Authors: Lindsay Buroker
Tags: #General Fiction
(Chains of Honor, Book 1)
by Lindsay Buroker
Copyright © Lindsay Buroker 2015
bout a year ago, I published the last book in my Emperor’s Edge series. Some readers have been asking when I’ll get back to that universe.
Chains of Honor
is the first book in a series that is set in the same world as the Emperor’s Edge books. It takes us to a new continent and stars a new hero, but you can expect a few appearances from characters from the old series. There is no need, however, to have read the previous books. This is a new adventure, and I hope you will enjoy it.
Before you jump in, please let me thank my beta readers, Becca Andre and Kendra Highley, and my editor, Shelley Holloway, for coming along on another series. Happy reading!
anko stifled a groan, trying to blink away the sand in his eyes and spit out the dirt plastering his tongue. Pain shot from his hands to his neck as his arms were nearly twisted from their sockets. He tried to ignore the titters whispering from the rows of young men and women watching him, but embarrassment flushed his cheeks. He couldn’t see them—he couldn’t see much more than people’s shoes at the moment—but he knew his father and uncle were watching too. Probably with their faces buried in their hands.
“How’s that taste, kid?” the behemoth grinding his knee into Yanko’s back asked.
Kid? Yanko was eighteen now, the same age as most of the other Stargrind applicants. Just because this hulking thug had been in prison or chained to the oars in a longship for long enough to grow a beard down to his chest didn’t mean Yanko was the anomaly here. He shifted his hips, trying to buck the big man off him, but with his arms pinned behind his back, he couldn’t find the necessary leverage. His opponent only shoved him deeper into the dirt of the training arena.
“Tastes fine,” Yanko rasped around the dust in his throat. “A little nutrient depleted perhaps, but nothing some enhanced compost wouldn’t help.”
” The thug jostled Yanko, as if he had been speaking in a foreign language.
“Doesn’t anyone study the earth sciences these days?”
“Earth magic is for old women and simpering slugs.” The brute’s head lowered, so he could growl, “Which one are you?” in Yanko’s ear.
Before Yanko could come up with a witty reply, not that one had been poised on the tip of his tongue, the proctor’s red and black boots came into view.
“Do you yield, White Fox?”
Yanko swallowed. He wanted nothing more than to stretch down into the earth with his senses and create a quake that would hurl his tormentor into the harbor for the sharks to munch on. But magic was forbidden in the dueling portion of the exam, and he couldn’t have summoned the necessary concentration, anyway, not with dirt caking the insides of his eyelids. There was a reason even experienced warrior mages had bodyguards.
“Yes,” he whispered. He had no other choice.
“What?” his tormentor asked, twisting Yanko’s arms more painfully behind his back. “I don’t think anyone heard you.”
That drew more titters from the crowd, but thankfully the proctor said, “Enough, Sly Wolf. Let him up.”
Sly Wolf. What a clan name for that thug. He was about as sly and cunning as a lizard of burden. If not for his strength and superior reach...
His opponent stood up, and blood rushed back into Yanko’s fingertips, the sensation almost as painful as being pinned. He shook out his arms and told himself not to make excuses for his performance. He had done well in the earlier rounds—far better than he expected. There was no shame in second place.
Or so he thought. When he risked a glance toward the logs where the applicants’ family members and tutors stood, he spotted his father shaking his head and muttering something to his uncle. Yanko bit his lip and looked away. What had he expected?
“The winner of the combat stage of the test is Sly Wolf,” the proctor announced to the crowd.
The champion grinned through his beard and thrust his muscled arms upward in victory. The other applicants chanted a hasty chorus of the appreciation song, but it sounded forced. Understandable. Sly Wolf had pummeled many of them too.
“The next stage of the test is the obstacle course.” The proctor extended a hand toward the harbor where an ancient lizard skeleton the size of a great whale rose out of the shallows, its bones long ago preserved and strengthened so they would stand up to people clambering over them. Floating platforms, swinging ropes, and stationary whirlwinds of air waited to challenge the applicants. “You are allowed to use the mental sciences during this portion of the test. It is a physical event, but it’s unlikely you’ll pass
calling upon them. You’ll have ten minutes to finish, but remember, only the top ten applicants will be accepted into Stargrind this year.”
Sly Wolf stalked toward the beach, and the crowd skittered aside to let him pass. Most of the students were leaner, like Yanko, with little hope of reaching six feet in height. There had been speculation that Sly Wolf had Turgonian ancestors, but only pure bloods were supposed to be allowed into the elite warrior mage academy, so Yanko doubted that was true. The man was just a freak.
Yanko picked up his practice blades from where they lay in the dust of the arena, a saber and a
, the short stabbing sword used for finishing an opponent. Alas, it hadn’t found the opportunity to finish anything against Sly Wolf. Belatedly, he wondered if he should have simply used the saber and tried the one-bladed, side-forward attack style the Turgonian prisoner in the salt mine had shown him. It came more naturally to him, but he hadn’t dared stray from the two-bladed Nurian style, not in front of the proctors.
After dusting off his weapons and putting them away, Yanko hunted around for his hair tie. At some point during the fight, his topknot had tumbled free. He probably looked like a woman shambling around with his shoulder-length black hair dangling about his face.
He spotted the red silk band and as he bent to pick it up, someone jostled him from behind. Hard.
“Better not dawdle, White Fox,” a female applicant said, holding up a sheet of paper. “You’re in the first round.”
