Being labeled as a killer is every Upakan’s dream.
Being labeled as the killer of your chieftain’s son . . . not so much.
Banished from his home at thirteen, Ayrion makes his way to the capital city of Aramoor in hopes of starting a new life. With high aspirations of making a name for himself, he soon discovers how dangerous and unforgiving those streets can be.
Can he learn to navigate Aramoor’s treacherous underbelly before it reaches up and swallows him whole?
The Street Rats of Aramoor series is an offshoot of the Aldoran Chronicles saga.
Street Rats of Aramoor Series
Book 1 | Banished
Book 2 | Hurricane
Excerpt: Chapter 1
MY JOURNEY was nearing its end.
After leaving the Wind Binder and her captain and crew behind on the Shemoa River, I traveled east around the Sandrethin Mountains with Magistrate Sirias and his family. The trip had taken nearly two months, but we were in no rush, and with having the magistrate’s resources returned after freeing the slaves at the Cylmaran mining camp, plus the share I’d received from Captain Treygan for my part in the rescue, we decided to take our time and enjoy the trip. After our harrowing experiences over the last few months, it was a welcomed gift, a time to heal both physically and mentally.
Once we had rounded the southern tip of the Sandrethins, we parted ways. Magistrate Sirias, Merilyn, Rosella, and their infant son continued south toward the coastal cities of Vinten and Fayburn, while I took the west road to Aramoor.
Not wanting to waste my coin purchasing a horse, I spent the next couple of weeks enjoying the open road on foot. A day outside of Aramoor, I was lucky enough to be picked up by a farmer and his family, where I found myself bouncing along in the back of a wagon filled with half a dozen large melons and a barrel of cucumbers that smelled of last week’s pickings despite the fresh cut label on the front.
They told me no thirteen-year-old should be out on these roads by themselves. There could be highwaymen just waiting to snatch me up. I almost laughed.
Their son, who was seated across from me on a small crate of lettuce, was several years younger and definitely not shy about speaking his mind.
“What’s wrong with your eyes?” he asked, his head cocked slightly to the side. “They look funny.”
“Hush, Enon. That’s rude.” His mother was trying her best not to stare herself.
Enon reminded me of my younger brother, Jorn. He was about the same age and just as feisty.
The little boy folded his arms. “Well, they do.”
I smiled. Having passed through as many cities, towns, and villages as I had on my way to Aramoor, I’d grown accustomed to the stares. It would seem colorless eyes were something of a rarity. Growing up in the Lost City of Keldor, I’d never known anything different. I was just as amazed at the variety of color I’d seen.
“All of my people have the same eyes,” I said.
The farmer’s wife twisted in her seat. “Your people?”
The woman’s expression darkened, and her husband threw me a sharp look over his shoulder. “Upaka?” There was a hint of concern in his voice. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in quite some time. What are you doing this far south?”
“It’s a long story,” I said, not feeling in the mood to share the tale of my banishment with strangers, even strangers kind enough to give me a ride.
They got the hint and didn’t pry further. I doubted their silence had anything to do with common courtesy. After all, my people were well known as mercenaries for hire.
A gust of wind caught my hair and sent it whipping behind me. It had grown long enough to tickle my shoulders, nearly half as long as my sister Rianna’s, which would have earned me some time with mother’s shears were I at home.
We crested a small rise, and I could see Aramoor looming in the distance. It was larger than anything I had imagined. The capital city of Elondria was the home of the High King. It was also the largest city in the known world. Nothing in the five kingdoms came close to its magnitude. The thought of calling it home both excited and terrified me.
“So, this is your first time to Aramoor, is it?” the farmer asked. He’d turned his attention back to his team as the horses plodded down the main road leading toward the city.
He smiled. “Bet you’ve never laid eyes on the likes of it before.”
“That wall is one of Aldor’s great wonders, if you ask me.”
I stared off into the distance at the protective barrier surrounding the city. Its white stone could be seen for miles in all directions.
“I can see why.”
“They say it was built by wizards after the defeat of the Kuhl hordes. It was probably one of the last great feats of magic before the Purge.” The farmer shook his head. “It’s hard to believe something as evil as magic could create such beauty.”
I bit my tongue. Having magic was no more likely to make someone evil than having too much gold. I could speak from personal experience.
The road grew more congested the closer we got to the city’s eastern gate. It was as though the townsfolk from the surrounding communities had decided to make a sacred pilgrimage to the capital, all at the same time.
We passed a number of other wagons toting wares to sell to those living within the protection of the great wall.
Our pace slowed as we reached the first of two gatehouses leading in. This close, I could see that the blocks used to build the fortification were as wide as the farmer’s wagon. I wondered at the amount of magic it must have required. The wizards from that age must have been truly powerful.
A sentry waved the cart in front of us through and we pulled forward to the first checkpoint. “State your name and purpose,” the guard said. He bore the insignia of the Elondrian Lancers—a high sun overshadowing a golden crown.
I’d seen pictures of that emblem in my studies back home. I’d been required to learn of the various militaries within the five kingdoms. Their crests and colors had been just as important to memorize as their styles of combat.
“The name’s Neelan,” the farmer said to the guard. “We’re from Cadwyn. This is my wife and my two boys. We have fresh produce to sell at the lower market on South Avis.”
