Today on TheTattooedBookGeek I am proud to be showcasing to you A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake with a preview of the book courtesy of the first chapter!
A Star-Reckoner’s Lot Book Blurb:
For some, loss merely deprives. For others, it consumes.
Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been. Witness her treacherous journey through Iranian legends and ancient history.
Only a brave few storytellers still relate cautionary glimpses into the life of Ashtadukht, a woman who commanded the might of the constellations—if only just, and often unpredictably. They’ll stir the imagination with tales of her path to retribution. How, fraught with bereavement and a dogged illness, she criss-crossed Sassanian Iran in pursuit of creatures now believed mythical. Then, in hushed tones, what she wrought on that path.
A Star-Reckoner’s Lot Chapter One:
There comes a time in every child’s life when even the disappointed stare of a much-loved, much-respected father is not enough to smother the stupidity of youth. This was Ashtadukht’s time.
She had wandered off some time prior, her brother reluctantly in tow, as she was wont to do. It had occurred to her that doing so during a royal hunt would be dangerous; it had also occurred to her that it’d be thrilling. Caution had lost that battle, squashed beneath the tenacious curiosity of childhood.
So it was that this day found the siblings mired in an especially precarious situation, one of the sort that threatened the course of history.
“I think we’re lost,” said Ashtadukht. She gripped her brother’s arm and leaned into him. Having an illness that made physical exertion bothersome on the best of days never really stopped her. If anything, it only made her more intent on finding trouble—to challenge her handicap and overcome it. And the presence of her brother meant she benefitted from the reassurance of his carrying her back if she overexerted herself, as he’d done many times in the past.
“We are not lost,” contested Gushnasp. He accepted her weight without realizing it; it’d become second nature for the boy. “We are right where you want us to be. You are not fooling anyone.” He’d been dragged on these adventures often enough to know her aim, and more than anything it irritated him that she persisted in her lie. It was insulting. He wasn’t dull, and he didn’t need convincing to take care of his little sister. “You are—”
“Shh! There’s something up ahead.” Ashtadukht hunkered down behind an old yew and peered around, eyes gleaming with excitement. A feeling had led her to this spot, had expressed in what were unspoken but very clear words that she wanted to be here. The why never mattered; she never even bothered asking herself why.
Because he wanted to indulge her, and because he was the more circumspect of the pair, Gushnasp followed suit and squatted behind the trunk.
The thicket they’d been exploring gave way to a small clearing just ahead. The far edge was lined with low-hanging branches and dense shrubbery that stirred in the wake of some hoarsely grunting creature. Ashtadukht leaned forward. Her brother’s hand came to rest gently but firmly on her shoulder, a preemptory tether.
Out charged what Ashtadukht believed to be the largest boar anyone had ever seen, raking at the earth and shaking its head. The beast had shoulders higher than Gushnasp, with a fine sheen to its coat that had a peculiar white pattern like it’d trampled its rump—the pattern! Ashtadukht shot up straight.
At that same moment a man stepped into the clearing opposite the boar. There are men, then there are men who will invariably become more than men: legends in the making. And this man was clearly forging his own legend. Broad-chested, tall and steady as a cypress, with wise eyes and divine glory emanating from his features: this was the King of Kings. He hefted a spear in one hand and readied a throw at the boar.
Ashtadukht would have stood there marveling at the splendor of her king—the most just king her glorious nation would ever know—if she knew what was good for her. Instead, she rushed out between him and his prey, hands waving. “Stop! Stop!” she yelled. “Don’t kill it!”
Half remembering herself, she had the presence of mind to swiftly hide her hands in her sleeves and cover her mouth. Still, she had gone as far as inserting herself between the King of Kings and the boar. Against his better judgment, Gushnasp followed her into the clearing to keep watch over the boar, which seemed to realize what was going on and made no move to intervene.
The King of Kings commanded the silence that followed, and used it to take stock of the situation. With a nod, he lowered his spear. “Move away from the boar, child. It is a dangerous animal. We can discuss this matter once you are safe.”
Ashtadukht pulled herself behind her brother and talked through his back. “M-may you live forever, but I can’t let this animal die. I made a promise. Promises are important.”
“That they are,” replied the King of Kings. “But what a wicked promise it must be to place you between your king and his quarry.” Even as he parlayed, he was focused on the boar, ready to skewer it if it started on the girl.
His entourage emerged from the forest behind him. To Ashtadukht’s dismay, her father was among them. She had seen him angry thanks in no small part to her wanderlust. She would have preferred that anger to the look he now leveled on her. Ashtadukht shivered, but she did not back down.
