Debut author Jenn Lyons has created one of the funniest, most engrossing new epic fantasy novels of the 21st century in The Ruin of Kings. An eyebrow-raising cross between the intricacy of Brandon Sanderson’s worldbuilding and the snark of Patrick Rothfuss.
Which is why Tor.com is releasing one or two chapters per week, leading all the way up to the book’s release on February 5th, 2019!
Not only that, but our resident Wheel of Time expert Leigh Butler will be reading along and reacting with you. So when you’re done with this week’s chapter, head on over to Reading The Ruin of Kings for some fresh commentary.
Our journey begins….
THE RUIN OF KINGS
Enclosed within is a full accounting of the events that led up to the Burning of the Capital. Much of the first section is based on transcripts derived from a conversation between two of the most pivotal individuals to the events; other sections consist of my own reconstruction. I used eyewitness accounts whenever possible, and tried to remain true to the essential spirit of events when I was forced to go afield. I’ve annotated the text with observations and analysis I hope you may find helpful.
I pray your forbearance for when I lecture you on subjects on which you are the greater expert, but ultimately, I decided it safest to assume on your ignorance rather than the reverse.
It is my hope that by possessing as complete a picture as possible of these events that led up to these matters, you will show leniency regarding the Lord Heir; the Council members who are recommending charges of treason and a death sentence surely do not have the whole story.
Prologue: A Dialog Between a Jailer and Her Prisoner
“Tell me a story.”
The monster slouched down by the iron bars of Kihrin’s jail cell. She set a small, plain stone down on the ground between them and pushed it forward.
She didn’t look like a monster. Talon looked like a girl in her twenties, with wheat-gold skin and soft brown hair. Most men would give their eye-teeth to spend an evening with someone so beautiful. Most men didn’t know of her talent for shaping her body into forms crafted from pure terror. She mocked her victims with the forms of murdered loved ones, before they too became her next meal. That she was Kihrin’s jailer was like leaving a shark to guard a fish tank.
“You must be joking.” Kihrin raised his head and stared at her.
Talon picked at the mortar of the wall behind her with a wicked black nail. “I’m bored.”
“Knit something.” The young man stood up and walked over to the line of iron bars. “Or why don’t you make yourself useful and help me escape?”
Talon leaned forward. “Ah, my love, you know I can’t do that. But come now, it’s been so long since we’ve talked. We have all this catching up to do and ages before they’re ready for us. Tell me everything that’s happened to you. We’ll use it to pass the time—until your brother comes back to murder you.”
He searched for somewhere to rest his gaze, but the walls were blank, with no windows, no distractions. The room’s only illumination shone from a mage-light lamp hanging outside the cell. Kihrin couldn’t use it to start a fire. He would have loved to set the straw bedding ablaze—if they’d given him any.
“Aren’t you bored too?” Talon asked.
Kihrin paused in his search for a hidden escape tunnel. “When they return, they’re going to sacrifice me to a demon. So, no. I’m not bored.” His gaze wandered once more around the room.
He could use magic to escape. He could change the tenyé of the bars and rocks to soften iron or make stone fragile as dried grass. He could do that—if Talon wasn’t watching his every movement. Worse, if she wasn’t capable of plucking thoughts of escape from his mind the moment they entered.
And she never slept.
“But I do eat,” she said, answering his thoughts with a gleam in her eye, “especially when I’m bored.”
He rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to kill me. Someone else has that honor.”
“I don’t consider it murder. I’d be saving you. Your personality would be with me forever, along with—”
Talon pouted and made a show of examining the clawed tips of her fingers.
“Anyway, if you can read my mind, you don’t need me to tell you what happened. Take my memories—the same as you’ve taken everything else.”
She stood up again. “Boring. Anyway, I haven’t taken everything from you. I haven’t taken all your friends. I haven’t taken your parents.” Talon paused, “Well, not your real parents.”
Kihrin stared at her.
She laughed and leaned back. “Should I leave then? If you don’t tell me a story, I’ll go pay your mother and father a visit. They’d entertain me. Though the visit might not be so much fun for them.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Who would stop me? They don’t care about your parents. All they care about is their little scheme, and they don’t need your mother and father for that.”
“I would,” Talon growled, her voice inhuman and shrieking. “Play my game, Bright-Eyes, or I’ll come back here wearing your mother’s skin cinched by a belt of your father’s intestines. I’ll reenact the moments of their deaths for you, over and over, until your brother returns.”
Kihrin turned away, shuddering, and paced the length of his cell. He examined the empty bucket and the thin blanket tucked into a corner. He searched the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. He studied the iron bars and the lock. He even checked himself over, in case his captors had missed something, anything, when they’d taken his weapons, his lock picks, the intaglio ring, and his talismans. They’d only left the necklace they didn’t care about, the one worth a fortune.
“Well. When you put it that way…” Kihrin said. “How can I refuse?” Talon brought her hands together in front of her face and made a tiny clap of delight. “Wonderful.” Then she tossed him the small rock she’d put between them earlier.
Kihrin caught it, but looked confused. “What’s this?”
“It’s a magic rock,” she said. “Don’t tell me a man in your position doesn’t believe in magic rocks?”
He studied the stone again, frowning. “Someone’s changed this stone’s tenyé.”
“And what does it do again?”
“It listens. Since you’re telling the story, you hold the stone. Those are the rules.” She grinned. “Start at the beginning.”
1: The Slave Auction
When they brought me up to the auction block, I looked out over the crowd and thought: I would kill you all if I had a knife.
And if I wasn’t naked, I amended.
And shackled. I had never felt so helpless, and—
What? You don’t think this is the beginning, Talon?
What do you mean by “beginning” anyway? Whose beginning? Mine? I don’t remember it that well. Yours? Talon, you’re thousands of years old and have stored the memories of as many people. You’re the one who wanted to hear this. And you will, but under my terms, not yours.
Let’s start over.
The auctioneer’s voice boomed out over the amphitheater: “Lot six this morning is a fine specimen. What will I hear for this human Doltari male ? He’s a trained musician with an excellent singing voice. Just sixteen years old. Look at that golden hair, those blue eyes, those handsome features. Why, this one might even have vané blood in him! He’ll make a welcome addition to any household, but he’s not gelded, so don’t buy him to guard your harem, ladies and gentlemen!” The auctioneer waved his finger with a sly grin, and was answered with a few disinterested chuckles. “Opening bid is ten thousand ords.”
Several members of the audience sniggered at the price. It was too much.
I didn’t look any prize that day. The Kishna-Farriga slave masters had bathed me but the scrubbing only made the raw whip wounds on my back stand out in angry red stripes. Copper bangles on my wrists did a poor job of camouflaging sores from long months spent in chains. The friction blisters on my left ankle were swollen, infected, and oozing. Bruises and welts covered me: all the marks of a defiant slave. My body shook from hunger and a growing fever. I wasn’t worth ten thousand ords. I wasn’t worth one hundred ords.
Honestly, I wouldn’t have bought me.
“Ah, now don’t be like that, my fine people! I know what he looks like, but I promise you, he’s a rough diamond who only needs polish to shine. He’ll be no trouble either—see, I hold his gaesh in my hand! Won’t someone here pay ten thousand ords for the gaesh of this handsome young slave?” The auctioneer held out his arm and revealed a tarnished silver chain, from which dangled something that glittered and caught in the sun.
The crowd couldn’t see the details, but I knew what he held: a silver hawk, stained black from salt air. A part of my soul, trapped in metal: my gaesh.
He was right: I would cause no more trouble. Never again. Controlling a slave via a gaesh was as effective as it was terrible. A witch had summoned a demon, and that demon had ripped part of my soul away, transferring that essence to the cheap tourist bauble the auctioneer now held in his hand. Anyone who carried that damn gaesh charm could command me to do anything they desired. Anything. If I ignored those orders, my reward would be my agonizing death. I would do anything that the holder of my gaesh asked of me, no matter how objectionable, no matter how repugnant.
Obey or die. There was no choice.
No, my body may not have been worth much, but in Kishna-Farriga the going price for a man’s soul is ten thousand ords.
The crowd stirred and looked at me with new eyes. A troublemaking teenage boy was one thing. A teenage boy who could be healed and perfumed, forced to obey every whim his owner might command, was quite another. I shivered, and it had nothing to do with the warm breeze that prickled the hairs on my skin.
It was a fine day for a slave auction, if you’re into that sort of thing. The weather was hot, sunny, and the air tinged with the stink of gutted harbor fish. Paper umbrellas or canvas awnings obscured the bidders as they lounged on cushioned seats.
Kishna-Farriga was one of the Free States, border city-states that owed no fealty to their neighbors, but relied on shifting political tensions to keep themselves off anyone’s leash. Countries who didn’t want to deal with each other used Kishna-Farriga as a halfway entrepôt for trade goods and commodities—commodities which included slaves such as myself.
Personally, I was used to the slave markets of the Quuran Octagon, with its endless mazes of private chambers and auction theaters. The slave pits in Kishna-Farriga weren’t so elaborate. They used just one openair stone amphitheater, built next to the famous harbor. At maximum capacity, the rising stone steps seated three thousand people. A slave might arrive by ship, visit the holding cells underneath the amphitheater, and leave with a new owner the same day—all without clearing the smell of dead fish from their nose.
It was all quite charming.
The auctioneer continued to speak, “Do I hear ten thousand?” Reassured that I was tame, a velvet-clad woman of obvious “professional” talent raised her hand. I winced. I had no desire to go back to a brothel. A part of me feared it would go this way. I was by no means homely, and few are those who can afford the price of a gaeshed slave, without means of recouping their cost.
“Ten thousand. Very good. Do I hear fifteen thousand?”
A rich, fat merchant leered at me from the second row and raised a little red flag to signal his interest. Truth be told, he raised all kinds of red flags. His ownership would be no better than the whorehouse madam’s, and possibly quite worse, no matter what my value.
“Fifteen thousand? Do I hear twenty thousand?”
A man in the front row raised his hand.
“Twenty thousand. Very good, Lord Var .”
Lord Var? Where had I heard that name?
My gaze lingered on the man. He appeared ordinary: of medium height and weight, nondescript but pleasant, his dress stylish but not extravagant. He had black hair and olive brown skin—typical of Quurans from west of the Dragonspires—but his boots were the high, hard style favored by Easterners. Jorat, perhaps, or Yor. In addition, he wore a shirt of the Marakor style rather than an Eamithon misha or usigi wrap.
No obvious weapon of any kind.
The only remarkable qualities about Lord Var were his confidence, his poise, and the fact the auctioneer recognized him. Var didn’t seem interested in me. His attention focused on the auctioneer; he barely glanced at me. He might as well have been bidding on a set of tin plates.
I looked closer. No protection, hidden or otherwise, and not even a dagger in one of those unpolished leather boots. Yet he sat in the front. No one crowded him, though I’d spotted plenty of pickpockets working the crowd.
I’d never been to Kishna-Farriga before, but I didn’t have to be a native to know only a fool came to this auction house without bodyguards.
I shook my head. It was hard to concentrate. Everything was noise, flashing light, and waves of cold—which I suspected were from a fever. One of my cuts had become infected. Something would need to be done about that soon, or I would be the most expensive paperweight some poor gull had ever purchased.
Focus. I ignored the crowds, the bidding, and the reality of my situation as I slipped the First Veil from my eyes and looked at him again.
I’ve always been skilled at seeing past the First Veil. I had once thought this talent would be my redemption from the Capital City’s slums, back when I was naïve enough to think there was no fate worse than poverty.
There are three overlapping worlds, of course, each ruled by one of the Sisters: the world of the living, the world of magic, and the world of the dead . We live in Taja’s realm, as do all mortals. But I’d learned from a young age that my talent for seeing past the First Veil, into Tya’s magical domain, was a terrific advantage.
Only the gods can see past the Second Veil, although I suppose we all do when we finally travel to what lies beyond, to Thaena’s realm— Death.
The point is that wizards always wear talismans. They stamp such trinkets with their own auras to guard against the hostile sorceries of other mages. Talismans can take any shape. A smart wizard conceals their talismans from casual observation by disguising them as jewelry, sewing them into the lining of their clothes, or wearing them under robes. You might never know if someone is a wizard…
…unless you can see past the First Veil yourself, in which case that talisman-enhanced aura always betrays a wizard’s profession.
That’s how I knew Relos Var was a wizard. He wasn’t wearing any obvious talisman, but that aura was terrifying . I’d never seen an imprint so strong before, nor an aura stamped so hard, sharp, and crisp.
Not with Dead Man, not with Tyentso…
And no, lovely Talon, not even with you.
I couldn’t remember why Lord Var’s name was familiar, but I could sum the man up in a single word: dangerous. But if I was lucky…
Who was I kidding? There was no luck left for me. I had angered my goddess, lady of luck both good and bad; her favor was gone. I did not even dare to hope that Lord Var would treat me better than the others. No matter who won me this day, it didn’t change that I was a slave, and would be so until the moment of my death. A normal slave might hold out some faint hope of escape or buying his or her freedom, but a gaeshed slave can’t run, and no one would ever free them. They are worth too much.
“The bid is twenty thousand. Do I hear twenty-five thousand?” The auctioneer wasn’t paying attention anymore: he thought the sale all but over. He’d done well to fetch twenty thousand. That price exceeded his expectations.
“Twenty thousand, going once, going twice. Fair warning—”
“Fifty thousand,” a clear voice said from the top of the seats.
Murmurs spread through the crowd. I strained to see who’d placed the bid. It was a large stadium. I couldn’t see the speaker at first, but then I noticed who the rest of the crowd had turned to watch: three seated figures in black hooded robes.
The auctioneer paused, surprised. “The Black Brotherhood bids fifty thousand. Do I hear fifty-five thousand?”
The man they called Lord Var looked annoyed. He nodded at the auctioneer.
“Fifty-five thousand. Do I hear sixty thousand?” The auctioneer was awake now that there was a bidding war.
One of the three black-clad figures raised its red flag.
“Sixty thousand.” The auctioneer nodded at them.
Half the crowd looked at Lord Var, the other half stared at the robed figures. The auction had just become an entertainment sport.
“Do I hear seventy-five thousand?”
Var nodded again.
“I have seventy-five. Do I hear one hundred?” The auctioneer saw the black-clad figures’ flag raise again. “I have one hundred from the Brotherhood. Do I hear one-fifty?”
“One-fifty. Do I hear two hundred?” The red flag raised. “I have two hundred. Do I hear two-fifty?” Var frowned, but made a quick wave of his fingers. “I have two-fifty from Lord Var. Do I have five hundred from the Black Brotherhood?”
The desire to vomit hit me hard, and not just because of sickness. Had a slave ever sold for so much? There was no use that justified such a price; not as musician, not as catamite. Unless—
My eyes narrowed.
I wondered if, against all reason, they somehow knew who I was, knew what I carried. I almost reached for the gem around my throat. The Stone of Shackles was worth such a price, worth any price, but I had used the only spell I knew to hide what I wore.
I might be gaeshed, but I couldn’t be ordered to hand over what no one knew I possessed.
“The Black Brotherhood bids a half-million. Do I hear 750,000?” The auctioneer’s voice broke. Even he seemed stunned by the price rising from his throat.
Lord Var hesitated.
“Lord Var?” the auctioneer asked.
Var grimaced and turned to glare over his shoulder at the three figures. “Yes,” he said.
“I have 750,000 ords from Lord Var. Do I hear one million?” The figures in black didn’t hesitate.
Lord Var cursed aloud.
“I have one million ords. Final warning.” The auctioneer paused for the required time. “Sold to the Black Brotherhood for one million ords. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new record!” The end of the staff pounded down on the floor.
I fought the urge to join it.
Excerpted from The Ruin of Kings, copyright © 2018 by Jenn Lyons.