Kildar, page 1
Table of Contents
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book and series has no connection to reality. Any attempt by the reader to replicate any scene in this series it to be taken at the reader's own risk. For that matter, most of the actions of the main character are illegal under U.S. and international law as well as most of the stricter religions in the world. There is no Valley of the Keldara. Heck, there is no Kildar. And the idea of some Scotts and Vikings getting together to raid the Byzantine Empire is beyond ludicrous. The islands described in a previous book do not exist. Entire regions described in these books do not exist. Any attempt to learn anything from these books is disrecommended by the author, the publisher and the author's mother who wishes to state that he was a very nice boy and she doesn't know what went wrong.
Copyright © 2006 by John Ringo
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Mitch Faust
First printing, March 2006
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ringo, John, 1963-
Kildar / John Ringo.
"A Baen Books original"--Cover.
ISBN 1-4165-2064-3 (hc)
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Printed in the United States of America
Baen Books by John Ringo
Princess of Wands
A Hymn Before Battle
When the Devil Dances
The Hero (with Michael Z. Williamson)
Cally's War (with Julie Cochrane)
Watch on the Rhine (with Tom Kratman)
There Will Be Dragons
Against the Tide
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
Into the Looking Glass
The Road to Damascus (with Linda Evans)
The Prince Roger Saga with David Weber:
March to the Sea
March to the Stars
Night was falling and the snow getting thicker as the Mercedes skidded into the mountains, its traction control system constantly engaging to keep it on the roughly paved road.
Mike Harmon quietly cursed himself as he considered what to do. He'd made some stupid decisions in his life, more than one of which had been nearly fatal, but dying in the Caucasus Mountains in a blizzard was looking more and more likely. It would be a stupid and ignominious way to go out, all things considered.
Mike was a former SEAL who had, after leaving the teams, planned a quiet life. He'd been a student at the University of Georgia, not particularly happy but managing it, when he'd discovered a terrorist operation going on under his very nose. A series of choices had led him to a secret base in Syria where kidnapped coeds were being tortured and raped on camera to force the American government to withdraw from the Middle East. He'd been instrumental in breaking up the operation, freeing the girls and then holding the position until relieved by a SEAL team, after which airborne rescue forces captured the facility and extracted the girls. In the process he had been so badly shot up he nearly died, but he held his ground right up until passing out from blood loss.
He'd been paid a rather hefty reward for the operation and then wandered down to the Florida Keys to just . . . chill. With thirty mil in numbered accounts, a college degree suddenly seemed less necessary. Instead of a vacation, while enjoying himself in the Bahamas with a couple of lovely young ladies he'd been asked to capture a nuke that more terrorists were smuggling through that country. Again, he'd succeeded, at least to the extent of preventing the terrorists from getting any further even if the nuke had been detonated in place. And, again, he'd nearly died from the wounds he suffered.
The Keys clearly being too hot for comfort, he'd wandered through Europe until in a whorehouse in Siberia he'd picked up the scent of another nuke. He'd followed it back through Europe, via the white-slave markets in Bosnia, and found it planted at Notre Dame, waiting for a papal mass. When the timer had gotten down to less than a minute and the French EOD unit was sure they'd never stop it in time he'd taken a fifty-fifty chance and sent a code to the bomb that would either temporarily disarm it or detonate it. He'd been lucky: Paris was still there. However, the French government was less than thrilled by his taking the choice in his own hands and declared him, or at least his cover identity, persona non grata.
This left him back in Russia, not sure what to do with himself and with every Islamic terrorist on the face of the earth pissed at this unknown who had broken up three major ops. Russia's winter was coming on, nothing to look forward to, and he decided to head south. Georgia had always interested him as a country and, just looking for somewhere to lay low, he'd headed that way.
Georgia, called the Switzerland of the Caucasus, was a mountainous country bordered by Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and the Black Sea. White people were called "Caucasians" because it was believed by some anthropologists that they had originated in these very mountains. A deep background study of world languages had indicated that the original "Caucasian" proto-language had about six different words for rivers and more than a dozen for mountains, which made sense given what he'd been driving through. The place looked a good bit like Vermont, but with higher mountains. It was renowned for its ski slopes and sudden avalanches.
