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…
6: The Rook’s Father
Thirty-five paces from the fountain at the center of the flowering courtyard to the steps in the back. Two steps, then a hallway. The door on the left was Ola’s, and the door on the right led to another set of stairs. Ten more steps, a small turn, another ten steps, then a door.
Surdyeh knew the route by heart, which was convenient, as he had never seen it.
The blind musician opened the door, frowned, and sighed. His son snored—
Is this bothering you Khirin?
Oh, such a shame. You must have realized Surdyeh is part of my memory collection. You are too, to a lesser extent.
You didn’t know? Oh.
I guess you know now, ducky. Surdyeh’s an active part of me. He wants so badly to protect you. A father’s love is so powerful.
You’re adorable when you’re angry.
As I was saying—
His adopted son snored, still asleep on one of the cots crammed into the storeroom turned living space. The situation hadn’t been so bad when Kihrin was a pup, but as the lad had grown older he’d grown larger. Now there was barely room for the two of them.
Better than nothing though, Surdyeh thought. Better than being tossed out into the street.
If only he could make his ungrateful wretch of a son understand.
Sadly, he suspected his son understood too well. As much as Surdyeh pretended they walked the razor’s edge with the whorehouse madam’s good grace, the threat was idle. Madam Ola would never evict them. He would have preferred it, though, if Ola didn’t sabotage his efforts at every turn. The boy needed to have a little respect shaken into him from time to time.
Surdyeh pulled himself out of his reverie for long enough to smack the end of his cane against his son’s backside.
“Kihrin, get up! You’ve overslept.”
His son groaned and turned over. “It’s not time yet!”
Surdyeh banged the stick against Kihrin’s bamboo cot this time. “Up, up! Have you forgotten already? We have a commission with Landril Attuleema tonight. And Madam Ola wants us to break in her new dancer. We’ve work to do and you’ve been up all night, haven’t you. Useless damn boy, what have I told you about stealing?”
His son sat up in bed. “Pappa.”
“If I wasn’t blind, I’d beat you until you couldn’t sit. My father never put up with such foolishness. You’re a musician, not a street thief.”
The cot creaked as Kihrin jumped out. “You’re the musician. I’m just a singing voice.” He sounded bitter.
Kihrin had been bitter about a lot of things lately, but he’d been such a sweet boy. What had Surdyeh done wrong?
“If you practiced your lessons …”
“I do practice. I’m just no good.”
Surdyeh scowled. “You call that practice? You spend more time helping yourself to Ola’s velvet girls and prowling rooftops than you do learning your chords. You could be good. You could be one of the best if you wanted it enough. When I was fifteen, I spent all night in the dark learning my fingerings. Practiced every day.”
Kihrin muttered under his breath, “When you were fifteen, you were already blind.”
“What did you just say?” Surdyeh’s hand tightened on his cane. “Damn it, boy. One of these days, you’re going to run afoul of the Watchmen, and that will be it, won’t it? They’ll take one of your hands if you’re lucky, sell you into slavery if you’re not. I won’t always be here to protect you.”
“Protect me?” Kihrin made a snorting sound. “Pappa, you know I love you, but you don’t protect me. You can’t.” More swishes of cloth: Kihrin grabbing loincloth, agolé, sallí cloak, and sandals to dress.
“I protect you more than you know, boy. More than you can imagine.” Surdyeh shook his head.
His son headed for the door. “Don’t we need to be somewhere?”
He wanted to say so much to the boy, but the words were either already spoken or could never be spoken. He knew better than to think his son would listen too. Ola was the only one Kihrin paid attention to anymore, and only because she told the boy what he wanted to hear. Surdyeh was tired of being the only one saying what the boy needed to hear. He was tired of arguing, tired of being the only whisper of conscience in this sea of sin.
Six more months. Six more months and Kihrin turned sixteen. And it would all be over; Surdyeh would find out just how good a job he’d done of raising him.
The whole Empire would find out.
“Move your feet, son. We don’t want to be late.” Surdyeh picked up his cane and poked his son in the ribs. “Quit daydreaming!”
