The Night Angel Trilogy, p.123Brent Weeks
The Chantry had been constructed with beauty and practicality as its first considerations. Cost had obviously been no object. Even here, in the tyros’ area, the arched ceilings were ten feet high, incised with a different pattern in every quarter. The tyros occupied the lowest level of the Chantry, though storerooms, archives, and the like lay beneath the water line. Because it was housed entirely within the giant statue of the Seraph, the interior of the Chantry was arranged in circles: living quarters arrayed along the quadrasecting halls, and lecture halls around the outside to take advantage of the sunlight necessary for magic.
Though white marble predominated, the tyros’ floor didn’t feel austere. A castle with so much stone would be cold and dark, but here the floors were warmed to welcome bare feet, and the ceiling itself was luminous. The walls were filled with bright, cheery scenes to comfort girls away from home for the first time: rabbits, unicorns, cats, dogs, horses, and animals Vi had never seen played together. They were drawn fancifully, but exquisitely.
Vi touched a painted pink puppy curled in sleep next to an impossibly friendly lion. Its eyes opened and it licked toward her fingers, its pink tongue pressing against the wall as if it were just on the other side of a glass. Vi yelped and jumped backward, clawing at her belt for a dagger that wasn’t there.
“His name’s Paet,” Sister Ariel said. “He was one of my favorites. He doesn’t wake until noon.”
“It’s a timepiece. Watch this,” Sister Ariel said, stopping outside one of the classrooms.
Gently, the ceilings pulsed violet, red, yellow, green, and blue in succession as a bell tolled. Seconds later, several hundred girls between ten and fourteen poured into the halls in a flood of noise and motion. Vi saw more curious glances than frightened ones. Apparently the rumors hadn’t spread to the entire school yet. She folded her arms and scowled.
“Class starts in five minutes. Can you read and write?”
“Of course,” Vi said. Her worthless mother had done that much.
“Good. I’ll collect you at noon. Oh, and Vi? If you have a question during class, raise your hand. Sister Gizadin is a stickler. When called on, stand with your hands behind your back. If you don’t, they’ll think you’re being disrespectful. Oh, and no magic. And remember everything. Lectures are arranged in triads to help with that.”
“Triads?” Vi asked, but Sister Ariel was already gone.
Five minutes later, Vi was seated in a too-small chair at a too-small desk in the front row of a lecture hall. Three walls were unadorned white stone. The east wall, however, was as transparent as glass. The late morning sun poured down, bathing Lake Vestacchi and the snow-capped mountains beyond in light. The lake was the deepest blue Vi had ever seen, and dozens of fishing boats dotted the surface.
Vi barely noticed when her whispering classmates suddenly quieted. A squat Sister tut-tutted and the wall shimmered, becoming opaque white like the others in seconds. Without preliminaries, Sister Gizadin began: “There are three reasons glamours should be used sparingly. Anyone?” Not a girl made a move. “First, glamours are unpredictable. Second, glamours are unnatural. Third, glamours are unappreciated.
“Unpredictable. First, a glamour may affect only men or only women or only children. Second, a glamour may affect some people much more strongly than others. Third, a glamour will attract people according to their own predispositions. It may impart, particularly in men, an overwhelming sexual desire for the caster. Or it may impart a slavish servitude, where the person finds in you every good thing they could imagine. Or it may impart a simple attractiveness and persuasiveness.
“Unnatural. First, a glamour can operate by exaggerating a quality you already have. That could be exaggerating your inherent attractiveness, or it could exaggerate people’s perception of your courage or honor or strength, or it could exaggerate a bond such as friendship that you share with the glamour’s target. Second, a glamour may feign the attractive features of another person. Third and most powerfully, a glamour may tap the subject’s mind for what he finds most attractive. One man might say the caster was blonde and blue-eyed whilst the man beside him would swear she was buxom and green-eyed. But this type of glamour is unusual and challenging to use. And obviously, if the two men talk after that maja leaves, they will notice the discrepancy.
