The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons: Chapter 12

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…

 

12: Behind the Veil
(Talon’s story)

 

Morea poured herself a glass of water from the pitcher at her bedside, swished the water around in her mouth, spat it back out again. She repeated the process until the tang was gone.

The small room was barely furnished once one looked past the tapestries, lewd sculptures, labial mosaics of Caless, and the priapic offering dishes of her lovers. There was a bed, a sideboard, and an armoire. A pitcher, ceramic mugs, and a washbasin rested on the sideboard. The armoire held the few clothes Madam Ola had given her.

The bed held a drunken merchant named … Something. Hallith? She didn’t remember. He’d been too intoxicated to do much, and the smell of his boozy breath on her face had set her skin crawling. She’d cooed and stroked him and prayed he’d be content with suckling.

Fortunately, he was.

It wasn’t easy for Morea to come to a place like this. She knew her lot was better than many, but she still remembered a time when a room this size wouldn’t have been fit for her use as a water closet. Baron Mataris hadn’t been handsome, or charming, or even young, but he had been rich, and not so unkind to his slaves that she didn’t regard his memory with fondness. If she and her sister hadn’t been happy at least they had been pampered, and the men and women that Baron Mataris gave them to believed in daily baths.

Unlike some. Her eyes flickered over to the form of her customer, already snoring.

Madam Ola told her that on nights when Morea did not dance, she might expect to make two or three thrones in tips. The Madam allowed her people to keep their tips, although she was under no obligation to do so. That meant, if Morea saved up every throne, every chance, every chalice, she might have enough to pay off her slave price in five years. Five years of this. Five years of taking all comers, of laying on the mat under the grunting, thrusting attention of drunken sailors, miners, merchants, and anyone else who paid Ola Nathera enough metal.

Morea had one consolation: the possibility there might be an end to this. Ola allowed for the potential of buying her freedom. Baron Mataris had never done so.

Ola herself was an enigma to Morea. The woman was a legend with a dozen stories about her origins, all of them probably lies. Ola didn’t use the veils so many Zheriaso wore outside the borders of their island home, so it was obvious to all that she had once been a wild beauty. Her skin was midnight, her eyes like the ocean depths, her soft curled hair tied in elegant knots. Yes, a great beauty—or she would have been if time and a fondness for sweets had not rounded out all the edges.

Morea had already heard a dozen stories during her brief stay at the Shattered Veil. How Ola Nathera had been a Zheriaso princess, and had run from an unwelcome marriage. That Ola was in fact an infamous witch, banished from her country for enchanting the king. Or, Morea’s favorite: that Ola has once been a slave girl herself, who’d earned her freedom and her fortune in a single night unwittingly spent with the Emperor. Her beauty so enchanted the man that he’d bestowed a necklace upon her of impossibly rare star tear diamonds. With such treasure, she purchased her slave price, bought the Shattered Veil Club velvet house, and never slept with a man again.

Morea didn’t know about the necklace or the Emperor, but she was sure the last part was true. Ola looked at her the same way most men did. And Morea had spoken to the others enough to know that when Ola helped herself to her own slaves, it was not the boys she ordered into her bed.

Halith? Harith? Halis? Whatever-his-name snored, turned over, pushed his arm up over his head like a cat, and started to drool into his beard. He was her first customer of the afternoon, and she wondered if he had come in for sex or just to get out of the heat. Morea stared at him for a moment before deciding she needed fresh air in the worst possible way.

Morea stepped out of the crib into the courtyard. The heat was a tangible beast, a monster that stalked and hunted everyone in its path. Very little breeze penetrated the opening in the central courtyard; it was an afternoon set to broil on an open flame. The soothing color of the teal green sky overhead mocked her, vibrating against the red-orange heat of the sun.

The servant’s entrance at the back of the Club swung open as Morea heard the voice of the old musician, Surdyeh, raised in anger.

“Careful! Careful!! Don’t trip on that third step.”

“Pappa, I’m fine.”

Morea inhaled sharply when the pair came into view. A soldier supported Kihrin, while two more guided the blind harpist. Despite his protestations to the contrary, the young man didn’t look at all fine. Dried blood matted and clumped his black hair in ugly snarls. Crimson splattered his sallí cloak. Other unwholesome stains lent their aspect to the air of a man with serious injuries. His father appeared uninjured, but the look of anger, frustration, and worry on his face was clear from across the courtyard.

