The night angel trilogy, p.11
The Night Angel Trilogy, p.11Brent Weeks
Then the world faded into repeated heavy blows and exploding light and pain and the sharp garlicky breath of Master Blint and distant shouting and banging on a door that seemed further and further away.
Durzo gazed into the frothy brown ale as if it held answers. It didn’t, and he had a choice to make. The usual forced gaiety of the brothel swirled around him, but nobody male or female bothered him. Perhaps it was Retribution unsheathed on the table in front of him. Perhaps it was merely the look on his face.
Don’t hurt her! Azoth had yelled. As if Durzo would murder some seven-year-old girl. What kind of a monster did the boy think he was? Then he remembered beating the shit out of the boy, artlessly pounding that yielding child flesh, beating him unconscious before Count Drake broke the door down and grabbed him. He’d almost killed Count Drake for that, he’d been so wild. The count had fixed such a look on Durzo—damn Count Drake and his damn holy eyes.
That incandescent blue. Damn it. Damn all magic. In that flash of blue on Retribution, he’d seen his hope die. The hope had been dying since Vonda died, but that blue was a door slamming shut forever. It meant Azoth was worthy as Durzo was not, as if all of Durzo’s years of service were worth nothing. The boy was taking from him all that made him special. What did that leave for Durzo Blint?
Ashes. Ashes, and blood, and nothing more.
Suddenly the sword Retribution before him seemed a mockery. Retribution? Giving people what they deserve? If I really did that, I’d shove that damn blade down my own throat.
The last time he’d been so close to madness had been when Vonda died, four months and six days ago. Sighing, he swirled the ale around in the glass, but he didn’t drink. Time enough for that later. Later, after he made his decision, he’d need a drink. He’d need twelve, no matter what he decided.
He’d drunk a lot with Vonda. It pissed her sister off. Of course, the whole relationship had pissed Momma K off. She’d forbidden Durzo to see her innocent little sister. She’d forbidden Vonda to see the wetboy. Momma K, so smart in other matters, had probably done more to get their relationship going than anything. Surrounded by easy flesh, whether he paid for it or not, Gwinvere’s little sister was suddenly intriguing. He wanted to know if the virginal bit was an act.
It was. He’d been disappointed but had hidden it. It was hypocrisy, anyway, and she’d had plenty of other mysteries. Vonda didn’t always treat him well, but at least she didn’t fear him. He didn’t think she understood him enough to fear him. She seemed to just glide along on the surface of life while others had to plunge into the sewer water. Durzo hadn’t understood her, and it had entranced him.
After their affair started, he might have kept it secret. He could have; he knew Gwinvere’s schedule well enough that they could have kept things going for years. Even with Gwinvere’s insight, Durzo knew how to be inscrutable. But it hadn’t happened. Vonda had told her. Probably announced it immediately, if Durzo knew Vonda. It might have been a little callous, but Vonda didn’t know what she was doing.
“End this now, Durzo Blint,” Gwinvere had told him, quite calmly. “She’ll destroy you. I love my sister, but she will be your ruin.” It had all been words. Words to get Gwinvere’s way, as always. With all her power, it infuriated her that she couldn’t run the lives of those she really wanted to.
She’d been right, of course. Maybe not in the way she had meant it, but she’d been right. Gwinvere always had understood him better than anyone else, and he’d understood her. They were mirrors to each other. Gwinvere Kirena would have been perfect for him—if he could love what he saw in the mirror.
Why am I thinking about this? It’s all old shit. It’s all finished. There was a choice to be made: did he raise the boy and hope, or did he kill him now?
Hope. Right. Hope is the lies we tell ourselves about the future. He’d hoped before. Dared to dream about a different life, but when it came time—
“You look pensive, Gaelan Starfire,” a Ladeshian bard said, seating himself across from Durzo without waiting to be asked.
“I’m deciding who to kill. Call me that again and you jump to the front of the list, Aristarchos.”
The bard smiled with the confidence of a man who knows he has perfect white teeth that only set off a handsome face. By the Night Angels.
