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The Well of Ascension (Page 75)

Yes, he was a scholar—and an optimist, as Ham had noted. He was no master duelist, though he was improving. He wasn’t an excellent diplomat, though his meetings with Straff and Cett proved that he could hold his own.

What was he?

A nobleman who loved the skaa. They’d always fascinated him, even before the Collapse—before he’d met Vin and the others. It had been one of his pet philosophical puzzles to try and prove them no different from men of noble birth. It sounded idealistic, even a little prim, when he thought about it—and, if he was truthful, much of his interest in the skaa before the Collapse had been academic. They had been unknown, and so they had seemed exotic and interesting.

He smiled. I wonder what the plantation workers would have thought, had anyone told them they were "exotic."

But then the Collapse had come—the rebellion predicted in his books and theories coming to life. His beliefs hadn’t been able to continue as mere academic abstractions. And he’d come to know the skaa—not just Vin and the crew, but the workers and the servants. He’d seen the hope beginning to grow within them. He’d seen the awakening of self-respect, and of self-worth, in the people of the city, and it excited him.

He would not abandon them.

That’s what I am, Elend thought, pausing as he walked the wall. An idealist. A melodramatic idealist who, despite his books and learning, never did make a very good nobleman.

"What?" Ham asked, stopping next to him.

Elend turned toward him. "I’ve got an idea," he said.

This is the problem. Though I believed in Alendi at first, I later became suspicious. It seemed that he fit the signs, true. But, well, how can I explain this?

Could it be that he fit them too well?

38

HOW CAN HE POSSIBLY LOOK so confident when I feel so nervous? Vin thought, standing beside Elend as the Assembly Hall began to fill. They had arrived early; this time, Elend said he wanted to appear in control by being the one who greeted each Assemblyman as he arrived.

Today, the vote for king would occur.

Vin and Elend stood on the stage, nodding to the Assemblymen as they entered through the room’s side door. On the floor of the room, the benches were already growing crowded. The first few rows, as always, were seeded with guards.

"You look beautiful today," Elend said, looking at Vin.

Vin shrugged. She had worn her white gown, a flowing garment with a few diaphanous layers on the top. Like the others, it was designed for mobility, and it matched Elend’s new outfits—especially with the dark embroidery on the sleeves. Her jewelry was gone, but she did have a few white wooden barrettes for her hair.

"It’s odd," she said, "how quickly wearing these gowns became natural for me again."

"I’m glad you made the switch," Elend said. "The trousers and shirt are you. . .but this is you, too. The part of you I remember from the balls, when we barely knew each other."

Vin smiled wistfully, looking up at him, the gathering crowd growing a bit more distant. "You never did dance with me."

"I’m sorry," he said, holding her arm with a light touch. "We haven’t had much time for each other lately, have we?"

Vin shook her head.

"I’ll fix that," Elend said. "Once this confusion is all through, once the throne is secure, we can get back to us."

Vin nodded, then turned sharply as she noticed movement behind her. An Assemblyman walking across the stage.

"You’re jumpy," Elend said, frowning slightly. "Even more than usual. What am I missing?"

Vin shook her head. "I don’t know."

Elend greeted the Assemblyman—one of the skaa representatives—with a firm handshake. Vin stood at his side, her earlier wistfulness evaporating like mist as her mind returned to the moment. What is bothering me?

The room was packed—everyone wanted to witness the events of the day. Elend had been forced to post guards at the doors to maintain order. But, it wasn’t just the number of people that made her edgy. It was a sense of. . .wrongness to the event. People were gathering like carrion feeders to a rotting carcass.

"This isn’t right," Vin said, holding Elend’s arm as the Assemblyman moved off. "Governments shouldn’t change hands based on arguments made from a lectern."

"Just because it hasn’t happened that way in the past doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen," Elend said.

Vin shook her head. "Something is going to go wrong, Elend. Cett will surprise you, and maybe Penrod will, too. Men like them won’t sit still and let a vote decide their future."

"I know," Elend said. "But they aren’t the only ones who can offer up surprises."

Vin looked at him quizzically. "You’re planning something?"

He paused, then glanced at her. "I. . .well, Ham and I came up with something last night. A ploy. I’ve been trying to find a way to talk to you about it, but there just hasn’t been time. We had to move quickly."

Vin frowned, sensing his apprehension. She started to say something, but then stopped, studying his eyes. He seemed a little embarrassed. "What?" she asked.

"Well. . .it kind of involves you, and your reputation. I was going to ask permission, but. . ."

Vin felt a slight chill. Behind them, the last Assemblyman took his seat, and Penrod stood up to conduct the meeting. He glanced toward Elend, clearing his throat.

Elend cursed quietly. "Look, I don’t have time to explain," he said. "But, it’s really not a big deal—it might not even get me that many votes. But, well, I had to try. And it doesn’t change anything. Between us, I mean."

"What?"

"Lord Venture?" Penrod said. "Are you ready for this meeting to begin?"

The hall grew quiet. Vin and Elend still stood in the center of the stage, between the lectern and the seats of the Assembly members. She looked at him, torn between a sense of dread, a sense of confusion, and a slight sense of betrayal.

Why didn’t you tell me? she thought. How can I be ready if you don’t tell me what you’re planning? And. . .why are you looking at me like that?

"I’m sorry," Elend said, moving over to take his seat.

Vin remained standing alone before the audience. Once, so much attention would have terrified her. It still made her uncomfortable. She ducked her head slightly, walking toward the back benches and her empty spot.

Ham wasn’t there. Vin frowned, turning as Penrod opened the proceedings. There, she thought, finding Ham in the audience, sitting calmly with a group of skaa. The group was obviously conversing quietly, but even with tin, Vin would never be able to pick out their voices in the large crowd. Breeze stood with some of Ham’s soldiers at the back of the room. It didn’t matter if they knew about Elend’s plan—they were too far away for her to interrogate them.

Annoyed, she arranged her skirts, then sat. She hadn’t felt so blind since. . .

Since that night a year ago, she thought, that moment just before we figured out Kelsier’s true plan, that moment when I thought everything was collapsing around me.

Perhaps that was a good sign. Had Elend cooked up some last-minute flash of political brilliance? It didn’t really matter that he hadn’t shared it with her; she probably wouldn’t understand the legal basis for it anyway.

But. . .he always shared his plans with me before.

Penrod continued to drone on, likely maximizing his time in front of the Assembly. Cett was on the front bench of the audience, surrounded by a good twenty soldiers, sitting with a look of self-satisfaction. As well he should. From the accounts she’d heard, Cett stood to take the vote with ease.

But what was Elend planning?

Penrod will vote for himself, Vin thought. So will Elend. That leaves twenty-two votes. The merchants are behind Cett, and so are the skaa. They’re too afraid of that army to vote for anyone else.

That only leaves the nobility. Some of them will vote for Penrod—he’s the strongest nobleman in the city; many of the members of the Assembly are longtime political allies of his. But, even if he takes half of the nobility—which he probably won’t—Cett will win. Cett only needs a two-thirds majority to get the throne.

Eight merchants, eight skaa. Sixteen men on Cett’s side. He was going to win. What could Elend possibly do?

Penrod finally finished his opening announcements. "But, before we vote," he said, "I would like to offer time to the candidates to make any final addresses they wish. Lord Cett, would you care to go first?"

In the audience, Cett shook his head. "I’ve made my offers and my threats, Penrod. You all know you have to vote for me."

Vin frowned. He seemed certain of himself, and yet. . .She scanned the crowd, eyes falling on Ham. He was talking to Captain Demoux. And seated next to them was one of the men who had followed her in the market. A priest of the Survivor.

Vin turned, studying the Assembly. The skaa representatives looked uncomfortable. She glanced at Elend, who stood up to take his turn at the front of the lectern. His earlier confidence had returned, and he looked regal in his sharp white uniform. He still wore his crown.

It doesn’t change things, he’d said. Between us. . ..

I’m sorry.

Something that would use her reputation to gain him votes. Her reputation was Kelsier’s reputation, and only the skaa really cared about that. And there was one easy way to gain influence with them. . ..

"You joined the Church of the Survivor, didn’t you?" she whispered.

The reactions of the skaa Assemblymen, the logic of the moment, Elend’s words to her before, all of them suddenly made sense. If Elend joined the Church, the skaa Assemblymen might be afraid to vote against him. And, Elend didn’t need sixteen votes to gain the throne; if the Assembly deadlocked, he won. With the eight skaa and his own vote, the others would never be able to oust him.

"Very clever," she whispered.

The ploy might not work. It would depend on how much hold the Church of the Survivor had on the skaa Assemblymen. Yet, even if some skaa voted against Elend, there were still the noblemen who would probably vote for Penrod. If enough did, Elend would still deadlock the Assembly and keep his throne.

All it would cost was his integrity.

That’s unfair, Vin told herself. If Elend had joined with the Church of the Survivor, he would hold to whatever promises he had made. And, if the Church of the Survivor gained official backing, it could become as powerful in Luthadel as the Steel Ministry had once been. And. . .how would that change the way Elend saw her?

This doesn’t change anything, he had promised.

She dully heard him begin to speak, and his references to Kelsier now seemed obvious to her. Yet, the only thing she could feel was a slight sense of anxiety. It was as Zane had said. She was the knife—a different kind of knife, but still a tool. The means by which Elend would protect the city.

She should be furious, or at least sick. Why did her eyes keep darting toward the crowd? Why couldn’t she focus on what Elend was saying, on how he was elevating her? Why was she suddenly so on edge?

Why were those men subtly moving their way around the edges of the room?

"So," Elend said, "by the blessing of the Survivor himself, I ask you to vote for me."

He waited quietly. It was a drastic move; joining the Church of the Survivor put Elend under the spiritual authority of an external group. But, Ham and Demoux both had thought it a good idea. Elend had spent the better part of the previous day getting the word out to the skaa citizens about his decision.

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