The night angel trilogy, p.136
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.136

           Brent Weeks
 

  The shrieking was awful, but mercifully brief. It was considered a greater sacrifice to Khali if their suffering were extended, but Dorian was already giving Khali more than her due. He should have forbidden the women to join Garoth. But if he had forced them to live and they truly had loved Garoth, such women might have become a poison.

  Or they might have transferred their slavish devotion to me, the way a good dog finds a new master after its old master dies. Dorian watched their bodies sizzle, and pushed the thought away.

  He nodded to the Vürdmeisters tending the fire and the blaze leapt higher, consuming the flesh and even the bones to ash. In minutes, it was done.

  Dorian lifted his hand to gesture that the wedding was to begin. It would be a simple affair, though lavish by Khalidoran standards. Godkings never wed. When commoners did, a man simply said, “I take this woman to wife.” From the woman, only a lack of explicit protest was required. Dorian planned something grander for Jenine but not too foreign for his meisters to stomach. But with his hand still raised, he paused. The moment had taken the eerie lines of prophecy. Dorian felt a sick chill and readied the vir in case there was another assassination attempt. Hopper was whispering to a page, who strode respectfully to Dorian’s side. Dorian was looking at his grand white robes, at the assembled faces. He’d seen this moment in a prophecy, why couldn’t he remember?

  He inclined his head to the page.

  “Your Holiness, Hopper wishes you to be informed that a spy has returned from Cenaria. He reports that a man named Logan Gyre has been named king.”

  The world stopped. Jenine’s husband was alive. Dorian felt as if he were outside his body, re-entering the madness he thought he’d left behind with his prophetic gift.

  How dare you, God? What do you want from me? To tell her that he lives? I’ve given my soul for this! For You. I am become a monster so I can redeem these people. Don’t You care about me? Don’t You care about this damned country?

  If You did, You would have saved these wretches Yourself. I did not seek these chains of office. I did not seek the Talent You gave me. I only asked for one thing: this woman. You made me with this yearning too deep for words, and You would have me sacrifice it at the moment the honey touches my lips?

  I have not forgotten you. I know the plans I have for you.

  Remembering me means nothing if You won’t act for me. I have not betrayed You, You betray me. Non takuulam. I shall not serve. You and I are finished.

  Godking Wanhope became aware of the stares of his meisters. He smiled and completed the gesture to Hopper. “Let our wedding commence,” the god said.

  65

  A simple lunch was delivered to Durzo’s room and Kylar and Durzo ate together in silence. “Guess you should head to your room, huh?” Durzo said. “They should be here any time.” He cleared his throat, reaching for a garlic pouch he no longer carried.

  “I’d give anything to see you meet your girl,” Kylar said.

  “I’d give anything to see you meet yours,” Durzo said.

  Kylar swallowed, realizing he was pacing.

  “You can feel her?” Durzo asked.

  “Three floors up, heading down. Almost as nervous as I am.”

  “I knew there was a reason I was never stupid enough to get ringed,” Durzo said.

  “Do you have any idea how Uly’s going to react when she sees you?” Kylar asked.

  Durzo shook his head.

  “Then maybe you should shut your face.”

  “Ah, wook, wittle Kylie is all gwowed up. He mad at his massah.”

  In a flash, Kylar was on the verge of punching Durzo’s face. Then he laughed. “Unbelievable, huh? Guess I’ll go over to my room. Good luck.”

  Durzo patted his back as he walked out of the room. It was an oddly intimate gesture, but Kylar said nothing to draw Durzo’s attention to it.

  His room was even smaller than Durzo’s, which barely had room for two chairs. Kylar’s had only one chair and a bed. Kylar sat in the chair. Then he moved to sit on the bed. Then he stood so he could open the door before she even knocked. Then he changed his mind and sat again.

  He cursed. She was just down the hall now, and she’d stopped—dropping Uly off at Durzo’s room? Uly and Vi were together? Vi didn’t seem to feel upset or guilty, which was weird, considering she’d kidnapped Uly, beaten her, and starved her only a few months ago. Then Vi was moving again, as tense as he was.

