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The night angel trilogy, p.21
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.21

           Brent Weeks

  Most of the peasants were gone now, except for one old man moving at a crawl toward the gate that was still thirty paces distant. The bolt clipped the old man’s knee. He fell with a scream and started crawling.

  “The slaves never figure it out. They’re ruled by their bellies, not their brains.” Roth waited until the old man reached the gate, missed a shot, then tried again, killing him. “See that one?”

  Momma K saw a peasant come in through the portcullis. All the others had scattered.

  “He’s my favorite,” Roth said. “He figured out the pattern.” The man walked inside, unafraid, nodded to Roth, and then went to the table and started to eat without haste.

  “Of course, he could tell the others and save a few lives. But then I might change the pattern, and he’d lose his edge. He’s a survivor, Gwinvere. Survivors are willing to make sacrifices.” Roth handed the arbalest and the glove to a servant and regarded Momma K. “So, the question is, are you a survivor?”

  “I’ve survived more than you’ll ever know. You have your vote.” She’d kill him later. There was no showing weakness now. No matter how she felt. He was an animal, and he would sense her fear.

  “Oh, I want more than a vote. I want Durzo Blint. I want the silver ka’kari. I want… much more. And I’ll get it, with your help.” He smiled. “How’d you like the braised peasant?”

  She shook her head, distracted, looking blankly at her empty plate. Then she froze. In the garden, servants were collecting the bodies and bringing them inside.

  “You did say ‘pheasant,’ ” she said.

  Roth just smiled.


  Well, if you don’t look like the south end of a northbound horse,” Logan said as he intercepted Kylar in the middle of the Drake’s yard.

  “Thanks,” Kylar said. He stepped past Logan, but his friend didn’t move. “What do you want, Logan?”

  “Hmm?” Logan asked. He was a picture of innocence, at least, if a picture of innocence could be so tall. Nor was he able to get by with the big-oaf routine. For one thing, Logan was far too intelligent for anyone to take a dumb act seriously. For another, he was too damn handsome. If there were a model of perfect masculinity in the realm, it was Logan. He was like a heroic statue made flesh. Six months a year with his father had lined his big frame with muscle and given him a hard edge that had more than just the young women of Cenaria swooning. Perfect teeth, perfect hair, and of course, ridiculous amounts of money that would be his when he reached twenty-one—in three days—filled out the picture. He drew almost as much attention as his friend Prince Aleine—and even more from the girls who weren’t interested in being bedded and then dropped the next day. His saving grace was that he had absolutely no idea how attractive he was or how much people admired and envied him. It was why Kylar had nicknamed him Ogre.

  “Logan, unless you were just standing in the yard, you came out here when you saw me come in the gate, which means you were waiting for me. Now you’re standing there rather than walking with me, which means you don’t want anyone to overhear what you’re about to say. Serah isn’t in her regular place two steps behind you, which means she’s with your mother shopping for dresses or something.”

  “Embroidery,” Logan admitted.

  “So what is it?” Kylar asked.

  Logan shifted from one foot to the other. “I hate it when you do that. You could’ve let me get to it in my own time. I was going to—hey, where do you think you’re going?”

  Kylar kept walking. “You’re stalling.”

  “All right. Just stop. I was just thinking that sometime we ought to pull out the old fisticuffs,” Logan said.

  Fisticuffs. And people expected that someone so big to be dumb.

  “You’d beat me black and blue,” Kylar said, smiling the lie. If they fought, Logan would ask questions. He’d wonder. It was unlikely, but he might even guess that it hadn’t truly been nine years since they’d last fought.

  “You don’t think I’d win, do you?” Logan asked. Ever since Logan had been humiliated in the fight at the stadium, he’d gotten serious about training. He put in hours every day with the best non-Sa’kagé sword masters in the city.

  “Every time we’ve fought you slaughtered me. I’m—”

  “Every—? Once! And that was ten years ago!”


  “Regardless,” Logan said.

  “If you caught me with one of those anvils you pass off as your fists, I’d never get up,” Kylar said. That was true enough.

  “I’d be careful.”

