The night angel trilogy, p.109
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.109

           Brent Weeks
 

  “And how many children died because he didn’t? That’s the burden of leadership, Logan: making the choice when none of the choices are good. When you nobles won’t pay, others have to, people like me, kids with nothing.”

  Logan was silent for a long moment. “This isn’t about my father, is it?”

  “Where the fuck is your crown?!” Kylar demanded. Through the earring bond, Kylar could feel Vi’s concern over the jumble of his emotions. She was feeling—dammit—Kylar tried to wall her out, push the feelings off to one side.

  The big man looked haggard. “Did you ever meet Jenine Gunder?”

  “When would I meet a princess?” It took Kylar a second to remember that Logan had been married to Jenine—albeit only for a few hours. Khalidor’s coup had come the very night of Logan’s wedding. She’d bled to death in Logan’s arms.

  “You’d think I’d be over it,” Logan said. “Honestly, I’d always assumed that a girl as beautiful and as happy as she was had to be stupid. What an asshole I was. Kylar, have you ever looked into a woman’s eyes and found that she made you want to be strong, and good, and true? Protective, fierce, noble? Finding Jenine was finding something better than I ever dared to dream.” Kylar didn’t want to hear it. It reminded him of Elene. And if he thought about Elene, his anger would die. “I was supposed to go from that to Terah Graesin?” Logan asked. “I couldn’t. Not for a crown. Not for anything.”

  “But I saw everyone on the battlefield, bowing to you.”

  “I’d given my troth…” Logan trailed off.

  Kylar threw his hands up, despairing.

  Logan’s eyes filled with dim sorrow. “I did what I thought was right.”

  ~Imagine a king who does that.~

  Kylar looked at Logan as he hadn’t looked at him even when he’d rescued him from the Hole. Then, he had only been able to see the physical wounds. Now he saw more. There was the gravitas of pain deep in Logan’s eyes. “You’d do it again,” Kylar said.

  Logan forced a weak laugh. “Hey, I’m already having my doubts.”

  “No you’re not.”

  The laughter died. “Yes, I am,” Logan said quietly, his eyes never leaving Kylar’s, his gaze never wavering. “But yes, I’d do it again. This is who I am.” He had never been more royal.

  Let me see him. Kylar put his hand on his friend’s arm and saw Logan, through his own eyes, less handsome, but fierce, primal in the filth of the Hole, tearing raw flesh from a human leg with his teeth, weeping. There he was hating the Holers, sinking into the filth, becoming a Holer in his own eyes. There he was deciding over the hard knot of hunger that gnawed him day and night that he would share his next meal lest he abandon being human altogether. There he was, handing out food and hating those who accepted, but doing it. That small core of nobility became the most important possession Logan had, and he would pay any price for it.

  That lesson was bound up with Serah Drake, who had been Logan’s fiancée before King Gunder forced him to marry Princess Jenine. Logan had loved Serah once, but that love had withered over the years, finally propped up only by false kindness. He’d been planning to marry the wrong woman because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Breaking his engagement had been the right thing to do, but it had seemed too cruel. But if they hadn’t been engaged, Serah wouldn’t have been at the castle the night of the coup. She’d still be alive. In the Hole, sharing food had been the right thing to do. It had seemed stupid, but in the end, the Holers helped Logan because he helped them first. Logan’s failure and his success had driven home the same lesson: Do what you know is right, and you’ll get the best consequences in the end.

  It was, Kylar thought, why Logan might be great. You could count on him. He was loyal, he was honest, and he would fight to the death to do the right thing. Always.

  “We’ve both come pretty far,” Kylar said. “You think we can be friends?”

  “No.” Grimly, Logan shook his head. “Not friends. Best friends.” Then he grinned, and the last year seemed to roll off Kylar’s back. They were the kind of friends who would stand and be counted. For Kylar, who had always kept dirty secrets that threatened everything, the feeling was precious beyond words.

  “What happens now?” Kylar asked.

  “One more errand and then, well… I’m going to write a book.”

  Kylar tented his eyebrows. “No offense, Your Ogrishness, but what are you going to write a book about?”

  “You know how I’ve always loved words. I’m going to write a book of words.”

  “I was under the impression that that’s what most books are.”

