Coffee Break Read – In the Dark and Shrouded by Snow

As he left the players’ camp the night sky was overcast, heavy with pregnant clouds. Before he had gone more than a few paces further, the snow was falling again. The dwelling he sought was in the grim, poverty-wracked, suburbs, pressed against the walls of Tabruth and nestled in the corner of a row of four lean-to shacks which shared a common bond of odour and ordure. In the dark and shrouded by snow, one could not see the extreme of poverty that they represented and could mistake the crude buildings for some semblance of reasonable shelter.
Someone had welcomed their livestock into the family rooms below so that they could keep warm for the night. Ignoring the sharp bark of a dog, Avilon spoke a single word to a figure watching from the shadows and then slipped into the hovel and found it lit badly by a thin-wicked oil lamp and heated poorly by an inadequate fire, fuelled by dried dung. Thus lived most of the free-folk of Temsevar – and thus thousands of the youngest and oldest would die each year during the long and relentless winter moons, of too much cold and too little food.
The smoky room contained three ponies as well as two of the three men who remained to Avilon from the six he had brought with him to Tabruth. They were playing dice by the leering light of the fire, but at his entrance, both had reached for the pistols they carried; his voice stopped them.
“Yanis, what are you doing still here?” he demanded, his voice cutting with anger. “You should be half way to Cressida by now.”
One of the two men stood up, looking uneasy.
“I sent Farran instead. He has family to look for back home. His wife is with child. I have no one to worry for me and -” his voice trailed into silence beneath the intense stare of his commander.
“Really?” Avilon contained his anger, but his voice sounded colder than the blizzard winds. “I don’t suppose it occurred to you I might have had a reason for wanting you to go and Farran to stay?”
Even in the poor light, he could see that Yanis had lost colour. “Farran knows the mountains – ”
“As well as you do?” Avilon provided, cutting across the other man like a whiplash. “Let us hope then that you know Tabruth as well as he – unlikely as he was born and raised here and you have never more than visited.”
Yanis was pinned to the spot by Avilon’s glare.
“I’m sorry – I –” he began.
“No. I am the one who is sorry,” Avilon told him, but with no sense of any apology. “Sorry I trusted you and sorry I made the mistake of expecting my orders to be obeyed. Now let’s see if you can obey this one – get out in the cold and relieve Col.”
The other man left wordlessly and Avilon crossed to the small ladder that separated the sleeping loft from the living area of the hovel. He had not slept in the last two days and saw little prospect of getting much sleep tonight, but if he was going to keep operating effectively he needed to snatch at least some rest. The rough blankets did not do much to abet the fire below in terms of generating warmth, but blocked out a little more of the ice-banked wind which was blowing through the loft as if the roof and walls did not exist. Forcing his mind into neutral and pulling his awareness from the biting cold, he took himself into a sleep state.

From Transgressor: Dues of Blood, a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook

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