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Authors: Brent Weeks

Tags: #Fantasy

The Burning White (7 page)

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And then she was gone.

She wasn’t really mad at him, he knew. She’d apologize for this tonight. They were all of them adjusting to the burdens of their new, magnified positions and the quagmire they’d stepped into. Tisis was trying to take care of Kip as well as everything else—first, even—and it must seem to her that he wasn’t even trying to help her help him. He was spending precious minutes talking about dreams while he was late to a council of war?

But he hadn’t even told her the worst part, the thing out of all the landscape of impossibilities that had actually struck him as bizarre before he even woke. The young Andross Guile that Kip had seen from the inside during his dream? Kip had sort of
liked
him.

“No need to cry, Your High and Mighty, I’m here,” Winsen said.

Kip looked up, surprised. He hadn’t even heard the door open.

Winsen. Why did it have to be Winsen?

Kip wasn’t crying, anyway. Just feeling morose. Not that he expected Winsen to understand fine gradations of emotions.

“Where are the servants?” Kip asked.

“I asked them to step out so I could assassinate you,” Winsen said.

“You’re not gonna let that go, are you?” Kip thought he only thought it, but it slipped out. Damn, just when he thought he was getting better at governing his tongue, Kip the Lip showed up again.

“Let it go?” Winsen said. “You all looked at me like I was really gonna kill you. Except Ferk. But that’s only because he’s too dumb. I think he was just running over to give me a lecture on weapon safety.”

“You know,” Kip said, rubbing his eyes, “I kind of hate you sometimes.”

“Yeah, but you hate me less than anyone else does.”

For a moment, Kip was stunned to silence by the near compliment.

“And the feeling’s mutual!” Win said, as if to save them from having a moment. “You all done with your beauty rest, princess? Can we go now—you know, to that meeting you ordered us all to be at a half hour ago? Cruxer’s been shittin’ cobbles.”

“Thank you for that,” Kip said.

Winsen grunted, as if straining to pass a cobblestone.

Kip was a stone.

Kip didn’t give him the pleasure of a reproof or any sign of amusement. Winsen didn’t stop grunting.

Kip cracked a grin. “Dammit, Winsen!”

Winsen waggled his eyebrows.

Kip wanted nothing more than to grab yesterday’s tunic and head out. “I’d love to just charge down there, but I do actually need to get dressed properly. Tisis and I had a long conversation on why I do actually need to dress like . . . you know, the rich and careful way I’ve been dressing—so as to encourage people not to see me as overly young or sloppy or a barbarian.”

Too late, Kip realized that Winsen was not the person Kip wanted to recount any more of that conversation with.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Winsen said. “I totally understand why you spend a Blackguard’s yearly wages on a single set of clothes. I’d do it myself if I’d been paid in the last six months. Or, you know, ever.”

Kip rang the summons bell again, louder.

“I understand your need to project yourself at a certain standard,” Winsen said, as if offended. He lowered his voice momentarily. “And how much work it takes to try to make you look good. And I know Cruxer’s irritated at waiting, so I sent your servants on ahead of us.”

“Oh gods,” Kip said. “You’re not gonna have the servants
primp
me in front of the Mighty!” Being naked in front of the Mighty was nothing. But being bathed (by strangers!), and tweezed, and picked at, and salved, and massaged, and having strangers chatter things like, ‘Should we emphasize or de-emphasize the surprising and obvious power of his buttocks?’

Torture.

Winsen said, “Me? And embarrass you like that? Your Grace, I am shocked!”

Chapter 6

Hope leaped in Teia like a gazelle from a lion’s grip.

Gavin Guile is alive! And he’s
here
!

That had to mean that the man with the Hellfang blade was the Old Man of the Desert himself—for who else would the Old Man trust with such a weapon or such a prisoner?

And if that was the Old Man, Teia could follow him from here
now
and find his lair and his real identity and report to Karris and maybe even find word of where her father was—

But lose Gavin. The former Prism had already boarded the
Golden Mean
with Captain Gunner. Sailors were preparing the ship to leave immediately.

Teia had made it halfway up the quay, following the Old Man back to the Chromeria, when she saw the Blackguards standing at their posts out back. They either hadn’t been there when she came down or they’d been hidden. Friends! Comrades! She could tell them and—

They saluted the Old Man as he approached.

