The night angel trilogy, p.92
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.92

           Brent Weeks
 

  It was only today that she’d learned they were wedding rings. Drissa and Tevor had explained the custom at length. Between taking those and the note, Vi had left Elene with nothing.

  She hadn’t been brave enough to tell Kylar about that, had she?

  It was just too much truth. She could have accepted Kylar killing her, but she didn’t know what to do if Kylar despised her. If he knew her, he would despise her. There was no way love could overcome so much.

  Love? What am I thinking? Limit yourself to fighting and fucking, Vi. You’re good at those.

  The door to a patient room opened and Kylar came in. Logan stepped in from another.

  For the first time, Vi saw Kylar smile. It did something strange inside her when he smiled like that—and he wasn’t even looking at her. He bowed deeply. “Your Majesty,” Kylar said.

  “My friend,” Logan said. He was achingly thin, his bones poking at his skin. Despite that, he had an unmistakable aura of rallying health. Dressed richly once more, he was handsome despite his ordeal. He crossed the distance quickly and hugged Kylar.

  “I’m sorry,” Kylar said. “I came too late that night. I found blood and I thought… I’m so sorry.”

  Logan squeezed Kylar silently, heaving great breaths until the emotions died down. Finally, he stepped back and held onto Kylar’s shoulders.

  “You’ve done so well, my friend. I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m sorry I ever doubted you. Someday soon we will have to talk. You—you did some things down there that…” Logan looked around, aware of the others. “That I’m really curious about. And I seem to have some holes in my memory, like how I got this.”

  He pulled back his sleeve and Vi and Momma K gasped. Sunken into his arm was something like a glowing silvery-green tattoo. He didn’t show the whole thing, but to Vi the lines looked stylized and abstract, not random.

  “Your Majesty,” Drissa Nile said. “I would be… very cautious about showing that.”

  “I’m sorry to press you,” Momma K said, “but we have to make some decisions.”

  “You mean I have to make some decisions,” Logan said, his tone whimsical.

  “Yes, Your Majesty, pardon me.”

  Logan addressed Kylar first. “You have done us greater service than we could demand or hope for. I won’t order you, but we deem it most mete for…” He got a faraway look and let the sentence trail off.

  “Sire?” Kylar asked.

  Logan snapped back into the present. “Odd. I’ve been cursing with the worst of the Holers for months, and now I’m back to ‘deeming’ and judging what is ‘mete.’ ” He shook his head and smirked ruefully. “Kylar, it comes down to this. If you can kill the Godking before our armies close for battle, we might avert battle altogether. I ask you to do this, but I won’t order it. You’ve already made enormous sacrifices to save me. And I know that you don’t trust this woman, but if she can help, use her help. Her surrender when she could have killed us is proof enough of her good intentions for me. Vi is as much a weapon as you are, and I can let none of the weapons in my small arsenal lie idle.”

  “You think that’s the right thing to do?” Kylar asked.

  Logan gave him a measured look. “Yes.”

  “Then it’s done,” Kylar said. “What are you going to do?”

  “I’m going to ask Terah Graesin for my army. Then I’m going to take back our country.”

  “It won’t be that simple,” Momma K said.

  Logan smiled a wan, distant smile. “It never is.”

  58

  Elene woke with a blinding headache. She couldn’t move her arms or legs; when she tried, her feet and hands tingled. Opening her eyes, she saw three other captives, bound hand and foot as she was. Another rope bound them to each other. They lay in the darkness, their forms lit only by the flickering light of the Khalidorans’ fire. Elene lay nearest to the six Khalidorans, who were laughing and drinking, slipping between words Elene understood and what she guessed must be Khalidoran.

  She didn’t dare move too much and alert them, so all she could see of them was the young man who’d captured her. From the conversation, she picked up that his name was Ghorran. The others mocked him for getting hurt by some woman.

  For a moment, the gravity of Elene’s situation threatened to overwhelm her. Kylar didn’t know she was here. No one knew she was here. No one was going to come save her. These men could do anything they wanted to her, and there was nothing she could do to stop them. Her chest tightened with fear and she couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.

