Home > The Burning White(4)

The Burning White(4)
Author: Brent Weeks

The chronology, that is. Not necessarily the events.

—Brent Weeks

in a hole in the ground, outside Portland, Oregon

 

 

Beware of shedding blood unnecessarily . . . for blood never sleeps.

—AN-NASIR SALAH AD-DIN YUSUF IBN AYYUB (SALADIN)

 

 

Chapter 1


The White King’s plan to destroy Kip Guile only began with an assassination. The assassination began with the scent of cloves.

“I love being in the Mighty, don’t get me wrong,” Big Leo was telling Ferkudi, “but sometimes the bodyguard duty is too much for only five of us, don’t you think? The Blackguard always has at least a hundred warriors. That’s like ten times as many. Fifteen? Dammit, twenty. You see? That’s how tired I am. And sure, they gotta guard more people than we—”

Ferkudi sniffed.

Big Leo stopped. He took his eyes off the chattering nobles for the first time all night and glanced at him. Like most things he did, Ferkudi sniffed different, huffing in his air in little triads, short, short, long.

The two of them had pulled door-guard duty for the big dinner party hailing Kip (Breaker to the Mighty) as the Liberator of Dúnbheo. After his initial chilly reception by the Council of Divines—and a couple of hangings—the nobles of Blood Forest’s cultural capital were trying to make nice.

When Ferkudi said nothing, Big Leo took the sniff as agreement. He continued, “I mean, no one’s going to make a move on the city’s big savior tonight, right? It ever bother you no one seems to notice Lord Kip Guile didn’t save the city all by himself?”

Everything was fine, Leo thought. No one was acting strangely. Sure, there were some nerves as everyone was trying to figure out how to turn Breaker into an ally, but the noise of the crowd was right. People even seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Ferkudi sniffed.

“Don’t tell me you’re coming down with a cold,” Leo said, not looking over this time.

Ferkudi inhaled deeply, like a war-bound soldier carefully filling his mnemonic storehouses with the scent of his wife’s hair.

“What?” Ferkudi said blankly. “Cold? Huh?”

“Yeah, all right. What was I—oh, yeah, I mean Breaker saves the city, distributes all our food to the starving? And fixes that ceiling-art-whatever-thing? That meant something to these people. He’s like a god here now. If the Council of Divines or any of the Blood Forest nobles makes a move against him, the people would riot. They’d burn the nobles’ heart trees, string up every last one of—”

Ferkudi interrupted. “Anyone get added to the guest list late?”

Ferkudi loved lists, all lists. When the palace chatelaine had shown him her immaculately organized ledgers, the look on his face had been a baggage train of astonishment, then disbelief, then rapture, and finally utter infatuation for the bespectacled sexagenarian and her perfect figures. Kip—Breaker—had been turning Ferkudi’s odd brain to good use in his now daily wranglings with traders and bankers and nobles. The Mighty mostly used it for humor: setting Ferkudi to ranking units of the army by sewage produced had been a recent favorite. (By weight? No, by volume. How long after excretion?)

But when you pulled door duty, there was nothing humorous about reconciling the guest list. “Absolutely not!” Big Leo said, stone serious. Something in his growl or his changing stance sent a few nearby nobles back a step.

It was a discipline they’d learned from the Blackguard—there were never to be late additions or surprise guests when they provided security, ever. If a Blackguard saw someone at an event who wasn’t on the master list, he or she had free rein to consider them a threat.

But that only worked when the Blackguards could identify every guest by sight. Maybe Ferkudi could do that on the Mighty’s second night in Dúnbheo, but Big Leo certainly couldn’t. A flare of white-knuckled rage shot through him. The five of them, being asked to protect the Lightbringer himself? Impossible!

Damn you, Cruxer, it’s been a year. You should have recruited fifty of us by now.

But everything still looked fine.

“Ferk?” he said.

“I talked with the cooks,” the big round-shouldered young man said, sniffing again. “There were no dishes with cloves.”

Cloves. Superviolet luxin smelled something like cloves. Big Leo felt a frisson down his spine.

“Breaker’s the only declared superviolet in the room,” Big Leo said. Kip sat at the head table, where he was chatting amicably with an older woman who was some kind of authority on cultural antiquities.

He was much too far away for the scent to be coming from him.

“A secret message?” Big Leo said. Superviolet was often used for diplomatic messages. This was precisely the kind of crowd that would carry those, and even a noble could get jostled, breaking some fragile superviolet luxin scrawled on a parchment.

Or the cooks could have added cloves to one of the dishes at the last moment. Right?

Hell, for all Big Leo knew, maybe some lady walking past had clove-scented perfume.

‘Falsely declaring an assassination attempt is the worst thing you can do . . .’ Blackguard Commander Ironfist had once lectured them, ‘. . . except stand over the body of your ward. Announcing an assassination attempt means throwing a burning torch into the powder magazine of history. You are the people trusted with guns and spears and drafting while the most powerful and paranoid people in the world sleep and sup and talk and f . . . fornicate.’ They’d laughed, but the point was serious: several Prisms had been murdered by cuckolded spouses and scorned lovers. ‘When powerful paranoid people see you burst into a room shouting, armed and drafting, you will see pistols somehow appear on people who you know have been searched and cleared. You will see munds somehow turn out to be able to draft. You will see people innocent of everything except stupidity give you reasons to believe they need killing.

‘In a false alarm, you may see people die for no reason other than that you yelled. You may kill them yourself.

‘Given all that, some say calling a false alarm is shameful,’ Commander Ironfist had said. ‘But I say a Blackguard who doesn’t shout a Nine Kill once in their life isn’t working on edge. We protect the most important people in the world. Work on edge.’

The code was shorthand for the number of attackers, the suspected intent, and capabilities. A normal shout might be One Kill Five (a solo attacker, attempting assassination, likely a red drafter) or Two Grab Ten (two attackers attempting kidnapping, armed with muskets). Nine was ‘unspecified’ and the most likely to be wrong.

Big Leo looked over at Ferkudi, praying he’d say he’d been mistaken.

Ferkudi was glowering at the room, his brain grinding forward as slowly as a millstone and just as implacably.

Behind their smiles, not a few of the Blood Forest conns might want Kip dead, but none would dare to move against him openly, certainly not with his army deployed inside their city. But someone else had good reason to want Kip dead. Someone who would stop at nothing. The White King.

He shouldn’t have anyone serving him, not in this city. But he might.

Big Leo’s eyes met Ferkudi’s. There was no hesitation there.

“Nine Kill Seven!” Big Leo bellowed—

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