The night angel trilogy, p.145
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.145

           Brent Weeks
 

  In a moment of vanity—well, two hours of vanity—Feir had etched his smithmark near the hilt. As a boy, he’d loved the stories about Oren Razin, one of Jorsin’s champions. Feir had been the only person he knew who could even think of wielding two war hammers as Oren had. Later, he’d mostly given it up. It was a lot easier to find someone to train you with swords. “It’s not much of a forgery if you put your name on it. It’s still there, but you have to know how to uncover it.”

  “You should be proud, Feir. You’ve made a thing of beauty.”

  “Without the dragon’s heart, I’ve made nothing.”

  81

  What troubles you, my king? You’ve been fondling that rock for two days,” Kaede said.

  Solon pulled her into his lap and cupped her breast. “Only when you don’t let me fondle better things.”

  “You beast!” she said, but she didn’t pull away. “I’m serious.”

  The first days of their marriage had been bliss, except for the rock. Kaede’s repentance at ordering him to subdue the Takedas by himself had led her to make all the wedding preparations. The very night Solon had arrived they had been married. Kaede refused to wait until later in the spring when the outlying nobles could attend. She said if they were offended, she would threaten to send her Stormrider to “visit” their isles.

  But there were only so many hours a day that could be absorbed with lovemaking—though Solon and Kaede were doing their best—and that left Solon with time to consider the rock.

  “I told you a little about my friend Dorian,” Solon said. “And his prophecy over me.”

  “Something about killing your brother and a kingdom falling, right?”

  Solon pulled back his white and black hair. “There’s nothing quite as infuriating as having a man in a trance lay out your future in a sing-song: ‘Storm-riving, storm-riding, by your word—or silence—a brother king lies dead. Two fears deriding, hope and death colliding, of the sword’s man, regal third, true lies in your dragon’s heart—or head. The north broken and remade on your single word.’ ”

  Kaede looked puzzled. “Well, you got the storm-riding part.”

  “And before you ask, no, I didn’t name myself that. I used to have no idea about the rest of it, except the brother king part. If I came home, I would have rallied the nobles to stop my brother Sijuron, thus my words would have left him dead. As it was, I served a man named Regnus Gyre, a man who would have been king and was like a brother to me. I didn’t tell him I was a mage, and on learning it, he barred me from his company and was slain. The last part never made any sense to me, I only saw one king in the first part of the prophecy, my brother, so I thought Dorian was raving.”

  “But something has changed.”

  “This ruby, Kaede. I never heard of it. My father never spoke of it. Nothing is written about it in the royal records except to record its being in the treasury for at least two hundred years. It’s listed as the dragon’s heart. I think a third king, the regal third, the sword’s man, depends on me bringing this ruby to him.”

  “What if you’re the third king? What if you’re the sword’s man? You said it was a sword that turned your hair white. Perhaps a threat approaches here, and you need the ruby to withstand it. Solon, you can’t leave. Not on some madman’s word.” Though she still sat in his lap, she was rigid, fear and anger rising in her.

  Two fears deriding. The words were suddenly crystal. Damned prophecies could always be interpreted at least two ways, and usually both were correct.

  “Kaede,” Solon said, “there’s a garrison called Screaming Winds that guards the pass between Cenaria and Khalidor. Dorian and I were there last fall. Dorian was unconscious most of the time, waking and scrawling fragments of prophecy and lapsing into trances again. One day he woke screaming. He demanded as much gold as I could get my hands on. I got it for him and we walked up into the hills to a stunted black oak. Dorian told me that Khali was coming and that she would tempt him. He said she would massacre everyone. He melted the gold and used it to cover his eyes and ears and made fetters for his arms and legs and asked me to drive stakes pinning him to the black oak. I wrapped him in blankets and left. The commander didn’t believe my warnings. I wanted to leave, but I took too long, so I had the men bind me in ropes and I emptied my glore vyrden, but before the men could blindfold me or block my ears, She came.”

  “Khali?”

  He stared into the distance. “I saw men throwing themselves off the wall. I saw a man tear his eyes out. And then, in a vision I thought was real, I saw you. I tried to go to you, but the ropes saved me. No one else survived. In fact, the Soulsworn came through and made sure everyone was dead. If a body hadn’t fallen on me and covered me in blood while I was praying, they would have killed me too.”

