In Legend Born (Chronicles of Sirkara Series #1)

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Overview

For a thousand years, Sileria has toiled under the yoke of foreign conquerors, Savage Moorlanders, sorcerous Kints, and now the hedonistic Valdani have forced the Silerian mountain clans into harsh slavery. Villages have been razed, and the innocent populace dragged to the mines, there to toil until death with no hope of escape.

But there is hope. Five disparate people have been brought reluctantly together by the prophesy of a young Guardian—a prophesy that promises the coming ...

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Overview

For a thousand years, Sileria has toiled under the yoke of foreign conquerors, Savage Moorlanders, sorcerous Kints, and now the hedonistic Valdani have forced the Silerian mountain clans into harsh slavery. Villages have been razed, and the innocent populace dragged to the mines, there to toil until death with no hope of escape.

But there is hope. Five disparate people have been brought reluctantly together by the prophesy of a young Guardian—a prophesy that promises the coming of a savior. These five must put aside ages-old blood feuds before the conquerors force all to bend to their vicious will...

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Resnick, who has written 11 romance novels under the pseudonym Laura Leone, breaks into historical fantasy with this lengthy chronicle of the land of Sileria's quest for freedom. This island nation has been oppressed for a thousand years by one conquering neighbor after another because the various segments of its population can't unite against a common enemy, currently the merciless Valdani Empire. Rising from his humble hovel to challenge the Imperial Roman-like overlords, the messianic Firebringer, Josarian the peasant, allies with the exiled arch-warrior Tansen, the cunning courtesan Elelar, the fire-Guardian Mirabar and the wizardly waterlord Kiloran. Gathering steam for a united Silerian rebellion requires enough pages to allow Resnick to concoct a rich brew of conspiracies, simmer several juicy romantic entanglements in a heady broth of blood feuds and massacres, and baste her conventional sword-and-sorcery plot with spicy rituals and trendy psychobabble. Resnick's most convincing figures are Josarian and Tansen, each haunted by shattering past mistakes and losses, but her principal women, the mouthy teenager Mirabar and the all-for-the-cause leg-spreading Elelar, come off as contemporary romance heroines whose fantasy costumes seem to be chafing them raw. Big and brawly, this first installment of Silerian history dangles in midair, screaming for its announced sequel. (Aug.) FYI: Resnick, daughter of award-winning SF author Mike Resnick, won the 1993 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer.
VOYA - Sue Krumbein
This story is set in Sileria, where the Valdani rule and oppress the Silerians, who loathe their rulers. Several individuals happen to come together at a particular time and realize the possibility of freeing the Silerians from Valdani rule. They include a Guardian named Mirabar; a shatai named Tansen; Josarian, a charismatic Silerian who is fed up with Valdani rule; his friend Zimran; and Elelar, a powerful woman who is part of an underground organization called the Alliance. When Josarian and Tansen meet, they become blood brothers and pull off a series of offenses against the Valdani that endear them to the Silerians but infuriate the Valdani. Tansen is an accomplished warrior who is expected to drive the Valdani from Sileria, while Josarian is a commoner who would not normally ever know someone as accomplished as Tansen. After some initial discomfort, the two men find they have much in common, especially their hatred for the Valdani. The story is exciting, as are the characters, but the book is long with so much rumination and description that the reader is forced to skim to find out what is going to happen next. An avid, mature fantasy reader would find the book satisfying. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects, For the YA reader with a special interest in the subject, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12 and adults).
Library Journal
Determined to free their country of Sileria from its Valdani conquerors, a freedom fighter, a noblewoman, an exiled warrior, and a vengeful mage put aside their personal vendettas to follow the lead of a young seer whose visions promise an end to slavery. Romance author Resnick makes her fantasy debut with a smoothly narrated, intricate tale of revolution and the human heart. The characters' efforts to overcome the barriers that divide them and discover their common bonds provides a welcome depth to this series opener and sets the stage for future titles. A solid choice for most fantasy collections.
Romantic Times
Creating a vast panorama that provides an intimate backdrop to the lives of her fascinating characters, Ms. Resnick writes with the shining wonder of truly great fantasy.
Kirkus Reviews
First fantasy novel and evidently the first of a series, from the author of various romances (as Laura Leone). For a thousand years, the mountainous island of Sileria has been occupied by various conquerors, first the Moorlanders, then the Kints, now the Valdani Empire. Young Mirabar, one of a dwindling number of Guardians who work fire magic and talk to the dead in the Otherworld, is tormented by visions and commands from the mysterious Beckoner. Despite her awe- and fear-evoking flaming eyes and hair, Mirabar must seek out a certain warrior, and also somehow achieve a union of fire and water magic; only with these can the Valdani be defeated. But the Guardians are traditional enemies of the waterlords and their assassins. Elsewhere, swordmaster Tansen and rebel outlaw Josarian meet and become blood brothers, united in their desire for freedom. Unfortunately, Tansen is involved in a blood feud with the ruling waterlord, the wizard Kiloran. Tansen and Josarian succeed in battle against the Valdani Outlooker troops, but still Mirabar must persuade Kiloran to set aside the feud. Also key to the developing alliance is seductive courtesan and superspy Elelar, who warms the bed of the Valdani commander and once was tutor to young Tansen before he committed the murder that earned Kiloran's enmity. Prodded almost to desperation by the relentless Beckoner, Mirabar must weld the alliance together to defeat the Valdani. But there will be another, equally draining, struggle to come as Kiloran, casting aside all pretense at amity, seeks his long-delayed revenge. Well handled and modestly engaging, but soapy and predictableþand too long-winded for real surprises.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812555479
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Series: Chronicles of Sirkara Series , #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 736
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.74 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Resnick was born in Chicago, Illinois. A childhood of being thrown by horses, bitten by dogs, and terrorized by the Resnicks' notorious exploding water well helped prepare her adequately for her future in the publishing industry.

