The night angel trilogy, p.22
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.22

           Brent Weeks
 

  “But why are you helping me? A lot’s changed since we were guild rats stealing bread.”

  Jarl shrugged, looked away again. “You’re my only friend.”

  “Sure, when we were children—”

  “Not ‘you were.’ You are. You’re the only friend I’ve ever had, Kylar.”

  Trying to beat back his sudden guilt—how long had it been since he’d thought of Jarl?—Kylar said, “What about everyone here? The people you work with?”

  “Coworkers, employees, and clients. I’ve even got something like a lover. But no friends.”

  “You’ve got a lover and she’s not your friend?”

  “Her name’s Stephan. She’s a fifty-three-year-old cloth merchant with a wife and eight children. He gives me protection and beautiful clothes, and I give him sex.”

  “Oh.” Suddenly the whore’s muttering about hoeing the other row made a lot more sense. “Are you happy here, Jarl?”

  “Happy? What the hell kind of question is that? Happy doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  Jarl laughed bitterly. “Where’d you get your innocence back, Kylar? You said Azoth was dead.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Are you going to leave now that you know I’m a bugger?”

  “No,” Kylar said. “You’re my friend.”

  “And you’re mine. But if I hadn’t seen you nearly kill Gerk just now, I’d wonder if you really were a wetboy. How do you kill people and keep your soul intact, Kylar?” He gave the name a little twist.

  “How do you keep your soul intact and whore?”

  “I don’t.”

  “Me neither,” Kylar said.

  Jarl went quiet. He studied Kylar intently. “What happened that day?”

  Kylar knew what Jarl was asking. A tremor passed through him. “Durzo told me if I wanted to be his apprentice, I had to kill Rat. After what he did to Doll Girl… I did it.”

  “Easy as that, huh?”

  Kylar debated lying, but if anyone deserved the truth, it was Jarl. He’d suffered more at Rat’s hands than anyone. After holding back about Doll Girl, he couldn’t do it again.

  Kylar told him the whole story, like he hadn’t told anyone since Master Blint.

  The description of the gore and how pathetic Rat had been didn’t move Jarl. His face remained passive. “He deserved it. He deserved it and then some,” Jarl said. “I only wish I’d had the nerve to do it. I wish I could have watched.” He dismissed it with an effeminate wave of his hand. “I’ve got a client coming, so listen,” Jarl said. “Khalidor is going to invade. Different parts of the Sa’kagé have been mobilized, but they’re mostly smoke screens. Probably only the Nine know what’s really happening, maybe only the Shinga. I can’t even tell which side we’re going to take.

  “The thing is, we can’t afford for Cenaria to lose this war. I don’t know if the Nine realize that. The Ursuuls have put forward claims on Cenaria for generations, but several months ago Godking Ursuul demanded a tribute of some special gem and free passage, claiming to be more interested in taking war to Modai than here. King Gunder told him where he could go—and it wasn’t across the king’s highways.

  “A source told me the Godking vowed to make us an example. He’s got more than fifty wytches, maybe many more. I don’t think King Gunder can field ten mages to stand against them.”

  “But the Sa’kagé will survive,” Kylar said. Not that he gave a damn about them. He was thinking about the Drakes and Logan. The Khalidorans would kill them.

  “The Sa’kagé will survive, Kylar, but if all the businesses are burned down, there’s no money to extort. If all the merchants are broke, they can’t gamble or go whoring. Some wars we could profit from. This one will ruin us.”

  “So why tell me?”

  “Durzo’s in the middle of it.”

  “Of course he is,” Kylar said. “Probably half the nobles in the army’s chain of command are trying to off their superiors so they can take their places. But Master Blint wouldn’t take a job that would seriously endanger the city. Not if things are as bad as you say.”

  Jarl shook his head. “I think he’s working for the king.”

  “Master Blint would never work for the king,” Kylar said.

  “He would if they had his daughter.”

  “His what?”

  32

  Lord General Agon stood in the middle of the brushed white gravel of the castle’s statue garden and tried not to look as uneasy as he felt. Damn fine place to meet an assassin.

