The night angel trilogy, p.127
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.127

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Everyone will be better off if I do.”

  “Except you, and me, and my daughter, and Logan, and Momma K, and everyone who loves you.”

  “What do you mean?” Kylar was caught off guard.

  “Logan will put you to death, and losing you will hurt us deeply.”

  Kylar snorted. Some loss. “Sir, thank you for everything you’ve done for me, and everything you tried to do. I’m sorry I cost you so much.”

  Count Drake bowed his head and closed his eyes, leaning heavily on his cane. “Kylar, I’ve lost my wife and two daughters this year. I don’t know if I can bear to lose a son.”

  Kylar squeezed the man’s shoulder, marveling how fragile it felt. He looked into the count’s eyes. “Just so you know,” Kylar said, “you pass.”

  “I what?”

  Kylar gave the man who’d once single-handedly introduced and abolished slavery in Cenaria a lopsided grin. “Whatever I see—guilt or whatever—you don’t have it. You’re clean.”

  A look of stunned disbelief shot across Drake’s face, followed by something akin to awe. He stood transfixed.

  “May your God bless you, sir. You certainly deserve it.”

  48

  Dorian and Jenine were sitting together in the garden. He had dismissed his retainers, and for a time, they had sat without speaking. “I’m sorry I killed that Vürdmeister,” Dorian said.

  Jenine looked up, surprised. “Why? Because it upset me, or because it was the wrong?”

  After a moment, Dorian said, “I could have dealt with him in a manner less… brutal.”

  “He was responsible for those aethelings, wasn’t he?”

  “Yes,” Dorian said.

  Jenine plucked a red flower with six petals, each bearing a purple starburst. Khalidorans considered a blooming starflower an omen of great good luck, because they bloomed only once every seven years. Conversely, a dead starflower was the worst luck. In this garden, they bloomed constantly, but each bloom would die within hours of being plucked. The vir was not good at sustaining life.

  After regarding the flower in her fingers for a long minute, Jenine said quietly, “Milord, I’m sure you know that my father was a fool. What most people don’t know is that my mother was brilliant. My father feared her, and he tried to marginalize her so she wouldn’t grow more powerful than he was. She knew it, and she let him because she didn’t care to turn her mind to politics. It was too rough, too dirty, too brutal for her. My father made a thousand mistakes in ruling, but my mother’s might have been bigger because she chose not to rule. I lost the man I love, a man who would have been a great king, because of that. So I’m not going to turn away because ruling is messy. My people will deserve better of me. Nor will I settle for the soft hypocrisy of criticizing you as you face threats I can barely imagine.”

  “I don’t want to rule simply because I enjoy power. If it’s for that, then it’s for nothing. I want to undo everything that my father and his fathers have made of this country. I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if it can be done.”

  A quick scowl passed across her face, but she didn’t speak for a few seconds. Dorian waited. Finally, she said, “Milord, I see you usually being so decisive, so strong, and then the next moment, you’re in here, apologizing to me for something you had to do. Maybe you could have done it differently, but so what? There was an immediate threat and you dealt with it. I’m trying to tell you that you don’t need to be weak for me. I’ve seen enough weak men in my life. I guess my question is—and it’s probably the same question your people have—are you going to be king, or are you just trying to stay alive until you can run away?”

  Her words caught him. He hadn’t once thought of himself growing old as Godking. Had that been because he couldn’t remember even a fragment of prophecy with himself as an old Godking, or because he’d been afraid to throw in his lot wholeheartedly with this land? He hadn’t thought about how things would be even a year from now. In thinking for such a short term, he’d ignored problems. He hadn’t done anything to seal the highland tribes to him. He hadn’t moved against Neph. He hadn’t moved against the aethelings. If Jenine saw his hesitation as weakness, how many others did, too?

  “I am king,” Dorian said. “And I will be until the end of my life, however long that may be.”

  “Then rule as you must to be king.”

  “Do you have any idea what that means? Here, with these people?” Dorian asked.

  “No,” she admitted. “But I trust you.”

  Dorian had thought of Jenine as naive. But he’d been wrong. Jenine was inexperienced. There was a difference. And she might well yet be horrified by what experience taught, but her eyes were open. Nor did she have an overflow of sympathy for the people who had killed her husband and her entire family. But a monarch had to be hard, didn’t he?

