The night angel trilogy, p.133
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.133

           Brent Weeks
 

  He found Blue sitting at the intersection. She scrambled to her feet.

  “Inside that house lives a good man, Blue. He was poisoned and nearly died during the coup, and the Khalidorans killed his wife and two of his daughters. He’s the best man I know, and I think he might need you as much as you need him. In my note, I’ve asked him to raise you. He’ll give you the only chance you’ll ever have to make something of yourself. But it won’t be easy. If you go in this house, you stay until you walk out a lady. Is that what you want?”

  “A lady?” Blue asked, her face lit with impossible yearning.

  “Say it.”

  “I want to be somebody. I want to be a lady.”

  “I believe you.” Kylar put his hand to a crack in the door, sent the ka’kari through, and opened the latch. He opened the door and they walked past the porter’s hut to the front door. Kylar handed a bag full of gold crowns to Blue. It was so heavy she could barely hold it. Then he put the note in her hand and threw back his hood, so she would never doubt that it was him. “Blue, I’m trusting you. I see souls. I weigh them. From yours, I know you’re worth it. Be good to Count Drake. I wasn’t as good to him as he deserved.”

  With that, Kylar pounded on the door and went invisible. He waited until the bleary-eyed count opened the door. Rimbold Drake looked at Blue, confused. She was too terrified to speak. After a moment, he took the note from her hand. After he read it, he wept.

  Kylar turned to go.

  “You were better than you know,” Drake said to the night. “I forgive you any wrong you think you have done me. You will always be welcome here, my son.”

  Kylar disappeared into the night. It was where he belonged.

  59

  After two days, they moved Solon to another room. It was still locked, the windows covered with bars, the cedar door banded with iron, but this room had a view of Whitecliff Castle’s courtyard. The courtyard was decorated in a style fit for the wedding, greens the color of the vines and the seas, and the purples of wine and royalty dominating.

  “I don’t know who you are, Pretender,” one of Solon’s guards said. He was a paunchy man with heavy jowls and haphazardly polished armor. “But enjoy the wedding, because it’s the last thing you’ll ever see.”

  “Why’s that?” Solon asked.

  “Because the Mikaidon wanted his first order as emperor to be your death.”

  The other guard, a rail-thin man with a single eyebrow, looked nervous and guilty. “Shut it, Ori. Nysos’ blood, it’s gonna be a bad enough day as it is.” To Solon, he said, “We’ll make it quick, I promise.” He exited, watching Solon for any sudden movement, and locked the door behind himself.

  Solon was surprised to find a tub full of water and fresh clothes in the room. He scrubbed himself and donned the clean garments, thinking. Oshobi was already giving orders to Kaede’s guards. That couldn’t be good, but it didn’t necessarily mean what Solon suspected. Solon had never learned how much power Kaede intended to share once she married. When she talked with him two days ago she hadn’t seemed desperate enough to grant Oshobi total power.

  It made him feel sick. For the last two days, he’d thought through every option he had, and he couldn’t find anything that would assert his own rights without undermining Kaede’s. He didn’t know what any of the political undercurrents were, so anything he did could have the opposite of the intended effect. But the clean clothes laid out for him, clothing fit for a noble, if not quite royalty, told him that Kaede most likely hadn’t intended him to die today. Was this his chance? Or was she punishing him by forcing him to watch a wedding that she saw as his fault?

  Outside, the nobles were gathering in order of precedence, standing as Sethi always stood to witness a wedding. Soon, at least four hundred of them surrounded the platform where the Empress and Emperor-to-be would be wed. Solon could pick out many faces he recognized, and saw a frightening number of absences, too. Had his brother killed so many? How had Sijuron become such a monster without Solon knowing?

  The ring of the singing swords announced the beginning of the ceremony. On the platform, the dancers faced each other. Each wore a mask, the man the suitor’s mask, which today was deadly serious. A pubescent boy wore the woman’s mask, today lovely but austere in keeping with the empress’s dignity. Each held a specially shaped hollow sword that would sing in the dance, tones varied by the dancers’ grip and where each struck the other. The swords were pitched at octaves, and the duel—symbolic of the couple’s courtship—was always partly choreographed and partly extemporaneous. It was a perennial favorite, and skilled dancers were the most expensive part of a wedding. The dances, proclaimed sacred to Nysos, ranged from the erotic to the comedic. It was also usually the most anxiety-provoking time of a wedding for the couple. Dancers being the artists they were, there was no guaranteeing they wouldn’t make the man or woman or both look like fools, and the sword dance was often the only thing remembered about the wedding.

  The dancers bowed low, but kept their eyes up, as if suspicious of each other, and then they began. For a time as they danced, Solon forgot that he was in a prison. They gave the boy a quick hand for Kaede’s quick tongue, and a wide range. A woman known as a scold might be given a single note for an entire dance, while an excitable man might be given only notes at the extremes of the singing sword. The man playing Oshobi was a huge presence, forceful and manly and, if slower, also stronger than Kaede. Whoever they were, these dancers were incorruptible, unafraid of even a man who would be emperor. In their dance, Solon read the courtship perfectly.

  Oshobi had always pursued with a single-minded determination. Kaede weakened early, then rallied for years. Always, Oshobi pursued, and the dancer gave a lightly mocking tone to it that only a skilled eye would have seen. There was the suggestion that Oshobi wanted not Kaede, but that which was behind her—missing opportunities at the woman as he aimed at the throne.

  Kaede slowly tired, but the dancers underplayed it, not suggesting that Oshobi beat her into submission, but simply allowing her to slow to his level and make him look more brilliant as he matched and overmatched her, cadences singing together until Oshobi took up Kaede’s line. As the dance wound to a close, Kaede bowed to her knees and spread her arms to take the ceremonial touch over the heart. In apparent haste, the dancer playing Oshobi stepped forward too quickly and slipped, his sword tapped her throat for the barest instant before he righted himself and touched it to her heart.

  It was so well done that even Solon believed for a moment that the dancer really had slipped. Everyone took it as that, or decided to take it as that: a slight error in an otherwise flawless performance. They cheered wildly and once the cheering stopped, the betrothed entered.

  Solon’s heart leapt to his throat as Kaede strode forward. She wore a purple samite cape with a long train, edged in lace. A crown of vines with ripe purple grapes was woven through her long black hair. It being her wedding, both of her breasts were bare, the nipples rouged, and beneath her navel her bare stomach was adorned with ancient fertility runes. A cloth-of-gold skirt hung low on her hips, trailing slightly behind her, her wine-stained bare feet barely winking out. Most women exposed more of their ankles, saying the juice of the grape is clothing enough for a wedding. Apparently Kaede really did believe that a queen was a queen first and a woman sometime later. But after a decade and a half in Midcyru, the modesty was lost on Solon. The sight of her here, like this, filled him with every sort of longing. The skirt had neither buttons nor clasps nor ties, nor underclothes beneath it. It was finished the morning of the wedding with the woman inside it. It was to be torn off by the groom in his passion. Revelers outside the wedding chamber would call loudly until the groom threw it out the window. In ancient times and in some rural areas still, the skirt was always white, and ripped open but not removed until the wedding was consummated. Then the revelers would parade with the “proof” of the woman’s virginity, which as often as not was sheep’s blood. Most mothers provided the
ir daughters with a vial of it, in case she had broken her hymen licitly or illicitly. It was a tradition Solon was glad had mostly disappeared, not only because he thought it was gross, but also because he found it hard to imagine enjoying consummating his marriage with drunken screaming assholes pounding on the walls.

  In the courtyard, Oshobi Takeda walked forward. Solon felt a stab of hatred. He should be walking forward now. He should be the one who tore Kaede’s skirt tonight. Oshobi Takeda came into the circle bare-chested as well, runes of vigor and potency painted on the surface of a stomach so muscular and devoid of fat that it wasn’t flat but ridged. He too wore vines through his hair and a simple green cape, paired with cloth-of-gold trousers that ended just below the knee.

  Oshobi mounted the platform, barely looking at Kaede. Solon thought he must be either blind or homosexual to disregard such beauty. He turned and addressed the assembled nobles. “I came here today to marry our empress. It was in my heart to unite this land as it hasn’t been united for more than a decade. I know all of us were dismayed when we heard of Daune Wariyamo’s infidelities, and though it strained my family’s honor, I came here determined to wed.”