  Kylar stood to open the door. There was a quick, firm rap, and then she opened the door, but Vi wasn’t alone. Sister Ariel and another woman of a similar age but with long blonde hair stepped into the room, and Vi followed.

  For the tiny room, it was too many people, even if three of them hadn’t been magae. Kylar backed up to the wall.

  “Kyle Blackson, this is Speaker Istariel Wyant. She’s in charge here,” Sister Ariel said.

  “Nice to meet you,” Kylar said. “Here the guest quarters or here here?”

  “I’m the Speaker of the Chantry,” Istariel said, annoyed.

  “Then why aren’t you the Chanter?” Kylar asked. What was with him? That had Durzo written all over it, and Vi’s eyes went wide.

  Istariel’s lips thinned. “We have problems, young man, they may even be bigger than your ego.”

  “Why are we meeting here rather than your office?” Kylar asked.

  She blinked. “What was it you said, Ariel, reckless but not stupid? Kyle, the Chantry and all of the south is entering a perilous time. We need Vi’s help if we are to survive.”

  “You do?” Vi asked.

  “Silence, child,” Sister Ariel said.

  “All of this was supposed to happen much more slowly,” Istariel told Vi. “We meant to give you some semblance of a normal tutelage, because the service we require of you entails serious risks for you and the Chantry. The bare fact is that you may be—”

  Sister Ariel cleared her throat.

  “You are the most Talented woman to come to the Chantry in a century, Vi. You were married before you arrived, so your marriage is not in violation of the Third Alitaeran Accord. A woman’s Talent isn’t enough to guarantee her advancement, but a highly Talented woman is always conspicuous. Thus, you’re highly visible, highly Talented, and married—to a man who’s also highly Talented—and your marriage is not in breach of any treaty.”

  “Huh,” Vi said. “What are the odds of that happening by chance?” She stared pointedly at Ariel, who had the decency to blush.

  Istariel cleared her throat. “Yes, about that. Kyle, we never expected you to actually come here. In fact, Sister Ariel was adamant that you wouldn’t.”

  “I wasn’t aware how susceptible you would be to Vi’s… charms,” Ariel said blandly.

  Kylar blushed. “That’s not why I’m here.”

  “But here you are,” Istariel said. “So you could destroy Vi—or at the very least destroy her usefulness to the Chantry.”

  “Which is why I get some truth. Right. Still doesn’t answer why you have to sneak around to meet me,” Kylar said.

  Istariel’s eyes flashed. “The Chantry has had a number of incidents involving Vy’sana wedding rings. A century ago, someone ringed a Speaker against her will.”

  “It’s called ring rape,” Ariel said.

  Istariel turned a cold gaze on her sister. “Stop helping.” She turned back to Kylar. “It was an attempt to subvert the entire Chantry in one stroke, and it came disastrously close to succeeding. That was only the most recent incident. There is enormous antipathy to forcible ringing.”

  “So if I tattle, Vi’s finished. Why do you care?” Kylar asked.

  “There’s no reason for us to be enemies,” Istariel said.

  “I can think of one,” he said, tugging his earring.

  She averted her gaze. “Magae have been forbidden to marry magi for two hundred years, Kyle. The Alitaeran Emperor Dicola Raiis feared we had established a breeding program to make archmages so we could become the dominant force in world politi
cs we once were. At the time, we were closely allied with the men’s blue school, and the treaty required all the married magi to divorce. The men wanted to go to war, but the decision was the Speaker’s, who was herself married to a Blue. She knew that they had no chance against the might of Alitaera, and she signed the accord. The split with the men was acrimonious. Relations have been strained since then. To protect ourselves, and perhaps for many other reasons including to stop the humiliating inspections of compliance, the Chantry has spread the prohibition of marriage to all men. Women who do marry are effectively finished. They are allowed no advancement within the Orders; they are sometimes denied further schooling, and they are often the objects of ridicule. Nonetheless, for their own reasons I suppose, many women choose this path.”

