Tower of Dawn Page 110

But there had been no whisper of whoever had attacked her—no confirmation that it was indeed one of the Valg. A small mercy, Yrene supposed.

But still she paid attention in his lessons, and still Chaol carefully trained her.

The royal siblings had come and gone and come back again, and she had seen nothing of Kashin beyond the dinner where she’d sought him out to thank him for his help and generosity the night of the attack. He’d said it was unnecessary, but she had touched his shoulder in thanks anyway. Before taking her seat at the safety of Chaol’s side.

Chaol’s own, separate cause with the khagan … Chaol and Yrene didn’t risk talking about the war—the need for armies. And the Aksara Oasis and well of knowledge, which might be hidden away beneath the palms, regarding why this place had such information on the Valg … Neither of them had come up with a way to manipulate Hasar into bringing them without raising her suspicions. Without risking the princess becoming aware of those scrolls Yrene and Chaol still had hidden in his room.

But Yrene knew time pressed on him. Saw how his eyes sometimes turned distant, as if staring toward a far-off land. Remembering the friends who fought there. For their people. He’d always push himself harder after that—and each inch of movement gained in his legs was as much due to himself as it was to her own magic.

But Yrene pushed herself, too. Wondered if the battles had begun; wondered if she’d ever make it in time to even help. Wondered what might be left for her to return to.

The darkness they encountered when she did heal him, from the demon that had dwelled inside the man who had destroyed so much of the world … They worked through that, too. She had not been dragged into his memories as she had before, had not been forced to witness the horrors of Morath or endure the attentions of the thing that lingered in him, but her magic still shoved against that wound, swarming it like a thousand dots of white light, eating and gobbling and clawing at it.

He endured the pain, wading through whatever that darkness showed him. Never recoiling from it, day after day. Only stopping when her own strength flagged and he insisted Yrene break for food or a nap on the gold couch or just some conversation over chilled tea.

Yrene supposed that their steady pace had to end at some point.

She thought it’d likely be due to an argument between them. Not news from afar.

The khagan returned to the nightly formal dinner, after two weeks away at a seaside estate to escape the summer heat, ensconced with his still-mourning wife. A merry gathering—or so it had seemed from afar. With no further attacks in the palace or Torre, the hushed watchfulness had lifted considerably these last few weeks.

But as Yrene and Chaol entered the great hall, as she read the simmering tension along those seated at the high table, she debated telling him to leave. Viziers shifted in their seats. Arghun, who had certainly not been missed while he’d joined his parents at the seaside, smirked.

Hasar smiled broadly at Yrene—knowingly. Not good.

They got perhaps fifteen minutes into dinner before the princess pounced. Hasar leaned forward and said to Chaol, “You must be pleased tonight, Lord Westfall.”

Yrene kept perfectly straight in her chair, her fork unfaltering as she lifted a bite of lemon-kissed sea bass to her mouth and forced herself to swallow.

Chaol countered smoothly, drinking from his goblet of water, “And why might that be, Your Highness?”

Hasar’s smiles could be awful. Deadly. And the one she wore when she spoke next made Yrene wonder why she had ever bothered to answer the princess’s summons. “Well, if one does the calculations, Captain Faliq should be returning with my brother tomorrow.”

Yrene’s hand tightened around her fork as she tallied the days.

Three weeks. It had been three weeks since Nesryn and Sartaq had left for the Tavan Mountains.

Nesryn would return tomorrow. And though nothing—nothing—had happened between Yrene and Chaol …

Yrene could not stop the sensation of her chest caving in. Couldn’t halt the sense that there was about to be a door very permanently slammed in her face.

They hadn’t spoken of Nesryn. Of whatever was between them. And he’d never touched Yrene more than was necessary, never looked at her as he had that night of the party.

Because of course—of course he was waiting for Nesryn. The woman he … he was loyal to.

Yrene made herself eat another bite, even as the fish turned sour in her mouth.

Fool. She was a fool, and—

“Didn’t you hear the news?” Chaol drawled, just as irreverently as the princess. He set down his goblet, his knuckles brushing Yrene’s where she’d rested her hand on the table.

To any, it might have been an accidental brush, but with Chaol … His every movement was controlled. Focused. The brush of his skin against hers, a whisper of reassurance, as if he could sense that the walls were indeed closing in around her—

Hasar shot Yrene a displeased look. Why did you not inform me of this?

Yrene gave her an innocent wince back. I did not know. It was the truth.

“I suppose you shall tell us?” Hasar replied coolly to the lord.

Chaol shrugged. “I received word today—from Captain Faliq. She and your brother have decided to extend their trip by another three weeks. It turns out, her skill with a bow and arrow was in high demand amongst his rukhin. They have begged to keep her for a while longer. She obliged them.”

Yrene schooled her face into neutrality. Even as relief and shame washed through her.

A good woman—a brave woman. That was who she was so relieved to hear was not returning. Not … interrupting.

“Our brother is wise,” Arghun said from down the table, “to keep such a skilled warrior for as long as possible.”

The barb was there, buried deep.

Chaol again shrugged. “He is wise indeed, to know how special she is.” The words were spoken with truth, yet …

She was inventing things. Reading into it, assuming his tone had no affection beyond pride.

Arghun leaned forward to say to Hasar, “Well, then there’s the matter of the other news, sister. Which I assume Lord Westfall has also heard.”

A few places down, the khagan’s conversation with his closest viziers faltered.

“Oh, yes,” Hasar said, swirling her wine as she sprawled in her chair. “I’d forgotten.”

Yrene tried to catch Renia’s eye, to get the princess’s lover to reveal something about what she now felt building, the wave about to crash. The reason the room was so charged. But Renia only watched Hasar, a hand on her arm as if to say, Caution.

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