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Authors: Brent Weeks

Tags: #Fantasy

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“Oh, I’m sure you are,” Ferkudi said. “I mean, if you say so. It was a real question. I don’t know what ‘suave’ means.” He cut off suddenly. “Hold the door! Who’s the village idiot of the Mighty?”

“Was that a real question, too?” Ben-hadad muttered.

Kip peered past the edge of a curtain—and then he understood what Cruxer had meant. Hundreds of people were gathered, yelling and waving crude little green flags and banners he couldn’t read from here.

“They might not look like much . . .” Tisis said.

“The banners or the people?” Ben-hadad asked.

Tisis went on quietly without answering. “But you encourage these ones, and they get excited. They spread the word that becoming king is what you really want but maybe you just can’t say it. Tomorrow the crowd’s bigger. If no one stops them, that day or the next, some disaffected nobles join in, hoping their early allegiance will curry favor. The next day, others are joining fast, no one wanting to be the last.”

“They can’t be serious,” Kip said. King?

“They
believe
,” Ferkudi said, like it was simple.

Winsen said, “I know we’re not supposed to say the magic words . . .”

“But you’re going to say them anyway?” Cruxer said.

Winsen said, “How are you surprised by this? Being a king? There’ve been hundreds of kings—”

“Not since the Seven Satrapies were founded,” Kip said.

“Being a king’s like barely the second rung on the ladder to the heavens, and you’re heading pretty near the top of it.”

Ben-hadad said, “Don’t say it.”

“You’re the
Lightbringer
, the
Luíseach
here or whatever,” Winsen said.

“He said it,” Ben-hadad said.

“He just had to say it,” Big Leo said.

“Win, the rest of you, too?! Are you
serious
with this?!” Kip said. “Setting that up—even talking about it with the kitchen staff or, or anyone!—it’s totally destructive for everything we’re trying to do here. If you encourage that kind of talk, we might do a hundred amazing things, but if we don’t do
one
thing from some stupid prophecy, maybe even one we don’t know about—or even if some idiot wrote it down wrong or translated it wrong three hundred years ago or whatever—then all of a sudden, everyone on our side loses heart, because I look like a fraud. Rather than being a leader who’s helping save a satrapy, I look like some delusional megalomaniac who thinks he’s Lucidonius come again! Do you really not see how that’s a problem?!”

“Right, we’ve heard it before,” Winsen said. “It’s too late. You’re asking us to pretend because you don’t like the pressure? Tough shit. People already
are
joining us because they believe in you. Sure, deny it publicly, play it however you want, but the cards are on the table, you—”

“Enough!” Tisis said. “Win, you’re a moron. Do you not remember why we’re here?”

“We invaded?” Winsen asked. “Liberated, I mean.”


Here
, here,” she said.

Kip saw it dawn on the slight archer: Oh, right, spies might be listening to every word. Shit.

“Kip,” Tisis said, “ignore him.”

Of course, all of them were trying to think whether Winsen—or Kip—had said anything that would be disastrous if it had been overheard.

Tisis went on: “The real reason the people here might dream of you as their king is simple. In their hour of need, Satrap Willow Bough did nothing for them. The Chromeria did practically nothing. You? You saved these people from the Blood Robes. And then you saved them from their own nobles, literally saved their lives when you fed them. And then you gave them reason to be proud of their city and their history when you fixed
Túsaíonn Domhan
. You gave them a new heart. You breathed new life into them; how can they forget that big empty throne in the audience chamber? Why would they
not
want you to be king?”

“Pfft. They’re desperate,” Kip said. “But they’re not desperate for
me
to be king. Me, so obviously a foreigner? I mean, who cares what my grandfather’s titles say? Look at me. Come on. They’re just desperate
to be saved
. I’m just a vessel to pour their hopes into.”

“Could do worse,” Ben-hadad said.

“That’s a rousing endorsement! I’ve got one cheek on the throne already!” Kip said.

“Room’s clear,” Cruxer announced suddenly. “One minute while our people put the luxin seals in place, then we can speak freely.”

“Finally,” Ben-hadad said. “I’m so glad Winsen will no longer have to hold back how he really feels.”

“We’re not so good at this being-devious thing, are we?” Big Leo asked.

