The night angel trilogy, p.67
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.67
 

           Brent Weeks

  The racks of weapons and armor here by the door were nothing special, doubtless the work of the under-armorers and journeymen. But that wasn’t what he was looking for. Kylar looked to the back and finally saw the man himself.

  Grand Master Haylin was mostly bald, with a fringe of gray hair around a knobby pate. He was lean and stooped and appeared to be near-sighted, though of course he had the muscular shoulders and arms of a much younger man. His leather apron was pitted and stained from work, and he was guiding an apprentice’s hand, showing the boy the correct angle to strike the metal. Kylar headed toward him.

  “Excuse me? Hello, my lord, how may I help you?” a smiling young man said, intercepting him. He was a little too smiley.

  “I need to speak with the Grand Master,” Kylar said, the sinking feeling in his stomach telling him that Haylin was going to prove to be much farther away than just across the shop.

  “I’m afraid he’s working, but I’d be happy to help you with whatever you require.” Smiley’s brief glance down at Kylar’s clothes told him he didn’t expect this to be important. Just what Kylar needed: some bureaucratic lut.

  Kylar looked over Smiley’s shoulder and gaped. It was an expression he’d never tried with Baron Kirof’s face, but it must have been acceptable, because Smiley turned to see what was wrong.

  Kylar went invisible. He felt like a bad child when Smiley turned around and saw no one there.

  “What the…?” Smiley said. He rubbed his eyes. “Hey,” he said to a coworker behind the counter, “did you just see me talking to a fat red-bearded guy?”

  The man behind the counter shook his head. “You seein’ things again, Wood?”

  Smiley shook his head and walked back toward the counter, cursing under his breath.

  Kylar walked through the shop, invisible. Dodging scurrying apprentices, he came to stand by Grand Master Haylin’s elbow. The man was inspecting a dozen of his under-armorer’s swords that were laid out on a table for his approval.

  “The third one wasn’t properly fired,” Kylar said, appearing behind the smith. “There’s a weakness right just above the hilt. And the next one’s poorly tempered.”

  Grand Master Haylin turned and looked at Kylar’s feet—two paces outside the blue carpet, then he looked at the weak sword. He tossed it into an empty red crate. “Werner,” Haylin said to a young man who was swearing at an apprentice. “That’s the third reject this month. One more and you’re done.”

  Werner blanched. He immediately left off cursing the apprentice.

  “As for this,” Grand Master Haylin said to Kylar, gesturing to the poorly tempered sword. “You know what happens when you scatter diamonds in front of chickens?”

  “Tough poultry?”

  “Valuable gizzards. It’s a waste, son. This is for an army order. For two hundred fifty queens for a hundred swords, some peasant sword swinger can spend more time with a whetstone. You know your swords, but I’m a busy man. What do you want?”

  “Five minutes. Privately. It’ll be worth your time.”

  The Grand Master raised an eyebrow but acquiesced. He led Kylar up the stairs to a special room. As they passed Smiley, the young man said, “You can’t—you can’t—”

  Grand Master Haylin cocked an eyebrow at the young man. Smiley’s greasy smile withered. “Don’t mind that,” Haylin said. “That’s my fifth son. Bit of a throw-off, huh?”

  Kylar didn’t know what that meant, but he nodded. “I’d toss him in the reject crate.”

  Haylin laughed. “Wish I could do the same with his mother. My third wife is the answer to all the first two’s prayers.”

  The special room was obviously used as infrequently as possible. A fine walnut table with several chairs occupied the center, but most of the room was given to display cases. Fine swords and expensive suits of armor filled the room like an elite guard. Kylar looked at them closely. Several were the Grand Master’s work: master pieces to demonstrate what he was capable of, but others were old, in a variety of styles and periods of armament, show pieces. Perfect.

  “You’re down to three minutes,” Haylin said, squinting at Kylar.

  “I’m a man of special talents,” Kylar said, sitting across from the man.

  The Grand Master arched an eyebrow again. He did have terrifically expressive eyebrows.

  Kylar ran his fingers through his red hair and changed it to dirty blond. He passed his hand over his face and his nose grew sharper, longer. He scrubbed his face as if washing it, and the beard disappeared to reveal lightly pockmarked cheeks and sharp eyes. Of course, it was all show. He didn’t have to touch his face—but this man seemed to appreciate demonstrations.

  Grand Master Haylin’s face went dead white and his jaw dropped. He blinked rapidly and his voice came out as a croak. He cleared his throat. “Master Starfire? Gaelan Starfire?”

  “You know me?” Kylar asked, stunned. Gaelan Starfire was the hero of a dozen bard’s tales. But the face Kylar was wearing was Durzo Blint’s.

  “I was—I was just a boy when you came to my grandfather’s shop. You said—you said you might come back long after we’d given up on you. Oh, sir! My grandfather said it might be in my father’s time or mine, but we never believed him.”

  Disoriented, Kylar tried to think. Durzo was Gaelan Starfire? Kylar knew that Durzo hadn’t been known by the same name for seven hundred years, of course. But Gaelan Starfire? That name hadn’t even been mentioned among all the others that Aristarchos had claimed for his master.

  It sent a pang of grief through Kylar. He hadn’t known, and some smith in Caernarvon had. How little he knew the man who’d raised him, the man who’d died for him. Durzo had turned bitter by the time Kylar had known him. Who had he been when he’d been Gaelan Starfire, fifty years ago? Kylar suspected that he could have been friends with that man.

  “We’ve kept it secret, I swear,” Grand Master Haylin said. Kylar was still disoriented. This man, who was old enough to be his grandfather, who was at the height of his fame, was treating Kylar like—like he was an immortal, nearly a god. “What can I do for you, my lord?”

  “I don’t, I don’t…” Kylar said. “Please, don’t treat me differently because of your grandfather. I just wanted you to take me seriously; I didn’t think you’d remember that. I didn’t even remember you. You’ve changed quite a bit.” He smirked to seal the lie.

  “And you haven’t changed at all,” Haylin said, stunned. “Um, all right,” he said, his eyebrows waggling up and down in quick succession as he tried to pull himself together. “Um. Well. What are you looking for?”

  “I’m looking to sell a sword.” Kylar drew Retribution off his back and laid it on the table.

  Haylin picked up the big sword appreciatively in his thick, callused hands, then immediately set it down. He stared at the hilt, blinking. He ran his fingers over it, his eyes wide. “You never drop this sword, do you?” he said.

  Kylar shrugged. Of course he didn’t.

  Still looking like he wasn’t sure he was awake, the Grand Master spit on his palm and grabbed the sword again.

  “What’d you—”

  A drop of moisture wicked off the hilt onto the table. Grand Master Haylin released the sword and opened his palm. It was completely dry. He gave a little cry, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the sword. He leaned closer and closer until his nose was almost against it. He turned the blade to look at it on edge.

  “By the gods,” he said. “It’s true.”

  “What?” Kylar said.

  “The coal matrices. They’re perfect. I’d bet my right arm every last one has four links, don’t they? The blade’s a perfect diamond, my lord. So thin you can barely see it, but unbreakable. Most diamonds can be sheared with another diamond, because they’re never perfect, but if there are no flaws anywhere—this blade is indestructible, and not just the blade, the hilt, too. But my lord, if this is… I thought your sword was black.”

  Kylar touched the blade and let the ka’kari w
hoosh out of his skin to cover it. The word MERCY inscribed in the blade was covered with JUSTICE in ka’kari black.

  Grand Master Haylin looked pained. “Oh my lord…. My grandfather told us…. I never understood. I feel blind, yet I’m almost happy for my blindness.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “I don’t have the Talent, Lord Starfire. I can’t begin to see how amazing this blade is. My grandfather could, and he said it haunted him all his days. He knew what Talent had gone into this blade, he could see it, but he could never equal it. He said it made the work of his own hands look cheap and tawdry—and he was famous for his work. But I never thought to see Retribution with my own eyes. My lord, you can’t sell this.”

  “Well, it doesn’t come in black,” Kylar said lightly, sucking the ka’kari back into his hand. “If that knocks a bit off the price.”

  “My lord, you don’t understand. Even if I could give you what this is worth—even if I could somehow fix a price on it—I could never—it’s worth more than I’ll make in my whole life. Even if I could buy it, I could never sell it; it’s too valuable. Maybe one or two collectors in the world have the wealth and the appreciation to buy such a sword. Even then, my lord, this isn’t a sword that belongs on display, it belongs in the hand of a hero. It belongs in your hand. Look, a hilt that won’t slip from your hand even if it’s bloody or wet. The moisture slides right off. It’s not just brilliant, it’s practical. That’s not a showpiece. It’s art. It’s killing art. Like you.” He threw his hands up and slumped in his chair, as if exhausted just by the sight of Retribution. “Though my grandfather did say the inscription was in Hyrillic—oh my.”

  The MERCY on the blade shifted before their eyes, into a language Kylar couldn’t read. He was stunned. It had never done that before.

  A snake wriggled in his stomach and strangled his guts, a snake of losing something whose value he couldn’t even calculate. It was the same feeling he felt as he thought of his dead master, a man whose worth he had barely known.

  “Nonetheless,” he said, his throat tight. “I must sell it.” If he kept it, he would kill again. He had no doubt of it. In his hand, it was pitiless justice. He had to sell it, if he was to stay true to Elene. As long as he held onto the sword, he held onto his old life.

  “My lord, do you need money? I’ll give you whatever you want.”

  The small, mean part of Kylar considered it. Surely this man could spare more than enough money for what Kylar needed. “No, I, I need to sell it. It’s… it has to do with a woman.”

  “You’re selling an artifact worth a kingdom so you can be with a woman? You’re immortal! Even the longest marriage will end in a tiny fraction of your life!”

  Kylar grimaced. “That’s right.”

  “You’re not just selling this sword, are you? You’re giving it up. You’re giving up the way of the sword.”

  Looking at the tabletop, Kylar nodded.

  “She must be some woman.”

  “She is,” Kylar said. “What can you give me for it?”

  “It depends on how soon you need it.”

  Kylar didn’t know if he could keep his courage up. He knew what he was about to say would probably cost him thousands, but losing Elene would cost more. He’d never really cared about being rich anyway. “Just whatever you can get me before I leave.”

  “Before you leave the city?”

  “Before I leave the shop.” Kylar swallowed, but that damn lump wouldn’t disappear.

  The Grand Master opened his mouth to protest, but he could see Kylar’s mind was made up. “Thirty-one thousand queens,” he said. “Maybe a few hundred more, depending on what sales we’ve done today. Six thousand in gold, the rest in promissory notes redeemable at most money changers, though for that sum, you’d have to hit half the money changers in the city. You’ll have to go to the Blue Giant directly if you want to change it all.”

  Kylar goggled at the sum. It would be enough buy a house, repay Aunt Mea, start a shop with a huge inventory, buy an entire wardrobe for Elene, and still put some away, in addition to buying a pair of the finest wedding rings money could buy. And the man was protesting it wasn’t nearly enough?

  ~A good price for your birthright, huh?~

  The thought almost took the wind out of Kylar. He stood abruptly. “Done,” he said. He walked to the door and grabbed it.

  “Um… my lord,” Grand Master Haylin said. He gestured to his own face.

  “Oh.” Kylar concentrated and his features fattened and his hair reddened again.

  Within five minutes, a still-stunned Smiley had helped load a chest of sovereigns—worth twenty queens each—and watched as his father put a thick wad of promissory notes on top of that. It totaled 31,400 queens. The chest wasn’t large, but it weighed as much as two large men. The Grand Master called for a horse, but Kylar asked if they would put two broad leather straps on it instead. Journeymen and apprentices stopped to watch, but Kylar didn’t care. Smirking, Haylin attached them himself.

  “My lord,” Haylin said, finishing with the straps. “If you ever want it back, it’s here.”

  “Perhaps. In your grandsons’ time.”

  Grandmaster Haylin smiled broadly.

  Kylar knew he shouldn’t have said it so loudly. He shouldn’t have waved off the horse. He didn’t care. Somehow, it just felt so good to be speaking with a man who knew something of what he was and wasn’t afraid or disgusted—even if the man did think he was his master. But then, Kylar was probably more like Gaelan Starfire than Durzo Blint had been anyway. It felt so good to be known and accepted, he didn’t care that he was being reckless.

  With a surge of his Talent, Kylar hoisted the chest onto his back. Open gasps filled the smithy. The truth was, it was almost too heavy to carry even with the Talent. Kylar nodded to Grand Master Haylin and walked out.

  “Who the hell was that?” Kylar heard Smiley ask.

  “Someday, when you’re ready, I might tell you,” the Grand Master said.

  22

  Hello,” Kylar said to Capricia when he returned to the ringery.

  “Hello,” she said, surprised. She was alone, closing up the shop.

  “The ass is back.” He grimaced. “Sorry about… before.”

  “What?” she said. “No, you were fine. I understand that it all seems strange if you’re not from here. Men never like it—though the women have to pierce their ears, too, and they never complain.” She shrugged.

  “Right, well…” Kylar said, then he realized he had nothing to say. What was it about jewelry that made him feel inadequate? “Right,” he finished lamely.

  “Honestly,” she said, “most men barely notice the pain. I mean, their brides make sure they’re distracted. Technically, you consummate the marriage only after the nailing, but most cases, it’s pretty much only technically.”

  Kylar coughed. He’d been thinking about that. “Uh, do you remember which ones she was pointing to?” Kylar asked.

  “Of course,” Capricia said. She laughed. “I’m afraid they’re the ones that really hold the spells.” Her eyes twinkled and he blushed.

  “I have the misfortune of having a wife with excellent taste.”

  “It reflects well on her other choices,” Capricia said, smiling her big smile at him. Whatever the fallout with the Shinga was going to be, Kylar was glad he’d saved her. She pulled out the drawer and set it in front of him. As she set it down, she scowled and grabbed a pair of rings out of the drawer. “Just a second,” she said, and knelt behind the counter, tucking them away, then she stood back up. “I think it was one of these,” she said, pointing to several along the top row of woven gold and mistarille entwined.

  “How much are these?” he asked.

  “Twenty-four hundred, twenty-eight hundred, and thirty-two hundred.”

  He whistled in spite of himself.

  “We do have similar styles in white and yellow gold that are more affordable,” Capricia said. “The mistarille makes t
hem pretty ridiculous.”

  Jorsin Alkestes’ sword had been mistarille with a core of hardened gold, Durzo said. It took a special forge to melt mistarille because it wouldn’t melt until it was three times hotter than steel. Once it attained its working heat, it retained it for hours, unlike other metals that had to be reheated over and over. Smiths found it a pure joy and a pure terror to work with, because after that first heating and the first hours they had to work with, it wouldn’t melt again. They only got one chance to get it right. Only a smith with substantial Talent could attempt any large-scale work with mistarille.

  “Does anyone wear pure mistarille rings?” he asked as he scanned the rings. He could have sworn Elene’s eyes had lit up when she saw one of these sets. Which one was it?

  She shook her head. “Even if you could afford it, you wouldn’t want it, Master Bourary says. He says that some of the simpler spells actually hold better in gold. Even the oldest rings combine the two metals. He has a pair that his great-great-great-something grandfather made that look like pure mistarille, but they contain a core of yellow gold and diamond. It’s pretty amazing. He lined the mistarille with tiny holes so you can see the gold and diamonds sparkling through it if the light is right.”

  Kylar was almost starting to believe the talk about spells. Either Master Bourary was the real thing, or he’d been very careful to learn how to speak about magic from people who were.

 
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