  “So to what god should I offer sacrifices for saving your life?”

  “None. It was a coincidence. A lazy soldier who didn’t clean the blood from his sword in freezing weather and couldn’t draw his sword.”

  “While you just so happened to be praying,” she said. “That’s quite some coincidence.”

  “Yes,” Solon said, more roughly than he meant to. “That’s what a coincidence is. Anyway, sorry, when I went to Dorian’s black oak, he was gone. His tracks lead north, toward Khalidor, but I couldn’t follow. I had to see you. Nothing else mattered. I signed on with a captain whose last run of the year was to Hokkai.”

  “So this is why you believe Dorian’s prophecies,” she said.

  “This is the dragon’s heart, Kaede. I’m the second king. A third king lives or dies by what I do with this.”

  “What are the two fears?” she asked quietly.

  “My fear of Khali and my fear of speaking the truth. The latter was the fear that cost Regnus his life. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance, first to speak honestly with you, and second to face Khali again. ‘Broken north, broken you, remade if you speak one word.’ I’ve still got something broken inside, Kaede. I thought marrying you would fix it, and I can’t tell you how happy I’ve been, and how much I want to stay here forever, but there’s a part of me that still whispers ‘coward.’ ”

  “Coward? You’re Solon Stormrider! You braved the winter seas. You put down a rebellion single-handedly. You resisted a goddess. How are you a coward?”

  “Dorian needed me when he went into Khalidor. He’s probably dead because I didn’t go. Regnus is dead because I wouldn’t risk telling him who I was. If the prophecy is true, there’s a word I have to speak, a life I can save, and I can be remade.”

  Kaede’s eyes were troubled. “Will it be enough? Will there not be ever one more thing you need to do to prove that voice wrong? Will you chase valor until it kills you?”

  He kissed her forehead. “I’ve already done the hardest part: I’ve told you the truth. I won’t go unless you give me your blessing. My loyalty is all to you, Kaede.”

  Her eyes filled with a weight of grief. “My love, I won’t give your death my blessing.”

  Solon held her gaze for a long time, then he tossed the Heart of the Dragon aside. “Then I stay,” he said.

  Kaede pivoted, sitting astride him. She put her hands on both sides of his face and looked deep into his eyes. “Please don’t ask again. Please.”

  “I won’t.”

  Her lovemaking was so fierce it left him breathless. She rode him to a silent climax, and even as her pupils flared and her breath caught and her fingers clawed into his shoulders, her eyes never left his. Then she clung to him, shaking, tears and sweat mingling on his chest, but she didn’t say a word.

  82

  I don’t know if I should have married you,” Jenine said. “I think I made a mistake.”

  They were sitting together in the enormous Godking’s carriage, slowly rumbling toward Black Barrow. Despite the dangers of bringing her to a battle, Dorian hadn’t been able to leave her behind. Some plot might unfold in Khaliras that would take her from him. And if he had another episode, she was the only
person he trusted to cover for him.

  “But you love me,” he said. “I know you do.”

  “I do,” she admitted. “I respect you and I enjoy your company and I think you’re brilliant and honorable. You’re a great man….”

  “But?” he asked woodenly.

  It came out in a rush. “But it’s not like it was with Logan. I know it’s not fair to compare you to a man who’s dead—maybe I just remember all the good things about him now that he’s gone, and I know—maybe it isn’t fair to expect love to be the same every time. Maybe with Logan I fell in love the way a girl falls in love and a woman’s love grows slowly and protects itself. I don’t know what it’s supposed to be like, Dorian, but sometimes I feel so empty. Maybe I should have waited.”

  I’m a fraud. But what could he do? Tell her the truth? Send her back to Cenaria and her infatuation for some petty princeling she didn’t even know? Together they were changing a kingdom, bringing light to a dark land. What could Logan give her compared to that? Why should Logan’s love be more deserving than his?

  Jenine’s love was growing. Dorian knew it. It would grow more still when she realized she was pregnant with their child, he knew it. He’d seen that in his moments of madness on the battlefield, and hadn’t trusted it or anything else he’d seen there, but in the days since then, he’d looked at her again, and he was sure it was true. Not twins, as he’d first foreseen, but a child, a son. Maybe the twins were to be their next children. He’d been waiting for the right time to tell her the news, but no time had seemed right.

