Chapter no 45

Empire of Storms

“Good,” said Yrene, the heavy, solid weight of Chaol’s leg braced against her shoulder while she slowly rotated it.

Spread below her on the floor of the workroom in the physicians’ compound of the Torre several days later, Chaol watched her in silence. The day was already burning enough that Yrene was drenched in sweat; or would have been, if the arid climate didn’t dry up the sweat before it could really soak her clothes. She could feel it, though, on her face—see it gleaming on Chaol’s own, his features tight with concentration while she knelt over him.

“Your legs are responding well to the training,” she observed, fingers digging into the powerful muscle of his thighs.

Yrene hadn’t asked what had changed. Why he’d started going to the guards’ courtyard at the palace. He hadn’t explained, either.

“They are,” Chaol merely answered, scrubbing his jaw. He hadn’t shaved that morning. When she’d entered his suite after he’d returned from this morning’s practice with the guard, he’d said he wanted to go for a ride

—and to get a change in scenery for the day.

That he was so eager, so willing to see the city, to adapt to his surroundings … Yrene hadn’t been able to say no. So they’d come here, after a meandering ride through Antica, to work in one of the quiet rooms

down this hall. The rooms were all the same, each occupied by a desk, cot, and wall of cabinets, and each adorned with a solitary window that overlooked the neat rows of the sprawling herb garden. Indeed, despite the heat, the scents of rosemary, mint, and sage filled the chamber.

Chaol grunted as Yrene lowered his left leg to the cool stone floor and started on his right. Her magic was a low thrum flowing through her and into him, careful to avoid the black stain that slowly—so, so slowly— receded down his spine.

They fought against it every day. The memories devoured him, fed on him, and Yrene shoved back against them, chipping away at the darkness that pushed in to torment him.

Sometimes, she glimpsed what he endured in that whirling black pit. The pain, the rage and guilt and sorrow. But only flickers, as if they were tendrils of smoke drifting past her. And though he did not discuss what he saw, Yrene managed to push back against that dark wave. So little at a time, mere chips of stone off a boulder, but … better than nothing.

Closing her eyes, Yrene let her power seep into his legs like a swarm of white fireflies, finding those damaged pathways and congregating, surrounding the frayed bits that went silent during these exercises, when they should have been lit up like the rest of him.

“I’ve been researching,” she said, opening her eyes as she rotated his leg in his hip socket. “Things ancient healers did for people with spinal injuries. There was one woman, Linqin—she was able to make a magical brace for the entire body. An invisible sort of exoskeleton that allowed the person to walk, until they could reach a healer, or if the healing was somehow unsuccessful.”

Chaol cocked a brow. “I’m assuming you don’t have one?”

Yrene shook her head, lowering his leg and again picking up the other to begin the next set. “Linqin only made about ten, all connected to talismans that the user could wear. They’ve been lost to time, along with her method of creating them. And there was another healer, Saanvi, who legend says was able to bypass the healing entirely by planting some sort of tiny, magical shard of stone in the brain—”

He cringed.

“I wasn’t suggesting I experiment on you,” she said, slapping his thigh. “Or need to.”

A half smile tugged on his mouth. “So how did this knowledge become lost? I thought the library here contained all your records.”

Yrene frowned. “Both were healers working at outposts far from the Torre. There are four throughout the continent—small centers for Torre healers to live and work. To help the people who can’t make the trip here. Linqin and Saanvi were so isolated that by the time anyone remembered to fetch their records, they’d been lost. All we have now is rumor and myth.”

“Do you keep records? Of all this?” He gestured between them.

Yrene’s face heated. “Parts of it. Not when you’re acting like a stubborn ass.”

Again, that smile tugged on his face, but Yrene set down his leg and pulled back, though she remained kneeling on the tiles. “My point,” she said, steering conversation from the journals in her room levels and levels above, “is that it has been done. I know it’s taking us a long while, and I know you’re anxious to return—”

“I am. But I’m not rushing you, Yrene.” He sat up in a smooth movement. On the floor like this, he towered over her, the sheer size of him

nearly overwhelming. He rotated his foot slowly—fighting for each movement as the muscles in the rest of his legs objected.

Chaol lifted his head, meeting her stare. Reading it easily. “Whoever is hunting you won’t get the chance to hurt you—whether you and I finish tomorrow, or in six months.”

“I know,” she breathed. Kashin and his guards hadn’t caught or found traces of whoever had tried to attack her. And though it had been quiet these last few nights, she’d barely slept, even in the safety of the Torre. Only exhaustion from healing Chaol granted her any measure of reprieve.

She sighed. “I think we should see Nousha again. Take another visit to the library.”

His gaze turned wary. “Why?”

Yrene frowned at the open window behind them, the bright gardens and lavender bushes swaying in the sea breeze, the bees bobbing amongst them all. No sign of anyone listening nearby. “Because we still haven’t asked how those books and scrolls wound up here.”



“There are no records for acquisitions dating that far back,” Nousha said in Yrene and Chaol’s own tongue, her mouth a tight line of disapproval as she gazed at them over her desk.

Around them, the library was a dim hive of activity, healers and assistants flowing in and out, some whispering hello to Yrene and Nousha as they passed. Today, an orange Baast Cat lounged by the massive hearth, her beryl eyes tracking them from her spot draped over the rolled arm of a sofa.

Yrene offered Nousha her best attempt at a smile. “But maybe there’s some record of why those books were even needed here?”

Nousha braced her dark forearms on the desk. “Some people might be wary of what knowledge they’re seeking if they’re being hunted—which started around the time you began poking into the topic.”

Chaol leaned forward in his chair, teeth flashing. “Is that a threat?”

Yrene waved him off. Overprotective man. “I know it is dangerous—and likely tied to it. But it is because of that, Nousha, that any additional information about the material here, where it came from, who acquired it … It could be vital.”

“For getting him to walk again.” A dry, disbelieving statement. Yrene didn’t dare glance at Chaol.

“You can see that our progress is slow,” Chaol answered tightly. “Perhaps the ancients have some sort of advice for how to make it go faster.”

Nousha gave them both a look that said she wasn’t buying it for a minute, but sighed at the ceiling. “As I said, there are no records here dating that far back. But,” she added when Chaol opened his mouth, “there are rumors that out in the desert, caves exist with such information—caves this information came from. Most have been lost, but there was one in the Aksara Oasis …” Nousha’s look turned knowing as Yrene winced. “Perhaps you should start there.”



Yrene chewed on her lip as they walked from the library, Chaol keeping pace beside her.

When they were close to the Torre’s main hallway, to the courtyard and horse that would take him home for the evening, he asked, “Why are you cringing?”

Yrene crossed her arms, scanning the halls around them. Quiet at this time of day, right before the dinner rush. “That oasis, Aksara. It’s not exactly … easy to get to.”


“No, not that. It’s owned by the royals. No one is allowed there. It’s their private refuge.”

“Ah.” He scratched at the shadow of stubble on his jaw. “And asking to access it outright will lead to too many questions.”


He studied her, eyes narrowing.

“Don’t you dare suggest I use Kashin,” she hissed.

Chaol lifted his hands, eyes dancing. “I wouldn’t dare. Though he certainly ran the moment you snapped your fingers the other night. He’s a good man.”

Yrene braced her hands on her hips. “Why don’t you invite him to a romantic interlude in the desert, then.”

Chaol chuckled, trailing her as she started for the courtyard again. “I’m not versed in court intrigue, but you do have another palace connection.”

Yrene grimaced. “Hasar.” She toyed with a curl at the end of her hair. “She hasn’t asked me to play spy recently. I’m not sure if I want to … open that door again.”

“Perhaps you could convince her that a trip to the desert—an outing— would be … fun?”

“You want me to manipulate her like that?”

His gaze was steady. “We can find another way, if you’re uncomfortable.”

“No—no, it might work. It’s just Hasar was born into this sort of thing. She might see right through me. And she’s powerful enough that … Is it worth risking her entanglement, her anger, if we’re just going on a suggestion from Nousha?”

He considered her words. In a way that only Hafiza really did. “We’ll think on it. With Hasar, we’ll need to proceed carefully.”

Yrene stepped into the courtyard, motioning to one of the awaiting Torre guards that the lord needed his horse brought around from the stables. “I’m not a very good accomplice in intrigue,” she admitted to Chaol with an apologetic smile.

He only brushed his hand against hers. “I find it refreshing.”

And from the look in his eyes … she believed him. Enough that her cheeks heated, just a bit.

Yrene turned toward the Torre looming over them, just to buy herself some breathing room. Looked up, up, up to where her own little window gazed toward the sea. Toward home.

She lowered her gaze from the Torre to find his face grim. “I’m sorry to have brought all this upon you—all of you,” Chaol said quietly.

“Don’t be. Perhaps that’s what it wants. To use fear and guilt to end this

—stop us.” She studied him, the proud lift of his chin, the strength he radiated in every breath. “Though … I do worry that time is not on our side.” Yrene amended, “Take all the time you need to heal. Yet …” She rubbed at her chest. “I have a feeling we have not seen the last of that hunter.”

Chaol nodded, his jaw tight. “We’ll deal with it.”

And that was that. Together—they’d deal with it together.

Yrene smiled slightly at him as the light steps of his horse approached on the pale gravel.

And the thought of climbing back to her room, the thought of hours spent fretting …

Maybe it made her pathetic, but Yrene blurted, “Would you like to stay for dinner? Cook will mope that you didn’t say hello.”

She knew it was not mere fear that spurred her. Knew that she just wanted to spend a few more minutes with him. Talk to him in a way that she so rarely did with anyone else.

For a long moment, Chaol only watched her. As if she were the only person in the world. She braced herself for the refusal, the distance. Knew she should have just let him ride off into the night.

“What if we ventured out for dinner instead?”

“You mean—in the city?” She pointed toward the open gates. “Unless you think the chair in the streets—”

“The walkways are even.” Her heart hammered. “Do you have any preference for what to eat?”

A border—this was some strange border that they were crossing. To leave their neutral territories and emerge into the world beyond, not as healer and patient, but woman and man—

“I’ll try anything,” Chaol said, and she knew he meant it. And from the way he looked to the open gates of the Torre, to the city just starting to glow beyond … She knew he wanted to try anything; was as eager for a distraction from that shadow looming over them as she herself was.

So Yrene signaled to the guards that they didn’t need his horse. Not for a while yet. “I know just the place.”



Some people stared; some were too busy going about their business or journeys home to remark on Chaol as he wheeled his chair alongside Yrene.

She had to step in only a few times, to help him over the bump of a curve, or down one of the steep streets. She led him to a place five blocks away, the establishment like nothing he’d seen in Rifthold. He’d visited a few private dining rooms with Dorian, yes, but those had been for the elite, for members and their guests.

This place … it was akin to those private clubs, in that it was only for eating, full of tables and carved wooden chairs, but this was open to anyone, like the public rooms at an inn or tavern. The front of the pale-stoned building had several sets of doors that were open to the night, leading out onto a patio full of more tables and chairs under the stars, the space jutting into the street itself so that diners could watch the passing city bustle, even glimpse down the sloping street to the dark sea sparkling under the moonlight.

And the enticing smells coming from within: garlic, something tangy, something smoky …

Yrene murmured to the woman who came to greet them, which must have amounted to a table for two and without one chair, because within a moment, he was being led to the street-patio, where a servant discreetly removed one of the chairs at a small table for him to pull up to the edge.

Yrene claimed a seat opposite him, more than a few heads turning their way. Not to gawk at him, but her.

The Torre healer.

She didn’t seem to notice. The servant returned to rattle off what had to be the menu, and Yrene ordered in her halting Halha.

She bit her lower lip, glancing to the table, the public dining room. “Is this all right?”

Chaol took in the open sky above them, the color bleeding to a sapphire blue, the stars beginning to blink awake. When had he last relaxed? Eaten a meal not to keep his body healthy and alive, but to enjoy it?

He grappled for the words. Grappled to settle into the ease. “I’ve never done anything like this,” he at last admitted.

His birthday this past winter, in that greenhouse—even then, with Aelin, he’d been half there, half focused on the palace he’d left behind, on remembering who was in charge and where Dorian was supposed to be. But now …

“What—eaten a meal?”

“Had a meal when I wasn’t … Had a meal when I was just … Chaol.” He wasn’t sure if he’d explained it right, if he could articulate it—

Yrene angled her head, her mass of hair sliding over a shoulder. “Why?” “Because I was either a lord’s son and heir, or Captain of the Guard, or now Hand to the King.” Her gaze was unflinching as he fumbled to explain. “No one recognizes me here. No one has ever even heard of Anielle. And

it’s …”


“Refreshing,” he countered, giving Yrene a small smile at the echo to his earlier words.

She blushed prettily in the golden light from the lanterns within the dining room behind them. “Well … good.”

“And you? Do you go out with friends often—leave the healer behind?” Yrene watched the people streaming by. “I don’t have many friends,”

she admitted. “Not because I don’t want them,” she blurted, and he smiled.

“I just—at the Torre, we’re all busy. Sometimes, a few of us will go for a meal or drink, but our schedules rarely align, and it’s easier to eat at the mess hall, so … we’re not really a lively bunch. Which was why Kashin and Hasar became my friends—when they’re in Antica. But I’ve never really had the chance to do much of this.”

He almost asked, Go out to dinner with men? But said, “You had your focus elsewhere.”

She nodded. “And maybe one day—maybe I’ll have the time to go out and enjoy myself, but … there are people who need my help. It feels selfish to take time for myself, even now.”

“You shouldn’t feel that way.” “And you’re any better?”

Chaol chuckled, leaning back as the servant came, bearing a pitcher of chilled mint tea. He waited until the man left before saying, “Maybe you and I will have to learn how to live—if we survive this war.”

It was a sharp, cold knife between them. But Yrene straightened her shoulders, her smile small and yet defiant as she lifted her pewter glass of tea. “To living, Lord Chaol.”

He clinked his glass against hers. “To being Chaol and Yrene—even just for a night.”



Chaol ate until he could barely move, the spices like small revelations with every bite.

They talked as they dined, Yrene explaining her initial months at the Torre, and how demanding her training had been. Then she’d asked about his training as captain, and he’d balked—balked at talking of Brullo and the others, and yet … He couldn’t refuse her joy, her curiosity.

And somehow, talking about Brullo, the man who had been a better father to him than his own … It did not hurt, not as much. A lower, quieter ache, but one he could withstand.

One he was glad to weather, if it meant honoring a good man’s legacy by telling his story.

So they talked, and ate, and when they finished, he escorted her to the glowing white walls of the Torre. Yrene herself seemed glowing as she smiled when they stopped within the gates while his horse was readied.

“Thank you,” she said, her cheeks flushed and gleaming. “For the meal

—and company.”

“It was my pleasure,” Chaol said, and meant it.

“I’ll see you tomorrow morning—at the palace?” An unnecessary question, but he nodded.

Yrene shifted from one foot to another, still smiling, still shining. As if she were the last, vibrant ray of the sun, staining the sky long after it had vanished over the horizon.

“What?” she asked, and he realized he’d been staring.

“Thank you for tonight,” Chaol said, stifling what tried to leap off his tongue: I can’t take my eyes off you.

She bit her lip again, the crunch of hooves on gravel approaching. “Good night,” she murmured, and took a step away.

Chaol reached out. Just to brush his fingers over hers.

Yrene paused, her fingers curling, as if they were the petals of some shy flower.

“Good night,” he merely said.

And as Chaol rode back to the illuminated palace across the city, he could have sworn that some weight in his chest, on his shoulders, had

vanished. As if he’d lived with it his entire life, unaware, and now, even with all that gathered around him, around Adarlan and those he cared for … How strange it felt.

That lightness.

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