The black prism, p.54
The Black Prism, p.54Brent Weeks
“Our defenders broke and ran,” Corvan said. “King Garadul didn’t send anyone after us. I managed a fairly orderly retreat for the men in the wall. I suppose Garadul thinks we’ll surrender. Maybe he thought mercy would accomplish his objectives more quickly than wiping out as many men as he could. Or he didn’t want his men killing each other in the darkness. Or he’s devout and this new religion of his forbids night fighting.”
“Old religion, I think,” Gavin said.
“They’re not giving any sign of attacking today.”
“Sun Day is holy even to pagans,” Gavin said.
“So we have until tomorrow. What do you want to do, Lord Prism?”
“When you thought I was incapacitated, what did you decide to do?”
“Whatever goodwill King Garadul gained in the city by sparing the men who fled yesterday, he more than lost by using color wights in battle. The city is wild with tales of monsters. They’re terrified. Two days ago, I was worried they would turn against us in a heartbeat. They watched you build a wall to protect them, and they saw what you were protecting them from. So now they trust you and they revile the man who slaughtered their friends with the help of abominations. This whole city is yours. If you show your face, they’ll follow you to the gates of the evernight.”
“Corvan. The question.”
Corvan rubbed his neck. Hesitated. “We can’t win. The old stone wall around the city couldn’t keep out a determined mule. Rask took most of our gunpowder when he took the wall, and all of our cannons. Half our muskets were left on the field as men dropped them when they fled. We’d be lucky to kill a few thousand before they took the inner wall, and once we start fighting street to street, we could kill quite a few at some choke points, but eventually their numbers guarantee it will be a slaughter. With their numbers and our lack of matériel, this city is indefensible. There’s no strategy I can imagine in which we win. We can hurt them badly while we lose, but that’s not the same.” He grimaced. “I was preparing a retreat.”
“A retreat.” Corvan Danavis had never lost a battle—well, if one didn’t count Sundered Rock as a loss, which Gavin didn’t. If you mean to lose, and you do, in exactly the way you intended, it’s not really a loss, is it?
“Even a retreat is beset with unforeseen difficulties, Lord Prism. The presence of the ‘monsters’ that put everyone in the city on our side also means everyone in the city wants out. They think they’ll be slaughtered and eaten if they stay, and there’s no way we can evacuate so many people with the ships and the time we have.”
Gavin rubbed his forehead. Threw on his ceremonial white cloak. Stalled, basically. “Have our spies reported anything about Karris?” he asked, trying to sound disinterested. Not that Corvan would be fooled.
“Still alive as of yesterday. I imagine he was planning to use her to barter with, if he needed to.” Which now, of course, he wouldn’t. Meaning Karris had become expendable. Corvan didn’t have to say it aloud.
“Kip or Liv or Ironfist?” If Gavin had been thinking, or a little less self-centered, he’d have asked about Corvan’s daughter first.
“No word,” Corvan said. His jaw was tight.
“Which could be good news, right? If they’d done anything disastrous, our spies would be more likely to hear about it, right?”
Corvan didn’t say anything for a while, refusing to take such weak solace. He wasn’t a man to grasp after straws or to believe that tragedy couldn’t befall him. The deaths of two wives had cured him of idealism. “Our spies did report that there’s some kind of king of the color wights, a polychrome wight. They’re calling him Lord Omnichrome. No word on who he was before breaking the Pact—unless he’s a true wild polychrome.”
Gavin shrugged. Just another problem among hundreds, but he knew Corvan was laying all the potential problems on the table so Gavin could make his own choices about what was and was not important.
“What do you want to do, Lord Prism?”
He meant about the battle or the evacuation, of course.
“I want to kill Rask Garadul.”
Corvan said nothing, didn’t move to order an assassination or something similarly stupid.
