Tower of Dawn Page 69

Kashin seemed to wait for minutes as Yrene and Chaol watched the unfolding decadence from the emptying banquet table.

Waiting for Yrene, no doubt, to rise.

Color had stained her cheeks as she kept her eyes firmly on her kahve, steam curling from the small cup.

“You’ve seen this before?” Chaol asked her.

“Give it an hour or two, and they’ll all slip away to their rooms—not alone, of course.”

Prince Kashin seemed to have dragged out his conversation with the vizier beside him for as long as he could stomach. He opened his mouth, looking right toward Yrene, and Chaol read the invitation in his eyes before the man could speak.

Chaol had perhaps a heartbeat to decide. To see that Sartaq had invited Nesryn to sit with him—not at the table, not on one of the couches, but at a pair of chairs to the far back of the room, where there was no smoke and the windows were open, and yet they could still watch. She gave Chaol a reassuring nod, her pace unhurried as she walked with the prince.

So as Kashin leaned forward to invite Yrene to join him at a couch, Chaol turned to the healer and said, “I would like to sit with you.”

Her eyes were slightly wide. “Where.”

Kashin shut his mouth, and Chaol had the sense that there was a target being drawn on his chest.

But he held Yrene’s gaze and said, “Where it is quieter.”

There were only a few couches left free—all close to the thickest smoke and dancing. But there was one half hidden in shadow near an alcove across the room, a small brazier of those herbs smoldering on the low-lying table before it. “If we are meant to be seen together tonight,” he said so quietly only Yrene could hear, “then remaining here for a while would be better than leaving together.” What a message that would send, given the shift in the party’s atmosphere. “And I would not have you walk alone.”

Yrene rose silently, smiling grimly. “Then let us relax, Lord Westfall.” She gestured toward the shadowed couch beyond the edge of the light.

She let him wheel himself over. Kept her chin high, the skirts of her gown trailing behind her as she headed for that alcove. The back of the dress was mostly open—revealing smooth, unblemished skin and the fine groove of her spine. It dipped low enough for him to make out the twin indentations in her lower back, as if some god had pressed his thumbs there.

He felt too many eyes upon them as she settled herself on the couch, the skirts of her dress twisted along the floor past her ankles, her arms bare as she spread one along the back of the plush cushions.

Chaol held her low-lidded stare as he reached the couch, faster than the servants could approach, and eased himself from chair to cushions. A few movements had him angled toward her—and he nodded his thanks to the servant who moved his chair away. From this vantage, they had an unobstructed view of the dancers, the seating areas, the servants and nobility now starting to run hands and mouths over skin and fabric, even as they watched the unparalleled entertainment.

Something twisted—not unpleasantly—in his gut at the display.

“They do not force servants here,” Yrene said quietly. “It was the first thing I asked during my initial time at these gatherings. The servants are eager to raise their positions, and the ones who are here know what privilege it might bring them if they leave here with someone tonight.”

“But if they are paid,” he countered, “if they worry for their positions should they decline, then how can this ever be true consent?”

“It isn’t. Not when you put it that way. But the khaganate has made sure that other lines are maintained. Age restrictions. Vocal consent. Punishments for those—even royalty—who break those rules.” She’d said as much days ago.

A young woman and man had positioned themselves on either side of Arghun, one nibbling at his neck while the other traced circles along the prince’s thighs. All the while, the prince continued conversation with a vizier seated in a chair to his left, unfazed.

“I thought he had a wife,” Chaol said.

Yrene followed his gaze. “He does. She stays at his country estate. And servants are not considered affairs. The needs they see to … It might as well be giving a bath.” Her eyes danced as she said, “I’m sure you discovered that your first day.”

His face heated. “I was … surprised at the attention to detail. And involvement.”

“Kadja was likely selected to please you.”

“I’m not inclined to stray. Even with a willing servant.”

Yrene glanced toward Nesryn, deep in conversation with Sartaq. “She is lucky to have such a loyal companion, then.”

He waited for a tug of jealousy at seeing Nesryn’s smile to the prince, whose body was the pinnacle of relaxed, his arm draped along the back of the couch behind her, an ankle crossed over a knee.

Perhaps he just trusted Nesryn, but nothing stirred in him at the sight.

Chaol found Yrene watching him, her eyes like topaz in the shadows and smoke.

“I met with my friend the other evening,” she said, her lashes fluttering. No more than a woman lulled by the smoldering opiates. Even his own head was starting to feel fuzzy. His body warm. Cozy. “And again this evening before dinner.”

Hasar.

“And?” He found himself studying the slight curl to the ends of Yrene’s long hair. Found his fingers shifting, as if imagining the feel of it between them.

Yrene waited until a servant bearing a tray of candied fruits walked past. “She told me your friend is still unaccounted for. And a net has been stretched across the center of the table.”

He blinked, sorting through the smoke and the words.

Armies. Perrington’s armies had been stretched across the continent. No wonder she hadn’t discussed it earlier in the streets; no wonder it had brought such shadows to her eyes. “Where?”

“Mountains to—your usual haunt.”

He recalled a mental map of the land. From the Ferian Gap to Rifthold. Holy gods.

“You are sure of it?”

A nod.

He felt eyes sliding toward them now and then.

Yrene did, too. He tried not to start at the hand she laid on his arm. As she looked up at him beneath lowered lashes, eyes sleepy—inviting. “I was asked the other day, and again today, in a manner I cannot refuse.”

She was threatened. He clenched his jaw.

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