The night angel trilogy, p.126
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.126

           Brent Weeks
 

  Kylar had given his life before. He’d died to save the woman he loved. He’d died to get money to get out of Cenaria. He’d died for refusing Terah Graesin’s contract on Logan. He’d died opposing the Godking. It had never been fun, but he’d begun to trust that he would come back. Every other death had cost him only the pain of dying. This death would cost him his life. He would have to leave forever. Start over completely in a far land. It would be like every one of his friends had died at the same time.

  “You’ll make a great king,” Kylar said.

  “How many men are you willing to kill for that idea?”

  “It’s not an idea. It’s a dream. Now if you’ll excuse me, Your Grace, the longer people see you talking with me, the more I will sully your reputation.” Kylar turned and followed Terah Graesin into the next room.

  “Your Grace,” Momma K said, returning from mingling. “I think we should stay. I hear the new bard has composed a wonderful new song.”

  46

  Quoglee Mars hadn’t eaten. He would eat later, if at all, with the servants. But tonight, it didn’t bother him. He wandered the tables and played whatever asinine music the threadbare nobles requested. He accepted their applause and moved on, eager to please the next batch of up-jumped plebeians.

  After dinner, the castle was opened up and the tables spirited away so the nobles could mingle and have a chance to pay their respects and exchange a few words with the new queen. Entertainments had been spread through numerous rooms with desserts and liqueurs. Quoglee waited until the party had been going for a while before he mounted the platform where the high table had been. The guards who wandered the party had all wandered out, and several of the kingdom’s more important nobles were in the room—and, most important, Queen Graesin wasn’t.

  Leaning his head down as if oblivious to them all, he began playing as only Quoglee Mars could play. For years, he knew, students of music would test their hand against this. Could they manage this overture in the time their tutors told them Quoglee Mars had played it? And some of them doubtless would crash through it with Quoglee’s speed, and afterward, their tutors would tell them the difference between hitting notes and milking them.

  Quoglee played impetuosity and youth, fervor and passion, sudden flares of anger, tempestuous, never slowing. Around that driving center, he wrapped sweetness, and love, and sorrow, pride against love, scaling higher and higher, with tragedy following a step behind.

  Then, before the resolution, he stopped abruptly.

  There was a moment of silence. The cretins were all looking at him, silent, expectant, not knowing if they could clap yet. He dipped his head, not even this perturbing him.

  The applause was thunderous, but Quoglee held up a hand quickly, silencing it. The room held perhaps two hundred nobles, at least a hundred hangers-on, and dozens of servants. Miraculously, there were still no guards, and what speaking Quoglee had to do, he had to do without interference. “Today,” he said in his stage voice, which carried better than a shout, “I wish to play something new that I’ve written for you, and all I ask is that you allow me to finish. This song was commissioned by someone you know, but someone who is more special than you know. It was, in fact, commissioned by the Shinga of your Sa’kagé. I swear every word of this song is true. I call it the Song of Secrets, and your Shinga wishes me to dedicate it to Queen Graesin.”

  “That’s plenty far, Sergeant Gamble,” Scarred Wrable said, stepping out of the shadows in a doorway that connected one of the side rooms with the Great Hall. With a practiced hand, he slid an arm between the sergeant’s rich cloak and his back and cut through leather to bring the point of a dagger to rest against the man’s spine. “There’s nothing in there that interests you.”

  “What are you bastards doing in the Great Hall?”

  “No theft, nor murder, and that’s all you need to know, Sergeant.”

  “It’s Commander Gamble now.”

  “It’ll be the late Commander Gamble if you move that hand another inch.”

  “Ah. Point taken.”

  “In case you’re thinking of raising an alarm, you might want to take a careful look around the room and tell me what you see.”

  Commander Gamble looked. Eight royal guards were in the room. Six of them were conversing individually with young male noblemen that the commander didn’t recognize. The two others were stationed on either side of Queen Graesin and not talking to anyone, as they were commanded not to while guarding the queen. However, another group of three nobles near them did seem especially vigilant now that Commander Gamble studied them. He cursed aloud. He’d had no idea the Sa’kagé even had so many wetboys. “Let me guess that if anyone raises the alarm, you have orders.”

