Tower of Dawn Page 168

Her chest sank at the careful words. “I see.”

Sartaq stopped, the sandy alley humming with the buzzing bees in the jasmine that climbed the walls of the bordering courtyards. The one behind them: the back, private courtyard belonging to her family. She wished she could slither over the wall and hide within. Rather than hear this.

But Nesryn made herself meet the prince’s eyes. Saw him scanning her face.

“I told him,” Sartaq said at last, “that I planned to lead the rukhin against Erawan, with or without his consent.”

Worse. This was getting worse and worse. She wished his face weren’t so damn unreadable.

Sartaq took a breath. “He asked me why.”

“I hope you told him that the fate of the world might depend upon it.”

Sartaq chuckled. “I did. But I also told him that the woman I love now plans to head into war. And I intend to follow her.”

She didn’t let the words sink in. Didn’t let herself believe any of it, until he’d finished.

“He told me that you are common-born. That a would-be Heir of the khagan needs to wed a princess, or a lady, or someone with lands and alliances to offer.”

Her throat closed up. She tried to shut out the sound, the words. Didn’t want to hear the rest.

But Sartaq took her hand. “I told him if that was what it took to be chosen as Heir, I didn’t want it. And I walked out.”

Nesryn sucked in a breath. “Are you insane?”

Sartaq smiled faintly. “I certainly hope not, for the sake of this empire.” He tugged her closer, until their bodies were nearly touching. “Because my father appointed me Heir before I could walk out of the room.”

Nesryn left her body. Could only manage to breathe.

And when she tried to bow, Sartaq gripped her shoulders tightly. Stopped her before her head could even lower.

“Never from you,” he said quietly.

Heir—he’d been made Heir. To all this. This land she loved, this land she still wished to explore so much it ached.

Sartaq lifted a hand to cup her cheek, his calluses scraping against her skin. “We fly to war. Much is uncertain ahead. Save for this.” He brushed his mouth against hers. “Save for what I feel for you. No demon army, no dark queen or king, will change that.”

Nesryn shook, letting the words sink in. “I—Sartaq, you are Heir—”

He pulled back to study her again. “We will go to war, Nesryn Faliq. And when we shatter Erawan and his armies, when the darkness is at last banished from this world … Then you and I will fly back here. Together.” He kissed her again—a bare caress of his mouth. “And so we shall remain for the rest of our days.”

She heard the offer, the promise.

The world he laid at her feet.

She trembled at it. What he so freely gave. Not the empire and crown, but … the life. His heart.

Nesryn wondered if he knew her heart had been his from that very first ride atop Kadara.

Sartaq smiled as if to say yes, he had.

So she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

It was tentative, and soft, and full of wonder, that kiss. He tasted like the wind, like a mountain spring. He tasted like home.

Nesryn clasped his face in her hands as she pulled back. “To war, Sartaq,” she breathed, memorizing every line of his face. “And then we’ll see what comes after.”

Sartaq gave her a knowing, cocky grin. As if he’d fully decided what would come after and nothing she could say would ever convince him otherwise.

And from the courtyard just a wall away, her sister shouted, loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear, “I told you, Father!”

67

Two weeks later, it was barely dawn when Yrene found herself on the deck of a fine, massive ship and watched the sun rise over Antica for the last time.

The ship was abuzz with activity, but she stood at the rail, and counted the minarets of the palace. Ran an eye over every shining quarter, the city stirring in the new light.

Autumn winds were already whipping the seas, the ship bobbing and lurching beneath her.

Home. They were to sail home today.

She hadn’t made many good-byes, had not needed to. But Kashin had still found her, right as she’d ridden to the docks. Chaol had given the prince a nod before leading her mare onto the ship.

For a long moment, Kashin had stared at the ship—the others gathered in the harbor. Then he’d said quietly, “I wish I had never said a word to you on the steppes that night.”

Yrene began to shake her head, unsure of what to even say.

“I have missed having you—as my friend,” Kashin went on. “I do not have many of them.”

“I know,” she managed to get out. And then added, “I missed having you as my friend, too.”

For she had. And what he was now willing to do for her, her people …

She took Kashin’s hand. Squeezed it. There was still pain in his eyes, limning his handsome face, but … understanding. And a clear, undaunted gleam as he beheld the northern horizon.

The prince squeezed her hand in return. “Thank you again—for Duva.” A small smile toward that northern sky. “We shall meet again, Yrene Towers. I am certain of it.”

She smiled back at him, beyond words. But Kashin winked, pulling his hand from hers. “My sulde still blows northward. Who knows what I may find on the road ahead? Especially now that Sartaq has the burden of being Heir, and I’m free to do as I please.”

The city had been in an uproar about it. Celebrating, debating—it still raged on. What the other royal siblings thought, Yrene did not know, but … there was peace in Kashin’s eyes. And in the eyes of the others, when Yrene had seen them. And part of her indeed wondered if Sartaq had struck some unspoken agreement that went beyond Never Duva. To perhaps even Never Us.

Yrene had smiled again at the prince—at her friend. “Thank you, for all your kindness.”

Kashin had only bowed to her and strode off into the gray light.

And in the hour since then, Yrene had stood on the deck of this ship, silently watching the awakening city behind it, while the others readied things around and below.

For long minutes, she breathed in the sea and the spices and the sounds of Antica under the rising sun. Took them deep into her lungs, letting them settle. Let her eyes drink their fill of the cream-colored stones of the Torre Cesme rising above it all.

Prev Next