The night angel trilogy, p.116
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.116

           Brent Weeks
 

  26

  Men were gathering in the great yard before the city’s south gate when Kylar arrived. The queen’s messengers canceling the attack wouldn’t arrive for a few more minutes. Kylar was almost certain that they would. However, Durzo had taught him that when you deal with human beings, never count on logic or consistency. Either way, Kylar’s work wasn’t finished.

  The sa’ceurai were still sleeping. Kylar didn’t make the mistake of thinking that this meant the morning’s attack would take them off guard. They simply could sleep in and still slaughter Cenarians without missing breakfast.

  The sleet had stopped, so Kylar was able to make good time to Lantano Garuwashi’s tent. The war leader was asleep on a simple mat on one side of the room.

  Kylar stopped at a table full of maps. He’d never seen such detailed maps. There were maps of the city with three different colors of blocks put on different objectives. Kylar wasn’t even sure what the colors signified. There were maps of the city’s surroundings, with elevation marked, the conditions of roads labeled, and a remarkably accurate chart of the Smugglers’ Archipelago. Blocks with regimental flags stuck in them represented the various forces arrayed within and without the city, even the new Rabbit regiments, which meant they already had spies in the city who were managing to pass messages out. There were broader national maps, with both knowns and unknowns marked. They didn’t know who held Screaming Winds in the north. They weren’t sure of the Lae’knaught’s strength in the southeast. But on the last map were blocks representing Cenaria’s death.

  Blocks on that national map represented Logan’s force, guessed to be slightly larger than it was, and behind them, Ceuran reinforcements.

  I’m not a general, I’m only a killer. And a fool. Kylar had glanced at what was in front of his eyes and thought he had a more accurate view of the situation than the city’s generals. Lantano Garuwashi had rushed to the city without horses or baggage, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t told them to follow.

  He had. They were just a few days out, behind Logan’s army, and Logan had never seen them. In the meantime, Garuwashi had already dispatched a contingent of sa’ceurai to skirt Logan’s force and go back to guard the supply train.

  Among the papers were plans to hire pirates to cut off smugglers’ routes into the city and others to encourage insurrection in the Warrens. They were already in negotiations with the Sa’kagé, which the generals knew had smuggling routes into the city. Currently, the Sa’kagé wasn’t offering good terms, but the generals were confident that the Sa’kagé’s offers would get sweeter as soon as the supply train arrived and the hungry Cenarians watched them feast.

  Kylar felt sicker the more he read. Of course the Sa’kagé would treat with the Ceurans. It was one thing to refuse to collaborate with Khalidorans who wanted to wipe out all of Cenaria, quite another to betray a disliked queen to a reasonable man who wouldn’t interfere with the Sa’kagé’s business. As soon as that supply train arrived, Momma K would see the end. She would try to minimize the bloodshed, but which was better: For thousands to starve in the Warrens, or for a hundred noble heads to roll? The smuggling tunnels would soon fill with sa’ceurai.

  “Night Angel,” Lantano Garuwashi said in greeting, rising from his mat.

  Checking, Kylar was sure he was still invisible. He looked at the papers in his hand, apparently hanging in midair. He dropped the invisibility. “Good morning, warleader.”

  Lantano Garuwashi was one of the rare men who looked more daunting half-naked than he did in full armor. There was no fat on his body, and where most quick swordsmen were built with lean muscles like Kylar, Garuwashi had the upper body of a blacksmith, each muscle sharply defined—and big. He had a smattering of scars on arms and chest and stomach, but not one of them was deep enough to have cut muscle and thereby impede his motion. They were the wounds of a man whose mistakes had been infrequent and small.

  He shook his head as if to shake off sleep, but Kylar thought it was more calculated to rattle the bound ends of those sixty-odd locks in his own hair like a bowl full of marbles. Lantano Garuwashi grinned joylessly at Kylar. “I’ve been expecting you,” he said.

  Kylar couldn’t believe it, but how else would he sleep so lightly that he woke at the sound of papers being turned fifty feet away? “If you expected me, there’d be fifty sa’ceurai ringing this tent.”

  “I knew you were coming as soon as my sentry reported that someone tied his leggings together.”

  Kylar’s jaw dropped. “He reported himself?”

