The black prism, p.45
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       The Black Prism, p.45

           Brent Weeks
 

  “This empty desert doesn’t have enough function,” Gavin said sharply. “Tell me what we need to do to fix it. I need to start building now, today.”

  The architect blinked. Swallowed. “Uh, here.” He drew a line with his finger. “This interior passage isn’t wide enough. You’re going to have men rushing back and forth in armor, with guns, cannons being rolled into position, or replaced for repair. This passage must be wide enough for men to run past each other and past carts or cannons.”

  “How wide?” Gavin demanded.

  “I’d say, uh…” He held his fingers apart on the drawing.

  “For Orholam’s sake, write on it,” Gavin said.

  “Sir, those drawings are hundreds of years old, priceless relics of—” another man, perhaps an artist, protested.

  “Priceless is being alive next week,” Gavin snapped. “Continue.”

  Kip didn’t know why he’d been so slow, but it only dawned on him now that Gavin was seriously planning on building a wall, here. Before King Garadul’s army arrived. In four days.

  Oh, maybe because it’s impossible?

  Of course, crossing the Cerulean Sea in a morning was impossible too.

  But seriously, did Gavin mean to draft the entire thing by himself? Kip didn’t know all that much about drafting and how much a drafter could safely use in a day, but the mere fact that the world wasn’t bursting with luxin buildings and bridges and walls told him that it had to be incredibly difficult. In fact, the only luxin buildings he’d seen had been at the Chromeria, and he had to guess that the seven towers had been the product of a huge collaborative effort.

  The architect, a squinting little man, after puffing out his cheeks a number of times, deep in thought, began drawing quickly. “The cutouts on these murder holes don’t give sufficient range of fire. If you modify the top of the wall like this, scaling ladders won’t be able to hook onto the wall—at least not as easily. A railing on the back, like so, will save more of your own men from falling off the wall than theirs. These areas on top of the wall need to be bigger so you can store more powder for the cannons. There’s no place in these drawings for taking the wounded. I think you could incorporate that here. If you can set sleds like this right into the wall of the interior passage, it’ll be easier to move materiel around. There are also no lantern hooks in this plan. Your wall will be entirely dark if you don’t fix this. You’ll need cranes here, here, and here to lift supplies.”

  “You’ve never built a wall before, huh?” Gavin asked.

  “I have studied a few,” the architect said.

  “How much am I paying you?”

  “Uh, nothing yet, Lord Prism.”

  “Well, double it!” Gavin ordered.

  The architect looked befuddled, obviously doing the arithmetic and not liking the result, but not wanting to call the Prism himself out on it.

  “He’s joking,” General Danavis told the man.

  Gavin’s eyes sparkled.

  “Oh.” The man looked relieved. Then Kip could see the question cross his face: joking about giving me nothing, or joking about giving me more for doing a good job?

  Gavin said, “Keep working. This man here will take notes. I’m going to go lay the foundation.”

  “He means that metaphorically, right?” the architect asked, squinting at the receding figure of the Prism.

  “Our Prism’s a bear for metaphors,” General Danavis said.

  “Huh?” the architect asked.

  Kip stood, feeling heartsick. Now was going to be as good of a chance to escape as he was going to get.

  “Kip!” Gavin’s voice rang out, drawing everyone’s eye to Kip. Kip felt a surge of panic and embarrassment at having been caught so easily. “Well done today. It’s not many boys who can draft consciously on their first day of trying.”

  A flush of pleasure went through Kip, only doubled by the impressed look that flitted over Liv’s face.

  “Liv!” Gavin called out, making her head whip around. “I want you to make models: lay out the curvature of the halls, widths for the top of the wall, whatever the architect tells you.”

  “Yes, Lord Prism!” she said, her eyes turning back to the table and her work.

  Now or never. If he waited, Ironfist would be back, shadowing him wherever he went. Kip looked at General Danavis, head down, making suggestions; Liv, listening intently; and finally at Gavin. These were the only people in the world who meant anything to him, and incredibly, they accepted him. Tolerated him, anyway. With them, for the first time in his life, he felt like he was part of something.

