Tower of Dawn Page 40

His voice was low, rough. “That if you are to succeed, I will have to endure that sort of pain. Repeatedly.”

“I have herbs that can make you sleep, but with an injury like this … I think I won’t be the only one who has to fight back against it. And if you are unconscious … I fear what it might try to do to you if you’re trapped there. In your dreamscape—your psyche.” Her face seemed to pale further.

Chaol slid his hand from where it still rested atop his shirt-turned-mop and squeezed her hand. “Do what you have to.”

“It will hurt. Like that. Constantly. Worse, likely. I will have to work my way down, vertebra by vertebra, before I even reach the base of your spine. Fighting it and healing you at the same time.”

His hand tightened on hers, so small compared to his. “Do what you have to,” he repeated.

“And you,” she said quietly. “You will have to fight it as well.”

He stilled at that.

Yrene went on, “If these things feed upon us by nature … If they feed, and yet you are healthy …” She gestured to his body. “Then it must be feeding upon something else. Something within you.”

“I sense nothing.”

She studied their joined hands—then slid her fingers away. Not as violent as dropping his hand, but the withdrawal was pointed enough. “Perhaps we should discuss it.”

“Discuss what.”

She brushed her hair over a shoulder. “What happened—whatever it is that you feed this thing.”

Sweat coated his palms. “There is nothing to discuss.”

Yrene stared at him for a long moment. It was all he could do not to shrink from that frank gaze. “From what I’ve gleaned, there is quite a bit to discuss regarding the past few months. It seems as if it’s been a … tumultuous time for you recently. You yourself said yesterday that there is no one who loathes you more than yourself.”

To say the least. “And you’re suddenly so eager to hear about it?”

She didn’t so much as flinch. “If that is what is required for you to heal and be gone.”

His brows rose. “Well, then. It finally comes out.”

Yrene’s face was an unreadable mask that could have given Dorian a run for his money. “I assume you do not wish to be here forever, what with war breaking loose in our homeland, as you called it.”

“Is it not our homeland?”

Silently, Yrene rose to grab her satchel. “I have no interest in sharing anything with Adarlan.”

He understood. He really did. Perhaps it was why he still had not told her who, exactly, that lingering darkness belonged to.

“And you,” Yrene went on, “are avoiding the topic at hand.” She rooted through her satchel. “You’ll have to talk about what happened sooner or later.”

“With all due respect, it’s none of your business.”

Her eyes flicked to him at that. “You would be surprised by how closely the healing of physical wounds is tied to the healing of emotional ones.”

“I’ve faced what happened.”

“Then what is that thing in your spine feeding on?”

“I don’t know.” He didn’t care.

She fished something out of the satchel at last, and when she strode back toward him, his stomach tightened at what she held.

A bit. Crafted from dark, fresh leather. Unused.

She offered it to him without hesitation. How many times had she handed one over to patients, to heal injuries far worse than his?

“Now would be the time to tell me to stop,” Yrene said, face grim. “In case you’d rather discuss what happened these past few months.”

Chaol only lay on his stomach and slid the bit into his mouth.

Nesryn had watched the sunrise from the skies.

She’d found Prince Sartaq waiting in his aerie in the hour before dawn. The minaret was open to the elements at its uppermost level, and behind the leather-clad prince … Nesryn had braced a hand on the archway to the stairwell, still breathless from the climb.

Kadara was beautiful.

Each of the ruk’s golden feathers shone like burnished metal, the white of her breast bright as fresh snow. And her gold eyes had sized Nesryn up immediately. Before Sartaq even turned from where he’d been buckling on the saddle across her broad back.

“Captain Faliq,” the prince had said by way of greeting. “You’re up early.”

Casual words for any listening ears.

“The storm last night kept me from sleep. I hope I am not disturbing you.”

“On the contrary.” In the dim light, his mouth quirked in a smile. “I was about to go for a ride—to let this fat hog hunt for her breakfast for once.”

Kadara puffed her feathers in indignation, clicking her enormous beak—fully capable of taking a man’s head off in one snip. No wonder Princess Hasar remained wary of the bird.

Sartaq chuckled, patting her feathers. “Care to join?”

With the words, Nesryn suddenly had a sense of how very, very high the minaret was. And how Kadara would likely fly above it. With nothing to keep her from death but the rider and saddle now set in place.

But to ride a ruk …

Even better, to ride a ruk with a prince who might have information for them …

“I am not particularly skilled with heights, but it would be my honor, Prince.”

It had been a matter of a few minutes. Sartaq had ordered her to switch from her midnight-blue jacket to the spare leather one folded in a chest of drawers shoved against the far wall. He’d politely turned his back when she changed pants as well. Since her hair fell only to her shoulders, she had difficulty braiding it back, but the prince had fished into his own pockets and supplied her with a leather thong to pull it back into a knot.

Always carry a spare, he told her. Or else she’d be combing her hair for weeks.

He’d mounted the keen-eyed ruk first, Kadara lowering herself like some oversized hen to the floor. He climbed her side in two fluid movements, then reached down a hand for Nesryn. She gingerly laid her palm against Kadara’s ribs, marveling at the cool feathers smooth as finest silk.

Nesryn waited for the ruk to shift about and glare while Sartaq hauled her into the saddle in front of him, but the prince’s mount remained docile. Patient.

Sartaq had buckled and harnessed them both into the saddle, triple-checking the leather straps. Then he clicked his tongue once, and—

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