The night angel trilogy, p.30
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.30

           Brent Weeks
 

  The lieutenant nodded. “We’re with you, sir.” The men nodded, and Regnus had his first squad. “My lord,” the lieutenant said. “I, I cut her down, sir. I couldn’t leave her like that.”

  Regnus couldn’t speak. He sawed at his reins viciously and galloped for the gates. Why didn’t I do that? She was my wife. What kind of man am I?

  Lord General Agon was one of the few nobles who hadn’t been at the Jadwins’ party last night. He hadn’t been invited. Not that he felt left out.

  The sun was just creeping over the horizon, and the situation didn’t look any better in the light of day. Usually, of course, the city guard would handle a murder. But usually the victims of murder weren’t heirs to the throne. Agon needed to oversee this one personally.

  “Why don’t you tell me what really happened, milady,” Agon said. No matter what he did here, he was going to be the loser.

  Lady Jadwin sniffled. She was genuinely distraught. Agon was sure of that. What he wasn’t sure of was whether it was because she had been caught, or because she was sorry the prince was dead. “I have told you,” she said. “A wetboy—”

  “A what?”

  She stopped.

  “How do you know what a wetboy is, Trudana?”

  She shook her head. “Why are you trying to confuse me? I’m telling you, an assassin was here, standing in this hallway. Do you think I beheaded my own guard? Do you think I’m strong enough for that? Why won’t you listen to Elene? She’ll tell you.”

  Blast. He had thought about that. Not only did he doubt that Lady Jadwin was strong enough to behead a man, but she had no weapon to do it with. And if she’d just murdered the prince without saying a word, why would she cry out and draw people upstairs before she had a chance to clean the blood off her hands and face?

  “Explain this,” he said. He lifted the red dress she’d worn the night before. His men had discovered it wadded up in the closet. It was still damp with hardening blood. A lot of blood.

  “After—after the assassin stabbed the prince, he fell, and I—I caught him. And he died in my arms. I tried to go get help, but the assassin was still in the hall. I was terrified. I panicked. I couldn’t stand to have his blood all over me.”

  “What were the two of you doing alone in the bedchamber?”

  The duchess stared at him as if her eyes were hot coals. “How dare you!”

  “How dare you, Trudana?” Agon said. “How dare you cheat on your husband not just with the king but also with the king’s son? What kind of perverse pleasure did you take out of that? Did you like making the prince betray his father?”

  She tried to slap him, but he moved.

  “You can’t slap everyone in the kingdom, Trudana. We found the bloody knife in your room. Your servants vouch that it’s yours. I’d say the odds are that you’re going to be beheaded. Unless, that is, the king decides you deserve a common traitor’s death on the wheel.”

  At those words, Trudana Jadwin paled and turned green, but she didn’t say another word. Agon gestured angrily, and his men took her away.

  “That was unworthy of you,” a woman said.

  Agon turned and saw Elene Cromwyll, the Jadwins’ maidservant who’d been found beaten up and unconscious in her room. She was curvaceous, pretty except for the scars and bruises on her face. But Lady Jadwin fancied herself an artist, so she liked to surround herself with pretty things.

  “Yes,” Agon said. “I suppose it was. But seeing what she’s done… what a waste.”

  “My mistress has made many poor choices,” Elene said. “She’s hurt many people, destroyed marriages, but she isn’t a murderer, Lord General. My lord, I know what happened here last night.”

  “Really? So you’re the one.” His voice was more cutting than he intended. He was still trying to put the pieces together himself. How had that guard, Stumpy, who now resembled his nickname more than ever, been killed? Why would the duchess kill the prince silently and change her clothes but not finish washing her hands and face before screaming for help?

  Surely, if she’d been cold-blooded enough to murder the prince, maybe in a cold rage as he left her, and been self-possessed enough to start hiding the evidence, she would have done a better job of it before calling people to her.

