The night angel trilogy, p.137
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.137

           Brent Weeks
 

  She glanced at the narrow pallet against the wall and quickly away, but the image couldn’t be hidden: Kylar on her, handsome, muscular, his touch setting her skin afire, her legs wrapping around his, pulling him to her, his weight anchoring her to something deep and real and better than she deserved. “Gods,” Vi said, “this takes foreplay to a new level.” He could feel the warmth rising in her body.

  “No,” he said. “I’ve betrayed Elene in every way but that. Please, we can’t do that, not ever. All right?”

  Her arousal was gone instantly, replaced with confusion and guilt. She stepped forward and reached out to him.

  He recoiled. “I don’t think we should even, you know, touch.”

  She averted her eyes, her feelings of rejection and unworthiness seeping through the air. He wanted to reassure her, but he didn’t.

  “Right,” she said quietly.

  66

  Sister Ariel stared at Kylar in a way that made it obvious she was using her Talent, trying to figure him out again. “Elene will be here any minute. Is everything to your satisfaction?” she asked.

  He met her gaze. He wished he had the ka’kari to bring to his eyes, but Durzo had told him that for his disguise as a highly Talented man who had only tapped his latent Talent a few times in his life to hold, he couldn’t use either ka’kari or Talent at all. So Kylar had left the ka’kari covering Retribution in Durzo’s safe house. Of course, he could reform the disguise afterward, but it was always a question of whether he wanted to spend eight hours fixing the disguise for a momentary use of the Talent.

  Kylar was starting to appreciate why Durzo had taught him so many mundane skills that had seemed like they were obsolete after he’d learned to tap his Talent.

  “It’s fine,” he said. The Chantry had given him an enormous sum of money to purchase this small manse on the shores of the lake. He and Vi were moving in today, and the house had room for Elene and Durzo as well, though Uly would continue to live in the Chantry. For the most part, Kylar wouldn’t see Vi. She would rise early, go to the Chantry, and not return home until late. Later, when her “rebellion” began, she and the Sisters who accompanied her would train in the manse’s large walled yard. The manse, of course, had been selected for exactly that purpose.

  “When did you learn this disguise?” Ariel asked. “It’s remarkable. I wouldn’t have believed such a thing was possible.”

  “Maybe you were just mistaken before.”

  “Oh, I’ve made mistakes, Kyle, and you figure prominently in them, but I have a perfect memory.” She cleared her throat. “I want to apologize. Your predicament is more my fault than anyone’s. I didn’t know exactly what I was imposing on you, but I did manipulate Vi into doing it.”

  “And would you do anything differently if you could do it again?” Kylar asked.

  She paused. “No.”

  “Then it’s not really an apology, is it?”

  Sister Ariel turned and left, leaving Kylar rubbing his temples.

  “Hi,” a voice said from the doorway.

  Kylar looked up and saw Elene. She was smiling shyly. A thrill ran through him. He was frozen, taking her in. First he was surprised again at her beauty, the fine balance of her features, the glow of her skin. Then his eyes were drawn to the uncertainty of her smile, the wide and fragile hope in her eyes, waiting to see how he would react to her. Even when she was scared, she lightened a room. A huge lump rose in his throat. Before he could think more, he crossed the room and pulled her into his arms.

  She hugged him fiercely and didn’t let go. He held her tight and all the world was well. He smelled her hair, her skin, and that forgotten scent was the scent of home.

  He didn’t know how long it lasted, but all too soon he came to himself.

  Elene felt the change instantly. She pulled back and took his face in her hands. She stared him straight in the eye, and when he averted his gaze, she pulled him back. “Kylar, there’s something you have to know,” she said.

  “Something I have to know?”

  “Yes,” she said. “I know about everything, and I love you.” Her grip on his face relaxed, and she trailed her fingers down his cheeks. “I love you.”

  “Elene,” Kylar said. He wondered what made her name sound different from all other names as it crossed his lips, “it’s more than just Vi.”

  “Both things,” Elene said.

  Kylar stopped. “Both things” as in the both things he was thinking about, or was she forgiving him for something else he didn’t even know he’d done? During their brief time as a happy family in Caernarvon, Kylar would have let it go, afraid of being hammered with something he hadn’t seen coming. Now, he shook his head. “Honey, this is too important not to put into words.”

  Elene cocked her head fractionally, and he saw that she noticed the change in him, and respected him more for it. It was one of the things that made being with Elene so intense: she was so open, he knew immediately what she felt, and it was often overwhelming. “I know about the ringing. Vi and I have had a number of long and uncomfortable talks. I know that you sold your sword for those rings, and that one of them was supposed to be for me. I know about Jarl.” Tears came to her eyes but she blinked them away. “I know that you’ve shared some… intimate dreams with Vi because of the rings, and I know about the Chantry’s deal and why they want you to act like Vi’s husband. I don’t like it, but it’s the right thing to do. Some things have happened that have changed me, Kylar.” She grimaced. “Kyle now, I guess, but let me just call you Kylar for another hour. Is that all right?”

  He nodded, that damn lump in his throat getting bigger. “I like it when you say my name.”

  She smiled and suddenly tears welled up in her eyes. She fanned herself. “I told myself I wouldn’t cry.”

  “You’ll let yourself cry later?” he suggested.

  She laughed suddenly, and it was better than music. “How do you know me so well?” She took a deep breath. “Kylar, in Caernarvon, I had some very firm ideas about what sort of man you were supposed to be. There is something in you that is fierce and wild and strong, and it fascinated me and frightened me. And when I got frightened, I tried to change you, and I didn’t listen to you, and I didn’t respect you the way you deserved, and I didn’t trust you.”

  You had this crazy notion that I was going to take you to a far country and then leave you with nothing.

  “So I cloaked my fears in some really righteous-sounding horseshit.”

  Kylar’s eyebrows shot up. Elene, swearing?

  She smirked, liking that she could shock him. But then her expression grew serious. “All of our fights about that stupid sword…. You couldn’t sell Retribution because you are Retribution. That girl in Caernarvon, that shopkeeper’s girl Capricia? You changed her life, and that was giving her what she deserved as much as it is when you kill bad men. The fact is, Kylar, I made my God look a lot like me instead of the other way around. I’m sorry. When I first found out that you’d sold that sword for me, I cried for myself, because I’d lost you. But later, I cried for you, because I’d told you that you weren’t good enough for me.

  “Kylar, what you do scares me. I can understand it in my head, but it’s still hard to fit my heart around. It’s, well, it’s horrifying and terrifying for me.”

  “It’s horrifying and terrifying for me, too.”

  She looked him in the eye still. “When I was escaping from the slavers, there was a Khalidoran who was going to kill a boy. I killed him. I killed the guilty so the innocent might live, and that’s what you did with the queen, Kylar. I hope I never have to kill again, but I won’t think that I’m better than you because you have to.”

  “What? Slavers? Wait, you got kidnapped?”

  “There’s a story more important than that, Kylar. When you died, I had a dream. A very short man appeared to me. He was handsome, with amazing white hair and yellow eyes and burn scars.”

  Kylar froze again. It could only be the Wolf.


  “He told me what immortality costs. Every time you die, someone you love dies in your place. He told me that this time it’s me. He said that the most he could do was hold off my death until spring.”

  “I didn’t know,” Kylar whispered.

  “Kylar, I think the hardest thing for me in Caernarvon was that I realized you were important and I wasn’t. Now instead of envying you or fighting against you, I’ll fight with you. All the good you do for a lifetime will be possible because of me. I guess this is a kind of heroism that no one sees, but maybe that makes it better, not worse.”

  “I love you, Elene. I’m sorry I’ve been such a fool. I’m sorry I left.”

  “Kylar, you love a girl with scars; I love a man with a purpose. Love comes at a price, but you’re worth it.”

  “How can you say that? I’ve killed you. I’ve stolen your life.” Kylar swallowed, but that damn lump wouldn’t go away.

  “You can’t steal what I freely give. I can live with eternity in mind because I know I’m going to be facing it soon, and I’m not going to waste a second of what I have left. Being here, with you, is exactly what I choose.”

  And then Kylar was crying. Out in the yard, he felt Vi fumble a weave in shock, then go back to it, trying to distract herself, trying to give Kylar privacy. Elene hugged him and in her arms he found such boundless warmth and unqualified acceptance that his tears redoubled. All his doubts and self-recriminations, his self-loathing and fear washed away. And when his tears stopped flowing, she cried. The tears were an ablution and, holding her, Kylar felt clean for the first time in years.

  When the tears had passed, they looked at each other, tear-smudged face to tear-smudged face, and laughed and held each other more. Then, slowly, they spun out their stories. Elene told him of her trip to Cenaria and her capture by the slavers. Kylar told her of Aristarchos’s attempt at killing him, about Jarl’s death, about fighting the Godking and being ringed, of his work to enthrone Logan, and his death on the wheel, his discovery of the cost of immortality, and his reunion with Durzo.

  Then she asked him about wet work, about his first kill, about his training, about the Talent and what he saw when he looked at people through the ka’kari. He told her the unvarnished truth, and she listened. She couldn’t understand all of it, she said, but she listened without judgment, and she didn’t draw back after hearing it.

  As he spoke, Kylar slowly relaxed. He felt the tension of secrecy and guilt, the fear of discovery and condemnation—all the tension that he had carried for so much of his life that it was simply part and parcel of how he experienced life—begin to unwind. In Elene, he found rest. For the first time, peace.

  He looked at her with new eyes, and her beauty was warm blankets on a cold winter morning. It was home after a long journey. It wasn’t a beauty to covet, like Vi’s; it was a beauty to share. If Vi’s body was art shaped to stoke desire, Elene’s whole being was shaped to share love. Elene had scars, her figure was attractive but not such as left men incapable of speech—and yet her beauty surpassed Vi’s. The intuition that had kept Kylar from Vi even from the first time she’d tried to seduce him at the Drake estate suddenly crystallized: You don’t share your life with a woman’s body, you share your life with a woman.

  “Marry me,” Kylar said, surprising himself. Then, realizing that his mouth had only uttered what his whole heart longed for, he said, “Please, Elene, will you marry me?”

  “Kylar…”

  “I know it’ll have to be secret, but it’ll be real, and I want you.”

  “Kylar…”

  “I know, this damn ring will probably keep us from making love, but we’ll figure something out, and even if we don’t, I love you. I want to be with you. I want to be with you more than I want sex. I know it’ll be really hard, but I mean it. We can—”

  “Kylar, shut up,” Elene said. She smiled at the look on his face, smoothed her dress, and said, “I would be honored to be your wife.”

  For a moment, he couldn’t believe it. Then, at her spreading smile and her delight in taking him off guard, light burst over a thousand hills. Somehow, she was in his arms, and they were holding each other and laughing and Elene was crying, and they were good tears, and then he kissed her and his whole body dissolved into that point where their lips met, and her lips were soft, full, warm, inviting, moist, responsive, eager. It was beautiful. It was amazing. It was the best feeling of his whole life, right until he threw up.

  67

  Their lovemaking was completely one-sided. Again. Jenine had been a virgin only a month ago, so Dorian told himself it was a lack of practice, that her awkwardness was an awkwardness of how. But Jenine was coordinated and Dorian was ravenous, so that justification was getting strained. She averted her gaze as he lay atop her, unable to match the intensity in his eyes. He buried his head in her hair, trying to ignore her body’s lack of arousal. He finished alone.

  He held her, inhaling the scent of her, trying not to feel lonely.

  She never denied him, even when he came to her a second time in a day or a third, and that made it worse. She didn’t pretend to climax, at least not yet. But even when she did climax, afterwards, the gap still wasn’t bridged. In everything she didn’t say, he saw a woman trying desperately to love him, and give love every chance to grow.

