The black prism, p.56
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       The Black Prism, p.56

           Brent Weeks
 

  So it was a hard truth. That didn’t make it a lie. Indeed, it probably made it more likely that it was true.

  But no one in this crowd wanted to accept that. They wanted someone to blame for the death of their parents. They didn’t want to die themselves. They could dress that up in some holy-sounding bullshit, but Kip had seen behind the veil. These people were murderers. Gavin was a good man. A great man, a giant among dwarfs. So he had to do hard things. Great men made the hard choices, so everyone could survive. So he held people to the Pact, so what? Everyone swore to it. Everyone knew what they were swearing. There was no mystery, no con. They made a deal, and they liked the deal until they had to pay the price.

  These people were cowards, oathbreakers, scum.

  I have got to get out of here.

  He turned and saw the last woman he expected to see here.

  “Ilytian water clocks claim this is the shortest night of the year,” Felia Guile said from the doorway. “But it’s always been the longest for you.”

  Gavin looked up at her, gray-faced. “I didn’t expect you until dawn.”

  She smiled. “There was some disturbance with the order. Bas the Simple cut in earlier than he was supposed to. Some withdrew until later.” She shrugged.

  Withdrew? So maybe they know. It’s all falling apart.

  Maybe it’s best this way. I kill my own mother now, and she doesn’t have to see it all come crashing down.

  “Son,” she said. “Dazen.” The word was almost a sigh, a release of pent-up pressure. Truth, spoken aloud after years of lies.

  “Mother.” It was good to see her happy, but terrible to see her here. “I can’t—I didn’t even take you on that flight I promised you.”

  “You really can fly?”

  He nodded, his throat tight.

  “My son can fly.” Her smile lit her face. “Dazen, I am so proud of you.”

  Gavin tried to speak, but failed.

  Her eyes were gentle. “I’ll help you,” she said. She knelt at the rail, opting for more formality. With his mother, Gavin should have known. “Lord Prism, I have sins to confess. Will you shrive me?”

  Gavin blinked back sudden tears, mastered himself. “Gladly… daughter.”

  Her attitude of simple piety helped him play his part. He was not her son, not here and now. He was her spiritual father, a link to Orholam on the holiest day of her life.

  “Lord Prism, I married unwisely and lived fearfully. I let myself be owned by my fear that my husband would put me aside, and didn’t speak when I knew I should. I let my sons be pitted against each other, and one is dead because of it. Their father didn’t foresee it because he was a fool, but I knew.”

  “Mother,” Gavin interjected.

  “Daughter,” she corrected firmly.

  Gavin paused. Acquiesced. “Daughter, go on.”

  “I have spoken cruel words. I have lied a thousand times. I have treated my slaves without regard to their welfare…” She spoke for five minutes, not sparing herself, blunt and forthright, not condensing her answers for her sake, but for Gavin’s—he had others to shrive this night. It was surreal.

  Gavin had heard stunning admissions and seen darker sides of people with saintly reputations for the last sixteen years, but hearing her confess beating an innocent slave in her rage minutes after finding Andross in bed with another woman was heartrending. Dislocating. To hear his mother confess was like seeing her naked.

  “And I have killed, thrice. For my son. I lost two boys; I couldn’t bear to lose my last,” she said. Gavin could hardly believe her. “Once I got a Blackguard who suspected him reassigned to a dangerous post during the Red Cliff Uprising, where I knew he would be killed. Once I directed pirates to the ship Dervani Malargos was taking home after having been lost in the wilds of Tyrea for years. He claimed to have been closest to the conflagration at Sundered Rock and to have seen things no one else had. I tried to buy him off, but he slipped away. And once I hired an assassin during the Thorn Conspiracies, using the cover of someone else’s fight to murder someone who was about to blackmail my son.”

  Gavin was speechless. In the first year of his masquerade, he’d killed three men to protect his identity and exiled a dozen more. Then two in the seventh year. He hadn’t killed anyone in cold blood since—until Bas. He’d known his mother had protected him, but he’d always thought she’d done it by passing on information she learned. His mother had always been fiercely protective, but he’d never imagined how far she would go. How far he would force her to go because he’d supplanted Dazen.

  Dear Orholam, how I wish I believed in you, that you might forgive me for what I’ve done.

  “Each time,” she said, “I told myself I was serving Orholam and the Seven Satrapies, and not just my family. But my conscience has never been clear.”

  Shaken, he intoned the traditional words, offering her forgiveness.

  She stood, looking at him intently. “Now, son, there are a few things you should know before I lay my burdens down.” She didn’t wait for him to say anything, which was good, because he didn’t think he was capable of it.

  “You are not the evil son, Dazen. You were errant, but never mean-spirited. You are a true Prism—”

  “Errant? I murdered the White Oaks! I—”

  “Did you?” she interrupted, sharp. Then, softer, “I’ve seen that poison eating you for sixteen years. And always you’ve refused to talk. Tell me what happened.” His mother really was a Guile, if not by blood, by temperament. She’d wanted to talk about this all along.

  “I can’t.”

  “If not me, who? If not now, when? Dazen, I’m your mother. Let me give you this.”

  His tongue felt like lead, but the images were there before his eyes in an instant. The leering faces of the White Oak brothers, the surge of fear paralyzing him. Gavin licked his lips, but he couldn’t force the first words out. He felt the hatred once more, fury at the injustice. Seven on one, more. The lies. “Things were already bad with Gavin. Blue and green awoke for me early, but I was starting to suspect I could do more. I told him. You know, we hadn’t been close since he’d been announced Prism-elect, and somehow Sevastian’s murder only made things worse. I guess I thought telling him my gifts were growing would bring him back. Like we could be best friends again. But he didn’t like it. Not at all.” From nowhere, a wash of tears came to Gavin’s eyes. He missed his brother so much it tore his soul. “I understand now how threatening it must have been for a young man to lose the one thing that made him special. I didn’t, then. The day after I told him I was a polychrome, I heard him urging father to betroth him to Karris. It was the greatest betrayal I could imagine. Her love was the one thing that made me special. It was some time before I saw the symmetry to that.

  “Anyway, I thought Karris was as in love with me as I was with her. When father announced her betrothal to Gavin, we decided to run away together. She must have told someone. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe Gavin seemed a better prize. Karris and I were supposed to meet just outside her family’s mansion after midnight. She wasn’t there. Her maid told me she was inside. It was a trap, of course. The White Oak brothers knew I’d been trysting with Karris, and they wanted to teach me a lesson. Said I’d dishonored them, turned their sister into a whore.”

  They’d grabbed him as soon as he stepped inside. All seven brothers. They’d torn off his cloak and snatched away his spectacles and his sword. He remembered the great, enclosed courtyard, servants peeking out from doors and windows. There was a great bonfire in the courtyard—plenty of light, but none for a blue/green bichrome without spectacles. “They started beating me. They’d been drinking. Several were drafting red. It got out of hand. I thought—still think—that they were going to kill me. I got away once, but the gate I tried was chained shut.”

  “They chained the gates?” Felia Guile asked. It had become part of the story that Dazen had done that. Out of cruelty. Karris’s father had known better, but had said nothing to comb
at the lie.

  “They didn’t want me to get out or any guards or soldiers from the outside to be able to get in to interfere before they were done.” Gavin got quiet. Glanced at his mother. Her face was all tenderness. He looked away.

  “I split light for the first time that night. It felt… wonderful. I’d thought I might be a superviolet to yellow polychrome, but that night, I used red. A lot of red. Maybe I wasn’t ready for what red does to you when you’re already furious.” He remembered the shock on their faces when he started drafting. They knew he was a blue/green. They knew what he was doing was impossible. There was only one Prism each generation. Images of fireballs streaking from his bleeding hands, of Kolos White Oak’s skull smoking while he still stood, of the White Oak guards slaughtered by the dozen, limbs sheared off, blood everywhere. “I killed the brothers and all the White Oak guards. The fires were spreading. The front gate collapsed as I got out. I heard people screaming.” He’d gone, staggering, left empty and numb, to find his horse.

  “There was a maid at the side door. The woman who’d lured me into the trap. She looked through the bars and begged me to open it. It was the same door I’d tried when I was trying to get out. It was chained on the inside, but she didn’t have the key. I told her to burn, and I left. I didn’t realize—I didn’t even think that all the other doors were chained too. I just wanted to get away. They couldn’t find the keys in time, I guess. With that casual cruelty, I consigned a hundred innocents to death.” Like it was better for the guilty to die than for the innocent to live.

  Funny thing, he could weep about not being friends with his brother, but he had nothing inside himself for all those dead innocents. Slaves and servants bound to the White Oaks not by choice. Children. It was just too monstrous.

  And most of the men who’d joined Dazen in the war later hadn’t even asked what had happened that night. They’d been happy to fight for a man whom they thought had killed an entire mansion full of people—because it meant he was indestructible. How he despised them.

  His mother came and held him. And now, silently, he wept. Perhaps for those dead. Perhaps only selfishly, because he was losing her.

  “Dazen, it isn’t mine to absolve you of what happened that night, or of all that happens in war that you carry still. But I do forgive you of all that I can. You are no monster. You are a true Prism, and I love you.” She trembled, tears streaking down her cheeks, but she glowed. She kissed Gavin on the lips, something she hadn’t done since he was a boy. “I’m proud of you, Dazen. Proud to be your mother,” she said. “Sevastian would be proud of you too.”

  He held her, weeping. There was no absolution for him. Sevastian was still dead, and her other son rotted in a hell Gavin had created for him. She wouldn’t have forgiven that. But he wept and she held him, soothing him like a child once more.

  Then, all too soon, she pushed him back. “It’s time,” she said. She took a deep breath. “Is it… is it acceptable for me to draft one last time? It’s been years.”

  “Absolutely,” Gavin said, trying to put himself back together. He gestured to the orange panel of the wall.

  She drew in orange luxin. Shivered. Sighed. “It feels like life, doesn’t it?” She knelt gracefully. “Remember what I said,” she said.

  “Everything,” he swore. Even if I don’t believe it.

  “It’s all right,” she said. “You’ll believe it someday.”

  He blinked.

  Felia Guile chuckled. “You don’t get all your smarts from your father, you know.”

  “I never doubted it.”

  She drew her hair back over her shoulders to give him a clear path to her heart. She placed her hand on his thigh, looked up at him. She let the orange luxin go. “I’m ready,” she said.

  “I love you,” Gavin said. He took a deep breath. “Felia Guile, you gave the full measure. Your service will not be forgotten, but your failures are hereby blotted out, forgotten, erased. I give you absolution. I give you freedom. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

  He stabbed her in the heart. Then he held her, kneeling with her, kissing her face as she died. It was several long minutes before he had the strength to stand and summon the Blackguards.

  When they opened the door, he saw that there were a hundred drafters in the hall, waiting for him. They weren’t smiling. The enormous Usef Tep, the Purple Bear, stepped forward. “We didn’t want to cause a disturbance while you were with your mother, but sir, we need to talk.”

  Sir. Not Lord Prism. Not Gavin.

  So begins the end.

  Chapter 80

  “Kip, whatever happens, stay close to me,” Karris whispered, leaning close.

  She said it with a tension and certainty that told Kip something was going to happen. Soon. Though he wanted to, he didn’t ask. Their guards were close, though everyone’s attention was focused on Lord Rainbow up front and his verbal feces about duty and justice. Kip had long ago stopped paying attention. He was staring at a girl, not ten paces away. Liv.

  He could have sworn she’d been pushing closer to him and Karris for a while, but for the last ten minutes she’d stood as though frozen, listening to Lord Rainbow. The crowd between them moved, and he saw that she was wearing yellow cloth vambraces. Liv was a yellow. It had to be her.

  Kip craned his head around, looking toward Brightwater Wall.

  “Stop acting suspicious,” Karris said through gritted teeth. Which left Kip with absolutely zero places to look. If he stared at Liv, that would draw attention to her, the speech disgusted him, he couldn’t look at the wall, and when he looked at Karris, he couldn’t help but notice her dress. Karris had been thought-freezingly gorgeous when Kip had seen her wrapped in a heavy black cloak over her Blackguard garb. In the thin black dress she was wearing, her beauty ripped Kip’s breath out of his chest, stomped on it, and set it on fire. She stood straight, imperious, regal, elegance personified. No one had given her a shawl despite the coolness of the night. In the rising light, Kip could see the gooseflesh on her arms.

  “Cold out, huh?” he said.

  One of their guards snorted.

  “I will beat you to death if you ask for it,” Karris said, still staring straight ahead.

  Kip had no idea what she was talking about, or why the guard was laughing. “What did—” He looked down at her chest. Her nipples were clearly defined against the thin silk. Kip gaped just as she looked over and caught him looking.

  “Kip. Dark spectacles are not a license to ogle.”

  Will the earth please open and swallow me now? She thought he’d been being snarky about… Oh, Orholam. He was the stupidest boy in history.

  The speech ended without anything special happening. Kip glanced carefully at Karris. She looked toward the east, where the sky was lightening.

  “He’s waiting until it’s almost dawn,” Karris whispered, as their guards pushed them to start walking. “Be ready.”

  “He?” Kip asked.

  “Shut it!” the Mirrorman to Kip’s left said. He smacked Kip with the butt of his musket.

  Oh, I can make inappropriate jokes on accident, but you’ve got a problem when I’m just trying to escape?

  At first, Kip couldn’t see very well where they were going through the vast crowd. Gradually, though, he saw that the drafters were joining a much larger group that was being addressed by King Garadul.

  Kip lost sight of Liv quickly. The dark spectacles he was wearing made him almost blind. He could see out of the sides if he strained, but it made it impossible to search the crowd. With his hands tied behind his back, there was no way to fix that either.

  Tens of thousands of soldiers surrounded King Garadul. The man was waving his arms, shouting, but Kip could only hear snippets as the drafters joined the outskirts of that group: “cleanse this city… Take back what has been stolen from us… punish…” It sounded pretty grim.

  Again, Kip seemed to be the only person who wasn’t hanging on every word, so as the sun rose, first touc
hing Brightwater Wall behind them because it was higher than the plain below, he saw movement on the wall.

  He couldn’t see it well around the frame of the spectacles, but the forms of five men—a cannon crew—became three, then in a violent motion two, then just one. The cannon on the wall had been pointed at a high trajectory toward Garriston, but the man was angling it down and down.

  A quick spark.

  Boom!

  The cannon spat fire. Kip didn’t see the shell hit, but he felt it. The earth seemed to jump.

  For a moment, no one did anything, thinking it must have been a mistake. Screams of fright and pain. Then Karris collided with him, knocking him off his feet.

  Kip smacked his head as he fell, so at first he wasn’t sure if the second explosion was just his imagination.

  “Canister shot!” Karris said. “Shit! We have to move! Ironfist’s aiming for that wagon.”

  Wagon? Ironfist? Why was Ironfist shooting at them?

  Kip was blinking. Something was strange about his vision—oh! Smacking his head against the ground had knocked one of the black lenses out of the frame of his spectacles.

  “Grab that lens and cut my hands free!” Karris barked.

  They were both lying on the ground, hands bound. The crackle of musket fire filled the air.

  One of the Mirrorman guards grabbed Kip, trying to haul him to his feet.

  Despite lying flat on her back, Karris kicked the back of the man’s knee with her left foot. He folded, and by the time he landed on his back her right foot had swept up and then down in an ax kick across his throat. There was a crunch and blood sprayed through the mail flap over the man’s mouth.

  Kip could hardly believe what he’d just seen, but Karris was already moving on. She scrambled over the dying man, lying right on top of him. With her hands still behind her back, she drew the man’s belt knife a hand’s breadth and cut her wrists free.

 
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