From my ley line studies, I knew that Kan Po was on the coast. It had one of the most fortunate harbors in the realm, shaped like a money pouch and ringed by seven hills that trapped good luck. It was also the port access to the islands and beyond.
I am Eon, Dragoneye candidate. I bowed again.
He stared down at me. Eon? The lame candidate?
Yes, I said, keeping my face impassive.
Well now, isnt that something. He dipped into an honored acquaintance bow.
I nodded awkwardly, unprepared for the sudden change in status.
Weve heard all about you from the news-walker, Master Tozay said. He came through our town a few months back. Told us the council had decided to let you approach the mirrors. Did my son a lot of good to hear that. Hes a year younger than you, just turned eleven. By rights, he should be fishing with me, learning his craft, but he lost an arm in a net accident last winter. Master Tozays broad face tightened with grief.
That must be hard for him, I said.
I looked down at my twisted leg - at least it was still intact. I didnt remember much about the accident that had crushed my left hip, but I did remember the physician holding a rusted saw over me, deciding where to cut. He was going to take my whole leg off, but my master stopped him and called for the bonesetter. Sometimes I could still smell the old blood and decaying flesh on the jagged teeth of the saw blade.
We started walking again. I sneaked another look at the end of the alley - the dock boys had already shifted into a watchful line. Beside me, Master Tozay stiffened as he noted the lounging gang.
It is hard on him. On the family, too, he said, brushing his fingers across the hilt of his knife. Wait, I have a stone in my shoe, he said loudly and stopped.
I turned and watched as he bent and dug a finger down the side of his worn boot.
Youre a shrewd one, arent you, he said, his voice low. Well, then, if you want a bodyguard, youd better move to my other side. The look in his eyes made the soft words a command, but he didnt seem angry. I nodded and shifted to his left.
I just hope youre not taking me too far out of my way, he said as he straightened, keeping his eyes on the boys.
It is a shortcut, I said.
He glanced across at me. More for you than for me, hey?
For both of us. But perhaps a little bit more for me.
He grunted in amusement and placed his hand on my shoulder. Keep close.
We walked toward the group, Master Tozay shortening his stride to match my slower pace. The largest boy, thickset, with the darker skin and bull-necked strength of the island people, casually kicked a cobblestone into our path. It skipped and bounced, narrowly missing my foot. His three friends laughed. They were city boys, thin and sharp, with the aimless bravado that was always in need of a leader. The island boy picked up a large stone, rubbing his thumb across its surface.
Afternoon, boys, Master Tozay said.
The islander spat out a wad of tannin leaf, the fibrous mess landing in front of us. His movement made a pendant swing out on a thin leather cord from his clothing; a pale shell carving in the shape of bamboo branches enclosed in a circle. Master Tozay saw it too and stopped, checking me with a hand on my arm. He pushed me behind him, then turned and faced the islander. The other boys nudged each other closer, keen for a show.
Youre from the south, arent you? Master Tozay said. From the far islands?
The boys shoulders stiffened. Im from Trang Dein, he said, lifting his chin.
Excerpted from Eon by Alison Goodman. Copyright © 2008 by Alison Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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