  Then she started praying, reminding herself that the God knew she was here. It was a small thing for the God to save her. Eventually, she calmed. By that time, several of the soldiers had gone to their blankets to sleep, leaving Ghorran and someone she couldn’t see talking in hushed tones.

  “I don’t think Vürdmeister Dada has even told His Holiness what we’re doing,” Ghorran said. “There’s a reason Black Barrow is forbidden ground. If His Holiness finds out, what happens to us?”

  “Neph Dada is a great man, and most zealous in his service of Khali. If he serves her, and His Holiness does not, whose side would you rather be on?” the other asked.

  “I heard he wants to raise a Titan, is that what you’re saying?”

  The other man laughed quietly. “The Vürdmeister wants to do a hundred things. Of course he wants a Titan, but that isn’t why he needs untouched young women, is it?”

  “Khalivos ras en me,” Ghorran said, awed. “Khali come live in me.”

  “Indeed.”

  “Is it possible?”

  “The Vürdmeister thinks so.”

  Ghorran breathed a curse. “Then what about the boy? What’s he for?”

  “Mm, not that important. They’ll kill him and see what they can raise from his body. The meisters just want the corpse fresh.”

  Elene had heard of Black Barrow; it was an ancient, dead battlefield. It was said nothing grew there to this day. But she couldn’t understand any of the rest of it, except that Vürdmeister Neph Dada had something planned for her that was worse than slavery. She lay her head back down and saw that the captive nearest her was awake. He was a young boy. He looked terrified.

  59

  Momma K had saved Logan’s life today.

  His little army, consisting of Lord General Agon, Momma K, and Agon’s Dogs, was riding into the rebel camp to cheers. It would have been much different if Momma K hadn’t planted rumors that Logan was returning after triumphing over the worst horrors of the Maw. Without the rumors as forerunners, the band would have been greeted as an unknown army, and Terah Graesin could have had Logan killed. Doubtless, many tears would have been shed afterward about the terrible mistake.

  The old, naive Logan wouldn’t have believed that Terah Graesin would do such a thing. Logan the Holer knew differently. He was a changed man, quieter, sobered. He knew all too well what people would do when they were threatened.

  And Terah Graesin had to see Logan as a threat. She’d rallied support for the last three months. She’d survived assassination attempts and lost family members. She’d assembled an army and had brought it to the eve of battle. All to be queen.

  Logan’s appearance threatened to make her ambition implode on the eve of her triumph. His legitimacy was unquestionable: he’d come from the nation’s leading family, he’d been declared the Gunder’s heir, and he’d married into the Gunder family. Numerous families had sworn fealty to Terah Graesin only because they had thought they were free of their earlier oaths to the Gyres.

  Any other time, Logan would have gone to Havermere and sent missives to all the families in the realm, including the Graesins. He would have given Terah a chance to see her coalition falling apart, and then offered her a suitable position.

  This wasn’t any other time. The rebel army was assembled less than a mile from the Godking’s. The Cenarians outnumbered the Khalidoran army two to one. The Khalidorans had meisters and Vürdmeisters, but it still looked like a
sure victory.

  To Logan, Agon, and Momma K, it looked like a Cenarian massacre in the offing. So here he was, riding at the head of his tiny army of a hundred into the heart of the rebel camp.

  He was lucky it was an overcast day, because after three months in the Hole, his eyes couldn’t handle full daylight. Squinting didn’t lend itself to a particularly regal look.

  They were nearing the cluster of the nobles’ pavilions when a group of a dozen horsemen rode out to meet them. They were led by an officer carrying an unstrung Alitaeran longbow like a staff. Logan and his army came to a stop.

  “Declare yourself,” Sergeant Gamble said.

  “This,” Agon said loudly enough for the man and the bystanders to hear, “is King Logan Gyre, by law and tradition heir to the throne and now king of our great land. The king is dead, long live the king.”

  It was a declaration of war, and the word would blaze through the camp within minutes. Momma K had already sent word to Logan’s steward, and the Gyre men-at-arms were already positioned nearest the noble pavilions. They cheered.

  “The queen will see you now, my lord,” Sergeant Gamble said.

  Logan dismounted in front of Terah Graesin’s pavilion. When Momma K and Agon Brant made to follow him, the guards stopped them. “Only you, sir,” one of them said.

  Logan stared at the man. He said nothing. For a moment, he let the beast rise within. He had not lived through hell to be stopped by a guard. The feeling flew past determination to rage. He felt his forearm tingle.

  The guard stepped back and swallowed. “My lord,” he said weakly, “only nobles are—”

  Logan stared at him and the words dried up. Momma K and Agon followed him inside.

  The queen’s pavilion was huge. Tables and maps and nobles were scattered liberally around the interior. Some of the men looked positively comical, their fat squashed into armor they hadn’t donned in twenty years. Black and white tiles sat in two bowls on one of the tables. By the gods, they’re voting on their battle plan. Beside Momma K, Brant Agon made a strangled sound of outrage.

  Momma K was looking around the room as quickly as she could, counting allies, potential allies, and sure enemies. She knew she could give Logan a crown if he gave her two weeks to work her special brand of truth. With only one day until a major battle against the one enemy everyone hated, the odds changed drastically. Her only hope was that someone disposable would attack her or Logan or Brant Agon first. Then she could ruin him, and making an implacable foe of him wouldn’t hurt Logan too much.

  “Why Logan Gyre, how the mighty have fallen,” Terah Graesin said, emerging from behind several taller lords, sashaying across the luxurious rugs. “Who would have expected you to appear in the company of whores and has-beens? Or is it cripples and cunts?”

  The nobles snickered.

  “Looking to get into the business?” Momma K asked.

  You could have heard a feather drop in the sudden silence. Momma K couldn’t care less about their shock. Terah Graesin had greeted Logan with claws out. That wasn’t good.

  A young man pushed forward from the crowd. “If you speak like that again, I’ll kill you myself,” Luc Graesin said. He was Terah’s brother, seventeen years old, handsome, and a damned fool.

  Oh, Luc, you have no idea. I know your secret. I could end you right now.

  Except that she couldn’t. Here, now, wild truths delivered without prelude wouldn’t be believed. Terah Graesin would only dig in her heels. “Pardon me,” Momma K said, “Titles are switching hands so fast recently, I’d forgotten I was speaking to a duchess.”

  “Queen!” Luc said. “Your queen!”

  Momma K lifted her eyebrows as if he were trying to put one over on her. A little reminder to everyone how far and how fast Terah Graesin was attempting to rise. “But here stands the rightful king,” Momma K said. “Designated heir by King Gunder IX and received by common acclamation. The man to whom you’ve already pledged fealty.” But she knew she’d already lost. She saw it in the defiance, the absolute hatred, in Terah Graesin’s face.

  “That’s enough, Gwinvere,” Logan said.

  She smiled her acquiescence. She stepped back, her head down, abruptly meek.

  “May I remind everyone,” a voice near the maps said, “that tomorrow we face the Godking and his wytches?” It was Count Drake, ever the peacemaker.

  “We need no reminders,” Terah Graesin said. “We have our army, we have our battlefield, we have the advantage, and in a few more moments, we’ll have our battle plan.”

  “No,” Agon said.

  “Excuse me?” Terah asked, indignant.

  “You have His Majesty’s army,” Agon said. “My lords, many of you were there at the feast before the coup. Garret Urwer, your father died beside me in the north tower. As did your uncle, Bran Braeton. They died going to save our king, Logan Gyre. You were there—”

  “Enough!” Terah Graesin cried. “We know what the mad king said.”

  So the king had been insane when he’d designated Logan his heir. It wasn’t a perfect line of attack, but it was good enough. Given time, Momma K would have reminded everyone of the timing of the coup, of the irrelevance of the king’s sanity to the legality of his decrees, and of Logan’s marriage to Jenine. Given time, Momma K could have orchestrated pressure from all sides to get Terah to surrender her claim. Now all that was immaterial. She simply had to wait for the inevitable.

