The Night Angel Trilogy, p.82Brent Weeks
“You mean she would have killed me? Would you, Vi?” Uly asked.
Vi was glad the girl was sitting behind her so she couldn’t see the guilt written all over her face. Why did she care what Uly thought?
“You can look at it in a negative light or a positive one, Ulyssandra,” Sister Ariel said. “Negative: she normally would have killed you. Positive: she didn’t—and she’s had many opportunities to change her mind since then and still hasn’t. You might even say Vi likes you.”
“Do you like me, Vi?” Uly asked.
“I’d like to kick you in the head,” Vi said.
“Don’t take it too hard,” Sister Ariel said. “With the way she was raised, Vi’s a—well, let’s be charitable—let’s call her an emotional cripple. She’s probably only poorly able to differentiate between most of her emotions, feeling comfortable only with rage, anger, and condescension because they make her feel strong. Indeed, I’d guess her interactions with you may well be the first positive ones she’s had in her entire life.”
“Stop it,” Vi said. Ariel was cutting her into pieces and scoffing at the bits.
“This is positive?” Uly said.
“She doesn’t shy away from your touch, Uly. When you ride with her, she’s at ease. For anyone else, she’d be constantly on guard.”
“I’ll kill the little wench the first chance I get,” Vi said.
“Bluster,” Ariel said.
“What’s that mean?” Uly asked.
“It means horseshit,” Vi said.
“So you just keep being nice to her, Uly,” Ariel said, ignoring Vi, “because probably no one else in your tyro class will like her very much.”
“In our class?” Vi asked. “You’re putting me with the children?”
Sister Ariel looked surprised. “Why yes. And you should be nice to Ulyssandra, because she’s got more Talent than you do. And none of your bad habits.”
“You cruel, cruel bitch,” Vi said. “I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to break me, but I’ll tell you what. Nothing can break me. I’ve been through everything.”
Sister Ariel turned her face to the setting sun that limned the treetops of a small copse in front of them. “That, my dear, is where you’re wrong. You are already broken, Vi. You were broken years ago and you healed hunched. And now you’re broken again and trying to heal even more hunched. I won’t let that happen. I’ll break you one more time if I have to so you don’t have to be a cripple anymore. But I can’t make the choice to be healthy for you. And I don’t promise a lack of scars. But you can be a better woman than you are now.”
“A woman who looks a lot like you?” Vi sneered.
“Oh no. You’re more passionate than I ever was,” Sister Ariel said. “I’m afraid I’m a bit of an emotional cripple myself. Too much brain, they say. Too comfortable in my own mind. I never had to come out. But I was born this way; you were made. And you’re right; you’ll not learn what you need to know from me.”
“Were you ever in love?” Uly asked.
Vi wondered where the hell that came from, but the question must have been a good one because it hit Sister Ariel like shovel across the face.
“Huh. That’s a—a very good question,” Ariel said.
“He left you for someone who wasn’t so cold and ugly, didn’t he?” Vi asked, with a little twist of satisfaction.
Ariel said nothing for a moment. “I see you aren’t without claws,” Ariel said, quietly. “Not that I expected any less.”
Uly jabbed her fingers into Vi’s ribs to chastise her, but Vi ignored her. “So you never got around to your point. Why are we going west?”
“There’s a sister who lives this way. She’s going to nursemaid you two while I scout out the rebel camp for a suitable woman.”
“What are you looking for?” Uly asked.
“We should start looking for a place to set up camp. It’s getting dark. Looks like we’re not going to make it to Carissa’s tonight,” Sister Ariel said.
“Aw, please?” Uly said. “It’s not that dark and we don’t have anything else to talk about.”
Sister Ariel seemed to chew it over. She shrugged. “I’m looking for a highly Talented woman who is ambitious, charismatic, and obedient.”
“Ambitious and obedient? Good luck,” Vi said.
“If she were willing to be obedient to the Speaker, she’d have personal instruction, a rapid rise through the ranks, a lot of attention and power—but all those are easy. The problem is that she has to be new because we have to be sure of her loyalties, and she has to be married. A woman whose husband is Talented would be the real gem.”
“So when you find this married woman, you’re going to kidnap her?” Vi asked. “Isn’t that a little risky?”
“Another person might have said immoral, but… well, a truly kidnapped woman wouldn’t cooperate. Ideally, we’d like to have the man on the premises. Just sticking a wedding ring on a woman’s hand isn’t going to cut it. The more permanent and steady the marriage appears, the better.”
“Why not have Vi do it?” Uly asked. “She doesn’t want to be stuck in classes with me and the other twelve-year-olds anyway.”
Ariel shook her head. “Believe me, I thought of her first, but she’s totally unsuited to the task.”
“You mean as a student or a wife?” Vi asked.
“Both. No offense, but I’ve known men who married the wrong woman, and they were all miserable. I’m sure we could ask some man to marry you, and we’d get lots of takers. You’re a beautiful woman and around beautiful women men tend to think with their—” she looked at Uly and cleared her throat—“irrational side. Even if we could bribe the right fool, and believe me, the Chantry would—they won’t put some man’s happiness ahead of the Chantry’s welfare—even then it wouldn’t happen. Vi isn’t trustworthy. She isn’t obedient. Nor is she intelligent enough—”
“You really are a bitch,” Vi said, but Sister Ariel ignored her.
“—and besides, she’d probably try to run away, which would destroy her usefulness to us and waste all our effort. So, like I said, totally unsuitable.”
Vi stared at her hatefully. She knew the whole discussion had just been a ploy to cut her down, tell her how unworthy she was, but the intelligence comment had cut deeper than anything. For all the times that she’d been complimented in her life—men did a lot of that when they were trying to get up your skirts—whether the compliments had been crass or poetic, they had always been about her body. She was smart, dammit.
Sister Ariel stared right back at her. Then she seemed to look deeper.
“Stop!” she said.
Vi stopped. “What?”
Sister Ariel nudged her horse awkwardly until after a few attempts she got it to move beside Vi. She reached out and grabbed Vi’s face in both of her hands.
“That son of a bitch,” Ariel said. “Don’t let anyone heal this, do you understand? He’s—wow—look at that. If anyone touches this with magic, there are weaves of fire that will be unleashed around all of the major blood vessels in your brain. And that looks suspiciously like… have you lost control of your body at any time you can remember?”
“What do you mean, like pissed myself?”
“You’d know what I mean if it had happened. I’m going to have to see if Sister Drissa Nile will come back. She’s the only one I’d let touch this.”
“Who’s that?” Uly asked.
“She’s a healer. The best with tiny weaves that I know. Has some little shop in Cenaria, last I heard.”
“You’re not going to tell me anything else about this weave that’s supposed to kill me?” Vi said.
“Not unless you tell me who set it.”
“You can go—”
“If you curse me one more time, you’ll regret it,” Sister Ariel said.
The last punishment had been bad enough and the satisfaction for cursing small enough that Vi choked back her words.
They had entered the copse of
Uly followed her gaze. “What’s that?”
“I think it’s a body,” Vi said. And then, as they left the path to take a closer look, her heart soared. It was indeed a body—a death that meant life for her. It was freedom and a new start. The dead man was Kylar.
Elene’s whole body was in pain. She’d been riding as hard as she could bear for six days, and she still hadn’t made it to Torras Bend. Her knees hurt, her back hurt, her thighs were in agony, and she still wasn’t gaining any time on Uly and Uly’s kidnapper. She knew that because she asked everyone she passed on the road if they’d seen a woman and child riding hard to the north. Most of them hadn’t, but those who had remembered. If anything, Elene had been falling behind. And it was all up to Elene now.
The guards of the city watch had passed her yesterday, going back to Caernarvon. They’d assured her that a woman, especially a woman encumbered with a child, couldn’t have ridden faster than they had. They had given up and gone home. One look at their faces and she knew she would have no luck convincing them otherwise. They were tired and probably under orders not to cross the Lae’knaught who sometimes wandered this far east. Elene let them go. What mattered more than the city watch was Kylar. He’d come this way, too. At some point, he’d passed the kidnapper and Uly—because he hadn’t been looking for them.
But she was almost to Torras Bend. Tonight she would sleep in a bed. Bathe. Then she would find out if the kidnapper had headed toward Cenaria, as Elene suspected. And have a hot meal. Elene was daydreaming when she saw the Lae’knaught.
They straddled the road in the middle of some of the largest wheat fields south of Torras Bend. If Elene had wanted to go around them, she’d have to go miles to the east and risk crossing into Ezra’s Wood, which was supposed to be haunted. As it was, it was too late. They’d already seen her, and the knights had horses saddled and ready to give chase.
Elene approached them directly, suddenly acutely aware of being a woman traveling alone. There were six men, all armed, and as she neared, all of them stood to intercept her. Over chain hauberks, they wore black tabards emblazoned with a golden sun: the pure light of reason beating back the darkness of superstition. She’d never come across the Lae’knaught, but she knew Kylar didn’t think much of them. They professed not to believe in magic, but hated it at the same time. Kylar said they were nothing more than bullies. If they really hated Khalidorans, he’d said, they would have come to Cenaria’s aid when the Godking invaded. Instead, they’d hovered like vultures, picking up recruits among the fleeing Cenarians and scavenging off Cenarian lands.
One of the standing knights stepped forward. He held his twelve-foot ash lance carefully. It looked too long to use on foot, but Elene knew that once mounted, all of the knights’ awkwardness would vanish. “Halt, in the name of the Bringers of the Freedom of the Light,” he said. Elene guessed he couldn’t be more than sixteen. As Elene stopped, he stepped forward and grabbed the reins. She wasn’t sure what they were so nervous about, and then she realized what should have been immediately obvious. When they saw a woman traveling alone, they saw vulnerability. No normal woman would travel alone, therefore, she must not be a normal woman. She must be a wytch. Elene’s stomach tightened.
“Thank goodness,” Elene said, sighing as if with relief. She almost said thank the God, but she didn’t think the Lae’knaught believed in gods, either. “Can you help me?”
“What is it? What are you doing alone on these roads?” one of the older ones asked.
“Have you seen a young woman, maybe with red hair, traveling with a young girl? Maybe two days ago? No?” Elene slumped, and the sudden pained look on her face was real, even slumping hurt after how much she’d ridden. “I guess she would certainly have avoided you, given what she is. You’re certain you didn’t see anyone, maybe trying to avoid you by traveling farther east?”
“What are you talking about, young lady? What’s happened? How can we help?” the knight asked. From the change in his voice, Elene knew he no longer saw her as a threat. Acting weak and vulnerable had done the trick.
“I’ve come from Caernarvon,” Elene said. “We were originally from Cenaria, but we left as soon as those awful men and their wytches invaded. We were making a new life, Uly and me—Uly’s the little girl, my ward. Her parents were killed by the wytches…. We thought we were safe in Caernarvon, but she was kidnapped, sirs. I just had to follow her. The city watch came a way, but then they turned back. I’m afraid I’ll never catch up.”
“It’s just like those damn Sisters, kidnapping a child,” the youngest knight said. “That letter said—”
The older knight barked, “Marcus!”
The men were all looking at each other, and Elene knew that her near-truths had not only worked, but that they knew something more. The knights withdrew, leaving the young Marcus standing and looking at her scars awkwardly. Then he realized he was staring, and coughed into his hand.
The older knights returned after a few minutes. The eldest spoke again, “Usually, we’d like to take you to the underlord to tell him all this yourself, but I can see that time is crucial. In fact, we’d love to go with you to help, but our orders are to stay south of Torras Bend. Politics. The thing is, there was a messenger this morning. We intercept all correspondence from Chantry wytches. Well, here. We’ve already made a copy.” He handed her a letter.