  Garuwashi smiled, self-satisfied. Kylar wanted to think of him as smug, but it was an infectious kind of smile. “I punished him lightly and rewarded him well—as he expected.”

  “Son of a—” Every time Kylar took something for granted, he got hit in the face with it.

  ~Is there a lesson here?~

  Kylar ignored the ka’kari. “So, if you expected me…. All this is guttershite.” He dropped the papers on the table. “There’s no supply train.”

  Garuwashi’s grin faded. “It’s coming,” he said. “If you don’t believe me, wait two days. You tell me, do you think all those reports could have been written between the time you were playing with my sentry and now? That would be a massive effort, wouldn’t it? And it would be stupid of me to throw it away by telling you I expected you.”

  Kylar blinked. “So what’s the game?”

  Garuwashi began pulling on his clothes. “Oh, are we being honest with each other?”

  “Might be quicker than lying.”

  Garuwashi hesitated. “Fair enough. I’m preparing to be a king, Night Angel.”

  “A High King?” Kylar asked.

  Garuwashi looked puzzled. “You say this like it means something to you.”

  Kylar cursed his ineptitude. “A rumor I heard.”

  “Why would I wish to be a high king? Cenaria and Ceura are neither large nor distant from each other. Naming under-kings would simply give me rivals.” He waved it away and tied the thin silk robe around his waist. “In a year, I will be king of Ceura. I have a reputation now and most of it serves my purposes. But in our capital Aenu, the effete nobles call me a barbarian. ‘Skilled at war, yes, but can a butcher be king?’ This is how they attack a man who is too excellent. So I have a small interest in capturing this city without killing. We both know that I can take Cenaria. I let you read long enough to see that, yes?”

  “So what do you want?” Kylar asked.

  “Surrender. Unconditionally. I will give you my word to be merciful. We will leave in the spring to claim my throne, and once I take it, I will grant this realm once more to your queen.”

  Kylar couldn’t stop a twitch of annoyance.

  Garuwashi caught it. “You prefer Duke Gyre be made king? Done. I will even restore half of the royal treasury. Beyond this, my men will spend the winter wiping out the Sa’kagé. Tell me, is not that alone worth the price of feeding and housing us? Is it not worth more than half the treasury?”

  ~Especially considering that the treasury’s empty?~

  Then Kylar realized Lantano Garuwashi knew that the Khalidorans had taken everything. Garuwashi was merely offering the queen a victory for her pride: You want half the treasury? Here’s half of nothing! And letting his Ceurans talk of Garuwashi remitting half of the Cenarian treasury would help his reputation for magnanimity, no matter how little half was.

  “You would have Cenaria trust you? You’re saying this to a people who recently suffered under the most brutal tyrant imaginable?”

  “It is a difficulty.” Garuwashi shrugged. “We can do this however you please. But if my men must pay for this city with their blood, they will take blood in return. Take those papers to the queen. Take a few days to see if I’m bluffing. And by the way, this attack this morning, it’s not a good idea. Send these rabbits after sword lords, and this siege will end today.”

  Kylar waved it off. “It’s canceled already. Stupid idea.”

  “So, you do have the power t
o change things. I’d wondered.”

  It was a throwaway comment, but it struck Kylar. How did I get here? He was blithely negotiating for tens of thousands of lives and the fate of a country.

  How would Logan take it? Kylar could obey the letter of his oath and everyone except Terah would win. He wouldn’t kill Terah: Lantano Garuwashi would do it for him.

  Garuwashi was an honorable man, but that wasn’t the same as a good man. The Ceuran culture didn’t require him to be apologetic about craving power. He would be true to his oaths. He would be merciful—by his own definition of mercy, and Kylar had no chance to get to know him well enough to know what that was. The Ceuran nobles called him a barbarian? What if they were right?

  But Cenaria had more than lives at stake. Kylar hadn’t stayed in the city long after killing Godking Ursuul, but everyone had been brimming with stories and pride about the Nocta Hemata.

  Cenaria had been burnt to the ground, and something good was trying to grow in the ashes. Was Cenaria a land where the small became great despite overwhelming odds—as they had in the Nocta Hemata and the Battle of Pavvil’s Grove? Or were they Midcyru’s whipping boy—doomed to be overrun by their neighbors, fending off aggression only through the threat of such deep corruption that no one would want to rule them?

