The night angel trilogy, p.33
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.33
 

           Brent Weeks

  “He said if I believed you, it’d get me killed.”

  “A fair enough statement, I suppose,” Count Drake said. He turned and faced Kylar. “He used to work for me, you know.”

  “Excuse me? Durzo?”

  That brought a small smile.

  “Before he was a wetboy?” Kylar could hardly imagine that there had been a time before Durzo Blint was a wetboy, though he supposed there must have been.

  The count shook his head. “No. He used to kill people for me. That’s how we know each other. That’s how he knew he could trust me with you. Durzo doesn’t have much of a social life outside his work, you know.”

  “You? You ordered kills?”

  “Not so loud. My wife knows, but there’s no need to frighten the maids. I’ve tried to not preach at you with words, but rather let my life stand testimony to what I know, Kylar. But maybe I’ve erred in that. A saint once said, ‘Preach at all times. When necessary, use words.’ Can I take a minute of your time?”

  Some part of him wanted to say no. Not only was it awkward to hear someone you respect try to sell you something that you knew you weren’t going to buy, but Kylar was living on borrowed time. It seemed that at any minute news would arrive accusing Kylar of last night’s theft, and this whole pretty picture would pop like a bubble. Logan would know him for what he was. Serah would have another chance to berate him. The count would get that disappointed look on his face that cut to the bone. Kylar knew the count would be disappointed in him, would never really know how much good Kylar had done last night and at what cost to himself. The count would be disappointed regardless of what Kylar did now, but Kylar didn’t have to see it.

  “Of course,” he said. It was the right answer. This man had raised Kylar, had allowed him to live a life impossible for a guild rat. Kylar owed it to him.

  “My father inherited a large fortune from his father, enough that he mingled with Gordin Graesin, Brand Wesseros, and Darvin Makell—I guess you wouldn’t know about the Makells, they were wiped out in the Eight Years’ War. Anyway, he tried to impress these sons of dukes by throwing money around. Lavish parties, gambling, renting out entire brothels. It didn’t help that his own father died while he was still young. Of course, our family was soon in poverty. My father took his own life. So at the age of nineteen, I took control of a house on the brink of ruin. I had a good head for business, but I saw it as beneath me. Like many who have no reason for pride, that very lack of reason for it made me the prouder.

  “But certain realities have a way of making themselves felt, and debt is one of them. Not surprisingly, one of my father’s debtors had a way that I could make ‘easy money.’ I started working for the Sa’kagé. The man who recruited me was the Trematir. If he’d been better at his job, he would have only gotten me deeper and deeper in the Sa’kagé’s debt, but I soon found out that I understood men and money and the ways they work together better than he did. Strangely enough, I had fewer qualms.

  “I put my money into whatever made money. Specialty brothels to cater to any appetite, no matter how depraved. I started gambling dens and brought in experts from around the world to help me better separate my patrons from their money. I funded spice expeditions and bribed guards not to investigate the cargo. When one of my businesses was threatened, I had bashers take care of the problem. The first time they went too far and accidentally killed a man, I was shocked, but he wasn’t someone I liked, and it was for my family, and I didn’t have to see it, so that made it palatable. When I clashed with the Trematir, it was an easy decision to hire Durzo. I was naive enough that I didn’t realize he went to the Shinga immediately to get permission first. They gave it to him, and I became the Sa’kagé Master of Coin.”

  Kylar was hearing every word, but he couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be the Count Drake he had grown up with. Rimbold Drake had been on the Nine?

  “I traveled a lot, setting up businesses in other countries with fairly good success, and it was then I had my horrible revelation. Of course, I didn’t see the horror in it at the time. I could only see my own brilliance. In four years, I had paid off my family’s debts, but now, I saw a way to make real money. I sold the Sa’kagé on the idea. It took us ten years, but we got our people in place and we legalized slavery. It was introduced in a limited form, of course. For convicts and the utterly destitute. People who couldn’t care for themselves, we said. Our brothels filled with slave girls whom we no longer had to pay to work. We started the Death Games—another of my bright ideas—and they became a sensation, an obsession. We built the arena, charged the admission, monopolized the food and wine sold, ran the gambling, sometimes stacked the odds. We made money faster than we’d ever imagined possible. I hired Durzo so often that we became friends. Even he wouldn’t take all the jobs I offered. He always had his own code. He’d take jobs on the people who were trying to take my business for themselves, but if I wanted someone dead who was just trying to stop me, I had to hire Anders Gurka or Scarred Wrable or Jonus Severing or Hu Gibbet.

  “You have to understand with all this, I never considered myself a bad person. I didn’t like the Death Games. I never watched, never went in the holds of the slave galleys where men lived and died chained to their oars, never visited the baby farms that sometimes became child brothels, never visited the scenes of Blint’s work. I just said words, and money poured in like rain. The funny thing was, I wasn’t even ambitious. I was richer than anyone in the kingdom with the exception of some upper nobility, the Shinga, and the king, and I was comfortable with that. I just couldn’t stand incompetence. Otherwise, I’m sure the Shinga would have killed me. But she didn’t have to, because I wasn’t a threat, and Durzo told her that.” The count shook his head. “I’m rambling, sorry, but I don’t get to tell these stories anymore.” He sighed.

  “My mistake came when I fell in love with the wrong woman. For some reason, I was attracted to Ulana. Not just attracted, obsessed, and it took me a long time to figure out why. I even avoided her, it was so painful to be in her presence. But I finally figured out that it was because she was so unlike me. You see, Kylar, she was pure. And strangely, she seemed to love me, too. Of course she had no idea what I really was. I did none of my business under my own name, and few of the nobles had any idea of the kind of wealth that was becoming mine. The deeper I sank into the darkness, the more I loved her, and the more my shame grew. How can one love the light and live in darkness?”

  The question lanced through Kylar. He felt ashamed.

  “She started working on the slavery issue, Kylar, and she decided that she was going to visit the baby farms and the slave galleys and the fighting pits. I couldn’t very well let her go alone, so for the first time, I saw my handiwork.” The count’s eyes grew distant. “Oh Kylar, how she moved among those wretches. In all the stench of human waste and despair and evil, she was a fresh cool breeze, a breath of hope. She was light in the dark places I’d made. I saw a champion pit fighter, a man who’d killed fifty men, weep at her touch.

  “I was a man tearing in half. I decided to get out, but like most moral cowards, I didn’t want to pay the full price. So I traveled to Seth, where slavery is so different. I came back and in secret helped pass a law that would free the slaves every seven years. The Sa’kagé allowed it to pass but tacked on a provision that made it effectively void. Then one day Ulana, who was then my fiancée, came to my estate, weeping. Her father and mother had been badly hurt in a carriage accident. She thought her mother was dying, and she needed me. At the same time, the Nine were meeting in my parlor because King Davin was on the verge of outlawing slavery again and that, of course, would cost us millions. Do you know whom I sent away, Kylar?”

  “You sent away the Nine?” Kylar was aghast. Such an insult would mean death.

  “I sent Ulana away.”

  “Damn. Um, sorry.”

  “No, that’s how I felt. Damned. That’s where the God found me, Kylar. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was dead inside. I tho
ught it would be the death of me to cut my ties to the Sa’kagé, especially when I realized that it wouldn’t be enough to hand over my empire intact to someone who could continue it. Instead, I had to use all my cunning to hand it over to men who would tear it to pieces.

  “So that’s what I did. I used the money I had made to fund those who would rebuild the good I had destroyed and destroy the obscenities I had built. When I was done, I was penniless, my family was bankrupt, and I had dozens of powerful enemies. I went to Ulana, told her everything, and broke our engagement.”

  “What did she do?” Kylar asked.

