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Lost Empire of Winterhold

The reluctant heir to the half throne of Winterhold leaves the plots that threaten his life and flees North with the woman he loves. Upon returning to his home in the Waste, he discovers to his horror that the murderous schemes have followed him and wiped out his clan, leaving only his adoptive brother alive. His brother captures the female captain of the troop of warriors sent to destroy the heir and the four of them flee into the mountains of the Northern Range. Wandering through the dark maze of tunnels beneath the mountains, they eventually emerge into a valley whose existence was unknown to the outside world. There they discover an ancient empire divided into three warring factions. A formidable wall manned by one faction separates the other two, keeping the valley in a constant state of warfare. Split up soon after they enter the valley, the sojoumers must make their way through a host of plots for power and once again try to survive, but in a very different climate from the one they had known outside the isolated realm. The valley is hot and lush with growth, a stark contrast to the rest of the frozen planet. Brought together at the end in a battle among the three factions, the four discover that ancient enmities can wreak havoc, both inside and outside of the hidden empire.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Stephen Almekinder

Stephen Almekinder has a variety of experience as a writer. He received a finalist certificate from the Writers of the Future Contest for one of his short stories. He wrote a radio play, which was produced and aired. He adapted the science fiction novel Nova, by Samuel R. Delany, into a screenplay with the permission of the author. One of his short stories was published in a science fiction/fantasy magazine, Once Upon A World, in 1997. Winterhold, Blood of Winterhold, and Lost Empire of Winterhold have been published by Hard Shell Word Factory. Winterhold was a finalist for an Eppie, an award given out by the EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) group, while Blood of Winterhold was nominated for the Frankfurt eBook Award. Hard Shell Word Factory has also published Backyardia, a fantasy novel for young adults. And it is safe to say that the Winterhold series is not yet finished.

Reviews

"Almekinder captivated readers with his creation of Winterhold. His plots twist and turn upon themselves and nothing is quite what it appears. In Lost Empire of Winterhold he executes a turn that will leave readers as stunned as the familiar characters stumble into a place, a life, and a people totally unexpected. How could we all have thought that the artic desert of Winterhold was all there was?"

Lisa DuMond -- Black Gate Magazine
Excerpt


Chapter 1

Trys dreamed that he was being frozen into the snow-bound landscape of Winterhold. Torrents of snow surrounded and smothered him and ice clogged his veins. He awoke to find the snout of his breather mask frozen to the icy plain upon which he lay, while wind-driven snow lashed the narrow tent of his Waste cloak like shards of flying glass.

He yanked his head up. The snout cracked free. He pawed at the clogged end with glove-muffled fingers and finally managed to clear the breathing passage. A cloud of his own breath filled the Waste cloak tent. He sank back and breathed deeply. Crystals of ice formed upon the side of the tent only to be rattled and shaken off by the buffeting of the vicious wind.

Without looking, he reached over and touched Roxyna's hip. The warmth and solidity of her body beneath her Waste cloak and the tight fitting stitched leather of her singlesuit was reassuring. She stirred slightly but did not awake. They had used only Trys's cloak to form the tent. Its narrowness bound their bodies tightly together to conserve precious heat.

Behind the slits of his breather mask, he closed his eyes, not to sleep but to try to focus on the moment. They were warm and together and out of the direct blast of the wind. Those were their advantages. But they were on foot somewhere near the base of the Northern Range and their supply of food had dwindled to a handful of dried bryl meat and a few crumbling lichen cakes. And winter was coming early to the North, as it often did.

They had to find a cave or some form of permanent shelter quickly. Even though Roxyna was tough, it was a toughness bred in the relative warmth of the Hold. She had never been out onto the Waste before this journey. She had not been prepared either physically or mentally for the brutality of the climate. The cold had sapped the strength from her body and stunned her mind with its unrelenting blasts. Trys had seen men, whose bodies were perfectly fit, die from the continuous onslaught of the ubiquitous cold and snow. It was said that there were many ways to death upon the Waste; Trys knew the truth of that now with his entire being.

They had to survive. So far, they had survived the long journey after the destruction of their snow skimmer in the snowstorm, which had swept down upon them like a juggernaut. Before that, they had survived the days of skimming Northward across the snowy plain of the Waste, pursued at times by hungry cayns who had loped close by, watching for them to falter, waiting to lunge in with savage fangs.

And before that, they had survived. Used by the Interpreters of the Rituals, lauded by the revolutionaries as a savior, and hunted by the old aristocracy as an enemy of the established order, Trys had managed to stumble through both Hold and Camp. He had discovered that his birth mother was the Queen/Lady Alisande herself and that his father had been the Consort Gerred. Everyone had tried to use that knowledge to his or her own benefit. His grandfather, King/Lord Nordseth, had come close to having him killed because of it.

Meeting his birth mother at the end of it all, he had discovered who he was and where he stood in relation to all the myriad groups that lived in and about the Hold. But as soon as he had found her, he had fled. He had run to survive. And now he was afraid that his run might be over.

He twisted onto his right side and pulled his arm out from under him. The hilt of his blood blade, which poked up above his right shoulder, gouged the snow upon which they lay. He reached up with his left hand and adjusted the scabbard upon his back. The blade, antique in design but exquisitely balanced and crafted, had once belonged to his birth father. It was all that he had from him.

