Tower of Dawn Page 13

“Should you decide to remain, you will not have to worry about such things at all.”

Yrene straightened. “You would really use Kashin as a way to keep me here?”

Hafiza laughed, a crow of warmth. “No. But forgive an old woman for trying to use any avenue necessary to convince you.”

Pride and guilt eddied in her chest. But Yrene said nothing—had no answer.

Returning to the northern continent … She knew there was no one and nothing left there for her. Nothing but unforgiving war, and those who would need her help.

She did not even know where to go—where to sail, how to find those armies and their wounded. She’d traveled far and wide before, had evaded enemies bent on slaughtering her, and the thought of doing it all again … She knew some would think her mad. Ungrateful for the offer Hafiza had laid before her. She’d thought those things of herself for a long while now.

Yet not a single day passed without Yrene gazing toward the sea at the foot of the city—gazing northward.

Yrene’s attention indeed slid from the Healer on High to the windows behind her, to the distant, darkening horizon, as if it were a lodestone.

Hafiza said, a shade more gently, “There is no rush to decide. Wars take a long time.”

“But I will need—”

“There is a task I would first have you do, Yrene.”

Yrene stilled at that tone, the hint of command in it.

She glanced to the letter Hafiza had been reading when she’d entered. “What is it?”

“There is a guest at the palace—a special guest of the khagan. I would ask you to treat him. Before you decide whether now is the right time to leave these shores, or if it is better to remain.”

Yrene angled her head. Rare—very rare for Hafiza to pass off a task from the khagan to someone else. “What is his ailment?” Common, standard words for healers receiving cases.

“He is a young man, age twenty-three. Healthy in every regard, in fit condition. But he suffered a grave injury to his spine earlier this summer that left him paralyzed from the hips downward. He cannot feel or move his legs, and has been in a wheeled chair since. I am bypassing the initial physicians’ examination to appeal directly to you.”

Yrene’s mind churned. A complex, long process to heal that manner of injury. Spines were nearly as difficult as brains. Connected to them quite closely. With that sort of healing, it wasn’t a matter of letting her magic wash over them—that wasn’t how it worked.

It was finding the right places and channels, in finding the correct amount of magic to wield. It was getting the brain to again send signals to the spine, down those broken pathways; it was replacing the damaged, smallest kernels of life within the body with new, fresh ones. And on top of it … learning to walk again. Weeks. Months, perhaps.

“He is an active young man,” Hafiza said. “The injury is akin to the warrior you aided last winter on the steppes.”

She’d guessed as much already—it was likely why she’d been asked. Two months spent healing the horse-lord who’d taken a bad fall off his mount and injured his spine. It was not an uncommon injury among the Darghan, some of whom rode horses and some of whom soared on ruks, and they had long relied on the Torre’s healers. Working on the warrior had been her first time putting her lessons on the subject into effect, precisely why Hafiza had accompanied her to the steppes. Yrene was fairly confident she could do another healing on her own this time, but it was the way Hafiza glanced down at the letter—just once—that made Yrene pause. Made her ask, “Who is he?”

“Lord Chaol Westfall.” Not a name from the khaganate. Hafiza added, holding Yrene’s gaze, “He was the former Captain of the Guard and is now Hand to the new King of Adarlan.”

Silence.

Yrene was silent, in her head, her heart. Only the crying of the gulls sailing above the Torre and the shouts of vendors going home for the night in the streets beyond the compound’s high walls filled the tower room.

“No.”

The word pushed out of Yrene on a breath.

Hafiza’s slim mouth tightened.

“No,” Yrene said again. “I will not heal him.”

There was no softness, nothing motherly in Hafiza’s face, as she said, “You took an oath upon entering these halls.”

“No.” It was all she could think to say.

“I am well aware how difficult it may be for you—”

Her hands started shaking. “No.”

“Why?”

“You know why.” The words were a strangled whisper. “Y-y-you know.”

“If you see Adarlanian soldiers suffering on those battlefields, will you stomp right over them?”

It was the cruelest Hafiza had ever been to her.

Yrene rubbed the ring on her finger. “If he was Captain of the Guard for the last king, he—he worked for the man who—” The words spilled and stumbled out. “He took orders from him.”

“And now works for Dorian Havilliard.”

“Who indulged in his father’s riches—the riches of my people. Even if Dorian Havilliard did not participate, the fact that he stood back while it happened …” The pale stone walls pressed in, even the solid tower beneath them feeling unwieldy. “Do you know what the king’s men did these years? What his armies, his soldiers, his guards did? And you ask me to heal a man who commanded them?”

“It is a reality of who you are—who we are. A choice all healers must make.”

“And you have made it so often? In your peaceful kingdom?”

Hafiza’s face darkened. Not with ire, but memory. “I was once asked to heal a man who was injured while evading capture. After he had committed a crime so unspeakable … The guards told me what he’d done before I walked into his cell. They wanted him patched up so he could live to be put on trial. He’d undoubtedly be executed—they had victims willing to testify and proof aplenty. Eretia herself saw the latest victim. His last one. Gathered all the evidence she needed and stood in that court and condemned him with what she had seen.” Hafiza’s throat bobbed. “They chained him down in that cell, and he was hurt enough that I knew … I knew I could use my magic to make the internal bleeding worse. They’d never know. He’d be dead by morning, and no one would dare question me.” She studied the vial of blue tonic. “It was the closest I have ever come to killing. I wanted to kill him for what he had done. The world would be better for it. I had my hands on his chest—I was ready to do it. But I remembered. I remembered that oath I had taken, and remembered that they had asked me to heal him so that he would live—so that justice might be found for his victims. And their families.” She met Yrene’s eyes. “It was not my death to dole out.”

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