Every person in the hall held their breath. Aedion’s temper and insolence were near-legendary—part of the reason he was stationed in the far reaches of the North. Chaol had always thought it wise to keep him far from Rifthold, especially as Aedion seemed to be a bit of a two-faced bastard, and the Bane—Aedion’s legion—was notorious for its skill and brutality, but now . . . why had the king summoned him to the capital?
The king picked up his goblet, swirling the wine inside. “I didn’t receive word that your legion was here.”
Chaol braced for the execution order, praying he wouldn’t be the one to do it. The king said, “I told you to bring them, General.”
“Here I was, thinking you wanted the pleasure of my company.” When the king growled, Aedion said, “They’ll be here within a week or so. I didn’t want to miss any of the fun.” Aedion again shrugged those massive shoulders. “At least I didn’t come empty-handed.” He snapped his fingers behind him and a page rushed in, bearing a large satchel. “Gifts from the North, courtesy of the last rebel camp we sacked. You’ll enjoy them.”
The king rolled his eyes and waved a hand at the page. “Send them to my chambers. Your gifts, Aedion, tend to offend polite company.” A low chuckle—from Aedion, from some men at the king’s table. Oh, Aedion was dancing a dangerous line. At least Celaena had the good sense to keep her mouth shut around the king.
Considering the trophies the king had collected from Celaena as Champion, the items in that satchel wouldn’t be mere gold and jewels. But to collect heads and limbs from Aedion’s own people, Celaena’s people . . .
“I have a council meeting tomorrow; I want you there, General,” the king said.
Aedion put a hand on his chest. “Your will is mine, Majesty.”
Chaol had to clamp down on his terror as he beheld what glinted on Aedion’s finger. A black ring—the same that the king, Perrington, and most of those under their control wore. That explained why the king allowed the insolence: when it came down to it, the king’s will truly was Aedion’s.
Chaol kept his face blank as the king gave him a curt nod—dismissal. Chaol silently bowed, now all too eager to get back to his table. Away from the king—from the man who held the fate of their world in his bloodied hands. Away from his father, who saw too much. Away from the general, who was now making his rounds through the hall, clapping men on the shoulder, winking at women.
Chaol had mastered the horror roiling in his gut by the time he sank back into his seat and found Dorian frowning. “Gifts indeed,” the prince muttered. “Gods, he’s insufferable.”
Chaol didn’t disagree. Despite the king’s black ring, Aedion still seemed to have a mind of his own—and was as wild off the battlefield as he was on it. He usually made Dorian look like a celibate when it came to finding debauched ways to amuse himself. Chaol had never spent much time with Aedion, nor wanted to, but Dorian had known him for some time now. Since—
They’d met as children. When Dorian and his father had visited Terrasen in the days before the royal family was slaughtered. When Dorian had met Aelin—met Celaena.
It was good that Celaena wasn’t here to see what Aedion had become. Not just because of the ring. To turn on your own people—
Aedion slid onto the bench across from them, grinning. A predator assessing prey. “You two were sitting at this same table the last time I saw you. Good to know some things don’t change.”
Gods, that face. It was Celaena’s face—the other side of the coin. The same arrogance, the same unchecked anger. But where Celaena crackled with it, Aedion seemed to . . . pulse. And there was something nastier, far more bitter in Aedion’s face.
Dorian rested his forearms on the table and gave a lazy smile. “Hello, Aedion.”
Aedion ignored him and reached for a roast leg of lamb, his black ring glinting. “I like the new scar, Captain,” he said, jerking his chin toward the slender white line across Chaol’s cheek. The scar Celaena had given to him the night Nehemia died and she’d tried to kill him—now a permanent reminder of everything he’d lost. Aedion went on, “Looks like they didn’t chew you up just yet. And they finally gave you a big-boy sword, too.”
Dorian said, “I’m glad to see that storm didn’t dim your spirits.”
“Weeks inside with nothing to do but train and bed women? It was a miracle I bothered to come down from the mountains.”
“I didn’t realize you bothered to do anything unless it served your best interests.”
A low laugh. “There’s that charming Havilliard spirit.” Aedion dug into his meal, and Chaol was about to demand why he was bothering to sit with them—other than to torment them, as he’d always liked to do when the king wasn’t looking—when he noticed that Dorian was staring.
Not at Aedion’s sheer size or armor, but at his face, at his eyes . . .
“Shouldn’t you be at some party or other?” Chaol said to Aedion. “I’m surprised you’re lingering when your usual enticements await in the city.”
“Is that your courtly way of asking for an invitation to my gathering tomorrow, Captain? Surprising. You’ve always implied that you were above my sort of party.” Those turquoise eyes narrowed and he gave Dorian a sly grin. “You, however—the last party I threw worked out very well for you. Redheaded twins, if I recall correctly.”
“You’ll be disappointed to learn I’ve moved on from that sort of existence,” Dorian said.
Aedion dug back into his meal. “More for me, then.”
