Жанр: Фэнтези » Steven Erikson » Gardens of the Moon (страница 92)


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

This blue city hides under its cloak a hidden hand that holds like stone a blade envenomed by the eight limbed Paralt-

the sting brings death in the span of grief that marks a final breath-

so this hand defies sorcery's web and trembles the gossamer strand of a spider's deadly threat.

This hand beneath the blue city's cloak drives home Power's gentle balance.

The Conspiracy Blind Gallan (b.1078)

Sergeant whiskeyjack strode to the bedside. «You sure you're up to it?» he asked Kalam.

The assassin, sitting with his back against the wall, glanced up from honing his long knives. «Not much choice, is there?» He returned to his sharpening.

Whiskeyjack's expression was drawn and haggard from lack of gleep, He looked across the small room to where Quick Ben crouched in the corner. A fragment of bedroll was clutched in the wizard's hands, and his eyes were closed.

At the table, Fiddler and Hedge had dismantled their massive arbalest.

They now sat cleaning and examining each piece. They were looking at a fight ahead of them.

Whiskeyjack shared their conviction. Each hour that passed brought their many hunters that much closer. Of those it was the Tiste And? he feared the most. His squad was good, but not that good.

By the window was Trotts, leaning against the wall with his burly arms crossed. And against one wall slept Mallet, his snores loud in the room.

The sergeant returned his attention to Kalam. «It's a long shot, isn't it?» The assassin nodded. «No reason for the man to keep showing himself. They got burned the last time.» He shrugged. «I'll try the inn again. If anything, someone will mark me and the Guild will come. If I can get a word in before they kill me, there's a chance. It's not much:»

«: but it'll have to do,» Whiskeyjack finished. «You've got tomorrow. If we draw a blank,» he looked over to Fiddler and Hedge and found their eyes on him, «we detonate the intersections. Do damage, hurt them.»

The two saboteurs grinned their anticipation.

Quick Ben's loud hiss of frustration brought everyone round. The wizard's eyes had opened. He tossed the torn cloth contemptuously on to the floor. «No good, Sergeant,» he said. «Can't find Sorry anywhere.»

Kalam rumbled a curse and thrust his weapons into their scabbards.

«So, what does that mean?» Whiskeyjack asked the wizard.

«Most likely,» Quick Ben said, «she's dead.» He gestured at the cloth. «With that, there's no way the Rope could hide from me. Not while still possessing Sorry.»

«Maybe once you told him you'd figured him out,» Fiddler said, «he tossed in his coins and quit the game.»

Quick Ben made a face. «The Rope isn't scared of us, Fiddler. Come back to earth. If anything, he'd be coming down on us. Shadowthrone must've told him by now who I am or, rather, who I once was. It's not the Rope's business, but Shadowthrone might insist. Gods don't like being cheated. Especially being cheated twice.» He climbed to his feet and stretched the kinks from his back. He met Whiskeyjack's gaze. «I don't understand this, Sergeant. I'm stumped.»

«Do we abandon her?» Whiskeyjack asked.

Quick Ben nodded. «Might as well.» He paused, then stepped forward. «We were all wishing we were wrong about her,» he said, «but what Sorry did had nothing to do with being human. And, as far as I'm concerned, I'm glad of that.»

«I'd hate to think,» Kalam said, from the bed, «that evil was real, that it existed with a face as plain as the next man's. I know, Whiskeyjack, you've got your reasons for wanting it that way.»

Quick Ben moved closer to the sergeant, his gaze softening. «Keeps you sane every time you order somebody to die,» he said. «We all know about that, Sergeant. And we'd be the last to suggest there's some other way that maybe you haven't thought of yet.»

«Well, I'm glad to hear it,» Whiskeyjack growled. He surveyed everyone in the room, seeing that Mallet was awake and watching him.

«Anybody else got something to say?»

«I have,» Fiddler said, then ducked at the sergeant's glower. «Well, you asked, didn't you?»

«Out with it, then.»

Fiddler straightened in his chair and cleared his throat. Hedge poked him in the ribs as he was about to begin. After a menacing scowl, he tried again. «It's like this, Sergeant. We've seen a hell of a lot of our friends die, right? And maybe we didn't have to give the orders, so maybe you think it's easier for us. But I don't think so. You see, to us those people were living, breathing. They were friends. When they die, it hurts. But you go around telling yourself that the only way to keep from going mad is to take all that away from them, so you don't have to think about it, so you don't have to feel anything when they die. But, damn, when you take away everybody else's humanity, you take away your own. And that'll drive you mad as sure as anything. It's that hurt we feel that makes us keep going, Sergeant. And maybe we're not getting anywhere, but at least we're not running away from anything.»

