She wondered how much these creatures knew about the wars that had destroyed her land, about the Fae and faeries that had been hunted down, about the burning of the ancient forests and the butchering of the sacred stags of Terrasen. She wondered if they had ever learned what became of their brethren in the West.
She didn’t know how she found it in herself to care. But they seemed so . . . curious. Surprising even herself, Celaena whispered into the humming night, “They still live.”
All those eyes vanished. When she glanced at Rowan, he hadn’t opened his eyes. But she had the sense that the warrior had been aware the entire time.
Dorian Havilliard stood before his father’s breakfast table, his hands held behind his back. The king had arrived moments ago but hadn’t told him to sit. Once Dorian might have already said something about it. But having magic, getting drawn into whatever mess Celaena was in, seeing that other world in the secret tunnels . . . all of that had changed everything. The best he could do these days was maintain a low profile—to keep his father or anyone else from looking too long in his direction. So Dorian stood before the table and waited.
The King of Adarlan finished off the roast chicken and sipped from whatever was in his bloodred glass. “You’re quiet this morning, Prince.” The conqueror of Erilea reached for a platter of smoked fish.
“I was waiting for you to speak, Father.”
Night-black eyes shifted toward him. “Unusual, indeed.”
Dorian tensed. Only Celaena and Chaol knew the truth about his magic—and Chaol had shut him out so completely that Dorian didn’t feel like attempting to explain himself to his friend. But this castle was full of spies and sycophants who wanted nothing more than to use whatever knowledge they could to advance their position. Including selling out their Crown Prince. Who knew who’d seen him in the hallways or the library, or who had discovered that stack of books he’d hidden in Celaena’s rooms? He’d since moved them down to the tomb, where he went every other night—not for answers to the questions that plagued him but just for an hour of pure silence.
His father resumed eating. He’d been in his father’s private chambers only a few times in his life. They could be a manor house of their own, with their library and dining room and council chamber. They occupied an entire wing of the glass castle—a wing opposite from Dorian’s mother. His parents had never shared a bed, and he didn’t particularly want to know more than that.
He found his father watching him, the morning sun through the curved wall of glass making every scar and nick on the king’s face even more gruesome. “You’re to entertain Aedion Ashryver today.”
Dorian kept his composure as best he could. “Dare I ask why?”
“Since General Ashryver failed to bring his men here, it appears he has some spare time while awaiting the Bane’s arrival. It would be beneficial to you both to become better acquainted—especially when your choice of friends of late has been so . . . common.”
The cold fury of his magic clawed its way up his spine. “With all due respect, Father, I have two meetings to prepare for, and—”
“It’s not open for debate.” His father kept eating. “General Ashryver has been notified, and you will meet him outside your chambers at noon.”
Dorian knew he should keep quiet, but he found himself asking, “Why do you tolerate Aedion? Why keep him alive—why make him a general?” He’d been unable to stop wondering about it since the man’s arrival.
His father gave a small, knowing smile. “Because Aedion’s rage is a useful blade, and he is capable of keeping his people in line. He will not risk their slaughter, not when he has lost so much. He has quelled many a would-be rebellion in the North from that fear, for he is well aware that it would be his own people—the civilians—who suffered first.”
He shared blood with a man this cruel. But Dorian said, “It’s still surprising that you’d keep a general almost as a captive—as little more than a slave. Controlling him through fear alone seems potentially dangerous.”
Indeed, he wondered if his father had told Aedion about Celaena’s mission to Wendlyn—homeland of Aedion’s royal bloodline, where Aedion’s cousins the Ashryvers still ruled. Though Aedion trumpeted about his various victories over rebels and acted like he practically owned half the empire himself . . . How much did Aedion remember of his kin across the sea?
His father said, “I have my ways of leashing Aedion should I need to. For now, his brazen irreverence amuses me.” His father jerked his chin toward the door. “I will not be amused, however, if you miss your appointment with him today.”
And just like that, his father fed him to the Wolf.
Despite Dorian’s offers to show Aedion the menagerie, the kennels, the stables—even the damned library—the general only wanted to do one thing: walk through the gardens. Aedion claimed he was feeling restless and sluggish from too much food the night before, but the smile he gave Dorian suggested otherwise.
Aedion didn’t bother talking to him, too preoccupied with humming bawdy tunes and inspecting the various women they passed. He’d dropped the half-civilized veneer only once, when they’d been striding down a narrow path flanked by towering rosebushes—stunning in the summer, but deadly in the winter—and the guards had been a turn behind, blind for the moment. Just enough time for Aedion to subtly trip Dorian into one of the thorny walls, still humming his lewd songs.
A quick maneuver had kept Dorian from falling face-first into the thorns, but his cloak had ripped, and his hand stung. Rather than give the general the satisfaction of seeing him hiss and inspect his cuts, Dorian had tucked his barking, freezing fingers into his pockets as the guards rounded the corner.
