The Grace of Kings

BOOK: The Grace of Kings
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.

For my grandmother, who introduced me to the great heroes of the Han Dynasty. I'll always remember the afternoons we spent together listening to
pingshu
storytellers on the radio.

And for Lisa, who saw Dara before I did.

Contents

Dedication

Map

A Note on Pronunciation

List of Major Characters

Part One: All Under Heaven

Chapter One: An Assassin

Chapter Two: Mata Zyndu

Part Two: The Prophecy of the Fish

Chapter Three: Kuni Garu

Chapter Four: Jia Matiza

Chapter Five: The Death of the Emperor

Chapter Six: Corvée

Chapter Seven: Mata's Valor

Chapter Eight: Kuni's Choice

Chapter Nine: Emperor Erishi

Chapter Ten: The Regent

Chapter Eleven: The Chatelain

Part Three: Chasing the Stag

Chapter Twelve: The Rebellion Grows

Chapter Thirteen: Kindo Marana

Chapter Fourteen: Kuni, the Administrator

Chapter Fifteen: The King of Rima

Chapter Sixteen: “Your Majesty”

Chapter Seventeen: The Gates of Zudi

Chapter Eighteen: Luan Zya

Chapter Nineteen: Brothers

Chapter Twenty: Forces of the Air

Chapter Twenty-One: Before the Storm

Chapter Twenty-Two: Battle of Zudi

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Fall of Dimu

Chapter Twenty-Four: Battle of Arulugi

Chapter Twenty-Five: “It is a Horse”

Chapter Twenty-Six: The Princeps's Promise

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Kikomi

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Luan Zya's Plan

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Battle of Wolf's Paw

Chapter Thirty: Master of Pan

Chapter Thirty-One: The Slaughter

Chapter Thirty-Two: The Housekeeper

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Real Master of Pan

Part Four: The Caged Wolf

Chapter Thirty-Four: The Banquet

Chapter Thirty-Five: A New World

Chapter Thirty-Six: Dasu

Chapter Thirty-Seven: A Visit Home

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Risana

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Letters

Chapter Forty: Gin Mazoti

Chapter Forty-One: The Marshal

Chapter Forty-Two: The Dandelion Ripens

Chapter Forty-Three: First Strike

Chapter Forty-Four: The Cruben in Deep Sea

Part Five: Clouds Race Across the Sky

Chapter Forty-Five: Dasu and Cocru

Chapter Forty-Six: Mata's Counterattack

Chapter Forty-Seven: The Standoff at Liru River

Chapter Forty-Eight: The Marshal's Gambit

Chapter Forty-Nine: The Temptation of Gin Mazoti

Chapter Fifty: Glory of the Chrysanthemum

Chapter Fifty-One: The Coronation

Glossary

Notes

Acknowledgments

About the Author

A NOTE ON PRONUNCIATION

Many names in Dara are derived from Classical Ano. The transliter­ation for Classical Ano in this book does not use vowel digraphs; each vowel is pronounced separately. For example, “Réfiroa” has four distinct syllables: “Ré-fi-ro-a.” Similarly, “Na-aroénna” has five syllables: “Na-a-ro-én-na.”

The
i
is always pronounced like the
i
in English “mill.”

The
o
is always pronounced like the
o
in English “code.”

The
ü
is always pronounced like the umlauted form in German or Chinese pinyin.

Other names have different origins and contain sounds that do not appear in Classical Ano, such as the
xa
in “Xana” or the
ha
in “Haan.” In such cases, however, each vowel is still pronounced separately. Thus, “Haan” also contains two syllables.

LIST OF MAJOR CHARACTERS

THE CHRYSANTHEMUM AND THE DANDELION

K
UNI
G
ARU
: a boy who prefers play to study; the leader of a street gang; and much more.

M
ATA
Z
YNDU
: a boy noble in stature and spirit; last son of the Zyndu Clan.

KUNI'S RETINUE

J
IA
M
ATIZA
: the daughter of a rancher; a skilled herbalist; Kuni's wife.

C
OGO
Y
ELU
: a clerk in Zudi's city government; Kuni's friend in “high places.”

L
UAN
Z
YA
: scion of a noble family in Haan; adventurer among the people of Tan Adü.

G
IN
M
AZOTI
: an orphan on the streets of Dimushi; seeker of fortune during the rebellion.

R
IN
C
ODA
: childhood friend of Kuni.

M
ÜN
Ç
AKRI
: a butcher; one of Kuni's fiercest warriors.

T
HAN
C
ARUCONO
: an old stable master in Zudi.

L
ADY
R
ISANA
: an illusionist and accomplished musician.

