The night angel trilogy, p.34
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.34

           Brent Weeks
 

  He stood and let the Talent go. There were cries coming from within the walls, but they’d never catch him. Kylar was a wetboy now in truth. He wondered what Blint would say. Kylar had achieved his lifelong dream, and he couldn’t have been more miserable.

  “How was it?” Agon asked Captain Arturian, as they walked through the halls of the castle toward the Maw.

  “It was… awful. Absolutely awful, sir. I’d say it ranks with the worst things I’ve ever done.”

  “Regrets, captain? They say he killed one of your men.”

  “If I may be blunt, he rid me of a fool that I couldn’t kick out because the man’s sister is a baroness. The idiot had it coming. I know it’s not my place to say, lord general, but you didn’t see Logan’s face. He’s not guilty. I’d swear it.”

  “I know. I know, and I’m going to do everything I can to save him.” They passed the guards who held the underground gate that separated the tunnels beneath the castle from those of the Maw. The nobles’ cells were on the first level. They were small, but in relative terms, luxurious. Agon had Elene placed in one of these cells, though her status didn’t afford it. He couldn’t bear to have her put any lower, and if the king asked, he’d say that he wanted her kept close for further questioning.

  Agon stopped outside Logan’s cell. “Vin,” he said. “Does he know about his family yet?”

  The squat man shook his head. “I’d already lost one man, sir. I didn’t know what he would do if we told him.”

  “Fair enough. Thank you.” It wasn’t the dismissal Agon would have given to one of his subordinates, but though the lord general’s rank was the second only to the king’s, the captain of the king’s guards wasn’t technically under Agon’s command. Fortunately, though they weren’t friends, they were on good enough terms that Captain Arturian took the cue and excused himself.

  It wasn’t going to be fun to tell a man who’d been jailed for a murder he didn’t commit that his family had been slaughtered, but it was Agon’s duty. He always did his duty.

  Before he unlocked the door, Agon knocked as if he were coming for a visit. As if they were anywhere else besides the Maw. There was no response.

  He opened the door. The nobles’ cells were ten feet square, all rock polished smooth to prevent suicides. Each had a bare rock bench that served as a bed, and fresh straw was brought in every week. It was luxury only compared to the rest of the Maw, and even with fresh straw, nothing could erase the rotten-egg stench or the ripe tang of massed humanity in an enclosed space that wafted up from the rest of the cells. Logan looked oblivious. He looked like hell. Tears streamed down his bruised face. He looked up when Agon came in, but his eyes took a long time to focus. He looked lost, his big shoulders slouched, big hands open on his lap, hair askew. He wasn’t alone. The queen was seated beside him, holding one of those limply open hands as one would hold a child’s.

  Bless the woman. She’d come to tell him herself.

  King Aleine IX had totally missed with Nalia Wesseros. Nalia could have been one of his greatest allies. What a queen she would have made for Regnus Gyre. Instead, she’d accepted being pushed to the fringes of Aleine’s Cenaria, even welcomed it, and had done everything she could to mother her four—now three—children. Agon had long suspected that the children were all that kept her alive.

  “My queen. My lord,” Agon said.

  “Pardon me if I don’t rise,” Logan said.

  “None necessary.”

  “They say that my father is dead, too. Or they say that he did it. That the king sent men to arrest him for killing my mother. What happened?” Logan asked.

  “As far as I know, your father is alive. He arrived with only one or two men. He was attacked outside the city. Someone was trying to wipe out all the Gyres but you. Men were sent to arrest him, but not on the king’s orders. I haven’t found out who did give the orders. Not yet. Those men either fled the city, or they joined your father. I don’t know which.”

  “Lord General, I didn’t kill Aleine,” Logan said. “He was my friend. Even if he did… what they say he did.”

  “We know. We—the queen and I—don’t think you did it.”

  “He talked to me last night, you know? He knew I was going to propose to Serah. He tried to persuade me not to. He reminded me of the rumors about Serah getting around. He had this crazy idea that I marry Jenine. I thought it was strange, but that he was being magnanimous. It wasn’t magnanimity. It was guilt. Damn him!”

