The night angel trilogy, p.119
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.119

           Brent Weeks

  He was drunk on her ecstasy. The bond between them burned like fire. He couldn’t stop himself. He slowly combed his fingers through her hair, rubbed her scalp, combed his fingers through her hair again. She shifted her hips, making tiny sounds. She rolled over in his lap so he could reach the other side of her head. It put her facing his stomach, inches from the undeniable evidence of his own arousal.

  He froze. She felt it and her eyes flew open. Her pupils were pools of desire. “Please, don’t stop,” she said. “I’ll take care of you. Promise.” She gave the bulge of his trousers a peck.

  Her casualness threw Kylar. There was a disconnect here, in what was supposed to be a connection. It wasn’t let’s share this, it was let’s trade. It wasn’t love—it was commerce.

  “I’m sorry,” she said, picking up on his confusion. “I was being selfish.” She threw back the blanket and in the illogic of a dream, her ugly nightdress was simply gone. In its place, a fitted red nightgown clung to her curves. She stretched like a cat, displaying herself to marvelous advantage. “You first. It’s all yours.”

  “It’s all yours,” not “I’m all yours.” She was offering herself like a sweetmeat. It was nothing to her.

  The door opened abruptly and Elene stood there. Her eyes took in Vi, half-naked, draped over Kylar, her hand on his crotch and Kylar stupidly enjoying it.

  Kylar scrambled out of bed. “No!” he cried.

  “What?” Vi asked. “What are you seeing?”

  “Elene! Wait!”

  Kylar woke and found himself alone in the safe house.

  Dorian was in his chambers with Jenine, poring over maps of the Freeze and the Vürdmeisters’ estimations of the clans’ strength, when the Keeper of the Dead entered. Dorian and Jenine followed the man into one of the cheerier rooms where a body lay wrapped in sheets. Two huge highlanders in nondescript southron clothes but with the bearing of soldiers stood after making their obeisance.

  Ashaiah Vul opened the cloth around the corpse’s head. The stench was magnified tenfold. The bald head had been split in half, but not cracked. Nothing had been broken or torn. There was simply a slice missing from his crown to his neck.

  In that instant, Dorian knew not only the victim, but also the killer. Only the black ka’kari could make such a cut. Kylar had done this. The rotting sack of meat was Dorian’s father Garoth. His knees felt suddenly weak. Jenine came to stand close beside him, but she didn’t touch him, didn’t take his hand. Any show of comforting him would make him look weak to his men.

  “How did you do this?” Dorian asked.

  “Your Holiness,” the highlander who had a birthmark over the left half of his face said, “we thought you’d want His Holiness’s body for the pyre. There was a demon in the castle. It did this. The lieutenant went with our ten best men to kill it. He ordered us to take the body, sire. They were supposed to meet us, but they never came.”

  “How was your journey? Really.”

  The man stared at the floor. “It was real hard, Holiness. We got jumped three times. Sa’kagé twice and once some damn traitors in Quorig’s Pass who went bandit after we lost at Pavvil’s Grove. They thought we were carrying treasure. Red’s not breathing right since I pulled the arrows out.” He nodded at the other highlander, who didn’t have red hair. “We hoped the Vürdmeisters might take a look once you’re finished with us, sire.”

  “They weren’t bandits. They were rebels.” Dorian stepped forward and put his hand on the highlander’s head. Red tensed, uncertain. He had blood clots and infections all through his lungs. It was amazing he’d lived as long as he had. “This is beyond the Vürdmeisters,” Dorian said. “What about you?”

  “I’m fine, Your Holiness.”

  “What happened to your knee?”

  The man blanched. “My horse got killed. Fell on it.”

  “Come here. Kneel.” The men knelt and Dorian was infuriated at the waste of their bravery. If Dorian weren’t such a skilled Healer, one would die and the other live a cripple, and for what? To deliver bones. These heroes had made great sacrifices for nothing. “You have served with great honor and courage,” Dorian told them. “In the coming days I will reward you appropriately.” He Healed them both, though it was oddly difficult to use his Talent.

  There was a low spate of awed cursing from the men as the magic swept them clean. Red coughed once and then inhaled deeply. They looked at Dorian with awe and fear and confusion, as if they couldn’t believe that saving their lives was worth the Godking’s own effort.

  Dorian dismissed them and turned back to his father. “You sick bastard, you don’t deserve a pyre. I should—” Dorian broke off, frowning. “Keeper, the Godkings always leave orders that their bodies be burned so that they may not be used for krul, yes?”

  “Yes, Your Holiness,” Ashaiah said, but he looked gray.

  “How many times have those orders been obeyed?”

  “Twice,” Ashaiah whispered.

  “You have the bones of every Godking for the last seven centuries except two?” Dorian was incredulous.

  “Sixteen of your blood were used to raise arcanghuls and subsequently destroyed. We have the rest. Do you wish me to prepare a substitute corpse for Garoth’s pyre, Your Holiness?”

  Garoth Ursuul deserved no less for all the evil he’d done, but refusing his father a decent burial would say more about Dorian than it would about the dead man. “My father was monster enough in life,” Dorian said. “I’ll not make him one in death.”

  Only after the little man left did Jenine come hold his hand.


  We’re not going back, are we?” Jenine asked, coming before the Godking’s throne. Dorian waved the guards away. He stood and walked to her, taking her hands in his.

  “The passes are snowed in,” he said gently.

  “I mean we’re not ever going back, are we?”

  She said we. It made him tingle, that unconscious admission of unity. Dorian waved a hand at the gold chains of office he wore. “They would kill me for my father’s crimes.”

  “Will you let me go?”

  “Let you?” That hurt. “You’re not my prisoner, Jenine. You can go whenever you wish.” Jenine. Not Jeni. That formality had stuck. Maybe she feared she had merely traded gaolers. “But I have to tell you, I’ve just received news that Cenaria is under siege. The last warriors to make it through Screaming Winds saw an army surrounding the city.”


  “Some Ceuran general named Garuwashi and thousands of sa’ceurai. It may be that come spring—”

  “We’ve got to go help them!” Jenine said.

  He paused, letting her think. Sometimes she did act sixteen. “I could order my army to attempt the pass,” Dorian said. “If they were lucky and the weather cooperated and the rebel highland tribes didn’t attack while my army was spread out, we might only lose a few thousand. By the time we got there, the siege would probably be finished. And if we arrived in time and seized the city ourselves, do you think Cenaria would welcome us? The Khalidoran saviors? They will not have forgotten what my men did a few months ago. And my soldiers who lose brothers and fathers and sons in the passage, or who lost friends in the Nocta Hemata, will want the spoils of war.

  “If I forbade rapine and murder, they might obey me, but it would plant doubts about me. Two hundred of my Vürdmeisters—that’s more than half—have disappeared. I don’t yet control the Godking’s Hands, who are the only people who will tell me where those Vürdmeisters have gone, or who is leading them. Garoth Ursuul had other aethelings I haven’t accounted for. I may be facing civil war in the spring. So if it came to it, who do you think the Vürdmeisters will follow, Khali, who gives them their power, or the once-treasonous aetheling?” The line between her eyebrows was deep with anguish now, helplessness, but Dorian wasn’t finished. “And if they do follow me, and we are successful, what will your people say? They’ve installed a new queen, Terah Graesin.”

  “Terah?” Jenine was incr

  “Will the people welcome back young Jenine with a Khalidoran army? Or will they say you’re a puppet, so young that I’m manipulating you, perhaps without your knowing it? Will Queen Graesin surrender her power?”

  Jenine looked ill. “I thought… I thought it was going to be easy after we won. I mean, we won, right?”

  It was a good question. Perhaps it was the only question that mattered.

  “We won,” Dorian said after a long moment. “But the victory cost us. I can never go south again. All of my friends besides you are in the south. They’ll see my reign as a betrayal.” That made him think of Solon. Had Solon even made it out of Screaming Winds alive? The thought made him ache. “If you want to assert your right to Cenaria’s throne, I can deliver it, but that would cost you too.

