Tower of Dawn Page 78

“I …” Nesryn surveyed the view beyond, the city simmering in the late afternoon heat. “I just wanted some quiet.”

“Then I’ll let you have it,” Sartaq said, and turned to the open archway into the stairwell.

“No,” she blurted, reaching toward him. She halted her hand, dropping it immediately as it came within skimming distance of his leather jacket. No one grabbed a prince. No one. “I didn’t mean you had to leave. I … I don’t mind your company.” She added quickly, “Your Highness.”

Sartaq’s mouth quirked up. “It’s a bit late to be throwing in my fancy title, isn’t it?”

She gave him a pleading look. But she’d meant what she said.

Last night, talking with him at the party, even talking with him in the alley outside the Torre a few nights before that … She had not felt quiet or aloof or strange. She had not felt cold or distant. He’d done her an honor in giving her such attention, and in escorting her and Chaol back to their rooms. She did not mind company—quiet as she could be, she enjoyed being around others. But sometimes …

“I spent most of yesterday with my family. They can be … tiring. Demanding.”

“I know how you feel,” the prince said drily.

A smile tugged at her lips. “I suppose you do.”

“You love them, though.”

“And you do not?” A bold, brash question.

Sartaq shrugged. “Kadara is my family. The rukhin, they are my family. My bloodline, though … It’s hard to love one another, when we will one day contend with each other. Love cannot exist without trust.” He smiled at his ruk. “I trust Kadara with my life. I would die for her, and she for me. Can I say the same of my siblings? My own parents?”

“It’s a shame,” Nesryn admitted.

“At least I have her,” he said of the ruk. “And my riders. Pity my siblings, who have none of those blessings.”

He was a good man. The prince … he was a good man.

She strode for the open archways overlooking the deadly drop to the city far, far below.

“I am going to leave soon—for the mountains of the rukhin,” Sartaq said softly. “To seek the answers you and I discussed the other night in the city.”

Nesryn peered over her shoulder at him, trying to gather the right words, the nerve.

His face remained neutral, even as he added, “I’m sure your family will have my head for offering, but … would you like to accompany me?”

Yes, she wanted to breathe. But she made herself ask, “For how long?”

For time was not on her side. Their side. And to hunt for answers while so many threats gathered close …

“A few weeks. No more than three. I like to keep the riders in line, and if I go absent for too long, they pull at the leash. So the journey will serve two purposes, I suppose.”

“I—I would need to discuss. With Lord Westfall.” She’d promised him as much last night. That they’d consider this precise path, weighing the pitfalls and benefits. They were still a team in that regard, still served under the same banner.

Sartaq nodded solemnly, as if he could read everything on her face. “Of course. Though I leave soon.”

She then heard it—the grunt of servants coming up the aerie stairs. Bringing supplies.

“You leave now,” Nesryn clarified as she noted the spear leaning against the far wall near the supply racks. His sulde. The russet horsehair tied beneath the blade drifted in the wind weaving through the aerie, the dark wood shaft polished and smooth.

Sartaq’s onyx eyes seemed to darken further as he strode to his sulde, weighing the spirit-banner in his hands before resting it beside him, the wood thunking on the stone floor. “I …” It was the first she’d seen him stumble for words.

“You weren’t going to say good-bye?”

She had no right to make such demands, expect such things, tentative allies or no.

But Sartaq leaned his sulde against the wall again and began braiding back his black hair. “After last night’s party, I had thought you would be … preoccupied.”

With Chaol. Her brows rose. “All day?”

The prince gave her a roguish smile, finishing off his long braid and picking up his spear once more. “I certainly would take all day.”

By some god’s mercy, Nesryn was saved from replying by the servants who appeared, panting and red-faced with the packs between them. Weapons glinted from some of them, along with food and blankets.

“How far is it?”

“A few hours before nightfall, then all day tomorrow, then another half day of travel to reach the first of the aeries in the Tavan Mountains,” Sartaq said as he handed his sulde to a passing servant, and Kadara patiently allowed them to load her with various packs.

“You don’t fly at night?”

“I tire. Kadara doesn’t. Foolish riders have made that mistake—and tumbled through the clouds in their dreams.”

She bit her lip. “How long until you go?”

“An hour.”

An hour to think …

She had not told Chaol. That she’d seen his toes move last night. She’d seen them curl and flex in his sleep.

She had cried, silent tears of joy sliding onto the pillow. She hadn’t told him. And when he’d awoken …

Let’s have an adventure, Nesryn Faliq, he’d promised her in Rifthold. She had cried then, too.

But perhaps … perhaps neither of them had seen. The path ahead. The forks in it.

She could see down one path clearly.

Honor and loyalty, still unbroken. Even if it stifled him. Stifled her. And she … she did not want to be a consolation prize. Be pitied or a distraction.

But this other path, the fork that had appeared, branching away across grasslands and jungles and rivers and mountains … This path toward answers that might help them, might mean nothing, might change the course of this war, all carried on a ruk’s golden wings …

She would have an adventure. For herself. This one time. She would see her homeland, and smell it and breathe it in. See it from high above, see it racing as fast as the wind.

She owed herself that much. And owed it to Chaol as well.

Perhaps she and this dark-eyed prince might find some scrap of salvation against Morath. And perhaps she might bring an army back with her.

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