  Logan looked at the queen. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t talk this way, but I’m so, so angry—and I feel so guilty for it at the same time! I would have forgiven them, Your Majesty. I would have. Gods! Why didn’t they just tell me?”

  They cried silently together and the queen just squeezed Logan’s hand.

  After a minute, Logan looked up at Agon. “They say Kylar did it. At Count Drake’s, I saw him move. He was fast. Too fast. But are you sure?”

  Gods. The boy had just been betrayed by his fiancée and the prince. Now he wanted to know if he’d been betrayed by his best friend as well. Agon didn’t know if he would survive it—and he needed him to survive it—but Logan deserved the truth. It wasn’t in Agon to give him less. “I’m sure Kylar was upstairs when Aleine died. I’m sure he’s a wetboy. I doubt his real name is Kylar or that he’s a Stern, but I won’t know that for two weeks. We’ve sent a rider to their estates but it’s a week’s ride each way. I can’t put everything together in any other way, son, and I’ve been trying.”

  “Your being here is a kindness,” Logan said. His back straightened. “And I don’t want to take that away from you, but I’m guessing that you want something from me or you wouldn’t both have come here. Not now. Not so soon.”

  The queen and the lord general looked at each other. Something passed between them, and the general said, “You’re right, Logan. The truth is, the kingdom’s in peril. I wish that we could be sensitive to your grief. You know that your father is one of my dearest friends and what happened to your house is more than a tragedy. It’s a monstrosity.

  “But we have to ask you to put your feelings aside, for a time. We don’t know how bad the threat is, but I believe that it’s dire. When the king decided to get rid of your father one way or another ten years ago, it was I who suggested Screaming Winds. I knew that your father would make the garrison there a real stronghold, and I believed that Khalidor would invade sooner or later. Perhaps because he did such an excellent job, that invasion hasn’t come. Most people want to believe that it won’t come, because they know that if the might of Khalidor marches, we don’t stand a chance.

  “I believe that the prince, your mother, and your servants were the first casualties in a war. A new kind of war that uses assassins instead of armies to gain its will. We can stop armies, we’ve been preparing for that. Assassins are a different story.”

  “Begging the queen’s pardon,” Logan said, “why should I care if the king’s head rolls? He’s been no friend to the Gyres.”

  “A fair question,” the queen said.

  “On a personal level,” Agon said, “you should care because if the king dies, you’ll either stay in prison forever or you’ll be killed. On a national level, if the king dies, there will be civil war. Troops will be called back to the respective houses to which they are loyal, and Khalidor’s armies will pour over our borders. Even united, our country couldn’t stand against Khalidor’s might. Our only strategy has been to make it so costly to take us that the price would be too high. With our armies scattered, we’d be defenseless.”

  “So you think an assassination attempt is coming?” Logan asked.

  “Within days. But Khalidor’s plans rest on certain assumptions, Logan. So far, they’ve been valid assumptions. They knew that you would be arrested. No doubt they’ve already planted rumors to stir up the people against the king, suggesting that everything that’s happened has been his fault or his plan. We have to do something beyond anything Khalidor has considered.”
<
br />   “And what’s that?”

  The queen said, “Khalidor has hired Hu Gibbet, perhaps the best wetboy in the city. If he wants to kill Aleine, he probably can. The best way to save the king’s life is if the taking of it won’t gain Khalidor anything. Maybe it’s the only way. We have to assure the line of succession. In a time of peace or if she were older, Jenine might take the throne, or I might, but now…. That simply wouldn’t be possible. Some of the houses would refuse to follow a woman into war.”

  “Well, what are you supposed to do? Have another son?”

  Agon looked queasy. “Sort of.”

  The queen said, “We need someone who’s popular enough to win the people’s trust back to the throne, and whose claim to the crown would be beyond dispute.”

  Logan looked at him and sudden understanding washed over him. Emotions warred on his face. “You don’t know what you’re asking.”

  “Yes, I do,” the queen said quietly. “Logan, has your father ever spoken of me?”

  “Only in terms of highest praise, Your Majesty.”

  “Your father and I were betrothed, Logan. For ten years, we knew we were going to marry. We fell in love. We named the children we would someday have. The king was dying without heirs, and our marriage was to have secured the throne for House Gyre. Then my father betrayed Regnus and broke his word to your grandfather by marrying me in secret to Aleine Gunder. There were only enough witnesses present to ensure the legality of the marriage. I wasn’t even allowed to send a message to your father beforehand. The king lived for another fourteen years, long enough for me to have children, long enough for your father to marry and have you, long enough for your father to take control of House Gyre. Long enough for House Gunder to fabricate some ridiculous history that supposedly gave Aleine the right to be called Aleine IX, as if he were a legitimate king. When King Davin died, your father could have gone to war to take the throne. He could have won it, but he didn’t, for my sake and the sake of my children.

  “I was sold into a marriage I despised, Logan, to a man I never loved, and for whom I could never make love grow in my breast. I know what it is to be sold for politics. I even know my literal price in the lands and titles my family secured after the king’s death.” There was iron in her as she spoke, clearly, calmly, every inch the queen. “I still love your father, Logan. We’ve barely spoken in twenty-five years. He had to marry a Graesin after I married a Gunder, just to keep the House Gyre from becoming isolated and wiped out like the Makells were. He accepted a marriage that I’ve heard had little love in it. So if you think it pleases me to do to you what was done to me, you couldn’t be more mistaken.”

  Logan’s father had never spoken of such things, but his mother—it was suddenly so clear—his mother had been reminding Regnus of it for years. Her sidelong comments. Her constant suspicions that Regnus had other lovers, though Logan knew he hadn’t. His father’s angry remark once that there was only one woman she had any right to envy.

  “I have hope that your marriage will not be the agony mine has been,” Queen Gunder said.

  Logan put his face in his hands. “Your Majesty, words can’t express the… fury I feel toward Serah. But I gave her father my word that I would marry her.”

  “The king can legally dissolve such bonds for the good of the realm,” Agon said.

  “The king can’t dissolve my honor!” Logan said. “I swore! And dammit! I still love Serah. I still love her. It’s all playacting, isn’t it? What’s the plan, that the king adopt me? That I be his heir until you bear him another son?”

  “This playacting gets us through a crisis, son,” Agon said. “And it keeps your family from being destroyed. You have to stay alive if you want that to happen. It also happens to save you from disgrace and prison, even if we’re wrong about the plot.”

  “Logan,” the queen said, her voice again quiet. “It isn’t playacting, but we’ve convinced the king that it is. He is a despicable man, and if it’s up to him, he will never let Regnus’s son take the throne.”

  “Your Majesty,” Agon interrupted. “Logan doesn’t need to—”

  “No, Brant. A person ought to know what they’re being asked to give.” She looked him in the eye, and after a moment, he looked down. She turned to Logan. “My hope has been my children, Logan, and I lay Aleine’s death at my husband’s feet. If he’d not gotten involved with that Jadwin whore…” She blinked her eyes, refusing to let tears fall. “I have given the king all the sons he will have from me. I will not share his bed again. Ever. He will be told that if he seeks to force me to his bed or replace me as queen, we have retained the services of a wetboy to make sure he finds an early grave. The fact is, Logan, if you say yes, you will one day be king.”

  He said nothing.

  “Most men would leap at the chance for such power,” Agon said. “Of course, most men make terrible kings. We know you wouldn’t ask for this, but you aren’t only the right man for it; you’re the only man for it.”

  “Logan was the name Regnus and I had decided on for our first son,” the queen said. “I know what I’m asking, Logan. And I’m asking.”

  47

  The game wasn’t going well. The pieces were spread out before Dorian like armies. Except that they weren’t like armies; they were armies, though in this game, few of the soldiers wore uniforms. Even those who did moved with reluctance. The Fool King shamed the Commander. The Reluctant King was kneeling somewhere at this moment. The Mage in Secret’s secret had split him from the King Who Might Have Been. The Shadow that Walks and the Courtesan couldn’t decide which side they were on. The Rent Boy was moving fast, but too slow, too slow. The Prince of Rats had marshaled his vermin, and they would rise from the Warrens, a tide of human filth. Even the Rogue Prince and the Blacksmith might play a part, if….

  Blast! It was hard enough, just envisioning the pieces as they were. From there, he could often focus on one piece and see the choices it faced: the Commander as a drunk king shouted in his face, the Shadow that Walks as he faced the Apprentice in a honeymoon chamber. But just as he was fixing the pieces in space, setting their relative positions, he’d start seeing one or more at a different time. Seeing where the Blacksmith would be in seventeen years, stooped over a forge, urging his son back to work, didn’t do him any good in figuring out how to keep Feir alive until that day.

  He went back to work. Now where was the Kidnapped?

  Sometimes he felt as if he were but a breath of wind over the field of battle. He could see everything, but the most he could hope to do was blow one or two killing arrows off course. Where is that Mage in Secret? Ah.

  “Open the door, quick,” Dorian said.

  Feir looked up from the little table where he was seated, dragging a whetstone across the face of his sword. They were in a little house they’d rented off Sidlin where Dorian said they would be left alone. Feir rose and opened the door.

  A man was just disappearing past it, walking determinedly down the street. His hair and gait were familiar. He must have seen something out of the corner of his eye—of course, the blond mountain that was Feir was hard to miss—because he turned on his heel, his hand dropping to his sword.

  “Feir?”

  Feir looked almost as surprised as Solon was, so Dorian said, “Both of you, inside.”

  They came in, Feir giving a customary grumble about how Dorian never told him anything, and Dorian just smiling. So much to see, so much to know. It was easy to miss things right under your nose.

  “Dorian!” Solon said. He embraced his old friend. “I ought to wring your neck. Do you know how much trouble your little ‘Lord Gyre’ bit cost me?”

  Dorian laughed. He knew. “Oh, my friend,” he said, holding onto Solon’s arms. “You did well.”

  “You look well, too,” Feir said. “You were fat when you left. Look at you now. A decade of military service has done you right.”

  Solon smiled, but the smile faded fast. “Dorian, seriously, I have to know. Did you mea
n that I needed to come serve Logan, or did you mean Regnus? I thought you’d said Lord Gyre and not Duke Gyre, but when I got here, there were two Lords Gyre. Did I do the right thing?”

  “Yes, yes. They both needed you, and you saved both of them several times. Some you know, some you don’t.” Perhaps the most important thing Solon had done was something he would never appreciate: he had encouraged Logan’s friendship with Kylar. “But I won’t lie to you. Keeping your secret was something I didn’t foresee. I thought you would have shared it years ago. Down most paths I see now, Regnus Gyre will lose his life.”

  “I’m a coward,” Solon said.

  “Pah,” Feir said. “You’re many things, Solon, but you’re not a coward.”

  Dorian kept silent, and let his eyes speak empathy. He knew differently. Solon’s silence had been cowardice. Dozens of times he’d tried to speak, but he could never summon the courage to risk his friendship with Regnus Gyre. The worst of it was that Regnus would have understood and laughed about it, if he’d heard it from Solon’s own lips. But discovering deceit in a friend felt like betrayal to a man who’d had his fiancée sold out from under him to another man.

  “Your powers have grown,” Solon said.

  “Yes, he’s truly insufferable now,” Feir said.

  “I’m surprised the brothers at Sho’cendi let you come here,” Solon said.

  Dorian and Feir looked at each other.

  “You left without permission?” Solon asked.

  Silence.

  “You left against their direct orders?”

  “Worse,” Dorian said.

  Feir barked a laugh that told Solon he’d been put into another plan of Dorian’s that he couldn’t believe.

  “What did you do?” Solon asked.

  “It belonged to us, really. We’re the ones who found it again. They didn’t have any right,” Dorian said.

  “You didn’t.”

 
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