The night angel trilogy, p.114
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.114

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Did you learn anything new?” Istariel said, doing to her best to feign interest. Limited interest.

  Ariel licked her lips, her eyes flicking up to the ceiling as she thought. “I concluded that a review of all the currently available literature on the subject still left the most pertinent questions open. And most of the less pertinent ones as well.”

  “So it took you two years to figure out that you weren’t going to figure anything out.” It was a graceless way to put it, but then, with Ariel, it paid to be blunt.

  Ariel grimaced. “That’s why I was willing to go see about Jessie al’Gwaydin.”

  And not because your Speaker asked you to. For a moment, Istariel was jealous of her oblivious older sister. Ariel was a rock and the waves of politics passed her with sound and fury and she didn’t even notice. She was a bore, but a useful one. Whenever Istariel had needed an expert opinion on the magical sides of dilemmas, Ariel could be loosed on the problem like a hound to scent. And she wouldn’t share her findings with anyone except the books she wrote and Istariel. All in all, Ariel was worth far more than the trouble she caused. But did she have to be so boring?

  If Ariel had turned her brilliant mind to politics…. Well, Istariel had thought of that before, in her more paranoid moments. If Ariel had the inclination for such things, Ariel would be the Speaker and Istariel would probably be some farmer’s brood mare. The key to handling Ariel was understanding that she was a believer; not a believer in some god, but a believer in the Chantry. There was something endearingly naive in women who believed all that “Seraph’s handmaiden” tripe. It made them far easier to handle than the magae who believed only in themselves. Point in a direction, say “good of the Chantry,” and Ariel would do anything.

  “Ariel, I’ve got a problem I need your help with. I know you’ve never accepted a tyro—”

  “I’ll do it.”

  “—but I want you to think about the good of the—What?”

  “You want me to teach Viridiana Sovari so she’s protected until she can destroy Eris Buel and the Chattel. I’ll do it.”

  Istariel’s heart jumped into her throat. So nakedly laid out, it was a plot whose discovery would bring down a Speaker. “Never say that!” she hissed. “Not ever. Not even here.”

  Ariel cocked an eyebrow at her.

  Istariel smoothed her dress. “She’s being initiated this evening?”

  “As we speak. Apparently there are some difficulties. It’s been hours.”

  Istariel frowned. “How Talented is this girl? Is she Eris Buel’s equal?”

  “No,” Ariel said. “Not even close.”

  Istariel cursed.

  “You misunderstand. She surpasses Eris Buel in every way. Vi Sovari is more Talented than I am.”

  Istariel’s eyes widened. Like most Sisters, she was loath to admit when others were stronger. She would have thought Ariel, being so accustomed to being stronger than everyone, would chafe at the idea at least a little.

  “Ulyssandra will be more Talented still, given five years,” Ariel said.

  “That’s great news. But I don’t have five years. I don’t have one. I need you to turn this Vi Sovari into something special by spring. The Chattel are arriving then as a show of strength to make their demands heard.” And maybe to bring down a speaker.

  “You will make concessions,” Ariel said, not quite a question.

  “They wish us to start a men’s school. Did I say wish? They demand. They demand recognition of their new ‘order’ and the attendant seats on the council, which would make them by far the most powerful order in the Chantry. By themselves they would have a majority in any vote that came to the floor. They demand a repeal of the marriage bans so they may marry magi. They demand a repeal of the Alitaeran Accords. The nations of Midcyru will have reason to fear that we wish to return to the Alkestian magocracy. These Chattel will unite the nations against us. We’re a bastion of light in a dark world, Ariel. Concessions I can countenance. Destruction I cannot.”

  “What is it you want me to teach Vi?” Ariel asked. That was it; Istariel had her.

  Istariel paused, stuck between discretion and wanting to make sure her dense sister did what needed to be done. “Like we do with every Sister, help Vi figure out what her strengths are, and train them.”

  Ariel’s eyes widened and narrowed in a heartbeat. The girl was nearly a battle maja, and they both knew it. In fact, Ariel’s response was so swift, Istariel thought she might have suspected the order. Or maybe Ariel was just that smart.

