The night angel trilogy, p.59
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.59

           Brent Weeks
 

  Stephan moaned like a dumb animal and in moments he was finished. While he was still in a stupor, as a little fuck-you, she wiped herself clean on his fine cloak and sat cross-legged on the bed in the armor of her nudity.

  “Tell me, fat man,” she said, looking at his pale rolls with such distaste that he covered himself in shame. He turned away.

  “By all the gods, do you have to—”

  “Tell me.”

  Stephan covered his eyes. “He used to get runners. They knew to come to my house. I sometimes overheard bits and pieces, but he was always so careful. He burned the few letters he got, always went outside to talk with the runners. But the night of the invas—the liberation—he got a runner, and he wrote a note here.” Stephan grabbed a robe and pulled it around himself before walking over to his desk. He pulled out a sheet of Ceuran rice paper and handed it to her. It was blank.

  “Hold it up to the light,” he said.

  Vi held the paper up in front of a lantern and could see faint impressions on it. “Save Logan Gyre,” it read, in a neat, tiny script, “and the girl and the scarred woman if you can. I will reward you beyond your wildest dreams.” Instead of a name, it was signed with two symbols: a heavy-lidded eye circumscribing a star, drawn without lifting pen from paper, and beside it a nine-pointed star. The first was the glyph of the Sa’kagé; the second the symbol of the Shinga. The two together meant every resource the Sa’kagé had was at the recipient’s disposal.

  “He left after that,” Stephan said. “And never came back. I told him I loved him and he won’t even see me.”

  “His name, fat man. Tell me his name.”

  “Jarl,” he said. “Gods forgive me, the Shinga is Jarl.”

  In one of her poorest safe houses, all darkness and rats and roaches like everywhere in the Warrens, Jarl and Momma K were meeting with a dead man. He smiled as he pulled himself into the room. His right leg was bound with splints so he couldn’t bend his knee, and his right arm was in a sling. Blood had seeped through the bandages around his elbow. He had a crutch, but instead of tucking it under his arm, he had to hold it in his right hand. The injury to his elbow kept him from using the crutch on the side his knee demanded, so he more hopped than limped. He had short-cropped gray hair, was muscular in a stringy-tough-old-man way, and though his face was drawn and gray, he smiled.

  “Gwinvere,” he said. “It’s good to see that the years have respected you at least.”

  She smiled, and rather than commenting on his appearance—he looked like he’d been sleeping in gutters, his fine garments were soiled, and he stank—she said, “It’s good to see you’ve not lost your silver tongue.”

  Brant Agon hopped to a chair and sat. “Reports of my demise and all that.”

  “Brant, this is Jarl, the new Shinga. Jarl, this is Baronet Brant Agon, formerly Lord General of Cenaria.”

  “What can I do for you, Lord General?” Jarl asked.

  “You’re too kind. I come here as little more than what you see: I look like a beggar, and I’ve come to beg. But I am more than a beggar. I’ve fought on every border this country has. I’ve fought in duels. I’ve led squads of two men, and I’ve led campaigns with five thousand. You’re facing a fight. Khalidor has scattered our armies, but the power in Cenaria is the Sa’kagé, and the Godking knows it. He’ll destroy you unless you destroy him first. You need warriors, and I am one. Wetboys have their place, but they can’t do everything—as you saw a few weeks ago, they might only make things worse. I, on the other hand, can make your men more efficient, more disciplined, and better at killing. Just give me a place and put me in charge of men.”

  Jarl rocked back in his chair and tented his fingers. He stared at Brant Agon for a long time. Momma K schooled herself to silence. She’d been Shinga for so long, it was hard to risk letting Jarl make missteps, but she’d made her decision. Let Jarl take the life and the power and the gray hairs. She would help until he didn’t need her help anymore.

  “Why are you here, Lord Agon?” Jarl asked. “Why me? Terah Graesin has an army. If you’d had your way, the Sa’kagé would have been wiped out years ago.”

  Momma K said, “We heard you were killed in an ambush.”

  “Roth Ursuul spared me,” Brant said bitterly. “As a reward for my stupidity. It was my idea that Logan Gyre marry Jenine Gunder. I thought that if the king’s line were assured, it would prevent a coup. Instead, it just got Logan and Jenine killed, too.”