Recalling the father he had never known made him think about the only father he had ever known, Drun pyr Khun myr Jynth. Trys was a member of the Caynruhl clan, even though he knew his matronymic and patronymic were no longer simply myr Lyn and pyr Drun. He had headed North because his home was here among the frozen rocks of the foothills of the Northern Range. His clan made their winter quarters close by, and so, when he and Roxyna had fled from the Hold, Trys knew that this was the only place where he could go to find safety with the only family he had ever known. His father and mother and brother lived here. He and Roxyna would live here, too.

Trys listened for sounds outside of their narrow tent. The wind had fallen away, leaving the utter silence of the Waste behind. It was time for them to be up and moving. If they lay still for too long, they would never be able to move again.

"Roxyna," said Trys. The baffles within the bone and leather structure of his breather mask which helped to warm the air before it reached his lungs, turned the name, spoken in a normal tone of voice, into a whisper which trickled out of its end in a tiny cloud of steam.

"Yes," came the immediate reply.

"We must get up and be on our way."

"Yes." This time it was delayed by a second and the puff of steam from her side of the tent was longer than the exhalation of the breath needed to form the single syllable.

"I know you're tired. So am I. But that's exactly why we must get moving."

"I understand."

"Slip off your breather mask and make sure the end is clear of ice. Wrap yourself up well in your Waste cloak, and then I'll stand up and pull my cloak off us."

"Right."

Trys heard her fumbling with her breather mask and felt her turn over in the narrow space next to him. He lifted his own mask to make sure he had gotten all the ice off the end. As he did so he saw her face close to his own. Her eyes were bright, although ringed about with lines of tiredness. Her rich, red hair lay tousled on her forehead.

"I'll be fine. I'm a woman of the Waste now, remember?"

He leaned over the few inches separating them and kissed her firmly. Their lips brushed lingeringly across each other and then parted.

The edge of his Waste cloak rose as he leaned over and a draft of frigid air darted in. The cold bit her face and she winced, but quickly turned it into a warm smile.

"Ready?"

She nodded and slipped her breather mask into place. Trys left his loose until he could stand up and adjust it properly. He pulled his legs and arms up under him and pushed upward on the roof of the Waste cloak tent with one movement, shoving his head toward the end at the same time.

The snow, which had piled up against their feet, tumbled off the end of the cloak. Trys spread his booted feet and yanked the loose ends of the Waste cloak about him. His gloved fingers fumbled with the thongs to secure it. Trys tried hard to not breathe too deeply of the icy air since his breather mask was not in place, but he had to gasp when the bitter cold stung his left ear, the one he had lost part of to the blood blade of Lord Grendyl in the final battle in the Hold. He whipped through the rest of the fastenings on his Waste cloak, grabbed the snout of his breather mask, and jerked it into place, tugging the edge of both his singlesuit hood and cloak hood over the wounded ear. It was healed but would always be affected by extremes of temperature.

He touched his ear and sent a diminishing throb through the side of his head. He shook his head to clear it of the lingering pain.

"It still hurts," stated Roxyna as she hugged herself and stamped her feet upon the snow to get the circulation flowing once again.

"Yes. I'm afraid it always will."

"Lord Grendyl's wound will bother him much more than that."

Trys nodded. In his duel with the First Lord, he had lost a portion of his ear, but in a wild and not very skillful attack, he had managed to lop off Grendyl's left hand.

"He will never forget me, that's for certain. I'm sorry it had to end like that. Lord Grendyl's loyalty to the Queen/Lady and the half throne makes him a powerful but at times dangerous adversary."

"He thought you were part of the revolution. That alone made him hate you," said Roxyna moving closer to Trys.

"I wasn't part of anything in the Hold. I didn't belong anywhere."

"I think you belong here."

"No one really belongs in the Waste; you just have to figure out how to survive in it," said Trys.

Roxyna shivered and Trys stepped to her side. He wrapped his right arm about her shoulder and hugged him to her, trying to share a bit of his warmth with her and reassure her at the same time.

"Where are the caves you spoke of?" asked the young woman. "I need to get inside somewhere, even if it's just between a couple of rocks."

Trys looked around him, scanning the uneven faces of the cliffs, which lay a few hundred yards away. He knew every approach to the caves of the Caynruhl and he suddenly recognized a massive overhang shaped like a fist, raised to pound the snow beneath it. It marked the farthest eastern limit of the Caynruhl territory.

"I know where we are now. It's a few more miles before we come to the first caves."

"As long as I know an end is in sight, I can make it. Let's go."

They both set out at the curious sliding gait that Trys had shown Roxyna soon after they had entered the Waste. It allowed for maximum contact with the surface of the snow, no matter what its consistency. When the material upon which you had to walk could vary from a fine powder to a moist mass, you had to be able to move upon it efficiently, or else you would end up tiring yourself unnecessarily. In the Waste, tiredness could all too quickly lead to death.

They kept the cliffs upon their right hand and moved in a direction that kept them on their western track as well as moving them gradually closer to the sheer rocks where the wind was cut off and the air still. They got to within a hundred feet of the rocks and began to parallel the base of the cliffs. They passed the mouths of several narrow canyons which resembled nothing so much as wounds made by a blood blade; deeply scored, sharp-edged cuts in the solid rock.