The black prism, p.48
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       The Black Prism, p.48
 

           Brent Weeks

  Gavin stopped in his tracks, disbelieving. Every year, some drafters from the war were Freed, but Gavin hadn’t had this many of the greats since immediately after it, when so many had been pushed to the brink by the amount of power they’d handled in fighting.

  These drafters had all been young during the war, and Gavin had known and dreaded that they’d start passing, but so many, all in one year?

  “We had us a pact,” Usem the Wild said, answering Gavin’s obvious confusion. “Some of us who fought together. Said once the first of us had to go, we’d all go together. Wanted another year or two, myself, but better to go out on top, isn’t it?”

  “Better to go out sane,” the Purple Bear growled.

  “Better to go together,” Samila Sayeh said. “And stop making Deedee feel bad.”

  Indeed, Deedee Falling Leaf did look worse than most of them. Her skin was tinged a permanent green, and the halo of her eyes was straining under the green that had overwhelmed her formerly blue irises. She smiled weakly. “Lord Prism, it’s an honor. I’ve been looking forward to this Freeing for a long time.” She curtsied, choosing to ignore, as most of the old warriors did, that she had been on the other side of the war than Gavin.

  The rest of them followed her example, bowing or curtseying in the formal style of their homelands. Gavin bowed formally, meeting their eyes, careful that he too gave equal respect to drafters from each side.

  Inside, as it always did, his heart broke. He wanted to tell those who’d fought beside him that it was him, that he wasn’t Gavin, that it had all been for the best. Instead, he sat with them, finding himself next to the irascible Usem the Wild as the slaves brought out steaming platters of food and cool flagons of citrus juices and wine.

  “When I told some of the others”—Usem nodded grudgingly over at the Izems and Samila, who’d fought for Gavin—“they thought it would be a good year for them too.”

  “We wished, Lord Prism, to perhaps help the Seven Satrapies put the… war behind us,” Samila Sayeh said, diplomatically stopping herself from calling it the False Prism’s War. “We’ve actually become good friends.”

  “Personally,” Maros Orlos, the shortest Ruthgari Gavin had ever seen, said, “I’m glad to have a Freeing without all the trappings. The fireworks and speeches and posturing by satraps and satrapahs and upstart lordlings who won’t ever have to fulfill the Pact themselves. A Freeing’s holy. It ought to be between a man, the Prism, and Orholam. The rest is distractions.”

  “Distractions? Like dinner with the Prism and your Freeing class?” Izem Red asked. He was Parian, lean as a whip and with a wit to match. He still wore his ghotra folded so it resembled a cobra’s hood, a style he’d picked up as a seventeen-year-old drafter, and endured incessant teasing for it. He’d been called a poser until the first battle when his lightning-like strikes, fireballs as fast as an arrow, and decimation of the enemy’s ranks had silenced all teasing once and for all.

  Maros opened his mouth to protest, realized he was about to spar with Izem Red, and turned his attention back to his food.

  Tala, an older Parian woman with short white hair and red halos compressing brown irises, said, “You know, High Lord Prism, Commander Ironfist told us you have a little project you’re working on. Something about that reminds me of that old poem about the Wanderer. How does it go, some work…?”

  It was a famous poem; they all knew it. She didn’t even need to say the whole thing. She was offering their help on Gavin’s wall. “That would be wonderful—” Gavin began.

  Bas the Simple, the odd Tyrean polychrome, interrupted, his head cocked to the side. “ ‘Some work of noble note may yet be done, not unbecoming men that strove with gods.’ Gevison, The Wanderer’s Last Journey, lines sixty-three and sixty-four.” He looked up, saw everyone looking at him, and looked down shyly.

  “That would be marvelous,” Gavin said. “I understand if anyone has objections and doesn’t wish to join me, but if you would like to… I’d really appreciate it.” It was a total gift, and one that wouldn’t cost most of them anything. Not all of these drafters were at the edge of death, most of them were ridiculously powerful, and many were wonderfully subtle in their chromaturgy. Their help would make all the difference.