The religion of the region was mostly Eastern Orthodox. Despite its Christian basis, the country had numerous security problems: Chechen Islamic terrorists that used its mountains as safe haven from their ongoing war with the Russians, a separatist movement in Ossetia, and internal stresses that dated back to the Soviet era. On the other hand, it was unlikely that anyone would notice just another wandering American tourist, much less make a connection between that tourist and the unknown American operative who had stopped three terrorist operations butt cold. And Mike had enjoyed skiing when he was trained in it by the SEALs. So to Georgia he hied himself, pleasantly contemplating a winter of hanging out in ski resorts and picking up ski bunnies.
Instead he'd found himself on this back road, totally lost, low on gas and in the early stages of a blizzard. He had no idea where he'd gone astray and the Fodor's map was next to useless without some road signs, which were notoriously rare in areas like this.
The Mercedes skidded through another saddle in the apparently endless mountains and, through the blowing snow, he saw a sharp right turn coming up. He braked carefully, following the road through a series of downward S turns until it, miraculously, flattened out. To his left he could see what might be the edges of fields while to his right was a steep slope. He consoled himself that any road led to a town eventually and kept on, driving carefully so he wouldn't be spun off the road into oblivion.
His lights suddenly illuminated a human figure in the middle of the road and he hit the brakes, hard, skidding to a stop, nearly sideways and only after a hard fight to keep the car from spinning out entirely. He had skidded right and the
Mike put the Mercedes in park and stepped out, waving and smiling in his most friendly manner.
"Excuse me," he said in Russian. "Do you know where there's a town?"
The figure was covered in a heavy coat and a scarf and the reply, whatever it was, was whipped away by the blowing wind. The woman was bent nearly double by the bundle of sticks and Mike wanted to help her with it but he was pretty sure she'd take any approach negatively. The area was renowned for girls being stolen into prostitution and sexual slavery and there was no way for Mike to convince her he was just a lost tourist. Among other things, he didn't speak Georgian. Many of the locals spoke Russian, however, so he tried that again, stepping into the light so she could get a better look at him.
"Lost I am," Mike said, struggling for the Russian. He'd never studied the language; what he knew had been mostly picked up in brothels and bars. "A town? Petrol?"
The figure let go of the wood for a moment and pointed up the road, yelling something over the wind. It sounded like the word for six in Russian. Maybe six kilometers.
"Six kilometers?" Mike asked. "Thank you." He paused for a moment and then gestured at the car. "You need ride?" He made a motion for the firewood on her back and putting it in the trunk.
The woman backed up at first and then looked around at what was now, without question, a blizzard. She clearly was struggling with the fear of getting in a car with a stranger versus that of freezing to death. Finally she shrugged and hobbled forward.
Mike took the weight of the wood, which was at least eighty pounds, and popped open the trunk, dropping the large bundle in it. The woman was short and the wood must have weighed very close to her body-weight. Once he was in the Mercedes again he unlocked the far door and turned up the heater.
The woman got in and nodded at him.
"Spasebo," she said in a very small voice, sticking her mittened hands under her armpits and then removing one to point up the road. She had left on her scarf so Mike couldn't get a look at her face, but the eyes over the scarf were just lovely, a blue so dark and yet bright that they seemed to glow.
Mike followed her gestures carefully, including the ones to slow down as they came to curves. She clearly knew the road well. Fortunately, it was more or less level and only curved back and forth mildly. Mike couldn't get a look beyond about ten meters but it seemed as if this must be one of those wide valleys that were sometimes found in mountains. He'd heard somewhere that they were from glaciers, but he didn't know more than that about them.
The woman was clearly trying to pick out landmarks and suddenly made slowing motions, then pointed to the left, down a steep bank. There was a narrow road there, but it was a sharp descent. Mike considered it for a moment, then lined up the Mercedes and skied down the hill more than drove, ending up in a slight fishtail at the bottom. He lined out again, though, and followed the woman's directions through the snow to a house that was up another slight slope. He realized as he did that it was a good thing he'd happened on her; they'd driven nearly two kilometers and it was unlikely she would have made it home alive.
The house was long and low, made of dressed stone, with a roof that looked to be slate. There were very few windows and those small, with shutters, which were closed. From behind the shutters, though, light glowed. As Mike pulled into the yard in front of the structure a pack of dogs burst into a chorus of barks and surrounded the car.
The woman got out, yelling at the dogs, as the front door of the house opened. A man stepped out into the blizzard, shouting at the woman in turn. The woman replied at length as she got out the wood, stumbling with it to the door and waving with one hand at the car and Mike.
Finally, the dogs gotten under control, the man gestured for Mike to get out of the car and come in the house. Mike got out cautiously, surreptitiously checking his piece, and followed the man and woman into the house.