“That leads us to the third reason glamours should be used sparingly: Glamours are unappreciated. First—” she stopped, irritated. “Viridiana, stop fidgeting. You have a question?”
“What if you can control all that?” Vi asked, standing up and putting her arms behind her back, feeling like a child. “It’s not that hard.”
All the girls in the class looked at Vi as if they couldn’t believe she’d dared speak.
“Do you really wish me to believe that you have natural mastery of one of the more difficult relational spells?”
“I didn’t say mastery,” Vi said defensively. The truth was, she was still off-kilter, the thought of having to go talk to Elene hanging over her like a death sentence—which, she realized, it might actually be.
“Unless you’ve actually cast this spell, sit and be silent.”
Vi paused, then scowled. “I have.”
“Oh? Pray tell.” Sister Gizadin gave a condescending smirk.
Fine, bitch. “I was fucking this guy and he was having trouble waking the snake,” Vi said. Sister Gizadin’s eyes went huge. “So I kicked in a sex glamour. That usually does it in about five seconds. I mean, it’s embarrassing. If you use too much, they’re done before they get naked. With this one, the glamour did nothing. In your terms, I guess I was exaggerating my natural attractiveness. So I played around with it until I felt something give. His eyes glazed over and he started talking about my boyish figure—while holding two hands full of tit.”
Sister Gizadin’s mouth was open, but no words came out.
“Anyway,” Vi said, “it wasn’t hard. I mean, I’m most experienced with glamours for sex, but I figured those out with a pointer or two from a courtesan, so with Sisters teaching me, how hard can the other glamours be?”
For a long time, no one said anything. Vi noticed belatedly that everyone was gaping at her. Sister Gizadin’s mouth closed. She began to speak, and then stopped. Finally she looked past Vi to a buck-toothed twelve-year-old who raised her hand. “Yes, Hana?” Sister Gizadin asked.
Hana stood with her hands behind her back. “Please, Sister, what kind of mage is a courtesan?”
That snapped Sister Gizadin out of it. “Sit, both of you!”
“Unappreciated,” Sister Gizadin said. “Even if people’s perceptions of the caster are not altered, there is still a feeling of wrongness after a glamour. During the spell, they won’t notice they’re being manipulated, but afterward, especially if they were wildly manipulated, they’ll realize that their reactions were out of proportion. The irresponsible use of glamours is one reason why magae have historically been distrusted. No one wants to be manipulated, and in essence, glamours are all about manipulation. That’s all. Class dismissed.”
It was as if Vi had never spoken. Sister Gizadin didn’t answer Vi’s question, or Hana’s. Indeed, she didn’t seem affected in the slightest, except, Vi realized later, that she’d forgotten to teach the last portion of her lecture in triads.
Momma K adjusted the topazes hanging in her long hair, examining herself critically in Master Piccun’s mirror. She’d found a note on her bedside table when she woke. It was written in Durzo’s cramped hand, “I live. I will come for you.” That was all. Bothersome man. She’d gotten up and dyed her hair one last time: a natural gray. No, silver, she decided.
Then she’d come here. It hadn’t been easy to order Master Piccun to make her blue dress for the coronation more muted and higher cut than any she’d ever worn, but at least his hands had strayed when he took her measurements—as they always did. When his hands stopped wandering, she would know she
“You are extraordinary,” he said. “I have this meeting with every one of my beautiful clients. Normal women make new compromises with age daily, so it’s less of a shock to them. Beauties seem to run into it all at once, and it happens here. They ignore my advice and order the latest fashion one more time, and then they see themselves. Some accuse me of making them look bad on purpose. Others stare at the old stranger in the mirror, shocked. Always there are tears.”
“I’m not much for crying.”
