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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Young Haikor" ~ a prelude to THE ROSE THRONE by Mette Ivie Harrison!

How super cool is this?  I have an exclusive unveiling to Young Haikor, one of the preludes Mette Ivie Harrison wrote to her upcoming book, The Rose Throne. I'll be reviewing The Rose Throne tomorrow, and the full synopsis is below if you want to find out more, but basically, this "prelude" takes place some years before The Rose Throne begins, when Rurik's merciless, iron-fisted king, Haikor, is but a boy.

For those of you who come to read the book, I think you'll find this prelude adds some measure of sympathy to Haikor's character, and an idea of how he became who he is at the start of the book. For the rest, you'll find a complex, intriguing character on the brink of a life-altering decision - and a compelling introduction to the magics and attitudes of The Rose Throne...

And make sure to stop back by tomorrow for my review and a giveaway of two signed copies of The Rose Throne!!

Young King Jaap had come to Rurik this summer to improve relations between the two kingdoms. He had been invited nominally by King Heeron, but the old king was in his dotage. He was nearly sixty years old and had withered into a skeleton of a man. Jaap had seen him briefly on his first day here, carried on a pallet by guards dressed in livery with the red lion emblazoned on the front. The old king had waved a hand, but he had not spoken, and then he had been taken inside the castle to “rest.” Jaap had not seen him since.
Aart was his eldest son and expected to inherit the throne within months or perhaps only weeks. Jaap had not realized that it must have been Aart who issued the invitation to him, and not King Heeron. But he had come because he had always believed in the prophecy:
One child will hold two weyrs.
One child will hold two thrones.
Two islands will be one.
Or the sea will swallow all.
The two islands must be united. Weirland was the smaller island to the north where Jaap ruled, and it was a wild place, so deeply covered in snow in winter that it was often impassable even by horse. It had always been Rurik, the more southern and larger of the two islands, that was the important one. Rurik had a far larger population, and more trade with the continent. Rurik grew more food, and many believed that it had stronger magic—taweyr and neweyr.
Which was why until this invitation, Jaap had believed that the kings of Rurik did not believe that there was any point in courting the king of Weirland, despite the ancient bond between the two kingdoms. They had once been one island, one kingdom, until old King Arhort had torn them apart in an anger so great that it reverberated into the earth itself. The prophecy was to heal the wound, but it was surely Weirland that would gain more in the change.
Upon Jaap’s arrival, Prince Aart had been the one to step forward and welcome the new Weirese king officially to the palace. It was an elaborate structure, and far larger than anything Jaap had ever seen before, though he tried to keep awe off his face and remain as impassive as Aart himself as he stared at the outside stones, all of gray, brought from some other part of Rurik. His own palace was no more than one of the noble estates outside the gate of the palace, small enough to fit in one wing with an army to spare.
But inside, the palace, King Jaap struggled against the enormous stench. There were dirty rushes on the floor and no attempt at cleaning the wood underneath. There were no herbs or flowers to decorate or disguise the scent of so many men living all in the same place, and Jaap saw more than one woman holding a ball of scents to her nose as she passed by. But Prince Aart showed no sign of being bothered by it. It seemed uncivilized to Jaap, but who was he to say such a thing?
At first, the meetings with Aart had gone well enough. He had asked for a pledge of loyalty to Rurik, which Jaap had at first agreed to make, with some changes in the wording. He had assumed that Aart would be prepared to negotiate. But this morning, Aart had demanded for the fifth time that Jaap sign the pledge of loyalty without any changes to it at all.
“It reads that I am to be your loyal servant!” Jaap had shouted. “I am a king of my own land. I cannot agree to be anyone’s servant, even if the words are meant only figuratively.” His temper had gotten the best of him, and he regretted his tone immediately afterward.
But perhaps Prince Aart was the sort of man one had to shout at. Certainly, nothing else had seemed to penetrate his cold, impassive demeanor.
“You are a king of Weirland, a tiny island no bigger than a boat, I think,” said Aart. “It is like a man who lives in a privy claiming he cannot be a servant because he is king of the dung.”
Jaap had felt his face flushing. “You will excuse me. I think that we both need some time to ourselves to think more clearly. Perhaps when we come together again, we will be able to speak more civilly.” He had inclined his head slightly, and then stiffly walked out. He had not waited for Prince Aart to offer permission.
