about her, like someone in the grip of a fever.
“Nothing to say?” Luca asked, shaking water out of her eyes. “Well, that’s a good start. Time for a lesson.”
She lunged at Frost, one first flying at her face. Frost jerked away, but Luca’s knuckles grazed her cheekbone. Frost staggered back, feet skidding in the mud. She landed on her backside with a squelch, mud and rain-water spattering her.
She stared up at Luca in disbelief. “What are you doing?”
“This isn’t a game! Do you think if Sedorne rebels attacked us right now they would spare you because you have an ale headache and you’re feeling sorry for yourself? Or because the ground is slippery? Or because you’re feeling bad about yesterday? You have to be ready to kill – all the time, under any conditions. You can’t let someone get a blow in under your guard. You know that. Get up. Come at me. Come on!”
“I don’t want to – ”
“UP!” the captain roared.
Frost scrambled to her feet, aware that all over the camp people were emerging from their tents and shelters to see what had made their leader shout.
“Stop questioning everything,” Luca said. “In battle you obey orders or you get yourself killed. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” Frost said, ashamed of the tremble in her voice.
“Now, come at me. Attack me.”
Frost took in a deep breath, shook herself – droplets showered off her soaked clothes – and kicked out sharply towards Luca’s midriff.
Luca caught Frost’s booted foot and a second later Frost was on the ground again, this time flat on her back, staring at the low grey sky.
“You’re too slow, Frost,” Luca said grimly, leaning over her. “Much too slow. You rely on the element of surprise in your attacks, but you telegraph your movements clearly to anyone who looks. Get up.”
There was a crowd around them now, soaked members of the Hill Guard watching silently, faces grave. Doru was there and Frost had never seen such a serious face on him. Frost realised more was going on here than just an impromptu lesson, but she had no idea what had changed.
Frost heaved herself up. Her back throbbed where she had hit the ground and she held in a groan with an effort, placing her feet carefully. The churned up ground was as slippery and treacherous as ice under the soles of her boots. “All right. Then what should I do?”
“Use your brain for once! Try something different!”
Frost circled Luca cautiously, keeping her arms loose at her sides, studying the other woman’s stance carefully for weaknesses. Her feet slid and stuck in the mud, and she could feel the cold seeping into her bones now.
“If you take this long to bring your enemies down in battle, you’re not going to be much use,” Luca taunted, moving to keep Frost in view.
“And if I let them taunt me into attacking before I’m ready?”
Luca grinned, but there was no humour in it. She made a beckoning gesture with her hand. “That depends on who’s coming up behind you.”
It took Frost a second to grasp the meaning of the hand gesture. She spun, one of her arms slicing up defensively to shield her face – but the new opponent was aiming at her legs. A wooden staff slid between her braced knees and scooped her left foot right out from under her. Frost just had time to catch a glimpse of Arian’s face, even grimmer than normal, before she landed in the muck again.
This time she didn’t lie there. Luca was going to keep going until Frost made some kind of successful move. With Arian attacking her too she would get beaten to a pudding if she didn’t do it soon. She rolled, more mud plastering to her face and hair as she sprang back up, and just managed to dodge the roundhouse kick Luca aimed at her head.
Luca spun straight into another kick. Frost ducked under Luca’s leg as it blurred by her ear and fell into a crouch, grabbing Luca’s planted ankle before the other foot could hit the ground. She heaved with all the strength in her chilled and muddy fingers and heard Luca yell in surprise, toppling.
“Ha!” Frost jumped upright. Then her jaw dropped. Instead of taking her own turn in the dirt, Luca somehow turned the fall into a flip. It was far from graceful; her hands slid in the mud and she came up off balance, arms out-flung. But somehow she remained on her feet.
And now Arian was behind Frost.