“We’ve been awfully curious about what’s been happening for the last few months.”
“You and the Society can go to hell,” Durzo said.
“I think you like the attention, Durzo Blint. If you wanted us dead, we’d be dead. Or are you really bound by this code of retribution? It’s of considerable debate in the society.”
“Still fighting over the same questions, huh? Don’t you all have anything better to do? Talk talk talk. Why don’t you do something productive for once?”
“We’re trying, Durzo. In fact, that’s why I’m here. I want to help you.”
“You’ve lost it, haven’t you?” Aristarchos asked. “Have you lost it, or has it abandoned you? Do the stones really choose their own masters?”
Durzo noticed he was spinning the knife from finger to finger again. It wasn’t to intimidate the Ladeshian—who laudably enough didn’t even glance at it—it just kept his hands busy. It was nothing. He stopped it. “Here’s why I’ve never been friends with any of you, Aristarchos: I don’t know if your little circle has ever been interested in me, or if it’s only interested in my power. Once, I was almost convinced to share some of my mysteries, but I realized that what I share with one of you, I share with all of you. So tell me, why would I give my enemies such power?”
“Is that what we’ve come to?” Aristarchos asked. “Enemies? Why then do you not wipe us from the face of the earth? You’re uniquely suited to such a task.”
“I don’t kill without cause. Fear isn’t enough to motivate me. It may be beyond your comprehension, but I can hold power without using it.”
Aristarchos stroked his chin. “Then you are a better man than many have feared. I see now why you were chosen in the first place.” Aristarchos stood. “Know this, Durzo Blint. I am far from home and have not the means I might wish, but if you call on me, I will give you what help I can. And knowing that you have deemed the cause just will be enough explanation for me. Good day.”
The man walked out of the brothel, smiling and winking at the whores who seemed disappointed to lose his business. He wore his charm like a mask, Durzo saw.
The masks change, but the masquers remain the same, don’t they? Durzo had lived with the bilge waste of humanity for so long, he saw filth in every heart. He knew the filth was there; he was right about that. Filth and darkness were even in Rimbold Drake’s heart. But Drake didn’t act from that darkness, did he? No. That masquer—if only that one—had changed.
Fear isn’t enough to motivate me, he’d said—while planning to murder a child. What kind of a monster am I?
He was caught now. Truly and desperately caught. He’d just killed Corbin Fishill. The man’s death had been sanctioned by the Shinga and the rest of the Nine. Corbin had been managing the guilds as if he were in Khalidor, setting guild against guild, encouraging open war between them and doing absolutely nothing to regulate brutality within the guilds. Khalidorans did such things in the belief that the best would naturally rise. But the Sa’kagé wanted members, not monsters.
Worse, they now had some indication that Corbin actually had been working for Khalidor. That was inexcusable. Not taking the work, but taking it without reporting it to the rest of the Nine. Loyalties had to be to the Sa’kagé first.
The kill had been sanctioned, and it had been just. That didn’t mean that Corbin’s friends would accept it. Durzo had killed members of the Nine before, but he always took extra care to conceal whose work it was. Now Azoth had tromped around his killing grounds for hours, a little before the job was done and a lot after. Enough people knew or guessed Durzo had taken Azoth as his apprentice that they couldn’t
Being the best made him a target. The appearance of weakness gave every second-rate wetboy hope that they could move up. Azoth couldn’t have known, of course. Still didn’t know so many things. But in that flash of blue light from Retribution’s blade, Durzo had seen his own death. If he let the boy live, Durzo would die. Sooner or later.
And there it was. The divine economy. For someone to live, someone had to die.
Durzo Blint made his decision, and started drinking.
“Master Blint hasn’t come to see me.”
“No,” Momma K said.
“It’s been four days. You said he wasn’t mad anymore,” Azoth said, making fists with his hands. He thought he had cut them, but they were fine. Lots of other places on his body hurt, so he hadn’t just imagined being beaten, but his hands were fine.
“Three days. And he’s not mad. Drink this.”
