This short story collection is a baker's dozen of tales that range from silly, to puzzling to downright terrifying.
Excerpt from THE KING’S BEST SOLDIER:
Doing bad things for a good reason always sounds better beforehand than it does afterward.
Two days after midwinter, Beric saw Danzia, the most famous of all the Dakhanni, standing in the snow, thin as a blade. Hard as steel. He saw her because she allowed him a glimpse of her. Fear seized him when he saw her standing there, merely looking at him. If she was close enough to see, she could have executed him any time for the deed he had done. The deed that now haunted him like the demon woman herself.
Beric’s village lay only a little further. He had been pushing himself through the bitter cold, under the heavy sky, for two days. He longed to see his home one more time. Each beat of his heart yearned for that safety and warmth. In the few snatches of sleep he had managed, he dreamed of those he loved—his wife, his mother, his children. But the village might as well be in a valley on the moon. Death now stalked him in the snow and he felt he would never know warmth of any kind, ever again.
Beric hid himself from the cold gaze of the Dakhanni. He quickly unloaded his pack of everything but a few bits of food. The heaviest thing was the gold cup that had belonged to King Godfrey. Seven days ago the king had called to him in the midst of holiday revelry. “You are my best soldier,” the king had said in front of the assembled court. The king had drained the deep red wine from the bejeweled cup and, in front of all the nobles, had given the cup to him. It was the proudest moment of Beric’s life. Now the bejeweled thing glittered at him mockingly.
Beric flung the cup away and stood, wishing he could fling away his burden of guilt as easily.
He hastened on through the snow-clad trees. No need to conserve his strength now. Soon the cold trek would be over one way or another. His heavy sword dangled from his waist. His dagger, red with innocent blood, would never again leave its scabbard. He should have thrown it away, too. The deed he had done with it cast gloom over his heart.
The unrelenting wind pulled at his cloak. Dark clouds crouched low on the horizon. A killing storm would roll in by nightfall but Beric would be dead by then or home. He did not actually hope for the latter, though his urge to see it one more time had become a need greater than the need for sleep or warmth or life itself.
King Godfrey had explained everything so clearly. If King Roderick were to die, then war would end and the people could finally live in peace. What a blessing! Beric was King Godfrey’s best man, the only one with the courage and resolve to do such a grim deed. The king filled the heavy gold cup with wine and urged Beric to drink. Beric drank. He pledged to do the awful deed and bring peace to his people.