Tower of Dawn Page 47

“And you’re convinced the attack at the Torre was just the start?”

“I’m out here, aren’t I?”

Silence.

Nesryn added, “If anyone, familiar or foreign, offers you a black ring or collars, if you see anyone with something like it … Do not hesitate. Not for a heartbeat. Strike fast, and true. Beheading is the only thing that keeps them down. The person within them is gone. Don’t try to save them—or it will be you who winds up enslaved as well.”

Sartaq’s attention drifted to the sword at her side, the bow and quiver strapped to her back. He said quietly, “Tell me everything that you know.”

“I can’t.”

The refusal alone could end her life, but Sartaq nodded thoughtfully. “Tell me what you can, then.”

So she did. Standing in the shadows beyond the Torre walls, she explained everything she could, save for the keys and gates, and Dorian’s enslavement, as well as that of the former king.

When she’d finished, Sartaq’s face had not changed, though he rubbed at his jaw. “When did you plan to tell my father this?”

“As soon as he’d grant us a private meeting.”

Sartaq swore, low and creative. “With my sister’s death … It’s been harder for him than he’ll admit to return to our usual rhythms. He will not take my counsel. Or anyone else’s.”

It was the worry in the prince’s tone—and sorrow—that made Nesryn say, “I’m sorry.”

Sartaq shook his head. “I must think on what you told me. There are places within this continent, near my people’s homeland …” He rubbed at his neck. “When I was a boy, they told stories at the aeries of similar horrors.” He said, more to himself than her, “Perhaps it is time I paid my hearth-mother a visit. To hear her stories again. And how that ancient threat was dealt with, long ago. Especially if it is now stirring once more.”

A record of the Valg … here? Her family had never told her any such tales, but then her own people had hailed from distant reaches of the continent. If the ruk riders had somehow either known of the Valg or even faced them …

Footsteps scuffed on the street beyond, and they pressed into the walls of the alley, hands on their sword hilts. But it was only a drunk stumbling home for the night, saluting the Torre guards along the wall as he passed, earning a few laughing grins in return.

“Are there canals beneath here—nearby sewers that might connect to the Torre?” Her question was little more than a push of air.

“I don’t know,” Sartaq admitted with equal quiet. He smiled grimly as he pointed toward an ancient grate in the sloped stones of the alley. “But it would be my honor to accompany you in discovering one.”

14

Yrene didn’t care if someone came to murder her in her sleep.

By the time the solemn, candlelit vigil in the Torre courtyard had finished, by the time Yrene crawled to her room near the top of the Torre, two acolytes propping her between them after she’d collapsed at the base of the stairs, she didn’t care about anything.

Cook brought her dinner in bed. Yrene managed a bite before she passed out.

She awoke past midnight with her fork on her chest and spiced, slow-cooked chicken staining her favorite blue gown.

She groaned, but felt slightly more alive. Enough so that she sat up in the near-darkness of her tower room, and rose only to see to her needs and haul her tiny desk in front of the door. She stacked books and any spare objects she could find atop it, checked the locks twice, and stumbled back into bed, still fully clothed.

She awoke at sunrise.

Precisely when she said she’d meet Lord Chaol.

Cursing, Yrene hauled away the desk, the books, undid the locks, and flung herself down the tower stairs.

She’d ordered the brace for his horse to be brought directly to the castle courtyard, and she’d left her supplies at his room yesterday, so there was nothing for her to take beyond her own frantic self as she hurtled down the endless spiral of the Torre, scowling at the carved owls passing silent judgment while she flew by doors now beginning to open to reveal sleepy-faced healers and acolytes blinking blearily at her.

Yrene thanked Silba for the restorative powers of deep, dreamless sleep as she sprinted across the complex grounds, past the lavender-lined pathways, through the just-opened gates.

Antica was stirring, the streets mercifully quiet as she raced for the palace perched on its other side. She arrived in the courtyard thirty minutes late, gasping for breath, sweat pooling in every possible crevice of her body.

Lord Westfall had started without her.

Gulping down air, Yrene lingered by the towering bronze gates, the shadows still lying thick with the sun so low on the horizon, and watched the unfolding mounting.

As she’d specified, the patient-looking roan mare was on the shorter side—the perfect height for him to reach the saddle horn with an upraised hand. Which he was currently doing, Yrene noted with no small degree of satisfaction. But the rest …

Well, it seemed he’d decided not to use the wooden ramp that she’d also ordered crafted in lieu of a stepped mounting block. The mounting ramp now sat by the still-shadowed horse pens against the eastern wall of the courtyard—as if he’d outright refused to even go near it, and instead had them bring over the horse. To mount the mare on his own.

It didn’t surprise her one bit.

Chaol did not look at any of the guards clustered around him—at least, more than was necessary. With their backs to her, she could only identify one or two by name, but—

One stepped in silently to let Chaol brace his other hand on his armor-clad shoulder as the lord pushed himself upright in a mighty heave. The mare stood patiently while his right hand gripped the saddle horn to balance himself—

She stepped forward just as Lord Westfall pushed off the guard’s shoulder and into the saddle, the guard stepping in close as he did it. It left him sitting sidesaddle, but Chaol still did not give the guard much thanks beyond a tight nod.

Instead, he silently studied the saddle before him, assessing how he was to get one leg over the other side of the horse. Color stained his cheeks, his jaw a tight line. The guards lingered, and he stiffened, tighter and tighter—

But then he moved again, leaning back in the saddle and hauling his right leg over the horn. The guard who’d helped him lunged to support his back, another darting from the other side to keep him from tumbling off, but Chaol’s torso remained solid. Unwavering.

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