The night angel trilogy, p.38
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.38

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Today we gather to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve. Some might wonder why we celebrate in the shadow of such dark deeds. I’ll tell you why. We wish to celebrate the lives of our loved ones, not yet mourn their deaths.” On the king’s left hand, Lord General Agon was nodding his head with grim approval. Durzo wondered how much of this speech was Agon’s. Most of it, he suspected.

  The king drank from his glass, forgetting that he was in the middle of a toast. The nobles throughout the room looked confused. Should they drink, or was the king not finished? Half chose each, but the king continued, gaining volume. “I’ll tell you why we’re here. We’re here because the bastards who murdered my boy aren’t going to stop me. They aren’t going to get me. They aren’t going to stop me from doing whatever the hell I please!”

  Lord General Agon looked alarmed. Aleine IX had slipped into the first person singular from the royal plural. He must have had more to drink than was apparent.

  “And I’ll tell you what is our sovereign pleasure. There are schemers, plotters—traitors!—here tonight. Yes! And I swear to you traitors, you will die!” The king had gone purple with rage. “I know you’re here. I know what you’re doing! But it’s fucking not going to fucking work!”

  Well, look who learned a new word.

  “No, sit down, Brant!” the king shouted as the lord general stood.

  The nobles were stricken silent.

  “Some of you have betrayed us to Khalidor. You’ve murdered our prince! You’ve killed my boy! Logan Gyre, stand!”

  Serah Drake was sitting near the back according to her rank, but even from above, Durzo could see the terror on her face. She thought the king was going to have Logan executed publicly, and she wasn’t alone.

  Logan Gyre stood, shaken. He was handsome, and from what Durzo knew, formidable, and popular with both the assembled nobles and the small folk of the city.

  “Logan,” the king shouted, “You’ve been charged with my son’s death. And yet here you are tonight, celebrating! Did you kill my boy?”

  Several nobles cried out in alarm, shouting that Logan would never be involved in such a thing. The king’s soldiers looked scared. They looked to Captain Arturian for guidance. He nodded and two guards stepped up beside Logan.

  Well, Durzo thought, finally coming directly over the head table where the king and Logan were seated, if threats don’t make Kylar want to kill me, this will. The innocent always lose.

  “Let him speak!” the king roared. He let off a stream of curses, and the crowd quieted. The tension hung thick over them.

  Logan spoke loudly and clearly. “Your Majesty, your son was my friend. I deny all charges.”

  The king was silent for a long moment. Then he said, “I believe you, Duke Gyre.” He turned to the nobles. “Lord Gyre has been found blameless in our sight. Logan Gyre, will you serve your country at all costs?”

  Durzo paused, as stunned as the nobles were.

  “I will,” Logan spoke clearly, but there was obvious tension in his face. His eyes had locked on Serah Drake’s.

  What the hell is going on? This had the feel of something scripted.

  “Then Lord Gyre, we pronounce you Crown Prince of Cenaria, and we announce your marriage of this afternoon to our own daughter, Jenine. Logan Gyre, you shall be our heir until such time as an heir is born to our royal house. Do you accept this duty and this honor?”

  “I do.”

  The apprehension in the Great Hall had turned to disbelief, then awe.

  Jenine Gunder moved to stand beside Logan, looking as awkward as a fifteen-year-old can. Durzo heard a little cry from Serah Drake. Her hands flew up to her mouth. Then she fled. But nobody besides Logan and Durzo noticed, because even as she ran for the exit, a cheer broke out, rapidly spreading to every throat.

  The king tossed off his wine, and the nobles joined his toast, saluting Logan. “Prince Gyre! Prince Gyre! Logan Gyre!”

  The king sat, but the cheering continued. All eyes were on Logan and Jenine. The king looked irritated. That the nobles were chanting “Prince Gyre” instead of the traditional “Prince Logan” might have been simply because it was easier to chant, but it also drove home that Logan wasn’t a Gunder—and everyone was happy about it.

