The night angel trilogy, p.130
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.130

           Brent Weeks
 

  “I don’t know. I only know it felt like the right thing to do.”

  “Do you have a lover? Does she approve of this?”

  Kylar hadn’t even thought of it. The look on his face must have betrayed him, because Garuwashi shook his head, chuckling.

  “You tell me, Night Angel, would you give her life to accomplish this?”

  Kylar was as shocked that Lantano Garuwashi was asking the question as he was by the question itself. “I wouldn’t ask anyone to die for my ideals.”

  “Yet you ask Logan to kill for them.”

  Kylar had no answer.

  “Since you’ve never sent men to their deaths, let me make the question easier. Would your lover give her life to change this land?”

  “Yes, gladly.”

  “Then perhaps she will forgive you one day.”

  Well, I plan to come back to life before she finds out. Instead, Kylar said, “I wouldn’t have expected a sa’ceurai to care what a woman thinks.”

  Garuwashi burst into laughter. “No sa’ceurai wishes to marry a shadow. A woman should be as fiery as her hair. Ceuran women whisper on the streets and shout in the home. Young sa’ceurai think that means only in the bedroom.” Garuwashi grinned. “They learn.” Kylar couldn’t help but smile too.

  After a few more minutes, Garuwashi stood. “I must go,” he said. “I will expect your successor at Midsummer’s in five years. May your sword-soul shine ever brighter, Night Angel.”

  Lantano Garuwashi left, and to his surprise, Kylar slept.

  He woke at the sound of a lock pick’s scraping. He was alert instantly and stood stealthily. The door opened moments later, telling him that whoever was breaking into his cell was a professional. The locks on the nobles’ cells were tight.

  The door cracked open and Scarred Wrable’s face appeared. He grinned to see Kylar awake and in a ready position. “You’re Blint’s apprentice after all, arn’tcha? Morning, lad.”

  “What are you doing here?” Kylar asked.

  “There are two contracts out on you. One from inside. To kill ya.” He meant inside the Sa’kagé. “The other one’s from some nobles.”

  Kylar’s eyes never left Scarred Wrable, though the man didn’t have a weapon drawn. “Terah Graesin’s folk?”

  “Actually, some shadow saved a buncha lords during the coup. They think they owe you. You want to guess which contract I took?”

  “Depends on who in the Sa’kagé took out the other one,” Kylar said.

  Scarred Wrable spat. “The one from inside wasn’t from one of my usual clients, and Momma K likes you. I don’t plan on betting against her. I took the nobles’ contract.” He drew a knife and extended it hilt first.

  Kylar waved it off. “Tell them thanks, but I’m not here ’cause I can’t escape.”

  “I told them you’d say that. They said I’d get half for trying. I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, but you’re crazy brave.”

  “More one than the other, I think.”

  Scarred Wrable laughed. “How ’bout this, then. I lied when I said there’s two contracts. There’s three. Third one’s same as the second: to free you. You got more friends than a wetboy oughta. You wanna guess who took it out?”

  “Pray tell.”

  The wetboy grinned. “The king his own self. Iff’n I was king, I’d just let ya go. Guess nobles don’t think like the rest of us. You coming?”

  Damn you, Logan. Damn you for flinching. Kylar swallowed. “Staying.”

  Scarred Wrable’s eyebrows lifted. Then he shrugged. “You oughta be a noble your own self. You’re a man in love with death, Night Angel. See you on the other side.”

  54

  They marched Kylar out of the Maw before dawn. His escort was fifty men. They bound his wrists with manacles behind his back, tied his elbows with hemp, and hobbled his feet. He was surprised when, instead of heading through the castle, the guards led him out the great double doors, up the black carven tongue, and out the throat of the Maw onto the rocky west side of Vos Island.

  There was a barge waiting for them, and as soon as they chained Kylar to a post in the middle of it, they cast off, the men alert for threats from him or from any who might rescue him.

  They had barely passed under West Kingsbridge when Kylar saw new construction on the Plith. Deep pilings had been sunk into the river bed south of Vos Island to support a central platform, which rested on the surface of the river. The pilings extended high above the platform and three spokes radiated from the center, supporting temporary spans to Vos Island, the Warrens, and the east side. The three-way bridge was temporary now, and low to the water, but the size and placement of the pilings told Kylar of the project’s ambition. It would be a symbol of Logan’s reign, a bridge that bound the city’s sides and its government together. As they came closer, Kylar saw that what he had thought was merely the thickness of the temporary bridge’s surface was something else.

  Every one of the temporary spans—west to the Warrens, north to the castle, and east—was filled with people. The sun was barely lighting the sky, and there were thousands gathered. Everyone in the city had come. Even Lantano Garuwashi’s soldiers had come.

  As the barge came within sight, a cry went up, and it wasn’t kind. These people loved Logan, Kylar knew instantly, and any traitor must be vile. From the safety of the mob, any fear they might have had for the Sa’kagé’s avatar had vanished. Indeed, that probably made him more hated still. His disavowals in the courtroom made no difference; only the verdict mattered. The barge came closer and the yells were deafening. Looking on faces filled with hatred, Kylar supposed he was lucky the city had been starving—there was no rotten produce for people to throw.

  Something splashed in the water twenty feet short of the barge.

  “Shields up!” an officer barked.

  The men crouched and raised their shields over their heads. Chained to the post in the middle, Kylar couldn’t move. Rocks rattled off the shields and splashed in the water, then Kylar watched one arc perfectly. He turned his head. The rock gouged a furrow in his scalp and he staggered against the post, blood spilling over his ear. Another rock glanced off his shoulder and a third hit him in the crotch. The crowd cheered as he slumped.

  He stood again, though spots swam before his eyes, blinding him. As they got closer, the hail thickened. Most of the throws missed, but rocks hammered his sides, his legs. A stone a handspan across landed on his foot, shattering bones. He screamed.

  It was bad timing. A rock that would have been too high caught him in the mouth, snapping teeth and driving others through his lip. Another cheer went up.

  Finally, the barge bumped against the platform. “Enough!” a woman shouted. Kylar lifted his head and saw a young woman in full armor standing in the center of the platform with her hands raised, trying to still the crowd. Then a stone hit him in the eye.

  “Enough!” the woman shouted, but Kylar lost her voice under the shrieking voice of pain. His face was hot, his chained hands couldn’t reach up to protect himself or feel the damage. Soldiers were jostling him, half carrying, half dragging him forward.

  Kylar opened his eyes but could only see from his right. His first sight was of his bare foot, bleeding, ruined. It made him light-headed. He looked up, blinking, but blinking sent forks of lightning through his left eye. Blood was filling his mouth from his smashed lips. He didn’t know if he’d swallowed or spit out the teeth, but jagged edges were all that remained.

  When Kylar could finally try to make out the details, he saw that the platform was filled with Logan’s retinue, including at least a hundred of Logan’s bodyguards. Numerous other soldiers were scattered throughout the crowd, including along all three bridges, keeping a lane clear. On the far side of the platform, facing the castle, was the wheel. To one side, Logan sat in a gilded chair.

  They dragged Kylar before him and a herald read out the charges. Kylar paid no attention to them. He looked only at Logan. Logan’s eyes trailed over Kyla
r’s wounds and he swallowed, but he didn’t avert his gaze. His eyes met Kylar’s and Kylar saw suffering as great as his own, but no wavering.

  The herald finished with the charges with a question. “Yes,” Kylar said loudly. “I killed Terah Graesin, and I’d do it again.”

  Logan stood and the muttering that had begun ceased instantly. “Kagé, Shadowed One, whom I knew as Kylar Stern, I owe you my life. You are a hero and I call you my friend, but you have betrayed this country and murdered her queen. I will not be a king who gives different justice to his friends. Kylar, my friend, I sentence you to hang by the wheel until you are dead.”

  Kylar said nothing. He merely bowed his head to Logan. Logan sat and made no attempt to quiet the crowd that now buzzed with the confirmation of the rumors they’d heard.

  The soldiers dragged Kylar to the wheel. It was slightly taller than a man and open, with only four spokes radiating from the axle, which would be behind Kylar’s back so he could face the crowds. There were blocks for his feet which adjusted at the ankle so his feet wouldn’t slip free, a thick leather belt for his waist, and two sharply-ridged bars for handholds. The rest of the wheel bristled with iron spikes: all pointed inward.

  The royal guards who’d brought him from the Maw began strapping him in place.

  “Are you really the Night Angel?” Kaldrosa asked quietly, fitting the leather belt around his waist.

  “Yes,” Kylar said.

  Kaldrosa leaned close as she strapped his wrist to the wheel and whispered, “There are two hundred fifty women here who’d be dead if you hadn’t saved us from Hu Gibbet. It’ll kill us to betray Logan, but if you—”

  “Do your duty,” Kylar said. He squeezed his eyes tight shut.

  “Thank you,” Kaldrosa said.

  Once he was strapped in, the guards adjusted the spikes. If Kylar held himself in place, none of them would touch his body. However, as the wheel turned, he would have to support his weight by his ankles and by his hands, gripping knife-edged bars that would cut his fingers and palms to mincemeat. Once he weakened, the spikes would stab his sides, his legs, and his arms, enough to spur him to redouble his efforts, but never so deeply that they would kill. He would eventually die of blood loss, or his heart would burst.

  As they finished, he lifted his gaze once more and scanned the crowd. He saw Momma K, and Count Drake. He saw the Chantry’s ambassador faintly glowing in his sight, obviously hoping that this “Night Angel” would do something magical for her to report, and the Lae’knaught ambassador, dispassionate, more studying Logan’s reaction than Kylar’s suffering. He saw the women of the Order, horrified, one crying silently. He saw faces he had known from the Warrens, tavern keepers and whores and thieves and an herbalist. He saw nobles Kylar Stern had rubbed shoulders with and been ignored by.

  Then Logan gave a signal, and the wheel rattled backward and settled down, water lapping over Kylar’s feet.

  Oh, yes, now Kylar remembered, there were more than two ways to die on the wheel. The wheel itself was perpendicular to the flow of the Plith; it used the river’s current to turn it. When Kylar was turned upside down, his head would dip into the water low enough to cover his mouth. It would only be enough to drown him if he was unconscious and close to death anyway, but the coughing fit would make him stab himself in dozens of places.

  Logan nodded. The wheel began to turn.

  55

  Thank you for receiving me,” Momma K said. She came out onto the castle balcony where Logan stood, his dinner untouched. He didn’t lift his eyes from the river. It had been twelve hours since the wheel began turning. Behind him, Gnasher ate noisily and, with a total lack of stealth, stole Logan’s biscuits.

  “How could I deny you? When the Shinga plays, kings dance,” Logan said flatly. He didn’t turn. A wetboy had delivered her letter—her admission that she was the Shinga—just this morning. But the shock of it was muted by Logan’s grief.

  Momma K came to stand beside him at the railing. From this distance, all they could see was that there were still a few dozen people on the platform, half of them guards, and that the wheel was still turning. The signal flag to let Logan know when Kylar died still hadn’t been raised.

  “This changes everything,” Momma K said.

  “What hand did you have in Terah Graesin death?” Logan asked.

  “None,” Momma K said, “though not for lack of trying. I put Quoglee Mars on the right track, hoping he would discover that Terah betrayed her little sister Natassa. I even arranged for him to sing the night of the coronation. I made sure that no guards would stop him once he began, and I arranged for Luc Graesin to be there to hear it. I hoped Luc would kill Terah. Once you were king, I planned to have this talk with you regardless, though I was planning on waiting a month.”

  “In which time…” Logan led.

  “The Ceuran food supplies and our own would run out,” Momma K said.

  “And?”

  “I would come to you with enough food to feed the city through the winter.”

  Logan stared at her, not asking how she’d get it. “In return for what?”

  “The thing is, Your Majesty, with this—” she gestured to the wheel—“you’ve proven that you have integrity. Integrity is rare here, but it won’t change this city alone. You need allies for that, and if you want allies in this city, you will be seeking allies who have objectionable histories.”

  “Like you?”

  “And like Count Drake, whom you conveniently forget was also once in Sa’kagé leadership.”

  Logan blinked.

  “The point is, if you try to hold to account every official in the city who’s ever taken a bribe or violated a trust or broken a law, you will have no officials.”

  “What do you propose?” Logan asked.

  “The question is what you propose. What will the reign of King Gyre the First mean?”

  Logan looked at his friend dying on the wheel in the distance. “I mean to make this mean something. I mean to destroy you Sa’kagé.”

  “That’s a means, not an end.”

  “I mean to make Cenaria a great center of trade and learning, a place our people are proud to claim. We will be able to defend ourselves. We will live in peace, not in fear and corruption. The Warrens may never equal the east side, but I mean to make it possible for a man to be born in the Warrens and die in an eastside palace.”

  “How about a woman?” she asked lightly.

  “Of course,” he said.

  She wore a small smile. “Sounds good. I’ll take it.”

  A flash of anger passed over his face. “You could already buy a palace.”

  “I want you to appoint me duchess and grant me the Graesin lands, Your Majesty.”

  “There’s not enough rice in the world to buy that.”

  It was his anger speaking. His best friend was dying. Momma K ignored it. “The Sa’kagé is a parasite latched onto Cenaria’s face. Fully uprooting them is impossible, but their power can be broken. It may take years, and it will cost much of your treasure and perhaps your popularity. Success is not certain. Are you a king who can stay a course through a river of blood?”

  Logan watched the wheel turn for a full minute. Then he said quietly, “While there is breath in my body, I will fight to make Kylar’s death mean something. What will you do if I give you what you ask?”

  “I will give you my complete loyalty. I’ll be your spymaster. Last but certainly not least, I’ll destroy the Sa’kagé.”

  “Why should I believe that you would so casually betray an organization that must include every friend you ever had?” Logan asked.

  “Friends? The Sa’kagé relieves us of the burden of friendship. The truth is, in all my years I had only three friends in the Sa’kagé. One was a wetboy named Durzo; Kylar had to kill him because of something I did. One was Jarl, who died trying what I’m proposing. The last is dying for it as we speak. What I propose is a betrayal, that’s true, but it’s not a casual betrayal. If we
do this, we’ll need to keep my appointment secret for a time. Once the Sa’kagé learns of my new loyalties, they’ll go underground, and I need to speak with as many of them as possible before that.”

  “Can they be broken?” Logan asked.

  “Not with swords alone.”

  “What can go wrong?” Logan asked.

  “You want the short version or the long one?”

  “The long one.”

  So she told him. Then she told him the plans she had in place to counter every one of those possibilities. It took an hour. She spoke succinctly and asked him questions as well: was he willing to use wetboys to do work the guards could not? How much amnesty was he willing to extend? Would thieves walk free? Bashers? Extortionists? Rapists? Murderers? What would be the penalty for those who took bribes in the new Cenaria?

  “Our first strike will have to be sharp. Seizure of funds, arrests, making legitimate employment available. Large carrots, large sticks. And most of our plans will probably only last until the first sword is drawn.”

  Logan said nothing for a long time. Then he said, “If we do this, I won’t put you in charge of uprooting the Sa’kagé.”

  “What?”

  “I won’t put that much power in your hands. You could destroy anyone with a word, and I’d have no idea if you were telling the truth. Rimbold Drake will be in charge. You will work for him. Fair enough?”

  Momma K’s eyes were cold for a long moment. Then they cleared. “I can see that taking orders is going to take some getting used to. Yes, it’s fair. Perhaps you are the king who can do this after all. Your Majesty, I swear my fealty to you.” She knelt gracefully and touched his foot.

  “Gwinvere Kirena, I hereby establish House Kirena, peers among the great houses of the realm. I grant to you and your house in perpetuity the lands stretching from the Smugglers’ Archipelago in the west to the Wy River in the east, and from the boundaries of Havermere in the north to Ceuran border in the south. Rise, Duchess Kirena.”

 
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