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The night angel trilogy, p.25
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.25

           Brent Weeks
 

  Still, Kylar found himself jogging again, and then running, startling a laundress filling her buckets with water. He stopped at Momma K’s door and suddenly felt uneasy again. Momma K stayed up late and woke early every day, but if there was one time of the day that he could be sure she’d be in bed, it was right now. It was the only time of day that the door would be locked. Dammit, would you just make a decision?

  Kylar rapped on the door quietly, berating himself for being a coward, yet deciding all the same that he would leave if no one answered it.

  The door opened almost immediately. Momma K’s maid looked almost as surprised as Kylar was. She was an old woman, wearing a shift, with a shawl around her shoulders. “Well, good morning, my lord. If you aren’t a sight. I couldn’t sleep, I just kept on thinking that we’d run out of flour for some reason, though I checked it just last night, for some reason I couldn’t get it out of my mind that it was all gone. I was just walking past the door to check it when you knocked—oh by the twelve nipples of Arixula, I’m chattering like a daft old ninny.”

  Kylar opened his mouth, but a word wouldn’t fit in the cracks of the ex-prostitute’s rambling, edgewise or any other way.

  “ ‘Time for a swift blow to the head, and a heave into the river, mistress,’ I tell her, and she just laughs at me. I do wish I were young, if only so I could see the look on your face like I used to get. Once these old sacks would make men stand up and take notice. You’d walk right into a wall because you couldn’t take your eyes off. It used to be that the sight of me in my night clothes—of course, I didn’t wear old lady’s rags like this, neither, but if I wore the kind of stuff I used to, I’m afraid I’d scare the children. It does make me miss the—”

  “Is Momma K awake?”

  “What? Oh, actually, I think so. She hasn’t been sleeping well, poor girl. Maybe a visit will do her good. Though I think it was a visit from that Durzo that’s got her knickers in such a bunch. It’s hard at her age, going from what she’s been to being like me. Almost fifty years old she is. It reminds me—”

  Kylar edged past her and walked up the stairs. He wasn’t even sure the old woman noticed.

  He knocked and waited. No response. A sliver of light peeked through the crack along the sill, though, so he opened the door.

  Momma K sat with her back to him. Two candles burned almost to nubs provided the only illumination in the room. She barely stirred when Kylar came in. Finally, she turned slowly toward him. Her eyes were swollen and red as if she’d been up all night crying. Crying? Momma K?

  “Momma K? Momma K, you look like hell.”

  “You always did know just the thing to say to the ladies.”

  Kylar stepped into the room and closed the door. It was then he noticed the mirrors. Momma K’s bedside mirror where she put on makeup, her hand mirror, even her full-length mirror, every one of them was smashed. Shards twinkled feebly from the floor in the candlelight.

  “Momma K? What’s going on here?”

  “Don’t call me that. Don’t ever call me that again.”

  “What’s going on?”

  “Lies, Kylar,” she said, looking down at her lap, her face half concealed in the shadows. “Beautiful lies. Lies I’ve worn so long I don’t remember what’s beneath them.”

  She turned. In a line down the middle of her face, she’d wiped off all her makeup. The left half of her face was free of cosmetics for the first time Kylar had ever seen. It made her look old and haggard. Fine wrinkles danced across the once delicate—now merely small and hard—planes of Gwinvere Kirena’s face. Dark circles under her eyes gave her a ghostly vulnerability. The effect of half of her face being perfectly presented and the other stripped was ludicrous, ugly, almost comic.

  Kylar covered his shock too slowly, not that he could ever hide much from her, but Momma K seemed satisfied to be wounded.

  “I’ll assume you’re not here just to stare at the sideshow freak, so what do you want, Kylar?”

  “You’re not a sideshow—”

  “Answer the question. I know what a man with a mission looks like. You’re here for my help. What do you need?”

  “Momma K, dammit, quit—”

  “No, damn you!” Momma K’s voice cracked like a whip. Then her mismatched eyes softened and looked beyond Kylar. “It’s too late. I chose this. Damn him, but he was right. I chose this life, Kylar. I’ve chosen every step. It’s no good switching whores in the middle of a tumble. You’re here about Durzo, aren’t you.”

