The night angel trilogy, p.23
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.23

           Brent Weeks
 

  “No. No, I forbid it. He’s a baronet, Lena.”

  “A poor baronet whose lands have been taken by the Lae’knaught.”

  “He’s just another unattainable man. I’ll get over it.”

  “He doesn’t have to be unattainable. If he joins the faith… In the eyes of the God, all men are created equal.”

  “Oh, Lena, don’t dangle that in front of me. I’m a serving girl. A scarred serving girl. It doesn’t matter what the God sees.”

  “It doesn’t matter what the God sees?” Mags asked gently.

  “You know what I mean.”

  “Logan might marry Serah, and that’s as big a gap as there is between a poor baronet and you.”

  “A noble marrying a lower noble is frowned on, but a noble marrying a commoner?”

  “We’re not saying you should marry him. Just let us ask him to the party.”

  “No,” Elene said. “I forbid it.”

  “Elene—”

  “That’s final.” Elene looked at the girls until each grudgingly gave their assent. “But,” she said, “you could tell me a little more about him.”

  “Kylar,” Count Drake called out as Kylar tried to sneak past his office to get up the stairs. “Would you come in for a moment?”

  There was nothing for it but to obey, of course. Kylar cursed inwardly. Today was turning into a long day. He’d been hoping to get a few hours of sleep before doing his predawn chores for Master Blint. He had a good idea what this was about, so when he stepped into the count’s office, he had to try not to feel like a boy about to have his father explain sex to him.

  The count hadn’t been touched by the years. He would look forty if he lived to be a hundred. His desk was in the same place, his clothes were the same cut and color, and when he was warming up to a difficult conversation he still rubbed the bridge of his nose where his pince nez sat.

  “Have you made love to my daughter?” the count asked.

  Kylar’s chin dropped. So much for warming up. The count watched him expressionlessly.

  “I haven’t laid a hand on her, sir.”

  “I wasn’t asking about your hands.”

  Kylar goggled. This was the man who talked about the God as often as most farmers talked about the weather?

  “No, don’t worry, son. I believe you. Though I suspect it hasn’t been for any lack of effort on Serah’s part.”

  The blood rushing to Kylar’s entire face was answer enough.

  “Is she in love with you, Kylar?”

  He shook his head, almost relieved to be asked a question he could answer. “I think Serah wants what she thinks she can’t have, sir.”

  “Does that include making love to numerous young men, none of whom is Logan?”

  Kylar spluttered, “I hardly think it’s right or honorable for me to—”

  The count raised a hand, pained. “Which is not the answer you would have given if you thought the charge was false. You’d have said absolutely not, and then that you didn’t think it was right or honorable for me to ask. And you’d have been right.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose and blinked. “I’m sorry, Kylar. That wasn’t fair of me. Sometimes I still use the wits the God gave me in dishonorable ways. I’m trying to do what’s right, whether or not that measures up with what men call honorable. There’s a gap between those, you know?”

  Kylar shrugged, but no answer was required.

  “I’m not interested in condemning my baby girl, Kylar,” the count said. “I’ve done far worse in my life than she’ll ever dream of. But more than her happiness is at stake. Is Logan aware of her… indiscretions?”

  “I asked her to tell him, but I don’t believe she has, sir.”

  “You know that Logan has asked for my permission to marry Serah?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Should I give him my blessing?”

  “You couldn’t hope to gain a better son.”

  “For my family, it would be wonderful. Is it right for Logan?”

  Kylar hesitated. “I think he loves her,” he said finally.

  “He wants to know within two days,” the count said. “When he turns twenty-one he takes possession of the Gyre household and becomes one of the richest and most powerful men in the realm, even given how the king has interfered with his house in the last decade. Sixth in the line of succession. First behind the royals. People will say he’s marrying beneath himself. They’ll say she isn’t worthy of him.” The count looked away. “I don’t usually give a damn what they think, Kylar, because they think it for all the wrong reasons. This time, I’m afraid they’ll be right.”

  Kylar couldn’t say anything.

