“But,” she went on, trying to sidestep away, “I’ll make your tonic right now, Your Highness.”
He gave her the space she needed as she hurried about the table with graceful efficiency, measuring powders and crushing dried leaves, so steady and self-assured . . . He realized he’d been staring when she spoke again. “Your . . . friend. The King’s Champion. Is she well?”
Her mission to Wendlyn was fairly secret, but he could get around that. “She’s off on my father’s errand for the next few months. I certainly hope she’s well, though I have no doubt she can care for herself.”
“And her hound—she’s well?”
“Fleetfoot? Oh, she’s fine. Her leg’s healed beautifully.” The hound now slept in his bed, of course, and bullied him for scraps and treats to no end, but . . . it was nice to have some piece of his friend while she was gone. “Thanks to you.”
A nod, and silence fell as she measured and then poured some green-looking liquid. He sincerely hoped he wasn’t going to drink that.
“They said . . .” Sorscha kept her spectacular eyes down. “They said there was some wild animal roaming the halls a few months ago—that’s what killed all those people before Yulemas. I never heard whether they caught it, but then . . . your friend’s dog looked like she’d been attacked.”
Dorian willed himself to keep still. She’d truly put some things together, then. And hadn’t told anyone. “Ask it, Sorscha.”
Her throat bobbed, and her hands shook a little—enough that he wanted to reach out and cover them. But he couldn’t move, not until she spoke. “What was it?” she breathed.
“Do you want the answer that will keep you asleep at night, or the one that might ensure you never sleep again?” She lifted her gaze to him, and he knew she wanted the truth. So he loosed a breath and said, “It was two different . . . creatures. My father’s Champion dealt with the first. She didn’t even tell the captain and me until we faced the second.” He could still hear that creature’s roar in the tunnel, still see it squaring off against Chaol. Still had nightmares about it. “The rest is a bit of a mystery.” It wasn’t a lie. There was still so much he didn’t know. And didn’t want to learn.
“Would His Majesty punish you for it?” A quiet, dangerous question.
“Yes.” His blood chilled at the thought. Because if he knew, if his father learned Celaena had somehow opened a portal . . . Dorian couldn’t stop the ice spreading through him.
Sorscha rubbed her arms and glanced at the fire. It was still burning high, but . . . Shit. He had to go. Now. Sorscha said, “He’d kill her, wouldn’t he? That’s why you said nothing.”
Dorian slowly started backing out, fighting against the panicked, wild thing inside of him. He couldn’t stop the rising ice, didn’t even know where it was coming from, but he kept seeing that creature in the tunnels, kept hearing Fleetfoot’s pained bark, seeing Chaol choose to sacrifice himself so they could get away—
Sorscha stroked the length of her dark braid. “And—and he’d probably kill the captain, too.”
His magic erupted.
After Sorscha had been forced to wait in the cramped office for twenty minutes, Amithy finally paraded in, her tight bun making her harsh face even more severe. “Sorscha,” she said, sitting down at her desk and frowning. “What am I to do with you? What example does this set for the apprentices?”
Sorscha kept her head down. She knew she’d been kept waiting in order to make her fret over what she’d done: accidentally knocking over her entire worktable and destroying not only countless hours and days of work, but also a good number of expensive tools and containers. “I slipped—I spilled some oil and forgot to wipe it up.”
Amithy clicked her tongue. “Cleanliness, Sorscha, is one of our most important assets. If you cannot keep your own workroom clean, how can you be trusted to care for our patients? For His Highness, who was there to witness your latest bout of unprofessionalism? I’ve taken the liberty of apologizing in person, and offered to oversee his future care, but . . .” Amithy’s eyes narrowed. “He said he would pay for the repair costs—and would still like you to serve him.”
Sorscha’s face warmed. It had happened so quickly.
As the blast of ice and wind and something else surged toward her, Sorscha’s scream had been cut off by the door slamming shut. That had probably saved their lives, but all she could think of was getting out of the way. So she’d crouched beneath her table, hands over her head, and prayed.
She might have dismissed it as a draft, might have felt foolish, if the prince’s eyes hadn’t seemed to glow in that moment before the wind and cold, had the glasses on the table not all shattered, had ice not coated the floor, had he not just stayed there, untouched.
It wasn’t possible. The prince . . . There was a choking, awful sound, and then Dorian was on his knees, peering under the worktable. “Sorscha. Sorscha.”
She’d gaped at him, unable to find the words.
Amithy drummed her long, bony fingers on the wooden desk. “Forgive me for being indelicate,” she said, but Sorscha knew the woman didn’t care one bit about manners. “But I’ll also remind you that interacting with our patients outside of our duties is prohibited.”
There could be no other reason for Prince Dorian to prefer Sorscha’s services over Amithy’s, of course. Sorscha kept her eyes on her clenched hands in her lap, still flecked with cuts from some of the small shards of glass. “You needn’t worry about that, Amithy.”
“Good. I’d hate to see your position compromised. His Highness has a reputation with women.” A little, smug smile. “And there are many beautiful ladies at this court.” And you are not one of them.
