Just in case. Chaol had turned in his formal suggestions for his replacement to the king, and the announcement would be made tomorrow morning. After all these years, all that planning and hoping and working, he was leaving. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to leave his sword to his replacement, as he should have done. Tomorrow—he only had to get through tomorrow.
But there was no way Chaol could prepare for the summons he received from the King of Adarlan to meet him in his private council chamber. When he arrived, Aedion was already inside, surrounded by fifteen guards Chaol did not recognize, all wearing those tunics with the royal wyvern embroidered with black thread.
The King of Adarlan was grinning.
Dorian heard within minutes that Aedion and Chaol had been summoned to his father’s private council room. As soon as he heard, he ran—not for Chaol, but to Sorscha.
He almost collapsed with relief when he found her in her workroom. But he willed strength to his knees as he crossed the room in a few strides and grabbed her hand. “We’re getting out. Now. You are getting out of this castle right now, Sorscha.”
She pulled back. “What happened? Tell me, what—”
“We’re going now,” he panted.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” someone purred from the open doorway.
He turned to find Amithy—the old healer—standing there, arms crossed and smiling faintly. Dorian could do nothing as half a dozen unfamiliar guards appeared behind her and she said, “The king wants to see you both in his chambers. Immediately.”
In the council room high in the glass castle, Aedion had already marked the exits and considered what furniture he could use as a defense or as a weapon. They’d taken his sword when they’d come for him in his rooms, though they hadn’t shackled him. A lethal mistake. The captain wasn’t shackled, either; in fact, the fools had left him armed. The captain was doing his best to look vaguely confused as the king watched them from his glass throne.
“What an interesting night this has turned out to be. What interesting information my spies have brought me,” the king said, looking from Aedion to Chaol to Dorian and his woman.
“My most talented general is found to be sneaking around Rifthold in the dead of night—after spending so much of my gold on parties he does not even bother attending. And he has somehow, despite years of animosity, become close with my Captain of the Guard. While my son”—Aedion did not envy the smile the king gave the Crown Prince—“has apparently been dabbling with the rabble. Again.”
To his credit, Dorian snarled and said, “Consider your words carefully, Father.”
“Oh?” The king raised a thick, scarred brow. “I had it on good authority that you were planning to run away with this healer. Why would you ever do such a thing?”
The prince’s throat bobbed, but he kept his head high. “Because I can’t stand the thought of her spending another minute in this festering shithole that you call a court.” Aedion couldn’t help but admire him for it—for yielding nothing until the king showed his hand. Smart man—brave man. But it might not be enough to get them out of this alive.
“Good,” the king said. “Neither can I.”
He waved a hand, and before Aedion could bark a warning, the guards separated the prince and the girl. Four held Dorian back, and two forced Sorscha to kneel with a kick behind the knees.
She cried out as she hit the marble, but went silent—the whole room went silent—as a third guard pulled a sword and placed it lightly on the back of her slender neck.
“Don’t you dare,” Dorian growled.
Aedion looked to Chaol, but the captain was frozen. These were not his guards. Their uniforms were those of the men who had hunted Ren. They had the same dead eyes, the same vileness, that had made him not at all regret killing their colleagues in the alley. He’d taken down six that night with minimal damage—how many could he cut down now? His gaze met the captain’s, and the captain flicked his eyes to the guard who held Aedion’s sword. That would be one of his first moves—get Aedion a sword so they could fight.
Because they would fight. They would fight their way out of this, or to their deaths.
The king said to Dorian, “I would choose your next words carefully, Prince.”
Chaol couldn’t start the fight, not with that sword resting on Sorscha’s neck. That was his first goal: get the girl out alive. Then Aedion. Dorian, the king wouldn’t kill—not here, not in this way. But Aedion and Sorscha had to get away. And that could not happen until the king called off the guard. Then Dorian spoke.
“Let her go and I’ll tell you anything.” Dorian took a step toward his father, palms out. “She has nothing to do with—with whatever this is. Whatever you think has happened.”
“But you do?” The king was still smiling. There was a carved, round bit of familiar black stone resting on the small table beside the king. From the distance, Chaol couldn’t see what it was, but it made his stomach turn over regardless. “Tell me, son: why were General Ashryver and Captain Westfall meeting these months?”
“I don’t know.”
The king clicked his tongue, and the guard raised his sword to strike. Chaol started forward as Sorscha sucked in a breath.
“No—stop!” Dorian flung out a hand.
“Then answer the question.”
“I am! You bastard, I am! I don’t know why they were meeting!”
The guard’s sword still remained up, ready to fall before Chaol could move an inch.
“Do you know that there has been a spy in my castle for several months now, Prince? Someone feeding information to my enemies and plotting against me with a known rebel leader?”
Shit. Shit. He had to mean Ren—the king knew who Ren was, had sent those men to hunt him down.
“Just tell me who, Dorian, and you can do whatever you wish with your friend.”
The king didn’t know, then—if it was he or Aedion or both of them who had been meeting with Ren. He didn’t know how much they’d learned about his plans, his control over magic. Aedion was somehow still keeping his mouth shut, somehow still looking ready for battle.
Aedion, who had survived for so long without hope, holding together his kingdom as best he could . . . who would never see the queen he so fiercely loved. He deserved to meet her, and she deserved to have him serve in her court.
Chaol took a breath, preparing himself for the words that would doom him.
But it was Aedion who spoke.
“You want a spy? You want a traitor?” the general drawled, and flung his replicated black ring on the floor. “Then here I am. You want to know why the captain and I were meeting? It was because your stupid bastard of a boy-captain figured out that I’d been working with one of the rebels. He’s been blackmailing information out of me for months to give to his father to offer you when the Lord of Anielle needed a favor. And you know what?” Aedion grinned at them all, the Northern Wolf incarnate. If the king was shocked about the ring, he didn’t show it. “All you monsters can burn in hell. Because my queen is coming—and she will spike you to the walls of your gods-damned castle. And I can’t wait to help her gut you like the pigs you are.” He spat at the king’s feet, right on top of the fake ring that had stopped bouncing.
It was flawless—the rage and the arrogance and the triumph. But as he stared each of them down, Chaol’s heart fractured.
Because for a flicker, as those turquoise eyes met with his, there was none of that rage or triumph. Only a message to the queen that Aedion would never see. And there were no words to convey it—the love and the hope and the pride. The sorrow at not knowing her as the woman she had become. The gift Aedion thought he was giving her in sparing Chaol’s life.
Chaol nodded slightly, because he understood that he could not help, not at this point—not until that sword was removed from Sorscha’s neck. Then he could fight, and he might still get them out alive.
Aedion didn’t struggle as the guards clapped shackles around his wrists and ankles.
“I’ve always wondered about that ring,” the king said. “Was it the distance, or some true strength of spirit that made you so unresponsive to its suggestions? But regardless, I am so glad that you confessed to treason, Aedion.” He spoke with slow, deliberate glee. “So glad you did it in front of all these witnesses, too. It will make your execution that much easier. Though I think . . .” The king smiled and looked at the fake black ring. “I think I’ll wait. Perhaps give it a month or two. Just in case any last-minute guests have to travel a long, long way for the execution. Just in case someone gets it into her head that she can rescue you.”
Aedion snarled. Chaol bit back his own reaction. Perhaps the king had never had anything on them—perhaps this had only been a ruse to get Aedion to confess to something, because the king knew that the general would offer up his own life instead of an innocent’s. The king wanted to savor this, and savor the trap that he had now set for Aelin, even if it cost him a fine general in the process. Because once she heard that Aedion was captured, once she knew the execution date . . . she would run to Rifthold.
“After she comes for you,” Aedion promised the king, “they’ll have to scrape what’s left of you off the walls.”
The king only smiled. Then he looked to Dorian and Sorscha, who seemed to be hardly breathing. The healer remained on the floor and did not lift her head as the king braced his massive forearms on his knees and said, “And what do you have to say for yourself, girl?”
She trembled, shaking her head.
“That’s enough,” Dorian snapped, sweat gleaming on his brow. The prince winced in pain as his magic was repressed by the iron in his system. “Aedion confessed; now let her go.”
“Why should I release the true traitor in this castle?”
Sorscha couldn’t stop shaking as the king spoke.
All her years of remaining invisible, all her training, first from those rebels in Fenharrow, then the contacts they’d sent her family to in Rifthold . . . all of it ruined.
“Such interesting letters you send to your friend. Why, I might not ever have read them,” the king said, “if you hadn’t left one in the rubbish for your superior to find. See—you rebels have your spies, and I have mine. And as soon as you decided to start using my son . . .” She could feel the king smirking at her. “How many of his movements did you report to your rebel friends? What secrets of mine have you given away over the years?”
“Leave her alone,” Dorian growled. It was enough to set her crying. He still thought she was innocent.
And maybe, maybe he could get out of this if he was surprised enough by the truth, if the king saw his son’s shock and disgust.
So Sorscha lifted her head, even as her mouth trembled, even as her eyes burned, and stared down the King of Adarlan.
“You destroyed everything that I had, and you deserve everything that’s to come,” she said. Then she looked at Dorian, whose eyes were indeed wide, his face bone-white. “I was not supposed to love you. But I did. I do. And there is so much I wish . . . I wish we could have done together, seen together.”
The prince just stared at her, then walked to the foot of the dais and dropped to his knees. “Name your price,” he said to his father. “Ask it of me, but let her go. Exile her. Banish her. Anything—say it, and it will be done.”
She began shaking her head, trying to find the words to tell him that she hadn’t betrayed him—not her prince. The king, yes. She had reported his movements for years, in each carefully written letter to her “friend.” But never Dorian.