The black prism, p.26
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       The Black Prism, p.26
 

           Brent Weeks

  Dazen didn’t even notice it at first, but one day he realized he had something he’d lost long long ago. He had hope. He would get out. He knew that now. It was only a matter of time. Vengeance was coming, and, if long delayed, it would be all the sweeter for it. Dazen sighed, contented, and continued his work.

  Chapter 40

  Gavin tore off the stained shirt and grunted as he scraped the cloth across his burn. Fifty danar shirt, and I ruined it in half an hour. Worse, he’d noticed some of the girls glancing at the spreading stain. That wasn’t a disaster. They wouldn’t ask about it. One of the Spectrum would. He liked to save up his lies for them.

  He cursed under his breath.

  Gavin knew that Marissia must have some sort of an organizational scheme to how she put away his clothing, but whatever it was, he’d never pierced its logic. He rifled through stacks of shirts and pants and breeches and cloaks and habias and robes and thobes and petasoi and ghotras, most of which he didn’t think he’d ever worn. Orholam, he had a lot of clothes. And these were only his summer clothes. He supposed it was because, as Prism, he was supposed to be of all peoples, so if he met with an ambassador or needed to suddenly visit Abornea, he would already have local clothing that fit him.

  He was still standing bare-chested, ointment smeared on his burn—at least he had the sense to keep aid supplies in his own room—when the door opened. Marissia slipped in quietly. She glanced at the burn on his ribs. Her jade green eyes lit with anger, though Gavin couldn’t tell if it was at him or for him. Maybe a bit of both. She grabbed the ointment from his table and smeared more around to his back. Ouch. Apparently, he’d missed some spots. Then she bandaged him with a practiced hand. She wasn’t gentle. “Does my lord need assistance finding another shirt?” she asked.

  “Owww!” he yelped. He cleared his throat, lowered his voice an octave. “Please.”

  She went to a stack he swore he’d searched thoroughly and immediately plucked a shirt from its depths. He didn’t think he’d ever worn it before, but it was a style he liked, and dark enough that if the ointment soaked through this one, no one would notice. Marissia had a certain magic of her own. He could swear that shirt hadn’t been there before.

  She began whistling quietly as she dressed him and fixed his hair; it was an old tune, pretty. Marissia was a good whistler.

  Oh, the tune was “Little Lamb Lost.” A comment on not being able to find his own clothes? Probably. He had bigger things to worry about. He’d dealt with his brother, how much trouble could the Spectrum be?

  “I’ll be leaving either in the morning or the next day,” Gavin said. “There’s a young man testing downstairs. Kip. He’s my, uh, natural son.” There was no need to use the “nephew” euphemism with Marissia. Marissia knew that Gavin had imprisoned his brother, but even she didn’t know that Gavin wasn’t Gavin. She hadn’t known either of them before the war, so she didn’t need to know. He trusted her completely, but the fewer people who knew that secret, the longer it would be before all this crashed down on his head. “He’s sixteen—fifteen, I mean. Will you find appropriate clothes for him and pack for both of us for two weeks?”

  “More for fighting or for impressing?”

  “Both.”

  “Of course,” she said flatly.

  On his way out the door, Gavin grabbed his sword in its jeweled scabbard. He wasn’t nearly the hand with a blade that even the least of the Blackguard was. He had been quite skilled once, but once he’d realized he could draft any combination of color and instantly have a weapon of whatever kind he needed, he hadn’t practiced with plain steel as often as was required to compete with professional warriors like the Blackguard.

  Of course, that assumed a fair fight, and there was no such thing with a drafter. The Blackguards themselves would fight with whatever was at hand: blades, magic, a goblet of wine, or a faceful of sand.

  He tucked the Ilytian pistols into his belt too. Just to be an ass.

  When Gavin stepped out of his door, there were two Blackguards waiting for him. His escort. It was his compromise with the White. He got to travel without the Blackguard when he thought it was absolutely necessary—so, most of the time—as long as he agreed to have them around when he was in a place where assassination was more likely. The White wasn’t pleased with how he’d interpreted their agreement, but he clung ferociously to what little freedom he had.

  He strode quickly through the single hall that separated the halves of this level. He and the White each had one-half of the floor. Because of the Chromeria’s rotation, Gavin’s half was always pointed toward the sun. An odd irony that the White should be forever in shadow, though in her elder years this White had appreciated it. It minimized the temptations of drafting and hastening her own death. Gavin wondered again how she did it. Without drafting, he would feel empty, weak. Life wouldn’t be worth living without chromaturgy. It defined who he was. Surely it had done the same for the White, and yet she lived on, her will still iron, her back unbowed.

  Stepping past the Blackguards guarding her room, he knocked on her door.

  “She’s not here,” the man on the left said. “The White has gone to meet with the Chromeria. She thought it would be rude to keep the full Spectrum waiting because of one man’s tardiness.”

  This was how the Blackguards registered their displeasure. His own Blackguards knew where he was going as soon as he turned toward the White’s room rather than toward the lift, but they didn’t tell him. The White’s Blackguards knew where he was going as soon as they saw him, but they didn’t tell him the White was gone until he knocked, causing him to waste more time and be even later. One man’s tardiness? What’s the Spectrum going to talk about without me? I called the meeting.

  As was typical, the Blackguards were careful in showing their irritation. There would be no more trouble from them for a while, Ironfist would see to that. If they peeved Gavin more than occasionally, he would do more to avoid them and they wouldn’t be able to do their job of protecting him. Still, they wanted him to respect them. Which he did, after a fashion.

  It’s an odd person who volunteers to jump in front of an arrow when they don’t even know if they’ll like the Prism or White that they’ll be assigned to guard. But he wouldn’t be chained. Power was freedom. Power had to be maintained.

  “If you can’t serve me well,” Gavin said to his own two Blackguards, “you can’t serve me at all.” He turned on his heel and started walking toward the lift.

  Of course they said nothing. They simply accompanied him on his left and right. Commander Ironfist trained them to ignore orders that put their charges in danger.

  Gavin waved his arms down, drafting bars of blue luxin strengthened with yellow down to his left and right. His Blackguards hesitated momentarily as he kept walking briskly, and he closed the gap in the middle. He kept walking, not even looking back as he threw up walls of solid blue, red, green, yellow, and superviolet.

  It satisfied a small part of him. His brother really had gotten under his skin. The bastard.

  But at the same time, this was necessary. The Blackguard had to know they couldn’t control him. That was how smart bodyguards worked: impede your freedom a little, then a little more, and soon they had their way. Gavin wasn’t going to let that happen. If he had the Blackguard hovering around him at all times—as they ultimately wished—they would learn not just his secrets like the skimmer and the condor, but his final secret. What would the Blackguard do if they found out that Gavin wasn’t Gavin at all? They might decide he was the de facto Prism and that was enough. Or they might decide he was a threat to the real Prism. Or he might split the Blackguard into warring camps. Pleasant thought, a bunch of elite warrior-drafters trying to destroy each other. That was what made this necessary. The Blackguard must be taught and taught again to accept the crumbs Gavin let drop: You can protect me if you serve me wholeheartedly, and I’ll withdraw that privilege whenever I please for any reason or none.

  At first, years ag
o, Commander Spear had punished those Blackguards who let Gavin escape them. When that didn’t work, he’d made the punishments public, shaming the Blackguards for that which wasn’t their fault. Gavin had felt awful, and had not changed a bit. Commander Spear had escalated the punishments, publicly flogging several men, including a young Ironfist. Gavin had responded by yawning and not letting any Blackguards near him for a month. Then he’d walked through crowded markets, leaving bound and gagged the Blackguards that Commander Spear sent, and he’d done it in the aftermath of the war, when there had been not a few men who would have gladly killed him.

  When there finally was an assassination attempt and no Blackguards present, Commander Spear had discharged the six Blackguards who were supposed to be protecting Gavin. The White had finally stepped in and discharged Commander Spear instead. Gavin hadn’t felt sorry for the man. Once he’d learned that using Gavin’s guilt against him wouldn’t work, he should have tried something else. A man who couldn’t change tactics shouldn’t be in charge of the Blackguard in the first place.

  The move hadn’t made Gavin any friends, but it had left him in charge. Besides, he didn’t need friends. The two Blackguards at the lift looked at each other as he approached. The woman on the left was short but as thick as a bull. She said, “High Lord Prism, I notice you don’t have an escort. May I join you?”

  Gavin grinned. “Since you ask so nicely,” he said.

  They opened the lift for him, and in moments he was on the next level below his and the White’s floor. The Blackguards on watch blinked at his sole escort. Doubtless they knew the guard rotation, and knew she wasn’t supposed to be on Prism duty, nor was the Prism supposed to be guarded by only one Blackguard.

  “High Lord Prism,” one of them said, a tall red/orange bichrome youth only twenty years old, thus quite talented. “May I accompany you?”

  “Thank you, but no,” Gavin said. “You can’t protect me from what’s waiting here.”

  Gavin had told Kip that the White tried to balance the Prism’s power, but he didn’t like it much when she did.

  He stepped into the council room. The Colors were scattered around the table. For formal events, they would sit in order around the table: Sub-red, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Superviolet, Black, Prism, White. For meetings like this one, however, the pull of sitting by friends or the lure of grabbing one of the more comfortable chairs outweighed the natural tendency to sit in the same spot every time. Gavin found the last spot, between the Superviolet, a tall, skin-and-bones coal-black Parian woman named Sadah, and the soft, lighter-skinned Ruthgari man with the beaded beard, Klytos Blue.

  Gavin had told Kip that each Color represented a country, and that was mostly true. Each satrap or satrapah appointed one Color. It was the most important decision most rulers ever made. But the system had begun to break down even before the False Prism’s War, when Andross Guile had bribed and blackmailed his way into the Red seat, though the Blood Forest already had one Color. He’d been so audacious, he’d stolen that seat from Ruthgar, claiming that the Guiles’ sliver of swampland in Ruthgari made him eligible for the Ruthgari seat.

  Of course, after the war, similar logic had been used to deprive Tyrea of a seat.

  There were so many interlocking and overlapping layers of loyalty it was dizzying. Both the Red and the Green were Ruthgari and thus likely to unite on any issue concerning Ruthgar. But the Green was also cousins with Jia Tolver, an Abornean woman who was the Yellow. The Aborneans strangled both Parian and Ruthgari trade through the Narrows, so anything to do with trade would see them at each other’s throats, but on anything else they might try to form a bloc. The Sub-red was a Blood Forester, who were allies now with their stronger neighbors the Ruthgari, but her parents had been killed in the war by the Green’s brothers. And on it went. Every noble family in the Seven Satrapies did everything it could to get at least one son or daughter into the Chromeria, if for nothing else than to try to watch their backs.

  In turn, everyone in the Spectrum did all they could to protect themselves. Family bonds, clan bonds, national bonds, color bonds, and ideological bonds cut every which way. The Colors were political creatures as much as they were magical. To be named a Color took a certain amount of chromaturgical aptitude—the White saw to that—but after that bar was reached, not a few of these seats had found inhabitants at the same time that donkey-trains loaded with gold had made their way into royal houses. Gavin knew it had been thus when his own father had joined.

  The White, in her wheeled chair, said, “I call this meeting to order. Let the record show that all Colors except for Red are in attendance.” They hated that. Hated that they couldn’t get rid of Andross Guile. They hated that in defiance of all convention, he hadn’t attended a meeting in five years but still insisted that his votes be counted. They hated what his having his vote delivered by messenger said about how little he valued their opinions. No eloquence would ever move Andross Guile. He would see and weigh every issue alone, and decide, regardless of the mummery of these Spectrum meetings. But they feared him, too. The White said, “Lord Prism, you have called this meeting, so I turn over the proceeding to you.”

  She thought she was thwarting him. That he’d grown too independent. That he might become dangerous if she didn’t yank the leash.

  Careful, Orea. When choked, dogs go docile—but wolves go wild.

  Gavin’s relationship with the Spectrum had always been thorny. Of course, when he’d been recuperating after Sundered Rock, they’d stripped him of his title of promachos, taking control of the armies away from him, as custom dictated. But they hadn’t known whether he would allow it. Still learning his new guise, he had, but he didn’t care much for any of the Colors personally. Nor did they care for him. He’d lived too long, become too powerful. He didn’t need them, and that scared them.

  They hated his father. They hated the Guiles, and they stymied Gavin whenever they could.

  Patience, Gavin. Plenty of time for purpose six. Plenty of room to maneuver. You are Andross Guile’s son.

  “We need to release the city of Garriston immediately, pull out all of our men, and give it back to King Garadul,” Gavin said. “Preferably with an apology that we didn’t do it sooner.”

  Silence. Followed by awkward silence.

  Klytos Blue chuckled uncertainly. When no one else joined him, he fell silent.

  “King?” the White asked.

  “That’s what he’s calling himself.” Gavin didn’t elaborate.

  Sadah Superviolet said, “Surely you’re not serious, Lord Prism. The governorship transfers to Paria in a few weeks. It’s our right. People have made plans. Ships are sailing already. If we must have this conversation, let us have it two years from now.”

  “Absolutely not,” Delara Orange said. She was a forty-year-old bichrome, with great sagging breasts and the red and orange in her eyes pushing to the very edge of her irises. She was an Atashian. Atash got the governorship right after Paria’s. “Paria took the very first rotation, when there were actually a few treasures left in the city. And you looted it all.”

  “We also had to repair a city that had been burned to the ground and care for its injured and ill. We took only what was an appropriate recompense.”

  “Stop,” Gavin said, before it could go any further. “You’re having the wrong fight. This isn’t about who has the governorship, in what order, or for how long. It’s been sixteen years since we crushed Tyrea. They still don’t have a representative in this room. There are fewer Tyreans in the Chromeria every year. Why is that? Have they suddenly stopped bearing drafters there? Or is it because we have demanded a tribute from them so ruinous they can’t support their drafters, which in turn impoverishes their land further? Then we hold Garriston, their main port and their largest city, and your governors tax every orange and pomegranate and melon. I’ve been to Garriston, and it’s a shadow of its former greatness. The great irrigation canals are full of sand. The fields are worked by women an
d children or no one, and there’s not a drafter to be found.”

  “You pity them?” Delara Orange asked. “When my brothers rise from the dead and the Castle of Ru is rebuilt, I’ll feel pity for Garriston. They joined Dazen. It was their war that killed tens of thousands. I saw them cast Satrapah Naheed’s two-year-old son down the Great Steps. I saw them cut open her pregnant belly, take her babe, and make bets on how far down the steps one of their men could throw the screaming child. They cut off the satrapah’s nose and ears and breasts and arms and legs and threw her down after. While we watched. The babe made it all the way to the last step, in case you’re curious. I got some of its brain on my dress. I wanted to try to catch it, but I didn’t move. No one did. Those are the people you wish us to have mercy on? Or maybe it’s the people who sank the entire refugee flotilla, which had not a single drafter or armed man on board?”

  That was Gavin’s fault. As Dazen. He’d sent a young, new general, Gad Delmarta, who had always been efficient and direct. Gavin had told Gad to secure Ru. General Delmarta had taken that to mean to secure it so that there could never be any resistance ever again. He’d exterminated the royal family—all fifty-six members of it and scores of their male retainers—publicly, one at a time, in the order of their succession, and burned down their great castle, the pride of Atash. When the people had fled, General Delmarta had sent fire drafters after the flotilla. Gavin had only found out about it afterward, and then what could he do? It was war, and his general had followed his orders, and when General Delmarta marched on the great city of Idoss next, it had surrendered without a fight because of their fear of the man, because of his cruelty.

  “Maybe,” Gavin said, “we could count how many children died when you burned Garriston in retaliation and barred the gates so no one could escape? I seem to recall that all the Tyrean drafters and all but two hundred of the Tyrean soldiers were a hundred leagues away at the time. How long did it take for the river to clear of bodies? So many little corpses bobbing in the water. Even with all those hundreds of sharks turning the bay to bloody foam with their thrashing, it was weeks, wasn’t it?”

 
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