Monday, August 31, 2015

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

“The greatest danger is that she might win.”

Captain Esladas is a Patron, even though he is only a low born son of a baker. At the age of 20, he left his homeland and traveled to Efea to make his fortune. The day he arrived, he saw a beautiful sixteen year old Commoner. “Patrons are people either born in the old empire of Saro or descended from ancestors who emigrated from Saro to Efea at any time in the last hundred years. The law forbids people of Saroese ancestry from marrying the native people of Efea, who are called Commoners.” Young Patron men usually have dalliances with Commoner women before settling down with a Patron woman to further their status and career. What makes the ambitious Captain Esladas unusual is that he has stayed with the beautiful Commoner who caught his eye twenty years earlier. They have four daughters. Any other man would have taken another in hopes of a son. Instead, he has stayed with a woman he cannot marry. One of his daughters is named Jessamy.

Jessamy has it all mapped out. She is going to do the one thing her father has forbidden her to do. Only her sisters know what she is up to. Everything is going according to her plan until her father unexpectedly arrives home. She has never snuck out of the house while her father is at home. Her father has won a decisive victory and is home to be honored. The entire family has been invited to sit in Lord Ottonor’s balcony at the City Fives Court for the occasion. Jes is internally fuming. Furthermore, if his daughters make a good impression, they may be invited back to watch a Fives Games at the Royal Fives Court. Jessamy doesn’t want to attend. She has saved for over a year for the entry fee for this week’s trials at the City Fives Court. Training for years, tomorrow is her one opportunity. She makes a deal with her sisters to cover for her once again.

Only Jessamy and and her younger sister, Amaya, accompany their mother in the carriage during the victory procession. The three of them are stunned when Captain Esladas is seated alone in the third carriage, always reserved for the general who commands the army being honored. They hear everyone around them talking about his stunning victory at Maldine. Their carriage arrives at the City Fives Court and they wait on their father to meet them. He leads the three to Lord Ottonor’s balcony. Lord Ottonor greets Jessamy’s mother and introduces their daughters. The family settles in to watch the Five. Jessamy begins to get nervous about disobeying their father but she knows this is her one chance. She promises herself that she will be the perfect daughter from here on out.

Amaya covers for her sister during the Fives. Jessamy makes barely makes it to the Fives court before the gate is shut to the participants. The players are known as adversaries and only those with enough money can buy a token to enter the Novice-level City Court official weekly trials. Jessamy’s token is collected and she finds out that she will run in the first trial. She looks over her competition and sees that they are all male. One in particular, marked by blue, is dressed too expensively for a Novice and she figures he is from a palace stable. Jessamy sizes him up to be her main competition. Taking her starting place, Jessamy hears the roar of the crowd. She is ready to run, ready to win. But Jessamy cannot win because doing so will bring disgrace down upon her father. Too late, she realizes that she shouldn’t be there. All of her doubt is stripped away when the start bell rings and the trial begins.

Jessamy easily makes her way through the first four quarters of the Fives court. She stands on the platform that is one of two entrance points to the Rings, the center portion of the court. From her vantage point, she can see where two of the other adversaries are at. Neither are a threat to her position. Jessamy doesn’t see the boy in blue and wonders how she will be able to lose the race without looking like she is throwing it. She is astounded to hear the boy in blue coming up the ladder behind her. She sees that he is about her size and looks like he is having the time of his life. He speaks to her and she notices from his accent that he is pure Patron. He tells Jessamy that he is impressed with her run so far without a bit of condescension in his voice. He also remarks that he doesn’t believe that he has run against her before, he would have remembered her. He asks her who trains her since she doesn’t seem to to be wearing a stable badge. Jessamy decides her course through the Rings and leaves the boy behind. The two take different paths. Jessamy watches him and he is good but she knows that she is better. She sees that she is going to win and knows that she must throw the race. Falling to the ground, she sees the boy in blue looking at her. To her disgust, Jessamy sees how handsome her is. Looking back at her, he is frowning over his win. Jessamy couldn’t risk winning the trials because the winning adversary must take off their mask in front of the entire assembly. Her winning would bring disgrace to her father on the day of his greatest triumph.

Sneaking back to Lord Ottonor’s balcony, Jessamy is met by Amaya. Her disappearance hasn’t been discovered, yet. She hurries to change. Amaya’s best friend, Denya, comes in with the news that Lord Gargaron’s party is coming to visit with Lord Ottonor. She is hoping that his good looking nephew will come with him and speak to them. Out on the balcony, Lord Ottonor sees Jessamy and remarks to Captain Esladas that it is a shame that she isn’t as petty as her sister. Esladas says that she has a better trait, obedience. Ottonor replies that beauty and obedience together is better and smiles at their mother. Their mother responds with she believes all four of her daughters are beautiful. She makes it sounds as if she is agreeing with Lord Ottonor. Jessamy doesn’t know how her mother carries off her attitude. Just then, Lord Gargaron’s party enters the balcony. Jessamy is stunned that the blue adversary from her trial is with him. Turns out that his name is Lord Kalliarkos, Gargaron’s nephew. He sees Jessamy and walks to her. He quietly remarks to her about her shoes. Jessamy didn’t have time to change them. Kalliarkos recognizes her and wants to know where she trains. She admits that her parents do not know. He wants to know which one of Ottonor’s men is her father. Killiarkos correctly guesses that he should have known he was the hero of Maldine. He knows that she lost on purpose and he feels cheated. She apologizes and says that she can never win. He can see where that would be frustrating, seeing as she had him beat today. The Rings is his weakest section and wants to know where she trains. Just then, Lord Gargaron calls out to his nephew, telling him not to converse with the servants. Gargaron asks Ottonor why his Commoner employee isn’t wearing a mask. Embarrassed, Ottonor tells him that she is actually Esladas’ daughter.

Gargaron continues his tirade about their presence. Esladas apologizes, saying that he hoped that today would give his daughter “some polish. Almost everyone seems embarrassed by her father’s public humiliation, especially when Gargaron learns that Esladas actually has four daughters and no sons. Gargaron remarks that Esladas has gone native and it is no wonder that his rank in the army is no more than captain. Ottonor is finally able to derail Gargaron back to the trials but not before asking that Eladas’ pretty daughter, Amaya, serves him. Kalliarkos offers to get his uncle whatever he needs. Jessamy is dragged away from the scene by her father. He slaps her across the face and informs her that she will not ruin her sister’s chance at a good marriage by trying to become a rich lord’s whore. She will never speak to Lord Kalliarkos again. His grandmother is a princess from the royal line.

Captain Esladas wants to send his daughters home immediately. While the two girls are alone, Lord Gargaron enters and wants to know where their sisters are. Their father soon reenters and finds the lord alone with his daughters. Lord Gargaron tells the three of the that the king has recently named him the lord governor general of the Eastern Reach. Captain Esladas lets his face slip brief as Gargaron hurls yet another insult. Gargaron finally leaves. Esladas secures a chaperone to escort the girls immediately home and goes back to their mother. The girls argue on the way home. When the carriage makes unexpected stop at the Ribbon Market, Amaya states that Jes had her way earlier, now it is her turn.

Jessamy finds Amaya at a vendor's stall. Knowing her sister, she will bargain down the vendor to get what she desires. Trying to get her sister back to their carriage, Jessamy notices that their servant girl had vanished. Jes finds her In an alley talking with a scowling young man. She is very apologetic but the young man says that she shouldn't be to the likes of Jessamy. She scampers away but he and Jes trade barbs. Turns out the young man is the girl's brother and his sister had told him so pretty bad things about Jessamy's family. Amaya tries to get her to leave with them but Jes is itching for a fight. Arguing, a bell rings followed by the sound of slaping sticks. The vendors immediately close their booths. A larger man pulls the younger one back into their stall but stops when he sees her. He pleads with her to leave. Before she can flee, a spider scout grabs the young man. Jessamy tries to catch up with her sister but soldiers flood the market rounding up anyone who looks like a Commoner. She and the young man are captured by the soldiers. The Captain is looking for the young man, a wanted fugitive. Before Jessamy can figure a way out of this mess, someone says her name. Lord Kalliarkos rushes up and is so highborn that everyone knows who he is. The Captain isn't pleased when Kalliarkos drags Jessamy away. Turns out that he was following her to see where she trains. He is desperate to advance in the trails so that he can stay out of the army. It isn't a career that he wants. Kalliarkos tells her that she really doesn't know what the war is about. He feels trapped by his uncle and she tells him that she feels the same way. Her father feels that she and her sisters must act like true Patron women and Kal tells her she is just a mule. Both are embarrassed and he apologizes. She finally tells him that Anise trains her at Scorpion Fountain. He remarks that it is a bad part of town but she tells him that only Commoners live there. He hopes to see her there before she runs off.

The girls beat their father home. They think their father knows what they did when he demands that everyone comes to his study. It turns out that after they left, Lord Ottonor died. Captain Esladas’ standing will now be in question without a sponsorship. Before Ottonor’s funeral, Lord Gargaron shows up to speak with the Captain. Jessamy hides in the shadows to overhear the Lord’s demands. His niece, deemed as tainted goods since her first marriage didn’t work out, needs a new husband. Esladas must leave his concubine and daughters behind in order to become a General and respected man. Jessamy waits for her father to object, but he doesn’t. Gargaron also has one other stipulation. He wants Jessamy. It seems that everyone but her father knows she runs the Fives. She will be running the Fives for him.

What happens to Jessamy’s mother and sisters after their father leaves them behind? What are Gargaron’s plans for Jessamy? How did he discover that she ran the Fives? Does her father begin his new life and never look back? How successful will Jessamy be running the Fives? Will she compete against Kalliarkos? Why is Efea continually at war? What happens when Jes and Kal’s paths continually cross?

Jessamy’s story will continue in book two.

Visit Kate Elliott’s website.

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