Exile by A.J. Calvin
Series: The Caein Legacy
Intended Age Group: Adult
Published: May 24, 2023
Publisher: Self Published
Andrew grew up in the royal palace of Novania, the eldest son of the queen. He went on to achieve fame and glory as a renowned soldier, and was eventually named commander of the king’s army. The kingdom believed he would be named heir to the throne, but he has long known he is ineligible. The king is not his father.
The truth of Andrew’s lineage is only partially known to the king; the identity of his father is a mystery that even Andrew is unaware of. He knows only that his father was a dragon-mage, and the dragons have fled to another world. Andrew is a skin-changer, but the laws of Novania forbid his very existence. If the king were to learn the truth of what he is, he would face execution.
The laws are equally hostile to humans born with the Mark of the Magi and the ability to wield magic. Andrew’s younger half-brother, Alexander, bears the Mark. The pair keep one another’s secrets into adulthood…Until the king dies unexpectedly and Colin ascends the throne.
When Alexander’s Mark is revealed for all to see, Andrew is faced with a choice: To watch his brother be killed, or reveal his true nature in an effort to save him from the headsman’s axe.
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/exile-a-j-calvin/1143231978
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/exile/id6446454425
Author Bio & Information
A.J. Calvin is a science fiction/fantasy novelist from Loveland, Colorado. By day, she works as a microbiologist, but in her free time she writes. She lives with her husband, their cat, and a salt water aquarium.
When she is not working or writing, she enjoys scuba diving, hiking, and playing video games.
I positioned myself at the eastern entrance to the tourney field as the sun rose, red and bloated as it peered above the horizon. The thin clouds that streaked across the sky were painted in lurid shades of orange, crimson, and pink. A thick mat of dew coated the grass and had settled on the wooden stands at the perimeter of the arena. Thomas took his leave, and I hoped for his sake that both Alexander and I would live to see the day’s end.
People began to file into the arena as soon as the sun crested the horizon, though the atmosphere was subdued. Vendors and performers called out to passers-by to inspect their wares or to watch their various exploits from beyond the spectator area. Several different bands of musicians played in competition with one another, producing a cacophony that assaulted the senses. The scent of bacon and baking sweet breads wafted from somewhere outside. I stood sentinel at my self-appointed post, garbed in the commander’s stolen armor as I awaited my opportunity—and prayed desperately that it would come.
By mid-morning, the stands were filled almost to bursting. The crowd seemed both curious and horrified, but their conversations were hushed, providing a soft susurration in the background. My thoughts flitted between a dozen possible scenarios, and I grew restless. Another pair of guards appeared and stationed themselves at the opposite entrance from my post. I forced myself to remain still, and waited while I observed them. They lounged against the sides of the entrance in a clear display of boredom.
Not long after, four more guards emerged from the entrance where I stood vigilantly. In their midst was Alexander, his wrists bound in front of him and his legs shackled. He was shirtless and his back was marred with large welts, while his arms were covered in dark bruises. Some of the welts had split, and dried blood was smeared across his flesh. He hung his head in defeat and stumbled forward at the guards’ prodding.
He was marched to the center of the field, where the guards untied his wrists momentarily, only to bind them behind his back and around the pole. The Mark that covered most of his torso was starkly visible as it arced from his left shoulder toward his right ribs, then back toward his left hip. The crowd jeered and screamed profanities, their previously subdued nature riled into a frenzy by Alexander’s presence.
It was the first time I’d seen the Mage’s Mark. The flesh around the edge was raised and pale, reminiscent of scar tissue. The skin that spanned the width of the mark was recessed from the edges and was a mottled gray-white, in stark contrast to Alexander’s much pinker complexion.
I followed the quartet of guards as they moved across the field, leaving the visor of my stolen helmet down. The guard responsible for securing Alexander’s wrists stepped back, seemingly satisfied with his work, as another began to remove the shackles from his ankles. They didn’t seem to think he’d be running anywhere.
“You, there,” one of the guards said to me, “double-check his wrists, will you? Bandon is terrible with knots.”
I nodded while my heart leapt at the unexpected opportunity. I stepped behind Alexander as the others began to disperse while pretending to secure the ropes that bound him.
“Alex,” I whispered. “It’s me. Don’t say anything. I don’t have much time.”
I loosened the ropes, but kept the knots for show. “Nod once if you think you can slip out of those when the time is right.”
He nodded once, and his fingers grasped mine for the briefest of seconds.
“I won’t let him kill you, brother,” I promised. “Wait for my signal.”
I stepped away and nodded to the guard who had ordered me to secure the knots, then made my way back toward the sidelines. I’d wait until Colin made his move, then counter him as necessary. Colin had not yet arrived, which provided me with more time to consider my course of action.
I scanned the myriad faces in the crowd as they continued to spew insults toward Alexander. I would receive little assistance from them, nor would I garner sympathy. The people scented blood, and the prospect of spilling royal blood was a rare and exotic phenomenon. I grimaced within my stolen helm and turned to study the guards. More had entered the field to position themselves at intervals along the length of the stands, while a full dozen stood at the base of the dais where Colin would undoubtedly stand as he attempted to orchestrate his brother’s murder.
My gaze shifted to Alexander. He stood erect, his jaw clenched in defiance. The crowd continued to launch insults from the stands, but he appeared to ignore them. My brief words had renewed his confidence and reinvigorated his will to live.