  Ordinarily, he would think it was fine place to meet an assassin. Though Blint had ordered him not to bring soldiers, if he had been of a mind to do so, there were any number of places for them to hide. Of course, that this meeting was happening within the castle grounds should also have made Agon feel better. It might have, if Blint hadn’t been the one who suggested it.

  The night wind blew a cloud across the moon and Agon strained to hear the slight crunch of gravel that would herald Blint’s arrival. He had no doubt that Blint could make it into the castle. His memory was as sharp as the daggers that they’d once found under the royal pillows. Still, he had his orders.

  He looked at the statues around him. They were heroes, every one of them, and he wondered what he was doing in their company. Usually this garden was a haven. He would walk on the serene white and black rock and stare at these marble heroes, wondering how they might act if they were in his shoes. Tonight, their shadows loomed and lingered. Of course it was his imagination, but he still remembered that Blint had been in his bedroom ten years ago, ready to do murder. Nothing was safe with a man like that.

  There was the slightest crunch of gravel under one of the statues. Agon turned and without thinking gripped his sword.

  “Don’t bother,” Durzo Blint said.

  Agon whipped back around. Durzo was standing not two feet away. Agon stepped back.

  “The noisy one was one of yours. Not me.” Blint smiled wolfishly. “But wait, didn’t I tell you not to bring men?”

  “I didn’t,” Agon said.

  “Mm-hmm.”

  “You’re late,” Agon said. He had his equilibrium back now. It was unsettling dealing with a man who didn’t value life. He believed that Blint really didn’t, now. There was a rationale behind it, too. The only way he himself could deal with Blint was to realize that he could be killed but that that wasn’t important; his life or death wasn’t why he had summoned Blint; his life or death wasn’t vital to what they would talk about. Still, a part of him asked, how can wetboys live like this?

  “Just making sure I knew where all your soldiers were hidden,” Blint said. He was wearing a killing outfit, Agon realized queasily. A tunic of mottled dark gray cotton, thin but cut for easy movement, pants of the same material, a harness with a score of throwing weapons, some of which the general didn’t even recognize. What he did recognize was that the points of some of those weapons bore more than steel. Poison.

  Is he bluffing? Agon hadn’t brought soldiers. Even if his life wasn’t vital to this discussion, he wasn’t going to throw it away. “I keep my word, even to a Sa’kagé thug,” he said.

  “The funny thing is, I believe you, Lord General. You’re many things, but I don’t think you’re either dishonorable or stupid enough to betray me. Are you sure you don’t want me to kill the king? You have the army. If you’re smart and lucky, you might be king yourself.”

  “No,” Agon said. “I keep my vows.” If only those words didn’t burn as I spoke them.

  “I’d give you a discount.” Blint laughed.

  “Are you ready to hear the job?” Agon asked.

  “It seems we’ve had this conversation before,” Blint said. “My answer remains the same. I only showed up because I miss your smiling face, Lord General. And to show that your—let’s be honest—rather pathetic defenses still can’t keep me out should you choose to try to make my life difficult.”

 
“You haven’t even heard what the job is. The king respects your talents now. He will pay better than anyone has ever paid you. He wishes you—”

  “To protect his life. I know. Hu Gibbet took a contract on him.” Durzo ignored the stricken look on Agon’s face. “Sorry. I won’t take the job. I’d never take a job for that foul sack of wind. Let’s be honest. Aleine Gunder, who ridiculously fashions himself ‘the Ninth’ as if he had any connection to the previous eight kings who bore the name Aleine, is a waste of skin.”

  Someone burst out from under the tall statue of Duke Gunder behind Agon. Agon’s heart sank as he recognized the man’s gait.

  Aleine Gunder IX threw back his hood. “Guards! Guards!”

  Archers and crossbowmen sprang up from every balcony, bush, and shadow in sight. Others came running from the perimeter of the garden.

  “My liege. What a surprise,” Blint said, sweeping into a perfect court bow. “Who would have expected to find you hiding in your father’s shadow?”

