The night angel trilogy, p.121
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.121

           Brent Weeks
 

  “In two days, I marry Oshobi Takeda.”

  “You don’t love him.”

  “Don’t be stupid.” Of course she didn’t.

  “Kaede, give me a chance. I’ll do anything.”

  “You can watch the festivities from your cell. Goodbye, Solon.”

  Terah sat impatiently on the black monstrosity of a throne Garoth Ursuul had built. It had taken her half the morning to soothe the Lae’knaught and Chantry ambassadors. Her attempts to figure out who’d arranged her diplomatic disaster had been futile. Fingers pointed this way and that, and there was no telling who was lying.

  Finally, Luc came in, resplendent in his cloth-of-gold Lord General’s cloak, calfskin boots, and trim white tunic and breeches. “The rumors are true,” he said, kneeling on the top step in front of her throne. “Logan has arrived with fourteen hundred men.”

  “They didn’t lose anyone breaking through the Ceuran army?” Terah asked. The first report merely said that Logan had made it to the gates. Her orders not to open the gates for him had been diverted or ignored. She’d hoped the Ceurans might kill him for her.

  Luc looked confused. “They didn’t break through. They signed a treaty.” Seeing the look on his sister’s face, Luc hurried on. “When I demanded to know by what right they’d negotiated a treaty, they said by yours. They were surprised I didn’t know.”

  Terah sagged into the throne. This had the Sa’kagé’s grubby fingerprints all over it. “What are the details of the treaty?”

  “I didn’t ask.”

  “Idiot!”

  He swallowed. “There are Ceuran wagons full of rice and grain going to every corner of the city. They’re giving the Ceurans’ food to our people.”

  “They let the Ceuran army inside the walls?”

  “Just Lantano Garuwashi and the wagons. But the gates are still open. People are going out to the Ceuran camp and celebrating with them.”

  In minutes, Terah was on a balcony, looking over the city. It was a crisp autumn day, the sun bright but barely warm. Vanden Bridge was aglitter with sunlight reflected off hundreds of men in armor. “Logan’s parading through the Warrens?” Terah asked. Why would he do such a thing? Who would feel safe there?

  “The Rabbits worship him,” Luc said.

  The procession filed back to the east side and turned toward the castle. The streets had been crowded when Terah’s army had paraded, but as Logan came, the city seemed to have emptied itself. The cheering itself sounded different. It scared the hell out of her.

  “Summon my advisers,” she said. “I need to know everything about this treaty before Garuwashi reaches the castle. Is he my ally, my vassal, or my overlord? Gods forbid, is he my husband? Go, Luc, go!”

  34

  After applying the appropriate makeup, Kylar secured Retribution to his back, dressed in loose rags so stinking and filthy he was loath to wear them, and donned a satchel full of nobleman’s clothes. He reset the door’s traps with poisons that would sicken but not kill and then perched on the ladder. It was early morning now and the exit was blind. He’d been waiting a quarter of an hour, attuning himself to the sounds of the street.

  He heard the loud clop of a horse’s hoof strike his flagstone. That was it. He waited one more second as he drew the ka’kari over his clothing and went invisible. He threw open the flagstone as a wagon passed overhead, crawled out, spun on his stomach, dropped the hidden door closed, and flung dust over the clean flagstone. The wagon’s back axle caught on Retribution. It spun Kylar back around and dragged him for several feet before he twisted free. The driver cursed and looked back, but saw nothing.

  Kylar stood, invisible, and made his way into an alley. He dropped the shadows and examined his rags to see what damage the ka’kari had inflicted on them this time. It wasn’t bad, except for a few new holes in the back that might show Retribution. He twisted the satchel to lie across his back, affected a limp, and headed for the Heron’s Rest. It was at the crossroads of Sidlin and Vanden, and thus one of the few inns in the city where he could enter in rags and leave in silks without attracting attention.

  He hadn’t gone two blocks when he saw the ambush. Guild kids were hiding amid the ashes and rubble that clotted the alley. Most of them held rocks, but he caught glimpses of one or two clutching Khalidoran swords, relics, no doubt, of the Nocta Hemata. There was time to turn aside, but Kylar didn’t for one reason: he saw Blue. He’d forgotten to hide the money he’d promised her. She might have even lived up to her side of the bargain and moved her crew, though he doubted it.

