The night angel trilogy, p.149
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.149

           Brent Weeks
 

  It was an odd thing to ask a doomed man. Feir expected Garuwashi to spit in Solon’s face. But Garuwashi stood. “Let there be peace between us,” he said, and took Solon’s hand.

  Standing right next to them, his own bulk blocking most of the table from seeing what transpired, Feir saw sudden confusion in Lantano Garuwashi’s eyes. He withdrew his hand from Solon’s clasp with one finger still pressed against his palm, concealing something. Then he rested that hand on Ceur’caelestos’s pommel. With a tiny sound, something clicked home, and Feir understood. Gods! “The greatest red gives dragon’s heart and head.” Feir had thought it meant the greatest red ruby, and it did, but it also meant the greatest red mage: Solon.

  Garuwashi whipped the sword out of its scabbard and slammed it on the table.

  A perfect ruby redder than ruby-red burned in the pommel, and it swam with deep magic, though Feir hadn’t imbued it with any weaves. The mistarille blade had patterns like a folded steel blade, but its patterns glittered like diamonds, sparkling and then transparent, letting a man see all the way through the blade into the heart of its magic. As they watched, every diamond-like ripple faded to a purer translucence like a slow shockwave as the twin dragons breathed fire. The fire blossomed in a thick bar from hilt all the way to the point of the sword. The heat of it warmed Feir’s face.

  Feir had created something beyond himself. He was a great smith, but he wasn’t this good. Awed, Feir turned to Solon. The new King Tofusin grinned at him.

  “Call me fraud or call me king,” Lantano Garuwashi said, and if there was a trembling of wonder in his voice, no one noticed it through their own.

  Hideo Mitsurugi’s jaw was slack. “Lantano Garuwashi, I declare you—”

  “My lord!” the court mage interrupted.

  Mitsurugi acquiesced. “My ancestors have looked forward to this day for centuries. We’ve wanted it and feared it. Perhaps the regents most of all. Frauds have been attempted, so the Regent’s sword carries a test. I beg your pardon, doen-Lantano, but it is my duty.” He drew his ruby-encrusted blade and gave the pommel a sharp twist. It clicked and he pulled half of the hilt off. Inside was a thin scroll woven with preservation magics. Mitsurugi read it, his lips moving as he puzzled out the old language.

  “Lantano Garuwashi, banish the fires from the blade.”

  Garuwashi took the blade and the fires died. How did he know how to do that?

  “I need a candle,” Mitsurugi said, and someone slid one down the table to him. He picked it up and brought it toward the blade.

  Terror seized Feir’s breath. Mitsurugi brought the candle to the very spot Feir had hidden his vanity, his own smithmark. The crossed war hammers practically leapt out of the metal.

  Mitsurugi sighed.

  Feir’s heart stopped.

  Mitsurugi said, “Down to Oren Razin’s crossed war hammers, it’s real. This blade is Ceur’caelestos. Lantano Garuwashi, you are the lost King of Ceura. The sa’ceurai stand at your word.”

  Real. Not a forgery. The very things that made it different from Curoch were what convinced the Regent that Feir’s blade was real. Feir’s limbs felt weak. He had a single moment to think, how embarrassing, I can’t possibly pass—

  Then he passed out.

  89

  After Feir collapsed—and what was that about? Ariel wondered—the odious Overlord of the Lae’knaught, Julus Rotans, finally won his way through the waiting sa’ceurai and made it into the tent. Hideo Mitsurugi wanted to go immediately and announce that Ceura had found its king, but Logan had asked him to wait. Ariel still didn’t know why.

  Julus Rotans was in his late forties, his figure still trim and military and his features pure Alitaeran. He wore a white tabard emblazoned with a sun and a white cloak with twelve gold chevrons. Sister Ariel couldn’t make out any other details: the man emanated such a deep aura of ill health she almost gagged. He didn’t remove his gauntlets as he sat, and mercifully there were no open sores on his face, but Julus Rotans was a leper. Worse, his strain of leprosy was the simplest kind to Heal. Even Sister Ariel could do it—but it would take magic.

  “So, everyone’s here already,” Julus Rotans said. “I see. No need to include the Lae’knaught in the planning, huh? Just throw us at the thickest part of the enemy, and whether we live or die, you win.”

  Logan Gyre didn’t look perturbed. “Overlord, I have wronged you,” he said. “Your representatives told me it was unfair and unwise—actually, I think the word was ‘stupid’—for me to assume direct control over your men. Forgive me. I was worried they would betray me. That was unworthy of me, and it was indeed stupid.”

  The overlord’s eyes narrowed, wary. Everyone else watched carefully.

  “Today, due to the terrain, your men didn’t fight, but tomorrow, we will rely on you. Your losses may be significant. You have our only heavy cavalry, and you will indeed hold the center. There have been… ugly rumors that your men wish to withdraw and let ‘all these wytches’ kill each other.” Logan sighed. “I know you feel compelled to be here, Overlord Rotans, so I wish to drop the compulsion now. And I do so hereby: Overlord, I freely grant you the fifteen-year lease to the Cenarian lands for your use. I hereby release you from fielding an army and putting them at my service.”

  “What?” the overlord asked. He wasn’t the only one incredulous at the table. Without the Lae’knaught’s five thousand, the armies would be seriously weakened.

  Logan held up one finger, and the overlord sat up, sure this was the teeth of the trap. “I only ask that if you wish to withdraw from this fight, that you declare your intentions immediately so that we may know how much of an army we will have.”

  Overlord Rotans licked his lips. “That’s all?” It was too fair a request for him to protest. Logan didn’t want the Lae’knaught fielding the army and then melting away at the first Khalidoran charge. He still looked puzzled, so he hadn’t seen the teeth of Logan’s offer yet, and the damn fool was about to speak. He was going to accept the offer if Ariel didn’t do something.

  “I’m only a woman,” Sister Ariel said, “but it seems to me that such cowardice will make recruitment a challenge in a few countries. Let’s see. Cenaria, of course, will feel betrayed. Ceura too. Oh, and I doubt the praetor would be impressed, so definitely Alitaera—that’s a tough one to lose. Waeddryn and Modai may still send recruits; pity they’re so small.”

  “And their people so historically reluctant to die for the light of reason,” Praetor Marcus said with some satisfaction.

  “And this is such a bad time to have trouble with recruitment,” Sister Ariel said.

  “Why’s that?” Marcus asked, playing along.

  “Some superstition in Ezra’s Wood recently slew five thousand Lae’knaught.”

  Marcus whistled. “That’s some superstition.”

  “You’re vile, all of you. You’re the friends of darkness,” Overlord Rotans said.

  “There’s the crux,” King Solonariwan Tofusin said. “You see, friends, the Lae’knaught have no country; they have only ideas. If they abandon us, they can survive the allegations of betrayal and cowardice; what will cut them is hypocrisy. They can betray us, what they can’t betray is their principles. Today we faced perhaps a hundred meisters, but this Godking Wanhope brought two thousand. Where were the rest?”

  “Do you actually know the answer to that question?” Lantano Garuwashi asked.

  “We passed a town called Reigukhas on our way up the river,” Solon said. “It was dead. From the magic still in the air, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of meisters worked for at least twelve hours raising krul. Those krul then devoured the city’s inhabitants. Tomorrow we will face actual, real creatures of darkness, Overlord. I’d estimate their numbers to be in excess of twenty thousand.”

  “Shit, there goes our twenty thousand sa’ceurai advantage,” Vi said.

  “One sa’ceurai is not offset by one krul,” Hideo Mitsurugi said, offended.

  “Do you even know what a krul is?
” Vi asked.

  “The point is,” Sister Ariel broke in, “when they have a chance to fight the spawn of darkness, the world will see that the Lae’knaught are hypocrites who prefer to turn tail.”

  Julus Rotans was actually shaking with rage. “Go to hell, wytch. Go to hell, all of you. Tomorrow you will see how the Laetunariverissiknaught fight. We will take the center of any charge. I will lead it myself.”

  “A generous offer. We accept,” Logan Gyre said immediately, “with the caveat that I ask that you not lead any charge yourself. I’m afraid, Overlord Rotans, that there are simply too many who would wish to see you fall in this battle.”

  The obvious target of the comment was the magae, but Sister Ariel saw that what Logan feared was the Lae’knaught’s own men, who were doubtless chafing at having to fight beside wytches. If Julus Rotans fell, the Lae’knaught would retreat. In offering an honorable exit from rash words—or had the Overlord actually hoped to die and thereby allow his men to retreat and the Cenarians and everyone else to be betrayed and slaughtered?—Logan Gyre not only kept the Overlord alive and his army at Logan’s disposal, he also might have gained some goodwill from the man, who if nothing else had shown that he was willing to talk. Sometimes the devil you knew was better than the one you didn’t.

  Sister Ariel looked at Logan Gyre with newfound respect. In this meeting of kings and magi, praetors and overlords, he had taken command without the least effort. He must have had some intelligence of a Lae’knaught betrayal or he wouldn’t have brought the matter up. Now he had effectively defanged the threat, and managed to look magnanimous doing it.

  “Now, before we discuss specifics of our disposition on the battlefield, does anyone else have anything to add? Sister Viridiana?” Logan asked. He looked at Vi, who looked like she’d been on the verge of offering something for a while.

  Vi bit her lip. “There was an explosion of magic earlier this afternoon on the other side of Black Barrow. Our source said there was a fight between the Godking’s meisters and a bunch following one of his rivals, a man named Moburu Ursuul.”

  “May the God see fit to send that traitor’s soul to hell on the edge of my sword,” the praetor whispered.

  “Moburu is claiming to be some prophesied High King,” Vi said. “Apparently, he seems to fulfill the conditions. I didn’t think anything of it until the Regent said that making Lantano a king would clear the way for a High King.”

  Sister Ariel wondered if her own face was as pale as everyone else’s around the table. She probably knew more about the High King than any of them, but it had never occurred to her that it might be a Khalidoran who fulfilled the prophecy.

  “You said Moburu fought the Godking. Who won?” Logan asked.

  “Moburu was driven to Black Barrow.”

  “In our prophecies,” Lantano Garuwashi said, standing, “When Ceura has a king once more, that king will fight beside the High King. I will never fight beside this Moburu. This I swear on my soul.” He put his hand on Ceur’caelestos and it flared to life in answer. Then he sheathed the blade and sat.

  “That’s good enough for me,” Praetor Marcus said. “In Alitaera the prophecies of a High King speak of days of turmoil and woe, so I don’t envy you the troubles the next decades may visit on you. But I think that’s one problem we may safely dismiss for now.”

  “Sister Viridiana, you said you had two things?” Logan asked.

  Vi glanced at Sister Ariel, “I’m not actually a full Sister yet. Anyway, I’m sorry to bring a personal matter before this council, but does anyone know where Elene Cromwyll is?”

  No one showed any sign of recognition. “The name sounds familiar,” King Gyre said. “Who is she?”

  “She’s Kylar’s wife,” Vi said. “And he’s going to come for her.”

  Logan’s face lost all color. Everyone else looked curious but unknowing, except for Solon and Feir, who both looked afraid. Afraid of Kylar? Regardless, they knew him. Sister Ariel’s fear was for Vi. The damn fool girl had casually spilled a truth that could spell her own destruction. “Oh, by the way, I’m not married to Kylar.” If Logan had proved how excellent he was at this kind of council, Vi had shown herself to stand at the antipodes.

  “You’re right, that’s more of a personal matter. I’ll speak with you about that later,” Logan said. He thought Vi was crazy. Thank the gods. “Are there any other questions?”

  “I have some,” Praetor Marcus said. “What if Black Barrow isn’t meant to keep things out? What if it’s meant to keep something in? What if Moburu wasn’t driven there? What if he went to get something?”

  “Oh, gods,” someone said.

  90

  The armies formed up while it was still dark. Stomach knotted with tension, Logan tended to his horse, checking the straps a third time. The allied armies were stretched left and right, extending further and deeper than anything he’d ever seen. The Lae’knaught’s five thousand would lead the charge. Behind them, twenty thousand Cenarian infantry would take the center, flanked by twenty thousand sa’ceurai. Lantano Garuwashi’s original five thousand sa’ceurai would secure the forest to the west to make sure the Khalidorans didn’t have any nasty surprises hiding there, and if possible sweep from the forest into the Godking’s camp. A thousand of Vi’s Shield Sisters would hold the dam and the bridges from magical attacks. The other seven thousand had spread out among the armies according to a logic they didn’t deign to share with Logan. The two thousand Alitaeran light cavalry and one thousand Sethi light infantry would be their reserves.

