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The night angel trilogy, p.14
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.14

           Brent Weeks
 

  Dorg moved down the row quickly, and at his touch and his voice, the horses calmed instantly. Fergund watched, feeling awkward. Finally Dorg came back past him.

  “I was just patrol—”

  “Use a lantern, ya lut,” Dorg said. He stuck his lantern into Fergund’s hand. He walked away, saying to himself, “Skearin’ ma damn ’orses with wytchfire.”

  “It’s magefire. There’s a difference!” Fergund said to his back.

  Dorg stormed out of the stables, and Fergund had barely turned around when he heard a thump.

  Fergund ran outside. Dorg was lying on the ground, unconscious. Before he could shout anything, Fergund felt something hot in his neck. He reached a hand up and felt someone take the lantern gently out of his other hand. His muscles went rigid.

  The light went out.

  21

  What the hell have you done?” Momma K asked, looking up as Durzo crashed through the door.

  “Good work,” Durzo said. “And with time left for a night out.” He grinned sloppily. He reeked of alcohol and garlic.

  “I don’t care about your binges. What have you done to Azoth?” She looked at the still form lying on the bed in her home’s guest room.

  “Nothin’,” Durzo said, grinning foolishly. “Check. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with him.”

  “What do you mean? He’s unconscious! I came back here and the servants were all in a flutter because you’d appeared here with—they said it was a corpse. I came up and Azoth was here. I can’t wake him. He’s dead to the world.”

  For some reason, that set Durzo off. He started laughing.

  Momma K slapped him, hard.

  “Tell me what you’ve done. Have you poisoned him?”

  That brought Durzo back. He shook his head, trying to clear it. “He’s dead. Has to be dead.”

  “Whatever do you mean?”

  “Gwinvere gorgeous,” Durzo said. “I can’t say. Someone threatened me. Someone who can do what they said. Said they’d come after Azo first, then you—and they knew about Vonda!”

  Momma K drew back. Who had the power to threaten Durzo? Who or what could scare Durzo Blint?

  Durzo sank onto a chair and put his face in his hands. “They have to think he’s dead. ’Specially after tonight.”

  “You faked killing Azoth?”

  Durzo nodded. “To show I didn’t care. To show they couldn’t push me.”

  But you do, Momma K thought, and they can. She knew Durzo was thinking it, too. The wetboy had never been as invincible as he seemed. And when his control cracked, it burst wide open. The best Momma K could do was make sure that Durzo went to one of her brothels and have someone keep an eye on him. He might be there for two or three days straight, but she could make sure he was safe. Relatively.

  “I’ll take care of the boy,” Momma K heard herself saying. “Do you have any idea what to do with him once he wakes up?”

  “He’ll stay with the Drakes like we were planning. He’s dead to this world.”

  “What did you use?”

  Durzo looked at her, confused.

  “What poison—never mind, just tell me, how long will he be unconscious?”

  “I dunno.”

  Momma K’s eyes narrowed. She wanted to slap him again. The man was insane. Even for a poisoner as gifted as Durzo, it was too easy to misjudge with a child. A child wasn’t simply a scaled-down adult. Durzo could have killed him. Durzo might have killed him. Azoth might never recover. Or he might wake and be an idiot, or not have the function of his limbs.

  “You knew he might die,” she said.

  “Sometimes you have to gamble.” Durzo patted his pockets, looking for garlic.

  “You’re starting to love that boy, and it scares the hell out of you. Part of you wants him dead, doesn’t it, Durzo?”

  “If I have to listen to your chitchat, can’t you at least give me a drink?”

  “Tell me.”

  “Life’s empty. Love is failure. Better he dies now than gets us both killed later.” With that, Blint seemed to deflate. Momma K knew he would say no more.

  “How long will you be whoring?” she asked.

  “I dunno,” Blint said, barely stirring.

  “Damn you! Longer or shorter than usual?”

  “Longer,” Durzo said after a minute. “Definitely longer.”

