The night angel trilogy, p.55
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.55
 

           Brent Weeks

  “Dammit, Dorian!” Feir is slapping him. Dorian was suddenly aware that Feir must be about to do it several times, because his jaw had throbbed on both sides. Something will be seriously wrong with his left arm. He looks, confusions crashing in his head—trying to find the right speed of time.

  There was an arrow sticking out of his arm. A black-bated Khalidoran highlander’s arrow. Poisoned.

  Feir slapped him again.

  “Stop! Stop!” Dorian said, waving his hands around. It made his left arm blossom into pain. He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut, but he was back. This is sanity. “What’s happened?” he asked.

  “Raiders,” Feir said.

  “A bunch of idiots trying to take something home to brag about,” Solon said. Something, of course, would have been Solon’s, Feir’s, and Dorian’s ears. One of the four corpses already wore two ears dangling from a necklace. They looked fresh.

  “They’re all dead?” Dorian asked. It was time to do something about that arrow.

  Solon nodded unhappily and Dorian read the story of the brief battle around their camp. The attack had come as Feir and Dorian were setting up camp. The sun was dipping into a notch in the Faltier Mountains and the raiding party had come from the mountain, thinking the sun would blind them. Two archers tried to cover their friends’ approach, but the shot was steeply downhill and their first arrows had missed.

  After that, the outcome had been a foregone conclusion. Solon was no mean hand with a sword, and Feir—mountainous, monstrously strong and quick Feir—was a second-echelon Blade Master. Solon had let Feir handle the swordsmen. He’d been too late to save Dorian taking an arrow, but he had killed both archers with magic. The whole thing had probably taken less than two minutes.

  “The pity is, they’re from the Churaq clan,” Solon said, nudging one of the black-tattooed youths. “They’d have happily killed the Hraagl clan bastards guarding the Khalidoran baggage train we’re following.”

  “I thought Screaming Winds was impregnable,” Feir said. “How’d the raiders get on this side of the border?”

  Solon shook his head. It drew Dorian’s attention to his hair, which was a flat black except at the roots. Since Solon had killed fifty meisters by using Curoch—and nearly killed himself from the sheer amount of magic he’d used to do it—his hair was growing in white. Not old man salt-and-pepper white, but a snow-white that struck a sharp contrast against a face that showed a man in his prime, handsome, with olive Sethi skin, and features chiseled from a military life. Solon had complained at first that his vision was either all in wild colors or black and white from using Curoch, but that seemed to have cleared. “Impregnable, yes,” Solon said. “Impassable for an army, yes. But this late in the summer, these young men can climb the mountains. Lots of them die on the climb, or storms come up out of nowhere and wash them off the rock, but if they’re lucky and strong, nothing stops them. You ready with that arrow yet, Dorian?”

  Though all three men were magi, there was no question of them helping him, not with this. Dorian was a Hoth’salar, a Brother of Healing; his hopes to cure his own growing madness had driven him to the healers’ highest ranks.

  Water suddenly soaked Dorian’s arm around the arrowhead.

  “What was that?” Feir asked, looking green.

  “All the moisture from the blood that’s already poisoned. It should all stick to the arrow when you pull it out,” Dorian said.

  “Me?” Feir asked, the squeamish look on his face totally at odds with his huge frame.

  “You’re ridiculous,” Solon said. He reached over and ripped out the arrow. Dorian gasped and Feir had to catch him. Solon stared at the arrow. The barbs had been bent down flat so they wouldn’t tear flesh on their way out, but the shaft was covered in a black shell of blood and the poison coaxed into a crystalline structure. It had swelled the shaft to three times its original width.

  Even as Dorian was heaving breaths in and out, flows of magic began dancing in the air like tiny fireflies, like a hundred spiders spinning glowing webs, tapestries of light. This was the part that impressed the other men. Theoretically, any magus could heal himself, but for some reason, it not only tended not to work well but was also intensely painful to heal more than the smallest wound. It was as if the patient had to feel every pain and discomfort and irritation and itching that a wound would have inflicted in the entire time it was healing. When a magus healed someone else, he could numb the patient. When he healed himself, numbing anything could lead to mistakes and death. Female mages, magae, on the other hand, had no such problems. They routinely healed themselves.

  “You’re incredible,” Solon said. “How do you do that?”

  “It’s just focus,” Dorian said. “I’ve had lots of practice.” He smiled and shook himself as if casting off his weariness, and suddenly his face was animated and he was totally present with them in a way that was becoming rare.

  Solon looked bereaved. Dorian’s madness was irreversible. It would grow until he was a babbling idiot who slept outside or in barns. He would come to be totally disregarded and have only one or two moments of lucidity each year. Sometimes, those moments would come when no one was around for him to tell what he had learned.

  “Stop it,” Dorian told Solon. “I’ve just had a revelation.” He said it with a little smirk to let them know it really had been a revelation. “We’re going the wrong way. At least you are,” Dorian said, pointing to Feir. “You need to follow Curoch south to Ceura.”

  “What do you mean?” Feir asked. “I thought we were following the sword. Anyway, my place is with you.”

  “Solon, you and I have to go north to Screaming Winds,” Dorian said.

  “Wait,” Feir said.

  But Dorian’s eyes had glazed again. He was gone.

  “Lovely,” Feir said. “Just lovely. I swear he does that on purpose.”

  4

  It was past midnight when Jarl joined them in the Cromwylls’ little hut. He was more than an hour late. Elene’s foster mother was asleep in the bedroom they all shared, so Kylar and Elene and Uly were all sitting in the front room. Uly had fallen asleep against Kylar, but she jerked upright instantly, terrified, as Jarl came in.

  What am I dragging this little girl into? Kylar thought. But he just squeezed her, and when she got her bearings, she calmed down, embarrassed.

  “Sorry,” Jarl said. “The palies are… punishing the Warrens for the assassination attempt. I wanted to get back to check on some things, but they’ve sealed the bridges. No bribe’s enough today.” Kylar could tell Jarl was avoiding details because Uly was in the room, but considering how bad things were in the Warrens before the assassination attempt, Kylar could barely imagine how they must be tonight.

  Kylar wondered how much worse it would have been if the Godking had actually been killed. Violence begets violence indeed. “Does this mean the job’s canceled?” he asked, so Elene and Uly wouldn’t ask more about the Warrens.

  “It’s on,” Jarl said. He handed a purse to Elene. It looked suspiciously light. “I took the liberty of bribing the gate guards in advance. The price has already gone up, and I guarantee tomorrow it will go up again. You have the list of times when the guards we bribed are working this week?” Jarl opened a pack and took out a cream-colored tunic, trousers, and high black boots.

  “Memorized,” Kylar said.

  “Look,” Elene said, “I know Kylar’s used to doing jobs where he doesn’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing, but I need to understand this. Why is someone paying five hundred gunders for Kylar to pretend to die? That’s a fortune!”

  “Not to a Khalidoran duke. Here’s the best I’ve been able to put it together,” Jarl said. “The dukes in Khalidor aren’t the same as our dukes because the nobility in Khalidor is always inferior to the meisters. But the meisters still need people to manage the peasants and so forth, so Duke Vargun is rich, but he’s had to fight for every scrap of power he has. He came to Cenaria hoping to advance himself, but
the position he thought he would get—leading Cenaria’s royal guard—was given to Lieutenant Hurin Gher, now Commander Gher.”

  “To pay him off for leading Cenaria’s nobles into an ambush during the coup, the traitor,” Kylar said.

  “Exactly. Commander Gher goes to the docks one morning a week with a few of his most trusted men to pick up Sa’kagé bribe money and pretend to be patrolling. This morning he’s going to see his rival, Duke Vargun, commit the murder of a minor Cenarian noble, Baron Kirof. Commander Gher will happily arrest the duke. In a few days or weeks, the ‘dead’ Baron Kirof will show up. Commander Gher will be disgraced for arresting a duke for no reason, and most likely, Duke Vargun will take his job. A number of things could go wrong, which is why Kylar’s only getting five hundred gunders.”

  “It sounds awfully complicated,” Elene said.

  “Trust me,” Jarl replied, “when it comes to Khalidoran politics, this is simple.”

  “How’s the Sa’kagé going to turn this to their advantage?” Kylar asked.

  Jarl grinned. “We tried to get hold of Baron Kirof, but apparently the duke isn’t too stupid. Kirof’s already gone.”

  “The Sa’kagé would have kidnapped Baron Kirof? Why?” Elene asked.

  Kylar said, “If the Sa’kagé grabbed Kirof, they could blackmail Commander Gher. Commander Gher would know the moment Kirof showed up, he’d be doomed, so the Sa’kagé would have owned him.”

  “You know,” Elene said, “sometimes I try to imagine what this city would be like without the Sa’kagé, and I can’t. I want to get out of here, Kylar. Can I come with you tonight?”

  “There’s not enough space for an adult,” Jarl answered for him. “Anyway, they’ll be back by dawn. Uly? Kylar? You ready?”

  Kylar nodded, and, grim-faced, Uly copied him.

  Two hours later, they were at the docks ready to split up. Uly would hide beneath the dock in a raft camouflaged to look like a clump of driftwood. When Kylar fell in the water, she would extend a pole for him to grab so that he could surface out of sight. There would barely be room enough in the little raft for Uly to crouch and Kylar’s head to emerge. After he emerged, the “driftwood” would eventually drift downstream a few hundred paces to another dock where they would emerge.

  “What if it all goes wrong? I mean, really wrong?” Uly asked. The night’s cold had left Uly’s cheeks red. It made her look even younger.

  “Then tell Elene I’m sorry.” Kylar brushed the front of his cream-colored tunic. His hands were trembling.

  “Kylar, I’m scared.”

  “Uly,” he said, looking into her big brown eyes, “I wanted to tell you… I mean I wish…” He looked away. “Uh, I wish you wouldn’t call me by my real name when we’re on a job.” He patted her head. She hated that. “How do I look?”

  “Just like Baron Kirof… if I squint real hard.” That was for the head pat, he knew.

  “Have I ever told you you’re a pain in the ass?” he asked her.

  She just grinned.

  In a few hours, the docks would be swarming with longshoremen and sailors, preparing their cargoes for the rising sun. For the moment, though, it was quiet except for the lapping of waves. The dock’s private night watch had been paid off, but the bigger fear was of the groups of Khalidoran soldiers who might wander by, looking for blood. Mercifully, it seemed most of them were in the Warrens tonight.

  “Well then, see you on the other side,” he said, smirking. It was the wrong thing to say. Uly’s eyes filled with tears. “Go on,” he said, more gently. “I’ll be fine.” She went, and when she was safely out of sight, his face began shimmering. Kylar’s lean young face put on a second chin, a red beard sprouted in the Khalidoran fashion, his nose grew crooked, and his eyebrows became great, wide brushes. Now he was Baron Kirof.

  He pulled out a hand mirror and checked himself. He scowled. The illusory nose shrank a little. He opened his mouth, smiled, scowled, and winked, seeing how the face moved. It wasn’t good, but it would have to do. Uly would have helped him get the face right, but the less she knew about his little talents, the better. He started down the dock.

  “Dear gods,” Duke Tenser Vargun said as he approached. “Is that you?” The duke was sweaty and pasty pale even in the light of the torches on the end of the dock.

  “Duke Vargun, I got your message,” Kylar said loudly, extending his hand and clasping the duke’s wrist. He lowered his voice. “You’ll be fine. Just do everything like we planned.”

  “Baron Kirof, thank you,” the duke said, a bit dramatically. He lowered his voice again. “So you’re the player.”

  “Yes. Let’s try not to put me out of work.”

  “I’ve never killed anyone before.”

  “Let’s make sure tonight isn’t your first,” Kylar said. He looked at the jeweled dagger tucked into the duke’s belt. It was an heirloom in the duke’s family, and its inexplicable loss would be part of the evidence that the duke really had killed Baron Kirof. “If you do this, you’ll be going to prison, and not a nice one. We can call it off.” Kylar waved his hands around as he talked the way the real Baron Kirof did when he was nervous.

  “No, no.” The duke sounded like he was trying to convince himself. “Have you ever done this before?”

  “Set up someone by pretending to be someone else? Sure. Pretended to get killed? Not so much.”

  “Don’t worry,” the duke said. “I—” Tenser’s eyes flicked past Kylar and his voice went tight with fear. “They’re here.”

  Kylar jerked away from the duke as if startled. “Is that a threat?” he barked. It was only a fair imitation of the baron’s voice, but blood covers a multitude of acting sins.

  The duke grabbed his arm. “You’ll do as I tell you!”

  “Or what? The Godking will hear about this.” They definitely had the guards’ attention now.

  “You’ll say nothing!”

  Kylar shook his arm free. “You aren’t smart enough to take the throne, Duke Vargun. You’re a coward, and…” He dropped his voice. “One stab. The blood bladder is right over my heart. I’ll do everything else.” He contorted Baron Kirof’s face into a sneer and turned away.

  The duke grabbed Kylar’s arm and yanked him back. With a savage motion, Vargun rammed the dagger—not into the sheep’s bladder of blood, but into Kylar’s stomach. He stabbed once, twice, then again and again. Staggering backward, Kylar looked down. His cream-colored silk tunic was dripping red-black blood. Tenser’s hands were gory and flecks of red dotted the blue of his cloak.

  “What are you doing?” Kylar choked out, barely hearing the whistle blowing at the far end of the dock. He swayed, grabbing at the end of the railing to hold himself up.

  Sweating profusely, his black hair hanging in lank ropes, Tenser ignored him. Every trace of the hesitant, bumbling noble he’d been only a minute before had disappeared. He grabbed a fistful of Kylar’s hair. For him, it was a lucky grab. An inch forward, and he would have destroyed the illusory face Kylar wore.

  As footsteps began pounding down the dock, Duke Vargun let Kylar drop to his knees. Through eyes dimming with pain, Kylar saw Commander Gher charging down the dock with his sword drawn and two guards at his heels. Duke Vargun dragged the dagger across Kylar’s throat, sending blood spurting. Then, with as much emotion as a woodcutter burying his ax in a stump for the next time he’s going to split wood, Duke Vargun jammed his dagger into Kylar’s shoulder.

  “Stop! Stop now or die!” Commander Gher roared.

  Duke Vargun propped a calfskin boot on Kylar’s shoulder and smiled. With a shove, he propelled Kylar off the dock and into the river.

  The water was so cold Kylar went numb—or maybe that was from the blood loss. He’d inhaled before he hit the water, but one lung wasn’t cooperating. In moments air bubbled out of his mouth, and—disconcertingly—his throat.

  Then there was agony as he breathed the thick, dirty water of the Plith. He thrashed weakly, but only for a moment. Then the ca
lm descended. His aching body was only a distant pulse. Something jabbed his body and he tried to grab for it instinctively. He was supposed to grab. There was something he was supposed to remember about a catchpole.

  But if his hand even moved, he couldn’t tell. The world didn’t go black, didn’t fade into darkness. His vision went white, his brain starving as blood poured from his neck. Something jabbed him again. He wished it would go away. The water was warm, a perfect peaceful cloud.

  Duke Tenser Vargun tore his eyes away from the hungry river and lifted his hands. He turned slowly and said, “I’m unarmed. I surrender.” He smiled as if he couldn’t help it. “And a good evening to you, Commander.”

  5

  Will this Godking flay me or fuck me?

  Vi Sovari sat in the receiving chamber outside Cenaria Castle’s throne room, straining to overhear the Godking while she toyed with the guard who couldn’t help but stare at her. Anything she could learn about why she’d been summoned might save her life. Her master, Hu Gibbet, had just brought in Duke Tenser Vargun—one of the Khalidoran nobles who had come in to help assimilate Cenaria into the Khalidoran Empire. Apparently, the duke had murdered some Cenarian noble.

  It had to pose an interesting problem for the king who styled himself a god. Tenser Vargun was a trusted vassal, but letting him off would have serious ramifications. The Cenarian nobles who’d bent the knee to serve Garoth and been allowed to keep at least portions of their lands might find their spines and rebel. The Cenarian nobles who were in hiding would have new evidence of Khalidoran brutality to rally more people to their banners.

  But why is Master Gibbet here? Hu had exuded that air of clever self-satisfaction that Vi knew all too well.

  She crossed her legs to recapture the guard’s attention. In fighting terms, the terms Hu Gibbet had taught Vi, it was a feint. The motion of her legs got his attention, turning her head to the side gave him safety, and leaning forward gave him a view. She didn’t dare invoke a glamour this close to the Godking, but that was fine. Cleavage had its own magic.

 
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