There was silence in the room. Then Hedge punched Fiddler in the arm. «I'll be damned! You got a brain in there, after all. I guess I been wrong about you all these years.»

«Yeah, right,»

Fiddler said, rolling his eyes at Mallet, «and who is it who's burned his hair off so many times he's gotta wear some ugly leather cap all the time, hey?»

Mallet laughed, but the tension remained and everyone's gaze swung back to fix on their sergeant. Slowly, Whiskeyjack studied each man in his squad. He saw the caring in their eyes, the open offer to the friendship he'd spent years suppressing. All that time pushing them away, pushing everyone away, and the stubborn bastards just kept on coming back.

So Sorry hadn't been human. His conviction that all she'd done was within the possibilities of humanity now seemed to rest on uncertain ground. But it did not collapse. He'd seen too much in his life. There'd be no sudden faith in his view of human history, no burgeoning optimism to chase away all the demonic memories of the hells he'd lived through.

Nil Still, there came a time when some denials lost their function, when the world's relentless battering at him made his foolishness obvious even to himself. He was, finally, and after all these years, among friends. That was a hard admission and he realized he was already impatient with it.

«All right,» he growled, «enough with the flapping lips. We've got work to do. Corporal?»

«Sergeant?» Kalam replied.

«Get yourself ready. You've got the daylight hours to re-establish contact with the Assassins» Guild. Meanwhile, I want everyone else to lay out their weapons and give them a good cleaning. Repairs to armour.

There'll be an inspection, and if I find a single damn thing I don't like, there'll be hell coming down. Understood?»

«We hear ya,» Mallet said, grinning.

ed I ed ie, ilk tre go to $e ~en s a ain ~e'd ism k Despite their slow pace, Coll's wound had opened half a dozen times since they'd begun the journey. He'd found a way of sitting in his saddle, leaning to one side and taking most of the weight on his uninjured leg, and since this morning the wound had yet to reopen. The awkward position brought pains and cramps to the rest of him, however.

Paran knew a foul mood when he saw one. Though it was clear to both of them that a bond had formed between them, comfortable and unfettered by pretences, they'd exchanged but scant words as the ravages of Coll's wound continued to take its toll.

Coll's entire left leg, from the hip where the sword had done its damage down to the foot, was a uniform sun-darkened brown colour.

Clots of drying blood gathered in the joints of his upper leg plates and knee guard. As the thigh swelled, they were forced to slice the leather padding beneath the plate.

Succour had been denied them at the Catlin Bridge garrison, since the lone surgeon stationed there had been sleeping off one of his «bad nights'.

Clean bandages had been donated, though, and it was these-already soaked through-that now covered the wound.

There was little traffic on Jammit's Worry despite the city's walls being within sight. The flood of refugees from the north had since ended, and those who would gather for the Gedderone Festival had already done so.

As they approached the edge of Worrytown, Coll raised himself from the semi-conscious state he'd been in for the last few hours. His face was deathly white. «Is this Worry Gate?» he asked dully.

«I believe so,» Paran said, since they were on the road sharing that strange name. «Will we be permitted to pass within?» he asked. «Will they call for a surgeon?»

Coll shook his head. «Take me on through. Phoenix Inn. Take me to the Phoenix Inn.» His head sagged again.

«Very well, Coll.» He'd be surprised if the guards permitted it, and he'd need a story to tell them, though Coll had said nothing of how he'd been wounded. «I hope,» he muttered, «there's someone in this Phoenix Inn with a healer's touch.» The man looked bad. Paran fixed his gaze on the city's gates. He'd already seen enough to understand why the Empress wanted it so avidly. «Darujhistan.» He sighed. «My, but you are a wonder, aren't you?»

Rallick nudged himself another inch upward. His limbs trembled with exhaustion. If not for the morning shadows on this side of the belfry, he'd have been spotted long ago. As it was, he would not remain hidden much longer.

Taking the stairs would have been suicide in the darkness. Ocelot would have set alarms all along the way-the man was no fool at covering the approaches to his position.

If he was up there, Rallick reminded himself. If not, Coll was in trouble. There was no telling if his friend had arrived at the gates yet, and the silence from the top of the belfry could mean anything. He paused to rest and glanced up. Ten feet to go, the most critical ones yet. He was so tired it was all he could do simply to retain the handholds. The silent approach was now beyond him. His only advantage lay in that Ocelot's concentration would be eastward, while he now climbed the west side of the tower.



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