The night angel trilogy, p.131
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.131

           Brent Weeks
 

  She stood. “Your Majesty, there is one more thing. Yesterday I received confirmation of an earlier report that I hadn’t believed. In each case, my sources had nothing to gain by lying. Both have been trustworthy in the past. I don’t know how this is possible, but I believe it is true. I didn’t want to tell you before we concluded our own negotiations because I didn’t want you to think I was trying to influence them.”

  “That’s a lot of hedging. What is it?” Logan asked.

  “Your wife didn’t die in the coup, Your Majesty. Jenine’s in Khalidor. She’s alive.”

  Some time after dark, the wheel stopped turning. Kylar jerked his head up. He blinked through the river water coursing from his hair and looked around. Blinking still hurt, but he could make out shapes now with the eye that had been blinded in the morning.

  A young man in armor stood before him. Obviously, he was one of Logan’s bodyguards. “I was given a message, Sir Kagé,” he said. “Aristarchos is healthy and safe at home now with his wife and children. The Society wishes to thank you and hopes that stopping the wheel for a few hours is a small repayment.” He glanced up one of the bridges.

  Through the darkness, Kylar saw a Ladeshian man he’d never met. The man raised his hand in greeting, though in the darkness, no one but Kylar could have seen him. Then the Ladeshian walked away. So Aristarchos ban Ebron had survived his addiction. Kylar hadn’t known he had a family. He wondered what Aristarchos’s wife thought when her beautiful husband came back with blackened and missing teeth, his looks and pride sacrificed to a cause she couldn’t understand. The Society thanked Kylar?

  “We can only stop the wheel until dawn, Sir Kagé. I’m sorry.”

  But Kylar barely heard him. He unclenched his bloody hands from the knife-edged grips and let the belt and the ankle straps hold his weight. His head sunk to his chest.

  “Kylar?” Vi asked. They were in a little room with two beds, a basin, and a small chest at the foot of each bed. A small figure was asleep on one bed, and Vi was propped up on one hand in the other. She looked worse than Kylar had ever seen her. Her eyes were red and puffy, her face blotchy, nose runny, and handkerchiefs wadded in her hands. “Gods, what have they done to you?”

  He looked at the sleeping figure on the other bed and shuffled over to her. “Uly,” he said. “God, she’s getting big. Uly?”

  “She can’t hear us,” Vi said. “We’re not really here. Come, sit down.”

  Kylar sat with difficulty. He smiled wanly. “Uly’s your roommate?”

  Vi nodded. “Thirteen years old and she’s better than me at everything.”

  “Tell her I’m sorry. I abandoned her like everyone else. I made a lousy father.”

  “Quiet. Lie down.”

  “Get blood… sheets,” he said, but he didn’t resist. He put his head in her lap and closed his eyes.

  “Kylar, I think I can help you,” Vi said, brushing his hair back. “But I need you to tell me what happened. Who did this to you?”

  Her fingers were warm and gentle. It was an effort to speak. “Doing,” he said.

  “Doing?”

  “I’m being executed for murdering Queen Graesin. Logan’s the king. I did that, Elene. That’s worth my life, isn’t it?”

  “Elene’s not here, Kylar. It’s me, Vi.”

  Kylar winced as a muscle in his back spasmed. He drew quick little breaths.

  Vi laid both of her hands on him and the cramps released. He heard her gasp and then warmth flooded through his body and a blessed absence of pain.

  There was a long silence and Kylar began fading. Finally, Vi said, “But you’ll come back, right? After you die?”

  “No one ever explained it. Live every life like it’s your last, huh?” He chuckled. He couldn’t help it. He felt warm all over. When he opened his eyes to look up at Vi, she wasn’t smiling. Her face was rigid with concentration and pain.

  “Sleep,” she said. “I’ll help you all I can.”

  56

  Logan rose before dawn. He hadn’t slept. Sensing his mood, his guards hadn’t slept either, but if they felt as wretched as he did, they concealed it. “I’m going to see Kylar,” he told Kaldrosa. She nodded, having expected it. One of the things Logan was learning to hate about being king was that he couldn’t go anywhere without a retinue. Given that the last two Cenarian monarchs—or six, if he believed Duchess Kirena—had been assassinated, it was reasonable. Still, though Logan hated dragging along twelve people with him wherever he went, it wasn’t their fault, and it was beneath him to make their lives more difficult. So he simply had to act with more consideration.

