Illusion's Child (The Mindbender's Rise Book 1), page 1
The Mindbender’s Rise: Book 1
D. J. Salisbury
Magic Seeker Books
Copyright © 2015 by D. J. Salisbury
All rights reserved.
Published by Magic Seeker Books
100 PR 232
Abbott, TX 76621
Cover art and design by Deb Salisbury.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, events, or locations is entirely coincidental.
Fantasy Novels by D. J. Salisbury
I dedicate this novel to my mom, Dona Salisbury,
who has always believed in it,
to Michael Pennington,
to Amy Keeley,
and to the Novel Club at Forward Motion,
a forum for writers.
Thanks to all of you for your help.
Table of Contents
About the Author
Until the first drumbeat, he was nameless, nothing, unTribe.
At sunset he’d be a warrior. The shortest warrior in Setoyan history, but that didn’t matter. Even if he did get lost yesterday in summer’s tall grass.
He squinted against the dust to watch the Thunderer’s sacred lightning flash above the plains. Sweat trickled down his back. Dust and grass seed clung to his skin and prickled like gadfly feet. The motionless hours of vigil couldn’t end soon enough.
Naked as a half-carved blade, he stood frozen in warrior discipline and waited on the drum. The ceremony would start any moment now. He could hold still that much longer.
Elation swirled through him, and he fought back the urge to dance. He’d survived twelve summers, still whole enough to accept the Knife. Nothing would stop him once the Dedication ceremony was finished.
Before sunrise he’d been called Adoriel. What would they name him at sunset? Something silly, he feared. Denkeriz, ‘Button Carver,’ if his brothers told the truth. But anything would be better than ‘Littlest.’
After the Knife Ceremony, it wouldn’t matter he was shorter than babies half his age.
Careful to move only his eyes, he glanced at the Cantor seated at the center of the circle of seven nameless boys. His gaze flicked to the wrinkled hands on the drum. Until the first beat, he must remain as motionless as the cliffs in the canyon.
He itched to wipe off the creeping sweat.
A dust devil spun off the plains, tangy with the scent of ripe grain. It whirled across his bare body and teased his hair out of its braid. Amber strands tickled his nose, brushed across his bare shoulders.
He snuck a glance at his mother in the front row of spectators. The pride on her face made him want to squirm. This morning he had left her tent for the last time. Tonight he would enter the bachelor tent as the blade carver’s assistant, and as a warrior in his own right.
Tonight, after the Ceremony of the Knife, his dedication to the Thunderer.
As always, the other boys ignored him the way they ignored the sweat, but today he didn’t care. He’d earned the right to stand in the circle.
He was not too small.
Nameless for this single day of ceremony, he stared into the thunderclouds and shivered with joy.
Whispers rumbled through the crowd when one tall warrior joined the spectators. Why was his father here? Warriors weren’t supposed to watch the Knife Ceremony.
Papa glared straight at him, looking as disgusted as he had the day his brother died exploring an abuelo snake pit, and twice as angry.
He hunched forward, but immediately forced his back to straighten. Maybe it was only a threat, an attempt to make him break warrior discipline. Please, Wind Dancer, let it be so. No boy had been pulled from the Circle in all his lifetime.
His father forced a path through the crowd, knocking down anyone who didn’t move aside fast enough. Children scrambled away, mothers scooped up their toddlers. One clenched fist sent the tanner’s gray-haired father sprawling into the dirt. The old man muttered curses while the other old men dragged him upright.
He watched, dry mouthed, unable to move. Not allowed to move.
The air around him dimmed.
His own father. Would the man really disown him? He hadn’t believed Papa’s threats. Didn’t want to believe them now.
Now, while he was nameless, was the only moment he could be cast out of the Tribe. Left nameless forever.
Cold sweat dripped down his face and splashed on his chest. Vultures warred in his gut, slashing, clawing. He glanced at the Cantor and begged, Beat the drum!
The Cantor sat motionless.
He had every right to be here. Papa had no reason to touch him. He set his feet, trying to root them in the sand.
His father loomed over him, grabbed his arm, and yanked him out of the Circle.
Pain screamed through his shoulder. Shame screeched through his heart.
His feet dragged through the sand. This must be a vulture dream. What could he do? He had to wake up!
Women herded sobbing children out of their path. Old men at the back of the crowd watched, stone faced and silent. He caught a glimpse of his mother’s anguish before he was hauled past the first tents, out of sight of the crowd.
A warrior shouldn’t tolerate such an outrage, vulture dream or not. He twisted forward and scrambled to his feet. Too late to hold to warrior silence now. Maybe if he stood up for himself?
“Let me go. I’ll miss the Ceremony!” He pounded his fist against his father’s hand. His whole fist was smaller than his father’s shortest finger, the one the crazy outlander slave cut in half, years before Adoriel – no, the nameless boy – was born.
His father’s growl sliced through his thoughts. “We don’t waste a Knife Ceremony on runts.”
When had he become a waste of anything? Hadn’t he always worked harder than the other boys?
Drumbeats throbbed behind him, moaning defeat, defeated. Defeat, defeated.
“You’re too little for even the first circle.” His father jerked him off the ground. “You’re too puny to hold the Knife.”
He struggled to stay on his feet. Gravel dug into his bare soles. His heart hammered against his ribs, thudding louder than the drum that murdered his future. Defeat, defeated.
“To think any get of mine could shame me this way.” Bloodshot eyes glared down at him. “You’re as worthless as an outlander’s brat.”
He stumbled over a pile of stones and crashed to his knees.
The warrior yanked him to his feet without looking back. “Your mother can’t save you. Not today.”
Hot blood trickled down his shins. No one could save him, not now.
“Lightning strike you. You’re too small to throw a spear far enough to hit anything.” The warrior sidestepped to evade the snarling bahtdor in their path. Fangs snapped above his father’s head. Sour spit showered them both.
He wished the stinking bahtdor cow would eat the traitor.
“Herder,” the warrior bellowed. “Get this cow back in the canyon where it belongs. Wind blast you, look at this. The sandblasted cow’s knee is taller than this toad’s spawn. I should feed you to it now.”
He suspected only the chieftain’s wrath saved him from being bahtdor bait at that instant. But he wasn’t sure the shame of being fed to a bahtdor like an outlander slave was worse than being yanked out of the Circle. Without a Dedication ceremony, what place did he have in the tribe? He’d never met an adult who hadn’t attained the Knife Circle.
He was dragged around a sheaf of spears, past the blade carver’s tent. His teacher looked up, half stood before collapsing back onto his stool. The old man’s mouth jerked open, closed silently. The blade carver dropped his carving knife into the dirt and hid his face in his hands.
His father yanked on his arm, jerking his feet off the ground. “Our laws should drown a pup this small.”
Bile stung his throat. He wasn’t a pup, and he wasn’t that small. Not that it mattered now. He clenched his teeth and forced the acid down.
Past the last tent, they headed toward the open plains. His father hesitated near a cluster of warriors. Would he change his mind?
Papa flung him at their feet like a scrawny coney carcass.
Gravel dug into his back, into his hips. Icy sweat trickled down his chest. He stared up at the men. His uncles, his cousins, his older brothers. Could they stand against his father? Would they speak for him?
“This sand lizard is said to be my son.” The warrior kicked him in the ribs and knocked him backward a full pace.
He curled up around the pain and fought back the tears that would get him fed to the bahtdor.
“He’s seen twelve summers and thinks that gives him the right to stand in the Knife Circle. I say we show him what the Tribe does with stunted whelps.”
Maybe he was stunted, but he wasn’t some outlander’s hyena pup. He fought to hide his trembling hands by pushing them against the dirt as he sat up, and tried to glare at the crowd like an angry nercat.
Younger warriors eyed him and glanced at each other.
“I accept your charge, Agrevod.” The youngest knelt, chose several pebbles and tossed one. “I deem you Outcast.”
He flinched from the sting of gravel on his chest. He gaped at Kirrkerin, his father’s youngest brother. Would even his favorite uncle would disown him?
Lightning-streaked skies dimmed into charcoal fog. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t be Outcast. Left nameless. Forever.
The other tribesmen watched until the young warrior’s hands were empty. They each gathered a few pebbles and tossed them at his bloody shins.
“You have no name within the Tribe!” The warrior who had been his father bent and grabbed two fist sized rocks. “I declare you forever nameless! Outcast!”
“Run, Littlest,” whispered Kirrkerin, no longer his uncle.
He lurched upright and fled. A rock hit him between the shoulders and knocked him into the grass.
A barrage of rocks pelted his back, his thighs, his head. Hot blood slithered across his back, down his ribs. He scrambled to his feet and sprinted away.
“Outcast!” A dozen voices chased him, shouting a word crueler than stones. “Outcast!”
She couldn’t believe it. Her father wanted to name her as his apprentice? Today? After she’d worked in his shop for five years? That would set her back to sweeping floors and running errands for her brothers!
Some fraying thirteenth-birthday present.
“Get back to work, Lorel.” Dad turned away, looking like she’d snipped his thread. What did he expect? That she’d squeal and throw her arms around him? What a limp thread. He didn’t know nothing about her.
Lorel glared around her parent’s workshop. What was here to like? Half-finished musical instruments covered the tables, the walls, the shelves. Wood shavings littered the floor, the air reeked of varnish and turpentine. The oily cloth in her hand oozed slime on the over-decorated violoncello she was supposed to be polishing. Chalmer had carved way too many roses on the Loom-tangling thing. She hadn’t caught him at it, but she was certain Baxter egged him on just to fray her thread.
Her brothers sat at their benches, carving flutes and humming a sappy tune at each other, smug as Mom’s cats eating leftovers.
She didn’t want nobody’s leftovers. She didn’t want to make instruments. She certainly didn’t want to be stuck making the boring things for the rest of her life.
When would they listen to her?
Today was her thirteenth birthday. Thirteenth. That meant she was practically grown up. It was time she made her own decisions.
It was time somebody listened to her.
Except nobody ever did. They all acted like she never said a word. Especially when she cussed. But they made her so mad she couldn’t think straight.
Nobody cared about what she wanted to do with her life. Nobody cared that she wanted to help people, to protect them from bad guys.
Instrument makers couldn’t even protect themselves. They called themselves craftsmen, but they were just rich folks’ servants. They just made rich people’s toys.
She wanted to be a fighter, a protector, a guardian. She hated making toys. She wanted to make a difference.
They’d have a Loom-tangling fight when she refused to become her father’s apprentice. Fine. Weaver knew she was ready for a fight.
But not today. Not on her birthday. Her mother would cry. She hated that. Weaver’s chamberpot, crying was cheating!
Bright bells tinkled in the public part of the shop. Her father glanced at her.
She glared back.
Dad shrugged and stood. He ducked through the curtained door and strolled into the shop.
Lorel sighed. She hoped she grew that tall. Or even taller. She had a good chance of it. All her kin were tall and dark as prime mahogany. She was already taller than the olive-skinned native Zedisti.
All the best warriors were tall. Really tall. As tall as she wanted to be.
Hidden by the curtain, her father played a tune on a mandolin for his customer. Her sappy brothers hummed along.
Bright autumn sunshine glimmered through the open backdoor.
She glanced at the curtain, then at her brothers’ backs. She laid the polishing cloth next to the ugly violoncello.
Who wanted to sit around messing with musical instruments? Much less polishing the miswoven things. How boring. She wanted to travel, to see the world. To find someone who needed her help.
She eased out of her chair.
Her brothers continued to hum in time with the mandolin. Neither looked up from his carving.
Who wanted to sit in the gloom of a workshop when all the city was open to her?
For the first time in her life, Lorel snuck out the backdoor of her parent’s shop.
He crouched at the canyon’s rim and watched both the river below and the tents out on the plain. He didn’t dare go near the river and the bahtdor smelling of fresh blood. They’d eat him. Even the dried blood on his skin would tempt them.
Cuts all over his body itched as if carrion flies nibbled on them, but they’d finally scabbed over. He needed to climb down to the rive
Could he wash away the knowledge that he was both nameless and naked?
The Outcast pushed snarled hair out of his eyes. He absently plucked a spike of wheat from his tawny tangles, shoved it into his mouth, and chewed on the tough grain. His belly rumbled. His mother said unhulled wheat would make him sick, but he was hungry enough to risk it. Last night he’d found a few blackberries, but the Tribe had been harvesting the area for a lunar, and they’d missed little that was edible. It was too late in the year for grubs, and besides, he didn’t have a way to fry them. He was almost hungry enough to eat them raw.
How long would he survive, naked and alone?
He couldn’t think about that. He’d rather pray to the Wind Dancer that not everyone had rejected him. Though they’d better not get caught helping an Outcast, or the Tribe would banish them, too. His mother wouldn’t abandon him, but she certainly couldn’t come; they’d be watching her like a bahtdor cow laying its first egg.
Something moved near Mama’s tent. A yellow skirt, a pale blue hat. That must be his sister Quintazora. She was gutsy enough to risk contamination. But who was with her? Somebody a lot shorter than she was. That couldn’t be little Darienel – the boy’s only nine!
The Outcast snorted at himself. Nine to his twelve, but his head barely reached the child’s chest when he stood on his toes. He had to stop thinking of his brother as little.
The pair strolled away from the tents, heading in his direction. The sack couldn’t be for him. Quintazora would never risk Darienel. Mama would kill her if anything happened to her youngest.
A warrior strode out from between the bachelor’s tent and the tanner’s wagon. The Outcast dropped flat to the ground.
Quintazora and Darienel must have seen the guard. They turned west, moving around the tent city instead of walking directly toward the canyon. Quintazora dropped the lumpy canvas sack on the canyon side of a low bush.
The warrior paused, looked back toward the tanner’s wagon. Who was that, anyway? Blast, it was Kirrkerin, who had been his uncle. The traitor. No, that wasn’t fair. Kirrkerin was youngest, he didn’t have the right to stand up to his older brother Agrevod. Who had once been the Outcast’s father. It was hard to remember that his not-father had a personal name. He’d always been Papa.
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