Tower of Dawn Page 135

But a low, fizzing sounded behind Yrene.

She looked to see Renia clutching her stomach, another hand over her mouth, as she looked at her lover and howled.

Hasar whirled on Renia, who just stuck out a finger, pointing and roaring with laughter. Tears leaked from the woman’s eyes.

Then Kashin tipped his head back and bellowed with amusement.

Yrene and Chaol did not dare move.

Not until Hasar shoved away a servant who’d flung himself into the pool to help her, crawled back onto the paved lip, and looked Yrene dead in the eye with the full wrath of all the mighty khagans before her.

Silence again.

But then the princess snorted. “I was wondering when you’d grow a backbone.”

She walked away, trailing water behind her, Renia howling again.

Yrene caught Chaol’s stare—watched him slowly release the hand on his sword. Watched his pupils shrink again. Watched him realize …

They were not going to die.

“With that,” Yrene said quietly, “I think it’s time for bed.”

Renia paused her laughing long enough to say, “I’d be gone before she returns.”

Yrene nodded, and led Chaol by the wrist back toward the trees and dark and torches.

She couldn’t help but wonder if Renia and Kashin’s laughter had in part been true amusement, but also a gift. A birthday gift, to keep them from the gallows. From the two people who understood best just how deadly Hasar’s moods could be.

Keeping her head, Yrene decided, was a very good birthday gift indeed.

It would have been easy for Chaol to roar at Yrene. To demand how she could even think to risk her life like that. Months ago, he would have. Hell, he was still debating it.

Even as they slipped into her spacious tent, he continued soothing the instincts that had come bellowing to the surface the moment those guards had pressed in and reached for their swords.

Some small part of him was profoundly, knee-wobblingly grateful none of those guards were ones he’d trained with these weeks—that he hadn’t been forced to make that choice, cross that line between them.

But he’d seen the terror in Yrene’s eyes. The moment she’d realized what was about to happen, what would have happened if the princess’s lover and Kashin had not stepped in to defuse the situation.

Chaol knew Yrene had done it for him.

For the mocking, hateful insult.

And from the way she paced inside the tent, wending between the couches and tables and cushions … Chaol also knew she was well aware of the rest.

He took up a seat on the rolled arm of a chair, leaning the cane beside it, and waited.

Yrene whirled toward him, stunning in that purple gown, which had nearly knocked his knees from beneath him when she’d first emerged from the tent. Not just for how well it suited her, but the swaths of supple skin. The curves. The light and color of her.

“Before you begin shouting,” Yrene declared, “I should say that what just happened is proof that I should not be marrying a prince.”

Chaol crossed his arms. “Having lived with a prince for most of my life, I’d say quite the opposite.”

She waved a hand, pacing more. “I know it was stupid.”

“Incredibly.”

Yrene hissed—not at him. The memory. The temper. “I don’t regret doing it.”

A smile tugged on his mouth. “It’s an image I’ll likely remember for the rest of my life.”

He would. The way Hasar’s feet had gone over her head, her shrieking face right before she hit the water—

“How can you be so amused?”

“Oh, I’m not.” His lips indeed curved. “But it’s certainly entertaining to see that temper of yours turned on someone other than me.”

“I don’t have a temper.”

He raised a brow. “I have known a fair number of people with tempers, and yours, Yrene Towers, ranks among the finest of them.”

“Like Aelin Galathynius.”

A shadow passed over him. “She would have greatly enjoyed the sight of Hasar flipping into the pool.”

“Is she really marrying that Fae Prince?”

“Maybe. Likely.”

“Are you—upset about it?”

And though she asked it casually, that healer’s mask a portrait of calm curiosity, he selected his words carefully.

“Aelin was very important to me. She still is—though in a different way. And for a while … it was not easy, to change the dreams I’d planned for my future. Especially the dreams with her.”

Yrene angled her head, the lantern light dancing in her soft curls. “Why?”

“Because when I met Aelin, when I fell in love with her, she was not … She went by another name. Another title and identity. And things between us fell apart before I knew the truth, but … I think I knew. When I learned she was truly Aelin. I knew that between her and Dorian, I …”

“You would never leave Adarlan. Or him.”

He fiddled with the cane beside him, running his hands over the smooth wood. “She knew it, too, I think. Long before I did. But she still … She left, at one point. It’s a long story, but she went off to Wendlyn alone. And that was where she met Prince Rowan. And out of respect to me, because we had not truly ended it, she waited. For him. They both did. And when she came back to Rifthold, it ended. Between us, I mean. Officially. Badly. I handled it badly, and she did, too, and it just … We made our peace, before we parted ways months ago. And they left together. As it should be. They are … If you ever meet them, you’ll get it. Like Hasar, she isn’t an easy person to be with, to understand. Aelin frightens everyone.” He snorted. “But not him. I think that’s why she fell in love with him, against her best intentions. Rowan beheld all Aelin was and is, and he was not afraid.”

Yrene was quiet for a moment. “But you were?”

“It was a … rough period for me. Everything I knew was trampled. Everything. And she … I think I placed the blame for a great deal of it upon her. Began to see her as a monster.”

“Is she?”

“It depends on who’s telling the story, I suppose.” Chaol studied the intricate pattern of the red-and-green rug beneath his boots. “But I don’t think so. There is no one else that I would trust to handle this war. No one else I would trust to take on all of Morath but Aelin. Even Dorian. If there’s some way to win, she’ll find it. The costs might be high, but she’ll do it.” He shook his head. “And it’s your birthday. We should probably talk of nicer things.”

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