Chaol highly doubted that was true, but wished it was. Aedion would probably have to bind Celaena to her throne to keep her from fighting on the front lines with her people. “Just tell me.”
Aedion sighed and gazed at the fire, as if beholding a distant horizon. “The burnings and executions had already started by the time magic disappeared, so the day it happened, I thought the birds were just fleeing the soldiers, or looking for carrion. I was locked in one of the tower rooms by the king’s orders. Most days I didn’t dare look out the window because I didn’t want to see what was happening in the city below, but there was such noise from the birds that day that I looked. And . . .” Aedion shook his head. “Something sent them all flying up in one direction, then another. And then the screaming started. I heard some people just died right on the spot, as if an artery had been cut.”
Aedion spread out a map on the low table between them and put a callused finger on Orynth. “There were two waves of birds. The first went north-northwest.” He traced a vague line. “From the tower, I could see far enough that I knew many of them had come from the south—most of the birds near us didn’t move much. But then the second wave shoved all of them to the north and east, like something from the center of the land threw them that way.”
Chaol pointed to Perranth, the second-largest city in Terrasen. “From here?”
“Farther south.” Aedion knocked Chaol’s hand out of the way. “Endovier or even lower.”
“You couldn’t have seen that far.”
“No, but the warrior-lords of my court made me memorize the birds in Oakwald and all their calls for hunting—and fighting. And there were birds flying up toward us that were only found in your country. I was counting them to distract myself while—” Another pause, as if Aedion hadn’t meant to say that. “I don’t remember hearing any birds from the three southern kingdoms.”
Chaol made a rough line, starting in Rifthold and going out toward the mountains, toward the Ferian Gap. “Like something shot out in this direction.”
“It wasn’t until the second wave that magic stopped.” Aedion raised a brow. “Don’t you remember that day?”
“I was here; if anyone felt pain, they hid it. Magic’s been illegal in Adarlan for decades. So where does all this get us, Aedion?”
“Well, Murtaugh and Ren had similar experiences.” So then the general launched into another tale: like Aedion, Ren and Murtaugh had experienced a frenzy of local animals and twin waves of something the day magic had disappeared. But they’d been in the southern part of their continent, having just arrived in Skull’s Bay.
It wasn’t until six months ago, when they’d been lured into the city by Archer Finn’s lies about Aelin’s reemergence, that they’d started considering magic—contemplating ways to break the king’s power for their queen. After comparing notes with the other rebels in Rifthold, they realized that others had experienced similar phenomena. Wanting to get a full account, they’d found a merchant from the Deserted Peninsula who was willing to talk—a man from Xandria who was surprisingly honest, despite the business he’d built on contraband items.
I stole an Asterion mare from the Lord of Xandria.
Of course Celaena had been to the Deserted Peninsula. And sought out trouble. Despite the ache in his chest, Chaol smiled at the memory as Aedion recalled Murtaugh’s report of the merchant’s account.
Not two waves when magic vanished in the desert, but three.
The first swept down from the north. The merchant had been with the Lord of Xandria in his fortress high above the city and had seen a faint tremor that made the red sand dance. The second came from the southwest, barreling right toward them like a sandstorm. The final pulse came from the same inland source Aedion remembered. Seconds later, magic was gone, and people were screaming in the streets, and the Lord of Xandria got the order, a week later, to put down all the known or registered magic-wielders in his city. Then the screaming had become different.
Aedion gave him a sly grin as he finished. “But Murtaugh figured out more. We’re meeting in three days. He can tell you his theories then.”
Chaol started from his chair. “That’s it? That’s all you know—what you’ve been lording over me these past few weeks?”
“There’s still more for you to tell me, so why should I tell you everything?”
“I’ve told you vital, world-changing information,” Chaol said through his teeth. “You’ve just told me stories.”
Aedion’s eyes took on a lethal glint. “You’ll want to hear what Ren and Murtaugh have to say.” Chaol didn’t feel like waiting so long to hear it, but there were two state lunches and one formal dinner before then, and he was expected to attend all of them. And present the king with his defense plans for all the events as well.
After a moment, Aedion said, “How do you stand working for him? How do you pretend you don’t know what that bastard is doing, what he’s done to innocent people, to the woman you claim to love?”
“I’m doing what I have to do.” He didn’t think Aedion would understand, anyway.
“Tell me why the Captain of the Guard, a Lord of Adarlan, is helping his enemy. That’s all the information I want from you today.”
Chaol wanted to say that, given how much he’d already told him, he didn’t have to offer a damn thing. Instead he said, “I grew up being told we were bringing peace and civilization to the continent. What I’ve seen recently has made me realize how much of it is a lie.”
“You knew about the labor camps, though. About the massacres.”
“It is easy to be lied to when you do not know any of those people firsthand.” But Celaena with her scars, and Nehemia with her people butchered . . . “It’s easy to believe when your king tells you that the people in Endovier deserve to be there because they’re criminals or rebels who tried to slaughter innocent Adarlanian families.”
“And how many of your countrymen would stand against your king if they, too, learned the truth? If they stopped to consider what it would be like if it were their family, their village, being enslaved or murdered? How many would stand if they knew what power their prince possessed—if their prince rose up to fight with us?”
Chaol didn’t know, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. As for Dorian . . . he could not ask that of his friend. Could not expect it. His goal was keeping Dorian safe. Even if it would cost him their friendship, he didn’t want Dorian involved. Ever.
The past week had been terrifying and wonderful for Dorian.
Terrifying because two more people knew his secret, and because he walked such a fine line when it came to controlling his magic, which seemed more volatile with each passing day.
Wonderful because every afternoon, he visited the forgotten workroom Sorscha had discovered tucked in a lower level of the catacombs where no one would find them. She brought books from the gods knew where, herbs and plants and salts and powders, and every day, they researched and trained and pondered.
There weren’t many books about dampening a power like his—many had been burned, she’d told him. But she looked at the magic like a disease: if she could find the right channels to block, she could keep it contained. And if not, she always said, they could resort to drugging him, just enough to even out his moods. She didn’t like the idea of it, and neither did he, though it was a comfort to know the option was there.
An hour each day was all they could manage together. For that hour, regardless of the laws they were breaking, Dorian felt like himself again. Not twisted and reeling and stumbling through the dark, but grounded. Calm. No matter what he told Sorscha, she never judged or betrayed him. Chaol had been that person once. Yet now, when it came to his magic, he could still see fear and a hint of disgust in Chaol’s eyes.
“Did you know,” Sorscha said from her spot across the worktable, “that before magic vanished, they had to find special ways of subduing gifted prisoners?”
Dorian looked up from his book, a useless tome on garden remedies. Before magic vanished . . . at the hand of his father and his Wyrdkeys. His stomach turned. “Because they’d use their magic to break out of prison?”
Sorscha studied the book again. “That’s why a lot of the old prisons use solid iron—it’s immune to magic.”
“I know,” he said, and she raised a brow. She was slowly starting to come alive around him—though he’d also learned to read her subtle expressions better. “Back when my power first appeared, I tried using it on an iron door, and . . . it didn’t go well.”
“Hmm.” Sorscha chewed on her lip. It was surprisingly distracting. “But iron’s in your blood, so how does that work?”
“I think it was the gods’ way of keeping us from growing too powerful: if we keep contact with the magic, if it’s flowing through us for too long, we faint. Or worse.”
“I wonder what would happen if we increased the iron in your diet, perhaps adding a large amount of treacle to your food. We give it to anemic patients, but if we gave you a highly concentrated dose . . . it would taste awful, and could be dangerous, but—”
“But perhaps if it’s in my body, then when the magic rises up . . .” He grimaced. He might have balked at the memory of the agony when he’d tried to seal that iron door, but . . . He couldn’t bring himself to say no to her. “Do you have any here? Just something to add to a drink?”
She didn’t, but she got some. And within a quarter of an hour, Dorian said a prayer to Silba and swallowed it, cringing at the obscene sweetness. Nothing.
Sorscha’s eyes darted from his own to the pocket watch in her hand. Counting. Waiting to see if there was an adverse reaction. A minute passed. And then ten. Dorian had to go soon, and so did she, but after a while, Sorscha quietly said, “Try it. Try summoning it. The iron should be in your blood now.” He shut his eyes, and she added, “It reacts when you’re upset—angry or scared or sad. Think about something that makes you feel that way.”
She was risking her position, her life, everything for this. For him, the son of the man who had ordered his army to destroy her village, then slaughter her family with the other unwanted immigrants squatting in Rifthold. He didn’t deserve it.
He breathed in. Out. She also didn’t deserve the world of trouble he was bringing down upon her—or would continue to bring to her door every time he came here. He knew when women liked him, and he’d known from the first moment he’d seen her that she found him attractive. He’d hoped that opinion hadn’t changed for the worse, but now . . . Think of what upsets you.
Everything upset him. It upset him that she was risking her life, that he had no choice but to endanger her. Even if he took that final step toward her, even if he took her into his bed like he so badly wanted to, he was still . . . the Crown Prince. You will always be my enemy, Celaena had once said.
There was no escaping his crown. Or his father, who would behead Sorscha, burn her, and scatter her ashes to the wind if he found out she’d helped him. His father, whom his friends were now working to destroy. They had lied to him and ignored him for that cause. Because he was a danger, to them, to Sorscha, and—
Roaring pain surged from his core and up his throat, and he gagged. There was another wave, and a cool breeze tried to kiss his face, but it vanished like mist under the sun as the pain trembled through him. He leaned forward, squeezing his eyes shut as the agony and then the nausea went through him again. And again.