The night angel trilogy, p.27
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.27

           Brent Weeks
 

  “That’s some favor,” Logan said.

  The prince waved a hand. “King Stupid gave my mother’s favorite jewel to his mistress. I’m here to get it back. It doesn’t matter. You know my sister?”

  “Of course.” Jenine was here somewhere. She was usually described as “sunny”: very pretty, and very fifteen.

  “She’s smitten with you, Logan. She’s been in love with you for two years. Talks about you all the time.”

  “You’re joking. I’ve barely exchanged two words with her.”

  “So what,” the prince said. “She’s a great kid. She’s pretty, only getting prettier, and she has my mother’s intelligence—I know how important that is to you, my vituperative friend.”

  “I’m not vituperative,” Logan said.

  “See? I don’t even know if you are or not. I just grabbed the biggest word I know. But Jeni would.”

  “What are you saying, Your Highness?”

  “Jenine’s your birthday present, Logan. If you want her. Marry her. Just give me the word.”

  Logan was stunned. “That’s, that’s quite the birthday present.”

  “Your family will be restored. Our children will grow up together. One of your grandchildren could share the throne with one of mine. You’ve been the best friend a man could ask for, Logan, and friends are something most princes don’t get. I want to do well by you. You’ll be happy, I promise it. Jenine is turning into an amazing woman. As I think you’ve noticed.” The prince nodded.

  Logan saw her then, looking at him across the room, and he realized he’d already seen her tonight. Or at least her breasts.

  His face flamed. He tried to summon words, but they abandoned him. Jenine stood there across the room, with the elegance of a woman far older, at least until one of her friends said something to her and she started giggling.

  The prince laughed. “Say yes, and you can do all the things you were imagining a minute ago. Legitimately.”

  “I, I…” Logan’s jaw worked. “I’m in love with Serah, Your Highness. Thank you for your offer, but—”

  “Logan! Do everyone a favor. Say yes. Your parents will be overjoyed. Your family will be saved. Jenine will be ecstatic.”

  “You didn’t tell her, did you?”

  “Of course not. But think about it. Serah’s great. But let’s be honest, she’s kind of pretty, but she’s not as smart as you like, and you know what the rumors say about her getting around—”

  “She’s the opposite of a loose woman, Aleine. She hasn’t even more than kissed me.”

  “But the rumors—”

  “The rumors are because people hate her father. I love her. I’m going to marry her.”

  “Excuse me,” a young blonde said. She slid between them and brushed past the prince to reach for a sweet roll. She was a scandal in red. The friction between her chest and the prince’s nearly pulled her breasts free of her dress, which had something more like a navel-line than a neckline. The prince noticed, Logan saw. But then, he usually did. And so did Logan.

  “I’m Viridiana,” the girl said, catching the prince’s eyes as they came back up. “I’m so sorry, excuse me.” Not that it was an apology. Not that it was an accident.

  Viridiana slipped back into the crowd, her dancer’s body carrying the prince’s eyes and his thoughts away from Logan. “Well, uh, think about it. Let’s talk tomorrow, before you ask,” the prince said, watching Viridiana head out to the back porch. She looked over her shoulder, and seeing him looking, smiled.

  The prince looked down at his plate, piled high with a little bit of each delicacy on the table. Then he looked at Logan’s, piled high with just one thing. “This, my friend,” the prince said, “is the difference between us. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve seen a dish I simply must sample.”

  Logan sighed. His eyes fell on Jenine again, who was still looking at him. It looked like her friends were urging her to go talk to him.

  Damnation. Where’s Serah?

  39

  There were guards on every stair. This wasn’t good news. Kylar had made his way surreptitiously through the party, trying to look so ordinary that no one gave him a second glance, but it wasn’t easy. Especially doing it while keeping an eye out for Hu Gibbet, who most likely was doing the same thing. If Hu saw him, Kylar would lose the only advantage he had.

