Tower of Dawn Page 134

A pause of silence.

Then Hasar said, “Well, if Aelin cannot represent her continent, perhaps we shall look elsewhere.” She smirked at Kashin. “Perhaps Yrene Towers might be offered in the queen’s stead.”

“I am not noble-born,” Yrene blurted. “Or royal.” Hasar had lost her mind.

Hasar shrugged. “I’m sure Lord Westfall, as Hand, can find you a title. Make you a countess or duchess or whatever terms you call them. Of course, we’d know you were little more than a milkmaid dressed in jewels, but if it stayed amongst us … I’m sure there are some here who would not mind your humble beginnings.” She’d done as much with Renia—for Renia.

The amusement faded from Chaol’s face. “You sound as if you now want to be a part of this war, Princess.”

Hasar waved a hand. “I am merely musing on the possibilities.” She surveyed Yrene and Kashin, and the food in Yrene’s stomach turned leaden. “I’ve always said you would make such beautiful children.”

“If they were allowed to live by your future khagan.”

“A small consideration—to be later dealt with.”

Kashin leaned forward, his jaw tight. “The wine goes to your head, sister.”

Hasar rolled her eyes. “Why not? Yrene is the unspoken heir of the Torre. It is a position of power—and if Lord Westfall were to bestow upon her a royal title … say, spin a little story that her royal lineage was newly discovered, she might very well wed you, Ka—”

“She will not.”

Chaol’s words were flat. Hard.

Color stained Kashin’s face as he asked softly, “And why is that, Lord Westfall?”

Chaol held the man’s gaze. “She will not marry you.”

Hasar smiled. “I think the lady may speak for herself.”

Yrene wanted to flip her chair back into the pool and sink to the bottom. And live there, under the surface, forever. Rather than face the prince waiting for an answer, the princess who was smirking like a demon, and the lord whose face was hard with rage.

But if it was a serious offer, if doing something like that could lead to the full might of the southern continent’s armies coming to help them, save them …

“Don’t you even consider it,” Chaol said too quietly. “She’s full of shit.”

People gasped. Hasar barked a laugh.

Arghun snapped, “You will speak with respect to my sister, or you will find yourself with legs that don’t work again.”

Chaol ignored them. Yrene’s hands shook badly enough that she slid them beneath the table.

Had the princess brought her out here to corner her into agreeing to this preposterous idea, or had it merely been a whim, an idle thought to taunt and gnaw at Lord Westfall?

Chaol seemed to be on the verge of opening his mouth to say more, to push this ridiculous idea out of her head, but he hesitated.

Not because he agreed, Yrene realized, but because he wanted to give her the space to choose for herself. A man used to giving orders, to being obeyed. And yet Yrene had the sense that this, too, was new to him. The patience; the trust.

And she trusted him. To do what he had to. To find a way to survive this war, whether with this army or another one. If it did not happen here, with these people, he’d sail elsewhere.

Yrene looked to Hasar, to Kashin and the others, some smirking, some swapping disgusted glances. Arghun most of all. Revolted at the thought of sullying his family’s bloodline.

She trusted Chaol.

She did not trust these royals.

Yrene smiled at Hasar, then Kashin. “This is very grave talk for my birthday. Why should I choose one man tonight when I have so many handsome ones in my company right now?”

She could have sworn a shudder of relief went through Chaol.

“Indeed,” Hasar crooned, her smile sharpening. Yrene tried not to balk at the invisible fangs revealed in that smile. “Betrothals are rather odious things. Look at poor Duva, stuck with that brooding, sad-eyed princeling.”

And so the conversation moved on. Yrene did not glance to Kashin or the others. She looked only at her constantly refilled goblet—and drank it. Or at Chaol, who appeared half inclined to lean across Yrene and flip Hasar’s chair right back into the pool.

But the meal passed, and Yrene kept drinking—enough so that when she stood after dessert, she had not realized precisely how much she’d imbibed. The world tipped and swayed, and Chaol steadied her with a hand on her elbow, even as he was none too steady on his feet.

“Seems like they can’t hold their liquor up north,” Arghun said with a snort.

Chaol chuckled. “I’d advise never to say that to someone from Terrasen.”

“I suppose there’s nothing else to do while living amongst all the snow and sheep beyond drink,” Arghun drawled, lounging in his chair.

“That may be,” Chaol said, putting an arm on Yrene’s back to guide her to the trees and tents, “but it won’t stop Aelin Galathynius or Aedion Ashryver from drinking you under the table.”

“Or under a chair?” Hasar crooned to Chaol.

Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was the heat, or the hand on her back, or the fact that this man beside her had fought and fought and never once complained about it.

Yrene lunged for the princess.

And though Chaol might have decided against pushing Hasar into the pool behind her, Yrene had no such qualms about doing it herself. One heartbeat, Hasar was smirking up at her.

The next, her legs and skirts and jewels went sky-up, her shriek piercing across the dunes as Yrene shoved the princess, chair and all, into the water.

45

Yrene knew she was a dead woman.

Knew it the moment Hasar hit the dark water and everyone leaped to their feet, shouting and drawing blades.

Chaol had Yrene behind him in an instant, a sword half out—a blade she hadn’t even seen him reach for before it was in his hand.

The pool was not deep, and Hasar swiftly stood, soaked and seething, teeth bared and hair utterly limp as she pointed at Yrene.

No one spoke.

She pointed and pointed, and Yrene braced for the death order.

They’d kill her, and then kill Chaol for trying to save her.

She felt him sizing up all the guards, the princes, the viziers. Every person who would get in the way to the horses, every person who might put up a fight.

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