The night angel trilogy, p.138
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.138

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Oh,” Logan said. “Let him go. I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to offend. What articles in particular were troublesome?”

  “As I said, uh, we agree that Khalidor is our mutual enemy and that the time to act is now. We agree that—”

  Logan waved his hand petulantly. “You’re boring me.”

  “We simply had some logistical problems with the distribution of our forces.”

  “Oh?” Logan said. He thought they’d have some problems with that. Lord General Agon had a low opinion of Lae’knaught loyalty, so he’d asked for a provision that specified that the Lae’knaught forces would be split and serve under Cenarian and Ceuran commanders. It was a trade-off militarily. The Cenarian commanders wouldn’t use the lancers as efficiently as the Lae’knaught commanders could. The Cenarians simply hadn’t commanded such forces before, so they didn’t know their strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, it would make treachery much harder to organize, especially with how active Duchess Kirena planned to keep her spies.

  “If I may be blunt, Your Majesty, this idea of having lancers serve under your commanders is suicidal.”

  “Fair enough,” Logan said.

  The man was professional enough that he didn’t show his surprise at Logan’s sudden acquiescence. “There were also a few other small details, much less substantial, I assure you. But now that we’re agreed in principle, I could meet with Your Majesty’s officials to arrange—”

  “Why would that be necessary?” Logan asked.

  The diplomat paused awkwardly. “Uh, to work out the details of our alliance?” He asked, as if trying not to treat Logan like an idiot.

  “Alliance?” Logan asked.

  The diplomat opened his mouth, but no words came out.

  “No, no, sir,” Logan said. “This is no alliance. This is war. You rejected my terms. This summer, after Garuwashi’s sa’ceurai are finished looting Wirtu and slaughtering all of your officers, I will propose the same terms again—with one small additional detail. Namely, the lancers will stay under Cenarian command permanently. And if you say no then, I will kill you all. Guards?”

  The men grabbed the little diplomat again.

  “Your Majesty, wait!”

  Logan lifted a finger and the guards stopped. “The only words I need to hear from you are, ‘Your Majesty, we accept your proposal.’ If you have anything else to say, you can say it to Underlord Dynos Rotans, who accompanied you, oddly in servant’s garb, though he outranks you and is known to have his brother’s ear. Tell him he should have had the balls to come see me himself. It’s an insult that he thought if things went really wrong, he could step in himself. I’m sick of Lae’knaught sycophants. Tell him he’s forbidden to come to my court. I’ll give you half an hour. Either come in that door with the words I told you, or find your horses.” Logan nodded and the guards heaved the diplomat out the door.

  When the doors closed, Garuwashi said, “You seemed to enjoy that.”

  “On the contrary, I’m within an inch of vomiting.”

  “Really? Because you just tried to provoke war over a senseless provision?”

  “I knew this kid, small kid, nothing to look at. Someone picked on him once, and he flew at the guy like he’d lost his mind.”

  “Did the little kid win?”

  “He got destroyed. But no one picked on that little kid again, because he approached every harassment as if his life depended on winning. There were no rules in a fight with him. He didn’t care how badly he got hurt. He would win. I was always bigger and stronger than other kids, but I would fight fair and stop when someone conceded victory. I had to fight a lot more than he did.”

  “So you’re basing your handling of the Lae’knaught on a metaphor from your childhood?” Garuwashi asked.

  “Which is why I feel sick.” But there was no way around it. Without the Lae’knaught, he couldn’t get his wife back.

  Lantano Garuwashi cleared his throat. “While we’re on the subject of things that make us sick, I’ve had word that some members of the High Council are proposing that the Regent send an emissary to see if I am Ceura’s lost king.”

  “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Cenaria had enemies north, east, and inside, the last thing Logan needed was problems from the south.

  “They will most likely send an army with the emissary.” Garuwashi lowered his voice. “He will demand to see Ceur’caelestos.”

  “And?” Logan asked.

  “Kylar didn’t tell you?”

  “Tell me what?”

  “I am sorry you had to put such a man to death, Your Majesty. It is not many men who will guard another’s honor when he owes him nothing.” Garuwashi cleared his throat, and Logan could swear that the big redhead was flushed. “I, ahem, I no longer hold the Blade of Heaven. Kylar threw it into Ezra’s Wood. A magus went into the Wood after it and said he’d received a prophecy from the mad mage himself that told him how to make a second sword for me, but the mage has not returned.”

  “But you carry—”

  “A scabbard with a hilt. If I have to show my sword, I’m dead. Should this become known, they won’t even allow me to slay myself to expiate the dishonor.”

  And I’ll lose the best part of my army.

  “I see,” Logan said. “We will do all we must to give your mage the time he needs. I’m sure he will return. No man swears idly to Lantano Garuwashi.”

  They sat in silence, each tense for his own reasons.

  “How is your campaign against the Sa’kagé?” Garuwashi asked finally.

  “Impossible to tell. Well, except that I’m still alive, as are all of my advisers. This war may actually help us. It gives us something to offer to men whose only trade has been violence. We call it an earned amnesty. A different number of years of service for different crimes. How we’ll pay for a standing army for the next five years, I don’t know, but these people have to do something, and I’d rather have them kill my enemies than my people.”

  “And you fill your military with the untrustworthy.”

  “Yes. But are not many of your own men the masterless? In Ceura, are not such said to have no honor? All I can do is give men who want to change the chance to try, and help them feed their families in the meantime. No one who was in the Sa’kagé will be allowed in the city guard, and taking bribes is a hanging offense for guards. We’ll have a lot of problems, but for the moment, a lot of people hate Khalidor enough that they’ll fight with me to defeat them before they start fighting against me again.”

  “You think you’ll win,” Garuwashi said.

  “As long as Duchess Kirena and Count Drake stay alive, I’d rather be me than the Sa’kagé.” Logan shrugged.

  Garuwashi grunted, a sound that could have been assent or interest or neither, and they waited silently once more.

  The massive doors of the throne room opened, and the diplomat came in. It had only been fifteen minutes. The man’s eyes were filled with hatred. “Your Majesty,” he said, biting off every word, “we accept your proposal.”

  68

  Within a month of their first secret meeting with Vi, the Chattel had dreamt up two dozen new spells. A gap-toothed farmwife with tobacco-stained teeth knew a spell that made food more filling. An Alitaeran widow had developed a weave to keep food fresh for months. Others added their knowledge and soon, they’d created biscuits half the size of a man’s hand that would give him energy for the whole day, made him feel satisfied, and came in a dozen flavors. A village blacksmith’s wife had crafted a spell that kept plows sharp, and it was easily applied to swords, but it had to be reapplied every day. Almost all the women had some experience as Healers, so they crafted bandages that stayed cleaner longer, packable spider webs to help blood clot instantly, potent salves for burns, poultices that could suck poison out of wounds. One could bond a simple repelling spell to fabric, making light tents or tunics stay dry even in a storm. A cowherd taught them a spell to firm treacherous, muddy roads. It would dissipate almos
t instantly, but if the magae spaced themselves along a column, an entire army could march safely through a bog.

  Few of them could throw a fireball, but when a soft-spoken woman told Vi that she had crafted a spell-containing spell, they had something better. One woman would cast a spell-container, another would cast a simple fire spell, and a third would bind it to an arrow. The spell was smaller than a woman’s fist, but the arrows wouldn’t fly well until someone figured out how to smooth the spell over the entire length of the shaft. Then, the arrow flew true, struck the practice dummy’s shield, and the spell-container burst, splashing fire over the shield and the dummy. The dummy was engulfed in fire in seconds. Magae around the yard stopped what they were doing and turned to watch.

  Several of the herders knew spells that would temporarily sharpen sight, hearing, or smell. Working together, they made one spell that was more efficient than any of the three alone that would last the duration of a watch. It could be applied to sentries or scouts.

  Then they took to reversing their spells. An enemy’s food could be spoiled in a day. Making roads muddy was harder than making them dry, however, as a maja had to soften many layers of earth, rather than harden a few. Likewise, dulling the enemies’ weapons during a battle was deemed impossible. Magically locating hundreds or thousands of moving swords and differentiating friends’ from foes’ was too difficult. They could make wounds fester and suppurate and attract flies, but most of the women were too sickened for such work. Those who had trained as Healers, who would have been best suited to it, said their vows precluded it.

  The two fronts where they made no progress at all were the signal sticks and magically representing a battle. Garoth Ursuul had been able to see a battlefield and communicate instantly with his generals or men across his kingdom. In war, signal banners could be missed or captured or out of the line of sight. Trumpets’ calls could be lost in the cacophony, and with either of those, the messages passed were both necessarily simple—withdraw, advance, come now—and public. Developing signal sticks would mean giving commanders the ability to hear scouts report from behind enemy lines, rather than hoping that they could cross back over and report hours or days later. It would mean ordering cavalry to reinforce a wavering line and having them move instantly, rather than minutes later. It would mean a general could split his armies and still coordinate their movements, or change their strategy as the situation changed, rather than being committed to meet on a specified day at a certain area and hope nothing kept the other half of your army from getting there.

  The failure put Vi in an evil mood, which wasn’t helped when Sister Ariel laughed at her. “Vi,” she said, joining her on the field, “don’t you see what you’ve accomplished?”

  Vi grunted. “I’ve made war easier.”

  “Well, yes, you have, but you’ve done something more remarkable. Remarkable for any maja, but perhaps doubly so for you.”

  “What’s that?” Vi asked, suspicious of any praise from Sister Ariel.

  “You’re teaching these women to wage war without trying to be men. The simple fact is, most women aren’t really good at throwing fire or calling down lightning. If you’d insisted on these women becoming war magae as the Chantry thought of war magae, they’d have made little progress before spring. Instead, you’ve let them be who they are.”

  “It’s common sense.”

  “By the Seraph’s tits, Vi, a magus’s fireball isn’t any good if he can’t cross a bog to get to the battle; his lightning bolt can’t hurt anyone if he starves. We were right about you. It might be common sense, but the weaves you’ve encouraged these women to develop would never have been encouraged by anyone else. You want to know why? Because we all have blind spots, Vi, even you. The good thing is that yours are different from ours. Your commonsense answer violates one of our institutional creeds in place since the Third Alitaeran Accord, which is that the Sisterhood is complete. By abandoning certain areas of study, many would say you imply that men are better at those types of magic. That statement would be enough to paralyze most Sisters from doing the work you’re doing. Even if they agreed it was true, they would spend a lot of energy trying to conceal the fact that they weren’t studying fire and lightning and earthquakes.”

  “I’m not making any statements,” Vi said. “I bet I can throw a better fireball than most magi, and I haven’t even worked on it. I’m just trying to save our asses.”

  “Oh, just because a crisis threatens to wipe us out, you think we should stop infighting?”

  Vi scrunched her eyebrows together. “Is that a real question?”

  Sister Ariel laughed. “How are things, ahem, on the conjugal front?”

  “What?” Right when Vi thought Sister Ariel was being kind, the woman had to pull out her big words to make Vi feel stupid.

  “How are things with your husband?” Sister Ariel asked, after making sure no one was close enough to overhear.

  At even the mention of him, Vi felt Kylar, only fifty paces away, training in the basement of their manse with Durzo. He seemed happy despite his many bruises. Vi Healed them secretly from time to time when Kylar was asleep in the mornings.

  The last month had been awkward, but not nearly as bad as Vi had feared. Vi had expected to feel malice leaking through the bond at all times, and if Kylar had hated her, there was no way she could be anything but miserable. Mostly, though, he didn’t think about her. She was training and studying as many hours a day as her body could stand and so was he. When she got home, she went to bed immediately.

  Meanwhile, Kylar and Elene had found a patr to marry them in secret. Durzo, Uly, Sister Ariel, and Vi were the only witnesses. Kylar had moved into Elene’s room, though consummating their marriage was impossible, and any time cuddling even flirted with the erotic, Kylar began to get sick. Oddly, they still had that newlywed glow. Maybe it was all intensified because they knew Elene didn’t have much time left, so they touched whenever they could—though carefully—and spent hours talking.

  Vi knew Kylar felt the absence of sex acutely. Some nights she’d lie awake on the opposite side of the wall from where he lay awake, Elene snuggled into his chest. She could feel the ache of desire, but as soon as he entertained the desire, his thoughts veered to Vi and with an iron self-control, he stopped those thoughts and began admiring everything he loved about Elene. Sometimes, Vi knew, that iron self-control was rusted all the way through, but still he closed the door.

  They’d met twice in their dreams.

  “You don’t hate me,” Vi said in the first dream. She marveled at it.

  “I hate the price we have to pay.”

  “Can you ever forgive me?” she asked.

  “I’m trying. You did what had to be done. You’re not a bad woman, Vi. I know that you’ve been giving me and Elene space and time, and I know it’s hard for you, too. Thank you.” He glanced down at her night dress; this one actually fit, and his gaze was admiring, but deliberately brief. “I just wish you weren’t so damn beautiful. Good night.”

  The second dream had been harder. It had been one of those nights where Kylar lay on the opposite side of the wall so tormented he thought he would burst. In the dream, Kylar stood at the foot of Vi’s bed, naked. His eyes were closed and Vi drank in the sight of him, his hard lean limbs, flat stomach etched with hard muscles. She was wearing one of Master Piccun’s nightdresses, which she’d left behind in Cenaria. It was white silk and short with sheer panels, but more pretty than provocative: a make-love-to-me, not a fuck-me. It was one of the first things she’d ever bought from Master Piccun, and in four years she’d never worn it. Men made love to their wives or girlfriends. Vi got fucked. Her hair was unbound and combed out glossy.

  Vi had a revelation at the very moment Kylar opened his eyes. Kylar had never seen this dress. This wasn’t his dream. It was hers. She froze, feeling more exposed than she had when she’d stood naked in front of the Godking. Garoth Ursuul had judged her not knowing her. Kylar had far more power. He was here b
ecause she desired him. Vi had long been the object of desire, and she’d mocked men for it.

  Now, the numbness that had sat between her legs since the first time one of her mother’s lovers raped her was thawing. The ache there was so foreign that Vi hadn’t been able to name it. For all the fucking she’d done, Vi had not once taken a man to bed for pleasure, much less love. The receding numbness, though, not only allowed her to feel desire for the first time, it also threatened her. Through the ice, Vi could see the outlines of a mystery: she could imagine bringing her desire—of which fucking was a part, but not the center—to Kylar and experiencing union, wholeness in a fragmented world. She’d made fucking a simple physical exertion, as monotonous but as necessary to her work as exercising. If she ever wanted to experience what was beneath the ice, she’d have to feel the pain and violation frozen inside it. If Kylar were to speak while they had sex, she’d remember all the bastards who couldn’t shut up. If he were to remain silent, she’d remember the brutes who fucked silently. If Kylar were to twine his fingers through her hair, she’d remember all the assholes who pawed her hair like she was an animal. If Kylar ripped her clothes off in his passion, she would remember when Hu Gibbet did it and spat on her face. If Vi were ever to enjoy Kylar’s desire and allow herself to reciprocate, she’d have to trust him with her brokenness, and she’d have to wade through all the hells her numbness had spared her.

  She understood all of that in the very moment Kylar’s opening eyes met hers. She tensed and immediately her hair was back up in its ponytail, tight enough to hurt. Two waves of feeling raced through Kylar, the second chasing the first, and even with her emotional stupidity or however Sister Ariel had said it, Vi could name his feelings through the very air. The first was desire, and though it was physical, it wasn’t only physical. A month of cuddling the woman he loved had been a month of foreplay. But right after that, he withdrew.

  “Vi,” Kylar choked out. “I can’t even be here.” He ignored his own nudity, and her near-nudity, looking into her eyes and letting her read his.

 
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