The night angel trilogy, p.135
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.135

           Brent Weeks
 

  “I’ll look like a fifty-year-old, rather affable Waeddryner count, who appears to have a small Talent that he’s never tapped. Because the reason I’m leaving the woman I love behind and going with you to the Chantry—not my favorite place—is that I want to meet my daughter. In fact, I’d appreciate your help getting the disguise right. I’d like her to look at me and say, ‘oh, I have his eyes.’ ”

  But Kylar wasn’t interested in that yet. He paused. “Master? What does it mean? The Wolf called me Nameless. If I learn to do what you do, I’ll be faceless, too. If we can be anyone, who are we?”

  Durzo smirked, and even in another face, that bemused smirk was Durzo Blint through and through. “The Wolf doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I had a delusion once that every new life I started was new. Our gift doesn’t give us so much freedom—or terror. What we are is Night Angels, of an order ancient when I joined it. What it means to be a Night Angel is a harder question. Why do we see the coranti?” At Kylar’s questioning look, Durzo said, “The unclean. And seeing them isn’t a compulsion, it’s a sensitivity. There was a time when I could see a lie, but in the year before the black abandoned me, I could barely see a murderer. What does it mean? Why was I chosen?

  “Jorsin sometimes had the gift of prophecy. He told me I needed to take the black. ‘All history rests in your hands, my friend,’ he told me. I believed him. I would have walked through a wall of flame for that man. But a hundred years later, all my friends were dead, the world descended into a dark age, and no one was even pursuing me. Maybe my grand place in history, my whole purpose, was to keep the ka’kari safe for seven hundred years until I could give it to you. You’ll forgive me if that doesn’t seem entirely satisfying. Imagine rallying an army: ‘Come on, men! Let’s get together and… wait!’ But then again if reality is hard and flat and unjust, then it’s better to adjust to what really is than to complain that it isn’t what you wish. That was what made me lose faith in prophecies, in purpose, even in life, I guess. But having lost it, soon I doubted my lack of faith. There were niggling hints of meaning everywhere. At the end of the day, you choose what you believe and you live with the consequences.”

  “So that’s it?”

  “That’s what?”

  “ ‘Choose what you believe and live with the consequences’ is all you’ve learned after seven hundred years? We’re fucking immortal, and that’s all you’re going to tell me of why?”

  Faster than Kylar remembered his master could move, Durzo’s hand lashed out. His backhand cracked across Kylar’s cheek and jaw. It stunned Kylar. A backhand hurt the person who delivered it nearly as much as the person who received it, so the only reason Durzo would choose a backhand was for the contempt implicit in it.

  They stood looking at each other, silent. Mixed with Durzo’s frustration, Kylar could see regret, but Durzo didn’t apologize. Apologizing was one skill Acaelus Thorne hadn’t mastered in seven centuries.

  “Kid, every place I’ve turned left, you’ve turned right, and now you want me to tell you your destiny? Would it mean anything to you if I told you?”

  Kylar said, “It would tell me where to turn right.”

  Despite himself, Durzo grinned. But it wasn’t enough to bridge the sudden gap. Kylar could see now that his rejection of the lessons Durzo had tried to pass on had cut Durzo deeply—even if Durzo now agreed some of those lessons had been wrong. At the same time, Durzo was saying the same thing that the Wolf had told Kylar long ago. Kylar had never accepted other people’s answers: not Durzo’s bitter practicality, not Momma K’s cynicism, not Count Drake’s piety, and not Elene’s idealism. Durzo was right about choosing what you believe and living with the consequences.

  “I just…” Kylar trailed off. “We’re immortal. We’re Night Angels. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know why we’re this way, or what we’re supposed to do with it. Sometimes I feel like a god, and other times I don’t feel like I change anything. If I’m going to live forever, I want it to be for something. I mean, you can’t tell me that your destiny has been to hold the ka’kari for seven hundred years until I came along. That’s ridiculous. Terrible. It’s not good enough. You’re a great man, not a lockbox.” Kylar scowled. Gods, he’d just given Durzo a backhanded compliment—exactly how Durzo gave compliments to him.