  Well, there it was, as much discretion and direction as Istariel could afford to give and still hope to retain her seat if any word of this came out. Istariel would have to keep her distance from Ariel and Vi, of course. Even Ariel would understand that… if she noticed. Now, to smooth things, to maintain the illusion.

  “You are to be commended for bringing such great Talents into our fold, Sister Ariel. I don’t believe two recruits with such potential have been brought to the Chantry for perhaps fifty years.” She smiled. It was fifty years since she and Ariel had arrived.

  “Longer, surely.”

  “You deserve to be rewarded,” Istariel said, her smile freezing. “Is there anything I can get for your studies?” Ariel, of course, would say service was enough.

  “Absolutely,” Ariel said.

  By the time she left, Ariel had muscled Istariel into consenting to every item. Ariel hadn’t even had the grace to offer something she didn’t really want so Istariel could say no and claim some small victory for her pride.

  Istariel sat back and looked at her hair in her mirror, wanting it to be perfect for her meeting with the Alitaeran emissary. At least her blonde hair was still beautiful. She had the other Sisters swearing it was magic that she could have a mane so glossy and thick and perfect. It wasn’t, but it always pleased her to hear the allegation.

  Her mind cast back to Ariel’s statement that she should be fascinated by ugly Trace Arvag-whatever-her-name-was. Istariel frowned, the face in the mirror showing any number of unattractive lines on a dignified but quite plain face. If Ariel had a sense of humor, Istariel would suspect she were the butt of a very subtle joke.

  She snorted. Ariel, a sense of humor. Now there was a joke.

  23

  Kylar peered through the glass inset in the balcony door. In the darkness of the queen’s bedchamber, a couple was writhing on the queen’s bed. From their frenetic pace, they were either very close to completion or very energetic. From habit, Kylar looked at the hinges of the balcony door, then realized they could squeal like a herd of pigs and never be noticed. He looked back through the window, suddenly shy. Still going.

  A gentleman would wait. A wetboy would use the distraction. Kylar slipped inside.

  The young man grunted and froze. Hands smacked loudly as the woman grabbed his buttocks and urged him to keep going. He thrust twice more, then wilted.

  “Fuck!” Terah Graesin said, pushing him off her. “I thought I was going to make it this time.”

  “Sorry, Sis,” Luc Graesin said.

  Kylar felt suddenly lightheaded. The ka’kari whistled softly. ~I haven’t seen royal incest for a couple centuries, and that was in Ymmur, where it’s expected.~

  Luc snuggled into Terah’s side and laid his head on her chest. Considering that he was substantially taller and bigger than his sister, it was oddly submissive. Kylar was struck by the difference in their ages. Luc was perhaps seventeen and looked younger; Terah was twenty-five and looked older. How long had this been going on?

  Durzo had taught Kylar that when something surprised you on a job, only one question mattered: does this change what I have to do? The answer now was no, unless Luc stayed all night. Kylar put aside all the speculations about what this meant and refocused. There was nothing to do but wait, so Kylar moved behind a pillar in a quiet corner of the room.

  Luc propped himself up on an elbow. “Sis, I wanted to talk to you about tomorrow morning. This morning, whatever
.”

  “You’re going to lead your first battle,” Terah said, pushing a lock of hair back behind his ear. “You’re going to be safe. I’ve given the Guard commands to keep you back from—”

  “That’s just it, Ter.” Luc got out of bed and began dressing. “I didn’t fight at Pavvil’s Grove. I didn’t go on any raids. I didn’t fight highlanders at Screaming Winds—”

  “Do not bring up Logan Gyre.”

  “I’m the Lord Commander of the Royal Armies of Cenaria, and my experience of battle is limited to the fistfight I had with the pig keeper’s boy. I was ten. He was eight. I lost and you had him thrashed.”

  “Generals fight with their brains. Your scouts were instrumental to our victory at Pavvil’s Grove,” Terah said.

  “How do you do that?” Luc asked, pausing in the act of lacing his tunic. “You fit two lies in one sentence. It wasn’t our victory. It was Logan’s. Why we rule now rather than having our heads on pikes, I don’t know. And I completely botched handling the scouts. Men wondered if I was trying to screw up. I was so bad they thought I was a traitor.”

  “Who said that?” Terah asked, her eyes alight.

  “It doesn’t matter.”

  “What do you want, Luc? I’ve given you everything.”

  Luc threw his hands up. “That’s what I’m trying to say! You’ve given me everything that a man might earn after a lifetime of—”

  “What do you want?” she interrupted.

  “I think we should stop.”

  “Stop?”

  “You and me, Ter. Us. This.” He wouldn’t meet her gaze.

  “Do you still love me?”

  “Sis…”

  “It’s a simple question.”

  “Insanely,” Luc said. “But if people find out, they’ll install Logan in a second.”

  “Logan won’t threaten us forever.”

  “Sis, he’s a good man. A hero. You’re not going to kill him.”

  She smiled dangerously. “Don’t tell me how to rule, Luc.”

  “Terah,” he said.

  “You listen to me. You’ll bitch and moan and fret, like always. And I’ll take care of it, like always. I take the risks, you take the rewards. So why don’t you and your conscience go fuck all the maids, while I get called a slut.”

  “You expect me to believe you didn’t sleep with all those lords?” Luc asked.

  She slapped him. “You bastard. They never laid a hand on me.”

  “So much can be accomplished without hands.”

  She slapped him again.

  “Don’t, don’t do that again,” Luc said.

  She slapped him again. He did nothing.

  “I let them call me a slut,” Terah said. “I let you fuck other women. I wake up two hours before dawn on the nights you visit so a maid can change my sheets so that when my laundress—who’s a Sa’kagé spy—washes them there’s no evidence of us. Why? Because I love you. So I think I deserve a little gratitude.”

  Luc held her stare for a few moments, then deflated. “I’m sorry, Ter. I’m just scared.”

  “Go get some sleep. And come to me after your victory.” Her smile held a promise.

  Luc’s eyes lit with boyish mischief. “How about I come to you now?”

  “No,” she said. “Good night, Luc.”

  “Please?”

  “Good night, Luc.”

  After Luc left and the queen had been asleep for half an hour, Kylar drew his bollock dagger. It was pitted and blunted from the corrosive powers of the Devourer.

  ~Sorry.~

  He reached out to prod Terah. Stopped. There were things more menacing than a pitted dagger.

  Kylar studied Terah Graesin as he’d learned to study his deaders. She was a woman whose bearing and reputation were a greater part of her appeal than nature’s gifts. In this unguarded, unrouged moment, she looked more like a skinny farm girl than a queen: her lips thin, cracked, colorless. Her eyebrows tiny lines. Her eyelashes short. Her nose slightly hooked. Her milky skin marred by several pimples. Her face obscured by strands of loose hair.

  In that moment, he couldn’t help but respect Terah Graesin. She’d been born into one of the great families of Cenaria, but her spirit was indomitable. She had risen past men who despised her for her youth, her sex, her reputation. Terah Graesin hadn’t become queen by accident. But here, Terah Graesin was just a woman alone, about to be woken by a nightmare.

  Sometimes, Kylar couldn’t help but pity the bastards. Durzo had taught Kylar that the best wetboy understood his deader better than the deader understood himself. Kylar believed it, but every time he did something calculated to inspire terror, he wondered if he was trading away his humanity. It was one thing to terrify goons. Was it different to terrify a young woman in the intimacy of her bedchamber?

  But Terah Graesin wasn’t merely a woman. She was a queen. Her idiocy would kill thousands—and she planned to kill Logan, the rightful king. Act now. Doubt later.

  Kylar went to the other side of Terah’s bed and pulled back the covers to give himself space to sit. With the patience of a wetboy, he eased his weight onto the mattress by degrees. Finally, he sat, legs folded, hands draped on his knees, back straight, the face of judgment angry.

  The young queen was sleeping on her side, with her hands tucked under her pillow, so it was easy to grab the thick down blanket and pull it down. Caught between the necessity for patience—any rapid change would wake her—and the coldness of the room which would have Terah reaching for blankets even in sleep, Kylar pulled back the sheet to uncover her nakedness.

  Kylar didn’t look. If anything, he was disgusted. He wanted her off-balance, vulnerable. She stirred. He schooled himself to stillness, sitting upright once more, and began to glow a cool blue, gradually brightening.

  This was the shaky part: a deader’s startle response was involuntary. Scaring a screamer and telling them not to scream was futile. He could wake her with a hand across her mouth, but that wouldn’t give the flavor of terror he was looking for.

  Terah Graesin woke slowly, as he hoped. Squinted, then opened her eyes slowly. Blinked, once, twice as if against the dawn light that usually came in her windows. Focused closer, closer. Then, all in a rush, the Night Angel came into focus, eyes burning with blue flame, puffs of fire escaping his lips with every breath, body alternately invisible, wispy as black smoke, and gleaming hard iridescent black metal muscle. Her breath caught, and a squeak came out. Not loud, thank the God.

  Her legs spasmed and kicked and she grabbed for the covers. Flailing, she scooted toward the edge of the bed. Kylar sat motionless as a god and reached out only with his Talent. He was still clumsy with this, but he made a lucky grab and caught Terah’s throat with his first try. The hand of Talent pinned her to the bed.

  Drawing up a rigid hand in a striking position called a knife hand, Kylar made it literal by forming the ka’kari into a leaf-shaped blade over his hand. He whispered, “A scream would be a mistake, Terah. Understood?” He used her name to make it more familiar, more creepy when she remembered it.

  Eyes wide, she nodded.

  “Cover yourself, whore. You reek of your brother’s seed,” he said. He released her throat and drew the ka’kari back from his hand. With jerky motions, she pulled up the sheets and held them in white-knuckled fists, drawing her knees up, trembling.

  The Night Angel said. “While you rule my city, I demand you rule well.”

  “Who are you?” she asked, voice tight, still off balance.

  “You will call off this attack. Garuwashi has no food. He can not hold this siege.”

  “You’re here to help me save Cenaria?” she asked, incredulous.

  “I will save Cenaria, with you or from you. Give me two days. Garuwashi doesn’t know how bad it is in the city. He will negotiate.”

  Terah Graesin was already recovering. “He’s refused me. He swore never to negotiate with a woman.” That was news to Kylar. Why wouldn’t Garuwashi negotiate?

 
Not with you then,” Kylar said. “With Gyre.”

  Her eyes lit with fury. “Gyre? You’re Logan’s creature? You were the one who saved us in the garden during the coup! All you cared about was him. You saved him, didn’t you? You saved him and now you want him to get the glory. After all I’ve done to get here, you expect me to let Logan win? I’d rather die!” She stood haughtily and grabbed her robe from a chair. “Now I suggest—”

  Kylar was on her. Before she could even think to scream, he slammed her onto the bed, straddled her, punched her solar plexus to knock the wind from her and clamped a hand over her face. He grabbed a hairpin from her bedside table and drove it through the meat of her arm. He let her gasp in a breath and then filled her mouth with the ka’kari to keep her from screaming.

  Unable to expel her scream from her mouth, air gushed from her nose and blew snot all over his hand. He ground the hairpin back and forth, then grabbed another.

  She bucked and kicked and tried to scream through her nose, so he blocked her nose with the ka’kari too.

  Her eyes bulged and the veins on her neck stood out as she struggled in vain to breathe. She tried to flail, but Kylar had her arms pinned with his knees. He brought the hairpin into her view and touched the point to her forehead.

  Though her throat was still working convulsively, Terah Graesin stilled. Kylar traced the point of the hairpin down her forehead, between her eyes, then across the delicate skin of one eyelid.

  For a moment, he couldn’t help but wonder what Elene would think if she saw him here, doing this. The queen’s terror sickened him, and yet he held the cruel smile on his face. He lifted the hairpin away from her eye so she could see Judgment. “You’d rather die?” the Night Angel asked. “Really?”

  24

  The sight of the Alabaster Seraph growing larger as the punt approached did nothing to calm Elene. If Elene had read Vi’s letter correctly—it seemed like so long ago now—Vi had ringed Kylar without his permission, with the very wedding earrings Kylar had intended for Elene and himself. Elene had never been so furious for so long.

 
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