The black prism, p.27
The Black Prism,
Gavin had never learned whose idea it was, but when Garriston had been burned, someone had stationed red drafters all around the walls. Soldiers shielded the drafters while they hurled red luxin back and forth in swathes throughout the city. Red luxin was used as fuel for lamps. Spread throughout a city, it had made a hell for the residents of Garriston. Tens of thousands had jumped into the river, and thousands more had jumped in on top of them. Their bodies themselves had almost been enough to dam the river in places. And then some of his older brother’s cleverer drafters had floated red luxin down the river in little boats of green or blue luxin, or mixed red and orange luxin to make a concoction so flammable it would burn even underwater, or mixed it with superviolet to make it float burning on the very water itself. Between the fire, the smoke, the water, the press of the crowds, the crushing deaths as whole buildings fell into the packed river, and the fire floating down the river itself, there had been death on a scale no one had imagined before.
Before the war, Garriston had been home to more than a hundred thousand people. His own conscriptions had thinned that to perhaps eighty thousand. After the fires, only ten thousand remained, and after the first winter, only five thousand.
“Enough,” the Black said. Carver was no drafter, and so in some respects he was the weakest member of the Spectrum. As the Black, he was responsible for most of the mundane aspects of ruling Little Jasper: importing food, managing trade, awarding contracts, recruiting and paying soldiers, maintenance for buildings and the docks, building ships, and everything else that the White ceded to his control so she could focus on managing the Chromeria itself. But he was a formidable man, and Gavin respected him. “We could list horrors all day, Lord Prism. What’s the point?”
The point is, out of my five great purposes left, the only purely altruistic one is to free Garriston. Those people are suffering because of me, and you bastards have stopped every attempt I’ve made to help them.
“The point is,” Gavin said, “that the Tyreans have as much reason to hate us as we have to hate them. We’ve been punishing them for the war for sixteen years. Most of the people paying the price now were children when the war started. They see no reason they should continue paying for what their dead fathers did or didn’t do. They hate us, and the fact is, none of us—none of the Seven Satrapies—want to go back there with an army.”
“What are you saying?” Luxlord Black asked. “Do you have specific intelligence of a threat?”
“I’m saying if we don’t pull out of Garriston and end the tribute on our terms, King Garadul is going to take Garriston by force and end it on his.” That’s what King Garadul had meant when he’d told Gavin, “We’re going to take back what you stole from us.” But Gavin couldn’t tell them about that without revealing more secrets, and they wouldn’t believe it anyway.
“I’m failing to see the humor here,” Klytos Blue said nervously. He was a coward in a dozen ways, but Ruthgar wasn’t going to give up Garriston easily, Gavin knew. “We’ve got a thousand soldiers and fifty drafters there. The drafters alone could hold off whatever army this ‘King’ Garadul could raise.”
“Knuckling under to a rebel, a man who declares himself a king—it’s unthinkable,” the Orange said. “He deserves death.”
Oh, father, it’s too bad you never come anymore. You would enjoy this. I can do one thing that you never could.
“First,” Gavin said, “us leaving is the right thing to do. We’re punishing people who have suffered too much already, and they hate us for it. We’ve been planting the seeds of another war for the last sixteen years. They started the war, yes. General Delmarta was born in Garriston, yes. But that doesn’t excuse us from what we’ve done, which is not just wrong, but also stupid.”
“Excuse me?” Delara Orange said. Her predecessor to the Orange—her mother—had been the architect of the rotating occupation scheme.
“You heard me,” Gavin said. “We get almost no Tyrean drafters. You think that’s because none are born there anymore? Ha! What if, instead of training here, where they are poor and reviled and suspected as traitors, what if someone decided to train them closer to home? A new school, a Chromeria dedicated to vengeance, started because of our pettiness and stupidity.”
“Nonsense,” Delara said. “We would have heard of such a thing.”