Morea ran inside to fetch Madam Ola, and when they returned, they found two of the soldiers standing stiffly at attention. The third, the one who had been helping Kihrin, was talking to the blind musician.

“I told you,” Surdyeh snapped. “We thank you for your courtesy, but we’ll do fine. We don’t need charity.”

“Pappa, you’re being rude.”

The soldier, tall and dark and beautiful, smiled as if he found the old man’s ire adorable. He started to say something. “Bright-Eyes …” Madam Ola rushed across the courtyard. She threw her arms around Kihrin and pressed him close. “My baby!”

“Mmm, mmm mmmm,” Kihrin said, his voice cut off by the flesh of Ola’s bosom. He struggled to escape her embrace.

Ola pushed herself away, putting her hands protectively on Kihrin’s shoulders. “What did you do to my angel?” she demanded.

The soldier spread his hands in a gesture of helpless innocence. “It wasn’t me, Ma’am. Your, uh … angel … ran into a demon.”

She stared at him, blinking, and then looked at Kihrin. “Was Faris causing some kind of—”

“No, Ola,” Surdyeh said. “Not a metaphorical demon. A real one.”

“What?”

The old man shook his head. “The blasted monster was waiting in the center of the street, Ola. I’ve never heard of anything like it. If I hadn’t smelled it up ahead, I might have run right into the damn thing. I heard it kill one of the guards. We were lucky to escape with our lives.”

Kihrin gave Surdyeh a look so filled with venom that Morea flinched. “One of us did run into it.”

“At least it didn’t kill you, boy,” Surdyeh said, his face and voice peevish.

“A small favor,” Kihrin said. Then he shook his head, and a shudder passed through him. He gestured to the guard. “Madam Ola, this is Captain Jarith.”

Jarith took Ola’s hand and kissed it, smiling roguishly. He looked nineteen or twenty years old, and far too young to be a captain of anything. “A real pleasure, Miss Nathera. My father’s told me a lot of stories about you.”

The smile froze on Ola Nathera’s face. “Oh?” She looked wary.

The Captain’s grin widened. “Why, yes. He used to say you were the most beautiful courtesan who ever stepped foot in the Upper Circle, that once there were a thousand men lined up just for the right to be ignored by you.” He paused and winked at the whorehouse madam. “Of course, he never says it where mother might hear.”

She laughed, hearty and full. “Ah! Well, the joys of youth, yes? You should come by sometime. I’ll find a special someone for you.” She turned, realized Morea was still nearby, and gestured toward her. “This one is new, and quite lovely, yes?”

The Captain smiled, shrugged. “My apologies, Miss Nathera—”

“Ola. You must call me Ola, you handsome devil.”

He grinned. “Ola then. No offense, but I’m afraid the kind of woman I prefer doesn’t tend to end up in a brothel.” His eyes nonetheless slid over Morea’s form. “You are lovely, though. I don’t suppose you know how to use a sword?” He questioned her directly, and improperly, with nothing in his manner to suggest he realized how he was breaking slave etiquette. No doubt, he was aware that Ola wouldn’t dare call him on it.

Morea swallowed and shook her head.

The Captain sighed. “Pity.” He dusted himself off and turned to Kihrin, whose gaze of thankful admiration had turned to something suspiciously like a glare. “The invitation stands. If you’re still interested, come by the House of the Red Sword at eight bells. It’s in the Ruby District, two streets out from the Great Forge. I’ll leave word with the Watchmen.”

“Don’t expect him,” Surdyeh growled.

“I’ll be there,” Kihrin said, glaring at his father.

“What’s going on?” Ola demanded.

“I have to return to my duties,” Captain Jarith apologized. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Ola, Miss, Surdyeh, Kihrin.” He tilted his head in Kihrin’s direction. “You did well back there. If you ever want a job, we are always looking for soldiers with your kind of instincts. A man could do worse than starting service with a recommendation for valor from a general.”

“Thank you, but, umm …” Kihrin grimaced and looked toward his father.

“I understand. Oh, before I go. What was that slave girl’s name?”

Kihrin glanced at Morea, worried at his lower lip a little, then smiled. “Your sister’s name, Morea?

