The black prism, p.40
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       The Black Prism, p.40

           Brent Weeks

  Anat, the Lady of the Desert, the Fiery Mistress, the sub-red, had been the goddess of all hot passions: wrath, protection, vengeance, possessive love, and furious lovemaking. When Lucidonius had taken the city for Orholam and eliminated the cult, his followers had wanted to tear down the statues, which, granted, would have taken some powerful drafters. Famously, Lucidonius had stopped them, saying, “Tear down only what is false.” Several times in the intervening centuries, zealous Prisms had wanted to tear down the pagan relics anyway, but each time the city had threatened war. Until the Prisms’ War, Garriston had had enough military power that a threat of going to war with her was daunting.

  Corvan had never approached the Lover at sunset. As with the other Ladies, her body was incorporated into the gate. She lay on her back, back arched over the river, feet planted, her knees forming a tower on one bank, hands entwined in her hair, elbows rising to form the tower on the other bank. She was clad only in veils, and before the war a portcullis could be lowered from her arched body into the river, its iron and steel hammered into shape so that they looked like a continuation of her veils. But in the war the portcullis had been broken and never replaced.

  The sight of her still took Corvan’s breath. With the sun setting, the thin yellow luxin sealing the statue, usually nearly invisible, was set alight. The yellow was like golden bronze skin, fading slowly as Corvan walked and the sun sank, finally leaving only a welcoming silhouette—a wife waiting abed for her long-absent husband.

  It sent a pang through him. He could never come here without thinking of Qora, his first wife. Liv’s mother. Qora had greeted him like that once, lying abed, clad only in veils, deliberately mimicking the Lover when Corvan had returned to her. Even now, eighteen years later, grief and remembered desire and joy and love twined in his breast. Corvan had remarried in Rekton, two years after Qora’s death, but marrying Ell had been more to give Liv a mother than for love. Three years later, Ell had been murdered by an assassin who’d finally tracked Corvan down. Corvan had considered moving, but the alcaldesa begged him to stay, and Kip was there, so he’d stayed. But he’d not remarried again, not even with the overwhelming number of women for every man in Rekton and the constant carping of the would-be matchmakers. He couldn’t love as he had loved before. Losing another woman he loved as much as he’d loved Qora would kill him, and it wasn’t fair to ask another woman to act as mother to his daughter if he wasn’t willing to love her with his whole heart. Corvan no longer had a whole heart to give.

  He trudged on, past farms with their thin but ripening crops of spelt and barley, trying not to look at the Lover stretched luxuriously before him. Reaching the gate, which opened through the spilling tresses of her hair, he joined the line of men and women heading back into the city, brushing past those heading back out for the night. He kept his eyes down as he passed between two Ruthgari guards who had still been on their mothers’ knees during the war. They were barely paying any attention to the stream of people passing by them, however. One was leaning against the Lover’s cascading hair, his foot propped against the rippling stone, his straw petasos, the characteristic Ruthgari broad-brimmed hat, thrown back to hang from his neck now that the sun wasn’t beating down on them. “… think he’s here for?” he was asking.

  “Scorch me if I know, but they say he threw Governor Crassos into the bay. I suppose we’ll…”

  Corvan couldn’t hear any more without pausing, and pausing meant inviting attention. Inviting attention might mean making eye contact, and with Corvan’s red-haloed eyes, that wasn’t a good idea.

  So someone powerful has come to Garriston, but who was powerful enough to throw a governor in the bay? Corvan didn’t know anything about this Governor Crassos, but the Ruthgari royal family had half a dozen young princes. Most likely one of them had been sent to help oversee the withdrawal from Garriston. No one else would dare throw a Ruthgari governor into the sea.

  An impulsive prince actually might be better for Corvan’s purposes than a comfortable governor. Harder to deal with at first, but more likely to prepare for war, and war was what Corvan was bringing, like it or not.