  “Not composed of words. I’m going to write a book defining all the words in our language. I’m calling it a dictionary.”

  “You’re writing in Jaeran?”

  “Yes.”

  “Defining Jaeran words?”

  “Right.”

  “So you’ll have to already know Jaeran to read it?”

  “You make it sound stupid,” Logan said, scowling.

  “Hmm.” Kylar gave an I-wonder-why-that-is? shrug. The idea of Logan’s commanding form sequestered in a candlelit study, squinting at manuscripts, was funny—except that Logan thought he was serious. Logan was scholarly, but he was no scholar. He was born to lead. This book idea was a pretense to shield him from seeing Terah’s mistakes and from his own impulses to do something about them.

  Minutes ago, Kylar had thought he was done. He’d kept his oath to the Wolf. He thought that now he’d be free to go make things right with Elene. But now Terah Graesin was queen. She probably had a contract out on Logan already. The best way to cancel a contract was to cancel the contract-taker. And Terah Graesin deserved canceling. One more kill, and I can change a country. With Logan as king, things can be different. There won’t have to be guilds or guild rats anymore. Elene was still safe in Waeddryn. He could do this in a week and be on his way.

  “Look, we have to talk more, but first,” Logan said, “I need to piss, and then I need to figure out what to do about the Khalidorans and this Lae’knaught army.”

  “What army?” Kylar asked.

  “I just—what do you mean, what army? You have that look in your eye.”

  “Those Khalidorans aren’t Khalidorans; the Lae’knaught’ve been wiped out, and we need to get to Cenaria before the Ceuran army does.”

  “The Ceuran—what? What?”

  Kylar just laughed.

  14

  Dorian sat in the chute room, balancing the crap pot strapped to his back on the edge of one of the chutes. This was the last pot of the day, and Dorian was sore, exhausted, and grumpy—and he got to spend most of every day in the company of beautiful women. The chute room slave spent every day in this foul room, directing the slaves who brought in all of the Citadel’s human waste and maintaining the sewage chutes, and he was the happiest slave Dorian had ever met. Dorian still gagged every time he opened the door. How the hell could Tobby be chipper?

  Aching, Dorian stretched his back as he waited for Tobby to finish with the slave from the guards’ quarters. Tobby pulled two levers, waited for a few moments, and then pulled a chain to the sound of distant clanking, then the man untied the top rope on his pack and Tobby tipped the pot over, sloshing the contents down the chute. A rope attached to the bottom kept the pot from following the sewage down the chute.

  After he finished, Tobby walked over to Dorian. “This your last run?”

  Dorian yawned and stretched. “Yes, I—” he lost his balance and the weight of the crap pot yanked him backward toward the open maw of a chute. He screamed—and jerked to a stop as Tobby threw himself against Dorian’s knees.

  For several moments, it was agony as the weight of the pot pulled against the sinews of his legs and stomach, trying to pull him into oblivion or rip him in half, but as the open-topped pot released its contents down the chute, the pain faded.

  Once the pot was empty, Tobby was able to help Dorian out of the chute. “Trying to follow your predecess
or, huh?” Tobby asked.

  “What?”

  Tobby chuckled. “Why’d you figure they needed another eunuch? Last harem carrier did what you just did… only I wasn’t so fast that day.”

  “Shit,” Dorian said.

  Tobby laughed loudly like a braying donkey. Surely the man couldn’t be amused by feces. Dorian began shaking from his brush with death. Good God, it hadn’t even occurred to him to use his Talent.

  “Funny thing is,” Tobby said, “he didn’t die from the ride. They killed him.”

  “What do you mean? Where does this chute go anyway?”

  “Where does this shit go anyway?” Tobby echoed, then laughed again. “Down to the mines. Nearly drops on the heads a them sorry bastards. Soon as Arry fell in the chute, I routed him to one of the safe ones. Would have saved his life, if he had sense.”

  “Safe ones?” Dorian asked.

  “You don’t know shit, do you?” He punched Dorian in the arm. “Good one, eh? Eh?”

  “Funny,” Dorian said, forcing himself to smile ruefully.

  “Didn’t see that one coming, did ya?”

  “Nope, didn’t see that coming.”

  “I got a million of ’em,” Tobby said.