Morea’s heart beat frantically when she heard that, and she put her hand to her mouth. “Talea—”

Kihrin looked back to the Captain. “It’s Talea.”

“I have a few friends at the Octagon. I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Jarith nodded and left, taking his guards with him.

Madam Ola waited until the soldiers were gone and then turned on Surdyeh and Kihrin. “By all the gods! What just happened?”

“Qoran Milligreest, the High General of the Great and Holy Empire of Quur,” Surdyeh began with a mocking, angry voice, “has just invited our pride and joy to come over to his house.” He inhaled deeply. “He wants to replace my harp the demon smashed up. At least, that’s the official story.” Surdyeh’s tone said he didn’t believe it for one minute, for one second. He expected his son would put one foot inside this General’s house and be set upon by a hundred guards with crossbows and pikes.

“General Milligreest?” Ola’s eyes were wide and shocked.

“Ola, would you knock some sense into him?” Kihrin hooked a thumb in his father’s direction. “The General saved my life. The demon would have killed me if he hadn’t stepped in. Then he orders his man to heal me and he even offers to replace Surdyeh’s harp with one of his own. He’ll probably want to commission a performance. How is that bad? Taja! Pappa’s been telling me for years how I should try to make influential contacts—‘never let an opportunity pass, boy’—and when I finally do, he doesn’t want me to go!”

“We don’t need his charity.”

“It’s not charity, damn it. It’s a reward. I helped fight off a demon. I put a knife in its eye! Come on. His man said he was an old friend of yours.”

Surdyeh looked confused, then frustrated, and finally angry. “What man? There wasn’t anyone there that I’d trust.”

Ola swallowed hard, and she looked from Kihrin to Surdyeh and back again. She was breathing through her nose—flat, shallow breaths—and her eyes were wide. Her mouth pressed into a thin line, and behind her back, where no one could see it but Morea, the woman’s hand slowly bunched the fabric of her skirt into a tight knot, so hard that Morea could see the white of Ola’s knucklebones through her black skin. The hand shook.

At first, Morea thought the woman was scared, but she quickly revised her opinion. Morea had been a slave for most of her life, sold along with her sister by a mother who couldn’t support them when their father ran off. Like most people who grew up as slaves, she was adept at reading the emotions of her owners, a survival skill.

No, Ola Nathera wasn’t scared. She was angry.

Ola smiled as if trying to cheer a small child who’d banged his knee. “Sweetheart?”

Kihrin looked at her with suspicion in his blue eyes.

“Pay no mind to your pappa. He’s had a fright. How could he not, what with you almost getting killed out there today? I mean, Bright-Eyes, look at you. Is that your blood?”

The young man tugged at the cloth of his sallí cloak. “Most of it isn’t. They healed what was.”

“Well now, no wonder he’s upset.”

The old man shook his head. “Ola, don’t do—”

“Hush, honey,” she cautioned him. “You just let Momma Ola take care of everything.” Ola gestured toward Kihrin. “You gonna go see the General like that? Covered in blood and muck and dressed like a gutter rat under that ripped cloak? Your clothes all torn and looking like you just crawled out from under the garbage dump?”

“I—” Kihrin shifted uncomfortably.

“No, I didn’t think so.” Ola smiled. Morea watched her warm to the role of attentive mother. “You been through a lot, Bright-Eyes. A lot. You need to take care of yourself.” Ola turned to shout something, and stopped. “What you still doing here, girl? And what was that business about a sister?”

“I thought—”

“Never mind. You take Kihrin here back to my private bath and clean him up.”

Morea chewed her lip, looking at Kihrin. He wouldn’t return her stare. “I have a customer …” She pointed back to her crib.

“Never you mind. I’ll take care of that. Don’t you worry about your customers for tonight. My angel could use a little cheering, so that’s what I want you to do. Cheer him.”

Kihrin looked up. “Thanks, Ola, but I don’t need it. I know where the bath is. I don’t need any help taking one.”

“Who said you needed help? Sweet cheeks, when you need help taking a bath it stops being any fun. I never met nobody who didn’t like to have their back scrubbed by someone cute and willing.  Now you two scoot. I’m gonna tell your pappa he’s being a fool and then I’ll fetch you some dinner.” She was the definition of attentive, loving care.

Kihrin looked suspicious. Morea watched him stare at Ola for a moment, then he smiled a dazzling white grin that would have melted glaciers in the Dragonspires. “Yeah, I guess you’re right Ola. Thanks.” He hopped to his feet and walked to the back. Halfway there, he turned and looked at Morea. “Coming?”

She looked from Kihrin to Ola. The brothel madam smiled at her, making shooing motions toward her apartment in the back of the courtyard.

Morea followed Kihrin, but he didn’t wait for her. He already had the door open and was holding it for her when she arrived.

The smile on his face vanished as soon as he closed the door. He leaned against the wood and shut his eyes as if he was tired or in pain.

“Is there something wrong?” Morea asked, then bit her lip. “Oh, how stupid of me. Of course, something’s wrong.”

He opened his eyes and smiled at her. At least the corners of his mouth turned up. She didn’t consider it a real smile; there was too much pain in his eyes.

“Yeah,” Kihrin agreed after a moment, then he straightened. “Do you think I oversold the ‘little boy who believes anything his mother tells him’ routine out there?”

“I’m not sure … Maybe a little at the end.”

“That’s what I thought too. Let’s hope she’s too distracted to notice.”

“Kihrin, what is going on? What happened?”

He held up his hand as if to ward off the question. “I’ll explain. I promise I’ll explain. Just give me a minute.” He crossed the room.

“As you say, but—” Her voice faltered as she tracked his movement. Her mouth fell open as she stared at the apartment interior.

Ola’s front room was large enough to fit six or seven brothel cribs. Bright murals of verdant jungle, birds, and sky painted the walls. There were animals Morea was familiar with and snake creatures Morea had only heard of in stories. Striped carpets of exotic patterns and lush colors lined the floors, woven from deep garnets and emeralds, amethysts and sapphires, rubies and bright glittering ribbons of gold. Sequins sewn into the weave made the rugs look jeweled in the light. Chests of carved dark woods served as tables to hold vases of peacock feathers. Lanterns of stained glass and thin mica hung from the ceiling, along with crystals and bells and little glass trinkets. Masks of every description hung from the ceiling: paper masks and clay masks, carved wooden masks and stone masks, cloth masks and metal masks.

A stuffed raven perched on a fake tree limb that jutted from the wall, above a cauldron filled with twigs and branches and bones. The scent of spices hung thick and heavy in the air: myrrh, cinnamon, and rose. Opposite the door they had entered, a curtain of jade beads served as a privacy screen for the room beyond.

A large table sat in the center of the room on top of a jaguar skin. The table’s three legs resembled ravens attempting flight, each bird prevented by the python encircling their lower bodies. A sheet of solid glass rested on top of the base. On top of that rested a silk pouch that appeared to hold something square, a mirror of black obsidian, and a low-rimmed leather platter used in high-end dice games. Two chairs sat on opposite sides of the table, but not much else in the room was useful for sitting. There were no lounge chairs, no couches, and no beds. This was not a room for romantic liaisons.

She wanted to ask Kihrin about this room: what it was for, why it looked this way. She took one look at him and decided the questions could wait.

Kihrin walked over to a cabinet and found an earthenware jug. He brought it and two goblets back to the table, before sitting and covering his face with his fingers. His whole body, Morea realized, was trembling.

“Kihrin?” She smiled at the young man. “Would you like to have me? If it would make you feel better, I would gladly—”

“No!” Kihrin raised his head. “No. Please. I don’t—I can’t—”

She frowned. A part of her wanted to feel hurt and offended at the rejection, but his shame was directed inward. He was still shaking, his eyes wet, on the verge of tears. She was familiar enough with the signs. Morea poured his cup of wine and took the liberty of finishing the second cup for herself. “Do you have anyone you can talk to about what happened?”

“Ola—but I can’t tell Ola. She wouldn’t understand—”

“She might. But anyone can see she’s a mother to you, and that’s not the right kind of person for this. You need a friend, not a parent.”

He grimaced, picked up the wine cup and drank deep. “I don’t really have any then. I guess—well, it turns out they were all Faris’s friends. We don’t speak anymore.”

“You should talk to someone. This sort of hurt festers inside the soul if you ignore it. Ignore it for long enough and you will begin to convince yourself that what happened was your fault, that you deserved to be treated this way—”

He stared at her with wide, frightened eyes. “What if it is my fault? Gods, how could I have been stupid enough to think I could outrun a demon. I am the world’s biggest idiot. Those wizards will summon it again, find out it didn’t kill me, and they’ll send it back to finish the job. Oh, Taja help me, what if next time it finds me here at the Veil?”

“Wait. I thought it was an accident? Just some monster you ran into on the street?”

“No. It was hunting me. It was looking for me. It’s going to come back, Morea. I know it will.”

“Then you’ll have to do something,” Morea reasoned, fighting her own fear. “Why doesn’t your father want you to see the High General?”

“I don’t know. It makes no sense at all. There was another man there who claimed he was a friend of my father’s, but when I woke up, he was gone. Maybe …” Kihrin frowned. “I guess the idea that they used to be friends doesn’t mean much. Faris and I used to be friends too, and look how well that worked out.”

“What was his name?”

A helpless, defeated look came over Kihrin. “He didn’t say. And you heard my pappa. He denied he knew anyone there.”

“Even so, if the General fought that demon, he’d take the threat seriously, wouldn’t he? I’ve heard of the High General. My old master used say that the Milligreest family have been soldiers in the service of the Empire for almost as long the Empire has existed.”

Kihrin grimaced. “Xaltorath—the demon—knew him, Morea. Knew him well enough to taunt him while they fought.” He shuddered. “I think that demon murdered one of Milligreest’s daughters.”

“Then you know Milligreest won’t turn you away. Ask the High General for help.”

He ducked his head. “I’m not used to thinking of the guard as people I can run to for help.”

“Those aren’t guards, Kihrin. Those are soldiers. Army. And the army takes the threat of demons very seriously.”

“I guess … I wasn’t thinking.”

“Be thankful you have me around to set you straight.” She laughed, and he chuckled.

Then his eyes clouded as he looked at her, and he shuddered and turned away.

“It’s not your fault,” Morea told him. “It’s the fault of those wizards who summoned that thing. It’s the fault of that demon. You didn’t do anything—” She raised her hand when she saw him about to interrupt. “Nothing you could’ve done deserves this.”

Kihrin reached for his wine cup with unsteady hands. “You talk like that demon raped me.”

Morea blinked. “Didn’t he? I assumed—”

Kihrin flinched, and almost dropped the cup. He set it down awkwardly on the table and drew his legs up onto the chair, so his arms wrapped around his thighs, his head resting on his knees. He hugged himself and shuddered.

Morea stretched a hand toward him.

“Don’t touch me,” he said with a muffled voice. “Please don’t. It’s not safe.”

“I won’t hurt you.”

He looked up at her with wet and shining eyes. “Morea, I didn’t say it wasn’t safe for me.”

She sat back in her chair in surprise. “Tell me,” she finally said. “Tell me what happened.”

“He …” Kihrin inhaled, shut his eyes, and started over. “He put thoughts into my head. Terrible thoughts. Memories. Some of them mine, but twisted. Others not mine at all. No one hurt me. I was the one hurting everyone else. I was hurting people I know and people I’ve never even met before. Doing things to them. Killing them and worse. I liked it.” His voice was rough with horror. “Those thoughts are still there. Those memories lurk. I can’t—I don’t trust myself.”

“No,” Morea said. “No. That’s the lie. He was tricking you. That’s not you. You’re good. You could never enjoy anything like that.”

His laugh was half a sob. “Morea, you’ve known me for a few weeks, and only done more than exchanged stares with me today. Have you forgotten this afternoon already? You don’t think I have it in me to be mean? To be petty?”

She looked away.

“What if it wasn’t a trick? What if my reactions were my own and I really do enjoy hurting people? What if he only showed me what I truly am?”

“No,” she protested. “Someone like that wouldn’t have ordered me to not touch them—for my own protection. I have known evil men. I have known men who love no sound so much as the screams of their victims. They don’t feel guilt about the hurt they cause. They don’t obsess about whether or not they are good people. This demon wasn’t trying to show you the truth about yourself. He wanted to hurt you. What could cause more lingering pain than this?”

His smile was awkward. “I pray you’re right.” Morea looked at the rim of the wine cup. “You said he showed you doing terrible things to people you’ve never met?” He nodded. “Yes. Except there was a girl—” He scowled and didn’t finish.

