The night angel trilogy, p.4
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.4

           Brent Weeks
 

  “That jackal will hurl you against my family, you know that. Destroy you, destroy them—he wins no matter what.”

  “This is your family, Catrinna. And I’ve made my decision.” Duke Gyre’s voice carried with a whip crack of command, an edge that made Logan want to shrink and not be noticed.

  “Which of your harlots are you taking with you?”

  “I’m not taking any of the maidservants, Catrinna, though some of them will be hard to replace. I’m leaving them here out of respect for your—”

  “How stupid do you think I am? You’ll just find sluts there.”

  “Catrinna. Go inside. Now!”

  She obeyed and Duke Gyre watched her go. He spoke without turning toward Logan. “Your mother… there are things I’ll share with you when you’re older. For now, I expect you to honor her, but you will be Lord Gyre while I’m gone.”

  Logan’s eyes went wide.

  His father clapped him on the shoulder. “That doesn’t mean you get to skip your lessons. Wendel will teach you everything you need to know. I swear the man understands more about running our lands than I do. I’m only a four-day ride away. You have a fine mind, son, and that’s why you have to stay. This city is a vipers’ nest. There are those who would destroy us. Your mother has seen hints of that, and it’s been part of her troubles. I’m gambling with you, Logan. I wish I didn’t have to, but you’re the only piece I have left to play. Surprise them. Be smarter, better, braver, and faster than anyone expects. It’s not a fair burden for me to put on you, but I must. I’m counting on you. House Gyre is counting on you. All our retainers and vassals are counting on you, and maybe even the kingdom itself.”

  Duke Gyre swung up onto his huge white destrier. “I love you, son. But don’t let me down.”

  6

  The darkness was as close and cold as the dead’s embrace. Azoth squatted against the alley wall, hoping the night wind covered the sound of thunder in his heart. The fifth big who’d joined him had stolen a shiv from Rat’s weapons cache, and Azoth clutched the thin metal so tightly his hand hurt.

  There was still no motion in the alley. Azoth stuck the blade in the dirt of the alley and put his hands in his armpits to keep them warm. Nothing might happen for hours. It didn’t matter. He was running out of chances. He’d wasted too much time as it was.

  Rat wasn’t stupid. He was cruel, but he had plans. Azoth didn’t. He’d been flailing in his fear for three months. Flailing when he could have been planning. The Fist had declared his intentions. That made it easy enough. Azoth knew some of what he was planning; all he had to do was piece together how. Now, as he thought, he could feel himself slipping into Rat’s skin all too easily, thinking Rat’s thoughts.

  A purge isn’t good enough. A purge will give me safety for a couple of years. Other guild heads have killed to keep their power. Killing doesn’t make me different. Azoth worked on the idea. Rat didn’t have small ambitions. Rat had bottled up his hatred for three months. Why would he be willing to not even hit Azoth for three months?

  Destruction. That’s what it came down to. Rat would destroy him in spectacular fashion. He would sate his own cruelty and advance his power. He would do something so awful that Azoth would become a story the guilds would tell. He might not even kill him, just leave him maimed in some horrific way so that everyone who met Azoth would fear Rat more.

  There was a shuffling sound in the alley and Azoth tensed. Slowly, so slowly, he pulled out the shiv. The alley was tight, the buildings sagging so close a grown man could touch both walls at the same time. Azoth had chosen it for that reason. He wouldn’t let his quarry slip past him. But now the walls seemed malevolent, stretching hungry fingers toward each other, closing out the stars, grabbing for him. Wind muttered over the roofs, telling tales of murder.

  Azoth heard the shuffle again and relaxed. A scarred old rat emerged from under a pile of moldering boards and sniffed. Azoth held still as the rat waddled forward. It sniffed at Azoth’s bare feet, nudged them with a wet nose, and sensing no danger, moved forward to feed.

  Just as the rat moved to bite, Azoth buried the shiv behind its ear and into the ground beneath. It jerked but didn’t squeak. He withdrew the thin iron, satisfied with his stealth. He checked the alley again. Still nothing.

  So where am I weak? What would I do to destroy me if I were Rat?

  Something tickled his neck and he brushed it away. Curse the bugs.