  Of course, these were also all the people who had known Gavin and Dazen best. If anyone were likely to discover that Gavin was a fraud, he or she was in this room. And with their Freeing looming, the discoverer would have little or nothing to lose in exposing him.

  Gavin’s chest tightened and he smiled over his fear, as if he were smiling at how brilliant and strangely simple Bas was. Smiles returned to him from every side of the table. Some of those smiles, Gavin knew, must surely be serpents’ smiles, but he had no way of knowing which ones. Who would be more likely to destroy him? Those who thought he was the man who had been their friend and learned he had usurped Gavin’s place, or those who’d fought for him and had believed him dead and now learned that he’d betrayed them?

  Bas the Simple was staring at Gavin, not smiling, his head cocked to the side, oddly perceptive eyes studying everything.

  Chapter 69

  “The boy’s gone,” Ironfist said. It was almost midnight. They were standing on the roof of the Travertine Palace, looking over the bay. “Kip,” he said, as if there were some other boy. He didn’t say “your son,” though.

  Great how everyone has to dance around my misdeeds. My misdeeds. Right. Thanks, brother. “Why wasn’t I told?” Gavin asked. He’d spent all night pretending to be his brother with drafters who knew them both, and having to pretend to be enjoying himself. It was disconcerting. He’d enjoyed his old enemies’ company, and felt constantly like his vision was blurring. The men and women he’d hated when he’d been Dazen had been quite pleasant. A few of Dazen’s old friends, though not all, had had an edge on all their interactions that made them unattractive. Gavin looked at men and women whom he had arranged to live and work far from the Jaspers just so they wouldn’t endanger him and thought, I ruined you and you never even knew it. And I missed you.

  “We just discovered it a few minutes ago. This note was sitting out. The other was tucked under the bedsheets.”

  Smart. Kip accomplished exactly what he was trying to do: he bought himself time. Kept us from looking for him all day. Gavin extended his hand, knowing Ironfist would have the notes. Ironfist handed them over.

  The important one read, “I’m Tyrean and young. More help as a spy than here. No one will suspect me. Will try to find Karris.”

  A spy? Orholam strike me. “Any other news?” Gavin asked.

  “He took a horse and a stick of coins.”

  “So he could get himself into even more trouble than simply heading into an enemy camp armed only with delusions,” Gavin said.

  Ironfist didn’t respond. He generally ignored statements of the obvious. “The Danavis girl is gone as well. The stableman says she asked him for a horse, but he turned her down. Sounds like she found the notes and went after him.”

  Gavin stared out over the bay. The Guardian, the statue guarding the entrance of the bay, and through whose legs every sailor passed, held a spear in one hand and a torch in the other. The torch was kept by a yellow drafter whose entire job was to keep it filled with liquid yellow. Special grooves cut in the glass slowly exposed the yellow luxin to air and caused it to shimmer back into light. Mirrors collected and directed the light out into the night, spinning slowly on gears driven by a windmill when there was wind and draft animals when there wasn’t. Tonight, the beam illuminated the misty night air, cutting great swathes in the darkness. It was what every drafter was supposed to do: bring Orholam’s light to the darkest corners of the world.

  It was what Kip was trying to do.

  Ironfist said, “If he came into my camp and kept a low profile, I wouldn’t suspect him as a spy.”

  Because he’d make a marvelously bad spy, perhaps? “About our spies, what have you learned?”

  “Governor Cras
sos very innocently came to inspect the docks, carrying a very innocent-looking and strangely heavy bag. He looked awfully pleased to see me,” Ironfist said.

  “You only get sarcastic when you’re mad,” Gavin said. “Go ahead. Let me have it.”

  “I swore to protect Kip, Lord Prism, but first, the spies—”

  “You can call me Gavin when I’ve been stupid,” Gavin said flatly.

  “The spies report—”

  “Out with it, for Orholam’s sake.”