  He still spent as much of his days with her as he could. Their lovemaking was less frequent now that he was using his harem, but whatever jealousy she might feel seemed outweighed by the sudden reversal of the concubines’ feeling toward her. Dorian had given her the credit for preserving their lives. That generosity cracked their envy and hatred. Instead of defeated rivals, Jenine suddenly had sisters, and her isolation melted with the spring snow.

  This was real. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best they could do. This was what it was to be Godking. Besides, if he and Jenine simply ran away, one of the Vürdmeisters would rule with even more brutality than Dorian’s father had. Every relationship, every marriage, had its little lies. He was king. A king made choices for other people based on information they didn’t have. That was the burden of rule. Dorian had weighed Jenine’s choices, and he’d chosen.

  “I’m sorry for laying this at your feet when you’ve got so many other concerns, but I promised myself when we married that I’d never lie to you, and silence was starting to feel like a lie. I’m sorry. I made my decision. I did marry you. I do love you. I just—it’s just hard to be an adult all the time. You’ve trusted me to be your queen, and I still keep acting like a little girl. I’m sorry for being such a disappointment.”

  “A disappointment?” Dorian asked. “You’ve done better than I could have imagined. I didn’t even begin acting like an adult until I was much older than you are. I’m so proud of you, Jenine. I love you more than anything. I understand you’re confused. This is a confusing place. I understand you have doubts. We’ve been married for two months, and you’ve realized that you’re committed to something for the rest of your life, and that’s scary. Yes, it hurts me a little, but our love is big enough to take a few scratches. Thanks for telling me the truth. Come here.” They hugged, and he felt her unreserved relief. He wished she would feel his hesitation, wished she would ask him what was wrong. If she asked, he would tell her about Logan. He would tell her everything.

  After a few more seconds, she released him. He let her go, and the moment passed. “I love you, Dorian,” she said, looking him in the eye and not seeing him.

  “I love you too, Jenine.” I still don’t call her Jeni. Why is that?

  Kylar opened his eyes slowly. His mouth felt like it was stuffed full of cotton. His whole body was a chorus of complaints from sleeping propped against a tree. Working his jaw to clear the cotton feeling, he sat up. He touched his cheek where Durzo had smeared the poison. The new skin was tender, but there would be no scarring: Durzo was right. The bastard was always right.

  It was dawn in the woods. Kylar was about to curse aloud when he became aware of a presence in the wood. He filled his lungs with a deep, slow breath, willing his senses to come alive. There were no animals in the forest this morning, but whether all the birds had migrated and the squirrels were hibernating or if the reason was more sinister, Kylar didn’t know. He slowly flexed the muscles in his legs and back, judging whether they would cramp if he tried sudden movement. He scanned the forest, turning his head slowly. The sound of his fresh beard grinding against the collar of his tunic was the barest whisper. The length of his beard confirmed that he’d only been unconscious overnight.

  There was nothing in the forest. No sounds out of place. He thought he could trust his body to respond. Wind sighed through the big oaks, the few remaining leaves whispering secrets against him. But something had woken him. Kylar was sure of it. Instinctively, he reached for the ka’kari to cloak himself in invisibility, but the ka’kari was gone. Kylar reached instead into his sleeves, loosening the daggers there. He scanned the trees.

  A puff of air hit the top of his head.

  Kylar threw himself to the side as he buried a knife in the tree above his head. He rolled once, threw himself to his feet and jumped backward a good ten paces, daggers in his hands.

  Durzo laughed softly. “I always did like watching you jump.” He was clinging like a spider to the tree Kylar had slept against.

  “You bastard, where’s the ka’kari? What have you done?”

  Durzo kept laughing.

  “Give me the ka’kari,” Kylar said.

  “All in good time.”

  “Wait, why am I asking? I can—” Kylar extended his hand to call the ka’kari to him.

  “Don’t!” Durzo barked.

  Kylar stopped.