  “It broke her heart to learn what I’d been, Kylar, and to learn that she’d known so little of me when she thought she knew everything. It took time, but she forgave me. I couldn’t believe that. But she really did. It took me longer to forgive myself, but a year later, after slavery was outlawed once more—in part because of my own efforts against it—we were married. I’ve had to work hard for the last twenty years. I’ve often been held back by my old reputation, and sometimes by my new one. You know how most of the nobles look on those of us who actually work. But my money is clean. And the God has been good. My family has enough. My children are a joy to me. Logan has proposed to Serah, and she’s said yes. I get to have Logan as a son. How haven’t I been blessed? Anyway, I should have told you this long ago. Maybe you already knew some of it through the Sa’kagé.”

  “No, sir. I had no idea,” Kylar said.

  “Son, I hope you see now that I do understand. I know what lies the Sa’kagé tells, and I know what it can cost to get out. The God was gracious to me. He didn’t make me pay all that I owed, but maybe I had to be willing to pay the full price. That’s how repentance is different from regret. I had been sorry about how slavery turned out, but I wasn’t willing to take responsibility for it. Once I was, the God could work in me.”

  “But sir, how are you still alive? I mean, you didn’t just leave, you destroyed a business that earned them millions!”

  Count Drake smiled. “God, Kylar. The God and Durzo. Durzo likes me. He thinks I’m a fool, but he likes me. He’s protected me. He’s not a man to cross lightly.”

  Thanks for the reminder.

  “The point is, Kylar, if you want to turn away from what you do, you can. You might miss your work. I imagine that you’re excellent, and there is a joy in excellence. You can’t pay for all you’ve done. But you aren’t beyond redemption. There’s always a way out. And if you’re willing to make the sacrifice, the God will give you the chance to save something priceless. But I’m here to tell you, miracles do happen. Like this one,” he pointed out the window and shook his head, incredulous. “My daughter, marrying a man as good as Logan. May the God be with them.”

  Kylar was blinking through tears, so he almost missed the count leaning forward further, looking toward the front gate. His eyes cleared as soon as he saw the soldiers push past the old porter. Kylar was on his feet in a moment, but the soldiers didn’t come to the front door. They stopped when they reached Logan and Serah, and the count opened the window to hear the captain as he unrolled a scroll.

  “Duke Logan Gyre, you are hereby under arrest for high treason in the murder of Prince Aleine Gunder.”

  46

  Count Drake was out the door in an instant. Kylar hesitated at the very place he’d run into Logan ten years ago and started their friendship with a fistfight. He shouldn’t go out. There was no time to think how much the guards knew, but if they thought Logan had been involved in the prince’s death, who knew what else they thought? The king must be totally paranoid. Whatever was happening, it was never a good idea to bring yourself to the guards’ attention.

  But seeing the bewilderment on Logan’s face dug into Kylar. He was just standing there as the smaller men disarmed him. He looked like a dog you’d kicked for no reason, eyes wide. Cursing himself for his stupidity, Kylar followed Count Drake.

  “I demand an explanation,” Count Drake said. Despite his limp, he somehow moved with authority. All eyes turned to him.

  “We’re, we’re making an arrest, sir. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you,” the captain said. He was a thick little man with yellow skin and almond eyes, but it seemed to take all of his determination just to stand before the count and not be blown away.

  “You’re attempting to arrest a duke, and you don’t have the authority to do that, Captain Arturian. By the third amendment to the common law in the eighth year of the reign of King Hurol II, the arrest of dukes of the realm must be justified by habeas corpus, two witnesses, and a motive. Incarceration requires two of those three.”

  Captain Arturian swallowed and seemed to be holding his spine straight only by an act of will. “We, um, habeas corpus is holding the corpse? So I have to bring two witnesses or provide motive before you’ll let me arrest the duke?”

  “If you have the corpse,” Count Drake said.

  The man nodded. “We, uh, we do, sir. The prince’s body was found last night at the Jadwin estate, and the motive is a matter of… uh. It doesn’t bear speaking, sir.”

  “If you attempt to arrest Duke Gyre at my home outside the provisions of the law, as a noble of the land, I have the right and the obligation to protect him with the force of arms.”

  “We’d slaughter you!” one of the guards said, laughing.

  “And if you did, you’d touch off civil war. Is that what you want?” Count Drake asked. The man who’d spoken fell silent, and Vin Arturian went gray. “Either produce a motive that would lead a man of known moral excellence like Duke Gyre to kill one of his best friends, or begone.”

  “Milord,” Captain Arturian said, his eyes downcast. “Forgive me. The motive was jealousy.”

  For some reason, Kylar’s eyes moved to Serah. She still looked stricken by the news, but as the captain grew more awkward, she seemed to shrink into herself, as if she knew what he was going to say next.

  “Duke Gyre found out that the prince was having… sexual relations with your daughter.”

  “That’s ludicrous!” Logan said. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. For godsake, she hasn’t even made love with me! Her fiancé! Aleine gets around, but he would never—”

  Logan looked at Serah and never finished the sentence. “Serah, you… you didn’t. Tell me you didn’t.” It was as if his soul had been stripped naked and all the darts in the world sank into it at once.

  Serah keened, a sound of such woe it tore the heart, but none of the men moved. She ran away, back into the house, but they stood transfixed in Logan’s pain.

  Logan turned to the count. “You knew?”

  Rimbold Drake shook his head. “I didn’t know who, but she said she’d told you. That all was forgiven.”

  Logan looked at Kylar.

  “The same,” Kylar said quietly.

  Logan took it like another dart. He struggled for breath. “Captain,” he said. “I’ll go with you.”

  The soldier who’d spoken before moved forward at the captain’s signal and started putting the manacles on Logan’s hands. “Damn, boy,” he said quietly, obviously only for Logan’s ears, but in the stillness of the yard his words were clearly audible. “You got fucked without even getting fucked first.”

  It was only the second time Kylar had seen Logan lose his temper, but the last time, he’d been a boy and he hadn’t been nearly as powerful as he was now. Maybe a wetboy would have noticed the muscles tensing in Logan’s shoulders and arm. Maybe a wetboy would have had the reflexes to dodge, but the guard didn’t stand a chance. Logan ripped his hand away before the second manacle clicked shut and hit the guard in the face. Kylar didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone hit so hard. Master Blint, with his Talent-strengthened muscles, could probably hit that hard, but he wouldn’t have the mass behind the blow that Logan did.

  The guard flew backward. Literally. His feet left the ground and he knocked over the two men behind him.

  Kylar’s Ceuran blade was in his hand before
the guards hit the ground, but before he could wade into battle, he felt the count’s fingers dig into his arms.

  “No!” the count said.

  Guards piled onto Logan, who roared.

  “No,” the count said. “It is better…” his face was as pained as Logan’s, torn between sorrow and conviction. “It is better to suffer evil than to do evil. You will not kill innocent men in my house.”

  Logan didn’t put up a fight. The men took him down to the ground, put the manacles on him behind his back, put a second set on his legs, and finally stood him up.

  “Did the count say your name is Kylar? Kylar Stern?” Captain Arturian asked.

  Kylar nodded.

  “The crown charges you with treason, membership in the Sa’kagé, accepting payment for murder, and the murder of Prince Aleine Gunder. We have a witness, corpse, and motive, Count Drake. Men, arrest him.”

  The captain might have been sympathetic, but he wasn’t a fool. Kylar had been so caught up in what was happening to Logan that he hadn’t noticed the men circle behind him. At the captain’s word, he felt two men take hold of his arms.

  He swung his arms forward, only hoping to throw the men off balance so he could fall backward between them. But once again his Talent was there like a coiled viper, and he was suddenly stronger than he’d ever been. The men flew forward and crunched together, meeting along the blade of Kylar’s sword. If he’d turned the blade, he could have gutted either of them, even through their boiled leather gambesons. Instead, he sheathed the sword—how had he done it that fast?—he was still falling backward from throwing the guards harder than he intended, and the sword was already sheathed.

  Turning his fall into a back handspring was child’s play. Kylar turned and ran toward a wall on one side of the count’s small garden. He jumped to grab the lip of the twelve-foot-high wall, and found the wall approaching instead at the level of his knees. It sent him over the wall in a vicious spin, and only by rolling into a ball and some significant luck was he able to land on the other side without killing himself.

 
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