They spoke only when Aedion paused by a fountain and braced his scarred hands on his hips, assessing the garden beyond as though it were a battlefield. Aedion smirked at the six guards lurking behind, his eyes bright—so bright, Dorian thought, and so strangely familiar as the general said, “A prince needs an escort in his own palace? I’m insulted they didn’t send more guards to protect you from me.”
“You think you could take six men?”
The Wolf had let out a low chuckle and shrugged, the scarred hilt of the Sword of Orynth catching the near-blinding sunlight. “I don’t think I should tell you, in case your father ever decides my usefulness is not worth my temperament.”
Some of the guards behind them murmured, but Dorian said, “Probably not.”
And that was it—that was all Aedion said to him for the rest of the cold, miserable walk. Until the general gave him an edged smile and said, “Better get that looked at.” That was when Dorian realized his right hand was still bleeding. Aedion just turned away. “Thanks for the walk, Prince,” the general said over his shoulder, and it felt more like a threat than anything.
Aedion didn’t act without a reason. Perhaps the general had convinced his father to force this excursion. But for what purpose, Dorian couldn’t grasp. Unless Aedion merely wanted to get a feel for what sort of man Dorian had become and how well Dorian could play the game. He wouldn’t put it past the warrior to have done it just to assess a potential ally or threat—Aedion, for all his arrogance, had a cunning mind. He probably viewed court life as another sort of battlefield.
Dorian let Chaol’s hand-selected guards lead him back into the wonderfully warm castle, then dismissed them with a nod. Chaol hadn’t come today, and he was grateful—after that conversation about his magic, after Chaol refused to speak about Celaena, Dorian wasn’t sure what else was left for them to talk about. He didn’t believe for one moment that Chaol would willingly sanction the deaths of innocent men, no matter whether they were friends or enemies. Chaol had to know, then, that Celaena wouldn’t assassinate the Ashryver royals, for whatever reasons of her own. But there was no point in bothering to talk to Chaol, not when his friend was keeping secrets, too.
Dorian mulled over his friend’s puzzle-box of words again as he walked into the healers’ catacombs, the smell of rosemary and mint wafting past. It was a warren of supply and examination rooms, kept far from the prying eyes of the glass castle high above. There was another ward high in the glass castle, for those who wouldn’t deign to make the trek down here, but this was where the best healers in Rifthold—and Adarlan—had honed and practiced their craft for a thousand years. The pale stones seemed to breathe the essence of centuries of drying herbs, giving the subterranean halls a pleasant, open feeling.
Dorian found a small workroom where a young woman was hunched over a large oak table, a variety of glass jars, scales, mortars, and pestles before her, along with vials of liquid, hanging herbs, and bubbling pots over small, solitary flames. The healing arts were one of the few that his father hadn’t completely outlawed ten years ago—though once, he’d heard, they’d been even more powerful. Once, healers had used magic to mend and save. Now they were left with whatever nature provided them.
Dorian stepped into the room and the young woman looked up from the book she was scanning, a finger pausing on the page. Not beautiful, but—pretty. Clean, elegant lines, chestnut hair woven in a braid, and golden-tan skin that suggested at least one family member came from Eyllwe. “Can I—” She got a good look at him, then, and dropped into a bow. “Your Highness,” she said, a flush creeping up the smooth column of her neck.
Dorian held up his bloodied hand. “Thornbush.” Rosebush made his cuts seem that much more pathetic.
She kept her eyes averted, biting her full bottom lip. “Of course.” She gestured a slender hand toward the wooden chair before the table. “Please. Unless—unless you’d rather go to a proper examination room?”
Dorian normally hated dealing with the stammering and scrambling, but this young woman was still so red, so soft-spoken that he said, “This is fine,” and slid into the chair.
The silence lay heavy on him as she hurried through the workroom, first changing her dirty white apron, then washing her hands for a good long minute, then gathering all manner of bandages and tins of salve, then a bowl of hot water and clean rags, and then finally, finally pulling a chair around the table to face his.
They didn’t speak, either, when she carefully washed and then examined his hand. But he found himself watching her hazel eyes, the sureness of her fingers, and the blush that remained on her neck and face. “The hand is—very complex,” she murmured at last, studying the cuts. “I just wanted to make sure that nothing was damaged and that there weren’t any thorns lodged in there.” She swiftly added, “Your Highness.”
“I think it looks worse than it actually is.”
With a feather-light touch, she smeared a cloudy salve on his hand, and, like a damn fool, he winced. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “It’s to disinfect the cuts. Just in case.” She seemed to curl in on herself, as if he’d give the order to hang her merely for that.
He fumbled for the words, then said, “I’ve dealt with worse.”
It sounded stupid coming out, and she paused for a moment before reaching for the bandages. “I know,” she said, and glanced up at him.
Well, damn. Weren’t those eyes just stunning. She quickly looked back down, gently wrapping his hand. “I’m assigned to the southern wing of the castle—and I’m often on night duty.”
That explained why she looked so familiar. She’d healed not only him that night a month ago but also Celaena, Chaol, Fleetfoot . . . had been there for all of their injuries these past seven months. “I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name—”