  Kip turned his back and walked toward the city.

  Chapter 66

  It was only as Kip approached the Lover’s Gate that he understood why Gavin was attempting to build a new wall. The old wall was encrusted with homes, shops, and inns like a ship with barnacles, except here the walls were covered both inside and out. In places, people’s roofs were almost level with the top of the wall. If Gavin wanted to make that wall defensible, he’d have to level hundreds of homes. The demolition itself would have taken four days.

  Clearly, the effect on the people’s opinion of demolishing the homes of perhaps a fifth of the city’s population would be ruinous. Gavin had only a few days in which to make the people who remained in the city want to fight for him rather than for his enemy. He’d been caught between impossible choices: leave the people’s homes propped against the inner walls and have a militarily indefensible wall, or tear the houses down and risk turning an already divided populace against him. So Gavin had decided to build his own wall.

  Unbelievable. How must it have been during the Prisms’ War, when people had to choose which brother to fight beside? It would have been like fighting beside giants, knowing that their slightest move might crush you, but knowing that standing in the no-man’s-land between them would be even worse.

  Kip found his way back to his rooms and packed what he guessed he’d need. Cloak and food, and more food, and short sword, and a stick of tin danars in a money belt. It was more than he thought he’d need—he hoped they’d forgive him for that, but he might need money for bribes. Then he decided he’d need to leave a note so they didn’t waste precious time searching for him.

  There was a quill and parchment on the desk in his room, so he scratched out the letters laboriously. “I’m Tyrean and young. More help as a spy than here. No one will suspect me. Will try to find Karris.” He signed the note, folded it after the ink dried, and stuck it under the covers in Liv’s bed.

  Then he scratched out another one. “Went to buy some food and watch minstrel shows. Shaken after drafting. Will be back by midnight.”

  That one he left on the desk. They would find it first and give him a head start. They wouldn’t find out he was truly gone until after nightfall. At that point, they’d know he would be too far gone for them to catch him.

  With what he felt must have been suspiciously overloaded saddlebags, Kip made his way past the gate guards and to the stable.

  “I need a horse,” Kip told the stableman imperiously.

  The man returned his gaze, not moving from his position leaning against one wall. “Right place,” he said.

  Kip had a sinking feeling. The man wasn’t buying that he was anyone who could give orders. If Kip couldn’t get a horse, he couldn’t do anything. It would be the shortest attempt at running away in history. He hadn’t even gotten out of the house. “Uh, I need something not too ostentatious, and not too… spirited.”

  “Not much of a rider, huh?” The man’s tone said, Must not be much of a man.

  Confess your ineptitude and fall on his mercy, Kip. “What’s your name, shit shoveler?” he demanded instead. Oops.

  The groom blinked and stood up straight unconsciously. “Gallos… sir,” he added uncertainly.

  “I don’t ride these stinking meat barrels much, but I need one that’s reliable, that can handle my fat ass, and that won’t panic when I use magic, you understand? And I don
t have time for your superciliosity.” Was that even a word? Kip bulled forward. The groom probably didn’t know either. “There’s a war on. Get me my damned horse and save the shit-packing for your stable boys.”

  The groom moved with alacrity, saddling an old draft horse. “Best I got for what you’ve asked, sir,” the man said.

  A draft horse? I’m not that fat.

  “Sorry, sir, only one I got.”

  “It’ll do,” Kip said. “Thank you.” No need to press his luck. The stirrup did look impossibly high, however. Instead of humiliating himself by trying to mount and most likely failing, he took the reins and led the beast out into the city, taking care to tip the groom.

  Orholam, I really was an asshole. Kip didn’t know what made it more disconcerting: that being an asshole had promptly gotten him his way, or that he had enjoyed exerting mastery over another man. Back home, he would have been whipped, and he would have deserved it.

