Tower of Dawn Page 75

His father had thrown him out.

Thrown him right down the front stairs of the keep.

He’d cracked his temple on the gray stone, his teeth going through his lip. His mother’s pleading screams had echoed off the rock as he slid along the ice at the landing. He didn’t feel the pain in his head. Only the razor-sharp slice of the ice against his bare palms, cutting through his pants and ripping his knees raw.

There was only her pleading with his father, and the shriek of the wind that never stopped, even in summer, around the mountaintop keep that overlooked the Silver Lake.

That wind now tore at him, tugging at his hair—longer than he had kept it since. It hurled stray snowflakes into his face from the gray sky above. Hurled them to the grim city below that flowed to the banks of the sprawling lake and curved around its shores. To the west, to the mighty falls. Or the ghost of them. The dam had long since silenced them, along with the river flowing right from the White Fangs, which ended at their doorstep.

It was always cold in Anielle. Even in summer.

Always cold in this keep built into the curving mountainside.

“Pathetic,” his father had spat, none of the stone-faced guards daring to help him rise.

His head spun and spun, throbbing. Warm blood leaked and froze down his face.

“Find your own way to Rifthold, then.”

“Please,” his mother whispered. “Please.”

The last Chaol saw of her was his father’s arm gripping her above the elbow and dragging her into the keep of painted wood and stone. Her face pale and anguished, her eyes—his eyes—lined with silver as bright as the lake far below.

His parents passed a small shadow lurking in the open doorway to the keep itself.

Terrin.

His younger brother braved a step toward him. To risk those dangerously icy stairs and help him.

A sharp, barked word from his father within the darkness of the hall halted Terrin.

Chaol wiped the blood from his mouth and silently shook his head at his brother.

And it was terror—undiluted terror—on Terrin’s face as Chaol eased to his feet. Whether he knew that the title had just passed to him …

He couldn’t bear it. That fear on Terrin’s round, young face.

So Chaol turned, clenching his jaw against the pain in his knee, already swollen and stiff. Blood and ice merged, leaking from his palms.

He managed to limp across the landing. Down the stairs.

One of the guards at the bottom gave him his gray wool cloak. A sword and knife.

Another gave him a horse and a bearing.

A third gave him a supply pack that included food and a tent, bandages and salves.

They did not say a word. Did not halt him more than necessary.

He did not know their names. And he learned, years and years later, that his father had watched from one of the keep’s three towers. Had seen them.

His father himself told Chaol all those years later what happened to those three men who had aided him.

They were let go. In the dead of winter. Banished into the Fangs with their families.

Three families sent into the wilds. Only two were still heard from in the summer.

Proof. It had been proof, he’d realized after he’d convinced himself not to murder his father. Proof that his kingdom was rife with corruption, with bad men punishing good people for common decency. Proof that he had been right to leave Anielle. To stick with Dorian—to keep Dorian safe.

To protect that promise of a better future.

He’d still sent out a messenger, his most discreet, to find those remaining families. He didn’t care how many years had passed. He sent the man with gold.

The messenger never found them, and had returned to Rifthold, gold intact, months later.

He had chosen, and it had cost him. He had picked and he had endured the consequences.

A body on a bed. A dagger poised above his heart. A head rolling on stone. A collar around a neck. A sword sinking to the bottom of the Avery.

The pain in his body was secondary.

Worthless. Useless. Anyone he had tried to help … it had made it worse.

The body on the bed … Nehemia.

She had lost her life. And perhaps she had orchestrated it, but … He had not told Celaena—Aelin—to be alert. Had not warned Nehemia’s guards of the king’s attention. He had as good as killed her. Aelin might have forgiven him, accepted that he was not to blame, but he knew. He could have done more. Been better. Seen better.

And when Nehemia had died, those slaves had risen up in defiance. A rallying cry as the Light of Eyllwe was extinguished.

The king had extinguished them as well.

Calaculla. Endovier. Women and men and children.

And when he had acted, when he had chosen his side …

Blood and black stone and screaming magic.

You knew you knew you knew

You will never be my friend my friend my friend

The darkness shoved itself down his throat, choking him, strangling him.

He let it.

Felt himself open his jaws wide to let it in farther.

Take it, he told the darkness.

Yes, it purred to him. Yes.

It showed him Morath in its unparalleled horrors; showed him that dungeon beneath the glass castle, where faces he knew pleaded for mercy that would never come; showed him the young golden hands that had bestowed those agonies, as if they had stood side by side to do it—

He knew. Had guessed who had been forced to torture his men, to kill them. They both knew.

He felt the darkness swell, readying to pounce. To make him truly scream.

But then it was gone.

Rippling golden fields stretched away under a cloudless blue sky. Little sparkling streams wended through it, curling around the occasional oak tree. Strays from the tangled, looming green of Oakwald Forest to his right.

Behind him, a thatched roof cottage, its gray stones crusted in green and orange lichen. An ancient well sat a few feet away, its bucket balanced precariously on the stone lip.

Beyond it, attached to the house itself, a small pen with wandering chickens, fat and focused on the dirt before them.

And past them …

A garden.

Not a formal, beautiful thing. But a garden behind a low stone wall, its wooden gate open.

Two figures were stooped amongst the carefully plotted rows of green. He drifted toward them.

He knew her by the golden-brown hair, so much lighter in the summer sun. Her skin had turned a lovely deep brown, and her eyes …

It was a child’s face, lit with joy, that looked upon the woman kneeling in the dirt, pointing toward a pale green plant with slender purple cones of blossoms swaying in the warm breeze. The woman asked, “And that one?”

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