  “The price will be that everyone sees that a Godking has given you the throne. Do you think you’re ready to rule? Without help? At sixteen, do you know how to pick advisers, how to tell when the chancellor of your exchequer is embezzling, how to deal with generals who see you as a child? Do you have a plan to deal with the Sa’kagé? Do you know why the last two Ceuran wars ended and what obligations you have to your neighbors? A plan to deal with the Lae’knaught who occupy your eastern lands? If you don’t have all those covered, you’ll need help. If you accept help, you’ll be seen to be accepting help. If you don’t accept help, you’ll make mistakes. If you trust the wrong people, you’ll be betrayed. If you don’t trust the right people, you’ll have no one to protect you from your enemies. Assassination has as long of a history in your kingdom as slaughter does in mine. Do you have an idea of whom you will marry and when? Do you plan to concede rule to your new husband, share it, or keep it?”

  “I have answers to some of those questions, and I know some people I can trust—”

  “—I don’t doubt it—”

  “—but I hadn’t considered all of those.” She got very quiet. “I’m not ready.”

  “I do have… an alternative,” Dorian said. His heart pounded. He wanted to use the vir. In his old life, before the One God found him, he’d learned a glamour to seduce women. Now he could use it, just a little, just to help Jenine get over her fear and disappointment and to see Dorian as a man. He wouldn’t make her do anything she didn’t want to do.

  He quashed the impulse. Not that way. If Jenine didn’t choose him freely, it was all for nothing.

  “Stay,” Dorian said. “Be my queen. I love you, Jenine. You are the reason I came to Khalidor. This throne means nothing to me without you. I do and will always love you. A queen is what you are, what you are meant to be, and there is work for you here. My fathers haven’t had queens; they had chattels, harems, playthings. Khalidor’s people are no worse than any other, but this culture is sick. I thought once that I could run away. I see now that that’s not enough. I’ve found my life’s work: changing reverence for power to reverence for life. You have no idea what your mere presence will do. Our marriage will redefine marriage for this entire country. That’s no small feat, and it will bring no small amount of happiness to the women and the men here.”

  “You want me to marry you because I’ll help you in your work?”

  “Jenine,” he said quietly. “Lovers always want to make a private world. Just you and me and nothing else matters. The truth is, everything else does matter. Your family, my family, the different ways we were raised, the obligations we have, the work we do—it all matters. A marriage can be a refuge, but I’d be a fool to ignore what and who I am now, and what and who you are. But the answer is no, I don’t want to marry you because I want you to help me. I want you. You’re worth more than all the rest of it combined. I’d rather serve in a hut with you than rule all the world without you.”

  She averted her eyes. “You honor me, my lord.”

  “I love you.”

  She met his eyes now, but uncertainty still painted her features. “You are a good man, Dorian Ursuul, and a great man. May I think about it for a few days?”

  “Of course,” he said. His heart died a little. “Let me think about it” isn’t the answer a man wants to his proposal. Of course, most men managed a little romance before asking.

  In one way, he was horribly disappointed in himself. In another, he was content. He wanted Jenine’s mind to consent to this match, not just her heart. Romantic feelings would come and go. He didn’t want her to choose in haste and regret at leisure.

  She excused herself and the guards let in Dorian’s next appointment. It was Hopper. The man limped in quickly and prostrated himself. Jenine hesitated halfway out the door. She had told Dorian that there was something about Hopper that she wanted to share with him, but they hadn’t gotten around to it.

  “Your Holiness,” Hopper said, “the women have been in an uproar. They begged me to ask if you’ll be accepting any of them into your harem.”

  Jenine turned away, as if embarrassed to be eavesdropping, but she didn’t hasten to leave, either.

  “Of course not,” Dorian said. “Not one of them.”


  Terah Graesin had moved the coronation up. No matter that an army was encamped around the city, and that with their scant supplies already dwindling it was wildly inappropriate to have a party, Terah had decided she couldn’t wait two months. Her coronation would be in three days. So Momma K had to come to the castle to meet the new court bard. She knocked on his door.