  Bugs? It’s freezing out here. His hand came down from his neck warm and sticky.

  Azoth turned and lashed out, but the shiv went spinning from his hand as something struck his wrist.

  Durzo Blint squatted on his heels not a foot away. He didn’t speak. He just stared, his eyes colder than the night.

  There was a long pause as they stared at each other, neither saying a word. “You saw the rat,” Azoth said.

  An eyebrow lifted.

  “You cut me where I cut it. You were showing me that you’re as much better than me as I am better than the rat.”

  A hint of a smile. “A strange little guild rat you are. So smart, so stupid.”

  Azoth looked at the shiv—now magically in Durzo’s hand—and felt ashamed. He was stupid. What had he been thinking? He was going to threaten a wetboy? But he said, “I’m going to apprentice with you.”

  Blint’s open hand cracked across his face and sent him sprawling into the wall. His face scraped against rock and he landed heavily.

  When he rolled over, Blint was standing over him. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you,” Blint said.

  Doll Girl. She wasn’t only the answer to Blint’s question, she was Azoth’s weakness. She was where Rat would strike. A wave of nausea swept over Azoth. First Jarl and now Doll Girl.

  “You should,” Azoth said.

  Blint raised an eyebrow again.

  “You’re the best wetboy in the city, but you’re not the only one. And if you won’t apprentice me and you don’t kill me, I’ll train under Hu Gibbet or Scarred Wrable. I’ll spend my life training just for the moment I have my chance at you. I’ll wait until you think I’ve forgotten today. I’ll wait until you think it was just a dumb guild rat’s threat. After I’m a master, you’ll jump at shadows for a while. But after you jump a dozen times and I’m not there, you won’t jump just once, and that’s when I’ll be there. I don’t care if you kill me at the same time. I’ll trade my life for yours.”

  Durzo’s eyes barely had to shift to go from dangerously amused to simply dangerous. But Azoth didn’t even see them through the tears brimming in his own eyes. He only saw the vacant look that had come into Jarl’s eyes and imagined seeing it in Doll Girl’s. He imagined her screams if Rat came and took her every night. She’d scream wordlessly for the first few weeks, maybe fight—bite and scratch for a while—and then she wouldn’t scream anymore, wouldn’t fight at all. There would just be grunting and the sounds of flesh and Rat’s pleasure. Just like Jarl.

  “Is your life so empty, boy?”

  It will be if you say no. “I want to be like you.”

  “No one wants to be like me.” Blint drew a huge black sword and touched the edge to Azoth’s throat. In that moment, Azoth didn’t care if the blade drank his life’s blood. Death would be kinder than watching Doll Girl disappear before his eyes.

  “You like hurting people?” Blint asked.

  “No, sir.”

  “Ever killed anyone?”

  “No.”

  “Then why are you wasting my time?”

  What was wrong with him? Did he really mean that? He couldn’t. “I heard you don’t like it. That you don’t have to like it to be good,” Azoth said.

  “Who told you that?”

  “Momma K. She said that’s the difference between you and some of the others.”

  Blint frowned. He pulled a clove of garlic from a pouch and popped it into his mouth. He sheathed his sword, chewing.

  “All right, kid. You want to get rich?” Azoth nodded.
You’re quick. But can you tell what your marks are thinking and remember fifty things at once? Do you have good hands?” Nod. Nod. Nod.

  “Be a gambler.” Durzo laughed.

  Azoth didn’t. He looked at his feet. “I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”

  “Ja’laliel beats you?”

  “Ja’laliel’s nothing.”

  “Then who is?” Blint asked.

  “Our Fist. Rat.” Why was it so hard to say his name?

  “He beats you?”

  “Unless you’ll… unless you’ll do things with him.” It sounded weak, and Blint didn’t say anything, so Azoth said, “I won’t let anyone beat me again. Not ever.”

  Blint kept looking past Azoth, giving him time to blink away his tears. The full moon bathed the city in golden light. “The old whore can be beautiful,” he said. “Despite everything.”

