Tower of Dawn Page 59

“Renia, of course,” Hasar went on, sliding a figure two inches to the right and frowning, “says I should not expect so much of your time, but perhaps I’ve grown spoiled these two years.”

Yrene sipped her mint tea and did not comment one way or the other. Hasar had summoned her here upon learning that Yrene had been healing Lord Westfall all day, sending a servant to fetch her to the princess’s rooms, with the promise of some much-needed refreshments. And indeed, the carob cookies and tea had pushed back the tide of her exhaustion just a fraction.

Her friendship with the princess had been purely accidental. In one of Yrene’s first on-site lessons, Hafiza had brought her to tend to the princess, who had returned from her seaside palace in the northeast to be treated for an unrelenting stomach pain. They were both of similar age, and during the hours that Hafiza went about removing a truly horrific tapeworm from the princess’s intestines, Hasar had ordered Yrene to talk.

So Yrene had, rambling about her lessons, occasionally mentioning the more disgusting moments of her year working at the White Pig. The princess particularly enjoyed her tales of the rather messier bar fights. Her favorite story to hear, which she’d ordered Yrene to narrate thrice during the days Hafiza had extracted the magically slaughtered tapeworm through her mouth—one orifice or the other, the Healer on High had told the princess—was of the young stranger who had saved Yrene’s life, taught her to defend herself, and left her a small fortune in gold and jewels.

Yrene had deemed it idle talk, not expecting the princess to remember her name once Hafiza had coaxed the last inches of the tapeworm from her body. But two days later, she’d been called to the princess’s rooms, where Hasar was busy stuffing her face with all manner of delicacies to make up for the weight she’d lost.

Too thin, she’d told Yrene by way of greeting. She needed a fatter ass for her lover to grip at night.

Yrene had burst out laughing—the first bit of true laughter she’d had in a long, long time.

Hasar had only smirked, offered Yrene some smoked fish from the river-rich lowlands, and that had been that. Perhaps not a friendship of equals, but Hasar seemed to enjoy her company, and Yrene was in no position to deny her.

So the princess made a point to summon Yrene whenever she was in Antica—and had eventually brought Renia to the palace, both to meet her father and to meet Yrene. Renia, if Yrene was being honest, was far preferable to the demanding and sharp-tongued princess, but Hasar was prone to jealousy and territorialism, and often made sure Renia was kept well away from the court and would-be contenders for her affections.

Not that Renia had ever given cause for such a thing. No, the woman—older than Yrene by a month—only had eyes for the princess. Loved her with unflinching devotion.

Hasar called her a lady, had granted Renia lands within her own territory. Yet Yrene had heard some of the other healers whisper that when Renia had first entered Hasar’s orbit, Hafiza had been discreetly asked to heal her of … unpleasantries from her former life. Former profession, apparently. Yrene had never asked Hasar for the details, but given how loyal Renia was to the princess, she often wondered if the reason why Hasar so loved to hear Yrene’s own story of her mysterious savior was because she, too, had once seen a woman suffering and reached out to help. And then to hold her.

“You’re smiling more today, too,” Hasar said, setting down her glass pen. “Despite those hideous clothes.”

“Mine were sacrificed to the cause of healing Lord Westfall,” Yrene said, rubbing at the dull throbbing in her temple that even the tea and carob cookies couldn’t chase away. “He was kind enough to lend me some of his own.”

Hasar smirked. “Some might see you and assume you lost your clothes for a far more pleasurable reason.”

Yrene’s face heated. “I’d hope they’d remember that I am a professional healer at the Torre.”

“It’d make it even more valuable gossip.”

“I’d think they’d have better things to do than whisper about a nobody healer.”

“You are Hafiza’s unofficial heir. That makes you slightly interesting.”

Yrene wasn’t insulted by the frank words. She didn’t explain to Hasar that she’d likely be leaving, and Hafiza would have to find someone else. She doubted the princess would approve—and wasn’t entirely certain that Hasar would let her leave. She’d been worried about Kashin for so long, yet Hasar …

“Well, regardless, I have no designs on Lord Westfall.”

“You should. He’s divertingly handsome. Even I’m tempted.”

“Really?”

Hasar laughed. “Not at all. But I could see why you might be.”

“He and Captain Faliq are involved.”

“And if they weren’t?”

Yrene took a long sip from her tea. “He is my patient, and I am his healer. There are plenty of other handsome men.”

“Like Kashin.”

Yrene frowned at the princess over the black-and-gold rim of her teacup. “You keep pushing your brother on me. Are you encouraging him?”

Hasar put a hand on her chest, her manicured nails gleaming in the late afternoon sun. “Kashin had no trouble with women until you came along. You two were once such close friends. Why shouldn’t I wish that my dear friend and brother form a deeper attachment?”

“Because if you are appointed khagan, you might kill us if he doesn’t submit.”

“Him, possibly, if he doesn’t bow. And if you prove to not be carrying his offspring, I might let you take the cleansing once my own line is established and keep your wealth.”

Such bald casual words. Of such horrible methods meant to keep this wondrous, sweeping empire from fracturing. She wished Kashin were here to listen, to understand.

Yrene asked, “And what would you do—for producing offspring?”

With Renia as the possible future Grand Empress, Hasar would need to find some way to produce a blood heir.

Hasar began pushing her figures around the map again. “I have already told my father, and it is no concern of yours.”

Right. For if she had selected some male to do the job … dangerous knowledge. Her siblings might very well try to destroy someone whom Hasar and Renia trusted enough to assist in that way. Or would pay handsomely to know that Hasar and Renia were even considering offspring at this point.

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