“No. I don’t want any more of that stuff. It makes me feel worse.” He regretted the words as soon as he said them. Momma K’s eyebrows went up and her eyes went cold. Even huddled in warm blankets in a spare bedroom here in her house, when her eyes turned frosty, nothing could make you feel warm.
“Child, let me tell you a story. Have you ever heard of the Snake of Haran?”
Azoth shook his head.
“The snake has seven heads, but each time you cut one head off, two more grow in its place.”
“Really? There’s really such a thing?”
“No. In Haran they call it the Snake of Ladesh. It’s imaginary.”
“Then why did you tell me about it?” Azoth asked.
“Are you being deliberately obtuse?” When he didn’t answer, she said, “If you’ll let me finish, you’ll see the story is an analogy. Analogies are lies grown-ups tell.”
“Why?” Being stuck in bed was making Azoth petulant.
“Why does anyone tell lies? Because they’re useful. Now drink your medicine and then shut your mouth,” Momma K said.
Azoth knew he was pushing it, so he didn’t ask any more. He drank the thick mint-and-anise-flavored brew.
“Right now the Sa’kagé has its own Snake of Haran, Azoth… Kylar. Do you know Corbin Fishill?”
Azoth nodded. Corbin was the handsome, impressive young man who had sometimes come and talked to Ja’laliel.
“Corbin was one of the Nine. He ran the children’s guilds.”
“Was?” Azoth almost squeaked. He wasn’t supposed to know Corbin was even important, much less how important.
“Durzo killed him three days ago. When the baby farms were shut down, the Sa’kagé was given a chance to literally raise its own army. But Corbin was allowing or encouraging guild war that was wiping out the slaveborn. And he was a spy. The Sa’kagé thought he was a Ceuran spy, but now they think he was taking money from Khalidor. The Khalidorans paid him in Ceuran gold, probably in case he was found, and also so he wouldn’t start spending the money immediately and bring attention to himself.
“Now that Corbin is dead, his things have been searched, and unfortunately, there hasn’t been any clear answer. If he was Khalidoran, he was far more dangerous than we had thought, and the Sa’kagé should have brought him in and had him tortured until they knew for sure, but at the time, they thought it was more important to set a graphic example of what happens to those who mismanage Sa’kagé endeavors. The problem now is bigger.
“We don’t think Corbin was in place long enough to cultivate any loyalty to Khalidor among the guilds—street rats don’t care much where their meals come from—but the fact Khalidor would work on taking over the guilds tells us that they are thinking long term.”
“How do you know he wasn’t just the easiest person they could get in the Sa’kagé?”
Momma K smiled. “We don’t. Khalidor is putting down some rebellions right now, and it’s not going well for them. But the Godking has earned a reputation as a man who plans for victory, and my guess is that he thinks it may be years before he’s ready to march south, but he wants Cenaria to fall at the slightest blow when he does. If he controls the Sa’kagé, taking the city will be easy. Our problem is that if he was able to get a man as highly placed as Corbin, then there may be dozens of others. The other heads of the snake may show up at any time. Anyone we trust may be working for Khalidor.”
“Why’s that your problem?” Azoth asked.
“It’s my problem because I’m one of the Nine, too, Kylar. I’m the Mistress of Pleasures.”
Azoth’s mouth formed a little O. Always before, the Sa’kagé had been something dangerous, huge, and distant. He supposed it fit—everyone knew Momma K had been a whore and that she was wealthy—but he’d never even thought of it. Being the Mistress of Pleasures meant that Momma K controlled all of the prostitution in Cenaria. Everyone who plied the pleasure trade ultimately answered to her.
She smiled. “Aside from my girls’ more… strenuous duties, they also keep their ears open. You’d be amazed at how talkative men can be in front of what they think is just a dumb whore. I’m in charge of the Sa’kagé’s spies. I need to know what Khalidor is doing. If I don’t know, the Sa’kagé doesn’t know, and if we don’t know, the country may fall. Believe me, we do not want Garoth Ursuul as our king.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Azoth said. “I’m nobody.”
