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Soldiers of the Ninth Century, I am your new centurion, Marcus Tribulus Corvus. From this moment I formally assume command of this century, and become responsible for every aspect of your well-being, discipline, training and readiness for war.’ He paused, looking to Dubnus, who drew a large breath and spat a stream of his native language at the troops. ‘One fucking smile, cough or fart from any one of you cock jockeys, and I’ll put my pole so far up that man’s shithole that it won’t even scrape onthe floor. This is your new centurion and you will treat him with the appropriate degree of respect if you don’t want to lead short and very fucking interesting lives.’ He turned to Marcus and nodded, indicating that the Roman should continue. ‘I can see from the state of your uniforms that you’ve been neglected, a state of affairs that I intend to address very shortly. I have yet to see your readiness for battle, but I can assure you that you will be combat ready in the shortest possible time. I do not intend to command a century that I would imagine is regarded as the laughing stock of its unit for any longer than I have to.' Dubnus cast a pitying sneer over the faces in front of him before speaking again, watching their faces lengthen with the understanding of his methods, passed by whispered word of mouth from his previous century. ‘You’re not soldiers, you’re a fucking waste of rations, a disgrace to the Tungrians! You look like shit, you smell like shit and you’re probably about as hard as shit! That will change! I will kick your lazy fucking arses up and down every hill in the country if I have to, but you will be real soldiers. I will make you ready to kill and die for the honour of this century, with spear or sword or your fucking teeth and nails if need be!’ Marcus cast a questioning look at him, half guessing that the chosen man was deviating from his script, but chose not to challenge his subordinate. ‘You’ll have better food, uniforms and equipment, and soon. Your retraining starts tomorrow morning, so prepare yourselves! Life in this century changes now!’ Dubnus smiled broadly, showing his teeth with pleasure. ‘Your hairy white arses are mine from this second. Get ready to grab your ankles.
Anthony Riches (Wounds of Honour (Empire, #1))
In the deep woods of the far North, under feathery leaves of fern, was a great fairyland of merry elves, sometimes called forest brownies. These elves lived joyfully. They had everything at hand and did not need to worry much about living. Berries and nuts grew plentiful in the forest. Rivers and springs provided the elves with crystal water. Flowers prepared them drink from their flavorful juices, which the munchkins loved greatly. At midnight the elves climbed into flower cups and drank drops of their sweet water with much delight. Every elf would tell a wonderful fairy tale to the flower to thank it for the treat. Despite this abundance, the pixies did not sit back and do nothing. They tinkered with their tasks all day long. They cleaned their houses. They swung on tree branches and swam in forested streams. Together with the early birds, they welcomed the sunrise, listened to the thunder growling, the whispering of leaves and blades of grass, and the conversations of the animals. The birds told them about warm countries, sunbeams whispered of distant seas, and the moon spoke of treasures hidden deeply in the earth. In winter, the elves lived in abandoned nests and hollows. Every sunny day they came out of their burrows and made the forest ring with their happy shouts, throwing tiny snowballs in all directions and building snowmen as small as the pinky finger of a little girl. The munchkins thought they were giants five times as large as them. With the first breath of spring, the elves left their winter residences and moved to the cups of the snowdrop flowers. Looking around, they watched the snow as it turned black and melted. They kept an eye on the blossoming of hazel trees while the leaves were still sleeping in their warm buds. They observed squirrels moving their last winter supplies from storage back to their homes. Gnomes welcomed the birds coming back to their old nests, where the elves lived during winters. Little by little, the forest once more grew green. One moonlight night, elves were sitting at an old willow tree and listening to mermaids singing about their underwater kingdom. “Brothers! Where is Murzilka? He has not been around for a long time!” said one of the elves, Father Beardie, who had a long white beard. He was older than others and well respected in his striped stocking cap. “I’m here,” a snotty voice arose, and Murzilka himself, nicknamed Feather Head, jumped from the top of the tree. All the brothers loved Murzilka, but thought he was lazy, as he actually was. Also, he loved to dress in a tailcoat, tall black hat, boots with narrow toes, a cane and a single eyeglass, being very proud of that look. “Do you know where I’m coming from? The very Arctic Ocean!” roared he. Usually, his words were hard to believe. That time, though, his announcement sounded so marvelous that all elves around him were agape with wonder. “You were there, really? Were you? How did you get there?” asked the sprites. “As easy as ABC! I came by the fox one day and caught her packing her things to visit her cousin, a silver fox who lives by the Arctic Ocean. “Take me with you,” I said to the fox. “Oh, no, you’ll freeze there! You know, it’s cold there!” she said. “Come on.” I said. “What are you talking about? What cold? Summer is here.” “Here we have summer, but there they have winter,” she answered. “No,” I thought. “She must be lying because she does not want to give me a ride.” Without telling her a word, I jumped upon her back and hid in her bushy fur, so even Father Frost could not find me. Like it or not, she had to take me with her. We ran for a long time. Another forest followed our woods, and then a boundless plain opened, a swamp covered with lichen and moss. Despite the intense heat, it had not entirely thawed. “This is tundra,” said my fellow traveler. “Tundra? What is tundra?” asked I. “Tundra is a huge, forever frozen wetland covering the entire coast of the Arctic Ocean.
Anna Khvolson
The jellycrusts, scorning the protection of travelling within armoured trucks, walked in the dry lands in ragged groups, pushing or dragging their belongings in carts or sledges. Their skins were concealed by thick, insulating gel once manufactured for military use. Since then, the jellycrusts had bought up all the remaining stocks of the stuff, slapping it on their own integrement, where it accumulated the dust and debris of the desert lands; hence their nickname. It reminded Leila of certain larval creatures who once lived in freshwater streams, and which perhaps still did somewhere, who attached stones and water rubbish to their skins, making a shell to live in. The jellycrusts could look like that: frightening, peeling, gaunt creatures. She used to wonder whether they ever washed it all off and started again from a clear skin. Did they make love? It was not a pleasant image. The gel had a strange smell, rather like a room that had been locked up too long; a wooden room beaten by sunheat, rotted by rain, stale and with the promise of hidden corruption. Jellycrusts always wore bulky, colourless clothes, quasi-military in appearance, heavily adorned with totemic ornaments, constructed from the desert trash.
Storm Constantine (Hermetech)