He hadn’t meant it as a shot at Kip, but Kip couldn’t help but think it reflected most on him. He should have discovered if there were spies, and whose. He should’ve figured out exactly what lies to funnel to that person to make them do what he wanted.

Andross Guile would have.

Cruxer said, “Súil, thank you. Excellent work. You’re getting faster, aren’t you?”

She beamed through a sheen of sweat.

Cruxer was good at that, looking out for people. It was one of the reasons Kip loved him.

They all broke to get their packs and papers. Everyone in the room had responsibilities and reports to deliver.

As Tisis quickly donned nondescript clothing, then ducked out, Kip looked at his own papers for the strategy session, but he had no heart to go over them again. “You called me ‘Kip’?” he asked Cruxer quietly.

“Mmm.”

“That wasn’t an accident or a pretense for the spies, was it?”

Cruxer looked for a moment like he wanted to deny it, but a lie wouldn’t escape the cage of his teeth. “Our Breaker was a Blackguard scrub. Sure, he’d break some rules, break expectations, a bully’s arm, a chair”—he flashed a grin at that memory—“but I don’t think that boy would break the empire. I guess it slipped out. I guess I’ve been wondering if maybe you’re more their Lord Guile than our Breaker. Maybe it was an ill omen, that name.”

“You gave it to me,” Kip said.

“I hadn’t forgotten,” Cruxer said. “Lot of things about that year that I regret.”

“Ah, come on! ‘King Breaker,’ ” Winsen said. They hadn’t realized he was still close. “How can you not love that? Say . . . Bennie?”

“ ‘
Bennie
’?” Ben-hadad asked.

Winsen said, “Yeah. You think a man destined to kill kings might be called a king-breaker, Bennie?”

Ben-hadad looked at him flatly. He tested the heft of the cane he still used half the time.

“You know . . . Breaker would be King Breaker, the . . . king-breaker?” Winsen asked. “Because the White King is, you know, a king . . .”

“You’re only coming to this now?” Ben-hadad asked. “Ferkudi asked about that a year ago.”

Coming up to stand beside Ben-hadad, Big Leo rumbled, “Looks like maybe your earlier question’s a little more complicated than you thought.”

“Question?” Winsen asked. “Which question?”

“ ‘Who’s the village idiot of the Mighty?’ ” Ben-hadad and Big Leo said at the same time. They raised their eyebrows in unison at Winsen.

Big Leo put out a massive paw for a fist salute. Ben-hadad met it without having to look.

Winsen answered with a finger salute for each of them.

“Enough grab-ass,” Cruxer said, the phrase and even the intonation borrowed from old Commander Ironfist. “Everyone to the table.”

Somehow, Tisis had set up and activated the war map with all the most current updates already. She briefly kissed Kip’s cheek—they were trying to be less irritating with their affections around the Mighty—and left. Moments later, Kip’s drafters sealed the doors.

Everyone began examining the big map. Kip had been doing a little trick Súil had taught him, using a small amount of paryl, which was highly sensitive to other colors, to make a form of a small portion of the three-dimensional map, then quickly filling in the colors with other luxins to make a fragile copy of Green Haven and its surroundings. He turned it around and tilted it to get a sense of how the changes in elevation might affect sight lines, and the flow of horses and men in a battle.

But he was really just stalling.

Cruxer turned to him. “Over to you, milord. How bad is our situation?”

Kip squeezed his outspread fingers, and the luxin city in his hands snapped and fell into multicolored dust. “Asking it that way really implies that things are bad. And they’re not.”

“Oh, thank Orholam,” Ben-hadad said, “because with what we heard last night, and then when Tisis first came in this morning, her expression—”

“They’re
appalling
,” Kip said. “Awful, bleak, dire . . .”

“But surely not—” Ferkudi said.

“Hopeless?” Kip asked.

They all fell silent.

Then Ben-hadad asked, “Was that a question, or an answer?”