“Elene,” the letter read in a looping, flowing script, “Uly is safe now, I have taken her from the custody of the woman who took her from you, but I’m afraid I can’t send her home. Uly is Talented, and she is on her way to the Chantry, where she will receive the best tutelage in the world and material advantages beyond what you could hope to provide. I understand that you have no reason to believe that this letter is from me. If you wish, you may go to the Chantry to see Uly yourself, or even take her home, should you both wish it. As soon as she arrives safely at the Chantry, she will write to you. I apologize, and if other events weren’t so pressing, I would deliver this message myself. Sincerely, Sister Ariel Wyant Sa’fastae.”
She had to read the letter two more times before she could grasp what it was saying. Someone had kidnapped Uly from her kidnapper? Uly was Talented?
In the end, the letter changed nothing. Elene still had to go to Torras Bend and find out what the villagers knew. If what it said was true, she would have to go north and on to the Chantry. If not, she’d have to head west, to Cenaria. Still, the kidnapper wouldn’t have known that Elene was following her. It wasn’t like she’d been closing in on them.
“Damn wytches,” the young knight said. “Always kidnapping little girls, turning them away from the Light and into more like themselves.”
Elene was suddenly relieved she’d told the truth to these men. If her story hadn’t lined up with the letter, things would have gone very differently. “No, it’s all right,” she said. “I’ll have to press on hard if I’ve hoping of finding Uly before she gets in their clutches.”
“Be careful,” the older knight said. “Not all of these villagers love the Light.”
“Thank you for your help,” Elene said. With that, she rode on toward Torras Bend, her mind awhirl.
Whenever Ariel saw something she thought was fascinating or puzzling, she had a curious talent for memorizing it. It had been an enormous benefit when studying, of course, because she was able to picture whole sections of scrolls and find whatever she needed.
She was lucky enough now to not be looking at the corpse. She was looking at Vi’s and Uly’s faces—and each face’s expression was locked in the vault of her memory. Vi’s was all exhilaration, a thrill that might just have come from seeing death. Ariel hoped that wasn’t it. She hoped there was more to it than that, that Vi had had some personal reason to want Kylar dead. If not, Vi might be l
Kylar had been a father figure to the girl. Uly was a tenderhearted child. She hadn’t grown up in the Warrens or any other place where she had to see death on a daily basis. The sight of her adoptive father stripped to his underclothes and lying dead by the side of the road should have left her shocked. She should look distant or in denial—not curious. Had she just not recognized him yet? Then Uly’s expression shifted to something Ariel thought was elation. Elation? Surely that couldn’t be right. Why would the girl be happy?
Ariel was interrupted as she realized she was having her own emotions about seeing Kylar dead. She tried to label them as quickly as possible so she could file them away and get back to the task at hand. Disappointment, yes. She’d been planning something clever for Kylar and it wasn’t going to work now. A little bit of grief. Kylar had seemed like the kind of man she would like. Curiosity at how such a capable man had let himself be killed. Some sorrow for how it would affect Uly—good enough, that will do. Having labeled her emotions, she set them aside.
Uly looked up and saw Ariel staring at her. “He’s not dead,” Uly said. “He’s just hurt.”
“Girl,” Vi said. “I’ve seen lots of dead people. He’s dead.”
“He’ll get better.”
It sounded like denial, and Vi obviously took it as such, but it wasn’t.
Sister Ariel unrolled the mental scroll to examine the expression on Uly’s face and watch it change. Curiosity to elation. Curiosity to elation. Uly saw that he was dead—it was obvious from how pale he was that he’d been here for quite some time, maybe a day—but Uly wasn’t surprised and she wasn’t worried. Why? Did she really believe he’d get better?
Sister Ariel reached out with her Talent and touched Kylar and realization whooshed over her—no, it crashed over her like a ten-foot wave, leaving her breathless and sputtering. Her magic was sucked from the air into Kylar’s body, channeled a hundred different ways to join in the healing that was going on within him.
The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes