The black prism, p.33
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       The Black Prism, p.33
 

           Brent Weeks

  “How?”

  “I received a letter that I had a natural son in Tyrea. When I arrived, the town was burning. I stumbled across some Mirrormen about to murder a child and I stopped them.”

  “Killed them.”

  “Yes. The child turned out to be my natural son, and the men turned out to be Rask Garadul’s. He was making an example of the town for refusing to send levies. He claimed a special interest in the boy, but I’m not sure if that was just because he thought it would hurt me.”

  “A special interest? I thought he was there to punish the village.”

  “He said Kip had stolen something from him.”

  “And had he?”

  “The boy claimed his mother had given him a jewelry case just before dying from injuries she took during the attack. He didn’t steal it, though.”

  “But you have the dagger? Is it the white luxin?”

  A chill shot down Gavin’s spine. He’d thought the worst part of this interview would be his father picking through the details of affairs that Gavin hadn’t actually had and thus couldn’t remember. A white luxin dagger? White luxin wasn’t possible, and for Andross Guile to speak about it like this meant he thought that it was. Or knew that it was. That he’d seen such a thing, and that he thought Gavin should know what he was talking about.

  His brother had mentioned a dagger too. Gavin’s chest tightened.

  If he wasn’t very careful, he was going to ruin his disguise. This was why he avoided his father as much as possible. Andross Guile was one of the few people who would know exactly which memories Gavin would have and which Dazen would have. Others who knew had been alienated or killed during the war. The feeble excuse that the severity of the brothers’ fight to the death had made Gavin forget things would only go so far. Andross, in particular, might forgive him for misremembering things that happened in the run-up to the final battle, but surely Gavin would remember things that had happened years earlier, wouldn’t he?

  “I didn’t see the dagger,” Gavin said. “It was in a box. It didn’t even occur to me it might be the white luxin.” White luxin was impossible. Gavin would know. He’d tried to make the mythic material himself—and as a Prism, he would be the one who was able to do it if it could be done at all.

  “Idiot boy, I don’t know why I always favored you. Dazen was smarter by half, but I always took your side, didn’t I?”

  Gavin looked at the ground and nodded. The first kind word he’d heard from his father about himself in years, and it was delivered as a rebuke.

  “Are you nodding your head or shaking it? In case you’d forgotten, I’m blind,” Andross said bitterly. “Never mind. I understand your own secrecy in hunting the dagger—even my spies haven’t heard of you bumbling about, so bravo for that—but when you stumbled across a suspicious dagger that some halfpenny king wanted badly, that didn’t send shivers up the back of your neck?”

  “I was surrounded by thirty hostile drafters, Mirrormen, and an extremely put-out king. I had plenty of shivers.”

  Andross Guile waved his hand, like none of that was worth considering. “With no Blackguards guarding you, I suppose. Stubborn, fool boy. What was the box made of?”

  “Rosewood, maybe?” Gavin said honestly.

  “Rosewood.” Andross Guile sighed deeply. “Alone it proves nothing, of course. But it tells you what you have to do.”

  “I was planning to rally the Seven Satrapies, speak to each directly, see if I could sway them,” Gavin said. “The Spectrum, of course, will do nothing.” He knew how this went. His father would announce what Gavin would do and run right over everything Gavin threw in his path. For Orholam’s sake, I’m the Prism.

  “And by the time you’ve done that, King Garadul will have taken Garriston. You were right in everything you told the Spectrum, though you drew the wrong lesson and the wrong course of action. Which is why you have me. If you’d spoken with me as soon as you returned, I’d have told you this. By withdrawing unilaterally and giving a jewel into Tyrean hands—”

  “Hardly a jewel, father—”

  “You dare interrupt! Come here.”

  Woodenly, Gavin sat across from his father. Andross Guile extended a hand and found Gavin’s face. He traced Gavin’s cheek almost gently. Then he drew his open hand back and cracked it across Gavin’s cheek.

  “I am your father, and you will give me the respect you owe me, understood?”

  Gavin trembled, swallowed, mastered himself. “Understood, father.”

  Andross Guile’s chin lifted as if he was sifting Gavin’s tone for anything displeasing. Then, as if nothing had happened, he continued. “Garadul covets Garriston, so even if it’s a tower of feces built on a plain of ordure, giving it to him is weakness. The right course would be to raze the city, enslave the inhabitants, and sow the fields with salt—and leave before he arrived. But you’ve destroyed that option with your incompetence. And once King Garadul holds Garriston with twenty thousand men, you’ll find it a lot harder to take back than he’s going to find it to take when only a thousand are holding it.”

  “The Ruthgari only have a thousand men holding Garriston?” Gavin asked. It was less than a skeleton crew. If he hadn’t been in such a hurry when he sculled through Garriston, he surely would have noticed.

  “Troubles with the Aborneans hiking the tariff to travel through the Narrows again. The Ruthgari are making a statement with a show of force. They pulled the ships and most of the soldiers from Garriston.”

  “That’s moronic. They have to know Garadul is massing troops.”

  “I agree. I think the Ruthgari foreign minister has been suborned. She’s smart, she must know what she’s doing. Regardless, you must go to Garriston. Save the city, kill Rask Garadul, but even if you fail those, get that dagger. Everything rests on that.”

  What “everything”? Here was the problem with pretending to know secrets you didn’t know. Secrets, especially big, dangerous secrets, tended to be referred to obliquely. Especially when the conspirators knew spies were frequently eavesdropping on them.

  Maybe I should have taken my chances with claiming to have forgotten what the dagger was.

  There had been a time when Dazen had known all of Gavin’s secrets, even those that were supposed to be just between Gavin and their father. Dazen and Gavin hadn’t just been brothers. They’d been best friends. Though Dazen was two years younger, Gavin treated him like an equal. Sevastian was younger; they made him stay home. Gavin and Dazen had the same friends. Together, they won and lost fistfights against the White Oak brothers. Gavin missed the simplicity of those fights. Two sides, lots of fists, and once one side started bleeding or crying, the fight was over.

  But Gavin had changed on the day he turned thirteen. Dazen was not yet eleven at the time. Andross Guile had come in his dress robes, looming, impressive in red-gold brocade and red-gold chains around his neck. Even then, after having been a member of the Spectrum for a decade, Andross Guile had always been referred to as Andross Guile, never Andross Red. Everyone had always known which was the more important. Andross had taken Gavin away.

  When Gavin came back the next morning, his eyes were swollen like he had been crying, though he angrily denied it when Dazen asked. Whatever had happened, Gavin was never the same. He was a man now, he told Dazen, and he refused to play with him. When the White Oak brothers tried to pick a fight, Gavin filled himself with such deep sub-red that the heat emanated from him in waves, and he quietly told the brothers that if they attacked him, the result would be on their own heads.

  In that moment, Dazen knew Gavin really would have killed them, too.

  From then on, Gavin had spoken to their father as a confidant. Dazen had been left to fall by the wayside. For a time, he’d played with Sevastian. Then Sevastian was taken too, and he’d been alone. Dazen had hoped when he turned thirteen he’d be welcomed back into their graces, but his father had barely acknowledged the date. When it came time for it to be divined whom Orholam had chosen to
be his next Prism, all of Big Jasper and Little Jasper was a whirl of speculation, but Dazen knew his older brother was the one. How it happened didn’t matter. Andross had been grooming Gavin to be Prism for his whole life.

  And I was groomed to be nothing. A castoff to marry Karris White Oak or some other girl to deflect some other father’s ambitions. Until Gavin tried to take even that from me.

  The hardest part of maintaining his disguise was here—not in pretending to be Gavin, but in being reminded of all Gavin had had and that Dazen never would.

  “So, go to Garriston, save it or burn it, kill Garadul, and get the dagger. Sounds simple enough.” If Gavin did things right, that would fulfill one of his purposes, and set the stage for another.

  Andross said, “I’ll give you letters to the Ruthgari to make sure they’ll obey you.”

  “You’re going to make me the governor of Garriston?” Every time Gavin forgot how powerful his father was—even from this little room—Andross did something to remind him.

  “Not officially. If you fail it would besmirch our name. But I’m making sure that the governor does whatever you tell him.”

  “But the Spectrum—”

  “Can, on occasion, be ignored. It’s so not easy to depose a Prism, you know. When you return, we’ll talk about getting you married. It’s time you start making heirs. You showing up with a bastard presses the issue.”

  “Father, I’m not—”

  “If you crush one of the satraps, even a rebel one, you’re going to need to buy off one of the others. It’s time. You will obey me in this. We’ll talk about the bastard problem later.”

  Chapter 48

  Liv had gone to the light garden high in the yellow tower to think, but it seemed she couldn’t walk ten paces without stumbling over some young couple kissing. As the sun went down, the light garden became spectacular—and a favorite of couples. Liv should have remembered. There was something particularly jarring in the sight of young lovers when she was feeling so isolated.

  She left, her emotions tumbling over each other, sorry she’d been so rude to Kip, certain she was right that her father was still alive, and scared to death she was wrong. Lonely, scared of her future, and now—hit in the face with how easy everyone else seemed to find it to find someone who liked her—lonely for a boy. Any boy. Well, practically. Liv had been at the Chromeria for three years, and the best she’d done was have a few near-misses at relationships. Being Tyrean, being the daughter of a general on the losing side, and being poor had ended most interest before it began. The one boy she’d thought really cared for her had invited her to the Luxlords’ Ball and then had stood her up and gone with another girl. Apparently it had been a prank. The next year she’d briefly become the object of a competition between some of the most popular boys. For two weeks, it was glorious to be the center of attention. She’d felt like she’d finally broken through, that people were finally accepting her. One of them invited her to the Luxlords’ Ball.

  Then she overheard one of the others talking about a wager they had to see who could swive her first. Her revenge had been swift and terrible. She’d promised the boy escorting her to the ball—the leader of the group, a young noble named Parshan Payam—her maidenhead if he helped her fulfill a naughty dream of hers. He’d practically drooled.

  At the Luxlords’ Ball, they’d met in a darkened nook just off the main hall. She’d convinced Parshan to remove all of his clothes first, despite the proximity of practically the entire Chromeria dancing, talking, and drinking mere paces away. Then, pausing from kissing him while his loathsome hands wandered over her body, she asked how much he was going to win for winning the contest.

  “You know? You’re not mad?” he asked.

  “Why would I be mad?” she asked. “Close your eyes. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

  “A good surprise?” he asked.

  She trailed her fingernails down his belly. Looked down. Licked her lips. “It’ll take your breath away. Promise.”

  He closed his eyes. She grabbed all of his clothes and stormed out into the party. He came after her with a yelp, rushing naked into the party. “This is what you get for your contest, Parsham Payam!” Liv shouted, just so that anyone who hadn’t immediately seen the naked young man would notice and know who it was.

  The dancers stopped. The musicians quit playing. A hundred conversations ceased. “Wagering with your friends on who can take my virginity?! You’re despicable. A cad and a liar. You disgust me. You’re not smart enough to fool me, you’re not clever enough to deceive me, and you’re not man enough to take me.” She plunged his priceless clothes into the punch bowl.

  Nervous titters broke out everywhere. Parshan froze. With his clothes soaking in punch, it was pointless to retrieve them to cover himself. He did his best to cover himself with his hands.

  Amid silence punctuated with scattered applause, Liv stormed out of the hall and straight into Chromeria legend. Unfortunately, passing into tower lore for wreaking vengeance on a boy who’d taken a romantic interest in you—regardless of how ignoble that interest was—was not a good way to encourage interest from others. All the other boys were terrified of her.

  Why am I thinking about boys? My father’s dead.

  No, he’s not. Father’s gotten out of worse things. He wouldn’t allow himself to be trapped. He’s smarter than that.

  Still, it would be nice to have someone to talk to. Honestly, a good cry would make her feel a lot better.

  Liv trudged down to Vena’s room, but when she got there, Vena was crying. It broke Liv out of her own self-pity instantly. Vena wasn’t just crying; she was bawling. Vena’s usually artfully disheveled boyishly short hair was smashed down on her head as if she’d been holding her head in her hands. Her eyes were swollen.

