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…
7: The Misery
—don’t want to hold the damn rock. I don’t want to keep talking about this, Talon. I don’t even remember where I left off.
Right. I was onboard The Misery. Thanks so much.
I don’t remember much about those first hours back on the ship. Sailors made their knots, raised their sails. The men shouted, yelled, and cast off. I paid little attention. I waited in our cabin.
Or rather, I hid there.
I found it eerie to watch these normal, humdrum-looking people enter the cabin and yet know that their appearance was a lie. It was odder still to know they had disguised me in the same way; if I looked in a mirror, my real face wouldn’t stare back.
“What do you people want with me?” I asked Khaemezra when they returned. “Don’t tell me it was a coincidence that you paid for me with a necklace of star tears. My grandfather used a necklace just like that to pay for his vané slave Miya, a slave he bought from ‘an old vané hag.’ Someone told me once, after I was finally reunited with my darling family. I always thought that was just a story, since there’s no such thing as an old vané, but here you are, an old vané hag.”
She raised an eyebrow.
I cleared my throat. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Khaemezra said. She looked amused, even though I’d called her a hag to her face, twice.
“Is the reason you bought me something to do with my grandfather?” I demanded.
She looked at me kindly but said nothing.
“Enough of this,” Teraeth said. “It’s a long trip back to Zherias. Find the Captain and ask him if he keeps a weather witch. I’d like to know when we’ll arrive.”
This was what I’d been waiting for, what I’d been dreading. An order from my new master, directly contradicting a previous gaesh order from Captain Juval. I already knew the answer to Teraeth’s question: yes, Juval had a weather witch. But talking about her, and talking about Juval, would disobey the orders he had given me when he had me gaeshed. As soon as I returned from my errand, Teraeth would demand an answer. If I gave him that answer, the gaesh would kill me for disobeying Juval’s earlier command.
But if I didn’t give Teraeth an answer, the gaesh would still kill me, this time for disobeying Teraeth.
The edges of pain surged inside me as I hesitated too long.
I figured it had been a short, weird life. Maybe Thaena would laugh when I told her about it past the Second Veil. “The gaesh won’t—”
I gritted my teeth as the pain washed through me. My only chance of survival was if I could somehow communicate the problem quickly enough for Teraeth to countermand Juval’s order, or get him to change his own. Maybe. If Taja still liked me. “Juval’s—orders—”
The old woman stood. “Teraeth, quickly!”
“Juval—gaeshed—” The commands rolled over me with smashing waves, drowned me in my own blood. The gaesh tore into my body, roared its way through my veins, ate me away from the inside, burned, seared.
I collapsed on the floor, convulsing.
8: The Angel’s Bargain
Morea fretted over the best place to present herself in the Garden Room. On this couch? No, too easily seen. That one? Yes, that one was better. Morea removed the ribbon-covered sallí cloak, draped it over a chair, and splashed water to freshen herself. She ran a hand over her braids and reapplied her perfume, rubbing scented oil over her body until her skin gleamed. She hurried to her chosen couch and lay down, acting ever so weary.
It wasn’t entirely an act.
A few minutes later, the harper’s son walked into the solarium with a mug in his hand. Morea knew he couldn’t be Surdyeh’s actual get. Surdyeh might be an extraordinary musician, but he was recognizably common, and his son—well, his son was no farmer’s brood.
The teenager stopped and stared when he spotted her. Morea almost smiled. She wondered how any brothel child could have stayed so innocent that they could still be aroused by simple flesh. All children of the seraglio she had ever known were jaded beyond measure, hardened to any normal sensual allure.
“Here’s your drink, Miss Morea.” Kihrin handed the cider to her.
Morea looked up at him. An angel, surely. He had dark skin somehow more golden than the olive hue of most Quuros. The black hair made his skin look paler than it really was, while his skin made his blue eyes shine like Kirpis sapphires. Those blue eyes … Morea clicked her tongue and smiled, sitting up on the couch and taking the offered drink. “Not Miss, surely. Just Morea. Madam Ola calls you Angel?”
The young man snickered. “Ola calls me a lot of things. Please, call me Kihrin.”
“I’d think you were from Kirpis, except for the hair,” She reached out to touch it. “Like raven feathers.” She leaned back against the cushions to look at him again. “But you’re not from Kirpis, are you?”
He laughed, blushing. “No. I was born here.”
Her face wrinkled in confusion. “But you don’t look Quuros at all.”
“Ah.” He squirmed. “My mother was Doltari.”
