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Trickster's Choice

Tamora Pierce


  Title Page



  Cast of Characters


  Excerpt from The Luarin Conquest

  1. Parents

  2. Trickster

  3. The Raka

  4. The Road

  5. Settling In

  6. Of Goats and Crows

  7. Conversations

  8. A Spy’s Work

  9. Learning the Ground

  10. Assassins

  11. Migrations

  12. The Mage of Pohon

  13. Ladies of the Raka

  14. Pivot

  15. Winged Messenger

  16. Betrayal


  About the Author

  Tortall Books By Tamora Pierce

  Copyright Page

  To Phyllis Westberg,

  for knowing the best time to fire me and

  for giving me the best rewrite advice

  I’ve ever gotten:

  read aloud

  In a time of fear, the One Who I Promised will come to the raka, bearing glory in her train and justice in her hand. She will restore the god to his proper temple and his children to her right hand. She will be twice royal, wise and beloved, a living emblem of truth to her people. She will be attended by a wise one, the cunning one, the strong one, the warrior, and the crows. She will give a home to all, and the kudarung will fly in her honor.

  —From the Kyprish Prophecy, written in the year 200 H.E.


  Alan of Pirate’s Swoop

  Alianne’s sixteen-year-old twin brother, a third-year page

  Alanna of Pirate’s Swoop and Olau

  the King’s Champion, lady knight

  Alianne of Pirate’s Swoop

  daughter of Alanna the Lioness and George, baron of Pirate’s Swoop


  herding dog

  Athan Fajering

  disgraced luarin nobleman


  living Archaeopteryx (dinosaur bird) skeleton

  Bronau Jimajen

  non-royal luarin prince of the Copper Isles

  Buri (Buriram)

  former commander of the Queen’s Riders


  free raka servant and head cook for the Balitangs


  Aly’s chestnut mare

  Coram Smythesson

  baron of Tortall

  Daine (Veralidaine)

  half-goddess, called the Wildmage for her skills with animals, Aly’s adoptive aunt


  Alanna’s horse

  Dilsubai Haiming

  last raka queen of the Copper Isles

  Dovasary (Dove)

  Mequen’s half-raka daughter from first marriage


  King Oron’s youngest child, son of third marriage, heir to Hazarin


  Visda’s brother, Tanair herdboy, raka

  Eleni of Olau

  Aly’s grandmother


  Mequen’s second full-luarin child with Winnamine


  part-raka bowyer at Tanair


  raka man-at-arms who protects Sarai and Dove

  Gary (Gareth the Younger)

  heir to fief Naxen, King Jonathan’s principal advisor

  George of Pirate’s Swoop

  Alanna’s husband and Aly’s father, baron and second-in-command of his realm’s spies


  herding dog

  Graveyard Hag

  trickster and primary goddess of Carthak, Kyprioth’s kinswoman


  part-raka merchant, caravan leader


  son of King Oron’s second marriage


  part-raka kitchen slave and royal spy


  King Oron’s half brother


  wealthy raka merchant family


  King Oron’s half sister

  Imiary VI

  second-to-last raka queen

  Imrah of Legann

  lord, knight-master to Prince Roald


  former luarin nursemaid to Petranne and Elsren

  Jonathan of Conté

  king of Tortall

  Junai Dodeka

  raka daughter of Ulasim, Aly’s guard

  Kaddar Iliniat

  emperor of Carthak

  Keladry of Mindelan

  called Kel, lady knight


  trickster god


  Tortallan spy in Scanra


  raka hostler for the Balitangs

  Ludas Jimajen

  second-in-command of the luarin invasion of the Copper Isles

  Maggur Rathhausak

  Scanran king and warlord

  Maude Tanner

  housekeeper and healer at Pirate’s Swoop


  exiled luarin duke, head of the Balitang family

  Musenda Ogunsanwo (Sarge)

  training master of the Queen’s Riders

  Myles of Olau, baron

  Aly’s grandfather, head of royal intelligence service (spies)

  Nawat Crow

  a crow who turned himself into a man

  Numair Salmalín

  powerful mage, Daine’s husband


  Duke Mequen’s luarin aunt

  Ochobu Dodeka

  raka mage and mother of Ulasim

  Onua Chamtong

  horsemistress to the Queen’s Riders

  Oron Rittevon

  mentally-ill king of the Copper Isles


  part-raka, slave of the Balitang family


  Mequen’s first child with Winnamine


  Pohon resident, watches Ochobu’s house

  Raoul of Goldenlake and Malorie’s Peak

  lord, Knight Commander of the King’s Own, Tortallan hero, known as the Giant Killer


  raka healer


  baroness of Trebond

  Rittevon of Lenman

  leader of luarin invasion

  Rubinyan Jimajen

  luarin husband of Princess Imajane, Bronau’s older brother

  Saraiyu (Sarai)

  Mequen’s oldest daughter, half-raka, from his first marriage


  Daine’s mother, now the minor goddess The Green Lady

  Sarugani of Temaida

  Mequen’s first wife, raka, mother of Dove and Sarai, died in a tragic riding accident

  Thayet of Conté

  Queen of Tortall, co-ruler with her husband, King Jonathan

  Thom of Pirate’s Swoop

  Aly’s eighteen-year-old brother, a student mage


  miller’s daughter at Tanair


  widowed luarin noblewoman


  free raka servant and head footman to the Balitangs


  luarin sergeant in command of the Balitang men-at-arms


  raka niece of Chenaol, goat herder


  exiled duchess, Mequen’s second wife

  Wyldon of Cavall

  lord, district commander of Tortall’s army in the north


  royal council member, enemy of Rubinyan

  from The Luarin Conquest:

  New Rulers in the Copper Isles

  by Michabur Durse of Queenscove,

published in 312 H.E.

  In the bloody decades before the year 174 of the Human Era, the Kyprish Isles were locked in strife. Rival branches of the royal house traded the throne on a number of occasions. In turn the crown had lost control over the warring houses of the raka, or native, nobility. Scholars said of those years that only the jungles prospered, for the trees and vines fed on the blood of the raka. During this time the Isles exported more slaves than imported them: victors sold their enemies into the Eastern and Southern Lands, only to enter slavery in their own turn when they lost the next battle.

  Queen Imiary VI of the house of Haiming made repeated attempts to negotiate peace among the raka. Her efforts failed. She was overthrown after twelve years of rule. Her successor and murderer, Queen Dilsubai, also a Haiming, favored those nobles who supported her shaky claim to the throne, and imprisoned their rivals. The glorious days of the copper-skinned warrior queens of the Isles were over.

  On the mainland, the pale-skinned easterners called luarin by the Kyprish people saw the disorder, and the wealth, of the Isles. Rittevon of Lenman, younger son of a lesser noble house in Maren, found opportunity in the Isles’ disorder. He raised funds and allies among the realms of Tusaine, Galla, Tortall, Maren, Sarain, and Tortall’s southern neighbor Barzun.*1 For an army he summoned younger sons, adventurers, and mercenaries, all bought by the promise of the Isles’ wealth. With them came battle mages trained in the arts of war at the university in Carthak. Rittevon and his chief ally, Ludas Jimajen, son of a Tyran merchant clan, placed their souls in pawn for the gold that bought the services of their battle mages. They bought all the raka nobles they could in advance, promising them status when Rittevon sat the throne.

  The first assault came in stealth on April 5, 174 H.E. The invaders struck not the capital at Rajmuat, where rival Haiming cousins fought over the crown, but the stronghold of the noble house Malubesai, on the southern island that bears their name. This most powerful clan was taken completely by surprise. Their homes were left in ruins, their warriors in mass graves, and their descendants in chains, all at the hands of the luarin mages.

  For the next seven years, luarin ships and armies ranged the islands from Malubesang to Lombyn, from Imahyn to Tongkang. Lesser raka nobles and various clans, seeing how the wind blew, offered their allegiance to the conquerors. These became the lesser nobility of the Isles, allowed to retain lands, freedom, and lives, but taxed into poverty after their strongholds were destroyed. For the greatest raka nobles and the royal house of Haiming, the luarin offered only slavery or death. On Midsummer’s Day 181 H.E., the first Rittevon king was crowned as ruler of the newly renamed Copper Isles.

  The domination of the raka people continued. The luarin nobles—once tailor’s sons and blacksmiths, landless younger sons and mercenaries—took for their new houses and fiefdoms the names of the land and the old noble houses. More luarin arrived to settle and do business. Marriage among the raka was encouraged for the luarin lower classes, producing a multitude of part-raka servants and slaves. The luarin were there to stay.

  Like most who lose such struggles, the raka declared that only war in the Divine Realms explained the failure of their patron god, Kyprioth, to defeat the luarin. The luarin priests taught, and the raka people believed, that Kyprioth’s divine brother and sister, the war god Mithros and the Great Mother Goddess, had overthrown him. It was these gods, the priests of both races said, who took the right to govern the islands, while they gave Kyprioth lordship only over the local seas, to keep him occupied under their eyes.

  Soon after the last battle of the luarin conquest, an ancient priestess gave voice not to her own prayers, but to the banished god Kyprioth. His promise was passed from raka slave to raka freeman, from raka mothers or fathers to their part-luarin children. Kyprioth told his people that the efforts of the luarin kings to erase the Haiming line had failed. One branch of the old royalty yet survived. The Queen’s prophecy is his promise that, from that surviving branch, the One Who Is Promised would come. She would be the Queen with two crowns, chosen by the god to lead the Isles and those who love them to freedom once more.



  March 27–April 21, 462 H.E.

  Pirate’s Swoop, Tortall, on the coast of the Emerald Ocean

  George Cooper, Baron of Pirate’s Swoop, second in command of his realm’s spies, put his documents aside and surveyed his only daughter as she paused by his study door. Alianne—known as Aly to her family and friends—posed there, arms raised in a Player’s dramatic flourish. It seemed that she had enjoyed her month’s stay with her Corus relatives.

  “Dear Father, I rejoice to return from a sojourn in our gracious capital,” she proclaimed in an overly elegant voice. “I yearn to be clasped to your bosom again.”

  For the most part she looked like his Aly. She wore a neat green wool gown, looser than fashion required because, like her da, she carried weapons on her person. A gold chain belt supported her knife and purse. Her hazel eyes contained more green than George’s own, and they were set wide under straight brown brows. Her nose was small and delicate, more like her mother’s than his. She’d put a touch of color on her mouth to accent its width and full lower lip. But her hair . . .

  George blinked. For some reason, his child wore an old-fashioned wimple and veil. The plain white linen covered her neck and hair completely.

  He raised an eyebrow. “Do you plan to join the Players, then?” he asked mildly. “Take up dancing, or some such thing?”

  Aly dropped her pretense and removed her veil, the embroidered cloth band that held it in place, and her wimple. Her hair, once revealed, was not its normal shade of reddish blond, but a deep, pure sapphire hue.

  George looked at her. His mouth twitched.

  “I know,” she said, shamefaced. “Forest green and blue go ill together.” She smoothed her gown.

  George couldn’t help it. He roared with laughter. Aly struggled with herself, and lost, to grin in reply.

  “What, Da?” she asked. “Apart from the colors, aren’t I in the very latest fashion?”

  George wiped his eyes on his sleeve. After a few gasps he managed to say, “What have you done to yourself, girl?”

  Aly touched the gleaming falls of her hair. “But Da,” she said, voice and lower lip quivering in mock hurt, “it’s all the style at the university!” She resumed her lofty manner. “I proclaim the shallowness of the world and of fashion. I scorn those who sway before each breeze of taste that dictates what is stylish in one’s dress, or face, or hair. I scoff at the hollowness of life.”

  George still chuckled, shaking his head.

  “Well, Da, that’s what the students say.” She plopped herself into a chair and stretched her legs out to show off her shoes, brown leather stamped with gold vines. “These look nice.”

  “They’re lovely,” he told her with a smile. “Which ‘they’ is it that proclaim the hollowness of the world?”

  Aly flapped a hand in dismissal. “University students. Da, it’s the silliest thing. One of the student mages brewed up a hair treatment. It’s supposed to make your hair shiny and easy to comb, except it has a wee side effect. And of course the students all decided that blue hair makes a grand statement.” She lifted up a sapphire lock and admired it.

  “So I see.” George thought of his oldest son, one of those very university students. “Don’t tell me our Thom’s gone blue.”

  Now it was Aly’s turn to raise a mocking eyebrow at her father. “Do you think he even notices blue-haired people are about? Since they started bringing in the magical devices from Scanra, he’s done nothing but take notes for the mages who study how they’re made. The only reaction I got from him was ‘Ma better not see you like that.’ I had to remind him Mother’s safely in the north, waiting for the snows to melt so she can chop up more Scanrans.” Aly had left a pair of saddlebags by the door. Now she fetched them and put them on a long table beside George’s desk. “The latest documents from Grandda.
He says to tell you no, you can’t go north, you’re still needed to watch the coast. Raiding season will begin soon.”

  “He read my mind,” George said crossly. “That cursed war’s going into its second year, your mother’s in the middle of it, or will be once the fighting warms up, and I stay here, buried under paper.” He indicated his heaped desktop with a wave of a big hand and glared at the saddlebags. “I’ve not seen her in a year, for pity’s sake.”

  “Grandda says he’s got an assistant trained for you,” Aly replied. “She’ll be here in a month or so. He is right. It’s no good holding Scanra off in the north if Carthak or Tusaine or the Copper Isles try nipping up bits of the south.”

  “Don’t teach your gran to make butter,” George advised her drily. “I learned that lesson before you were born.” He knew Aly was right; he even knew that what he did was necessary. He just missed his wife. They hadn’t been separated for such a long stretch in their twenty-three years of marriage. “And an assistant in a month does me no good now.”

  Aly gave him her most charming smile. “Oh, but Da, now you’ve got me,” she said as she gathered a wad of documents. “Grandda wanted me to take the job as it was.”

  “I thought he might,” George murmured, watching as she leafed through the papers she held.

  “I told him the same thing I did you,” replied Aly, setting documents in stacks on the long table. “I love code breaking and knowing all the tittle-tattle, but I’d go half mad having to do it all the time. I asked him if I could spy instead. . . .”