  The stream of curses preceded the king into the throne room by a good ten seconds. Lord General Agon could hear servants scurrying out of the way, see the guards at the entrances of the throne room shifting uncomfortably, and note that whatever staff members didn’t absolutely need to be there were fleeing.

  King Aleine IX barged in. “Brant! You pile of—” the lord general mentally erased the long list of repulsive things he resembled and refocused his attention when Niner got to the point. “What happened last night?”

  “Your Majesty,” the lord general said, “we don’t know.”

  Another stream of curses, some of them more creative than usual, but Niner wasn’t terribly creative, and no one dared to swear in his presence, so his arsenal was limited to variations on the word shit.

  “What we do know is this,” Brant Agon said. “Someone broke into the castle. I suppose we can assume it was the man we’ve spoken about.” No need for listening spies to learn everything.

  “Durzo Blint,” the king said, nodding.

  The lord general sighed. “Yes, Your Majesty. He apparently rendered unconscious one guard in the castle itself, and Fergund Sa’fasti, and your stable master in the stables.”

  More curses, then “What do you mean, ‘rendered unconscious’?” The king paced back and forth.

  “They didn’t have any marks on them, and they couldn’t remember anything, though the guard had a small puncture wound on his neck, as if from a needle.”

  The king cursed more and then cursed the abashed mage. As usual, Agon found himself getting more bored than offended. The king’s curses didn’t mean anything except “Look at me, I’m a spoiled child.” Niner finally stumbled across another point: “There was nothing else?”

  “We haven’t found anything yet, sire. None of the guards outside your rooms, your wife’s, your daughters’, or your son’s reported seeing anything unusual.”

  “It isn’t fair,” the king said, stomping over to his throne. “What have I done to deserve this?” he threw himself down in his throne—and squealed.

  He practically flew out of the throne. He clutched Lord General Agon. “Oh gods! I’m feeling faint. I’m dying! Damn you all! I’m dying! Guards! Help! Guards!” The king’s voice pitched higher and higher and he started crying as the guards blew whistles and rang bells and the throne room roared to life.

  General Agon plucked the king’s hands free and put the weak-kneed man in the arms of his sycophant, Fergund Sa’fasti, who didn’t know enough to hold on. The king collapsed to the ground and wept like a child. General Agon ignored him and strode to the throne.

  In a moment, he saw what he was looking for: a fat, long needle, pointing up from a well-worn cushion on the throne. He tried to pull it out with his fingers, but the needle stuck. It was supported so that it wouldn’t just fold over if the king sat on it wrong.

  General Agon drew his knife and slit the cushion open. He pulled out the needle, ignoring the bells, ignoring the guards pouring into the room, surrounding the king and herding everyone else into a side room where they could be held and questioned.

  Lord General Agon pulled out the needle. A note tied to it said, “I could have been poisoned.”

  “Move aside!” a little man from the back was calling out, pushing soldiers out of his way. It was the king’s physician.

  “Let him through,” the lord general ordered. The soldiers moved back from the king, who was whimpering on the floor.

  Brant motioned to the physician, showed him the note, and whispered, “The king will need some poppy wine, maybe a lot. But he isn’t poisoned.”

  “Thank you,” the man said. Behi
nd him, the king had pulled down his pants and was arching his neck trying to see the wound on his buttock. “But believe me, I know how to deal with him.”

  The general suppressed a smile. “Escort the king to his apartments,” he told the guards. “Set a watch on the door, with two captains inside the room. The rest of you return to your duties.”

  “Brant!” the king yelled as the guards picked him up. “Brant! I want him dead! Dammit, I want him dead!”

  Brant Agon didn’t move until the throne room was empty once more. The king wanted to wage war against a shadow, a shadow with no corporeal parts except the steel of its blades. That was what it would be to assassinate a wetboy. Or worse. How many men would die before the king’s pride was salved?

  “Milord?” a woman asked tentatively. It was one of the housekeepers. She had a wrapped bundle in her hands. “I was… chosen to report for the housekeepers, sir. But with the king gone and all… Could I…?”

