Chapter no 40

Empire of Storms

Prince Kashin arrived swiftly, summoned by the guards at Yrene’s request

—before she or Chaol even dared to remove the furniture barring the door. Any of the other royals required too much explaining, but Kashin … He understood the threat.

Chaol knew the prince’s voice well enough by that point—Yrene knew it well herself—that as it filled the suite foyer, he gave her the nod to haul away the furniture blocking the door.

Chaol was grateful, just for a heartbeat, that he remained in this chair.

Relief might have buckled his legs.

He hadn’t been able to discern a viable path out of it. Not for her. In the chair, against a Valg minion, he was as good as carrion, though he’d calculated that a well-timed throw of his dagger and sword might save them. That had been his best option: throwing.

He hadn’t cared—not really. Not about what it meant for him. But about how much time that throw might buy her.

Someone had hunted her. Meant to kill her. Terrorize and torment her. Perhaps worse, if it was indeed a Valg-infested agent of Morath. Which it had sure as hell sounded like.

He hadn’t been able to make out the voice. Male or female. Just one of them, though.

Yrene remained calm as she opened the door at last to reveal a wild-eyed Kashin, panting heavily. The prince scanned her from head to toe, gave Chaol a brief glance, then returned his focus to the healer. “What happened?”

Yrene lingered behind Chaol’s chair as she said with surprising calm, “I was walking back here to make sure Lord Westfall took a tonic.”

Liar. Smooth, pretty liar. She’d likely been coming back to give him the second earful Chaol had been waiting for all evening.

Yrene came around the chair to stand beside him, close enough that the heat of her warmed his shoulder. “And I was nearly here when I sensed someone behind me.” Yrene then explained the rest, observing the room every now and then, as if whoever it had been would leap out of the shadows. And when Kashin asked if she suspected why someone might do her harm, Yrene glanced at Chaol, a silent conversation passing between them: it had likely been to spook her from helping him, for whatever wicked purpose of Morath. But she’d only told the prince she didn’t know.

Kashin’s face tightened with fury as he studied the cracked door to Chaol’s bedroom. He said over his shoulder to the guards combing through the suite, “I want four of you outside this suite. Another four at the end of the hall. A dozen of you in the garden. Six more at the various hall crossroads that lead here.”

Yrene let out a breath of what might very well have been relief.

Kashin heard it, putting a hand on the hilt of his sword as he said, “The castle is already being searched. I plan to join them.”

Chaol knew it wasn’t for Yrene alone. Knew that the prince had good reason to join the hunt, that there was likely still a white banner hanging from his windows.

Gallant and dedicated. Perhaps how all princes should be. And perhaps a good friend for Dorian to have. If everything went in their favor.

Kashin seemed to take a bracing breath. Then he asked Yrene quietly, “Before I go … why don’t I escort you back to the Torre? With an armed guard, of course.”

There was enough concern and hope in the prince’s eyes that Chaol made a point to busy himself by monitoring the guards still examining every inch of the rooms.

Yet Yrene wrapped her arms around herself and said, “I feel safer here.” Chaol tried not to blink at her. At the words.

With him. She felt safer here with him.

He avoided the urge to remind her that he was in this chair.

Kashin’s gaze now shifted to him, as if remembering he was there. And it was disappointment that now hardened his gaze—disappointment and warning as he met Chaol’s stare.

Chaol clamped down on his warning to Kashin to stop giving him that look and go search the palace.

He’d keep his hands to himself. He’d been unable to stop thinking about Nesryn’s letter all day. When he wasn’t mulling over all that Shen had shown him—what it had done to him to see what lay beneath that proud guard’s sleeve.

But the prince just bowed his head, a hand on his chest. “Send word if you need anything.”

Yrene barely managed a nod in Kashin’s direction. It was dismissive enough that Chaol almost felt bad for the man.

The prince moved out with a lingering glance at Yrene, some guards trailing him, the others remaining behind. Chaol watched through the

garden doors as they settled into place just outside.

“Nesryn’s bedroom is empty,” he said when they were alone in his chamber at last.

He waited for the question about why—but realized she hadn’t so much as mentioned Nesryn when she’d fled in here. Hadn’t tried to rouse her. She’d gone right to him.

So it was no surprise when Yrene just said, “I know it is.”

Palace spies or gossip, he didn’t care. Not as Yrene said, “I—can I stay in here? I’ll sleep on the floor—”

“You can sleep in the bed. I doubt I’ll get any rest tonight.”

Even with the guards outside … He’d seen what one Valg could do against multiple men. He’d seen Aelin move, one assassin through a field of men. And cut them down in heartbeats.

No, he would not be sleeping tonight. “You can’t sit in that chair all night—”

Chaol gave her a look that said otherwise.

Yrene swallowed and excused herself to the bathing room. As she quickly washed up, he assessed the guards outside, the integrity of the bedroom lock. She emerged still in her dress, neckline wet, face wan again. She hesitated before the bed.

“They changed the sheets,” Chaol said softly.

She didn’t look at him as she climbed in. Each movement smaller than usual—brittle.

Terror still gripped her. Though she’d done beautifully. He wasn’t sure if he would have been able to move that chest of drawers, but pure terror had given her a dose of strength. He’d heard stories of mothers lifting entire wagons off their children crushed beneath.

Yrene slid beneath the covers, but made no move to nestle her head onto the pillow. “What is it like—to kill someone?”

Cain’s face flashed in his mind.

“I—I’m new to it,” Chaol admitted. She angled her head.

“I took my first life … just after Yulemas last year.” Her brows narrowed. “But—you—”

“I trained for it. Had fought before. But never killed someone.” “You were the Captain of the Guard.”

“I told you,” he said with a bitter smile, “it was complicated.” Yrene nestled down at last. “But you have done it since.”

“Yes. But not enough to grow used to it. Against the Valg, yes, but the humans they infest … Some are lost forever. Some are still there, beneath the demon. Figuring out who to kill, who can be spared—I still don’t know where the bad choices lie. The dead do not speak.”

Her head slid against the pillow. “I took an oath before my mother. When I was seven. Never to kill a human being. Some healings … she told me offering death could be a mercy. But that it was different from slaughter.”

“It is.”

“I think—I might have tried to kill whoever it was tonight. I was that

…” He waited for her to say frightened. Frightened, with my only defender in a chair. “I was that decided against running. You told me you’d buy me time, but … I can’t do it. Not again.”

His chest tightened. “I understand.”

“I’m glad I didn’t do it. But—whoever it is got away. Perhaps I should not be so relieved.”

“Kashin may be lucky in his search.”

“I doubt it. They were gone before the guards arrived.”

He fell quiet. After a moment, he said, “I hope you never have to use that dagger—or any other, Yrene. Even as a mercy.”

The sorrow in her eyes was enough to knock the breath from him. “Thank you,” she said softly. “For being willing to take that death upon yourself.”

No one had ever said such a thing. Even Dorian. But it had been expected. Celaena—Aelin had been grateful when he’d killed Cain to save her, but she had expected him to one day make a kill.

Aelin had made more than he could count by that point, and his own lack of it had been … embarrassing. As if such a thing were possible.

He had killed plenty since then. In Rifthold. With those rebels against the Valg. But Yrene … she made that number smaller. He hadn’t looked at it that way. With pride. Relief.

“I’m sorry Nesryn left,” Yrene murmured into the dim light.

I hold you to no promises. And I will hold to none of my own.

“I promised her an adventure,” Chaol admitted. “She deserved to go on one.”

Yrene was quiet enough that he turned from the garden doors. She had snuggled deep into his bed, her attention fixed wholly on him. “What about you? What do you deserve?”

“Nothing. I deserve nothing.”

Yrene studied him. “I don’t agree at all,” she murmured, eyelids drooping.

He monitored the exits again. After a few minutes, he said, “I was given enough and squandered it.”

Chaol looked over at her, but Yrene’s face was softened with sleep, her breathing steady.

He watched her for a long while.



Yrene was still sleeping when dawn broke.

Chaol had dozed for a few minutes at a time, as much as he’d allow himself.

But as the sun crept across the bedroom floor, he found himself washing his face. Scrubbing the sleep from his eyes.

Yrene didn’t stir as he moved out of the suite and into the hall. The guards were precisely where Kashin had ordered them to remain. And they told him precisely where he needed to go when he met them each in the eye and asked for directions.

And then he informed them that if Yrene were harmed while he was gone, he’d shatter every bone in their bodies.

Minutes later, he found the training courtyard Yrene had mentioned yesterday.

It was already full of guards, some of whom eyed him and some of whom ignored him fully. Some of whom he recognized from Shen’s shift, and gave him a nod.

One of the guards he did not know approached him, older and grayer than the rest.

Like Brullo, his former instructor and Weapons Master. Dead—hanging from those gates.

Chaol pushed away the image. Replaced it with the healer still asleep in his bed. How she had looked when she’d declared to the prince, the world, that she felt safer there. With him.

He replaced the pain that rippled through him at the sight of the exercising guards, the sight of this private training space, so similar to the one in which he’d spent so many hours of his life, with the image of Shen’s artificial arm, the unwavering, quiet strength he’d felt supporting him while he’d mounted his horse. No less a man without that arm—no less a guard.

“Lord Westfall,” said the gray-haired guard, using his language. “What can I do for you at this hour?” The man seemed astute enough to know if there had been something related to the attack, this would not be the place to discuss it. No, the man knew Chaol had come here for a different reason, and read the tension in his body as not a source of alarm, but intrigue.

“I trained for years with men from my continent,” Chaol said, lifting the sword and dagger he’d brought with him. “Learned as much as they know.”

The older guard’s brows flicked up.

Chaol held the man’s stare. “I would like to learn what you know.”



The aging guard—Hashim—worked him until Chaol could barely breathe. Even in the chair. And out of it.

Hashim, who was a rank below captain and oversaw the guards’ training, found ways for Chaol to do their exercises either with someone bracing his feet or modified versions from the chair.

He had indeed worked with Shen a year ago—many of the guards had. They’d banded together, assisting Shen in any way they could with the reorienting of his body, his way of fighting, during those long months of recovery.

So not one of them stared or laughed. Not one of them whispered. They were all too busy, too tired, to bother anyway.

The sun rose over the courtyard, and still they worked. Still Hashim showed him new ways to strike with a blade. How to disarm an opponent.

A different way of thinking, of killing. Of defending. A different language of death.

They broke at breakfast, all of them near-trembling with exhaustion.

Even winded, Chaol could have kept going. Not for any reserve of strength, but because he wanted to.

Yrene was waiting when he returned to the suite and bathed.

Six hours, they then spent lost in that darkness. At the end of it, the pain had wrecked him, Yrene was shaking with exhaustion, but a precise sort of awareness had awoken within his feet. Crept up past his ankles. As if the numbness were a receding tide.

Yrene returned to the Torre that night under heavy guard, and he fell into the deepest sleep of his life.

Chaol was waiting for Hashim in the training ring before dawn. And the next dawn.

And the next.

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