Tower of Dawn Page 83

Color stained her cheeks. “Right.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “Well … good night, then.”

He could have sworn she was lingering. And he would have let her, except …“It’s late,” he told her. “You should go to your room while people are still about.”

Because while Nesryn had found no trace of the Valg in Antica, while it had been days since that attack in the Torre library, he would take no risks.

“Yes,” Yrene said, bracing a hand on the threshold. She reached for the handle to pull the door shut behind her.

“Yrene.”

She paused, angling her head.

Chaol held her stare, a small smile curling his mouth. “Thank you.” He swallowed. “For all of it.”

She only nodded and backed out, shutting the door behind her. But as she did so, he caught a glimmer of the light that danced in her eyes.

The following morning, a stern-faced woman named Eretia appeared at his door to inform him Yrene had a meeting with Hafiza and would meet him at the palace by lunch.

So Yrene had asked Eretia to escort him back to the palace—a task Chaol could only wonder why she’d bestowed on the old woman, who tapped her foot as he gathered his weapons, the heavy bag of books, and clicked her tongue at every minor delay.

But the ride through the steep streets with Eretia wasn’t awful; the woman was a surprisingly skilled rider who brooked no nonsense from her mount. Yet she offered no pleasantries and little more than a grunted farewell before she left him in the palace courtyard.

The guards were just changing their shift, the morning rotation lingering to chat amongst one another. He recognized enough of them by now to earn a few nods of greeting, and to manage to return them as his chair was brought over by one of the stable hands.

He’d no sooner removed his feet from the stirrups and prepared himself for the still-daunting process of dismounting when light footsteps jogged over to him. He looked over to find Shen approaching, a hand on his forearm—

Chaol blinked. And by the time Shen stopped before him, the guard had tugged the glove back on his hand.

Or what Chaol had assumed was his hand. Because what he’d glimpsed beneath the glove and the sleeve of Shen’s uniform, going right up to the elbow … It was a masterwork—the metal forearm and hand.

And only now that he looked, looked long enough to actually observe anything … he could indeed see the raised lines by Shen’s bicep of where the metal arm was strapped to him.

Shen noticed his stare. Noticed it right as Chaol hesitated at the arm and shoulder Shen offered to aid him in dismounting.

The guard said in Chaol’s own tongue, “I helped you just fine before you knew, Lord Westfall.”

Something like shame, perhaps something deeper, cracked through him.

Chaol made himself brace a hand on the man’s shoulder—the same shoulder that housed the metal arm. Found the strength beneath to be unwavering as Shen assisted him into the awaiting chair.

And when Chaol was seated in it, staring at the guard as the stable hands led his horse away, Shen explained, “I lost it a year and a half ago. There was an attack on Prince Arghun’s life when he visited a vizier’s estate, a rogue band from a disgruntled kingdom. I lost it during the fight. Yrene worked on me when I returned—I was one of her first considerable healings. She managed to repair as much as she could from here upward.” He pointed to right below his elbow, then up his shoulder.

Chaol studied the hand that was so lifelike within the glove he could not notice the difference, save for the fact that it did not move at all.

“Healers can do many wonders,” Shen said, “but growing limbs from thin air …” A soft laugh. “That is beyond their skill—even one such as Yrene.”

Chaol didn’t know what to say. Apologies felt wrong, but …

Shen smiled down at him—with no trace of pity. “It has taken me a long time to get to this place,” he said a bit quietly.

Chaol knew he didn’t mean the skilled use of his artificial arm.

Shen added, “But know that I did not get here alone.”

The unspoken offer shone in the guard’s brown eyes. Unbroken, this man before him. No less of a man for his injury, for finding a new way to move through the world.

And—Shen had stayed on as a guard. As one of the most elite palace guards in the world. Not from any pity of the others, but through his own merit and will.

Chaol still couldn’t find the right words to convey what coursed through him.

Shen nodded as if he understood that, too.

It was a long trip back to his suite. Chaol didn’t mark the faces he passed, the sounds and smells and streams of wind wending through the halls.

He returned to the rooms to find his note to Nesryn sitting on the foyer table. Unread.

It was enough to chase any other thoughts from his mind.

Heart thundering, his fingers shook as he picked up his unread, unseen letter.

But then he spotted the letter beneath it. His name written in her handwriting.

He ripped it open, reading the few lines.

He read it twice. Thrice.

He set it down on the table and stared at her open bedroom door. The silence leaking from it.

He was a bastard.

He’d dragged her here. Had nearly gotten her killed in Rifthold so many times, had implied so much about the two of them, and yet—

He didn’t let himself finish the thought. He should have been better. Treated her better. No wonder she’d flown off to the ruk aeries to help Sartaq find any sort of information on the Valg history in this land—or their own.

Shit. Shit.

She might not hold him to any promises, but he … He held himself to them.

And he had let this thing between them go on, had used her like some crutch—

Chaol blew out a breath, crumpling Nesryn’s letter and his own in his fist.

Perhaps he had not slept well in that tiny room at the physicians’ compound, accustomed to far larger and finer accommodations, Yrene told herself that afternoon. It would explain his few words. The lack of smiling.

She’d had one on her face when she’d entered Chaol’s suite after lunch. She’d explained her progress to Hafiza, who had been very pleased indeed. Even giving Yrene a kiss on her brow before she left. Practically skipping here.

Until she entered and found it quiet.

Found him quiet.

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