The night angel trilogy, p.91
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.91

           Brent Weeks
 

  He couldn’t look her in the eye. “You don’t know what it’s like,” he said. “They have spies everywhere. Your own family will turn you in if you make the wrong joke. He knows.”

  “But why beat up whores?”

  “It’s not just whores. It’s everyone. It’s the suffering we need. For the Strangers.”

  “What do you mean? What strangers?”

  But he wouldn’t say any more. A moment later, he stared at the bed sheets. Blood in the mattress was soaking through the fresh sheet. Kaldrosa stabbed him in the eye. The whole time, even when he came after her, bleeding, roaring, furious, she’d never been afraid.

  Facing Tomman, though, that was too much. They’d fought bitterly before she left for Momma K’s. He would have forcibly restrained her except that he’d been beaten so severely he couldn’t get out of bed. Tomman had always been jealous. No, Kaldrosa couldn’t face him. She’d leave with the others and go to the rebel camp. She didn’t know what she’d do there. They were inland and nowhere near a river, so jobs as a captain would likely be scarce. In fact, if she couldn’t obtain clothes that covered her up more, honest labor of any kind would be scarce. Still, after Khalidorans, being a rent girl for Cenarians might not be too bad.

  There was a knock on the door and all the girls tensed. It wasn’t the signal knock. No one moved. Daydra picked up a poker from the fireplace.

  The knock sounded again. “Please,” a man’s voice said. “I mean no harm. I’m unarmed. Please, let me in.”

  Kaldrosa’s heart leapt into her throat. She went to the door in a fog.

  “What are you doing?” Daydra whispered.

  Kaldrosa opened the peep window, and there he was. Tomman saw her and his face lit up. “You’re alive! Oh gods, Kaldrosa, I thought you might be dead. What’s wrong? Let me in.”

  The latch seemed to lift itself. Kaldrosa was helpless. The door burst open and Tomman swept her into his arms.

  “Oh, Kally,” he said, still delirious with joy. Tomman had always been a little slow. “I didn’t know if—”

  He only noticed the other women gathered around the room then, their expressions either joy or jealousy. Though he was hugging her and she couldn’t see his face, Kaldrosa knew that he must be blinking stupidly at the sight of so many beautiful, exotic women all at the same time, and all of them scarcely wearing anything. Even Daydra’s virginal dress breathed sensuality. His hug was slowly stiffening, and Kaldrosa was limp in his arms.

  Tomman stepped back and looked at her. His hands flopped off of her shoulders like a fish onto the deck, spastically.

  It really was a beautiful costume. Kaldrosa had always hated her skinny figure; she thought she looked like a boy. Wearing this, she didn’t feel scrawny or boyish; she felt trim, nubile. The open-fronted shirt not only showed that she was tanned to the waist, but also conspired to give her cleavage and expose half of each breast. The scandalous trousers fit like a glove.

  In short, it was exactly the kind of thing Tomman would have loved to see Kaldrosa wearing in their home—for the brief interludes that extended between when she surprised him with it and when he caught her after chasing her around the house.

  But this wasn’t their home, and these clothes weren’t for Tomman. His eyes filled with grief. He looked away.

  The girls went very quiet.

  After an aching moment, he said, “You’re beautiful.” He choked and tears cascaded down his face.

  “Tomman…” She was crying too, trying to cover herself with her arms. It was a bitter irony. She was trying to cover herself from her husband’s eyes, when she had flaunted herself for strangers she despised.

  “How many men have you been with?” he asked, his voice cracking.

  “They would have killed you—”

  “So now I’m not man enough?” he snapped. He wasn’t crying now. He’d always been brave, fierce. It was one of the things she loved about him. He would have died to save her from this. He’d never realized he would have died and then she’d have had to do this anyway.

  “They hurt me,” she said.

  “How many?” His voice was hard, brittle.

  “I don’t know.” Part of her knew that he was like a dog crazed with pain, snapping at its master. But the disgust on his face was too much. She was disgusting. She surrendered to the deadness and despair. “A lot. Nine or ten a day.”

  His face twisted and he turned away.

  “Tomman, don’t leave me. Please.”

  He stopped, but he didn’t turn. Then he walked out.

  As the door swung gently shut, she began keening. The other girls went to her, their hearts broken anew as her grief mirrored theirs. Knowing she would not be comforted, they went to her because she had no one else who would, and neither did they.

  56

  Momma K stepped into the physickers’ shop as Kylar swept the sword up into his hand, but she was too late to stop him.

  Vi didn’t move. She knelt motionless, her shiny red hair pulled out of the sword’s path to her neck. The sword descended—and bounced off. The shock of the collision rang the sword like a bell. The sword whisked out of Kylar’s nerveless grip.

  “You will not do murder in my shop,” Drissa Nile said. Her voice carried such power, and her eyes such fire, that her diminutive frame might as well have been a giant’s. Even though Kylar had to look down to meet her eyes, he was intimidated. “We’ve accomplished an excellent piece of healing with this woman, and I’ll not have you spoil it,” Drissa said.

  “You healed her?” Kylar asked.

  Vi still hadn’t moved. She faced the floor.

  “From compulsion,” Momma K said. “Am I right?”

  “How did you know that?” Tevor asked.

  “If it happens in my city, I know,” Momma K said. She turned to Kylar. “The Godking bound her with a magic that forced her to obey direct orders.”

  “How convenient,” Kylar said. His face contorted as he crushed the tears that were rising. “I don’t care. She killed Jarl. I mopped up his blood. I buried him.”

  Momma K touched Kylar’s arm. “Kylar, Vi and Jarl practically grew up together. Jarl protected her. They were friends, Kylar. The kind of friends that never forget. I don’t believe anything less than magic could have compelled her to hurt him. Isn’t that right, Vi?” Momma K put her hand under Vi’s chin and brought her face up.

  Tears streamed down Vi’s face in mute testimony.

  “What did Durzo teach you, Kylar?” Momma K asked. “A wetboy is a knife. Is the guilt the knife’s or the hand’s?”

  “Both, and damn Durzo for his lies.”

  There was a knife on Kylar’s belt, but he’d already tested its edge. Sister Drissa had blunted it, as he had guessed she might. But she didn’t know about the blades up his sleeves. Nor could she stop the weapons that were his hands.

  Vi saw the look in his eyes. She was a wetboy. She knew. He could get a knife out and across her throat in the time it took Drissa to blink. Let the healer try to cure death. Vi’s eyes were black with guilt, a mishmash of dark images he couldn’t comprehend. A short rush of black figures passed through his mind’s eye. Her victims?

  ~She’s murdered fewer people than you have.~

  The thought hit him like a shot in the solar plexus. Some guilt. Some judge.

  And the look on her face was all readiness above the tears. There was no self-pity, no avoidance of responsibility. Her eyes spoke for her: I killed Jarl; I deserve to die. If you kill me, I won’t blame you.

  “Before you decide, you have to know there’s more,” Vi said. “You were a secondary target. After…. After Jarl, I couldn’t do it—”

  “Well, that’s commendable,” Momma K said.

  “—so I kidnapped Uly, to make sure you’d follow me.”

  “You what?” Kylar said.

  “I figured you’d follow me back to Cenaria. The Godking wants you alive. But Sister Ariel captured me and Uly. When we found you, I thought you were dead. I tho
ught I was free, so I escaped Sister Ariel and came here.”

  “Where’s Uly?”

  “On her way to the Chantry. Uly’s Talented. She’s going to be a maja.”

  It was horrifying and yet perfect.

  Uly would be a Sister. She’d be taken care of, educated. Kylar had imposed Uly on Elene. Elene hadn’t chosen to have a daughter who was more the age of a little sister. It wasn’t a burden that had been fair for Kylar to ask her to assume. This way, and with the fortune that Kylar had left her, Elene would be free to have her own life again. It was all logical.

  He had a niggling doubt that he wasn’t thinking the way Elene would think, he could do nothing about that. Finding out that the damage had been minimized—hadn’t it?—eased his mind.