  Ironfist clenched his jaw, then willed himself to relax. “I need to go after him, Gavin, which means I can’t be here, helping with the defense and directing my people.”

  “And you’re Parian and huge and pretty much the opposite of inconspicuous, so if you go after him—as your honor demands—you’ll most likely be killed, which will not only mean that you’re killed, which you don’t particularly desire, but it also means you will have failed to protect Kip, which would be the only point of going after him in the first place. And you can’t delegate the mission to anyone else because you promised to protect him personally, and besides, any other Blackguard would stand out nearly as much as you do.” It wasn’t that Blackguards were darker-skinned than Tyreans and had kinky rather than wavy or straight hair. There had been enough mixing over the centuries that quite a few Tyreans had both traits. Even Kip could still make a good spy despite his blue eyes; Tyreans were used to minority ethnicities from all the people who’d stayed after the war. The problem was that ebony-skinned, extremely physically fit drafters who exuded danger from their very pores were going to stand out anywhere. Blackguards would stand out among an army of Parian drafters.

  “That’s pretty much it,” Ironfist admitted, the edge of his anger blunted by Gavin acknowledging exactly why he was angry.

  “What else did you learn from our spies?” Gavin asked, shunting aside Ironfist’s concerns for the moment.

  Ironfist seemed just as happy to not be talking about his dilemma. “Some of them have come from King Garadul’s camp, and I think our problems are bigger than we realized.” He pushed his ghotra off his head, scrubbing his scalp with his fingertips. “It’s religious,” he said.

  “I didn’t think you were much for religion,” Gavin said, trying to inject a bit of levity.

  “Why would you think that? I speak with Orholam constantly.”

  “ ‘Orholam, what did I do to deserve this?’ ” Gavin suggested, thinking he was kidding.

  “No. Seriously,” Ironfist said.

  “Oh.” Ironfist, devout?

  “But you know how that is. You speak with him all the time as well. You are his chosen.”

  “It’s different for me.” Very very different, apparently. “But sorry to jest. Religion?”

  “This isn’t just some political matter of calling himself a king. Rask Garadul wants to upend everything we’ve accomplished since Lucidonius came. Everything.”

  An indefinable dread settled in Gavin’s stomach. “The old gods.”

  “The old gods,” Ironfist said.

  “Get Kip back, Commander. Do whatever you have to. If anyone complains about your methods, they’ll have to go through me. If you can, save the girl too. I owe her father a debt I can never explain.”

  Gavin slept little and fitfully. He never slept much, but it was always worse as the Freeing approached. He hated this time of year. Hated the charade. His chest felt tight as he lay in his bed. Maybe he should have let his brother win. Maybe Gavin would have done a better job of all of this. At the very least, he wouldn’t be here now.

  Nonsense.

  And yet he couldn’t help but wonder if Gavin would have been a better Prism than he was. Gavin had always borne burdens of responsibility better than Dazen had. It didn’t even seem like a weight to his older brother. Like the man had been without self-doubt. Dazen had always envied Gavin that.

  The morning came none too soon. Dazen sat up and put on his face, Gavin once more. He felt that stab of pain radiating through his chest, tightening his throat. He couldn’t do this.

  Nonsense. He was just missing Kip, and Karris, and was worried for Corvan’s daughter and dreading the exhausting drafting he was going to have to do all day long. There was nothing to do but get on with it.

  After taking his time with his ablutions—why had Gavin had to be such a dandy?—he ate and rode to the wall. He was greeted by a young orange drafter.

  The drafter was one of the tragically young who couldn’t handle the power. An addict. He couldn’t have been twenty years old, mountain Parian, but he didn’t wear the ghotra, instead wearing his hair in dreadlocks, bound back with a leather thong. The rest of his clothing spoke of similar rejection of traditional attire—any tradition. Oranges tended to see exactly how others liked things to be. In most cases they used that to their advantage, becoming as slick as their luxin. But in some cases they defied every convention they saw, becoming artists and rebels. Given how the man’s clothes somehow worked together to look good despite their disparate origins, and that all the colors and textures complemented each other, Gavin guessed this one was an artist. This young man’s orange halo was thin with strain, though. He definitely couldn’t have made it until the next Freeing.

  “Lord Prism,” the young man said. “How can I help?”

  The sun had barely cleared the horizon, and all the drafters who were capable of drafting without hurting themselves or losing control had gathered at the wall. The local workmen seemed stunned to be surrounded by so many of them.

  “What’s your name?” Gavin asked. He didn’t think he’d even seen this young man before.

  “Aheyyad.”

  “So you are an artist,” Gavin said.

  Aheyyad smiled. “Not much choice, with the grandmother I had.”

  Gavin tilted his head.

  “Sorry, I thought you knew. My grandmother is Tala. She knew I was going to be an orange and an artist by the time I was four years old. She forced my mother to rename me.”

  “Tala can be very, ahem, persuasive,” Gavin said.

  The boy grinned.

  A boy going to the Freeing at the same time as his grandmother. There was a tale of woe just under the surface there, a family’s grief, the loss of two generations at once, but no need to prod that now. All things are brought to light in time. “I need an artist,” Gavin said. “Can you work fast?”

  “I’d better,” Aheyyad said.

  “Are you any good?” Gavin already knew that Aheyyad was or Corvan wouldn’t have sent him. He wanted to know whether the young man would be bold or tentative when faced with something so vast.

  “I’m the best,” Aheyyad said. “What’s the project?”

  Gavin smiled. He loved artists. In small doses. “I’m building a wall. Work with the architect to make sure you don’t screw up anything functional, but your task is to make this wall scary. You can commandeer any of the old drafters to help you. I’ll give you some drawings we have of Rathcaeson. If it can resemble those, do it. You’ll tell the blues how to hold the forms. I’ll fill them with yellow luxin. I’m doing functional things first. We can attach and integrate whatever you design in two or three days.”

  “How big can I make… whatever I make?”

  “We’ve got a couple leagues of wall.”

  “So you’re saying… big.”

  “Huge,” Gavin said. Having the artist only design the forms would also keep the young man from having to draft anything at all, which with how close Aheyyad was to breaking the halo would possibly save his life.

  It took until noon before they were ready to start the drafting. Gavin had asked all the old warriors to look at the plans of the wall, and not a few of them had come up with suggestions. Those suggestions had covered everything from expanding the latrines—and making sure the raw sewage could be routed onto their enemies by emptying the pots suddenly through chutes out the front of the wall—to reworking the mounts for the cannons and adding furnaces to heat the shot at seve
ral of the stations. Heated shot was wonderful for setting fire to siege engines. Someone else suggested texturing the floors and providing gutters not only outside for rainwater, which had already been considered, but also within the wall itself for blood.

  Many good suggestions, and quite a few bad ones. The wall should be bigger, smaller, wider, taller. There should be space for more cannons, more archers, more beds in the hospital, the barracks should be within the wall, and so on.

  At noon, Gavin was rigged back into his harness and lifted off the ground. The others swarmed around him, drafting forms, steadying his harness. Then he set to work.

  Chapter 70

  It wasn’t until two days later, as Kip and Liv came within sight of King Garadul’s army, plopped over the plain and fouling the river like an enormous cow pie, that he realized how deeply, incredibly, brilliantly stupid his plan was.

  I’m going to march in there and rescue Karris?

  More like waddle in there.

  At the top of a small hill, they sat on the horse, which seemed grateful for the break, and scanned the mass of humanity before them. It was immense. Kip had never tried to estimate a crowd, and never seen one this large.

  “What do you think, sixty or seventy thousand?” he asked Liv.

  “More than a hundred, I’d guess.”

  “How are we going to find Karris in that?” he asked. What did I expect? A sign, perhaps? “Captured drafter here”?

 
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