“You know when I’m only flattering, Gwinvere. The body is my canvas, and I tell you, your body is years from that day of tears. You have something ineffable. You walk through life like a dancer, all strength and beauty and grace. I have this client, stunning girl, a bit muscular to be fashionable—I told her to start sitting on her ass and eating chocolates—but saved from being boyish by these hips and tits that would make a goddess green. By Priapus, the girl can wear anything—and will. I’d make her clothes for free, just to see her wear them.”
“Now you’re going to make me jealous,” Gwinvere said. He knew she was kidding, though a small part of her wasn’t. Aemil Piccun was talking about Vi Sovari.
“What I mean to say is that if I put up portraits of her and you at her age, a man would be hard-pressed to choose between you, but in person, it’s no contest. Her beauty is wasted on her. She is divorced from her flesh, joyless. You, on the other hand, have this ability to enjoy a man enjoying you on any of a dozen levels. If I could imbue a dress with what you have, I would not be a tailor, I would be a god. Of all my clients, you will always be my favorite, Gwinvere.”
She smiled, oddly moved. With Master Piccun, you always expected lechery, but you never expected him to mean anything by it. Now, he meant every word he said. “Thank you, Aemil. You warm my heart.”
He grinned. “I don’t suppose I’ve warmed any other parts of you, hmm?”
She laughed. “I’m tempted, but there are so many women who will be needing discounts on their dresses for the coronation. They’d be so disappointed if I exhausted you.”
“It’s cruel to ruin a man by showing him what an artist of the bedchamber can do, and then denying him your talents for fourteen years straight.”
“Fourteen?” she asked.
“Fourteen long, long years.”
“Mmm,” she said, relaxing almost imperceptibly. “It has been a long time.”
He stepped close.
Momma K slipped away, opened the door, and beckoned the lissome noblewoman waiting in the front room. “Careful, sweetie, I think he’ll want to start with the discount.”
The noblewoman gasped. Master Piccun coughed. “Cruel, Gwinvere. Cruel.”
Jenine had been spending her days trying to decide if Garoth Ursuul’s wives and concubines would die. Dorian waited for her in the black rock halls that she usually lightened with her presence. But today, and for the days since he’d laid the question before her, that sunny presence had been clouded.
“My love,” he said gently, “we have to decide today.”
“Part of me hates you for making me decide, but this is what it is to be a queen, isn’t it? You are wise, milord. If you decided for me, I would doubt you either way.”
He breathed. When she’d said “part of me hates you,” his heart stopped beating. Every Godking for centuries had been cremated with his wives and concubines, save for a few concubines that the next Godking wished for himself. If Dorian kept his first promise to Jenine, every woman in the harems would be obliged to throw themselves—or be thrown—onto Garoth Ursuul’s pyre, with only the dubious reward of getting to spend all eternity as his slaves. The alternative was to claim all of them, which the Khalidorans would see as selfish and dishonoring to the dead, but a Godking was not expected to be selfless.
There was a third alternative, of course. Dorian could outright ban the practice of throwing the living on funeral pyres. In a few years, he intended to do exactly that. But he was already being painted as a soft southerner. The Vürdmeisters were sharks, and mercy would hatch a dozen plots against his life. What would Solon have told him to do? Dorian pushed the question aside: Solon would have told him to get the hell out of Khalidor.
“In some ways,” he said, “if we are to change what marriage is to mean in these lands, it makes sense to let them die. From there we have a blank slate.”
“So we throw away eighty-six women’s lives to prove that women have value?”
Dorian said nothing. He offered his hand and she took it. They began walking toward his apartments. “I don’t know how to take the cruelty out of the choice.”
“I don’t know if it will work, milord.” Jenine always called him milord. She couldn’t call him Dorian, of course. “Your Majesty” was too distant. “Your Holiness” was out of the question, and she knew what Wanhope meant: she refused to call her bridegroom “Despair.” “There’s something wrong with these girls. Did you know they’re taken from their families when they’re nine years old? They’re trained to be exactly and only what the Godking wants. The only currency they know is the Godking’s favor. They’re not allowed to learn to read. They never go anywhere. They never meet anyone but each other and the eunuchs. It twists them. Yet they’re not innocents. They gossip and backstab as much as anyone. Perhaps more, because they’ve nothing useful to occupy them. All the same, they’re not animals either, though they’ve been treated as such. And most of them are just girls. I can’t ask them to all die for me. You must claim them, milord, but I ask this: that you give each the choice. These women have never chosen anything for themselves. Let them choose now.”
“You… you think some of them will choose death?”
“I heard women describe nights with Garoth that left them literally with scars—and they were proud of them. They really believe that your father was a god. Some do want to serve him forever.”
Dorian felt like a stranger in his own land. He said nothing as they walked past a knot of aethelings who’d stopped in the hall, prostrating themselves until he passed. At the door of his apartments, he stopped and said, “Jenine, I swear to you that those women will be my concubines in name only. They will not share my bed.”
She put a finger on his lips. “Shh, my love. Don’t swear about what you can’t control.” He had a sudden sense that he’d done this before. He’d dreamed it, just last night, and had forgotten the dream until this moment. But in the dream, there had been a smell, harsh stench of… what? “If nothing else, I can control myself, my queen.”
She smiled a sad smile too wise for her years. “Thank you, but I won’t hold you to it.”
“I’ll hold myself to it.”
She squeezed his hand, and then the sharp tang of vir hit his nostrils. He turned to the prostrate aethelings too late. Two boys without a mustache between them were standing, twin balls of green fire streaking toward Dorian and Jenine. They were barely five paces away.
Dorian watched, expecting the green missiles to pierce his flesh. He was reaching for the vir, but it was too late to pull a shield together—but then the vir was there, already forming, already acting to protect him, pushing hard from below, only asking his assent.
The green missiles were within a hand’s breadth when the vir leapt up. The green fires twisted away, looped behind him and Jenine as Dorian threw his arms around her, and sped back toward the youths. There was a sound like eggs breaking and then sizzling meat as the missiles took each aetheling in the forehead, cracking their heads and scorching their brains, smoke puffing from perfectly round holes before they dropped to the ground, dead.
Dorian’s shields sprang up around him and Jenine only then, though he’d acted as fast as he could. There was no other sound in the hall.
The dead children gaped at him, brains smoking. The living ones didn’t dare look up. Fury rushed through Dorian. They hadn’t just tried to kill him; they’d tried to kill Jenine. He looked at the Vürdmeister who w
Blood exploded over the wall and the aethelings at the back of the line, but no one moved. With effort, Dorian dropped the shields, pushed the vir down. His head was throbbing.
The aethelings had moved against him. It was a stupid, childish attempt, and it had almost succeeded because he hadn’t thought to guard himself against boys who were eight years old. There’d been no follow-up to take advantage of the distraction, so Dorian couldn’t know if the children had been directed by a Vürdmeister, unless it was simply to test Dorian’s strength or to see if the vir would save him. In some ways, it wasn’t important.
What was important was that something had to be done about the aethelings. They were vipers. If eight- and nine-year-olds had already acted, there was no doubt that the older boys were plotting, and a wedding would give them all sorts of opportunities. Delay looked like weakness, and weakness put not only himself but also Jenine in peril. That, he wouldn’t tolerate.
Jenine started crying, and Dorian banished the aethelings and comforted her, but his mind was far away, and every thought was bloody.
Kylar was dressed in servant’s garb, and there were many new servants in the castle as Terah’s retinue meshed with the remnants of Garoth’s which had meshed with the remnants of King Gunder IX’s, so getting into the servants’ entrance was no problem. Once inside, he headed to the scullery and grabbed a tray of freshly polished silver goblets, balanced it in one hand, and walked toward the Great Hall. In the bustle and hum of activity and shouted orders and snarls of men and women under pressure working together for the first time, no one paid any attention to him. He was invisible not because of the ka’kari, but because of the practiced anonymity Durzo had spent so many hours teaching him.
The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes