The night angel trilogy, p.148
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.148

           Brent Weeks
 

  Vi became aware that everyone on the bridge was staring at her. They were all shouting, cheering. She was still holding the chains. They were suddenly unbearably heavy. She dropped them and staggered. Hands grabbed her, steadied her. A dozen Sisters had ventured out onto the slick walkway to come to her.

  Sisters. My sisters. Vi started crying, and no one looked at her like she was stupid.

  87

  Lantano Garuwashi was the first to understand the implications of what occurred at the dam. The trap he and Agon and Logan had worked up had always assumed that they would be able to close the sluice gates after they opened them. With the destruction of the pulleys, it was a miracle they’d been opened in the first place. After flooding out the highlanders, he and Logan had planned to throw everything at the shaken Khalidoran army. Caught between the Ceurans and the Cenarians and the cursed ground of the Dead Demesne, the Khalidoran army would have broken in minutes. Instead, the allies’ armies could only advance across the narrow bridges.

  Garuwashi ordered the crossing and ordered magae to protect the bridges. If he’d been the Khalidorans, that’s what he would try to destroy.

  He was right. The counterattack was almost solely magical. Hundreds of meisters had hit each of the bridges, but then, suddenly, they’d been called off. The magae told him they could see a magical conflagration on the far side of Black Barrow itself, Khalidorans fighting barbarians, but they couldn’t tell him anything else. Had he been able to ford the river, he could have taken advantage of the Godking’s splitting his army. But that was water literally under the bridge. He established beachheads and put engineers to work widening the bridges by whatever means they could, but the situation looked grim.

  As soon as the Khalidorans saw that his men were establishing fortifications and not attacking, they withdrew to high points hundreds of paces away and began working on their own.

  In the early afternoon, Garuwashi found King Gyre in their command tent, which had been moved to the foot of Ox Bridge.

  “Today was a great victory,” Logan said. “They lost more than nine thousand highlanders. I lost ninety men holding the market. How many sa’ceurai?”

  “One hundred fifteen in baiting the trap. Eight in springing it.”

  “Two hundred men, to kill nine thousand,” Logan said. He didn’t elaborate. It was a victory, but it was a victory that was a prelude to defeat.

  “Tomorrow their fifteen thousand come back from Reigukhas, and you lose my sa’ceurai,” Garuwashi said.

  “How long until the Regent arrives?” Logan asked.

  “An hour. His messengers have asked that he see me immediately.” It wasn’t right. After such a great victory, he should be looking on the morrow with relish. Instead, this night he would kill himself. Many of his sa’ceurai would join him. The twenty thousand sa’ceurai who accompanied the Regent would simply turn and go home.

  “Can’t you just use the illusion you used today?” Logan asked.

  Garuwashi sighed. “Feir said there’s something about the magic of the blade that interferes with illusions. The glow looked good from ten or twenty paces while the sword was cutting back and forth, but from up close? It wouldn’t withstand a child’s scrutiny.”

  “Your Majesties, if I may?” Feir asked. Garuwashi hadn’t seen him arrive, despite his huge bulk. It was a measure of how exhausted he was. Logan gestured Feir to continue. “I made that sword. If we can find a ruby to hold the spells, I dare say I’m the only person in the world who could tell the difference between the new Ceur’caelestos and the real thing. We don’t even need a special ruby. It just needs to be big. King Gyre, I’m sure your treasury has something that will work. It seems ridiculous that we’d give up this close.”

  “It’s not giving up,” Garuwashi snapped. “It’s having our fraud discovered.”

  “What if they didn’t discover it?” Feir asked.

  “The Regents have been waiting centuries for this,” Logan said. “I’m sure they have some kind of test to determine if the blade is real.”

  “So what if they do?” Feir asked. “The Regent’s not Talented and you have magae at your disposal. With a little preparation, we can—”

  “Get out,” Garuwashi breathed. “I listened to you once and dishonored myself. No more. You know nothing of sa’ceurai. Begone, snake.”

  Feir’s face drained of color. He stood slowly. Garuwashi turned his back to him. He almost hoped Feir would strike him down. Let Garuwashi die betrayed. Then any flaw found with the sword would be assumed to be the work of the betrayer. Something would be left of Garuwashi’s name.