“Doltar’s a country to the south, far south, way past the Manol Jungle. It’s cold there. They have blue eyes and light hair. Like me.”
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I know where Doltar is.” She reached out to touch his hair once more. He dyed his hair. She could see that now. “A lot of slaves are shipped north from Doltar. But you don’t look Doltari.”
He frowned. “Really?”
“All the Doltari slaves I’ve known have been stocky people, wide and large, built for labor. Big noses, thin lips. You’re slender. Your nose, your lips—just the opposite of a Doltari.” She tried to imagine him with brown hair, tried to imagine him dressed in blue. She found it easy, and even though the room was stifling warm, she shivered.
“Are you cold?” the young man asked.
Morea smiled. “No. Sit with me.”
Kihrin cleared his throat, looking embarrassed. “I shouldn’t. It’s, uh … there’s a rule.”
“I have heard how Madam Ola speaks of you. Surely she lets you spend time with whoever you like?”
The blush graduated to a red flush. “It’s not Ola’s rule. It’s my rule. I don’t force myself on the women here. I don’t think it would be right.”
“It’s not force if I want you here.” She patted the cushion next to her. “Sit with me. Let me brush that beautiful hair. Please?”
“I—” He moved over to the bench. “I suppose a few minutes wouldn’t hurt.”
“It’s a crime to see such lovely hair so neglected. Why do you wrap your agolé around your neck like that? You’ll strangle yourself.” Morea unwound the long cloth, letting it fall to the couch. She reached for a brush another slave had left behind and pulled it through Kihrin’s hair, untangling the knots. Unfastened, his hair reached past his shoulders. The black dye hadn’t been kind. She found spots of gold where he’d missed a strand, or patches of violet where the dye had faded. When she finished brushing out his hair she began massaging his scalp, gently kneading with skilled fingers. She leaned close as she massaged, pressing her breasts against his back. His breathing quickened. Morea smiled.
Kihrin sounded uncertain. “I always thought my hair looked strange.”
“Golden? People would kill for such hair. You must not work here.”
“You know I do. What was that at practice?”
“No. I mean you don’t—you’re not a velvet boy. I’ve known musicians who did the same duty as the dancers.”
Kihrin frowned and turned his head away. “We rent one of the rooms in the back. Ola gives us a good rate because we play for the dancers, but that’s it.”
“With your looks, you could make a lot of metal.”
“No offense, but I prefer to make my metal a different way.”
Morea felt the skin on his back shiver as she ran her fingers over his shoulder. “Are you Ogenra then?”
The mood broke. Kihrin turned to stare at her. “I told you I’m Doltari. Why would you think I’m one of the royal bastards?”
She tried to make her response idle, tried to make it seem like she didn’t really care. “Blue eyes are one of the divine marks. The only other person I’ve ever seen with blue eyes, with eyes as blue as yours, was royalty, one of the god-touched. You remind me of him, so I assumed you must be related.”
“I told you I’m not Ogenra.” His voice turned icy.
“Please drop it.”
“Are you so sure? Because—”
“If you were Ogenra though—”
His face contorted with anger. “My mother was a Doltari who left me to die on the garbage heaps of Gallthis. Happy? She was too stupid to know she could buy a fix from the Temple of Caless, or any blue house, for ten silver chalices to keep her from taking with child. And so she abandoned me at birth. I am not an Ogenra. Yes, blue eyes are one of the god-touched marks, but there are plenty of people with eyes all colors of the rainbow. Hell, Surdyeh’s eyes were green before he went blind. It doesn’t mean he’s related to whichever Royal House controls the Gatekeepers, it just means he’s from Kirpis. I’ve never seen the inside of a mansion in the Upper Circle and I never will.”
Morea flinched and drew back. His anger—Caless! She whispered, “But… you look just like him…”
She started to cry.
After a few seconds, his hands wrapped around her, his voice whispering as he stroked her hair. “Oh hell … I’m so sorry … I … I didn’t … was he important to you? Someone you cared about?”
She drew back. “No! I hate him.”
His expression turned stony. “Wait. I remind you of someone you hate?”
Morea wiped away her tears. This wasn’t going to the way she’d wanted at all. “It’s not like that. I just wanted—”
“What? What did you want so badly you’d make a play for someone who reminds you of a man you hate—someone you hate so much, that the thought of him sends you to tears? Because now I’m curious.”
She edged away from him on the divan. “It’s not like that!”
“Explain it to me then.”
