The night angel trilogy, p.129
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.129

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Logan’s the king?”

  “Without opposition. He and Duke Wesseros are presiding over the trial. It’s too bad you’re missing it. You’d be amazed at what Gwinvere can get witnesses to say.”

  “Momma K’s on trial?” Kylar asked. He was still off-balance. He couldn’t place things. It was unreal to be talking with Durzo.

  “No, no, no. But what she’s doing is making sure the witnesses bring up Terah’s indiscretions as many times as possible. The honorable judges are trying to quell the rumors, but Momma K’s already won. No one thinks you killed a saint. That helps Logan, but you still killed a queen in plain sight of eighteen people. Logan wants to give you a nobleman’s death, but they’ve already heard testimony that you’re not a Stern—the Sterns were pretty adamant about that, go figure—and some lady who sat next to you at the coronation says you turned down the Drake’s adoption. He gave you the rings and you refused to put them on. So you’re looking at the wheel. I did that once. It’s a real shitty way to die, especially for someone who heals as fast as we do.”

  “You came back,” Kylar said. “You gave me Retribution. Again.”

  Durzo shrugged, as if it were nothing. He reached for a pouch, then stopped himself. “You put philodunamos on the crown?”

  Kylar nodded.

  “You wonder why it didn’t work? Someone cleaned it off. The laundress swears she dumped some cleaning rags into the water and boom! There was a fire. No one believes her. She lost an arm and her job.”

  Kylar’s stomach turned. He’d nearly killed an innocent. Again. What could a one-armed laundress do?

  “So,” Durzo said. “Time’s wasting. You want to live or die?”

  “I’ll take any way out that doesn’t make Logan look complicit or weak.” At Durzo’s grimace, he said, “And don’t tell me you wouldn’t give your life for a friend. I know better.”

  Durzo grimaced again and stood. “You’re the damnedest kid I ever met. Good luck.”

  “Master, wait. Am I… am I doing the right thing?” Kylar asked.

  Durzo stopped and when he turned, there was a smile on his face. It was a rare sight. “It’s a gamble, kid. You always put your money on your friends. It’s something I admire about you.”

  Then he was gone. Kylar shook his head. How had he got himself into this?

  Six royal guards arrived soon thereafter. None of them looked happy, but while two of them had the cautious air of professionals, the other four seemed either nervous or angry or both. One of the angry ones pulled Kylar to his feet. Kylar was, he noticed now, manacled to the wall, and still wearing the clothing he’d worn the night of the coronation. They’d been nice clothes a week ago. His and Terah’s dried blood made the front stiff and reeking.

  “So you’re the big wetboy,” the gap-toothed guard sneered. “You don’t look so tough when you don’t have a helpless woman shielding you.”

  “Sorry I made you look bad,” Kylar said.

  Gap-tooth hit him in the stomach.

  “Please don’t hit me again,” Kylar said.

  “You didn’t make us look bad, you murdering bastard.”

  The captain said, “Don’t be an asshole, Lew. Of course he did.”

  “Upstairs they’re making him sound like a god. Wetboy-this, wetboy-that. Look at ’im. He ain’t nothing.” Lew casually backhanded Kylar.

  “Lew, I—” the captain cut off as Kylar disappeared.

  One by one the guards realized Kylar had vanished. There was dead silence for a moment. Then it was broken by the clang of manacles hitting the stone floor.

  “Where the hell—”

  “Sir! He’s gone!”

  “Block the door! Block the—”

  The cell door slammed closed with all the guards inside. The lock clicked.

  Kylar reappeared outside. Grinning, he waved the captain’s keys at them.

  “That didn’t just happen,” one of them said. “Tell me that didn’t just happen.” Another cursed under his breath. The rest still looked like they couldn’t believe it.

  “Captain,” Kylar said, “will you please ask Lew not to strike me?”

  The captain wet his lips. “Lew?”

  “Yes, sir. Right, sir.” Lew met Kylar’s gaze and quickly looked away.

  Kylar opened the cell door and the men shuffled out sheepishly.

  “Should I, uh?” Lew asked, holding up the broken manacles.

  The captain swallowed. “Uh, if you don’t mind, Master… um, Kagé?”