The first thing that he noticed was the smell, a compound of wet dogs and people who didn't bathe nearly enough overlain with wood smoke. The room was crowded with about ten people, adults and teenagers, and he could see the heads of older children peeking around a door. There was a large fireplace at the far end, near the head of a long table. Over the fireplace was a very moth-eaten tiger's head.
Dinner had been laid out on a long trestle table and it reminded him that he'd been getting hungry as well as annoyed at his predicament. He kept his eyes off the food, though, nodding at the man who had invited him into the house as the woman began divesting herself of layers of clothing. The man was tall and broad as a mountain with a shock of dark red hair. He was wearing a white long-sleeved wool shirt and blue jeans, but what caught Mike's eye was the heavy silver cross dangling from a chain. It was something like a Maltese cross with broad crosspieces that spread to look almost like an axe. It twigged something in Mike's memory but he couldn't quite place it.
"My name's Mike Jenkins," Mike said in Russian, using his current cover identity. "I'm American. I was headed for the Bakuriani Resort and I got lost. Is there a town around? My car's nearly out of petrol." At least, he thought that was what he said. His Russian was really rough.
Mike checked out the occupants of the room as he asked his questions. The first thing he noticed about them was that they were clearly peasants. Their clothing, the men's especially, was rough stuff designed for heavy work. Jeans, which were becoming internationally ubiquitous, and heavy wool shirts. Those looked as if they might be homespun. The women were in somewhat brighter clothing, wool skirts with colorful blouses.
The second thing he noticed was the similarity in looks; this was clearly either a very large family or an extended one all living in the same house. There was a fair number of redheads, which was fairly unusual in Georgia where the people tended to be black or brown haired. There were even a few blonds, also unusual.
The third thing, and it took a moment for it to fully sink in, was the overall good looks. There were two older women, who could be anywhere from thirty to eighty given the way that peasants aged, but they were both quite good looking for all their wrinkles. The men were all robust and handsome almost to a fault, like Hollywood extras chosen for their physical looks rather than any group of peasants Mike had ever seen. And the younger women were just lovely as hell. Slim faces ranging from sharp to heart-shaped, slim noses, high cheekbones, mostly Tartar eyes and beautiful hair even half covered by colorful scarves. The group was simply startling in its looks.
"Alerrso," the man said, waving up towards the road. He had the same family looks and was maybe fifty, with a square, hard jaw and hard eyes that were considering Mike carefully. "Six kilometers."
"Spasebo," Mike said, nodding at him and turning to the woman who had gotten her outer wear off to say goodbye. When he saw her, though, he froze.
The girl was no more than fifteen, probably younger, with the most beautiful face he had ever seen in his life coupled with those startling blue eyes and fiery red hair that peeked out from under her babushka scarf. He found himself mesmerized by her appearance for a moment until he physically shook himself.
"I hope you stay well," Mike said, stumbling over the Russian phrases and his lolling tongue. "Thank you for helping me."
"Spasebo," the girl replied, looking down suddenly. "Was far walk."
"You're welcome," Mike said, turning back to the man who was watching the two of them angrily. "I am sorry bother you. I go Alerrso. Thank you for directions."
"Good night," the man said, gesturing at the door.
Mike made his way out of the house and to the car in a daze, still entranced by the girl's looks. He had met many women in his travels but none as lovely as that girl. She was just exquisite. And he'd never meet her again.
* * *
"What did he say to you?" Eugenius said, grabbing Katrina by the arm and shaking her as the door closed. "What did you do?"
"Nothing!" Katrina said
"You are a disgrace," Eugenius said, shaking his head. "I should send you to town."
"She could have done nothing," Lena said, laying a hand on his arm. "Look at her; she was frozen when she came in. Nothing happened."
"It is a disgrace," Eugenius repeated, angrily. "We will all be disgraced by her!"
"Father," Dutov said, going to the table and taking his seat, "he was American. He would not know our customs. Come, sit down and let us eat. Katrina is . . . Katrina. Getting angry at a cat for preening is . . . silly."
"Father, I'm sorry," Katrina said, shooting an angry look at her brother. "I would have died in the snow if I had not ridden with him. And I kept even my scarf on. We did nothing but drive back here. And now . . . he is gone. Nothing has happened, nothing will."
"We must marry her off," Mother Lenka said, cackling. "Or sell her to town. I think she'd be happier in town anyway."
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