  Azoth followed Blint’s gaze, but there was no one else in sight. Silver mist rose from the warm manure of the cattle yards and coiled around old broken aqueducts. In the darkness, Azoth couldn’t see the Bleeding Man freshly scrawled over his own guild’s Black Dragon, but he knew it was there. His guild had been losing territory steadily since Ja’laliel got sick.

  “Sir?” Azoth said.

  “This city’s got no culture but street culture. The buildings are brick on one street, daub and wattle the next, and bamboo one over. Titles Alitaeran, clothes Callaean, music all Sethi harps and Lodricari lyres—the damn rice paddies themselves stolen from Ceura. But as long as you don’t touch her or look too close, sometimes she’s beautiful.”

  Azoth thought he understood. You had to be careful what you touched and where you walked in the Warrens. Pools of vomit and other bodily fluids were splattered in the streets, and the dung-fueled fires and fatty steam from the constantly boiling tallow vats covered everything with a greasy, sooty sheen. But he had no reply. He wasn’t even sure Blint was talking to him.

  “You’re close, boy. But I never take apprentices, and I won’t take you.” Blint paused, and idly spun the shiv from finger to finger. “Not unless you do something you can’t.”

  Hope burst into life in Azoth’s breast for the first time in months. “I’ll do anything,” he said.

  “You’d have to do it alone. No one else could know. You’d have to figure out how, when, and where. All by yourself.”

  “What do I have to do?” Azoth asked. He could feel the Night Angels curling their fingers around his stomach. How did he know what Blint was going to say next?

  Blint picked up the dead rat and threw it to Azoth. “Just this. Kill your Rat and bring me proof. You’ve got a week.”

  7

  Solon Tofusin led the nag up Sidlin Way between the gaudy, close-packed manses of the great families of Cenaria. Many of the houses were less than a decade old. Others were older but had been recently remodeled. The buildings along this one street were qualitatively different from all the rest of Cenarian architecture. These had been made by those hoping their money could purchase culture. All were ostentatious, trying to rival their neighbors by their exotic design, whether in builders’ fantasies of Ladeshian spires or Friaki pleasure domes or in more accurately articulated Alitaeran mansions or perfect scale imitations of famous Ceuran summer palaces. There was even what he thought he recognized from a painting as a bulbous Ymmuri temple, complete with prayer flags. Slave money, he thought.

  It wasn’t slavery that appalled him. On his island, slavery was common. But not like it had been here. These manses had been built on pit fighters and baby farms. It had been out of his way, but he’d walked through the Warrens to see what the silent half of his new home city was like. The squalor there made the wealth here obscene.

  He was tired. Though not tall, he was thick. Thick through the stomach and, mercifully, still thicker through the chest and shoulders. The nag was a good horse, but she was no warhorse, and he had to walk her as often as he rode.

  The large estates loomed ahead, differentiated from the others not so much by the size of the buildings as by the amount of land within the walls. Where the manses were packed side by side, the estates sprawled. Guards presided over gates of ironwood rather than intricate grillwork—gates built long ago for defense, not decoration.

  The gate of the first estate bore the Jadwin trout inlaid with gold leaf. Through the sally port, he saw a lavish garden filled with statues, some marble, some covered with beaten gold. No wonder they have a dozen guards. All the guards were professional and a few furlongs short of handsome, which gave credence to the rumors about the duchess, and he was more than happy to pass the Jadwin estate. He was a handsome man with olive skin, black eyes, and hair still black as a night untouched by the gray shadows of dawn. Sharing a house with a voracious duchess whose husband left on frequent and lengthy embassies was trouble he didn’t need.

  Not that I’ll find less where I’m going. Dorian, my friend, I hope this was genius. He didn’t want to consider the other possibility.

  “I am Solon Tofusin. I’m here to see Lord Gyre,” Solon said as he arrived in front of the Gyre estate’s gate.

  “The duke?” the guard asked. He pushed his helm back and scraped a hand across his forehead.

  The man’s a simpleton. “Yes, Duke Gyre.” He spoke slowly and with more emphasis than was necessary, but he was tired.

  “That’s a crying shame,” the guard said.

  Solon waited, but the man didn’t elaborate. Not a simpleton, an ass. “Is Lord Gyre gone?”

  “Nawp.”

  So that’s what this is about. The red hair should have tipped me off. Solon said, “I know that after millennia of being raided, the smarter Ceurans moved inland, leaving your ancestors on the coast, and I realize that when Sethi pirates raided your village they carried off all the presentable women—again leaving your ancestors—so through no fault of your own, you’re both stupid and ugly. But might you attempt to explain how Lord Gyre is both gone and not gone? You can use small words.”

  Perversely, the man looked pleased. “No marks on your skin, no rings through your face, you don’t even talk like a fish. And you’re fat for a fish, too. Let me guess, they offered you to the sea but the sea gods wouldn’t take you and when you washed up on the beach you were nursed by a troll who mistook you for one of her own.”

  “She was blind,” Solon said, and when the man laughed, he decided he liked him.

  “Duke Gyre left this morning. He won’t be back,” the guard said.

  “He won’t be back? You mean ever?”

  “Not my place to talk about it. But no, not ever, unless I miss my guess. He’s gone to command the garrison at Screaming Winds.”

  “But you said Lord Gyre isn’t gone,” Solon said.

  “The duke named his son the Gyre until he returns.”

  “Which will be never.”

  “You’re quick for a fish. His son Logan is the Gyre.”

  Not good. For the life of him, Solon couldn’t remember if Dorian had said Duke Gyre or Lord Gyre. Solon hadn’t even considered that there might be two heads of House Gyre. If the prophecy was about Duke Gyre, he needed to get riding, now. But if it were about his son, Solon would be leaving his charge at the time he needed him most.

  “May I speak with Lord Gyre?”

  “Can you use that steel?” the guard asked. “If you can’t, I’d suggest you hide it.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Come with me.” The guard called to another atop the wall, who came to hold the gate while the Ceuran led Solon into the estate. A stable boy took the nag, and Solon kept his sword.

  He couldn’t help but be impressed. The Gyre estate had a permanence about it, the deliberate gravitas of an old family. Acanthus was planted inside the walls and out, growing from red soil Solon knew must have been brought in especially for the purpose. The thistly plants hadn’t just been chosen to keep beggars or thieves from the walls, they also had long associations with Alitaeran nobility. The man
se itself was similarly daunting, all heavy stone and broad arches and thick doors that could withstand a siege engine. The only compromise strength had made with beauty were the climbing blood roses that framed each door and every ground floor window. Against the backdrop of black stone and iron-barred windows, their perfect red hue was striking.

  Solon didn’t pay attention to the ringing of steel until the guard walked past the entry to the manse and around to the back of the building. Here, with a view across the Plith to Castle Cenaria, several guards were watching as two men bundled in practice armor pummeled each other. The smaller man was retreating, going back in circles as the larger man’s blows thudded on his shield. The smaller man stumbled, and his opponent bullrushed, leveling him with a shield like a ram. The man raised his sword, but the next blow sent it flying and the next rang his helmet like a bell.

  Logan Gyre tore off his helmet and laughed, helping the guard to his feet. Solon’s heart sank. This was Lord Gyre? He was a child in a giant’s body, baby fat still on his face. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen, probably younger. Solon could imagine Dorian laughing. Dorian knew he didn’t like children.

  The Ceuran guard stepped forward and spoke quietly to Lord Gyre.

  “Hello,” the boy lord said, turning to Solon. “Marcus tells me you fancy yourself quite a swordsman. Are you?”

  Solon looked at the Ceuran, who gave him a self-satisfied smile. His name is Marcus? Even the names in this country were a mess. With little regard for people’s origins, Alitaeran names like Marcus or Lucienne mixed freely with Lodricari names like Rodo or Daydra, Ceuran names like Hideo or Shizumi, and normal Cenarian names like Aleine or Felene. About the only names most people wouldn’t name their children were the slaves names common in the Warrens, like Scar or Harelip. “I can hold my own, Lord Gyre. But it is words I wish to exchange with you, not blows.” If I go now, my old mare and I can make it to the garrison in six, maybe seven days.

  “We will speak then—after we spar. Marcus, get him some practice armor.” The men looked pleased, and Solon saw that they loved this young lord like he was their own son. And laughed too easily and spoiled him. He was suddenly the Gyre, and the men were still entranced by the novelty of the idea.

 
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