Kihrin stammered through his verse. The crowd in the main room booed, although the audience had thinned out once they realized it was just a rehearsal session.
Most of the customers weren’t patrons of the arts, anyway.
“Start over,” Surdyeh said. “My apologies, Miss Morea. You’d think my son had never seen a pretty girl before.”
Surdyeh didn’t need to see to know his son was blushing, or that Morea was the cause. She was the newest dancer at the Shattered Veil Club, as well as being Ola’s newest slave. She would remain a slave until she earned enough extra metal from her service to pay back her bond price. To earn her freedom, she would need to be both an accomplished dancer and a successful whore.
Surdyeh didn’t much care, but from the way Kihrin carried on, he could only assume Morea was more beautiful than a goddess. At least, his son didn’t normally make quite this much of a fool of himself around the girls.
Morea grabbed a towel from the edge of the stage and wiped her face. “We’ve run through this twice. Once more and then a break?”
“Fine by me, Miss Morea,” Surdyeh said, readying his harp between his legs once more. “Assuming certain boys can keep their damn eyes in their damn heads and their damn minds on their damn work.”
He didn’t hear Kihrin’s response, but he could imagine it easily enough.
“Stop scowling,” Surdyeh said as he nudged Kihrin in the ribs again.
“How—?” Kihrin shook his head, gritted his teeth, and forced a smile onto his face.
Surdyeh started the dance over. Morea had asked him to play the Maevanos. If Morea had come from a wealthy house though, the Maevanos was probably the best compromise she could manage. She’d have had no time to learn anything bawdier.
The story to the Maevanos was simple enough: a young woman is sold into slavery by her husband, who covets her younger sister. Mistreated by the slave master who buys her, she is purchased by a high lord of the Upper City. The high lord falls in love with her, but tragedy strikes when a rival house assassinates her new master. Loyal and true, the slave girl takes her own life to be with her lord beyond the Second Veil. Her devotion moves the death goddess Thaena to allow the couple to Return to the land of the living, taking the life of the philandering husband in their place. The high lord frees the girl, marries her, and everyone lives happily ever after who should.
While the Maevanos was meant to be danced by a woman, the accompanying vocals were male. The story was told by the men the girl encountered rather than the girl herself. The scenes with the high lord and the slave trader were provocative, the whole reason Morea had suggested it as a compromise.
Surdyeh hated the dance for all the reasons it would probably do well at the brothel, but it hadn’t been his decision.
The crowd was larger than when the dance had begun; the first of the evening crowds had started to filter inside. Hoots and clapping greeted Morea as she gave a final bow. Kihrin trailed off his song. Surdyeh allowed the last notes to echo from his double-strung harp, holding his finger-taped picks just above the strings.
Surdyeh smelled Morea’s sweat, heard the beads as she tossed her hair back over her shoulders. She ignored the catcalls of the crowd as she walked back to his chair.
“What are you doing here?” Morea asked him.
Surdyeh turned his head in her direction. “Practicing, Miss Morea?”
“You’re amazing,” she said. “Does every brothel in Velvet Town have musicians as good as you? You’re better than anyone who ever performed for my old master. What is Madame Ola paying you?”
“You think my father’s that good?” Kihrin’s step was so quiet that even Surdyeh hadn’t heard him approach.
Surdyeh resisted the urge to curse the gods. The last thing he needed was Kihrin wondering why Surdyeh played in the back halls of Velvet Town, when he could have played for royalty.
“Hey there, pretty girl, leave off those servants,” a rough voice called out. “I want some time with you.” Surdyeh heard heavy footsteps; whoever approached was a large man.
Morea inhaled and stepped backward.
“Can’t you see she’s tired? Leave her alone.” Kihrin’s attempt to intimidate would have gone better if he’d been a few years older and a lot heavier. As it was, he was too easily mistaken for a velvet boy himself. Surdyeh doubted the customer paid much attention to his son’s interruption.
Surdyeh placed his harp to the side and held out his ribbon-sewn sallí cloak to where Morea stood. “Lady, your cloak.”
While Morea covered herself, Surdyeh rewove the spell shaping the sound in the room so the Veil’s bouncer, Roarin, heard every word. Morea’s would-be customer might be large, but Roarin had morgage blood in him—enough to give him the poisonous spines in his arms. Surdyeh knew from experience how intimidating the bouncer could be.
“My money’s as good as the next man’s!” the man protested.
Another voice joined him. “Hey, it’s my turn!”
“Oh great. There’s two of you,” Kihrin said. “Miss Morea, you’re not taking customers right now, are you?”
The beads in her hair rattled as she shook her head. “No.”
“There you are, boys. She’s not open for business. Shoo.” Only someone who knew Kihrin would have noticed the tremble of fear in his voice. The two men must have been large indeed.
“Bertok’s balls. You don’t tell me what to do.” The man stepped in close.
Even from the stage, Surdyeh smelled the stench of liquor on the man’s breath. Surdyeh clenched his hands around his cane and prepared himself for the possibility he would have to intervene.
“What’s all this?” Roarin asked. A hush fell over the crowd nearest the stage.
“I, uh… I want to reserve a bit of time with the young lady. Uh… sir.”
“Kradnith, you’re a mad one. I was here first!”
“Of course, fine sirs, of course,” Roarin said, “but this is just a dancing girl. Pretty slut, to be sure, but useless for a good lay. Too tired out. Come with me. Madam Ola will show you some real women! They’ll drain you dry!” He slapped his thick hands on the men’s shoulders and escorted them elsewhere in the brothel.
Surdyeh exhaled and turned to pack up the harp. “Some days I really hate this job.”
“Are you all right, Miss Morea?” Kihrin asked.
The young woman groaned and stretched her neck. “I can’t believe—” She cut off whatever she’d been about to say. “It was nice of you to stand up for me like that.” Then her breath caught in her throat. “You have blue eyes.”
Surdyeh’s heart nearly stopped beating.
No. Damn it all, no.
“I only wear them on special occasions,” Kihrin said. Surdyeh could tell his son was smiling. Of course, he was smiling. Kihrin hated it when people noticed the color of his eyes, but now the attention came from a pretty girl he wanted to notice him.
Surdyeh racked his brain. Where had Ola said the new girl was from? Not a Royal House. Surdyeh had forbidden Ola from ever buying a slave from a Royal House. Too risky.
Morea said to Kihrin, “I’m going to lie down in the Garden Room. Would you bring me an iced Jorat cider? I’m parched.”
“We’re leaving,” Surdyeh said. “We have a commission.”
“I’ll fetch you a cider before we go,” Kihrin said.
She slipped out of the room, now emptying as customers who had stayed for the rehearsal looked for a different sort of company.
“No, Kihrin,” Surdyeh said. “We don’t have time.”
“This won’t take long, Pappa.”
“It’s not your job to play hero, swoop in, and save the girl. Leave that to Roarin.” He knew he sounded peevish, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“She took your cloak,” Kihrin reminded him. “I’ll bring it back. You wouldn’t want to show up at Landril’s without your Reveler’s colors, would you?”
Surdyeh sighed. Unfortunately, the boy was right: Surdyeh needed the cloak. That it was just an excuse didn’t mean it wasn’t a good one. He grabbed his son’s hand and squeezed. “Don’t help yourself to the sweets for free. We need to keep in Ola’s good graces. It’s her good will that keeps us off the streets. There’s a dozen musicians better than us who’d give their eyeteeth to perform at the Shattered Veil Club. Remember that.”
His son pulled his hand away. “Funny how Morea doesn’t agree with you.”
“Don’t scowl at me, boy. You’ll put wrinkles on that face that Ola tells me is so handsome.” His voice softened. “We have to be at Landril’s at six bells, so you have a bit of time, but don’t linger.”
Any resentment his son might have harbored vanished in the face of victory. “Thank you.” Kihrin gave Surdyeh a quick hug and ran out of the room.
Surdyeh sat there, fuming.
Then he called out for someone to find Ola.
Excerpted from The Ruin of Kings, copyright © 2018 by Jenn Lyons.