Not a Blackguard salute. A Braxian salute.

Teia skidded to a stop. They were his.

And the Old Man had known she was coming down here. He’d ordered her to board the ship, after all. That meant those Blackguards were here not for him but for her.

They were here in case she decided to disobey and not board the ship.

Which meant they must be sub-reds. The Old Man trusted no one, especially not his well-nigh-invisible assassins. He was not a man—or woman perhaps, Teia still couldn’t assume—who would hone a blade to razor sharpness and then let it cut his own throat.

Teia’s heart sank like a panting gazelle into the lion’s patient paws.

The Order didn’t know it, but she could defeat sub-red with a sufficiently dense cloud of paryl now. But it was a blustery morning, and a gust of wind would be the death of her.

It would be a huge gamble to try to make it past the traitor Blackguards without being seen.

And Gavin would be lost to the wide sea and whatever desperate mission the Old Man was sending him on. If Teia
did
make it past these Blackguards, how long would it take her to reach Karris? How long to get her alone so Teia could report the truth?

How could Karris mobilize skimmers without breaking Teia’s cover? There were other Blackguard traitors than these two, Teia knew.

What contingency plans did the Old Man have ready, just in case Gavin were rescued?

He wouldn’t let him be taken alive, would he? No. Gavin had seen him, heard his voice.

There had to be a course here where Teia did everything right and somehow averted disaster, but she was paralyzed. If Gavin left on that ship without her, her father was dead.

I’m seriously considering obeying them again. Her belly filled with sick horror.

She walked back to the ship as in a trance and climbed the gangplank with lead in her shoes.

There was no way out. Her thoughts of defiance had lasted less than two minutes.

Gavin Guile was amidships. The captain was removing his chains.

Teia shuddered with a slave’s visceral revulsion at the fetters. She eyed his wrists, looking for sores as instinctively as another woman might check a man’s fingers for a wedding band. There were none.

Wherever Gavin Guile had been held, he hadn’t been chained. The other possibility—that he might not have fought his chains—was unthinkable. Everyone fights the chains. Most, like Teia, gave up after a few cuts. When your own mother puts you in chains, you think maybe you deserve them.

To her shame, Teia didn’t even have scars on her wrists.

But thinking of that called to mind Ironfist in that terrible room, over the pooled blood of his sister, whom Teia’d just killed. Ironfist, tearing his chains out of the wall in his rage and agony. But even he hadn’t broken his chains, had he?

No one breaks the chains, T. You can only ask to be let out nicely. After you do what they demand.

She didn’t know what she was doing. She should go belowdecks. Hide like she was supposed to do until they were far out to sea. Obey. It was a strain to stay invisible for so long, to be so open and sensitive to the light, which was only swelling by the minute as the sun fingered the horizon. But she couldn’t pull herself away.

The Prism had always been the height of majesty, of virility, potency. She’d heard other Blackguards say in hushed tones, ‘Whatever else we do, whatever happens, we were Blackguards in the time of Gavin Guile.’ Here was a man who was emperor who actually deserved it.

Seeing Zymun get ready to step into his place had made Teia sharply aware of how rare that was. Gavin made you believe in the Great Chain of Being; that some humans really were one step below Orholam, that they were surely made of fundamentally different stuff than you were.

The man before her threatened to give the lie to all that. Haggard, pathetic, ill, in sloppy clothes over a body with dirt so caked on that it seemed a washing would foul the water without cleansing the man. He must have lost as much weight as Kip had in Kip’s time at the Chromeria, but Gavin hadn’t had the weight to lose.

But she saw a glimpse of the old Gavin Guile charisma like a glint of sunlight off a distant lighthouse as he shook his head at some comment Captain Gunner had just made and gave a lopsided grin. “ ‘Good furred muffins’? Orholam’s saggy nipples, man, never change,” Gavin said to Gunner.

The grin—that quintessential Guile grin that Teia knew so well from his son—exposed a missing dogtooth. That hadn’t been gone before his imprisonment. It made Teia touch her own, still sore even after Karris’s own chirurgeon’s ministrations.

Nor had his eye been missing before. Gavin now wore a patch on his left eye with an unsettling black jewel in it. Gunner was just relieving him of the black sword, carefully wrapping it in cloths and handing it off to a nervous sailor to take below.

