For all you curious souls out there, I’ve decided to post the first chapter of my book The Lokana Chronicles. Have a look and feel free to comment!
One man longs to transform his kingdom. One woman has the power to do so. Together, they just might succeed.
When Lokana’s corrupt king and queen are murdered by a rogue monk, their son, Vegin, assumes the throne. With his beloved wife at his side, he believes he can rid the kingdom of its ills, especially the class divisions his father inflamed. But when Balil, the murderous monk, becomes High Priest of Lokana and threatens the royal family, Vegin questions his abilities. And he isn’t the only one.
With Zealots lurking in every shadow and a city under siege, time is running out. To save his family and reunite the kingdom, Vegin must defeat the high priest, but he’ll need help. If he doesn’t stop Balil soon, it may be too late.
Vegin considered the man before him, a poor farmer from an outlying village. Tears had worn grooves in the dirt caked on his face as he begged for mercy. The prince paused for a moment to choose his next words, glancing at his father out of the corner of his eye.
Tol closed his eyes in irritation. “I’ve heard enough – if you can’t pay your taxes, then you’ll simply have to work off your debt! Guards, take him away!”
“Father, I have this under control,” Vegin growled under his breath. “You’re only supposed to observe, remember?”
“But your Highness, please! My family – without me, they’ll starve!”
Tol stared at his son, disbelief etched on his face. The nerve! What does he think this is, an almshouse? “I’ll deal with you in a moment,” he said, glaring daggers at Vegin, who rose from his seat and stormed out of the room. “As for you,” he bellowed, returning his attention to the old farmer, “you should have thought of your family before you decided not to pay your taxes. If they die, you’ll have only yourself to blame.”
He dismissed the guards who had appeared at the man’s sides with a wave of his hand. As Tol rose from his throne, he caught his wife’s eye and she leaped to her feet. At least someone jumps at my command, he thought. “Come, Enya!”
Lokana’s king and queen exited the room as the royal court knelt to the ground in deference. Kintarnna Tol was a giant of a man who towered over his wife and everyone else in the court, which was just the way he liked it. Once in the corridor, he drew himself up to his full height as he marched toward his son. “How dare you contradict me in public!” he screamed, white with rage. “If I want to overrule you, I’ll overrule you, whether you like it or not!”
“I had it under control!” Vegin shouted back, whirling on his father. “Leniency will sometimes get you more than any iron fist!”
“You are but a boy,” his mother said. “What could you possibly know of the world?”
“I know a whole lot more than you think, let alone give me credit for. I’m no longer a child, Mother! I’m a grown man and I will have my say.” He turned to his father, jaw set and gray eyes blazing. “If a courtier were having trouble paying his taxes, you would be lenient with him out of respect for his position. But a farmer demands as much, if not more, respect than a courtier, for without them, we would all starve. Why can you not be as lenient with a farmer as you would be with a courtier?”
“Because courtiers are honorable people and peasants will cheat you out of your due every chance they get. I can’t help it that the rains don’t fall – I don’t control the weather! The whole kingdom suffers from drought, yet others have paid their taxes. Why should he get special treatment?”
“Vegin, dear, who has been filling your head with these silly ideas of equality?”
“They’re not silly ideas, Mother, they’re quite sound. All that man asked for was a little more time, Father. Did he really deserve ten years of hard labor for that?”
“For having the audacity to think that he, a common Outlier, and the lives of his family are worthy of my mercy, my grace? No, son, you’re right, he didn’t deserve that sentence.”
The prince smiled, his chest puffed in satisfaction, but his pride lasted for only a moment. “I should have sentenced that grasping little beggar to death,” the king continued. “Leniency, you say? Leniency is weakness, and then governance really becomes work. Ruling a kingdom is not all fun and games, you know.”
“Who said it was?”
“And as for this equality business, I will speak to Surat about that. I’ll not have him filling your head with nonsense.”
