Tower of Dawn Page 170

Chaol took the scrap from Yrene, the paper velvet-soft from its countless readings and foldings and how she’d held it in her pocket, clutched it, all these years.

He unfolded the note and read the words he already knew were within:

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

The waves quieted. The ship itself seemed to pause.

Chaol glanced to Yrene, smiling serenely at the sea, then to the note.

To the handwriting he knew as well as his own.

Yrene went still at the tears he could not stop from sliding down his face.

“What’s wrong?”

She would have been sixteen, nearly seventeen then. And if she had been in Innish …

It would have been on her way to the Red Desert, to train with the Silent Assassins. The bruises Yrene had described … The beating Arobynn Hamel had given her as punishment for freeing Rolfe’s slaves and wrecking Skull’s Bay.

“Chaol?”

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

There, in her handwriting …

Chaol looked up at last, blinking away tears as he scanned his wife’s face. Every beautiful line, those golden eyes.

A gift.

A gift from a queen who had seen another woman in hell and thought to reach back a hand. With no thought of it ever being returned. A moment of kindness, a tug on a thread …

And even Aelin could not have known that in saving a barmaid from those mercenaries, in teaching her to defend herself, in giving her that gold and this note …

Even Aelin could not have known or dreamed or guessed how that moment of kindness would be answered.

Not just by a healer blessed by Silba herself, capable of wiping the Valg away.

But by the three hundred healers who had come with her.

The three hundred healers from the Torre, now spread across the one thousand ships of the khagan himself.

A favor, Yrene had asked of the man in return for saving his most beloved daughter.

Anything, the khagan had promised.

Yrene had knelt before the khagan. Save my people.

That was all she asked. All she had begged.

Save my people.

So the khagan had answered.

With one thousand ships from Hasar’s armada, and his own. Filled with Kashin’s foot soldiers and Darghan cavalry.

And above them, spanning the horizon far behind the flagship on which Chaol and Yrene now sailed … Above them flew one thousand rukhin led by Sartaq and Nesryn, from every aerie and hearth.

An army to challenge Morath, with more to come, still rallying in Antica under Kashin’s command. Two weeks, Chaol had given the khagan and Kashin, but with the autumn storms, he had not wanted to risk waiting longer. So this initial host … Only half. Only half, and yet the scope of what sailed and flew behind him …

Chaol folded the note along its well-worn lines and carefully set it back within Yrene’s locket.

“Keep it a while longer,” he said softly. “I think there’s someone who will want to see that.”

Yrene’s eyes filled with surprise and curiosity, but she asked nothing as Chaol again slid his arms around her and held her tightly.

Every step, all of it, had led here.

From that keep in the snow-blasted mountains where a man with a face as hard as the rock around them had thrown him into the cold; to that salt mine in Endovier, where an assassin with eyes like wildfire had smirked at him, unbroken despite a year in hell.

An assassin who had found his wife, or they had found each other, two gods-blessed women wandering the shadowed ruins of the world. And who now held the fate of it between them.

Every step. Every curve into darkness. Every moment of despair and rage and pain.

It had led him to precisely where he needed to be.

Where he wanted to be.

A moment of kindness. From a young woman who ended lives to a young woman who saved them.

That shriveled scrap of darkness within him shrank further. Shrank and fractured into nothing but dust that was swept away by the sea wind. Past the one thousand ships sailing proud and unyielding behind him. Past the healers scattered amongst the soldiers and horses, Hafiza leading them, who had all come when Yrene had also asked them to save her people. Past the ruks soaring through the clouds, scanning for any threats ahead.

Yrene was watching him warily. He kissed her once—twice.

He did not regret. He did not look back.

Not with Yrene in his arms, at his side. Not with the note she carried, that bit of proof … that bit of proof that he was exactly where he was meant to be. That he had always been headed there. Here.

“Will I ever hear an explanation for this dramatic reaction,” Yrene said at last, clicking her tongue, “or are you just going to kiss me for the rest of the day?”

Chaol rumbled a laugh. “It’s a long story.” He slung an arm around her waist and stared out toward the horizon with her. “And you might want to sit down first.”

“Those are my favorite kinds,” she said, winking.

Chaol laughed again, feeling the sound in every part of him, letting it ring clear and bright as a bell. A final, joyous pealing before the storm of war swept in.

“Come on,” he said to Yrene, nodding to the soldiers working alongside Hasar’s men to keep the ships sailing swiftly for the north—to battle and bloodshed. “I’ll tell you over lunch.”

Yrene rose onto her toes to kiss him before he led them toward their spacious stateroom. “This story of yours had better be worth it,” she said with a wry grin.

Chaol smiled back at his wife, at the light he’d unknowingly walked toward his entire life, even when he had not been able to see it.

“It is,” he said quietly to Yrene. “It is.”

FIREHEART

They had entombed her in darkness and iron.

She slept, for they had forced her to—had wafted curling, sweet smoke through the cleverly hidden airholes in the slab of iron above. Around. Beneath.

A coffin built by an ancient queen to trap the sun inside.

Draped with iron, encased in it, she slept. Dreamed.

Drifted through seas, through darkness, through fire. A princess of nothing. Nameless.

The princess sang to the darkness, to the flame. And they sang back.

There was no beginning or end or middle. Only the song, and the sea, and the iron sarcophagus that had become her bower.

Until they were gone.

Prev Next