“Speaking of change, you need to,” Gunner said. “No, no, you know I hain’t religious. I mean, I give my ’spects to the Nine Ladies and the sea witches and keep my friendly spat with Ceres”—he spat into the water—“ya shriveled, sandy old cunt—and naturally, I tip a bowl for Borealis and Arcturus and the Bitch o’ Storms, but that’s just salt sense for a man of my avocation. I weren’t talkin’ meta—meta . . . metanoumenistically. I meant your bestments. Vestments? See? I trya talk to you god-botherers and it gets me kerfaffled. Change your clothes, man. You stink to low heaven. Soap and a rag and a bucket o’ clean until you shine like you’re polished as frequent as your mama’s nethers. Only thing worse ’n a stanky sailor’s a stanky prince.”

“Technically, I’m an emperor,” Gavin said.

“So two things worse. Anyhoo, as our mutual fiend there in the wrappings wants this pale little gold beauty back on the waves two bells past. But there’s a way to do things when gettin’ a ship shipshape, things to check. Crew to kick in the pucker. So get yourself clean afore you come belowdecks. My new girl deserves the best. I’ll have a man bring you fresh clothes.”

“These are actually new. Generous guy. Gave me new clothes in addition to the starvation and imprisonment and the black eye. I—”

Captain Gunner gave him a flat, dangerous look. “They’ve got a miasma about ’em. Bad luck. You fold ’em nice and leave them on the dock. Five minutes.”

Gavin nodded agreeably, but Teia could see gears turning in his head, quick as Kip: So I’m being put in my place. Fair enough . . . Captain. He mumbled, “Was a joke. Little joke. Black eye. Never mind.”

“Tolerable sailors, this lot. All Order folk, though,” Captain Gunner said, looking at the men and women scurrying about at their tasks.

“Oh, good. Now I feel better about consigning them to certain death,” Gavin said. “I’ll clean up before I come below.”

“End don’t try en’ run.”

“Running’s not in my cards, I’m afraid,” Gavin said with some forced good humor.

Indeed, the man looked like he could barely stand. But as Captain Gunner departed, Gavin Guile climbed up the stairs of the sterncastle and accepted a bucket and sponge.

Teia watched him invisibly. She should go belowdecks, out of the way of rushing sailors. She was invisible, not incorporeal, and her presence was supposed to be a secret at least until they were on their way. But she couldn’t bear to be shut in with her self-loathing just yet.

No wonder the Old Man hadn’t told her who her target was. If he’d had even a sliver of a doubt about her loyalty, he
couldn’t
tell her. And no wonder he’d thought it would be a painful kill for her: it wasn’t that he thought she had any special personal connection with Gavin Guile; it was that she was a Blackguard. Her whole life, her entire calling, was dedicated to protecting the Prism. She had only ever wanted to be a Blackguard, and this murder asked her to betray the very essence of that.

That was the pain that would make her a Sharp. Teia Sharp.

But Gavin Guile wasn’t merely a Prism, was he? Not merely a figurehead emperor, or even a good man. He was Kip’s father. Karris’s husband. To the Blackguards who still searched the seas and the Seven Satrapies for him, he had earned the Name ‘Promachos,’ ‘The One Who Goes Before Us to Fight.’ The image it evoked was the point of the spear, the man who runs ahead into battle, who leads it from the front, who never shies from the danger he asks others to risk.

My father, for Kip’s.

My father is a nobody. Gavin Guile is a man who shakes history.

But my
father
. . .

Sailors were scurrying around, double-checking knots before Cap’n Gunner arrived to see that they’d done everything right. She dodged through the rushing men and made it up the sterncastle ladder.

Gavin was wasting no time. He’d stripped naked and was scrubbing vigorously at his arms and chest, rubbing his skin ruddy and flinging water about.

Teia realized she wasn’t embarrassed by his nudity. Perhaps it was because he looked sick, faded so far from his former sun-hot glory that she felt only pity. Perhaps it was because she, not yet eighteen years old and still never having lain with a man, had seen so many people naked now in using paryl constantly that nudity simply didn’t mean anything to her. Perhaps it was because she had to kill him, and you couldn’t let a target be fully human. A target was meat and blood and breath to be stilled, not a father, not a lover, not a leader you’d adored.

A year ago, she would have been embarrassed, regardless.

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