Sorscha nodded and took the insult, as she always did and had always done. That was how she survived, how she had remained invisible all these years.
It was what she’d promised the prince in the minutes after his explosion, when her shaking ceased and she’d seen him. Not the magic but the panic in his eyes, the fear and pain. He wasn’t an enemy using forbidden powers, but—a young man in need of help. Her help.
She could not turn away from it, from him, could not tell anyone what she’d witnessed. It was what she would have done for anyone else.
In the cool, calm voice that she reserved for her most grievously injured patients, she had said to the prince, “I am not going to tell anyone. But right now, you are going to help me knock this table over, and then you are going to help me clean this up.”
He’d just stared at her. She stood, noting the hair-thin slices on her hands that had already starting stinging. “I am not going to tell anyone,” she said again, grabbing one corner of the table. Wordlessly, he went to the other end and helped her ease the table onto its side, the remaining glass and ceramic jars tumbling to the ground. For all the world, it looked like an accident, and Sorscha went to the corner to grab the broom.
“When I open this door,” she had said to him, still quiet and calm and not quite herself, “we will pretend. But after today, after this . . .” Dorian stood rigid, as if he were waiting for the blow to fall. “After this,” she said, “if you are all right with it, we will try to find ways to keep this from happening. Perhaps there’s some tonic to suppress it.”
His face was still pale. “I’m sorry,” he breathed, and she knew he meant it. She went to the door and gave him a grim smile.
“I will start researching tonight. If I find anything, I’ll let you know. And perhaps—not now, but later . . . if Your Highness has the inclination, you could tell me a bit about how this is possible. It might help me somehow.” She didn’t give him time to say yes, but instead opened the door, walked back to the mess, and said a little louder than usual, “I am truly sorry, Your Highness . . . there was something on the floor, and I slipped, and—”
From there, it had been easy. The snooping healers had arrived to see what the commotion was about, and one of them had scuttled off to Amithy. The prince had left, and Sorscha had been ordered to wait here.
Amithy braced her forearms on the desk. “His Highness was extraordinarily generous, Sorscha. Let it be a lesson for you. You’re lucky you didn’t injure yourself further.”
“I’ll make an offering to Silba today,” Sorscha lied, quiet and small, and left.
Chaol pressed himself into the darkened alcove of a building, holding his breath as Aedion approached the cloaked figure in the alley. Of all the places he’d expected Aedion to go when he slipped out of his party at the tavern, the slums were not one of them.
Aedion had made a spectacular show of playing the generous, wild host: buying drinks, saluting his guests, ensuring everyone saw him doing something. And just when no one was looking, Aedion had walked right out the front, as if he were too lazy to go to the privy in the back. A staggering drunk, arrogant and careless and haughty.
Chaol had almost bought it. Almost. Then Aedion had gotten a block away, thrown his hood over his head, and prowled into the night, stone-cold sober.
He’d trailed from the shadows as Aedion left the wealthier district and strolled into the slums, taking alleys and crooked streets. He could have passed for a wealthy man seeking another sort of woman. Until he’d stopped outside this building and that cloaked figure with the twin blades approached him.
Chaol couldn’t hear the words between Aedion and the stranger, but he could read the tension in their bodies well enough. After a moment, Aedion followed the newcomer, though not before he thoroughly scanned the alley, the rooftops, the shadows.
Chaol kept his distance. If he caught Aedion buying illicit substances, that might be enough to get him to calm down—to keep the parties at a minimum and control the Bane when it arrived.
Chaol tracked them, mindful of the eyes he passed, every drunk and orphan and beggar. On a forgotten street by the Avery’s docks, Aedion and the cloaked figure slipped into a crumbling building. It wasn’t just any building, not with sentries posted on the corner, by the door, on the rooftop, even milling about the street, trying to blend in. They weren’t royal guards, or soldiers.
It wasn’t a place to purchase opiates or flesh, either. He’d been memorizing the information Celaena had gathered about the rebels, and had stalked them as often as he’d trailed Aedion, mostly to no avail. Celaena had claimed they’d been looking for a way to defeat the king’s power. Larger implications aside, if he could find out not only how the king had stifled magic but also how to liberate it before he was dragged back to Anielle, then Dorian’s secret might be less explosive. It might help him, somehow. And Chaol would always help him, his friend, his prince.
He couldn’t stop a shiver down his spine as he touched the Eye of Elena and realized the derelict building, with this pattern of guards, positively reeked of the rebels’ habits. Perhaps it wasn’t mere coincidence that had led him here.
He was so focused on his thundering heart that Chaol didn’t have a chance to turn as a dagger pricked his side.
Chaol didn’t put up a fight, though he knew he was as likely to receive death as he was answers. He recognized the sentries by their worn weapons and their fluid, precise movements. He’d never forget those details, not after he’d spent a day being held prisoner in a warehouse by them—and witnessed Celaena cut through them as though they were stalks of wheat. They’d never known that it had been their lost queen who came to slaughter them.