  Logan graciously if somewhat woodenly accepted the applause, nodding to his friends, then he blushed as his new wife took his hand. Her face glowed with embarrassment at her own boldness and adoration for her husband. The nobles loved it. But as the approval roared to a crescendo, the king looked more and more vexed.

  And still, the cheering continued. The servants were cheering. The guards were cheering. It was as if the nobles felt a black cloud lifting from their futures. Not a few were saying, “What a king Logan Gyre will make!” Hurrahs rang out.

  Aleine Gunder was turning purple again, but no one was paying him the slightest attention.

  “Prince Gyre! Prince Gyre!”

  “Long live Prince Gyre! Hurrah!”

  The king jumped to his feet, apoplectic. “Now go! Go consummate this marriage,” he shouted at Logan, who wasn’t five paces away. Lord General Agon stood, but the king shoved him away roughly.

  Logan looked at Aleine, shocked. The nobles quieted.

  “Are you deaf?” the king shouted. “Go fuck my daughter!”

  The princess turned white. So did Logan. Then she flushed red, mortified. She looked like she wanted to sink through the floor. At the same time, barely controlled rage washed over Logan’s face in a crimson wave. The honor guards on either side of him looked stunned. Durzo wondered if the king had gone mad.

  The nobles didn’t make a sound. No one even breathed.

  “Out! Get out! Go fuck. GO FUCK!” the king yelled.

  Trembling, livid, Logan looked away and led his wife from the hall. The nervous guards followed.

  “And the rest of you,” the king said, “Tomorrow we mourn my son, and I swear that I’ll find out who killed my boy if I have to string up the lot of you!”

  The king sat abruptly and started weeping like a child. Durzo had frozen in place for the entire exchange. The nobles looked baffled, horrified. They slowly sat, staring at the king in silence.

  Durzo’s mind was racing. Roth hadn’t foreseen this. Couldn’t have. But Durzo was sure that Roth was in the castle, maybe in this very hall. A guard with one of the minor nobles was their signal man. If he took off his helmet, the coup was off.

  It gave him a moment to digest what had just happened—not the king’s madness, but Logan’s marriage. It was a brilliant bit of intrigue. Now if the king were killed, instead of four houses having equal claims while Logan Gyre rotted in the Maw, Logan Gyre would clearly be the king. With his reputation and the endorsement of the Gunders, he would get quicker obedience from the noble houses than even King Gunder had.

  It was a brilliant move, but it was too late. Roth had men throughout the castle. He probably couldn’t afford to try again later. If the coup had been planned for tomorrow, Logan’s marriage might have changed everything. As it was, Logan and Jenine would just be added to the list of those who had to die.

  As Durzo waited, it appeared that Roth agreed. A servant approached the signal guard and spoke with him. The man nodded and kept his hands off his helmet. The coup was on.

  Whatever Roth would have to fix, it would involve killing Prince Logan Gyre now—who would be conveniently tucked away in the north tower where he’d be easy to find. Roth would probably want to assign that job to Durzo, but Durzo had no intention of giving the Khalidoran the chance. He would do what he had promised, but he wouldn’t kill Kylar’s friend.

  During the first course, the nobles had already eaten the rabbits Durzo had prepared. He’d been feeding those rabbits hemlock for a year. The amount in a portion was a small enough dose that nothing would happen to the diners unless they’d also eaten the starling appetizers. In less than a half hour, the nobles would feel ill. Hemlock poisoning started peacefully enough. Already, the nobles’ legs should be los
ing feeling. If anything, they might notice that their legs felt heavy. Soon, the feeling would spread up. Then they’d start vomiting. Anyone unlucky enough to have eaten seconds would begin convulsing.

  The timing now was tricky. Poisoning wasn’t an exact science, and someone might notice something amiss at any time. Durzo needed to act before that happened.

  He secured one end of his rope to the beam. It was black silk—ridiculously expensive, but the slenderest and least visible rope Durzo owned. Fixing the harness he’d designed specifically for this mission, Durzo wrapped the rope through it and slid off the beam.

