The black prism, p.37
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       The Black Prism, p.37
 

           Brent Weeks

  Liv grinned, weakly and briefly. Kip told them the rest of it.

  After he finished, Gavin and Ironfist shared a look. “The Broken Eye?” Ironfist asked.

  Gavin shrugged. “Impossible to know. Of course, that’s the point.”

  “The what?” Kip asked.

  “My magisters told us that was a myth,” Liv protested. The Prism and the commander of the Blackguard turned to look at her. She swallowed hard and stared at the floor.

  Ironfist said, “Your magisters are partly right. The Order of the Broken Eye is a reputed guild of assassins. They specialize in killing drafters. They’ve been rooted out and destroyed on at least three separate occasions, if not more. No satrap or satrapah enjoys losing drafters who’ve cost them so much before the end of their natural span. We believe that each time the order has reformed, it’s been without any connection to any of the previous orders.”

  “To put it plainly,” Gavin said, “some thug rounds up a few more thugs, hoping to make a lot of money from backstabbing a few drafters, and they name themselves the Order of the Broken Eye so they can demand hefty payments. It’s pure pretense.”

  “How do you know?” Kip asked.

  “Because if they were real, they’d be better at their job.”

  Kip scowled. His assassin had been pretty good.

  “It’s not to say they’re all equally incompetent, Kip,” Gavin said. “That’s the whole point. We shouldn’t even have brought it up. It doesn’t get us any closer to the real problem. Whether or not the order is real, someone sent an assassin to kill you. You haven’t been here long enough to make any enemies, so it’s clearly an enemy of mine. There’s only one thing for us to do.”

  Kip bit. “What?” He didn’t want to admit that he had already made an enemy. Surely that tester, Magister Galden, wouldn’t have sent an assassin after him, would he?

  “We run away.” Gavin grinned, a reckless, boyish grin, eyes dancing.

  “What?!” Kip and Liv asked at the same time.

  “Meet me at the docks in an hour. Liv, that means you too. You’ll be Kip’s tutor. We’re going to Garriston.”

  “Garriston?” Liv asked.

  “Pack quick,” Gavin said. “You never know where the order is lurking.” He grinned again, teasing.

  “Oh, thanks,” Liv said.

  “Pack?” Kip asked as Gavin swept out of the room. “I don’t even own anything!”

  Chapter 54

  The prisoner studied the dead man. “I’m going to kill you,” he said quietly.

  “I don’t die easy,” the dead man said, his mouth twitching. He was seated opposite Dazen, in his wall, knees folded, hands in his lap, his pose a mockery of Dazen’s own. He glanced at the carefully woven rag in Dazen’s lap. “Who would have thought?” the dead man mused. “Gavin Guile, so patient, so quiet, so content doing women’s work.”

  Dazen studied his handiwork. Woven of his own hair as tight as he could manage with calm cool blue flowing through his body, he wasn’t even sure how long he’d spent on it. Weeks, maybe. It made almost a skullcap, a small bowl. He studied the shiny interior. Finding, perhaps, a flaw, he took a long but perfectly round fingernail and scraped it around his nose, over his forehead in methodical strokes. Harvesting the accumulated skin and, more importantly, the precious oil with another fingernail, Dazen smeared the oil carefully onto the flaw.

  He was only going to get one chance. After years and years, he wasn’t going to mess it up.

  With a steady hand and skin filled with blue, he gathered more oil and smeared it on the wall directly over the dead man’s face.

  “This doesn’t change anything, Gavin,” the dead man said.

  “No, not yet,” he said.

  He stood and drafted a blade. He cut off a hank of his greasy hair. He spat on it and scrubbed it against his dirty skin, getting it as foul as possible.

  “You don’t need to do this,” the dead man said. “It’s madness.”

  “It’s victory,” Dazen said. He drew the blue luxin blade smoothly across his chest.

  “If you’re going to kill yourself, the wrist or the neck would work better,” the dead man said.

  Dazen ignored him. With dirty fingers, he pulled the cut open and tucked the putrid mass of hair and dirt under the flap of skin. Blood cascaded down his chest, the red almost tempting him to try drafting directly, but it wasn’t enough, he knew that from experience. He put a hand to his chest and pressed on the wound, holding it closed, slowing the bleeding.

  In a few sleeps, the cell would be cleansed with Dazen’s weekly bath. Soon thereafter, depending on how well he had planned and guessed, he would either escape or be dead.

  As long as he held the blue, he found he didn’t care much one way or the other.

  Chapter 55

  Liv cleared her throat awkwardly as she stuffed clothing into a bag. “I, um, came back here this morning to apologize,” she said.

  “Huh?” Kip said. The clothes in her hand were some lacy undergarments. Distracting.

  “You know, when you were busy trying to get killed.”

  “Oh, um, apology accepted?” Kip asked. What was she apologizing for? He shifted the weight on the pack that Commander Ironfist had given him before disappearing. Apparently it had taken Ironfist almost no time to gather some spare clothing, a waterskin, tools, and even a short sword for Kip. Kip still hadn’t figured out how to get the pack to sit comfortably on his shoulders, though. He’d come to Liv’s room to help her pack, but she wasn’t making things any easier. He glanced at the short pants again.

  “They’re just underclothes, Kip.” Ack, caught!

  “They’re see-through,” Kip said. How could such a small bit of cloth actually fit a person inside it?

  Liv looked down and colored a little, but played it off. She tossed the short pants to Kip, who caught them instinctively, and instantly felt awkward. “Would you check if those are clean?” she asked.

  Kip’s eyebrows shot off his face and stuck somewhere three floors up.

  “I’m teasing. I just moved and they gave me all new clothes. Everything here is new.”

  “Except my gullibility, apparently,” Kip said. That was twice in as many days she’d fooled him.

  She laughed. “You’re great, Kip. It’s like torturing the little brother I never had.”

  Oh, the little brother comparison. Just what every man wants to hear from a beautiful woman. I’ve just been castrated. “So would I feel more or less awkward holding my sister’s underclothes?”

  Liv laughed again. “Would these be better or worse?” She held up some black lace that looked like little more than two strings tied together artistically.

  Kip gaped.

  Then she held them up to her hips and cocked a saucy eyebrow at him. Kip coughed.

  “I think I need to sit down,” he said. She laughed like he hoped she would, but he wasn’t completely kidding. He backed up toward a chair—and instantly bumped into someone.

  “Watch it,” Commander Ironfist said. “You don’t want to run into someone with that little sword sticking out.”

  Kip was too mortified for words. Little? Liv saw the look on his face and burst out laughing so hard she fell on the bed. She laughed so hard she snorted, a decidedly unladylike sound, and then that made her laugh harder.

  Turning around, Kip felt Ironfist’s firm hand guiding his pack away from him so he didn’t stab him with the scabbarded short sword on top of it.

  Oh, that little sword. Relief flooded Kip, until he saw Ironfist glance down at the sheer short pants in his hands.

  “You need me to find some in your size?” Ironfist asked drily.

  Liv snorted again, giggling so hard she was gasping for breath.

  “Aliviana,” Ironfist said. “You’re done packing? Because we’re leaving in five minutes.”

  Liv’s laughter stopped instantly. She popped off the bed and began rummaging through her things at great speed. Ironfist let a small, satisfie
d smirk steal over his face briefly, then he dropped another pack next to Kip’s and walked out. Before Kip could ask him about it, Ironfist said, “Move it, boy genius. If you haven’t figured out the straps on your pack before I get back…”

  He didn’t complete the threat. He didn’t need to.

  Soon they were striding onto the docks together. Despite his threats, Ironfist had helped them with some settling of the packs. Mostly, that meant moving things from Liv’s pack to Kip’s. When Kip asked the silent question—why are you making me carry her stuff?—Ironfist had said, “It’s more complicated to be a girl. You got a problem?” Kip shook his head quickly.

  As they walked down the docks, past fishermen unloading catches, apprentices of various trades running back and forth, loiterers, merchant women arguing with captains about prices for goods or transit—basically, all the normal business of the day—many people stopped whatever they were doing for a few moments. It wasn’t to watch Kip, of course. It was to watch Commander Ironfist. The man was big, and imposing, and handsome, and he strode with a total self-awareness, but it wasn’t his sheer physical presence that got him so much attention. He was, Kip realized, famous.