  “How many?” Kylar asked.

  “Half.”

  “You lose half?”

  “The only thing worse than losing them is getting them back the wrong way. There is a woman named Eris Buel who has become the de facto leader of a large number of these women. They want to come back. They want to reject the Alitaeran Accords—maybe all of them—and they want to establish a men’s school here. At heart, though, they just want to be Sisters again. Our reports suggest that we may have more ex-magae here this spring than magae.”

  “How many are you talking?” Kylar asked.

  “Eight to ten thousand. While we have that many active Sisters, ours are spread out throughout the world. If these Chattel—ummm, these married Sisters—arrive and demand to be readmitted and form their own order, we won’t be able to deny them.”

  “What happens if they do form an order?” Kylar asked.

  “Most likely? They immediately hold a vote of no confidence and oust me and put their leader in my place. At best, Eris Buel is angry, naive, and dangerous.”

  “You want Vi to kill her?”

  “Light blind me, no!” Sister Istariel said. “We want Vi to replace her.”

  “What?!” Vi asked.

  “You’re more Talented than she is. You’re prettier, and you’re not as angry.”

  “Oh, you haven’t seen Vi when she gets angry,” Kylar said.

  “Neither have you!” she snapped.

  “The point is,” Sister Ariel said, “Eris Buel doesn’t lead the Chattel yet. These women come from all over Midcyru. Most of them don’t know each other. They’ll look for a leader once they’re here. There’s more. Istariel, tell them about the Khalidorans.”

  “Even though Khalidor doesn’t occupy much of its eastern lands, they are still our neighbors,” Istariel said. “After Garoth died, an unknown named Wanhope took the throne. We have reasons to doubt his rule will last. In the north, one of Garoth’s other sons, Moburu, has joined up with the barbarians in the Freeze. They’re rumored to have rediscovered how to raise armies of creatures that are less than human. Moburu is heading east either to fight or to join another group which we think has about fifty Vürdmeisters, led by a Lodricari named Neph Dada, at Black Barrow. The word is that he plans to raise a Titan.”

  “What’s a Titan?”

  “It’s a myth. We hope. But as the mistress of a floating island, I can only think of one compelling reason a Khalidoran army would need a giant.”

  “You think they want to attack the Chantry?” Vi asked.

  “I think they’re fools,” Istariel said. “But we only have a mercenary army of five hundred men and not a single battle maja. If the Khalidorans came through the pass with twenty thousand soldiers and a hundred Vürdmeisters, even without krul or a Titan, they could destroy us. Worse, the Lae’knaught plan to march north at the same time. While there’s a small and tempting prospect that our two enemies would converge and destroy each other before our eyes, if either attacked us first, even if we won, we would be so weakened that the other would annihilate us.”

  “So you want to turn the ten thousand Chattel into an army so they can die saving women who reject them,” Kylar said.

  There was an icy silence.

  “I’m responsible for the lives of the women in my care, and the caretaker of the legacy of a thousand years of learning and freedom,” Istariel said. “So if it costs Vi’s life and her honor and your life and your freedom and my life and my reputation and a war with Alitaera to save them, I will gladly pay that and more. Kyle, you can destroy my plans and your wife simply by telling the first maja you see that you were ringed forcibly. I can’t stop you. But neither can I free you. In the centuries when these rings were Made, they were studied by magae greater than any now alive, and they found the bond unbreakable. You can ask anything for your silence, but you can’t ask the impossible. So what’s your price?”

  “Tell me exactly what you’re buying,” Kylar said.

  “In the coming weeks, I’ve arranged to have very ugly and very public debate with some of my key councilors about the Chattel. Ariel will be one of those who splits with me. I’m going to take a strong stance that the Chantry will never allow the Chattel to rejoin. A few days later, some of the threats to our safety I’ve just told you about will be leaked. I will send to Alitaera asking for protection as per the Accords. My request will be impossibly large, so that even if Alitaera sends soldiers, the small number will be taken as an insult. Vi will begin training whoever wishes to join her and Sister Ariel in the arts of war. I will ban this training, but no action will be taken against those who ‘defy’ me. If Vi plays her part appropriately, she’ll have a good chance to become the leader of these rebels. Come spring, Vi will negotiate with me on behalf of the Chattel. I will break down, the Chattel will be readmitted with certain conditions—mostly that they reside here for at least a year before they are given full voting privileges.”

