Tower of Dawn Page 10

The servant only padded over, laid a thick white cloth before him, and backed away. He gave her a grateful, close-lipped smile as he braced his left fist again on the floor, atop the plush cloth, distributing his weight throughout the arm. With an inhaled breath, his right hand still gripping the edge of his chair, he carefully lowered himself to the ground, swinging his rear away from the chair as his knees bent unbidden.

He landed with a thud, but he was on the floor, at least—hadn’t toppled over, as he had the first half-dozen times he’d tried it on the ship.

Carefully, he scooted to the edge of the pool stairs, until he could set his feet into the warm water, right atop the second step. The servant strode into the water a heartbeat later, graceful as an egret, her gossamer robe turning as insubstantial as dew while water crept up its length. Her hands were gentle but steady while she gripped him under the arm and helped him hoist himself the last bit into the pool, setting himself down on the top step. Then she guided him down another and another, until he was sitting up to his shoulders. Eye-level with her full, peaked breasts.

She didn’t seem to notice. And he immediately averted his gaze toward the window as she reached for the small tray of supplies she’d left near the lip of the pool. Oils and brushes and soft-looking cloths. Chaol slid his undershorts off while she turned, setting them with a loud, wet smack upon the edge of the pool.

Nesryn still didn’t emerge from her room.

So Chaol closed his eyes, submitting himself to the servant’s ministrations, and wondered what the hell he was going to do.

4

Of all the rooms in the Torre Cesme, Yrene Towers loved this one best.

Perhaps it was because the room, located at the very pinnacle of the pale-stoned tower and its sprawling complex below, had unparalleled views of the sunset over Antica.

Perhaps it was because this was the place where she’d felt the first shred of safety in nearly ten years. The place she had first looked upon the ancient woman now sitting across the paper- and book-strewn desk, and heard the words that changed everything: You are welcome here, Yrene Towers.

It had been over two years since then.

Two years of working here, living here, in this tower and in this city of so many peoples, so many foods and caches of knowledge.

It had been all she’d dreamed it would be—and she had seized every opportunity, every challenge, with both hands. Had studied and listened and practiced and saved lives, changed them, until she had climbed to the very top of her class. Until an unknown healer’s daughter from Fenharrow was approached by healers old and young, who had trained their entire lives, for her advice and assistance.

The magic helped. Glorious, lovely magic that could make her breathless or so tired she couldn’t get out of bed for days. Magic demanded a cost—to both healer and patient. But Yrene was willing to pay it. She had never minded the aftermath of a brutal healing.

If it meant saving a life … Silba had granted her a gift—and a young stranger had given her another gift, that final night in Innish two years ago. Yrene had no plans to waste either.

She waited in silence as the slender woman across from her finished reading through some message on her chronically messy desk. Despite the servants’ best efforts, the ancient rosewood desk was always chaotic, covered with formulas or spells or vials and jars brewing some tonic.

There were two such vials on the desk now, clear orbs atop silver feet fashioned after ibis legs. Being purified by the endless sunshine within the tower.

Hafiza, Healer on High of the Torre Cesme, plucked up one of the vials, swirled its pale blue contents, frowned, and set it down. “The damned thing always takes twice as long as I anticipate.” She asked casually, using Yrene’s own language, “Why do you think that is?”

Yrene leaned forward in the worn, tufted armchair on her side of the desk to study the tonic. Every meeting, every encounter with Hafiza, was a lesson—a chance to learn. To be challenged. Yrene lifted the vial from its stand, holding it to the golden light of sunset as she examined the thick azure liquid within. “Use?”

“Ten-year-old girl developed a dry cough six weeks ago. Saw the physicians, who advised honey tea, rest, and fresh air. Got better for a time, but returned a week ago with a vengeance.”

The physicians of the Torre Cesme were the finest in the world, distinguished only from the Torre’s healers by the fact that they did not possess magic. They were the first line of inspection for the healers in the tower, their quarters occupying the sprawling complex around its base.

Magic was precious, its demands costly enough that some Healer on High centuries ago had decreed that if they were to see a patient, a physician must first inspect the person. Perhaps it had been a political maneuver—a bone tossed to the physicians so often passed over by a people clamoring for the cure-all remedies of magic.

Yet magic could not cure all things. Could not halt death, or bring someone back from it. She’d learned it again and again these past two years, and earlier. And even with the protocols with the physicians, Yrene still—as she had always done—found herself walking toward the sound of coughing in the narrow, sloped streets of Antica.

Yrene tilted the vial this way and that. “The tonic might be reacting to the heat. It’s been unseasonably warm, even for us.”

With the end of summer finally near, even after two years, Yrene was still not entirely accustomed to the unrelenting, dry heat of the god-city. Mercifully, some long-ago mastermind had invented the bidgier, wind-catching towers set atop buildings to draw in fresh air to the rooms below, some even working in tandem with the few underground canals winding beneath Antica to transform hot wind into cool breezes. The city was peppered with the small towers, like a thousand spears jutting toward the sky, ranging from the small houses made of earthen bricks to the great, domed residences full of shaded courtyards and clear pools.

Unfortunately, the Torre had predated that stroke of brilliance, and though the upper levels possessed some cunning ventilation that cooled the chambers far below, there were plenty of days when Yrene wished some clever architect would take it upon themselves to outfit the Torre with the latest advances. Indeed, with the rising heat and the various fires burning throughout the tower, Hafiza’s room was near-sweltering. Which led Yrene to add, “You could put it in a lower chamber—where it’s cooler.”

“But the sunlight needed?”

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