Tower of Dawn Page 82

Sartaq chuckled. “I suppose you’re right.”

The shadows grew deeper, longer, the wind picking up. She studied the rock around them, the packs. “You won’t risk a fire.”

A shake of his head, his dark braid swaying. “It’d be a beacon.” He frowned at her leathers, the packs lumped around them. “I have heavy blankets—somewhere in there.”

They fell into silence, eating while the sun vanished and stars began to blink awake among the last, vibrant ribbon of blue. The moon herself appeared, bathing the campsite with enough light to see by as they finished up, the prince sealing the tins and tucking them back into the packs.

Across the space, Kadara began to snore, a deep wheeze that rumbled through the rock.

Sartaq chuckled. “Apologies if that keeps you awake.”

Nesryn just shook her head. Sharing a campsite with a ruk, in the mountains high above the grassy plains below, the Winged Prince beside her … No, her family would not believe it.

They watched the stars quietly, neither making a move to sleep. One by one, the rest of the stars emerged, brighter and clearer than she’d seen since those weeks on the ship here. Different stars, she realized with a jolt, than those up north.

Different, and yet these stars had burned for countless centuries above her ancestors, above her father himself. Had it been strange for him to leave them behind? Had he missed them? He’d never spoken of it, what it was like to move to a land with foreign stars—if he’d felt adrift at night.

“Neith’s Arrow,” Sartaq said after uncounted minutes, leaning back against the rock.

Nesryn dragged her gaze from the stars to find his face limned in moonlight, silver dancing along the pure onyx of his braid.

He rested his forearms on his knees. “That’s what my spies called you, what I called you until you arrived. Neith’s Arrow.” The Goddess of Archery—and the Hunt, originally hailing from an ancient sand-swept kingdom to the west, now enfolded into the khaganate’s vast pantheon. A corner of his mouth tugged upward. “So don’t be surprised if there’s now a story or two about you already finding its way across the world.”

Nesryn observed him for a long moment, the howling mountain wind blending with Kadara’s snoring. She’d always excelled at archery, took pride in her unmatched aim, but she had not learned because she coveted renown. She’d done it because she enjoyed it, because it gave her a direction to aim that wind-seeking inclination. And yet …

Sartaq cleared away the last of the food and did a quick check that the campsite was secure before heading off between the boulders himself.

With only those foreign stars to witness, Nesryn smiled.

26

Chaol dined in the Torre kitchens, where a rail-thin woman called only Cook had stuffed him with pan-fried fish, crusty bread, roasted tomatoes with mild cheese and tarragon, and then managed to convince him to eat a light, flaky pastry dripping with honey and crusted in pistachios.

Yrene had sat beside him, hiding her smiles as Cook kept piling more and more food onto his plate until he literally begged her to stop.

He was full enough that the idea of moving seemed a monumental task, and even Yrene had pleaded with Cook to have mercy upon them.

The woman had relented, though she’d turned that focus upon the workers in her kitchen—presiding over the serving of the evening meal to the hall a level above with a general’s command that Chaol found himself studying.

He and Yrene sat in companionable silence, watching the chaos unfold around them until the sun had long since set through the wide windows beyond the kitchen.

He’d uttered half a mention of getting his horse saddled when Yrene and Cook told him he was spending the night and to not bother arguing.

So he did. He sent a note back to the palace through a healer on her way there to oversee a patient in the servants’ quarters, telling Nesryn where he was and not to wait up.

And when he and Yrene had finally managed to get their overstuffed stomachs to settle, he followed her to a room in the complex. The Torre was mostly stairs, she said with no pity whatsoever, and there were no guest rooms anyway. But the adjacent physicians’ complex—she’d gestured to the building they’d passed through, all angles and squares where the Torre was round—always had a few rooms on the ground level available for the night, mostly for the loved ones of sick patients.

She opened the door to a room that overlooked a garden courtyard, the space small but clean, its pale walls inviting and warm from the day. A narrow bed lay against one wall, a chair and small table before the window. Just enough space for him to maneuver.

“Let me see again,” Yrene said, pointing to his feet.

Chaol lifted his leg with his hands, stretching it out. Then rolled his ankles, grunting against the considerable weight of his legs.

She removed his boots and socks as she knelt before him. “Good. We’ll need to keep that up.”

He glanced to the satchel full of books and scrolls she’d pillaged from the library, discarded by the doorway. He didn’t know what the hell any of it said, but they’d taken as many as they could. If whoever or whatever had been in that library had stolen some, and perhaps not gotten the chance to return for more … He wouldn’t risk them eventually returning to claim the rest.

Yrene had thought the scroll she’d hidden in his rooms to be eight hundred years old. But that deep in the library, considering the age of the Torre …

He didn’t tell her he thought it might be much, much older. Full of information that might not have even survived in their own lands.

“I can find you some clothes,” Yrene said, scanning the small room.

“I’ll be fine with what I have.” Chaol added without looking at her, “I sleep—without them.”

“Ah.”

Silence fell, as she no doubt remembered how she’d found him that morning.

That morning. Had it truly been only hours ago? She had to be exhausted.

Yrene gestured to the candle burning on the table. “Do you need more light?”

“I’m fine.”

“I can get you some water.”

“I’m fine,” he said, the corners of his mouth twitching upward.

She pointed to the porcelain pot in the corner. “Then at least let me bring you to the—”

“I can manage that, too. It’s all about aim.”

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