  “I bet.” If ever there was a man who deserved his slavery, I’ve met him. “Why are some chutes safe?” Dorian asked.

  “These chutes been here hunerds of years. First there was only one chute. At first it was a couple hunerd foot drop, from the bottom of the chute to the bottom of the chasm—well, after a couple hunerd years with twenty thousand folks shooting shit down it, there was no drop at all. Good ol’ Batty Bertold got real nervous, thought an army or the pit slaves themselves might climb up the chute and attack the Citadel from within. So he built this. Now, when the shit gets within fifty feet of the bottom of the chute, we switch to a new chute. We let that first one sit until it’s all soil. Then the pit slaves cart it up and the guards sell it for fertilizer. Course, I got to use all the chutes at least once a day so they don’t rust up and so the pit slaves can’t tell where the soil is firm under a few inches of crap and where the soup is deep enough to drown in. When Arry went down, I switched up the chutes so he’d have a chance.”

  “How fast can you do that?” Dorian asked.

  Tobby tsked and pulled the third and the eighth lever and pulled the last chain. It took him about three seconds.

  Dorian whistled, fixing the positions in his mind. “What happened to him?”

  “He gave some shit to one of the meisters down there. Can’t say I blame him, after what he’d been through.”

  “Sounds like he had a shitty day.” Dorian felt dirty for the pun.

  “Uh huh,” Tobby said, not catching it. “Two meisters guard the pit slaves. It don’t make ’em happy. They don’t take no shit. They turned Arry inside out.” He shook his head, somber. A moment later he grinned. “They don’t take no shit, huh? Huh?” He punched Dorian’s arm.

  Dutifully, Dorian laughed. I could take two meisters.

  When Dorian returned from emptying the crap pots, the concubines were keening. Dorian had never heard anything like it. He set the crap pot down and stared at Hopper.

  “It’s the Godking,” the old man whispered, frozen by the sound from the next room. “We just got news. He’s dead.”

  Dorian’s heart stopped. My father’s dead.

  He wandered into the great room of the harem in a daze. Nearly two hundred women were gathered in the cold marble luxury of the place. They were tearing their clothes, ripping out their hair, beating their naked breasts, scratching bloody furrows in alabaster skin. Black tears rolled from kohled eyes. Some had flung themselves on the floor, weeping uncontrollably. Others had fainted.

  In grief as in love and in drink, Dorian’s people were extravagant, but these women’s tears were not for show. They had all lived in awe and terror of the Godking, and few of them would have dared love him. None of his favorite concubines were here. No one would report who had wept and who had not. But His Holiness had been the center around which their lives revolved. Without that center, everything collapsed.

  They would be compelled to throw themselves on Garoth’s pyre to accompany him into the afterlife and be his slaves forever. And Garoth had always liked his women young.

  Dorian saw one beautiful girl, Pricia. She was barely fourteen and just past her flowering, sitting alone, staring into space. She was still a virgin. Yorbas Zurgah had intended her as a present to the Godking when He arrived home.

  “You have a chance,” Dorian told her woodenly. “The next Godking might claim you.”

  “All my friends are going to die,” Pricia said, not even looking at him.

  Her answer shamed him. She hadn’t been thinking of herself. This place was starting to make him think cynically, like the old Dorian.

  The other implications of Garoth’s death pounded Dorian a moment later. The Godking had left no clear heir, and whichever aetheling succeeded him would certainly kill off the others. If the concubines knew of Garoth’s death, the aethelings would soon, if they didn’t already.

  Jenine!

  Dorian burst into the eunuchs’ room where he’d left Hopper.

  “Get them all out of here,” he ordered the old man. “Start with the virgins.”

  “What?”

  “Hide them in my room. At least one of the aethelings will try to seize the Godking’s harem as a declaration that he should be the next Godking. Or the guards may go crazy. You can’t hide all of them, but at least the virgins will have a chance to be claimed by the next Godking. If they get raped, they’ll die with the others.”

  Hopper nodded at once. “Done,” he said.

  Dorian ran up the Tygre Tower. The dreads guarding at the base of the tower were gone, and his heart dropped. He sprinted up the steps three at a time. He heard raised voices as he came up the last twenty steps. “… come, or I hurt you and then you come.”