  “I’m no match for an ogre.” Something was wrong. Logan asked him to fight about once a year, but never so strenuously. Logan’s honor wouldn’t allow him to push a friend who’d made a decision clear, even if he didn’t understand why. “What’s this about, Logan? Why do you want to fight?”

  Lord Gyre looked down and scratched his head. “Serah’s asked why we don’t spar with each other. She thinks it would be a good match. Not that she wants to see us get hurt, but…” Logan trailed off awkwardly.

  But you can’t help but want to show off a little, Kylar thought. He said, “Speaking of good matches, when are you going to march to the headsman’s block and finally marry her?”

  Ogre breathed a big sigh. All of his sighs were big, but this was a proportionally big sigh. It took a while. He grabbed a stable boy’s stool and sat on it, oblivious of his fine cloak dragging in the dirt.

  “Actually, I spoke with Count Drake about that a couple days ago.”

  “You did?” Kylar asked. “And?”

  “He approves—”

  “Congratulations! When’ll it be, you big about-to-be-un-bachelored bastard?”

  Ogre stared at nothing. “But he’s worried.”

  “Are you joking?”

  Logan shook his head.

  “But he’s known you since you were born. Your families are best friends. She’s marrying up in terms of title. Way up. You’ve got great prospects and you two have been practically betrothed for years. What can he possibly be worried about?”

  Logan fixed his eyes on Kylar’s. “He said you’d know. Is she in love with you?”

  Oof. “No,” Kylar said after too long a pause.

  Logan noticed. “Is she?”

  Kylar hesitated. “I think she doesn’t know who she loves herself.” It was a lie of omission. Logan was on the wrong track. Serah didn’t love Kylar, and he didn’t even like her.

  “I’ve loved her for my whole life, Kylar.”

  Kylar didn’t have anything to say.

  “Kylar?” Ogre stared at him intently.


  “Do you love her?”

  “No.” Kylar felt sick and furious, but his face showed nothing. He’d told Serah she had to confess to Logan, demanded it. She’d promised she would.

  Logan looked at him, but his face didn’t clear the way Kylar expected it to.

  “Sir,” a voice said behind Kylar. Kylar hadn’t even heard the porter approaching.

  “Yes?” he asked the old man.

  “A messenger just came with this for you.”

  Kylar opened the unsealed message to avoid looking at Logan. It read: “You must see me. Tonight at the tenth hour. Blue Boar.—Jarl”

  A chill shot through Kylar. Jarl. He hadn’t heard from Jarl since he’d left the streets. Jarl was supposed to think he was dead. That meant Jarl was either seeking him because he needed Kylar Stern or because he knew that Kylar was Azoth. Kylar couldn’t imagine any reason that Jarl would need to see Kylar Stern.

  If Jarl knew who he was, who else knew, too?

  Master Blint was already gone. Kylar would have to see him. He’d have to take care of this on his own.

  “I have to go,” he said. He turned and strode toward the gate.

  “Kylar!” Logan said.

  Kylar turned. “Do you trust me?” he asked.

  Logan raised his hands helplessly. “Yes.”

  “Then trust me.

  The Blue Boar was one of Momma K’s nicest brothels. It was off Sidlin Way on the east side, not far from the Tomoi Bridge. It had a reputation for having some of the best wines in the city, a fact not a few merchants mentioned when their wives asked awkward questions. “A friend told me she saw you go into the Blue Boar today.” “Yes, of course, dear. Business meeting. Wonderful wine selection.”

  It was Kylar’s first visit. The brothel had three stories. The first, where food and wine were served, resembled a nice inn. A sign denoted the second floor as the “lounge” and the third as “guest rooms.”

  “Hello, my lord,” a breathy voice said next to Kylar as he stood awkwardly just inside the entrance.

  He turned and felt his cheeks growing hot. The woman stood very close to him, close enough that the spicy scent of her perfume wafted over him. Her voice was pitched low and inviting, too, like they shared secrets or soon could. But that was nothing compared with what she was wearing. He had no idea if it would be called a dress, for though it covered her from neck to ankles, it was made entirely of white lace, it wasn’t a tight pattern, and she wasn’t wearing anything underneath it.

  “Excuse me?” he said, pulling his gaze back up to her eyes, and blushing even deeper.

  “Is there any way I can help you? Would you like me to bring you a glass of Sethi red and explain our range of services?” She seemed amused at his difficulties.

  “No thank you, milady,” he said.

  “Perhaps you’d prefer to come to the lounge and speak with me more… privately,” she said, running a finger along his jawline.

  “Actually, I’d, um, prefer not to. Thank you all the same.”

  She arched an eyebrow at him as if he had suggested something devilish. “Normally I like a man to warm me up a little, but if you want to go straight to my room, I’d be—”

  “No!” Kylar said, then realized he’d raised his voice and people were turning to look at him. “I mean, no thank you. I’m here to see Jarl.”

  “Oh, you’re one of those,” she said, her voice abruptly normal. The switch was total, jarring. Kylar noticed for the first time that she wasn’t even his age. She couldn’t be more than seventeen. Involuntarily, he thought of Mags. “Jarl’s in the office. That way,” she said.

  Now that she’d abandoned seducing him, Kylar saw her differently. She looked hard, brittle. As he walked away, he heard her say, “Seems the good-looking ones always hoe the other row.”

  He didn’t know what she meant, but he kept walking, worried she was laughing at him. He was halfway through the tables on his way to the office when he looked back. She was plying her trade with an older merchant, whispering something in his ear. The man beamed.

  Kylar knocked on the door of the office.

  The door opened. “Come in, quickly,” Jarl said.

  Kylar stepped inside, his mind a whirl. Jarl—for it was undoubtedly his old friend—had grown into a handsome man. He was impeccably dressed in the newest fashion, his tunic indigo silk, his pants tight fawnskin adorned with a belt of worked silver. Jarl’s dark hair had been woven into a multitude of small long braids, each oiled and drawn back. He had an appraising look in his eyes.

  There was a slight sound of cloth on cloth from the corner. Someone moving toward Kylar from behind his field of vision. Kylar kicked instinctively.

  His foot caught the bodyguard in the chest. Though the guard was a big man, Kylar could feel ribs cracking. The man flew backward into the wall. He slid down and lay on the floor, unmoving.

  Scanning the rest of the room in an instant, Kylar saw no other threats. Jarl had his hands spread to show he had no weapons.

  “He wasn’t going to attack you. He was just making sure you didn’t have weapons. I swear it.” Jarl looked at the man on the floor. “By the High King’s balls, you’ve killed him.”

  Scowling, Kylar looked at the man, sprawled unconscious in the corner. He knelt by him and put fingers against the man’s neck. Nothing. He ran his hands across the man’s chest to feel if one of the broken ribs might have penetrated his heart. Then he slammed his fist down the man’s chest. And again.

  “What the hell are you—” Jarl cut off as the man’s chest suddenly rose.

  The bodyguard coughed and moaned. Kylar knew that every breath would be agony for the man. But he’d live.

  “Get someone to take care of him,” Kylar said. “His ribs are broken.”

  Eyes wide, Jarl went into the main room and came back a few moments later with two more bodyguards. Like the first, they were big and brawny, and looked like they might be able to use the short swords at their sides. They merely glared at Kylar and picked up the big man between them.

  They carried him out of the room and Jarl closed the door behind them. “You’ve learned a thing or two, haven’t you?” Jarl said. “I wasn’t testing you. He insisted on being here. I didn’t think… never mind.”

  After a moment of staring at his friend, Kylar said, “You look well.”

  “Don’t you mean, ‘How in the nine hells did you find me, Jarl?’ ” Jarl laughed.

  “How in the nine hells did you find me, Jarl?”

  Jarl smiled. “I never lost you. I never believed you were dead.”


  “You never could get anything past me, Azoth.”

  “Don’t say that name. That boy’s dead.”

  “Is he?” Jarl asked. “That’s a shame.”

  Silence sat in the room as the men looked at each other. Kylar didn’t know what to do. Jarl had been his friend, Azoth’s friend anyway. But was he Kylar’s friend? That he knew who Kylar was, maybe had known for years, told Kylar that he wasn’t an enemy. At least not yet. Part of Kylar wanted to believe that Jarl just wanted to see him, wanted a chance to say goodbye that they’d never been afforded on the street. But he’d spent too many years with Master Blint to take such a naive view. If Jarl had called him in now, it was because Jarl wanted something.

