The night angel trilogy, p.64
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.64

           Brent Weeks
 

  “Are you done?” Momma K asked. He said nothing, but his jaw tensed. “We are thinking of it. We’re thinking of it because we think of everything. That’s why we win. I’m even thinking how we could save him if we want to. Have you started thinking about that yet, or are you still blustering about how noble and good you’ll be?”

  “Dammit, I’m still blustering,” he said, but a smile escaped. Momma K shook her head and smiled despite herself.

  “How are your men coming, Brant?” Jarl asked.

  “I’ll make good soldiers of them, given a decade or two.”

  “How many do you have?” Jarl asked.

  “No, no,” Momma K said.

  “A hundred,” Agon said. “Maybe thirty would be of some use in a fight. Ten might be formidable. A few great archers. One who might make a third-rate wetboy. All of them undisciplined. They don’t trust each other yet. They fight as individuals.”

  “We haven’t even talked through this yet,” Momma K said.

  Jarl said, “Consider it talked through. We’re doing it.”

  Momma K opened her mouth. Jarl held her gaze until she looked down. “As you will, Shinga,” she said.

  “I’ll assume that our source wouldn’t be able to get Gorkhy to help us?”

  Momma K looked at the paper, but she wasn’t even reading it. “Not for this.”

  As Brant and Momma K debated different ways of getting into the Maw, Jarl was thinking. He’d announced himself two weeks ago, and he was preaching to an eager audience. The people of the Warrens—the Rabbits, as they were derisively called for their numbers, their fears, and their maze of alleys—wanted hope. His message was water for parched tongues. Rebellion sounded great to people who had nothing to lose. But in speaking, he’d necessarily spoken to the Godking’s spies.

  He’d already avoided one assassination attempt. There were bound to be more. Unless Jarl got some wetboys to protect him, they’d get him sooner or later.

  “I’m going to Caernarvon,” Jarl said.

  “You’re running away?” Brant asked.

  “If I travel light, I can be back in a month.”

  “Granted, but what does that give you?”

  “Another month of life?” Jarl said with a smile.

  Momma K said, “You think he’ll come back?”

  Brant looked confused.

  “For Logan? In a heartbeat,” Jarl said.

  “If anyone can get Logan out, he can,” Momma K said.

  “Who?” Brant asked.

  “And once Hu Gibbet and the other wetboys hear he’s protecting you, I wouldn’t be surprised if they back off,” Momma K said.

  “Who? Who?”

  “Since Durzo Blint died, probably the best wetboy in the city,” Jarl said.

  “Except he’s not in the city anymore,” Momma K said.

  “Fine, the best in the business.”

  “Except he’s not in the business anymore.”

  “That’s about to change,” Jarl said.

  “Will you take anyone?” Momma K said.

  “You’re just trying to spite me, aren’t you?” Brant asked.

  “No,” Jarl said, ignoring him and answering Momma K. “It’ll be less conspicuous to smuggle one out.” Jarl turned to Brant, “Brant, I have a task for you while I’m gone.”

  “You’re talking about Kylar Stern, aren’t you?”

  Jarl smiled. “Yes. Are you an honest man, General?”

  The general sighed. “Everywhere except on the battlefield.”

  Jarl clapped him on the shoulder. “Then I want you to figure out how Logan Gyre’s army is going to destroy the Godking’s.”

  “Logan doesn’t have an army,” Brant said.

  “That’s Momma K’s problem,” Jarl said.

  “Pardon me?” she asked.

  “Terah Graesin does. I want you to figure out how it’s going to become Logan’s.”

  “What?” Momma K asked.

  “Now if you’ll excuse me,” Jarl said, “I’ve got a date in Caernarvon.”

  18

  Did I die and not notice?” Kylar asked. He was moving through the death fog again, the familiar moving-without-moving feeling against his skin. A cloaked figure stood beyond the edge of the fog, as ethereal as the fog itself, and Kylar was sure it was the Wolf, but he hadn’t died. Had he? Had someone killed him in his sleep? He’d just lain down—

  “What is this? A dream?” Kylar asked.

  The cloaked man turned, and Kylar’s tension melted. It wasn’t the Wolf. It was Dorian Ursuul.

  “A dream?” Dorian asked. He squinted at Kylar through the fog. “I suppose so, if a peculiar variety thereof.” He smiled. He was a handsome man, if intense. His black hair was disheveled, his blue eyes intelligent, his features balanced. “Why is it, my shadow-striding friend, that we don’t fear dreams? We lose consciousness, lose control, things happen with no apparent logic and abiding by no apparent rules. Friends appear and morph into strangers. Environments shift abruptly, and we rarely question it. We don’t fear dreams, but we do fear madness, and death terrifies us.”

  “What the hell is going on?” Kylar asked.

  Dorian smirked. He looked Kylar up and down. “Amazing. You look exactly the same, but you’re totally different, aren’t you?”

  Gods, had it only been a couple of months since he’d met Dorian?

  “You’ve become formidable, Kylar. You have gravitas now. You’re a force to be reckoned with, but your mind hasn’t caught up with your power, has it? Reforming your identity is taking you time. That’s understandable. Not many people have to kill a father figure and become an immortal on the same day.”

  “Get to the point.” Dorian always knew too much. It was unnerving.

  “This is a dream, as you said. And yes, I did summon you. It’s a nice bit of magic I just discovered. I hope I remember it when I wake. If I wake. I’m not sure I’m asleep. I’m in one of my little reveries. I have been for a long time now. My body’s at Screaming Winds. Khali is coming. The garrison will fall. I’ll survive, but worse days are to come for me. I’ve been watching my own future, Kylar, something very dangerous to do. I’ve found a few things that have made me lose heart and stop looking. So while I’ve been marshaling my courage, I’ve been following you. I saw that you needed someone you could be honest with. Count Drake or Durzo would have been better, but they clearly can’t be here, so here I am. Even killers need friends.”

  “I’m not a killer anymore. I’ve given that up.”

  “In my visions,” Dorian said as if Kylar hadn’t spoken, “I see myself coming to a place where my happiness is one lie away. I will look into the eyes of the woman I love who also loves me and know that whether I lie or tell the truth, she’ll be devastated. In this, we are brothers, Kylar. The God gives simpler problems to lesser men. I’m here because you need me.”

  Kylar’s pique unraveled. He looked into the fog. The entire place seemed a fit metaphor for his life—stuck in twilight with nothing definite, nothing solid, no simple path.

  “I’m trying to change,” Kylar said, “but I’m not making it. I thought I could just break with my past and move and be done with it. I walk into a room and I case it. I look for exits, see how high the ceilings are, check potential threats, how good the traction on the floor is. If a man stares at me from an alley, I figure out how I’ll kill him—and it feels good. I feel in control.”

  “Until?” Dorian asked.

  Kylar hesitated. “Until I remember. I have to make myself think that my instincts are wrong. And then I hate what I’ve become.”

  “And what have you become?” Dorian asked.

  “A murderer.”

  “You’re a liar and killer, but you’re no murderer, Kylar.”

  “Well, thanks.”

  “What’s the Night Angel, Kylar?”

  “I don’t know. Durzo never told me.”

  “Horseshit. Why don’t you trust yourself? Why don’t you ask Elene to trust you? Why do
n’t you trust her with the truth?”

  “She’d never understand.”

  “How do you know?”

  What if she did? What if, once she knew him all the way down to the depths, then she rejected him? What would that do to him?

  “You two are so young you don’t know your asses from your elbows,” Dorian said. “But you are starting to figure yourself out. Elene’s accepted a tiny box as her faith, and you’re way outside of what she knows about the God. She’s got the arrogance of youth that tells her that what she knows about the God is all there is to know about Him. She loves you, so she wants you to stay in that box with her. And that box is too small for you. You can’t understand a God who’s all mercy and no justice. That cute, fuzzy God wouldn’t last two minutes in the Warrens, would he? Well, I hate to tell you this, but Elene’s eighteen. All she knows about the God isn’t all that much.

  “Kylar, I don’t think the God finds you abhorrent. The horror is having profound power in one hand and a strong moral sense in the other and absolutely no foundation to stand on. For the last couple of months, you’ve tried to accept Elene’s moral conclusions while rejecting her premises. And you say she’s not logical? Where do you stand, Shadow in Twilight?

  “You’ve got choices to make, but here’s another hard truth: you can’t be whatever you want to be. The list of things you’ll never be is a long one—even if you do live forever. Do you want to know what’s at the top? Mild-mannered herbalist. You’re as meek as a wolf, Kylar—and that’s what Elene loves about you and it’s what she fears about you. You can’t keep telling her it’s all right, that this disguise is who you really are. It’s not. Why don’t you trust Elene enough to ask her to love the man you really are?”

  “Because I hate him!” Kylar roared. “Because he loves killing! Because she doesn’t understand evil and he does. Because he never feels so alive as when I’m bathed in blood. Because he is a virtuoso with the sword and I love what he can do. Because he is the Night Angel and the angel is in the night and the night is in me! Because he is the Shadow That Walks. Because he believes some people cannot be saved, only stopped. Because when he kills an evil man, I feel not just the pleasure of mastery, I feel the whole world’s pleasure at the retribution—an evil man is an affront and I erase the blot. I balance the imbalance. He loves that—and Elene would have to lose the innocence I love about her for her to understand that man.”

  “This man,” Dorian said, poking Kylar’s chest, “and this one—” he poked Kylar’s forehead—“are on their way to madness. Take it from one who knows.”

  “I can change,” Kylar said, but his voice was hopeless.

  “A wolf might become a wolfhound, son, but it will never be a lap dog.”

  “We are at war,” Speaker Istariel Wyant said. Her voice was nasal, the accent High Alitaeran. She liked making pronouncements.

  Ariel had wedged her bulk into a too-small chair in the Speaker’s office, high within the Alabaster Seraph. She was puffing from the climb up the stairs. One meal a day until I can manage the climb without wheezing. One.

  Sometimes Ariel hated flesh, hated being chained to something so weak and needy. It took such care, such slavish devotion, and wanted such pampering. It was a perpetual distraction from things more important, like what the Speaker wanted of her.

  Istariel Wyant was a tall, imperious woman with a patrician nose and brows plucked down to thin lines. She had knobby joints that made her look lanky rather than willowy, and despite her pinched middle-aged face, she had the most beautiful long blonde hair of any woman Ariel knew. Istariel adored her hair. Not a few of the Sisters whispered that she must have rediscovered some lost weave to make it so thick and glossy. It wasn’t true, of course, Istariel’s mother had had the same hair. It was one reason their father had married her after Ariel’s mother died. Besides, Istariel wasn’t that Talented.

  “This war is not just over what it means to be a maja, but what it means to be a woman.”

  Seeing the undisguisedly ironical look on Ariel’s face, Istariel changed tack. “How have you been, sister?”

  Of course, every full maja was addressed as “Sister,” but Istariel warmed the word. Used for Ariel, “sister” hearkened back to the supposedly halcyon days of their youth together, some fifty years ago. Istariel definitely wanted something.

  “Fine,” Ariel said.

  Istariel tried again, valiantly. “And how are your studies progressing?”

  “The last two years of my life have probably been a complete waste,” Ariel said.

  “Still the same old Ariel.” Istariel tried to say it lightly, as if amused, but she didn’t quite put in the effort to make it convincing. She probably thought that because Ariel didn’t use any finely nuanced social snubs, she wasn’t aware of them.

  When they had been younger and Ariel had cared more about what her aristocratic little sister thought of her, it had been a bitter irony for her. Ariel had always fallen squarely in Istariel’s blind spot. The near-genius with which Istariel instantly understood the men and women around her had never extended to Ariel, with whom she spent so much time. When Istariel looked at her, she saw Ariel’s broad peasant face and thick peasant limbs, her lack of social graces and lack of concern for the important things—privilege, power, and position—and she saw a peasant. Istariel thought she understood Ariel, so she stopped thinking about her at all. Now she even allowed her eyes to flick down.

  “Yes, I’ve gotten fat,” Ariel said.

