Tower of Dawn Page 27

Smart—not to speak too clearly of her movements.

Chaol nodded gravely. “Send a message this time.”

Yrene had noted his worry at dinner last night when the captain had not appeared. A man unused to having the people he cared for out of his sight, and now limited in how he might look for them himself. She tucked away the information for later.

Nesryn bid her farewells, perhaps more tersely to the lord, and then was gone.

Yrene waited until she heard the door shut. “She was wise to not speak aloud of her plans.”

“Why.”

His first words to Yrene so far.

She jerked her chin toward the open doors to the foyer. “The walls have ears and mouths. And all the servants are paid by the khagan’s children. Or viziers.”

“I thought the khagan paid them all.”

“Oh, he does,” Yrene said, going to the small satchel she’d left by the door. “But his children and viziers buy the servants’ loyalty through other means. Favors and comforts and status in exchange for information. I’d be careful with whoever was assigned to you.”

Docile as the servant girl who’d let Yrene in might seem, she knew even the smallest snakes could contain the most lethal venom.

“Do you know who … owns them?” He said that word—owns—as if it tasted foul.

Yrene said simply, “No.” She rooted through the satchel, pulling out twin vials of amber liquid, a stub of white chalk, and some towels. He followed every movement. “Do you own any slaves in Adarlan?” She kept the question mild, uninterested. Idle chatter while she readied.

“No. Never.”

She set a black leather journal upon the table before lifting a brow. “Not one?”

“I believe in paying people for their work, as you do here. And I believe in a human being’s intrinsic right to freedom.”

“I’m surprised your king let you live if that is how you feel.”

“I kept such opinions to myself.”

“A wiser move. Better to save your hide through silence than speaking for the thousands enslaved.”

He went still at that. “The labor camps and slave trade have been shut down. It was one of the first decrees that my king made. I was there with him when he drafted the document.”

“New decrees for a new era, I suppose?” The words were sharper than the set of knives she carried with her—for surgery, for scraping away rotting flesh.

He held her gaze unflinchingly. “Dorian Havilliard is not his father. It was him I served these years.”

“And yet you were the former king’s honored Captain of the Guard. I’m surprised the khagan’s children aren’t clamoring to hear your secrets about how you played both so well.”

His hands clenched on the arms of the chair. “There are choices in my past,” he said tightly, “that I have come to regret. But I can only move on—and attempt to fix them. Fight to make sure they do not occur again.” He jerked his chin toward the supplies she’d set down. “Which I cannot do while in this chair.”

“You certainly could do such things from that chair,” she said tartly, and meant it. He didn’t respond. Fine. If he did not wish to talk about this … she certainly didn’t wish to, either. Yrene jerked her chin toward the long, deep golden sofa. “Get on that. Shirt off and facedown.”

“Why not the bed?”

“Captain Faliq was here yesterday. I would not enter your bedroom without her present.”

“She is not my …” He trailed off. “It would not be an issue.”

“And yet you saw last night how it might present an issue for me.”

“With—”

“Yes.” She cut him off with a sharp look toward the door. “The couch will do.”

She had seen the look Kashin had given the captain at dinner. She’d wanted to slide off her chair and hide beneath the table.

“You have no interest where that is concerned?” he said, wheeling himself the few feet to the couch, then unbuttoning his jacket.

“I have no plans to seek such a life for myself.” Not when the risks were so high.

Execution of herself, her husband, and their children if Kashin should challenge the new khagan, if he should stake a claim on the throne. Being rendered infertile by Hafiza at best—once the new khagan had produced enough heirs to ensure the continuation of the bloodline.

Kashin had waved away those concerns that night on the steppes, had refused to understand the insurmountable wall they would always present.

But Chaol nodded, likely well aware of the costs of wedding into the bloodline if your spouse was not the Heir selected. As Kashin would never be—not with Sartaq, Arghun, or Hasar likely to be chosen.

Yrene added before Chaol could inquire further, “And it is none of your concern.”

He looked her over slowly. Not in the way that men sometimes did, that Kashin did, but … as if he was sizing up an opponent.

Yrene crossed her arms, distributing her weight evenly between her feet, just as she had been taught and now instructed others to do. A steady, defensive stance. Ready to take on anyone.

Even lords from Adarlan. He seemed to note that stance, and his jaw clenched.

“Shirt,” she repeated.

With a simmering glare, he reached over his head and shucked off his shirt, setting it neatly atop where he’d folded his jacket over the rolled arm of the sofa. Then he removed his boots and socks with swift, brutal tugs.

“Pants this time,” she told him. “Leave the undershorts.”

His hands went to his belt, and hesitated.

He could not remove the pants without some degree of help—at least in the chair.

She didn’t let a flicker of pity show in her face as she waved a hand toward the couch. “Get on, and I’ll unclothe you myself.”

He hesitated again. Yrene put her hands on her hips. “While I wish I could say you were my sole patient today,” she lied, “I do have other appointments to keep. The couch, if you will.”

A muscle beat in his jaw, but he braced one hand on the couch, another on the edge of the chair, and lifted himself.

The strength in the movement alone was worthy of some admiration.

So easily, the muscles in his arms and back and chest hoisted him upward and over. As if he’d been doing it his entire life.

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