The guard stepped over to my side of the wagon and looked in. Thankfully, my back was to him, so I didn’t have to worry about hiding my eyes. One quick glance and he was walking back around to the front. He waved us forward. “Move on through.”
We passed a second guard station once we were through the gate, but no one bothered stopping us. The lancers at that station were concerned with traffic leaving the city.
“Where would you like us to drop you off?” Neelan asked as we started down the main thoroughfare leading into the heart of Aramoor.
In the distance, I could see great domes and spires rising above the dwellings we passed between. They reminded me of the snowcapped peaks of the Northern Heights back home.
With this being my first time inside the city, I needed to get my bearings before attempting to explore any deeper.
“I’ll get off here, thanks.”
“Here?” The farmer’s wife turned in her seat. “Do you have family nearby?” She looked at the closest buildings as if expecting to see some nice couple standing there waiting on me.
“Uh, yes,” I lied. “Uncle Fen . . . der . . . stad.” Of course, I didn’t have an uncle, and if I did, his name certainly wouldn’t have been Fenderstad. I wished I’d given it a little more thought.
The farmer directed the horses over to the edge of the road and stopped the wagon. “Are you sure? It’s easy to get lost in here if you don’t know where you’re going.”
“I’ll be fine. He doesn’t live far from here.” I grabbed my travel bag and slung it over my shoulder before hopping down from the back. “My parents gave me directions. Thank you for the ride. It was most kind.” I waved, not giving them a chance to argue. I was too embarrassed to tell them I was homeless with nowhere to go.
“Well, good luck to you, lad,” Neelan said with a concerned look and a polite wave. “If you change your mind, we’ll be on South Avis. It’s off of King’s Way East.” He pointed at the wide cobbled road in front of us leading into the heart of the city. “Just follow this to the main square and then turn left. You’ll find us somewhere near Marrow Lane in Cheapside. You can’t miss it. We usually sell out before dusk, so if you can’t find us by then, just wait for us at the east gate.”
“Thank you. I will.” I waved once more and casually walked down the first street on the right. I hoped it looked like I knew where I was going. Behind me, I could hear the farmer snap the reins and the wagon wheels thump over the cobblestones.
I stopped at the corner of the next building and listened as the wagon blended into the cacophony coming from those on their way to market. Taking a deep breath, I scanned the street, mesmerized by the flow of the crowd. I was surrounded by more people than I’d ever seen in my life, and yet I had never felt so alone.
I knelt and adjusted my boots. The coin pouches were starting to chafe. With the money my father had given me, along with what I had salvaged from the two dead highwaymen, and the proceeds I’d received from Captain Treygan, I hoped it would be enough to keep me sheltered and fed until I was able to find some type of work or purchase an apprenticeship with a local merchant.
At the thought of my father, I lifted the thin chain from where it was safely hidden under my tunic and stared at the ring hanging from its end. The black onyx band had a single white rune at its center, the crest of my clan. Tears welled near the corners of my eyes, brought on by the thought of once again being alone. Being this far from home, now, more than ever, it was the small things like this ring that helped remind me of who I was.
I tucked the chain back into my shirt and pulled the hood up to hide my eyes as I made my way north up the street. I let the natural flow of the people move me along. The farther I walked, the more the crowds began to dwindle. I kept an eye out for a place to stay, somewhere not too far from the eastern gate in case I needed to take Master Neelan up on his offer.
I was looking for somewhere reputable, but not too reputable or the cost would be too high. I would have been fine with four walls and a mattress, as long as it came with clean sheets and an owner who wouldn’t try mugging me in the middle of the night.
The farther I traveled from King’s Way East, the more dilapidated the buildings became, not to mention the people mingling around them. I generally judged a location by the hairs on the back of my neck. So far, they hadn’t risen, which meant it was a reasonably safe place to find a room. But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that someone was watching me.
Across the street, a sign swung back and forth with a rusty moan. The faded gold letters under the painting of a large buck proclaimed it The White Stag. It seemed a typical name for an Elondrian inn. Many carried the names of wild animals: The White Stag, The Wild Boar, The Dancing Bear. Although, I found it hard to imagine a bear dancing.
The building looked reliable enough. A couple of windows on the upper floors were lit, letting me know it was in use, so I headed across the street. I reached for the front door, but a sharp cry kept me from entering.
“Help! Someone, please help!”
A young boy, several years younger than myself, was being dragged by two older boys into a narrow alley a few buildings away. The bigger of the two slapped the kid across the face.
“Shut your mouth or I’ll slit your throat.”
I looked to see if anyone was going to help, but the few people I saw didn’t seem to care enough to stop what they were doing. For most, that meant sitting around smoking pipes and nursing drinks while pretending nothing was amiss.
I knew I shouldn’t get involved. I looked away. The last time I got involved it had me attacking a Cylmaran compound. I tried to act like the rest of those sitting around and ignore the problem, but the boy’s desperate pleas stopped me, and I turned back.
What kind of citizen would I be if I just let this kid be taken without trying to help? My father’s voice answered from somewhere in the back of my mind. A smart one.
I sighed, dropping my hand to caress the hilt of my dagger. With a quick adjustment to my pack, I took off for the alley. It’s just a way to test my training, I told the voice in my head. Don’t want my skills to get rusty.
I didn’t believe that for a minute.