D
AFIRO
M
IRO
: “Daf”; one of the first rebels under Huno Krima; brother of Ratho Miro.

S
OTO
: Jia's housekeeper.

MATA'S RETINUE

P
HIN
Z
YNDU
: Mata's uncle; his tutor and surrogate parent.

T
ORULU
P
ERING
: an old scholar; Mata's adviser.

T
HÉCA
K
IMO
: a rebel also from Tunoa.

L
ADY
M
IRA
: an embroiderer and songstress from Tunoa; the only woman who understands Mata.

R
ATHO
M
IRO
: “Rat”; one of the first rebels under Huno Krima; brother of Dafiro Miro.

THE XANA EMPIRE

M
APIDÉRÉ
: First Emperor of the Seven Islands of Dara; named Réon when he was King of Xana.

E
RISHI
: Second Emperor of the Seven Islands of Dara.

G
ORAN
P
IRA
: Chatelain of Xana; childhood friend of King Réon.

L
ÜGO
C
RUPO
: Regent of Xana; a great scholar and calligrapher.

T
ANNO
N
AMEN
: revered General of Xana.

K
INDO
M
ARANA
: the empire's chief tax collector.

T
HE
T
IRO
K
INGS OF THE
S
IX
S
TATES

P
RINCESS
K
IKOMI AND
K
ING
P
ONADOMU OF
A
MU
: the jewel of Arulugi and her granduncle.

K
ING
T
HUFI OF
C
OCRU
: once a shepherd; urges the Tiro kings to unite.

K
ING
S
HILUÉ OF
F
AÇA
: ambitious but careful of self-preservation; interferes with Rima.

K
ING
D
ALO OF
G
AN
: oversees the wealthiest realm of the Six States.

K
ING
C
OSUGI OF
H
AAN
: an old king who may have lost his appetite for risk.

K
ING
J
IZU OF
R
IMA
: a young prince who grew up as a fisherman.

THE REBELLION

H
UNO
K
RIMA
: leader of the first rebels against Xana.

Z
OPA
S
HIGIN
: companion of Huno; leader of the first rebels against Xana.

THE GODS OF DARA

K
IJI
: patron of Xana; Lord of the Air; god of wind, flight, and birds; his
pawi
is the Mingén falcon; favors a white traveling cloak.

T
UTUTIKA
: patron of Amu; youngest of the gods; goddess of agriculture, beauty, and fresh water; her
pawi
is the golden carp.

K
ANA AND
R
APA
: twin patrons of Cocru; Kana is the goddess of fire, ash, cremation, and death; Rapa is the goddess of ice, snow, glaciers, and sleep; their
pawi
are twin ravens: one black, one white.

R
UFIZO
: patron of Faça; Divine Healer; his
pawi
is the dove.

T
AZU
: patron of Gan; unpredictable, chaotic, delighting in chance; god of sea currents, tsunamis, and sunken treasures; his
pawi
is the shark.

L
UTHO
: patron of Haan; god of fisherman, divination, mathematics, and knowledge; his
pawi
is the sea turtle.

F
ITHOWÉO
: patron of Rima; god of war, the hunt, and the forge; his
pawi
is the wolf.

ALL UNDER HEAVEN

CHAPTER ONE

AN ASSASSIN

ZUDI: THE SEVENTH MONTH IN THE FOURTEENTH YEAR OF THE REIGN OF ONE BRIGHT HEAVEN.

A white bird hung still in the clear western sky and flapped its wings sporadically.

Perhaps it was a raptor that had left its nest on one of the soaring peaks of the Er-Mé Mountains a few miles away in search of prey. But this was not a good day for hunting—a raptor's usual domain, this sun-parched section of the Porin Plains, had been taken over by people.

Thousands of spectators lined both sides of the wide road out of Zudi; they paid the bird no attention. They were here for the Imperial Procession.

They had gasped in awe as a fleet of giant Imperial airships passed overhead, shifting gracefully from one elegant formation to another. They had gawped in respectful silence as the heavy battle-­carts rolled before them, thick bundles of ox sinew draping from the stone-­throwing arms. They had praised the emperor's foresight and generosity as his engineers sprayed the crowd with perfumed water from ice wagons, cool and refreshing in the hot sun and dusty air of northern Cocru. They had clapped and cheered the best dancers the six conquered Tiro states had to offer: five hundred Faça maidens who gyrated seductively in the veil dance, a sight once reserved for the royal court in Boama; four hundred Cocru sword twirlers who spun their blades into bright chrysanthemums of cold light that melded martial glory with lyrical grace; dozens of elegant, stately elephants from wild, sparsely settled Écofi Island, painted with the colors of the Seven States—the largest male draped in the white flag of Xana, as one would expect, while the others wore the rainbow colors of the conquered lands.

The elephants pulled a moving platform on which stood two hundred of the best singers all the Islands of Dara had to offer, a choir whose existence would have been impossible before the Xana Conquest. They sang a new song, a composition by the great imperial scholar Lügo Crupo to celebrate the occasion of the Imperial tour of the Islands:

To the north: Fruitful Faça, green as the eyes of kind Rufizo,

Pastures ever kissed by sweet rain, craggy highlands shrouded in mist.

Soldiers walking next to the moving platform tossed trinkets into the crowd: Xana-style decorative knots made with bits of color­ful string to represent the Seven States. The shapes of the knots were meant to evoke the logograms for “prosperity” and “luck.” Specta­tors scrambled and fought one another to catch a memento of this exciting day.

To the south: Castled Cocru, fields of sorghum and rice, both pale and dark,

Red, for martial glory, white, like proud Rapa, black, as mournful Kana.

The crowd cheered especially loudly after this verse about their homeland.

To the west: Alluring Amu, the jewel of Tututika,

Luminous elegance, filigreed cities surround two blue lakes.

To the east: Gleaming Gan, where Tazu's trades and gambles glitter,

Wealthy as the sea's bounty, cultured like the scholars' layered gray robes.

Walking behind the singers, other soldiers held up long silk banners embroidered with elaborate scenes of the beauty and wonder of the Seven States: moonlight glinting from snowcapped Mount Kiji; schools of fish sparkling in Lake Tututika at sunrise; breaching crubens and whales sighted off the shores of Wolf's Paw; joyous crowds lining the wide streets in Pan, the capital; serious scholars debating policy in front of the wise, all-knowing emperor. . . .

To the northwest: High-minded Haan, forum of philosophy,

Tracing the tortuous paths of the gods on Lutho's yellow shell.

In the middle: Ring-wooded Rima, where sunlight pierces ancient

Forests to dapple the ground, as sharp as Fithowéo's black sword.

Between each verse, the crowd bellowed out the chorus along with the singers:

We bow down, bow down, bow down to Xana, Zenith, Ruler of Air,

Why resist, why persist against Lord Kiji in strife that we can't bear?

If the servile words bothered those in this Cocru crowd who had probably taken up arms against the Xana invaders scarcely more than a dozen years ago, any mutterings were drowned out by the full-throated, frenzied singing of the men and women around them. The hypnotic chant held a power of its own, as if by mere repetition the words gained weight, became more true.

But the crowd wasn't close to being satisfied by the spectacle thus far. They hadn't seen the heart of the Procession yet: the emperor.

The white bird glided closer. Its wings seemed to be as wide and long as the spinning vanes of the windmills in Zudi that drew water from deep wells and piped it into the houses of the wealthy—too big to be an ordinary eagle or vulture. A few spectators looked up and idly wondered if it was a giant Mingén falcon, taken more than a thousand miles from its home in faraway Rui Island and released here by the emperor's trainers to impress the crowd.

But an Imperial scout hidden among the crowd looked at the bird and furrowed his brows. Then he turned and shoved his way through the crowd toward the temporary viewing platform where the local officials were gathered.

Anticipation among the spectators grew as the Imperial Guards passed by, marching like columns of mechanical men: eyes straight ahead, legs and arms swinging in unison, stringed marionettes under the guidance of a single pair of hands. Their discipline and order contrasted sharply with the dynamic dancers who had passed before them.

After a momentary pause, the crowd roared their approval. Never mind that this same army had slaughtered Cocru's soldiers and disgraced her old nobles. The people watching simply wanted spectacle, and they loved the gleaming armor and the martial splendor.

The bird drifted even closer.

“Coming through! Coming through!”

Two fourteen-year-old boys shoved their way through the tightly packed crowd like a pair of colts butting through a sugarcane field.

The boy in the lead, Kuni Garu, wore his long, straight, black hair in a topknot in the style of a student in the private academies. He was stocky—not fat but well-muscled, with strong arms and thighs. His eyes, long and narrow like most men from Cocru, glinted with intelligence that verged on slyness. He made no effort to be gentle, elbowing men and women aside as he forced his way forward. Behind him, he left a trail of bruised ribs and angry curses.

The boy in the back, Rin Coda, was gangly and nervous, and as he followed his friend through the throng like a seagull dragged along on the tailwind of a ship, he murmured apologies at the enraged men and women around them.

“Kuni, I think we'll be okay just standing in the back,” Rin said. “I
really
don't think this is a good idea.”

