Tower of Dawn Page 56

“What?”

“Morath,” she breathed, and he could have sworn even the birds’ singing faltered in the garden. “It showed some memory, left behind in you. It showed me a great black fortress full of horrors. An army waiting in the mountains around it.”

His blood iced over as he realized whose memory it might belong to. “Real or—was it some manipulation against you?” The way his own memories had been wielded.

“I don’t know,” Yrene admitted. “But then I heard your screaming. Not out here, but … in there.” She wiped at her nose again. “And I realized that attacking that solid wall was … I think it was a distraction. A diversion. So I followed the sounds of your screaming. To you.” To that place deep within him. “It was so focused upon ripping you apart that it did not see me coming.” She shivered. “I don’t know if it did anything, but … I couldn’t stand it. To watch and listen. I startled it when I leaped in, but I don’t know if it will be waiting the next time. If it will remember. There’s a … sentience to it. Not a living thing, but as if a memory were set free in the world.”

Chaol nodded, and silence fell between them. She wiped at her nose again, his shirt now coated in blood, then set the fabric on the table beside the bed.

For uncounted minutes, sunshine drifted across the floor, wind rustling the palms.

Then Chaol said, “I’m sorry—about your mother.”

Thinking through the timeline … It had likely occurred within a few months of Aelin’s own terror and loss.

So many of them—the children whom Adarlan had left such deep scars upon. If Adarlan had left them alive at all.

“She was everything good in the world,” Yrene said, curling onto her side to gaze at the garden windows beyond the foot of the bed. “She … I made it out because she …” Yrene did not say the rest.

“She did what any mother would do,” he finished for her.

A nod.

As healers, they had been some of the first victims. And continued to be executed long after magic had vanished. Adarlan had always ruthlessly hunted down the magically gifted healers. Their own townsfolk might have sold them out to Adarlan to make quick, cheap coin.

Chaol swallowed. After a heartbeat, he said, “I watched the King of Adarlan butcher the woman Dorian loved in front of me, and I could do nothing to stop it. To save her. And when the king went to kill me for planning to overthrow him … Dorian stepped in. He took on his father and bought me time to run. And I ran—I ran because … there was no one else to carry on the rebellion. To get word to the people who needed it. I let him take on his father and face the consequences, and I fled.”

She watched him in silence. “He is fine now, though.”

“I don’t know. He is free—he is alive. But is he fine? He suffered. Greatly. In ways I can’t begin to …” His throat tightened to the point of pain. “It should have been me. I had always planned for it to be me instead.”

A tear slid over the bridge of her nose.

Chaol scooped it up with his finger before it could slide to the other side.

Yrene held his stare for a long moment, her tears turning those eyes near-radiant in the sun. He didn’t know how long had passed. How long it had taken for her to even attempt to cleave that darkness—just a little.

The door to the suite opened and closed, silently enough that he knew it was Kadja. But it drew Yrene’s stare away from him. Without it—there was a sense of cold. A quiet and a cold.

Chaol clenched his fist, that tear seeping into his skin, to keep from turning her face toward his again. To read her eyes.

But her head whipped upward so fast she nearly knocked his nose.

The gold in Yrene’s eyes flared.

“Chaol,” she breathed, and he thought it might have been the first time she’d called him such.

But she looked down, dragging his stare with her.

Down his bare torso, his bare legs.

To his toes.

To his toes, slowly curling and uncurling. As if trying to remember the movement.

17

Nesryn’s cousins were off at school when she knocked on the outer door to her aunt and uncle’s lovely home in the Runni Quarter. From the dusty street, all one could glimpse of the house beyond the high, thick walls was the carved oak gate, reinforced with scrolling iron.

But as it swung open under the hands of two guards who instantly beckoned her in, it revealed a shaded, broad courtyard of pale stone, flanked by pillars crawling with magenta bougainvillea, and a merry fountain inlaid with sea glass burbling in its center.

The house was typical of Antica—and of the Balruhni people from whom Nesryn and her family hailed. Long adjusted to desert climes, the entire building had been erected around sun and wind: outer windows never placed near the heat of the southern exposure, the breeze-catching narrow towers atop the building facing away from the sand-filled eastern wind to keep it from infiltrating the rooms it cooled. Her family was not fortunate enough to have a canal running beneath the house, as many of the wealthier in Antica did, but with the towering plants and carved wooden awnings, the shade kept the public lower levels around the courtyard cool enough during the day.

Indeed, Nesryn inhaled deeply as she strode through the pretty courtyard, her aunt greeting her halfway across with, “Have you eaten yet?”

She had, but Nesryn said, “I saved myself for your table, Aunt.” It was a common Halha greeting amongst family—no one visited a house, especially in the Faliq family, without eating. At least once.

Her aunt—still a full-figured beautiful woman whose four children had not slowed her down one bit—nodded in approval. “I told Brahim just this morning that our cook is better than the ones up at that palace.”

A snort of amusement from a level up, from the wood-screened window overlooking the courtyard. Her uncle’s study. One of the few common rooms on the usually private second level. “Careful, Zahida, or the khagan may hear you and haul dear old Cook to his palace.”

Her aunt rolled her eyes at the figure just barely visible through the ornate wood screen and looped her arm through Nesryn’s. “Snoop. Always eavesdropping on our conversations down here.”

Her uncle chuckled but made no further comment.

Nesryn grinned, letting her aunt lead her toward the spacious interior of the home, past the curvy-bodied statue of Inna, Goddess of Peaceful Households and the Balruhni people, her arms upraised in welcome and defense. “Perhaps the palace’s inferior cook is why the royals are so skinny.”

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