Yanko grimaced at that revelation. Since he had advanced so far in the combat rounds, his arms were weary, and he had hoped the proctors would put him at the end, so he would have more time to rest.
“Maybe he expects his mother to show up to help him pass,” a man who looked like the woman’s brother said, glowering at Yanko as he spoke. “Or is she too busy sinking Nurian ships and thieving from good people?”
Yanko wanted to snarl that he had no idea where she was—she had left when he had been less than a year old, and he had no memory of her—but he forced himself to keep his mouth shut. He turned his back on the pair and tried to tie his hair up as he strode toward the beach, but the brother was not done talking. He trotted after and shoved Yanko in the shoulder, keeping him from putting up his hair.
“Only honored families wear their hair up,” the brother said, snatching at the silk tie.
Yanko kept him from getting it but did not dare retaliate. There had to be proctors watching, and any fighting with other applicants, outside of the dueling event, would get him kicked out before the exam even ended. “My family is still
,” he said and started walking again, though he watched the troublemaker out of the corner of his eye.
“Some bureaucrat made a mistake then,” the brother said. “You’re delusional if you think they’re going to let the son of some pirate bitch into Stargrind.”
Yanko kept walking, though his cheeks were flaming for the second time in ten minutes. He was almost running by the time he reached the beach, but that wasn’t a bad thing because the proctor standing on an observation platform out in the water was already calling the first three names, including Yanko’s. Fortunately, Sly Wolf wasn’t in his heat. Not that he thought the big man could keep up with him—Yanko had always been one of the fastest runners in his village, and he thought he had the mental and physical agility for this—but the brute might shove his opponents into the water, just to be difficult. A fast time was everything in this event, and falling into the harbor would mean a delay.
Yanko removed his dusty tunic, tossed it on a log, and waded toward the starting platform, which hovered a foot above the water at the back end of the giant lizard’s tail. One of the other applicants who had been called floated across the choppy waves, a breeze whipping at the layers of his elegant green and gold clan robe. There was no reason to wear so much clothing for this, but the dress was a reminder that Yanko had never had wizard’s robes in his life. Such garments, often with magical protections woven into the fabric, were expensive, and Yanko’s family might have been prosperous once, but that had gone the way of their status.
“Wasting his energy,” Yanko told himself as the student passed over his head and alighted on the platform, not a droplet of water spattering his robe.
“He’s got it to spare,” said the short, wiry man wading out alongside Yanko. “That’s Temaris Gold Hawk. They say he’s been making fireballs since he was two. And making a stoat’s prick of himself almost as long.” The man flashed a quick smile at Yanko. “I’m Tam Tam.”
“Yanko.” It was the first time anyone had smiled at him that day, and he nodded back in appreciation. “Ferret god’s luck to you.”
“Thanks. I need it. Crowds make me nervous.” The wiry man waved toward the dozens of vibrantly painted war, fishing, and merchant ships tied to the docks and the dozens more sailing in and out of the harbor. Whether the craft were at rest or not, the wooden decks were full of observers. The city of Red Sky stretched along the beach, and people were out on the flat roofs of the white stucco buildings, as well.
Yanko wasn’t worried about them, but he understood the feeling of being nervous. He could sense his father’s and uncle’s eyes boring into the back of his head as he waded into deeper water, his family’s expectations almost palpable in the humid sea air.
With the water chest deep, they reached the platform. Yanko stretched to grab the edge and pulled himself up. The wooden square wobbled when he stood up, and Gold Hawk, a tall, lanky young man who didn’t appear old enough to grow chin hair, gave Yanko a disdainful frown.
Yanko ignored him and focused on the white vertebrae stretching across the harbor in front of him, sloping up to the massive hipbones and rib cage. Even with the feet anchored in the sand a few feet below the surface, the skeleton rose nearly thirty feet over their heads. Only one of them could run up the bone tail at a time, and he intended to be first. Three women in clan robes stood out on platforms underneath the rib cage, final-year students at Stargrind, Yanko had been told. Each of them had been assigned one of the applicants, with the instructions to make the course difficult. Yanko hoped to get to them quickly, before they could craft too many obstacles to hurl at him.
“I suppose you’re quite proud of your swordsmanship,” Gold Hawk said, still sneering down his nose.
Yanko glanced at the proctor, hoping the man would start the test soon. He didn’t want to chat; he just wanted to get this over with. Maybe if he was accepted, his father would finally be proud of him, finally have faith that Yanko could do the one thing the entire clan had been wanting him to do since he had shown magical aptitude at three years old: become a warrior mage, distinguish himself in battle, and redeem his family’s honor.
“They’re not going to let you into Stargrind even if you pass, you know,” Gold Hawk said.
Tam Tam had also pulled himself onto the platform, and his brow furrowed in confusion at this. “Why wouldn’t they?”
“He’s a White Fox,” Gold Hawk said.
That didn’t smooth the other man’s brow. Yanko hoped the test would start before Gold Hawk explained it. In truth, he hadn’t expected anyone here to know who he was or about his family’s disgrace, except perhaps for the proctors. Applicants came from hundreds of miles away, all over the Thousand Fjords region, and Yanko hadn’t thought his family was
“The son of Captain Snake Heart Pey Lu White Fox,” Gold Hawk explained further.
“Oh,” Tam Tam said with sudden understanding. Yes, here on the coast, there wouldn’t be many people who hadn’t heard of the more infamous pirates. And Snake Heart, commander of the Midnight Fleet, certainly qualified as that. Tam Tam’s smile vanished, and he regarded Yanko with new wariness.