  In the streets, he kept his eyes peeled until he found a man roughly his own size, wearing a coat despite the heat. It looked old, worn, and cost maybe as much as one of Kip’s coat’s pockets. Kip traded with the man. Then he bought wine and water in one of the streets leading to the water market and was convincing a shopkeeper that he really did want to trade his fine cloak for a plain woolen one when he heard loud voices. He turned.

  Some old man was standing in the back of a wagon, exhorting the crowd heading into the water market, most of whom were ignoring him. “—to have our own nation again. With our own king! You all want to writhe under the bootheel of the Parians again? Do you remember what they did last time? Have you no memory?!”

  “They killed hundreds for listening to nonsense like yours!” someone shouted.

  “And I say we don’t have to let them ever do it again,” the old man snapped back. That got some murmurs of agreement.

  “Everyone who wanted to listen to your shilling for King Garadul has already left!” a shopkeeper yelled.

  “The king isn’t willing that any should perish. Come, join him, and fight!”

  “We don’t want to fight. We don’t want to kill. We don’t want to be killed. We want to live.”

  “Cowards!” the old man said. Then he shuffled off to look for a more sympathetic audience.

  Kip was about to head out of town when something caught his eye. There was a new ship in the bay, a galleon flying a white flag with seven towers. The Chromeria’s flag. Almost at the moment that he identified the flag, he saw a line of men and women walking through the streets led by at least a dozen Blackguards. He froze. Guilty conscience. They didn’t know him, and he didn’t see the only two Blackguards he’d seen before, Stump and whatever the other one’s name had been.

  The people behind the Blackguards were perhaps more interesting, though, and Kip studied them as they passed half a block away and turned down a street to head toward the Travertine Palace. There were perhaps two hundred of them, and Kip was sure that every last one was a drafter. A few had eyes light enough that he could see their irises were solid blue or green or red, but some of the lighter-skinned among them actually had a visible tint to their skin. Some concealed that with long sleeves. Other didn’t seem to care. “… be true, but it looks better than the last time we were here, Samila,” a blue-tinged man said. Despite his light-enough-to-show-color skin, the man had his hair in dreadlocks almost to his waist. The woman was stunning, perhaps forty years old, with solid blue irises, high cheekbones, and the olive skin of the western Atashian upper classes. Both wore rich clothing.

  Samila Sayeh and Izem Blue? No, surely not. Those names were just from stories. Surely there were plenty of drafters their age who happened to be blues and reds who had special relationships with each other.

  Next came more Blackguards, helping infirm drafters or wheeling them in chairs. Kip decided not to wait to see if Stump were with them.

  He turned to slip through the crowd—and found himself face-to-face with Liv. She stood with her hands on her hips, her jaw tight. She flicked her eyes to the horse and back to Kip. Gulp.

  “I can explain,” Kip said.

  “You already did. Twice.” There was no amusement in her tone.

  She’d found both notes. Oh hell.

  “Don’t stop me, Liv, please.”

  “What do you think you’re doing?” She lowered her voice. “You think you’re going to spy? You’re going to find Karris? And do what?”

  His jaw set. “I’m going to save her.”

  She made no effort to hide her incredulity. “That is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve heard in my life, Kip. If you want to run away because it’s too dangerous here, you don’t need to pretend—”

  “Go to hell!” he said, stunning even himself. Her eyes shot wide. He couldn’t believe he’d said that to Liv—Liv, for Orholam’s sake! “I’m sorry!” He said it too loud and some people around them looked at him. He lowered his voice sheepishly. “I’m really sorry, that was stupid to say, and mean. I didn’t mean it. I—Liv.” He paused, then bulled ahead. “I’m nothing. I’ve been a nothing for my whole life. And I’m being catapulted into having people treat me different because of something I had no control over? Because of my father?” He could see on her face that she understood. She knew exactly what he meant. “Liv, I owe Gavin everything, and he hasn’t asked anything of me.”

  “He will,” Liv said darkly.

  “Has he ever asked you to do anything wrong, Liv?”

  “Not yet,” she admitted. “I’m just saying that you have to look out for yourself when it comes to people from the Chromeria.”