Jaap had heard dark stories of Prince Aart when he was still in Weirland, and he had dismissed them all. The kings of Rurik were powerful, and they ruled differently than in Weirland. Here, a king—or prince—would never be seen without a court surrounding him, and in fine clothing suited for the station. It was not at all like in Weirland, when the king spoke to the shepherds in the nearby fields, and consulted them on the treatment of a hoof disease that had plagued the castle sheep.
But it seemed that the stories about Prince Aart being intractable, and even inhuman, were true. He had never showed any sign of kindness in all the hours that Jaap had been with him. He had ordered about his servants as though they had no minds of their own. He did not ask for opinions even from his own lords, but ordered them to kneel before him or serve him. One unlucky duke had been standing by the prince when his foot itched.
Prince Aart had called the man forward to take off his boot and scratch his foot until the itch disappeared. And then he had shouted at the duke and beaten him about the head with his own hands rather than punishing him with a single burst of taweyr when the man had mistakenly taken off the wrong boot and “touched the royal foot without permission.”
Jaap had stood by while he saw it done, wondering if this was part of Aart’s message to him. Or to his own lords, perhaps. This was the kind of king he wanted to be seen as—a man who expected his mind to be read, and who would punish anyone who did not please him, no matter how hard that man was trying.
Now Jaap had a decision to make. He could return to the palace and try to negotiate once more for a reasonable treaty. Or he could leave abruptly and never return to Rurik.
He knew which he wanted to do. He longed for his own kingdom. In summer, there was nothing quite as beautiful as the hills of Weirland: the purple and gold flowers that covered the tips that he could see from his window in his own castle, and the smell of fresh grass and herbs growing in the castle garden. He could close his eyes and imagine he could hear again the sounds of the lowing animals nearby.
There was a long, lowing sound. But it was not from a cow.
Jaap opened his eyes and looked about. He was near the river, past the ancient walls to the back of the entrance he had come in through. He had not thought anyone would find him here, but when he looked up, he could see that the voice came from the young Prince Haikor, Aart’s younger brother by some seven years. The boy had seemed terrified when Jaap had met him on the second day. He had been visibly shaking, and Jaap had worried he would fall down. He had disappeared after that, and Jaap had not seen him since.
But here he was, standing at the edge of the river Weyr, singing beautifully to the water itself. He was so intent on his own sound that he did not notice Jaap approaching him.
“Good morning, Prince Haikor,” said Jaap.
The boy, not quite twelve years old by Jaap’s estimation, was startled and stopped singing instantly. He glanced at Jaap.
“King Jaap,” he said, and bowed deeply. He looked very little like his older brother, except perhaps about the eyes. Both had deep blue eyes that penetrated. But Prince Haikor had pale, freckled skin and bright red hair of the sort that was considered a common hint of madness. “Are you lost? Perhaps I can help you find your way back to the Throne Room, where I am sure my brother awaits you.”
He spoke perfectly clearly, no hint of the stutter that Jaap had heard the first time they had met. Perhaps it was because he was not nervous here, by the river, away from his brother and the court.
“I thank you, but I have no intention of returning immediately to talk to your brother. I think it best for both our kingdoms if we have a period of cooling down.”
There was a flicker of light in Prince Haikor’s eyes. “Ah. What has he done now, then? Threatened to murder your mother? Or burn your sister at the stake?”
“No,” said Jaap. “Only to take my crown from me and make me into a king of dung.”
“Ah, well, then, you have the best of it. Most of the rest of us are not as lucky as that.”
Jaap eyed Haikor more carefully. He showed no sign of nerves at all now. And he seemed quite intelligent. Before, Jaap had assumed that he was touched in the mind. But a weak-minded brother was no threat to Prince Aart. A wily one who was capable of pretending to be weak-minded, however, was something else entirely.
“You must hate him,” said Jaap.
“Hate him? He is my elder brother, soon to be king,” said Haikor. “I honor and support him, as I should.” He spoke flatly, but not with clear sarcasm.
“You may be the only man in the kingdom not eager for your father’s death,” said Jaap.
“And why should I care about my father? He is an old man, ready for his end,” said Haikor. “The only thing that saddens me is that he did not die in battle, as any proper king should.”