  “If you would save this army and all these thousands of souls, the magae and I will be near,” Feir said quietly. “If you would save only your precious honor, you can go to hell.”

  When Garuwashi turned, the big man was gone. King Gyre looked at him silently.

  “What is a king without honor?” Garuwashi asked. “These men mean everything to me. They have followed me from villages and cities to foreign lands. Where I have gone, they have gone. When I have told a hundred to take a hill, knowing it would cost ninety their lives, they have obeyed. They are lions. If they are to die, they should die in battle, not dishonored by their lord. Tomorrow, you will face twenty thousand Khalidorans and two thousand meisters, who barely fought today. Without the sa’ceurai, your men will be shaken.”

  “Seeing six thousand men and their unbeatable general kill themselves may do that,” Logan said dryly. “As will looking at the backs of twenty thousand sa’ceurai who could have been allies.”

  “You are a king. What would you do?” Garuwashi asked.

  “You ask me that when I have such an interest in your answer?”

  “I saw you put your closest friend to death for honor.”

  Logan looked at his hands. He said nothing for a long time. “The night before Kylar went to the wheel, I sent a man to break him out of my own gaol. Kylar refused to leave because it would hurt my reign. He believed in me that much. To be king means to accept that others will pay the price of your failures—and even your successes. Part of me died on that wheel. Whatever you decide, doen-Lantano, it has been an honor to fight beside you.”

  “King Gyre, if I choose expiation, will you be my second?”

  Logan Gyre bowed low, his face rigid. “Doen-Lantano, I would be honored.”

  88

  He’d been mad. Feir had followed the instructions of an insane archmagus who was seven centuries dead. Feir had made a sword that even he didn’t fully understand. He had bent even Lantano Garuwashi to his will. He had believed, and now fraud would build on fraud unless Lantano Garuwashi chose to end it all.

  Having sworn himself to the warleader, Feir would be expected to suicide along with Garuwashi, but he wouldn’t. He knew that. Of course, the warleader might slay him. But Feir didn’t think he’d allow that, either. So he would cheat again, and defend himself with magic. Every sa’ceurai in Midcyru would despise him. Perhaps one would hunt him down. That was Feir’s future. Either that, or serving forever as Lantano Garuwashi’s illusionist-in-chief, threading pretend flames onto his beautiful sword for the rest of his life.

  That deception would destroy Lantano Garuwashi. If he ruled, he would rule badly, knowing himself to be dishonored. Garuwashi was not so young that honor was the only important thing in his life, but he was sa’ceurai to the roots of his soul. The best thing for Garuwashi would be to bury a blade in his own guts.

  The sun sat low in the sky as Feir ducked to step into the council tent. Inside the tent sat King Gyre, Lord General Agon Brant, a wan Vi Sovari, and an older maja Feir didn’t recognize. Feir took an empty seat. King Gyre sat with folded hands to Feir’s right. His face was emotionless, but that in itself told Feir that the king was worried. As Feir pulled his chair in, something about Logan’s right arm drew his attention. There was some magic there, woven small and tight into Logan’s vambrace or his arm.

  Logan noticed his attention and folded his ha
nds in his lap, under the table. Feir dismissed it and continued looking around the table. Vi Sovari had covered herself with a modest maja’s dress, but at the wrists and neck her gray-black skin-tight wetboy’s garb was still visible. She had dark circles under her eyes and her skin was pale from her magical exertions at the dam. She was four places down the table, almost at the end of Feir’s magical vision, but he could see she hadn’t overextended her Talent. After Solon had used Curoch, he’d looked broken. His hair had grown in white, and he’d only escaped permanent injuries because Dorian was such a gifted Healer. With her escapades at the dam, Vi hadn’t hurt herself at all. She’d come near the limit of her gifts, but hadn’t exceeded it. Feir suspected that with a good night’s sleep, she’d be ready to do as much tomorrow. She was easily the most powerful mage here. She might even equal Solon. And, sitting up straight now at a word from the old maja at her right hand, Vi felt huge. As a man’s muscles looked most impressive after hard labor, so now did Vi’s Talent feel enormous. It made Feir feel small, and he didn’t like it.

  The tent flap opened suddenly, and every eye turned to it, but the man who stepped in wasn’t Lantano Garuwashi. It was a dark-haired, dark-eyed Alitaeran with a waxed mustache and an eagle sigil on his cloak pin. A Marcus then, from one of Alitaera’s most important families, and certainly the leader of the two thousand Alitaeran lancers who’d arrived with the last of the magae this afternoon.

  “I didn’t realize this council had anything to do with the Alitaeran military,” Lord General Agon Brant said. Clearly there was some bad blood there.

  “This council decides if we’ve got an extra twenty thousand sa’ceurai or if we lose the six thousand we’ve got. I’d say that makes it a council of war. I’m Tiberius Antonius Marcus, Praetor, Fourth Army, Second Maniple. We’re to defend the Chantry. Sisters, Your Majesty.” He nodded to them.

  “An honor, Praetor, please join us,” Logan said.

  Before the man sat, the flap opened again and Lantano Garuwashi strode in. He rested his hand over the pommel of his sword and walked to his seat and sat before acknowledging anyone.

  “Well, everyone’s here now except the Ceuran Regent himself, and of course, the dear Lae’knaught Overlord, who I suppose will walk in half an hour late and ask that we repeat everything,” Lord General Brant said.

  “I suppose he will,” Logan said. “Since I told him this council wouldn’t meet for another half an hour.”

  There were some snickers, but Feir breathed easier. A Lae’knaught overlord would likely have all sorts of magic-dampening paraphernalia that would spoil a perfectly good illusion.

  What little chatter had been going around the room soon died as the sound of thousands of marching feet approached the tent. All twenty thousand sa’ceurai were coming.

  This could get ugly.

  The tent flap opened and a teenage boy and a middle-aged man with a fringe of auburn hair around an oiled pate stepped in. The middle-aged man had four locks of hair bound to his, all of them Ceuran, all of them old. He stood aside to make way for the boy, who couldn’t have been more than fifteen. The boy had fiery orange hair, cropped close to his skull, and a single, very long lock bound into his hair. He wore ornately embroidered blue silk robes and a ruby-encrusted sword.

  Feir had the insane thought of breaking off the biggest ruby and using it for his fraud.

  “Sisters, Lords, Praetor, Your Majesty,” the middle-aged Ceuran said, “may I introduce Sa’sa’ceurai Hideo Mitsurugi, sixth Regent Hideo, Lord of Mount Tenji, Protector of the Holy Honor, Keeper of the High Seat, Lord General of the Held Armies of Ceura.”

  People around the table greeted the boy. Logan stood and clasped his forearm. The boy was a little overwhelmed, but even as he followed protocol to the best of his ability, he could barely take his eyes off Lantano Garuwashi. He must be the boy’s hero, Feir thought. Of course, Lantano Garuwashi was probably every young sa’ceurai’s hero.

  Garuwashi eyed the middle-aged man more than the boy. Was he the real power? The boy a figurehead? As the boy and his minister got closer and took their seats, Feir’s heart dropped. The middle-aged man was a court mage of some kind, his Talent formidable. Garuwashi caught Feir’s eye and shook his head slightly. It was the signal to abandon the fraud.

  It was over. Only death would follow.

  Hideo Mitsurugi cleared his throat. “I guess, uh, we might as well do what we’re here for, shall we?” His eyes flicked upward as he tried to remember his lines. “It has been brought to our attention that claims have been brought forward by you or by your followers, doen-Lantano Garuwashi. We understand you have claimed to wield the Blade of Heaven, Ceur’caelestos.”

  “I have made such claims, doen-Hideo,” Garuwashi said. There was something almost cheerful in Garuwashi’s face. He’d been doing something wrong that he hadn’t liked, and now it was finished.

  “By ancient law and prophecy, the holder of Ceur’caelestos is to be Ceura’s king, a man to usher in the return of the High King, whose reign will announce the birth of the Champion of the Light.” Mitsurugi paused. He’d lost his place. A panicked look came into his blue eyes.

  The middle-aged mage whispered a prompt in the boy’s ear. It seemed to embarrass Hideo almost to tears. “Do you claim the High Seat of Ceura, Lantano Garuwashi?”

  “I do.”

  What was he doing? Feir shot a look over at Garuwashi’s sword. The dragon of the pommel grinned emptily like a boy who’d lost both front teeth.

  “Hold on,” Lord General Agon said. “It was my understanding that Ceura’s Regent is doen-Hideo Watanabe. How do we even know that—pardon me—this boy has the authority to test Lantano Garuwashi?”

  “You dare!” the middle-aged sa’ceurai said, putting a hand to his sword.

  “Yes, I dare,” Agon said. “And if you draw that sword, I’ll dare feed it to you.”

  “Ha. You’re an old cripple.”

  “Which will make your death all the more embarrassing,” Agon said.

  “Stop!” Mitsurugi said. “Hideo Watanabe is my father.” He looked down. “Was. He gathered this army. But before he marched, I learned that he didn’t intend to test you, doen-Lantano. He intended to kill you—whether or not you held the real Ceur’caelestos. I confronted him for dishonoring the regency.” Tears came to Mitsurugi’s eyes. “We dueled, and I slew him.”

  Feir couldn’t believe it. The boy killed his father for the idea of Lantano Garuwashi.

  “I am Regent now, and by my father’s blood that stains my hands, I have the right to test the man who would be our king,” Hideo Mitsurugi said. “Please, doen-Lantano, show us Ceur’caelestos.”

  There was the sound of something tearing and everyone stopped and looked to the back of the tent, where a knife was cutting a vertical slash all the way to the ground. Instantly, every maja and magus embraced their Talent and a dozen hands went to the hilts of swords. An assassin would have a hard time with this crowd.

  A hand poked in and waved. “Pardon me,” a man’s deep voice said outside the tent. “If I step inside, am I going to be skewered?” Not waiting for an answer, he stepped inside.

  He had pure white hair with black tips, deeply tanned olive skin, and a muscular bare chest beneath a rich cloak. He wore loose white pants and a thick gold crown sat snug against his brow.

  “Solon?” Feir asked, astonished.

  Solon smiled. “Only to you, my dear friend. As for the rest of you, pardon my unconventional entrance, but you have twenty thousand surly sa’ceurai blocking the front of the tent. I am Solonariwan Tofusin, King of Seth. I would say emperor, but as of ten years ago we have no more colonies, so ‘Emperor’ is a tad pretentious. Your Majesty, King Gyre, I bring a thousand men to your efforts. I did also bring five ships, but someone flooded the river this morning and now I have only two and I’m lucky not to have lost any men. Sisters, should we emerge from this conflict alive, I will be asking the Chantry for reimbursement. Feir, it seems you travel in exalted compa
ny these days. Ah, this must be Sister Ariel Wyant, a legend in your own time, and Vi Sovari, both buxom and brilliant—I’ve heard so much about you.”

  “Eat shit,” Vi said.

  Gasps arose around the table, and Sister Ariel put her hands on her temples.

  “Apparently all I’ve heard is true,” Solon said.

  He wasn’t acting like himself. Solon never prattled, but now he was speaking so quickly that even if anyone had known what to say they couldn’t have fit a word in.

  “I have to tell you, on my way here, I saw a very dour Lae’knaught gentlemen speaking some rather choice words at being denied entry by the selfsame sa’ceurai who barred yours truly from said engagement. But here I stand, at considerable cost to my kingdom, and most especially my marriage—it took me weeks of moping about Whitecliff to secure my wife’s permission to come. Oh, you married men can pretend to be the masters of your castles and keeps and so forth, but the mistress of the bedchamber is the mistress of the master, eh? Regardless, here I stand, and I must say, the crowning jewel of my visit is this: Lantano Garuwashi, it is a great honor to meet you.” Solon strode over to the sa’ceurai and extended his hand.

  “I don’t clasp hands with fish,” Lantano Garuwashi said.

  Hideo Mitsurugi snorted, but no one else said a word.

  Suddenly, Solon’s rushed and—to Feir’s eyes—panicky demeanor shifted. Solon had tripped over his tongue to get to Lantano Garuwashi, but now that he had the man’s attention, he was utterly patient. “It seems to me,” Solon said, “that a man born to an iron blade should not scorn the friendship of kings.”

  Dead silence settled on the room. No one spoke like that to Lantano Garuwashi.

  Solon continued, “You have no peer when it comes to the spilling of blood, Lantano Garuwashi. If you died today, your only legacy would be blood. Wouldn’t you rather your legacy was that of a man who spilled blood to quench the fires of war? Can butcher’s hands become carpenter’s hands? As a brother king, I ask you once more, and once only, will you take the hand of friendship?” Solon stood with hand extended.

 
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