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 continues….
5: Leaving Kishna-Farriga
Outside the auction house, a carriage squatted in the middle of the street like a rotted gourd. The theme continued with black lacquered enamel and matching metalwork. A long black fringe hung from the black under-carriage like a skirt. A black-robed figure (possibly Kalindra) sat up front, holding the reins of four impressive large horses.
They were black too.
“Don’t you ever grow tired of that color?” I asked.
“Get in,” Teraeth ordered.
There was no resisting. I pulled myself up into the carriage. Teraeth helped his mother follow me before entering the carriage himself.
“I thought that other woman was going to—”
“No one cares what you think,” Teraeth said.
The blood flowed to my face.
Six months prior I would have done something, said something. I’d have cut him a little, verbally or otherwise, but six months ago—hell, two weeks ago—bah. I saw the silver hawk and chain wrapped around his wrist. He could say whatever he wanted, give me whatever order he wanted, as long as he held my gaesh.
He surprised me then by pulling up the flooring in the middle of the carriage and unfolding a rope ladder.
“Climb down,” he ordered.
I didn’t argue. The trapdoor didn’t exit to the street as I expected. Rather, the coach had been positioned over an open grating, which led to an ancient but still serviceable sewer system. The small tunnel led straight down with a ladder built into the side. With the grating open, we enjoyed free access to an escape route.
Only the sound of hands and feet on rungs above me let me know Teraeth followed. Someone closed the grate above us, and then I heard the staccato clap of hooves as the black-clad driver drove the carriage away.
I couldn’t tell how long I climbed or which way we went once we reached the bottom. My eyes adjusted to the inky blackness of the sewer tunnels, but for a long, long time my only operating sense was olfactory. I gagged on the stench. Seeing past the First Veil wouldn’t have helped either: the blurry auras of second sight wouldn’t have stopped me from tripping over a sodden branch and slamming face-first into rotting waste, as it drifted sluggishly past.
Teraeth tapped my side to signal when I should turn.
The sewer tunnel widened until I found myself able to stand. Here lichen glowed with phosphorescence, casting subtle shimmers over the otherwise disgusting walls. I couldn’t read by that light but it was bright enough to navigate.
I would have given anything for a smoky, badly made torch.
Eventually, I rounded a corner and saw sunlight. A sewer opening lay ahead at end of the tunnel. The odor of saltwater and decaying fish— the charming perfume of the harbor—mingled with the stink of the sewer. Teraeth brushed past me and grabbed the large metal grating. He yanked the bars without releasing them, preventing a clumsy, loud clank of metal. At this point, I realized his mother Khaemezra was still with us. Teraeth motioned for us to follow.
We exited into an alley by the harbor. No one noticed us. Any eyes which strayed in our direction didn’t seem to find our strange little group unusual at all.
Khaemezra had also tossed aside her robe. I’d already seen Teraeth, but this was my first chance to examine the frail “Mother” of the Black Brotherhood.
She was a surprise, as I had always thought the vané were ageless.
Khaemezra was so bent and shrunken from age she stood no taller than a Quuros woman. If her son Teraeth was the color of ink, she was the parchment upon which it had been spilled. Bone white skin stretched thin and translucent over her face. Her fine hair, pale and powdery, showed the old woman’s spotted scalp. Her quicksilver eyes—with no iris and no visible whites—reminded me of the eyes of a demon. I couldn’t tell if she’d been ugly or beautiful in her youth: she was so wrinkled any such speculation was impossible.
I fought the urge to ask if she kept a cottage in the darkest woods, and if she preferred rib or thigh meat on her roasted children. If she’d told me she was Cherthog’s hag wife Suless, goddess of treachery and winter, I’d have believed her without question.
Khaemezra noticed my stare and smiled a ridiculous toothless grin. She winked, and that quickly she was no longer vané, but an old harridan fishwife. She wasn’t the only one who changed: Teraeth wasn’t vané either, but a swarthy Quuros, scarred of face and possessing a worn, whipped body.
I wondered what I looked like, since I was sure the illusion covered me as well.
Teraeth and the old woman stared at each other as though speaking without words. Teraeth sighed and grabbed my arm. “Let’s go.” His voice revealed the flaw in the illusion, and I hoped no one would notice that his voice originated from somewhere above the illusion’s “head.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
Teraeth scowled at me. “We’re not out of danger yet.” The vané walked out into the main throng of the crowd. After a few steps, I realized the old woman, Khaemezra, hadn’t followed. I lost sight of her and wanted to ask if she would be coming along too, but I would have to ask Teraeth. I hadn’t had a lot of luck with that so far.
Teraeth pulled me through the crowd at a dizzying speed. My sense of direction became fuddled, until I only knew we were heading to one of the ships. Teraeth shuttled me up a gangplank, past sailors and a row of chained slaves. I fought back the desire to kill the slave master leading them on board—and I didn’t have a weapon, anyway.
Then I heard a familiar voice say, “What can I do for you?”
I turned toward it in angry surprise.
It was Captain Juval. I was back on board The Misery, the slave ship that had brought me from Quur to Kishna-Farriga. Captain Juval was the man who had ordered me soul-chained in the first place. Quuros bought slaves and they might be made slaves, usually to repay debts or as punishment for crimes, but those slaves were not supposed to be sold outside the Empire’s borders. Quuros were definitely never taken south and sold in Kishna-Farriga. Quuros didn’t go south at all.