  “And what? You’re not one of them? If you make me go back, you’ll be making me break my word.”

  “What?” Liv looked like he’d just slapped her face.

  “I swore that I was going to save Karris. Don’t you see, Liv? I’m perfect precisely because I’m a nothing. Look at my eyes!” Still confused, she looked at his eyes. “No color, no halo,” Kip said. “But I can draft. Liv, for the first time in my life, I know exactly what I have to do. No one is making me do this. I’m doing it because it’s right. There’s something tremendously—” He clenched his hands, trying to pull in the words. “Freeing. Powerful. I don’t know what, but I know it feels good.”

  “Even if you go to your death?” Liv asked.

  He chuckled joylessly. “I’m not being a hero, Liv. I just don’t like myself that much. So what if I die?”

  “That’s the most awful thing I’ve ever heard,” Liv said.

  “I’m sorry,” Kip said. “I’m not trying to be pitiful. I’m just saying—I’ve got nothing. I’m an orphan, at best a bastard. A shame. I just don’t have that much to lose. If I can do something good with my life—or even with my death—then how could I not try?”

  He could see her wavering. For the first time, he had hope that he could actually get away with this.

  “Please, Liv. If I fail in this—if I can’t even get out of the city—I really am a nothing. Please. Don’t make me fail in the most important thing I’ve ever tried to do.”

  She blinked, then grinned. “I never thought what might happen if you turned that wily tongue against me. You ought to be an orange.”

  “I do resemble one in general shape, but I’m not sure—”

  “A drafter, not a fruit!” she said, laughing.

  Oh, he was like a slippery drafter.

  “Does this mean you’re not going to stop me?” Kip said.

  “Worse,” she said.

  “Huh?”

  “You have to do what’s right; I have to do what’s right. You’re my responsibility, Kip.”

  “Oh no you don’t.”

  “Yes. I’m going with you—or you’re not going.”

  “Liv, you don’t understand—” She doesn’t understand what? That you’re totally smitten with her? That she’s beautiful and smart and wonderful and amazing and your whole soul longs just to be with her, but you can’t imagine putting her in danger?
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  “I don’t understand what?” she asked. Damn it.

  “You’re light to me.” It slipped out. He couldn’t believe he’d said it out loud. His eyes went wide even before hers did.

  He’d been nearly physically naked before her when that assassin had tried to kill him. This was worse. He was paralyzed. His lips failed him.

  “Very funny, Kip, but you’re not going to fool me and slip away when I’m not looking or something. You might be wily, but I wasn’t born yesterday.”

  Oh, thank Orholam! She thought he was joking! A wave of relief passed over him, leaving his knees weak.

  “I’m going with you,” Liv said, “and that’s final. You’re right: what you’re trying is a good thing. I know Karris is worth saving, and what she’s learned could change the whole war. And if you want to succeed, you’re going to need my help, and you’d be making me break my oath to look after you if you don’t let me come.”

  He had used that “don’t make me break my oath” thing as the whole linchpin of his argument. He didn’t particularly like having it turned against him, but with his whole brain in a fog—his heart was still pounding hard—he couldn’t exactly counter it.

  “Besides,” Liv said more quietly, “even if you’re not running away from anything, maybe one of us is.”

  “Huh?” Kip said. “Huh” is the best I can manage? Great.

  “I’m coming. Let’s go,” Liv said.

  Together, they found the old man who’d been shouting at the crowd earlier, and got directions to King Garadul’s army: “Head south and follow the tracks. Thousands have gone already. If you want to join the army rather than be useless like the rest of the camp followers, tell the recruiting sergeant that Gerain sent you.”

  The guards at the Hag’s Gate didn’t even look at them twice. Outside the city, Kip found a rock, stood on it, and wiggled his way into the saddle. Liv took his hand and climbed up behind him. The huge draft horse seemed to have no trouble with the weight. Kip willed himself to relax as Liv put her arms around his waist to hold on.

 
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