  Kylar knuckled his forehead, put off track. He could read the look in her face, though. It said, “Discussion over.” Kylar surrendered. Was he here about Durzo? Well, it was as good of a place to start as any.

  “He said he’s going to kill me if I don’t find the silver ka’kari. I don’t really even know what it is.”

  She took a deep breath. “I’ve been trying to get him to tell you for years,” she said. “Six ka’kari were made for Jorsin Alkestes’ six champions. The people who used the ka’kari weren’t mages, but the ka’kari gave them magelike powers. Not like the feeble mages of today, either, the mages of seven centuries ago. You are what they were. You’re a ka’karifer. You were born with a hole in your Talent that only a ka’kari can bridge.”

  Momma K and Durzo had known all of this, and they hadn’t thought to tell him? “Oh, well, thanks. Can you direct me to the nearest magical artifact store? Perhaps one with a discount for wetboys?” Kylar asked. “Even if there were such things, they’ve either been collected by the mages or they’re at the bottom of the ocean or something.”

  “Or something.”

  “Are you saying you know where the silver is?”

  “Consider this,” Momma K said. “You’re a king. You manage to get a ka’kari, but you can’t use it. Maybe you don’t have anyone you trust who can. What do you do? You keep it for a rainy day, or for your heirs. Maybe you never write down what it is because you know that people will go through your things when you die and steal your most valuable possession, so you plan to tell your son someday before he takes the throne. In some way or another, though, as kings so often do, you get yourself killed before you can have that talk. What happens to the ka’kari?”

  “The son gets it.”

  “Right, and doesn’t know what it is. Maybe even knows it’s important, that it’s magical, but like you said, if he ever tells the mages, they’ll take it from him or from his heirs sooner or later. So he keeps it, and he keeps it secret. After enough generations pass, it becomes just another jewel in the royal treasury. By the time seven hundred years go by, it’s switched hands dozens of times, but no one has a clue what it is. Until one day, Khalidor’s God-king demands a tribute that includes one particular jewel, and a remarkably stupid king gives the very same jewel to his mistress.”

  “You mean—” Kylar said.

  “I just found out today that Niner gave Lady Jadwin the silver ka’kari, the Globe of Edges. It looks like a small, oddly metallic jewel, like a diamond with a silver tint to it. It also happens to be one of Queen Nalia’s favorite jewels. She thinks it’s lost, and she’s furious, so tomorrow night, someone the king trusts—I don’t know who—will be sent to get it back. The Jadwins are having a party that night. So tomorrow, the ka’kari will be exposed. No royal guards, no mages, no magically warded treasury. Lady Jadwin will either be carrying it or it will be in her room. Kylar, you need to understand what’s at stake. The ka’kari supposedly choose their own masters, but the Khalidorans believe they can magically force a bond. If the Godking succeeds… imagine the havoc a Godking would wreak if he could live forever.”

  It made prickles go up the back of Kylar’s scalp. “You really mean this, don’t you? Have you told Durzo?”

  “Durzo and I… I’m not too inclined to help Durzo just now. But there’s more, Kylar. I’m not the only one who knows this.” Anguish twisted her features and she looked away.

  “What do you mean?”

  “Khalidor has hired someon
e to get it. That’s how my spies found out in the first place. Supposedly the job is a smash-and-dash.”

  “Supposedly?”

  “They’ve hired Hu Gibbet.”

  “Nobody would hire Hu for a smash-and-dash. The man’s a butcher.”

  “I know,” Momma K said.

  “Then who’s his deader?”

  “Take your pick. Half the nobles in the realm will be there. Your friend Logan has accepted his invitation, perhaps even the prince will be there. Those two do seem to be inseparable; for all that they are night and day to each other.”

  “Momma, who’s your spy? Can you get me an invitation?”

  She smiled mysteriously. “My spy can’t help you, but I know someone who can. In fact, despite my best efforts, you know her too.”