  “The Hunter’s nocturnal,” Durzo said. “Its sense of smell is better than any tracking dog, its hearing is acute, and its vision rivals an eagle’s, even when it’s running full speed. If I timed things right, you’ll have until dark before it starts hunting you.”

  “What—”

  Releasing one hand from where it gripped the oak, Durzo unlimbered a black sword from his back. He tossed it to Kylar.

  “Whatever you do, don’t take the ka’kari off Curoch. Everything magical that goes into the Wood is marked. It’s given a scent, so if it’s taken out of the Wood, the Hunter can find it. The ka’kari can mask that scent, but I couldn’t figure out how to erase it with the time I had. So the second you take the ka’kari off Curoch, the Hunter will come. I don’t know exactly how fast the Hunter is, but if you really need to use Curoch, take the ka’kari off, use it, and then get the hell away from it. It might be minutes, it might be hours, but the Hunter will come. It will risk everything to get this sword.”

  Durzo had saved Kylar’s life again. Kylar had known that his chances of making it into Ezra’s Wood were dismal, and his odds of stealing Curoch and making it back out were even worse. Durzo had known it, too. In his typical way, Durzo wouldn’t say anything to tell Kylar what he meant to him, but he’d do anything to show it.

  “You old bastard,” Kylar said, but his tone said, thank you, master.

  “I can give you magic for the run. If you don’t push too hard, you should get there in time and still have energy to fight. I’m going to Cenaria. This way, the Hunter has to follow us in opposite directions. It should be enough. Don’t run flat out like you did when Sister Ariel gave you power, got it?”

  “Got it,” Kylar said. That was why Durzo was clinging to the tree. It made him harder to track. Plus, Kylar suspected the ground had all sorts of traps.

  Durzo wasn’t done. He spoke quietly. “Kylar, the fact Curoch was in the Wood tells me Neph’s using Iures to break Jorsin’s and Ezra’s spells on Black Barrow. It makes Elene’s talk of a Titan plausible. It also means that y
ou’re taking the thing he wants most straight to him. If he takes Curoch from you, he could break the world. I don’t mean that metaphorically. For seven centuries I’ve done all I could to keep artifacts of such power out of the hands of men and women who will use them unscrupulously. If you fail, he’ll undo everything I’ve spent seven centuries doing.”

  “You trust me this much?” Kylar asked.

  Durzo grimaced. “Come here, you’re wasting daylight.”

  Kylar stepped close.

  “When Jorsin Alkestes commissioned me for this task, Kylar, he bound me with an oath he claimed was as old as the Night Angels themselves. If you so desire, here it is.” Durzo’s back straightened, his voice deepened, and Kylar knew Durzo was remembering his friend and king Jorsin Alkestes. “I am Sa’kagé, a lord of shadows. I claim the shadows that the Shadow may not. I am the strong arm of deliverance. I am Shadowstrider. I am the Scales of Justice. I am He-Who-Guards-Unseen. I am Shadowslayer. I am Nameless. The coranti shall not go unpunished. My way is hard, but I serve unbroken. In ignobility, nobility. In shame, honor. In darkness, light. I will do justice and love mercy. Until the king returns, I shall not lay my burden down.”

  “Who’s the king?” Kylar asked.

  “Vows are a bitch, huh?” Durzo grinned.

  “This is what the Sa’kagé is supposed to be, isn’t it?”

  “The Sa’kagé’s always been made of thugs and murderers, but there have been moments, like diamonds studding a pile of shit, when they’ve been crooks with a purpose.”

  “Thanks for the image.”

  “You gonna say the words?” Durzo asked.

  “You’d make me commit to something I don’t fully understand.”

  “Kid, we’re always committing to things we don’t fully understand.”

  “I thought you’d lost your faith in this and everything else,” Kylar said.

  “This isn’t about my faith; it’s about yours.”

  It was standard Durzo evasion. You don’t ask someone you care about to swear their life to horseshit. Durzo was continuing the conversation they’d started months ago about Kylar’s destiny. In choosing a life in the shadows, in choosing obscurity, Kylar would avoid one of the greatest temptations of the black ka’kari—the temptation to rule. Its power made him almost a god already, and the danger was always that he could become what he sought to destroy. Durzo hadn’t even trusted himself with so much power. Did Kylar think he was that much better a man than his master?

 
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