Here’s the first chapter of THE WAY INTO CHAOS, on sale now.
Without his armor, Tyr Tejohn Treygar thought he must have looked like a man disgraced. It was ridiculous, of course; by Festival custom and royal decree, everyone went without armor today, even the guards at the gates. Still, he felt odd as he strode into the morning chill onto the promenade of the Palace of Song and Morning in the soft, slipper-like shoes Laoni had bought for him. His steps were so quiet, he felt like a sneak thief.
The queen wanted to speak to him. Again. Tejohn had not been and would not be officially summoned to the throne for an audience, but she was not a woman who would ever let anything rest. What’s more, he would never hide from her—not ever.
However, if he happened to be away from his chambers in the early parts of the day, he could hardly be blamed if her servants didn’t think to look for him on the lonely northern end of the promenade.
She found him anyway, of course.
“My Tyr Treygar,” she said as she approached, her attendants arrayed behind her like a wedge formation. “You must be chilly out here in just your shirt and waistcoat.”
He bowed. “I’m not accustomed to normal civilian clothes, my queen, let alone Festival clothes. But I’m sure I will be more comfortable when the sun has been up a while.”
She glanced at the gray sky with disapproval. It had drizzled overnight and would begin again soon. “Morning in the Morning City. Great Way, but I am looking forward to summer.” She stepped to the wall beside him and stared off into the distance, just as he had been. Her own waistcoat was made of deep red cloth woven with golden threads. Not the latest fashion, as he understood it, but still beautiful. During the Festival, even the queen wore pockets. “It will be nice to have a few days of sunshine. The mountains are so lovely in the morning, when we can see them.”
The Southern Barrier–which was north of the city but bore that name because there was another range even farther away–was sometimes visible in the morning mists. At least, that’s what Tejohn had been told. His vision was too short to see the thatched roofs of the city beyond the walls. Not that such things mattered to him.
The queen looked sideways at him, a sly smile on her face. Queen Amlian Italga wasn’t a beautiful woman, but she was intelligent, clever (not the same thing, as Tejohn had learned long ago) and relentless. When she wanted something, she didn’t give up until it was hers. The king may have been a bit of a fool in some ways, but he’d passed over the most beautiful women in the empire to choose her for his second queen. It was the wisest decision he’d ever made.
Which meant there was little peace for those who did not give her what she wanted.
“Have you thought about my proposal, Tejohn?”
He bowed again. It was always good to bow when you were about to disappoint royalty. “I’ve thought about little else, but I can not do it.” She scowled but did not interrupt. “I’m not being obstinate, my queen. I have worked many hours on this, but it is beyond me.”
The queen crooked her mouth as if she were addressing an obstinate child, never mind that Tejohn was three years her elder. “Beyond you? I think we both know that isn’t true.” With a lazy flick of her wrist, she gestured toward the sky cart flying westward over the city, streamers trailing behind.
Tejohn studied it as though her gesture had been a command. It was a large square wooden cart with spoked wheels. Mounted above it were the two obsidian-black disks that lifted it free of the ground.
The metal underarmor had been removed, of course, as had the rows of shields along the sides. The cask holders, designed to drop lit oil into holdfasts and other enemy camps, now bore nothing but colorful streamers. It, too, had been stripped of its armor, and it looked as odd as he must have.
Martial displays were forbidden during the Festival. The Evening People didn’t believe in conquest.
Tejohn sighed. The Gift that created the carts–and the tremendous advantage they gave the empire in the fighting on the frontiers–existed because of him and the song he’d written. And no one would let him forget it.
“I was a young man then,” Tejohn said softly, “and fresh to my grief. Now I’m old. I have a wife and children again. My home is a happy one.”
The queen sniffed. “Well, that would certainly not make a very moving song.” Tejohn was tempted to disagree, but of course he didn’t. “And you aren’t that old. The Evening People will be here for ten days. Are you sure you couldn’t write a sequel? Or just perform the same song again?”
It had been years since the corpses of Tejohn’s first wife and son had flashed through his memory, but they came to him then–and with them came the familiar urgency to take up his spear and start killing. “I could never revisit that pain, and you should not ask it of me.”
If his rebuke offended her, the queen did not show it. She squeezed his hand briefly, then stepped back. “You must feel this very deeply to speak to me that way. Tejohn, my friend, please accept my apology. Song knows you’ve always been good to Ellifer and me, and to Lar, too–not that he deserves it. We have other singers and playwrights; the king and I will have to be satisfied that our legacy will include some lesser form of new magic. Will Laoni and the little ones be joining us?”
“Laoni has taken Teberr and the twins to East Ford, to visit her cousins. They’re still so small…”
The queen wasn’t fooled by that, but she let it pass. “I should go. There’s so much to do. Tejohn, after the Evening People return to their home, the city will be bustling for a month at least, and we expect the scholars will have a new Gift to argue over…. I believe I have some messages to send to East Ford. Would you be willing to deliver them for me? And wait a month for the responses? Lar is full-grown now; I’m sure he can practice in the gym without you for a while.”
If only he would. But there was no need to say it. Tejohn and the queen both wanted the prince to redirect his energies toward his martial training and away from his…other pursuits. “Thank you, my queen,” Tejohn said. “It would please me greatly. Thank you.”
Queen Amlian smiled and turned away. “Just be sure Lar is in his place today and that he’s sober. He’s not planning to sing a bawdy song, is he? It seems I heard a rumor to that effect.”
“If so, I will do my best to dissuade him.” Tejohn took his leave. A chill drizzle had begun to fall, and he returned to his room first, to put on the long black coat his wife had made for him. The whole city would be wearing bright reds and yellows–even blues, for those wealthy enough–but for the man who wrote “River Overrunning,” Laoni thought it best to wear something somber.
After that, he put on the polished bronze bracers. He wasn’t permitted to carry a spear or shield today, but the weight of the metal on his forearms was reassuring.
Tejohn had just refused the queen. She could have punished him in a hundred ways, including taking away his honorary title, but she had shown him kindness instead. She understood. Grateful am I to be permitted to travel The Way.
At the end of the last Festival, the leader of the Evening People had stared at Tejohn with those terrible golden eyes as though he’d wanted to take Tejohn’s soul home with him. As if he hadn’t already taken too much. We will meet again, Co had said. Tejohn had dreaded it ever since.
Tejohn hurried through the palace. It didn’t matter. If Co hoped to feast on another piece of Tejohn’s grief, he would be disappointed by the simple, decent life the soldier had created for himself over the past twenty-three years. And Tejohn was prepared to hide his pleasure at that disappointment very carefully.
It was time for Lar’s lesson in the dueling gym, but of course he wasn’t there. An allowance could be made because of the Festival, but the truth was that Lar often made excuses to be absent from Tejohn’s sword and spear lessons. In fact, he’d skipped so many over the winter that it was just about time to bring it to the king’s attention. Again.
Colchua Freewell was there, of course, along with the Bendertuk boy, Timush. Nothing Tejohn had done could discourage them from sneaking into the gym, and eventually, Lar had convinced his father to grant them full access. The first day that Tejohn had been forced to teach the use of weapons to a Freewell and a Bendertuk had almost brought him to the brink of treason, but he had done his duty.
They stopped their exercises to bow to him formally, to show the respect every student owed their teacher. He kept his expression carefully neutral, nodded in return and walked out.
Tejohn went crossed the tiny southern gate yard to the south tower. When Lar wasn’t in the dueling gym, he was either still abed–and drunk–or he was playing at magic at the top of the Scholars’ Tower.
Not that the yard was really a yard any more. There was so much foot traffic in the palace that no grass could grow in the yard except in ugly patches, and it had so bothered old King Ghrund that he’d ordered it covered over with scholar-created pink granite. Everywhere Tejohn turned his head he saw the same blurry pink color, broken only by the darkness of windows, barrows, and people.
Inside the Scholars’ Tower, Tejohn’s left knee ached by the time he was halfway up the stairs: too many battles, too many years on the road, too much sparring. Not that the medical scholars seemed interested in relieving him of the pain. Someday soon, the twins would be old enough to join him in the gym, and Tejohn could send them on missions like this. It was one of the privileges of parenthood to make your children run errands for you.