  “My lady,” Duke Havrin Wesseros said, “they say only what would be said in backrooms and great rooms throughout the kingdom if there were time. It seems to me that we all have decisions to make now, and little time in which to make them.”

  “I won’t hear their lies,” Terah hissed.

  “Don’t you see?” Duke Wesseros said. “If you won’t hear them out, Logan will leave, and he won’t leave alone. He’ll take half of our army with him, maybe more. Does anyone fancy taking on the Khalidorans with half an army?”

  Closer. But you’re worried about the wrong person leaving.

  Agon said, “As you say, the king was mad when he died. The Sa’kagé poisoned him at the feast.”

  “Poisoned? You murdered him, Brant!” Garret Urwer cried out.

  “Yes, I killed him,” Agon said. “I won’t justify that deed now. What’s important is that Khalidor wished to wipe out the royal family to cause exactly this. They wished to split any resistance before it could begin. King Gunder saw that coming, which is why—not the night of the coup, when he was poisoned, but earlier in the day—he married his daughter Jenine to Logan. Many of you have sworn oaths to Lady Graesin. But your fealty was already owed to Logan Gyre. Thus, you’re released from your oaths to the duchess.”

  “I release none of you!” Terah Graesin shrilled.

  Pandemonium broke out. Nobles were screaming at each other, gathering in clumps to talk with their advisers and the lords closest to them, some pressing toward Terah Graesin, others pressing toward Logan. Logan watched it all, impassive. He understood, too.

  “Hold on,” Duke Wesseros said. He looked a lot like his sister Nalia, the last queen. He’d been out of the city checking on lands the Lae’knaught had seized in eastern Cenaria when the coup had occurred. He raised his hands and gradually the nobles quieted. “The hour grows late, and an army waits for us,” Duke Wesseros said. “Stand to the side of the man or the woman you would have rule us.”

  “Why don’t you vote with the stones instead, that people may vote for who they truly wish to lead?” Momma K said. Inwardly, she cursed. She should have let one of the other lords suggest it, but Wesseros had brought up voting so quickly that Momma K hadn’t had the chance. All the talk was worth nothing if they didn’t have a blind vote.

  “Tomorrow we must stand on the field of battle. I think today we have the courage to stand in a tent,” Terah Graesin said. Clever bitch.

  Silence fell again, and then people started moving.

  Momma K had been depressingly accurate in her estimations of who
would end up where. For the most part, the minor nobles looked like they would prefer to go to Logan but didn’t dare defy their lords, which was why Momma K had wanted the blind vote. Terah had concentrated her bribes on the powerful.

  As it was, they had a three-way split. Logan, Terah, and undecided.

  “As I suspected,” Duke Wesseros said. He led the undecided camp. “The rhetoric has done nothing. With the assassinations of the Gunders, only three great families are left in our country, and here we stand. It seems to me that there is a golden mean, a middle way. Logan Gyre, Terah Graesin, with the fate of all your countrymen at stake, will you put aside your own selfish ambitions?” The buffoon. The idiot. The pox-ridden windbag. He thought he was being smart. If the duke hadn’t created a third camp, Logan at least would have had a majority. They would still have had a chance.

  “What are you talking about?” Terah asked.

  Logan already knew. Momma K could see it in his stony face.

  “This night, on the eve of a battle that will determine the future of our land, will you split our forces, or will you join them? Logan, Terah, will you marry tonight?”

  Terah looked around the room quickly, judging who stood with her. Her support was eroding. She looked at those who stood defiant on Logan’s side, those who stood passive with Duke Wesseros. Then she looked at Logan. It wasn’t the look a woman gives a suitor. It was a probe for weakness.

  “For the country I love, yes,” Terah Graesin said.

  “Logan?”

  “Yes,” Logan said woodenly. Gods help him.

  60

  They had erected a platform so the entire army could see the wedding. Men had already gathered from their fires, and their officers were beginning to organize them into ranks for the ceremony as the moon rose. Besides the army, several thousand commoners and camp followers had crowded around the platform.

  “Logan,” Count Drake said, closing the flap of the little tent where Logan was getting ready, “You can’t do this.”

 

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