“If you were Ogenra, you could find out where the Octagon’s slave auctioneers sold my sister Talea. You could ask for a favor from your family, if they were noble. I thought you had to be Ogenra. You’re even wearing his colors …” She pointed to his chest.
He touched the blue stone wrapped in gold around his neck. “His colors. I see.” He nodded, his expression hard. He wasn’t looking at her with tenderness anymore.
“Kihrin, I like you—”
“I do! I didn’t know who else to turn to.”
“Who you should have turned to was your new owner. Ola’s friends with half the people in this town, and she’s blackmailing the other half. She could have found what you needed from the Octagon. She could probably buy your sister too. But Ola would want something, and you didn’t want to owe her any more than you already do. Me? You thought you could rook me on the cheap.”
Morea’s throat dried. “I don’t know Madam Ola like you do. I’ve never had a master who wouldn’t beat me for asking a favor like that. But you … you’re sweet, and you’re beautiful, and you stood up to those men … why do my motives have to any more sinister than that?”
His expression didn’t soften. “Because you’re selling something, and you thought I was eager to buy.”
Morea tried to slap him, but he ducked away from her. He was quick.
He ignored her attack and stood. “I’ll ask Ola. She used to be a slave. And she still knows people in the Upper Circle. Someone will know what happened to your sister.” There was no smile in Kihrin’s eyes. He no longer looked at her like a lovesick youth pining after his latest crush.
Morea looked down at the floor, hating the way she felt, hating what she knew came next. “What would you expect in return,” she finally asked.
He grabbed his father’s sallí cloak and tossed it over his arm.
“Nothing,” he said. “I know this is the Capital, but not everything has to be a business deal.”
Kihrin bowed, the graceful flourish of a trained entertainer, and left the room without a backward glance.
Kihrin stalked into the main room of the Shattered Veil Club, and scanned the room for his father.
“So how’d it go, my little Rook?” Ola’s voice whispered from behind him.
“Ugh. I don’t want to talk about it.” He wished she wouldn’t call him Rook at the Club. He didn’t call her Raven here, did he?
The large woman raised an eyebrow. “That house last night didn’t have a guard out, did they?”
He stared at her for a moment, blinking. She wasn’t talking about the rehearsal. She’d meant the Kazivar House burglary. “Oh! Um … no. No, that went great. Better than great. Best yet.”
The woman grinned and gave him a hug, ruffling his hair while she trapped him in her arms.
“Ola—” Kihrin gave his standard protest, habitual by this point. He straightened himself up as Roarin led Surdyeh toward them. “I’ll tell you about it later. We need to talk.”
Surdyeh reached them and said, “We must hurry. Landril is very wealthy; it would be ill if we were late to our first commission from the man.”
Kihrin picked up the harp in its cloth case. “Sorry. I was delayed.”
“I’m sure you were, little one,” Ola winked at him.
Kihrin grinned back at her, shameless. “No, it’s not like that.” Then his expression grew serious. “I need to talk to you about that too.”
The whorehouse madam tilted her head to the side. “One of the girls giving you grief? Which one?”
“Morea,” Surdyeh said. “It couldn’t be anyone else.”
“Pappa, I can answer for myself.”
Madam Ola pursed her lips. “I wouldn’t be too hard on her, Bright-Eyes. That one’s still a bit of a mess from her last owner. Give me a few months to soften her up a bit. Why don’t you play with Jirya instead? She likes you.”
Which was true. Jirya did like Kihrin, mostly because Kihrin used afternoons spent in Jirya’s crib as an opportunity to catch up on his sleep after all-night treks on rooftops. She’d also proven to be a fantastic alibi. Of course, the alibi was needed for his father Surdyeh, and not the Watchmen. Surdyeh may not have approved of what he erroneously thought Kihrin was doing with Ola’s slave girls, but he approved of burglary even less.
“No, it’s not—”
Surdyeh shook his head. “You spoil him, Ola. You’d think he was a royal prince from the slave girls you let him take his pick from.”
It had been Surdyeh’s favorite argument of late, and it made Kihrin scowl even more than normal. Ola noticed, and raised an eyebrow. Kihrin pressed his lips together, shook his head, and said nothing.
The madam stared at Kihrin for a moment.
Then Ola laughed and chucked Surdyeh under the chin. “Men need to have good memories from their youth to keep them warm in their old age. Don’t try to tell me you don’t have some good ones, because I know better, old man. And you didn’t have no owner’s permission either. Now get going, before you’re late.”
She shoved them both out the door.
Excerpted from The Ruin of Kings, copyright © 2018 by Jenn Lyons.