Tower of Dawn Page 5

The khagan at last leaned back in his throne. His children had straightened again, Duva’s hand falling back at her side.

“Jewels,” Chaol explained, “set by the finest of Adarlanian craftsmen.”

The khagan toyed with a citrine ring on his own hand. “If they came from Aelin Galathynius’s trove, I have no doubt that they are.”

A beat of silence between Nesryn and Chaol. They had known—anticipated—that the khagan had spies in every land, on every sea. That Aelin’s past might be just a tad difficult to work around.

“For you are not only Adarlan’s Hand,” the khagan went on, “but also the Ambassador of Terrasen, are you not?”

“Indeed I am,” Chaol said simply.

The khagan rose with only the slightest stiffness, his children immediately stepping aside to clear a path for him to step off the golden dais.

The tallest of them—strapping and perhaps more unchecked than Sartaq’s quiet intensity—eyed up the crowd as if assessing any threats within. Kashin. Fourthborn.

If Sartaq commanded the ruks in the northern and central skies, then Kashin controlled the armies on land. Foot soldiers and the horse-lords, mostly. Arghun held sway over the viziers, and Hasar, rumor claimed, had the armadas bowing to her. Yet there remained something less polished about Kashin, his dark hair braided back from his broad-planed face. Handsome, yes—but it was as if life amongst his troops had rubbed off on him, and not necessarily in a bad way.

The khagan descended the dais, his cobalt robes whispering along the floor. And with every step over the green marble, Nesryn realized that this man had indeed once commanded not just the ruks in the skies, but also the horse-lords, and swayed the armadas to join him. And then Urus and his elder brother had gone hand-to-hand in combat at the behest of their mother while she lay dying from a wasting sickness that even the Torre could not heal. The son who walked off the sand would be khagan.

The former khagan had a penchant for spectacle. And for this final fight between her two selected offspring, she had placed them in the great amphitheater in the heart of the city, the doors open to any who could claw inside to find a seat. People had sat upon the archways and steps, with thousands cramming the streets that flowed to the white-stoned building. Ruks and their riders had perched on the pillars crowning the uppermost level, more rukhin circling in the skies above.

The two would-be Heirs had fought for six hours.

Not just against each other, but also against the horrors their mother unleashed to test them: great cats sprang from hidden cages beneath the sandy floor; iron-spiked chariots with spear-throwers had charged from the gloom of the tunnel entrances to run them down.

Nesryn’s father had been amongst the frenzied mob in the streets, listening to the shouted reports from those dangling off the columns.

The final blow hadn’t been an act of brutality or hate.

The now-khagan’s elder brother, Orda, had taken a spear to the side thanks to one of those charioteers. After six hours of bloody battle and survival, the blow had kept him down.

And Urus had set aside his sword. Absolute silence had fallen in the arena. Silence as Urus had extended a bloodied hand to his fallen brother—to help him.

Orda had sent a hidden dagger shooting for Urus’s heart.

It had missed by two inches.

And Urus had ripped that dagger free, screaming, and plunged it right back into his brother.

Urus did not miss as his brother had.

Nesryn wondered if a scar still marred the khagan’s chest as he now strode toward her and Chaol and the jewels displayed. If that long-dead khagan had wept for her fallen son in private, slain by the one who would take her crown in a matter of days. Or if she had never allowed herself to love her children, knowing what must befall them.

Urus, Khagan of the Southern Continent, stopped before Nesryn and Chaol. He towered over Nesryn by a good half foot, his shoulders still broad, spine still straight.

He bent with only a touch of age-granted strain to pluck up a necklace of diamond and sapphire from the chest. It glittered like a living river in his scar-flecked, bejeweled hands.

“My eldest, Arghun,” said the khagan, jerking his chin toward the narrow-faced prince monitoring all, “recently informed me of some fascinating information regarding Queen Aelin Ashryver Galathynius.”

Nesryn waited for the blow. Chaol just held Urus’s gaze.

But the khagan’s dark eyes—Sartaq’s eyes, she realized—danced as he said to Chaol, “A queen at nineteen would make many uneasy. Dorian Havilliard, at least, has been trained since birth to take up his crown, to control a court and kingdom. But Aelin Galathynius …”

The khagan chucked the necklace into the chest. Its thunk was as loud as steel on stone.

“I suppose some would call ten years as a trained assassin to be experience.”

Murmurs again rippled through the throne room. Hasar’s fire-bright eyes practically glowed. Sartaq’s face did not shift at all. Perhaps a skill learned from his eldest brother—whose spies had to be skilled indeed if they’d learned of Aelin’s past. Even though Arghun himself seemed to be struggling to keep a smug smile from his lips.

“We may be separated by the Narrow Sea,” the khagan said to Chaol, whose features did not so much as alter, “but even we have heard of Celaena Sardothien. You bring me jewels, no doubt from her own collection. Yet they are jewels for me, when my daughter Duva”—a glance toward his pregnant, pretty daughter standing closely beside Hasar—“has yet to receive any sort of wedding gift from either your new king or returned queen, while every other ruler sent theirs nearly half a year ago.”

Nesryn hid her wince. An oversight that could be explained by so many truths—but not ones that they dared voice, not here. Chaol didn’t offer any of them as he remained silent.

“But,” the khagan went on, “regardless of the jewels you’ve now dumped at my feet like sacks of grain, I would still rather have the truth. Especially after Aelin Galathynius shattered your own glass castle, murdered your former king, and seized your capital city.”

“If Prince Arghun has the information,” Chaol said at last with unfaltering coolness, “perhaps you do not need it from me.”

Nesryn stifled her cringe at the defiance, the tone—

“Perhaps not,” the khagan said, even as Arghun’s eyes narrowed slightly. “But I think you should like some truth from me.”

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