  “I can’t believe it, Liv! I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Liv!” Vena said. “It’s a disaster. Orholam, Liv, I’m being sent home!”

  Looking around the room, Liv saw that all of Vena’s stuff was already packed up and in large trunks. With how much stuff Vena owned and all the decorations she’d strewn over every open space in her little room, Liv knew she couldn’t have packed it all herself.

  “What’s going on?”

  It took a few minutes to get it all out in some sort of sensible order, even though the story was simple: Vena had lost her sponsorship. The Abornean lord who held her contract had lost a fortune in some business venture and needed to cut his expenses. Apparently he’d shopped Vena’s contract around and found no buyers. Some other, younger drafter’s lord had bought Vena’s room from him, though. She was to vacate it immediately. Vena had been purchased passage home, tonight. She would have to meet with her sponsor to determine how he could best make back his investment from her.

  Vena could end up as a serving girl, but she feared her lord might sell her to slavers. It was illegal—a drafter’s indenture was a far cry from slavery—but there were always stories of such things.

  “Liv, could you loan me some money? I could run away.”

  “I can’t—”

  “Please, Liv, I’m begging you. I know it’s not a loan. I’ll never be able to pay you back, but I can’t face going back. Please.”

  Liv’s heart dropped. If she’d waited just one week to meet the moneylenders, she’d have drawn one more installment of her allowance, and she’d have ample money to help out her friend. “I just paid off a debt, Vena. I’ve got nothing left. It cost me everything.”

  Vena wilted.

  “Wait, we could sell some of my dresses. If you can wait until morning—”

  “No, forget it. They’ll be looking for me by then. And they know you’re my only friend. They’ll be watching you. It was a stupid idea. I need to go face this.”

  A knock on the door. “Miss?” a man’s voice called out.

  Vena opened the door and four men in slaves’ clothes came in and picked up the trunks. Vena picked up her own bag. “Walk me to the docks?” she asked Liv, putti
ng on a brave face.

  Still horrified, disbelieving, Liv nodded.

  They walked slowly, as if they could postpone the inevitable forever.

  “This really is a great place,” Vena said, as they crossed the bridge for the last time together. “It’s a marvel. And I was here. For a while. My father was a servant; my mother was a servant. There’s nothing wrong with going home and serving. I’m not better than they are. And you know what? I met the Prism!” Her eyes were gleaming. “He called me marvelous! He complimented my dress. Me. He noticed me, Liv, with all those beautiful girls there. No one can take that away from me. How many people—how many drafters never get that much in their whole lives? The Prism himself!”

  Her bravery made Liv tear up. She studiously avoided looking at Vena, sure she’d lose control if she did.

  But all too soon, they were at the docks. They said their goodbyes tearfully, promising to write, Liv promising that she would use any connections she could make to get Vena reinstated. Vena smiled sadly, resigned.

  “Come on, ladies,” the captain said. “Time and the tide wait for no man, nor for blubbering girls, neither.”

  Liv hugged Vena one more time and left. She’d barely stepped off the wood of the dock when she saw a familiar figure lurking in the shadows like a spider. Aglaia Crassos.

  “You!” Liv said. “This is your work!”

  Aglaia smiled. “I wonder, Liv, do you think we owe a debt to our friends? A debt of love, or duty?”

  “Of course we do.”

  “But apparently your duty to your friend isn’t as important as your need to defy me.”

  “You bitch,” Liv said, quivering.

  “I’m not the one who’s letting her friend pay for my pride. It can stop, Liv, or it can get worse.”

  “You still want me to spy on the Prism.”

  “Vena’s not going home, just so you know. I own her contract already. And I’ve got a deal with a rather… dubious Ilytian. He’s willing to give me a good price for Vena. Most people have scruples about selling drafters. Of course, she’s not a full drafter, so she won’t be entitled to any of a drafter’s normal privileges. But, hey, Vena loves sailing, right? Not many women on the galleys. They don’t usually last very long, nor do the other slaves treat them well, so owners usually put women to other work. But I can arrange it.”

 
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