  “If you cooperate, not only will you and all these men live, but no one will blame you afterward. You might even keep your job.”

  “Why should I believe you?” Commander Gamble asked.

  “Because I don’t need to lie. I’ve got two dozen friends and a knife in your back.”

  Two dozen? Commander Gamble chewed on that for a moment. “Well then,” he said. “Why don’t we get a drink? I’ve got a special bottle—down in the kitchens.”

  Food paused, poised inches from open mouths, forgotten. Servants froze in the act of collecting glasses. For a moment, no one even breathed.

  In a city of fatal secrets, Quoglee Mars had told everyone that he knew the greatest secret of them all. If that was the prequel to his song, what would his song hold?

  Quoglee presided over the silence like the maestro he was, a smug smirk tugging at his lips. He judged the silence as if it were music, each beat of rest landing in perfect order. Then, a moment before the revelation could spark a firestorm of comment, he lifted one finger.

  From the crowd, a woman’s voice broke in a single high, clear note she held for impossibly long, and then, never pausing for a breath, it devolved into a plaintive run and finally words, decrying loneliness. All eyes turned to a barrel-chested soprano in ivory that no one recognized. As she sang, she strode through the crowd until she joined Quoglee on his platform. His voice joined hers, crossing and interweaving melodies, even as the words clashed, lovers singing of love and love denied.

  From the corners of the room, the instruments, light viol and muscular bass and harp, played against the voices, but by the magic of music, each stood clear. The repetition of the vocal pleas against the instrumental injunctions allowed the ear to follow one and then the next and the next. Had it been speech, it would have been unintelligible. But in music, every line was pellucid, individuated, stark in its call. A sister’s passion, a brother’s confusion, youth in turmoil, society frowning condemnation, secrets born in the bedchambers of an exalted house. A woman defiant, passionate, letting nothing stand in her way.

  Though he didn’t name them, Quoglee had taken no pains to conceal the objects of his song, but as always, some nobles caught on earlier than others. Those who understood couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They searched the room for guards, sure that someone must stop this beautiful outrage. But no guard was at his post. The Sa’kagé had chosen this night to unveil its power. There was no way this could be an accident. This room, which held two hundred of the kingdom’s elite, now swelling ever more as the curious came to see what held everyone transfixed, was normally protected by at least a dozen of the Queen’s Guard. Quoglee sang treason, and no one stopped him. The beauty of the music and the seduction of a rumor held the nobles in a spell. It was Quoglee’s masterpiece. No one had ever heard such music. The strings warred with each other, and the forbidden love warred with itself, the music claiming this twisted love was love indeed, even as the boy twisted against his conscience and the woman demanded her rights as a beloved.

  Then, as they sang, finally in harmony, having declared an armistice, surrendering to a forbidden love which must remain secret, a new voice joined the fray. A young soprano, lean, in a simple white dress joined Quoglee and the mezzo soprano, singing no
tes of such purity they tore the heart. In her innocence, she stumbled upon a secret that would wreck a royal house.

  The brother never knew. The elder sister saw all she had, all she desired, threatened by her own sister, and in her conflicted heart, she hatched a desperate plan.

  Unnoticed by the rapt nobles, a young man had entered the chamber only moments after the first notes sounded. Luc Graesin made no move to silence Quoglee Mars. From the back of the room, he only listened.

  The voice of Natassa Graesin spiraled into the Hole, betrayed by her own blood, murdered. She wailed, her voice discordant, fading into oblivion, her life a sacrifice to a perversion. The music played the matching leitmotifs of fatal secrets and Cenaria once again.

  “Nooo!” Luc Graesin screamed.

  The musicians cut off the last, lingering notes in shock. Luc burst through the doors, fleeing. No one followed.

  47

  Seeing Count Drake, Kylar slipped through Queen Graesin’s entourage, but for once the casual invisibility of ordinariness failed him. A woman’s hand touched his elbow. He turned and found himself staring into Terah Graesin’s eyes. Those deep green Graesin eyes were breathtaking, especially as Kylar involuntarily stared deeper.