I’d been unconscious for my sale to Juval and my departure from Quur. I’d never known the details of why Juval had broken Quuros laws to buy me, or how much he’d paid. I suspected Juval had paid nothing, that he’d been the one given metal in exchange for putting me in the rowing galleys and working me near to death. A feat he had gleefully tried to accomplish.
Captain Juval wasn’t on my favorite-people list.
But the Captain’s eyes slid over me without recognition.
Teraeth bowed to the man and said, “Thank you, Captain. I was told you’re the person to see about a quick passage to Zherias.”
Preoccupied loading the newest cargo, Captain Juval spared the briefest glance at the disguised vané. “How many?”
“Three,” Teraeth said. “My family. My mother is frail. I’ve been told the springs of Saolo’oa in Kolaque might have a chance of—”
“I charge two hundred ord for a cabin.” Juval was still paying more attention to his cargo than to their conversation. “You fit in however many you want. Food is twenty more ord a person for the trip.”
“Two hundred ord? That’s robbery! …”
I walked away as they haggled over the price, and found a quiet corner of the ship, far out of the way of the sailors. No one recognized or even looked at me. I guess that was fortunate.
I couldn’t believe I was back onboard The Misery. Of all the dumb luck …
No, not dumb luck.
I didn’t for a moment think that this was an accident. It was deliberate luck. Directed luck. This reeked of Taja’s meddling hands.
My goddess. Taja. I could have worshiped Tya, or Thaena, or any of a thousand gods or goddesses for which the Empire of Quur was famous. But no, I had to worship the goddess of random, fickle, cruel chance. I always thought she pushed the odds in my favor, but that assumption now seemed the height of naïvety.
I was overcome with a paralyzing sense of foreboding.
Closing my eyes, I breathed in the stinking sea air of the harbor, gathering my strength. If anyone recognized me, if Teraeth or the old woman asked me any questions about The Misery or its crew, I was dead. Juval hadn’t wanted me talking about how I’d ended up a slave: it was the whole reason he’d had me gaeshed. The specter of the chains lashed around my soul, the gaesh that allowed my owners to control my every moment, hovered over me, waiting to strike.
I clenched the tsali stone at my neck. I’d been allowed to keep it only because the slavers hadn’t been aware I possessed it. I knew just enough magic to hide my most valuable possession (okay, fine, second-most valuable) in plain sight. Maybe Relos Var had seen through what was (I suspected) a simple, basic illusion. Maybe that’s why he’d been so eager to buy me. I knew the damn thing was valuable—more valuable than the star tears I’d just stolen. I knew all too well the lengths men had been willing to go to possess the Stone of Shackles (a name, by the way, which I found less and less amusing now that my soul was itself shackled).
And as I had suspected, no one checked me when I left with the Brotherhood—I had been naked, after all.
I sighed and fished under my hair, freeing the necklace of diamonds I’d snagged on the back of my tsali stone’s chain. Star tears weren’t magical, something I could now confirm. No, not magical, just rare and valuable, worthy of crown jewels.
If I was right about this necklace’s provenance, that’s exactly what these were too. Crown jewels from the treasury of the mightiest Empire in the whole world, stolen from the hoard of a dragon, gifted to a goddess, and lastly, used as a payment to a whore in what must surely have been the most expensive night of earthly pleasure ever purchased.
The same whore turned madam who’d raised me.
Maybe, once I returned to the Capital, I’d give her the necklace a second time. Ola would think it hysterical. With a fortune in star tears she’d be able to free all the slaves at the Shattered Veil Club and … I don’t know. Maybe Ola could actually afford to pay them, if that’s what they wanted to do for a living.
I refused to think about the fact that Ola was probably dead—along with many others I loved. Even the idea that Thurvishar D’Lorus was probably dead filled me with grief, though he was responsible for my present predicament.
I tried not to think about it. Tried, and failed.
I bounced the necklace in my palm, thinking of other necklaces, the one wrapped around Teraeth’s wrist in particular. Funny how he hadn’t worn my gaesh around his neck. My grandfather Therin hadn’t either, wearing Lady Miya’s gaesh on his wrist too. It was as if both men wanted to distance themselves from the reality of their atrocities by treating the control charm as a temporary accessory.
I wondered when Dethic would look inside that velvet bag and realize he’d sold me for a few jangling copper bracelets—ones that he already owned. He probably already had, but with all the precautions Teraeth had taken to prevent being followed, the auction house’s chances of tracking us down were slim.
Maybe Dethic’s life would be forfeit for his mistake. I smiled at the idea. I knew I was being a hypocrite; I’d known people associated with slavers back in Quur, but they hadn’t owned me. Dethic had: I hoped he rotted.
Teraeth’s black robe served as my only clothing, so I fastened the star tear necklace over my own and hoped the high collar and Khaemezra’s illusions would prevent discovery. I would spend the journey studying the star tears until I could add them to the list of materials I knew how to conceal—and keep myself out of sight in the meantime.
When I returned, Teraeth and Juval were finishing their negotiations. Teraeth’s mother Khaemezra now stood by Teraeth’s side. Money changed hands, and one of the sailors showed us a tiny cabin filled with four bunk beds where we could sleep (in theory ) for the voyage.
Within a half hour of our arrival, the slave ship called The Misery weighed anchor and set out to sea.
Excerpted from The Ruin of Kings, copyright © 2018 by Jenn Lyons.