  “We’ve both come a long way, haven’t we?” Jarl asked.

  “Is that what you brought me here to talk about?”

  “A long way,” Jarl said, disappointed. “Part of me was hoping you hadn’t changed as much as I have, Kylar. I’ve been wanting to see you for years. Ever since you left, really. I wanted to apologize.”


  “I didn’t mean to let her die, Kylar. I just couldn’t get away much. I tried, but even sometimes when I did get away I couldn’t find her. She had to move around a lot. But then she just disappeared. I never even found out what happened. I’m so sorry.” Tears gleamed in Jarl’s eyes and he looked away, his jaw clenched tight.

  He thinks Elene is dead. He blames himself. He’s been living with that guilt for all these years. Kylar opened his mouth to tell him that she was alive, that she was doing well from all the reports he got, that sometimes he watched her from afar on the days she went out shopping, but no sound came. Two can keep a secret, Blint used to say, if one of them is dead. Kylar didn’t know Jarl now. He was managing one of Momma K’s brothels, so Jarl certainly reported to her, but maybe he reported to others as well.

  It was too dangerous. Kylar couldn’t tell him. Relationships are ropes that bind. Love is a noose. The only thing that kept Kylar safe was that no one knew there was a noose with his name on it. Even he didn’t know where Elene was. She was safe somewhere on the east side. Maybe married by now. She would be seventeen, after all. Maybe even happy. She looked happy, but he didn’t even sneak close. Master Blint was right. The only thing keeping Elene safe was Kylar’s distance.

  Jarl’s guilt wasn’t enough to outweigh Elene’s safety. Nothing was. Dammit, Master Blint, how do you live like this? How can you be so strong, so hard?

  “I never held it against you,” Kylar said. It was pathetic. He knew it wouldn’t help, but there was nothing more he could offer.

  Jarl blinked and when he met Kylar’s eyes, his dark eyes were dry. “If that were all, I never would have ask
ed you to come. Durzo Blint has enemies, and so do you.”

  “That’s not exactly news,” Kylar said. No matter that he and Blint never spoke about the jobs they did, and that anyone who knew of their work firsthand was dead. Word got out. Word always gets out. Another wetboy would attribute a job to them. A client would brag about who he’d hired. They had enemies they’d wronged, and more enemies who only thought that Durzo had wronged them. It was one of the costs of being the best. The families of deaders never attributed a successful hit to a second-rate wetboy.

  “Do you remember Roth?”

  “One of Rat’s bigs?” Kylar asked.

  “Yes. Apparently, he’s smarter than we ever realized. After Rat died… well, everyone left like the guild was burning down. The other guilds moved in and took our territory. Everyone had to scramble to survive. Roth didn’t make any friends when he was Rat’s right hand. He nearly got killed half a dozen times. Apparently he always blamed you.”


  “For killing Rat. If you hadn’t killed him, no one would have dared come after Roth. He never believed you were dead, either, but he hasn’t been in a position to find out who you became. That’s changing.”

  Kylar’s chest was tight. “Does he know I’m alive?”

  “No, but he’ll sit with the Nine within the year, maybe sooner. There’s a spot open right now that he’s trying for. From a position of that kind of power, he’ll find you. I haven’t even met him, but the stories I hear… He’s a real twist. Cruel. Vengeful. He frightens me, Kylar. He frightens me like no one since you know who.”

  “So that’s why you invited me here? So you could tell me that Roth is coming after me?” Kylar asked.

  “Yes, but there’s more to it,” Jarl said. “There’s going to be a war.”

  “War? Hold on. What’s your part, Jarl? How do you know all this?”

  Jarl paused. “You’ve spent the last ten years under Master Blint’s tutelage. I’ve spent the last ten years under Momma K’s. And just as you’ve learned more than fighting, I’ve learned more than… fornicating. This city’s secrets flow through its bedchambers.” That was Momma K speaking, sure enough.

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