Coming Fall 2017
STREET RATS is an offshoot series of The Aldoran Chronicles. It’s the story of Ayrion, a thirteen-year-old boy who goes from being an unwanted urchin, battling to survive on the treacherous streets of Aramoor, to the Guardian Protector of the entire realm.
This first book and its prequel are still in manuscript form. They have yet to undergo several rounds editing and cover illustration.
Excerpt: Chapter One
(This book is in manuscript form and still has several rounds of editing and illustration to complete.)
MY JOURNEY was nearing its end.
After nearly six months of traveling from one side of Aldor to the other, I found myself bouncing along from the back of a wagon I’d been sharing with half-a-dozen large pumpkins and a barrel of cucumbers that smelled of last week’s pickings as opposed to the “fresh cut” label on the front.
A farmer and his wife and son had been good enough to give me a ride. They told me no thirteen-year-old boy should be out on these roads by themselves. There could be highwaymen just waiting to snatch me up. 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. They were 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 The Lost City of Keldor, I’d never known any different. I was just as amazed at all the variety of color I’d seen.
“All of my people have the same eyes.”
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. The city itself seemed to stretch on forever.
“Aye. 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. Magic was no more apt to make someone evil than having too much gold. I’d seen the lust for wealth have more of an effect on people than magic. And since I happen to be one of those wielders who kept their abilities hidden for fear of being imprisoned within The White Tower, I felt like 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 used to create such a feat. The wizards from that age must have been truly powerful.
A sentry waved the cart in front of us on 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. As an Upaka, I had 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, 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 passed a quick glance our way, not overly worried with a young mother and her two boys. He stepped over to my side of the wagon and looked in. Thankfully, my back was to him so I didn’t have to worry with 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 were currently passing 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, but, when asked to produce a name with no time to consider my options, it was the first thing out of my mouth. 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 slightly worried 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 farther 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 of noise coming from those on their way to market. I took a deep breath and slowly 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.
After being banished from my home for breaking Shal’Noran, my father had given me as much coin as he could afford to help me make a start of it. He said it would be enough to help me purchase an apprenticeship with a local merchant wherever I ended up. I hoped it would be enough to last me until I was able to find some work.
At the thought of my father, I lifted the thin chain from where I had it 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. It represented my clan’s place within the greater Upakan society. The ring was only given to those who had earned the right to be called Warrior. My father had given it to me as a way to remind me of who I was. I had repeated his words over and over in my mind since leaving The Lost City: “You are still Upaka. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
After tucking the chain back into my shirt, I pulled the hood of my black cloak up around my head to hide my eyes and 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. I didn’t want to get too far away 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. A respectable establishment came at a cost. One I wasn’t too keen to pay considering my limited funds. 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 in the middle of the night, unlike the first small town I had stayed in after leaving home. I had learned very quickly what to look for when choosing a place to stay.
The further 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 as: The White Stag. It seemed a typical name for an Elondrian Inn. Many carried the label of wild animals: THE WHITE STAG, THE WILD BOAR, THE DANCING BEAR; though I found the thought of a bear dancing hard to imagine.
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 biggest 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 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 turned away, but the boy’s desperate pleas stopped me and I turned back around.
What kind of citizen would I be if I just let this kid be taken without trying to help? My father’s voice from somewhere in the back of my mind answered. “A smart one.”
I sighed, dropping my hand to caress the hilt of the long dagger at my waist. I readjusted my travel sack on my shoulder and 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.”