If you’ve been following the process, then you’ll remember that the book we now call Mistborn started out as two novels to me. I wrote rough drafts of both, wasn’t pleased with either one, and put them aside. Years later, I decided to try again, and (without looking back at the old two) combined the books and wrote a novel that took the best elements from each of these novels. (Which I now call Mistborn Prime and Final Empire Prime.)
I posted the first chapter of Mistborn Prime, but never did the same for Final Empire. Therefore (though I cringe a bit as I post this) here you can read the opening of the other book. Of most note to this is that Vin, here, is a boy. It’s very strange for me to read. I realized one of the things that had never worked in the book was Vin’s character conflict. When I began to think of him as a her instead, it just all began to work better.
Anyway, on with the excerpt. This isn’t the whole chapter one, just the Vin part. There’s another chunk (dealing with the Lord Ruler, though he had a different name here) that I’ll post later. (Oh, and please remember, this is old and rough. It’s far from up to my current writing skill level. Back then, I still liked to make up strange adverbs and adjectives without realizing what I was doing. The best one in this section: “Educatedly.”)
His fate depended on this one moment. Vin had labored for years in a monumental effort, he had prepared, trained, and practiced. All so he could have the opportunity to prove himself.
Could he determine the vintage of the wine?
Vin smiled, taking a sip. “A southern Izanah bluewine blend, spiced with fetherlace from the Cumeni kays. Probably the infamous Founding Day vintage of fifty years ago. An interesting, not to mention rare, vintage—one wonders where you acquired it.”
So easy—anti-climatically so, as a matter of fact. However, it was Vin’s opinion that true moments of stress should always be anti-climactic. One should have enough training, enough cunning, and enough foresight to make certain he never even came close to failure.
The merchant raised an eyebrow—he was impressed. He should have been. Even amongst wellborn, a boy Vin’s age—fourteen years—who could judge vintages so well was a rarity. Of course, the ability should have come as no surprise in Vin. If he were who he claimed to be—the only son of a wealthy, but bed-laden, wine connoisseur—he should have had no trouble guessing vintages.
Vin was, of course, neither a wellborn nor the son of a wine connoisseur, wealthy or otherwise. Hopefully, that was a fact the merchant wouldn’t discover until Vin was long departed. They sat in the merchant’s home, just having finished their mid-day meal, the largest and most important, by Cumeni customs.
Now was the time to discuss business as they sipped wine. The room was decorated tastefully, if not lavishly, with silk weavings on the walls, painted Cumeni pottery lining the fine wood furniture. Scented oils burned at the edges of the tables—the oils of a wellborn, but not ones so rich as to be extravagant. The woods were probably inherited—recent hardwood prices would be beyond this man’s means. He was wellborn, of course, but of a family that lacked influence. Such was common in Cumeni—few wellborn managed to draw imperial attention so far from important events.
The merchant himself was less impressive than his furnishings. He was a younger man—old enough to be respected for his own name, rather than his father’s, but still young enough to thirst for a quick road to influence and prestige. The man had worked hard to establish himself as a wine merchant, and if he could begin providing for the tastes of important people, there was a chance he could find his way into their company.
In short, he was exactly the kind of man Vin looked for—a man willing to take risks. Men who gambled in such a way often lost great deals of money—and if they were going to lose it anyway, why shouldn’t they lose it to Vin?
Vin set down his cup, eyeing the merchant. Taron was a thin man, dressed in average, if well-made, Cumeni clothing—knee-length pants and a lose shirt. He wore a blue silk vest over the top to mark his wellborn status—a popular trend in Cumeni, following after the powerful Nahl merchants to the north.
Vin both liked and disliked the trend—on one hand, he liked the feel and the beauty of silks. On the other hand, they were expensive—especially for him. He was pretending to be a wellborn of much affluence, so he couldn’t get by with a simple vest like Taron’s. Vin had to wear an entire silk outfit—a pant-shirt combination known as a hlen, a vest to cover the hlen’s open chest, and then a long robe-style overcoat on the top, its sleeves thick and wide, its neck deep enough to expose the vest beneath. Not only was the three-piece garment incredibly expensive, Vin was at the age where he outgrew them at a ridiculous pace. Things would be so much easier when he was done growing.
“I must say, young lord,” Taron said. “I am impressed with your knowledge. One does not expect to find one so young in possession of such faculties.”