Damn him, but Gavin’s father had predicted even this. If you lose the city, kill Rask Garadul, Andross Guile had said. Gavin had been sure he could save the city—and hadn’t arranged assassins to kill Rask. He should have done both. Too late now, unless Rask charged him tomorrow as foolishly as he had done yesterday.
Gavin moved to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. He cleared his throat, trying to remove the taste of failure. “I’ll help as much as I can while performing my religious duties, but…” He cleared his throat again. Seven years, seven great purposes. Here I was trying to do something good for once. “I’ve failed, Corvan. Order the evacuation.”
Judging from the cold air licking his skin, it was well after midnight when Kip was escorted through some kind of gate. He had to judge from the temperature because he was wearing a blindfold, along with a black sack over his head, a noose around his neck, hands bound behind his back.
One of the guards who was accompanying him was cursing, quietly but constantly, awed by something apparently called Brightwater Wall. They passed through slowly, stopping and starting, some military sounding voice barking, “Don’t stand there and pick your butts. Move deeper into camp. You’re blocking everyone else.” Kip heard the crack of a whip like a pistol shot, and the line started moving again.
The last couple of days had been like this. Kip had woken in darkness—darkness that turned out to be a blindfold, his hands bound at his sides. When he struggled to get it off, men had come. They removed the blindfold, one stared at his eyes, pulling them wide open with rough fingers, then they blindfolded him again. His left hand was agony. That first day—if it was just a day—they had dosed his wine with something foul that dulled his pain and his senses.
They’d taken him to see Lord Omnichrome, withholding Kip’s dosed wine so he would be lucid, but they never removed the blindfold. They’d sat in a tent with many voices for hours, with Kip in agony, and then they’d left. Apparently the lord was too busy to see him.
After a while, Kip heard his guards arguing. A clever man would have figured out some way to exploit their divisions. Kip just stood quietly, wondering when his next dose would be. His hand was throbbing.
They handed him off to someone else—literally handing over the noose around his neck.
“Aren’t you going to give him the poppy wine?” one of his guards asked.
“Why waste good poppy on bad blubber?” the other guard asked. “I like poppy wine my own self.”
“Oh, that stuff tastes foul,” the first said. Kip could agree with that.
“I don’t drink it for the taste,” the guard said, laughing. Kip could agree with that too. “Let’s go. I saw some women a ways back. With your charm and my poppy wine…” He laughed again.
Kip was pulled into a wagon. He stumbled up the steps and nearly strangled on the noose, but soon found his seat. The door was closed behind him.
Someone loosened his noose, pulled it off, took off his hood, pulled off his blindfold. “Kip?” she asked.
Kip blinked. Though the light in the violet room was dim, after two days in total darkness it made his eyes water nonetheless. But through the blear of his tears, he made out Karris White Oak.
“Karris?” he asked. Stupid question. Of course it’s her, you’re looking at her, you idiot.
“Kip, what are you doing here?”
“I’m here to rescue you,” he said. Then he laughed.
“Kip, how much poppy wine did they give you?”
It had been hours since they’d given him wine, but he just laughed harder.
Karris guided Kip to her pallet in the wagon. He fell asleep instantly. She stared at him. A hard, mean part of her wanted to hate him.
My son would be Kip’s age. Hell, Kip could be my son. He does have blue
What, you think brown skin and kinky hair skips a generation? Like twins?
Karris rubbed her face. It was an idle fantasy and she knew it. The son she’d abandoned was Kip’s half brother, but any similarities they shared would be because they shared Gavin as a father. And what a father he’d been, to both boys.
She had to get out of here. She was thinking too much.
Karris watched Kip sleep, seeing the Guile blood in the shape of his brow and his nose, and she couldn’t even name the feelings in her heart.
Eventually, she covered him with her blanket.
Gavin survived the noon rituals. The luxiat, a perfectly well-intentioned young green, was shaking like a leaf through the whole thing. Garriston wasn’t exactly a prime posting, so no doubt the young man hadn’t expected to ever catch a glimpse of the Prism, much less meet him, much less be responsible for performing the Sun Day ritual with him. They muddled through, Gavin prompting the young man with his lines two or three times. It took an hour and a half—and that was with Gavin cutting short the list beseeching Orholam’s blessing on every noble in the Seven Satrapies and every official in the Chromeria.
“If even Orholam can’t remember their names, maybe they aren’t all that important, eh?” he told the luxiat, leaving the young man gawping.
It was early afternoon before he could escape. Escape being relative, of course. He had a dozen Blackguards, a secretary, four messengers, and a dozen city guards accompanying him. He went to the docks.
He found Corvan there, ably directing the mess. The crowd wasn’t as bad as he had assumed it would be. Perhaps people were holding out hope that Gavin would save them. Perhaps after seeing him build an impossible wall, they thought his powers were unlimited. Perhaps some were simply religiously observant—only absolutely necessary work was supposed to be done on this holiest of days.
Good thing staying alive doesn’t count as absolutely necessary.
Many nobles were bartering with ship captains. Boxes of goods were piled on the docks—and plenty of goods that weren’t in boxes. Rolled-up tapestries that must have hung in families’ great halls, furniture with gold leaf paint, artwork, a maze of trunks packed with Orholam knew what.
“Lord Prism,” General Danavis said, coming up to Gavin quickly. “Perfect timing.”
Which means you’re about to hand over some truly unpleasant duty.
“I gave the order yesterday that no ships were to leave the harbor, in case an evacuation became necessary. I let it be known that disobedience meant seizure of the ship for the captain, and death for whoever hired him.”
It was a harsh sentence, but war called for harsh sentences. Whoever took a ship out of the city early was condemning dozens to death if Garriston were overrun and a massacre began. The problem with harsh sentences was that someone always tried to call your bluff—once. “Who was it?” Gavin asked. He thought he knew already.
“Governor Crassos. His men fired on the Blackguards who went to stop them.”
Blackguards? How’d Corvan get Blackguards to obey a “fetch me that prisoner” order? “Any hurt?”
“No, Lord Prism.”
“He’s here?” Gavin asked. He needed to get out of here. His entourage was blocking Corvan’s people from coming and going through the street as they needed to, and they were blocking access to the docks as well. But this he wouldn’t dodge. It was better to handle these things in a way that reinforced the solemnity of the law, but it was best to handle them quickly before others disobeyed the same law and you ended up having to kill more. When the sands were running out of the glass, delayed justice was as bad as injustice. “Bring the sailors too, and whatever cargo he was taking,” Gavin told Corvan quietly.
Governor Crassos was, indeed, barely ten paces away. He’d just been surrounded by guards much taller than he was, blocking him from sight. His hands were bound behind his back and one eye was swelling. A motley collection of smugglers were brought forward with him, scruffy, hard-edged men who’d taken on the job knowing the risks.
Gavin raised both hands over his head, throwing out a small fan of sparks. Anyone who hadn’t been looking before was now. “I hereby convene this adjudication in the light of Orholam’s eye. Let justice be done.”
Heads bobbed all around the docks in acknowledgment of the sudden prayer. The accused were pushed roughly to their knees. Humility before justice.
If I’m going to block the docks, I might as well accomplish something while I’m here.
“Governor, you’re accused of hiring a ship to flee the city, against the orders of the general in charge. Is this true?”
“General? I’m the governor of this shithole! No one tells me what to do!”
“Not even I?” Gavin asked. “The general was acting in my name, given explicit authority to do so. Did you hire this crew to leave the city?”
“You’ve got fifty witnesses who’ll tell you I did. So what? We helped you. My family stood by you in the war. You wouldn’t be here without us!” Governor Crassos’s voice trailed to a whine. “You’re going to put these peasants in front of me?”
“Captain,” Gavin said, turning away from the governor, “you acknowledge your attempt to flee?”
The captain looked around, defiant, unbroken, but not quite daring to meet the Prism’s eye. Apparently everyone on the docks had seen the attempt. He had the air of a man who knew he was going to die and wanted to die well. He was holding his courage in a tight grip. “Yessir. The guvnor hired us last night. I already wanted out.” Of course he did. Every man with a ship wanted out, and wanted out yesterday.
“It is an old tradition,” Gavin said loudly, for the assembled crowd, “to grant one pardon on Sun Day. As Orholam is merciful, so should we be merciful.”
“Oh, thank Orholam and his Prism among us,” Governor Crassos said, struggling to his feet. “You won’t regret this, Lord Prism.”
Gavin drafted superviolet for its invisibility and smacked it across the back of Crassos’s knees, never even looking at him. The man dropped. Gavin addressed the captain. “Captain, by rights I should lock you in a cell and leave you there to whatever fate might find you. Instead, I’m going to release you, and I’m going to give you my ship—the ship you forfeited—and your crew. I’ll be watching you, Captain. Serve well.”
The captain looked poleaxed. Then, embarrassingly, his eyes welled with sudden tears.
“What?!” Crassos demanded.
“Governor Crassos, you have disobeyed my order and demeaned your office. A governor is to bear up his people, not weigh them down. You have stolen from the people Orholam gave you the duty to lead. You are a thief and a coward. I hereby strip you of your governorship. You wanted to take your riches and leave? So be it.”
Gavin selected a trunk from among those Crassos had taken with him. It was full of rich clothing, large, and so heavy that one man would have trouble holding it. He shot large holes in the top, bottom, and sides. He gave orders and guards put the trunk in Crassos’s arms and then bound it to him with ropes.
“You can’t do this,” Crassos said.
“It’s done,” Gavin said. “Your only choice now is how you face it.”
“My family will hear of this!” Crassos said.
“Then let them hear you died like a man,” Gavin said.
It was like Gavin had slapped the man across the face. His family obviously meant everything to him.
Gavin drafted a blue platform out into the water. “You wanted to flee, Lord Crassos? Go.”
Without hesitation, Lord Crassos walked down the steps of blue luxin and out onto the water, carrying his trunk. He got out about fifteen paces before the luxin cracked and he fell into the water. In moments, he was kicking to keep the buoyant chest from bobbing over his head and drowning him.
The tide was just turning, so he merely sloshed back and forth, neither pushed in closer to shore nor washed out toward the other pi
A thousand pairs of eyes watched him, silently. In a minute, he wasn’t having to kick so hard to keep the trunk from pushing him under—because the trunk wasn’t floating as high in the water. He was trying to stare defiantly toward the dock, toward Gavin, but his wet hair was falling in front of his eyes, and he couldn’t seem to shake his head enough to get it out of them.
He screamed something right before he went under. Gavin couldn’t understand him. More death. He hadn’t liked Crassos, hated his attitude, hated the type of noble he represented, who took and took and never thought to give a crumb back. But he’d just killed a man, made enemies of his family—and this in the midst of a war that would have done the job for him.
Gavin watched for the bubbles and didn’t see any. Crassos had floated too far out. Gavin raised his hands, and then brought them in. “Orholam have mercy,” he announced, bringing the adjudication to a close. He’d already spent too much time here. He turned.
Behind him in the bay, a shark’s fin cut the water like an arrow headed for its target.
At sunset, Gavin had finished the most public of the rituals of the day. It was a big show, and he did his best to make each one special. It was one part of the day he could feel good about. He always performed nearly naked. Colors bloomed and raced through his body, out of his body, and gave the appearance of going back into him.
It hurt a little to use so much magic after yesterday’s fight, but it was one thing he wouldn’t compromise.
All too soon, however, it was over, and people were retiring to their parties. The parties would go all night. Sun Day lasted until the next dawn. The parties of those to be Freed would begin at full dark. He was sitting in a little chapel in the fortress. He had a few minutes, supposedly to pray.
The Black Prism by Brent Weeks / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes