Read She Is the Darkness: Book Two of Glittering Stone: A Novel of the Black Company Online

Authors: Glen Cook

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She Is the Darkness: Book Two of Glittering Stone: A Novel of the Black Company

BOOK: She Is the Darkness: Book Two of Glittering Stone: A Novel of the Black Company
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Black Company GS 7 - She is Darkness
Black Company GS 7 - She is Darkness

Black Company GS 7 - She is Darkness

Black Company GS 7 - She is Darkness
1

The Old Man looked up. His quill twitched, betraying his irritation at being
interrupted. “What is it, Murgen?”

“I went for a walk with the ghost. That earth tremor we felt a while ago?”

“What about it? And don’t give me none of that around-the-bush crap One-Eye’s
always handing out. I don’t have time for it.”

“The farther south you go the worse the destruction is.”

The Old Man opened his mouth, closed it to think some before he said anything
else.

Croaker, the Old Man, the Captain of the Black Company, the right-now-by-god
military dictator of Taglios and all its tributaries, dependencies and
protectorates, does not look the part. He is in his middle fifties, possibly
closer to sixty. He stands more than six feet tall. He has grown slightly heavy
during four years spent mainly in garrison. He has a high forehead with a feeble
crop of hair farther back. Lately he has been affecting a beard on his chin. It
is grizzled. So is what hair still lurks upon his head. His icy blue eyes are
deeply set, giving him a hard, scary look, like some kind of psychopathic
killer.

He does not know. Nobody ever told him. Sometimes he is hurt because people back
off. He does not understand why.

Mostly it’s his eyes. They can be really spooky.

He considers himself just one of the guys. Most of the time.

If he understood it he would use his impact to its limit. His belief in the
value of creating illusions in the minds of others borders on religious
conviction.

He stood up. “Let’s go for a walk, Murgen.”

In the Palace it is always best to be moving if you want to keep your
conversations your own. The Palace is vast, a honeycomb networked with a
labyrinth masking countless secret passageways. I have been mapping those but
could not winkle them all out in a lifetime even if we were not heading south
any day.

The point is, there is always a chance our friends will be listening to anything
we say.

We have been very successful at driving our enemies out beyond arm’s reach.

Thai Dei picked us up at the doorway. The Old Man grimaced. He has no personal
prejudice against my bodyguard and brother-in-law but he abhors the fact that so
many Company brothers have acquired similar companions, none of whom are bound
to his direct command. He does not trust the Nyueng Bao. He never has, never
will and cannot explain clearly why.

He does understand that he was not there in hell’s forge when the bonds were
hammered into existence. He will stipulate that. He has done his time in other
hells. He was suffering one at that time.

I made a small gesture to Thai Dei. He dropped back a step, symbolically
acknowledging our need for privacy rather than actually accepting it. He would
hear everything we had to say anyway.

So every word we said would be spoken in the dialect of the Jewel City Beryl,

which lies six thousand miles beyond the edge of any world Thai Dei can even
imagine.

I wondered why Croaker bothered walking when he was going to use an alien
tongue. No Taglian would understand a word. “Tell me,” he said.

“I walked with the ghost. I went south. I made the routine checks. I was just
following the daily ritual.” I understood his desire to walk. Soulcatcher.

Soulcatcher understood the Jewel Cities dialects. She would have more trouble
eavesdropping if she had to find us first.

“Thought I told you to ease up. You’re spending too much time out there. It’ll
hook you. It’s too easy to shake loose from the ache. That’s why I don’t go
anymore.”

I masked my pain. “That’s not a problem, boss.” He would not believe me. He knew
just how much Sarie meant to me, how much I missed her. How much I hurt. “I’m
handling it. Anyway, what I want you to know is, the farther south you look the
worse the damage done by that earthquake gets.”

“Am I supposed to be concerned? Dare I hope that you’ll tell me the
Shadowmaster’s house fell in on his head?”

“You can hope all you want but you won’t hear it from me. Not now. His faults
don’t include being a bad architect.”

“I had a feeling you wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to hear. You’re no fun at
all that way.”

Part of my job as Annalist is to remind my superiors that they are not gods. “It
didn’t happen this time. Overlook came through almost unscathed. But Kiaulune
was destroyed. Thousands were killed. The way disasters go, thousands more will
die from hunger, disease and exposure.” The heart of winter was fast
approaching.