  “I’ve prayed for years that my daughters would find the right men to be their husbands. And I’ve prayed that Logan would marry the right woman. Why doesn’t this feel like the answer?” He shook his head again and squeezed the bridge of his nose. “Forgive me, I’ve asked you a dozen questions you can’t possibly answer, and haven’t asked the one you can.”

  “What’s that, sir?”

  “Do you love Serah?”

  “No, sir.”

  “And that girl? The one you’ve been sending money to for almost a decade?”

  Kylar flushed. “I’ve sworn not to love, sir.”

  “But do you?”

  Kylar walked out the door.

  As Kylar stepped into the hall, the count said, “You know, I pray for you, too, Kylar.”

  33

  The whorehouse had closed hours ago. Upstairs, the girls slept on fouled sheets amid the brothel smells of stale alcohol, stale sweat, old sex, wood smoke, and cheap perfume. The doors were locked. All but two of the plain copper lamps downstairs had been extinguished. Momma K didn’t allow her brothels to waste money.

  There were only two people downstairs, both of them at the bar. Around the man’s seat were the remains of a dozen smashed glasses.

  He finished the thirteenth beer, lifted the glass, and threw it onto the floor. It shattered.

  Momma K poured Durzo another beer from the tap, not even blinking. She didn’t say a word. Durzo would speak when he was ready. Still, she wondered why he’d chosen this brothel. It was a hole. She sent her attractive girls elsewhere. Other brothels she’d bought had been worth fixing, but this one huddled deep in the Warrens, far from main roads in the maze of shacks and hovels. This was where she’d lost her maidenhead. She’d been paid ten silvers, and had counted herself lucky.

  It wasn’t high on her list of places to visit.

  “I should kill you,” Durzo said finally. They were the first words he’d spoken in six hours. He finished his beer and shoved it along the bar. It slid several feet, fell over, rolled off the bar, and cracked.

  “Oh, so you do have the power of speech?” Momma K said. She grabbed another glass and opened the tap.

  “Do I have a daughter too?”

  Momma K froze. She closed the tap too late and beer spilled all over.

  “Vonda made me swear not to tell you. She was too scared to tell you and then when she died…. You can hate Vonda for what she did, Durzo, but she did it because she loved you.”

  Durzo gave her a look of such disbelief and disgust that Gwinvere wanted to hit his ugly face.

  “What do you know about love, you whore?”

  She had thought that no one could hurt her with words. She’d heard every whore comment in the book, and had added a few besides. But something in how Durzo said it, something about that comment—coming from him!—struck her to the core. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t even breathe.

  Finally, she said, “I know if I’d had the chance for love that you had, I would have quit whoring. I would have done anything to hold onto that. I was born into this chamber pot of a life; you’re the one who chose it.”

  “What’s my daughter’s name?”

  “So that’s it? You bring me here to remind me how many times I got fucked in this stinking hole? I remember. I remember! I whored so my baby sister wouldn’
t have to. And then you came along. You fucked me five times a week and told Vonda you loved her. Got her pregnant. Left. I could have told her that much was a given. That part of the story’s so predictable it’s not even worth repeating, is it? But you weren’t just any john. No, you got her kidnapped too. And then what? Did you go after her? No, you showed exactly how much you loved her. Called their bluff, didn’t you? You always were willing to gamble with other people’s lives, weren’t you, Durzo? You coward.”

  Durzo’s glass exploded against the keg behind her. He was trembling violently. He pointed a finger in her face. “You! You don’t have any right. You would have given it all up for love? Horseshit. Where’s the man in your life now, Gwin? You don’t whore anymore, so there’s nothing for a man to be jealous of, right? But there’s still no man, is there? Do you want to know why you’re the perfect whore? For the same reason there’s no man. Because you don’t have the capacity for love. You’re all cunt. You suck everyone dry and make them pay you for the pleasure. So don’t give me that bleeding heart, I-did-it-to-save-my-sister horseshit. It’s always been power for you. Oh sure, there are women who whore for money or for fame or because they don’t have any other options. But then there are whores. You might not fuck anymore, Gwin, but you will always be a whore. Now. What. Is. Her. Name?” He bit off each word like moldy bread.

  “Uly,” Gwinvere said quietly. “Ulyssandra. She lives with a nurse in the castle.”

  She looked at the beer she was holding in her hand. She didn’t even remember filling it. Was this what Durzo reduced her to? A submissive little…. She didn’t even know. She felt like she’d been eviscerated, that if she looked down, she’d see ropes of her own intestines coiled around her feet.

  It took all of her strength to spit in the beer and set it on the counter with even a shadow of nonchalance.

  “Well, it’s tough to be a victim of circumstance,” Durzo said. His voice had that killing edge on it.

  “You aren’t…. You wouldn’t kill your own child.” Not even Durzo could do that, could he?

  “I won’t have to,” Durzo said. “They’ll kill her for me.”

  He picked up the beer, smiled at Gwinvere over the spit, and drank. He finished half the beer at a gulp and said, “I’m leaving. It smells like old whore in here.” He poured the rest of his beer onto the floor and set the glass carefully on the bar.

  Kylar woke two hours before dawn and briefly wondered if death would be too high a price to pay for a full night’s sleep. The correct answer, however, was unavoidable, so after a few minutes, he dragged himself out of bed. He dressed quietly in the dark, reaching into his third drawer where his wetboy grays were folded as always and reaching into his ash jar to smear his features black.

  In the past nine years, he’d learned to compensate for not having the Talent. When Blint was in an optimistic mood, which was increasingly rare, he praised Kylar for it. He said that too many wetboys relied on their Talent for everything and that he kept his mundane talents honed for unpredictable situations. In the bitter business, unpredictable situations were the norm. Besides, Blint said, if there’s almost no noise of a footstep to cover in the first place, you don’t have to use as much of your Talent to muffle it.

  Sometimes Kylar’s adaptability showed itself in more spectacular ways, but mostly it was in these little things, like putting his grays in the same dresser, the same way every time he washed them. At least, he hoped it was his adaptability and not Blint’s mania for organization infecting him. Seriously, what was it with the man’s locking locks three times and spinning knives and the garlic and the Night Angel this and Night Angel that?

  The window opened silently and Kylar crept across the roof. Years of practice taught him where he could walk and where he had to crawl to be unheard by those below. He slipped over the edge of the house, dropped onto the flagstones in the courtyard, and vaulted off a rock to grab the edge of the wall. He raised himself to peek over the edge, saw no one, pulled himself over the wall, and then moved stealthily up the street.

  He probably could have just walked; sneaking wasn’t really necessary once he got out of sight of the Drake’s home and until he got within sight of the herbiary, but it was a bad habit to get into. A job is a job, it isn’t done till it’s done. Another of Blint’s pearls, there. Thanks.

  Tonight, it wasn’t just Blint’s ingrained discipline that kept him creeping from shadows to shadow, making the two-mile walk to the herbiary take almost an hour. Tonight, Jarl’s words kept going through his head. “You have enemies. You have enemies.”

  Maybe it was time he moved out of the Drakes’ house. For their safety. He was twenty years old, and though of course he didn’t have the income of a noble, Blint was more than generous with his wages. In fact, Blint didn’t really care about money. He didn’t spend much on himself, aside from the infrequent binges on alcohol and rent girls. He did buy the best equipment and ingredients for poisons, but what he bought he kept forever. With what he made for each kill and the frequency with which he took jobs, Blint had to be wealthy. Probably obscenely wealthy. Not that Kylar cared. He’d adopted much of Blint’s attitude. He gave Count Drake a portion of his wages for Elene and still had plenty left over. He kept some in coins and jewels and split the rest between investments Momma K and Logan made for him. It meant nothing to him because money couldn’t buy him anything. His cover as a poor country noble and his real work as a journeyman wetboy kept him from living a lifestyle that would attract attention. So even if he had wanted to spend his money, he couldn’t afford to.

  He could move out, though. Rent a small home further south on the east side, at the edges of one of the less fashionable neighborhoods. Blint had told him that if you bought the cheapest house in a neighborhood, no matter how expensive the neighborhood, you were invisible. Even if your neighbors noticed you, they’d take pains not to notice you.

  Then Kylar was at the shop. The Sa’kagé had long had an arrangement with herbalists in the city. The herbalists made sure they kept certain plants on hand that weren’t strictly legal, and the Sa’kagé made sure that the herbalists’ shops were never burglarized. The crown knew about it but was powerless to stop it.

  Goodman Aalyep’s Herbiary was frequented by rich merchants and the nobility, so he had refused to keep illicit herbs openly in his shop, fearing that such defiance in the very face of authority might not be ignored. He’d been able to refuse the Sa’kagé, but no one refused Master Blint. Goodman Aalyep supplied Durzo with the rarest herbs. In return, Master Blint made sure no one else in the Sa’kagé so much as went near his shop.

  It fell to Kylar to gather the necessaries and drop off the money, which he was doing tonight. The benefit to running these errands wasn’t only that he learned the trade, or that he established relationships with the people who would supply him in the future, it was also that he could build his own collection. An elaborate collection like Master Blint’s took years and thousands or even tens of thousands of gunders to build.

  The bad part was losing sleep. It didn’t do for a young noble to sleep until noon unless he’d been out carousing with his friends. So even though he wouldn’t get home until almost dawn, Kylar would have to wake with the sun.

  He grumbled silently, remembering a time when sneaking through the streets of Cenaria at night had been fun.

  The back door of the shop, as always, was locked. Goodman Aalyep kept good locks on his doors, too. Though he’d never met him—they only wrote notes—Kylar felt he knew Goodman Aalyep, and the man was a strange one. With Durzo Blint’s protection in the Sa’kagé, the man could have safely left his doors wide open. No one in the city would dare steal from him.

  But as Blint said, a man’s greatest treasures are his illusions. For all the man claimed to hate teaching, he seemed to have an aphorism for every occasion. Kylar selected the proper pick and anchor from the kit on the inside of his belt, and he knelt in front of the door and started working. He sighed. It was a new lock,
and from Master Procl’s, the best locksmith in the city. New locks, even if they weren’t high quality, always tended to be tighter, and if losing an anchor wasn’t the end of the world, it was still irritating to break one.

  Kylar raked the pick over the pins. Four pins, two of them a little loose. That meant it was the work of one of Procl’s journeymen and not the master himself. In ten seconds, he turned the anchor, bending it, and the door opened. Kylar cursed silently—he’d have to get another new anchor—then tucked his tools away. Someday, he was going to have to commission a set of mistarille picks and anchors like Master Blint had. Or at least one anchor. Mistarille would flex but never break, but it was more expensive by weight than diamonds.

  Goodman Aalyep’s claim that his business was an herbiary wasn’t an idle boast. It had three rooms: the large comfortable shop with labeled glass jars for the display of herbs, a tiny office, and the herbiary in which Kylar stood. The little room was humid, and the wet, fecund odors were almost overwhelming.

  Checking on the progress of some fungi, Kylar was pleased. Several lethal mushrooms would be ready within a week. Mushrooms were one kind of plant Goodman Aalyep could grow with impunity in his shop—lethal varieties were indistinguishable from edible mushrooms to anyone except trained herbalists and, of course, trained poisoners.

  Treading carefully so he didn’t step on any of the boards that creaked, Kylar moved through the rest of the herbiary, judging the plants with a practiced eye. Kylar lifted the third plant box in the second row and saw six bundles carefully packed in individual lambskin pouches. He lifted them out and checked that each was what he had ordered. Four bundles for Master Blint, and two for himself. Kylar put the herbs in the pack secured flush against his back under his cloak, and put the purse with Aalyep’s money into the little space. He set the planter back in position.

  Then something felt wrong. In the blink of an eye Kylar drew two short swords.

  But he didn’t move a step. The feeling of wrongness continued, not something wrong of itself, but just something here and now and close. There was no sound. There was no attack, just a slight pressure, as of the softest possible touch of a finger.

 
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