Resnick went on to study French, Italian, and linguistics at Georgetown, graduating cum laude. Shortly thereafter, she tramped around most of the Old World, looking at lots of cool paintings, working in France, and winding up on a kibbutz in Israel for a while. She studied acting at the Webber Douglas Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in London, and spent a volatile but happy year teaching English at the University of Palermo in Italy.

By the time she was thirty, Resnick had sold a dozen romance novels, all but one of them written under the pseudonym Laura Leone, and Romantic Times magazine named her the best new writer in her genre. She then went on an overland journey across Africa. Everything you could ever want to know about that 8-month journey is recounted in the award-winning nonfiction book, A Blonde In Africa.

While she was in Africa, Resnick won the John W. Campbell Award as Best New Science Fiction/Fantasy Writer in recognition of the short stories she had been writing. Having thus warmed up her muscles, she wrote her first fantasy novel, In Legend Born — a project which made crossing Africa overland seem easy by comparison.

She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is at work on her newest fantasy novel.

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Read an Excerpt

1

The Outlookers arrested him less than an hour after his boat docked in Cavasar, the westernmost port of Sileria. It was a poor welcome home after nine years n exile, but Tansen supposed he should have counted on it. Despite his Moorlander clothes and his Kintish swords, he still bore the unmistakable signs of a shallah—and bore them proudly: the long mane of dark hair, the cross-cut scars on his palms, and a jashar, the intricately woven and knotted belt which declared his name and history.

Under Valdani law, which had ruled Sileria for more than two centuries, shallaheen were forbidden to bear weapons. And so the two slender Kintish swords Tansen wore aroused considerable interest; indeed, judging by the speed with which the Outlookers had singled him out, alarm would not be too strong a word. Realizing the Outlookers were after him, Tansen ruthlessly suppressed the fear which pricked him at the sight of those fair-skinned Valdani in their anonymous gray tunics following him through the crowded, narrow streets of Cavasar. He was no longer a helpless, ignorant boy, and he would not act like one by racing through back alleys and over rooftops with a pack of clumsy Outlookers in hot pursuit, destroying the fragile peace and abusing innocent city-dwellers.

Perhaps he should have hidden his swords, but he really couldn't afford to have them out of reach. There was no telling when the attack he expected would actually occur; he only knew that he must be prepared for his enemies at all times now that he was on Silerian soil. If a Society assassin came for him, he wouldn't have time to fumble through concealing folds of cloth for his swords. He needed to be as ready as he had ever been in his life.

Now, however, he'd have to do something about these Outlookers. The long years of his exile, the skills he had acquired, and the battles he had won now stiffened his spine and gave weight to his voice as he halted on the rough cobblestones and turned to confront one of the men he'd spotted out of the corner of his eye.

"Did you want something?" he asked blandly. Valdan, the official language of Sileria for over two hundred years, rolled smoothly off his tongue.

Momentarily caught off guard, the Outlookers now swaggered forward. "Hand over your weapons," he ordered.

Tansen arched one brow. "No," he said simply.

The Valdan glanced briefly at another Outlooker who came forward to flank him, then said with a snap in his voice, "By order of the Emperor, no native dogs may carry swords."

Tansen gazed impassively at the two uniformed Outlookers for a moment, then looked around casually, estimating how many more were with them.

"I am no dog," he replied. It had been a long time since anyone had dared to speak to him so; but he was in Sileria now.

The Outlooker studied him for a moment, doubt weakening his expression. "You are Silerian, aren't you?"

He didn't bother to answer. He'd spotted two other Outlookers; that made four in all. He could take them; but did he want to? Killing these Valdani would undoubtedly complicate his plans.

"I'll say it once more," the Outlooker snapped.

"Must you?" Tansen asked in a bored voice.

The Outlooker's face screwed up with hatred. Mistaking the odds as being in his favor, he leaped forward and grabbed Tansen's embroidered tunic.

Tan clapped his left hand over the man's fist, trapping it, and then sharply rolled the edge of his right forearm down into the Valdan's wrist, as he had once been taught by a man whose name he had not spoken aloud since his boyhood. With a gasp of mingle pain and surprise, the Outlooker sank to his knees. Deciding not to break his wrist, Tan seized the man's short hair and, before anyone had even seen him pull his sword from its sheath, pressed the blade against the Outlooker's throat.

"These fine Moorlander clothes cost me dearly," Tansen explained, "and I would not like them soiled by your hands, roshah."

The word roshah—"outsider"—bore a wealth of possible nuances in shallah dialect, but Tansen's tone made his meaning clear; outsiders were generally loathed and distrusted by the shallaheen.

The citizens crowding the street lost no time in reacting to this sudden development. The fascinated crowd made a wide circle around the scene almost as quickly as Tansen had made his move.

"Don't do it!" Tan warned the Outlooker directly before him as the man reached for his sword. "Move over there by the fountain." He nodded toward the other two Outlookers. "All of you!"

A dozen women quickly hoisted up their clay water jars and moved away from the fountain. Water gushed forth freely from the mouth of a ferocious dragonfish carved in marble; the people of Cavasar obviously paid their tribute to the Society waterlords in a timely and generous fashion.

Seeing the Outlookers' hesitation, Tansen added, "Now," and twisted his blade just enough to make his sweating captive squeal a little.

Turning red with fury and humiliation, the Outlookers slowly moved toward the fountain, where Tansen ordered them to drop their sword belts. The Outlookers in Sileria, Tansen had learned in his travels, were among the worstequipped soldiers in the entire Valdani Empire. The Silerians, a long-ago conquered people, stripped of their weapons and too busy quarreling among themselves to rebel against the Valdani, were considered the least of the Emperor's worries. So the oldest weapons and greenest troops were sent to keep the "peace" in Sileria.

Tansen watched the Outlookers' short, heavy swords fall to the ground and recalled the gleaming, seemingly invincible weaponry he had seen the Valdani use to crush an army in the Moorlands only last year. When they sought to seize the misty green hills of those blue-eyed giants, they brought all their might to bear. But to hold the jagged, golden mountains of Sileria and the ancient ports along her coasts, the Emperor sent corrupt commanders, inexperience troops, and weapons that any Kintish mercenary would be embarrassed to be seen carrying. And the great pity of it was that, for two centuries, the Valdani had needed no more than this to rule Sileria.

With the three Outlookers now disarmed and slowly kneeling as ordered, Tansen was considering his escape when a gnarled old fisherman, his arms bearing the intricate indigo tattoos of the sea-born folk, pointed at Tan's hostage and cried, "Kill him!"

"Hmmm, what is the penalty for killing an Outlooker these days?" Tansen asked, dragging his captive away from the fountain and toward a dark alley.

"Death by slow torture," the Valdan warned him in strangled tones. "You will have your parts cut off one by one for this, you motherless c—" His threat ended on a gasp as the sharp Kintish blade drew blood.

"I'm only motherless," Tansen growled into his ear, "because Outlooker pigs murdered her, you pus-eating bastard."

"Kill him!" the old fisherman urged, following them.

"Go away, old man," Tansen warned. "This isn't you—"

"Your mother, my wife…" The old man pointed to people around them. "Her son, their father…Who has not suffered because of these dung-kissing swine?"

"Yes, kill him!" a woman cried.

The crowd took up the chant, some in Valdan, some in dialect: "Kill him, kill him, kill him!"

"Some homecoming," Tansen muttered, amazed at how fast things had gotten out of hand. Since when had people in Cavasar done more than simply turn their backs on a stranger's business?

"My father did nothing!" a boy suddenly screamed, running headlong into the Outlookers by the fountain. "And you killed him, you killed him!"

One of the men hit the boy. Between one breath and the next, the crowd descend upon them in a fury. A woman raised her water jar high, then brought it crashing down on an Outlooker's skull. Fists and elbows made dull, thudding sounds as they hit flesh. Breathless grunts and outraged screams filled the air. Tansen smelled bloodlust and was so astonished by the suddenness of the riot that he nearly forgot his hostage, who made a clumsy attempt to escape.

"If you won't kill him," the fisherman shouted above the noise, "then let me!"

"Wait, old man! There's—"

Tansen's words were cut off as a group of flailing bodies tumbled straight into him. He crashed backwards into stacks of dried fish, then slipped on spilled oil as he surged back to his feet. The Outlooker he'd used as a hostage was already crawling away, pursued by the old man, who was brandishing a small fish-gutting knife. Tansen heard the horn being blown in one of the city's watchtowers and realized the alarm had been sounded. This sudden brawl was about to be raided by more Outlookers, who would imprison everyone present, if not execute them on the spot. He had no stop the fighting while everyone still had time to get away; he had caused it, after all.

Keeping one sword unsheathed, he seized a dull copper bell from the tumble of what had been a market stall only moments ago, then climbed atop a peddler's cart and started ringing it.

A donkey was the first living thing to take the slightest notice of him. Slapping its rump with his sword as it clattered past, he shouted to the crowd, "Go! The Valdani are coming! Run!"

A few people realized what was happening and fled the scene. Most still seemed more intent on killing the Outlookers than on saving their own thins. Exasperated, Tan rang the bell more insistently, wondering when everyone in Cavasar had gone insane. Above the noise of the rioting crowd, the could already hear the hoofbeats of the approaching Outlookers; it sounded like there were a lot of them.

"Run, damn you!"

He threw the bell aside and unsheathed his second sword. These bloodthirsty fools obviously wouldn't leave until all four Outlookers were dead, and they were making damned slow and messy work of it. He'd have to kill the remaining ones himself if he wanted the crowd to disperse. He just hoped he could get past these raving Silerians fast enough to do it before all of them were set upon by—

An agonizing shock of pain pierced his back, ripping a harsh grunt from his throat. He was pushing himself off the hard cobblestones before he even realized he had fallen. An arrow, he thought, drawing harsh breaths as additional waves of pain started washing over him. As he had been taught long ago, he had not let go of either sword, but his left arm was already growing numb. The Valdani, he knew, often coated their arrow tips with strange poisons. Some mixtures could kill a man if the dosage was strong enough; others merely put him to sleep for a few hours.

More arrows flew into the fray, and then Valdani horsemen were clattering across the stones, sweeping their short, heavy swords through the crowd. Screams assaulted Tansen's ears as his left had relaxed against his will letting his sword fall to the ground. Someone ran straight into him, jarring the arrow which stuck out of his back; the pain made his vision go black. Dizzy from the poison seeping into his blood, he whirled toward the clatter of hooves, but his remaining sword encountered nothing. Light flashed before his eyes and figures danced in and out of focus. He held off attacking, unable to distinguish between Outlookers and Silerians. The rasp of his own breath and the desperate thumping of his heart grew so loud that, in the end, he never even heard the rider who rode up and seized his long, single braid to drag him along the hard stones while he clumsily tried to keep away from the horse's prancing feet.

The last thing he was aware of was someone prying the sword out of his useless right hand before he finally lost consciousness.

Everything hurt.

Someone was dipping a red hot poker into the wound in his back, over and over again. Someone else was kneading his muscles with steel claws. And someone was driving a herd of horses through his head. The Fires of Dar scalded his eyes when he tried to open them. With a muttered curse, he gave up the effort.

"He's awake!"

Tansen felt a sharp blade at his throat. It seemed reasonable to assume he was not among friends.

"If you make even one move," someone warned him, "I'll she your throat like a sacrificial goat."

"I've never understood that." His voice sounded raspy and weak. He wondered how long he'd been unconscious. "What makes your priests think that slaughtering a goat, of all things, will—"

"Shut up, barbarian!"

He swallowed, trying to ease the dryness in his throat, and felt the bite of the blade against his skin. "I suppose a drink of water is out of the question."

The sharp slap across his face indicated that it was indeed out of the question.

"Tell Commander Koroll that the prisoner is awake and ready for questioning," the now-familiar voice ordered.

Tansen's stomach twisted with secret fear. He had often seen the results of Valdani "questioning." His mother had died from it. He made a silent vow to Dar, and to all of the other gods under whose protection he had sojourned these past nine years: If I must die in this place, then I will take as many of them with me as I can. He was deadly even without his swords. Of course, with his hands and feet manacled, even he was at a distinct disadvantage. He had just recognized the heavy weights around his wrists and ankles: the iron finery of a prisoner.

All right, maybe he should have hidden his swords; he had little to fear from Society assassins if the Valdani killed him before the next sunrise, after all. But how was he to have known the Outlookers had become so vigilant? There was a time you could have smuggled a whole cartload of weapons past the Outlookers and bought them off with an easy bribe if they caught you. There was also a time, he realized as the Outlooker's hot breath brushed his face, that no citizen of Cavasar would have attacked an Outlooker in broad daylight.

Eyes still closed, he heard the door swing open. He tensed slightly, waiting for what would come next.

A new voice spoke. "Commander Koroll says to bring the prisoner. Now."

• • •

Koroll had been stationed in this godsforsaken land for four years. A vast, wild, mountainous island floating in the Middle Sea, Sileria was peopled by violent, ungovernable barbarians who were making his life a misery. He'd already lost four years in this backwater, and if he couldn't crush this new threat, there was every chance he'd spend the rest of his life here. And it might well be a very short life, too, if the next assassination attempt against him succeeded.

Standing at the window of his command chamber in the military fortress, Koroll looked out over the main square of Cavasar as the sun set upon the city. Jugglers, acrobats, and fire-eaters used to come out to replace the merchants, craftsmen, and fishmongers who packed up at the end of the day. Not anymore, however. Koroll had banned such amusements as punishment for the last major riot. Then he had instituted a curfew after the attempt on his life. The trouble had all begun with the murder of two Outlookers in the mountains, and Koroll had so far been unable to stop their killer from wreaking havoc in the mountain villages and inciting the people of this district to violence.

Today's hideous events were becoming all too typical. Four of his men had tried to disarm a stranger in a crowded market place. The stranger had resisted, and the crowd had descended upon the Outlookers like hungry dragonfish. Two of the Outlookers were dead, the other two badly hurt, and the city was seething with rebellion. The fiery belly of Mount Darshon was surely a quieter place than Cavasar these days.

The stranger who had apparently been the focus of today's riot was the most puzzling part of the whole event. One of Koroll's officers had immediately singled the man out from the crowd and had the sense to disable him and bring him back to the fortress for questioning. They'd already searched him and his possessions quite thoroughly, and what they'd found only added to Koroll's curiosity about the man.

Although his fine clothes were clearly from the Moorlands, and his swords were unmistakably Kintish, the stranger wore the traditional knotted belt of a shallah. One might excuse that as mere vanity, since some people—even some Valdani—found the intricately woven, beaded, knotted work of the shallaheen quite beautiful and occasionally used imitations as ornamentation; but the man's palms also bore the deep cross-cut scars typical of most shallaheen. Although he wore his hair in the long, oiled, single braid of a Kintish mercenary, the hair was too wavy and the dark-lashed eyes too round for him to be a full-blooded Kint, and he looked a little too fair-skinned for most of the other races living in the Kintish Kingdoms or in Valdani-ruled Kintish lands. It seemed most likely that he was at least part shallah.

All of which led Koroll to wonder what a shallah was doing bearing the brand of a Kintish swordmaster. They had found the mark on his chest when stripping him to remove the arrow; the scar, when looked like two crescent moons flanking a Kintish hieroglyph, was far from new.

Koroll turned away from the window and looked at the items which now lay on the polished table: two slender Kintish swords, the supple harness in which they were usually sheathed, an old leather satchel with faded Kintish calligraphy on it, and the now-stained but very fine Moorlander tunic they had stripped from the stranger's unconscious body.