  The biggest kid in the guild was the first to stand up. He was short for sixteen, and gaunt like all of them, though he didn’t have the distended belly of malnourishment that some of the littles had. He held a Khalidoran sword and his eyes darted around to the other kids for support. “Give us your coin and that bag and you can go,” he said. He licked his lips.

  Kylar looked around the circle. Seventeen of them, all scared witless, most of them littles. Blue was squinting at him suspiciously. He grinned at her. “I forgot to give you this,” he said, fishing in a pocket for a gold coin. It was far more than he’d promised, but these kids could use it. He tossed it to her.

  One of the bigs mistook the move and whipped his rock at Kylar’s head. Kylar dodged and the missile nearly brained another big on the other side. That big flung his rock and in a moment, the circle exploded in flying rocks and slashing steel.

  With a surge of Talent, Kylar leapt ten feet in the air, flipped, drew Retribution, coated it with the ka’kari. As he landed, he spun in a circle, Silver Bear Falls to Garran’s Zephyr, hacking the blades from the hilts of three swords. From Retribution, the ka’kari released a pulse of magic that rushed over Kylar’s skin.

  What was that?

  ~Impressive. Look.~

  The guild had frozen, and even those bigs who were suddenly holding broken swords were staring at Kylar, not their swords. He glanced at himself and saw that somehow he’d lost his tunic and his skin was shining as if lit from within, as if he were bursting with barely restrained power. I didn’t tell you to do that.

  ~You wanted to stop them without killing them, didn’t you?~

  “I told you it was him,” Blue said.

  Kylar had an awful feeling of déjà vu. They thought he was Durzo. Had the ka’kari put that face on him, too? He was standing as Durzo had stood over a decade ago when Azoth’s guild had tried to mug him. But now he was standing on Durzo’s side. It looked different from here.

  “It’s Kylar,” Blue whispered.

  “Kylar,” two kids echoed. The awe in their voices made it clear that they thought they were mugging a legend. Around the circle, rocks rattled to the ground. The circle drew back, the guild caught between flight and curiosity. Only now did the bigs turn wide eyes to their faintly smoking swords, a few absently rubbing limbs or ribs bruised from flying rocks.

  “How do you know that name?” Kylar demanded, feeling a sudden shiver of fear.

  “I heard Jarl talking at Momma K’s once,” Blue said. “He said you were his best friend, he said you used to be Black Dragons. And Momma K told us once that the best Black Dragon ever apprenticed with Durzo Blint. I put it together.”

  Kylar couldn’t move. Durzo had said it long ago, the truth always comes out. If these kids knew that Kylar was a wetboy and Durzo’s apprentice, there was no telling how long before an enemy knew it. It might have spilled already, or his enemies might never think to ask a bunch of guild rats. There was no way to know.

  It wasn’t Kylar’s fault, but “Kylar” had to disappear. His time was finished. If he ever came back to Cenaria, it would have to be as a different man with a different name and different friends or none. Kylar would have to abandon everything, as Durzo had abandoned everything every ten or twenty years. It was the price of immortality.

  “Please, sir,” the scared big who’d first confronted him said, licking his lips again. “Apprentice Blue. She’s the smartest. She deserves to g
et out.”

  “You think this is out?” Kylar snarled. “I’ll be dead inside a week!” He pulled the ka’kari to his skin and sent a jolt of blue fire through it. The kids threw up their hands to shield their eyes, and when they looked again, Kylar was gone.

  35

  Followed by generals, bodyguards, Lord Agon, and a bluff Ceuran named Otaru Tomaki, Logan and Lantano Garuwashi strode into the throne room. Logan knelt before the throne, as did the other Cenarians; the Ceurans bowed low; Lantano Garuwashi inclined his head, rings clacking in his long red hair.

  “Arise,” Queen Graesin said. She was warmly regal in a soft red gown with emerald piping, and matching jewels at her ears and throat. She descended the seven steps to where Garuwashi and Logan stood. “Duke Gyre,” she said, smiling, “you have served us excellently. We shall reward you as richly as you deserve.” She turned to Lantano Garuwashi. “Your Highness, it is an honor. Be welcome in our court.”

