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The night angel trilogy, p.31
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.31

           Brent Weeks
“Everyone’s talking about it, Brant. My son—she murdered my boy—” the king started weeping.

  So the man is capable of thinking of others. If only he’d show his humanity more often.

  “Your Highness, the duchess didn’t kill your son.”

  “What?” the king looked up at Agon through bleary eyes.

  “Sire, it was a wetboy.”

  “I don’t care who actually did it, Brant! Trudana was behind it. Trudana and Logan Gyre.”

  “Logan Gyre? What are you talking about?”

  “You think you’re the only person I have working on this, Brant? My spies have already told me. Logan was behind it all. That bitch Trudana just cooperated. I’ve already sent men to arrest him.”

  Agon reeled. It couldn’t be. In fact, he was sure it wasn’t. “Why would Logan do such a thing?” he asked. “Logan was one of your son’s best friends. He’s isn’t ambitious in the least. By the gods, he just got engaged to Serah Drake. A count’s daughter!”

  “It didn’t have anything to do with power or ambition, Brant. It was jealousy. Logan felt that my son had totally humiliated him over some trivial matter. You know how boys get. It’s just like the Gyres to covet our every success. Besides, I have witnesses who heard Logan threaten him.”

  It was all rattling together, the pieces spinning and falling into place. Kylar Stern, the false noble, the wetboy, was a close friend of Logan’s. In a fit of rage, Logan hired Kylar to kill the prince. It all fit—except that it was Logan. Agon knew him, and he didn’t believe it.

  “Which wetboy did they hire, Brant?” the king asked.

  “It was Kylar Stern,” Agon said.

  The king snorted. “Huh. The gods must be with me for once.”


  “I just hired Hu Gibbet’s apprentice to go kill him, a girl wetboy, if you can believe it. Kylar is Blint’s apprentice. Or was. He’s probably dead by now.”

  Kylar is Blint’s apprentice? The picture that had been slowly spinning together burst apart. The king had hired Blint! Blint’s apprentice wouldn’t have killed his employer’s son. Would he?

  The name Hu Gibbet had been carved into the bodies at the Gyre estate. Of course, only a fool would carve his own name onto such a massacre. But from his hours at the estate, Agon was sure that all the murders had been the work of a single man. He could think of no one who could kill so many people except a wetboy, and the style certainly fit what he had heard of Hu Gibbet. He couldn’t imagine Durzo Blint mutilating bodies. Blint would consider it unprofessional.

  Hu Gibbet would only sign his name if he thought the authorities would never have a chance to come after him. The king said the prince’s murder didn’t have anything to do with power, but this was Cenaria. Everything had to do with power.

  If Durzo Blint’s apprentice really had killed the prince, why would he have left a witness? Blint’s apprentice would be as professional as Blint himself. A witness was a loose end that was easy to tie up.

  It was all about power.

  Agon scowled. “Has there been any word from our garrison at Screaming Winds?”


  “So the Khalidoran army is at least four days away. What are you planning to do about the festival tonight?”

  “I’m not going to celebrate Midsummer’s on the day after my son’s death.”

  The lord general had a sinking feeling. “My king, I think perhaps you should.”

  “I will not host a party for my boy’s murderers.” The king’s eyes flashed, and he looked less like a petulant child and more like a king than Agon had ever seen. “I have to do something!” the king said. “Everyone will think…” He went on, but Agon ignored him.

  Everyone will think. That was the key. What will everyone think?

  The prince was dead, killed in a shameful way either by the king’s mistress or by a wetboy. The beloved Gyres were dead or imprisoned. Agon suspected now that an assassin had probably made his way into Screaming Winds and killed Regnus as well. It wouldn’t make sense to leave him alive. Not when someone was going to such pains to set plans in motion.

  Everyone will think that the king ordered his own son killed in a jealous rage, and that to get back at his unfaithful mistress he framed her.

  With the right rumors, everyone’s bewilderment over why the Gyres had been murdered could be turned, too. People would connect all the murders, but how?

  The Gyres were next in line for the throne after the Gunders, though the family had never challenged the king. The king, weak and jealous, could be portrayed as paranoid all too easily. And the Gyres were far more respected than the Gunders. Lord Gyre’s faithful service would be seen as being rewarded with treachery and murder.

  Logan—the new Lord Gyre—had been seized by the king, and the king’s natural inclination would be to keep him in prison. But Logan was known to be absolutely moral, without ambitions. For the gods’ sakes, he was betrothed to a lowly Drake!

  So if the king were to die, who would succeed him?

  The vastly popular Logan Gyre would be in prison, where he could easily be killed. The king’s son was dead. His eldest daughter was fifteen, the others even younger, too young to hold the throne in a nation at war. His wife Nalia might try to take the throne, but the king had feared her and marginalized her as much as he could, and she seemed content to stay out of politics. The Jadwins were finished after their part in the scandal. That left the kingdom’s two other duchies. Either Duke Graesin or Duke Wesseros, the queen’s father, could make a grab for power. But the queen’s brother, Havrin, was out of the country, so he seemed an unlikely usurper. Duke Graesin was feeble. Any of a dozen lesser families might try for the throne.

  But no one could hold it. It would be a civil war in which the four main parties were equally matched. Civil war of a kind far worse than the civil war that Regnus had feared ten years ago when he allowed Aleine to take the throne.

  Where did that leave the other players he’d been worried about so much recently? Where did the Sa’kagé and Khalidor fit? If the price were right, Khalidor could buy the Sa’kagé’s help.

  And then all the pieces snapped together for him at once.

  Lord General Agon swore loudly. He cursed so rarely that the king stopped in midsentence. Aleine looked at Agon’s face, and whatever he read there made him afraid.

  “What is it? What is it, Brant?”

  All these years, he and the king had been so focused on Khalidor that they’d never thought of a threat coming from within. Khalidor was taking out the entire line of succession, and manipulating the king into helping. Once all the heirs who were both legitimate and powerful were eliminated, Khalidor would kill the king. They would act quickly, before he could establish a new line of succession, before he could consolidate power or mend the relationships he was about break. Then they could watch the chaos, and march when they pleased.

  “Your Highness, you must listen. This is the prelude to a coup. We may only have days. If it starts, all our preparations against Khalidor will be useless. And you’ll be the first to die.”

  The king’s face was painted with fear. “I’m listening,” he said.


  After congratulating Logan a few more times, Kylar had excused himself to let the young duke speak with his father-in-law-to-be. Serah was in the back of the house getting changed, and they had agreed that she probably shouldn’t see Logan and Kylar being friendly until after the wedding.

  “I’ll understand if I’m not invited,” Kylar had said. “But if you ever do tell her, I’ll expect an apology. Congratulations.”

  He climbed up the stairs to his room, pitched his tunic in a corner, and stared into the looking glass. “And congratulations to you. Your master is going to kill you and all the women in your life hate you.”

  Next to the mirror, he noticed a bundle of letters bound together with a ribbon. He picked it up. Scrawled on a scrap of paper in Blint’s hand was a note: “Since you’ve crossed the line, I gu
ess there’s no reason to hide these from you anymore.”

  What? Kylar untied the ribbon and read the first letter. It had been written by a child, all big letters and disconnected thoughts: “Thank you so mutch. much. I love it here. You are great. It is my birthday today. I love you. -Elene” An adult had written below that. “Sorry, Count Drake, she overheard us talking about her lord benefactor. She’s been wanting to write this letter since we started teaching her how to write. She wouldn’t let go of the idea once she got aholt of it. Tell us if we shouldn’t let her write no more. -Humbly Yours, Gare Cromwyll.”

  Kylar was spellbound. There was a letter for each year, each getting longer, the handwriting better. He felt like he was watching Elene grow up before his eyes. She, too, had changed her name, but there was no denial in her of what she had been, no divorce from her previous weakness and vulnerability.

  When she was fifteen, she wrote, “Pol asked if I get mad because my face got cut up. He said it’s not fair. I said it’s not fair that I got out of the Warrens while so many others never did. Look at everything I’ve got! And it’s all because of you….”

  Kylar had to flip through the letters, just skimming them. He was living on borrowed time. Sooner or later word would arrive about the prince’s death. And damn! the girl could write a lot. He flipped to the last letter. It was dated just a few days ago.

  “You don’t know what you’ve done for me. I’ve told you about all the ways your money has saved my family, especially when my adoptive father died, but you’ve done more than that. Just knowing that somewhere out there, there’s a young lord who cares about me (me! a slaveborn girl with a scarred face!) has made all the difference. You’ve made me feel special. Pol proposed to me last week.” Kylar had a sudden impulse to find this Pol and kick his ass. “I would have said yes, even though I hate his temper and… other things, too. The point is, just that you’re out there caring about me makes me believe that I’m worth more than a lousy marriage to the first man who will propose to a scarred girl. It gives me faith that the God has something better for me.” Oh, she’s a God person. Great. So that was how she knew the Drakes. “Thank you. And sorry about my last letter, I’m totally mortified by what I wrote. Please ignore everything I said.”

  Huh? Kylar turned back to the last letter and couldn’t help grinning. Elene had been deep in the throes of full-blown sixteen-year-old–girl romanticism. “I think I’m in love with you. In fact, I’m sure of it. Last year when I went to Count Drake’s to drop off my letter—mother finally lets me do a few things by myself—I think I saw you. Maybe it wasn’t you. But it could have been you. There’s this boy there, a young lord like you. He’s so handsome and they totally love him. I mean, you can just tell how much everyone thinks of him, even Count Drake. I mean, I know he’s not really you because he’s not rich like you are. Because his family is poor, he lives with the Drakes…” Kylar’s breath caught. Elene had seen him. She had seen him a year ago and she thought he was handsome. She thought he was handsome? “… but what does money matter when you have love?”

  There were… no… yes, there were tear splotches on the page.

  Well, Kylar had grown up around three girls. It didn’t totally surprise him. He just wondered when Elene had started crying. “So since you’re the strong silent type, and you never write back to my letters, I’ve decided I’m going to call you Kylar. I suppose you might be fat and ugly and have a big nose and… I am SO sorry. I should start over, but mother says I already use too much paper as it is. I’m sorry. I am a total brat. But can’t you write back to me even once? Have Count Drake give it to me next year when I drop off my letter? Pol says I’m not infatuated with a man, I’m infatuated with a bag of money.” Elene didn’t know anything about him, but hey, she’d been barely sixteen, and Kylar still wanted to kick Pol’s ass. “But I’m not. And it’s not infatuation. I love you, Kylar.”

  A chill washed through him at those words. How he wanted to hear those words! How he wanted to hear them from her. And here they were. Here they were in knots and knots of his duplicity. She said those words to him, not thinking he was he, not knowing Count Drake gave her letters to Durzo, not knowing Kylar really was her young benefactor, not knowing Kylar was really Azoth, not knowing Kylar was a killer, not knowing that for that one time she’d seen him that he had seen her hundreds of times: twice every week, whenever he could make it, in the market off Sidlin Way. He’d watched her grow up in that market, told himself a thousand times that next week he wouldn’t go and try to catch a glimpse of her, and always succumbed. He’d watched from afar and come to have his own infatuation, hadn’t he? He’d told himself that she was just forbidden fruit, that that was all that appealed to him about her. He’d told himself he just wanted to see that she was well. When that didn’t work, he told himself that it would pass.

  He was twenty years old now, and he was still waiting for it to pass. His sudden hope—she’d been infatuated with him!—hit reality like Gandian porcelain hitting the floor. The delicate tracery of thin possibilities smashed. Now the stricken look on her face yesterday made more sense. The revelations that could have been so poignant for her—I am Kylar and Azoth and your young lord and I love you, too!—had hit her like a sledge hammer instead. I am Kylar and Azoth and your young lord… and a murderer. Help me. Give me your trust so I can betray it.

  There wasn’t time for self-pity, and Kylar had already indulged in too much of it. He’d left behind a witness who knew he was a wetboy and who knew he was Kylar Stern, and who believed him guilty of stealing the Globe of Edges, if not worse. So he’d quite possibly thrown away an identity he’d spent ten years building for a little ball that he hadn’t even kept.

  The buckets of hot water that the maid usually put in his room in the morning were empty. For some reason, that set him off. He felt his eyes getting hot, and tears threatening. It was so ridiculous, he almost laughed. Those empty buckets were the smallest inconvenience, but it was like the gods or Drake’s One God wanted to crush him. Everything that could go wrong had.

  Master Blint was going to kill him. The woman he was trading his life to save hated him. Even Serah Drake, who had been unsure about whether she loved him or Logan just last night now hated him. The worst part of it was that it was all his fault. Everything that had gone wrong had gone wrong because of decisions he had made.

  Well, at least the empty buckets weren’t his fault. Kylar grabbed the buckets and walked down the hall. He ran into the maid coming up the stairs with two buckets full of steaming water.

  “Hello,” he said. He didn’t recognize her, but she was prettier than most of the girls Mistress Bronwyn hired.

  “Hello I’m so sorry I’m late it’s my first day and I don’t know where to find everything I’m really sorry,” she said. She squeezed past him and Kylar couldn’t help but notice her large breasts gliding across his bare chest. She disappeared into his room and he followed.

  “I can take those if you—”

  “You aren’t mad, are you?” she asked. “Please don’t tell Count Drake or Mistress Bronwyn that I was late I don’t think she likes me and if I mess up on my first day I’m sure she’ll throw me out and I need this job ever so bad sir.” She had set down the buckets, and she was wringing her hands.

  “Whoa,” Kylar said. “Relax. I’m not mad. I’m Kylar.” He extended a hand and a smile.

  She seemed to warm instantly. She smiled and took his hand. Her eyes flicked briefly over his bare chest and stomach. Briefly, but appreciatively. “Hello. I’m Viridiana.”

  The porter showed a handsome Ladeshian man into the den. Logan had stepped out to grab something to eat from the kitchen, so Count Drake was alone. “Sir,” the porter said, “he insisted that he must deliver a message in person.”

  “Very well. Thank you,” Count Drake said.

  The Ladeshian had such presence that it seemed odd for him to be acting as a messenger. He looked rather like a courtier or a bard. He was holding somethi
ng in his hand that took all Count Drake’s attention away from the man. It was an arrow; its entire length, including steel head and feathers, had been painted a glossy red the color of fresh blood.

  As soon as the porter stepped out, the man said, “Good morning, my lord. I wish our meeting could be under different circumstances, but I’m afraid my message is quite important. This comes from Durzo Blint. He said, ‘If he’s still alive, give this to the boy and tell him to meet me for dinner at the Tipsy Tart.’ ” The man bowed and presented the red arrow to the count.

  From the doorway, Logan laughed. “ ‘If he’s still alive’? I guess one of Kylar’s friends saw me coming here this morning, huh?”

  Count Drake chuckled. “I’m sure you scared everyone who saw you.” He turned to the messenger. “I’ll give it to him, thank you.”

  “My lord,” the Ladeshian said, turning to Logan. “We mourn your loss.” He bowed again and walked out.

  Logan shook his head. “Was that a bachelor joke?”

  “I don’t know. I visited Ladesh once, and I never did understand their humor. Maybe I should take this upstairs.”

  “Here I thought we were about to have the big father-son dialectic about marital intimacies.”

  Count Drake smiled. “You put it so primly.”

  “Serah’s pretty prim,” Logan said.

  “Believe me, there’s nothing prim about marital intimacies, Logan.” Count Drake looked at the arrow in his hand and put it aside. “Well, the first thing you have to understand about lovemaking is…”

  Viridiana rubbed her shoulder and said, “It’s so nice to see someone nice I thought this place was going to be awful to work at after how mean Mistress Bronwyn was you don’t mind do you?”

  “No, not at all,” Kylar said, not really sure what he was not minding, but sure that he wasn’t supposed to.

  As if it were the most natural thing in the world, Viridiana untied the laces of her bodice, which Kylar had already noticed was unusually tight. “Oh, that’s better,” she said, drawing a deep breath. She closed and locked the door and then walked over to the buckets, peeling off her bodice and dropping it.

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