The night angel trilogy, p.128
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.128
 

           Brent Weeks

  There was real fear in Daune Wariyamo’s face for the first time Kaede had ever seen. “It didn’t mean anything, Kae.”

  “Until you got pregnant and didn’t know who the father was.”

  Daune Wariyamo stood transfixed, as if she couldn’t believe all of her secrets had yielded their rotten fruit on the same day. Around the room, officials and guards stood with mouths agape, barely daring to breathe.

  “I wondered for years, Mother, why a woman so ambitious wouldn’t want me to have anything to do with Prince Solon. It’s because you were afraid he was my brother. You were afraid that your whoring would lead me, innocently, to an incestuous bed. Apparently your sense of honor is only diseased rather than nonexistent.”

  Tears were rolling down Daune’s cheeks. “Kaede, I was young. He said he loved me.”

  “Did you believe the green mages when they examined me? I had no idea why at the time, I was only nine years old—too young to be showing Talent yet. They found out that I was a Wariyamo, didn’t they? Weren’t you relieved?”

  “For a while. When Solon came home, a full blue mage at nineteen, he asked to see me secretly. That’s when I knew. He tried to be so subtle, swearing how he would never hurt you, but under it all, there were threats, Kaede. What would happen when he got tired of you? What if I ever vexed him? He could destroy me with a word. I would be his slave for the rest of my life. What if you opposed him? He could lie, say the mages proved you were illegitimate. He was a mage himself; everyone would believe it. We’d lose everything. Our only hope was to keep him away from us. It wasn’t like I was hurting him. I even got him an offer for more schooling at Sho’cendi, which was a high honor.”

  Kaede’s face relaxed despite her fury. The decision had been made. The truth was out. Now there was room for sorrow. “So you ruined my chances of happiness because you couldn’t believe that the man I loved would keep his word?”

  “I was protecting us. No one’s as good as they pretend to be,” Daune said.

  “True in your case,” Kaede said. She turned. “Secretary Tayabusa, please record that the queen mother is henceforth stripped of all privileges and titles. She is banished from all the isles and territories of Seth, and if found on them after tomorrow, the penalty will be death. At dawn, Chamberlain Inyouye, you will have her accompanied to the harbor. You will pay her passage to whatever port she chooses. You will give her ten thousand yass, and make sure that she leaves. She may be accompanied by one servant if one can be found who volunteers to accompany her.”

  Everyone was stunned.

  “Mother,” Kaede said, “if this were the first time you’d lied to me, I wouldn’t do this. It is, however, the last time. Guards, I wish two of you to stay with her at all times. I doubt she will attempt to harm herself, but she has shown herself to be an adulteress and a liar. I don’t expect theft is below her.”

  “You can’t do this,” Daune said, breathing so rapidly Kaede expected her to pass out.

  “I already have.”

  “I’m your mother!”

  Kaede stepped forward and put her hands on each side of her mother’s face. She kissed her forehead. She took hold of the six platinum chains strung between her mother’s cheek and ear and tore them out. Daune screamed, her ear torn to ribbons, her cheek dribbling blood.

  Kaede said, “No, you are Queen Mother no more. You are Daune Wariyamo no more. Henceforth, you are Daune Outcast. Guards?”

  The captain of the guard and his second stepped forward and took the outcast by each arm to lead her from the room.

  “Kae! Kaede, please!”

  “Captain,” Kaede said as the guards neared the door, almost dragging their prisoner. “About what happened here…”

  The captain looked quickly at each of his men. “You can be assured of my men’s complete discretion, Your Majesty.”

  Secretary Tayabusa cleared his throat. “And I have written down the names of everyone in this room. If anyone speaks of this, they will be discovered and punished accordingly.” He leveled a heavy gaze at each of the various servants and functionaries in turn.

  “On the contrary,” Kaede said, “no one will be punished for speaking of what happened here. My dead mother shamed my family, and I will not grant her the mercy of covering her deeds in silence. Most of all, my betrothed and his family deserve to know the truth before they wed their honor to mine.”

  If the Takedas went ahead with the marriage obviously knowing the truth, they would have a harder time destroying her than if she married and then they “found out” about her shameful secret. Other than that, there were few things the Takedas could do. A coup was doubtful, despite Oshobi’s popularity among the city guard. The Takedas’ postponing the marriage until spring was most likely, and that would give her time. Time might give her opportunities. Best for her personally and worst for Seth, the Takedas might cancel the wedding and withdraw to their home island. That would mean they would come back in the spring for war.

  At sunrise, Vi swung her feet over the side of her bed in her little room. She’d barely slept after leaving Sister Ariel, and she’d had horrible dreams about Kylar and oceans of blood. Maybe it was an omen. She was supposed to meet Elene this morning, first thing. She touched the water basin. “Cold,” she said. When ice crystals began to spider across the surface, she broke the ice and washed her face, gasping despite herself. In minutes she finished her ablutions and pulled the ill-fitting tyro’s robe over her ill-fitting shift. Vi tied back her hair with the white ribbons Sister Ariel had given her.

  She heard the familiar scuff of Sister Ariel’s steps before the Sister knocked on her door and came in without waiting for permission.

  “You’re up,” Sister Ariel said, surprised. “You’re going to see her?”

  “She’s up in the pommel of the Seraph’s sword?” Vi asked.

  “Praying still, Uly says. Vi,” Sister Ariel paused. “You’re one of us now. The Seraph will pay your debts. If you need to, you can offer her whatever it takes.”

  “I don’t think she’s looking for a bribe,” Vi said.

  “Nor do I.” Sister Ariel paused again. “I expected I’d have to force you to go to her, Vi. The girl you used to be would never have done this. Well done.”

  Perfect, now it was impossible to back down.

  Vi found the central staircase and began climbing. She was only a few floors up when the stones pulsed gently as they did every dawn. She paused on a landing as nearly invisible trickles of dust joined together into rivulets. They rushed past her feet as a small hole opened in the wall. The single day’s accumulation of dust slipped through and the hole closed. Everywhere in the Seraph, the scene was repeated. Powered by the first rays of sunlight, all natural dirt was whisked away. Outside, the Seraph would appear to be briefly surrounded by a corona as magic repulsed dirt, grime, rain, or snow. The debris would cascade into the lake and there be dispersed by magic that kept the waters around the Seraph even cleaner than the rest of Lake Vestacchi.

  There were, of course, still plenty of chores for the tyros. The magic was disengaged in any room where it might interfere with a Sister’s experiments or sensitive artifacts, and it disregarded scraps of parchment, clothes, or anything else someone might leave on the floor. But without the magic, the tyros could have worked constantly and never been able to keep the Chantry clean. It was simply too big.

  Vi reached one of the upper floors where full Sisters had their apartments. There was some pecking order to who had what floor and which Sisters got the treasured southern exposures, but Vi had no idea how it worked. Mercifully, no one was in the hall. Vi followed the unflickering lamps to the southwest corner. The Seraph held a sword in her left hand, its point at her feet, the hilt coming above her waist, held slightly to one side. The pommel of that giant sword was capped with a round jewel. The room was a globe from which Sisters could see sunrise and sunset. The walls were always transparent. It was a sanctuary for those who needed to meditate or, as in Elene’s case
, pray.

  Taking a deep breath, Vi opened the door. Elene was seated, looking toward the eastern mountains. The view was breathtaking. Vi had never been so high in her life. The punts in the lake below looked the size of her thumb. The mountains glowed. The sun was a jagged half-circle barely peeking over them. But Vi’s eyes sought out Elene’s face. Her skin glowed in the gentle light, her eyes deep brown, her scars softened. She gestured for Vi to come stand with her, not glancing away from the horizon.

  Tentatively, Vi stepped up beside her. Together, they watched the sun rise.

  Not daring to turn and look Elene in the face, but not able to wait another moment, Vi said, “I’m sorry if I interrupted your prayers.” She drew her knife and rested it across her palms. “I made you a promise. I’ve done you and Kylar a great wrong. If you wish… I deserve no less.”

  Elene took the knife. After a minute, she said, “His mercies are new every morning.”

  Vi blinked. She glanced over at Elene and saw a tear tracking down her cheek. “Uh, whose?”

  “The One God’s. If he forgives you, how dare I not?”

  What?

  Elene took Vi’s right hand with her left. Then she stood, shoulder to shoulder with her, looking at the newborn sun. She held Vi’s hand firmly, but with nothing vindictive or tense in her grip. There was an aura about her of tremendous peace, peace so thick it slowly calmed Vi’s taut nerves.

  After a few minutes, Elene turned to her. Vi was surprised to find herself brave enough to meet the woman’s eyes.

  “I believe the God has a purpose for me, Vi. I don’t know what it is, but I know it isn’t murdering you.” Elene threw the knife aside. “We’re in a big mess, but we’re in it together. All right?”

  50

  Vürdmeister Neph Dada sat beneath an oak at the mouth of Quorig’s Pass, awaiting his spy. He hadn’t brought any of the two hundred Vürdmeisters he’d gathered to the meeting. If his spy was caught, he didn’t want her to be able to tell the Chantry anything useful. Of course, the catatonic Tenser Ursuul and Khali had traveled with him, and he kept them close—but hidden.

  Eris Buel arrived at moonrise. She was not an attractive woman. Her eyes were close-set, her nose long, and her chin weak. She looked rather like a rat in makeup. Too much makeup at that. And she had moles. Everywhere. Garoth Ursuul had long let it be known that his female progeny were worthless to him except as killing practice for the aethelings. It was half true. Most of the girls served to weed out boys too weak to murder their own sisters, but Garoth sent wytchborn girls away at birth.

  Few became as valuable as Eris Buel. Years ago, Garoth learned that Eris had roused the Speaker’s suspicions. Rather than lose her, Garoth had shipped her off to Alitaera and arranged her marriage to a nobleman. Eris had then caught the crest of a rising tide of resentment among the Chattel, the former magae who’d left the Chantry to marry. She was now poised to head that movement back to the Chantry, demanding recognition. Eris might even overthrow the Speaker.

  “Eris,” Neph said, dipping his head.

  “Vürdmeister.” Eris liked to think too highly of herself, but she could obviously feel the nearness of Khali. That was enough to put anyone off-balance.

  “I have a task for you,” Neph said. “One of our spies tells me a woman named Viridiana Sovari has bonded a man with a set of compulsive earrings. Given the bond, we expect he will come to the Chantry soon.”

  “I know the girl. She’s the talk of the Chantry,” Eris said.

  “She doesn’t matter. Let me be blunt. This man, Kylar, may hold Curoch. We’ve hired an extremely skilled thief to take it from him. We have reasons to trust our thief, but Kylar is very resourceful. He may track our man down. So as soon as our man steals the sword, he’ll signal you by raising two black flags on a fishing boat visible from your room in the Chantry. Check three times a day. When you see it, collect the sword and leave the city immediately. The thief is not to see your face or know anything about you, just as you know nothing about him. You’ll pay him. He knows how much to expect.” Neph handed her a purse full of Alitaeran gold. She looked startled at the weight.

  Neph was lying to her, of course. He did believe that Kylar had briefly held Curoch, but he’d also seen how Ezra’s Wood changed on the day that Vürdmeister Borsini had gone to his death, trying to take Curoch from Kylar. The Sword of Power was gone; once something went into the Wood, it stayed there.

  What Neph’s thief was trying to steal was a normal sword, with one difference: it had been reported to Neph that Kylar’s sword had a black blade. Kylar was hiding his ka’kari—the black ka’kari, the Devourer of magic—on his sword. Neph was certain of it. If he was wrong, he would likely be dead by spring. He was running out of options. The things he’d thought would be easy had turned out to be viciously difficult.

  With two hundred Vürdmeisters, Neph had attacked the weaves Jorsin Alkestes had laid on Black Barrow hundreds of years ago. Even together, they’d only broken the first spell: now it was possible to use the vir within the Dead Demesne, the unchanging circle of land around the dome of Black Barrow. Before, anyone using the vir there would die instantly. It was better progress than anyone before Neph had made, but in itself, it accomplished nothing. All the millions of krul around Black Barrow were still magically sealed. No one could raise them. No one could raise the Titan Neph had found beneath the mighty dome of Black Barrow itself. With Curoch, Jorsin Alkestes had been more powerful alone than Neph was with two hundred Vürdmeisters.

  Neph’s few successes seemed like nothing. He’d stirred up the wild men in the Freeze. He’d taught their shamans to raise krul, though he’d deliberately taught them imperfectly, in case he ever had to face them himself. He’d sown rumors about the weakness of the new Godking among the highland tribes.

  It would be enough to distract the new Godking, but not enough for Neph to take the chains of office for himself. The Ursuuls had long claimed that only an Ursuul could take the vir from a meister. That claim had meant the meisters and Vürdmeisters had never been a threat to a true Ursuul—any magical fight would end instantly. Neph had been certain it was a lie. He had staked everything on the belief that once he held Khali, it would be a simple matter to learn to remove the vir from whomever he wished. But so far, he hadn’t even come close.

  If Neph didn’t figure something out soon, any of the aethelings could show up any day and remove the vir from Neph himself.

  There were ways out, but none was likely. If Neph actually recovered Curoch, of course, he could shatter Jorsin’s work and anyone who rose against him even without the krul or the Strangers or Khali. If he could steal the black ka’kari, he could make it devour Jorsin’s magics, raise the krul, and the krul would crush anyone who rose against him. He could use the black ka’kari to walk into Ezra’s Wood and steal Curoch and everything else there. His last hope was to raise Khali herself. It had been Khali’s wish for as long as she had been worshiped. It was enshrined in every Khalidoran’s prayer: Khalivos ras en me. Khali, make your home in me. If Neph could give Khali a body, she would give him everything. Neph was preparing the magic and trying to find a proper host for Khali in case he needed to do it, but it was a last resort. Khali would surely teach him how to deny the vir to the Godking if Neph gave her true embodiment. But if Khali had a body, if she could give him everything, could she not also take everything from him?

  Neph turned pensive eyes toward Eris. He needed, as always with these arrogant children, to seal the lie. “If it is Curoch, Eris, I’ll give you whatever you ask. But there are two things you should know. You have not the power to wield it even for an instant. It will kill you if you try. Second, I will kill you if you try.” His vir squirmed up and down his arms as he laid a tiny weave on her. “I know you can untie that weave, but one of my other spies at the Chantry will be checking on you. If you tamper with it, she has instructions to kill you. Don’t worry, the weave is small enough to escape any but the closest magical examination.”
r />   Eris’s face paled. It would, of course, be her death if any loyal Sister found that weave. But Neph had also revealed that he had another spy close enough to her that the spy could check on the weave regularly. “How likely is it that Kylar has Curoch?” she asked.

  “Not likely. But the prize is worth the possibility of losing you.”

  A green hue entered her skin. “I want Alitaera,” she said defiantly. “That’s my price. If it’s Curoch, you’ll take all Midcyru. I want to be queen of Alitaera. I have debts to repay.”

  Neph pretended to think about it. “Done,” he said.

  51

  Kylar opened his eyes in darkness. His whole body ached, but he knew where he was instantly. Nothing else had the sewage-and-rotten-eggs smell of the Maw. They’d put him in one of the nobles’ cells. He wouldn’t have been surprised to find himself in the Hole, or dead. He was glad they hadn’t killed him. It would be better for Logan if there was a trial first.

  “I must have been twice your age when I killed my first queen,” a familiar voice said. “ ’Course, I didn’t make such a damn mess of it.”

  “Durzo?” Kylar sat up, but the man squatting on his heels across from him was unfamiliar. The laugh wasn’t.

  “I’m going by Dehvi now.” The voice took on a tonal accent, “Dehvirahaman ko Bruhmaeziwakazari I have the honor to be.” Durzo’s voice came back as he said, “They used to call me the Ghost of the Steppes, or A Breath in the Typhoon.”

  “Durzo? Is that an illusion?”

  “Call it advanced body magic. It was one of the things I was going to teach you if you hadn’t developed your Talent so damn slow. We’ve only got a few minutes. All the guards down here are honest, if you can believe it. And your trial’s going on as we speak.”

  “Already?”

  “Your pal the king seems to have high esteem for your powers. Almost accurately high. They drugged you. You’ve been unconscious for a week.”

 
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