  There were great souls in Cenaria. Momma K and Logan and Count Drake and Durzo were giants. Could they not be heroes as they might be in another country? Couldn’t a Scarred Wrable have been a lauded soldier instead of a hired killer? Kylar thought so, but two things stood in the way: this man’s invasion and Terah Graesin.

  “I’m afraid I can’t let you do this,” Kylar said.

  Fully dressed now, Lantano Garuwashi tucked his thumbs into his sash, which would normally hold his swords. It must have been habit, a not-so-subtle hint to whoever challenged him of Garuwashi’s prowess. He removed his thumbs nonchalantly. “Are you going to kill me?” he asked. “I should find it difficult to fight an invisible man, but I thought we’d covered this ground already.”

  Kylar ignored him. He was looking past the Ceuran to the man’s bed mat. There, for all the world looking like Ceur’caelestos, was a sword in its scabbard. A sword that Lantano Garuwashi hadn’t tucked into his sash. A sword that Kylar had thrown into Ezra’s Wood.

  “Nice sword,” Kylar said.

  Lantano Garuwashi flushed. Though he smiled to cover it immediately, with his fair skin it couldn’t be hidden.

  “Whatever will your men say when they find out it’s a fake? You have a vested interest in not spilling blood? How about a vested interest in not drawing your sword?”

  Given the circumstances, Kylar thought Lantano Garuwashi mastered his rage rather well. His eyes went dead and his muscles relaxed. It wasn’t the relaxation of a sluggard, but a swordsman’s relaxation. Kylar had heard that Garuwashi once ripped out an opponent’s throat before the man could draw his sword. He hadn’t believed that an un-Talented man could do such a thing. Now he reconsidered.

  Lantano Garuwashi didn’t attack, though. Instead, he merely picked up his false Ceur’caelestos and tucked it into his belt. He forced a marginally pleasant expression to his face. “I have a secret of yours, Night Angel. You have an entire identity built as Kylar Stern. You wouldn’t wish to lose that, would you? All your friends, all your access to the kinds of things the Night Angel couldn’t find out on his own.”

  “Remind me to thank Feir for that.” Kylar paused. Did this Ceuran never run out of tricks? “It would hurt me in any number of ways to lose Kylar Stern. But Kylar Stern isn’t all I have or all I am. I can change my name.”

  “Changing a name is no great thing,” Garuwashi admitted. “In Ceura we know this. We sometimes do it to commemorate great events in our lives, but a face—” he cut off as Kylar rubbed a hand over his face and put on Durzo’s visage. “—ah, that is something else entirely, isn’t it?”

  “Losing my identity will cost me years of effort,” Kylar said. “On the other hand, if you can’t draw your sword, you can’t lead your men at all, no matter how overwhelming your strength is. I know Ceura well enough to know that a king can’t rule with an iron sword, and there’s no such thing as an aceuran sa’ceurai.”

  Lantano Garuwashi raised an eyebrow. He glanced at the sheathed sword on his hip. “If you wish to reprise our duel in the wood, I will oblige. Feir Cousat went into the Wood that day after my sword. As none ever has before, he returned, on my word as a sa’ceurai. I still bear Ceur’caelestos. If you force me to draw it, I will sate its spirit with your blood.”

  It was a serious oath, but the words of his vow didn’t mean what he wanted Kylar to infer. “You bear nothing but a scabbard and a hilt. Say that I lie, Garuwashi, and I’ll stand before your tent and challenge you before your army. Your sa’ceurai will tear you apart with their bare hands when they find you’ve lost Ceur’caelestos.”

  The muscles on Garuwashi’s jaw stood out. He said nothing for a long time. “Curse you,” he said finally. The iron in him seemed to melt. “Curse you for taking my sword, and curse Feir for making me live. He did come out of the Wood. He said he’d been chosen to make another Ceur’caelestos for me. He knew the sa’ceurai would never understand, so he gave me this hilt and swore to return by spring. I believed him.” Garuwashi breathed deeply. “And now you come again to destroy me. I don’t know whether to hate you or admire you, Night Angel. I almost had you. I saw it in your face. Do you never run out of tricks?”

  Kylar didn’t let his guard down. “You don’t even want Cenaria, do you? You just thought it would be another quick victory that would make your legend grow.”

  “What is a warleader without war, Night Angel? I was invincible before I took Ceur’caelestos, and now you wish me to lose—against Cenaria? You don’t know what it is to lead men.”

  “I know what it is to kill them. I know what it is to ask others to pay for my mistakes.”

  “Do you know what it is to refuse to be satisfied with the meager portion life hands you? I think you do. Can you imagine me squatting in a field next to my one servant with my trousers rolled up, picking rice? These hands were not made for a hoe. You took this name Kylar Stern. Why? Because you were born with an iron sword, too.

  “My men need food, but they need victory more. With me or without me, they are here for the winter,” Lantano Garuwashi said. “The tunnels we widened to get through the mountains are rivers and ice now. If you expose me, the sa’ceurai will kill me, but then what? They will vent their fury on your people. For everyone’s sake, Night Angel, let that go. Go instead and tell this queen to surrender. I give you my word that if she does this, not a single Cenarian will die. We will take nothing more than food and a place to winter. She will be granted her throne once more when we leave in the spring.”

  And you won’t ask for anything else once you have Cenaria and Ceur’caelestos both, right?

  Kylar shook his head. “You’ll surrender.”

  “I can’t,” Garuwashi said through gritted teeth. “In surrender, even Cenarians lay down their swords at the victor’s feet.”

  Kylar hadn’t thought of that. It wasn’t the thought of surrender that was impossible for Lantano Garuwashi, it was the physical act.

  “Maybe,” Kylar said, “maybe there’s a third way.”

  27

  When Dorian’s half-brother Paerik had brought his army to Khaliras to seize the throne, he had abandoned a vital post. The general who had served under him, General Talwin Naga, stood in front of the throne, explaining how the wild men would invade in the spring.

  “Sixty thousand of them?” Dorian asked. “How could they raise so many?”

  “Raise may be exactly the word, Your Holiness,” the tiny Lodricari man who had accompanied General Naga said.

  “Who are you?” Dorian asked.

  “This is Ashaiah Vul,” the general said. “He was your father’s Raptus Morgi, Keeper of the Dead. I think you need to hear what he can tell you.”

  “I
ve never heard of such an office,” Dorian said. And “raptus” didn’t primarily mean keeper, either. It meant taker, stealer. Dorian’s stomach turned.

  “By your father’s order and his father’s before him, it was a quiet office, Your Holiness,” Ashaiah Vul said. He was utterly bald, with a knobby skull and a pinched face with nearsighted eyes, though he looked barely forty years old. “I was known only as the Keeper. Your father’s Hands discouraged questions.”

  The Hands. There was another problem. Whoever led the informers, torturers, spies, and guards who served as the Godking’s thousand hands had yet to show himself. Regardless, Dorian doubted Ashaiah Vul would dare lie about them.

  “Go on,” Dorian said.

  “I think you may want to come with me, Your Holiness. I suggest you leave your guard here.”

  Is this the first attempt on my life? If so, it was rather clumsy. That made it all the more impossible to refuse. When the attempts on Dorian’s life began, he had to defeat them ruthlessly. Then they would end. “Very well.” Dorian signaled the guards to stay and dismissed the general.

  In the hall, they immediately ran into Jenine. “My lord, I’m so glad to see you,” she said, giving him a version of a Khalidoran bow mixed with a Cenarian curtsey, chin up, eyes closing demurely only for a moment, right hand sweeping into the Khalidoran courtiers’ flourish while the left hand flared her skirt as she curtsied. She made the mixed curtsey look graceful, too. Obviously she’d practiced it. It occurred to him then that there was no Khalidoran form of a woman’s salute to an equal male. Khalidoran women who were equals would nod to each other, but were always inferior to men in the same social rank, and invisible to men of lower rank. And all women prostrated themselves before a Godking. This was Jenine’s offering of a middle ground. He smiled, pleased with her solution.

  Dorian nodded more deeply than any Godking before him would have. “My lady, the pleasure is mine. How may I serve you?”

  “I was hoping to spend the day with you. I don’t want to be in your way. I just want to learn.”

 

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