Kiaulune is the southernmost city of men. Its name means Shadow Gate. When he
came out of nowhere two decades ago and made himself master of the province, the
Shadowmaster Longshadow changed the name to Shadowcatch. Only the peoples of the
Shadowlands, who are inclined to avoid the Shadowmaster’s displeasure, actually
employ names enforced upon them by their enslavement.

“Is that good news?”

“It’ll sure slow down construction work on Overlook. Longshadow won’t like it
but he’s going to have to take time out to help his subjects. Otherwise he’ll
run out of people to do his work for him.”

Our parade continued slowly through busy hallways. This part of the Palace had
been given over to the war effort completely. Now people were packing. Soon we
would be heading south, bound toward a major and possibly final collision with
the armies of the Shadowmasters. Most of our forces were in transit already, a
slow and difficult process. It takes ages to move large numbers a great
distance.

The men in these offices had been laying the groundwork for years.

Croaker asked, “Are you saying we don’t need to get in any big hurry?”

“There’s no need now. The quake crippled him.”

“There wasn’t any pressing need before the quake. We could’ve gotten there
before he finished his oversized sand castle.”

True. We were starting the campaign now mostly because the Captain and his woman
were so thirsty for revenge.

Add the name Murgen to that list. My taste for vengeance was newer and bloodier.

My wife was a more recent victim.

Longshadow and Narayan Singh would pay for Sarie’s death. Especially Narayan
Singh.

You living saint of the Stranglers, your nightwalking companion now hunts you,

too.

“Something that hurts him doesn’t really change anything at our end.”

I agreed. “True. Though it does give us more flexibility.”

“Yet it makes sense to jump them while they’re stunned. How widespread was the
damage? Was it just Kiaulune?”

“There’s heavy damage everywhere south of the Dandha Presh. It gets worse as you
go farther south. Those people won’t have much energy to spend trying to stop an
invasion.”

“All the more reason to stay on schedule. We’ll stomp them while they’re down.”

The Old Man was bitter and vindictive. Comes with the job, I guess. And because
of all the evils done to him.

“You ready to travel?” he asked.

“Personally? Me and my whole household have our preparations made. You name the
day and we’ll be on the road.” My own bitterness leaked through.

I kept telling myself not to let the need for vengeance sink roots too deep. I
dared not let it become an obsession.

Croaker pursed his lips, sour for a moment. My household includes not only Thai
Dei but Sarie’s mother, Ky Gota, and Uncle Doj, who is not really anybody’s
uncle but is a family attachment nonetheless. Croaker refuses to trust them. But
he does not trust anybody who has not been a brother of the Company for years.

Proof was immediate. “Murgen, I want you to add the Radisha to the list of
people you check regularly. I’m betting that as soon as we clear the city wall
she’ll start fixing to break our hearts.”

I did not argue. It seemed likely.

All through our history the Black Company has suffered the ingratitude of our
employers. Usually those blackguards received ample cause to regret their
villainy. This time there was a good chance we could subvert the effort before
the Radisha Drah and her brother, the Prahbrindrah Drah, could deal us any major
treachery.

Right now the Radisha and Prince have to restrain themselves. As long as
Longshadow survives, the Company will remain their lesser fear.

I asked, “You looked at those books yet?”

“Which books?”

He could be exasperating. I snapped, “The books I risked my precious ass to
steal back from Soulcatcher the other night. The lost Annals that are supposed
to tell us why every damned fool lord and priest in this, end of the world is
scared shitless of the Black Company.”

“Oh. Those books.”

“Yeah. Those . . . “ I realized that he was ragging me.

“I haven’t had time, Murgen. Although I did find out that we’re going to need a
translator. They aren’t written in modern Taglian.”

“I was afraid of that.”

“We’re taking the ghostwalker south with us.”

The sudden shift surprised me. Lately he has been so paranoid he will not
mention Smoke, by name or otherwise, for any reason, even in a non-Taglian
language.

There is always a crow around somewhere.

I replied. “I assumed we would. The resource is too valuable to leave here.”

“We don’t want anyone to know if we can help it.”

“Uhm?”

“The Radisha already wonders how come we find him so interesting that we’ll take
care of him and keep him alive. She no longer thinks there’s any chance he’ll
recover. If she puts much thought into it she might start adding things up.” He
shrugged. “I’ll talk to One-Eye. You two can smuggle him out when nobody’s
looking.”

“One more thing to do in my copious spare time.”

“Hey. Enjoy it while you can. Soon we’ll get to sleep for ages.”

He is not a religious man.

Black Company GS 7 - She is Darkness
2

“I got to do everything,” One-Eye grumbled. “Anything that’s got to be done,

just stick it on old One-Eye. He’ll take care of it.”

I sneered. “That’s only if you can’t find Murgen first.”

“I’m too old for this shit, Kid. I ought to be retired.”

The little black man had a point. According to the Annals he is about two
hundred years old, still alive mostly because of his own clever sorcery. And
good luck beyond what any human being deserves.

The two of us were inside a dark circular stairway, lugging a body down on a
litter. Smoke did not weigh much but One-Eye made the job a pain in the ass
anyway. “You about ready to trade off?” I asked. I had the uphill end. I am more
than six feet tall. One-Eye goes five feet if you stand him on a thick book. But
he is a stubborn little shit who can never admit that he is wrong.

For some reason One-Eye had it in his head that the downhill end of a litter
would be the easy one to handle on a stairway.

“Yeah. I think. When we get down to the next landing.”

I grinned in the darkness. That would leave us with just one story to go. Then I
grumbled, “I hope that damned Sleepy is on time.”

Though barely eighteen Sleepy is a four year veteran of the Company. He went
through the fire of Dejagore with us. He still has a tendency to be late and a
little irresponsible but, hell, he is still awful young.

Youth made him the best man to be driving a wagon around Taglios in the middle
of the night if you did not want to attract attention. A Vehdna Taglian, he
could pass as an apprentice easily. He could not be expected to know what he was
doing. Apprentices do what they are told. Their masters seldom feel obliged to
explain to them.

The kid would have no clue what he was up to tonight. If he arrived on time he
would not guess his part for years. He was supposed to wander off before the
wagon acquired its mysterious burden.

One-Eye would take over after we loaded Smoke. He would explain, if he found
himself in a position where that became necessary, that the corpse back there
was Goblin. No one would know the difference. Smoke had not been seen at all for
four years and seldom publicly before that. And Goblin had not been around for a
while because the Old Man sent him off on a mission weeks ago.

Anybody running into One-Eye would know who he was right away. He is the most
recognizable member of the Company. His ugly old black hat gives him away even
in the dark. It is so damned filthy it glows.

I exaggerate only slightly.

People would believe One-Eye because everyone in Taglios knows the nasty little
runt runs with a toad-faced little white wizard called Goblin.

The trick would be to distract them from Smoke’s skin color. Or One-Eye could
put a glamor on him and make him actually look enough like Goblin to deceive the
Taglian eye.

Eventually somebody would discover that Smoke no longer was in the Palace.

Probably later. By accident. When somebody stumbled through the network of
confusion spells surrounding the room where Smoke had lain hidden for years.

“Somebody” would be the Radisha Drah. She and Uncle Doj are the only people
besides me and Croaker and One-Eye who know Smoke is still alive, if unutterably
lost in the land of coma.

He is more useful now than he ever was when he was conscious and the secret
court wizard.

Smoke had been as thoroughly craven as it is possible for a human to be.

We reached the landing. One-Eye damned near dropped his end of the litter. He
was in a hurry to take a break. “Let me know when you’re ready,” I told him.

“You don’t got to go smart-assing me, Kid.” He muttered a few words in a dead
tongue, which was totally unnecessary and entirely for show. He could have said
the same thing in Taglian and have achieved the same result. Which was that a
globe of shimmering swamp gas materialized above his ugly hat.

“Did I say anything?”

“You don’t got to talk, Kid. You’re grinning like a shiteating dog.” But he was
puffing too hard to keep it up. “Old fart’s heavier than he looks, isn’t he?”

He was. Maybe because he was all lard after four years asleep, getting his
sustenance as soup and gravy and any other sludge I can spoon down him.

He is a mess to take care of. I would let him croak if he was not so damned
useful.

The Company wastes no love on this man.

Maybe I like him better unconscious than conscious, though we never butted heads
personally. I have heard so many horror stories about his cowardice that I
cannot say much in his favor at all. Well, he was a modestly effective fire
marshal when he was awake. Fire is an enemy Taglios knows far more intimately
than any remote Shadowmaster.

If he had not been such a chickenshit and gone over to Longshadow he would not
be in the sad shape he is now.

For reasons unclear even to One-Eye, Smoke’s comatose spirit is anchored to his
flesh very loosely. Making a connection with his ka, which is what they might
call it around here, is easy. It takes instructions well. I can connect with
him, detach from my flesh and ride him almost anywhere, to see almost anything.

Which is why he is so special to us today. Which is why it is so critical to
keep everything about him under wraps.

If we succeed in this dark war, victory will come largely because we can “walk
with the ghost.”

“I’m ready to go,” One-Eye said.

“You come back fast for an old fart.”

“You keep running your jaw, Kid, you’re never gonna get a chance to find out
what it’s like to be old enough to deserve respect but not to get none from pups
like you.”

“Don’t go picking on me because Goblin ran out on you.”

“Where the hell is that stunted mouse turd, anyway?”

I knew. Or thought I knew. I walk with the ghost. One-Eye did not need to know,

though, so I did not clue him in. “Lift the damned litter, limberdick.”

“I just know you’re going to enjoy life as a polecat, Kid.”

We hoisted the litter. Smoke made a gurgling sound. Foamy spit dribbled from the
corner of his mouth. “Hustle up. I need to get his mouth cleaned out before he
drowns himself.”

One-Eye saved his breath. We clumped down the stairs. Smoke began making
strangling noises. I kicked the door open and went through without looking
outside first. We got into the street.

“Put him down,” I snapped. “Then cover us while I take care of him.” Who knew
what might be watching? Taglian nights conceal countless curious eyes. Everyone
wants to know what the Black Company is doing. We take it as a given that some
of those are people we do not even know yet.

Paranoia is a way of life.

I knelt beside the litter, tipped it a little and turned Smoke’s head. It
flopped like he had no bones in his neck. Smoke gurgled and hacked some more.

“Hush,” One-Eye said.

I looked up. A tall Shadar watchman was headed our way, carrying a lantern. One
of the Old Man’s innovations, the night-time foot patrols have crippled enemy
espionage efforts. Now our creativity was about to turn around on us.

The turbaned soldier walked past so close his grey pants actually brushed me.

But he sensed nothing.

One-Eye is no master sorcerer but he does a hell of a job when he concentrates.

Smoke made that noise again.

The Shadar stopped, looked back. His eyes widened. They were about all that
could be seen between his turban and his massive beard. I do not know what he
saw but he touched his forehead and swept his fingers in a quick half circle
ending over his heart. That was a ward against evil common to all the peoples of
Taglios.

He moved on hurriedly.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Never mind,” One-Eye said. “Let’s get him loaded.” The wagon was waiting right
where Sleepy was supposed to leave it. “He’s going to report something. He’ll
have his whole family here in a few minutes.”

The watchmen were equipped with whistles. Our man remembered his and started
tooting as One-Eye lifted his end of the litter. In seconds another whistle
answered. “He going to keep that shit up?” One-Eye asked.

“I’ll lay him on his side. The phlegm should drain off. But you’re the guy who
knows the medical stuff. If he’s coming down with pneumonia you better start
working on him now.”

“Go teach granny to suck eggs, Kid. Just shove the little bastard in the wagon,

then get your ass back through that door.”

“Shit. I think I forgot to wedge it open.”

“I’d call you a dumb shit but you keep ragging me about stating the obvious.

Unh!” He swung his end of the litter into the bed of the wagon. Good boy Sleepy
had remembered to leave the tailgate down, exactly as he had been instructed. “I
remembered for you.”

“You were the last one out anyway.” Damn, would I be glad when Goblin came back
and One-Eye could get back to feuding with him. I shoved my end of the litter.

One-Eye was scrambling up to the driver’s seat already. “Don’t forget to get
that gate up.”

I twisted Smoke’s shoulders so his mouth would drain, raised the tailgate and
dropped the oak pins into their slots. “You check on him as soon as you’re
clear.”

“Shut up and get out of here.”

Whistles were shrieking all around us now. Sounded like every watchman on duty
was closing in.

Their interest was going to attract that of others. I ran for the postern door.

Steel tires began to rattle on cobblestones behind me.

One-Eye was going to get a chance to test our cover story.

BOOK: She Is the Darkness: Book Two of Glittering Stone: A Novel of the Black Company
4.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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