This was perhaps the strangest conversation Jaap had ever had. Young Haikor was not play-acting as he had before, but he was not speaking directly to Jaap, either. It was as if they were involved in a game of some sort and so far, Haikor was winning. Jaap was struggling just to follow behind him, and guess at what he meant.
“I loved my father dearly,” said Jaap. “I remember when he died last year. I wept for days.”
“But not in front of your people, I should hope,” said Haikor.
“Oh, I had no need to hide my feelings. My people do not expect a king to feel nothing. On the contrary, I think it is good for them to see me as one of them. Then when I speak, they know that I understand their world.”
Haikor’s mouth twisted, but only for a moment. “Truly?” he said. “You think your people want you to be one of them? What is the purpose of having a king if he is not elevated above them? If he does not live more largely than they do, striding leagues to their inches, and showing them how to live immortally in their own minds?”
Immortality was never something that Jaap had aspired to. “I do the work that they do not want to do. Like meeting with your brother, for instance,” said Jaap calmly.
Haikor let out a sound that might have been a laugh or might have been a coughing fit. Jaap could never be sure.
“A king must rule from above,” said Haikor. “He must never be seen to be like his people, or they will think to overthrow him and take his place.”
“Is that what your brother has taught you?” said Jaap.
“That is what every day of my life has taught me. I only wonder that your life has not taught you the same. You and every king of Weirland before you. How have you survived this long without learning of the real world?”
“Perhaps the real world of Weirland is not so harsh as the one here in Rurik,” said Jaap mildly.
“I cannot believe that,” said Haikor, his head high, his neck tight.
“And why is that?” said Jaap.
Haikor held Jaap’s gaze. “Because I would not stay here another moment, but steal away in your baggage train and make myself a servant to you if only to live in a place where I could be myself and sing as I was meant to sing.”
Jaap stared at the young man. He was never going to be tall. He might be full-grown now, though he was half a head shorter than Jaap, and Jaap was no giant. Haikor was slight, as well, his shoulders narrow and his wrists thin. But there was a strength in him, if only in his personality. No wonder he hid himself. If Prince Aart knew the real Haikor, he would never let him grow old.
“You love singing?” asked Jaap.
Haikor merely inclined his head to the side, as if the answer was too obvious to be spoken.
“Your voice is very fine,” said Jaap, though to be honest, he did not know much of music at all. The kind of music prized in Weirland was merely the loudest possible, mostly horns. He had thought it was the same in Rurik. Music was for continentals.
“A king does not sing,” said Haikor.
“Why not? But I suppose it does not matter, since you are only a prince.”
“And never likely to be more. Is that what you mean?” asked Haikor.
“Well, of course, if something were to happen to your brother before he had an heir . . .” Jaap began, but found himself trailing off at the expression in young Haikor’s face. It was—hungry. Like a child who had never tasted food in his life.
“I am twelve years old,” said Haikor. “Far too young to be a king in Rurik.”
“There have been kings of Weirland younger than that. King Toofor, for instance. He was king at the age of six, and ruled until he was nearly eighty. One of the best kings of Weirland. And King Kieran, who was king at the age of eleven, though they say even then that he was as tall as a giant and no one dared to best him in fisticuffs.”
“In Weirland, perhaps,” said Haikor. “But it is different here in Rurik.”
Jaap was trying to comfort a young boy who appeared to be in distress. “Your brother has not married yet. He will need a queen to get an heir, and that will take some time. Until then, you are his only heir. He may not think much of you, but it is so.”
“And do you think it would be wise of me to draw my brother’s attention to this fact?” asked Haikor.
Jaap’s mouth opened and closed without a word.
“And to make him see me as useful?” Haikor said again.
“Perhaps not,” said Jaap softly. He felt sorry for the boy now. Not that he thought young Haikor would appreciate the sentiment.
“But he will see it eventually. I can make myself as small as a mouse. I can squeak at him and scurry away when he speaks. But eventually, he will do what a cat does. He will leap upon me and devour me,” said Haikor.
There was a poetic turn to the gruesome description that Jaap admired. He had a library of books, and it was one of the few things that Weirland had that Rurik could not prove better at. It was what he spent all those long winters, trapped in the castle for snow and storms, doing. He read.
He was impressed with Haikor. Clearly, the boy had done more reading than his brother. Jaap had become certain during the negotiations that Prince Aart was all but illiterate, for his eyes slid away from any written letters that Jaap pointed at in the treaty and he looked to one of his men instead, or grew angry and shouted his demands once more.