  Much would depend on the first Lae’knaught charge. With twenty thousand krul added to their ranks, the Khalidorans would have forty-five thousand to stand against the allies’ fifty-three thousand—or sixty thousand if one counted the Shield Sisters. The Khalidorans would have their backs to the Dead Demesne. If the first Lae’knaught charge could shatter them against it, the army could be halved and separated from command.

  Of course, no one really knew how krul fought. The magi had offered centuries-old accounts of brutes with great strength, poor eyesight, and an inability to feel pain. That last was the most worrying. “What kind of a monster can’t feel pain?” Garuwashi asked. Overlord Rotans jerked in his chair. “They’ll die like anything else,” he said, angry at the curious glances.

  Odd man, never took off his heavy gauntlets in six hours of deliberations. And through it all, Solon had offered excellent suggestions that reminded Logan of how much time Solon had spent on tactics with Regnus Gyre. Solon, Logan’s tutor, was now a king. It was all Logan could do to keep from demanding an explanation from the man right in front of everyone.

  “Your Majesty,” his guard Aurella said, “do you remember last month, when you went down to the Hole again?”

  Logan made it a habit to go every month. He was sorry to inflict it on his bodyguards, but he hadn’t stopped. Logan looked at Aurella, sitting ahorse, holding her sword like she knew what to do with it now. She was one of the few women of the Order of the Garter who’d chosen to join Logan’s bodyguard rather than go back to their lives after Pavvil’s Grove. Logan hadn’t been surprised when Garuwashi had singled her out as a natural talent with the sword. Not as strong as a man, he’d said pointedly, but damn good for a woman. Aurella had wisely chosen not to take offense. Logan said, “You asked me what kind of idiot I was to keep going down to that hell, when it gives me nightmares every time.” She had, of course, been more diplomatic.

  “You told me it was to prove nightmares had no power over you,” Aurella said.

  “You’re making me nervous.”

  “I think you should mount, sire.”

  Logan mounted. The gloom of night was lifting by slow degrees, revealing nothing more than the deeper blackness of the Dead Demesne advancing toward them. It took Logan far too long to understand what he was seeing. It was krul, bodies dark gray or mottled black or even white, loping forward in a massive wave. There had to be eighty thousand krul alone. The Khalidoran army was at
least a hundred thousand strong, and every one of them stood between Logan and his wife. His right arm tingled as rage washed over him.

  “Vi,” Logan barked. “Give me light!”

  “Look away!” the maja shouted. The order was an exercise in futility. The Sisters had given Vi a new dress, deeming both the scandalous wetboy grays and the plain robes of an Adept ill suited to the woman they were now calling Battle Mistress. The new dress was red, with skirts divided for riding. Logan suspected it might be woven entirely of magic. It shimmered despite the low light, and—as Vi’s figure did in any garb—it demanded attention. “Luxe exeat!” she yelled.

  Logan barely looked away in time, and despite his closed eyes, the light was blinding. There was a rush and when he looked, a white fireball was arcing out over the plain, then it froze in midair. Moments later, a dozen more followed from points all along the line, illuminating the charging krul, who’d already closed half the distance.

  “Signal ready!”

  Another maja in Vi’s cadre gestured and a magical version of the signal flag flew into the air over Logan’s head, glowing and big enough for the entire army to see.

  The rattling of armor and stirrups, low curses and prayers, the creaking of leather, the popping of knuckles, and the synchronized clash of the Lae’knaught lances on shields yielded to the sudden ululations of the sa’ceurai battle chant.

  “Advance!”

  The magical signal winked out and was replaced with a waving red banner. The sa’ceurai ululations pitched higher, and the army rumbled forward.

  91

  Kylar came through the pass as the armies on the plains below sprinted the last paces toward each other. He was too far away to hear the crash, but he could see the shock of it passing through the ranks. He continued running, not slowing as he passed the camp followers who had gathered to watch the battle, many of them carrying all their possessions in case the battle turned out badly.

 
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