Tower of Dawn Page 8

He ground his teeth, and was still grinding them as the suite doors opened and a tall, broad-shouldered man strode in as if he owned the place.

Chaol supposed he did. Prince Kashin was alone and unarmed, though he moved with the ease of a person confident in his body’s unfailing strength.

How, Chaol supposed, he himself had once walked about the palace in Rifthold.

Chaol lowered his head in greeting as the prince shut the hall door and surveyed him. It was a warrior’s assessment, frank and thorough. When his brown eyes at last met Chaol’s, the prince said in Adarlan’s tongue, “Injuries like yours are not uncommon here, and I have seen many of them—especially among the horse-tribes. My family’s people.”

Chaol didn’t particularly feel like discussing his injuries with the prince, with anyone, so he only nodded. “I’m sure you have.”

Kashin cocked his head, scanning Chaol again, his dark braid slipping over his muscled shoulder. Reading, perhaps, Chaol’s desire not to start down this particular road. “My father indeed wishes you both to join us at dinner. And more than that, to join us every night afterward while you are here. And sit at the high table.”

It wasn’t a strange request of a visiting dignitary, and it was certainly an honor to sit at the khagan’s own table, but to send his son to do it … Chaol considered his next words carefully, then simply chose the most obvious one. “Why?”

Surely the family wished to keep close to one another after losing their youngest member. Inviting strangers to join them—

The prince’s jaw tightened. Not a man used to veiling his emotions, as his three elder siblings were. “Arghun reports our palace is safe of spies from Duke Perrington’s forces, that his agents have not yet come. I am not of that belief. And Sartaq—” The prince caught himself, as if not wanting to bring in his brother—or potential ally. Kashin grimaced. “There was a reason I chose to live amongst soldiers. The double-talk of this court …”

Chaol was tempted to say he understood. Had felt that way for most of his life. But he asked, “You think Perrington’s forces have infiltrated this court?”

How much did Kashin, or Arghun, know of Perrington’s forces—know the truth of the Valg king who wore Perrington’s skin? Or the armies he commanded, worse than any their imaginations might conjure? But that information … He’d keep that to himself. See if it could somehow be used, if Arghun and the khagan did not know of it.

Kashin rubbed at his neck. “I do not know if it is Perrington, or someone from Terrasen, or Melisande, or Wendlyn. All I know is that my sister is now dead.”

Chaol’s heart stumbled a beat. But he dared ask, “How did it come about?”

Grief flickered in Kashin’s eyes. “Tumelun was always a bit wild, reckless. Prone to moods. One day, happy and laughing; the next, withdrawn and hopeless. They …” His throat bobbed. “They say she leaped from her balcony because of it. Duva and her husband found her later that night.”

Any death in a family was devastating, but a suicide … “I’m sorry,” Chaol offered quietly.

Kashin shook his head, sunlight from the garden dancing on his black hair. “I do not believe it. My Tumelun would not have jumped.”

My Tumelun. The words told enough about the prince’s closeness to his younger sister.

“You suspect foul play?”

“All I know is that no matter Tumelun’s moods … I knew her. As I know my own heart.” He put a hand over it. “She would not have jumped.”

Chaol considered his words carefully once again. “As sorry as I am for your loss, do you have any reason to suspect why a foreign kingdom might have engineered it?”

Kashin paced a few steps. “No one within our lands would be stupid enough.”

“Well, no one within Terrasen or Adarlan would ever do such a thing—even to manipulate you into this war.”

Kashin studied him for a heartbeat. “Even a queen who was once an assassin herself?”

Chaol didn’t let one flicker of emotion show. “Assassin she might have been, but Aelin had hard lines that she did not cross. Killing or harming children was one of them.”

Kashin paused before the dresser against the garden wall, adjusting a gilded box on its polished dark surface. “I know. I read that in my brother’s reports, too. Details of her kills.” Chaol could have sworn the prince shuddered before he added, “I believe you.”

No doubt why the prince was even having this conversation with him.

Kashin went on, “Which leaves not many other foreign powers who might do it—and Perrington at the top of that short list.”

“But why target your sister?”

“I do not know.” Kashin paced another few steps. “She was young, guileless—she rode with me amongst the Darghan, our mother-clans. Had no sulde of her own yet.”

At Chaol’s narrowed brows, the prince clarified, “It is a spear all Darghan warriors carry. We bind strands of our favored horse’s hair to the shaft, beneath the blade. Our ancestors believed that where those hairs waved in the wind, there our destinies waited. Some of us still believe in such things, but even those who think it mere tradition … we bring them everywhere. There is a courtyard in this palace where my sulde and those of my siblings are planted to feel the wind while we remain at our father’s palace, right beside his own. But in death …” Again, that shadow of grief. “In death, they are the only object that we keep. They bear the soul of a Darghan warrior for eternity, and are left planted atop a steppe in our sacred realm.” The prince closed his eyes. “Now her soul will roam with the wind.”

Nesryn had said as much earlier. Chaol only repeated, “I’m sorry.”

Kashin opened his eyes. “Some of my siblings do not believe me about Tumelun. Some do. Our father … he remains undecided. Our mother will not even leave her room thanks to her grief, and mentioning my suspicions might—I cannot bring myself to mention them to her.” He rubbed his strong jaw. “So I have convinced my father to have you join us at dinner every night, as a gesture of diplomacy. But I should like you to watch with an outsider’s eyes. To report on anything amiss. Perhaps you will see something we don’t.”

Help them … and perhaps receive help in return. Chaol said baldly, “If you trust me enough to have me do that, to tell me all this, then why not agree to join with us in this war?”

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