  Hot water arrived for his bath so promptly that Logan knew Kaldrosa must have told the kitchens hours ago that the king would require his bath early. It was a simple act, but illustrative. Many nobles ignored their servants as they ignored the ground beneath their feet. Logan’s father had pointed out that a noble interacted with his servants more than he did with even his own family. It paid to treat them well, but it was a still rare servant who so actively anticipated her master’s needs.

  Logan stripped and bathed himself. As he scrubbed, he thought of how his apartments, though high above the Hole he’d lived in, had seen as much misery. Logan had seen the statues—hidden in a storeroom in the castle’s bowels—of the Godking’s women. They had all been young Cenarian noblewomen. Logan had known each by face and name and title. Every one of those women who had been so cruelly used, broken, murdered, and put on display. One of his first acts as king had been to return those girls to their families for burial. For some, there was no family left to return them to, so Logan had seen to those burials himself. He wished he could kill the dead Godking with his own hands, and the wheel would be too good for Trudana Jadwin, who had signed each statue as if they were pieces of her art. The room got brighter as Logan stood, dripping, naked, oblivious to the towel one of his bodyguards offered.

  Jenine was, most likely, one of those women now. Even if he could get her back, she might well be bereft of reason. Regardless, she wouldn’t be the woman he had lost. He had to be prepared for that, had to be ready to love someone broken, wounded beyond healing. The fucking monsters. The room brightened with a white-green incandescence as Logan’s rage crested. He closed his eyes and exhaled. He mastered his outrage, his fury at his own ignorance, his impatience, and his hatred. He cooled them and fit them to his purpose. What would it profit to yell and smash things in his own castle while Jenine languished in Khalidor?

  Logan opened his eyes and became aware of Kaldrosa and Pturin, his short Ymmuri guard, gawking. The white-green lines etched in his forearm dimmed. Logan took the towel.

  “The, uh, long-sleeved tunic?” Kaldrosa asked.

  “Always. Thank you.”

  The sun was rising as Logan and his retinue arrived at the platform where Kylar was dying. The slow grind of the gears and the hiss of the flowing waters of the Plith, and the shifting strains of Kylar’s weight on the straps holding him were the only sounds. Blood dripped from his sides where blades pierced his arms, his armpits, his ribs, missed his waist because the belt held him in place, but stabbed again into the sides of his thighs and calves. Blood dribbled from fists clenched around spiked handholds. Blood flowed freely from his scalp and each of his temples, refusing to clot because every revolution dipped his head underwater. He was a man limned in blood. And still he breathed.

  There was another man who had been regarding Kylar in the dawn light, too. It was Lantano Garuwashi. He didn’t turn as Logan approached.

  The wheel turned Kylar sideways. Lacking the strength anymore to hold his body in place, he slid onto the points on the down side. As he inhaled, that motion made the spikes tear the holes in his chest larger. Blood welled up on the opposite side, and as he turned upside down, he made a feeble effort to hold himself up, but slid down. His head jabbed against three spikes and dozens more stabbed into his shoulders and arms. He took a deeper breath before his head went under water.

 
; Logan’s stomach clenched. It was with difficulty that he didn’t throw up. He’d come to take his friend’s body away, not to watch him suffer, not to watch him die.

  Kylar’s strength must have given way only minutes ago. It was impossible for a man to bleed so freely for long without dying. So Logan stood with Lantano Garuwashi and looked at what he had done for a minute, five minutes. Five minutes stretched to an unbearable ten, and still Kylar showed no signs of weakening further. It was unbelievable, impossible.

  “Look at his feet,” Garuwashi whispered.

  For a moment, Logan had no idea what Garuwashi was talking about. There was nothing remarkable about Kylar’s feet. They, at least, were spared injury. Then Logan remembered. When Kylar had been strapped to the wheel, they’d dragged him because a stone had crushed one of his feet. Another had blinded one eye. Now both feet and both eyes were whole. Logan’s fleeting disbelief became wonder and then horror.

