Tower of Dawn Page 52

The sun turned bleaching, the gurgle of the twin fountains a distant melody.

What good had any of it done for his city, his people, when it was sacked?

He looked up to find the lines of women watching him, curiosity on their faces.

Waiting.

There had been a moment, when he had hurled his sword into the Avery. When he had been unable to bear its weight at his side, in his hand, and had chucked it and everything the Captain of the Guard had been, had meant, into the dark, eddying waters.

He’d been sinking and drowning since. Long before his spine.

He wasn’t certain if he’d even tried to swim. Not since that sword had gone into the river. Not since he’d left Dorian in that room with his father and told his friend—his brother—that he loved him, and knew it was good-bye. He’d … left. In every sense of the word.

Chaol forced himself to take a breath. To try.

Yrene stepped up to his side as his silence stretched on, again looking so puzzled and concerned. As if she could not figure out why—why he might have been the least bit … He shoved the thought down. And the others.

Shoved them down to the silt-thick bottom of the Avery, where that eagle-pommeled sword now lay, forgotten and rusting.

Chaol lifted his chin, looking each girl and woman and crone in the face. Healers and servants and librarians and cooks, Yrene had said.

“When an attacker comes at you,” he said at last, “they will likely try to move you somewhere else. Never let them do it. If you do, wherever they take you will be the last place you see.” He’d gone to enough murder sites in Rifthold, read and looked into enough cases, to know the truth in that. “If they try to move you from your current location, you make that your battleground.”

“We know that,” one of the blushing girls said. “That was Yrene’s first lesson.”

Yrene nodded gravely at him. He again did not let himself look at her neck.

“Stomping on the instep?” He could barely manage a word to Yrene.

“First lesson also,” the same girl replied instead of Yrene.

“What about how debilitating it is to receive a blow to the groin?”

Nods all around. Yrene certainly knew her fair share of maneuvers.

Chaol smiled grimly. “What about ways to get a man my size or larger flipped onto their backs in less than two moves?”

Some of the girls smiled as they shook their heads. It wasn’t reassuring.

15

Yrene felt the anger simmering off Chaol as if it were heat rippling from a kettle.

Not at the girls and women. They adored him. Grinned and laughed, even as they concentrated on his thorough, precise lesson, even as the events in the library hung over them, the Torre, like a gray shroud. There had been many tears last night at the vigil—and a few red eyes still in the halls this morning as she’d hurtled past.

Mercifully, there had been no sign of either when Lord Chaol called in three guards to volunteer their bodies for the girls to flip into the gravel. Over and over.

The men agreed, perhaps because they knew that any injuries would be fussed over and patched up by the greatest healers outside Doranelle.

Chaol even returned their smiles, ladies and, to her shock, guards alike.

But Yrene … she received none of them. Not one.

Chaol’s face only went hard, eyes glinting with frost, whenever she stepped in to ask a question or watch him walk an acolyte through the motions. He was commanding, his unrelenting focus missing nothing. If they had so much as one foot in the wrong position, he caught it before they moved an inch.

The hour-long lesson ended with each one of them flipping a guard onto his back. The poor men limped off, smiling broadly. Mostly because Hafiza promised them a cask of ale each—and her strongest healing tonic. Which was better than any alcohol.

The women dispersed as the bells chimed ten, some to lessons, some to chores, some to patients. A few of the sillier girls lingered, batting their eyelashes toward Lord Westfall, one even looking inclined to perch in his lap before Hafiza drily reminded her of a pile of laundry with her name on it.

Before the Healer on High hobbled after the acolyte, Hafiza merely gave Yrene what she could have sworn was a warning, knowing look.

“Well,” Yrene said to Chaol when they were again alone—despite the gaggle of girls peering out one of the Torre windows. They noticed Yrene’s stare and snapped their heads back in, slamming the window with riotous giggles.

Silba save her from teenage girls.

She’d never been one—not like that. Not so carefree. She hadn’t even kissed a man until last autumn. Certainly had never giggled over one. She wished she had; wished for a lot of things that had ended with that pyre and those torches.

“That went better than expected,” Yrene said to Chaol, who was frowning up at the looming Torre. “I’m sure they’ll be begging me next week for you to return. If you’re interested, I suppose.”

He said nothing.

She swallowed. “I would like to try again today, if you’re up for it. Would you prefer I find a room here, or shall we ride back to the palace?”

He met her stare then. His eyes were dark. “The palace.”

Her stomach twisted at the icy tone. “All right,” was all she managed to say, and walked off in search of the guards and their horses.

They rode back in silence. They’d been quiet during portions of the ride over, but this was … pointed. Heavy.

Yrene wracked her memory for what she might have said during the lesson—what she might have forgotten. Perhaps seeing the guards so active had reminded him of what he did not currently have. Perhaps just seeing the guards themselves had set him down this path.

She mused over it as they returned to the palace, while he was aided by Shen and another guard into the awaiting chair. He offered only a tight smile in thanks.

Lord Chaol looked up at her over a shoulder, the morning heat rising enough to make the courtyard stifling. “Are you going to push it, or shall I?”

Yrene blinked.

“You can move it yourself just fine,” she said, her proverbial heels digging in at that tone.

“Perhaps you should ask one of your acolytes to do it. Or five of them. Or whatever number you deem fit to deal with an Adarlanian lord.”

She blinked again. Slowly. And didn’t give him any warning as she strode off at a clip. Not bothering to wait to see if he followed, or how fast he did.

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