  Logan barely kept from breathing a sigh of relief. So she had gotten his letters after all. There had been something odd in her replies, a lack of the expected sneer. Perhaps she had decided that with her rule secure, she should start acting more like a queen.

  “Please, call me Garuwashi. I am no king, yet,” Lantano Garuwashi said, with a little smirk and something more besides. The traditional Ceuran doubled silk half robes over loose trousers tended to hide a man’s build, but Garuwashi could have dressed in a pile of old sheets and still oozed masculinity. His hair shone like red gold, pulled back in a pony tail and interwoven with dozens of other strands, like a tiger’s stripes. His jaw was pronounced, his face lean and clean shaven, shoulders broad, waist small, sleeves cut shorter than usual either for freedom of movement or to show thickly muscled arms. Terah Graesin, Logan saw, appreciated them; Garuwashi returned her glances boldly.

  “Nor am I a queen, yet,” she said. “Though it would please me greatly if you would be my guest at my coronation.”

  “I would be honored. And perhaps by this time next year, you can be my guest at mine.”

  “May I show you around my castle?” Terah asked, extending her hand to Garuwashi and dismissing the rest of them.

  From the looks in their eyes, Logan expected Lantano Garuwashi would be mounting the ramparts in no time.

  36

  Her name was Pricia. She was the fourteen-year-old concubine who had wept for her friends and not for herself when Garoth died. She’d hanged herself with a silk belt. She was naked, her clothing folded neatly in a pile to one side, all her beauty gone. Her face was discolored, eyes open and bulging, tongue protruding, shit running down her fair legs. Dorian touched her and found her body only slightly cooled. From his touch, her body swung slightly. It was obscene. Dorian rubbed his face.

  He should have known. The concubines had probably learned that Garoth’s body had been recovered even before Dorian had. For the Godking’s bodyguards, the recovery meant a small reclamation of honor. To the concubines, it meant death.

  The former Godking’s wives would be expected to join him on his pyre. Only the virgins and the concubines the next Godking desired would be spared. Dorian had said he was claiming no one. The women thought they would all be burned.

  “When did you figure it out, Hopper?”

  “Your Holiness?” Hopper asked. “I’m not sure I understand the question.”

  “Try again.”

  Hopper cleared his throat, fearful. “I was with the rest of the concubines. Pricia came into this room to fetch something. I had no idea—”

  “Try. Again,” Dorian said coldly.

  Hopper searched Dorian’s face, his eyes wide, panicky. He must have seen something that satisfied him, because he said, “Ah.” The mask of fear dissolved and he bowed. “I knew you were an Ursuul after I told you that you seemed different. An eccentric slave would continue as before. A pretender would redouble his efforts to appear servile.”

  “What is your position within the Godking’s Hands?” Dorian asked.

  “I am their chief,” Hopper said, inclining his head.

  So it was as Jenine had suspected. Who better to keep an eye on the Godking’s people and secrets than a eunuch whose awkward gait made him seem a buffoon? Hopper was at the confluence of the Godking’s eunuchs, concubines and wives, and servants. Through them, he had eyes on every important Vürdmeister, aetheling, and general in the realm. “How did you really lose your toes?” Dorian asked.

  “When His Holiness your father offered me the position, he said that would be part of the price. I welcomed the chance to make such a sacrifice.” He smiled ruefully. “Being gelded, on the other hand, wasn’t so welcome.”

  “He offered? Did you have the option to refuse?”

  “Yes. His Holiness was always fair with us.”

  It was a new side to Garoth Ursuul, a kinder side than Dorian had known. It was unsettling. “Why didn’t you expose me?”

  “Because I didn’t have anyone to report to, and I didn’t know what you were trying to accomplish. By the time I did, you had accomplished it. It was, if you will pardon my presumption, one of my few failures as Chief of the Hands.”

  No wonder he didn’t know what I intended. I didn’t intend it.

  Hopper swallowed. “Your Holiness, I suspect some of the aethelings and Vürdmeisters know what I am. I guard against mundane spying, but I have not the means to stop their vir.”

