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The night angel trilogy, p.58
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.58

           Brent Weeks

  The man turned and drew himself to his full height. “I hail from Alitaera, by the grace of the God the greatest nation in all Midcyru.”

  “The gods, you mean,” the Waeddryner he was bargaining with said.

  “No, unlike you Waeddryner dogs, Alitaerans say what they mean,” the merchant said, and in a moment they were arguing about religion and politics and Uly was forgotten.

  “I am pretty amazing,” Kylar said.

  Elene groaned. “You’re probably Alitaeran yourself.”

  Kylar laughed, but that “probably” soured in his mouth. Probably, because he was a guild rat, an orphan, maybe slaveborn. Like that Alitaeran, he couldn’t even guess where his parents had been from. He couldn’t guess why they’d abandoned him. Were they dead? Alive? Important somehow, like every orphan dreams? While Jarl had been busy saving pennies to get out of the guild, Kylar had been dreaming of why his noble parents might have been forced to abandon him. It was useless, foolish, and he thought he’d given it up long ago.

  The closest thing he’d had to a father was Durzo—and Kylar had become what all men curse: a patricide. Now here he was, a loose string, tied to nothing before or behind.

  No, that wasn’t true. He had Elene and Uly. And he had the freedom to love. That freedom cost something, but it was worth the price.

  “Are you all right?” Elene asked him, her brown eyes concerned.

  “No,” Kylar said. “As long as we’re together, I’m great.”

  In a few minutes, they had left the northern markets and were getting deeper into the shipping district. Even here almost all the buildings were stone—a big change from Cenaria, where stone was so expensive that most of the houses were wood and rice paper. Local punks lounged in the stoops of houses and warehouses and mills, sullenly watching them go past with the universal expression of adolescents with something to prove.

  “Are you sure this is the right road?” Kylar asked.

  Elene winced. “No?”

  Kylar kept the wagon moving, but it didn’t matter. Six of the teens stood and followed a black-toothed man with a mop of greasy black hair toward them. The youths reached under steps or beneath piles of trash to find weapons. They were street weapons, clubs and knives and a length of heavy chain. The man leading them stood in front of the wagon and grabbed the near horse’s bridle.

  “Well, honey,” Kylar said, “time to meet our friendly neighborhood Sa’kagé.”

  “Kylar, remember what you promised,” Elene said, taking his arm.

  “You don’t really expect me to…” He let the question die as he saw the look in her eyes.

  “Afternoon,” their leader said, slapping a club into his palm. He smiled broadly, showing off two black front teeth.

  “Honey,” Kylar said, ignoring him. “This is different. You have to see that.”

  “Other people get through this sort of thing without anybody dying.”

  “Nobody will die if we do this my way,” Kylar said.

  The black-toothed man cleared his throat. Dirt looked permanently tattooed into his visage and two protruding, crooked, and blackened front teeth dominated his face. “Excuse me, lovers. I don’t mean to interrupt—”

  “You can wait,” Kylar said in a tone that brooked no argument. He turned back to Elene. “Honey.”

  “Either do what you promised or do what you’ve always done,” Elene said.

  “That’s not permission.”

  “No. It’s not.”

  “Excuse me,” the man said again. “This—”

  “Let me guess,” Kylar said, mimicking the man’s swagger and accent. “This here’s a toll road, and we need to pay a toll.”

  “Uh. That’s right,” the man allowed.

  “How’d I guess?”

  “I was gonna ask that—hey, you shut your mouth. I’m Tom Gray and this here—”

  “Is your road. Sure. How much?” Kylar asked.

  Tom Gray scowled. “Thirteen silvers,” he said.

  Kylar counted the seven men aloud. “Wait, doesn’t that screw your bashers? They get one silver each and you get six?” Kylar asked. Tom Gray blanched. The boys looked at him angrily. Kylar was right, of course. Small-time thugs. “I’ll give you seven,” Kylar said.

  He pulled out his small coin purse and started tossing silvers to each of the young men. “You get that much with no effort. Why risk a fight? That’s as much as Tom was going to give you anyway.”

  “Hold on,” Tom said. “If he gave us that much that easy he’s got to have more. Let’s take him.”