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not what you think.” Kihrin shook his head. “She probably wasn’t real. She looked so strange. I don’t think she was human.”

“What did she look like?”

“She had red hair,” Kihrin said, after an uncomfortable silence. “Not hennaed red hair, like yours. Her hair was either black or the color of blood, depending on the angle, and she only had a single stripe of it running from her forehead to her neck. Her eyes were fire, all flickering red and orange. And her skin was odd. Most of her body was normal enough, but her hands and feet were black, like she wore gloves and stockings.”

A strange thing happened to Kihrin as he talked about the phantom girl; a far-away look caught in his eyes. He released some of the tension, some of the horror, that had kept him a trembling prisoner. He didn’t seem to notice.

Morea frowned. Just exactly what had that demon done to this poor boy’s mind?

“From the hair I’d say she sounds like a girl from Jorat.” Morea said. “My old master bought a slave girl from that dominion once. Everyone told him not to; they make poor slaves. The old bloods—the ones who trace their ancestry back to the Jorat god-king—they aren’t human anymore. There’s something in them that’s wild, and stays wild, and will not be broken.”

“What happened?”

“She ripped out my master’s throat with her teeth and took her own life. My master’s daughter didn’t want to own a seraglio, so she sold us off. That’s how my sister and I were separated.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Now you know not to ever buy a Joratese slave.” Morea leaned forward. “Is she beautiful, this demon-brought Jorat-girl?”

His expression faltered for a moment before he smiled. “Not as beautiful as you.”

“You’re lying. I can tell.”

“Jealous?” He was trying to tease, and not succeeding.

“Can’t I be? She is, isn’t she? Very beautiful, I mean.”

“Maybe a little,” he said, looking away.

“Ah, and to think just this afternoon I was the girl who made you blush.”

He looked guilty then, and Morea chided herself for teasing him when he’d had so much horror in his day. “Is that some sort of game?” she asked, looking at the silk-clad block and the dice cup on the table.

“Not at all. Fate cards. Ola uses them.” He picked up the silk pouch and withdrew a deck of cards. Kihrin pulled a card off the top and showed her an intricately drawn miniature of a silver-haired angel flipping a coin: Taja, Goddess of Luck.

“I don’t understand.”

“Ola sells more than sex here.” He shuffled the cards with one hand, flipping them in front and behind each other with nimble fingers.

“You’re good at that.”

“Ola’s better. She’s the one who taught me.” He paused. “She didn’t mean it, you know. About letting me see the General. She’s as set against it as Pappa. I know her too well.” He offered her the deck, fanned out so he couldn’t see the faces. “Take a card. Don’t tell me what it is.”

She smiled and plucked a single card from the deck. “She did seem upset.”

“Mad as old Nemesan. * And I don’t know why. But I know her. Hell, I was her apprentice when I was a kid. She’d never tell me not to do something, not if she was serious about it. She’d just fix the odds. You picked the Pale Lady.”

Morea laughed and flipped the card over, revealing Thaena. “How did you do that?”

“I fixed the odds.”

Kihrin shuffled the cards and dealt, this time dealing cards on the table in a cross pattern with a card in the corners to form a square. He started turning over cards, the scowl on his face only increasing as he did. She looked at the pictures with interest, but she didn’t know enough about fate cards to understand what they meant.

“That good?” She finally asked.

Kihrin stared at the cards blank-faced. “You know, I think that’s the worst reading I’ve ever seen. With a day like this, I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“But what do the cards say?”

“Oh, you know, the usual stuff. Death, loss, pain, suffering, slavery, and despair.” He started gathering the cards back up. “Not even a nice reward at the end of it, just this.” He picked up the card in the center: a solid rectangle of blackness. “The cold void of Hell. Nice.” He snorted and put the cards back into the bag. “Now I remember why I hate these things.” He refilled his wine goblet, stood up, and put the wine jug back in the cabinet.

Morea looked at the cards for a moment longer. “How do you think Ola is going to fix the odds?”

Kihrin looked down at his cup of wine. “We’ll find out soon enough if I’m right. Come on. Ola’s bath is through that curtain. We’d best get this over with.”

 

Excerpted from The Ruin of Kings, copyright © 2018 by Jenn Lyons.

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