  Kylar put his wrists together. They put the manacles on him and walked out of the dungeons. No one said a word. No one laid a hand on him, either.

  52

  The courtroom was a large, rectangular hall that could hold hundreds of people. It was overflowing, and the doors had been thrown open so more people could stand at the back and watch. At the raised table at one end of the room, Logan Gyre and Duke Wesseros sat side by side. There were supposed to be three judges, but Logan hadn’t wanted to impose the duty on the last surviving duke, Luc Graesin.

  Facing the table was a small desk and chair inside an iron cage. The captain led Kylar to the cage and removed his manacles. The crowd watched, silently but with great anticipation, as though the wetboy was a monster on display who might gnaw the bars. Kylar stepped into the cage silently, glancing briefly at the gallery. Logan wondered if he was looking for friends. He wondered how many Kylar found.

  The front two rows were made up of nobles. Lantano Garuwashi, silent but obviously wondering what Kylar was trying to accomplish, sat near Count Drake, whose jaw was set and eyes were grieved. Logan wondered how much Count Drake had known about his ward. Drake had been a model of integrity for as long as Logan had known him, and a Gyre banner man besides. The Stern family was in the second row, looking furious. The testimony had already established that they’d never known or seen Kylar, but they still felt their honor impugned. Aside from the usual nobles, there was a vast array of Cenarian humanity. The cream of the Warrens was here, men and women in fine clothes yet without titles. Logan wondered if all of those were Sa’kagé. He wondered how many were glad Kylar was here, and how many were grieved, or terrified for themselves that he might speak. Then there were a smattering of those drawn simply by the spectacle: a few Ladeshians, some Alitaeran merchants, and even a Ymmuri.

  To Logan’s right hand sat the witnesses. There were eighteen guards, as well as the grasping woman who’d sat next to Kylar at the coronation. Kylar sat.

  “State your name for this tribunal,” Duke Wesseros said.

  “Kylar Stern.”

  “Sit down, Baron Stern!” Duke Wesseros barked as the unhappy nobleman jumped to his feet. The nobleman scowled and sat. “This court has accepted testimony from nobles who said you saved them during the Khalidoran coup. They called you the Night Angel. We have heard, sometimes despite our best attempts, about how you saved King Gyre from the Hole. We have heard you called Kagé, the Shadow. We even heard one man who claimed your name was Azoth. But one certainty we’ve established is that you are not, nor ever were, a Stern. What is your real name?”

  Kylar looked amused. “I am the Night Angel, but if you’d choke on that, you can call me Kagé.”

  Duke Wesseros looked over to Logan. Logan had asked him to lead the proceedings. Logan nodded. “Kagé,” Duke Wesseros said, “you stand accused of high treason and murder. How do you answer these charges?”

  “Of murder, guilty. Of treason, not guilty. Terah Graesin was not a lawful queen. By marriage and adoption, Logan Gyre has been king since the death of King Aleine Gunder IX.”

  The courtroom erupted in whispers until Duke Wesseros raised his hands. He had threatened to clear the courtroom several times during the last week of testimony, and the crowd quieted quickly. “It is not your place to lecture your betters on Cenarian law.”

  “Then you tell me, Your Grace, was or was not Duke Gyre formally made King Gunder’s heir and was or was not he married to Jenine Gunder, and did or did not t
hat confer on him the right of succession?”

  Duke Wesseros purpled, but said nothing. If he agreed, he would concede that Terah should never have been made queen and that he should have never sworn fealty to her. If he explained his decision was based on practicalities, he would sound like a weasel or a coward.

  “I wouldn’t have killed Terah Graesin if my betters had followed the law rather than their cocks and their coin purses,” Kylar said.

  This time, the whispers were forestalled by Logan’s raised hand. He wore a thin gold band around his brow, but otherwise little to denote his kingship. “There is some truth in what you say. On the eve of Pavvil’s Grove, some of us made regrettable compromises. In the end, however, Cenaria’s nobility delivered into Duchess Graesin’s hands the scepter and the sword, and we placed the crown upon her brow. It is not the prerogative of a commoner to shed blood to correct what he sees as the nobility’s errors. Therefore, Kagé, you stand convicted of murder and treason.”

  A hush fell.

  “This tribunal has further questions, which we ask you to answer for both your own sake and Cenaria’s. If you answer fully and forthrightly, you will be granted a merciful death. If not, you will be bound to the wheel.” Logan held his face impassive, but his stomach turned. The wheel was a cruel death, as bad as Alitaeran cruxing or Modaini drawing and quartering. It was the established punishment for treason. Only treasonous nobles were beheaded, and it had been established that Kylar was no noble. A merciful death for testimony was the most Logan could do for his friend.

  “I will answer all I can without compromising my honor,” Kylar said.

  “Are you a member of the Sa’kagé?” Logan asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Are you an assassin?”

  Kylar sneered. “Assassins have targets. Wetboys have deaders. I was a wetboy.”

  There was a sudden electricity in the room, like thunderheads were rolling by. The crowd had become an audience, and they were pleased with the show. They were getting a chance to peek behind the veil at the Sa’kagé, and they wouldn’t miss it for the world.

  “ ‘Was’?” Duke Wesseros interjected.

  “I split with the Sa’kagé during the coup. I don’t kill for money now.”

  “So you claim no one ordered you to kill the queen?” Logan asked.

  “The Night Angel is the spirit of retribution. No one orders me to do anything, Your Highness, not even you.” A thrill ran through the crowd at the show of defiance.

  “Strike him,” Duke Wesseros said.

  One of the guards stepped up to the cage but hesitated.

  “Strike him!” Duke Wesseros demanded.

  The man hit Kylar across the jaw, not hard. Logan could swear the man looked scared.

  “Who hired you to kill Terah Graesin?” Logan asked.

  “I planned and carried it out alone.”

  “Why?” Duke Wesseros asked. “A wetboy might have escaped.”

  “If I wanted to, I could escape right now,” Kylar said.

  There were titters in the courtroom.

  “Well, I don’t know if you’re a wetboy, but you’re certainly an accomplished liar,” Duke Wesseros said.

  Kylar glanced at the guards who’d accompanied him up from the Maw. The men looked positively ill. Logan felt a tingling on his right arm and for a moment, could swear he saw something moving from Kylar’s fingers like the shadow of a shadow. He looked around, but no one else seemed to notice anything. Then Kylar’s expression changed like he was deciding against an impulse. Logan had seen the expression enough to know it. “I am an accomplished liar,” Kylar admitted. “I guess it doesn’t matter. You’ve already established that I’m not a Stern, and that I killed the queen, so let’s finish this.”

  “You deny the Sa’kagé had any part in the queen’s death?” Duke Wesseros asked.

  “Are you a moron or a stooge?” Kylar shot back. “I’ve given Cenaria a king who can neither be bribed or blackmailed. The Sa’kagé is furious with me. The question you’re too afraid to ask is whether the king ordered me to kill Terah Graesin.”

  Duke Wesseros jumped to his feet. “How dare you impugn our king’s honor! Strike him!” The court was in an uproar.

  Logan stood. “No! Sit!” It took half a minute for everyone to obey, but finally they did. “It’s a fair question. A fair question for us to drag into the light, because everyone’s going to be asking it quietly in the days to come.” Then Logan sat.

  “Many of you were at Pavvil’s Grove. You saw Logan kill the ferali,” Kylar said. Logan almost goggled. He and Kylar both knew he hadn’t killed the ferali. It had been Kylar’s assassinating the Godking that had defeated the beast. “Many of you hailed Logan as your king, but he wouldn’t accept the crown then, would he? Do you think he was afraid of Terah Graesin then? How many of her banner men do you think would have stood by her on that day if Logan had taken the crown? He held his honor that day as he has every day of his life. Do you think that if he had ordered me to murder her on the night of her coronation that he would have welcomed me to sit by him at the high table? Do you think he is such a fool that, knowing what I was going to do an hour later, he would remind everyone what good friends he was with a wetboy? I’ve been a Sa’kagé spy on Logan Gyre for ten years. In that time, Logan came to trust me as his best friend. So it turns out that the question isn’t whether he had me assassinate Terah Graesin, because he didn’t. The duke who was once betrothed to a mere count’s daughter has always had too much honor for that. The real question is if our new king will pardon his friend for the murder that put him on the throne.” Kylar turned and met Logan’s eyes for the first time. “Well, Logan, how about it?”