The man spoke educatedly, with intelligent language. If Taron ever recovered from knowing Vin, he might well obtain the prestige he sought. The early failure would be good for him—it would strengthen his resolve.
“Acumen is not a matter of age, but a matter of breeding and endowment, lord Taron,” Vin replied smoothly. “Your wine is excellent to the taste. My father will be well-pleased with it, I am certain.”
“And, when can I expect to meet with the grand lord?” Taron asked.
Vin paused, studying the man. Was he suspicious? No, he was just being careful. He was a screwed man—of course, that only made the game more exciting.
“I am certain he would be most eager to meet with you, Lord Taron, if it were not for his ailment,” Vin explained. “The healers have requested that he keep both travel and visitor to an absolute minimum as to not stress his constitution. I assure you, I am most well-equipped to deal with his financial endeavors.”
“I don’t doubt that, young lord,” the merchant said quickly. “I must admit that I have never met a boy quite like yourself. However, I am not accustomed to dealing business with ones of your . . . stature.”
The comment drew a muffled snicker from behind Vin’s chair. His ‘servants’—a pair of men the local swindlebaron had granted him to use in his operation—stood there, supposedly to attend him. Vin gritted his teeth, noting the look in the merchant’s eyes. Amusement. Fortunately, Taron didn’t see through Pantoo’s inability to play a part—he simply saw a servant who didn’t respect his master.
Not good. If this job were going to succeed, the merchant would absolutely have to trust Vin’s ability to govern men. The only way to get the wine without suspicion to Vin would be to persuade the merchant to let Vin hire the caravan guards and arrange for the transport. That way the cargo could conveniently get ‘waylaid’ halfway to its destination. In addition, Vin would have to persuade the man to accept payment upon delivery as opposed to up front—an uncommon method of dealing. Trust was vital.
“Perhaps I could . . . send a messenger to visit your father,” Taron postulated. “That would be less stressful to him, since the messenger would bring no entourage to tax his hospitality. I do not distrust your ability, young lord. However, how can we be absolutely certa
in that your father will appreciate my wines? Perhaps they will not suit his tastes. Is it not better to be certain?”
“Indeed,” Vin said. “An excellent idea, Lord Taron. Though, to be honest, my father has little patience for meetings any more, even with a distinguished messenger. Why not let me be your voice—send me with several of your finest selections, and I shall travel to my father and convey your regards. Let him taste the wares, then we shall see if the deal will progress.”
Taron paused. “All right,” he finally admitted, regarding Vin closely. “But not just several selections; I shall send an entire crate, filled with my finest bottles. Let your father sample them all, so as to give him the fullest range of my offerings.”
Vin cocked his head slightly. It was an odd move—a crate of wines, perhaps twenty bottles, was worth a great deal. He’s tempting me, Vin realized. If I run with the crate, it will be better than if I had escaped with a far larger prize. The trip back and forth to his ‘father’s mansion—which lay a two week journey away—would also give Taron more time to check on Vin’s background. It was a clever move.
“Excellent,” Vin said, standing and ending the conversation, as was his right as the senior wellborn. “I am certain my father will appreciate the gesture.”
“I must admit, scat,” Pantoo said, inspecting the box of wines, “we got away with a lot more than I thought we would. These will sell for quite a handful of eternals.”
They stood outside on the market streets, far enough away from Taron’s home that they could drop their act a little bit. Pantoo and Chaunti, the two men assigned to Vin by Zahahn’s Swindlebaron, had insisted on opening the crate and inspecting its contents as soon as it was safe.
Vin folded his silk-wrapped arms in displeasure as the daytime crowds mulled around them. Perfumes from a dozen different cities wafted through the air, mixing with the briny scent of the ocean, whose bay was visible over the tops of the buildings. It was hot, of course—it was usually hot in Cumeni. Vin was accustomed to it, even with the thick silks.
“We are not going to sell the wine, Pantoo,” Vin informed sharply.
Pantoo snorted. He was an average Cumeni lout—not too tall, but broad of chest, with tan Antiol skin and straight dark hair. Chaunti was a few inches shorter, and a few years younger, than Pantoo, and was obviously content to let the other lead.
Neither, however, were very pleased with the idea of a fourteen-year old boy giving them orders. “We are too going to sell them,” Pantoo informed. “We’ll do it as soon as we get back to the den. You are going to stay quiet—if you’re lucky, we might let you keep some of the profits.”
Vin rolled his eyes. If only his body would hurry up and grow—the day when his age finally matched his ambitions would be a glorious day indeed. Unfortunately, for the moment, he was stuck at fourteen.
“Pantoo,” he said flatly, “do you have any concept inside that miniscule puss-sack of yours you call a brain how long I have been planning this operation? I spent a year in Kanata building a reputation for myself. I spent months writing fake correspondences and establishing the false trading identities for myself and an ailing father. I spent more money than you’ve ever seen establishing connections, buying myself clothing, and training myself in the wine business. I did not do all of that so that I could receive the paltry gratuity of a single crate filled with overpriced wine.”
Pantoo replaced the bottle he was holding, then turned toward Vin, his face menacing. “I don’t care what you did. A boy your age shouldn’t be running operations, he should be picking pockets. He should be fighting on the street for his bread, like I did. I’m not going to let you saunter in, silver-tongue the swindlebaron, and get away with all the coin.”
Pantoo leaned down in a threatening posture as he spoke. Vin sighed internally. Perhaps coming to Zahahn had been a mistake—he usually stayed to the southern cities, where his connections were more well-established. The Zahahn swindlebaron obviously hadn’t taken his operation seriously—otherwise he would have given Vin better people to work with. Unfortunately, the wine trade was strongest in Zahahn at the moment, and the opportunity was such that Vin hadn’t been able to resist.
Pantoo, probably realizing that Vin didn’t look very threatened, took another step forward, his face darkening slightly, as if trying to scare Vin into running. He couldn’t actually do Vin any harm—not with the crowds so close—but he could try to be intimidating.
It almost always happened—in times of stress, men raised on the street resorted to the first law of the street: the bigger man gets his way. Pantoo obviously hadn’t realized that the law was one rife with exceptions.
Vin stepped forward instead of backwards—an action that gave Pantoo a start of surprise. With a flick of his wrist, Vin snapped his coin purse—filled with a couple eternals and a handful of thirds—into his hand then deftly deposited it in Pantoo’s belt pouch. Then he let out a piercing yelp.
“Please!” Vin screamed. “Call the watchwardens! This man has taken my purse!”
The crowds hushed around them. Pantoo looked up, sudden realization showing in his eyes as he stood over Vin, his posture dangerous—threatening, by all appearances, a wellborn. People shied away from him, and two white-uniformed watchwardens appeared from a nearby shop.
Pantoo took in the situation, and eventually bowed to the second law of the street: when all else fails, run. He dashed to the side, making for a break in the crowd. Though he was well into his twenties, Pantoo was still a street-rat at heart, and he moved dexterously through the people, wiggling toward freedom.
A hand shot snapped out of the crowd, catching Pantoo by the neck and throwing him backward in one smooth motion. Vin jumped slightly in surprise as Pantoo slammed against the wooden streeboards. Who had grabbed him? A watchwarden?
No, a woman. She stepped from the marketgoers, nonchalantly tripping Pantoo as he tried to stumble back to his feet. Then she leaned down, placing her knee in the crook of his neck, neatly pinning him to the streetboards.
Vin frowned. She had the lighter skin of a foreigner, with brown hair pulled back into a simple tail. She wore the clothing of a man, dusty travel leathers and thick, monochrome cloth. She was obviously a foreigner—no Cumeni would wear such hot clothing. Unless, of course, that Cumeni were partial to wellborn silks.
The woman carefully searched through Pantoo’s waistsack, pulling out a silk money pouch that matched Vin’s clothing. She inspected it for a moment, then tossed it Vin’s direction. A few more moments of searching revealed three other pouches of similar makes.
Vin raised an eyebrow. Pantoo had been working the crowd the entire time—how had Vin missed that? He should have been paying better attention.
The watchwardens finally pushed their way through the crowd, trying to look official and menacing despite their late arrival. They didn’t have to try too hard on the second count—like most soldiers, they were from the District of Phane. It was said that the cold made men grow extra large on the highlands of Phane, and these two were typical of their stock—broad of chest, thick of face, and quick to impose discipline.
The Conqueror’s soldiers were the only ones allowed to possess weapons. These two carried waistswords at their belts and brandished large steel-capped warstaves. Smoketwigs smoldered quietly in their mouths as they inspected the scene.
“You,” the lead watchwarden said, pointing at the fallen Pantoo. “Stand.”
Pantoo reluctantly did as ordered. Running was no longer an option—a watchwarden could kill a man at a hundred paces, all he had to do was touch his smoketwig to the end of his warstaff and release the Conqueror’s Thunder. As soon as Pantoo stood, the second wa
tchwarden grabbed him and roughly tied his hands with a length of cord.
“You,” the first watchwarden said, regarding the woman with a distrustful eye. “You aren’t Cumeni. Where is your seal?”
The woman stood, dusting herself off slightly. Vin frowned as he watched. She didn’t appear intimidated by the watchwardens—a rarity. The Conqueror trusted his Phane soldiers with a great deal of power; they could even implicate wellborn. Their warstaves could unleash a power that destroyed the strongest of armors, and they stood at least a half-head taller than any Cumeni man Vin knew. True, they weren’t priests—they didn’t inspire chills of terror when they passed—but they were intimidating nonetheless.
The crowd disappeared discreetly as the woman proffered her papers. No one wanted to be near, just in case one of those warstaves released its Conqueror’s Thunder. Besides, where the Khol government was concerned, a person could be implicated by simply standing too close to a crime. Vin wished he could join them in running—unfortunately, the second watchwarden was eyeing him suspiciously. Vin had learned long ago that the Phane respected honesty, but saw weakness as an implication of guilt. So, instead, Vin stood his ground, adopting the idle impatience of a Cumeni wellborn.
The lead watchwarden inspected the foreign woman’s seal, chewing on his smoketwig as he looked over its calligraphic lines. He obviously found nothing wrong with the paper, for he grudgingly returned it to the woman. Then he turned to Vin, his unyielding eyes demanding. It didn’t mater that Vin had been the apparent victim—the peace had been disturbed, and the watchwardens would punish anyone they could find even remotely culpable.
Vin stared back at the large man, disregarding the uniform, the warstaff, and the authority. To this man, Vin was wellborn. Only one thing mattered—attitude.
The watchwarden eventually bowed his head. “I hope you were not disturbed too much, my lord,” he said in a deep voice.
“I will survive,” Vin replied.
Pantoo shot Vin a dark look, standing with his hands bound. However, he wisely kept his mouth shut. Trying to expose Vin would do little good—they both knew Vin had the seal and the falsified reputation to hold up his persona. In order to betray Vin, Pantoo would also have to betray his swindlebaron—a very bad idea. If he kept his mouth shut, he would likely be out of the dungeons by the next morning. Then he would take his gripes up with his leaders.
However, by then Vin would have bribed the swindlebaron with half the case of wines—something he intended to do anyway. Hopefully, the Pantoo stunt would teach the other members of the Zahahn underground that he was not to be trifled with. Hopefully.
The watchwardens led Pantoo away, clomping off down the streetboards, and the marketplace slowly returned to normal. Vin would have to spread around word that he had hired Pantoo after arriving in Zahahn—if he was lucky, than his swift dealing with the man would make up for some of the damage Pantoo’s disrespect had done during the meeting with Taron.
A form moved up to stand beside him as the crowds returned to their shopping. Vin raised an eyebrow at Chaunti. The squat Cumeni had remained quiet during most of their dealings—he snickered when Pantoo make jokes, but he also did whatever Vin commanded.
“You’re staying?” Vin asked.
The man shrugged.
“You have no problem with my plans?”
“Seem to have worked so far,” Chaunti noted.
Vin nodded curtly. “Very well, then. We shall . . .” He trailed off as he noticed something. The woman, the foreigner who had stopped Pantoo, was still standing a short distance away. She watched Vin with a strange look—one that made him uncomfortable. It wasn’t adoration, not quite, but there was far too much respect in here eyes to be genuine. What was going on? Did he know her from somewhere?
She approached slowly, and Vin tensed. She had reflexes like a watchwarden—it wasn’t easy to subdue a man like Pantoo, who had spent his life fighting for meals on the street. Yet, she had done it with ease.
The woman bent down, looking Vin in the eye, then bowed her head slightly. “You aren’t what I expected,” she said quietly, her voiced lightly accented. With that, she withdrew.
“What was that about?” Chaunti asked.
“I’m not sure,” Vin replied, watching the strange woman disappear into the crowd. “Come,” he finally said, shaking off his stupor. “We shall return to the inn. I have several documents I want to scribe up before the night’s evealms.”