“But what if you hadn’t?” Gavin asked. “The quality of instruction might not be as good as ours. I hope it wouldn’t be. But even with a few rudimentary fire spells, how long could your fifty drafters stationed in Garriston hold out against several hundred? How long could your soldiers hold out against thousands of rebels who could hide in plain sight among the locals? The fact is, King Garadul will take Garriston. He will demand it, on terms that he knows are insufferable, and then he will seize it. The only question is, will we lose and lose face and make King Garadul seem like a winner, and finally get drawn into a war your satrapies don’t have the stomach for, or will we forgo a tribute which—after it’s divided six ways—is insignificant, and give away that which we can’t keep? If we give Garriston to King Garadul before he even asks, we look magnanimous. If we give him an apology, we look moral, and if we do both before he asks, we deprive him of a victory and a cause.”
“Do you have evidence of all this?” Delara asked. She was slippery, as oranges tended to be, but drafting red luxin made a drafter more aggressive and reckless over time, too. “Because it seems to me that you would like us to give away an entire city for little reason otherwise. We don’t know this new King Garadul. He has only recently taken power. He hasn’t sent us a single emissary, much less made demands.”
“You’re telling me none of you have spies at Garadul’s side?” Gavin shot back.
A few sardonic smiles and silence. No one was going to admit that, of course. They didn’t trust each other enough. There had been no wars in the last sixteen years, but that didn’t mean that everyone’s interests were aligned. The Chromeria and every capital was as full of spies as it had ever been.
“If you don’t,” Gavin said in an imperious tone sure to needle them, “get some.”
“High Luxlord, we take your advice to the satrapies very seriously, of course—” Klytos Blue started to say. The Ruthgari hated Gavin, and had since he’d ended the war with the Blood Forest.
Gavin cut him off. Time to play the hothead. “Listen, you morons. I don’t know how you didn’t see this coming. Or maybe some of you did. Your loyalty is noted. The fact remains, this is rebellion and it’s heresy. King Garadul is talking about overthrowing the satrapies and the worship of Orholam himself. I would have thought Orholam would command better service from his Colors.”
“Enough! Enough, Lord Prism!” the White barked. She looked at Gavin like she couldn’t believe what he’d said.
Nothing like calling powerful men and women idiots, ingrates, disloyal, and impious all at once. Looking around the room, Gavin saw shock on some faces and hatred on others.
In the silence, Klytos Blue spoke first. He was a blue. It was only natural he should think things through faster than anyone else. “I believe that we should take the Lord Prism seriously. It’s only prudent that we serve the satrapies and Orholam as zealously as he does every day.” The words were delivered straight, but the malice couldn’t have been more evident. “I move that we send a delegation to Garriston, to assess the threat from the alleged rebel Garadul and report back to us directly.”
“A delegation?! Are you blind or stupid or corrupt?” Gavin demanded. “By the time they—”
“Gavin!” the White said. “Enough!”
She took the vote for a delegation to be sent and report back in two months’ time. It passed, five to zero, with two abstentions.
Gavin sat back in his chair, as if stunned, defeated. In the silence before anyone stood to leave, he shook his head. Said grimly, “I ceded power after the war, gave up the promachia. I became an adviser, when many wanted me to be an emperor in truth. And now you ignore me. V
You see, father, this is the one thing I can do that you never could: I can handle appearing to lose.
Liv had barely seen her new apartments in the yellow tower before she’d gone out. Not to celebrate, not because she was impulsive, but because her courage had been fading with every passing second. She’d been to half the moneylenders on the islands before she found one willing to do business with her.
Stepping inside her new room, she found that the tower’s slaves had brought all her meager belongings over from the closet she’d called home for the last three years. And there was a woman sitting on her bed.
“Salvé, Liv, been out celebrating?” Aglaia Crassos asked.
“What are you doing in my apartments?” Liv asked. “How’d you get in here?”
“It’s not good to forget your friends, Aliviana.” Aglaia stood and came to stand a hand’s breadth from Liv’s face.
