The night angel trilogy, p.66
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.66

           Brent Weeks
 

  “He didn’t fail,” Garoth Ursuul said, not turning from his view of the city.

  Neph opened his mouth, remembered to whom he was speaking, and closed it. He hunched a little lower.

  “I gave him a task he could thwart so that he might accomplish the one I desired,” the Godking said. Still staring over the city, he massaged his temples. “He found Kylar Stern. Our ka’karifer is in Caernarvon.”

  He picked a note from his pocket. “Transmit this message to our agent there to give to Vi Sovari. She should be arriving any day.”

  Neph blinked convulsively. He’d thought he knew everything the Godking was doing. He’d thought that his own mastery of the vir was within a hairsbreadth of the Godking’s, and now, blithely, the man had given him this. It set Neph’s ambitions back months. Months! How he hated the man. Garoth could track exact locations magically? Neph had never heard of such a thing. What did it mean? Did Garoth know about the camp at Black Barrow? Neph’s meisters had been abducting villagers for his experiments, but it was so far away, Neph had been so careful. No, it couldn’t be that.

  But the Godking was giving him notice. He was telling Neph that he had his eye on him, that he had his eye on everything, that he would always know more than he told even Neph, that his powers would always be beyond what Neph expected. As the Godking’s warnings went, it was gentle.

  “Is there something else?” the Godking asked.

  “No, Your Holiness,” Neph said. He managed to keep his voice perfectly calm.

  “Then begone.”

  Despite all the reasons he had to be grumpy, when Elene was in a good mood, it was hard not to be happy. After a quick breakfast and a cup of ootai to stave off weariness, Kylar found himself wandering the streets with her, hand in hand. She was wearing a cream-colored dress with a brown taffeta bodice the color of her eyes. It looked fabulous in its simplicity. Of course, Kylar had never seen Elene wear anything that he thought looked less than great, but when she was happy she was twice as beautiful as usual.

  “This is cute, isn’t it?” he asked, picking up a doll from a merchant’s table. Why was Elene happy? He couldn’t remember having done anything good.

  Ever since he’d started going out at night, he’d expected to have The Talk. Instead, one night she’d grabbed his hand—he’d almost jumped out of his skin, so much for being the imperturbable wetboy—and she said, “Kylar, I love you, and I trust you.”

  She hadn’t said anything since then. He sure hadn’t. What was he supposed to say? “Um, actually, I have killed some people, but it was an accident every time, and they were all bad”?

  “I don’t think we can really afford much,” Elene said. “I just wanted to spend the day with you.” She smiled. Maybe it was just a mood swing. Mood swings had to have an up side, right?

  “Oh,” he said. He only felt a little awkward holding hands with her. At first, he’d felt like everyone was staring at them. Now, though, he saw that only a few people looked at them twice, and of those, most seemed to be approving.

  “Aha!” a round little man bellowed at them. “Perfect. Perfect. Absolutely lovely. Marvelous, you are. Yes, yes, come right in.”

  Kylar was so startled he barely stopped himself from a quickly rearranging the man’s face. Elene laughed and poked the tense muscles of Kylar’s arm. “Come on, brawny,” she said. “This is shopping. It’s fun.”

  “Fun?” he asked as she pulled him into the little well-lit shop.

  The fat little man quickly handed them off to a pretty girl of maybe seventeen who smiled brightly at them. She was petite, with a slender figure, dazzling blue eyes, and a large mouth that made her smile huge. It was Golden Hair. Kylar goggled as his daylight and shadow worlds crossed.

  “Hello,” Golden Hair said. She glanced down at the wedding bands on their hands. “I’m Capricia. Have you ever been to a ringery before?”

  After Kylar didn’t say anything for a long moment, Elene gently dug an elbow into his ribs. “No,” she said.

  Kylar blinked. Elene was shaking her head at him, obviously thinking he was ogling Capricia, but she didn’t look mad, just bemused. He shook his head, No, it’s not like that.

  She cocked an eyebrow at him. Right.

  “Well, let’s start at the beginning then,” Capricia said, pulling out a wide drawer lined with black velvet and putting it on a counter. It was filled with tiny, paired rings of gold and silver and bronze, some decorated with rubies or garnets or amethyst or diamonds or opals, some plain, some textured. “You’ve seen people wearing these all over the city, right?”

