Tower of Dawn Page 94

And one that would go unanswered. She was not about to blab her kingdom’s business for all to hear. So Nesryn just shrugged and turned back toward the fire pit across the hall.

“Before I left the northern continent,” Falkan said as she strode away, “a young man named Westfall was the Captain of the Royal Guard. Are you his replacement?”

Careful. She indeed had to be so, so careful not to reveal too much. To him, to anyone. “Lord Westfall is now Hand to King Dorian Havilliard.”

Shock slackened the merchant’s face. She marked it—every tick and flicker. No joy or relief, but no anger, either. Just … surprise. Honest, bald surprise. “Dorian Havilliard is king?”

At Nesryn’s raised brows, Falkan explained, “I have been in the deep wilds for months now. News does not come swiftly. Or often.”

“An odd place to be selling your goods,” Sartaq murmured. Nesryn was inclined to agree.

Falkan merely gave the prince a tight smile. A man with secrets of his own, then.

“It has been a long journey,” Borte cut in, looping her arm through Nesryn’s and turning her toward the dim hallway beyond. “Captain Faliq needs refreshment. And a bath.”

Nesryn wasn’t certain whether to thank the young woman or begrudge her for interrupting, but … Her stomach was indeed an aching pit. And it had been a long while since she’d bathed.

Neither Sartaq nor Falkan stopped them, though their murmuring resumed as Borte escorted her into the hallway that shot straight into the mountain itself. Wooden doors lined it, some open to reveal small bedchambers—even a little library.

“He is a strange man,” Borte said in Halha. “My grandmother refuses to speak of why he came here—what he seeks.”

Nesryn lifted a brow. “Trade, perhaps?”

Borte shook her head, opening a door halfway down the hall. The room was small, a narrow bed tucked against one wall, the other occupied by a trunk and a wooden chair. The far wall held a washbasin and ewer, along with a pile of soft-looking cloths. “We have no goods to sell. We are usually the merchants—ferrying goods across the continent. Our clan here, not so much, but some of the others … Their aeries are full of treasures from every territory.” She toed the rickety bed and frowned. “Not this old junk.”

Nesryn chuckled. “Perhaps he wishes to assist you in expanding, then.”

Borte turned, braids swaying. “No. He doesn’t meet with anyone, or seem interested in that.” A shrug. “It matters little. Only that he is here.”

Nesryn folded away the tidbits of information. He didn’t seem like one of Morath’s agents, but who knew how far the arm of Erawan now stretched? If it had reached Antica, then it was possible it had delved into the continent. She’d be on her guard—had no doubt Sartaq already was.

Borte twirled the end of a braid around a finger. “I saw the way you sized him up. You don’t think he’s here for business, either.”

Nesryn weighed the merits of admitting the truth, and opted for, “These are strange days for all of us—I have learned not to take men on their word. Or appearance.”

Borte dropped her braid. “No wonder Sartaq brought you home. You sound just like him.”

Nesryn hid her smile, not bothering to say that she found such a thing to be a compliment.

Borte sniffed, waving to the room. “Not as fine as the khagan’s palace, but better than sleeping on one of Sartaq’s shitty bedrolls.”

Nesryn smiled. “Any bed is better than that, I suppose.”

Borte smirked. “I meant what I said. You need a bath. And a comb.”

Nesryn at last raised a hand to her hair and winced. Tangles and knots and more tangles. Just getting it out of the braid would be a nightmare.

“Even Sartaq braids better than that,” Borte teased.

Nesryn sighed. “Despite my sister’s best efforts to teach me, I’m useless when it comes to such things.” She offered the girl a wink. “Why do you think I keep my hair so short?”

Indeed, her sister had practically fainted when Nesryn had come home one afternoon at age fifteen with hair cut to her collarbone. She’d kept the hair that length ever since—in part to piss off Delara, who still pouted about it, and partially because it was far easier to deal with. Wielding blades and arrows was one thing, but styling hair … She was hopeless. And showing up at the guards’ barracks with a pretty hairstyle would not have been well received.

Borte only gave Nesryn a curt nod—as if she seemed to realize that. “Before you fly the next time, I’ll braid it properly for you.” Then she pointed down the hall, to a set of narrow stairs that led into the gloom. “Baths are this way.”

Nesryn sniffed herself and cringed. “Oh, that’s awful.”

Borte snickered as Nesryn entered the hall. “I’m surprised Sartaq’s eyes weren’t watering.”

Nesryn chuckled as she followed her toward what she prayed was a boiling-hot bath. She again felt Borte’s sharp, assessing gaze and asked, “What?”

“You grew up in Adarlan, didn’t you?”

Nesryn considered the question, why it might be asked. “Yes. I was born and raised in Rifthold, though my father’s family comes from Antica.”

Borte was quiet for a few steps. But as they reached the narrow stairwell and stepped into the dim interior, Borte smiled over a shoulder at Nesryn. “Then welcome home.”

Nesryn wondered if those words might be the most beautiful she’d ever heard.

The baths were ancient copper tubs that had to be filled kettle by kettle, but Nesryn didn’t object as she finally slid into one.

An hour later, hair finally detangled and brushed out, she found herself seated at the massive round table in the great hall, shoveling roast rabbit into her mouth, nestled in thick, warm clothes that had been donated by Borte herself. The flashes of embroidered cobalt and daffodil on the sleeves snared Nesryn’s attention as much as the platters of roast meats before her. Beautiful clothes—layered and toasty against the chill that permeated the hall, even with the fires. And her toes … Borte had indeed found a pair of those fleece-lined boots for her.

Sartaq sat beside Nesryn at the empty table, equally silent and eating with as much enthusiasm. He had yet to bathe, though his windblown hair had been rebraided, the long plait falling down the center of his muscled back.

Prev Next