It wasn’t long before trumpeters heralded the entrance of the king. Colin ascended the dais, regal in a black tunic emblazoned with silver embroidery and paired with a cloak of deepest crimson. Claire stood at his side in matching attire. I noted with a heavy heart that one side of her face was purple with fading bruises. Their infant was cradled in her arms, her face contorted as she wailed. Claire stared toward the unruly crowd in the stands with a glazed expression, heedless of the child’s distress. She was broken, a mere shell of the woman I’d once known.
Colin stretched his arms wide as he addressed his raucous audience. He waited until the crowd noise lessened to a hushed roar before he began to speak.
“I have gathered you here today to witness the death of a blood-born traitor. Under the ancient laws of this land, those born with the Mage’s Mark are considered an abomination, the greatest threat to our kingdom’s security. The laws are clear. Those born with the Mark must be executed!”
Gasps warred for prominence over the cheers erupting from the stands. I glowered at Colin. I’d be forced to intervene soon.
“Here today, I have my own brother, Alexander Marsden. He bears the Mark, and has for the entirety of his life. A traitor from the start, he must be dealt with swiftly. Our lands cannot bear the taint of the magi! Novania is a land of proud men and women. Our people will not bow to those with his brand of unnatural power. As our laws demand, those who bear the Mark must die!”
Colin had worked himself into a frenzy, and the crowd was drinking in his every word as they roared with anticipation. Claire stared blankly toward the horizon, seemingly oblivious to what occurred around her. The child in her arms let out a terrified screech, but she made no move to quiet it. I pitied them both while my animosity toward Colin intensified. Alexander wasn’t the only victim of his despicable schemes; he was simply the most noteworthy.
“The time has come for this blood-born traitor to be dealt with!” Colin shouted.
He waved his arms to encourage the crowd into an even greater uproar. Howls and jeers followed his statement as the crowd hungered for the spectacle set to unfold.
Colin gestured toward the entrance opposite my location, where a hulking man dressed in black and wearing an executioner’s mask strode into the sunlight. He carried a heavy two-handed axe, its blade curved into a wicked half-moon. The executioner began to advance across the tourney field toward Alexander. I could wait no longer.
I stepped forward and ripped the stolen helmet from my head, then strode across the field toward Alexander. “Colin, enough! This is madness. You must stop this farce!”
Colin’s face twisted as though he’d taken a bite of something sour. “Andrew.” His tone was like acid. “I should have known you would find your way here.”
I glanced toward the executioner, who stopped his advance, uncertain how to proceed. His hesitation bought me further time.
“I’ll not allow you to kill your own brother! Alex has harmed no one!”
“You would defy your king, Andrew?” He sneered.
“If it means saving Alexander from the rantings of a tyrant, then yes, I damn well would.”
Colin examined his fingernails, exuding haughty boredom. “Petty insults don’t become you, Andrew. I wonder— how did you avoid the men I sent to detain you? I gave them very explicit instructions not to allow you into the Capitol, even if it meant taking your head.”
I glared at him. The soldiers that had passed us on the road had been on Colin’s errand as we’d suspected. A pang of worry ricocheted through my core as I considered what may have occurred at Vinterry, but I shoved it aside. I must focus on freeing Alexander.
“I didn’t encounter any of your men,” I replied. “Even if I had, they would not have stopped me from coming.”
“Overconfident and arrogant, as always,” Colin sneered. “It will be your downfall, Andrew.” He glanced at the executioner, then gestured to the guards stationed along the sidelines. “Kill them both.”
Rage consumed me. “You will live to regret this, Colin!” I shouted as the men began to advance.
Colin laughed mirthlessly from his stage.
I was outnumbered. There were fifteen guards and the executioner moving toward me. I had only seconds to determine my next course of action. Words had failed to sway Colin’s inane judgment, and my sword wouldn’t do—not against so many. I glanced at Alexander, and he nodded once. He understood what I’d planned.
I shifted. The stolen armor rent and splintered as my body expanded. I released a powerful roar and glared in Colin’s direction. His face grew ashen, his eyes wide with fear. Under any other circumstance, I would have taken a moment to revel in his reaction, but there were soldiers hell-bent on our destruction that must be dealt with first. I would not fail Alexander a second time.
I batted several guards aside. For the first time in my life, I utilized the full magnitude of my strength, unconcerned with the damage I wrought. I struck again with a powerful lash from my tail. The blow connected with a pair of guards that thought to flank me, and they were sent careening into the stands. I fixed my gaze upon the executioner, who had once again halted his progress toward Alexander. The man’s eyes were wide with terror behind his mask and the unmistakable tang of urine hit my nostrils. He fell backward under my furious gaze and began to scuttle away, dragging his axe behind him.
Colin shouted for more guards, his voice teetering on the brink of hysteria. The crowd erupted into screams. People fled the stands, trampling others in their desperation to be away from the spectacle that was unfolding on the field. More of the castle’s garrison poured into the arena, but it was clear most were unwilling to do battle with a dragon. I roared again as a few brave archers loosed a volley of arrows. Those that hit their mark bounced off my hide, ineffective.
I glanced at Alexander. He’d freed his arms and was sprinting across the field toward me. I lowered myself to the ground and allowed him to clamber onto my back before I rose once more.
I swiveled my head to take in the approaching soldiers, uncertain of how to proceed. Flying was the fastest and most secure option, but I had yet to attempt flight and didn’t know if I’d manage to clear the stands. My other option was to run headlong through the crowd and hope my size and strength would be sufficient to see us safely away. I roared again, frustrated.
Some of the guards had regained their courage and began advancing toward us once more. I lashed my tail at them in warning, but they backed away only briefly. We were running out of time.
“Andrew, you have to fly!”