DISCLAIMER: There be spoilers within. Spoilers of the “aw, fuck, that was a pretty huge spoiler” variety. Spoilers that would be on par with, say, Bilbo has nothing in his pocketses, or, Luke Skywalker’s father is a mechanically engineered sith lord.
So, again, SPOILERS. If you have not read Joe’s trilogy, or if you plan to, do not read further. Important things will be ruined for you, and that is not my aim.
Also, I hope Joe doesn’t mind that I borrowed his characters for this bit of fun.
Sand dan Gloka shuffled into one of Adua’s many parks. The grass, once long and lush, was trampled and covered in ash. Tree limbs had fallen, and bits of building littered the stone pathways winding around a pond, water muddied with scum. Or blood.
Glokta used his cane to push aside a broken windowsill, probably once attached to a house two roads over. He hobbled past what appeared to be a crushed Gurkish head, bits of black hair still sticking out in places, and sunk into the familiar hold of a wooden bench. Ah, benches. I adore them with the very fervency I hate stairs.
He was just about to stretch out the twisted muscles of his leg when Logen Ninefingers, the Bloody-Nine, King of the Northmen lumbered into the park, one hand scratching at his crooked lump of a nose, the other worrying at a thick sheaf of yellowing paper. Logen spotted Glokta and stomped over to him. “Luthar here yet?” he growled.
Before Glokta answered, a rustling of leaves came from behind him. He thought of turning around to discern the source, but didn’t much care to struggle with the shrieking pains through his neck and back that would come with the motion. Certainly King Ninefingers can deal with any uninvited guests. And if he cannot, ah well. Death will be a finer thing than waking up in my own filth every morning.
But death did not come, and Ninefingers expression did not change from the worried frown.
“Ah, lovely morning,” Jezal dan Luthar, King of the Union, swept past Glokta. “No more attacks in the middle of the night. No more blood and spilled guts.” Jezal took a deep breath of air, and scratched absently at his crotch.
Only dust, Your Majesty. Dust, ash, and mourning. But I venture that I know what has your spirits high this morning. “And you now have somewhere to shove your royal shaft when it grows eager.” Glokta jabbed his cane at Jezal’s hand rubbing between his legs.
The King looked down at his hand, and had the good grace to at least redden at the ears. “Yes, my marriage has become more…congenital. I suppose I have you to thank, Glokta.”
Glokta gave a toothless leer, and this one was with genuine humor. “I believe you mean congenial, Your Majesty.”
“Er, yes. Congenial.” Jezal gave an uncomfortable pause. “How is your own new marriage?”
“Ardee West is far more apt at cleaning the shit from my bedsheets than I have ever been. And thanks to the generosity of one very clandestine banker who is known by many names, she will have a great deal to gain when I perish.” And sleeping in the contents of my own bowels must surely be speeding up the process. “So that is to say, we are both much improved in…unique ways.”
Jezal blinked. Logen continued to worry at the papers he held, which Jezal seemed to notice after a moment. “So you read it then?” He pointed at the messy sheaf.
Logen nodded. “And you?”
Jezal confirmed, and the two kings both turned to the cripple. Glokta reached inside his coat and produced an identical sheaf to the one held by Logen and— by the funny bulge in his coat— Jezal as well. Glokta tapped a finger weightily on the first page, upon which THE LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS had been embossed in black. “So, gentleman? What did you think of our story?”
“Puts the hair on my neck on its right fuckin’ edge,” growled Logen. “Someone out there knowin’ all my details and thoughts and such. Thought I was alone with Ferro down in that crevice in Aulcus. I didn’t much like the words this guy used to describe us, uh, exploring each other’s regions either.”
“Indeed, we are but slaves to the author’s diction,” agreed Glokta.
Jezal scratched the back of his head, and stared at the ground for a good while before grinning up at Logen, jaw now all twisted like he’d taken a good punch, which Logen reckoned he sure as shit had. “I miss Collem West more than any man I’ve ever known, but damn if I’m not piss pleased he never got his hand on these.” Jezal’s grin turned suddenly to a frown. “You don’t think West knew this Joe Abercrombie character, do you?”
Glokta arched an eyebrow. “I can look into it, if it pleases Your Majesty.”
Logen didn’t give Jezal time to answer. “Reading this damn thing made me wish I never learned my letters,” he shook the manuscript angrily. “I don’t much like the feelin’ of being in your futile body, cripple. Especially learnin’ your mind’s as ill as your limbs, you sick fuck.” Logen swung his attention onto Luthar. “And you Jezal, thinking you’ve had some grand change of character. Mayhaps you’re a better man now, but it takes more’n a busted jaw to knock the vanity from a person.”
“Yes, yes, we’re a dark set, aren’t we?” Glokta lazily drawled. “Well, maybe not all dark. We’ve got our bright sides too, eh? That’s what made us so compelling. I daresay Luthar, you’re a more well-rounded individual than ever I thought. And Ninefingers, seems even lumbering oafs as yourself have a capacity for extreme emotional intelligence.” The cripple stabbed the ground with his cane and laboriously worked his way to his feet. “We’ve been on a long journey together, it seems, even when we weren’t so very close together. And we’ve all grown in our own ways, and so have all the people around us, if Mr. Abercrombie’s words can be trusted. Indeed, I found the people I read about— even the one’s I have known and hated— to be likeable in their own ways.” Gloka licked his gums. “I even rather enjoyed the way I was portrayed. Perhaps there is something valuable in a dose of self-loathing. Very droll.”
“I dunno,” Logen interjected, narrowing his eyes. “This Abercrombie seems to know an awful lot about this world and its people, not excludin’ myself. He’s got a good understandin’ of love, and knows just as much about hate. That’s the type of man that I got trouble relatin’ to, and I don’t much like havin’ trouble with anything. What kind of man knows about leadership but also of betrayal and treachery? What kind of man has got a knowledge of how to swing a blade clean through a man’s skull, but also knows the way to silvertongue his way through a room of politicians? What kind of man can let his heart be warmed with humor and awe, just to turn around and close it off with cold-blooded ruthlessness?” Logen ground the heel of his boot into the earth, feeling the tips of his ears growing red. “And what the fuck kind of man understands the workings of a woman’s mind, ‘cause this Joe Abercrombie seems to know it all pretty good.”
Jezal looked back and forth from Logen and the cripple, leaning uneasily on his case. The King reached into his coat and pulled out his own manuscript, and thumped it with the back of his other hand. “You know what the most damning part of this whole thing was?”
“Pray tell, Your Majesty,” Glokta sweetly crooned.
Seemed to Logen that Luthar’s eyes lingered on him for a moment longer than normal. When he spoke it was with weight. “I couldn’t tell for the life of me which ones of us were heroes, and which were scoundrels.”
“Perhaps it is that we are all part hero and part scoundrel, Your Majesty,’ Glokta knowingly proffered.
“It just all seemed so obvious at the time,” Jezal ploughed on. “There is good and there is evil. There is magic and there is mystery. There is passion and there is hatred, and there were lines separating each from the other. Those lines, I think, are not as visible as I once thought.”
Glokta nodded slowly at this, a soft squelching sound coming from his mouth as he sucked at his gums. “A valuable lesson for a King,” he said. “Indeed, Your Majesty. This Abercrombie has entitled the final third of our trials and tribulations ‘The Last Argument of Kings’. To what argument do you believe he refers?”
Jezal didn’t like the way Arch Lector Glokta looked expectantly upon him, leg as useful as a frayed rope, head vaguely resembling a dried out prune. Wasn’t he the King? Shouldn’t he be the one leering expectantly at people.
But truth was, Glokta’s question was one that had kept Jezal up at night. Well, kept him up after Terez had dismounted from him, leaving his prick sore and chafed, but that was better than being blocked up. The thought that he was making to shoot the Union’s next king into her was a darker one than he would have thought, but most of Jezal’s thoughts were dark these days. He supposed that was what a man gets for walking away from a cards table and a mug when he damn well could have stayed.
But before all that, Jezal hadn’t much of an argument about anything besides having to take responsibility for more than the task of taking pretty drunk girls from one point to the next, preferably his bed.
He had an argument now.
“Our land is vast and unique, each offering personality. Each with its own set of ideals, all impacting the next. I used to think that only great people did great things. Now I know that all is not as it seems. Men who seem great, are perhaps not. Women who are little more than beggars in the street, perhaps are. Small actions may yield massive results, just as massive actions may be futile. The world has been every bit a character in our story as any of us. The things we have done have been important, but that is not to say that the things we will do will be the same. I think I have learned through it all, to not judge a book by its cover.”
“Well I should hope not,” Glokta said, again tapping the first page of the manuscript, ripped at the edges, worn at the center, ink dried in a sloppy drip from the title. “As this plain little piece of paper does not very well tell our story, does it?
Logen grunted that No, it does not.
“No,” Jezal agreed. “And what a story it has so far been.”
“Indeed,” said Jezal’s Arch Lector. “I must concur. Compelling, full of things I love and of things I hate. I daresay, if I wasn’t so embarrassed to have the more abominable details of my very abominable life revealed, I may even recommend it to a friend.”
“It’s a damn good story,” Logen admitted. “You have to be realistic about these things.”