“What? You’re here to threaten me? I’m shaking.”
Something ugly crossed Aglaia’s face, but then was replaced by that smooth mask again, and that disingenuous laugh. “Careful with that sharp tongue, girl. You may cut your own throat.”
“I’m done,” Liv said. “Gavin Guile has—”
“Bought you to be his bed slave. I heard.”
“Go to hell!” Liv said.
“You’re the one who’ll do that, seeing how you’re throwing yourself at the man who murdered your mother and destroyed your country.”
It was a tremendous slap. Liv took a step back.
Aglaia had made a reference to the burning of Garriston before, but Liv had never heard anything remotely like that. In truth, Liv had no idea, but considering the source, she was willing to bet it was a lie. “The Prism didn’t have anything to do with that.”
“And you know that because he said so? Your mother died in those fires. Your father led the fight against Gavin Guile.”
“What do you care about Garriston? Ruthgar fought on the Prism’s side. Your father fought beside Gavin.”
“And my brother is the governor of Garriston, so I’m in a position to know things,” Aglaia said. She lowered her voice and leaned in. “And maybe now you are too.”
So that was what this was about. “No,” Liv said. “I’m finished with you, with Ruthgar, and with your lies.” Fealty to One. That was the Danavis motto, with strong suggestion that it was fealty only to one. And Liv wasn’t about to serve this one.
“Welcome to your new life, Liv. You’re important now. You are a player in the great game, and your hand isn’t all bad. You see, Liv, you might be Tyrean, but no one’s going to hold that against you anymore. It will only make you more remarkable for overcoming such a handicap. The good life can be yours.”
“You can’t buy me,” Liv said.
“We already did.”
“Things are different now. By the Prism’s own command.”
Aglaia’s eyebrows rose slowly, making her horsey face seem even longer. It was a practiced gesture, but then, nothing about her was genuine. “I’ve been working with you for, what, three years now? And I went back through my notes. I never thought you were a thief, Aliviana Danavis. But now you’re abandoning your duty after three years of schooling. Three years we’ve supported your every need—”
“Oh so generously, too!” Liv said.
“If it had been more generous, your debt would be that much greater now. Here’s my question, Liv. What kind of woman are you?”
It was the same question that had put a quill in Liv’s hand to sign away a fortune. With her new friendship with Gavin, she could probably tell the Ruthgari to go bugger themselves. What could they say against the Prism’s decision? And though Liv had gone from a nothing—a monochrome talented in a minimally useful color—to a bichrome, she still wasn’t worth fighting over. Plenty of each nation’s investments went bad. Drafters died or burned out, or switched loyalty in the last year of their training. Every nation tried to steal drafters, and the Ruthgari were more successful at it than anyone else, so surely they wouldn’t fight too hard to keep Liv.
But to be a Danavis was to act with honor. Always.
“What do you want?” Liv asked.
“You’ve been an embarrassment to me, Liv. The hardly talented daughter of a rebel general. But now you’re going to be a jewel in my crown. You will be my vengeance on those who thought to slight me. And for that, I need you to be a success. You’ll already be collecting a generous allowance from the bursar out of the Chromeria’s general fund. Keep that, and we’ll pay you double as well. We’ll forgive your debt and the years of service you already owe us. Hell, if you play your cards right, you can draw allowances from three or four nations before you leave the Jaspers. Indeed, you won’t need to leave the Chromeria at all, if you serve us well. Think about that: you can have a life here, at the center of the world, where everything important happens. Bed who you want, marry who you want, give your children every advantage you were denied. Or you can go serve some lordling somewhere, writing letters and examining his wife’s bed to see if she’s faithful to him, hoping he’ll give you permission to marry someone you can tolerate. Out of all the nations, Ruthgar is the best to serve. And the worst to offend.”
“But why do you want me to spy on the Prism? He’s never done anything to offend Ruthgar.”