“You might find that Weirland would be a welcome refuge,” said Jaap carefully. He could not offer Haikor asylum directly, but the boy was canny enough to see understand what was meant.
“If I came enough after that you were not suspect?” Haikor seemed to consider it for a moment, then shook his head. “It would only make my brother send an army after me. It would make him think me that much smarter before my time.”
Jaap let out a sigh. The boy was likely right. He knew the climate of his brother’s court better than Jaap did. “Then what will you do?” he asked.
“Do?” There was a faint smile hidden behind his thin lips.
“Let us speak openly, shall we?” said Jaap.
“By all means. Here, where no one can listen but the river,” said Haikor with a grand gesture like a king’s. “That is why I come here, to sing my truest self to the skies.”
“If your brother becomes king after your father dies, I cannot think it would be good. There have been civil wars before, against weak kings and against those who are too brutal.”
“You think my brother would be a brutal king?”
“I think your brother is selfish and unfeeling. I think he is a man who has no mercy and no compassion.”
“My father was cruel to him,” said Haikor. There was pity in his voice, and it made his tone rough.
Jaap was astonished to discover that Haikor had some feeling for his terrible brother.
“You do not know how cruel. I saw such terrible things.”
“And you? Your father did not do the same to you?”
Haikor shook his head. “I never knew if it was because I was smaller and the second heir, and weak-minded and useless. Or—” he hesitated.
“Or what?” asked Jaap.
“Or because my brother protected me,” said Haikor.
“Ah,” said Jaap. He did not know what to say. He did not like to think well of Aart, but it was possible that there was some good in him. It was rarely true that any man was all one thing or all the other.
“He said once that I was the lucky one, born second. He said that I could indulge myself in music, in singing, and that he would never be able to be free to do that. Not here in Rurik, where all things from the continent are scorned and all that matters is the magic, the taweyr.”
“But you have taweyr in plenty, I am sure,” said Jaap, who was not, in fact, sure.
“My brother has never seen me use it,” said Haikor. “He thinks that I may never come into it at all.”
“He came into it late himself, so he can hardly judge you for the same,” said Jaap.
Haikor’s eyes narrowed. “Late?” he said. “You are sure of that? He has the taweyr? You have seen it?”
“Well, I thought so.” Jaap sifted his thoughts. Had he seen Prince Aart show any taweyr? He realized he had not, even when he had beaten his lord about the head and might have spared himself any physical pain.
Prince Aart had all the attitudes of a man poisoned with too much taweyr, but now Jaap was not sure. A man could pretend to a weyr he did not have. As a man could pretend to many things.
Jaap looked at young Haikor. “There is nothing wrong with a man who has neweyr instead of taweyr,” he said.
“You say that after you have met my brother, do you?” asked Haikor.
“It has nothing to do with the weyr, what he is,” said Jaap. He knew several women with taweyr and men with neweyr in Weirland. It was a little odd and took getting used to, but the ekhono had their uses.
“And if Aart died before my father died?” asked Haikor.
Jaap listened as his heart beat loudly in his chest. This was not what he had planned, when he left the palace to calm himself. He had somehow found himself involved in an assassination plot with the prince’s younger brother. And Jaap did not know if it would be good or bad for Rurik to be ruled instead by young Haikor. He was intelligent, that was certain.
“Do you want a demonstration of my taweyr?” asked Haikor. “In order to encourage me in this? Do you want me to prove what kind of man I am?”
“What does it matter what I think?” said Jaap.
“Because you are the king of Weirland, and if you do not accept me, no one else will.”
“But I am not here often. I will likely leave in two days and never return,” said Jaap.
“Yes. Two days,” said Haikor.
“You cannot be thinking—” said Jaap.
“Can I not?” said Haikor.
He turned to Jaap and began to speak using a high-pitched voice that sounded like a woman’s. “That is my mother,” he said. And then he spoke slowly, with difficulty. “And that is my father.” Finally, he used the same toneless speech of his brother. “And Prince Aart,” he said. “I can do any voice. I can make them believe I am anyone, until they see me.”
“And then what?” asked Jaap, curious despite his horror.
“And then my taweyr will do the rest. He will not be able to stop me, as he has no taweyr of his own to counter mine.”
“But if he does. If you are wrong—” said Jaap.
