Tower of Dawn Page 14

“What happened?” The words were a wobble.

“He tried to plead innocent. Even with what Eretia presented, with what that victim was willing to talk about. He was a monster through and through. They convicted him, and he was executed at sunrise the next day.”

“Did you watch it?”

“I did not. I came back up here. But Eretia did. She stood at the front of the crowd and stayed until they hauled his corpse into a cart. She stayed for the victims who could not bear to watch. Then she returned here, and we both cried for a long, long while.”

Yrene was quiet for a few breaths, enough that her hands steadied. “So I am to heal this man—so he may find justice elsewhere?”

“You do not know his story, Yrene. I suggest listening to it before contemplating such things.”

Yrene shook her head. “There will be no justice for him—not if he served the old and new king. Not if he’s cunning enough to remain in power. I know how Adarlan works.”

Hafiza watched her for a long moment. “The day you walked into this room, so terribly thin and covered with the dust of a hundred roads … I had never sensed such a gift. I looked into those beautiful eyes of yours, and I nearly gasped at the uncut power in you.”

Disappointment. It was disappointment on the Healer on High’s face, in her voice.

“I thought to myself,” Hafiza went on, “Where has this young woman been hiding? What god reared you, guided you to my doorstep? Your dress was in tatters around your ankles, and yet you walked in, straight-backed as any noble lady. As if you were the heir to Kamala herself.”

Until Yrene had dumped the money on the desk and fallen apart moments later. She doubted the very first Healer on High had ever done such a thing.

“Even your family name: Towers. A hint at your foremothers’ long-ago association with the Torre, perhaps. I wondered in that moment if I had at last found my heir—my replacement.”

Yrene felt the words like a blow to the gut. Hafiza had never so much as hinted …

Stay, the Healer on High had offered. To not only continue the training, but to also take up the mantle now laid before her.

But it had not been Yrene’s own ambition, to one day claim this room as her own. Not when her sights had always been set across the Narrow Sea. And even now … it was an honor beyond words, yes. But one that rang hollow.

“I asked what you wanted to do with the knowledge I would give you,” Hafiza went on. “Do you remember what you said to me?”

Yrene did. She had not forgotten it for a moment. “I said I wanted to use it to do some good for the world. To do something with my useless, wasted life.”

The words had guided her these years—along with the note she carried every day, moving it from pocket to pocket, dress to dress. Words from a mysterious stranger, perhaps a god who had worn the skin of a battered young woman, whose gift of gold had gotten her here. Saved her.

“And so you shall, Yrene,” Hafiza said. “You shall one day return home, and you shall do good, you shall do wonders. But before you do, I would ask this of you. Help that young man. You have done the healing before—you can do it again now.”

“Why can’t you?”

She’d never sounded so sullen, so … ungrateful.

Hafiza gave her a small, sad smile. “It is not my own healing that is needed.”

Yrene knew the Healer on High did not mean the man’s healing, either. She swallowed against the thickness in her throat.

“It is a soul-wound, Yrene. And letting it fester these years … I cannot blame you. But I will hold you accountable if you let it turn into something worse. And I will mourn you for it.”

Yrene’s lips wobbled, but she pressed them together, blinking back the burning in her eyes.

“You passed the tests, better than anyone who has ever climbed into this tower,” Hafiza said softly. “But let this be my personal test for you. The final one. So that when you decide to go, I may bid you farewell, send you off to war, and know …” Hafiza put a hand on her chest. “Know that wherever the road takes you, however dark, you will be all right.”

Yrene swallowed the small sound that tried to come out of her and instead looked toward the city, its pale stones resplendent in the last light of the setting sun. Through the open windows behind the Healer on High, a night breeze laced with lavender and cloves flitted in, cooling her face and ruffling Hafiza’s cloud of white hair.

Yrene slid a hand into the pocket of her pale blue dress, her fingers wrapping around the familiar smoothness of the folded piece of parchment. She clutched it, as she had often done on the sailing over here, during those initial few weeks of uncertainty even after Hafiza had admitted her, during the long hours and hard days and moments that had nearly broken her while she trained.

A note, written by a stranger who had saved her life and granted her freedom in a matter of hours. Yrene had never learned her name, that young woman who had worn her scars like some ladies wore their finest jewelry. The young woman who was a trained killer, but had purchased a healer’s education.

So many things, so many good things, had come from that night. Yrene sometimes wondered if it had actually happened—might have believed she’d dreamed it if not for the note in her pocket, and the second object Yrene had never sold, even when the gold had thinned.

The ornate gold-and-ruby brooch, worth more than entire blocks of Antica.

Adarlan’s colors. Yrene had never learned where the young woman had come from, who had bestowed the beating that had left lingering bruises on her pretty face, but she had spoken of Adarlan as Yrene did. As all the children who had lost everything to Adarlan did—those children with their kingdoms left in ash and blood and ruin.

Yrene ran a thumb over the note, the words inked there:

For wherever you need to go—and then some. The world needs more healers.

Yrene breathed in that first night breeze, the spices and brine it ushered into the Torre.

She looked back to Hafiza at last, the Healer on High’s face calm. Patient.

Yrene would regret it, if she refused. Hafiza would yield, but Yrene knew that whether she left here, whether she somehow decided to remain, she would … regret. Think back on this. Wonder if she had repaid the extraordinary kindness she’d been given rather poorly. Wonder what her mother would have thought of it.

And even if this man hailed from Adarlan, even if he’d done the bidding of that butcher …

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