  But then, some of the guests had claimed it was a man’s voice they had heard yell upstairs. The guard? Had he stumbled upon the murder, yelled wordlessly, and then been beheaded? Beheading someone wasn’t easy. Agon knew that. Even if you cut between the vertebrae, it took substantial strength. Agon had examined Stumpy, and the blade had cut through the vertebra.

  He turned his eyes back to Elene. “Sorry,” he said. “This has been a difficult night. Any way you can help would be welcome.”

  She looked up, and there were tears in her eyes. “I know who killed the prince. He’s a wetboy masquerading as a lord. I knew what he was, and I knew that he was coming, but I didn’t think he’d hurt anybody. His name is Kylar. Kylar Stern.”

  “What?” Agon said.

  “It’s true. I swear it.”

  “Look, young lady, your loyalty to your mistress is admirable, but you don’t need to do this. If you hold to that story, you’ll go to jail. At the least. If you’re found to be an accomplice, or even an unwitting accessory to the murder of the prince, you may be hanged. Are you sure you want to do that, just to save Trudana Jadwin?”

  “It isn’t for her.” Tears coursed down her cheeks.

  “Then it’s for this Kylar Stern? He was the young man who had the fight with Logan Gyre? You must hate him fiercely.”

  She just looked away. In the rising sunlight, the tears on her cheeks glowed like jewels. “No, sir. Not at all.”

  “Lord General,” a soldier said quietly from the doorway. He looked shaken. “I just came from the Gyre estate, sir. It’s chaos there. There are hundreds of people going through the house, wailing, sir. They’re dead, sir.”

  “Get a hold of yourself. What do you mean dead? You mean murdered?”

  “More like butchered, sir.”

  “Who’s been murdered, soldier?”

  “Sir. All of them.”

  43

  The king fidgeted in his throne. It was a vast piece of ivory and horn inlaid with gold tracery, and it made him look a boy. The audience chamber was empty today except for the regular guards, several guards hidden in the room’s secret exits, and Durzo Blint. The emptiness made the chamber seem cavernous. Banners and tapestries adorned the walls, but did nothing to stave off the perpetual chill of such a large stone room. Seven pairs of pillars held the high ceiling and two sets of seven steps each led to the throne.

  Durzo stood quietly, waiting for the king to initiate the conversation. He already had a battle plan, if it came to that. It was second nature to him. The meister standing by the king would have to die first, then the two guards flanking the throne, then the king himself. With his Talent, he could probably jump from the throne up to the passage above it, currently obscured by a banner. He’d kill the archer within, and from there he’d be uncatchable.

  Like all battle plans, it would last only until the first move, but it was always useful to have a general plan, especially when you had no idea what your enemies knew. Durzo felt himself reaching into his garlic pouch, but he forced his hand to be still. Now was no time to show nerves. It was harder to stop his hand than he would have guessed, something about the bite of garlic was comforting when he was stressed.

  “You let my boy die,” the king said, rising. “They killed my boy last night and you did nothing!”

  “I’m not a bodyguard.”

  The king grabbed a spear from the guard standing beside him and threw it. Durzo was surprised at how good a throw it was. Had he stood still, the spear would have caught him in the sternum.

  But of course he didn’t stand still. He swayed to the side, not even moving his feet, with careless—and he hoped infuriating—ease.

  The spear bounced off the floor and then hissed as wood an
d steel slid across stone. There was a rattle of armor and the whisper of arrows being drawn back all around the room, but the guards didn’t attack.

  “You’re not shit unless I say so!” the king said. He strode forward, coming down his double flight of seven steps to stand in front of Durzo. Tactically, a poor move. He was now blocking at least three of the archers’ shots. “You’re… you’re shit! You shitting, shitting shit!”

  “Your Majesty,” Durzo said gravely. “A man of your stature’s cursing vocabulary ought to extend beyond a tedious reiteration of the excreta that fills the void between his ears.”

  The king looked momentarily confused. The guards looked at each other, aghast. The king saw the look, and realized from their expressions that he’d been insulted. He backhanded Durzo, and Durzo let the blow fall. Any quick motion now, and a nervous archer might loose his arrow.