  The wheel was intended as an excruciating death for traitors. It usually took hours. Kylar, however, was healing at an incredible rate. The wheel would kill him eventually, but after a day, he seemed like a man who had been on the wheel less than an hour. Logan had never intended such cruelty. This made the Hole look humane.

  “You did right,” Kylar said, startling Logan. His eyes were open, clear. “Go, my king. I’ll be hanging around.” He attempted a grin.

  Logan abruptly began weeping. “How do I end this?”

  Agon Brant cleared his throat. “Your Majesty, in times past when men were put on the wheel before a religious festival and a ruler wished to avoid defiling the city by having a man die during the festival, they would break the condemned’s arms or legs so they’d be impaled more deeply on the spikes and die faster.” He cleared his throat once more, never looking at Kylar. “I must also inform Your Majesty that the Lae’knaught ambassador is on his way. He refused to be put off any longer.”

  Logan closed his eyes and breathed deeply, slowly. He wiped his eyes and blinked. Looking up the makeshift bridge to the castle, he saw the Lae’knaught ambassador approaching. “Very well,” Logan said. “Let him approach. Set up my chair and desk here.” He’d deliberately leaked to the ambassador that he would be here, assuming the man would follow. Logan had meant to meet with the man in front of the wheel as a reminder of how hard Logan could be. But in his wildest nightmares he hadn’t thought Kylar would still be dying while they met.

  The wheel turned and Logan stood, facing it, watching Kylar until Agon Brant, acting as his impromptu chamberlain, announced the ambassador. “Your Majesty, Tertulus Martus, Questor of the Twelfth Army of the Lae’knaught, attaché to Overlord Julus Rotans.”

  Logan turned and sat at the field desk. Tertulus Martus’s eyes flicked past him to Kylar. Standing, Logan’s body obscured the visage of death. Sitting, it framed him. The ambassador couldn’t look at him without being aware of the man dying behind him on the wheel.

  “Your Majesty,” Tertulus said. “Thank you for welcoming me, and congratulations on your recent ascension to the throne and your most glorious victories. If half the tales are true, your name shall live forever.” He went on for some time. The Lae’knaught’s Twelfth Army was their diplomatic corps. There hadn’t been twelve Lae’knaught armies since before the Alitaeran Accords. Today, there were perhaps three—and maybe only two, given the massacre of the five thousand in Ezra’s Wood. But Tertulus Martus had set the rudder before he began speaking, and he didn’t even have to think as he spoke. His body was similarly controlled, betraying nothing. He stood with his feet fairly close together, so as not to appear combative. His hands were kept loose, so as to neither point nor clench into fists. His gestures were small. Logan watched his eyes instead.

  The man was weighing him. This ambassador wasn’t here to offer any deals, though he would surely soon offer something small. His anxiety to see Logan as quickly as possible came only from pressure from his superiors. They wanted to know if Logan was a threat. They had recently lost five thousand men, and they needed to know if this new king of an insignificant, corrupt kingdom could be trusted to do as Cenarian kings had done for twenty years: nothing.

  Still saying nothing, Logan rose in the middle of the diplomat’s sentence. With perfect calm, he knocked over the field desk, sending blank parchment, inkpot, and quill flying with a crash. He stepped on the desk and ripped off a leg.

  With two mighty slashes, he broke Kylar’s legs at the shins.

  Kylar screamed. Deprived of support, his body sagged against a dozen blades under his arms. Jagged bones stabbed through the skin of his legs, gleaming wetly in the rising sun. He screamed again as the wheel turned sideways and the sides of his legs were pierced much more deeply. His head dunked under water in the middle of a scream and he came up coughing and retching.

  His arms slid onto the blades again as he came fully upright and his screams trailed off into whimpers. Logan looked at the depth of the cuts and looked Kylar in the eye. There was great suffering, but there was no fear.

  With two more heavy blows, Logan broke Kylar’s forearms.

  Kylar screamed again. Without the rigidity of those bones, his body sank unnaturally far, gravity stretching his arms like clay, his body sinking too far at every turn. He coughed blood with every breath, and blood streamed from him in rivers.

  Logan heard several of his attendants throwing up, but he never turned away.