  A sudden fire lit in Momma K’s eyes at the thought of her daughter being taken to the Chantry, but Kylar couldn’t tell whether she was upset that her daughter had been taken or pleased that her daughter would certainly become a woman of consequence. Either way, Momma K quickly smothered it. She wasn’t about to let strangers know Uly was her daughter.

  If he got through this, Kylar would go to the Chantry and see Uly. He wasn’t angry that they’d taken her from Vi. If anything, he owed them. And for a girl who was Talented, going to the Chantry wasn’t really optional. It was supposed to be dangerous for a child to learn on her own. But if Uly didn’t want to stay and they tried to keep her, Kylar would tear down the White Seraph around the Sisters’ ears.

  But just thinking about Uly made him think about Elene, and thinking about Elene threw his emotions into turmoil, so Kylar asked, “Why are you so eager to save Vi?” Momma K never worked on just one level.

  “Because,” Momma K said, “if you’re going to kill the Godking, you’ll need Vi’s help.”

  Say one thing for Curoch: the mages are wrong. It wasn’t in the form of a sword for purely symbolic reasons. The son of a bitch could cut.

  It was a good thing, too. The sa’ceurai were implacable. They were called sa’ceurai, Old Jaeran for “sword lords,” for good reason.

  Nonetheless, Feir was a Blade Master of the Second Echelon. The first clash left three of the Ceuran warriors dead and gave Feir a short, tough pony.

  Soon, Feir’s height and weight proved a liability again. The pony tired and slowed. In the darkness, Feir let it go. Unfortunately, the little warhorse was trained too well. It stopped and waited for its rider the moment it was released. Feir solved that problem tying a small weave of magic under its saddle that randomly prickled. It would keep the beast running for hours. If he were lucky, the sa’ceurai would lose his trail and follow the horse.

  He was lucky. It bought him a number of hours—hours on foot. It brought him to the crest of the mountain. He had cut a sapling before he’d hiked above the tree line, and now he was working on the wood with Curoch. The sword had an edge like he couldn’t believe, but it wasn’t a plane, or a chisel. Right now, he needed both and a few other tools besides.

  Dorian once told him about a sport the more suicidal highland tribes practiced. They called it schluss. It consisted of strapping small sleds to one’s feet and going downhill at incredible speeds. Standing. Dorian contended that they could steer, but Feir hadn’t figured out how. All he knew was that he had to go faster than the Ceurans pursuing him, and there was no way he could build a full sled in the time he had.

  What he couldn’t accomplish with the blade, he accomplished with magic: he was a Maker, after all. Wood chips flew as the sun rose.

  But he had skylined himself like a fool, standing right at the edge of the mountain so that his figure was clearly visible for miles. The sa’ceurai saw him before he saw them. They had dismounted and were walking on top of the snow with broad woven bamboo shoes strapped to their feet. The gait they had to assume to keep from tripping over the snowshoes was comical—until Feir realized how fast it let them travel. They would cover in a few minutes what had taken Feir half an hour lumbering through the snow.

  He worked faster. He almost forgot to turn up the front tip of each long, narrow sled. He shook his head. He’d caught that mistake, what else had he missed? He didn’t have time to fashion proper fasteners, so he wove a web of magic around his shoes and feet and bound them directly to the wood planks. He stood—

  —and immediately caught an edge and fell.

  Damn, why’d I square the edges? He should have left them curving like a boat’s hull.

  Standing was embarrassingly difficult. Feir cursed as the Ceurans came closer. He was a Second Echelon Blade Master—and he was this clumsy? This was madness. He should have just run downhill.

  He rolled over onto his butt and finally used the length of the planks to lever himself into a squat. He stood and tried to step forward. The schlusses, which he had smoothed and polished, did exactly what they were supposed to do: they slid back and forth, and Feir barely moved.

  Feir looked over his shoulder. The sa’ceurai were a bare hundred paces back now. If it came to a fight, the schlusses would doom him. He stumbled, caught an edge, and threw his foot to the side to catch himself. He staggered—and slid forward.

