Home > Crown of Bones (Crown of Bones #1)

Crown of Bones (Crown of Bones #1)
Author: A.K. Wilder

 

      Prologue

   Master Brogal

   The Sanctuary bursts with children this time of year, untrained pups bounding through the halls, chasing their tails. They arrive full of hope, and why wouldn’t they? ’Tis no small feat to be marked by the Bone Throwers as having potential. The question is, how many among them will actually succeed?

   I look over the training ground and sigh, knowing it will be far too few.

   My group, for example, not a savant among them. “Enough!” I clap. “Break for lunch.”

   They jump and cheer like a festival riot, and all I can do to remain calm is pinch the bridge of my nose. “Quiet. Midday silence will be observed.”

   I’m about to wave them to the dining hall when shouting rings out from the other end of the field. A flash of light shoots as high as the watchtower. Dirt pummels down like rain. The ground cleaves apart, fracturing in tremors that echo up through my feet. A brilliant, cresting form, ever shifting, pushes free, its mouth open in an earsplitting screech. I stumble and cover my ears as the sheer power of it hits me.

   “Stay here!”

   I drop one knee to the ground and raise my phantom before taking off toward the chaos. From the earth bursts my phantom, C’sen, red sparks trailing from blue wings as it soars overhead. “Go!”

   From phantom’s-eye view, I don’t believe what I see. Huge. Writhing. A swarm of tendrils, claws, and limbs. But the mountainous phantom melts back into the ground before I can identify more, returning to its savant as quickly as it rose.

   Left behind is a crater, deep as a man is tall and twice as wide. Around it, tiny red flowers bloom, spreading like spilled blood.

   “Rune bands!” I call out to the black-robe Bone Thrower racing to meet me.

   The hairs on the back of my neck rise. Never in all my years have I had to ask for them, but whatever has risen, it must be contained.

   The child responsible sits at the far side of the crater, hunched. Cowl up. Unidentifiable. “Is it the Heir?” I whisper to the Bone Thrower. Please, don’t let it be the Heir.

   The black-robe shakes her head and hands me bone bracelets from her bag. “A girl from the harbor district. Raised it on the first try.”

   I trod over the fresh flowers to reach her, the scent of sweet lilac filling the air. “Show me your arms.” She does and I cuff her thin wrists, my own hands trembling. “Where’s her instructor?”

   The Bone Thrower points at the crater, and I peer over the edge. There’s a scrap of orange cloth at the bottom, all that’s left of their savant robes.

   “What is your name?” I ask the girl.

   She doesn’t answer. Just lifts tearstained eyes to mine. “Did I do it, Master? Did I raise my phantom?”

   She’s not even sure? “Stand up, child. Don’t move.” I wave to the savants converging on us. “Begin the guardian’s chant.” They form a semicircle behind her, robes swaying over the ground, voices rising in harmony.

   I know what must be done, but still, I hesitate. The thought of what this might do to the girl—to all those around her—and by my own hand, no less…

   “There’s no alternative,” the Bone Thrower says. “Bind it and call their memories. It must happen now.”

   My chest constricts. “What if the binding fails?”

   The Bone Thrower wavers. “Then may the old gods have mercy on us all.”

 

 

      1

   Marcus

   Nine years later…

   Morning light blasts through the woods and I squint. “There! To the south.”

   I urge Echo, my black palfrey, on to greater speed, and the hunting dogs falling behind. We gallop hard, neck and neck with True, my brother’s mount, careening around giant oaks and jumping over fallen logs. Autumn leaves scatter in our wake.

   “They’re headed for the meadow,” Petén calls over the pounding hooves. His dark hair streams behind him, revealing his high forehead, an Adicio family trait. I’ve got it, too, but not quite as pronounced as his.

   We’re alike in other ways—same tall, broad build, brown eyes, and olive skin, though my hair is the color of brass, not black. Also, Petén’s nineteen, two years older than me, and non-savant—he can’t raise a phantom. It’s a blow to him, for sure, because I am savant and therefore Heir to the Throne of Baiseen, a fact that turns everything between us sour.

   “Head them off.” I signal toward the upcoming sidetrack.

   “So you can beat me there and win all the praise?”

   I laugh at that. Father’s not going to hand out praise for anything I do, even catching Aturnian spies, if that’s what the trespassers really are. Besides, palace guards are coming from the south and will likely reach them first, so I don’t know what Petén’s talking about. He’s right, though—I wouldn’t mind being the one to stop them, just in case Father is watching. “Race you. Loser takes the sidetrack!”

   He nods, and our mounts tear up the path for a short, breakneck sprint. Echo wins by half a length, and I stand up in my stirrups, victorious, waving Petén off to the right. On I gallop. It’s a straight, downhill run toward the meadow. When I reach the open grass, there’s a clear shot at the three men who race on foot.

   “Halt in the name of the Magistrate!” I fit an arrow to my bow and fire it over their heads, a warning shot. I wouldn’t actually shoot anyone in the back, but they don’t know that.

   “Halt in the name of Baiseen!” Petén yells, bursting into the meadow from the north.

   The hunted men veer to the left and keep running. Petén lets loose his arrow, and it lands just short of them, another warning.

   I’m close enough to pick off all three. “Halt!” I shout, hoping they do this time.

   They don’t.

   My brother and I barrel down on them, and in moments, we’ve corralled the men, trotting our horses in a tight circle, arrows aimed at the captives in the center. The dogs catch up and bark savagely, ready to attack.

   “Stay,” I command the two wolfhounds, and they obey, crouching in the grass, their tongues hanging out to the side as they lick their chops and growl.

   “Drop your weapons,” Petén says just as Rowten and his contingent of palace guards, three men and two women, gallop into the field from the other end. Chills rush through me as Father appears behind them, riding his dark-red hunter. The captives unbuckle their sword belts and raise their hands as the guards join us, further hemming them in.

   “Why are you here?” Father asks as he rocks back in the saddle. He turns to Petén. “Search their gear, if you are sober enough for the job.” To me, he says, “If any move, kill them.”

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