  He made his way onto the back porch. Normally, he would have avoided it, because it was liberally strewn with couples. If one thing was guaranteed to make you feel lonely, it was seeing other people kissing passionately in an alcove in the moonlight.

  Now, though, Kylar was looking for a way to the second floor. A balcony hung just above the porch, and if he could figure out a route, he could climb to it quickly enough that no one would even notice. Of course, once he was upstairs, he’d still have to find the ka’kari, but he bet it was in the duchess’s room. People liked to keep their favorite jewels close.

  The wall had no trellises. Maybe he could jump off the rail and vault off the wall high enough to grab the edge of the balcony, a good fifteen feet above. He could probably do it, but he’d have to get it on the first try. If he fell, no one would be able to ignore the noise he made when he crashed through the rose bushes below.

  Still, it’s better than standing here. Kylar breathed deeply.

  “Kylar?” It was a woman’s voice. “Kylar, hello. What are you doing here?”

  Kylar turned guiltily. “Serah! Hello.” She looked like she’d spent all day getting ready for the night. Her dress was modestly cut, but classic, beautiful, and obviously far more expensive than anything Count Drake could afford. “Wow, Serah. That dress…”

  She smiled and glowed, but only for a moment. “Logan’s mother gave it to me.”

  He turned and grabbed the rail. Across the river, behind high walls, the castle towers gleamed in the moonlight, as near and unreachable as Serah herself.

  She came and stood beside him. She said, “You know Logan is going to—”

  “I know.”

  She put her hand on his. He turned and they looked into each other’s eyes. “I’m so confused, Kylar. I want to say yes to him. I think I love him. But I also—”

  He swept her into his arms roughly, throwing an arm around her back and a hand behind her neck. He pulled her to him and kissed her. For a moment, she gasped. And then she was kissing him back.

  In the distance, as if all the way across the river, somewhere in the castle, he heard a door slam. But it was so far away, surely it didn’t matter. Then he felt Serah stiffen in his arms and pull back.

  A hand clapped on Kylar’s shoulder, not gently.

  “What the hell are you doing!” Logan shouted, spinning Kylar around.

  Heads popped out of nooks and the porch went still. Kylar saw the prince’s head among them.

  “Something I should have done a long time ago,” Kylar said. “You mind?”

  “Oh shit,” the prince said. He started trying to disentangle himself from the young blonde who was wrapped around him in an alcove.

  Kylar turned away from Logan as if to kiss Serah again, but Logan hauled him back around. Kylar’s fist came first and caught Logan on the jaw. The big man stumbled back and blinked his eyes.

  Serah shrank away, horrified, but she was already forgotten. Logan came forward, his hands up like a proper boxer. Kylar dropped into an unarmed fighting stance, Wind Through Aspens.

  Logan came in and fought as Kylar knew he would: honorably. His punches came in above the belt. Textbook jabs and hooks. He was fast, far faster than he appeared, but fighting in such a rule-bound style, he might as well have been a cripple. Kylar wove in among his punches, brushing them aside, falling back slowly.

  A crowd gathered in moments. Someone shouted that there was a fight and people started pouring outside.

  The guards, admirably enough, were the first ones out. They moved forward to stop them.

  “No,” the prince said. “Let them fight.”

  The guards
stopped. Kylar was so surprised he didn’t dodge and the next punch knocked the wind out of him. He staggered back as Logan came in, his weight on his toes, crowding Kylar back against the railing.

  Kylar gasped a few breaths, blocking his friend’s punches with difficulty. As his wind returned, rage swept over him. He blocked a punch up, ducked beneath it, and rained four quick punches on Logan’s ribs, sliding away from the railing.

  Logan turned and swept a gale through the air with a huge roundhouse, stepping forward at the same time. Kylar dropped beneath the blow and flicked a foot into Logan’s pelvis. Instead of taking a step, Logan found that his foot wasn’t where he’d told it to be. He fell. Then Kylar’s fist caught him across the face and he crashed to the ground.