  As he passed through the city, he found himself analyzing it like the general he used to be. King Garadul might be a monster, but the Ruthgari were the occupiers. Who would the people of Garriston join, and would they join enthusiastically or not? As Corvan walked, he paid particular attention to the Ruthgari soldiers. At times, the men walked singly, running errands for their commanders or simply heading back to barracks or out to taverns. He saw a soldier get jostled on accident by a vendor closing his carpet stall who backed up too quickly. The soldier pushed past like it was an annoyance, but never checked his back. The vendor, a native Tyrean, apologized respectfully, but without fear.

  This wasn’t a city on the verge of revolt. The Tyreans had grown accustomed to being occupied. The Ruthgari were the fourth satrapy to do so, and this was their second time around. Not every nation got a turn in the occupation and spoils. Paria had had the first two years, and if they’d had the richest spoils to steal, they’d also had the task of putting down the most rebels. The Ilytians had ostensibly fought on Dazen’s side, and had no central government anyway, so they didn’t get a turn. The Aborneans had preferred to trade with both sides, and had entered the fight only after the Battle of Sundered Rock. They didn’t get a turn either. That left the Parians, the Atashians, the Blood Foresters, and the Ruthgari. In that order, if Corvan remembered correctly. It made sense that the people of Garriston would have their favorites, or at least those less hated, among their occupiers.

  It took Corvan only a bit of mental shuttling to figure that with the Parians replacing the Ruthgari, this would be the third time Garriston had endured the Parians. The most easily tolerated occupiers were about to be replaced by the most hated ones.

  But the question his observations didn’t answer was just how much fear was mixed with the hatred of the Parians. The Parians had put down rebels both times they’d ruled. Maybe their cruelty meant the Tyreans would think twice before taking up weapons. It might mean they would take them up more quickly. Corvan didn’t know, couldn’t know without spending a lot of time in the city. Time he didn’t have.

  The city was more cosmopolitan than it had been the last time he had visited, some ten years ago. Before the war, Garriston had been as populous and diverse as any rich port city in the world. After the war, everyone who could leave had left, especially those who looked like they were from elsewhere. Tensions had run high. During that time, the only people in Garriston were native Tyreans and their occupiers of the moment. Apparently, with each round of occupation, a few traders and soldiers had stayed and intermarried with locals. Corvan saw two shopkeepers chatting as they swept out their open stalls with straw brooms. One woman had the traditional Tyrean caramel skin and dark full brows and wavy hair, while the woman next to her had skin like honey, and ash blonde hair, rare even for the Ruthgari. They were dressed almost identically, bangles on their wrists, long flax skirts, hair tied back with scarves.

  Corvan passed an alley where children played gada together, kicking and passing a ball of wrapped leather. There were more obviously Tyrean-blooded children than any other kind, but the teams were mixed. A few mothers had gathered to watch, and they stood close to each other regardless of what Corvan would have guessed were their origins, gossiping or shouting encouragement.

  Not a powder keg. That was good. A radical shift in power and lawlessness in a city where neighbor hated neighbor would have invited wanton bloodshed. Garriston had seen enough of that.

  The water market, basically an outsized version of what Rekton had, was nearly empty except for a few food vendors offering quick meals to passing soldiers and those who had otherwise missed dinner. Corvan bought a few skewers of rabbit and fish marinated in a fiery Ilytian pepper sauce and kept walking.

  Before he headed to the Travertine Palace, Corvan walked to the Hag’s Gate. Here, like the Guardian’s Gate and t
he Lover’s Gate, the statue was worked into the wall. But this time Corvan had no interest in the statue. He had come to watch the soldiers. The gates had closed for the night, though it had doubtless been a long time since raiders had dared move against the city itself. The soldiers who stood at the top of the wall were joking, laughing, talking loudly, even drinking when their superiors left. Corvan had seen archers atop the Hag’s Crown and at the top of the Hag’s Staff—the two towers on either side of the gate—but after the two women settled in, quivers laid down, bows unstrung, they never made a circuit of their respective posts.

  So, soldiers with little discipline. Soldiers who had become city guards, through no fault of their own. In the first year of an occupation, the soldiers might be sent against raiders and brigands or patrol the river’s length. After that, they retreated to the city and became guards. The soldierly duties came to seem extraneous, and discipline slipped. Sitting watch in towers where there was never anything to watch for soon became a post where soldiers gambled and drank.

  Corvan headed toward the Travertine Palace. Of course, there was no way they were going to let some peasant walk in off the street and meet their prince, so when he got close to the front gate, he ducked into an alley. After Karris had been captured, Corvan had scouted King Garadul’s camp enough to decide that any attempt at rescue would be suicide. Then, as they’d rendezvoused with other generals, swelling the army—most likely with forced levies—they’d turned south. Corvan had headed back to a cave outside of Rekton.

  He was almost disappointed that thieves had never found his cache. When Rekton’s alcaldesa had told Corvan that he and his daughter could stay, he’d hidden away everything that could connect him to the war, both for his new home’s sake and his own. He’d shaved off his distinctive beaded mustache and traded rich clothes and weapons for flaxen pants and a dyer’s shop. What had seemed meager gold in his pockets then was now a fortune in his eyes, but in the intervening years it had all been unspendable. No one in Rekton had gold coins, especially not stamped with a Blood Forester satrap’s face.

  So now he pulled out the long folded samite tunic, swept off a portion of the ground with his hand and laid it on it. Next came a broad leather belt embossed with crocodiles with tiny ruby eyes in emerald-dotted swamps with diamond-eyed herons. Last, he drew out Harbinger, the sword that had passed to him only when the last of his elder brothers died. A young boy sat on the curb opposite him, silently watching, quizzical. Corvan tried to ignore him. He stripped off his long shirt and pulled out a mirror. With mirror and a skin of water, he did his best to clean himself up. Then he dried himself with the dirty shirt and pulled on his rich clothes. There was nothing to be done about his boots or pants, but the samite tunic and the stress was going to have him sweating enough as it was. After packing his things and strapping Harbinger onto his belt and pushing his hair into something resembling order, he took a deep breath and rounded the corner, approaching the gate.

  “I need to see whoever’s in charge,” Corvan said to the guards, walking like a man with purpose.

  “Uh…” one of the guards said, looking confused and glancing at the other guard. Apparently they didn’t know if he meant the governor or the prince.

  “Whoever threw the governor in the bay,” Corvan said. “It’s an emergency.”

  The guards shared a look. “Got no reason not to waste his time,” one guard said to the other. “He’s not exactly given us cause to screen his visitors carefully.”

  The other Ruthgari soldier grinned. “We’ll take you right to him, sir.”

  They didn’t even ask his name. Corvan followed them, astounded by his good fortune. Apparently the prince—presumably a younger prince or the Ruthgari wouldn’t dare behave this way—hadn’t been endearing himself to the common soldiers. Even more incredibly, the soldier marched him straight to the counsel room. Corvan hadn’t been there in sixteen years. The man rapped a quick code on the door, and the guards inside opened it. He whispered something about emergency, looks important, to the guard, and then beat a hasty retreat.

  The counsel room guard, a tall, serious Ruthgari, ushered Corvan in. “Name?” he asked quietly.

  Corvan stepped inside. The Ruthgari prince was leaning over a table in the counsel room, his back to Corvan. “Corvan Danavis,” Corvan said quietly. There was a huge—both tall and thickly muscled—ebony guard standing across from the prince, his eyes hard, studying Corvan, taking note of the sword at his side. He wore all black. This prince had some nerve, pretending to have his own Blackguard. When the Chromeria found out about that, it would not be pleased.

  “Corvan Danavis,” the guard announced loudly. “He says he has an emergency message, my Lord Prism.”

  It was like lightning hit all three men at once. The Blackguard—an actual, real Blackguard, for Orholam’s sake—had two pistols out and his blue spectacles on half a breath after Corvan’s name was announced.

  The Prism—not a princeling, Gavin Guile himself—stood and turned. His lip curled. “General Danavis, it’s been too long.”

  Chapter 60

  Gavin kept his face carefully neutral. After sixteen years, Corvan Danavis still looked fit, healthy, and sharp as ever. His skin was deeply tanned, no doubt to try to cover the freckles and look as Tyrean as possible, and there was no sign of his famous beaded mustache. His blue eyes were only about half-haloed with red, not much more than when Gavin had last seen him. The lines, both smile lines and deeper worry lines, were new, however. His eyes flicked to Ironfist, and then he looked dismayed.