Until then, he laid his hand on the mottled pink and black stone blocks—he could only see the detail when he was this close—and trudged upward.
On the last flight of stairs, he could hear Lar and his friends inside, playing with spells they already knew by heart.
Tejohn knocked loudly. There was another pair of loud impacts inside the room, then the sound of desultory cheering. After a short while, the prince called, “Enter!”
Tejohn did. Prince Lar stood at the center of the room. He was wearing his spellcasting robe, which was rough white cloth with a set of odd symbols down one side. Beside him stood Cazia Freewell. She was a talented scholar, having already learned just about every spell the tutors were willing to teach her by the age of fifteen. She was also sly, secretive, and too often in the library. Her elder brother Colchua might have been reckless and proud, but Tejohn thought this sneak had been born to treachery.
Little Jagia Italga, the king’s nine-year-old niece, was also wearing her robe, but she stood well back against the wall. Possibly she had not learned this spell–or any spells. She was still so young.
“My Tyr Treygar,” the prince said, pushing his long black hair out of his face. “I almost didn’t recognize you without your cuirass. You look…almost human. In size, I mean.”
The Freewell girl turned away to hide her laughter, but Pagesh Simblin and Bittler Witt laughed openly. In all likelihood, they had been the ones offering the halfhearted cheering. Neither had the interest or inclination for magic, and the Witt boy was hopeless in the gym, doing little more than complain about pains in his belly. Pains no scholar could relieve.
And Tejohn didn’t know what to make of the Simblin girl–well, she should surely be called a woman now, since she was older than the prince. However she had no interest in magic, marriage, or anything at all that he knew of.
Not that Doctor Twofin hadn’t tried to teach them all, per the prince’s wishes and the king’s indulgence. He was a better tutor than Tejohn had ever been; the weapons master had humiliated himself by asking the old scholar for advice on more than one occasion. But a teacher can do as little with an unwilling student as a blacksmith can do with a fired clay pot.
Out of habit, Tejohn confirmed that Doctor Twofin’s cheeks were dry. Of course they were. The old tutor was the only scholar Tejohn could bring himself to trust, even partially.
“I’m sorry, my Tyr Treygar,” Lar said immediately. He wore a mischievous smile that had been charming when he was twelve, but on a man of seventeen made Tejohn want to knock him to the floor. “My jest was not intentional.”
The prince was a bad liar. “My prince, you are late for your lesson in the gym.”
“Do you see?” Lar asked. He gestured toward the wall. A dozen cloth-covered hoops had been pinned to a wooden wall with iron darts nearly a foot long. This was the prince’s favorite spell. “I like to think little Caz and I are becoming genuinely dangerous.” He turned to the Freewell girl. “Don’t you agree?”
She beamed up at him. “We’re at least at the level of a nuisance.”.
“Oh, I’ve been a nuisance for years,” Lar answered, and the young people laughed again. They always laughed, even when the jokes weren’t funny. Tejohn wished he had some of that easy charm, but he didn’t have the knack.
He glanced back at the wall of targets. The ribbons tied into the loop at the back end of each dart were brightly colored, almost as though they’d been made for the Festival. Those darts the prince—and other scholars—used were heavier than arrows and, depending on the skill and sanity of the spellcaster, deadlier than anything that could be shot from a bow. But there was one advantage that an arrow had that no scholar’s dart ever would: they were shot by soldiers.
“See?” The prince gestured toward the pinned hoops. “Why should I practice dueling in the gym when—”
Tejohn suddenly rushed at him, springing across the distance between them in a few long strides. Lar was startled, then raised his hands to begin a fire spell.
Of course, the prince didn’t have time. Tejohn slammed a shoulder into him, upending him onto the wooden floor and kneeling atop him. Then he seized the young man’s scrawny neck.
An iron dart flew between them, striking hard into the wooden floor. Tejohn spun toward the source, and saw the Freewell girl glaring at him, preparing another spell.