The night angel trilogy, p.139
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.139

           Brent Weeks
 

  Her rapists had shattered the bond between sex and intimacy, leaving her only with fucking. In ring raping Kylar, she’d left him with only intimacy. The difference was, the only person who could damage Kylar as she had been damaged long ago was Kylar himself. The integrity between what Kylar’s body did and what his heart felt was still intact. He was sorely tempted, but so far unbroken. If he cheated on Elene, he would be a cheater in his own eyes—for the rest of a very long life.

  He’d turned and walked out of her dream.

  Vi cleared her throat and met Sister Ariel’s gaze. “Things with Kylar are fine.”

  69

  Dorian knew he was in trouble as soon as the dancing girl entered the throne room. He’d been meeting with the Graavar chieftain, a hulking highlander whose raven hair hung in great mats to his waist. The Graavar were a powerful highland tribe, and Grakaat Kruhn was highly regarded by all the tribes. He had come to test Dorian. It was a harmless bit of highlander play, mostly—the highlanders hadn’t made a serious attempt at independence for more than a century—and Grakaat had found Dorian satisfactory in all ways. Until this.

  “Your Holiness,” Grakaat Kruhn said, his half-lidded eyes too self-satisfied by far, “I would like to present you with a gift to seal our treaty.” He gestured and two girls came forward. The dancer was about sixteen, the other, who held a highland flute, was perhaps thirteen, and though they were both pretty, Dorian had no doubt they were the chieftain’s daughters.

  As the dancer began a sensuous rondaa, most of Dorian’s guards and all of his courtiers averted their eyes. The highland version of the dance was different from what Dorian had seen as a youth. The girl wore a wide garment with exaggerated wide shoulders from which were suspended strips of cloth. Around the hips, the cloth had bells sown in. As her sister played, each gyration of the dancer’s hips made the bells tinkle and revealed glimpses of her nakedness beneath. As in the lowland dance, the girl appeared to float, chest and head immobile while her body tantalized, but the lowland dance was more focused on the stomach, which this girl had fully covered. Nonetheless, in moments Dorian was drawn in. The chieftain’s daughter was talented.

  The rondaa gave way to a beraa, and removed the last doubts from Dorian’s mind about what that chieftain intended. The beraa was faster, more erotic. The girl clapped her hands in time over her head, exposing the sides of her breasts, her hips snapping side to side, but now also undulating front to back in a motion that would torment any man with a pulse.

  Dorian was trapped. He wasn’t sure if he was glad that Jenine was sequestered for her moon blood or if he wished she were here. Perhaps her presence would have changed things. Grakaat Kruhn wouldn’t have his daughter dance a beraa for the Godking unless he planned to give her to him. A marriage to seal a treaty had far less weight in the north than it did in the southron realms, but the smile that had been on the chieftain’s face told Dorian something else.

  Dorian thought that taking many wives would have quelled the rumors he’d begun by entering the castle as a eunuch, but if anyone found out that he wasn’t using his harem, the Halfman jokes would begin again. A highland warrior like Grakaat Kruhn achieved his place through the force of his virtu, which meant not only virtue, but also strength and manliness. To the highlanders, the three concepts were one. What manliness could a eunuch have? How could a war chief submit to half a man?

  Dorian made a small gesture and the throne room cleared quietly of everyone except his guards and several Vürdmeisters. Grakaat Kruhn looked disturbed, but his daughter didn’t miss a step, and Dorian kept his attention full on her, not giving the chieftain any clues. Inside, Dorian’s stomach roiled. God, give me strength for what I’m about to do. But he’d rejected the One God, and the thought of what the God would think of this cooled whatever arousal Dorian still had left. Would Jenine understand?

  Maybe. If she didn’t have to see it.

  Damn the highlander. Dorian’s Hands had given him news that Moburu was making a bid to take over the barbarian tribes of the Freeze. Moburu was calling himself the prophesied High King, and the hell of it was that he had been born on the right day—or missed it by three, depending on which scholar’s calendar you believed. But even if Moburu died before spring and especially if he didn’t, Dorian needed this highlander to bring all the other highlanders to him to face Neph Dada and his Vürdmeisters.

  If Dorian faltered now, the story would get out instantly: the new Godking was either impotent or a eunuch. A southron, then. No true Godking at all. Grakaat Kruhn would have killed him with a teenage girl. If I’m to be Godking, I’ve got to rule like a Godking.

  The dancer finished with an exuberance and intensity in her smoky eyes that surprised Dorian. Had she convinced herself to love him, a stranger? Or was there fear somewhere beneath, a terror she concealed, taking only its energy to fuel her dance?

  Dorian wrapped his knuckles on his throne appreciatively, the Khalidoran equivalent of applause. He smiled and stood. “By Khali, Grakaat, they’re amazing. They’re stunning. Gorgeous. The younger one dances too?”

  Grakaat looked confused. “I—yes, Your Holiness, but I meant—”

  “I accept them. I’ve never had a more handsome gift. Child, what’s your name?” he asked, turning to the flutist.

  Her sudden fear confirmed what Dorian expected. Grakaat had intended to bait him with the dancer. The last thing he’d expected was that a eunuch would want both of his daughters. Between the young girl’s fear and the older girl’s incredulity, Dorian wanted to say, “I didn’t want this. Your father used you as pawns against a god. A god can’t let him win.” But he said nothing.

  “I’m Eesa,” the girl said. She was barely flowered, pretty in an awkward girlish way. Dorian’s stomach threatened to rebel. Khali, give me strength.

  He remembered a spell to ease the girl’s fright and accomplish his purposes. He’d used it often as a lecherous young man. “The Graavar seal marriage pacts publicly, don’t they?” Dorian asked.

  Fear shot through the chieftain’s eyes and Dorian knew that the younger daughter was Grakaat’s favorite. “It’s a tradition we’ve not practiced in many—”

  “A good tradition,” Dorian said, “especially when there are… doubts about the groom’s virtu.” Khali, give me strength.

  “I, I… Your Holiness.” Grakaat was turning green. His men-at-arms averted their eyes.

  Eesa still didn’t know what they were talking about. Before she could figure it out, Dorian laid a tracery of vir on her. She visibly relaxed. Her pupils dilated, and she couldn’t seem to look anywhere but Dorian’s face. He continued the spell, delicately coaxing her body into deceiving her mind. Whatever he did to her now, she would enjoy. Later, if she were as horrified as she ought to be, they would tell her that he was a god, that there was no shaming in serving him however he desired, that she should feel honored to have attracted his attention.

  “I don’t know all the intricacies of your quaint barbarian customs, so a few pillows on the floor will have to do. That is, unless you object?” Dorian stood and shrugged out of his ermine over-robe. With the vir, he devoured the rest of his clothing with tongues of black flame. Naked, his flesh writhing with layer on layer of vir, thorns of it clawing out of his skin, a black crown of it springing through the skin of his head, Dorian glowered at the chieftain. The huge man trembled. He tried to turn his head, and found it locked in place. He tried to close his eyes, and found he couldn’t blink.

  The vir swept Dorian’s courtiers’ pillows into a pile three paces from Grakaat’s feet.

  Dorian let his glory fade and turned to the girl. He smiled at her. “Come, love.” Khali, give me strength, Dorian prayed, and found he had it. God forgive him, his strength didn’t flag for an instant.

  Afterward, Dorian stood, his body gleaming with sweat. Eesa lay panting, oblivious, obscene. For the first time, Graakat Kruhn was staring at Wanhope with the fear a Godking deserved. The Godking said, “I’ll be expecting you
come spring. If your warhost numbers seven thousand, I will put you over the Quarl, Churaq, Hraagl, and Iktana clans. On spring’s first new moon, we march to Black Barrow. The girls stay with me.”

  70

  Vi woke to Sister Ariel shaking her. The windows were still dark, and the only light in the room was from a single candle. Vi sat up and gazed blearily at the maja, who was red-eyed and wearing the same tent-like dress she’d worn the day before.

  “What are you doing?” Vi asked.

  “I found it. I can help you.”

  “Help me with what?” Vi asked.

  “Get up, I’ll tell you on the way.”

  Vi dressed and followed Sister Ariel. Sister Ariel said nothing until they were on one of the punts that would convey them to the Chantry. Even then, she spoke quietly, leery of how voices traveled over the water, even in the pre-dawn fog that wreathed the lake.

  “Long ago, there was an Alitaeran emperor named Jorald Hurdazin. By all accounts, he was a skilled and wise leader. In his younger years, he solidified Alitaeran control from what is now Ymmur in the east to the west coast of Midcyru. What is now Waeddryn and Modai were his last conquests, and with his marriage to Layinisa Guralt, the Seeress of Gyle—essentially its princess—the lands that are now Ceura came under his control as well, and there he stopped, mostly because of her influence. He spent the next twenty years consolidating his empire and for the most part bringing justice and prosperity to the lands he had conquered. He was, however, magically poisoned by one of his many enemies. The poisoning was caught early, but the magi could only delay its effects. They treated him every day, but soon determined that Emperor Hurdazin would die within two years. Obviously, this was a closely held secret, and obviously, they called as many green magi and magae as they could. To make matters worse, there was no heir, and in agreeing to bring Gyle into the Empire, Gyle’s king had insisted that Jorald and Layinisa be married with rings like yours. For a man of his power, finding such rings was no problem, and though their marriage was first political and magical, all the histories I’ve read agree that Jorald and Layinisa deeply loved each other. The green magi found nothing to heal Jorald, and they soon found that Layinisa was infertile. Women with great Talents sometimes injure themselves with their magic, and infertility is common in those who use too much magic, or too much too soon.

  “The emperor put as many magi as he dared trust to work on both magical problems. He believed that Layinisa might hold his empire after his death, but if she were infertile, that would only delay the collapse, and he didn’t want to be yet another emperor whose empire died with him. In the end, it was Layinisa herself who discovered a way around the rings’ bond.”

  “She did?” Vi asked.

  “Don’t get excited. Now we’re here, say nothing until we reach the library.”

  They walked silently through the dark halls of the Chantry. Vi wondered for a moment that the building was beginning to feel like home. The dim magical torches that illumined the walls and followed them seemed normal now, the austere marble arches comforting in their strength rather than menacing. In a few minutes, they were deep in the Chantry’s storerooms, far below the waterline, a place Vi had never been allowed to go. It was neither dark nor dirty, but it did have an air of abandonment. Numbered oak boxes lined the room to the ceiling. The one small desk had an oak box already upon it.

  Instead of opening the box, however, Sister Ariel closed it and put it back on a numbered shelf and grabbed a different box two rows down. Vi understood that she had left out the wrong box in case some spy checked what she was studying. At first Vi wondered why the boxes were oaken, but then she looked again and saw the spell sunk into the wood. Each oak box had one spell to strengthen the box and make it watertight, one to make it fire resistant, and one to suck air from the box as it closed to preserve whatever was kept inside.

  “Magically reactive materials are kept in special rooms on the next floor; these archives are for mundane records only. Because of how they’re preserved, they only have to be copied by industrious tyros such as yourself every few hundred years—if they’re not frequently opened,” Sister Ariel said. The box opened with a hiss, and she gently lifted out sheets of bound parchment that to Vi’s eyes looked scarcely ten years old.

  “At the time of Jorald and Layinisa’s marriage, binding rings had been forbidden for almost fifty years. They were still common among royal families, of course, who were rarely willing to surrender them. The rings continued to cause misery wherever they were used and all magi became more and more convinced that banning them had been one of the best decisions the Chantry and the brotherhoods had ever made. Every group eliminated knowledge of them and how to make them to the best of its ability. This did lead to bloodshed a number of times, especially among the Vy’sana, the Makers, who to this day are a small brotherhood. When Layinisa figured out how to circumvent the magic, there was a great debate among us. Some wanted to follow her research to find a way to fully break the bonding. The majority, however, feared that any dabbling in those arts again would lead to a full rediscovery of how to bond. The suffering of those few who were presently bonded was weighed against the possibility of vast suffering if bonding were rediscovered by the unscrupulous. I don’t know if you’ve experimented with your bond, Vi, but it does have an element of compulsion. That’s what made it break the Godking’s compulsion on you. The order of the ringing makes the compulsion in your rings flow from you to Kylar.”

  “What?” Vi asked. “You mean…”

  “I mean if you told Kylar to walk on his hands to Cenaria, you’d find his body somewhere in a mountain pass with stumps where his hands had been. It’s a compulsion stronger by far than what the Godking used on you.”

  “But there’s a way out?” Vi said, her throat tight.

  “Not out, child. Because you’re the mistress of the bond, however, you can do what Layinisa did.”

  “Which is?”

  “She used the compulsion of the bond to force Jorald to divorce her and marry a princess. She was then able to suspend the bond to allow him to produce an heir.”

  “What happened?”

  “He died but the empire lived, minus the country of Gyle, which was deeply insulted by Jorald divorcing their Seeress. Layinisa served Jorald’s new wife and supported her regency for five years, until the new empress marched against Gyle, at which point Layinisa committed suicide. The enmity between Alitaera and Ceura didn’t cool for centuries and would probably be raging right now if the countries still bordered each other. The point is, if you wish it, you can suspend the bond—partially. A maja named Jessa worked with Layinisa on the rings. Jessa was in the camp that wished to learn about breaking them, and when the Chantry forbade it, I suspected that she tried to defy them. Jessa was a Healer, but she was also interested in gardening, so I’ve been looking through her books. They’re not terribly enlightening; others did far better, and she wasn’t an important maja, so I think no one ever studied her books. If they did, they would have found what I have. She’s hidden it in plain sight, and not well. She was no cryptographer. After I read the books, I began applying ciphers, then I worked on her marginalia. If you could read Old Ceuran you’d see how ridiculous this is—she’d capitalize a strange word in her margin notes and everything from that capital to the next capital was part of her secret message. If you look at all the marginalia from the last to the first, the message unfolds. I don’t even understand everything Jessa wrote, but I think you will. Oh, one more thing: Vi, I haven’t told Kylar or Elene about this, and I won’t. This is your burden. It is yours to decide if the price is worth it.”

  Twelve hours later, with dark circles under her eyes, Vi found a cheerful Elene making breakfast.

  “What is it?” Elene asked. “Are you well?”

  “I know it’s a month late, but Elene…” A timid smile broke through Vi’s fatigue. “I have a wedding present for you.”

  71

  They were calling him Solon Stormr
ider. They said that his hair was growing in white because of the snow-laden seas through which his longboats had plunged. Or they said it had turned white after the winter sea had chewed on him and found him too tough and spat him back out. His boat had capsized once, and even his magic had barely saved him as he swam a mile through storm-whipped seas. Of course, his hair had been growing in white since he’d used Curoch—long before this mad winter—and he’d explained that to the soldiers and sailors who’d begun to follow him, but they preferred their own versions.

  Now it was spring, and Solon was heading back to Queen Wariyamo, having destroyed her enemies. He had bowed before her after saving her life, and she had told him, fury edging her voice, that the price for her hand was cleansing the isles of the rebellion he had started by killing Oshobi Takeda. Kaede didn’t like being weak, didn’t like needing anyone, but her temper always cooled in time. At least, it used to.

  Everyone had expected Solon to wait for spring and take an army to each of the Takeda isles. Instead, he’d begun at once, alone. In a canoe, he’d paddled the eighteen miles to Durai. There, he’d given the ultimatum he would give a dozen times through the winter. Surrender, swear fealty to the queen, and give me all your weapons, or I shall slay every man who fights and take those who surrender as slaves.

  Gulon Takeda had laughed at him, and died, along with eighteen of his soldiers. Solon had returned with twenty-four awed soldiers in a longboat. He had delivered them to the new Mikaidon and slept in a dockside tavern, not seeking so much as a word with Kaede. By the time he’d woken and gone out to his canoe, a score of the craziest sailors he’d ever met and a captain with a vendetta against the Takedas volunteered to join him.

  Soon, storms battered them every time they left port, and Solon’s command of weather magic grew by necessity. But Sethi winter storms were tamed by no mage, and it was a fight every day. Several times, the Takedas who had faced them were so stunned that anyone should be able to make the crossing they had surrendered on the spot. And when Solon returned to Hokkai yet again, victorious yet again, he found the Takeda soldiers he’d conscripted were a fully trusted part of the Sethi army, oddly proud to have been defeated by the Stormrider.

 
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