  Steadying his swaying against the beam, Durzo looked down at his target. The king was directly below him. Durzo tucked in his knees and folded over. The harness bit into his shoulders, and he let out slack, slipping down toward the floor, head first.

  Now timing was everything. In one hand, Durzo held the rope. By adjusting its position and tension against the harness, he could dive quickly toward the floor or stop easily. When he moved, he would need to move quickly: he was shrouded in shadows so that he was barely visible, but he couldn’t shroud the rope.

  In a room this cavernous, a rope swaying above the king as if holding weight would be noticed. The king’s guards were good. Vin Arturian made sure of that.

  With his other hand, Durzo pulled out two tiny pellets. Both were compounds from various mushrooms. Durzo had been able to make the pellets tiny, but they didn’t dissolve quickly and for this job he couldn’t use a powder.

  The nobles were still silent. The king was barely crying now, but he noticed the nobles looking at him.

  “What are you staring at?” he shouted. He cursed them roundly. “This is my daughter’s wedding feast! Drink, damn you! Talk!” The king drained his wine again.

  The nobles pretended to be talking, and soon that pretense became a furor of speculation. Durzo imagined that they were wondering if the king had lost his mind. He wondered the same himself.

  He wondered what they’d think after the king drank his next goblet of wine.

  A servant came and filled the king’s goblet. The king’s cupbearer sipped the wine first and swished it around his mouth. Then he gave it to the king who set it down on the table with a thump.

  “Your Majesty,” Lord General Agon said at the king’s left hand. “May I have a word with you?”

  The king turned and Durzo pushed the rope forward. He dropped like a bolt. Ten feet above the table, he pulled the rope back and jerked to a stop. Ten feet was still a long way to drop something so light, but he’d been practicing. But as he tightened the rope, it twisted, and suddenly, he was spinning. Not fast, but spinning.

  It didn’t matter. There was no time to try again.

  The first pellet splashed solidly in the center of the king’s goblet. The second hit the edge and tinged off. The pellet rolled several inches across the table by the king’s plate.

  Durzo coolly drew another pellet and dropped it in.

  The king picked up the goblet and was about to drink when Lord General Agon said, “Your Majesty, perhaps you’ve had enough to drink.” He reached a hand to take the goblet from the king.

  Durzo didn’t waste time seeing what the king would do. He drew a short tube from his back and looked beyond Agon to the king’s mage, Fergund Sa’fasti. He saw the man, but the rope spun him away before he could shoot the blow dart.

  He was trying for a leg shot. His hope was that the hemlock would have deadened the mage’s legs enough that he wouldn’t even notice the sting. But on the next rotation, he didn’t have a clear shot because the king and the lord general were gesticulating wildly.

  Damn robes! The mage’s robes left barely six inches of his calf visible. Durzo came around again and abandoned the calf shot. The mage had shifted his feet and Durzo only had one of the darts—whatever they were baited with, it was a Khalidoran secret that was supposed to disable the mage’s magical abilities.

  Durzo puffed on the blowgun. The dart stuck into the mage’s thigh.

  He saw a brief flash of irritation on the man’s face. The mage reached down toward his thigh—and was jostled by the Sa’kagé servant. “Sorry, sir. More wine?” the man asked the mage, snatching the dart. He was good. With hands like that, he must be one of the best cutpurses in the city. But of course, Roth would only use the best.

  “Mine’s full, you idiot,” the mage said. “You’re supposed to serve the wine, not drink it.”

  Durzo flipped over and scrambled up the rope, not an easy feat with silk. He rested when he got onto the beam. He had no idea if the king had drunk the wine or not. But his part was done. The only thing to do now was wait.

  52

  Drink yourself blind, then,” Agon said. He didn’t care if the king heard him. He didn’t care if the king killed him.

  Just when I thought I could deal with this bastard. He disgraces his own daughter and shames a man who’s given everything he loves to serve the throne.

  Agon had been able to steer the king through the marriage of Logan Gyre and Jenine Gunder, but the king had hated the idea. He was jealous of Logan’s looks and intelligence, jealous of how much people approved of his choice, and angry that Jenine had been excited to marry Logan rather than resigned to it.