  “Khalidor would never have let them live,” Momma K said. “In fact, it’s a mercy for Jenine. She could’ve been taken for Ursuul’s entertainment, and the stories I’ve heard—”

  “Anyway,” Agon interrupted, unwilling to hear any absolution. “I crawled away. When I got home, my wife had been taken. I don’t know if she’s dead or if she’s one of the ‘entertainments.’ ”

  “Oh, Brant, I’m so sorry,” Momma K said.

  He continued without looking at her, his face rigid. “I decided to live and make myself useful, Shinga. The noble houses want to fight a regular war. Duchess Graesin will try to wink and flatter her way to a throne. They don’t have the will to win. I do, and I think you do too. I want to win. Failing that, I want to kill as many Khalidorans as I can.”

  “Are you proposing to serve me or be my partner?” Jarl asked.

  “I don’t give a rat’s ass,” Brant said. He paused. “And I know a lot more about rats’ asses now than I ever thought I would.”

  “And what happens if we win?” Jarl asked. “You go back to trying to eliminate us?”

  “If we win, you’ll probably decide I’m too dangerous and have me killed.” Brant smiled thinly. “At the moment, that doesn’t bother me much.”

  “So I see.” Jarl ran his hands over his dark microbraids, thinking. “I’ll have no divided loyalty, Brant. You’ll serve me, and only me. Do you have a problem with that?”

  “Everyone I’ve sworn anything to is dead,” Brant said. He shrugged. “Except maybe my wife. But I have some questions. If you’re the new Shinga, who’s the old one? Is he still alive? How many fronts is this war going to have?”

  Jarl was silent.

  “I’m the old Shinga,” Momma K said. “I’m retiring, and not because Jarl is forcing me to. I’ve been grooming him for this for years, but now events have forced our hand. The Warrens are our center of power, Brant, and they’re dying. Starvation is already a problem, but pestilence comes next. The Godking doesn’t care what happens here. He hasn’t set up any power structure at all. If we want to survive—and by we, I mean the Sa’kagé, but I also mean Cenaria and every wretched soul in the Warrens—things have to change. We can still get wagons and boats in; the soldiers check the cargoes for weapons, and they demand bribes, but we can survive that. What we can’t survive is what happens once every wagon that comes in loaded with food gets plundered. People are starving and there are no guards to stop the theft, and if one wagon is plundered, every wagon thereafter will be. If that happens, the merchants will stop sending anything in. Then everyone will die. We aren’t there yet, but we’re close.”

  “So what are you going to do?” Brant asked.

  “We’re going to set up a quiet government. Everyone knows me,” Momma K said. “I can hire bashers to guard wagons; I can adjudicate disputes; I can direct the building of shelters.”

  “That makes you a target,” Brant said.

  “I’m a target no matter what,” Momma K said. “We’ve lost some of the wetboys, and I don’t mean they’re dead. The wetboys swear a magically binding oath of obedience to the Shinga. The Godking has broken that bonding. I’ve learned that Hu Gibbet told the Godking who I was. Garoth doesn’t believe a woman could be the Shinga, so now he’s searching for the real one. But he might change his mind any day, whether I act publicly or whether I stay in the shadows. I can’t control that, so I might as well do what needs to be done.”

  Momma K was as calm as any veteran warrior going into battle. She could tell that Brant Agon w
as astounded.

  “Tell me my part,” Brant said.

  Jarl said, “You take your pick of my men and make them wytch hunters. After that, I want you to make defenses we can use if the army comes to the Warrens in force. The Khalidorans have wytches, soldiers, and some of our best people on their side. The only reason I’m still alive is that they don’t know who I am. But welcome aboard.”

  “My pleasure.” Brant Agon bowed awkwardly because of his injuries and followed a big bodyguard out the door.

  When he was gone, Jarl turned to Momma K. “You didn’t tell me you knew each other.”

  “I don’t think I do know this Brant Agon,” she said.

  “Answer the question.”

  A slight smile touched her lips, amused and a little proud that Jarl was taking command. “Thirty years ago Brant fell in love with me. I was naive. I thought I loved him, too, and I ruined him.”

  “Did you love him?” Jarl asked, rather than ask what happened. The question was proof to Momma K that she’d chosen the right man to succeed her. Jarl could find cracks. But it was one thing to admire his ability, and another to experience it.

  She smiled a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. It wouldn’t fool Jarl for a second, but after all these years, the mask was pure reflex. “I don’t know. I don’t remember. What does it matter?”

  12

  Gaelan Starfire is said to have thrown the blue ka’kari into the sea, creating the Tlaxini Maelstrom,” Neph said. “If so, it may well be there still, but I have no idea how we would recover it. The white has been lost for six centuries. We once believed it to be at the Chantry, but your grandmother disproved that. The green was taken to Ladesh by Hrothan Steelbender and lost. I verified that Hrothan arrived in Ladesh some two hundred and twenty years ago, but could find nothing more. The silver was lost during the Hundred Years’ War, and could be anywhere from Alitaera to Ceura, unless Garric Shadowbane somehow destroyed it. The red was cast into the heart of Ashwind Mountain—what is now Mount Tenji in Ceura—by Ferric Fireheart. The brown is rumored to be at the Makers’ school in Ossein, but I doubt it.”

  “Why?” Garoth Ursuul asked.

  “I don’t think they could resist using it. With the mastery of earth, those petty Makers would become a hundred times more skilled in a heartbeat. Something they Made would appear sooner or later, and it would be clear that someone was Making at the level they did of old. That hasn’t happened. Either the men of that school are less ambitious than I believe possible, or it isn’t there. The other rumor was that it was bound into Caernarvon’s Blue Giant—the castle. I take that to be nothing more than a semi-educated boast. It’s not a particularly clever place to hide a ka’kari.”

  “But we have a solid lead on the red?”

  “When Vürdmeister Quintus passed through Ceura, he said that the explosions of Mount Tenji are at least partly magical. The problem with that, and with the blue, is that—even if we could get at it—there’s some doubt about whether even a ka’kari would be intact after having been exposed to so much elemental power for so long.”

  “You don’t give me much, Neph.”

  “It’s not exactly collecting seashells.” His voice sounded greasy. He hated that.

  “A deep insight.” Garoth sighed. “And the black?”

  “Not so much as a whisper. Not even in the oldest books. If what I Viewed was real, and the Ladeshian isn’t simply delusional, it’s the best kept secret I’ve ever heard of.”

  “That is the point of a secret, isn’t it?” Garoth asked.

  “Huh?”

  “Fetch our Ladeshian songbird. I’ll be needing some Dust.”

  Elene wanted him to sell the sword. For the past ten nights, they’d played their parts as if they were wooden puppets. Except that once in a while even puppets got to play different roles.

  “You don’t even look at it, Kylar. It just stays in that chest under the bed.” Her dark eyebrows pushed together, forming the little worry wrinkles that he was getting to know so well.

  He sat on the bed, rubbing his temples. He was so tired of this. So tired of everything. Did she really expect him to answer? Of course she did. It was all words and wasted air. Why did women always believe that talking about a problem would fix it? Some issues were corpses. Hot air made them fester and rot and spread their disease to everything else. Better to bury it and move on.

  Like Durzo. Worm food.

  “It was my master’s sword. He gave it to me,” Kylar said, only a little late for his cue.

  “Your master gave you a lot of things, beatings not least among them. He was an evil man.”

  That one stirred some rage. “You don’t know anything about Durzo Blint. He was a great man. He died to give me a chance—”

  “Fine, fine! Let’s talk about what I do know,” Elene said. She was on the verge of tears again, damn her. She was just as frustrated as he was. What made it worse was that she wasn’t trying to manipulate him with those tears. “We’re destitute. We lost everything, and we made Aunt Mea and Braen lose a lot, too. We have the means to make it right, and they deserve it. It’s our fault those hoodlums torched the barn.”

  “You mean my fault,” Kylar said. He could hear Uly crying in her room. She could hear them shouting through the wall.