  “You shitting… shitting!… shit!” the king yelled. “What are you doing?” he yelled at the guards. “Surround him!” The guards surrounded Durzo, Agon, and the king in a tight circle. They looked nervous to have the king standing so close to a wetboy, but none of them dared invoke the king’s ire by forcibly separating them.

  “Your Majesty,” Agon said, stepping in front of the king before the man tried to hit Durzo Blint. Tried to hit Durzo Blint!

  “You will work for me, assassin,” the king said.

  “No. I’ve said it before, but maybe you need to hear it yourself. I’m willing to kill you, but I won’t kill for you.”

  The guards were less than pleased by this, of course, but Agon held up a hand. With the guards pressed so close, the archers were useless. Brilliant, Your Majesty. If it came to bloodshed, both he and the king would die, and he’d give even odds that Blint wouldn’t.

  “Fine, then,” the king said.

  “Fine, then.” Blint smiled joylessly.

  The king smiled back. “We’ll kill your daughter.”

  “My what?”

  The king’s smile grew. “Look into it.” He laughed.

  A dangerous second stretched out and Agon wondered if he was about to be holding a dead king in his arms. Then there was a blur of motion. Even though he was looking right at him, Durzo Blint moved faster than his eye could follow. He flipped up over the circle of soldiers, caught a statue and changed his trajectory.

  A moment later, there was a scuttling sound up the side of the castle wall, akin to a cat’s claws scraping as it climbed a tree.

  Startled, one of the soldiers discharged his crossbow—mercifully, it was pointed into the air. Agon shot a look at the man.

  The man swallowed. “Sorry, sir.”

  The king walked inside, and it was only two minutes later that Agon realized how close Durzo had brought him to speaking treason in front of the king.

  Kylar felt the air stir as someone opened the front door of the safe house. He lifted his eyes from the book in front of him and reached for the short sword unsheathed on the table.

  He had a perfect view of the door from his chair, of course. Master Blint wouldn’t set up his workroom any other way. But he would have known it was Master Blint just by the sound: click-CLICK-click. Click-CLICK-click. Click-CLICK-click. Master Blint always locked, unlocked, and then relocked every lock. It was just another of his superstitions.

  He didn’t ask his master about the job. Blint never liked to talk about a job right after it. The Night Angels didn’t like it, he said. Kylar interpreted that, Let my memories fade.

  The vial of white asp venom was sitting on the table with the rest of Blint’s collection, but to distract himself as much as Blint, Kylar said, “I don’t think it’ll work. I’ve been looking over your books. They haven’t got anything about this.”

  “They’ll write a new book,” Blint said. He started putting the poisoned blades in special cases, and wiping off the ones bearing poison that spoiled over time.

  “I know animals can eat some poisons and it doesn’t make them sick. And I know their meat will make you sick if you eat it. Our experiments have proved that. But then your deader’s just sick. That’s fine as far as it goes, but this dual poison thing—I don’t get it.”

  Blint hung up his weapons harness. “Your deader eats the pork, he feels nothing. Maybe a little tipsy. He eats the quail, he gets dizzy. He eats both, he gets dead. It’s called potentiation. The poisons work together to reach their fullest potential.”

  “But you’ve still got to get an entire pig and a flock of quail past the food tester.”

  “Big places use multiple tasters. By the time they suspect anything, the deader’s dead,” Blint said.

  “But then you poison everyone in the room. You can’t control—”

  “I control everything!” Blint shouted. He threw a knife down and walked out, slamming the door so hard it set every weapon on the wall jingling.

  Elene stared at the blank page and dipped the drying quill back into the ink pot. Further down the table in the Drakes’ dining room, Mags and Ilena Drake were playing a game of tiles. Mags, the older sister, was concentrating intently, but Ilena kept glancing at Elene.

  “Why,” Elene said, “do I always get crushes on unattainable men?” Elene Cromwyll had been friends with Mags and Ilena Drake for years. The gap between a servant and a count’s daughters should have precluded friendship, but the Drakes counted all as equal before the One God. As they’d grown older, the girls had become more aware of how odd their friendship was, so it had become more private, but no less real.

  “That groundskeeper Jaen was attainable,” Ilena said, moving a tile. Mags scowled at the move and then at her fifteen-year-old sister.