  In another place, another time, born to different parents, Terah Graesin’s evils would have been meaningless, for she was merely obliviously selfish. She had desires, and others existed to fulfill them. Her betrayals were casual because she barely gave them a thought. Had she been born a miller’s daughter, the damage she did would have been confined to jilted lovers and cheated customers.

  “I thought Logan and Rimbold had told me everything about you, Kylar Drake, but they could have warned me how handsome you are,” Terah said, flashing white teeth that somehow reminded Kylar of a shark.

  For some reason, the comment flustered Kylar. He’d always considered himself very average-looking, but looking into her eyes, he knew—knew—that she meant what she said, even if she was saying it aloud to flatter him. He blinked and began blushing and whatever it was that made him see into Terah faltered and disappeared. She chuckled, and it was a low, acquisitive sound.

  “And such beautiful eyes,” she said. “You’ve got eyes that make a girl think you can see right through her.”

  “I can,” he said.

  “Is that why you’re blushing?”

  That, of course, made him blush harder. He glanced back to Terah’s ladies-in-waiting. They had dropped back. Apparently they knew that when Terah approached a man she wished to do so alone, but they were laughing prettily, no doubt at his expense. He caught a glimpse of one of them who didn’t seem to be enjoying the comments, but then he lost her.

  “Tell me, Marquess, what do you see when you look in my eyes?” Terah asked.

  “It would be highly indiscreet for me to say, Your Highness,” Kylar said.

  For an instant, her eyes filled with hunger. “Marquess,” she said gravely, “a man risks his tongue for speaking indiscreetly to a queen.”

  “Tongues should be used to commit indiscretions, not to discuss them.”

  Terah Graesin gasped. “Marquess! You’ll have me blushing.”

  “I’d be content with having you.”

  Her eyes dilated, then she pretended to cool. “Marquess Drake, I consider it my duty to know the nobles who serve me. You will attend me in my chambers.”

  “Yes, Your Highness.”

  Her voice softened. “Wait ten minutes. The guards will allow you through the door. I expect your… discretion.” He nodded, smirking, and she paused. “Have we met? There’s something about you that seems so familiar.”

  “Actually, we did meet once.” During the coup. “I’m sorry I didn’t make more of an impression on you.” Six inches into your heart would have been about right.

  “Well, we’ll remedy that.”

  “Indeed.”

  She slipped away and Kylar saw Lantano Garuwashi fifteen paces away, staring at him. Kylar’s throat constricted, but though he didn’t look pleased, Garuwashi made no move toward him. Kylar looked around the room blankly, forgetting why he’d come in here in the first place. A girl broke away from Terah Graesin’s circle and whispered to the guards at one of the doors. She turned. His eyes took in the large eyes, perfectly coifed hair, clear skin, full lips, narrow waist, and lean, firm curves. It was Ilena Drake. She was one of the queen’s handmaidens. Kylar had the sense of dislocation. He’d looked away from a little girl for a moment and found a woman in her place. Ilena Drake was stunning. As she pointed him out to the guards to tell them to let him through to see the queen, her eyes suddenly met his. Her face was a mask of disappointment and disgust.

  She thought she was being used to help her big brother cheat on her friend, Elene. She thought he’d become a marquess and was so enrapt by the idea of bedding a queen that he’d left everything else behind. Worse than the anger was the monumental disappointment in her eyes. Until now, Kylar could do no wrong in Ilena’s eyes. He had been the slam. Until now.

  Queen Graesin, having made her excuses, left the room. Kylar turned away.

  Rimbold Drake disengaged from a conversation and was limping toward Kylar, leaning on his cane. His eyes went from Kylar’s face to his hands, and the rings that weren’t there.

  “She’s beautiful,” Kylar said.

  “She looks like her mother Ulana did twenty years ago. Albeit with more fire,” the Count said, proud despite his grief. Ulana Drake had been as much of a mother to Kylar as he had allowed. She had been a woman unfailingly graceful. She had seemed to grow only more beautiful as the years had passed. Kylar told the Drake as much.

  The Count’s jaw tightened, and he closed his eyes, mastering himself. A few moments later, he said, “It’s enough to tempt a man to curse God.” His eyes were stony.

  Kylar opened his mouth to ask a question, then closed it. In the next room, through the crowd listening to the bard, he saw a gorgeous blond in a blue silk dress cut so low in back it barely covered her butt. Kylar’s breath caught. For a mad moment, he thought it was Elene. Damn guilty conscience. Daydra and her perfect ass moved deeper into the crowd as if looking for someone. And you told me you gave up working the sheets.

  Drake seemed to come back to himself. He cocked an eyebrow at Kylar. “Yes?”

  Coming back to himself, Kylar realized another good reason to keep his mouth shut. “Nothing.”

  “Kylar, you’re my son—or can be, if you say the word. I give you permission to be tactless.”

  Kylar wrestled with that. “I wondered if it’s harder for you when this shit happens. Sorry. I mean, I think what happened with Serah and Mags and Ulana is awful and senseless, but I don’t expect the world to make sense. I wondered if it was harder for you, since you think there’s a God out there who could have stopped it but didn’t.”

  Count Drake frowned, pensive. “Kylar, in the crucible of tragedy, explanations fail. When you stand before a tragedy and tell yourself that there is no sense to it, doesn’t your heart break? I think that must be as hard for you as it is for me when I scream at God and demand to know why—and he says nothing. We will both survive this, Kylar. The difference is, on the other side I will have hope.”

  “A naive hope.”

  “Show me the happy man who dares not hope,” Drake said.

  “Show me the brave man who dares not face the truth.”

  “You think I’m a coward?”

  Kylar was horrified, “I didn’t mean—”

  “I’m sorry,” the Count said. “That wasn’t fair. But come, if she’s following the usual routine, Her Highness will be expecting you soon.”

  Kylar gulped. Drake knew? “Actually, I uh, did kind of want to ask…. How much do you know about my gifts?”

  “Is this the place to speak about that?” Drake asked.

  “It’s the time,” Kylar said. There were three men, six women, and two servants eyeing him. Of those, only one servant—certainly a spy, though whose was anyone’s guess—was
within earshot, and he couldn’t remain within it for long without rousing suspicions. Kylar caught the man’s eye and the force of his stare sent the servant scurrying for another plate of canapés. “I see guilt,” he said quietly. “Not always, but sometimes. Sometimes I can even tell what a man did.”

  Count Drake blanched. “The Sa’kagé would kill for such a power.” He raised a hand to forestall Kylar’s protest. “But given that you’re not interested in blackmail, to me it sounds like a terrible burden.”

  Kylar hadn’t thought of it that way. “What I want to know is what it means. Why would I have such a power, or gift, or curse? Why would the God do such a thing?”

  “Ah, I see. You’re hoping I can give you some kind of justification for regicide.”

  Kylar glared bloody daggers at the spy returning with a full platter of hors d’oeuvres. The man abruptly changed course, nearly dropping the platter. “The existence of such an ability suggests something about my purpose, doesn’t it?”

  Drake looked pensive again. “That depends on what you see. Do you see crime, or sin, or simply feelings of guilt? If crime, do you see all crimes from murder to setting up a market stand without permission? If you’re in another country where an action that’s illegal here isn’t illegal, will a man crossing the border look different? If you see sin, you’ll have to figure out whose definitions of sin apply, because I guarantee that my God and the hundred gods don’t agree, or even Astara with Ishara. If what you see is feelings of guilt, does the madman without a conscience appear cleaner than the girl who believes that her parents died in an accident because she lied about finishing her chores?”

  “Shit,” Kylar said. “How come everyone I know is smarter than me? Whatever it is, I see the unclean. I want to know if that implies that I have a duty to do something about what I see.”

  “Trying to derive ought from is, are you?” Drake asked, smirking.

  “What?”

  “She may deserve to die, Kylar, but you shouldn’t kill her.”

 
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