“Then don't think,” Kuni said. “Your problem is that you
think
too much. Just
do
.”

“Master Loing says that the gods want us to always think before we act.” Rin winced and ducked out of the way as another man swore at the pair and took a swing at them.

“No one knows what the gods want.” Kuni didn't look back as he forged ahead. “Not even Master Loing.”

They finally made it through the dense crowd and stood right next to the road, where white chalk lines indicated how far spectators could stand.

“Now, this is what I call a view,” Kuni said, breathing deeply and taking everything in. He whistled appreciatively as the last of the semi-nude Faça veil dancers passed in front of him. “I can see the attraction of being emperor.”

“Stop talking like that! Do you want to go to jail?” Rin looked nervously around to see if anyone was paying attention—Kuni had a habit of saying outrageous things that could be easily interpreted as treason.

“Now, doesn't this beat sitting in class practicing carving wax logograms and memorizing Kon Fiji's
Treatise on Moral Relations
?” Kuni draped his arm around Rin's shoulders. “Admit it: You're glad you came with me.”

Master Loing had explained that he wasn't going to close his school for the Procession because he believed the emperor wouldn't want the children to interrupt their studies—but Rin secretly suspected that it was because Master Loing didn't approve of the emperor. A lot of people in Zudi had complicated views about the emperor.

“Master Loing would definitely not approve of
this
,” Rin said, but he couldn't take his eyes away from the veil dancers either.

Kuni laughed. “If the master is going to slap us with his ferule for skipping classes for three full days anyway, we might as well get our pain's worth.”

“Except you always seem to come up with some clever argument to wiggle out of being punished, and I end up getting double strokes!”

The crowd's cheers rose to a crescendo.

On top of the Throne Pagoda, the emperor was seated with his legs stretched out in front of him in the position of
thakrido
, cushioned by soft silk pillows. Only the emperor would be able to sit like this publicly, as everyone was his social inferior.

The Throne Pagoda was a five-story bamboo-and-silk structure erected on a platform formed from twenty thick bamboo poles—ten across, ten perpendicular—carried on the shoulders of a hundred men, their chests and arms bare, oiled to glisten in the sunlight.

The four lower stories of the Throne Pagoda were filled with intricate, jewel-like clockwork models whose movements illustrated the Four Realms of the Universe: the World of Fire down below—filled with demons who mined diamond and gold; then, the World of Water—full of fish and serpents and pulsing jellyfish; next, the World of Earth, in which men lived—islands floating over the four seas; and finally the World of Air above all—the domain of birds and spirits.

Wrapped in a robe of shimmering silk, his crown a splendid crea­tion of gold and glittering gems topped by the statuette of a cruben, the scaled whale and lord of the Four Placid Seas, whose single horn was made from the purest ivory at the heart of a young elephant's tusk and whose eyes were formed by a pair of heavy black diamonds—the largest diamonds in all of Dara, taken from the treasury of Cocru when it had fallen to Xana fifteen years earlier—Emperor Mapidéré shaded his eyes with one hand and squinted at the approaching form of the great bird.

“What
is
that?” he wondered aloud.

At the foot of the slow-moving Throne Pagoda, the Imperial scout informed the Captain of the Imperial Guards that the officials in Zudi all claimed to have never seen anything like the strange bird. The captain whispered some orders, and the Imperial Guards, the most elite troops in all of Dara, tightened their formation around the Pagoda-bearers.

The emperor continued to stare at the giant bird, which slowly and steadily drifted closer. It flapped its wings once, and the emperor, straining to listen through the noise of the clamoring, fervent crowd, thought he heard it cry out in a startlingly human manner.

The Imperial tour of the Islands had already gone on for more than eight months. Emperor Mapidéré understood well the necessity of visibly reminding the conquered population of Xana's might and authority, but he was tired. He longed to be back in Pan, the Immaculate City, his new capital, where he could enjoy his zoo and aquarium, filled with animals from all over Dara—including a few exotic ones that had been given as tribute by pirates who sailed far beyond the horizon. He wished he could eat meals prepared by his favorite chef instead of the strange offerings in each place he visited—they might be the best delicacies that the gentry of each town could scrounge up and proffer, but it was tedious to have to wait for tasters to sample each one for poison, and inevitably the dishes were too fatty or too spicy and upset his stomach.

Above all, he was bored. The hundreds of evening receptions hosted by local officials and dignitaries merged into one endless morass. No matter where he went, the pledges of fealty and declarations of submission all sounded the same. Often, he felt as though he were sitting alone in the middle of a theater while the same performance was put on every night around him, with different actors saying the same lines in various settings.

BOOK: The Grace of Kings
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