Chapter no 69

Empire of Storms

The atrophying in his legs … It was reversing.

Three weeks later, Yrene marveled at it. They’d regained movement up through his knee, but not higher. Chaol could bend his legs now, but couldn’t move his thighs. Couldn’t stand on them.

But the morning workouts with the guards, the afternoons spent healing, tangled in darkness and memory and pain …

That was muscle, packing back onto his legs. Filling out those already-broad shoulders and that impressive chest. Thanks to training in the morning sun, his tan had deepened to a rich brown, the color lying well over arms rippling with muscle.

They worked every day in easy rhythm, settling into a routine that became as much a part of Yrene as washing her face and cleaning her teeth and craving a cup of kahve when she woke.

He’d joined her again at the defense lessons, the youngest acolytes still hopelessly giggly around him, but at least they’d never once been late since he’d arrived. He’d even taught Yrene herself new maneuvers regarding taking on larger assailants. And while there were often smiles aplenty in the Torre courtyard, he and Yrene were grave as he walked her through those methods, as they considered when she might need them.

But there had been no whisper of whoever had attacked her—no confirmation that it was indeed one of the Valg. A small mercy, Yrene supposed.

But still she paid attention in his lessons, and still Chaol carefully trained her.

The royal siblings had come and gone and come back again, and she had seen nothing of Kashin beyond the dinner where she’d sought him out to thank him for his help and generosity the night of the attack. He’d said it was unnecessary, but she had touched his shoulder in thanks anyway. Before taking her seat at the safety of Chaol’s side.

Chaol’s own, separate cause with the khagan … Chaol and Yrene didn’t risk talking about the war—the need for armies. And the Aksara Oasis and well of knowledge, which might be hidden away beneath the palms, regarding why this place had such information on the Valg … Neither of them had come up with a way to manipulate Hasar into bringing them without raising her suspicions. Without risking the princess becoming aware of those scrolls Yrene and Chaol still had hidden in his room.

But Yrene knew time pressed on him. Saw how his eyes sometimes turned distant, as if staring toward a far-off land. Remembering the friends who fought there. For their people. He’d always push himself harder after that—and each inch of movement gained in his legs was as much due to himself as it was to her own magic.

But Yrene pushed herself, too. Wondered if the battles had begun; wondered if she’d ever make it in time to even help. Wondered what might be left for her to return to.

The darkness they encountered when she did heal him, from the demon that had dwelled inside the man who had destroyed so much of the world …

They worked through that, too. She had not been dragged into his memories as she had before, had not been forced to witness the horrors of Morath or endure the attentions of the thing that lingered in him, but her magic still shoved against that wound, swarming it like a thousand dots of white light, eating and gobbling and clawing at it.

He endured the pain, wading through whatever that darkness showed him. Never recoiling from it, day after day. Only stopping when her own strength flagged and he insisted Yrene break for food or a nap on the gold couch or just some conversation over chilled tea.

Yrene supposed that their steady pace had to end at some point.

She thought it’d likely be due to an argument between them. Not news from afar.

The khagan returned to the nightly formal dinner, after two weeks away at a seaside estate to escape the summer heat, ensconced with his still-mourning wife. A merry gathering—or so it had seemed from afar. With no further attacks in the palace or Torre, the hushed watchfulness had lifted considerably these last few weeks.

But as Yrene and Chaol entered the great hall, as she read the simmering tension along those seated at the high table, she debated telling him to leave. Viziers shifted in their seats. Arghun, who had certainly not been missed while he’d joined his parents at the seaside, smirked.

Hasar smiled broadly at Yrene—knowingly. Not good.

They got perhaps fifteen minutes into dinner before the princess pounced. Hasar leaned forward and said to Chaol, “You must be pleased tonight, Lord Westfall.”

Yrene kept perfectly straight in her chair, her fork unfaltering as she lifted a bite of lemon-kissed sea bass to her mouth and forced herself to


Chaol countered smoothly, drinking from his goblet of water, “And why might that be, Your Highness?”

Hasar’s smiles could be awful. Deadly. And the one she wore when she spoke next made Yrene wonder why she had ever bothered to answer the princess’s summons. “Well, if one does the calculations, Captain Faliq should be returning with my brother tomorrow.”

Yrene’s hand tightened around her fork as she tallied the days.

Three weeks. It had been three weeks since Nesryn and Sartaq had left for the Tavan Mountains.

Nesryn would return tomorrow. And though nothing—nothing—had happened between Yrene and Chaol …

Yrene could not stop the sensation of her chest caving in. Couldn’t halt the sense that there was about to be a door very permanently slammed in her face.

They hadn’t spoken of Nesryn. Of whatever was between them. And he’d never touched Yrene more than was necessary, never looked at her as he had that night of the party.

Because of course—of course he was waiting for Nesryn. The woman he

… he was loyal to.

Yrene made herself eat another bite, even as the fish turned sour in her mouth.

Fool. She was a fool, and—

“Didn’t you hear the news?” Chaol drawled, just as irreverently as the princess. He set down his goblet, his knuckles brushing Yrene’s where she’d rested her hand on the table.

To any, it might have been an accidental brush, but with Chaol … His every movement was controlled. Focused. The brush of his skin against hers, a whisper of reassurance, as if he could sense that the walls were indeed closing in around her—

Hasar shot Yrene a displeased look. Why did you not inform me of this? Yrene gave her an innocent wince back. I did not know. It was the truth. “I suppose you shall tell us?” Hasar replied coolly to the lord.

Chaol shrugged. “I received word today—from Captain Faliq. She and your brother have decided to extend their trip by another three weeks. It turns out, her skill with a bow and arrow was in high demand amongst his rukhin. They have begged to keep her for a while longer. She obliged them.”

Yrene schooled her face into neutrality. Even as relief and shame washed through her.

A good woman—a brave woman. That was who she was so relieved to hear was not returning. Not … interrupting.

“Our brother is wise,” Arghun said from down the table, “to keep such a skilled warrior for as long as possible.”

The barb was there, buried deep.

Chaol again shrugged. “He is wise indeed, to know how special she is.” The words were spoken with truth, yet …

She was inventing things. Reading into it, assuming his tone had no affection beyond pride.

Arghun leaned forward to say to Hasar, “Well, then there’s the matter of the other news, sister. Which I assume Lord Westfall has also heard.”

A few places down, the khagan’s conversation with his closest viziers faltered.

“Oh, yes,” Hasar said, swirling her wine as she sprawled in her chair. “I’d forgotten.”

Yrene tried to catch Renia’s eye, to get the princess’s lover to reveal something about what she now felt building, the wave about to crash. The reason the room was so charged. But Renia only watched Hasar, a hand on her arm as if to say, Caution.

Not for what she was to reveal, but how Hasar was to reveal it.

Chaol glanced between Arghun and Hasar. From the prince and princess’s smirking, it was clear enough they were aware he hadn’t heard. But Chaol still seemed to be debating the merits of appearing knowledgeable, or admitting the truth—

Yrene spared him from the choice. “I have not heard it,” she said. “What has happened?”

Under the table, Chaol’s knee brushed hers in thanks. She told herself it was merely pleasure at the fact he could move that knee that coursed through her. Even as dread coiled in her gut.

“Well,” Hasar began, the opening chords to a dance she and Arghun had coordinated before this meal, “there have been some … developments on the neighboring continent, it seems.”

Yrene now pressed her knee into Chaol’s, a silent solidarity. Together, she tried to say through touch alone.

Arghun said to Yrene, to Chaol, and then down to his father, “So many developments up north. Royals gone missing, now revealing themselves once more. Both Dorian Havilliard and the Terrasen Queen. The latter did it in such dramatic fashion, too.”

“Where,” Yrene whispered, because Chaol could not. Indeed, the breath had gone out of him at the mention of his own king.

Hasar smiled at Yrene—that pleased smile she’d given her upon arrival. “Skull’s Bay.”

The lie, the guess that Chaol had given her to feed to the princess … It had proved true.

She felt Chaol tense, though his face revealed nothing but bland interest. “A pirate port in the south, Great Khagan,” Chaol explained to Urus, seated down the table, as if he were indeed aware of this news—and a part of this conversation. “In the middle of a large archipelago.”

The khagan glanced to his visibly displeased viziers, and frowned with them. “And why would they appear in Skull’s Bay?”

Chaol had no answer, but Arghun was more than happy to supply it. “Because Aelin Galathynius thought to go head-to-head against the army Perrington had camped at the edge of the archipelago.”

Yrene slid her hand off the table—to grip Chaol’s knee. Tension radiated through every hard line of his body.

Duva asked, a hand on her growing belly, “Was the win in her favor, or Perrington’s?” As if it were a sporting match. Her husband was indeed peering down the table to see the heads swivel.

“Oh, in hers,” Hasar said. “We had eyes in the town already, so they were able to dispatch a full report.” That smug, secret smile again in Yrene’s direction. Spies she had sent using Yrene’s information. “Her power is considerable,” she added to her father. “Our sources say it burned the sky itself. And then wiped out most of the fleet assembled against her. In a single blow.”

Holy gods.

The viziers shifted, and the khagan’s face hardened. “The rumors of the glass castle’s destruction were not exaggerated, then.”

“No,” Arghun said mildly. “And her powers have grown since then. Along with her allies. Dorian Havilliard travels with her court. And Skull’s Bay and its Pirate Lord now kneel before her.”


“They fight with her,” Chaol cut in. “Against Perrington’s forces.”

“Do they?” Hasar took up the assault, parrying with ease. “For it is not Perrington who is now sailing down Eyllwe’s coast, burning villages as he pleases.”

“That is a lie,” Chaol said too softly.

“Is it?” Arghun shrugged, then faced his father, the portrait of the concerned son. “No one has seen her, of course, but entire villages have been left in ash and ruin. They say she sails for Banjali, intent on strong-arming the Ytger family into mustering an army for her.”

“That is a lie,” Chaol snapped. His teeth flashed, viziers tittered and gasped, but he said to the khagan, “I know Aelin Galathynius, Great Khagan. It’s not her style, not in her nature. The Ytger family …” He stalled.

Is important to her. Yrene felt the words on his tongue, as if they were on her own. The princess and Arghun leaned forward, waiting for confirmation. Proof of Aelin Galathynius’s potential weakness.

Not in magic, but in who was vital to her. And Eyllwe, lying between Perrington’s forces and the khaganate … She could see the wheels turning in their heads.

“The Ytger family would be better used as an ally from the south,” Chaol corrected, shoulders stiff. “Aelin is clever enough to know this.”

“And I’d suppose you know,” Hasar said, “since you were her lover at some point. Or was that King Dorian? Or both? The spies were never

accurate on who was in her bed and when.”

Yrene swallowed her surprise. Chaol—and Aelin Galathynius? “I know her well, yes,” Chaol said tightly.

His knee pressed into her own, as if to say, Later. I will explain later.

“But this is war,” Arghun countered. “War makes people do things they might not ordinarily consider.”

The condescension and mockery were enough to make Yrene grind her teeth. This was a planned attack, a temporary alliance between two siblings.

Kashin cut in, “Does she set her sights on these shores?” It was a soldier’s question. Meant to assess the threat to his land, his king.

Hasar picked at her nails. “Who knows? With such power … Perhaps we’re all hers for the taking.”

“Aelin has one war to fight already,” Chaol ground out. “And she is no conqueror.”

“Skull’s Bay and Eyllwe would suggest otherwise.”

A vizier whispered in the khagan’s ear. Another leaned in to listen.

Already calculating.

Chaol said to Urus, “Great Khagan, I know some might spin these tidings to appear to Aelin’s disadvantage, but I swear to you the Queen of Terrasen means only to liberate our land. My king would not ally with her if it were otherwise.”

Would you swear it, though?” Hasar mused. “Swear on Yrene’s life?” Chaol blinked at the princess.

“From all you have seen,” Hasar went on, “all you’ve witnessed of her character … would you swear it upon Yrene Towers’s life that Aelin Galathynius might not use such tactics? Might not try to take armies, rather than raise them? Including our own?”

Say yes. Say yes.

Chaol didn’t so much as look at Yrene as he stared down Hasar, then Arghun. The khagan and his viziers pulled apart.

Chaol said nothing. Swore nothing.

Hasar’s small smile was nothing short of triumphant. “I thought so.” Yrene’s stomach turned.

The khagan took Chaol’s measure. “If Perrington and Aelin Galathynius are rallying armies, perhaps they’ll destroy each other and spare me the trouble.”

A muscle flickered in Chaol’s jaw.

“Perhaps if she’s so powerful,” Arghun mused, “she can take on Perrington by herself.”

“Don’t forget King Dorian,” Hasar chimed in. “Why, I’d bet the two of them could handle Perrington and whatever army he’s built without much assistance. Better to let them deal with it, than waste our blood on foreign soil.”

Yrene was shaking. Trembling with—with rage at the careful play of words, the game Hasar and her brother had constructed to keep from sailing to war.

“But,” Kashin countered, seeming to note Yrene’s expression, “it might also be said that if we do assist such powerful royals, the benefits in years of peace might be far worth the risks now.” He twisted to the khagan. “If we go to their aid, Father, should we ever face such a threat, imagine that power turned against our enemies.”

“Or turned against us, if she finds it easier to break her oaths,” Arghun cut in.

The khagan studied Arghun, his eldest son now frowning with distaste at Kashin. Duva, a hand still on her pregnant belly, only watched. Unnoted and unasked for, even by her husband.

Arghun turned back to his father. “Our people’s magic is minimal. The Eternal Sky and the thirty-six gods blessed our healers mostly.” A frown at Yrene. “Against such power, what is steel and wood? Aelin Galathynius took Rifthold, then took Skull’s Bay, and now seems poised to take Eyllwe. A wise ruler would have gone north, fortified her kingdom, then pushed south from the borders. Yet she stretches her forces thin, dividing them between north and south. If she is not a fool, then her advisors are.”

“They are well-trained warriors, who have seen more war and battle than you ever will,” Chaol said coldly.

The eldest prince stiffened. Hasar laughed quietly.

The khagan again weighed the words around him. “This remains a matter to discuss in council rooms, not dinner tables,” he said, though there was no reassurance in it. Not for Chaol, not for Yrene. “Though I am inclined to agree with what the bare facts offer.”

To his credit, Chaol did not argue further. Did not flinch or scowl. He only nodded once. “I thank you for the honor of your continued consideration, Great Khagan.”

Arghun and Hasar swapped sneering looks. But the khagan just returned to his meal.

Neither Yrene nor Chaol touched the rest of their food.



Bitch. The princess was a bitch, and Arghun was as fine a bastard as any Chaol had ever encountered.

There was some truth to their reluctance—their fear of Aelin’s powers and the threat she might pose. But he read them. Knew Hasar simply did not want to leave the comforts of her home, her lover’s arms, to sail to war. Did not want the messiness of it.

And Arghun … The man dealt in power, in knowledge. Chaol had no doubt Arghun’s arguing against him was more to force Chaol into a spot where he’d be desperate.

Even more than he was. Willing to offer anything up for their aid.

Kashin would do whatever his father told him. And as for the khagan … Hours later, Chaol was still grinding his teeth as he lay in bed and stared

at the ceiling. Yrene had left him with a squeeze to his shoulder, promising to see him the next day.

Chaol had barely been able to reply.

He should have lied. Should have sworn he trusted Aelin with his life.

Because Hasar had known that if she asked him to swear upon Yrene’s life …

Even if their thirty-six gods did not care about him, he couldn’t risk it. He had seen Aelin do terrible things.

He still dreamed of her gutting Archer Finn in cold blood. Still dreamed of what she’d left of Grave’s body in that alley. Still dreamed of her butchering men like cattle, in Rifthold and in Endovier, and knew just how unfeeling and brutal she could turn. He had quarreled with her earlier this summer about it—the checks on her power. The lack of them.

Rowan was a good male. Utterly unafraid of Aelin, her magic. But would she listen to his counsel? Aedion and Aelin were as likely to come to blows as they were to agree, and Lysandra … Chaol didn’t know the shifter well enough to judge whether she’d keep Aelin in line.

Aelin had indeed changed—grown into a queen. Was still growing into one.

But he knew that there were no restraints, no inner ones, on how far Aelin would go to protect those she loved. Protect her kingdom. And if someone stood in her way, barred her from protecting them … No lines existed to cross within Aelin in regard to that. No lines at all.

So he had not been able to swear it, on Yrene’s life, that he believed Aelin might be above those sorts of methods. With her fraught history with Rolfe, she likely had used the might of her magic to intimidate him into joining their cause.

But with Eyllwe … Had they given some sign of resistance, to prompt her to terrorize them? He couldn’t imagine it, that Aelin would consider hurting innocent people, let alone the people of her beloved friend. And yet she knew the risks that Perrington—Erawan posed. What he’d do to them all, if she did not band them together. By whatever means necessary.

Chaol rubbed his face. If Aelin had kept herself in check, if she’d played the part of distressed queen … It would have made his task far easier.

Perhaps Aelin had cost them this war. This one shot at a future.

At least Dorian was accounted for—undoubtedly as safe as could be expected with Aelin’s court for companions.

Chaol sent a silent prayer of thanks into the night for that small mercy.

A soft knock had him shooting up. Not from the foyer, but the glass doors to the garden.

His legs twitched, bending slightly at the knee—more reaction than controlled movement. He and Yrene had been going through the grueling leg routines twice a day, the various therapies buying him movement inch by inch. Along with the magic she poured into his body while he endured

the darkness’s horde of memories. He never told her what he saw, what left him screaming.

There was no point. And telling Yrene how badly he’d failed, how wrongly he’d judged, it made him just as nauseated. But what stood in the night-veiled garden … Not a memory.

Chaol squinted into the dark at the tall male figure standing there, a hand raised in quiet greeting—Chaol’s own hand drifting to the knife beneath his pillow. But the figure stepped closer to the lantern light, and Chaol blew out a breath and waved the prince in.

With a flick of a small knife, Kashin unlocked the garden door and slipped in.

“Lock-picking isn’t a skill I’d expect a prince to possess,” Chaol said by way of greeting.

Kashin lingered just inside the doorway, the lantern from outside illuminating enough of his face for Chaol to make out a half smile. “Learned more for sneaking in and out of ladies’ bedrooms than stealing, I’m afraid.”

“I thought your court was a bit more open in regard to that sort of thing than my own.”

That smile grew. “Perhaps, but cranky old husbands remain the same on either continent.”

Chaol chuckled, shaking his head. “What can I do for you, Prince?”

Kashin studied the door to the suite, Chaol doing the same—searching for any flickering shadows on the other side. When they both found none, Kashin said, “I assume you have discovered nothing within my court about who might be tormenting Yrene.”

“I wish I could say otherwise.” But with Nesryn gone, he’d had little chance to hunt through Antica for any signs of a would-be Valg agent. And things had indeed been quiet enough these three weeks that part of him had hoped they’d just … left. A considerably calmer atmosphere had settled over the palace and Torre since then, as if the shadows were indeed behind them all.

Kashin nodded. “I know Sartaq departed with your captain to seek answers regarding this threat.”

Chaol didn’t dare confirm or deny. He wasn’t entirely certain where Sartaq had left things with his family, if he’d received his father’s blessing to go.

Kashin went on, “That might just be why my siblings mounted such a unified front against you tonight. If Sartaq himself takes this threat seriously, they know they might have a limited window to convince our father not to join this cause.”

“But if the threat is real,” Chaol said, “if it might spill into these lands, why not fight? Why not stop it before it can reach these shores?”

“Because it is war,” Kashin said, and the way he spoke, the way he stood, it somehow made Chaol feel young indeed. “And though the manner in which my siblings presented their argument was unpleasant, I suspect Arghun and Hasar are aware of the costs that joining your cause requires. Never before has the entire might of the khaganate’s armies been sent to a foreign land. Oh, some legions, whether it be the rukhin or the armada or my own horse-lords. Sometimes united, but never all, never what you require. The cost of life, the sheer drain on our coffers … it will be great. Don’t make the mistake of believing my siblings don’t understand that very, very well.”

“And their fear of Aelin?”

Kashin snorted. “I cannot speak to that. Perhaps it is well founded.

Perhaps it is not.”

“So you snuck into my room to tell me?” He should speak with more respect, but—

“I came to tell you one more piece of information, which Arghun chose not to mention.”

Chaol waited, wishing he weren’t sitting in bed, bare from the waist up.

Kashin said, “We received a report from our vizier of foreign trade that a large, lucrative order had been placed for a relatively new weapon.”

Chaol’s breathing snagged. If Morath had found some way—

“It is called a firelance,” Kashin said. “Our finest engineers made it by combining various weapons from across our continent.”

Oh, gods. If Morath had it in its arsenal—

“Captain Rolfe ordered them for his fleet. Months ago.”

Rolfe—“And when news arrived of Skull’s Bay falling to Aelin Galathynius, it also came with an order for even more firelances to be shipped northward.”

Chaol sorted through the information. “Why wouldn’t Arghun say this at dinner?”

“Because the firelances are very, very expensive.” “Surely that’s good for your economy.”

“It is.” And not good for Arghun’s attempt to avoid this war.

Chaol fell silent for a heartbeat. “And you, Prince? Do you wish to join this war?”

Kashin didn’t answer immediately. He scanned the room, the ceiling, the bed, and finally Chaol himself. “This will be the great war of our time,”

Kashin said quietly. “When we are dead, when even our grandchildren’s grandchildren are dead, they will still be talking about this war. They will whisper of it around fires, sing of it in the great halls. Who lived and died, who fought and who cowered.” His throat bobbed. “My sulde blows northward—day and night, the horsehairs blow north. So perhaps I will find my destiny on the plains of Fenharrow. Or before the white walls of Orynth. But it is northward that I shall go—if my father will order me.”

Chaol mulled it over. Looked to the trunks against the wall near the bathing chamber.

Kashin had turned to leave when Chaol asked, “When does your father next meet with his foreign trade vizier?”

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