  Even now as he held her, she held him. He’d tried everything short of vir to make her love him as he loved her. He had a kingdom to defend and administer, men to train, plots to unravel, reforms to institute, magic to practice, but every day, he carved out hours simply to spend with her, to talk with her, to listen, to dance, to recite poetry, to tend the garden together, to tell stories, to listen to bards, to laugh, and only to make love after all that. The hell of it was that it seemed to be working. Jenine seemed more comfortable with him, more delighted with his presence and humor, more in love—everywhere but in the bedchamber. Was that because she was sixteen and lovemaking was new, or was their love as much a lie as Logan’s death? Or was everything fine except that it was poisoned in his own mind? What if she did love him, and he was simply going mad?

  “What are you thinking about?” Jenine asked.

  Dorian propped himself on his elbows and kissed her breast to give himself time to think. “How much I love you” would have been a partial truth. “How much I love you and you don’t love me” would be too brutal. But love needed truth to grow. He rubbed his aching head. “I was thinking of how hard you’re trying, and how much I appreciate it.”

  She burst into tears, and there was truth in how she clung to him.

  Logan sat in his new throne. He had given the artisans three weeks to deliver it, and the men had barely met the deadline. He had wanted it simple, sturdy wood with no ornamentation, but Duchess Kirena had prevailed upon him that the Cenarian throne couldn’t look like a dinner chair, so he had relented. This throne was sandalwood, almost glowing with a high polish, solid, elegantly shaped, and with a few fat rubies in each wing and in the front of the arms. By some magic, it was comfortable for Logan’s enormous frame. He almost pitied the rulers who would succeed him. Sitting in Logan’s throne, they would feel like dwarfs.

  He lifted an eyebrow at Lantano Garuwashi, who knelt on a plain woven mat on the floor at Logan’s right hand. It looked uncomfortable, but Garuwashi appeared at ease. He nodded and Logan gestured.

  The Lae’knaught in Wirtu, their semi-permanent camp that was functionally their capital city, had sent a new emissary. The man had arrived on time, though not an hour early.

  “Greetings, Your Majesty,” the diplomat began. He went on for some time, listing Logan’s titles and then his own, and then those of his master, Overlord Julus Rotans. Logan kept his face impassive. Going to Khalidor without the Lae’knaught would be suicide. By spring, Logan would have an army of fifteen thousand if he was lucky. Garuwashi’s sa’ceurai added six thousand. Between them, they had less than a thousand horse. Cenaria’s nobility were the only people in the realm who had the time and coin
to become horsemen, and most of them hadn’t bothered. Of those who had, many had been killed in futile resistance to Garoth Ursuul. Similarly, Lantano Garuwashi had attracted mostly peasants and hedge sa’ceurai and the masterless. His army was the best in Ceura, but not the richest by a long shot. Duchess Kirena’s spies said the Khalidorans had at least twenty thousand soldiers and thousands of wytches.

  Garuwashi’s men were in charge of training all of Logan’s forces, and they would train them for at least three more months, four if the winter was hard, which was an eternity for a peasant army to train, but Logan didn’t relish the idea of facing greater numbers and wytches on Khalidor’s own land. However it worked, what they called the Armor of Unbelief did seem to make the Lae’knaught less susceptible to magic, and if they could neutralize the meisters, that would demoralize the normal Khalidoran soldiers, who were used to their wytches crushing the opposition before they even raised their swords. It came down to one brutal fact: if Logan wanted Jenine back, he needed the Lae’knaught.

  “… after detailed discussion of your proposals,” the diplomat said. “The High Command has come to a decision.”

  Logan stood abruptly. “Throw him out,” he told his guards. They seized the diplomat by both arms instantly.

  “You haven’t even heard me out!” the man yelled as they dragged him backward, his feet barely touching the ground.

  “Oh,” Logan said, scratching his jaw as if that hadn’t occurred to him. “Very well then, go ahead. But make it fast. You’re boring me.” The truth was, he knew their response as soon as the man said “proposals,” plural.

  “We agree with everything in the first and second articles, there are just a few minor details in the third that you may not be aware violate some very important Lae’knaught principles of honor. I’m sure quite unintentionally, you ask us to blaspheme against our most closely held beliefs.”

 

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