Tower of Dawn Page 119

But then he said, “I went to see the khagan this morning.”

“You got an audience?”

“Not quite.” His lips thinned.

“What happened?” Yrene braced a hand on the arm of the sofa.

“He had me hauled out of the room.” Cold, flat words. “I couldn’t even try to get around the guards. Try to make him listen.”

“If you’d been standing, they’d have hauled you away all the same.” Likely hurt him in the process.

He glared. “I didn’t want to fight them. I wanted to beg him. And I couldn’t even get onto my knees to do it.”

Her heart strained as he looked toward the garden window. Rage and sorrow and fear all crossed over his face. “You’ve made remarkable progress already.”

“I want to be able to fight alongside my men again,” Chaol said quietly. “To die beside them.”

The words were an icy slice of fear through her, but Yrene said stiffly, “You can do that from a horse.”

“I want to do it shoulder-to-shoulder,” he snarled. “I want to fight in the mud, on a killing field.”

“So you’d heal here only so you can go die somewhere else?” The words snapped from her.

“Yes.”

A cold, hard answer. His face equally so.

This storm brewing in him … She wouldn’t see their progress ruined by it.

And war was truly breaking across their home. Regardless of what he wished to do with himself, he did not—they did not have time. Her people in Fenharrow did not have time.

So Yrene stepped up to him, gripped him under a shoulder, and said, “Then get up.”

Chaol was in a shit mood, and he knew it.

The more he’d thought about it, the more he realized how easily the prince and princess had played him, toyed with him last night … It didn’t matter what move Aelin had made. Anything she had done, they would have turned against her. Against him. Had Aelin played the damsel, they would have called her a weak and uncertain ally. There was no way to win.

The meeting with the khagan had been folly. Perhaps Kashin had played him, too. For if the khagan had been willing to hear him out before, he certainly was not going to now. And even if Nesryn returned with Sartaq’s rukhin in tow … Her note yesterday had been carefully worded.

The rukhin are deft archers. They find my own skills intriguing, too. I should like to keep instructing. And learning. They fly free here. I’ll see you in three weeks.

He didn’t know what to make of it. The penultimate line. Was it an insult to him, or a coded message that the rukhin and Sartaq might disobey the commands of their khagan if he refused to let them leave? Would Sartaq truly risk treason to aid them? Chaol didn’t dare leave the message unburned.

Fly free. He had never known such a feeling. It would never be his to discover. These weeks with Yrene, dining in the city under the stars, talking to her about everything and nothing … It had come close, perhaps. But it did not change what lay ahead.

No—they were still very much alone in this war. And the longer he lingered, with his friends now in combat, now on the move …

He was still here. In this chair. With no army, no allies.

“Get up.”

He slowly faced Yrene as she repeated her command, a hand tightly gripped under his shoulder, her face full of fiery challenge.

Chaol blinked at her. “What.” Not quite a question.

“Get. Up.” Her mouth tightened. “You want to die in this war so badly, then get up.”

She was in a mood, too. Good. He’d been aching for a fight—the clashes with the guards still unsatisfactory in this gods-damned chair. But Yrene …

He hadn’t allowed himself to touch her these weeks. Had made himself keep a distance, despite her unintentional moments of contact, the times when her head dipped close to his and all he could do was watch her mouth.

Yet he’d seen the tension in her at dinner last night, when Hasar had taunted about Nesryn’s return. The disappointment she’d tried so hard to keep hidden, then the relief when he’d revealed Nesryn’s extended trip.

He was a champion bastard. Even if he’d managed to convince the khagan to save their asses in this war … He would leave here. Empty handed or with an army, he’d leave. And despite Yrene’s plans to return to their continent, he wasn’t certain when he’d see her again. If ever.

None of them might make it anyway.

And this one task, this one task that his friends had given him, that Dorian had given him …

He’d failed.

Even with all he’d endured, all he’d learned … It was not enough.

Chaol gave a pointed look to his legs. “How?” They’d made more progress than he could have dreamed, yet this—

Her grip tightened to the point of pain. “You said it yourself: you don’t have two years. I’ve repaired enough now that you should be able to stand. So get up.” She even went so far as to tug on him.

He stared at her beneath lowered brows, letting his temper slip its leash by a few notches. “Let go.”

“Or what?” Oh, she was pissed.

“Who knows what the spies will feed to the royals?” Cold, hard words.

Yrene’s mouth tightened. “I have nothing to fear from their reports.”

“Don’t you? You didn’t seem to mind the privileges that came when you snapped your fingers and Kashin ran here. Perhaps he’ll grow tired of you stringing him along.”

“That is nonsense and you know it.” She tugged on his arm. “Get up.”

He did no such thing. “So a prince is not good enough for you, but the disowned son of a lord is?”

He’d never even voiced the thought. Even to himself.

“Just because you’re pissed off that Hasar and Arghun outmaneuvered you, that the khagan still won’t listen to you, doesn’t give you the right to try to drag me into a fight.” Her lips curled back from her teeth. “Now get up, since you’re so eager to rush off into battle.”

He yanked his shoulder out of her grip. “You didn’t answer the question.”

“I’m not going to answer the question.” Yrene didn’t grab his shoulder again, but slid her entire arm under him and grunted, as if she’d lift him herself, when he was nearly double her weight.

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