  It was astonishing how Dorian had blundered into success. He’d kept Hopper in the throne room the day he had seized power. The Vürdmeisters had come into the room and had seen not only a fearless Dorian, but Hopper off to one side, tacitly endorsing him. How much weight had that carried?

  Dorian suddenly felt sick to his stomach. He suspected it was a lot.

  He looked again at Pricia’s body dangling in the room. Death was so common here that life wasn’t considered sacred. Or did the cause and effect run the other way?

  “What is your name, Hopper? Your real name.”

  “I was ordered to forget—I’m sorry, sire, my name was Vondeas Hil.”

  “I thought Clan Hil was annihilated.” Garoth had used the krul to wipe them out.

  “The Godking saved me from…” he hesitated. “From the fleshpots. He thought I had potential. I did my best to prove him right.”

  The fleshpots. So the krul and their feeding habits were no great secret.

  “Vondeas Hil, I will remember your name and the sacrifices you have made. Will you serve me as the Chief of my Hands?”

  Vondeas bowed low.

  “I have questions for you. Where are my two hundred missing Vürdmeisters?”

  “Vürdmeister Neph Dada sounded a religious summons when His Holiness your father died. He called all Vürdmeisters to help him bring Khali home. Currently, your Hands believe them to be in your eastern lands.”

  Eastern Khalidor was sparsely populated. There were no major cities there, and hadn’t been since Jorsin Alkestes had turned Trayethell into Black Barrow. “They’re at Black Barrow?” Dorian asked.

  “In its vicinity, at least. We don’t know the exact location. Spies who’ve attempted to infiltrate the camp haven’t returned.”

  Well, that at least was one problem that could wait. Meisters and magi, Vürdmeisters and archmagi had been smashing themselves against Black Barrow for centuries. Neph Dada at the head of two hundred Vürdmeisters was a serious problem, but at least Dorian would have until spring to consolidate his forces—and Neph wouldn’t bother putting together an army. All Dorian’s former tutor cared about was magic. Still, it was a problem that bore looking into.

  “Redouble your efforts. I want to know what they’re trying, and what—if anything—they’ve accomplished.”

  “Yes, Your Holiness.”

  “How many aethelings are completing their uurdthans?”

  “Seventeen that I know of.”

  “How many of those are in a position to form a credible threat to me in the next six months?” Dorian asked.

&
nbsp; “You must understand, Your Holiness, your father kept secrets even from me, so anything I tell you is complete to the best of my knowledge, and I did know more than he knew I did, but I cannot have full confidence that I knew all of his aethelings. I know that Moburu Ander lives and is attempting to subvert the wild men. I have reports that he believes himself to be some kind of prophesied High King. Your father cared little about that. He cared more that there appeared to be some evidence of collusion between Neph Dada and Moburu, though he and I believed any association between the two to be tenuous at best.”

  “Yes, I can’t imagine Neph letting anyone live after they’d served his purpose. Nor would one of my brothers.”

  “The only other aetheling I know about was one I was not supposed to know, and I never learned his name. He was part of a delegation of war magi that Sho’cendi sent to recover Curoch. The magi made it as far as Cenaria, and witnessed the Battle of Pavvil’s Grove, then returned to Sho’cendi, satisfied that Curoch was not present.”

  Dorian scowled. He had been certain that some of his brothers must be attempting to infiltrate the school of fire as he had been sent to the school of healing, but learning that one had been successful left the sick taste of betrayal in his mouth. He knew most of the magi that might have been sent on such a mission. Had he been friends with one of his own traitorous brothers? He shook his head. That was a distraction. Moburu and Neph were the real problem, and surviving until he could consolidate his men against them.

  “Very well, Hopper. Thank you.”

  Hopper bowed once more, and when he straightened, he wore the slightly befuddled expression of Hopper once more.

  “Dorian? Dorian, I’ve been looking all over for you,” Jenine said, coming into the room.

  Dorian was shocked to realize that he was still standing in a room with a hanged child. For all the good things he’d gained from learning to focus, he didn’t think being able to ignore the ruin of a young girl was among them. By the God, it was a travesty, and he’d sat here, blithely contemplating politics. What was he becoming? His stomach threatened to rebel.

 
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