Tower of Dawn Page 32

And though Yrene knew the healer across the Womb was entitled to her space, though she was prepared to leave and grant the healer privacy to weep …

The woman’s shoulders shook. Another muffled sob.

On near-silent feet, Yrene approached the healer in the tub. Saw the rivulets down her young face—her light brown skin and gold-kissed umber hair nearly identical to Yrene’s own. Saw the bleakness in the woman’s tawny eyes as she gazed at the darkness high above, tears dripping off her slender jaw and into the rippling water.

There were some wounds that could not be healed. Some illnesses that even the healers’ power could not stop, if rooted too deeply. If they had come too late. If they did not mark the right signs.

The healer did not look at her as Yrene silently sat beside her tub, curling her knees to her chest before she picked up the healer’s hand and interlaced their fingers.

So Yrene sat there, holding the healer’s hand while she silently wept, the drifting steam full of the clear, sweet ringing of those bells.

After untold minutes, the woman in the tub murmured, “She was three years old.”

Yrene squeezed the healer’s damp hand. There were no words to comfort, to soothe.

“I wish …” The woman’s voice broke, her entire body shaking, candlelight jumping along her beige skin. “Sometimes I wish this gift had never been given to me.”

Yrene stilled at the words.

The woman at last turned her head, scanning Yrene’s face, a flicker of recognition in her eyes. “Do you ever feel that way?” A raw, unguarded question.

No. She hadn’t. Not once. Not even when the smoke of her mother’s immolation had stung her eyes and she knew she could do nothing to save her. She had never once hated the gift she’d been given, because in all those years, she had never been alone thanks to it. Even with magic gone in her homeland, Yrene had still felt it, like a warm hand clasping her shoulder. A reminder of who she was, where she had come from, a living tether to countless generations of Towers women who had walked this path before her.

The healer searched Yrene’s eyes for the answer she wanted. The answer Yrene could not give. So Yrene just squeezed the woman’s hand again and stared into the darkness.

You must enter where you fear to tread.

Yrene knew what she had to do. And wished she didn’t.

“Well? Has Yrene healed you yet?”

Seated at the high table in the khagan’s great hall, Chaol turned to where Princess Hasar sat several seats down. A cooling breeze that smelled of oncoming rain flowed through the open windows to rustle the white death-banners hanging from their upper frames.

Kashin and Sartaq glanced their way—the latter giving his sister a disapproving frown.

“Talented as Yrene may be,” Chaol said carefully, aware that many listened even without acknowledging them, “we are only in the initial stages of what will likely be a long process. She left this afternoon to do some research at the Torre library.”

Hasar’s lips curled into a poisoned smile. “How fortunate for you, that we shall have the pleasure of your company for a while yet.”

As if he’d willingly stay here for a moment longer.

But Nesryn answered, still glowing from hours again spent with her family that afternoon, “Any chance for our two lands to build bonds is a fortunate one.”

“Indeed,” was all Hasar said, and went back to picking at the chilled tomato-and-okra dish on her plate. Her lover was nowhere to be seen—but neither was Yrene. The healer’s fear earlier … he’d been able to almost taste it in the air. But sheer will had steadied her—will and temper, Chaol supposed. He wondered which would win out in the end.

Indeed, some small part of him hoped Yrene would stay away, if only to avoid what she so heavily implied they’d also be doing: talking. Discussing things. Himself.

He’d make it clear to her tomorrow that he could heal just fine without it.

For long minutes, Chaol remained in silence, marking those at the table, the servants flitting by. The guards at the windows and archways.

The minced lamb turned leaden in his stomach at the sight of their uniforms, at how they stood so tall and proud. How many meals had he himself been positioned by the doors, or out in the courtyard, monitoring his king? How many times had he laid into his men for slouching, for chattering amongst themselves, and reassigned them to lesser watches?

One of the khagan’s guards noticed his stare and gave a curt nod.

Chaol looked away quickly, his palms clammy. But he forced himself to keep observing the faces around him, what they wore and how they moved and smiled.

No sign—none—of any wicked force, whether dispatched from Morath or elsewhere. No sign beyond those white banners to honor their fallen princess.

Aelin had claimed the Valg had a reek to them, and he’d seen their blood run black from mortal veins more times than he cared to count, but short of demanding everyone in this hall cut open their hands …

It actually wasn’t a bad idea—if he could get an audience with the khagan to convince him to order it. To mark whoever fled, or made excuses.

An audience with the khagan to convince him of the danger, and perhaps make some progress with this alliance. So that the princes and princesses sitting around him might never wear a Valg collar. Their loved ones never know what it was to look into their faces and see nothing but ancient cruelty smirking back.

Chaol took a steadying breath and leaned forward, to where the khagan dined a few seats down, immersed in conversation with a vizier and Princess Duva.

The khagan’s now-youngest seemed to watch more than participate, and though her pretty face was softened with a sweet smile, her eyes missed nothing. It was only when the vizier paused for a sip of wine and Duva turned toward her quiet husband on her left that Chaol cleared his throat and said to the khagan, “I would thank you again, Great Khagan, for offering the services of your healers.”

The khagan slid weary, hard eyes toward him. “They are no more my healers than they are yours, Lord Westfall.” He returned to the vizier, who frowned at Chaol for interrupting.

But Chaol said, “I was hoping to perhaps be granted the honor of a meeting with you in private.”

Nesryn dug her elbow into his in warning as silence rippled down the table. Chaol refused to take his stare from anywhere but the man before him.

The khagan only said, “You may discuss such things with my Chief Vizier, who maintains my daily schedule.” A jerk of the chin toward a shrewd-eyed man monitoring from down the table. One glance at the Chief Vizier’s thin smile told Chaol the meeting wasn’t going to happen. “My focus remains on assisting my wife through her mourning.” The gleam of sorrow in the khagan’s eyes wasn’t feigned. Indeed, there was no sign of the khagan’s wife at the table, not even a place left out for her.

Prev Next