  But if Agon had done one valuable thing in his ten years of serving this hell-spawned brat, it had been convincing the king to appoint Logan crown prince.

  Not that Logan would ever forgive him, but it was for the good of the realm. Sometimes duty required a man to do things he would do almost anything to avoid. It had been duty that had compelled Agon to serve Aleine IX, and only duty. Like Agon, Logan wasn’t a man who would shirk his duty, but also like Agon, that didn’t mean he had to like it.

  Logan would probably hate Agon for it for the rest of his life, but Cenaria would get a good king. With Logan’s intelligence, popularity, and integrity, the country might even become something more than a den of thieves and murderers. Agon was willing to pay the price, but it didn’t sit well with him. He’d seen himself in Logan’s eyes—realizing he was pledged to a destiny he would never have chosen. He’d seen the look on Serah Drake’s face. Logan would live with the guilt of that betrayal for the rest of his life. The sight had seared him. Agon had barely been able to touch his food tonight.

  The king tossed back the rest of his wine. The nobles were still buzzing. It wasn’t the pleasant hum of conversation usual at Midsummer’s Eve. Their tones were hushed, their glances furtive. Everyone offered an opinion on what the king was doing, why he would appoint an heir and then insult him in the same breath.

  It was madness.

  Slowly, the king emerged from his tears and silence. He stared around the Great Hall with hate-filled eyes. His lips moved, but Agon had to lean close to hear what he was saying. He wasn’t surprised to hear the king muttering curses, one after another, droning on and on, mindless in his rage.

  Then the king burst out laughing. The hall quieted once more, and the king laughed louder. He pointed at one of the nobles, an unassuming count named Burz. Everyone followed the king’s finger and stared at Count Burz.

  The count stiffened and reddened, but the king said nothing. His attention wandered and he stared cursing to himself again. For long moments, nobles continued staring at Count Burz, then looked at the king.

  Then Chancellor Stiglor, who was seated at the head table, stood up with a cry and shouted, “There’s something in the food!” The chancellor tottered and collapsed back into the chair, his eyes rolling up in his head.

  Next to him, a man the king had always hated, Lord Ruel, suddenly slumped forward. His face smacked into his plate and he lay still.

  The king laughed. Agon turned to him. The king wasn’t even looking at Lord Ruel, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.

  Someone cried, “We’re poisoned!”

  “The king has poisoned us!”

  Agon turned to see who had shouted, but he couldn’t tell. Had a servant said it? Surely n
o servant would dare.

  Another voice took up the shout, “The king! The king’s poisoned us!”

  Laughing, the king jumped to his feet and stumbled drunkenly. He shouted obscenities as the Great Hall erupted in chaos. Chairs squeaked as lords and ladies stood. Some of them wobbled and fell. An old lord started retching onto his plate. A young lady collapsed, vomiting.

  Agon was on his feet, shouting orders to the soldiers.

  The side door by the head table burst open and a man in Gyre livery pushed in, holding his hands up to show he was unarmed. His livery was torn and bloody. A gash bled beside his eyes, streaming blood down his face.

  Gyre livery? None of Logan’s servants were here tonight.

  “Treachery!” the servant shouted. “Help! Soldiers are trying to murder Prince Logan! The king’s soldiers are trying to murder Prince Logan! We’re outnumbered. Please help!”

  Agon turned to the king’s guards, drawing his sword. “There has to be some mistake. You, you, and you, come with me.” He turned to the bleeding messenger, “Can you take us to the—”

  “No!” the king bellowed, his laughter instantly turning to rage.

  “But sire, we have to protect—”

  “You will not take my men. They will stay here! You will stay here! And you, Brant! You’re mine. Mine! Mine!”

  To Agon, it seemed he saw the king for the first time. He’d seen Aleine IX as a foul, wicked child for so long that he’d forgotten what a foul, wicked child with a crown could do.

  Agon looked to the king’s guards. Disgust was written on their faces. He could tell they ached to go defend Logan, their prince, but duty forbade them from disobeying their king.

 
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