All Fae possessed a secondary animal form. Celaena was currently in hers, her mortal human body as animal as the birds wheeling above. But what was his? He could have been a wolf, she thought, with that layered surcoat that flowed to midthigh like a pelt, his footfalls so silent. Or a mountain cat, with that predatory grace.
He mounted the larger of the mares, leaving her to the piebald beast that looked more interested in seeking out a quick meal than trekking across the land. That made two of them. But they’d gone far enough without any explanation.
She stuffed her satchel into a saddlebag, angling her hands so that her sleeves hid the narrow bands of scars on her wrists, reminders of where the manacles had been. Where she had been. It was none of his business. None of Maeve’s business, either. The less they knew about her, the less they could use against her. “I’ve known a few brooding warrior-types in my day, but I think you might be the broodiest of them all.” He whipped his head to her, and she drawled, “Oh, hello. I think you know who I am, so I won’t bother introducing myself. But before I’m carted off to gods-know-where, I’d like to know who you are.”
His lips thinned. He surveyed the square—where people were now watching. And everyone instantly found somewhere else to be.
When they’d scattered, he said, “You’ve gathered enough about me at this point to have learned what you need to know.” He spoke the common tongue, and his accent was subtle—lovely, if she was feeling generous enough to admit it. A soft, rolling purr.
“Fair enough. But what am I to call you?” She gripped the saddle but didn’t mount it.
“Rowan.” His tattoo seemed to soak up the sun, so dark it looked freshly inked.
“Well, Rowan—” Oh, he did not like her tone one bit. His eyes narrowed slightly in warning, but she went on, “Dare I ask where we’re going?” She had to be drunk—still drunk or descending to a new level of apathy—if she was talking to him like this. But she couldn’t stop, even as the gods or the Wyrd or the threads of fate readied to shove her back toward her original plan of action.
“I’m taking you where you’ve been summoned.”
As long as she got to see Maeve and ask her questions, she didn’t particularly care how she got to Doranelle—or whom she traveled with.
Do what has to be done, Elena had told her. In her usual fashion, Elena had omitted to specify what had to be done once she arrived in Wendlyn. At least this was better than eating flatbread and drinking wine and being mistaken for a vagrant. Perhaps she could be on a boat back to Adarlan within three weeks, possessing the answers that would solve everything.
It should have energized her. But instead she found herself silently mounting her mare, out of words and the will to use them. Just the past few minutes of interaction had drained her completely.
It was better that Rowan didn’t seem inclined to speak as she followed him out of the city. The guards merely waved them through the walls, some even backing away.
As they rode on, Rowan didn’t ask why she was here and what she’d been doing for the past ten years while the world had gone to hell. He pulled his pale hood over his silver hair and moved ahead, though it was still easy enough to mark him as different, as a warrior and law unto himself.
If he was truly as old as she suspected, she was likely little more than a speck of dust to him, a fizzle of life in the long-burning fire of his immortality. He could probably kill her without a second thought—and then move on to his next task, utterly untroubled by ending her existence.
It didn’t unnerve her as much as it should have.
For a month now, it had been the same dream. Every night, over and over, until Chaol could see it in his waking hours.
Archer Finn groaning as Celaena shoved her dagger up through his ribs and into his heart. She embraced the handsome courtesan like a lover, but when she gazed over Archer’s shoulder, her eyes were dead. Hollow.
The dream shifted, and Chaol could say nothing, do nothing as the golden-brown hair darkened to black and the agonized face wasn’t Archer’s but Dorian’s.
The Crown Prince jerked, and Celaena held him tighter, twisting the dagger one final time before she let Dorian slump to the gray stones of the tunnel. Dorian’s blood was already pooling—too fast. But Chaol still couldn’t move, couldn’t go to his friend or the woman he loved.
The wounds on Dorian multiplied, and there was blood—so much blood. He knew these wounds. Though he’d never seen the body, he’d combed through the reports detailing what Celaena had done to the rogue assassin Grave in that alley, the way she’d butchered him for killing Nehemia.
Celaena lowered her dagger, each drop of blood from its gleaming blade sending ripples through the pool already around her. She tipped back her head, breathing in deep. Breathing in the death before her, taking it into her soul, vengeance and ecstasy mingling at the slaughter of her enemy. Her true enemy. The Havilliard Empire.
The dream shifted again, and Chaol was pinned beneath her as she writhed above him, her head still thrown back, that same expression of ecstasy written across her blood-splattered face.
The memory of the dream splintered as Chaol blinked at Dorian, who was sitting beside him at their old table in the Great Hall—and waiting for an answer to whatever he had said. Chaol gave an apologetic wince.
The Crown Prince didn’t return Chaol’s half smile. Instead, Dorian quietly said, “You were thinking about her.”
Chaol took a bite from his lamb stew but tasted nothing. Dorian was too observant for his own good. And Chaol had no interest in talking about Celaena. Not with Dorian, not with anyone. The truth he knew about her could jeopardize more lives than hers.
“I was thinking about my father,” Chaol lied. “When he returns to Anielle in a few weeks, I’m to go with him.” It was the price for getting Celaena to the safety of Wendlyn: his father’s support in exchange for his return to the Silver Lake to take up his title as the heir of Anielle. And he’d been willing to make that sacrifice; he’d make any sacrifice to keep Celaena and her secrets safe. Even now that he knew who—what she was. Even after she’d told him about the king and the Wyrdkeys. If this was the price he had to pay, so be it.
Dorian glanced toward the high table, where the king and Chaol’s father dined. The Crown Prince should have been eating with them, but he’d chosen to sit with Chaol instead. It was the first time Dorian had done so in ages—the first time they had spoken since their tense conversation after the decision was made to send Celaena to Wendlyn.
Dorian would understand if he knew the truth. But Dorian couldn’t know who and what Celaena was, or what the king was truly planning. The potential for disaster was too high. And Dorian’s own secrets were deadly enough.
“I heard the rumors you were to go,” Dorian said warily. “I didn’t realize they were true.”
Chaol nodded, trying to find something—anything—to say to his friend.
They still hadn’t spoken of the other thing between them, the other bit of truth that had come out that night in the tunnels: Dorian had magic. Chaol didn’t want to know anything about it. If the king decided to interrogate him . . . he hoped he’d hold out, if it ever came to that. The king, he knew, had far darker methods of extracting information than torture. So he hadn’t asked, hadn’t said one word. And neither had Dorian.
He met Dorian’s gaze. There was nothing kind in it. But Dorian said, “I’m trying, Chaol.”
Trying, because Chaol’s not consulting him on the plan to get Celaena out of Adarlan had been a breach of trust, and one that shamed him, though Dorian could never know that, either. “I know.”
“And despite what happened, I’m fairly certain we’re not enemies.” Dorian’s mouth quirked to the side.
You will always be my enemy. Celaena had screamed those words at Chaol the night Nehemia had died. Screamed it with ten years’ worth of conviction and hatred, a decade spent holding the world’s greatest secret so deep within her that she’d become another person entirely.
Because Celaena was Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, heir to the throne and rightful Queen of Terrasen.
It made her his mortal enemy. It made her Dorian’s enemy. Chaol still didn’t know what to do about it, or what it meant for them, for the life he’d imagined for them. The future he’d once dreamed of was irrevocably gone.
He’d seen the deadness in her eyes that night in the tunnels, along with the wrath and exhaustion and sorrow. He’d seen her go over the edge when Nehemia died, and knew what she’d done to Grave in retribution. He didn’t doubt for one heartbeat that she could snap again. There was such glittering darkness in her, an endless rift straight through her core.
Nehemia’s death had shattered her. What he had done, his role in that death, had shattered her, too. He knew that. He just prayed that she could piece herself back together again. Because a broken, unpredictable assassin was one thing. But a queen . . .
“You look like you’re going to be sick,” Dorian said, bracing his forearms on the table. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Chaol had been staring at nothing again. For a heartbeat, the weight of everything pressed so heavily upon him that he opened up his mouth.
But the boom of swords striking shields in salute echoed from the hallway, and Aedion Ashryver—the King of Adarlan’s infamous General of the North and cousin to Aelin Galathynius—stalked into the Great Hall.
The hall fell silent, including his father and the king at the high table. Before Aedion was halfway across the room, Chaol was positioned at the bottom of the dais.
It wasn’t that the young general was a threat. Rather, it was the way Aedion prowled toward the king’s table, his shoulder-length golden hair gleaming in the torchlight as he smirked at them all.
Handsome was a light way of describing what Aedion was. Overwhelming was more like it. Towering and heavily muscled, Aedion was every inch the warrior rumor claimed him to be. Even though his clothes were mostly for function, Chaol could tell that the leather of his light armor was of fine make and exquisitely detailed. A white wolf pelt was slung across his broad shoulders, and a round shield had been strapped to his back—along with an ancient-looking sword.
But his face. And his eyes . . . Holy gods.
Chaol put a hand on his sword, schooling his features to remain neutral, disinterested, even as the Wolf of the North came close enough to slaughter him.
They were Celaena’s eyes. Ashryver eyes. A stunning turquoise with a core of gold as bright as their hair. Their hair—even the shade of it was the same. They could have been twins, if Aedion weren’t twenty-four and tanned from years in the snow-bright mountains of Terrasen.
Why had the king bothered to keep Aedion alive all those years ago? Why bother to forge him into one of his fiercest generals? Aedion was a prince of the Ashryver royal line and had been raised in the Galathynius household—and yet he served the king.
Aedion’s grin remained as he stopped before the high table and sketched a bow shallow enough that Chaol was momentarily stunned. “Majesty,” the general said, those damning eyes alight.
Chaol looked at the high table to see if the king, if anyone, noticed the similarities that could doom not only Aedion but also Chaol and Dorian and everyone he cared about. His father just gave him a small, satisfied smile.
But the king was frowning. “I expected you a month ago.”
Aedion actually had the nerve to shrug. “Apologies. The Staghorns were slammed with a final winter storm. I left when I could.”