  Istariel blushed. How she must hate how I can still make her feel like a child. “Well,” Istariel said, “I, I suppose you have put on a little…”

  “And how are you, Speaker?” Ariel asked. Why was it she could master the eighty-four variations of the Symbeline weave with perfect timing, structure, and intonation, but not make conversation? Surely small talk should be reducible to perhaps a few hundred typical questions, delineated into conversation trees according to the conversant’s responses, how well one knew the conversant, what the current events were, and one’s position relative to the conversant.

  Timing of the questions and the length of one’s responses would have to be studied as well, but many weaves required exact timing, too, and Ariel’s rhythm was perfect. One might have to take into account the physical setting: one would speak differently in the Speaker’s office than in a tavern. Topics of study could include how to deal with distractions, appropriate degrees of eye contact or physical touch, taking into account cultural variations, and of course the differences in speaking with men and women, subdivided by whether one were oneself a man or a woman. Ariel supposed she might have to include children in the study as well, and it would be important to include how to speak with those toward whom you had varying degrees of friendship or interest, romantic or otherwise. Or should it? Should one make small talk differently with a woman whom you thought you might like to befriend than with a woman you had no interest in? Were there socially appropriate ways to curtail dull conversations?

  That made Ariel smile. In her book, curtailing dull conversations would be a huge plus.

  Still, the project as a whole had little to do with magic. Perhaps nothing. Indeed, she decided that the study, while worthy, would be a poor use of her own gifts.

  “But you’re really not listening, are you?” Istariel said.

  Ariel realized that her sister had been speaking for some time. It had all been meaningless, but Ariel had forgotten to pretend to be paying attention. “Sorry,” she said.

  Istariel waved it away, and Ariel realized that Istariel was almost relieved that Ariel was back to acting the way she expected—Ariel, the distracted, oblivious genius, big brain and bigger Talent and nothing else. It allowed Istariel to feel superior. “I got you thinking, didn’t I?” Istariel asked.

  Ariel nodded.

  “About what?”

  She shook her head, but Istariel cocked an eyebrow at her. It was an I’m-the-Speaker look. Ariel grimaced.

  “I w
as thinking about how bad I am at small talk, and wondering why,” Ariel said.

  Istariel grinned—they might have been teenagers again. “And formulating a course of study on it?”

  She frowned deeply. “I decided I’m the wrong person for the task.”

  Istariel laughed out loud. It was irritating. Istariel was a snorter. “What were you saying?” Ariel asked. She tried to look interested. Istariel, though pompous and a snorter, was the Speaker.

  “Oh, Ariel, you don’t care, and you’re not very good at pretending you do.”

  “No, I don’t. But you do, so I can listen politely.”

  Istariel shook her head as though she couldn’t believe Ariel, but she settled down and—mercifully—stopped snorting. “Forget it. The war I was talking about? Some of the younger sisters want to form a new order.”

  “Another bunch who want to disavow the Alitaeran Accord and become war magae?” What a waste. They spent their time trying to change the rules rather than ignoring them and making them moot.

  “Nothing so simple. These ladies propose to call themselves the Chattel.”

  “Oh my.”

  Tyros were not allowed to marry, but many Sisters eventually decided to. Of those, most went back to wherever they had come from or where their husbands lived. Some stayed on at the Chantry, but few rose to high levels. Often, that was simply a matter of choice: the women decided that with children, husbands, and homes, they’d rather be with their families full time.

  Sometimes, though, ambitious Sisters wanted it all. They wanted to be married to the Chantry and to a man. Those never rose as high as they believed they deserved, because after a certain level, the other Sisters wanted leaders for whom the Chantry was their whole family. The women who sacrificed family for the Seraph saw it as their right to be promoted beyond those who worked half-jobs, no matter how brilliantly. The attitude even extended to married Sisters who didn’t have children, because Sisters assumed that they would eventually throw away everything worthwhile to tend a man and his brats, like any peasant woman. The Sisters quietly called them chattel, voluntary housekeepers and broodmares to men, and they said the chattel wasted the Chantry’s time and money and—worst—their own talents.

 
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