Tower of Dawn Page 48

His muscle control was extraordinary. A man who had trained that body to obey him no matter what, even now.

And—he was in the saddle.

Chaol murmured something to the guards that had them backing off as he leaned to either side to buckle the straps of the brace around his legs. It had been set into the saddle—the fit perfect based on the estimations she’d given the woman in the workshop—designed to stabilize his legs, replacing where his thighs would have clamped to keep him steady. Just until he became used to riding. He might very well not need them at all, but … it was better to be safe for this first ride.

Yrene wiped her sweaty forehead and approached, offering a word of thanks to the guards, who now filtered back to their posts. The one who’d directly helped Lord Westfall turned in her direction, and Yrene gave him a broad smile as she said in Halha, “Good morning, Shen.”

The young guard returned her smile as he continued toward the small stables in the far shadows of the courtyard, winking at her as he passed by. “Morning, Yrene.”

She found Chaol sitting upright in the saddle when she faced ahead once more—that stiff posture and clenched jaw gone as he watched her approach.

Yrene straightened her dress, realizing just as she reached him that she still wore yesterday’s clothes. Now with a giant red splotch on her chest.

Chaol took in the stain, then her hair—oh, gods, her hair—and only said, “Good morning.”

Yrene swallowed, still panting from her run. “I’m sorry I’m late.” Up close, the brace indeed blended in enough for most people not to notice. Especially with the way he carried himself.

He sat tall and proud on that horse, shoulders squared, hair still wet from his morning bath. Yrene swallowed again and inclined her head toward the unused mounting ramp across the courtyard. “That was also meant for your use, you know.”

He lifted his brows. “I doubt there will be one readily available on a battlefield,” he said, mouth twisting to the side. “So I might as well learn to mount on my own.”

Indeed. But even with the crisp golden dawn around them, what she’d glimpsed within his wound, the army they might both face, flashed before her, stretching the long shadows—

Motion caught her eye, snapping Yrene to alertness as Shen led a small white mare from those same shadows. Saddled and ready for her. She frowned at her dress.

“If I’m riding,” Chaol said simply, “so are you.” Perhaps that was what he’d muttered to the guards before they’d dispersed.

Yrene blurted, “I’m not—it’s been a while since I rode one.”

“If I can let four men help me onto this damned horse,” he said simply, the color still blooming in his cheeks, “then you can get on one, too.”

From the tone, she knew it must have been—embarrassing. She’d seen the expression on his face just now. But he’d done it. Gritted his teeth and done it.

And with the guards helping him … She knew there were multiple reasons why he could barely glance at them. That it was not just the lone reminder of what he’d once been that made him tense up in their presence, refuse to even consider training with them.

But that was not a conversation to be had now—not here, and not with the light starting to return to his eyes.

So Yrene hitched up her hem and let Shen help her onto the horse.

The skirts of her dress hiked up enough to reveal most of her legs, but she’d seen far more revealed here. In this very courtyard. Neither Shen nor any other guards so much as glanced her way. She turned to Chaol to order him to go ahead, but found his eyes on her.

On the leg exposed from ankle to midthigh, paler than most of her golden-brown skin. She darkened easily in the sun, but it had been months since she’d gone swimming and basked in any sunlight.

Chaol noticed her attention and snapped his eyes up to hers. “You have a good seat,” he told her, as clinically as she often remarked on the status of her patients’ bodies.

Yrene gave him an exasperated look before nodding her thanks to Shen and nudging her horse into a walk. Chaol snapped the reins and did the same.

She kept one eye on him as they rode toward the courtyard gates.

The brace held. The saddle held.

He was peering down at it—then at the gates, at the city awakening beyond them, the tower jutting high above it all as if it were a hand raised in bold welcome.

Sunlight broke through the open archway, gilding them both, but Yrene could have sworn it was far more than the dawn that shone in the captain’s brown eyes as they rode into the city.

It was not walking again, but it was better than the chair.

Better than better.

The brace was cumbersome, going against all his instincts as a rider, but … it held him firm. Allowed him to guide Yrene through the gates, the healer clutching at the pommel every now and then, forgetting the reins entirely.

Well, he’d found one thing she wasn’t so self-assured at.

The thought brought a small smile to his lips. Especially as she kept adjusting her skirts. For all she’d chided him about his modesty, flashing her legs had given her pause.

Men in the streets—workers and peddlers and city guards—looked twice. Looked their fill.

Until they noticed his stare and averted their eyes.

And Chaol made sure they did.

Just as he’d made sure the guards in the courtyard had kept their attention polite the moment she’d run in, huffing and puffing, sun-kissed and flushed. Even with the stain on her clothes, even wearing yesterday’s dress and coated in a faint sheen of sweat.

It had been mortifying to be helped into the saddle like unruly baggage after he’d refused the mounting ramp—mortifying to see those guards in their pristine uniforms, the armor on their shoulders and hilts of their swords glinting in the early morning sunlight, all watching him fumble about. But he’d dealt with it. And then he found himself forgetting that entirely at the appreciative glances the guards gave her. No lady, beautiful or plain, young or old, deserved to be gawked at. And Yrene …

Chaol kept his mare close beside hers. Met the stare of any man who glanced their way as they rode toward the towering spire of the Torre, the stones pale as cream in the morning light. Every single man swiftly found somewhere else to gape. Some even looked apologetic.

Whether Yrene noticed, he had no clue. She was too busy lunging for the saddle horn at any unexpected movements of the horse, too busy wincing as the mare increased her pace up a particularly steep street, causing her to sway and slide back in her saddle.

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