The night angel trilogy, p.57
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.57
 

           Brent Weeks

  “I’m Daydra. You ever worked the sheets?”

  “I assume you don’t mean sails.”

  Daydra chuckled, and even that was pretty. “A real pirate, huh?”

  Kaldrosa touched her clan rings, four small hoops in a crescent framing her left cheekbone. “Tetsu clan off Hokkai Island.” She gestured to the captain’s chain she wore—which she put on herself as soon as she got the job for Khalidor. She opted for the finest silver herringbone chain she could afford. It looped from her left earlobe to the lowest of her clan rings. It was a merchant captain’s chain, a merchant captain of humble birth. Military captains and the bolder pirate captains wore chains looped from earlobe to earlobe behind their heads so there was less chance they’d get ripped off in battle. “A pirate captain,” she said, “but never caught. If you’re caught, you’re either hanged or they rip out your rings and exile you. There’s some disagreement about which is worse.”

  “Why’d you quit?”

  “I tangled with a royal Sethi pirate hunter a few hours before a storm. We gave almost as good as we got, but the storm drove us onto the rocks of the Smugglers’ Archipelago. Since then, I’ve just done whatever.” Kaldrosa didn’t mention that “whatever” included getting married and working for Khalidor.

  “Show me your tits.”

  Kaldrosa untied her laces and wriggled out of her top.

  “I’ll be damned,” Daydra said. “Very good. I think you’ll do fine.”

  “But you’re all so beautiful,” Kaldrosa said. Stupid as it was to protest, she couldn’t believe her luck was turning.

  Daydra smiled. “Beautiful we’ve got. Every one of Momma K’s girls has to be pretty, and you are. What you’ve got is exotic. Look at you. Clan rings. Olive skin. Even your tits are tanned!”

  Kaldrosa was suddenly thankful that she’d been so stubborn on her ship that she’d gone topless to make the Khalidoran soldiers stare. It had given her a fierce sunburn, but her skin had darkened and the color hadn’t faded yet.

  “I don’t know how you’ve managed a tan,” Daydra said, “but you’ll have to keep it up, and talk like a pirate. If you want to work for Momma K, you’re going to be the Sethi pirate girl. You have a husband or a lover?”

  Kaldrosa hesitated. “Husband,” she admitted. “The last beating nearly killed him.”

  “If you do this, you’ll never get him back. A man can forgive a woman who leaves whoring for him, but he’ll never forgive one who goes whoring for him.”

  “It’s worth it,” Kaldrosa said. “To save his life, it’s worth it.”

  “One more thing. ’Cause sooner or later you’ll ask. We don’t know why the palies do it. Every country’s got twists who like hurting rent girls, but this is different. Some will take their pleasure first and only hurt you afterward, like they’re embarrassed. Some won’t hurt you at all, but they’ll brag afterward that they did and pay Momma K’s fines without complaining. But they’ll always say those same words. You’ve heard them?”

  Kaldrosa nodded. “Khali vas, something or other?”

  “It’s Old Khalidoran, a spell or a prayer or something. Don’t think about it. Don’t make excuses for them. They’re animals. We’ll protect you as well as we can and the money’s good, but you’ll have to face them every day. Can you do that?”

  Words stuck in Kaldrosa’s throat, so she nodded again.

  “Then go to Master Piccun and tell him you want three pirate girl costumes. Make him finish taking your measurements before he bangs you.”

  Kaldrosa’s eyebrows shot up.

  “Unless you have a problem with that.”

  “You don’t think we’ll have any trouble, do you?” Elene asked. They were lying down in the wagon, spending one last night under the stars after three weeks on the road. Tomorrow they would enter Caernarvon and their new life.

  “I left all my troubles in Cenaria. Well, except for the two that tagged along with me,” Kylar said.

  “Hey!” Uly said. Despite being as scary-smart as her real mother, Momma K, she was still eleven and easily baited.

  “Tagged along?” Elene asked, propping herself up on an elbow. “As I recall, this is my wagon.” That much was true. Jarl had given them the wagon, and Momma K had loaded it with herbs Kylar could use to start an herbiary. Perhaps in a nod to Elene’s sensibilities, most of them were even legal. “If anyone tagged along, it was you.”

  “Me?” Kylar asked.

  “You were making such a pathetic spectacle that I was embarrassed for you. I just wanted to stop your begging.”

  “Well, here I thought you were a helpless—” Kylar said.

  “And now you know better,” Elene said, self-satisfied, settling back into her blankets.

  “Ain’t that the truth. You’ve got so many defenses, a man would be lucky to get lucky with you once in a thousand years,” Kylar said with a sigh.

  Elene gasped and sat up. “Kylar Thaddeus Stern!”

  Kylar giggled. “Thaddeus? That’s a good one. I knew a Thaddeus once.”

  “So did I. He was a blind idiot.”

  “Really?” Kylar said, his eyes dancing. “The one I knew was famous for his gigantic—”

  “Kylar!” Elene interrupted, motioning toward Uly.

  “His gigantic what?” Uly asked.

  “Now you did it,” Elene said. “His gigantic what, Kylar?”

  “Feet. And you know what they say about big feet.” He winked lasciviously at Elene.

  “What?” Uly asked.

  “Big shoes,” Kylar said. He settled back down in his own blankets, as smug as Elene had been moments before.

  “I don’t get it,” Uly said. “What’s it mean, Elene?”

  Kylar chuckled evilly.

  “I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Elene said.

  “I don’t want to know when I’m older. I want to know now,” Uly said.

  Elene didn’t answer her. Instead, she punched Kylar in the arm. He grunted.

  “Are you going to wrestle now?” Uly asked. She had climbed out of her blankets and was sitting between them. “Because you always end up kissing. It’s gross.” She scrunched up her face and made wet kissing noises.

  “Our little contraceptive,” Kylar said. Much as he loved Uly, Kylar was convinced that she was the only reason that after three wonderful weeks on the trail with the woman he loved, he was still a virgin.

  “Will you do that again?” Elene asked Uly, laughing and wisely heading off the what’s-a-contraceptive question.

  Uly scrunched her face and made the kissing sounds again, and soon the three of them dissolved in laughter that devolved into a tickle fight.

  Afterwards, sides aching from laughing so hard, Kylar listened to the sounds of the girls breathing. Elene had a gift for falling asleep as soon as her head touched a pillow, and Uly wasn’t far behind. Tonight, Kylar’s wakefulness was no curse. He felt his very skin was glowing with love. Elene rolled over and nuzzled on his chest. He inhaled the fresh scent of her hair. He couldn’t remember having felt so good, so accepted, in his entire life. She would drool on him, he knew, but it didn’t matter. Drool was somehow cute when Elene did it.

  No wonder Uly got disgusted. He was pathetic. But for the first time in his life, Kylar felt like a good man. He’d always been good at things, good at lock picking, climbing, hiding, fighting, poisoning, disguising himself, and killing. But he’d never felt good until Elene. When she looked at him, the Kylar he saw reflected in her eyes wasn’t repulsive. He wasn’t a murderer; he was the substitute father who had tickle fights with an eleven-year-old; he was the love who told Elene she was beautiful and made her believe it for the first time in her life; he was a man with something to give.

  That was the man Elene saw when she looked at him. She believed so many good things about him that Kylar alternated between believing it himself and thinking she was absolutely crazy. But being persuaded felt great.

  Tomorrow, they’d reach Caernarvon, and for a time, they wo
uld stay with Elene’s Aunt Mea. With her help—she was a midwife who knew herbs—Kylar would set up a little herbiary. Then he would overcome Elene’s fading objections to fornication, and the way of shadows would be behind him forever.

  8

  After maybe twelve days, maybe fifteen, maybe it only felt like so many, Logan finally surrendered to sleep. In his dream, he heard voices. They were whispering, but in the stone environs of the Hole, every whisper carried.

  “He’s got a knife.”

  “If we all take him, it doesn’t matter. Look how much meat there is on him!”

  “Quiet,” someone said. Logan knew he should move, should check the knife, should wake up, but he was so tired. He couldn’t stay awake forever. It was too hard.

  He thought he heard a woman’s voice, screaming through a hand covering her mouth. There was a slap and the scream stopped. Then there was another slap and another and another.

  “Easy, Fin. You kill Lilly, we’ll fuckin’ gut you. She’s the only slit we got.”

  Fin cursed Sniffles, then said, “You scream again, bitch, and I’ll rip out your hair and your fingernails. You don’t need those to fuck. Got it?”

  Then the voice faded, and the heat faded, and the howling faded, and the stink faded, and Logan was truly dreaming. He was dreaming of his wedding night. He was married to a girl he barely knew, but as he talked in their bedchamber, as nervous as the beautiful fifteen year-old girl across from him, he felt sudden hope blossom in his heart. This girl was a woman he could love, and inexplicably, she was his. Jenine would be his wife and one day, his queen, and he knew he could love her.

  Jenine’s dead. Stop this.

  He saw in her big eyes that she could love him, too, that their marriage bed would not be a place of duty, but one of joy. Her cheeks colored as he stared at her as his wife. His eyes claimed her—not arrogantly, but confidently, gently, accepting her and rejoicing in her beauty—and when he pulled her close, she folded into him. Her lips were hot.

  Then, it seemed like only a second later, they were still kissing, still taking off each other’s clothes, and feet were pounding up the stairs toward their room. Logan was pulling back from her and the door burst open and Khalidoran soldiers poured into the room—

  Logan’s eyes snapped open and his fists flew as bodies landed on top of him.

  As far as fights went, it was pathetic. Logan hadn’t eaten in two weeks, so he was as weak as a puppy. But the other inmates, aside from the meat they’d gorged on a few weeks ago, had been subsisting on bread and water for months or years. They were gaunt, hollow shadows of the men they had once been, so the fight proceeded slowly and clumsily.

  Logan heaved one man off and punched another across the jaw, but two more were there instantly, their flesh made slick and muddy by their filth and their sweat. Fin landed on Logan’s hip while Jake tore at Logan’s face with long nails. Shaking another man off, Logan fought his way to his feet and flung Jake off.

  The man fell into the Hole and disappeared.

  Just like that, the fight was over.

  “What’d you do that for?” Sniffles asked. “We could have used that meat. You fucker, you threw away meat.”

  For a moment, their fury crested and Logan thought they would attack him again. He reached to his hip to pull out the knife. It was gone.

  On the other side of the Hole, Fin looked at him. He picked his bloody, scurvied gums with the point of the knife. Time was on his side, now.

  Logan had thought the Holers had no society, but he’d been wrong. There were camps down here, too. The Holers were split into the animals and the monsters, the weak and the strong. Fin led the animals, who ranked mostly according to their crimes: murderers then rapists then slavers then pedophiles. The monsters were Yimbo, a big-boned red-haired Ceuran whose tongue had been cut out; Tatts, a pale Lodricari covered in tattoos who could speak but never did; and Gnasher, a misshapen simpleton with massive shoulders and a twisted spine and teeth filed to sharp points. The monsters survived only through the others’ fear of them, and their willingness to fight.

  Now, as they all starved, the tenuous society was breaking down. Logan had no friends, no knife, no place. Among the animals, he was now a wolf without a pack. Among the monsters, he was a dog without his steel tooth.

  He had tried to see the inmates as men. Men debased and humiliated and reviled and evil, but men. He tried to see in them something good, some image within them of the gods or the God who had made them. But in the shadows of the Hole, he saw only animals and monsters.

  Logan went and sat by Gnasher. The man gave him a simpleton’s smile made horrible by his filed teeth.

  Then there was a sound that made everyone freeze. Footsteps resounded through the corridor above the Asshole. Logan slipped into the one narrow overhang that would hide him from view as a torch-illumined face appeared over them. “I’ll be,” the guard said. He was black-haired, pale, and hulking, with a smashed nose, plainly Khalidoran.

  The guard opened the grate but kept a close eye on the inmates fifteen feet below him. Fin didn’t even unlimber his ropes.

  “Figured a few of you would have died by now,” the guard said. “Thought you’d be real hungry.” He reached into a sack and pulled out a large loaf of bread. Every inmate looked at him with such longing that he laughed. “Well, then, here you go.” The guard tossed them the loaf, but it sailed into the Hole.

  The prisoners cried out, thinking it was a mistake. The guard produced another loaf and tossed it into the Hole too. The prisoners crowded around the Hole, even Fin and Lilly. The next loaf bounced off of Sniffles’s fingertips and he almost fell in after it.

  The guard laughed. He locked the grate and walked away, whistling a cheery tune. Several of the inmates wept.

  He didn’t come back. The days passed in agony. Logan had never known such debilitating weakness.

  Four nights later—if the term wasn’t meaningless, Logan thought of it as night because most of the Hole’s inhabitants were asleep and the howling winds shrieked loudest at what the Holers called noon—Fin cut one of his pedophiles’ throats. In moments, everyone was awake and fighting over the body. When Sniffles started beating on Gnasher to try to get the man to let go of some bloody scrap Logan preferred not to identify, Gnasher dropped the scrap and attacked him. Sniffles tried to fight him off, but Gnasher handled him like he was a child. Yanking Sniffles’s arms out of the way, Gnasher sank his filed teeth into the man’s neck.

  In the ensuing fight over the body, an entire leg was thrown clear and landed next to Logan. When Scab came after it, Logan snatched it up. To his own horror, he stared Scab down until the man turned and left.

  Logan took the leg back to the wall and wept, because no matter how hard he looked at it, he saw only meat.

  9

  Compared to Cenaria, Caernarvon was paradise. There were no Warrens here, no stark division of have and have-not, no occupying army, no stench of ash and death, no vacant stares of despair. The capital of Waeddryn had flourished under an unbroken line of twenty-two queens.

  Twenty-two queens. The thought was strange to Kylar, until he realized that Momma K had ruled the Sa’kagé and the streets of Cenaria for more than twenty years.

  “State your business,” the gate guard said, eyeing their wagon. The people here were taller than Cenarians, and Kylar had never seen so many with blue eyes or with such bright hair—every color from almost white to fiery red.

  “I buy and sell medicinal herbs. We’ve come here to start an apothecary,” Kylar said.

  “Where from?”

  “Cenaria.”

  The guard looked pensive. “Heard things are real bad there. If you’re setting up shop on the south side, be careful. There’s some tough neighborhoods down…” he trailed off as he caught sight of the scars on Elene’s face.

  Faster than he would have thought possible, Kylar was furious. Elene’s scars were all that marred otherwise perfect beauty. A brilliant smile, deep brown e
yes that defied the boring plainness of the word brown, eyes that only a poet could adequately describe and only a legion of bards adequately praise, skin that begged to be touched and curves that demanded it. With all that, how can he only see scars? But saying anything would only cause a scene. The guard blinked. “Uh, go on,” he said.

  “Thanks.” Kylar wasn’t worried about Caernarvon’s Sa’kagé. They were strictly small time: mugging, picking pockets, street prostitution, and gambling on the dog fights and bull baiting. Some brothels and gambling dens actually stayed in business without being affiliated with them. Kylar’s childhood street gang was more organized than the crime here.

  They drove through the city, gawking at the people and the sights like bumpkins. Caernarvon sat at the confluence of the Wy, the Red, and the Blackberry rivers, and its streets were bursting with commerce and the multiplicity of people who flowed with the money. They passed olive-skinned, strong-featured Sethi wearing short loose trousers and white tunics, red-haired Ceurans with their two swords and their odd fashion of braiding multicolored locks of hair into their own, a few Ladeshians, and even an almond-eyed Ymmuri. They made a game of it, surreptitiously pointing and trying to guess who was from where.

  “How about him?” Uly asked, pointing at a nondescript man in plain woolens. Kylar scowled.

  “Yes, let’s hear it, hotshot,” Elene said, wearing an impish grin. “And don’t point, Uly.” The man had no distinguishing characteristics. No tattoos, standard tunic and trousers for Caernarvon, brown hair cut short, no Modaini patrician nose, nothing distinctive; even his fairly tan skin that could have come from half a dozen countries. “Ah,” Kylar said. “Alitaeran.”

  “Prove it,” Elene said.

  “Only Alitaerans look that smug.”

  “I don’t believe it.”

  “Ask him,” Kylar said.

  Elene shook her head, sinking back, suddenly shy.

  “Hey, master!” Uly shouted as their wagon rolled past him. “Where ya from?”

  “Uly!” Elene said, mortified.

 
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