  The joy was as great as he’d felt when he’d been named a Maker in the Brotherhood. He turned each schluss outward and pushed forward.

  It worked until he got to the edge and started moving downhill faster than he could step. Each schluss went the way he had pointed it: out. His legs stretched until they could stretch no more and he pitched forward on his face.

  The mountain was steep and the snow mercifully deep. Air was scarce as Feir flipped over and over through the powder. He was dimly aware that he needed to point the schlusses downhill. After six or seven rolls, it happened.

  Suddenly Feir burst out of the omnipresent snow. The snow was at least three feet deep, but he was on top of it.

  His heart was a thunder in his chest. He was headed straight downhill at incredible speed. In moments he was going faster than the fastest horse, and then faster and faster still. Controlling the two schlusses independently was almost impossible, so he quickly lashed them together with magic, both front and back, giving each a little leeway.

  There were more crashes, and sometimes the snow wasn’t as forgiving. Finally, Feir learned how to steer. He steered around a rocky death and looked downhill for the first time, squinting against the white. He blinked. What is that line in the snow?

  He shot over the precipice. For two seconds, there was no schluss of sleds on snow. The world was silent except for the blast of wind in his ears.

  Then he landed. He crashed through a world of white powder, flipping, arms and legs pulled every which way. Then the miracle happened again and he popped out of the snow to fly downhill once more. His heart hammered. He laughed.

  He had Curoch. He was safe. The Ceurans wouldn’t follow him down the mountain. Doing so would put them in Cenaria. He’d escaped!

  “Incredible,” Lantano Garuwashi said. He was a big man for a Ceuran. His red hair hung thick and long with dozens of narrow sections of differently colored hair bound in. In Ceura, it was said that you could read a man’s life in his hair. At a boy’s clan initiation, his head was shaved bald except for one forelock. When the forelock had grown the length of three fingers, it was bound with a tiny ring and the boy declared a man. When he killed his first warrior, the forelock was bound again at the scalp and he became sa’ceurai. The shorter the span between the two rings on their forelocks, the better. Thereafter, when the sa’ceurai killed an enemy, he bound the slain man’s forelock to his own hair.

  At first, a few warriors had thought Lantano only had one ring, because his first two were right on top of each other. He killed his first opponent at thirteen. In the seventeen years since, he’d added fifty-nine locks to his own hair. Had he been born a little higher, all of Ceura would have followed him. But a sa’ceurai’s soul was his sword, and nothing could change that Lantano had been born with an iron sword, a peasant sword. Lantano was a warlord because Ceuran tradition al
lowed any man of excellence to lead armies, but for Lantano it had become a trap. As soon as he stopped fighting, his power ended. He’d begun fighting for Ceura’s regent, Hideo Watanabe. Then, when the regent ordered him to disband, he became a mercenary instead. Desperate men flocked to his banners for one reason: he never lost.

  The giant was becoming a speck in the distance.

  “War Master, do you wish us follow?” a stump of a man with a score of locks tied in his balding hair asked.

  “We’ll try the caves,” Lantano said.

  “Into Cenaria?”

  “Just a hundred sa’ceurai. It’ll be a cold winter. Killing this giant will give us a tale to keep us warm.”

  57

  Momma K wanted Agon and his army to take Logan to the rebel camp. If he were to be king, he needed an army. Kylar refused to leave his friend, at least until Logan was conscious. When Kylar fainted, Agon asked Momma K if they should load Logan into the wagon. Momma K cursed and railed but said no.

  They never asked Vi’s opinion. She was content. She wanted to atone for what she’d done, but she didn’t want to think.

  Even as she sat with Kylar and Momma K and Agon, a part of her urged her to kill them. The Godking rewarded those who served him well. She could wipe out all the greatest threats to the Godking’s rule in one minute.

  She didn’t obey that thought. She’d been judged innocent. She’d come completely clean.

  Almost. She’d realized only lately that perhaps the most damaging thing she’d done to Kylar was something that had seemed trivial at the time, a small gesture of contempt. She’d pocketed the note and pair of earrings Kylar had left for Elene.

 
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