Tower of Dawn Page 112

Say yes. Say yes.

Chaol didn’t so much as look at Yrene as he stared down Hasar, then Arghun. The khagan and his viziers pulled apart.

Chaol said nothing. Swore nothing.

Hasar’s small smile was nothing short of triumphant. “I thought so.”

Yrene’s stomach turned.

The khagan took Chaol’s measure. “If Perrington and Aelin Galathynius are rallying armies, perhaps they’ll destroy each other and spare me the trouble.”

A muscle flickered in Chaol’s jaw.

“Perhaps if she’s so powerful,” Arghun mused, “she can take on Perrington by herself.”

“Don’t forget King Dorian,” Hasar chimed in. “Why, I’d bet the two of them could handle Perrington and whatever army he’s built without much assistance. Better to let them deal with it, than waste our blood on foreign soil.”

Yrene was shaking. Trembling with—with rage at the careful play of words, the game Hasar and her brother had constructed to keep from sailing to war.

“But,” Kashin countered, seeming to note Yrene’s expression, “it might also be said that if we do assist such powerful royals, the benefits in years of peace might be far worth the risks now.” He twisted to the khagan. “If we go to their aid, Father, should we ever face such a threat, imagine that power turned against our enemies.”

“Or turned against us, if she finds it easier to break her oaths,” Arghun cut in.

The khagan studied Arghun, his eldest son now frowning with distaste at Kashin. Duva, a hand still on her pregnant belly, only watched. Unnoted and unasked for, even by her husband.

Arghun turned back to his father. “Our people’s magic is minimal. The Eternal Sky and the thirty-six gods blessed our healers mostly.” A frown at Yrene. “Against such power, what is steel and wood? Aelin Galathynius took Rifthold, then took Skull’s Bay, and now seems poised to take Eyllwe. A wise ruler would have gone north, fortified her kingdom, then pushed south from the borders. Yet she stretches her forces thin, dividing them between north and south. If she is not a fool, then her advisors are.”

“They are well-trained warriors, who have seen more war and battle than you ever will,” Chaol said coldly.

The eldest prince stiffened. Hasar laughed quietly.

The khagan again weighed the words around him. “This remains a matter to discuss in council rooms, not dinner tables,” he said, though there was no reassurance in it. Not for Chaol, not for Yrene. “Though I am inclined to agree with what the bare facts offer.”

To his credit, Chaol did not argue further. Did not flinch or scowl. He only nodded once. “I thank you for the honor of your continued consideration, Great Khagan.”

Arghun and Hasar swapped sneering looks. But the khagan just returned to his meal.

Neither Yrene nor Chaol touched the rest of their food.

Bitch. The princess was a bitch, and Arghun was as fine a bastard as any Chaol had ever encountered.

There was some truth to their reluctance—their fear of Aelin’s powers and the threat she might pose. But he read them. Knew Hasar simply did not want to leave the comforts of her home, her lover’s arms, to sail to war. Did not want the messiness of it.

And Arghun … The man dealt in power, in knowledge. Chaol had no doubt Arghun’s arguing against him was more to force Chaol into a spot where he’d be desperate.

Even more than he was. Willing to offer anything up for their aid.

Kashin would do whatever his father told him. And as for the khagan …

Hours later, Chaol was still grinding his teeth as he lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. Yrene had left him with a squeeze to his shoulder, promising to see him the next day.

Chaol had barely been able to reply.

He should have lied. Should have sworn he trusted Aelin with his life.

Because Hasar had known that if she asked him to swear upon Yrene’s life …

Even if their thirty-six gods did not care about him, he couldn’t risk it.

He had seen Aelin do terrible things.

He still dreamed of her gutting Archer Finn in cold blood. Still dreamed of what she’d left of Grave’s body in that alley. Still dreamed of her butchering men like cattle, in Rifthold and in Endovier, and knew just how unfeeling and brutal she could turn. He had quarreled with her earlier this summer about it—the checks on her power. The lack of them.

Rowan was a good male. Utterly unafraid of Aelin, her magic. But would she listen to his counsel? Aedion and Aelin were as likely to come to blows as they were to agree, and Lysandra … Chaol didn’t know the shifter well enough to judge whether she’d keep Aelin in line.

Aelin had indeed changed—grown into a queen. Was still growing into one.

But he knew that there were no restraints, no inner ones, on how far Aelin would go to protect those she loved. Protect her kingdom. And if someone stood in her way, barred her from protecting them … No lines existed to cross within Aelin in regard to that. No lines at all.

So he had not been able to swear it, on Yrene’s life, that he believed Aelin might be above those sorts of methods. With her fraught history with Rolfe, she likely had used the might of her magic to intimidate him into joining their cause.

But with Eyllwe … Had they given some sign of resistance, to prompt her to terrorize them? He couldn’t imagine it, that Aelin would consider hurting innocent people, let alone the people of her beloved friend. And yet she knew the risks that Perrington—Erawan posed. What he’d do to them all, if she did not band them together. By whatever means necessary.

Chaol rubbed his face. If Aelin had kept herself in check, if she’d played the part of distressed queen … It would have made his task far easier.

Perhaps Aelin had cost them this war. This one shot at a future.

At least Dorian was accounted for—undoubtedly as safe as could be expected with Aelin’s court for companions.

Chaol sent a silent prayer of thanks into the night for that small mercy.

A soft knock had him shooting up. Not from the foyer, but the glass doors to the garden.

His legs twitched, bending slightly at the knee—more reaction than controlled movement. He and Yrene had been going through the grueling leg routines twice a day, the various therapies buying him movement inch by inch. Along with the magic she poured into his body while he endured the darkness’s horde of memories. He never told her what he saw, what left him screaming.

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