  The general looked at her closely. She was an old woman, obviously afraid for her life. He bet she was “chosen” by having pulled a short straw. “What is it?”

  “Us housekeepers found these. Someone left them in each of the royal bedchambers, sir.”

  The housekeeper handed him the bundle. Six black daggers were inside it.

  “Where?” Brant asked, choking the word out.

  “Under—under the royal family’s pillows, sir.”

  22

  Little feet pattered into Azoth’s consciousness. It was a strange sound to hear when you were dead, but Azoth couldn’t sort it out any other way. Bare little feet on stone. He must be outside, because the sound didn’t reverberate against any walls. He tried to open his eyes and failed. Maybe this is what it was to be dead. Maybe you never left your body. Maybe you laid inside your corpse and had to just feel as you slowly decomposed. He hoped dogs didn’t get to him. Or wolves. He’d had terrifying dreams of a wolf grinning at him, yellow eyes ablaze. If he were stuck in his dead body, what would happen if they started tearing pieces of him off? Would he find oblivion like he’d finally fallen asleep or would he just split into pieces of consciousness, and slowly dissipate into the soil after passing through the bellies of a dozen beasts?

  Something touched his face and his eyes leapt open. He heard the startled gasp before his eyes could focus on who had made it. It was a little girl, maybe five years old, her eyes so wide they covered half of her face.

  “Never seen a corpse?” he asked.

  “Father! Father!” she shrieked with all the surprising volume small children can muster.

  He groaned as the sound jammed knives in his head and he fell back on the pillows. Pillows? So he wasn’t dead. That was probably supposed to be a good thing.

  When he woke again, time must have passed, because the room was light and airy. Wide windows had been thrown open, and cherrywood furnishings and marble flooring gleamed in the sunlight. Azoth recognized the molded ceiling; he’d stared at it before. He was in Count Drake’s guest room.

  “Back from the dead, are you?” Count Drake asked. He was smiling. Seeing the look on Azoth’s face, he added, “Here, now, sorry. Don’t think about that. Don’t think at all. Eat.”

  He set a plate full of steaming eggs and ham in front of Azoth, along with a glass of well-watered wine. The food spoke directly with Azoth’s stomach, completely bypassing higher cognitive functions. It was several minutes later when he realized the plate and the glass were both empty.

  “Better,” the count said. He sat on the edge of the bed and absently polished his pince nez. “Do you know who I am and where you are? Good. Do you remember who you are?”

  Azoth nodded slowly. Kylar.

  “I’ve been given some messages for you, but if you’re not feeling well enough…”

  “No, please,” Kylar said.

  “Master Tulii says that your work now is to get ready for your new life, and to get well. To wit, ‘Keep your arse in bed. I expect you to be ready when I come get you.’ ”

  Kylar laughed. That was Master Blint all right. “When is he coming, then?”

  A troubled look passed over the count’s face. “Not for a while. But you don’t need to worry about that. You’ll be living here now. Permanently. You’ll continue your lessons with your master, of course, but we’ll be doing all we can to get the look of the street off of you. Your master said to tell you that you aren’t going to be well as soon as you expect. There’s something else I want to tell you, though. About your little friend.”

  “You mean…?”

  “She’s doing well, Kylar.”

  “She is?”

  “Her new family has named her Elene. She has good clothes, three meals a day. They’re good people. They’ll love her. She’ll have a real life now. But if you’re to be of any use to her, you need to get well.”

  Kylar felt as if he were floating. The sunlight streaming through the windows seemed brighter, sharper. An arrangement of orange roses and lavender glowed on the sill. He felt good in a way he hadn’t since before Rat had become Black Dragon’s Fist.

  “They even took her to a mage and she said she’ll be fine, but she couldn’t do anything for the scars.”

  Someone had just outlined all his happiness with tar.