  From his position, Solon could see what the nobles below could not. At every exit, armored city guards had lined up, and with them in irregular ranks stood many of the royal guards. The strength was, so far, hidden, but they could move in on the assembled nobles in moments. What Solon couldn’t see was how Kaede was taking this prologue to treason.

  He didn’t have to wait long.

  Kaede strode up onto the platform directly to Oshobi and slapped his face. “If you speak treason, Oshobi Takeda, I will have your head,” Kaede said in a clear, fearless voice.

  An older noble Solon recognized as Nori Oshibatu, long a friend of the Wariyamos, shot a look at Oshobi and stepped forward. “My dear, Kaede, our beloved empress, you sound hysterical. This is not befitting. Please, he only speaks.” Nori pulled Kaede back into the crowd, where several other family “friends” closed around her.

  Oshobi smiled like the big cat he was. “I came here to serve Seth, but this very morning, I discovered something my honor could not countenance. Daune Wariyamo had on her person letters from the late emperor’s brother Solon to Kaede. In these letters, he spoke of his trysts with her in the castle and of a secret marriage.”

  “You lie!” Kaede shrieked.

  Solon’s heart sank. The trysts in the castle had only been attempted trysts, culminating in the disaster of her mother coming in on them naked and beating Solon with a shoe. It would have been worth it if she’d come in ten minutes later or—well, he’d been a young man—maybe two minutes later. The marriage, of course, was a total fiction.

  But Oshobi was quick. “I have the letters here!” he said, brandishing a sheaf. “And this woman was with Lady Wariyamo when she came upon you fornicating in the castle.” A slave woman was thrust forward. “I do so swear,” she said in a tiny voice.

  “Louder,” Oshobi demanded.

  “I swear it’s true!”

  The nobles were in the predictable uproar, but Oshobi was wise enough that he didn’t call his men forward. Kaede was screaming, but someone put a hand over her mouth, and numerous men were restraining her.

  “So you see, even if we believe that Kaede wasn’t incestuous in her sluttish trysts in our nation’s very heart, we know that she married Sijuron Tofusin. A marriage null and void because she was already married—to the emperor’s brother!”

  Oshobi painted a sad look on his face. “I woke this morning, willing to dishonor my family because I wanted to do what was right for our country—”

  Behind Solon, the door creaked open. He turned away from the courtyard to see his two guards enter. “All right,” the paunchy one said, “we already let you see more of the show than we was supposed to. You can figure how it turns out from here. You ready?”

  “Yes,” Solon said. He drew in his Talent. “Which of you would like to die first?”

  “Huh?” they asked in unison.

  “Together then,” he said, and stilled their hearts with his Talent.

  The guards collapsed, one crumpling, the other falling full on his face. Solon took a sword and faced the barred window.

  With a concussion that rocked the castle, Solon blew out the entire wall. Stones rained on the crowd fifty paces away. Everyone ducked and turned to see what had happened. And Dorian always said I wasn’t subtle.

  Solon jumped down lightly and strode toward the crowd. A guard stepped in his path, wide-eyed and gulping. Solon gestured as if shooing a fly and a wall of air flipped the guard aside.

  “I am Solonariwan Tofusin, son of Emperor Cresus Tofusin, Light of the West, Protector of the Isles, and High Admiral of the Royal Fleets of Seth.” It was a deliberately ambiguous construction, whether he was listing his father’s titles, or claiming them for himself. “I have come home, and I call you a traitor and a liar, Oshibi. And even if your despicable lies were true, you have no claim to this throne while I live.”

  “We can remedy that,” Oshobi snarled.

  Solon advanced quickly onto the platform, not giving Oshobi time to think. “You would duel me?” Solon asked. He laughed scornfully. “A Tofusin does not dirty his hands with the blood of a dog.”

  Oshobi roared, drew his sword and hacked at Solon with all his considerable strength. Solon deflected it. His counterstroke cut halfway into Oshobi’s neck. Oshobi’s eyes went big, but he tried to complete one more slash while Solon’s sword was stuck. A sliver of magic enervated Oshobi’s fingers. The sword dropped.

  “However,” Solon said, “I’ll make an exception for a Little Cat.” He ripped the sword out of Oshobi’s neck and blood sprayed over the platform as the big man dropped onto his face. Solon put his foot on the neck of his dying foe and pointed the sword at the nobles holding Kaede. “That’s your empress,” Solon said. “I’d advise you to take your hands off her.”

  60

  After riding most of the night, Kylar camped a short distance off the road, merely unsaddling Tribe and throwing a blanket on the ground. A few hours later, Tribe’s snort woke him. Kylar blinked and rolled to his feet.

  “So you haven’t forgotten everything I taught you,” a brown-clad figure said, leading his horse to tie it next to Tribe.

  “Master?” Kylar asked.

  Dehvirahaman ko Bruhmaeziwakazari snorted. It was odd to hear the sound, so characteristically Durzo, coming out of the Ymmuri’s mouth. He glanced at Retribution in Kylar’s hand. “Good, I see you haven’t managed to lose it again, yet. See that you don’t, would you? You ready to ride?”

  Kylar felt an odd excitement. He did feel ready to ride. The overflow of energy from his invocation of immortality hadn’t worn off yet. “I’m not dreaming this, am I?” he asked.

  Dehvi lifted an eyebrow. “There’s one way to find out for sure,” he said.

  “What’s that?”

  “Go piss in the woods. If you feel wet and warm afterward, wake up.”

  Laughing, Kylar went and relieved himself. When he came back, Dehvi was seated cross-legged and had laid out a huge, albeit cold, breakfast.

  Kylar tore into the food with gusto that surprised himself, though apparently not Dehvi. The scene still had an air of unreality, though, and Kylar kept glancing at him. Finally, the Ymmuri said, “If you’re looking for Durzo’s mannerisms, you’re going to see fewer and fewer of them. I don’t chew garlic anymore, for one. And I’m getting rid of the rest as fast as I can. A new face isn’t much good if you still do everything else the same. I have done this a few times. So if you need me to prove who I am, let’s get it over with.”

  “There is one thing Durzo told me that he never told anyone else. You’ve had all these names, and you always picked something with meaning: Ferric Fireheart, Gaelan Starfire, Hrothan Steelbender. Even the other wetboys had names that meant something: Hu Gibbet, Scarred Wrable. Why Durzo Blint? Is that another Old Jaeran pun?”

  Dehvi lau
ghed. “Trick question. I never told you why I chose it. But to answer, it was supposed to be Durzo Flint. I was drunk. Someone repeated it Blint, and I didn’t care enough to correct them. Next?”

  “Flint makes a lot more sense, you old bastard.”

  “Only by nature, not by birth. Anything else?”

  Kylar got grim. “What does immortality cost?”

  “Right to the gut, huh?” Durzo said. He cleared his throat and looked away. “Every new life costs the life of someone you love.”

  There it was, as simple as anything. If Durzo had told him that before the coup, everything would be different. Of course, Durzo had tried to tell him, in the letter.

  “Is there any way to stop it?” Kylar asked.

  “You mean stop your immortality or stop it from killing someone else?”

  “Either. Both.”

  “The Wolf never told me the limits—maybe he didn’t know himself. I avoided anything that would fully destroy my body like burning or being drawn and quartered.”

  “And Curoch?”

  Durzo shot Kylar a sharp look. “A fatal blow from Curoch would blow apart the immortality magic. Jorsin feared the Devourer. He made sure there was at least one way to kill an immortal.”

  Kylar had a sudden feeling of dislocation. He was talking with someone who had known Jorsin Alkestes. Jorsin Alkestes! And Jorsin had feared the magic Kylar possessed. “What about stopping it from costing someone else’s life?” Kylar asked.

  Durzo sighed. “You think in seven centuries I didn’t try? It’s deep magic, kid. A life for a life. The Wolf can delay it, but not stop it, and it’s not easy even for him.”

  Kylar cleared his throat. “What if, um, what if I were killed by Curoch during the time between me dying and the person who is going to die for me dying?”

  The look on Durzo’s face made it clear that Kylar’s question was far too specific for him to dismiss as theoretical. “Boy, you have no idea what Curoch is like—”

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment