Tower of Dawn Page 37

Chaol had come to expect her at ten, though she had given no indication of when she might arrive. Nesryn had left well before he’d awoken to seek out Sartaq and his ruk, leaving him here to bathe and … wait.

And wait.

An hour in, Chaol began going through what exercises he could manage on his own, unable to stand the silence, the heavy heat, the endless trickle of water from the fountain outside. The thoughts that kept sliding back to Dorian, wondering where his king was now headed.

She’d mentioned exercises—some involving his legs, however she’d manage to accomplish that—but if Yrene didn’t bother to arrive on time, then he certainly wouldn’t bother to wait for her.

His arms were trembling by the time the clock on the sideboard chimed noon, little silver bells atop the carved wood piece filling the space with clear, bright ringing. Sweat slid down his chest, his spine, his face as he managed to haul himself into his chair, arms trembling with the effort. He was about to call for Kadja to bring him a jug of water and a cool cloth when Yrene appeared.

In the sitting room, he listened as she entered the main door, then halted.

She said to Kadja, waiting in the foyer, “I have a matter of discretion that I need you to personally oversee.”

Obedient silence.

“Lord Westfall requires a tonic for a rash developing on his legs. Likely from some oil you dumped into his bath.” The words were calm, yet edged. He frowned down at his legs. He’d seen no such thing this morning, but he certainly couldn’t sense an itch or burning. “I need willow bark, honey, and mint. The kitchens will have them. Tell no one why. I don’t want word getting around.”

Silence again—then a door closing.

He watched the open doors to the sitting room, listening to her listen to Kadja leaving. Then her heavy sigh. Yrene emerged a moment later.

She looked like hell.

“What’s wrong?”

The words were out before he could consider the fact that he had no right to ask such things.

But Yrene’s golden-brown face was ashen, her eyes smudged with purple, her hair limp.

She only said, “You exercised.”

Chaol glanced down at his sweat-soaked shirt. “It seemed as good a way to pass the time as anything else.” Each of her steps toward the desk was slow—heavy. He repeated, “What’s wrong?”

But she reached the desk and kept her back to him. He ground his teeth, debating wheeling the chair over just so he could see her face, as he might have once stormed over to see—to push into her space until she told him what the hell had happened.

Yrene just set her satchel on the desk with a thud. “If you wish to exercise, perhaps a better place for it would be the barracks.” A wry look at the carpet. “Rather than sweating all over the khagan’s priceless rugs.”

His hands clenched at his sides. “No,” was all he said. All he could say.

She lifted a brow. “You were Captain of the Guard, weren’t you? Perhaps training with the palace guard will be beneficial to—”

“No.”

She peered over her shoulder, those golden eyes sizing him up. He didn’t balk, even as the still-shredded thing in his chest seemed to twist and rend itself further.

He had no doubt she marked it, no doubt she’d tucked away that bit of information. Some small part of him hated her for it, hated himself for revealing that wound through his obstinance, but Yrene only turned from the desk and strode toward him, face unreadable.

“I apologize if rumor now gets out that you have an unfortunate rash on your legs.” That usual, sure-footed grace had been replaced by trudging feet. “If Kadja is as smart as I think she is, she’ll worry that the rash being a result of her ministrations would get her in trouble and not tell anyone. Or at least realize that if word gets out, we’ll know she was the only one told of it.”

Fine. She still didn’t want to answer his question. So he instead asked, “Why did you want Kadja gone?”

Yrene slumped onto the golden sofa and rubbed her temples. “Because someone killed a healer in the library last night—and then hunted me, too.”

Chaol went still. “What?”

He glanced to the windows, the open garden doors, the exits. Nothing but heat and gurgling water and birdsong.

“I was reading—about what you told me,” Yrene said, the freckles on her face so stark against her wan skin. “And I felt someone approaching.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see them. The healer … I found her as I fled.” Her throat bobbed. “We cleared the library from top to bottom once she was … retrieved, but found no one.” She shook her head, jaw tight.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and meant it. Not just for the loss of life, but also for what seemed like the loss of a long-held peace and serenity. But he asked, because he could no more stop himself from getting answers, from assessing the risks, than he could halt his own breathing, “What manner of injuries?” Half of him didn’t want to know.

Yrene leaned back against the sofa cushions, the down stuffing sighing as she stared at the gilded ceiling. “I’d seen her before in passing. She was young, a little older than me. And when I found her on the floor, she looked like a long-desiccated corpse. No blood, no sign of injury. Just … drained.”

His heart stumbled at the too-familiar description. Valg. He’d bet all he had left, he’d bet everything on it. “And whoever did this just left her body there?”

A nod. Her hands shook as she dragged them through her hair, closing her eyes. “I think they realized they’d attacked the wrong person—and moved away quickly.”

“Why?”

She turned her head, opening her eyes. Exhaustion lay there. And utter fear. “She looks—looked like me,” Yrene rasped. “Our builds, our coloring. Whoever it was … I think they were looking for me.”

“Why?” he asked again, scrambling to sort through all she’d said.

“Because what I was reading last night, about the potential source of the power that injured you … I left some books about it on the table. And when the guards searched the area, the books were gone.” She swallowed again. “Who knew you were coming here?”

Chaol’s blood chilled despite the heat.

“We did not make it a secret.” It was instinct to rest his hand on a sword that was not there—a sword he had chucked in the Avery months ago. “It wasn’t announced, but anyone could have learned. Long before we set foot here.”

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