  36

  Kylar had walked up to men in broad daylight within paces of the city guard to kill them. He’d crawled under tables while a cat clawed him as guards searched the room for intruders. He’d had to break into a vat of wine and hide inside it as a noble’s wine taster had picked out an appropriate bottle for dinner. He’d waited a yard from a fully stoked oven after he’d poisoned a stew while a cook debated with himself on what spice he’d added too much of to make it taste so strange.

  But he’d never been this nervous.

  He stared at the door, a narrow servants’ entrance, in dismay. He was a beggar today, come to beg a crust. His hair was lank and greasy, smeared with ash and tallow. His skin was tough and brown, hands gnarled and arthritic. To get to that door, he had to make it through the guards at the estate’s tall gate.

  “Oy, old man,” a stumpy guard with a halberd said. “Whatcha be wanting?”

  “I heard my little girl is here. Miss Cromwyll. I hoped she might find me a crust, is all.”

  That woke up the other guard, who had only given Kylar a cursory glance. “What’d you say? You’re related to Miss Cromwyll?” The protective air around the man, who must have been nearly forty, was palpable.

  “No, no, she’s not mine,” Kylar protested, scraping a laugh across his lungs. “Just an old friend.”

  The guards looked at each other. “You gwyna go find ’er and bring ’er out here at this time of day with the goin’s on tonight?” Stumpy asked.

  The other shook his head, and with a grumble, started patting Kylar down gingerly. “Swear I’ll get lice off of one of Miss Cromwyll’s strays one of these days.”

  “Ah know it, but she’s worth it, inn’t she?”

  “You’re not so magnamorous when you’re the one patting the beggars, Birt.”

  “Ah, stuff it.”

  “Go on. Kitchen’s that way,” the older guard told Kylar. “Birt, I’m lenient with ya, but if you tell me to stuff it one more time, I’ll show you the business end o’ my boot—”

  Kylar shuffled to the kitchen favoring a stiff knee. The guards, for all their talk, were professionals. They held their weapons like they knew what to do with them, and though they hadn’t seen through his disguise, they hadn’t neglected their duty to search him. Such discipline boded ill for him.

  Though he took his time walking and memorizing the layout of the estate grounds, the walk wasn’t nearly long enough. The Jadwins had been dukes for five generations, and the manse was one of the most beautiful in the city. The Jadwin estate overlooked the Plith River, and directly faced Cenaria Castle. Just north of the estate was East Kingsbridge, which was ostensibly for military use, but it was rumored to be used more often for the king’s nocturnal liaisons. If Lady Jadwin really was the king’s mistress, the Jadwin estate was perfectly placed for easy access. The king also kept the duke running all over Midcyru on diplomatic missions that everyone but the duke knew were pure pretense.

  The manse itself was set on a small central hill that allowed it to look over the river, despite twelve-foot spiked walls that bordered the entire property.

  With a trembling hand he masked as a palsy, Kylar knocked at the servants’ entrance.

  “Yes?” The door opened and a young woman wiping her hands on an apron looked at Kylar expectantly.

  She was a beautiful woman, maybe seventeen, with an hourglass figure that even through a servant’s woolens obviously would have been the envy of any of Momma K’s rent girls. The scars were still there, an X on her cheek, an X across her full lips, and a loop from the corner of her mouth to the outside of her eye. The scar gave her a permanent little grin, but the kindness of her mouth eased the cruelty of the scar.

  Kylar remembered how her eye had looked, swollen grossly. He’d been afraid she would never see out of it. But her eyes, both of them, were clear and bright brown, sparkling with goodness and happiness. Doll Girl’s nose had been broken to mush, and Elene’s wasn’t completely straight, but it didn’t look bad. And she had all her teeth—of course, he realized, she’d been young enough that she’d only lost small teeth in the beating.

  “Come in, grandfather,” she said quietly. “I’ll find you something to eat.” She offered her arm, and didn’t seem offended by his staring. She took him to a small side room with a narrow table for the servants who needed to be within earshot of the kitchen. Calmly, she told a woman ten years older than she was that she needed her to take over while Elene took care of her guest. From her tone and the older woman’s reaction, Kylar could see that Elene was adored here, and that she took care of beggars all the time.