  As Kip turned to see the faces looking at Commander Ironfist, he could see Gavin walking onto the docks. And if for Commander Ironfist, business slowed, for the Prism, it stopped entirely. Gavin walked through smiling and nodding to people automatically, but they treated him like he was nearly a god. No one tried to touch Gavin himself, but not a few brushed his cloak as it floated past.

  What am I doing with these people?

  A week ago, Kip had been cleaning puke off his mother’s face and hair while she lay passed out from another binge. In their hovel. With a dirt floor. No one in their backwater town had paid him the least mind. The addict’s boy, that’s all he was. Maybe the fat boy. I don’t belong here.

  I’ve never belonged anywhere. Mother told me I ruined her life, and now I’m ruining Gavin’s.

  Kip couldn’t help but think of his mother’s last words, and the promise he made as she was dying. He’d sworn to avenge her, and he’d hardly done anything to keep that oath.

  They said Orholam himself watched over oaths. Kip hadn’t learned anything, and now they were going back.

  “Hey,” Liv said, “why so glum?” She laid a hand on his arm, which tingled from the contact. They’d stopped at an empty place on the dock, down a ramp low to the water, and Commander Ironfist was drafting a luxin platform onto the water, the first building block of a scull.

  “I, uh, I don’t know. Thinking about Tyrea makes me think about—” And from somewhere that Kip didn’t even know he had, tears tried to come up at the thought of his mother, dying. He pushed them away, diverted them to someone more worth mourning. “You know, I hope your father’s well, Liv. He was… he was always good to me.” He was the only one.

  Yet even with Master Danavis, there had been a wall, a point past which he wouldn’t let Kip in. Was it just because of his own history that he had to keep secret? Or was there something deeper, something wrong with Kip?

  “Kip,” Liv said. “It’s going to work out.”

  He looked over at her and couldn’t help but smile. Orholam had never made a more beautiful woman. Liv could shame the sunset with her radiance. He fell into her dimples, hopeless. He looked away.

  Little brother, he sneered at himself. Fun to joke around with, but not a man. The despair threatened to choke him completely.

  “Thanks,” he managed to push past the lump in his throat. “Can I have a snack?” he asked Ironfist.

  “Yes, of course,” the big man said.

  “Great!”

  “When we get back.”

  “Hey!”

  “Now shut it, the Lord Prism is here.”

  All eyes still on him, Gavin stopped in front of Commander Ironfist. He looked at Ironfist’s pack. Neither said anything for a long time.

  “You can’t come, I’m not taking a bodyguard,” Gavin said finally.

  “I’m not coming with you,” Ironfist said.

  “Then get off my scull.”

  “I’m coming with Kip. He’s a member of the Prism’s family, and he’s entitled to protection.”

  “You’re the commander of the Blackguard, you can’t possibly—”

  “I can do what I deem appropriate to discharge the duties of the Blackguard. None may interfere with that. None.”

  “You are a wily bastard, aren’t you?” Gavin said.

  “It’s why I’m still here,” Ironfist said. “And quite possibly why you are, too.”

  Gavin grunted. “You win, but let me remind you of your oaths.”

  Ironfist looked offended.

  “You’ll understand soon,” Gavin said. “Everyone, load up.”

  With a quick, practiced hand, Gavin drafted a set of the special oars he used to propel the scull, but he clearly left room for Ironfist to draft his own, which he did, albeit much more slowly. Meanwhile, Gavin drafted a bench for Kip and Liv to sit on, and straps to hold all the bags in the boat.

  Ironfist wrinkled his nose at that, as if wondering why the bags would need to be strapped in, but he didn’t ask. In moments, they were off. Gavin manned his oars, and Ironfist manned his, and they sped out into the bay.

  The scull began veering to port almost immediately. It was Gavin’s side. Kip realized Ironfist was rowing faster than Gavin, and the imbalance was driving them to port. Gavin looked over at Ironfist, who grinned back at him, continuing to sweep huge long strokes with his arms and legs. Gavin sped up. So did Ironfist. So did Gavin. Soon they were sculling across the water at a nice pace.