  “Don’t get up,” Kylar said.

  There was a stunned silence from the crowd, followed by murmurs. They’d never seen anything like what Kylar was doing, but however effective it was, it wasn’t noble to kick a man while boxing. Kylar didn’t care. He had to finish this immediately.

  Logan got up on his hands and knees, then on his knees, obviously about to stand. Gods, it was just like in the arena. Logan didn’t know when to stay down. Kylar kicked him in the side of the head and he went down hard.

  Serah rushed forward to Logan’s side. “Well, Serah, you always wanted us to spar. Looks like I win.” Kylar smiled triumphantly at her. The murmurs started immediately, all of them disapproving.

  Serah slapped him with a crack that rattled his teeth. “You aren’t half the man Logan is.” She knelt by Logan, and Kylar could see that he’d suddenly ceased to be part of her world.

  He straightened his tunic and cloak and pushed through the crowd. The first rows stepped back for him, as if even touching him would bring them shame, but as he pushed his way inside, people were still pushing outside, desperate to see the fight that they didn’t know was already finished. Within a few feet of the door, he became just another noble in the crowd. He followed a wall to the servants’ staircase, which was now unguarded, and went upstairs.

  Well, that hadn’t exactly been a roaring success. It had cost him his reputation and had quite possibly revealed his presence to Hu Gibbet. But it had gotten him up the stairs, and for now, that was all that mattered. He could worry about the consequences tomorrow. The rest of the job would be easier. It had to be, right?

  Hu Gibbet had been tempted to head up the stairs as soon as the guards abandoned them to go break up some fool nobles’ fight. The unguarded stairs were a temptation, but he was confident of his skills. Besides, his plan would still work, and it would give him information he couldn’t get if he walked upstairs now.

  Lady Jadwin was standing near the doors to the porch, either distraught or pretending to be. It was one of those little mysteries of life that the king had chosen her as his mistress. Surely there were more attractive women who would sleep with a king, even this king. Lady Jadwin was living proof of the hazards of inbreeding. She was a tall woman with a horse’s face, large enough and old enough that she certainly didn’t belong in the dress she was wearing tonight, and known to be sexually voracious by everyone in the kingdom—except her husband.

  He figured that the distress was an act. Lady Jadwin was a passionate woman, but generally unflappable. This would probably be her excuse to go upstairs.

  There. She spoke briefly to one of her guards, then went back to apologizing to the guests streaming back in from outside, most of them disappointed at having missed the fun.

  The guard, having the subtlety of most guards, walked directly to the guard just now resuming his post at the servants’ stair. He leaned close and whispered an order. The man nodded. Meanwhile, the duchess waited until the prince came through the door. She spoke a few words to him, then began feigning more distress as he disengaged himself from a young blonde hanging on his arm.

  After a few more seconds, the duchess excused herself, told her husband that she wasn’t feeling well, turned down what must have been an offer to send someone with her, and went up the grand stair by herself. Doubtless, she’d told him she just needed to lie down for a little while. “Enjoy the party, dear,” she’d said, or something.

  The prince was more circumspect, but not difficult to follow. He made his way to the sweet meats, chatted with a few ladies politely, excused himself and walked to the washroom, which was just down the hall from the servants’ stair. He emerged from the dark hallway a minute later, looked quickly to see that no one was looking at him, and walked past the guard, who pretended not to see him.

  Hu followed hard on the prince’s heels, wrapping himself in shadows. The guard was so busy not seeing the prince, the wetboy probably could have slipped past him even without them.

  The servants’ stair opened on the grand hallway by the duke’s chambers. The floors were the same white marble, with the middle of the hall covered by a red carpet for its entire length, all the way from this wing to the opposite one, where the duchess’s chambers were. The lights were dimmed as a visual redirection for the guests who might have been at past parties where both floors were open to guests.

  Kylar had no idea how long he had to get the Globe of Edges, but he was sure faster was better. It occurred to him that he wasn’t the only person who might have seized the opportunity of the stairs being unguarded. Hu Gibbet might already be upstairs.

  The only advantage Kylar had—he hoped—was that Hu probably wasn’t coming just for a smash-and-dash. He was probably coming to kill someone. If that had been Kylar’s goal, the simplest way would be to wait until the duchess gave the ka’kari to the king’s agent, whoever it was, and then kill both of them. That way, Hu would get to satisfy his bloodlust and he would kill the two people who knew for sure what had happened. The king wouldn’t know if the jewel had been stolen or not, and would have no way to ask without publicly acknowledging that Lady Jadwin was his mistress.

  If that guess was right, Kylar had until Lady Jadwin came upstairs to get the Globe of Edges. It might be another hour, or it might be two minutes.

  Halfway down the hallway, a guard was walking toward him. Kylar stepped backward into the corner, where the shadows were deeper. But then the guard turned and walked down the grand staircase. It was Kylar’s chance. He walked forward quickly, with no attempt at stealth. His chest tightened as he stepped past the one area of the hallway that was well-lit. The landing at the top of the stairs was bathed in light, but with six steps, eyes locked straight forward, he made it across.

  The corridor was lined with disturbing sculptures and excellent paintings. Unless Kylar missed his guess, the duke was something of an artist. The brilliant and diverse paintings were obviously selected by a man with a keen eye and a deep purse. Though similarly striking, the sculptures were unmistakably the product of one vision.

  Pained figures appeared to be tearing themselves from the rock. One stumbling woman looked over her shoulder with terror writ in every feature. A man raged at the cloud of black marble that enveloped his hands. A nude woman lay back erotically into the cloud devouring her, rapture on her face.

  Even in the hurry Kylar was in, the sculpture stopped him in his tracks. It was beautiful. Devastating. It mixed sensuality with something unsettling that Kylar couldn’t identify. And it was unmistakably Elene.

  So that’s how it is. Kylar felt as if something were tearing the lining of his stomach. It felt empty, raw. Of course she sleeps with him. He’s a duke; she’s a servant, and it’s hard to say no. Even if she wanted to. Maybe she didn’t. It happens all the time.

  He looked at the statue closely, giving a cursory glance to the supple limbs, narrow waist, and high breasts—and found what he was looking for. Though he’d given her a perfect nose, with the lightest of scratches, the duke had hinted at the scars on her face. So the man didn’t just see them as imperfections. He was interested in the mysteries beneath.

  This isn’t the time for art appreciation, damn you. With a lump in his throat, Kylar jogged down the hall on the ba
lls of his feet. He grabbed the pouch from his back and had his picks out by the time he reached the door. No light or sound came from the room, so he picked the lock quickly. It had only three pins, so it opened in three seconds. Kylar stepped inside and locked the door after himself. If Hu came to the door, he’d have three seconds’ warning before the wetboy came.

  Kylar drew the bollock dagger he’d strapped to the small of his back. The blade was a foot long, and he’d prefer something ten times its size if he had to fight Hu, but it was the best he’d been able to smuggle in.

  He cased the room quickly. Most people, aware of the number of difficulties already present in a thief’s life, were kind enough to use the same few hiding places. Kylar checked the mattress, behind the paintings, even the floor under the bureau and several of the chairs for trapdoors. Nothing. He checked the writing desk’s drawers for false bottoms. Still nothing.

  Most people who kept items of great value wanted to be able to check on them without much hassle, so Kylar didn’t even go into the enormous closet. Unless Duchess Jadwin was comfortable handing her most prized possession to a servant, the Globe would be somewhere easily reached.

  It didn’t help that the duchess seemed to be quite the collector. There were knickknacks everywhere. And flowers, probably brought in for the duke’s homecoming, sprouted from every flat surface in the room, obscuring Kylar’s view.

  So the duke bought his wife some flowers. And, from the musky smell in the air and the rumpled covers on the bed, apparently had been welcomed home enthusiastically.

 
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