The night angel trilogy, p.124
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.124

           Brent Weeks
 

  For the moment, all of the tables were stored in the servants’ room adjacent to the Great Hall. After the coronation, the tables would be carried in fully set. The goblets went onto one of the high tables adjacent to the queen’s table. Unfortunately, her table was still empty: it wouldn’t be set until immediately before the banquet, and then only under the watchful eyes of the Queen’s Guard would her cupbearer lay out the castle’s finest goldware for the high table with his own hand.

  These were not insurmountable difficulties. However, Terah Graesin didn’t have a reputation as a drinker, so if Kylar used a poison mild enough that her cupbearer wouldn’t be affected when he tested her wine, she might not drink a lethal dose. The same was true of her eating utensils. She was a dainty eater.

  So after setting down the goblets, Kylar grabbed a pile of rags dirtied in polishing the tables and headed down a back hallway. He walked purposefully, though he had no idea where the castle’s laundry was. He scanned the ceilings and walls for the spy holes and crawlspaces that honeycombed the castle. When he saw a crawlspace, he leapt, grabbed the edge with his fingertips, and pulled himself up.

  Inches from his face, a decaying web of vir crisscrossed the opening. Kylar’s fingers were almost touching it. Hanging on by one hand, Kylar rolled the ka’kari through the web. The web popped harmlessly like a soap bubble.

  From the secret passages, it was only a matter of finding his way. Kylar crawled or walked as the passages required and kept the ka’kari over his eyes so he could see every magical trap. In an hour, he’d found the royal treasury. The opening here was covered by stout iron bars.

  The ka’kari made short work of that.

  You know, before you came along, assassinating a queen would have been hard.

  ~Is that a complaint?~

  As the sheered bars came off in Kylar’s hands, he stopped. I’m like a god. The thought jolted him. For some reason, it was the look on Blue’s face that did it. Perhaps children didn’t bother to cover their awe, or perhaps it was that he had been a Blue himself not so long ago. But as he thought about the awe in the guild rats’ faces, he remembered the other faces: Caernarvon’s Shinga’s, Hu Gibbet’s, even the Godking’s face had held a note of awe. For the guild rats, it was a dream, for the others, a nightmare. But the incredulity was the same. He was the impossible.

  For some reason, it had never sunk in. He was still Kylar, maybe still Azoth underneath it all. But now…. This was so easy. Kylar had longed to be more than guild rat. He’d longed to be more than wetboy. Now, he was more than a man. The rules didn’t apply to him. He was stronger than a man, faster, a hundred times more powerful. Immortal. Death was temporary. If the most basic mortal concern—dying—didn’t apply to him, what else didn’t?

  It was an intoxicating thought, but a lonely one. If he was more than a man, what communion could he have with men? Or women? The thought brought Elene sharply to the fore. His chest felt hollow. He would give his other arm if he could be with her again, his head in her lap, her fingers running through his hair, accepting him.

  Odd, that. He could think of Elene with love, but as soon as his thoughts wandered near the hazy line of appreciation and desire—there, there was Vi with her red hair nearly glowing, the curve of her neck begging to be nuzzled, her eyes a challenge, nubile figure tempting him. He could sense her, somewhere far to the east. She was sleeping. Sleeping? At almost dinner time? Life at the Chantry must not be so bad.

  He imagined slipping into bed behind her. Her hair was unbound, spilling over her pillow like a copper waterfall. Her hair was glorious, like some god had captured the last rays of the dying sun and given them to her. Kylar leaned close and inhaled deeply. Vi sighed in her sleep. She burrowed into him, her body conforming to his. His breath caught.

  For a moment, he swore he wasn’t wearing any clothes. Then they were back. Vi let out a moue of disappointment. What the hell am I doing? Certain now that he was indeed clothed, Kylar relaxed fractionally. Vi’s breathing was slow and even. Kylar brushed a lock of hair behind her ear to see her face. She looked somehow smaller, more fragile, but no less beautiful. Without the customary tension, her face looked younger. She looked her age. Unlike Terah Graesin, whom sleep paled, sleep lent Vi’s features grace.

  Terah Graesin. The castle. Where the hell am I?

  Seeing gooseflesh rising on Vi’s arm, Kylar pulled the blanket up over both of them. He ran a hand gently from her shoulder down her arm. His hand continued down her hip to her leg. She was wearing a loose short shift and he stopped when his hand touched her warm, smooth skin. Then his hand came back up her leg, under her shift. He was a man out of control, his pulse pounding in his ears, the room indistinct, thoughts indistinct, only his nerves alive.

  Her leg was lean, tight even in sleep. He trailed his hand over her hip. His fingertips glided over the depression between hip and navel, and then over her dancer’s stomach, the perfect blend of warmth and soft over hard. He traced her lowest ribs as she breathed, still evenly though perhaps not so deeply as before, glorying in her. Kylar wasn’t tall or thickly built, but Vi’s slender form against him made him feel strong and tender and manly.

  He leaned close, breathing her in, and then he kissed her neck. Gooseflesh rose, and this time he knew it wasn’t the cold. He kissed her again, tracing her hairline. His fingers brushed the underside of her breast. Her back arched, grinding her buttocks against his groin. He was naked once more and her shift had ridden up. She was hot against him. “Yes,” her whole body whispered, “yes.”

  A key grated in a lock. The sound was out of place. Then the other key grated, popping open a second lock.

  ~Kylar!~

  I’m back. Sorry, I was… elsewhere.

  ~I’m in your body, Kylar. Some things you can’t hide from me. Tumescence is one of them.~

  Tumescence? What? Oh, God. I didn’t want to know that.

  Below, through the screen, Kylar saw the door to the treasury open. An officious little man clucked as he gazed around the barren room. There were only three chests. He opened the smallest and Kylar caught a glimpse of the crown, but the man sighed. “Where the hell is that pillow?” he muttered. He went out, closed the door, and began locking the locks.

  Kylar pulled back the screen and dropped into the room, landing silently almost on top of the chests. He pulled the stopper out of the vial, formed the ka’kari into its bulb shape and drew out a generous dose of philodunamos. He stopped the vial and tucked it back into a pouch and grabbed the crown. It was a simple, elegant piece with only a few emeralds and diamonds on it. From the paucity of precious stones and gold in the other chests, Kylar guessed the simplicity had not been a stylistic choice. He modified the ka’kari even as he pressed the bulb, giving it a narrow brush as its tip, rather than a needle. As quickly as he dared, he drew a narrow band around the inside of the crown, with a glob at the back. As soon as Terah Graesin began to sweat under the gold band on her forehead, the bottled fire would wreathe her head in flames, and the glob would cause a small explosion into the back of her head. He didn’t want Terah Graesin to be publicly burned; he wanted her dead. If she lived, the people’s pity might offset their negative feelings for a time. If she lived, she would accuse Logan of the deed and execute him.

  The philodunamos went on evenly, and dried quickly. The first lines Kylar had painted took on a flat gold sheen close to the color of the crown itself, although Kylar could see some ridges in it. He hoped the damn stuff didn’t flake off. Still, he didn’t guess that anyone was going to be putting it on before the coronation. It should be fine.

  He heard a key in the lock at the same time he noticed that the glob of paint at the back of the crown was still wet. Unthinking, Kylar blew on it. He cut his breath off instantly, but saw one hard edge crack open and turn red. It glowed like a coal for a moment, then dimmed, even as a key rattled in the second lock. Kylar set the crown down gingerly in the chest and widened the ka’kari into a fan. He fanned the crown furiously as th
e key clicked open the third lock. He drew the ka’kari over himself, disappeared, and tried not to breathe.

  The officious little man held a purple velvet pillow with long gold tassels off the corners. He closed and locked the other two chests, then lifted the crown reverently with two hands—keeping his fingers on the outside, thank God—and placed it on the pillow.

  He walked out of the room. Kylar jumped back up to the open screen, pulled himself into the crawlspace, and headed for a place to change into his nobleman’s clothing.

  Terah Graesin was dead. She just didn’t know it yet.

  43

  Vi woke in the darkness in a cold sweat. Sister Ariel had muttered darkly about some ineptitude or other that kept Vi from getting a new room and roommate immediately, but after the dream Vi had just had, she was glad to be alone.

  She got out of bed, and the moment her feet touched the warm floor, dim light bloomed in the ceiling. Vi barely noticed. She pulled on the frumpy tyro’s dress and headed out the door. Her stomach felt tight and sore. As she stepped into the hall, light bloomed like a star against the wall. Then, as if an unseen hand were drawing in big, bold lines, the light became a star suspended in a spider web, which was draped between an elk’s antlers. The beast regarded Vi tiredly but stood to accompany her, the star illuminating her section of the hall with warm light.

  Vi forgot herself and touched the beast. The light remained, but all else faded. The web around the star was replaced by an old iron lantern. The elk disappeared and in quick strokes was replaced with a bearded, fatherly woodsman. He nodded to Vi and lifted the lamp high. She touched the figure and it faded to be replaced with a grinning dog, balancing the star on its nose. She began walking, and it walked beside her. It was amazing. This entire floor was made to be a safe place for children.

  In sudden fury, she punched the wall. The dog faded and a jester replaced it. Vi choked back a sob and hurried to the stairs at the center of the building. When she arrived at Sister Ariel’s room, the door swung open before Vi knocked. “Come in,” Sister Ariel said. She handed Vi a steaming cup of ootai. Her eyes looked bleary.

  Vi was speechless. She stepped inside and took the cup in her left hand.

  “Sit,” Sister Ariel said. Her room wasn’t large, and most of it was covered in piles of books and scrolls, but there were two chairs.

  Vi sat.

  “Pay attention and hold still,” Sister Ariel said. She took Vi’s swollen right hand and tsked. “Savaltus.” Pain shot through Vi’s hand, then passed and her bruises faded. “You have an unfortunate habit of hitting things that are harder than your fist. The next time your recalcitrance evinces itself in self-mutilation, I won’t heal you.”

  Vi had no idea what the words meant, but she got the gist. “I want you to make it stop,” Vi said.

  “Excuse me?”

  “You tricked me into ringing Kylar. I want this damn thing off.”

  Sister Ariel cocked her head to one side, doglike. Her eyes gleamed. “Had a lucid dream, did you?”

  “Fuck! Stop using words I don’t understand!”

  Something smacked Vi’s butt so hard she screamed. “The tongue is a flame, child,” Sister Ariel said, her eyes cold. “We who speak to use magic learn to control it, else it burns us. Do you know what I was doing while you were studying today?”

  “I don’t give a shit.”

  Sister Ariel shook her head. “I have no moral qualm with your cursing, you fecal-mouthed cretin. When a guttershite curses, the world can’t even hear it, Vi. When a maja curses, the world trembles. So I’ve come up with some punishments. I expect that you will exhaust them before I exhaust your defiance. But we’re committed now. Your defiance makes only the path longer. Sa troca excepio dazii.”

  Though she’d briefly seen the aura of magic surround Sister Ariel, Vi felt nothing. “What have you done?” she asked, eyes narrowing.

  “That, my dear, is half the fun. With each new punishment, you get to guess. Now, you came because you had a particularly vivid dream, did you not?”

  Vi stared into the bottom of her cup. Why was she suddenly squeamish to talk about sex? “It was him. He came to my bed. It was real.”

  “And?”

  Vi looked up. “What do you mean and?”

  “You dreamed of bedding a man. So what? Are you afraid you’ll get pregnant?”

  Vi’s eyes locked back on the ootai. “We didn’t, um, actually… you know.”

  “Then why are you here?”

  “Is it because of the earrings?”

  “Your dream? Definitely. They allow husbands and wives who can’t be together to still communicate. Or conjugate. Only a few even of the oldest rings could do that, by the way. As I recall, not a few Sisters wasted decades studying it to find a way to pass messages instantly over great distances. It never worked. I can’t recall why. But after the Third Alitaeran Accord banning magae from marrying Talented men, no one’s studied it.”

  “So what I dreamed, Kylar dreamed?” Vi paled.

  Sister Ariel looked at her quizzically. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?” It made Vi feel stupid all over again. “So it frightened you?”

  “Not exactly,” Vi admitted.

  “Sometimes talking with you is like trying to master the Vengarizian Weave.”

  “Ah fuck this,” Vi said. Suddenly, her mouth seemed to be on fire. She jumped to her feet, but Sister Ariel spoke and something hit the backs of her knees and she fell into her chair. “What the fuck was—”

  Her mouth filled with fire again, and seeing the not-quite-suppressed smirk on Sister Ariel’s face, Vi understood. After another five seconds, the pain stopped, leaving Vi gaping with pain and outrage. She touched her tongue, expecting it to be burned, but it felt normal.

  “My mother used soap,” Sister Ariel said, “but I couldn’t figure out a weave for that. Now, you woke me for a reason. After you tell me what it was, you can go back to bed.”

  After thirty seconds, Vi realized Sister Ariel was serious. “Have you ever even fu—had sex?” Vi asked.

  Sister Ariel said, “Actually, I lost my maidenhead riding a horse.”

  “I had no idea you were so coordinated.” Vi had tried that once. It hadn’t ended well.

  Sister Ariel burst out laughing. “I didn’t know you had such a wit,” Ariel said. “I like you more and more, Vi.”

  Oh, from riding a horse, not while riding a horse. Vi laughed. She couldn’t help it. She’d sooner die than squander even such a small bit of Ariel’s regard. It was also an artful dodge of Vi’s question. Hell, it was no use. Vi was tired and her stomach still felt as if she needed to shit. “I’ve—I’ve bedded dozens of men,” she said.

  “Good job,” Sister Ariel said. “The correction, I mean, not the promiscuity.”

  “I never felt anything, with any of them, not since I was a kid. But with Kylar…”

  “I’m no authority, but I think it’s supposed to be different with someone you love.”

  That word set Vi off. “Not ‘I didn’t feel anything for them’! I didn’t feel them! I’m totally numb down there. But tonight—” her mouth snapped shut. Since she was a child, fucking had been something Vi observed, something men did to her. Gradually her powerlessness had become her power. Men were slaves to their meat. Vi’s body was simply currency, with the advantage that she could spend it again and again.

  When she’d first thought of fucking Kylar, it had only been to think that after what she’d done to him, she owed him. Tonight had been horribly different. Different even from her earlier dream of Kylar. She had wanted Kylar in more ways than she could have imagined. Her body ached for him. It was like something lying so deeply asleep in her that she’d thought it dead was waking. Fucking Kylar wouldn’t be a casual gift of the use of her body. It would be surrender.

  “You have to get this earring off,” Vi said. She was shaking, cold sweat beaded on her forehead. “Please, before I go see Elene. She’s still here, isn’t she?”

/>   “I’m sorry, child. Yes, she’s here. You’ll speak with her tomorrow.” Sister Ariel sighed. “Viridiana, I’ve read everything I could find on those rings. The bond is unbreakable. It seemed like a good idea when they made them, I suppose. First they were used to bond a magus and maja who knew what they were getting into. Then others began to use the rings in political marriages. Kings and queens alike began to demand that the ringsmiths exaggerate the compulsion properties toward one side or the other, like yours are exaggerated to give you control. I don’t know if we can understand the depth of human misery those magi wrought. But seeing what they had done, the Vy’sana, the Makers, took an oath to make such rings no more. They gathered those they could find and destroyed them and every text on their making. That ring in your ear is at least four hundred years old. That it survived to the present age is nothing less than a miracle.”

  “A miracle? You call this a miracle?”

  Sister Ariel spread her hands helplessly.

  Her carriage was waiting for her, but when Momma K got in, she wasn’t alone. The dark blob in the opposite seat resolved itself into Scarred Wrable as soon as she sat. “Good evening, Momma K,” he said. “Headed to the coronation?”

  “As a matter of fact, I am. You need a ride?”

  “I don’t think so. It seems I’ve fallen out of favor with the queen.”

  “It seems?”

  “I wake up from a good long drunk and go to get some hair of the dog and I got five guys telling me stories about what I did to the queen. Somehow, it’s the wrong day. I was drunk, but I shouldn’t have slept for a day and a half!”

  Durzo. Her stomach twisted.

  Ben Wrable’s face was as pale as his scars. “It’s Durzo, isn’t it?”

  “Don’t be ridiculous. Durzo’s dead.”

  “I know. I killed him, remember?” Oh, yes. Wrable had killed Kylar when Kylar had been disguised as Durzo. “He swore he wouldn’t haunt me, but now my best client wants me dead.”

 

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