  “Which,” Ariel interjected, “will make sure that few of them actually do it. Most of these women have farms and shops and families to get back to.”

  “Yes, thank you, Ariel,” Istariel said. “But those who truly wish to rejoin will be allowed to do so and still stay married. After we make it through the summer, we will renegotiate the Alitaeran Accords.”

  “What’s to say you won’t sacrifice Vi to the Alitaerans then?” Kylar said.

  “Whatever goodwill she’s built up with the Chattel will probably make her untouchable. If I betray her, it could be enough to make enough Chattel stick around to become full voting members and oust me. Regardless, the Alitaerans are next year’s problem.”

  “So what’s my part?” Kylar asked.

  “You share a house with your wife. I don’t care if you share a bed, but to all appearances, it must be a model marriage. You will spend enough social time together to maintain this fiction. Nothing elaborate, eat at an inn together once in a while, take walks, hold hands.”

  “Do you have any idea what it’s like for me to be in the same room with her?” Kylar asked. “I’m in love with another woman, a woman I planned to marry. If I get aroused by a woman other than Vi, I nearly throw up. I can’t control my dreams. I feel what she feels. I—”

  “We can’t fix it!” Istariel said. “Get rid of your old lover. Start sharing Vi’s bed. After a while, you might even like each other.”

  “You cruel, cruel bitch,” the thought was Kylar’s, but it was Vi who spoke.

  He was stunned, as were Ariel and Istariel.

  “You want to pretend things are different, go ahead,” Istariel said. “You ringed him. Are you going to make thousands die so you can feel properly guilty? Kyle, are you going to make thousands die so you can punish me or Sister Ariel? Is that going to make it better? Because you’ll still be ringed next year, no matter what happens to the Chantry. Kyle, I’ll give you whatever you want. Vi, you’ll have more power and a better position than you could ever dream of. In time, you could become Speaker. It’s your choice. You two figure it out and tell Sister Ariel. I can never be seen with you. Should we ever meet, I expect you to act as if you dislike me intensely. I suspect that won’t be difficult.”

  She opened the door, glanced both w
ays, and left. Sister Ariel said, “Elene will come to your new house in a few hours. The story will be that she’s your servant.”

  “I haven’t said yes,” Kylar said.

  Sister Ariel looked at him gently for a long moment, then opened the door and went out.

  “So what do we do?” Vi asked.

  This close to her, Kylar was picking up flashes of images directly from her mind. There was Elene, throwing a knife aside. Kylar saw himself, flashing a grin, his handsomeness exaggerated. He saw himself reaching to touch her face gently. He saw himself holding her. He saw himself in the throne room, fierce and wild, slashing into Garoth Ursuul’s head and saving Vi’s life. He saw himself looking at her with horror as he discovered the earring. He saw himself above her, chest bare, muscles taut, his eyes locked on hers, pupils flaring. Then, again, horror and loathing.

  Kylar looked at Vi, glad that she was wearing a shapeless sack of a white wool dress. But she was close enough that he could smell her. She wore no perfume. Perhaps her soap was lavender, but mostly, he smelled her, and she smelled incredible.

  He saw Jarl go down in a sudden spray of blood and then he saw the shot from her perspective, her tears almost blinding her as she released the arrow. He felt her self-hatred, her guilt—and whether the compulsion had been magical or mundane, he forgave her.

  It didn’t need words. She felt it directly. Her eyes brimmed with tears.

  Kylar cleared his throat, glanced at her breasts involuntarily, and blushed as she noticed. The image of holding her naked came back again, and he wasn’t sure which of them it came from. “Holy shit,” he said.

 
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