The slender Kintish swords were longer than the swords of Koroll's men, but much shorter than the heavy, hacking weapons of the Moorlanders—weapons now also carried by the Emperor's best troops. These were obviously a very fine pair, thin and light, the steel beaten into perfect balance and harmony. Each sword had elegant Kintish hieroglyphs engraved upon it. They were beautifully polished and so sharp that Koroll cut his thumb gently testing one of the blades.

It was often said that there was no fighter anywhere in the three corners of the world to equal a Kintish swordmaster; such a warrior had a special Kintish title which Koroll could not immediately recall. A Kintish swordmaster used two blades where others used one, and used them so fast that he could kill two armed men before either could even draw a sword. Of course, the training was said to take five years, and half the students reputedly died in the process. Therefore, it wasn't something the average Kintish soldier undertook; and so the Valdani beat Kintish armies as thoroughly as they beat everyone else's. Indeed, the ancient Kintish Kingdoms had lost much territory to the Empire in recent centuries.

However, regardless of the stranger's origins or identity, the most intriguing item among his belongings was undoubtedly a single dagger, carefully wrapped in a finely painted silk scarf and hidden in a tightly laced pocket inside the satchel. After four years in Sileria, Koroll recognized the workmanship of both items. The scarf was a particularly fine example of centuries-old Silerian craftsmanship, covered with delicately painted flowers native to the island. Koroll had never seen a man carrying one, and it seemed incongruous for the stranger to have such feminine finery. However, it was the dragger which truly interested Koroll.

He knew instantly what it was, though he had never actually seen one before. Having heard such weapons described for years, there was no mistaking this one. It was a shir, the exquisitely deadly, wavy-edged dagger of a Society assassin. Shir were made only by the waterlords, those unpredictable and secretive Silerian wizards who controlled the Honord Society and, if truth be known, much of Sileria, too. The Emperor had sworn to destroy the Society in his lifetime, and most of the waterlords now lived in hiding. Their power was not to be underestimated, though; they could bring Cavasar to its knees if they didn't receive their tribute from the people. They controlled water, the most precious commodity in Sileria, as easily as a man controlled the fingers of his own hand. White Koroll remained skeptical about the many whispered stories told about them, he had learned to regard them with respect.

Moreover, he had just learned that at least one of those whispered stories was apparently true. It was said that only three people in the world could touch a shir with impunity: the waterlord who fashioned its deadly blade out of water, the assassin for whom it was made, and the man or woman who killed him. Having unfolded the delicate silk which hid the shir from view, Koroll found that it was bitterly cold, colder than anything he'd ever known, and the brief touch of it against his fingers made them ache with fierce pain long after he dropped the thing.

Had the stranger killed a Society assassin and taken his shir? If so, then he just might be the right man to solve Koroll's problems. Surely killing one Silerian peasant would seem a small enough price to a mercenary who would otherwise be charge with inciting a riot a causing the deaths of two Outlookers. Of course, releasing such a man and giving him his weapons back was risky, but Koroll was counting on an extra incentive to ensure the warrior's cooperation; he final item of unusual interest among his possessions was a hefty bag of gold. If Koroll held on to that until the swordmaster brought him proof of the shallah's death…

He heard a knock at the heavy door to the chamber. "Enter!"

Four Outlookers, young and arrogant in their smooth gray tunics, leggings, and new boots, escorted the swordmaster into Koroll's presence. Koroll studied the shackled prisoner closely as he shuffled into the room. Now that the stranger's eyes were open, Koroll saw that they were the deep brown color typical of most Silerians; they were watchful and intelligent, and they gave away little as the warrior surveyed his belonging spread out on the long polished table. His skin had the rich olive tones of a typical shallah, and his facial bones were strong and faintly exotic looking compared to the Valdani around him. Still a young man, he was lean and lithe, with whipcord muscles that looked honed to make him an agile fighter of great endurance.

Even shackled, he looked fierce. Koroll rather marvelled at the courage—or sheer foolhardiness—of the young Outlooker who had demanded this man's weapons this morning, and who had seized his tunic upon being denied. A pity the lad was dead now, gutted with a fish knife.

"I am Commander Koroll, military governor of Cavasar and its district. One of my surviving men says that although you resisted a direct order and broke the law," Koroll began without preamble, "he thinks you did not intend to kill anyone, but merely to escape."

The stranger's bland, closed expression didn't change.

"That's true."

"Why did you resist?"

"I'm a shatai."

