The night angel trilogy, p.75
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.75

           Brent Weeks

  The truth was, Moburu pained him. Garoth remembered the boy’s mother. An island princess of some sort, captured in the days before the Sethi Empire had destroyed Garoth’s attempt at a navy. He’d been intrigued by her, and while an endless procession of other women born high and low, willing and not, made its way through his bedchamber, he’d actually tried to seduce her. She’d been as passionate as he was calculating, as hot as he was cold. She’d been exotic, enticing. He’d tried everything except magic. He’d been certain with a young man’s certainty that no woman could long resist him.

  After a year, she still held onto her haughty disdain. She despised him. One night he’d lost his patience and raped her. He’d meant to have her strangled afterward, but was oddly ashamed. Later, Neph had told him the woman was pregnant. He’d put the child out of his mind until Neph told him the boy had survived the trials and was ready for his uurdthan. Garoth had given Moburu an uurdthan he’d been sure would be the death of him. But the man had completed that task as easily as every other Garoth had put before him.

  The worst part of all was that the heir presumptive to Khalidor’s throne didn’t even look Khalidoran. He had his mother’s eyes, her throaty voice, and her skin—her Ladeshian skin.

  It was a bitter gall. Why couldn’t Dorian have made it? Garoth had held such high hopes for Dorian. He’d liked Dorian. Dorian had achieved his uurdthan and then had betrayed Garoth. Garoth had held lower hopes for the one who’d called himself Roth, but at least Roth looked Khalidoran.

  Moburu wore the regalia of an Alitaeran cavalry officer, red brocade on gold with a dragon’s head sigil. He was intelligent, quick-witted, utterly self-assured, roughly handsome despite his Ladeshian skin (Garoth grudgingly admitted), reputed to be one of the best riders in the cavalry, and ruthless. Of course. He stood as a son of the Godking should. He wore humility as naturally as a man wore a dress.

  It irked Garoth, but it was his own fault. He had designed his seeds’ lives so that those who survived would be exactly what Moburu was. His problem was that he’d designed all those tests to present him with candidates. He had hoped to have a number of sons. If he did, their attention would be fixed on each other. Brother would plot against brother for their father’s favor. But now, with Dorian gone, Roth dead, and none of the others beyond their uurdthan, Moburu was alone. The man’s ambition would force him to turn his eyes on the Godking himself soon. If he hadn’t already.

  “What news from the Freeze?” the Godking asked.

  “Your Holiness, it is as bad as we thought. Maybe worse. The clans have already sent out the summons. They’ve agreed to truces so they can winter close enough to the border to join the war band at spring. They’re spawning krul, and maybe zel and ferali. If they’ve learned to do that, they’ll be increasing their numbers for the next nine months.”

  “How did they find a spawning place in the Freeze, for Khali’s sake? Under the permafrost?” Garoth swore.

  “My lord,” his son said. “We can counteract that threat easily enough. I’ve taken the liberty of ordering Khali brought here. She’ll come through Screaming Winds. It’s faster.”

  “You did what?” The Godking’s voice was icy, dangerous.

  “She’ll massacre one of the Cenaria’s most formidable garrisons—saving you a headache. She’ll arrive in a few days. Beneath this castle is perfect spawning ground. The locals call it the Maw. With Khali here, we can breed an army such as the world has never seen. This ground is steeped in misery. The caverns beneath Khaliras have been mined for seven hundred years. The krul our Vürdmeisters can produce there are nothing compared to what’s possible here.”

  The Godking’s muscles were rigid, but he allowed nothing to show on his face. “Son. Son. You have never spawned krul. You have never forged ferali or bred ferozi. You have no idea what it costs. There’s a reason I used human armies to conquer the highlanders and the river clans and the Tlanglang and the Grosth. I’ve solidified our rule within and expanded our borders four times—and never once used krul. Do you know how people fight when they know that if they lose their entire families will be eaten? They fight to the last man. They arm the children with bows. Their women use kitchen knives and pokers. I saw it in my youth, and it gained my father nothing.”

  “Your father didn’t have the vir you do.”

  “There’s more to it than vir. This conversation is over.” Moburu had never dared speak to him this way before—and ordering Khali brought here without asking!

  But Garoth was distracted. He had lied. He had made krul, ferozi, and even ferali. Ferali had killed his last two brothers. He’d sworn then: never again. Never again with any of the monsters except for the few breeding pairs of ferozi he’d been working on to someday send into the Iaosian Forest for Ezra’s treasures. But those he’d already paid for. They required nothing more of him.

  But Moburu might be right. That was the worst of it. He had gotten used to treating Moburu as a partner, a son in the way other fathers treated their sons.

  It had been a mistake. He’d shown indecision. Moburu was surely already plotting for his throne. Garoth could kill him, but Moburu was too valuable a tool to throw away carelessly. Curse him. Why hadn’t his brothers turned out? Moburu needed a rival.

  The Godking lifted a finger. “I’ve changed my mind. Think out loud for me, son. Make your case.”

  Moburu paused for a moment, then swelled with self-confidence. “I’d admit that our armies could probably counter the wild men from the Freeze. Even if the clans stay together, our Vürdmeisters would tip the balance in our favor. But to do that, we have to send every capable meister north. Quite honestly, there couldn’t be a worse time. The Sisters grow suspicious and frightened. Some of them are saying they need to fight us now before we grow any stronger. We know the Ceurans will seize any weakness to come pouring over the border. They’ve wanted Cenaria for hundreds of years.”

  “The Ceurans are split.”

  “There’s a brilliant young general named Lantano Garuwashi who’s gathering a large following in northern Ceura. He’s never lost a duel or a battle. If we send our armies and our meisters north, attacking us could be just what he needs to unify Ceura. Unlikely, but possible.”

  “Go on,” the Godking said. He knew all about Lantano Garuwashi. Nor was he worried about the Sisters. He’d personally arranged for their present political crisis.

  “It also seems the Sa’kagé is much better established and more capably led than we had believed. It’s obviously the work of this new Shinga, Jarl. I think it shows that he’s moved into a new phase of—”

  “Jarl is dead,” Garoth said.

  “That can’t be. I haven’t found any sign—”

  “Jarl has been dead for a week.”

  “But there haven’t even been rumors of that, and with the level of organization we’ve found… I don’t understand,” Moburu said.

  “You don’t have to,” the Godking said. “Go on.”

  Oh, Moburu looked less confident now. Good. He obviously wanted to ask more, but didn’t dare. He floundered for a moment, then said, “There are rumors that Sho’cendi is sending a delegation to investigate what they call the alleged Khalidoran threat.”

  “Your sources call it a delegation?” Garoth asked, smiling thinly.

  Moburu looked uncertain, then angry. “Y-yes, and if the mages decide we’re a threat, they could return to Sho’cendi and come back with an army by spring—the same time all our other threats may materialize.”

  “Those delegates are battlemages. Six full battlemages. The Sa’seuran believe they’ve found and lost Jorsin Alkestes’ sword, Curoch. They think it may be here in Cenaria.”

  “How do you know that?” Moburu asked, awed. “My source sits just outside the High Sa’seuran itself.”

  “Your brother told me,” the Godking said, pleased with this turn of the conversation. He was back where he belonged. In control. Alive. Moving the world on the fulcrum of his desires. “He’s one of
the delegates.”

  “My brother?”

  “Well, not a brother yet. Soon. I suppose you can guess his uurdthan. It is somewhat more difficult than your own.”

  Moburu absorbed the insult, and Garoth could see it sank deep. “He is to recover Curoch?” Moburu asked.

  Garoth smiled his thin-lipped smile. He could see Moburu thinking. A son who recovered Curoch would be highly favored, highly powerful. Indeed, one of Garoth’s ulcers had Curoch’s name on it. If any of his sons recovered Curoch, that son might not hand it over. Curoch would give him enough power to challenge Garoth himself. Moburu would think of that immediately. But Garoth already had plans for that. Many plans, from the most facile—bribes and blackmail—to the most desperate—a death spell that might throw his consciousness into the murderer’s body. That was not a spell one could safely test, so the best thing was to keep the sword out of his sons’ hands.

  “But you have raised some excellent points, son. You have become valuable to me.” Oh, how it grated to say that to this half-breed. Son! “I will grant your wish. You will build me a ferali.”

  Moburu’s eyes widened. Oh, he had no idea. “Yes, Your Holiness.”

  “And Moburu?” Garoth let the silence sit until Moburu swallowed. “Impress me.”


  You want us to flee, and you won’t say why? Is that supposed to impress me?” Lord Vass asked.

  Three hundred soldiers had gathered in the dark courtyard, the moon a sliver in a night sky aflame with stars. Three hundred soldiers dressed for battle, bundled against the fierce cold that had already descended on these mountains, though summer’s heat had barely lost its edge in Cenaria City. Three hundred soldiers and their commander—who wasn’t Solon. Three hundred men who were watching the exchange between Solon and Lehros Vass.

  “I admit,” Solon said quietly, “that it sounds weak. But I only ask for a day. We leave for one day, and then we come back. If I’m wrong, it’s not like there are any looters who will have taken anything. We’re the only people in these godforsaken mountains aside from the highlanders, and they haven’t raided the wall in three years.”

  “It’s abandoning our post,” the young lord said. “We’re sworn to hold this wall.”

  “We have no post,” Solon snapped. “We have no king, we have no lord. We have three hundred men and an occupied country. Our oaths were to men now dead. Our duty is to keep these men alive so they can fight when we have a chance. This isn’t the kind of war where we gloriously charge the enemy lines with our swords waving.”

  Lord Vass was young enough that he flushed with anger and embarrassment. Of course, that was exactly the kind of war he had in mind, and it had been a mistake to belittle it. How long had it been since Solon had lost those illusions of war?

  The men weren’t moving a muscle, but they all saw the anger on Lord Vass’s face, the red made redder in the flickering torchlight.

  “If you would have us leave, I demand to know why,” Lord Vass said.

  “A contingent of Khalidoran elites known as the Soulsworn is coming. They’re bringing the Khalidoran goddess Khali to Cenaria. They’ll attack the wall at the wytching hour.”

  “And you want to leave?” Vass asked, incredulous. “Do you know what it will mean when we capture the Khalidoran’s goddess? It will destroy them. It will give our countrymen hope. We’ll be heroes. This is the place to stop them. We have the walls, the traps, the men. This is our chance. This is just what we’ve been waiting for.”

  “Son, this goddess…” Solon gritted his teeth. “We’re not talking about capturing a statue. I think she’s real.”

  Lehros Vass looked at Solon, first incredulous, then indulgent. “If you need to run away, you go ahead. You know where the road is.” He chuckled, giddy with his own grandeur. “Of course, I can’t let you go until you give me my gold back.”

  If Solon told him where his gold was now, Vass would have his men go get it immediately. Dorian would be left helpless.

  “To hell with you,” Solon said. “And to hell with me too. We’ll die together.”

  Sister Ariel Wyant sat five paces from the first magical boundary that separated the Iaosian Forest from the oak grove. For the past six days, she’d had her eye on what appeared to be a plaque twenty feet inside the forest. It didn’t look like it had been there long: undergrowth hadn’t covered it yet.

  Her first hope in all her examinations of the ward had been that Ezra had made the ward hundreds of years ago. With another magus, she would have expected the weaves to disintegrate after so much time. Weaves always disintegrated. But with Ezra always didn’t mean always. The proof shimmered just beyond mundane sight before her.

  The second hope was that, given Ezra’s power and the power of the other magi of his era, he would be defending himself against opponents far more powerful than any alive today. Sister Ariel didn’t have the arrogance to think herself equal to those Ezra would have expected. She could only hope that her light touches against the weaves would be beneath notice. Termites were tiny, but they’d destroyed many a mighty house.

  So for six days, she’d examined and reexamined the weaves that divided the Iaosian Forest from the oak grove. It was as beautiful as a black widow’s web. There were traps both large and small. There were weaves that were meant to tear apart with the faintest touch, weaves that were meant to be unraveled, weaves that couldn’t be broken with double Ariel’s strength. And each had a trap.

  Ariel could guess exactly what Sister Jessie had done. She’d probably tried to conceal her Talent. For the first day, it looked like a perfect strategy. It was a strategy that would have worked, had Ezra been simple. Sister Jessie was weak enough that she could compress her Talent and then shield it. That would make her Talent invisible to other Sisters or to male Seers—now there was a strange thought, how many times had Talented women used exactly that strategy to hide themselves or their talented daughers from Sisters who came to recruit for the Chantry? Ariel shook her head. It wasn’t time to get distracted. The problem was that Ezra’s weaves didn’t just register Talent. As nearly as Ariel could tell—and she had to guess because of the complexity and delicacy of the weaves—Ezra’s weaves detected mages’ bodies.

  Everyone knew that mages were different from regular people, but not even Healers today understood exactly how magic changed a mage’s flesh. That it did so was undeniable. Mages aged differently, sometimes more slowly the more Talented they were, but sometimes not. Regardless, their very flesh was altered in subtle ways by their constant interactions with magic. Apparently Ezra knew exactly what those ways were. Sister Ariel should have guessed that. Among no few other achievements, he had been a Sa’salar, a Lord of Healing. He had created the Dark Hunter—created a living being!

  Oh, Sister Jessie, did you walk right through this wall of magic? Did you really think yourself cleverer than Ezra himself? How many mages’ bones litter this damned forest?

  She was letting her mind get off the problem at hand. She was still alive. She had made it past the first barrier. Now she needed to do something with that accomplishment. She needed to get that damned gold plaque. It was stuck, twenty feet away, just at the top of a small hillock. It was so close, and yet she had no hope of getting it. Her examination of Ezra’s traps had left her convinced of it. It would take her years to dismantle his traps. Years, if ever. Even if she had the time, she would never be sure that she hadn’t missed something. She could never be sure how many other layers of protection were left. Ezra might have spun this ward in a few days. He might have intended that this layer be penetrated by weak mages. Sister Ariel could spend her whole life dismantling traps and never uncover Ezra’s real secrets.

  If she’d come here as a younger woman, she might have thought it a worthy use of her life. But as a younger woman, she’d been much more idealistic. She’d believed in the Chantry with the kind of foolish faith that most people reserve for their religion. If Ezra did possess devastatingly powerful artifacts, woul
d Ariel really want to deliver those to the Speaker? Would she trust Istariel with something that would multiply her power ten times?

  Stop it. Ariel, you’re letting your mind wander again.

  She looked at the plaque. Then she started laughing. It was so simple. She stood and started walking back to the village.

  She returned an hour later with a full stomach and a rope. Master Zoralat had been kind enough to show her how to make and throw a lasso. For the last two days she’d wondered how to get the plaque—and for two days she’d thought of only magical means. Stupid stupid stupid.

  The next several hours proved her clumsy as well. How many times in her life had she sneered at the men who worked the Chantry’s stables? This was the kind of exercise every Sister should be exposed to—in front of all the stable hands in the Chantry.

  The day ended and she still hadn’t lassoed the plaque. She did her cursing in the forest and went home. The next day she returned, her arm and shoulder aching. It took her another three hours, during which she cursed herself, cursed the rope, cursed Ezra, cursed her lack of exercise, and just cursed—but all silently.

  When the lasso finally dropped around the plaque, she could swear the gold glowed briefly. She wanted to extend her senses to see what had just happened, but it was too far away. She decided there was nothing to do but pull the damned thing in.

  At first, the plaque wouldn’t move. It was somehow stuck. Then, as Ariel pulled, part of the hillock shifted and rolled over, freeing the plaque. It wasn’t a hillock; it was Sister Jessie’s body. She’d been dead for weeks. Mold grew over her bright robes, obscuring the bloodstains. It looked like a claw had torn away half of her head in a single terrible swipe. Since her death, no animals had disturbed her body: there were no bears or coyotes or ravens or other carrion feeders in Ezra’s Wood, but the worms were well into their work.

  Sister Ariel looked away, allowing herself a moment to be a woman confronting an acquaintance’s mutilated body. She breathed slowly, glad that Jessie’s body was as far away as it was. She’d been this close for days, and she’d never even smelled decay. Was that a trick of the wind, or magic?

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