  Durzo’s little grin told him he’d noticed, but he could also tell that the compliment meant a lot to the man. In all the times Kylar had been irritated that his master never properly appreciated how well Kylar did, he’d never really thought that Durzo might want to be appreciated too. Kylar hadn’t bothered to tell Durzo how excellent he thought he was; he figured it was obvious. Maybe that was another knife that cut both ways.

  “Being a lockbox wasn’t the destiny I chose,” Durzo said. “Right or wrong—or right or left—I’ve chosen to seek the ka’kari, take them, and scatter them so those who would use them for evil can’t. I don’t know if that’s what Jorsin foresaw, but it’s what I’ve chosen. Has it been meaningful and satisfying? Sometimes. I’ve had some good lives and some that were just damn awful. Now that you bear the black, I can lay my burden and my destiny down. Now I get different choices. So I’ll train you until spring and see my daughter as much as I can. Then there’s a woman I have to ask to love a man who doesn’t deserve it. Your choices? Well, that’s your shit.” He smirked, acknowledging he was being a bastard.

  Kylar sighed. He loved Durzo, but the man sure was a pain in the ass.

  62

  From an older brother, the compulsion weave is weak, Your Holiness,” Hopper said. “It won’t hold a determined aetheling for long.”

  “I know. I was the son who was able to break it when my father used it on me,” Dorian said. He’d had another dream last night, and again couldn’t remember it, but it had left him with a headache again. His Talent for prophecy was healing faster than he’d expected, but for the time being, it was useless to him. He couldn’t remember his dreams, and the only thing that banished the pain was using the vir. It put him in a foul mood.

  “I’m sorry, Your Holiness. I’d forgotten.”

  The plan had come together with frightening ease. Dorian was his father’s son. He’d spent days thinking about what he might have missed, and had found no flaw. “The oath is a distraction. You tell them that their reward for swearing loyalty will be choosing a concubine to marry. That will sound like a very southron thing to do, very weak. It will give the aethelings hope. Hope—and lust—will keep them from organizing a defense. After each chooses, I want him led out by that concubine past his brothers, who will be waiting in line. The women should be dressed beautifully—and of course, they should know nothing except that they are to lead the aetheling to one of the empty upper apartments. Each aetheling should be very lightly guarded, but heavily watched. You understand? These are my brothers; they’re not stupid. On the way, kill them. If you have a handful of soldiers and three or four Vürdmeisters you know we can trust, that should be enough to take care of all of them—at least with the compulsion spell in place. Their faces are not to be destroyed. I will require a precise accounting and viewing of the bodies. When you’re done, isolate any of the Godking’s seed who are too young to show whether they are wytchborn. Kill them. Induce abortions on the pregnant concubines. Letting any grow up to see who’s wytchborn will give my enemies chances to smuggle them out.”

  “Very prudent, Your Holiness,” Hopper said. His only expression was appreciation for a solid plan.

  It was brutal, but it wasn’t cruel. Dorian took no joy in this. He would strike once to the root, and rip out much of what made this kingdom a hell for its people. This way was kinder than waiting for dozens of aethelings to coerce hundreds of others into their plots. Dorian could wait, and have executions every month for years, and his people would live in terror as dark as his father had encouraged, or he could be as brutal as the north itself, and his people would live in peace, unafraid. It would be a clean slate, a new start. Doria
n would be Wanhope not for his own despair, but because those who opposed him must despair.

  “Yes,” Dorian said. “Monstrous, but prudent.”

  Hopper didn’t know how to respond. He bowed low. The Godking dismissed him.

  It was a horror to be a god. On his wedding day, Godking Wanhope waded in blood. He’d known that his father had one hundred forty-six children, but seeing them dead and oozing and stinking, expressions frozen in death, bodies still warm, not all the blood congealed, was something else entirely. With vir, he blotted out his sense of smell as he examined the boys.

  He’d run out of suitable concubines before he’d run out of aethelings to slaughter. That meant that some of the women—each of whom had witnessed the murder of an aetheling she had expected to be her new master—had to make two trips. Only those who’d been splattered with blood were excused. It had worked though, because the aethelings who’d come later were the youngest, and the least likely to pick up on a concubine’s anxiety.

  They’d got them all. Three of the older boys—three!—had broken the compulsion and fought, killing one Vürdmeister and two soldiers. In a perverse way, Dorian was proud of the boys.