Vegin shook his head in disgust. “Surat isn’t filling my head with nonsense, Father, you are! To hear you talk, you’d think the entire lower class is out to get you. Are you really that afraid of them? If you would just listen to them for a change, they might grow to love you. Then you would have nothing to fear.”
“I fear no man,” Tol said, his voice deadly calm. “You may be a man, Vegin, but you will respect me or else.”
“Or else what? You’ll mount my head on a pike in front of the Obsidian Spire and live forever? I don’t think so. Someday the peasants will demand that you start listening to them and when that day comes, I might just join them!” he declared, turning around and storming down the hall.
His parents’ attitude infuriated him, and he headed toward his tutor’s chambers to vent his ire. He found Surat inside, setting out lesson books and straightening the papers on his desk. “May I come in?” he asked, doing his best to sound polite as he knocked on the open door.
“Of course. You’re early today.”
Vegin sighed heavily as he sank into a finely upholstered chair. “My parents are at it again.”
“At what again?”
“Infuriating me,” he replied, staring at the gold trim on his tunic and fidgeting with the hem. “I was presiding over Debtors’ Court this morning and there was this farmer who couldn’t pay his taxes. All he wanted was a little more time, which I was prepared to give him, but Father overruled me. If it had been a courtier wanting more time, he would have given him as much time as he wanted, but because it was a commoner, he had the man sentenced to ten years in a labor camp and insisted that he was only out to cheat us. Why does he hate them so much? Why can’t he see that a monarchy without common support wouldn’t last?”
Surat stopped what he was doing and took a seat across from his young charge. “He has his reasons. They aren’t good ones, but they’re all he’s got. How much has he told you about his grandmother?”
“Oma Senna? He’s told me everything about her and how her family helped usher Lokana into its golden age.”
“Not Senna, Vegin. How much has he told you about Misranna?”
Vegin’s brow furrowed in confusion as he wracked his brain, trying to remember if he’d ever heard anything about a woman named Misranna. “I don’t think I’ve ever even heard the name,” he finally admitted. “Who was she? Why haven’t I heard of her before?”
“Misranna was your great-grandfather Garedon’s wife. She was a good woman, but a commoner by birth, which is likely why your father has never spoken of her.”
“So she was a commoner. That alone would not be reason enough to wipe her from my family history; there’s got to be more to it than that. What aren’t you telling me?”
Surat sighed. Normally he delighted in helping the young prince understand different points of view, but this felt more like gossiping. The tale of Garedon and Misranna was full of heartbreak and betrayal; it was not a story he enjoyed telling. “Garedon was a widower early in his life. The loss of his wife devastated him, for they had been very much in love. But when the pain began to fade, loneliness replaced it, and he sought companionship in the less reputable quarters of the city.
“Misranna caught his eye one day as she was selling her…wares. Garedon was taken with her immediately, and before long, lust developed into something more. He began sneaking off to see her at all hours of the day and night, and shirking his responsibilities to do so. His father even threatened him with imprisonment, but Garedon refused to be kept from his love.
“When the girl discovered she was pregnant, your great-grandfather insisted they be married at once, despite Kiala’s law. His family was furious that he would turn away from the Great Mother in so public a fashion and with such a woman and refused to accept her. She later died giving birth to your grandfather.”
Vegin frowned. “I still don’t understand what she has to do with my father’s attitude toward the less fortunate. This all happened so long ago. Things are different now!”
“Not that different,” Surat said, smiling sadly. “Garedon was devastated by this loss, too, at first, but his family eventually convinced him that Misranna’s death was for the best. They made him believe in his grief that she had nearly ruined him, nearly destroyed the kingdom, and he grew to hate her. Thus your grandfather grew up hearing stories of his mother that were filled with scorn and bias. He learned to equate his mother with all commoners, and these stories were passed onto your father as a boy. Old prejudices are not easily shed.”
“But why did they hate her so much? I understand their dislike of the marriage, but why their dislike of her?”
Surat’s jaw dropped. Surely I was not that subtle in my description of poor Toqaru Misranna? “It was bad enough in their eyes that she was a commoner, but a prostitute? Would you not be angered if your own son married a common whore?”
Vegin’s face reddened. “Oh. Well, yes, of course, that-that would be unacceptable.”
“They also believed she had deceived Garedon, that she had intentionally become pregnant in order to coerce him into marriage. Though his attachment and resulting grief were genuine, his family insisted that such feelings were the product of trickery or drugs, and they eventually succeeded in persuading Garedon of the truth of their claims.”
“How do you know all this?”
“My family has provided royal tutors and governesses for generations,” Surat explained. “It’s as much of a birthright in my family as the crown is in yours. Stories of the royal family have been passed down over the years.”
“I wish they were passed down as faithfully in my family as they seem to have been in yours. I feel like I hardly know my own parents anymore and sometimes I’m not so sure I want to.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, take Father, for instance. He’s so cold! He cares so little for others and it’s maddening because I want to make him care and I can’t. Then when I try to help someone, like this morning in court, he steps in and overrules me and…” A growl not unlike that of an angry bull escaped the prince’s lips. The hem of his tunic was now in tatters, but his anger had faded and Vegin remained quiet for a long moment. “Do you suppose he thinks that the peasants should pay for his grandmother’s supposed wrongdoing?”
“It is possible. But you can learn from their example, Vegin. Think on what I have told you. Consider all the ways in which your actions affect those around you, and you will be a much happier man than your father.”
The prince looked up at his tutor quizzically, but decided to take his advice. “I will. You’ve given me much to think about. I’m glad I came to talk to you.” I just wish I could talk to my father the same way.
“My door is always open to you, Vegin, you know that,” his tutor said, his eyes full of paternal pride.
“I know, and I thank you.” He rose from his seat. “But now I need to think. Must we really have lessons now?”
“I think we could put them off for a couple of hours,” Surat said with a smile. “Go and think. But don’t forget – two hours.”
Vegin smiled for the first time that day. “I won’t.”
“Have you heard the latest, Balil?”
The young monk looked up into the round face of his best friend. “What now, Loki?”
“Kintarnna Tol has sentenced a man from your village to ten years of hard labor for failure to pay his taxes. The man hadn’t the money to pay them because the drought destroyed his entire year’s harvest. They’ve barely enough to live on and rumor has it they’re near the brink of starvation as it is.”
Fury burned hot and bright in Balil’s dark eyes as he thought of his own brother, another victim of the droughts that had been plaguing the kingdom for years. “Has anything been done about this injustice?”
“A group of men from Tobali have arranged a meeting with the king tomorrow, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. You know they won’t get anywhere with the stubborn old goat.”
Balil’s head dropped. “True, but something should be done. I will write to Father and see if perhaps the townspeople could do something to aid them. Do you know who they imprisoned?”
“It was Zarent’s father.”
“Poor Zarent. Do you think he’ll continue his studies?”
“I very much doubt it,” Loki replied. “You know how Zarent is. He’ll want to see that his mother and sister are taken care of.”
Balil nodded. “I’ll write to Father tonight.” He paused, hesitant to reveal to his friend what else he had on his mind. “Tell me, how fares Lota?”
Loki smiled; his brown eyes twinkled in amusement. “She is well, although I hear she complains now and then about missing a certain young monk who is not her brother,” he teased.
Balil’s ears glowed red against his dark hair as he fought back a grin. “I miss her, too,” he said, but his thoughts soon returned to his imprisoned neighbor and his expression darkened again. The labor camps were brutal and few ever returned from them; the poor man would probably never again see his wife while he lived and Balil’s heart ached for him. He looked up at Loki with fire once more in his eyes, his square jaw set in a hard line. “We must find a way to avenge Zarent’s father,” he insisted, silently adding his brother to his list of people for whom he sought vengeance. “Somehow, someday, we must make Kintarnna Tol pay.”
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