Tower of Dawn Page 165

But before Arghun could hiss a retort, Duva lifted her head from the khagan’s shoulder.

Tears leaked down her cheeks as she surveyed Sartaq and Arghun. Then Hasar. Then Kashin. And lastly the husband who lifted his head from his hands.

Shadows still lined that lovely face, but—human ones.

“It is true,” Duva whispered, her voice breaking as she looked back to her brothers and sister. “All of it.”

And as everything that confession implied sank in, the khagan gathered her to him again, rocking her gently while she wept.

Hasar lingered by the foot of the couch as her brothers pressed in to embrace their sister, something like longing on her face.

Hasar noticed Yrene’s stare and mouthed the words: Thank you.

Yrene only bowed her head and backed toward where Chaol was waiting. Not at her side, but sitting in his chair next to a nearby pillar. He must have asked a servant to bring it from his suite when the tether between them had grown thin as she battled within Duva.

Chaol wheeled over to her, scanning her features. But his own face held no grief, no frustration.

Only awe—awe and such adoration it snatched her breath away. Yrene settled in his lap, and he looped his arms around her as she kissed his cheek.

A door slammed open across the hall, and rushing feet and skirts filled the air. And sobbing. The Grand Empress was sobbing as she threw herself toward her daughter.

She made it within a foot before Kashin leaped in, grabbing his mother by the waist, her white gown swaying with the force of her halted sprint. She spoke in Halha, too fast for Yrene to understand, her skin ashen against the jet black of her long, straight hair. She did not seem to notice anyone but the daughter before her as Kashin murmured an explanation, his hand stroking down his mother’s thin back in soothing lines.

The Grand Empress just fell to her knees and folded Duva into her arms.

An old ache stirred in Yrene at the sight of that mother and daughter, at the sight of both of them, weeping with grief and joy.

Chaol squeezed her shoulder in quiet understanding as Yrene slid off his lap and they turned to leave.

“Anything,” the khagan said over his shoulder to Yrene, the man still kneeling by Duva and his wife as Hasar at last swept in to embrace her sister. Their mother just enfolded both princesses, kissing the sisters on their cheeks and brows and hair as they held together tightly. “Anything you desire,” the khagan said. “Ask it, and it is yours.”

Yrene did not hesitate. The words tumbled from her lips.

“A favor, Great Khagan. I would ask you a favor.”

The palace was in uproar, but Chaol and Yrene still found themselves alone with Nesryn and Sartaq, sitting, of all places, in their suite.

The prince and Nesryn had joined them on the long walk back to the room, Chaol wheeling his chair close to Yrene’s side. She’d been swaying on her feet, and was too damned stubborn to mention it. Even went so far as to assess him with those sharp healer’s eyes, inquiring after his back, his legs. As if he was the one who’d drained his power to the dregs.

He’d felt it, the shifting within his body as mighty waves of her power flowed into Duva. The growing strain along parts of his back and legs. Only then had he left her side during the healing, his steps uneven as he’d gone to lean against the wooden arm of a nearby couch and quietly asked the nearest servant to bring his chair. By the time they’d returned, he’d needed it—his legs still capable of some motion, but not standing.

But it did not frustrate him, did not embarrass him. If this was to be his body’s natural state for the rest of his life … it was not a punishment, not at all.

He was still thinking that when they reached his suite, mulling over how they might work out a schedule of him fighting in battle with her healing.

For he would fight. And if her power was drained, he’d fight then, too. Whether on horseback or in the chair itself.

And when Yrene needed to heal, when the magic in her veins summoned her to those killing fields and their bond grew thin … he’d manage with a cane, or the chair. He would not shrink from it.

If he survived the battle. The war. If they survived.

He and Yrene found spots on the sorry replacement for the gold couch—which he was honestly debating bringing back to Adarlan with him, broken bits and all—while Nesryn and the prince sat, carefully, in separate chairs. Chaol tried not to look too aware or amused by it.

“How did you know we were in such trouble?” Yrene asked at last. “Before you linked up with the guards, I mean.”

Sartaq blinked, stumbling out of his thoughts. A corner of his mouth lifted. “Kadja,” he said, jerking his chin toward the servant currently setting a tea service before them. “She was the one who saw Duva leave—down to those tunnels. She’s in my … employ.”

Chaol studied the servant, who made no sign that she’d heard. “Thank you,” he rasped.

But Yrene went one step further, taking the woman’s hand and squeezing it. “We owe you a life debt,” she said. “How can we repay you?”

Kadja only shook her head and backed out of the room. They stared after her for a moment.

“Arghun is no doubt debating whether to punish her for it,” Sartaq mused. “On the one hand, it saved Duva. On the other hand … she didn’t tell him at all.”

Nesryn frowned. “We need to find a way to shield her, then. If he’s that ungrateful.”

“Oh, he is,” Sartaq said, and Chaol tried not to blink at the casualness between them, or her use of we. “But I’ll think on it.”

Chaol refrained from revealing that one word to Shen, and Kadja would have a faithful protector for the rest of her life.

Yrene only asked, “What now?”

Nesryn ran a hand through her dark hair. Different. Yes, there was something wholly different about her. She glanced to Sartaq—not for permission, but … as if reassuring herself that he was there. Then she said the words that made Chaol glad he was already sitting.

“Maeve is a Valg queen.”

It all came out then. What she and Sartaq had learned these past weeks: stygian spiders, who were really Valg foot soldiers. A shape-shifter who might be Lysandra’s uncle. And a Valg queen who had been masquerading as Fae for thousands of years, hiding from the demon kings she’d drawn to this world in her attempt to escape them.

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