  If he’d dealt with Tom Gray his way, the man would have been too frightened come within five blocks of Aunt Mea’s. Kylar knew the music of the streets. He spoke the language of meat, played the subtle chords of intimidation, sang fear into the hearts of men. He knew and loved that music. But the notes of the songs Durzo taught weren’t syllogisms. There was no thesis, counterpointed with antithesis, harmonized into synthesis. It wasn’t that kind of music. The music of logic was too patrician for the streets, too subtle, the nuances all wrong.

  The wetboy’s leitmotif, whenever he played, was suffering, because everyone understands pain. It was brutal—but not without nuances. Without betraying his Talent, Kylar could have dealt with all six street toughs and Tom Gray. The young men would have left with bruises and astonishment. Tom, Kylar would have hurt. How much would have been Tom’s choice. But even if she had had let him, could he have shown Elene that? What if she had seen his joy?

  He looked at her face and she was so beautiful he found himself blinking back tears.

  What the hell was that about?

  Kylar said, “Why don’t we skip all the horseshit where I say the sword is priceless and you say that means we’d have enough to start our shop and I say I just can’t do it but I can’t explain why so you say that I really do want to be a wetboy and you’re just holding me back—and then you start crying. So why don’t you just start crying, and then I’ll hold you, and then we’ll kiss for an hour, and then you’ll stop me from going further, and then you’ll fall asleep easily while I lie awake with my balls aching? Can we hop right to the kissing part? Because the only part of our whole fucking lives that I enjoy is when I think you’re enjoying yourself as much as I am and I think maybe tonight we’ll finally fuck. What do you say?”

  Elene just took it. He could see her eyes welling, but she didn’t cry.

  “I say I love you, Kylar,” Elene said quietly. Her face calmed and the worry wrinkle disappeared. “I believe in you, and I’m with you, no matter what. I love you. Do you hear me? I love you. I can’t understand why you won’t sell the sword…” she breathed. “But I can accept it. All right? I won’t bring it up again.”

  So now he was really the bastard. He was sitting on a fortune instead of using it to support his wife and his daughter and pay back people who’d suffered for him. But she was going to accept him. How noble. The worst of it was he knew—dammit, he knew because he could always see through her—that she wasn’t grabbing the moral high ground to be a bitch. She was trying to do the right thing. It just made the contrast between them that much more pronounced.

  She doesn’t know me. She thinks she knows me, but she doesn’t. She accepted me thinking Kylar was just an older
, slightly dirtied version of Azoth. I’m not dirty, I am filth. I kill people because I like it.

  “Come to bed, honey,” Elene said. She was undressing, and swell of her breasts through her shift and the curves of her hips and her long legs roused the same fire in him it always did. Her skin glowed in the candlelight and his eyes fixed on the point of one nipple as she blew out the candle. He was already in his undergarments, and he wanted her. He wanted her so fiercely it shook him.

  He lay down, but he didn’t touch her. The ka’kari had cursed him with perfect vision despite any darkness. Cursed, because he could still see her. He could see the pain on her face. His lust was a chain and he felt a slave to it and it disgusted him, so when she turned toward him and touched him, he didn’t move. He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.

  Looks like I skipped everything to the balls aching part.

  I shouldn’t be here. What am I doing? Happiness isn’t for murderers. I can’t change. I’m worthless. I’m nothing. An herbalist without herbs, a father who’s not a father, a husband who’s not a husband, a killer who doesn’t kill.

  That sword is me. That’s why I can’t get rid of it. It’s what I am. A sheathed sword worth a fortune sitting in the bottom of a trunk. Worse than useless. A waste.

  He sat up in the bed, then stood. He reached underneath the bed and pulled out the narrow chest.

  Elene sat up as he started pulling on his wetboy grays. “Honey?” she said.

  He dressed in moments—Blint had made him practice even this—strapping knives to his arms and legs, securing a set of picks to a wrist and a folding grapnel to the small of his back, adjusting the gray folds of cloth so they’d dampen all sound, strapping Retribution to his back, and pulling on a black silk mask.

  “Honey,” Elene said, her voice tight. “What are you doing?”

  He didn’t go out the door and walk down the stairs. No, not tonight. Instead, he opened the window. The air smelled good. Free. He sucked a great breath deep into his lungs and held it as if he could trap that freedom within him. At the irony of the thought, he let it out all at once and looked at her.

 
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