  The king wore rings on all of his fingers, and two of them carved furrows in Durzo’s cheek.

  Durzo clenched his jaw to quell the rising black fury. He breathed once, twice. He said, “The only reason you’re alive right now isn’t that I’m not willing to trade my life for yours, Aleine. I’d hate to be killed by amateurs. But know this: if you ever lay a hand on me again, you’ll be dead less than a second later. Your Majesty.”

  King Aleine Gunder IX lifted his hand, seriously contemplating becoming the late King Aleine Gunder IX. He lowered his hand, but a triumphant gleam filled his eyes. “I won’t have you killed yet, Durzo. I won’t have you killed because I have something better than death for you. You see, I know about you, Durzo Blint. I know. You have a secret, and I know it.”

  “Forgive my quaking.”

  “You have an apprentice. A young man styling himself as a noble. Kyle something or other. A young man staying with those holier-than-thou Drakes, quite a student of the sword, isn’t he, Master Tulii?”

  A chill shot down Durzo’s spine. Night Angels have mercy. They knew. It was bad. Worse than bad. If they knew Kylar was his apprentice, it couldn’t be long before they pinned the prince’s death on him. Especially with the spectacle Kylar had made of himself by fighting with Logan Gyre. If Durzo’s apprentice had been involved with killing the prince, the king would assume he had done it with Durzo’s approval, if not under his orders.

  Roth would not be pleased.

  The garlic crunched in his mouth, giving a soothing jolt to his senses. He took a breath and willed himself to relax. How had they done it?

  Master Tulii. Dammit. Anything can go wrong, and something will. Durzo hadn’t been betrayed. There was no grand scheme. That name meant that one of the king’s spies had been watching the Drakes. Probably just routine spying on a formerly powerful man. The spy had seen Durzo enter and had recognized him. Probably the spy had been one of the guards the king had tried to awe him with in the statue garden. It didn’t matter.

  “Oh, I wish Brant were here right now to see that look on your face, Durzo Blint. In fact, where is Brant?” the king asked a chamberlain.

  “Sire, he’s in the castle now, on his way here to report. He went to the Gyre estate after investigating… matters at the Jadwin estate.”

  Durzo’s throat tightened. Agon would have put the pieces together about Kylar. If he came in while Durzo was still here, Durzo would die.

  The king shrugged. “His loss.” At the word, grief and fury rippled through the little king, and he seemed abruptly a different man. “You let them kill my boy, you shit, so I’m going to kill yours. His death will come from the last hand he’d expect, and it will be arriving—oh!—any moment now.”

  “I heard you had a little tussle with Logan last night,” Count Drake said.

  Kylar blinked through bleary eyes and went from dead tired to wide-awake in the space of a second. He’d only slept for a few hours, and he’d had the nightmare again. Every death he saw made him dream of Rat’s.

  They were seated at the breakfast table and Kylar had a forkful of egg poised in front of his mouth. He stuffed it in to give himself a little time. “Mit wuv nuffin,” he said.

  This was a disaster. If Count Drake knew about the fight, he might know about the prince’s death. Kylar had thought that he’d have time to pack his things and leave this morning before the Drakes got word. That he needed to leave was undeniable. He just thought he’d have a little more time.

  “Serah was quite upset,” the count said. “She took Logan to her aunt’s house near the Jadwins’ to have his wounds tended. She just got back a few minutes ago.”

  “Oh.” Kylar chewed more eggs mechanically. If Serah had left right after the fight, she and Count Drake didn’t know about the prince yet. Apparently Kylar’s perfect streak of bad luck was breaking. But now that he knew that matters of life and death weren’t threatening him, he realized that Serah coming home and telling Count Drake what had happened last night would have other implications.

  “I gave Logan my permission to propose to her yesterday. You knew that, didn’t you?”

  That would be the count’s gentle way of saying why the hell did you kiss my Serah and beat up my future son-in-law and your best friend after you told me you had no feelings for her?

  “Um…” Out of the corner of his eye, Kylar saw someone pass the window quickly, and a moment later, the old porter toddled after, looking upset.

  The front door banged open. A moment later, the door to the dining room slammed open with such force that the dishes on the table rattled.

  “Milord,” the porter protested.

  Logan stormed into the room, red-eyed but regal. He held a claymore the size of Alitaera in his hand.

  Kylar jumped to his feet, sending his chair crashing into the wall. He was pinned in a corner. Count Drake was rising, shouting something, but he was too slow. Nothing could stop Logan now.

  Logan hefted the claymore. Kylar hefted a butter knife.

  “I’m engaged!” Logan shouted. He swept Kylar into a massive hug.

  By the time Logan released him, Kylar’s heart had started beating again. Count Drake collapsed into his chair in relief.

  “You big bastard!” Kylar said. “Congratulations! I told you it would work, didn’t I?”

  “Work?” Count Drake asked, recovering his voice.

  Logan plowed forward, ignoring the count. “Well, you didn’t have to hit me so hard.”

  “I had to convince her,” Kylar said.

  “You nearly widowed her! I haven’t been beaten so badly since that fight in the arena.”

  “Excuse me,” the count said. “Work? Convince her?”

  They stopped and looked at the count guiltily. “Well,” Logan said, “Kylar said Serah really did love me and she only needed to be reminded, and…” he trailed off.

  “Kylar, are you telling me your fight was staged? You made a fool of yourself in public, deceived my daughter, and traded her affections like a cheap trinket?”

  “That’s not exactly…” He couldn’t match the count’s stare. “Yes, sir.”

  “And you dragged Logan into this? Logan, who ought to know better?” the count asked.

  “Yes, sir,” Kylar said. At least Logan was looking as pained as he felt.

  The count looked from one of them to the other, then broke into a grin. “God bless you!” he said, sweeping Kylar into a hug.

  After he released Kylar, Count Drake turned. There were tears in his eyes as he gripped Logan’s forearms, “And God bless you. Son.”

  Lord General Agon stormed into the castle, flanked by his bodyguards. The day had already been long, and the sun had only been up three hours.

  Seeing the look on his face, the men guarding doors in the castle made sure he didn’t have to wait for them to open. Servants quickly disappeared out of the halls.

  Walking into the audience chamber, he passed a cloaked man coming out who seemed vaguely familiar, but the man had his hood up and his face was invisible. One of the king’s spies, no doubt. Agon didn’t have time for him.

  None of the
news was good. The Gyres were the foremost family in the realm. To have their murder come on the same night the prince was killed was too much to bear. Agon had liked the prince, but the Gyres had been his friends. And what he’d seen at their estate, he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. The pieces weren’t fitting.

  This had all the marks of a move, a big move, a play for the throne. But why this way? Killing the prince shook everything, of course, but killing the Gyres’ servants and Lady Gyre did nothing politically. Did it? As of today, his birthday, Logan Gyre became the Gyre in his father’s absence. If you wanted to wipe out a family, you started with the heirs, not everyone else, and unless the news was still en route, both Gyre heirs were still alive.

  The prince’s death wasn’t only a terrible blow to the Gunder line, it was an enormous scandal. The king’s affairs had been ignored, but finding the prince dead after apparently having had relations with the king’s mistress would shed all sorts of unflattering light on the entire Gunder line. The assassination, if it were such, wasn’t just a tragedy. It was a horror and an embarrassment.

  The lord general wondered whether the horror or the embarrassment would be foremost on the king’s mind. What would the queen do?

  He approached the throne and climbed the stairs. The usual men were there, talking with the king. Agon trusted none of them.

  “Out,” he roared. “All of you, out!”

  “Excuse me,” Fergund Sa’fasti said. “But as the king’s chief—”

  “OUT!” Agon bellowed in his face.

  The mage shrank and joined the men streaming out of the room. Agon motioned to his bodyguards to step outside, too.

  The king didn’t even look up. At length, he said, “I’m ruined, Brant. What will history say about me?”

  That you were weak, ineffectual, selfish, and immoral. “Sire, we have more pressing matters.”

 

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