  Elene nodded. Kylar looked at her blankly. He looked at Capricia. She wasn’t wearing one, not that he could see. Were they toe-rings? He stood on his tiptoes to see over the counter to see Capricia’s feet.

  Capricia caught him looking and laughed. She had the kind of laugh that made you want to join in, even when she was laughing at you. “No, no,” she said. “I don’t wear one! I’m not married. Why are you looking at my feet?”

  Elene slapped her forehead. “Men!”

  “Oh,” Kylar said. “They’re earrings!”

  Capricia laughed again.

  “What?” he asked. “Women wear matching earrings where we come from. These are all different sizes.”

  The girls laughed louder and it dawned on him. The earrings weren’t for women; they were for couples. One for the man; one for the woman. “Oh,” he said.

  That would explain all the men he’d seen wearing earrings. He scowled. He could have said which men were concealing weapons in their clothing and known their likely degrees of proficiency with them; what did he care about what they wore in their ears?

  “Wow. Look at those,” Elene said, pointing a pair of silvery-gold sparkling rings that looked suspiciously expensive. “Aren’t they beautiful?” She turned to Capricia. “Will you tell us all about the rings? We’re, ahem, a little unfamiliar with the tradition.” Conspicuously, they didn’t look at Kylar.

  “Here in Waeddryn, when a man wishes to marry a woman, he buys a set of rings and gives them to her. Of course, there is a public ceremony, but the wedding itself is performed in private. You two are married already, right?”

  “Right,” Kylar said. “We’re just new to the city.”

  “Well, if you’re looking to get married in the Waeddryner way, but maybe don’t have the money or the inclination for a big ceremony, it’s very simple. You don’t have to worry about the ceremony at all. The marriage is recognized as long as you’ve been nailed.”

  “Nailed?” Kylar asked, his eyes widening.

  Capricia flushed. “I mean, as long as you’ve affixed the seal of your love, or been ringed. But, well, most people just call it getting nailed.”

  “I’m guessing that’s not part of the usual pitch,” Kylar said.

  “Kylar,” Elene said, elbowing him as Capricia flushed again. “Can we see the wedding knives?” she asked sweetly.

  Capricia pulled out another drawer lined with black velvet. It was full of ornate daggers with tiny tips.

  Kylar recoiled.

  Capricia and Elene giggled. “It gets scarier,” Capricia said. She smiled her huge smile. “Generally right before… ah, right before the marriage is consummated,” she was trying to sound professional, but her ears were bright pink. “Sorry, I’ve never actually had to explain this. I—Master Bourary usually—never mind. When a man and woman marry, the woman has to give up a lot of her freedom.”

  “The woman does?” Kylar asked. The look Elene gave him this time was less amused. He swallowed his laughter.

  “So the nailing—the ringing or affixing of the seal—”

  “Just call it nailing,” Kylar said.

  “I slipped up, I’m really supposed to call it—” she saw the look on Kylar’s face “—right. When the bride and groom retire to their bedchamber, the man gives the rings and the wedding knife to the bride. The man must submit to her. Often, she will…” Capricia blinked and her ears went pink ag
ain. She cleared her throat. “Often, she will entice the groom for some time. Then she pierces her own left ear wherever she desires and places her ring there. Then she sits astride her husband on the marriage bed and pierces his left ear.”

  Kylar’s mouth dropped open.

  “It’s not that bad. It just depends on where your wife decides to—” Capricia looked up as Master Bourary walked into the shop, “affix the seal. Through the ear lobe isn’t that bad, but some women will pierce, well, like Master Bourary’s wife.”

  Kylar looked at the round, grinning little man. He wore a glittering gold earring sparkling with rubies. It was through the top of his ear. “Hurt like hell,” Master Bourary said. “They call it breaking the maidenhead.”

  A little moue of pain escaped Kylar’s lips. “What?”

  Elene was blushing, but her eyes were dancing. For a second he could swear that she was imagining nailing him.

  “Well, it’s only fair, isn’t it?” Master Bourary said. “If a woman has to deal with pain and blood on her wedding night, why shouldn’t a man? I tell you what, it makes you gentler. Especially if she twists your ear to remind you!” He guffawed. “That’s what you get after twenty generations of queens.” He laughed ruefully, but he didn’t seem displeased by it.

  These people, Kylar realized, were totally mad.

  “But that’s not the magical part,” Capricia said, realizing Kylar was fast losing interest. “When the wife places the ring on her husband’s ear, she has to focus all of her love and devotion and desire to be married on the ring, and only then will it seal. If the woman doesn’t truly want to be married, it won’t even seal.”

  “But once sealed,” Master Bourary said, “neither heaven nor hell can open the ring again. Look,” he said. He reached over and slipped the wedding ring off of Kylar’s left hand. “Barely a difference in the tan under your ring, huh? Haven’t been hitched long?”

  “You could make some good ring mail with that trick,” Kylar said, trying to circumvent the pitch.

  “Oh, honey, stop it, I’m swooning,” Elene said, tugging at the bodice of her dress as if she were getting overheated. “You’re so romantic.”

  “Well, actually,” Master Bourary said, “the first practitioners of our art were armorers. But look,” he said, turning his attention to Elene, obviously seeing her as a more friendly target for his pitch. “With this ring, he can slip it off, it could fall off by itself, who knows? He goes to a tavern and bumps into some tart, and how’s she to know that she’s poaching on another woman’s land? Not that you would ever do that, of course, sir. But with our rings, a married man is always known to be married. Really it’s a protection even for women who would flirt with a man without realizing he was married.

  “And… if a man or woman wants a divorce—well, you’ve got to rip that damn ring right out of your ear. Cuts down on divorces, I promise you. But affixing the seal isn’t done out of fear, to keep a man or a woman from cuckolding their spouse. It’s deeper than that. When a man and woman are sealed, they activate an ancient magic in these rings, a magic that grows as their love grows. It’s a magic that helps you feel what your spouse is feeling, a magic that deepens your love and understanding for each other, that helps you communicate more clearly, that—”

  “And let me guess,” Kylar said. “The more expensive rings have more magic.”

  Elene’s elbow was anything but gentle this time. “Kylar,” she said through her teeth.

  Master Bourary blinked. “Let me assure you, young master, every ring I make is imbued with magic, even the simplest and cheapest copper band of mine won’t break. But yes, I absolutely do spend more time and energy on the gold and mistarille rings. Not only because the people who buy those rings pay more, but also because those materials hold a spell far better than copper or bronze or silver ever could.”

  “Right,” Kylar said. “Well, thanks for your time.” He pulled Elene out of the store.

  She was not pleased. She stopped in the street. “Kylar, you are a complete ass.”

  “Honey, didn’t you hear what he just said? Some armorer a long time ago had a Talent that would seal metal rings together. Good talent for an armorer, he can bang out ring mail in days rather than months. Then he gets smart and figures that he can make a lot more money by selling each ring for hundreds of gold than for selling a full set of ring mail for maybe fifty. And lo and behold, an industry’s born. It’s all horseshit. All that ‘growing to understand each other better’ stuff? That’s what happens to everyone who gets married. And oh, the gold ones have more magic… how obvious is that? Did you see how many of their rings were gold? They probably get nine tenths of the poor idiots in this city to save up for a gold ring they can’t afford because what woman is going to be happy if she gets a copper ring that ‘barely holds the spell’?”

  “I would,” she said quietly.

  It took the wind out of him.

  She covered her face. “I thought if you ever wanted to get married for real, that, you know. It would be a way we could make it official. If we ever wanted to. I mean, I know we’re not ready for that. I’m not suggesting that we do that right away or anything.”

  Why am I always the asshole?

  Because she’s too good for you.

  “So you knew what that place was?” he asked, more gently, although he was still pissed off, though he couldn’t have said whether it was at her or at himself.

  “Aunt Mea told me about it.”

  “Is that why you’ve been nibbling on my ears at night?”

  “Kylar!” she said.

  “Is it?”

  “Aunt Mea said it works wonders.” Elene couldn’t meet his gaze; she was totally mortified.

  “Well maybe for these twists!”

  “Kylar!” Elene raised her eyebrows, as if to say, We are in the middle of a crowded market, would you shut up?

  He looked around. He’d never seen so many earrings in his life. How hadn’t he noticed it before? And he was right, almost every one of them was gold and everyone wore their hair in ways that left their ears exposed.

  “I’ve seen that girl before,” Kylar said.

  “Capricia?”

  “I was out the other night and some hoodlums were coming to hurt her. Before, I would have killed them. Instead, I scared them.”

  She looked uncertain why he was telling her this now. “Well, that’s great. You see? Violence doesn’t solve—”

  “Honey, one of them was the Shinga. I made a vengeful man wet himself in front of his subordinates. Violence was the only solution. That girl’s in deeper trouble now than before I helped her.” He swore under his breath. “Why’d you even take me in there? We don’t even have enough to buy Uly a birthday present. How would we afford those?”

  “I’m sorry, all right?” Elene said. “I just wanted to see what it was like.”

  “It’s the sword, isn’t it? You still want me to sell the sword.”

  “Quit it! I haven’t said anything about the sword. I’m sorry. I thought you might be interested. I’m not asking you to buy me anything.” She wasn’t looking at him now, and she certainly wasn’t holding his hand. Well, that was better than tears. Wasn’t it?

  He walked beside her for a while as she pretended to browse through the open air shops, picking up produce, examining cloth, looking at dolls they couldn’t afford.

  “So,” he said finally. “Since we’re already fighting…”

  She turned and looked up at him, not laughing. “I don’t want to talk about sex, Kylar.”

  He raised his hands in mock surrender. Still trying to be funny. Still failing.

  “Kylar, do you remember how it feels to kill?”

  He didn’t have to think back that far. It was triumphant, the terrible pleasure of mastery, followed by desolation, a sick hollowness in his chest, knowing that even a hardened criminal might have changed and now would never have that chance. Did she understand part of him loved it?

  “Honey, w
e all only have so much time and so many gifts. You have more gifts than most, and I know you want to do good. I know you’re passionate about that, and I love that about you. But look what happens when you try to save the world with a sword. Your master tried, and look what a bitter, sad old man he became. I don’t want to see that happen to you. I know that after the wealth you had and the things you did that being an apothecary seems like a small ambition. It’s not small, Kylar. It’s huge. You can do so much more good for the world by being a good father, and a good husband, and a healer, than you ever could by being a killer. Do you think it’s a mistake the God has given you an ability to heal? That’s the divine economy. He is willing to cover over what we’ve destroyed with new and beautiful things.

  “Like us. Who’d have imagined that you and I could get safely off the streets and find each other again? Who would have imagined we could adopt Uly? She’s got a chance now—after being born to an assassin and a madam. Only the God could do that, Kylar. I know you don’t believe in him yet, but his hand is at work here. He’s given us this chance, and I want to hold onto it. Stay with me. Leave that life. You weren’t happy there. Why would you want to go back?”

  “I don’t,” he said. But it was only half true. Elene came into his arms, but even as he held her, he knew he was false.

  21

  In the early afternoon heat, Kylar paused outside a shop in the nobles’ district. He stepped into an alley and thirty seconds later thought that he was wearing a fair facsimile of Baron Kirof’s face. He wished he’d thought to change into a nicer tunic. Of course, after the fire, he only had one other tunic, and it was worse than this one. It was probably possible to wear illusory clothes like his illusory face, but that was too much for Kylar to juggle—he imagined trying to make an illusory robe flap realistically as he moved and quickly decided his own clothes would do. He tucked the box under his arm and headed inside.

  Grand Master Haylin’s shop was a huge, squat square. The inside was well-lit and more richly appointed than any smithy Kylar had ever seen. Row on row of armor lined the walls, and rack on rack of weapons sat before them. It was clean, too, and hardly smoky—Grand Master Haylin must have figured out a clever flue system, because the sales area and the work area weren’t separated. Kylar saw one of the under-armorers helping a noble pick out the ore that would become his sword. Another noble watched as apprentices hammered on steel that would become his cuirass. The customers were funneled through the work area, confined to special blue rugs so they didn’t get in the way of the apprentices and journeymen. It was a good gimmick, and doubtless worth its weight in gold. Though whether the nobles were paying for great weapons and armor or just an experience, Kylar wasn’t sure.

 
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