  But the young men weren’t buying it. They shrugged, shook their heads, and shuffled back to their stoops.

  “What are you doing?” Tom demanded. “Hey!”

  Kylar flicked the reins and the horses started forward. Tom had to jump aside to avoid being crushed. He twisted his ankle as he landed. Kylar pulled his front lips back to make himself look as buck-toothed as Tom and raised his hands helplessly. The young men and Uly laughed.


  They spent the night at an inn, and Aunt Mea found them early in the morning and guided them through a tangle of alleys to her house. She was in her forties, looked a decade older, and had been widowed for almost twenty years, since soon after her son, Braen, was born. Her husband had been a successful rug merchant, so her house was large, and she assured Kylar and Elene that they could stay as long as they liked. Aunt Mea was a midwife and healer with plain features, twinkling eyes, and shoulders like a longshoreman.

  “So,” Aunt Mea said, after a breakfast of eggs and ham, “how long have you two been married?”

  “About a year,” Kylar said. He figured that if he initiated the lies, Elene might be able to keep them going. Elene was a terrible liar. He looked at her, and sure enough, she was blushing.

  Aunt Mea took it to be embarrassment and laughed. “Well, I did figure you were a little young to be this young lady’s natural mother. How’d you find your new mother and father, Uly?”

  Kylar sat back, stifling the urge to supply the answer himself. If he answered for everyone, not only would he look like an ass, he’d look suspicious. Sometimes you just had to let the bones roll where they may.

  “The war,” Uly said. She swallowed, looked down at her plate, and said nothing more. It wasn’t even a lie, and the emotion on Uly’s face was plainly real. Uly’s nurse had been killed in the fighting. Uly still cried about it sometimes.

  “She was at the castle during the coup,” Elene said.

  Aunt Mea set down her knife and spoon—they didn’t use forks in Caernarvon, much to Kylar’s irritation. “I tell you what, Uly. We’re going to take good care of you. You’ll be safe and you’ll even have your own room.”

  “And toys?” Uly asked.

  Something about the open, hopeful expression on Uly’s face made Kylar ache. Little girls should be playing with dolls—why hadn’t he ever given Uly a doll?—not fishing bodies out of rivers.

  Aunt Mea laughed. “And toys,” she said.

  “Aunt Mea,” Elene said. “We’re already putting you out enough. We have money for toys, and Uly can stay with us. You’ve already—”

  “I won’t hear of it,” Aunt Mea said. “Besides, you two are still newlyweds. You need all the privacy you can get, although heaven knows, Gavin and I managed to plow the row quite a few times when we shared a one-room shack with his parents.” Elene blushed crimson, but Aunt Mea kept talking. “But I’d guess an eleven-year-old isn’t quite as good about ignoring noises in the night. Am I right?”

  Now Kylar blushed. Aunt Mea looked at him, and then looked at Uly, who looked puzzled.

  “Are you telling me you haven’t since you left Cenaria?” Aunt Mea said. “Surely you’d slip away sometimes in the morning when Uly was still asleep? No? That trip has to be what, three weeks? That’s an eternity for you youngsters. Well. This afternoon, Uly and I will go for a good long walk. The bed in your room creaks some, but if you worry too much about that sort of thing, Uly will nev
er have a little brother, eh?”

  “Please,” Kylar begged, shaking his head. Elene was mortified.

  “Hmmph,” Aunt Mea said, looking at Elene. “Well. If you’re finished with your breakfast, why don’t we go meet my son?”

  Braen Smith worked in a shop attached to the house. He had his mother’s broad, plain features and wide shoulders. As they approached, he threw a barrel hoop he was shaping onto a stack of similar ones and removed his gloves. “Morning,” he said.

  His eyes immediately went to Elene. A quick glance at her scarred face and then a too-appreciative weighing of her assets. It wasn’t the quick up-and-down that men instinctively gave every woman. Kylar wouldn’t have minded that. But this wasn’t a look. It was a linger, and right to Elene’s face. Or rather, right to her breasts.

  “Niceta meetcha,” Braen said, sticking his hand out to Kylar. He looked at Kylar, weighing, evaluating. Predictably enough, he tried to crush Kylar’s hand.

  A trickle of Talent took care of that. Without a whisper of tension in his face or his forearm, Kylar clamped down on the monstrous paw in his grip and took it right to the edge of breaking. A little more and every bone in the man’s hand would shatter. After a moment, he backed off and merely matched the man, rough hand to rough hand, muscle to muscle, and eye to eye—even if he did have to look up and Braen outweighed him by a third. The panic cleared from Braen’s eyes and Kylar could see him wondering if he’d imagined the initial force of Kylar’s grip.

  “Kylar,” Elene muttered through clenched teeth as if he were making a spectacle of himself. But Kylar didn’t break eye contact. There was something being settled here, and if it was primal and barbaric and petty and stupid, it was still important.

  Elene didn’t like being ignored. “I suppose next you’ll compare the size of your—” she broke off, embarrassed.

  “Good idea,” Kylar said as the man finally released his hand. “What do you say, Braen?” Kylar loosened his belt.

  Mercifully, Braen laughed. The rest of them followed, but Kylar still didn’t like him. Braen still didn’t like him, either. Kylar could tell.

  “Well, niceta meetcha,” Braen said again. “I got a big order to finish.” He bobbed his head and picked up a hammer, flexing his pained fingers surreptiously.

  For the rest of the morning and afternoon, Aunt Mea showed them around Caernarvon. Though it was larger than Cenaria, the city didn’t have the chaotic feel of Kylar’s home. Most streets were paved and wide enough for two wagons and numerous pedestrians to pass at the same time. Vendors who set up shop infringing on that space were so quickly punished that few tried it. Sudden crushes pushed the crowds together whenever two wagons did pass, but there were accepted standards here and had been long enough that the wagons all traveled in six-inch-deep ruts in the paving stones. Even the sewers in the streets passed through pipes, with grates at intervals for the collection of new sewage. It made the city almost not smell like a city.

  Castle Caernarvon dominated the north side. It was sometimes called the Blue Giant for its bluish granite. The blue walls were seamless, as flat and smooth as glass except for the numerous arrow slits and murder holes at the gates. Two hundred years ago, Aunt Mea said, eighteen men had held the castle for six days against five thousand.

  Around the castle, of course, were the great houses. The city got dirtier and more crowded the closer it came to the docks. As in most places, the rich and noble liked to live away from everyone else and everyone else liked to live as close to the rich as they could. Here though, that was one line that was not regulated—unlike Cenaria’s poor, who were legally bound to the west side of the Plith. Those who made the money to move could do so here. The possibility for advancement seemed to energize the entire city.

  Caernarvon was the gold and glittering fools’ gold of hope. Its vice was greed. In his own imagination, every merchant here was the emperor of the next trading empire. Cenaria was the smothering, stinking blanket of despair. Its vice was envy. No one built empires there. They just wanted a piece of someone else’s.

  “You’re awfully quiet,” Elene said.

  “It’s different here,” Kylar said. “Even before Khalidor came, Cenaria was sick. This is better. I think we can make a home here.”

  Gods, he was about to become one of those merchants he’d been despising. Not that he had great ambitions. Being an herbalist and apothecary was really the only thing he could do besides kill. It wasn’t anything he would ever dream about. What would he dream? About opening a second shop? Dominating the city’s herb trade? He’d once held a country’s future in his hands—he could have changed everything with one betrayal, killing a man he’d ended up killing anyway.

  If I had, Logan would be alive…

  As Aunt Mea led them home, he tried to force his mind into a merchant rut. He had a small amount of gold hidden in the wagon, and a fortune in herbs. Had they been robbed on the way here, the bandits wouldn’t even have known what to steal.

  “Well, the house is just down this street,” Aunt Mea said. “Braen’s out buying supplies. Uly and I are going to a little sweetmeats shop to give you two some time to get reacquainted.” She winked at Kylar while Elene blushed, but then Aunt Mea’s face darkened. “What’s that?” she asked.

  Kylar looked toward the house. Wisps of smoke were rising and thickening rapidly.

  He joined the crowd running toward Aunt Mea’s house—in the city, a fire was such a threat that everyone grabbed buckets and ran to help—but by the time he got there, the barn was entirely consumed with flame. It was too late to save anything. The crowds threw water on the nearby buildings while Kylar held Elene and Uly mutely.

  The barn was a total loss. Their two horses and Aunt Mea’s old nag were left as smoking, stinking mounds of meat. There was almost nothing left of the wagon. The arsonist had found the hidden chest with its gold. The fortune in herbs had gone up in smoke.

  The only thing left was a long, thin box bound to the wagon’s bent axle. The lock was intact. Kylar opened it and there were his wetboy grays and his sword Retribution, untouched, not even smelling of smoke, mocking his impotence.


  Bad news, Your Holiness,” Neph Dada said as he came into the Godking’s bedchamber. A young Cenarian noblewoman named Magdalyn Drake was tied to the bed and whimpering into her gag, but both she and the Godking were still dressed.

  Garoth was sitting on the bed beside her. He caressed a knife up her bare calf. “Oh, what is it?”

  “One of your spies in the Chantry, Jessie al’Gwaydin, is dead. She was last seen in the village of Torras Bend.”

  “The Dark Hunter killed her?”

  “I assume so. Our man said that Jessie was planning to study the creature,” Neph said.

  “So she went into the wood and never came back.”

  “Yes, Your Holiness,” Neph said. He rubbed his stooped back as if in pain. It wasn’t only to remind the Godking of his age, but also of the burdens Neph bore in serving.

  With a savage motion, the Godking stabbed the mattress so high between Magdalyn’s legs that Neph thought he’d stabbed the girl. She squealed through the gag and bucked, trying to get away. Heedless, Garoth cut toward her feet, shearing her dress to the hem and sending feathers into the air.

  Abruptly, he was calm once more. He left the knife sticking out of the mattress, folded the cut dress back and put his hand gently on the girl’s naked thigh. She trembled uncontrollably.

  “It is so hard to get spies in the Chantry. Why do they insist on throwing their lives away, Neph?”

  “For the same reason they join us in the first place, Your Holiness: ambition.”

  Garoth looked at the Vürdmeister wearily. “That was a rhetorical question.”

  “I have some good news as well,” Neph said. He straightened a little, forgetting his back. “We’ve captured a Ladeshian bard named Aristarchos. I think you’ll want to interrogate him personally.”


Because I Viewed him, and what he’s seen is remarkable.”

  Garoth narrowed his eyes. “Out with it.”

  “He believes he has seen the bearer of a ka’kari. A black ka’kari.”

  “Stop looking at me!” Stephan said. He was a fat cloth merchant, some former lover with a grudge who swore that he could tell Vi who the Shinga was. Either the Shinga was a woman, or Stephan had little preference which field he plowed, because this had been his price.

  Vi lay under him. She moved with the dexterity of an athlete and the skill of a courtesan trained by Momma K herself, but her eyes were utterly dispassionate. She wasn’t moaning, wasn’t making faces. She wouldn’t pretend pleasure and it was giving Stephan problems. Like most men, he was three-quarters talk and one-quarter cock. A little less than a quarter, at the moment.

  He pulled back and cursed his limpness. He was sweaty and he stank under the smell of his fine oils. Vi couldn’t help but give him a condescending smile. “I thought you were gonna give it to me good,” she said.

  His face flushed, and she wondered why she was sabotaging him. He was no more or less than any man, and she still needed to learn what he had to tell her. Taunting him was only going to make this take longer.

  “Let your hair down,” he said.

  “Forget my hair.” Nysos, couldn’t they leave one damned thing alone? She rolled over and shimmied her hips, reaching out with her Talent to grab him. Then she did things to help him forget.

  When she was fifteen and Master Gibbet had taken her to Momma K, the courtesan had watched the wetboy bang her, then said, “Child, you fuck like you don’t even feel it. Do you?”

  There was no lying to Momma K, so Vi had admitted it. Her sex was totally numb. “Well,” Momma K had said, “you’ll never be the best, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome. The oldest magic is sex magic. With your tits and all the Talent you’ve got, I can still make you into something special.” So Vi used her skills now, cursing the effete asshole in a whisper—the words didn’t have to match her intent, but like all Talented women, she had to speak to use her powers.

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