“Azoth was nobody. You are about to become Kylar Stern,” she said, “And I think you’re smarter than Durzo gives you credit for. I’m telling you because we need you on our side. Azoth was stupid to go wandering the other day, and it may cost you or Durzo your lives. But if you had known what was happening, you wouldn’t have gone there. You did the wrong thing, but Durzo shouldn’t have beaten you for showing initiative. In fact, I’m sure he’s sorry for beating you, though he’ll never apologize. It isn’t in the man to admit he’s wrong. We need you to be more than an apprentice, Kylar. We need you to be an ally. Are you ready for that?”
Azoth—Kylar—nodded slowly. “What do you want me to do?”
Kylar tried to gawk at the right things as he was ushered through the Gyre estate. Azoth, Momma K had told him, would gawk at anything big or gold. Baronet Kylar Stern would gawk only at things that were both—and the art. Logan had invited him to visit to make amends for hitting him, and Kylar’s first job for the Sa’kagé was to make sure they became friends.
The porter escorted him to another, better-dressed man—Kylar almost greeted him as Duke Gyre before realizing he must be the Gyre’s chamberlain. The chamberlain took him through a vast entry hall with dual stairs that climbed three stories flanking an enormous marble statue of two men, twins, facing each other in battle, each seeing the same opening in the other’s defense, each lunging. It was one of the most famous statues in the world, Momma K had told Kylar: The Grasq Twins’ Doom. In history, Momma K said, the Grasq twins had been heavily armored and during a long battle each had lost the thin tabards that at the time were all men wore over plate mail and all that identified them if they were separated from their standard bearers. They had indeed killed each other, though each had avoided the other in earlier battles. Here, the men were naked except for a shield and sword. Because of the shields’ placement, each was seeing his twin’s face for the first time even as he struck the death blow.
The chamberlain took Kylar up the stairs and down one long wing of the estate. The hallway was wider than most of the alleys in the Warrens. Both sides were crowded with marble busts and paintings of men speaking, men fighting, men seizing women, families moving, women mourning, the aftermath of battles, and horrible monsters boiling out of gaps in the ground. Every picture was framed with heavy gold leaf. Most were big. Walking behind the chamberlain, Kylar could gawk as much as he wanted, and he did. Then they stopped at a huge door. The chamberlain rapped on it with the staff he carried and opened the door to a library with dozens of shelves in orderly rows and the walls lined with b
“My lord, Baronet Kylar Stern.”
Logan Gyre rose from a table with an open scroll laid across it. “Kylar! I was just finishing—I borrowed this scroll from—oh, never mind. Welcome!”
“Thank you for inviting me, Duke Gyre; your estate is beautiful. The statue of the Grasq twins is breathtaking.” He was reciting it the way Momma K had taught him, but now he meant it.
“Please, Logan. You’re most kind. You really like it?” Logan asked.
The “you’re most kind” gave him away. Logan was trying as hard to be an adult as Kylar was. Kylar was nervous because he was a fraud, but “Duke” Logan felt like a fraud, too. The title was too big and too new for him to feign comfort convincingly. So Kylar answered honestly, “Actually, I think it’s amazing. I just wish they weren’t naked.”
Logan burst out laughing. “I know! Most the time I don’t notice it anymore, but every once in a while I come in the door and—there’s two huge naked men in my house. Because of my new duties I’m meeting all of my father’s retainers and friends, again. Really it’s a chance for ladies to introduce their daughters and hope I fall madly in love. I was greeting a lady and her daughter, I won’t name names, but they are beautiful women and very prim, very modest. So I’m pretty tall, right? and they both have to really look up to look me in the eye, and as I’m talking and I’m in the middle of a story and the mom is tittering and the daughter looks utterly captivated, and I start to wonder if I’ve got something in my hair or on my ear or something, because they both keep glancing just a bit to the side.”
“Oh no,” Kylar said, laughing.
“I glance over my shoulder, and there’s… well, there, three times life size, is marble… genitalia. And there’s this moment where they realize that I’ve noticed that they’ve been looking over my shoulder the whole time, and I realize this is the first time that the daughter has ever seen a naked man—and I totally forget what story I was telling them.”
The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes