Mistborn the final empi.., p.69
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       Mistborn: The Final Empire, p.69

         Part #1 of Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
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Page 69

  When had she grown so confrontational? Even as she stood, Vin was amazed at her ?rm resolve. She crossed the ballroom—checking her black dress brie?y as she walked. One of Elend’s companions tapped him on the shoulder, nodding toward Vin. Elend turned, and the other two men withdrew.

  “Why, Valette,” he said as she paused in front of him. “I arrived late. I didn’t even know you were here. ”

  Liar. Of course you knew. Valette wouldn’t miss the Hasting Ball. How to broach it? How to ask? “You’ve been avoiding me,” she said.

  “Now, I wouldn’t say that. I’ve just been busy. House issues, you know. Besides, I warned you that I was rude, and…” he trailed off. “Valette? Is everything all right?”

  Vin realized she was snif?ing slightly, and she felt a tear on her cheek. Idiot! she thought, dabbing her eyes with Lestibournes’s handkerchief. You’ll ruin your makeup!

  “Valette, you’re shaking!” Elend said with concern. “Here, let’s go to the balcony and get you some fresh air. ”

  She let him lead her away from the sounds of music and chattering people, and they stepped into the quiet, dark air. The balcony—one of many jutting from the top of the central Hasting tower—was empty. A single stone lantern stood as part of the railing, and some tastefully placed plants lined the corners.

  Mist ?oated in the air, prevalent as ever, though the balcony was close enough to the keep’s warmth that the mist was weak. Elend didn’t pay any attention to it. He, like most noblemen, considered fear of the mist to be a foolish skaa superstition—which, Vin supposed, was right.

  “Now, what is this about?” Elend asked. “I’ll admit, I have been ignoring you. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve it, I just. . well, it seemed like you were ?tting in so well that you didn’t need a troublemaker like me being—”

  “Have you ever slept with a skaa woman?” Vin asked.

  Elend paused, taken aback. “Is that what this is all about? Who told you this?”

  “Have you?” Vin demanded.

  Elend paused.

  Lord Ruler. It’s true.

  “Sit down,” Elend said, fetching her a chair.

  “It’s true, isn’t it?” Vin said, sitting. “You’ve done it. He was right, you’re all monsters. ”

  “I…” He laid a hand on Vin’s arm, but she pulled it away, only to feel a teardrop drip down her face and stain her dress. She reached up, wiping her eyes, the handkerchief coming back colored with makeup.

  “It happened when I was thirteen,” Elend said quietly. “My father thought it was time that I became ‘a man. ’ I didn’t even know they were going to kill the girl afterward, Valette. Honestly, I didn’t. ”

  “And after that?” she demanded, growing angry. “How many girls have you murdered, Elend Venture?”

  “None! Never again, Valette. Not after I found out what had happened that ?rst time. ”

  “You expect me to believe you?”

  “I don’t know,” Elend said. “Look, I know that it’s fashionable for the women of court to label all men brutes, but you have to believe me. We’re not all like that. ”

  “I was told that you are,” Vin said.

  “By whom? Country nobility? Valette, they don’t know us. They’re jealous because we control most of the canal systems—and they might just have a right to be. Their envy doesn’t make us terrible people, however. ”

  “What percentage?” Vin asked. “How many noblemen do these things?”

  “Maybe a third,” Elend said. “I’m not sure. They aren’t the types I spend my time with. ”

  She wanted to believe him, and that desire should have made her more skeptical. But, looking into those eyes—eyes she had always found so honest—she found herself swayed. For the ?rst time she could remember, she completely pushed aside Reen’s whispers, and simply believed.

  “A third,” she whispered. So many. But, that’s better than all of them. She reached up to dab her eyes, and Elend eyed her handkerchief.

  “Who gave you that?” he asked curiously.

  “A suitor,” Vin said.

  “Is he the one who’s been telling you these things about me?”

  “No, that was another,” Vin said. “He… said that all noblemen—or, rather, all Luthadel noblemen—were terrible people. He said that court women don’t even consider it cheating when their men sleep with skaa whores. ”

  Elend snorted. “Your informant doesn’t know women very well, then. I dare you to ?nd me one lady who isn’t bothered when her husband dallies with another—skaa or noble. ”

  Vin nodded, taking a deep breath, calming herself. She felt ridiculous…but she also felt at peace. Elend knelt beside her chair, still obviously concerned.

  “So,” she said, “your father is one of the third?”

  Elend ?ushed in the wan light, looking down. “He likes all kinds of mistresses—skaa, noble, it doesn’t matter to him. I still think about that night, Valette. I wish…I don’t know. ”

  “It wasn’t your fault, Elend,” she said. “You were just a thirteen-year-old boy who was doing what his father told him. ”

  Elend looked away, but she had already seen the anger and guilt in his eyes. “Someone needs to stop these kinds of things from happening,” he said quietly, and Vin was struck by the intensity in his voice.

  This is a man who cares, she thought. A man like Kelsier, or like Dockson. A good man. Why can’t they see that?

  Finally, Elend sighed, standing and pulling over a chair for himself. He sat down, elbow resting against the railing, running his hand through his messy hair. “Well,” he noted, “you probably aren’t the ?rst lady I’ve made cry at a ball, but you are the ?rst one I’ve made cry that I sincerely care about. My gentlemanly prowess has reached new depths. ”

  Vin smiled. “It’s not you,” she said, leaning back. “It’s just been…a very draining few months. When I found out about these things, I just couldn’t handle it all. ”

  “The corruption in Luthadel needs to be dealt with,” Elend said. “The Lord Ruler doesn’t even see it—he doesn’t want to. ”

  Vin nodded, then she eyed Elend. “Why exactly have you been avoiding me lately, anyway?”

  Elend ?ushed again. “I just ?gured you had enough new friends to keep you occupied. ”

  “What is that supposed to mean?”

  “I don’t like a lot of the people you’ve been spending your time with, Valette,” Elend said. “You’ve managed to ?t very well into Luthadel society, and I generally ?nd that playing politics changes people. ”

  “That’s easy to say,” Vin snapped. “Especially when you’re at the very top of the political structure. You can afford to ignore politics—some of us aren’t so fortunate. ”

  “I suppose. ”

  “Besides,” Vin said, “you play politics just as well as the rest. Or, are you going to try and tell me that your initial interest in me wasn’t sparked by a desire to spite your father?”

  Elend held up his hands. “All right, consider me suitably chastised. I was a fool and a twit. It runs in the family. ”

  Vin sighed, sitting back and feeling the cool whisper of the mists on her tear-wetted cheeks. Elend wasn’t a monster; she believed him on that count. Perhaps she was a fool, but Kelsier was having an effect on her. She was beginning to trust those around her, and there was no one she wanted to let herself trust more than Elend Venture.

  And, when it wasn’t connected directly to Elend, she found the horrors of the noble-skaa relationship easier to deal with. Even if a third of the noblemen were murdering skaa women, something was probably salvageable of the society. The nobility wouldn’t have to be purged—that was their tactic. Vin would have to make certain that sort of thing didn’t happen, no matter what bloodline one had.

  Lord Ruler, Vin thought. I’m starting to think like the others—it’s almost like I think that we can change things.

  She glanced across at Elend, who sat with his back to th
e curling mists beyond. He looked morose.

  I brought out bad memories, Vin thought guiltily. No wonder he hates his father so much. She longed to do something to make him feel better.

  “Elend,” she said, drawing his attention. “They’re just like us. ”

  He paused. “What?”

  “The plantation skaa,” Vin said. “You asked me about them once. I was afraid, so I acted like a proper noblewoman—but you seemed disappointed when I didn’t have more to say. ”

  He leaned forward. “So, you did spend time with the skaa?”

  Vin nodded. “A lot of time. Too much, if you ask my family. That might be why they sent me out here. I knew some of the skaa very well—one older man, in particular. He lost someone, a woman he loved, to a nobleman who wanted a pretty thing for the evening’s entertainment. ”

  “At your plantation?”

  Vin shook her head quickly. “He ran away and came to my father’s lands. ”

  “And you hid him?” Elend asked with surprise. “Runaway skaa are supposed to be executed!”

  “I kept his secret,” Vin said. “I didn’t know him for very long, but…well, I can promise you this, Elend: His love was as strong as that of any nobleman. Stronger than most of them here in Luthadel, certainly. ”

  “And intelligence?” Elend asked eagerly. “Did they seem… slow?”

  “Of course not,” Vin snapped. “I should think, Elend Venture, that I knew several skaa more clever than yourself. They may not have education, but they’re still intelligent. And they’re angry. ”

  “Angry?” he asked.

  “Some of them,” Vin said. “About the way they’re treated. ”

  “They know, then? About the disparities between us and them?”

  “How could they not?” Vin said, reaching up to wipe her nose with the handkerchief. She paused, however, noting just how much makeup she had rubbed across it.

  “Here,” Elend said, handing her his own handkerchief. “Tell me more. How do you know these things?”

  “They told me,” Vin said. “They trusted me. I know that they’re angry because they would complain about their lives. I know they’re intelligent because of the things they keep hidden from the nobility. ”

  “Like what?”

  “Like, the underground movement network,” Vin said. “Skaa help runaways travel the canals from plantation to plantation. The noblemen don’t notice because they never pay attention to skaa faces. ”

  “Interesting. ”

  “Plus,” Vin said, “there are the thieving crews. I ?gure that those skaa must be fairly clever if they’re able to hide from the obligators and the nobility, stealing from the Great Houses right beneath the Lord Ruler’s nose. ”

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