  “That lasted two hours,” Elene said. “Until he opened his fat mouth.”

  “You must have had a crush on Pol at some point,” Mags said.

  “Not really. He just loved me so much I thought I should love him back,” Elene said.

  “At least Pol was real,” Ilena said.

  “Ilena, don’t be a brat,” Mags said.

  “You’re just mad because you’re losing again.”

  “I am not!” Mags said.

  “I’ll win in three moves.”

  “You will?” Mags looked at the tiles. “You little snot. I, at least, am so glad you turned Pol down, Elene,” Mags said. “But it does leave you without an escort to our party.”

  Elene had abandoned the quill and buried her face in her hands. She sighed. “Do you have any idea what I wrote to him last year?” She stared at the blank paper in front of her.

  “I didn’t know Pol could read,” Ilena said.

  “Not Pol. My benefactor.”

  “Whatever you wrote, he didn’t stop sending money, did he?” Ilena asked, ignoring her sister’s murderous glance. Ilena Drake was only fifteen, but most of the time, she seemed in pretty good control of Mags, if not her oldest sister Serah.

  “He’s never stopped. Not even when I told him that we had more than enough money. But it’s not about the money, Lena,” Elene said. “Last year I told him that I was in love with him.” She couldn’t quite bear to confess that she’d smudged the ink with her own tears. “I told him I was going to call him Kylar, because Kylar’s nice and I never found out my benefactor’s name.”

  “And now you do like Kylar… who you’ve also never talked to.”

  “I’m totally hopeless. Why do I let you talk to me about boys?” Elene asked.

  “Ilena can’t help but talk about Kylar,” Mags said with the air of a big sister about to pull rank. “Because she has a crush on him herself.”

  “I do not!” Ilena shrieked.

  “Then why’d you say so in your journal?” Mags said. Mags’s voice lilted, mimicking Ilena’s, “ ‘Why won’t Kylar talk more to me?’ ‘Kylar talked to me today at breakfast. He said I’m sweet. Is that good or does he still just see me as a little girl?’ It’s gros
s, Ilena. He’s practically our brother.”

  “You wytch!” Ilena yelled. She leaped over the table and attacked Mags. Mags screamed, and Elene watched, frozen between horror and laughter.

  The girls were screaming, Ilena pulling Mags’s hair and Mags starting to fight back. Elene got to her feet, figuring she’d better stop them before someone got hurt.

  The door crashed open, almost blowing off its hinges, and Kylar stood there, sword in hand. The entire atmosphere of the room changed in the blink of an eye. Kylar exuded a palpable aura of danger and power. He was primal masculinity. It washed over Elene like a wave that threatened to yank her from her feet and pull her out to sea. She could hardly breathe.

  Kylar flowed into the room in a low stance, the naked sword held in both hands. His eyes took in everything at once, flicked to every exit, to the windows, the shadows, even to the corners of the ceiling. The girls on the floor stopped, a handful of Mags’s hair still clenched in Ilena’s hand, guilt written all over their faces.

  His pale, pale blue eyes seemed so familiar. Was it just Elene’s fantasies that put that flicker of recognition in them? Those eyes touched hers and she felt a tingle all the way up her spine. He was looking at her—her, not her scars. Men always looked at her scars. Kylar was seeing Elene. She wanted to speak, but there were no words.

  His mouth parted as if he, too, was on the edge of words, but then he turned white as a sheet. His sword flashed back into a sheath and he turned. “Ladies, your pardon,” he said, ducking his head. Then he was gone.

  “Good God,” Mags said. “Did you see that?”

  “It was scary,” Ilena said, “and…”

  “Intoxicating,” Elene said. Her face felt hot. She turned away as the girls stood. She sat and picked up the quill. As if she could write now.

  “Elene, what’s going on?” Mags asked.

  “When he saw my face, he looked like death warmed over,” Elene said. Why? He’d barely even looked at her scars. That was what scared away most of the boys.

  “He’ll come around. You’re an angel. Give him a chance. We’ll ask him to the party for you and everything,” Ilena said.

 
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