  “I’m sorry, son,” Count Drake said. “But you’ve done the best you can, and I promise you, she’ll have a better life than she ever could have on the street.”

  Kylar barely heard him. He stared out the window, away from the count. “I can’t pay you yet. Not until I start getting my wages again from Master… my master.”

  “There’s no rush. Pay me when you can. Oh, and one last thing your master asked me to pass along. He said, ‘Learn from these people those things that will make you strong, forget the rest. Listen much, speak little, get well, and enjoy this. It may be the only happy time of your life.’ ”

  Kylar was bedridden for weeks. He tried to sleep as much as the Drakes told him to, but he had far too much time. He’d never had time before; he didn’t like it. When he’d been on the street, every moment had been spent worrying about his next meal, or worrying about Rat or any of the older boys or girls terrorizing him. With Master Blint, he’d been kept so busy training that he didn’t have time to think.

  Sitting in bed all day and all night, he had nothing but time. Training was impossible. Reading was possible, but still excruciating. For a while, Azoth spent his time becoming Kylar. With the guidelines Master Blint had given him, and the facts that anyone checking would find, he had made up more stories about his family, the area he was from, and the adventures he’d had, keeping them harmless, the way people liked to think eleven-year-olds’ lives were.

  He soon mastered that, though, and most of the time thought of himself as Kylar. He was getting to know Count Drake’s daughters, too. Ilena was the pretty five-year-old he’d scared half to death when he first woke; Mags was a gangly eight, and Serah an alternately awkward and aloof twelve. They provided some diversion, but the countess kept them from “bothering” Kylar so he could “get his rest.”

  The count and countess were fascinating, but Count Drake was working most of the time and the countess had definite ideas about eleven-year-old boys—which didn’t coincide at all with what Kylar knew about eleven-year-old boys. He could never decide if she knew what he was and pretended not to so she could reform him, or if Count Drake had kept her in the dark.

  She was willowy, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed, an earthly vision of the heavenly beings the Drakes believed in. Like the count, she had beliefs about serving Kylar herself, as if to prove that she didn’t think herself above it. But it wasn’t a false humility: when Kylar had gotten terribly ill the first week and vomited all over the floor, she’d come in and held him until he was done shaking, and then she’d rolled up her sleeves and cleaned up the vomit herself. He’d been too sick to even be properly horrified until long afterward.

  He couldn’t count the times she came in to stuff him with food or c
heck on how he was feeling or to read him stupid kid books. The books were full of valiant heroes who killed evil wytches. Children never had to dig through heaps of garbage and vomit outside an inn looking for scraps of edible food. Older boys never tried to bugger them. They never abandoned their friends. The princesses they saved never had their faces battered beyond recognition. No one was ever so badly scarred that a mage couldn’t fix it.

  Kylar hated the stories, but he knew the countess only wanted the best for him, so he nodded and smiled and cheered when the heroes won—as they did every time.

  No wonder all the little nobles want to lead armies. If it were like the books their mothers read, it would be fun. It would be fun if you felt satisfied when the bad guy died rather than wanting to puke because you saw raw cartilage and gushing blood where you cut off an ear. Blood wafting in a million beautiful swirls with water as he bled to death, held under the water by the rope you’d tied around his ankle.

  The countess always interpreted his shaking and nausea after she was done with the stories as a need for more rest, so after raising memories to haunt Kylar’s room, she’d leave him with their angry ghosts.

  Every night Kylar became Azoth. Every night Azoth turned from the repair bay and saw Rat walking toward him, naked, hairy, massive, eyes glowing with lust. Every night Azoth watched Rat splashing into the water, straining against the weight tied to his ankle. Every night he watched Rat carve Doll Girl’s face.

  The nightmares woke him, and he lay in bed fighting the memories. Azoth had been weak, but Azoth was no more. Kylar was strong. Kylar had acted. Kylar would be like Master Blint. He would never be afraid. It was better now. It was better to lie in a bed having nightmares than it was to listen to Jarl getting buggered, weeping.

 
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