Tower of Dawn Page 117

“That young captain, Yeran,” Falkan said carefully to Borte. “You seem to know him well.”

Borte scowled. “He’s my betrothed.”

38

Though Kashin might have been loath to push his father in public or private, he certainly was not without his resources. And as Chaol approached the sealed doors to the khagan’s trade meeting, he hid his grin when he discovered Hashim, Shen, and two other guards he’d trained with stationed outside. Shen winked at him, his armor glinting in the watery morning sunlight, and swiftly knocked with his artificial hand before opening the door.

Chaol didn’t dare give Shen, Hashim, or the other guards so much as a nod of gratitude or acknowledgment. Not as he wheeled his chair into the sun-drenched council room and found the khagan and three golden-robed viziers around a long table of black polished wood.

They all stared at him in silence. But Chaol kept approaching the table, his head high, face set in a pleasant, subdued smile. “I hope I’m not interrupting, but there is a matter I should like to discuss.”

The khagan’s lips pressed into a tight line. He wore a light green tunic and dark trousers, cut close enough to reveal the warrior’s body still lurking beneath the aged exterior. “I have told you time and again, Lord Westfall, that you should speak to my Chief Vizier”—a nod to the sour-faced man across from him—“if you wish to arrange a meeting.”

Chaol halted before the table, flexing and shifting his feet. He’d gone through as much of his leg exercises as he could this morning after his workout with the palace guard, and though he’d regained movement up to his knees, placing weight on them, standing …

He cast the thought from his mind. Standing or sitting had nothing to do with it—this moment.

He could still speak with dignity and command whether he stood on his feet or was laid flat on his back. The chair was no prison, nothing that made him lesser.

So Chaol bowed his head, smiling faintly. “With all due respect, Great Khagan, I am not here to meet with you.”

Urus blinked, his only show of surprise as Chaol inclined his head to the man in sky-blue robes whom Kashin had described. “I am here to speak to your foreign trade vizier.”

The vizier glanced between his khagan and Chaol, as if ready to proclaim his innocence, even as interest gleamed in his brown eyes. But he did not dare speak.

Chaol held the khagan’s stare for long seconds.

He didn’t remind himself that he had interrupted a private meeting of perhaps the most powerful man in the world. Didn’t remind himself that he was a guest in a foreign court and the fate of his friends and countrymen depended on what he accomplished here. He just stared at the khagan, man to man, warrior to warrior.

He had fought a king before and lived to tell.

The khagan at last jerked his chin to an empty spot at the table. Not a ringing welcome, but better than nothing.

Chaol nodded his thanks and approached, keeping his breathing even while he looked all four men in the eye and said to the vizier of foreign trade, “I received word that two large orders of firelances have been placed by Captain Rolfe’s armada, one prior to Aelin Galathynius’s arrival in Skull’s Bay, and an even larger one afterward.”

The khagan’s white brows flicked up. The foreign trade vizier shifted in his seat, but nodded. “Yes,” he said in Chaol’s tongue. “That is true.”

“How much, exactly, would you say each firelance costs?”

The viziers glanced among one another, and it was another man, whom Chaol presumed to be the domestic trade vizier, that named the sum.

Chaol only waited. Kashin had told him the astronomical number last night. And, just as he’d gambled, the khagan whipped his head to the vizier at that cost.

Chaol asked, “And how many are now being sent to Rolfe—and thus to Terrasen?”

Another number. Chaol let the khagan do the math. Watched from the corner of his eye as the khagan’s brows rose even higher.

The Chief Vizier braced his forearms on the table. “Are you trying to convince us of Aelin Galathynius’s good or ill intentions, Lord Westfall?”

Chaol ignored the barb. He simply said to the foreign trade vizier, “I would like to place another order. I would like to double the Queen of Terrasen’s order, actually.”

Silence.

The foreign trade vizier looked like he’d flip over in his chair.

But the Chief Vizier sneered, “With what money?”

Chaol turned a lazy grin on the man. “I came here with four trunks of priceless treasure.” A kingdom’s ransom, as it were. “I think it should cover the cost.”

Utter quiet once more.

Until the khagan asked his foreign trade vizier, “And will it cover the cost?”

“The treasure would have to be assessed and weighed—”

“It is already being done,” Chaol said, leaning back in his chair. “You shall have the number by this afternoon.”

Another beat of silence. Then the khagan murmured in Halha to the foreign trade vizier, who gathered up his papers and scurried out of the room with a wary glance at Chaol. A flat word from the khagan to his Chief Vizier and the domestic trade vizier, and both men also left, the former throwing another cold sneer Chaol’s way before departing.

Alone with the khagan, Chaol waited in silence.

Urus rose from his chair, stalking to the wall of windows that overlooked a blooming, shaded garden. “I suppose you think you are very clever, to use this to get an audience with me.”

“I spoke true,” Chaol said. “I wished to discuss the deal with your foreign trade vizier. Even if your armies will not join us, I don’t see how anyone can object to our purchase of your weapons.”

“And no doubt, this was meant to make me realize how lucrative this war might be, if your side is willing to invest in our resources.”

Chaol remained silent.

The khagan turned from the garden view, the sunlight making his white hair glow. “I do not appreciate being manipulated into this war, Lord Westfall.”

Chaol held the man’s stare, even as he gripped the arms of his chair.

The khagan asked quietly, “Do you even know what warfare is?”

Chaol clenched his jaw. “I suppose I’m about to find out, aren’t I.”

The khagan didn’t so much as smile. “It is not mere battles and supplies and strategy. Warfare is the absolute dedication of one army against their enemies.” A long, weighing look. “That is what you stand against—Morath’s rallied, solid front. Their conviction in decimating you into dust.”

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