  After seven revolutions, Kylar stopped coughing. The flow of blood slowed, and the tension in the distorted muscles relaxed. Logan gestured to a pair of the King’s Guard. The wheel stopped. They checked for a pulse. There was none. They began removing the body.

  Logan turned to Tertulus Martus, who for all his diplomatic training still hadn’t managed to close his gaping mouth or narrow his wide eyes.

  “Five hundred and forty-three years ago,” Logan said, “a man was captured by a Khalidoran Vürdmeister and tortured for three months. This man kept his sanity, and his courage, and at the end of those three months, he escaped. He founded an order devoted to resisting and destroying black magic—Khalidoran magic. In time, this mission expanded to encompass the destruction of all magic and all who wield it. However, his order, the Laetunariverissiknaught, the Bringers of the Freedom of the Light, still harbor an especial hatred of those who wield the vir.”

  “Your Majesty displays a remarkable knowledge of—”

  “Silence!” Logan roared, pointing the bloody table leg an inch from Tertulus’s nose. The man stopped. “For the last eighteen years, you Lae’knaught have been squatting on Cenarian lands. This will end. Here are your choices. First, you can pack up and leave immediately. Second, you can fight us. You recently lost five thousand men, and I have a battle-seasoned army that’s getting bored—and a Ceuran army to whom I’ve sworn a battle that will live in history. We will crush you. Or third, you can marshal your armies and march to Khalidor beside us. That way you can fight those you say you truly hate, and have a chance to defeat them. If you fight beside us, I will give you a fifteen-year grant to the lands you now occupy. But, and I can’t stress this enough, after that time, you will leave Cenarian lands forever. Regardless of your choice, my armies will march in the spring. We will head east first. If you don’t join with us, we will wipe you out, and we won’t stop at our own borders. We will notify every kingdom on whose lands you might hide that we are coming. Perhaps one of them might join you to fight against us. But then again, they might choose to join us. It depends on how much goodwill you’ve built up with your neighbors.”

  Tertulus Martus laughed nervously. “Those terms are clearly not acceptable, but I’m sure our negotiators will be able to find something mutually—”

  “If you don’t choose to fight beside Cenaria, you will be choosing to fight against Cenaria. I win wars in such a way that I don’t have to fight them twice.”

  “You can’t come after us, not with your full strength, not with Khalidor to your north.”

  “Khalidor has suffered
a great defeat and there are defensible passes between our borders. Khalidor doesn’t hold any of my land. You do. I have made an oath to Lantano Garuwashi that he will have a great battle come spring. Together he and I can wipe you out. Such a victory, I dare say, would endear him greatly to the Ceurans back home. What we cannot do without you is destroy Khalidor. No matter what, the sa’ceurai will go home next summer. I have one year to destroy one or both of the greatest threats to my realm, so I’ve no reason to hold anything back, do I?”

  “You’re mad,” Tertulus said, throwing away a lifetime of diplomatic training.

  “I’m desperate. There’s a difference. I have no intention of giving you a good deal, ambassador. You’re overextended, weakened, surrounded by enemies, and quite frankly, you piss me off. I don’t intend to negotiate. We’ve written up a treaty in full, with details on how your forces will be integrated with ours for the length of the war with Khalidor and details of how we will be sure that you leave Cenaria after your fifteen-year grant has expired. I will give you only enough time to take this to your Overlord, give him three days to discuss it with his advisers, and get back here. Any modifications he proposes will be considered a rejection of the treaty. That’s all there is to it. On the other hand, if you truly hate Khalidor, if you hate black magic and how it has enslaved an entire country and seeks to destroy Midcyru, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. We could destroy Khalidor once and for all.” Logan gestured and a scroll in an ornate case was brought forward. “Now I advise you to get your horse. Your answer is due three weeks from today. Delinquency will be considered a declaration of war.”

  57

  Elene looked at the woman on the bed in the Chantry’s hospital floor. Vi’s eyes were swollen, her light freckles almost green against her pale skin. Two days ago, Vi had fallen unconscious with a cry as they’d been walking together. Elene had been surprised how well they’d been getting along, then this had happened. “Have you figured anything out?”

 

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