  Whatever else Kylar’s time straddling Cenaria’s worlds had done to him, Logan saw that his friend had learned the way of rumors among both the peasants and the nobility. He’d fingered exactly the questions people would ask. Indeed, he’d set up everything so the questions could have only one answer. Logan had wondered why Kylar had allowed himself to be caught. He had no illusions that it had been because Kylar couldn’t escape. Now he saw all the connections that Kylar had known other people would make. The first question when someone was assassinated was always, who benefits? When Terah Graesin died, the answer was clearly Logan. That wasn’t why Kylar had killed her, though. He’d killed her for all of Cenaria’s people, because she would have been a disaster as a queen. So Kylar had needed to kill her in a way that freed Logan of suspicion.

  In a way, Logan had forced Kylar’s hand with the seating arrangements at the coronation. The Sterns had been there. If Kylar hadn’t been placed so prominently, he might have escaped attention, but with too much scrutiny, Kylar’s disguise would collapse. When it collapsed, everyone would have known that Logan’s best friend was in the Sa’kagé—that would be damning enough. After all, how could Logan be a reformer when he came to the throne smeared with charges of corruption himself? This was Kylar’s answer: to shine a glaring light on everything and force Logan to show decisively where his loyalties lay.

  Kylar had no doubt what Logan would do, Logan saw that. It was the right thing to do. It was the only thing to do. But Logan had recently lost his father, his mother, his fiancée, and his wife. How was he supposed to condemn his best friend to death?

  Logan remembered the sick pleasure he’d felt at ordering Gorkhy’s death. It was the pleasure of power, and he’d felt it again when men had bowed before him. But suddenly, he hated his power. Kylar was giving his life so Logan could have power. He trusted Logan that much, and Logan knew he had it in him to be a monster. But there was nothing to do.

  His face stony, Logan said, “A pardon is out of the question. You were our friend, but our justice will not be swayed. Whatever your intentions, even if it was to make us king, you have done murder in this realm. Justice demands your death. Justice will be satisfied. As king, I demand you answer one more question. If you answer, we will grant you a merciful death. If not, it will be the whe
el. Kagé, what are the names and positions of everyone you know in the Sa’kagé?”

  Kylar sighed and shook his head.

  53

  Kylar sat in the darkness and stench of his cell deep into the night.

  He threw the ka’kari into the corner of the room. It bounced eerily noiselessly. He extended a hand and willed it back. It flew through the air as if on invisible strings and slapped into his palm. He threw it again and this time willed it to mold itself into a spike. He sucked it back through the air and when it hit his palm it squished and went back into his body.

  He could escape. After he died this time, everything would be different.

  He heard the sound of someone speaking in a distant hallway. A door opened, and soon Kylar heard the sound of a big man’s footsteps. The face that eventually appeared, however, wasn’t the one he expected.

  “Lantano Garuwashi,” Kylar said, standing and bowing.

  “Night Angel.” Garuwashi bowed equally low. “May I come in?”

  Kylar smirked at how the man was treating this like a social visit. “Please.”

  Garuwashi unlocked the door and came in.

  “How’d you get here?” Kylar asked.

  “I asked permission.”

  “Ah.”

  “You rob me, Night Angel.”

  “How so?” Kylar asked.

  “Our duel. It was to have been the height of our glory. A duel for the ages.”

  Kylar didn’t know why, but that Lantano Garuwashi was peeved not to get to fight him five years hence somehow warmed Kylar. Perhaps it was the only way Garuwashi had to say that he would have liked to be Kylar’s friend. “The Night Angels keep their word,” Kylar said. “A Night Angel will be there, I promise.”

  “He will be your equal?”

  “He may even be yours,” Kylar said, grinning.

  Garuwashi cracked a smile. He sat on the stone shelf opposite Kylar and folded his legs beneath himself. Kylar sat similarly on his bunk. “I don’t understand Cenarian honor,” Lantano Garuwashi said. “King Gyre will rule whether you do this or not. Why will you die for a people unworthy of you?”

 
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