“Yes,” Kip said. “Green Haven is under siege, and they’re led by incompetents and fools. If the capital falls, the satrapy falls. We’re the only ones who can possibly save them. But the Council of the Divines isn’t willing to give us the support they promised they would if we saved this city. Worse, they may not even have it. They also won’t give us access to the palace’s Great Mirror array, which probably won’t even help us much even
if
I win another pointless fight over it. Our most popular and capable general, Conn Arthur, has snapped and deserted. Sibéal Siofra has disappeared, too. Maybe she went after him, but she’s not only his best friend, she also held my one long-shot hope of getting the pygmies to join us in the war. Let’s see, what’s next? The big one? Sure! In trying to gain the initiative, I’ve blundered horribly instead. Immediately after the battle, when I sent nearly all the Nightbringers’ will-casters and their animal partners on ahead of us to attack the White King’s supply lines to disrupt their siege? Tisis has just discovered that the White King did the same to us first, weeks if not months ago. He’s blocked the Great River behind us. We don’t know where. We can’t get any intel or reinforcements from the rest of the Seven Satrapies. And now, after I’ve sent away our most powerful forces, it appears one of the bandit kings—a lovely fellow named Daragh the Coward—has gained sudden wealth and a huge number of recruits and may lay siege to us here within days. I suspect he’s been bought by the White King. So you tell me: is ‘hopeless’ a question, or the answer?”

Some of this was news even since last night, and they all took a moment to absorb it.

What would you do here, father?

Kip suddenly stood, because the first step at least was obvious.

Maybe it was time to see if he was the son of Gavin Guile after all. He looked over at Cruxer, and his commander’s throat bobbed as he saw what Kip intended.

Kip flashed him a grin.

And maybe it was the grin that did it, the intimation of confidence, for instead of raising an objection, Cruxer nodded. He was in with Kip, categorically.

Kip strode to the windows, head high, threw back the drapes, and waved to the damned crowd, smiling broadly.

They cheered. Of course they did.

Chapter 8

Teia thought there were two kinds of women most aware of how many people at a party are staring at them: a pretty one who opts for much more daring clothing than usual, and a hideous one who’s dressed the same way and only becomes aware of her mistake as her carriage pulls away, leaving her stranded. She’d never really been the former, but right now she felt a hell of a lot like the latter.

Please don’t look my way. Please don’t look my way.

She moved through the Chromeria with her heart in her throat. If the wrong eyes spotted her, she wouldn’t face scorn. She’d face death, and consign her father to it as well.

A couple hours ago, she’d felt like some kind of avenging nocturnal angel: I’ll be a ghost, haunting their dreams!

That would make them nightmares, she supposed.

I’ll haunt their nightmares! . . . But do you
haunt
nightmares? Why not a nice empty house? Maybe in the countryside. With cheese, maybe. And wine.

I am
not
good at this being-scary business.

As she ascended the Prism’s Tower invisibly, she felt less like a phantom and more like a mouse in the stables. No one noticed her, but if they did, it was far more likely to be disastrous for her than for them. And that was just on the slaves’ stairs.

An invisible assassin breaking into the White’s quarters was, after all, exactly the kind of thing that the Blackguard had been formed to stop. She’d done it before, but she’d also rushed across a busy street without looking and lived—that didn’t make it a good idea to do it repeatedly.

In the first hours after leaving Gavin Guile alive, Teia had retrieved a few of her things from the barracks—again dodging invisibly around her compatriots and friends. Because any of them might be working for the Order of the Broken Eye, she had to appear to have simply vanished. The Old Man of the Desert would check, after all.

Whoever he or she was, they had certainly not survived this long—like a tapeworm in the guts of the Chromeria itself—without being fanatically careful.

She’d had to take a few hours to plot, and to rest.

The truth was, even after training for the last year with the master cloak, the longest Teia could comfortably stay invisible was still only a couple hours.

Now, with night full upon the Jaspers and the shift change about to begin, it was time to sneak into Karris’s room and tell her that her husband, Gavin, was alive. Further, he’d been
here
in the Chromeria itself, mere hours ago.

And Teia hadn’t saved him. Oh, and she hadn’t reported earlier, when there might have been a good chance at rescue.

It was not a report Teia relished giving.

She made it into the room on the heels of Watch Captain Blunt and Kerea—neither of whom was a sub-red, thank Orholam. They checked the room’s balcony, the slaves’ closet, and the windows, even though, as Teia saw immediately, Karris wasn’t asleep, nor alone.

The young White was in her bed, lying on her back, resting. Blackguard Trainer Samite stood at the foot of her bed, at ease. Her face was stone, and she didn’t move, even when Watch Captain Blunt hesitated at the door, his scheduled sweep of the room completed. He motioned to his younger partner to leave.

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