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Authors: Michelle Barker

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The Beggar King

BOOK: The Beggar King
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©Michelle Barker, 2013
All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright). For an Access Copyright licence, visit
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Thistledown Press Ltd.
118 - 20th Street West
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7M 0W6

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Barker, Michelle, 1964-
The beggar king [electronic resource] / Michelle Barker.

Electronic monograph in HTML format.
Issued also in print format.

ISBN 978-1-927068-50-2 I.
PS8603.A73567B43 2013           jC813'.6           C2013-900958-2

Cover and book design by Jackie Forrie
Printed and bound in Canada

Thistledown Press gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for its publishing program.


from first draft to publication. A journey that long can only be realized with a lot of help and encouragement.

I am enormously grateful to the Canada Council for the Arts for the grant they provided. Thanks go to Sherrill MacLaren who showed me what it means to be a writer, and to Loranne Brown who set me on my way; to Ed Griffin, for his constant enthusiasm; to Dave Margoshes, for asking all the right questions; to Lynn Bennett, for her support in the early days; to Brenda Carre, who read my queries and synopses; and to Al Forrie, for saying yes. Liz Philips, editor and diviner — I am immensely grateful for her keen eye, patience, and wonderful sense of humour.

For several years Carolyn Rowell and I ran a writing workshop in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Many of the scenes in the novel arose from the writing I did there. Carolyn read this manuscript more often than I can count. Without her advice and generosity it wouldn't exist. Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt was a huge source of inspiration and, above all, of hope. To Brenda Hartwell, Marjorie Bruhmuller, Trisha Pope, Jerome Krause, and Marguerite Dunlop: truly, truly I have been blessed.

Above all, my gratitude lies with my husband and family. To Maddy, who read the manuscript in a breathless two days and asked for more; to Dallas, Sam and Harry for endless inspiration and comic relief; to my mother who would have loved it no matter what – and to Dan, for his steadfast love and tireless support. Anyone else would have given up on me years ago and told me to get a real job.

For Dan

“To light a candle is to cast a shadow . . . ”
— Ursula K. Le Guin


One: The Feast of the Great Light

Two: The Morning After Mug-Wine

Three: A Murder of Crows

Four: Smoke and Ceremony

Five: Lady Destiny

Six: Spells for Boys

Seven: Dark Moon Rising

Eight: The Cobra and the Mongoose

Nine: Private Rebellions

Ten: Wallpaper Universe

Eleven: The Life of a Thief

Twelve: A Trickster Called Glory

Thirteen: The Brassed Door

Fourteen: Crossing the Balakan

Fifteen: The Right Thing

Sixteen: Give and Take

Seventeen: Caramel

Eighteen: Pry and Pry Again

Nineteen: Foolishness and Jabber-Blabber

Twenty: Shadow Upon Darkness

Twenty-One: A Merrin Day in Winter

Twenty-Two: Just a Candle

Twenty-Three: A Yellow Square of Cake

Twenty-Four: The Full Price

Twenty-Five: The Seven Seers of Cir

Twenty-Six: The New Commander of the Brinnian Guard

Twenty-Seven: An Urgent Question

Twenty-Eight: Darkness and Light

Twenty-Nine: Goat Stew

Thirty: Robes


!” T
only belong to Mama Petsane. “Get down off that roof, or ye'll fall and break yer legs and then we'll have to wheel ye around in a donkey cart.”

Jordan laughed but did not come down. He shaded his eyes, looking for Ophira, but in the alley below he saw only the round old woman, an apron tied across her sky-blue feast robes. “Tell Ophira I'll see her at the palace grounds,” he called.

“If yer lucky,” cried Mama Petsane, waving her wooden stew spoon at him. “Don't be bringing any love potions, neither. Feed ‘em to the goats. Maybe they'll stop nipping at yer back side.”

Jordan's face coloured. It had been a few years since he'd concocted those potions, but he didn't realize anyone had known about them. Then again, Mama Petsane was one of the Seven Seers of Cir. The seers knew everything, and they were especially protective of their adopted daughter. The last thing Jordan wanted was for Ophira to hear about his childish experiments. He'd been hoping she might come outside to watch him jump the roofs, but now, with Mama Petsane here, he was rethinking that plan. Mama Petsane was bound to embarrass him.

Pulling up his feast robes to free his legs, Jordan set off at a run and leaped onto a neighbouring roof several feet away. He received the shriek he'd been expecting from Petsane. The jump was less than graceful. Even though the robe, woven from spun mellowreed, was almost as light as silk, he wasn't used to its length and bagginess.

Today was the annual Feast of the Great Light, the most celebrated day in the Holy City of Cir and its provinces. It was also Jordan's birthday. He had agreed to meet his father for the ceremonies atop the mountain and he intended to enjoy himself along the way.

Jumping across roofs and patios and sneaking up private staircases was Jordan's preferred method of reaching the golden palace at the mountain-city's summit. Sometimes strangers chased him with straw brooms, and once he nearly tripped on a giant lizard sunning itself in the midday heat, but usually he was alone with the birds up there.

Gathering up his robes again, he took the next rooftops at full speed, relishing the feeling of strength in his legs and the way the warm summer air whooshed by him. He was fast. His good friend Donovan had suggested that the year — which would be named that afternoon and always after a bird — should be named after Jordan. The year of Jordan Elliott.

His father hated when he travelled by rooftop but the truth was, it was perhaps the only thing he was good at. Today he was fifteen. That left one year before he would have to declare his vocation and take his robes. Roof-jumping didn't qualify.

“If you spent more time at your studies, you might discover that talent of yours,” Elliott T. Elliott often said. It wasn't long ago that Jordan would have attended to his father's advice, but over the past year he'd stopped listening. Elliott had ideas about Jordan that fit him as poorly as these stupid robes.

He stopped to catch his breath. From where he stood he could see all the way down to the Balakan River which surrounded the city and rendered it an island. Yellow sasapher flowers grew wild along its banks. The twelve magical bridges connecting the city to the mainland glistened in the sunlight.

Or rather, eleven of them glistened. One of the bridges — the Mystic Corridor — was invisible. Beyond them shimmered the alluring reds and gleaming yellows of the mainland city of Omar, a glaring contrast to the Holy City's whitewashed stone.

Jordan picked a handful of pink flowers from a stranger's rooftop garden and scurried up the last few steep stairways.

When he finally reached the summit, he remembered his mother had promised to bring him cakes for his birthday. Tanny was a palace cook, and it was widely acknowledged that she made the best sasapher cakes in all of Cir. There was no sweeter taste to Jordan than sasapher. It was not just lemon: it was lemon with a history, lemon with mud on its feet and courage in its belly. He knew his mother would be frantically busy in the kitchen today, but she would steal the time to come find him.

Jordan turned his back on the palace and its enormous domed temple and headed towards the gardens and pathways that surrounded the feast day's centre of attention — the mysterious, blackened holy tree.

Near one of the fountains he spotted a tall grey undercat wearing blue feast robes decorated with gold-threaded runes, his hat upturned and hopeful as he recited a traditional story with flair. “Draw near, friends, and listen to the tale of our Cirran tree,” he cried. His furry hands flew out to his sides and his long whiskers jittered. “It was first struck by the power of the Great Light on a night of true-full moons. It burned, but was not consumed.”

The undercat winked at him and Jordan realized it was Sarmillion, a friend of his father's. “Jordan,” he called. “Tell me why the tree burns.”

“I dunno,” he mumbled. “Something to do with magic.”

“It is a warning, young rogue, of the dangers of strong magic. I'll tell your father you've been shirking your schoolwork,” the undercat said with a twinkle in his eye. His gaze flitted to the flowers in Jordan's hand. “Phinius,” he said. “Flower of the sages. That's a rather bold choice for a boy with sticky fingers.”

“I resent that accusation,” Jordan said with a laugh.

He kept walking, scanning the crowd for his mother's short but solid silhouette and flour-dusted clothes. She would be wearing her small white apron embroidered with the Cirran crest — a dove set in a circle — and her face would be flushed from hours of baking.

Ahead of him stood the majestic, charred tree. Bordered by grass and a colourful mosaic of stone pathways, the tree wore feast day ribbons in its branches. Three brave yellow finches sat upon the highest tips observing the procession of blue robes below. Occasionally one of them would take off and soar with abandon above the heads of farmers and belt-dancers, as if it too were celebrating.

The tree was already surrounded by hundreds of offerings of flowers. On the feast day you weren't supposed to look at it as you came close, but Jordan couldn't help raising his eyes to study the twisted blackened bark and the long branches that made him think of outstretched arms. How could a tree burn without being reduced to ash? Once a year when the moons rose true-full and midnight crept towards the world, everyone gathered — some near the tree itself, others from rooftops or out their windows — to see it burst into sudden flame and then just as abruptly go out.

BOOK: The Beggar King
4.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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