Home > Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6)(17)

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6)(17)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

Pathetic. Though she’d never been particularly good at avoiding her cravings. She’d started sleeping with him that summer because she didn’t see the point in resisting where her interest tugged her. Even if she hadn’t cared for him, not as she did now.

Nesryn slid a hand through her hair. “I’ll be back by dinner.”

Chaol waved her off, and was already reading his book again when she left the room.

They had made no promises, she reminded herself. She knew his tendencies drove him to want to do right by her, to honor her, and this summer, when that castle had collapsed and she’d thought him dead … She had never known such fear. She had never prayed as she had in those moments—until Aelin’s flame spared her from death, and Nesryn had prayed that she had spared him, too.

Nesryn shut out the thoughts of those days as she strode through the palace halls, vaguely remembering where to find the gates to the city proper. What she’d thought she wanted, what was most important—or had been. Until the khagan had uttered the news.

She had left her family. She should have been there. To protect the children, protect her aging father, her fierce and laughing sister.

“Captain Faliq.”

Nesryn halted at the pleasant voice, at the title she was still barely accustomed to answering. She was standing at one of the palace crossroads, the path ahead to take her to the front gates if she kept going straight. She had marked every exit they’d passed on the way in.

And at the end of the hallway that bisected hers was Sartaq.

Gone were the fine clothes of yesterday. The prince now wore close-fitting leathers, the shoulders capped with simple yet sturdy armor, reinforced at the wrists, knees, and shins. No breastplate. His long black hair had been braided back, a thin strap of leather tying it off.

She bowed deeply. Lower than she would have for the other children of the khagan. But for a rumored Heir apparent, who might one day be Adarlan’s ally—

If they survived.

“You were in a hurry,” Sartaq said, noting the hall she’d been striding down.

“I—I have family in the city. I was going to see them.” She added halfheartedly, “Unless Your Highness has need of me.”

A wry smile graced his face. And she realized she’d replied in her own tongue. Their tongue. “I’m headed for a ride on Kadara. My ruk,” he clarified, falling into his language as well.

“I know,” she said. “I’ve heard the stories.”

“Even in Adarlan?” He lifted a brow. A warrior and a charmer. A dangerous combination, though she could not recall any mention of a spouse. Indeed, no ring marked his finger.

“Even in Adarlan,” Nesryn said, though she did not mention that the average person on the street might not know such tales. But in her household … Oh, yes. The Winged Prince, they called him.

“May I escort you? The streets are a maze, even to me.”

It was a generous offer, an honor. “I would not keep you from the skies.” If only because she did not know how to talk to such men—born and bred to power, used to fine ladies and scheming politicians. Though his ruk riders, legend claimed, could come from anywhere.

“Kadara is accustomed to waiting,” Sartaq said. “At least let me lead you to the gates. There is a new guard out today, and I will tell them to mark your face so you may be let back in.”

Because with her clothes, her unadorned hair … Indeed, the guards might not permit her past. Which would have been … mortifying. “Thank you,” she said, and fell into step beside him.

They were silent as they passed white banners streaming from one of the open windows. Chaol had told her yesterday of Kashin’s worry that their youngest sister’s death had been through foul play—that one of Perrington’s agents might be responsible. It was enough to plant a seed of dread in her. To make her mark each face she encountered, peer into every shadow.

Keeping a smooth pace beside him, Nesryn glanced at Sartaq as those banners flitted by. The prince, however, nodded to a few bowing men and women in the gold robes of viziers.

Nesryn found herself asking, “Are there truly thirty-six of them?”

“We have a fascination with the number, so yes.” He snorted, the sound most un-princely. “My father debated halving them, but feared the gods’ wrath more than political repercussions.”

It felt like a breath of crisp autumn air, to hear and speak her own tongue. To have it be the norm and not be gawked at. She’d always felt so when coming here.

“Did Lord Westfall meet with the healer?”

There was no harm in the truth, she decided, so Nesryn said, “Yes. Yrene Towers.”

“Ah. The famed Golden Lady.”

“Oh?”

“She is striking, no?”

Nesryn smiled slightly. “You favor her, I see.”

Sartaq chuckled. “Oh, I wouldn’t dare. My brother Kashin would not be pleased.”

“They have an attachment?” Hasar had hinted at as much.

“They are friends—or were. I haven’t seen them talk in months, but who knows what happened? Though I suppose I’m no better than the court gossips for telling you.”

“It’s still useful to know, if we are working with her.”

“Was her assessment of Lord Westfall a positive one?”

Nesryn shrugged. “She was hesitant to confirm.”

“Many healers will do that. They don’t like to give hope and take it away.” He flicked his braid over a shoulder. “Though I will also tell you that Yrene herself healed one of Kashin’s Darghan riders last winter of a very similar injury. And the healers have long repaired such wounds amongst our people’s horse-tribes and my own rukhin. They will know what to do.”

Nesryn swallowed the hope that blossomed as brightness flared ahead—the open doors to the main courtyard and palace gates. “How long have you been a ruk rider, Prince?”

“I thought you’d heard the stories.” Humor danced in his face.

“Only gossip. I prefer the truth.”

Sartaq’s dark eyes settled on her, their unwavering focus enough to make her glad not to be on the receiving end of it too often. Not for fear, but … it was unsettling, to have the weight of that gaze wholly upon you. It was an eagle’s gaze—a ruk’s gaze. Keen and piercing.

“I was twelve when my father brought us all to the mountain aerie. And when I snuck away and climbed onto the captain’s own ruk, soaring into the skies and requiring them to chase me down … My father told me that if I had splattered on the rocks, I would have deserved to die for my stupidity. As punishment, he ordered me to live amongst the rukhin until I could prove I wasn’t a complete fool—a lifetime, he suggested.”

Nesryn quietly laughed, and blinked against the sunshine as they emerged into the grand courtyard. Ornate arches and pillars had been carved with flora and fauna, the palace rising up behind them like a leviathan.

“Thankfully, I did not die of stupidity, and instead came to love the riding, their lifestyle. They gave me hell because I was a prince, but I proved my mettle soon enough. Kadara hatched when I was fifteen, and I raised her myself. I have had no other mount since.” Pride and affection brightened those onyx eyes.

And yet Nesryn and Chaol would ask him, beg him, to take that beloved mount into battle against wyverns many times the weight and with infinitely more brute strength. With venom in their tails. Her stomach roiled.

They reached the towering main gates, a small door cut into the enormous slabs of studded bronze, left open to allow access to pedestrians scurrying on errands to and from the palace. Nesryn remained still while Sartaq introduced her to the heavily armed guards on duty, ordering them to grant her unrestricted access. The sun glinted on the hilts of the swords crossed over their backs as the guards bowed their acquiescence, each with a fist over his heart.

She’d seen how Chaol could barely look at them—the palace guards and those at the docks.

Sartaq led her through the small door, the bronze of the gate nearly a foot thick, and onto the broad, cobblestoned avenue that sloped into the labyrinth of city streets. Fine houses and more guards lined the surrounding streets, residences of the wealthy who wished to dwell in the palace’s shadow. But the street itself was crammed with people about their business or leisure, even some travelers who climbed all the way up here to gawk at the palace, and now tried to peer through the small door through which Nesryn and Sartaq had walked for a glimpse to the courtyard beyond. None seemed to recognize the prince beside her—though she knew the guards on the street and stationed at the gates monitored every breath and word.

   
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