The night angel trilogy, p.120
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.120

           Brent Weeks
 

  Though she’d been prepared for it, hearing the truth spoken aloud frightened her. But this was why she’d hired Quoglee Mars in the first place. She’d paid him for a flute piece, then had her informants drop hints to him of a much bigger story, the kind of tale Quoglee couldn’t resist telling. But the man was incredibly bright, and that made him dangerous. “How’d you learn?” she asked.

  “Everyone knew you were Jarl’s right hand. When he disappeared, none of the Sa’kagé’s work was interrupted. Agon’s Dogs continued training, the Nocta Hemata happened, and there was no rush of thugs’ bodies floating in the Plith. The Sa’kagé isn’t an organization to put off a struggle for succession just because there’s a war. You’ve been Shinga for more than a month, haven’t you?”

  Momma K let out a long, slow breath. “Fifteen years,” she said. “Always behind puppet Shingas. Shingas don’t tend to die of natural causes.”

  “So what are you buying? I’m guessing you want more than a flute piece.”

  “I want you to sing a song of Terah Graesin’s secrets.”

  “Do you know what those are?” Quoglee asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Are you going to tell me?”

  “No.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I’ve made my living telling lies and you know it. Because the truth is damning enough. Because you’re renowned for winkling out the truth on your own.”

  “So if you can’t dam the river, you wish to channel it. How do you propose to buy me off?”

  “You want more than coin?” she asked, knowing the answer.

  “Oh yes.”

  “Then I’ll give you what you wish,” she said.

  “I want your story. You will answer every question I ask, and if you lie in any particular, I will use your tale to cast you in a devastating light.”

  “Now you tempt me to take my chances with prophecy and signal the wetboy I have waiting behind that curtain to kill you. A whore’s truth has too many sharp edges. I will tell my story and not spare myself, but I will not share the secrets of the men I could destroy with what I know. It would be my death, and some few of them deserve better. I will give you more of my story, and more about the Sa’kagé, than you could ever learn alone, but that is all. And you will not tell it for at least a year. I have work to do first.”

  Quoglee’s skin had turned green, making the impression of a frog complete. “You don’t really have a wetboy behind that curtain, do you?” he asked.

  “Of course not.” Quoglee was a coward? Odd. “Do we have a deal?

  He inhaled deeply, as if trying to smell the wetboy, and slowly he regained his balance. “If you tell me why you’re doing this. I don’t believe it’s because of some whore’s dream.”

  She nodded. “If Logan Gyre were king, Jarl’s dream of a new Cenaria might come to pass. Things wouldn’t have to be how they were for my sister and me growing up, or how they are for the guild rats now.”

  “Sounds awfully… altruistic,” Quoglee said.

  Momma K didn’t let his tone anger her. “I have a daughter.”

  “Now that I didn’t know.”

  “I’m the richest, most powerful person in this country, maestro. But a Shinga’s power dies with her, and my wealth will be taken by whoever finally murders me. Having a daughter has cost me the man I love and quite nearly my life. But as much as she endangers me, I endanger her much more. I need Logan Gyre to become king because that’s the only way I can go legitimate, and going legitimate is the only way I can pass anything on to my daughter except death.”

  Quoglee’s eyes were wide. “You don’t just mean to be a merchant or even a merchant queen, do you? You mean to establish a new noble house. How would you buy such a thing?”

  “That’s a tale I’ll tell after the coronation. Do we have a deal?”

  “You want me to learn a queen’s darkest secrets and make a song of it… in three days? That’s ridiculous. Impossible. There isn’t a bard in Midcyru who could do such a thing. But.” He paused theatrically, and Momma K had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes. “But I am no mere bard. I am a genius. I’ll do it.”

  “Sing fearlessly, maestro. I will make sure your song isn’t interrupted.”

  Quoglee blinked rapidly and he sniffed again. “That’s it. Head notes of bergamot and galbanum with a third I can’t recall. The heart notes are jasmine and daffodil over base notes of vanilla, iris, amber, and forest. Nuec vin Broemar, the royal Alitaeran perfumer himself showed me that perfume. He said it was his queen’s own perfume. No one else ever…” he trailed off, his eyes widening.

  Momma K smiled, glad the gesture hadn’t been wasted.

  A small tongue wet his wide, fleshy lips. “May I just say, Madame Kirena, you frighten and intrigue me in almost equal measures.”

  She chuckled. “I promise you, maestro, the feeling is mutual.”

  Scarred Wrable was on time. He always was. This time their meeting was in the castle’s statue gardens. Scarred Wrable wore the hundred-colored robe of a hecatonarch, the long sleeves covering his ritually scarred arms and hands, the chasuble covering the lattice of scars across his chest and neck. He smirked at her. “Yes, my child? Do you have sins to confess, or sins to contract?”

  Terah Graesin favored him with a contemptuous stare. “You blaspheme, coming as a priest.”

  “Out of a hundred gods, there’s got to be one with a sense of humor. What’s the job, Your Highness? If people see you talking to me too long, they might think you really are confessing. They might wonder why.”

  “I want you to kill Logan Gyre. Sooner is better.” She itched her bandaged arm. It was healing from where that damned shadow had stabbed her, but slowly.

  Scarred Wrable spat on the brushed white gravel, forgetting he was supposed to be a priest. “Yah, right.”

  “I’ll pay you twice what I paid you to kill Durzo Blint.”

  “Funny how you didn’t tell me I was killing Blint until afterward.”

  “It turned out all right, didn’t it?”

  “Only ’cause I caught him unawares,” Wrable said.

  “I thought you said you fought him man to man,” she said coolly.

  He flushed. “I, I did, but it was a near thing. And you didn’t pay me half enough.”

  “Oh, so that’s it. Bargaining. How tiresome. Name your price, assassin.”

  “I’m a wetboy, as you should damn well know. I killed Durzo Blint. As to bargaining,” he shook his head. “This ain’t bargaining.”

  “How much?” Dammit, she’d worn high, thick sleeves to conceal the bandage on her arm, but it hurt, and she didn’t dare touch it—not in front of Wrable, who’d tell the Sa’kagé.

  “It would be a hell of a job, wouldn’t it? They say Duke Gyre killed an ogre fifty feet tall at Pavvil’s Grove. They say he’s served by a madman with filed teeth who’s ripped men clean in half and a two-legged wolfhound and a thousand sword whores. I even heard tell of a demon that came looking to save Logan, back during the coup. That’s a fearful lot of fearful friends that man has, and a fearful lot of fearful enemies a wetboy would make by killing him.”

  “I’ll give you ten times the usual, and I’ll make you a baronet, with lands.” It was a princely sum, and she could tell Scarred Wrable was stunned at the amount.

  “Tempting. But no. The only wetboy who’d take this job would be Hu Gibbet.”

  “Then send him to me!” Terah snarled.

  “Can’t. He’s feeding the fish for taking jobs Mother Sa’kagé didn’t approve. And Mother Sa’kagé has told all her little chicks, no jobs on Gyre.”

  “What?” Terah asked. “Don’t you know who I am?”

  “I will tell the Nine you tried.”

  Fury washed Terah to her toes. “If the Sa’kagé stands against me, so help me, I will destroy you all.”

  “By the High King’s beard, woman!” Scarred Wrable said. “We said no to one job. There’s a big difference between turning down a
job and being your enemy.”

  “You will do this, or I will stamp you out,” Terah said.

  “That is a damn fool thing to say to a wetboy. But then you’re a damn fool woman all round, aren’t ya? Do you have any idea what Logan is doing this morning? No? While you’re here trying to murder your allies, Logan is saving his.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “The Nine says that you have a week to take back your threats against them, and to give you a hint of what kind of a war you’d be starting, they’ve arranged for a small diplomatic disaster this morning. They ask that you keep in mind that future disasters need neither be small—nor diplomatic.”

  Ice shot down Terah’s spine. They’d arranged a disaster already? Before she’d even threatened them? “How did you know?” she asked.

  “We know everything,” Scarred Wrable said.

  “Your Majesty!” a servant came running into the statue garden. “The ambassadors from the Chantry and the Lae’knaught were both brought to your breakfast, as ordered. The stewards tried to seat both of them in the place of honor. They’re furious.”

  “I didn’t invite—” Terah turned to snarl at Scarred Wrable, but the man was gone.

  33

  Solon,” Kaede asked, standing in the darkness outside his cell, “why does my mother hate you?”

  Solon sat up, brushing filthy straw from his hair. “What has she done?” It was early morning and chilly, and Kaede wore a purple samite wrap over her shoulders. Solon was relieved he wouldn’t have to spend the interview trying not to gape at her breast like a mainlander—relieved and disappointed.

  “Do you know why or not?” Kaede demanded. The steel in her voice reminded him of his visions when Khali came to Screaming Winds, trying to tempt him to his death. He’d known those visions were false because Kaede wasn’t furious with him. Being right had never felt worse.

  Standing, Solon walked to the bars. “It will not be easy to tell or hear.”

  “Humor me.”

  Solon closed his eyes. “After I completed my training with the blue mages twelve years ago, I came home, you remember? I was nineteen. I asked my father for permission to seek your hand. He told me your family would never consent.”

  “My mother never stopped at anything to advance my family. That’s why I never understood her hating you. She should have been pushing me to marry a prince.”

  Solon lowered his voice. “Your mother feared that you were my sister.”

  In rapid succession, emotions flitted over Kaede’s face: bewilderment, incredulity, understanding, surprise, revulsion, incredulity again.

  “Kaede, I don’t wish to slander either of our parents. The liaison was brief—only as long as my mother’s last ill-fated pregnancy. When she and the baby both died, my father took it to be the gods’ judgment on him. By then your mother was pregnant. Years later when my father noticed my interest in you, he requested a green mage come to tell him whether you were his daughter. In return for determining your patrimony and keeping their silence, I was to take my schooling with the green mages. Neither they nor my father expected me to show any Talent. They merely hoped to have a Sethi prince as a friend. As it turned out, I wasn’t that Talented at Healing.” Though he had met Dorian there, which had changed his life, and not only in good ways. “Regardless, they told my father that you were definitely not my sister, but your mother never trusted magi. Her fears told her that you looked more like my father than yours.”

  Kaede’s eyes were cool. “How do I know any of this is true?”

  “I wouldn’t lie about my father. He was a great man. It wounded me when he told me he’d been faithless to my mother. It wounded him, too. He was different after she died. Can you think of anything else that makes sense of your mother’s actions? Why don’t you ask her?”

  “Why didn’t you come back?”

  Solon’s face was haggard. “I was nineteen when I learned. You were barely sixteen. I tried to reassure your mother that the mages were telling the truth. She thought I was threatening her. You were young and I didn’t want to poison you against her by telling you. I had an offer for more training at Sho’cendi, so I took it. I wrote to you every week, and when you never responded, I sent a friend to deliver a letter personally. He was thrown out of your family’s estate and told you were betrothed and you never wanted to hear from me again.”

  “I was never betrothed,” Kaede said.

  “Which I didn’t find out until later. I was going to come home then, but a prophet told me I had two paths before me: ‘Storm-riving, storm-riding, by your word—or silence—a brother king lies dead,’ if I came home, I would kill my brother; if, on the other hand, I went to Cenaria, I might save the south from Khalidor.”

  “So did you?” Kaede asked.

  “What?”

  “Did you save the world?” Her tone had an edge of deep anger.

  “No,” Solon said. He swallowed. “I hid that I was a mage from a man who was like a brother to me, a man who would have become king. When he found out, he dismissed me. The next day, he was killed by an assassin I could have stopped had I been there.”

  “So you come home like a whipped dog looking for scraps.”

  Solon gave Kaede a gentle look, seeing pain under her anger. “I came home to make things right. I have no idea what happened here. No Sethi on the mainland will talk about it.”

  “You took the wrong fork of the prophecy,” Kaede said. “You should have killed him.”

  “What?”

  She pulled the samite wrap tight and looked out Solon’s window. “Your brother was a horror. He squandered all the goodwill the people felt for your family within a year. His invasion of Ladesh cost us three of our four fleets, and the Ladeshian counterstroke cost us the last of our colonies. He forced my brother Jarris to lead a hopeless attack, and when it failed, he threw him in the dungeon. Where he was strangled. Sijuron claimed Jarris hanged himself. He forced the great families to sponsor week-long parties that they had no way of paying for. He raised taxes on rich and poor alike but gave dispensations to his friends. He built a menagerie that housed over a thousand animals. While people begged at the gates, he ordered silk beds made for his lions, and soon began throwing those who displeased him to those beasts. He liked to train with the military, but would order men killed for not really trying when they sparred with him—or for daring to bruise the imperial flesh when they did try. He took to carrying knuckle bones which he made anyone he encountered roll—the sides ranged from winning a purse of gold to death.

  “I came across him one day and he made me roll, though usually the high families were exempt. I won. He made me roll again. I won four more times, until he had no more money. He was furious, so he ordered his retainers to pay me. I realized that he was going to make me roll until I rolled my death. So I challenged him to one last roll: I said let three sides be death, and the other three be marriage. My audacity intrigued him. He said that if I was going to beggar him, I might as well be his wife.” Her eyes were cold with hatred. “Sijuron was quite the wit. He only gave me two of the six sides.

  “I won. He kept his word and threw a huge wedding party at my family’s expense. After he fell asleep, I cut his throat. I walked back to the great hall in my bare feet and my shift, my arms covered in blood to the elbows. The party was still going. It was barely midnight and those parties always had a curious frenzy: everyone knew they might die at the king’s least whim.

  “Everything stopped when I walked in. I sat in the king’s seat and told them what I’d done. They cheered, Solon. Someone pulled his body into the great hall and the gentle nobles of this empire ripped him apart with their bare hands. I’ve been undoing the damage he inflicted on this kingdom ever since. In nine years, I haven’t been able to fix half of what he destroyed in three.”

  Solon was aghast. “And you never married.”

  “Never remarried.”

  “Oh.”

  “I’ve been too busy. Beside
s, they call me the Black Widow, those who hate me. I don’t mind. It’s good that they fear me. For all that I’m a hundred times the monarch your brother was, I made missteps early and alienated some who might have been friends. I have learned since, but some men will never forgive a slight. My hold on this throne is a daily struggle—one that you could easily upset.”

  “I have no desire for a crown. I will swear that in front of all the court.”

  “Then what is it you want, Solon?”

  His eyes never wavered. “Just you,” he said.

  “There is no just me,” she snapped. “I am queen, but look at my face and you will see the holes where my clan rings were. Your cheek has never been pierced. Do you think that doesn’t matter? If I am queen, what would you be?”

  “Is a queen not a woman?”

  “Not first.”

  “Is there any room beneath that crown for love?”

  He saw glacial sorrow beneath the regal calm, and then it was gone. “I loved you once, Solon. When you left again, I was devastated. People prayed for your return, hoping you could restrain your brother, or later, hoping you’d replace him. I prayed for your return too, for other reasons. But you never came. I prayed even on the night of my wedding that you would come set things right. I prayed as your brother pulled me to his bed that you would burst through the doors. You didn’t.” Her voice was low, but cold. “Besides,” she said. “I married your brother.”

  “But you said you—” he stopped, cursing his tactless stupidity.

  She closed her eyes. “Afterward,” she said. “I meant to get him so drunk that he’d pass out, but for once he wasn’t in the mood to drink, and I—I was too frightened. I waited until it was over and he was asleep. Even after what he’d just done, I was barely able to cut his throat. In his sleep, he looked so much like you.”

  “I’m so sorry,” Solon said.

  She slapped him. Hard. “Don’t you dare pity me. Don’t you dare.”

  “It’s not pity. It’s love, Kaede. I hurt you, and I allowed you to be hurt, and I’m sorry.”

 
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