  Consummate actor, Corvan Danavis.

  “Commander Ironfist, please relieve this man of his weapons, and reprimand the guards. Carefully, yes?” Ironfist would understand instantly. The Ruthgari guards couldn’t be too harshly treated or it might inspire general fury at the new boss. But if Gavin let such lax—or possibly insolent—duty stand uncorrected, the Ruthgari soldiers wouldn’t respect him. Ironfist would put the fear of Orholam into the guards, without actually making them hate Gavin.

  “You wish me to leave you with this traitor, Lord Prism?” Ironfist knew as well as Gavin did that the original guards who’d allowed Corvan into the palace would have beaten a hasty retreat, which meant he’d have to go after them and wouldn’t be close if things got out of hand.

  Gavin nodded curtly.

  Ironfist lowered the hammer of one pistol and tucked it into his belt without taking his eyes or the other pistol off Corvan. He walked forward and took Corvan’s sword, eyes flicking only briefly to it in appreciation. After putting the sword and Corvan’s bag in a small closet off the main room, he put away his other pistol and frisked Corvan briskly.

  Before turning to go, Ironfist looked one more time at Gavin. Are you sure? You know this is a bad idea, right?

  Gavin nodded fractionally. Go.

  The door closed behind Ironfist. Gavin looked around the room. He hadn’t been here long enough to know if there were peepholes or eavesdropping tunnels behind the walls. Corvan stood, hands folded, waiting patiently. “Come out onto the balcony, General.”

  “Please, I’ve not been a general for many years,” Corvan said, but he followed Gavin out. Gavin closed the double doors behind them. The balcony was spacious, with a number of chairs and tables spread out so the governor and his visitors could enjoy the view over the bay. It made Gavin glad he’d flung the governor a long way. Dropping the man off the roof onto this wouldn’t have been quite as humorous—and he hadn’t remembered this balcony protruding quite so far. Lucky, Gavin.

  Funny that I always think of it as luck, rather than Providence.

  Corvan glanced over the edge. “Bay looks deep enough here,” he said, the corner of his mouth twisting wryly.

  Gavin leaned on the balcony’s railing. The sun was just touching the horizon, setting the sea alight, pinks and oranges threaded through thin clouds. Suddenly, the lost years were rolling down his cheeks and he was holding the railing like a drunk, simply to be able to stan
d. “It cost too much, Corvan.”

  Corvan glanced around for spies, checking the docks, looking back into the counsel room, up at the roof. He said, “It’s good to see you too. Now quit that or you’re going to get me started.”

  Gavin glanced at him. Corvan wore his quirky grin, but his eyes betrayed him. That grin was him trying to give his face something to do so the depth of his emotion didn’t overwhelm him.

  Suddenly, appearances didn’t matter. Gavin embraced his old friend.

  “It’s good to see you… Dazen,” Corvan whispered. That broke open the floodgates for both of them. They wept.

  The grand deception had been Corvan’s idea from the beginning, sixteen years ago. It had been a throwaway idea when he’d proposed it. Neither had really believed Dazen could beat Gavin. One night, when they’d had a rare respite from the battles and had been sharing one too many skins of wine, Corvan had said, “You could win and simply take Gavin’s place.”

  “That’s sort of the point of a Prisms’ War, isn’t it? Last man standing?” Dazen had said. “Last Prism shining?”

  Corvan ignored the joke. Dazen was a little further gone than he was. “No, I mean you could be Gavin. You two look almost the same. For years, every time the two of you played scrum, the only way anyone could tell you apart was Gavin’s prismatic eyes. You have those now.”

  “Gavin’s a peacock. And I’m taller.”

  “Clothes can be changed. And he wears lifts in his shoes to make himself as tall as you are. Which would actually make things easier.”

  “He’s got that scar. Which you gave him, I might add,” Dazen had said.

  “I could give you one too. Nice symmetry to that, huh?”

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