Outfitted in snug, Bearish finery, complete with requisite egg-shaped hat to cover his ears and add at least an iral to his normal, six-iral height, Captain Wilf Brim, Imperial Fleet, grinned with pure pleasure as the elegant Sodeskayan troika sped him through a dazzling blizzard.
The rare antique was drawn by three shaggy-black, droshkat thoroughbreds loping effortlessly over the powdery snow—the center ‘kat trotting in shafts while the other two, loose save for long traces, padded along like ebony ghosts. The three great animals set hundreds of tiny bells to rhythmic jingling from their burnished harnesses producing melodies from a thousand years in the Sodeskayan past. Only cloud-muted thunder from a lifting starship momentarily spoiled the illusion that the sleigh was racing through the planet’s rural countryside. Timoshenko Memorial Starport on artificially heated Lake Demyansk lay a mere thirty c’lenyts to Spinward from the sprawling Borodov estate. And the capital of all Sodeskaya, “Holy” Gromcow, unfolded along a riverbank only twenty c’lenyts further on.
To Brim’s left, Grand Duke Anastas Alexi Borodov snapped his whip and joggled the reins with the exuberance of someone half his age. Driving a Sodeskayan troika was a special art, for the driver was required to stand—no mean feat for a Bear of Borodov’s years. As a true Yamshchik, he was privileged to wear a special badge: two bright-orange zavencock feathers protruding from the right side of his hat.
On Brim’s right, massive General Nikolai Yanuarievich Ursis, galactic-class Drive engineer and (in rare years of peace) Dean of the renowned Dytasburg Academy, puffed contentedly on an intricately carved Zempa pipe as chalky trunks of ancient, somnolent birches whizzed by on either side of the narrow rustic lane. Stumps of frost-burned azalea and skeletal dogwood protruded from the snow, half screening bare stands of oak and poplar behind them.
This was Sodeskayan winter at its old-fashioned best—if not its most genuine....
At the same time, Tyrant Nergol Triannic’s League of Dark Stars has invaded the Sodeskayan Worlds, where Rear Admiral Wilf Brim’s Bear Allies, armed for ground combat, are not prepared to repel the League’s vast star fleet. To make matters worse, Brim’s Imperial superiors in Avalon refuse to commit their scarce forces unless the Bears prove they can resist the League. Desperately, Ursis risks his Domain’s future on a single battle, and along with it, the future of Wilf Brim.