Chaol clenched his fists under the table. Celaena had not exactly been virtuous in the past ten years, but she’d never killed a natural-born citizen of Terrasen. Had refused to, actually. And Aedion had always been a gods-damned bastard, but now . . . Did he know what he wore on his finger? Did he know that despite his arrogance, his defiance and insolence, the king could make him bend to his will whenever he pleased? He couldn’t warn Aedion, not without potentially getting himself and everyone he cared about killed should Aedion truly have allegiance to the king.
“How are things in Terrasen?” Chaol asked, because Dorian was studying Aedion again.
“What would you like me to tell you? That we are well-fed after a brutal winter? That we did not lose many to sickness?” Aedion snorted. “I suppose hunting rebels is always fun, if you’ve a taste for it. Hopefully His Majesty has summoned the Bane to the South to finally give them some real action.” As Aedion reached for the water, Chaol glimpsed the hilt of his sword. Dull metal flecked with dings and scratches, its pommel nothing more than a bit of cracked, rounded horn. Such a simple, plain sword for one of the greatest warriors in Erilea.
“The Sword of Orynth,” Aedion drawled. “A gift from His Majesty upon my first victory.”
Everyone knew that sword. It had been an heirloom of Terrasen’s royal family, passed from ruler to ruler. By right, it was Celaena’s. It had belonged to her father. For Aedion to possess it, considering what that sword now did, the lives it took, was a slap in the face to Celaena and to her family.
“I’m surprised you bother with such sentimentality,” Dorian said.
“Symbols have power, Prince,” Aedion said, pinning him with a stare. Celaena’s stare—unyielding and alive with challenge. “You’d be surprised by the power this still wields in the North—what it does to convince people not to pursue foolhardy plans.”
Perhaps Celaena’s skills and cunning weren’t unusual in her bloodline. But Aedion was an Ashryver, not a Galathynius—which meant that his great-grandmother had been Mab, one of the three Fae-Queens, in recent generations crowned a goddess and renamed Deanna, Lady of the Hunt. Chaol swallowed hard.
Silence fell, taut as a bowstring. “Trouble between you two?” Aedion asked, biting into his meat. “Let me guess: a woman. The King’s Champion, perhaps? Rumor has it she’s . . . interesting. Is that why you’ve moved on from my sort of fun, princeling?” He scanned the hall. “I’d like to meet her, I think.”
Chaol fought the urge to grip his sword. “She’s away.”
Aedion instead gave Dorian a cruel smile. “Pity. Perhaps she might have convinced me to move on as well.”
“Mind your mouth,” Chaol snarled. He might have laughed had he not wanted to strangle the general so badly. Dorian merely drummed his fingers on the table. “And show some respect.”
Aedion chuckled, finishing off the lamb. “I am His Majesty’s faithful servant, as I have always been.” Those Ashryver eyes once more settled on Dorian. “Perhaps I’ll be your whore someday, too.”
“If you’re still alive by then,” Dorian purred.
Aedion went on eating, but Chaol could still feel his relentless focus pinned on them. “Rumor has it a Matron of a witch clan was killed on the premises not too long ago,” Aedion said casually. “She vanished, though her quarters indicated she’d put up a hell of a fight.”
Dorian said sharply, “What’s your interest in that?”
“I make it my business to know when the power brokers of the realm meet their end.”
A shiver spider-walked down Chaol’s spine. He knew little about the witches. Celaena had told him a few stories—and he’d always prayed they were exaggerated. But something like dread flickered across Dorian’s face.
Chaol leaned forward. “It’s none of your concern.”
Aedion again ignored him and winked at the prince. Dorian’s nostrils flared, the only sign of the rage that was rising to the surface. That, and the air in the room shifted—brisker. Magic.
Chaol put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We’re going to be late,” he lied, but Dorian caught it. He had to get Dorian out—away from Aedion—and try to leash the disastrous storm that was brewing between the two men. “Rest well, Aedion.” Dorian didn’t bother saying anything, his sapphire eyes frozen.
Aedion smirked. “The party’s tomorrow in Rifthold if you feel like reliving the good old days, Prince.” Oh, the general knew exactly what buttons to push, and he didn’t give a damn what a mess it made. It made him dangerous—deadly.
Especially where Dorian and his magic were concerned. Chaol forced himself to say good night to some of his men, to look casual and unconcerned as they walked from the dining hall. Aedion Ashryver had come to Rifthold, narrowly missing running into his long-lost cousin.
If Aedion knew Aelin was still alive, if he knew who and what she had become or what she had learned regarding the king’s secret power, would he stand with her, or destroy her? Given his actions, given the ring he bore . . . Chaol didn’t want the general anywhere near her. Anywhere near Terrasen, either.
He wondered how much blood would spill when Celaena learned what her cousin had done.
Chaol and Dorian walked in silence for most of the trek to the prince’s tower. When they turned down an empty hallway and were certain no one could overhear them, Dorian said, “I didn’t need you to step in.”
“Aedion’s a bastard,” Chaol growled. The conversation could end there, and part of him was tempted to let it, but he made himself say, “I was worried you’d snap. Like you did in the passages.” He loosed a tight breath. “Are you . . . stable?”
“Some days are better than others. Getting angry or frightened seems to set it off.”