  He opened, squinting, and looked about as pleased as Momma K expected. She’d commissioned a piece from him on their last meeting—for the queen’s birthday. She hadn’t mentioned the coronation was the same day. In retaliation, he’d gotten himself hired as the court bard, meaning she was paying for a piece he’d have to compose anyway.

  “Do you know who I am, Quoglee Mars?” Momma K asked. As she stepped past him into his small apartment, he sniffed to smell her perfume. Quoglee’s sense of smell was as good as his eyesight was bad. Her spies said he’d even spent time with Alitaera’s royal perfumer.

  He hesitated. Then, “You are Madame Kirena, a woman of great power and wealth.” Quoglee’s voice was a tenor so clear it was a pleasure even to hear him speak.

  It was a pity nothing else about the man was beautiful. Quoglee Mars resembled nothing so much as a squashed frog. He had a wide, fleshy mouth that turned down at the edges, no neck, a perpetual squint, and a small round gut like a ball. Rather than trousers, he wore baggy yellow tights on his skinny legs, and he had a tiny tricorn hat with a feather in it. He was one of the ugliest men Momma K had ever seen, save for a few lepers far gone in their disease. “I heard your new tale, “The Fall of the House of Gunder.” It was fearless. Beautiful. You should write more,” she said.

  Quoglee bowed, accepting the praise as his due. “I usually prefer the honesty of instrumentals. The pipe and lyre never lie, nor by their tones do good men die.”

  “An odd sentiment from a minstrel who’s been chased from half the capitals of Midcyru because he can’t stop himself from telling the truth.” Which was why she’d asked if he knew who she was. At least he was capable of discretion. She smiled.

  “May I ask why you’re here?” Quoglee asked, squinting at her.

  Damn all artists. Their bribes had to come as introductions to the influential, in gifts of clothing or instruments, in arranging special concerts and making sure they were well received. Of course, a bard rarely minded when some beautiful young music aficionado offered to polish his flute, either. But it all had to be discreet. The only punishment they could think to face for Momma K’s displeasure was indifference. Years ago, Momma K had sent a gorgeous little flute case to a newly popular bard called Rowan the Red. The girl had given him some grossly ignorant compliment which she wouldn’t have if she were the educated young noblewoman she was pretending to be. Instead of taking her to his room and giving her better things to do with her mouth, Rowan had quizzed her and publicly made her look a fool. It didn’t take him long to guess who might have sent her. When Momm
a K’s most gifted wetboy Durzo Blint had arrived a few hours later, the bard was already writing a song mocking her and making wild allegations, some of them true. No one ever heard that catchy tune, or any other tune from Rowan the Red, but it had been a near thing, and since then, Momma K avoided bards when she could.

  But bards were too good a resource to abandon. They plied Momma K with every tidbit they knew and lapped up every morsel she dropped. Indeed, they often gave her new information, for bards were always present at parties even if her other spies were not. But Quoglee was different. Quoglee’s stories were rare, and the nobles regarded them as absolute truth; other bards often repeated them. He was hard to interest, but once that interest was piqued, he was a bulldog.

  “Do you know who I am, Quoglee Mars?” she asked again.

  Again, he hesitated. “You’re the owner of half the brothels in the city. You’re a woman who crawled out of the gutter to climb higher than anyone would have believed. My guess is you’re the Sa’kagé Mistress of Pleasures.”

  “One of my girls has a small Talent of foretelling,” Momma K said. “She doesn’t dream often, but when she does, she’s never been wrong. Two years ago she dreamed of you, maestro, though she’d never seen or heard of you and indeed, you hadn’t yet come to Cenaria. She described you perfectly. She said a song burst from your mouth like a river. The river was the purest, clearest water she’d ever seen. She said I tried to stop it, but the waters overwhelmed me and I drowned. The next night she dreamed the same dream, but this time I tried to strike you down before you could sing, but the song was unstoppable, and again I drowned. On the third night, I swam. I think the name of your river is Truth, Quoglee Mars, so I ask again: do you know who I am?”

  “You’re the Shinga of the Sa’kagé,” he said quietly.

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