  Godking Wanhope took his time, steeled against the sight of dead children. Vipers, all of them. He was the fluke; he had always been the only one of his brothers with any moral sense. Vipers couldn’t be tamed. He couldn’t flinch now. He had to know if the job was done, or if he needed to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his reign for a Vürdmeister who could hide his vir and betray the Godking himself—as he had in his own youth. He paid special attention to those whose faces had been damaged. But in each case, he could still smell the faint residue of his compulsion spell on their flesh, and he’d tied it in an unusual way so that he would recognize his own work. That was why he had to examine the bodies immediately.

  If a Vürdmeister had betrayed him and hidden an aetheling, the traitor would have to find a boy of the correct age, kill him and destroy his face, change his clothing, examine the Godking’s weave—and notice that it had been altered and how it had been altered—and lay it on the dead boy himself. It was all possible but barely, and by the time he was finished inspecting the boys, the Godking was sure it hadn’t been done.

  The next room was worse, though there was no blood in it except what came in on the Godking’s white robes. Hopper had gathered all the wives and concubines. The fifteen women who had been pregnant were lined up against one wall. The Godking walked past them, touching swollen bellies and feeling no life within. Then he moved past the rest, feeling to see if any were pregnant.

  He took his time. A weave to hide a pregnancy was easier magically than disguising the dead, but a bigger risk for a Vürdmeister. There was no guarantee that the hidden child would be wytchborn, much less suitable for an ambitious Vürdmeister to ride to the Khalidoran throne.

  As he moved from woman to woman, he noticed something disquieting. There was no hatred in their eyes. He had made them help him murder one hundred forty-six children. He had killed their unborn, but few wept. More looked at him with adoration, worship. He had done something beyond their comprehension, and it had worked perfectly. In short, he had acted like the god they expected him to be—powerful, terrifying, inscrutable.

  “This afternoon,” he said, “each of you will have a choice. As you know, the tradition is for wives and concubines to join the late Godking on his pyre, except for those whom the new Godking wishes to save for himself. You have served me well. I would give all of you a place in my harem. Garoth’s aethelings will join him in the fire. Let them serve him in the afterlife. But if it is your wish, I will not forbid you to join them.”

  Now, the women reacted as he would have expected. Some broke down and wept; others stood taller and prouder. Some were still uncomprehending. But in moments, all dropped prostrate, hands stretched out for his feet. I am walking blasphemy.

  “Is there anything else?” he asked them.

  One of the women, a curvaceous teen from the upper harem, raised two fingers.

  “Yes, Olanna?”

  She cleared her throat three times before she could speak. “Sia, Your Holiness. She wasn’t counted among the pregnant girls. She got real sick and went to the meisters so she wouldn’t lose her baby. She never came back.”

  Dorian’s stomach twisted. It was like hearing his own death sentence, twenty years before the fact. He wondered if he’d dreamed of this and was only now remembering the dream, or if his dread was purely natural. He looked at Hopper, who’d paled. Hopper served the lower harem, so the detail had escaped him, but he still looked aghast to have missed it. Dorian gestured and the man shuffled out of the room as quickly as his stilted gait would allow. Wanhope would send men to hunt this woman and whatever Vürdmeister had taken her, but they wouldn’t find her. Wanhope had forgotten the first rule of massacring innocents: one always gets away.

  63

  As Kylar and Durzo approached the Chantry, the Alabaster Seraph gleamed, presiding over a city freshly dusted with snow that made it match its mistress. The waters of Lake Vestacchi glowed light blue tinged with red in the early morning light.

  They stabled their horses on the outskirts of town, and after speaking with an old woman who ran the tavern and seemed to recognize him, Durzo took a key from her. Eschewing the punts, Durzo led them across narrow, crowded sidewalks. Kylar gaped at the enormous Seraph and at the crisscrossing currents that made the city’s streets, bumping into strangers. A few cursed him and shoved back, but stopped as soon as he leveled his cool blue eyes on them. Beneath his awe at the Seraph, though, was a growing dread. He could feel Vi. He adjusted his sword belt and blew out a breath uneasily. She was in there, up two or three stories. Her feelings were a mirror of his own.

  Durzo took them into a small, dusty house with a thick door. Kylar noticed that his eyes and his master’s checked all the same things: doors, narrow windows, rugs, plank flooring. Durzo was satisfied. He opened the bureau and lifted out the bottom drawer to reveal a false bottom. Kylar pooled the ka’kari in his hand. I’m really going to miss your wit.

  ~If I wanted sarcasm… ~ it began, but Kylar willed it to cover Retribution. ~Wait!~ He dropped the sword into the space beneath the bureau. Both Retribution and the ka’kari were magical. He couldn’t bring either to the Chantry. They would stay here until Kylar left.

  Durzo replaced the bottom drawer, locked it into place, and took a few minutes to place a trap on it. In the meantime, Kylar worked on his disguise as Durzo had taught him. After he’d finished with the trap, Durzo studied him. “Not too bad,” he admitted.

  Minutes later, their little punt had scarcely docked next to a fishing boat flying two black flags when a familiar face turned up.

  “Sister?” Kylar asked.

  “There’s a king in Cenaria!” Sister Ariel said, making it an accusation.

  “Is this a password?” Durzo asked.

  “Glory to his name,” Kylar said. “Can we get out of the boat?”

  “In Torras Bend, I called you arrogant. You said we’d discuss your arrogance when there was a king in Cenaria,” Sister Ariel said, unamused. “Was that your doing?”

  “Me? Who am I to meddle with kings?” Kylar said, smirking a yes.

  “What’s your name, young man? I seem to have forgotten. And who’s this?”

  “Kyle Blackson. Nice to make your acquaintance again, Sister Airy Belle, right?” She gave him a glare that could curdle milk. “This is Dannic Bilsin, Uly’s dad.”

  “Seven hells,” Sister Ariel said.

  “Nice to meet you, too,” Durzo said.

  Kylar got out of the boat and Sister Ariel stepped close to him and sniffed. She stepped back, confusion rising sharply in her eyes. She looked around the docks to see how far away the other Sisters were. “What have you done to yourself?”

  With Durzo’s instruction, Kylar now appeared to be a man with a vast and untapped Talent. Otherwise, he smelled and looked like any man.
As long as he didn’t use the ka’kari or his Talent, his guise would remain in place.

  “I’m here to see my wife,” Kylar said.

  “Vi’s studying, but I can have her brought to you after lunch.”

  “I meant the wife I chose, not the one you did.” Kylar smiled thinly. Sister Ariel’s face drained.

  “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” she said.

  “Maybe I’m not the only one.”

  “And you?” Sister Ariel asked Durzo. “Do you have demands that will cost lives, too?”

  “I’m just here to see my daughter,” Durzo said.

  64

  The funeral came before the wedding. Dorian didn’t want the first thing he saw with his new bride to be insane women throwing themselves into a fire, shrieking as they burned to death. Nor did he want her to see the dozens of tiny bodies his men would throw on the fires first. He’d told Jenine that he’d purged the aethelings who’d been plotting against him, but he’d told her that he’d merely sent the younger ones away.

  Well, hell counted as away, he supposed. Heaven certainly did.

  Dorian, of course, had never seen the cremation of a Godking, but some of the older meisters had. There was a ritual to be observed, despite the fraud at the center of it: rarely had the body being cremated actually belonged to a Godking. But Garoth Ursuul’s pyre wouldn’t hold a substitute. Garoth had been a man deeply committed to evil, but he had been a great soul, too, a horror who could have been a wonder, and he was Dorian’s father.

  Only meisters were allowed to attend the divine funeral, but that restriction meant little, for nearly every ranking official in the Khalidoran government was a meister. Generals, bureaucrats, the masters of the treasury, and even the chiefs of the kitchens stood in attendance. Tax collectors and soldiers watched according to their rank. Dorian uttered the meaningless words of praise to Khali, and they uttered their meaningless refrains of devotion. The fires were started and Dorian could read the vir of every meister making a weave to block the acrid stench of human fat burning. When the fires roared hottest, Dorian had the harem brought before him and claimed almost all of them. There were raised eyebrows, but nothing more. A Godking was expected to be voracious. The eight wives and concubines who’d chosen death were brought forward, and that was regarded as a small, but adequate nod to tradition. The women had been provided with wine laced liberally with poppy, and six of them had indulged freely. Two were sober. All seemed content with their madness, not shrinking back even as the eunuchs lifted them to heave them into the fire.

 
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