  “How are you, grandfather? Can I get a salve for your hands? I know it’s painful on these chilly mornings.”

  What had he done to deserve this? He’d come as the most foul sort of beggar, and she showered him with kindness. He had nothing to give her, yet she treated him like a human being. This was the woman who had almost died because of his arrogance and stupidity, his failure. The only ugliness in her life was because of Kylar.

  He’d thought he’d set aside his guilt two years ago when Momma K had told him the simple truth that he’d saved Elene from worse than scars. But looking at those scars up close threatened to throw him right back to that hell.

  She put a crust covered with fresh hot gravy down on the table, and started to cut it into smaller pieces. “Would you like to sit here? We’ll just make this a little easier to chew, yes?” she said, speaking loudly the way people who work with old people learn to. She smiled and the scars tugged at her full lips.

  No. He’d put her here, with these people who adored her, where she could afford to share a crust. Elene had made her own choices to become who she was, but he had made those choices possible. If there was one good thing he’d done, it was this. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. When he opened his eyes and looked at her without guilt darkening his vision, she was stunning. Elene’s hair was lustrous gold, aside from the scars her skin was flawless, eyes large and bright, cheekbones high, lips full, teeth white, neck slender, figure entrancing. She was leaning forward to cut the crust for him, her bodice gapping in front—

  Kylar tore his eyes away, trying to slow his pulse. She noticed his sharp move and looked at him. He met her eyes. Her look was quizzical, open. He was going to ask this woman to betray her employer?

  A tangled snarl of emotions that he’d kept shoved into some dark corner closet of his soul surged and burst through the doors. Kylar choked on a sob. He blinked his eyes hard. Get a hold of yourself.

  Elene put her arm around him, heedless of his filthy clothing and stench. She didn’t say anything, didn’t ask anything, just touched him. Tingles shot through him, and his emotions surged again.

  “Do you know who I am?” Kylar asked. He didn’t use the beggar voice.

  Elene Cromwyll looked at him strangely, uncomprehending. He wanted to stay hunched, to hide from those gentle eyes, but he couldn’t. He straightened his back and stood up, and stretched his fingers.

  “Kylar?” she asked. “It is you! What are you doing here? Did Mags and Ilena send you? Oh my God, what did they tell you?” Her cheeks flushed and her eyes lit with hope and embarrassment. It wasn’t fair
that a woman could be so beautiful. Did she know what she was doing to him?

  Her face was the face of a girl surprised by a boy in the best way. Oh, gods. She thought he was here to ask her to Mags’s party. Elene’s expectations were about to meet reality like a toddler charging the Alitaeran cavalry.

  “Forget Kylar,” he said, though it pained him. “Look at me and tell me who you see.”

  “An old man?” she said. “It’s a very good costume, but it isn’t a costume party.” She flushed again as if she were presuming too much.

  “Look at me, Doll Girl.” His voice was strangled.

  She stopped, transfixed, peering into his eyes. She touched his face. Her eyes went wide. “Azoth,” she whispered. She put a hand on the table to steady herself. “Azoth!” She flung herself at him so fast, he almost tried to block her attack. Then she was squeezing him. He stood stock still, his mind refusing to understand for a long moment: she was hugging him.

  He couldn’t make himself move, couldn’t think; he simply felt. The smooth skin of her cheek brushed his scruffy, unshaven one. Her hair filled his nostrils with the clean scent of youth and promise. She hugged him fiercely, the notes of strong hard arms joining with supple firm stomach and back joining with the pure feminine softness of her chest pressed against his making a chord of perfect acceptance.

  Tentatively, he lifted his hands from his sides and touched her back. He tasted salt on his lips. A tear, his tear. His chest convulsed uncontrollably, and suddenly he was sobbing. He grabbed her, and she squeezed him harder still. He felt her crying, staccato breaths shaking her slender frame. And for a moment, the world was reduced to a single hug, reunion, joy, acceptance.

  “Azoth, I heard you were dead,” Elene said, all too soon.

  You will always be alone. Kylar froze up. If tears could stop halfway down a cheek, his would have.

 
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