“Ashta,” called her father. His voice was thick with admonition. “Gushnasp, take your sister back to the others.”
“No, let her speak,” instructed the King of Kings. “If you have raised her well, she will have good reason for this.” Her father acquiesced by taking a step back, though begrudgingly. “So,” continued the King of Kings, “go on, little one.”
Ashtadukht lowered her gaze. Much as she tried, the lump in her throat would not relent. “I made a promise.”
“Yes, of course. We have been over that.”
“To, to a div.”
“A wicked promise indeed to belong to a creature of the Lie. But go on.”
Ashtadukht nodded inwardly. The stories all painted divs as fey, fiendish beasts that conspired to bring Ahriman’s chaotic influence to the orderly domain of Ohrmazd—that of Man. That the depravity of divs was only surpassed by their many manifestations. But she was beholden to her promise.
“I was out exploring and it was foggy and I couldn’t see and—” Ashtadukht caught herself rambling. Abashedly, she peeked around her brother. The King of Kings wore the faintest of smiles, but even that was enough to inspire courage in the girl. “I fell. I was just hanging there by a cliff calling out for help when he appeared. He pulled me up and saved my life. All he wanted in return was for me to come back to that place if I found a boar with a pattern like it’d trampled its rump. He said he’d stored his phylactery in it and lost track of it.”
The King of Kings nodded. “And you think this is your boar. It is noble of you to hold so resolutely to your promise. But would it not better serve Truth to kill this boar and in doing so rid the seven kingdoms of a div?”
“I made a promise. Father says it is just and right to keep one’s promises.”
“Your father is a good man. One of my best generals. You are right in putting so much stock in his lessons, and a better daughter for it. But what would you have me do? Let the royal quarry, a div’s phylactery no less, run free?”
Ashtadukht canted her head in acknowledgement of his point. Asking him to turn a blind eye to the whole affair would be tantamount to asking him to do a div a favor. Then she recalled a story her father had told her. “What of the great Jam, who ruled divs, yazatas, and men alike? If the boar were captured instead of killed, I could show you where this div dwells and he would be forever your slave. If he disobeys, then . . .”
“You will have kept your promise,” said the King of Kings. He considered the idea, gave his marvelous, pearl-studded tunic a pat, and tightened his lips. Ashtadukht braced herself by leaning into her brother. The stress was beginning to get to her.
“Very well,” the King of Kings eventually decided. “You are a clever, honest girl—respectable qualities. I would offer you the hand of my son, but it seems you are already enamored of someone closer to home.”
Ruddiness burned in Ashtadukht’s cheeks. A part of her knew he had said what he did because of more than his all too accurate appraisal of her feelings for her brother: her illness made her undesirable for most any man, especially a prince. But the embarrassment that overcame the girl generously drowned the truth of things. Even with her mouth covered as it was by her sleeves, her wide grin was unmistakable. If an affected smile did not reach a person’s eyes, this one was so sincere that it conquered hers. “Y-yes,” she finally managed.
Gushnasp straightened his back, but made no other indication of a response. Unlike his sister, he respected proper etiquette. All but the boon companions did not speak in the presence of the King of Kings unless spoken to.
“In that case,” replied the King of Kings, “I will have you sent to the academy at Weh-Andiok-Shabuhr—not as punishment, dear girl, but because I salute your integrity and intelligence. It would be a folly to waste. Your brother has a promising future following in your father’s footsteps, so you should aspire to be more than a burden.”
“May you live forever,” said Ashtadukht. She wasn’t quite certain what all of this meant for her or how her father would take it, but the exchange had drained her too much for anxiety to take hold.
Praise for the Book:
“Their dialogue and actions and motivations feel natural and visceral and worthy of investment; I threw my arms up in triumph at their victories, of which there were a fair few; I mourned their mistakes, of which there were decidedly many.” — GOODREADS REVIEW
“Darrell Drake has gone to great lengths to keep the history and geography used within this adventure to be highly accurate. . . . This attention to detail is fantastic, and not overly used or abused: this spice is noticeable but not over powering.” — GOODREADS REVIEW
A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is released on October 2nd 2016.
About the Author:
Darrell Drake has published four books, with A Star-Reckoner’s Lot being the latest. He often finds himself inspired by his research to take on new hobbies. Birdwatching, archery, stargazing, and a heightened interest in history have all become a welcome part of his life thanks to this habit.
Darrell can be found on Social Media:
Please check back on Wednesday when I will be posting a guest post by Darrell as he was kind enough to agree to be a guest on my blog. It’s a post about history in fantasy and is a really interesting read.