“I am not wrong about my own brother,” said Haikor in a voice that seemed entirely new. Not his father’s or his brother’s, and not his own, either. A man’s voice. A king’s voice.
How long had he practiced that? Surely, that was what he had come out to the river to do, originally. The singing was just a side note to the main purpose. Treason.
And now Jaap had become part of it.
“I have lived with him my whole life. I know the good and bad of him. I have weighed them both again and again, let me assure you. And I have seen him here, with you. He is not at his worst, I don’t believe. But how would the kings of the continent react to him like this? What treaties would he lose with them? And when others try to take power from him, how many will die in a civil war that I am in a unique position to prevent? I owe it to my kingdom, I think,” said Haikor.
Was he deluded? No, his eyes were clear. His logic made perfect sense. But it was a terrible thing for a twelve-year-old boy to say about a brother who had protected him.
“It would be better for Weirland to have a wise and strong king on the throne of Rurik,” said Jaap. And he knew as he said the words what they meant. He was condoning this, welcoming it even. He was encouraging fratricide.
“Then I will show you my taweyr,” said Haikor.
“No need for that,” said Jaap, and put up his hands.
But he had been fooled himself by Haikor’s size and his age. He had been fooled as Aart had been fooled.
Haikor’s taweyr was not new to him. He had to have had it for some time to use it with only a twitch of his hands.
Jaap was thrown back as if by a strong gust of wind. He could feel his head hitting a rock behind him. He could feel blood streaming from the back of it. He was dizzy, disoriented, but he could see Haikor standing above him.
“I could kill you now. You have no defense against me.”
Jaap knew it was true. He had come out without a single guard.
Haikor did not touch him, but his taweyr pressed Jaap’s throat until the king of Weirland could not breathe.
“He has never let me show this, my power. I have cowered before him, but I will cower no more.”
As his vision went dark, Jaap wondered briefly who would assume the throne of Weirland. He had no children. His father had only had one son. There was a distant cousin.
Or would Haikor take it himself?
Then, suddenly, the pressure on his throat was gone. Jaap could see again—dimly. He could breathe. That was all he thought of for a long moment. He was not dead. He was still king of Weirland.
Water splashed on his face, cold and dirty. Jaap spat out the taste of it. It was faintly brined.
“The river Weyr flows out to the ocean, where both weyrs are suffocated in salt,” said Haikor. “I have always thought that watching its course was a reminder of the truth of life.”
“That it ends in death?” said Jaap, his voice hoarse and barely audible to his own ears.
“Indeed.” Haikor offered Jaap a hand, but the king of Weirland shook his head. He had learned his lesson. He did not need another one not to trust Haikor of Rurik.
“Jaap of Weirland, I will show you the mercy you say a king should show. This once, and do not expect it again. What works for you in Weirland will never work for us here. But you will promise to acknowledge me as the heir to my father before you leave. I will be king. Do you hear me?”
Jaap hesitated a long moment and he could feel Haikor’s weyr begin to rise again.
Then he nodded, and he told himself afterward that it was not because he was afraid to die. It was because he thought that Haikor would indeed be a better king for Rurik, and that it would, in turn, be better for Weirland.
“Good. Then I will send a servant to make sure you are well . . . after I am finished with my brother.” Haikor walked away, and Jaap could see only the outline of his figure, the head held high despite his height.
What have I done, Jaap wondered. The next years of his life were spent in figuring out the full extent of the answer, and wondering if it might have been better to have given up his life then and there, for Weirland and for Rurik, both.


Richly-imagined fantasy romance from the author of Princess and the Hound, a tale of two princesses--one with magic, one with none--who dare seek love in a world where real choice can never be theirs. For fans of Megan Whalen Turner, Catherine Fisher, and Cassandra Clare.

Ailsbet loves nothing more than music; tall and red-haired, she's impatient with the artifice and ceremony of her father's court. Marissa adores the world of her island home and feels she has much to offer when she finally inherits the throne from her wise, good-tempered father. The trouble is that neither princess has the power--or the magic--to rule alone, and if the kingdoms can be united, which princess will end up ruling the joint land? For both, the only goal would seem to be a strategic marriage to a man who can bring his own brand of power to the throne. But will either girl be able to marry for love? And can either of these two princesses, rivals though they have never met, afford to let the other live?

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I am curious to see how The Rose Throne plays out and how these characters will affect the story.


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