  “All right,” Jenine said, defeated.

  The latch had been melted off the door. The fucker. It was Tavi, come to violate Jenine. Dorian kicked open the door just in time to see Jenine pull out the dagger he’d given her and bury it in a young man’s chest. He screamed and his vir rose to the surface of his skin instantaneously. A white ball the size of a fist slammed into Jenine’s chest and threw her across the chamber.

  He turned at the sound of the door bursting open, but he didn’t have time to move before Dorian’s flame missiles hit him. Six burrowed through his chest and out his back before he fell facedown, dead. It wasn’t Tavi. It was Rivik, Tavi’s sidekick. Dorian went to Jenine.

  She was whimpering, struggling to breathe, her chest concave with six broken ribs. Dorian put his hand on her chest, Seeing the damage. She relaxed as he washed away her pain. Bone after bone snapped into place seamlessly, and in moments, Dorian was done.

  Jenine stared at him, wide-eyed. “You came.”

  “I’ll always come for you.”

  She inhaled experimentally. “I feel… perfect.”

  Dorian smiled shyly and then started grabbing candelabra, tygre statuary, anything he could find made of gold.

  “We can’t carry all that,” Jenine said.

  Dorian dropped the unwieldy pile on the table. He winked at her and put his hands on each object in turn. One by one, they melted. The gold puddled onto the table, separating and connecting into lumps like quicksilver. The lumps began congealing, thinning, hardening, until each was flat disk bearing the likeness of Garoth Ursuul.

  “What… how…?” Jenine stuttered.

  “The coins are only worth a fraction of what the art was, but they are a more liquid asset.” He smiled as she giggled in wonder.

  He allowed himself that smile, but things were not going according to plan. Dammit, everything was ready for tomorrow. The worst of it wasn’t the wasted preparations, the lack of horses, the lack of warm clothing for the perilous crossing through Screaming Winds, the lack of dried food. It was that Dorian
had used southern magic. Any meister who smelled him would sense it. Luxbridge might drop him into the chasm.

  The chaos in the castle might not help them. More soldiers and meisters would surely be running about, and more aethelings definitely would. It meant that all Dorian’s meticulous memorization of guards’ watch routes and personal habits was for nothing.

  Still, he was here, the armies of the Godking were not, nor were any of the Godking’s older sons; Jenine was alive and safe, and the passes south were still open. In his wrath, he had vented far too much magic on Rivik, but he still had some left, enough to take care of a meister or even a Vürdmeister if caught unawares.

  “What are you doing?” he asked as Jenine turned Rivik’s body over. He didn’t want her to have to look at that.

  “I can’t go like this. I’m taking his clothes,” she said.

  Together, they stripped Rivik. There was blood on the front of the tunic where Jenine had stabbed his chest, and six small burn holes on both front and back, but otherwise the tunic was fine. Rivik had been a slight youth, so the tunic was only a little big.

  Jenine threw off her blouse and pulled on the dead youth’s tunic, not asking Dorian to look away or turn his back. He stared at her slack-jawed, frozen, then looked away, embarrassed, then wondered why he was embarrassed and she was not, and looked again and looked away. He was twice her age! She was beautiful. She was brazen. She was being perfectly sensible; they didn’t have time to be coy. Her head emerged from the tunic and she saw the look on his face. “Hand me the trousers, would you?” she asked nonchalantly.

  The color in her cheeks told him it was a bluff, so he matched brazenness for brazenness and watched her as she pulled off her skirt. She snatched the trousers from his hands. “If you don’t watch it, Halfman, you’re going to be considerably more than half a—” she said with a significant glance at his trousers, but then her eyes went past Dorian to the body behind him. Her jest died and her high color drained away. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. “I hate this place. I hate this whole country.”

  She finished dressing in silence and pulled on the floppy hat Dorian had frequently worn to cover his own face as much as possible, piling her long hair on top of her head in a bundle. In the end, it was a poor disguise, not because of the clothes, but because Jenine didn’t walk like a man, and couldn’t learn in the few moments Dorian was willing to spare trying to teach her. But if she didn’t look like a man, she didn’t look like a princess either. They’d just have to hope everyone was distracted.

 
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