  Nodding as Jenine rose to go make more preparations for their wedding, distracted by his own thoughts, Dorian reached out with his Talent to lay a small weave on the starflower to preserve it. It was a simple weave and could make even the most delicate flower last a month. But Dorian had forgotten how much vir had been used in growing the flower. Vir and Talent touched and warred and the flower turned black and limp in Jenine’s hands.

  Dorian cursed. “I’m sorry, milady. You’ve given me much to consider. You are wise beyond your years. Thank you.” He plucked another starflower and wrapped it in vir for Jenine. It would last a few days, but then he’d simply pick another.

  The royal guards let Kylar pass without comment. Ilena Drake stood near the door, arms folded under her breasts. “I’m sorry,” Kylar told her.

  “How could you do this to Elene?” she asked.

  He walked past her and strode through quiet corridors, up the stairs to the queen’s apartments in a fog. The ka’kari flicked out of his hand into the form of a dagger, then sucked back in. Out, in, out, in. Was it always this simple for Vi? Some flirtation, a little innuendo, and your deader isolated herself, arranged your entry, and helped keep your presence secret? After the lengths to which Kylar had gone for some kills, walking in an unlocked door seemed like cheating. The guards hadn’t even taken the dagger from his belt.

  Leaning against the door frame, he breathed deeply. He’d seen so much death in this place. Terah Graesin’s room was Garoth Ursuul’s old room. There had been statues of dead girls in the room bare weeks ago. What had they done with those statues of flesh made stony? If he ever found Trudana Jadwin, he would make Hu Gibbet look kind.

  Such bloody, bloody thoughts. Kylar knocked.

  There was the scuffing of bare feet on marble, and then Terah Graesin opened the door. Kylar was surprised she was still fully clothed. She stepped close and kissed him softly, luxuriously, their only contact in their lips. She moved slowly backward, sucking on his lower lip. He followed, letting her take the lead. She closed the door and stepped into his embrace.

  “We’ll have to be quick,” she said, in between kisses on his neck. “I can’t miss my own party, but if your tongue is half as talented as you suggest, I guarantee to reciprocate very soon.” She giggled wickedly.

  What surprised Kylar was how easy it was. Terah was taller than Elene, and her lips not as full, but teasing her was the same. He traced fingertips down the backs of her arms, then, feigning growing passion, slid one hand to the back of her neck and the other to soft curve of her buttock. From the interplay of starched stiffness and yielding flesh, he could tell she’d removed her undergarments.

  He lifted an eyebrow and she giggled again. “Like I said, quick and clean. Later we can do long and dirty.”

  You poor bitch, you don’t even know what this is. What was he doing? Why didn’t he end this sad farce? Finish the job, Kylar.

  Kylar closed his eyes as Terah pushed him onto the bed, but as soon as he did, he imagined Vi standing beside the bed. She looked pissed. Kylar’s eyes flew open as Terah crawled over him. She tugged her neckline down. “Kiss me,” she said.

 
Vi seemed to be standing right there, her eyes flaming, daring Kylar to do it and feel her wrath. The image made no sense, but that didn’t make it any less powerful.

  Terah made a pouting sound and tugged her dress lower, brushing her bare breast against Kylar’s face. His ear felt suddenly hot. Sickness and revulsion washed through him. His stomach cramped.

  There was a wordless scream of animal rage from the doorway. Kylar blinked his eyes furiously, trying to clear away the black spots swimming in front of them. Terah barely sat up before a body collided with her, knocking her off of Kylar.

  Kylar fell off the bed and staggered to his feet. As his vision cleared, he saw Luc Graesin on top of his sister, pummeling her with his fists and screaming obscenities. Finally, his chest heaving, Luc pulled himself off of her. “You killed Natassa,” he said, drawing a short dagger from his belt. “You killed our sister.”

  “No,” Terah said. “I swear.” Blood was pouring from a gash across her eyebrow and her lips were fat and bloodied from Luc’s fist.

  The last piece of darkness Kylar had seen in Terah’s eyes fell into place. “She sent a messenger to the Godking,” Kylar said, “telling him Natassa was traveling to Havermere, and she arranged for there to only be two guards with her.”

  Terah gaped, but Luc’s eyes never left her face. The guilt written there was plain. “I did it for us. She was going to betray us! For the gods’ sake, help me, Kylar,” Terah begged.

  It was a mistake. She could have faced Luc down. The last thing she should have done was remind him of the other man she’d been about to fuck. Luc screamed again and stabbed her in the stomach. She shrieked and Luc cowered back, then attacked again, gashing her arm as she lurched to her feet. He stabbed at her back as she ran to a wall, caught the ribbing of her dress and dropped the dagger.

  Terah found a bellrope and yanked on it over and over.

  Luc picked up the bloody dagger and walked toward her, his face a mask of grief and rage, weeping and cursing. He stood in front of his sister as she collapsed on the floor. Kylar wondered if Luc saw what he saw. Terah Graesin without power, without the hauteur, was a pitiful shadow. She hunched into the corner, blubbering. “Please, Luc, please. I love you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

  Perhaps Luc did see the same thing as Kylar, because he stopped, paralyzed. He still held the dagger, but Kylar knew that he wouldn’t use it now.

  Terah’s wounds weren’t fatal, Kylar was certain of that, especially not with a green maja in the castle. Terah would recover, and she would owe the Chantry an enormous debt. She would put her brother to death and she would capitalize on people’s sympathy for her to move against her enemies real or imagined. Poor Luc Graesin. The weak bastard wasn’t even eighteen yet.

  Kylar slapped the young man, hard, and plucked the dagger from his hands. Luc fell. “Look at me,” Kylar told him.

  The Royal Guards were on their way. They might arrive any moment. Kylar could cut Terah’s throat, knock Luc senseless, climb out the window, and rejoin the party. Luc would be beheaded for treason and murder and Logan would be made king. Doubtless, whoever had told Luc about Natassa’s betrayal intended exactly that.

  Luc met his eyes and Kylar weighed the young man’s soul.

  Kylar cursed loudly. “You’re no killer, Luc Graesin. You marched right up here, didn’t you? Walked past a dozen witnesses? I thought so.”

  “What are you doing?” Terah demanded. “Help me.”

  Kylar looked into Luc’s eyes again and saw a young man bound in chains not of his own making. Luc was no saint, nor purely a victim, but he didn’t deserve death.

  “Tell me one thing,” Kylar said. “If you could take the throne, would you?”

  “Hell no,” Luc said.

  He was telling the truth. “Then I give you these, Luc: first, knowledge: you’re no killer. These wounds won’t kill your sister. Second, your life. Make something of it. Third, I spare you a sight that would never leave you.”

  “What?” Luc asked.

  Kylar punched him in the forehead. Luc dropped like a stone. Kylar rubbed Luc’s bloody hands against his own. He cut Luc’s tunic in two places with the dagger and finally stabbed him in the meat of his shoulder, shallowly.

  Terah was aghast. “What are you doing?”

  Kylar drew the mask of judgment over his face. “I’ve come for you, Terah.” He let the ka’kari sink back into his skin.

  She screamed. He grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled her to her feet. He planted the dagger in her shoulder, and with his right hand free, pressed it against her wounded stomach to get it bloody. He wiped the blood on both sides of his face and pulled the dagger out of her shoulder. He stood behind her, using her body as a shield between him and the door. She was begging, screaming, cursing, weeping, but Kylar barely heard her. He sighed and when he inhaled, he smelled her hair. It smelled of youth and promise.

  There was the sound of jingling armor and heavy footsteps pounding up the hall. A dozen Royal Guards burst into the room, bristling with weaponry. Behind them Logan Gyre and Duke Wesseros and their guards pushed into the room. In seconds, they’d formed a half circle around Kylar and the queen. Dozens of weapons were leveled at Kylar.

  “Put it down!” a royal guard yelled. “Put it down now!”

  “Help me. Please,” Terah begged.

  “By the gods, Kylar,” Logan shouted. “Don’t do this. Please!”

  For the job, it was perfect. Now dozens of witnesses had seen Logan command Kylar to stop. There remained only one thing. Kylar painted a desperate expression on his face. “Luc tried to stop me, and he couldn’t,” Kylar raved. “And you can’t either!”

  Kylar slashed the dagger through Terah Graesin’s throat, and all the world screamed.

  49

  Mother,” Kaede said, coming into the study, “how are the wedding preparations coming?”

  Daune Wariyamo raised her eyes from the papers spread all over her desk. She loved lists. “Our responsibilities are well in hand. Everyone has been informed of their precedence and the expected protocols. I only worry about Oshobi’s mother. I’d say she has the brain of a hummingbird, except hummingbirds can hover for a moment or two. I expect the Takedas’ half of the ceremony to be an unmitigated disaster.” She pulled off her pince nez. “I heard some lunatic arrived, claiming to be a Tofusin.”

  A Tofusin, she said. As if there were more than one.

  “He’s nothing. Some white-haired freak,” Kaede said, waving it away. “Mother, I want your opinion. An insult’s been done to our family honor that may be on some people’s minds as we go into this wedding, so I think I have to deal with it now. One of the cousins cuckolded her husband. She swears it was long ago and brief, but its effects continue. What should I do?”

  Daune Wariyamo scrunched her eyebrows, as if the answer were so obvious that Kaede was stupid for asking. “A slut can not be tolerated, Kaede. A whore dishonors us all.”

  “Very well. I’ll see it taken care of.”

  “Who is it?”

  “Mother,” Kaede said quietly, “I’m going to ask you a question, and if you lie to me, the consequences will be harsher than you can believe.”

  “Kaede! Is this how you to speak to your mother—”

  “None of that, mother. What—”

  “Your tone is so disrespectful, I—”

  “Silence!” Kaede shouted.

  Daune Wariyamo was too stunned for the moment to begin the usual tactics.

  “Did you or did you not intercept letters that Solon sent to me?” Kaede asked.

  Daune Wariyamo blinked rapidly, then said, “Of course I did.”

  “For how long?” Kaede asked.

  “I don’t remember.”

  “How long?” Kaede asked, her voice dangerous.

  The empress’s mother said nothing for a long moment. Then she said, “Years. Letters came every month, sometimes more often.”

  “Every week?”

  “I suppose.”

/>   “What did you do with them, mother?”

  “That Solon was worse than his brother.”

  “Don’t you ever speak to me of that monster. Where are the letters?”

  “They were a tissue of lies. I burned them.”

  “When did he stop sending them?” Kaede asked.

  Her mother’s expression went blank for a moment, then she said, “I don’t know, ten years ago?”

  “He didn’t stop, did he? Don’t you dare lie to me, by the gods, don’t you dare.”

  “It’s only a few times a year now. For all I knew, it was some impostor, hoping to break your heart again, Kae. Don’t let this stranger ruin everything. Even if it is Solon, you don’t know him. If you postpone this wedding, it could mean the end of you. Harvest is the only time for a queen to marry, and if you delay, the seas will be impassable. The lords from the other isles won’t be able to attend. You need this. We can’t offend the Takedas again.”

  Clan Takeda had been a thorn in Kaede’s side since she’d taken the throne. They had angled and manipulated for years for this wedding, and if as a younger woman she had sworn she would never marry Oshobi, now she knew there was no other way. “Mother, is there anything else you haven’t told me? Anything you want to confess?”

  “Of course not—”

  Kaede held up a finger. “I want you to think very carefully. You’re not as good a liar as you believe.”

  Her mother hesitated, but the look on her face was that of a woman aggrieved that she could be suspect. “There’s nothing.”

  Kaede had been wrong. Her mother was an excellent liar. Kaede turned to a guard. “Summon my secretary and the chamberlain.”

  “Kae, what are you doing?” Daune asked.

  The officials stepped into the room in moments. Kaede had had them waiting outside. “Mother, the woman you called a slut and a whore is you. You betrayed my father and dishonored us.”

  “No! I never—”

  “Did you expect to get away with it? You fornicated with an emperor—a man surrounded by bodyguards and slaves at all hours, and you the lady of a high house, with bodyguards and slaves of your own. Did you think no one would notice?”

 
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