“We like to keep an eye on our friends. It helps us remain friends—”
“And yet you were just telling me how I could do this to hurt the man who killed my mother. Which is it, Aglaia? Do you want me to betray him to hurt him, or it’s not really a betrayal at all because you aren’t going to hurt him?”
“Well said,” Aglaia said. But then she continued, unflappable, “The point is, you may be able to damage the man personally who is responsible for so much havoc in your country, but your interference, your betrayal—perverse girl, insisting on calling the service of your own country a betrayal—your ‘betrayal’ won’t result in war. These lands have seen enough of that.”
It took Liv a moment to digest. It did make sense. In a way.
“But this is impossible. I don’t know the Prism. He’s talked to me once. Once.”
“And he liked you.”
“I don’t know that I’d go that far.”
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get someone next to that man? We’re going to give you all this just for trying. Besides, we know he has a weakness for Tyreans.” A tiny, quick lift of her eyebrows showed that she was honestly surprised that the Prism would have such bad taste. “Maybe you can use this son of his to get close to him. We don’t care.”
It was bad enough to be asked to betray the Prism, but to use Kip to get to him? No. Kip was a good boy. Liv wouldn’t do it. There was only one way out of this, and she’d known it all along.
Liv pulled out three coin sticks. “This is how much the Ruthgari government has spent on my upkeep for the last three years. With interest. Here, take it. I’m done with you. I’m free. I don’t owe you anything.”
Aglaia Crassos didn’t even look at the coins. She didn’t ask how Liv had gotten so much money. In truth, it had taken signing over a writ to an Abornean moneylender that would allow him to receive her allowance directly, and a ruinous interest rate. Liv was a pauper once more. She’d have to sell some of the marvelous dresses they’d given her just to stay afloat. “Liv, Liv, Liv. I don’t want to be your enemy. But now that you’re finally worth something, I’d swive a horse before I’d let you go. You have a cousin who was here when you first arrived. Showed you how things work here, yes?”
“Erethanna,” Liv said.
“She’s a green serving Count Nassos in western Ruthgar. She just petitioned to marry some blacksmith. The count has put a hold on it—at my request.”
“You…” Liv said, trembling.
“Lovely couple, apparently. So happ
“Go to hell!”
“And your own studies can be opposed. And rumors can be started from dozens of corners about all sorts of despicable things you’ve done. We can poison any well when you finish your studies and are looking for work. You can’t stay under the Prism’s patronage forever. The second his eyes turn elsewhere…”
“I’m not worth that much to Ruthgar,” Liv said, real fear constricting her throat.
“No, not to Ruthgar. But to me you are. Your attitude has made you worth my full attention. And if you make me look bad, I will make you mourn the day you ever met me.”
“I already do.” Liv felt deflated. “Get out. Get out before I kill you with my bare hands.”
Aglaia stood, grabbed the money sticks, and said, “I’ll take these for my troubles. After you’ve reconsidered, you know where to find me.”
Aglaia walked out.
Liv was left trembling. Not thirty seconds later, there was a knock on the door. That was it. Liv was going to kill her. She strode to the door and threw it open.
It wasn’t Aglaia. A beautiful woman stood there. A Blood Forester, with the oddly pale, freckled skin that still seemed strange to Liv even after years at the Chromeria, and red hair like a flame. The woman was dressed in a slave’s dress, but it was tailored to her lean figure, and a finer cotton than Liv had ever seen any slave wear. A nobleman’s slave?
The slave handed Liv a note. “Mistress,” she said. “From the High Lord Prism.”
Liv Danavis stared at the note, feeling stupid, off balance. It read, “Please come see me at your earliest convenience.” Her heart leapt into her throat. A summons from the Prism. So here it was, the beginning of her paying her debt to Gavin Guile. She didn’t fool herself by hoping it would be the end of it, too. When you owed a luxlord, you owed them forever.
The Black Prism by Brent Weeks / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes