The night angel trilogy, p.80
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.80
 

           Brent Weeks

  They started backing up together, Ferl looking at his feet and then at the Vürdmeister across the face from them. The young man had a glowing green missile circling slowly around his body. He knew his quarry was getting away from him. The missile started spinning faster and faster.

  Ferl forced the baron closer to the edge in a silent threat.

  The missile slowed and they could see the Vürdmeister’s mouth moving in inaudible curses. Ferl extended his middle finger to the man in a silent salute. A moment later, laughing, the baron copied the gesture.

  Then a stone shifted under Ferl’s heel as he stepped backward. He was slipping, pulling Baron Kirof right on top of himself.

  There was only one thing to do. He pushed the baron toward the edge as hard as he could, propelling his own body to safety.

  He landed on his butt on the ledge. He could see the baron’s fingers clinging to the edge. Ferl rolled close and saw the baron’s eyes as round as saucers.

  “Help!” the baron shouted.

  Ferl didn’t move.

  In the end, Fatty was simply too fat. He held on for a moment longer, then his spindly arms couldn’t hold him anymore. His fingers slipped off the rock.

  The fall took a long time, but Fatty never screamed. Together, Ferl and the Vürdmeister watched him sail to the rocky shores of death.

  On the other side of the mountain, the Vürdmeister’s face seemed to fall as far as the baron’s body. The Godking was not understanding of failure.

  Ferl scooted back from the edge and around the bend. He congratulated himself on having the foresight to keep the pack.

  42

  The Gyre estate at Havermere had undergone huge changes since Kylar passed through with Elene and Uly on the way to Caernarvon. Then, it had been nearly empty. Without a lord to protect them, some of the farmers had moved away. The coming harvest and this year’s fortunate lack of Ceuran or Lae’knaught raids were the only reasons the rest stayed.

  Now, the estate was filled to overflowing, and it took Kylar only a moment to guess why. The resistance had moved its base to Havermere. They were a few days’ hard ride outside Cenaria, which put them close enough to strike at patrols but far enough to flee if the Godking mustered a large force against them. The richness of the harvest and the resources of the Gyre household—which included hundreds of the best horses in the country, a substantial armory, and walls that would be defensible at least against anyone who wasn’t using magic—made it a perfect base. Kylar wondered if they had seized it by force, or if the Gyre steward had welcomed the army in.

  He paused as he first caught sight of the company in the early morning darkness. If he wanted to, he could probably avoid detection—or at least interference. They probably hadn’t seen him yet, not in this light, though he had no idea how good their sentries were. Finally, he figured he might as well find out what was happening in Havermere. If Logan were still alive and Kylar managed to rescue him, this would be where they would come. If he could let Logan know what was waiting for him, all the better.

  Still, before he rode on, he fixed his Durzo disguise to his face. It was much easier than the only other disguise he’d constructed—Baron Kirof—and probably less dangerous. The rebels who knew Baron Kirof would want to kill him. The rebels who knew Durzo would probably pretend they didn’t—no one in their right mind would admit to knowing a wetboy. And it was better than going as himself.

  A Kylar Stern who showed up in the rebel camp was a Kylar Stern who was committing himself to their cause. Besides, he didn’t know yet if the Kylar persona was safe. Elene had told Lord General Agon, and Kylar didn’t know if Agon had passed the word along.

  So here he was, sitting on his horse, trying to fix Durzo’s face to his. It wasn’t easy, even though he’d spent days—weeks—perfecting the disguise. The problems were manifold.

  First, you had to remember the face perfectly. Even after years of looking at Durzo Blint, that was harder than Kylar would have imagined. He’d spent weeks after initially starting the project remembering just how the little lines at the corners of Durzo’s eyes turned down, placing the pocks that had pitted his cheeks, getting the shape of the eyebrows right, adjusting the wisps of his thin beard. Then, when he’d thought he had that perfect, he’d realized he was only beginning.

  A static face wasn’t a disguise. He needed to anchor every moving spot of that face to his, so that it moved almost the same way. Almost. The fact was, even after ten years of being raised by Durzo and years of picking up little mannerisms from him, Kylar’s facial expressions weren’t much like Durzo’s. So, the Durzo face glowered when he frowned, smirked when he smiled, and sneered when he grimaced, plus a hundred other things that he’d added as they occurred to him during long hours spent making faces at himself in the mirror.

  Even then, the disguise wasn’t complete. Durzo had been tall. Kylar was just pushing average. So after making his disguise, he projected it upward a good six inches. When someone tried to stare Durzo in the eye, he was looking over Kylar’s head. It took a lot of discipline to remember to stare at the person’s neck so Durzo would be looking back into their eyes. That was one thing Kylar hadn’t fixed yet: he’d tried to make it so he could look wherever he wanted and Durzo’s eyes would follow from six inches higher, but he hadn’t figured out how yet.

  And of course, if anyone tried to touch the face or the shoulders he projected, the illusion was destroyed. Kylar had tried to make the illusion ethereal, so something that touched it would slip right through. It hadn’t worked. The Talent mesh—or whatever it was—was physical. If anything thicker than rain hit it, it broke apart. Kylar had tried to take that the other way, too, and give it physical form, so that light touches against it might feel resistance like a real face or real shoulders would provide. That hadn’t worked either.

  All in all, it was a damned lot of work for what turned out to be a mediocre disguise. Now Kylar understood why Durzo had preferred makeup.

  He nudged his horse’s flanks with his heels, and they descended into Havermere.

  The sentries didn’t appear surprised to see him riding out of the dawn, so maybe their perimeter was better than he’d thought. “State your business,” a tough-looking teenager said.

  “I’m a native of Cenaria but I’ve lived in Caernarvon for the last few years. I heard things had settled down for the most part. I’ve got family in Cenaria and I’m going to see if they’re all right.” It was quick, and he’d probably explained too much, but a nervous trader would probably do the same.

  “What’s your trade?”

  “I’m an herb merchant and apothecary. Normally, I’d take the opportunity to bring some herbs along with me, but my last cargo was destroyed by bandits. The bastards burned my wagon when they found it didn’t have any gold in it. Tell me, who did that help? Anyway, I can make better time this way.”

  “Are you armed?” the young man asked. He seemed more relaxed, though, and Kylar could tell he believed him.

  “Of course I’m armed. Do you think I’m mad?” Kylar asked.

  “Fair enough. Go ahead.”

  Kylar rode into the camp that was spread out before Havermere’s gates. It was well-organized, laid out in neat rows with toilets at regular intervals away from the cooking pits, numerous permanent or semi-permanent buildings, and clear lanes for foot and horse traffic. But it wasn’t very military. Some of the structures looked like they were planning on staying through the winter, but the fortifications around the camp were laughable. From the looks of things, all the nobles and their personal guards had taken residence in the Gyre estate, while the soldiers and civilians who had thrown in their lot with the rebels were out here, trying their best to make do.

  Kylar was looking at a wood building, trying to divine its purpose, when he almost rode down a man wearing a pince nez and limping on a cane. The man looked up and appeared as shocked as Kylar was.

  “Durzo?” Count Drake asked. “I thought you were dead.”

&nbs
p; Kylar froze. It was so good to see Count Drake alive that his control of the disguise almost wavered. The count looked older now, careworn. He’d walked with a limp since Kylar had known him, but he’d never needed a cane before.

  “Is there some place we can talk, Count Drake?” Kylar barely stopped himself from calling him “sir.”

  “Yes, yes of course. Why are you calling me that? You haven’t called me Count Drake in years.”

  “Uh… it has been a while. How did you get out?”

  Count Drake squinted at him, and Kylar stared at Count Drake’s chest, hoping that Durzo’s eyes were meeting Count Drake’s. “Are you well?” Count Drake asked.

  Dismounting, Kylar extended his hand and clasped Count Drake’s wrist. The man clasping his wrist back felt real, solid, the way Count Drake had always felt. He was an anchor, and Kylar was overwhelmed between an urge to tell him everything and shame just as strong.

  The danger in talking to Count Drake was that everything became clear as he listened. Decisions that had seemed so muddy became suddenly simple. Something in Kylar shied away from that. If Count Drake really knew him, he’d stop loving him. A wetboy doesn’t have friends.

  Count Drake led him to a tent near the center of the camp. He sat in a chair, his leg obviously stiff. “It’s a little drafty, but if we’re still here we’ll shore it up before winter.”

  “We?” Kylar asked.

  The joy leached out of the count’s eyes. “My wife and Ilena and I. Serah and Magdalyn didn’t—didn’t make it out. Serah was a comfort woman. We heard… she hanged herself with her bed sheets. Magdalyn is either a comfort woman or one of the Godking’s concubines, last we heard.” He cleared his throat. “Most of them don’t last very long.”

  So it was true. Kylar hadn’t thought Jarl was lying, but he hadn’t been able to believe it. “I’m so sorry,” Kylar said. Words were totally inadequate. Comfort women. Bound into the cruelest, most dehumanizing form of slavery Kylar knew: magically sterilized and given a room in the Khalidoran barracks for the convenience of the soldiers—a convenience used dozens of times a day. His stomach churned.

  “Yes. It’s a, an open wound,” Count Drake said, his face gray. “Our Khalidoran brethren have given themselves over to the worst appetites. Please, come inside. Let’s talk about the war we have to win.”

  Kylar stepped inside, but the churning in his stomach didn’t stop. It intensified. As he saw Ilena Drake, the count’s youngest daughter, who was now fourteen, that guilt crushed in on him. God, what if they’d caught her, too?

  “Could you heat up some ootai for us?” the count asked his daughter. “You remember my daughter?” he asked Kylar.

  “Ilena, right?” Ilena had always been his favorite. She had her mother’s cool complexion and white-blonde hair and her father’s penchant for mischief, untempered by her father’s years.

  “Pleased to meet you,” the girl said politely. Damn, she was becoming a lady. When had that happened?

  Kylar looked back to the count. “So what’s your title or your position here?”

  “Titles? Position?” Count Drake smiled and spun his cane on its point. “Terah Graesin has been bargaining off titles, trying to tie families into the rebellion. But when it comes to actually getting things done, she’s glad to have my help.”

  “You’re joking.”

  “Afraid not. That’s why we’re still here—what is it? Three months since the coup? She’s only allowed small raids against supply lines and poorly defended outposts. She’s afraid that if we get handed a big loss the families will back out and swear their allegiance to the Godking.”

  “That’s no way to win a war.”

  “No one knows how to win a war against Khalidor. Nobody’s fought successfully against an army reinforced with wytches in decades,” Count Drake said. “There are reports that the Khalidorans are having troubles along the Freeze. She’s hoping that most of them will be sent home before the snows block Screaming Winds.”

  “I thought we held Screaming Winds,” Kylar said.

  “We did,” Count Drake said. “I even got news from my friend Solon Tofusin to signal them when we were ready to march for war. The garrison there had the best Cenarian troops in the realm, veterans, every one.”

  “And?” Kylar asked.

  “They’re all dead. Killed themselves or lay down and let someone slit their throats. My spies say it was the work of the goddess Khali. That just adds to the duchess’s caution.”

  “Terah Graesin,” Ilena said, “does most of her campaigning on her back.”

  “Ilena!” her father said.

  “It’s true. I spend every day with her maids-in-waiting,” Ilena said, scowling.

  “Ilena.”

  “Sorry.”

  Kylar was shaken. It was impossible. Gods were superstition and madness. But what superstition would drive hundreds of veterans to suicide?

  Ilena hadn’t taken her eyes off Kylar since he came into the tent. She looked at him like he was going to try to steal something.

  “So what’s the plan?” Kylar asked, taking ootai from the frowning girl. Too late, he realized he wouldn’t be able to drink it—Durzo’s lips were in the wrong place.

  “So far as I can tell,” the count said, pained, “there isn’t one. She’s talked about a big offensive, but I’m afraid she doesn’t know what to do. She’s been trying to hire wetboys; there was even a Ymmuri stalker here a few weeks ago—scary sort—but I think she’s trying to stack the deck but not play the game. She’s gathering an army, but she doesn’t know what to do with it. She’s a political creature, not a martial one. She doesn’t have any military men in her circle.”

  “It sounds like this is going to be the shortest-lived rebellion in history.”

  “Stop encouraging me.” Count Drake sipped his ootai. “So what brings you here? Not work, I hope?”

  “What kind of work do you do?” Ilena asked.

  “Ilena, be silent or be gone,” Count Drake said.

  At her expression, which was at once wounded and peeved, Kylar coughed into his hand and looked away to keep from laughing.

  When he looked up, Ilena’s expression had changed altogether. Her eyes were bright and wide.

  “It is you!” she said. “Kylar!”

  She threw herself into his arms, knocking the delicate ootai cup from his hands and utterly smashing the illusion as she hugged him.

  The count was shocked into silence. Kylar looked at him, aghast.

  “You big oaf, hug me!” Ilena said.

  Kylar laughed and hugged her. Gods, it felt good—really, really good—to be hugged. She squeezed as hard as she could, and he picked her up as he hugged her. He pretended to squeeze as hard as he could. She squeezed harder until he cried out for mercy. They laughed again—they’d always hugged like that—and he set her down.

  “Oh, Kylar, that was so the slam,” she said. “How did you do that? Can you teach me? Will you, please?”

  “Ilena, let the man breathe,” her father said, but he was grinning. “I should have recognized the voice.”

  “My voice! Oh, sh—darn!” Kylar said. Altering his voice would either require some great acting—which seemed to be beyond him—or more magic. That meant more hours working with a single disguise. When would he find the time to do that?

  “Well,” the count said, tucking away his pince nez and picking up the pieces of his shattered ootai cup, “it would seem we need to talk. Shall Ilena be excused?”

  “Oh, don’t make me go, father.”

  “Um, yes,” Kylar said. “See ya, squirt.”

  “I don’t want to go.”

  Count Drake gave her a look and she wilted. She stomped her foot and marched out.

  Then they were alone. Count Drake said gently, “What happened to you, son?”

  Kylar picked at a ragged fingernail, stared at a few splinters of the shattered ootai cup on the ground, looked anywhere but at those accepting eyes. “Sir, do you think a man
can change?”

  “Absolutely,” Count Drake said. “Absolutely, but usually he just becomes more himself. Why don’t you tell me everything?”

  So Kylar did. Everything from the Jadwin estate to breaking his oaths to Elene and Uly, and the raw, gnawing sore that left in his stomach. Finally, he was finished. “I could have stopped it,” he said. “I could have ended the war before it began. I’m so sorry. Mags and Serah would be safe if I’d killed Durzo before…”

  The count was rubbing his temples as tears leaked down his cheeks. “No, son. Stop that.”

  “What would you have done, sir?”

  “If I knew stabbing Durzo in the back would save Serah and Magdalyn? I’d have stabbed him, son. But it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. Unless you’re a king or a general, the only life you have the right to sacrifice for the greater good is your own. You did the right thing. Now let’s talk about this little jaunt to the Maw. Are you sure this rumor is true?”

  “The Shinga came to tell me himself—and died for it.”

  “Jarl’s dead?” Count Drake asked. It was a blow, Kylar could see.

  “You knew about Jarl?” Kylar asked.

  “He’d been talking with me. He was planning an uprising to give us a chance to split Ursuul’s forces. The people believed in him. They loved him. Even the thieves and killers were beginning to believe they could have a new start.”

  “Sir, after I rescue Logan…”

  “Don’t say it.”

  “I’m gonna go after Mags.”

  Count Drake’s face was gray once more, hopeless. “You save Logan Gyre and you do it fast. Ulana will be sorry she missed you, but you have to go now.”

  Kylar stood and replaced the Durzo mask. Count Drake watched and his face regained some life. “You know, you have tricks that are—well, the slam.”

  They laughed together. “One more question,” Kylar said. “I’ve been thinking that it might be good for rumors to get out that Logan is alive before he shows up. I mean, it will give the people something to hope for and it will make it easier for him to consolidate power when he does appear. Should I tell Terah Graesin he’s alive?”

 
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