The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons: Chapter 13

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…

 

13: The Determined Wizard
(Kihrin’s story)

 

I jumped up onto the railing and kept myself from falling overboard by grabbing the rigging. “Are those whales? I’ve never seen whales before.”

“Oh, those?” Teraeth looked over the side of the ship with a bored expression. “Nothing but several dozen sixty-foot-long limbless blue elephants going for a swim. Pay them no mind.”

“I’ve never seen so many.”

“Apparently you haven’t seen any, so that’s not saying much.”

I looked out over the ocean, watching the long, elegant forms breaking the surface, hurling themselves into the air to come crashing back down. After a few minutes, I stopped smiling.

“Are they always this jumpy?”

“It’s called breaching.”

“And the blood?” I asked. “That’s normal too?”

“What?” Teraeth turned around. I pointed behind the ship to where the whales jumped and churned. A streak of dark red spread out against the blue tropical water. The whales were racing, panicking, trying to overtake The Misery and swim past her.

They were trying to escape.

The vané knelt on the deck and put both hands against the wooden planks. He cocked his head to the side and closed his eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“Listening.” He opened his eyes again. “Damn it all. Go bring my mother here. The whales are screaming.”

“Screaming? But what could—” My voice died. A tentacle wrapped around one of the whales and pulled it under the waves. The water nearby churned a fresher crimson.

I started to do as Teraeth ordered. He may not have been carrying my gaesh anymore, but just this once I was willing to make an exception. His mother was on a first-name basis with the Goddess of Death herself; she could only be an asset on an occasion like this. Then I stopped, because a second problem had manifested.

“Tyentso’s headed right this way.” I stood caught between the approaching witch and the monster lurking in the ocean behind us.

“I don’t care if she wants to ask me to dance, she can wait—” Teraeth looked up and paused.

The ship’s witch, Tyentso, was marching aft, with Captain Juval close behind her. Sailors scattered as they advanced. It wasn’t the Captain’s presence that made them jump back as if they were about to touch a diseased corpse.

Some women are worth staring at because of their beauty. When men stared at Tyentso, it was not admiration or lust but shock that the gods would be so unkind. She was a dark, thin woman, scarecrow-like, who dressed in a shapeless robe of layered rags and stained sacking. Her eyes were hard and arrogant; she held herself with the straight-backed poise of an aristocrat—one who could order the death of anyone who displeased her. Her tangled, unwashed nest of hair was the color of dirty sand and bleached driftwood; her nose and chin long and sharp enough to polish on a grindstone; her lips little more than a razor’s gash across her face.

It would be impossible to guess at her talismans, not because she had none showing, but because she had too many. Bones, dried kelp, seashells, and bird beaks hung from her staff of ocean-washed, twisted pine. Similar flotsam found a home in that tangled hair. The staff made a noise like a rattle as she walked, as if to warn people to get out of her way.

Which they did if they were wise.

No, she did not radiate beauty. Instead, her aura was fear. She took the superstitious dread most people felt for the idea of a witch and wore it like a crown. No one who saw her doubted her profession, or that she could curse—would curse—any man who crossed her.

The first mate, Delon, liked to use the threat of a night spent in her bed as insurance on good behavior from the crew.

I liked her.

Yes, she was the one responsible for summoning the succubus who gaeshed me, but only under Juval’s orders. She had been my single and only ally onboard The Misery. Her spells were the only reason I’d survived Delon’s attentions. When not otherwise occupied, she’d spent the voyage locked away from the rest of the crew, studying her books, casting the myriad minor spells designed to keep the ship safe or detect danger.

This was why the purposeful strides she made toward us, her storm cloud eyes giving hard examination to the blooded ocean, made me so uncomfortable. She wouldn’t have left her cabin—worse, dragged the Captain with her—if the situation wasn’t every bit as serious as I feared.

She saw me and stopped dead in her pace. “Just what in Tya’s name are you doing here?”

“Never mind them,” Captain Juval said. “They’re passengers. They can walk the deck if they stay out of the way of the sailors. You two—” He gestured toward Teraeth and me. “Get out of here. We’ve business.”

Tyentso ignored the Captain and continued to stare at me. She was, I realized, waiting for an answer.

I looked over at Teraeth. Taja, I thought. The illusion isn’t working on her. She recognizes me.

“I—” What could I say? How could I answer her with Captain Juval right there?

“Never mind. Later.” She waved away any chance of response and moved to stand above the rudder. She paled as she looked out over the bloodied waters.

Tyentso raised her staff into the air and spoke in a language that tugged at the back of my mind—something almost but not quite comprehensible. She moved her free hand in the air, and I couldn’t so much see as feel the faint traceries left behind. Complicated skeins of mathematics and arcane notation lingered behind my eyelids before releasing, with a rush of imploding air, out the back of the ship. The energy trails arched into the water: dozens, no, hundreds, of tiny pulses created visible splashes.

Teraeth joined me at the railing as we both watched the water. For a long pause, nothing happened. Every sailor on the ship was holding their breath. Then the waters around the whales began to fleck and boil with new bodies: smaller, silver flashes that converged on the blood smears growing faint in the distance as The Misery continued her trek. Another tentacle flipped out of the water, and the whole ship seemed to gasp. Hundreds of white water trails rolled over the waves toward to the monstrous form.

“Dolphins …” Teraeth whispered.

Tyentso proclaimed, “THUS will I destroy the creature!” Her theatrical gesture was overdone, performed for the audience behind her.

There was an audible sigh of relief, a sense of reprieve. The first mate, Delon, began snapping at the men to get back to work.

Only Teraeth, the Captain, and I saw Tyentso’s expression held no such promise. She lowered her arms and glanced at Juval. “It’s a delay,” she said, “and nothing more. That is a Daughter of Laaka in those waters, not any mortal being.”

I felt ill. I was enough a minstrel’s son to know the songs and stories of the great kraken, the cursed daughters of the sea goddess. They were immortal beings and deadly foes of any ocean creature large enough to be prey, including ships. I had wanted to believe they were nothing more than stories.

“We’ll outrun it,” Juval said. “By the time it’s done with your sea dogs, we’ll be long gone.”

“I’m afraid,” Khaemezra said, “that would only work if the whales were ever her true quarry.”

Captain Juval looked annoyed at the interruption. He didn’t notice how Tyentso’s eyes widened as she saw Teraeth’s mother, or the way the sea witch’s knuckles turned white as she gripped her staff. Tyentso’s gray eyes moved to Teraeth, then to me, and finally back to the Mother of the Black Brotherhood.

She saw all of us for who we really were. No illusions for her.

“Blooded shells!” The Captain snapped. “What is it with the passengers on this run? You three got no business here. Now get back to your damn cabin and leave this business to folks who know what’s what.”

The rest of us looked at each other. I felt an unexpected sympathy for the Captain. I had been so scared of him once. He had been so angry with me; done terrible things to me in the heat of that anger. He was a towering figure, full of brooding violence that had never been just for show. Now—he was unimportant. He was all but dismissed, and just didn’t realize it yet. Tyentso and Khaemezra would decide who was in charge. The slave captain possessed no power to decide his destiny.

“Juval, these are not normal passengers. It would be best if you leave this to me.” Tyentso’s tone belonged to a queen and allowed no room for argument.

“Witch—”

“You must trust me,” Tyentso hissed. “We are not yet out of danger.”

I watched the battle going on under the waves. Even though the ship outpaced the original site of the whales and their attacker, I saw shapes moving in the water, sometimes jumping above it. Through it all, the long slithery tentacles slammed up above the waves to come crashing back down. The creature that owned those arms had to be enormous.

I felt bad for the dolphins. I doubted Tyentso had politely asked them to throw their lives away fighting that thing, that they had volunteered.

Tyentso turned to Khaemezra. “What did you mean about quarry?”

“She comes for the ship,” Khaemezra explained. “It was Taja’s good fortune that she crossed the path of her favorite meal, and so gave us warning.”

“She chases you.” The nest-haired witch stopped and narrowed her eyes. Then Tyentso turned to me. “No. The Laaka’s Daughter chases you.”

“Me? It’s not me. They’re the ones that upset the wizard.” I pointed to Teraeth and Khaemezra. “He didn’t like being outbid.”

Juval scowled. “You lot are the cause of this? I’ve a mind to throw you all overboard and let the damn sea monster take you.”

“That would be stupid,” Teraeth hissed. His whole body tensed. He had the look of a man mentally fingering his knives.

“Enough!” Khaemezra said. “It does not matter why the kraken chases or whom it seeks. What matters is that she was summoned. I underestimated the resolve of the wizard responsible. I was sure the gate would lead him astray.”

“I’ll have to destroy it,” Tyentso said. She surprised me by smiling, the first time I recalled her doing so. “I’ve never killed a kraken before.”

“Aren’t they immune to magic? Isn’t that what all the stories say?”

Tyentso smiled at me with grim, dark humor. “So is a witchhunter, but I learned a long time ago that everyone needs to breathe air or walk on land or swim in water. Those elements are mine. Let’s see how our kraken likes acid.” She pushed her sleeves up her arms.

“No,” Khaemezra said. “You cannot.”

“Oh, I very much can.” Tyentso raised her hands.

“You should not then. You would be making a horrible mistake.”

Tyentso sneered. “If you have a better plan to deal with this bitch, by all means share.”

Khaemezra sighed with exasperation. “The wizard who did this was ignorant as to which ship we used to leave port. He didn’t summon a single Daughter of Laaka: he summoned one for every ship that left Kishna-Farriga. He knows I can destroy a kraken. He is counting on this very thing. Now he sits like a bloated spider, linked to each monster by a thin line of magic, waiting for the right thread to snap—for the kraken who does not survive her hunt. He knows that on the other side of that thread, he will find his prey. He will find us.”

Tyentso stared at Khaemezra.

Juval scowled. “I don’t understand, over a dozen ships left port—”

“And he summoned a dozen kraken, one for each,” Khaemezra said.

Tyentso shook her head. “Tya bless me. Relos Var. There’s no other wizard it could be.”

“You know him?” I asked, surprised.

“Oh, of course. He used to come visit my late husband for a cup of tea and a nice human sacrifice. We were terribly important people, after all.” Tyentso raised her hand in a showy, sarcastic wave. Then her voice lowered to a throaty growl. “He’s only the most powerful wizard in the whole world, inches from being a god. If all he’s waiting on is our location before he strikes, then she’s damn well right—we don’t dare destroy that monster.”

I turned to Khaemezra. “But he’d still have to deal with you. He obviously doesn’t think he can take you. You stared him down. He’s scared of you.”

Tyentso stopped moving. Hell, she might have stopped breathing. She looked at Khaemezra as if she were a rearing cobra. “You—”

“We don’t have time for this,” Teraeth said. “The kraken’s on the chase again.” The Manol vané was keeping one eye on the Captain and another on our monstrous pursuer.

“You’re good,” Tyentso told Mother. “I can’t even tell you’re a wizard.”

Khaemezra’s smile was maternal. “I’ve had years of practice, my child.”

“Help me,” Tyentso pleaded. “We could do this together.”

“I can’t,” Khaemezra said. “There are rules, and consequences. If I, one of the people who made those rules, breaks them because they are inconvenient I would win this battle and lose the war. I do not wish to return to the chaos of the old times before the Concord.  Do you understand, child?”

“No. No, I don’t. There’s a sea monster gaining on the ship,” I said. “Anybody remember the sea monster? Hard to kill, gigantic, lots of arms? Hungry?

Khaemezra looked angry. “Damn it, child, I cannot do anything. If I kill that beast, Relos Var will be on us in minutes. And he will not arrive alone. He will have an army of shadow and darkness with him—demons of the cold, frozen Void. In saving you from that, we would lose everything. At least if you are killed by the kraken, you keep your soul and you can be Returned …”

I felt faint. Trapped in the hands of a demon for all time—

No, anything but that.

Even death, rather than that.

“Gods below, you are not talking about letting that monster tear up my ship?” Juval said, screaming even though his voice never rose above speaking level.

“We could go north,” Teraeth said. “Steer the ship north.”

“Are you insane?” Juval said. “There’s a reason every ship that sails these lanes takes the long way around Zherias. You try to take a shortcut through the straights and you’ll hit the Maw.”

“There’s a safe passage through the Maw,” Teraeth replied. “I know it.”

“Child,” Khaemezra snapped.

“Whale puke.” Juval said. “I’m Zheriaso and I can’t sail the Maw. No man can.”

Teraeth ignored him and turned his attention to Tyentso. “There is a safe passage through the Maw, but I have to steer. Your people must obey my orders without question or hesitation. They call you a witch, but what you just did smacks of something else. Formal training or self-taught?”

“A little of both,” Tyentso admitted. “I had excellent private tutors.” She looked back over her shoulder at the waves. “I can turn the currents against her, the winds in our favor. It should get us to the Straits before she can catch up to us. She won’t dare enter the Maw itself.” She stopped and looked back at Juval.

“I was wondering when someone would remember whose bloody ship this is,” the Captain growled. “Are you all insane?”

“Or, we could stay here and be ripped apart,” I said with a smile. “Completely your call, Juvs.”

He stared at me, his eyes widening with recognition. “I know that voice. You brat. What are you doing back on my ship?”

“Enjoying your fine hospitality, of course.” I grinned at him. “Trust me when I say you’ve come out of this better than you would’ve if we hadn’t come back onboard. Then Tyentso would’ve killed the Daughter and you’d be facing Relos Var all alone. Oh, and not even able to say you don’t know who I am, when he started asking the fun questions.”

“Captain—” Teraeth said. More than a small trace of urgency strained his voice.

Juval scowled. “Fine. North.

Read Chapter 14: Bedtime Stories

 

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

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