Tower of Dawn Page 15

“I will meet with him. Assess him,” Yrene conceded. Her voice only wobbled slightly. She clutched that piece of paper in her pocket. “And then decide if I will heal him.”

Hafiza considered. “Fair enough, girl,” she said quietly. “Fair enough.”

Yrene blew out a shaking breath. “When do I see him?”

“Tomorrow,” Hafiza said, and Yrene winced. “The khagan has asked you to come to Lord Westfall’s chambers tomorrow.”

5

Chaol had barely slept. Partially due to the unrelenting heat, partially due to the fact that they were in a tentative ally’s fraught household, full of potential spies and unknown dangers—perhaps even from Morath itself—and partially due to what had befallen Rifthold and all he held dear.

And partially due to the meeting that he was now minutes away from having.

Nesryn paced with uncharacteristic nerves through the sitting room that was to be his sickroom. Low-lying couches and clusters of cushions filled the space, the shining floors interrupted only by rugs of thickest and finest weaving—from the skilled hands of craftswomen in the west, Nesryn told him. Art and treasures from across the khagan’s empire adorned the space, interspersed with potted palms sagging in the heat and sunlight trickling through the garden windows and doors.

Ten in the morning, the khagan’s eldest daughter had declared to him at dinner last night. Princess Hasar—plain and yet fierce-eyed. A lovely young woman had sat at her side, the only person at whom Hasar smiled. Her lover or wife, judging by the frequent touching and long looks.

There had been enough of an edge to Hasar’s wicked grin as she told Chaol when the healer would arrive that he’d been left to wonder who, precisely, they were sending.

He still did not know what to make of these people, this place. This city of high learning, this blend of so many cultures and history, peacefully dwelling together … Not at all like the raging and broken spirits dwelling in Adarlan’s shadow, living in terror, distrusting one another, enduring its worst crimes.

They’d asked him about the butchering of the slaves in Calaculla and Endovier at dinner.

Or the oily one, Arghun, did. Had the prince been among Chaol’s new recruits to the royal guard, he would have easily gotten him to fall in line thanks to a few well-timed shows of skill and sheer dominance. But here, he had no authority to bring the conniving, haughty prince to heel.

Not even when Arghun wanted to know why the former King of Adarlan had deemed it necessary to enslave his people. And then put them down like animals. Why the man had not looked to the southern continent for education on the horrors and stain of slavery—and avoided instituting it.

Chaol had offered curt answers that verged on impolite. Sartaq, the only one of them beyond Kashin whom Chaol was inclined to like, had finally tired of his elder brother’s questioning and steered the conversation away. To what, Chaol had no idea. He’d been too busy fighting against the roaring in his ears over Arghun’s razor-sharp inquiries. And then too busy monitoring every face—royal, vizier, or servant—who made an appearance in the khagan’s great hall. No signs of black rings or collars; no strange behavior to remark on.

He’d given Kashin a subtle shake of his head at one point to tell him as much. The prince had pretended not to see, but the warning flared in his eyes: Keep looking.

So Chaol had, half paying attention to the meal unfolding before him, half monitoring every word and glance and breath of those around him.

Despite their youngest sister’s death, the heirs made the meal lively, conversation flowing, mostly in languages Chaol did not know or recognize. Such a wealth of kingdoms in that hall, represented by viziers and servants and companions—the now-youngest princess, Duva, herself wedded to a dark-haired, sad-eyed prince from a faraway land who kept close to his pregnant wife and spoke little to anyone around him. But whenever Duva smiled softly at him … Chaol did not think the light that filled the prince’s face was feigned. And wondered if the man’s silence was not from reticence but perhaps not yet knowing enough of his wife’s language to keep up.

Nesryn, however, had no such excuse. She’d been silent and haunted at dinner. He’d only learned that she’d bathed before it thanks to the shout and slamming door in her chambers, followed by a huffy-looking male servant scrambling out of her rooms. The man did not come back again, nor did a replacement arrive.

Kadja, the servant assigned to Chaol, had helped him dress for dinner, then undress for bed, and had brought breakfast this morning immediately upon his awakening.

The khagan certainly knew how to eat well.

Exquisitely spiced and simmered meats, so tender they fell right off the bone; herbed rice of various colors; flatbreads coated in butter and garlic; rich wines and liquors from the vineyards and distilleries across his empire. Chaol had passed on the latter, accepting only the ceremonial glass offered before the khagan made a half-hearted toast to his new guests. For a grieving father, it was a warmer welcome than Chaol had expected.

Yet Nesryn had a sip of her drink, barely a bite of her meal, and waited a scant minute until the feast was cleared before asking to return to their suite. He’d agreed—of course he’d agreed, but when they’d closed the suite doors and he’d asked if she wanted to talk, she had said no. She wanted to sleep and would see him in the morning.

He’d had the nerve to ask Nesryn if she wanted to share his room or hers.

The shutting of her door was emphasis enough.

So Kadja had helped him into bed, and he had tossed and turned, sweating and wishing he could kick off the sheets instead of having to throw them back. Even the cool breeze that drifted in through the cleverly crafted ventilation system—the air hauled from wind-snaring towers amid the domes and spires to be cooled by canals beneath the palace, then scattered amongst the rooms and halls—had not offered any reprieve.

He and Nesryn had never been good at talking. They’d tried, usually with disastrous results.

They’d done everything out of order, and he’d cursed himself again and again for not making it right with her. Not trying to be better.

She’d barely looked at him these past ten minutes they’d been waiting for the healer to arrive. Her face was haggard, her shoulder-length hair limp. She hadn’t put on her captain’s uniform, but rather returned to her usual midnight-blue tunic and black pants. As if she couldn’t stand to be in Adarlan’s colors.

Prev Next