  Liv looked over at Kip. “Can you believe this? I’ve never gone this fast!”

  Kip laughed.

  “What?” she asked.

  “You’ll see.”

  The men settled into a rhythm. They were going fast, competing, but neither trying to bury the other. “When are we going to meet your ship?” Ironfist asked, raising his voice to be heard over the wind.

  “We’re going to cross the sea on this,” Gavin said.

  Ironfist laughed. “Right. You’ve got more endurance than I thought!”

  Kip grinned. The big Parian clearly didn’t believe Gavin, but was willing to play along.

  After twenty minutes, they were out of sight of any other ships. Barely slowing in his rowing, Gavin lifted one hand up and drafted one of the great tubes Kip had seen him use to propel the skimmer earlier. Ironfist looked at it quizzically.

  “This is what I meant about your oath,” Gavin said. “Secrecy.”

  “A tube attached to another tube. Your secret is safe with me, O Prism,” Ironfist said, grinning. “I hope it gets us out of this port turn, though.”

  Gavin dropped the tube into the water. The deck shuddered as the first luxin ball hit the water streaming through the tube, then, as it quickly settled into the whup-whup-whup that was familiar to Kip, the skimmer shot forward. The whole skimmer rose up, and Ironfist almost fell over as his oars came free of the water.

  The skimmer sped up slowly and began to skip from one wave peak to the next, then the skips got longer and longer, and soon the platform stopped hitting the waves at all. After a time, the astounded Ironfist joined in and they skimmed even faster.

  The water was so clear, Kip could see the tube cutting through the waves below them. Gavin had given each tube little wings. It was on those wings that the whole skimmer was flying above the surface. The wind was incredible, but Kip could hear Ironfist whooping over it.

  Hours later, when the sun was halfway to the horizon, Gavin decided to switch back to sculling before they came in sight of Garriston. As the skimmer settled back on the waves, Ironfist stepped away from his tube.

  His face was a writ of wonder, awe. He actually physically trembled. Then he swept into an elaborate bow before Gavin. “My Lord Prism,” he said, “you have made the world small.”

  Gavin bobbed his head, acknowledging the bow.
Small, maybe. Safe, no. Did you see a corvette over that way?”

  Ironfist shook his head. Their watercraft, no longer lifted up by the action of the tubes, sat low in the water. But by the time Ironfist had drafted new oars, a corvette appeared, a league away, plowing right toward them. Ironfist cursed.

  Gavin grinned recklessly. “So Kip, Liv, you ever fought pirates?”

  Chapter 56

  “Surely you’re joking,” Ironfist said. “My Lord Prism,” he added belatedly and not enthusiastically.

  “Let’s go hunting,” Gavin said.

  “My lord!” Ironfist said. “I can’t let you put yourself in that sort of danger. We can outrun these Ilytian scum. They’re not threatening our mission or us.”

  “Do you know what this summer is, Commander?” Gavin asked.

  “I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

  “It’s time for the Ruthgari handover of Garriston,” Liv said as if the words left a bad taste in her mouth.

  “Do you know why she sounded so happy about that?” Gavin asked Ironfist.

  “I’ve never served on this side of the Cerulean Sea,” Ironfist said.

  “I’m sure you know that each country that sided with me during the False Prism’s War has rotating stewardship of Garriston.”

  “Two years or something for each country, so no one gets long term designs on Tyrea. Can we have this conversation at a safer distance?” He glanced at the pirates. They were making good progress in the afternoon wind.

  “That’s what it was supposed to do,” Gavin said. “Instead, each governor has taken it as a personal chance to get rich. The Parians had the first rotation, and they stripped Garriston of everything that survived the fires. Every governor since then has followed their lead.”

  Liv spoke up. “During the first year, most governors try to keep the Umber River clear of bandits so the crops can get through. But most of the crops come in too late on the second year. The governors don’t want to lose men killing bandits just to enrich the next governor from some other satrapy, so they withdraw into Garriston. Only the most optimistic farmers even bother planting on the second year anymore.”

 
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