Tower of Dawn Page 12

Hafiza had not replied, and so Yrene went on, the sun sinking farther toward the jade waters of the harbor across the city, “Even with magic now returned to the northern continent, many of the healers might not have the training, if any survived at all. I could save many lives.”

“War could also claim your life.”

She knew this. Yrene lifted her chin. “I am aware of the risks.”

Hafiza’s dark eyes softened. “Yes, yes, you are.”

It had come out during that first, mortifying meeting with the Healer on High.

Yrene had not cried for years—since that day her mother had become ash on the wind—and yet the moment Hafiza had asked about Yrene’s parents … she had buried her face in her hands and wept. Hafiza had come from around that desk and held her, rubbing her back in soothing circles.

Hafiza often did that. Not just to Yrene, but to all her healers, when the hours were long and their backs had cramped and the magic had taken everything and it was still not enough. A quiet, steady presence who steeled them, soothed them.

Hafiza was as close to a mother as Yrene had found since she was eleven. And now weeks away from twenty-two, she doubted she’d ever find another like her.

“I have taken the examinations,” Yrene said, even though Hafiza knew that already. She’d given them to Yrene herself, overseeing the grueling week of tests on knowledge, skill, and actual human practice. Yrene had made sure she received the highest marks of her class. As near to a perfect score as anyone had ever been given here. “I’m ready.”

“Indeed you are. And yet I still wonder how much you might learn in five years, ten years, if you have already learned so much in two.”

Yrene had been too skilled to begin with the acolytes in the lower levels of the Torre.

She’d shadowed her mother since she was old enough to walk and talk, learning slowly, over the years, as all the healers in her family had done. At eleven, Yrene had learned more than most would in another decade. And even during the six years that had followed, where she’d pretended to be an ordinary girl while working on her mother’s cousin’s farm—the family unsure what to really do with her, unwilling to get to know her when war and Adarlan might destroy them all—she’d quietly practiced.

But not too much, not too noticeably. During those years, neighbor had sold out neighbor for even the whisper of magic. And even though magic had vanished, taking Silba’s gift with it, Yrene had been careful never to appear more than a simple farmer’s relative, whose grandmother had perhaps taught her a few natural remedies for fevers or birthing pain or sprained and broken limbs.

In Innish, she’d been able to do more, using her sparse pocket money to purchase herbs, salves. But she didn’t often dare, not with Nolan and Jessa, his favored barmaid, watching her day and night. So these past two years, she’d wanted to learn as much as she could. But it had also been an unleashing. Of years of stifling, of lying and hiding.

And that day she’d walked off the boat and felt her magic stir, felt it reach for a man limping down the street … She had fallen into a state of shock that had not ended until she wound up weeping in this very chair three hours later.

Yrene sighed through her nose. “I could return here one day to continue my studies. But—with all due respect, I am a full healer now.” And she could venture wherever her gift called her.

Hafiza’s white brows rose, stark against her brown skin. “And what of Prince Kashin?”

Yrene shifted in her seat. “What of him?”

“You were once good friends. He remains fond of you, and that is no small thing to ignore.”

Yrene leveled a look few dared to direct toward the Healer on High. “Will he interfere with my plans to leave?”

“He is a prince, and has been denied nothing, save the crown he covets. He may find that your leaving is not something he will tolerate.”

Dread sluiced through her, starting at her spine and ending curled deep in her gut. “I’ve given him no encouragement. I made my thoughts on that matter perfectly clear last year.”

It had been a disaster. She’d gone over it again and again, the things she’d said, the moments between them—everything that had led up to that awful conversation in that large Darghan tent atop the windswept steppes.

It had started a few months after she’d arrived in Antica, when one of Kashin’s favored servants had fallen ill. To her surprise, the prince himself had been at the man’s bedside, and during the long hours Yrene worked, the conversation had flowed, and she’d found herself … smiling. She’d cured the servant, and upon leaving that night, she’d been escorted by Kashin himself to the gates of the Torre. And in the months that followed, friendship had sprung up between them.

Perhaps freer, lighter than the friendship she also wound up forming with Hasar, who had taken a liking to Yrene after requiring some healing of her own. And while Yrene had struggled to find companions within the Torre thanks to her and her fellow students’ conflicting hours, the prince and princess had become friends indeed. As had Hasar’s lover, the sweet-faced Renia—who was as lovely inside as she was out.

A strange group they made, but … Yrene had enjoyed their company, the dinners Kashin and Hasar invited her to, when Yrene knew she had no reason to really be there. Kashin often managed to find a way to sit next to her, or near enough to engage her in conversation. For months, things had been fine—better than fine. And then Hafiza had brought Yrene out to the steppes, the native home of the khagan’s family, to oversee a grueling healing. With Kashin as their escort and guide.

The Healer on High now examined Yrene, frowning slightly. “Perhaps your lack of encouragement has made him more eager.”

Yrene rubbed her eyebrows with her thumb and forefinger. “We’ve barely spoken since then.” It was true. Though mostly due to Yrene avoiding him at the dinners to which Hasar and Renia still invited her.

“The prince does not seem like a man easily deterred—certainly not in matters of the heart.”

She knew that. She’d liked that about Kashin. Until he’d wanted something she couldn’t give him. Yrene groaned a bit. “Will I have to leave like a thief in the night, then?” Hasar would never forgive her, though she had no doubt Renia would try to soothe and rationalize it to the princess. If Hasar was pure flame, then Renia was flowing water.

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