"A swordmaster?"

"Yes. How am I to earn a living without my swords?"

Koroll hefted the bag of gold he'd found in the man's satchel. "You wouldn't have starved."

"I was thinking of my future."

"You could have applied to me to have your weapons returned to you."

Despite his chains, the prisoner managed to look arrogant. "No shataipermits his swords to be taken from him."

"I have seen shatai give up their swords. At the Emperor's palace in Valda."

"We may choose to give them up, to show respect or to honor a truce. But no one is permitted to take them away."

"And you didn't deem it appropriate to show respect and voluntarily relinquish them today?" Koroll challenged.

"I was…not asked nicely," the stranger replied, lifting one dark brow.

Koroll's lips twitched. "And you are accustomed to being asked nicely?"

"Most men treat a shatai with more courtesy than I was shown today."

"Yes, I imagine so. We don't see many shatai here, you understand," Koroll said cordially. He narrowed his eyes. "And you're not Kintish anyhow, are you?"

"No."

"I didn't know there were any shatai who weren't Kintish."

"There aren't many."

"But a Kintish shatai trained you?"

"A shatai-kaj. One who trains shatai."

"Why did he train you?"

The stranger shrugged, then winced as the motion pulled at his wound. "He wanted to."

"A better reason, if you please."

This time the stranger smiled slightly. "The shatai-kaj give no better reasons. They are men who need explain themselves to no one."

"But you…" Koroll's gaze lowered to the man's hands, to where he had seen the distinctive scars. "You're part shallah, aren't you?"

The stranger hesitated for only a moment. "Yes."

"What are you doing in Cavasar?" He saw sweat on the prisoner's face and guessed he was in pain; certainly nothing about the man suggested nervousness.

"I had only just arrived when your men—"

"You came here on a boat?"

"Yes."

"From where?"

"The Moorlands."

"What were you doing there?"

"Working."

"What kind of work?"

The warrior's gaze flashed to the two swords which lay unsheathed upon the table. "The kind of work I do."

Pleased by the answer, Koroll dismissed two of the guards. "He may be seated," he said to the other two, noticing that the prisoner was starting to look a little light-headed. He had lost enough blood to miss it for the next few days. The guards shuffled him over to a chair that was near Koroll but strategically distant from the weapons on the table, then positioned themselves on either side of him, their swords drawn. Even wounded and shackled, Koroll suspected this shatai could take advantage of the situation if permitted.

Koroll picked up one of the Kintish swords and noted that the stranger didn't like him touching them. "What is your name?"

"Tansen."

"Are you from here?"

A brief nod. "I was born in Sileria."

Koroll looked him over for a moment, then decided to try another tactic, for the stranger seemed more concerned about his swords than about himself. He traced inscriptions on your swords, these Kintish hieroglyphics?"

Tansen's gaze rested possessively on the swords as Koroll handled them. "The left one…That's my teacher's motto."

"What does it say?"

"Why do you care?"

I'm curious." Seeing that Tansen intended to stay silent, Koroll pointed out, "You have caused the deaths of two Outlookers today. Normally, you would already have been sentenced to death by slow torture in a public execution."

"Why haven't I been?"

"Because I may have a better use for you," Koroll snapped, a little annoyed that his warning apparently aroused no concern, let alone fear. "Now answer the question. What does the inscription say?"

Quietly, almost reflectively, Tansen answered, "Draw it with honor, sheathe it with courage."

"Can you read?" Koroll probed. Very few shallaheen could. "Or did you memorize that?"

"I can read the inscription," was the oblique response.

"Why is the sword inscribed? A sentimental gesture?"

For a moment he thought the question would ignored. Finally, as if having decided that the information wouldn't profit his interrogator, Tansen said, "It identifies a shatai-kaj's students to each other, so when we meet, we will not fight each other."

"Not even if you are opponents who have been paid to fight each other?"

"We will not fight each other," Tansen repeated.

"How noble," Koroll said dryly. "Does anyone ever cheat?"

"If he did, then all shatai would be ordered to kill him on sight, and his shatai-kaj would lay a curse upon him."

"Yes, I suppose that would make one think twice." Koroll picked up the other sword and noted that the hieroglyphics were different. "And what's written on this one?"

"My own motto."

"Ah! Which is?"

Tansen's gaze met his and, for the first time, Koroll had a glimpse of the man who dwelt in this shallah's skin. "From one thing, another is born."

"And what thing gave birth to the shatai, Tansen?" Koroll asked, held by that dark, steady gaze.

"What 'better use' do you have for me?" Tansen countered.

Deciding this was the right moment, Koroll shoved aside the empty satchel to reveal the shir which lay in a pool of painted silk. Tansen's expression gave away little; of course he would have guessed that Koroll had found it when searching his things.

Bypassing the questions he had originally intended to ask, Koroll simply said, "Pick it up."

Finally! He was rewarded with a look of genuine surprise.

"Pick it up?" Tansen repeated.

"Yes. Pick it up."

Tansen glanced significantly at the guards to his right and left. At Koroll's order, they both held their blades to Tansen's throat. Tugging at the silk scarf upon which the shir lay, Koroll moved it within Tansen's reach.

Korol warned, "Just pick it up. If you try to use it, they will slit your throat like—"

"A sacrificial goat. Yes, I know." Looking rather contemptuous of them all, Tansen lifted his hands and, moving awkwardly because of his shackles and his wound, took hold of the shir. His expression darkened as he looked down at it, resting in his scarred palms. Very quietly, almost as if he were unaware that he spoke aloud, he said, "It's an evil thing, this."

"Then it's true," Koroll breathed. "You killed a Society assassin."

Tansen's gaze remained fixed on the dagger. "I killed him." His voice was soft, and he seemed lost in the memory for a moment.

"Why did you keep the shir?" Koroll asked; Tansen clearly didn't relish possession of the thing.

His bare, branded chest rose and fell with a deep breath. "Because that's what you do when you…do what I did. You take the shir. That's…the way it's done."

Koroll had a feeling there was more to it than that, considerably more, but he didn't really care about the details of yet another bloody and pointless Silerian feud. These people relished killing each other so much that the Out-lookers seldom had to bother doing it. Until recently.

Tansen lay the shir back upon the table and asked, "Have I answered all of your questions now?"

"There's just one more: Do you want to live?"

"Are you offering me a choice?"

"Yes."

"Ah. I see." A slow, cynical smile spread across Tansen's face. "Tell me, then: Who do I have to kill?"

Recognizing a man with whom he could do business, Koroll smiled in return. "His name is Josarian, and I need him killed soon. Very soon."

Copyright © 1998 by Laura Resnick

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Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2007

    The Rebellion Lives in Sileria. . .

    This book is absolutely excellent. I'm a big fantasy fan, which is why this book caught my interest. As I began to read, I realized that this was not just a typical fantasy book. It has absolutely everything. The story centers around the island nation of Sileria, which has been under foreign rule for a thousand years by three different neighboring countries. The Valdani, the current rulers, are very cruel and Silerians have become disheartended and suspicious due to their difficult past. Josarian, a simple man who's just trying to survive and make the best life he can during difficult times, starts a rebellion against the Valdani and, for the first time in a thousand years, unites many Silerians under a common cause. This story really got me interested and made me care about the characters. The story's characters seem like real people. The people they fight against are not Dark Lords but an unjust ruling power. The fact that the problems faced were realistic, and not supernatural, made the story go right to my heart. There's a great mixture of politics, religion, magic, romance (enough to be realistic, but not too much for someone like me, who isn't a romance fan), and many messages about human nature. The characters are not completely good or completely bad. They have many layers and shades of gray that make them seem like real people who are just trying their best and doing what they believe is right. The plot has much suspense. It made me wonder whether the rebellion would succeed. There are complex storylines, as enemies become friends and friends become enemies. It kept me interested right to the very last page. Then, I started reading the sequel right away. I'd recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good story that will get them excited and make them care about the characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    great book

    this book was great. it didn't go over board with the sexuality, but had enough to make it exciting. The plot was jumping, and i can not wait to read the next one :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2004

    page turner

    i rarely get all the way through a fantasy novel, most of them wander off into cliche land after the first 100 pages. this one kept my interest all the way through, with a good level of political intrigue, sexual tension (unrequited!), strong characterizations and an unforced cliffhanger ending. for once, the story continues because there is something more to it, not because the author wants the reader to buy three books. enjoyed this one immensely, looking forward to the next one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2002

    in legend born

    an excellent book, filled with excitement, leaves readers wondering what will happen next.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2001

    Really good reading

    Believable characters, consistent magic, interesting plot, wonderful ideals. A realistic story about how people really are.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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