The Queen of the Fae remained silent, her long fingers moon-white and folded in the lap of her violet gown, a white barn owl perched on the back of her chair. She didn’t bother with a crown, and Celaena supposed she didn’t need one. Every creature on earth would know who she was—what she was—even if they were blind and deaf. Maeve, the face of a thousand legends . . . and nightmares. Epics and poems and songs had been written about her, so many that some even believed she was just a myth. But here was the dream—the nightmare—made flesh.
This could work to your advantage. You can get the answers you need right here, right now. Go back to Adarlan in a matter of days. Just—breathe.
Breathing, as it turned out, was rather hard when the queen who had been known to drive men to madness for amusement was observing every flicker of her throat. That owl perched on Maeve’s chair—Fae or true beast?—was watching her, too. Its talons were curled around the back of the chair, digging into the wood.
It was somewhat absurd, though—Maeve holding court in this half-rotted office, at a desk stained with the Wyrd knew what. Gods, the fact that Maeve was seated at a desk. She should be in some ethereal glen, surrounded by bobbing will-o’-the-wisps and maidens dancing to lutes and harps, reading the wheeling stars like they were poetry. Not here.
Celaena bowed low. She supposed she should have gotten on her knees, but—she already smelled awful, and her face was likely still torn and bruised from her brawling in Varese. As Celaena rose, Maeve remained smiling faintly. A spider with a fly in its web.
“I suppose that with a proper bath, you’ll look a good deal like your mother.”
No exchanging pleasantries, then. Maeve was going right for the throat. She could handle it. She could ignore the pain and terror to get what she wanted. So Celaena smiled just as faintly and said, “Had I known who I would be meeting, I might have begged my escort for time to freshen up.”
She didn’t feel bad for one heartbeat about throwing Rowan to the lions.
Maeve’s obsidian eyes flicked to Rowan, who still leaned against the door. She could have sworn there was approval in the Fae Queen’s smile. As if the grueling travel were a part of this plan, too. But why? Why get her off-kilter?
“I’m afraid I must bear the blame for the pressing pace,” Maeve said. “Though I suppose he could have bothered to at least find you a pool to bathe in along the way.” The Queen of Faedom lifted an elegant hand, gesturing to the warrior. “Prince Rowan—”
Prince. She swallowed the urge to turn to him.
“—is from my sister Mora’s bloodline. He is my nephew of sorts, and a member of my household. An extremely distant relation of yours; there is some ancient ancestry linking you.”
Another move to get her on uneven footing. “You don’t say.”
Perhaps that wasn’t the best reply. She should probably be on the floor, groveling for answers. And she had a feeling she’d likely get to that point very, very soon. But . . .
“You must be wondering why it is I asked Prince Rowan to bring you here,” Maeve mused.
For Nehemia, she’d play this game. Celaena bit her tongue hard enough to keep her gods-damned smart-ass mouth shut.
Maeve placed her white hands on the desk. “I have been waiting a long, long while to meet you. And as I do not leave these lands, I could not see you. Not with my eyes, at least.” The queen’s long nails gleamed in the light.
There were legends whispered over fires about the other skin Maeve wore. No one had lived to tell anything beyond shadows and claws and a darkness to devour your soul.
“They broke my laws, you know. Your parents disobeyed my commands when they eloped. The bloodlines were too volatile to be mixed, but your mother promised to let me see you after you were born.” Maeve cocked her head, eerily similar to the owl behind her. “It would seem that in the eight years after your birth, she was always too busy to uphold her vow.”
If her mother had broken a promise . . . if her mother had kept her from Maeve, it had been for a damn good reason. A reason that tickled at the edges of Celaena’s mind, a blur of memory.
“But now you are here,” Maeve said, seeming to come closer without moving. “And a grown woman. My eyes across the sea have brought me such strange, horrible stories of you. From your scars and steel, I wonder whether they are indeed true. Like the tale I heard over a year ago, that an assassin with Ashryver eyes was spotted by the horned Lord of the North in a wagon bound for—”
“Enough.” Celaena glanced at Rowan, who was listening intently, as if this was the first he was hearing of it. She didn’t want him knowing about Endovier—didn’t want that pity. “I know my own history.” She flashed Rowan a glare that told him to mind his own business. He merely looked away, bored again. Typical immortal arrogance. Celaena faced Maeve, tucking her hands into her pockets. “I’m an assassin, yes.”
A snort from behind, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off Maeve.
“And your other talents?” Maeve’s nostrils flared—scenting. “What has become of them?”
“Like everyone else on my continent, I haven’t been able to access them.”
Maeve’s eyes twinkled, and Celaena knew—knew that Maeve could smell the half truth. “You are not on your continent anymore,” Maeve purred.
Run. Every instinct roared with the word. She had a feeling that the Eye of Elena would have been no use, but she wished she had it anyway. Wished the dead queen were here, for that matter. Rowan was still at the door—but if she was fast, if she outsmarted him . . .
A flash of memory blinded her, bright and uncontrollable, unleashed by the instinct begging her to flee. Her mother had rarely let Fae into their home, even with her heritage. A few trusted ones were allowed to live with them, but any Fae visitors had been closely monitored, and for the duration of their stay, Celaena had been sequestered in the family’s private chambers. She’d always thought it was overprotective, but now . . . “Show me,” Maeve whispered with a spider’s smile. Run. Run.
She could still feel the burn of blue wildfire exploding out of her in that demon realm, still see Chaol’s face as she lost control of it. One wrong move, one wrong breath, and she could have killed him and Fleetfoot.
The owl rustled its wings, the wood groaning beneath its talons, and the darkness in Maeve’s eyes spread, reaching. There was a faint pulse in the air, a throbbing against her blood. A tapping, then a razor-sharp slicing against her mind—as if Maeve were trying to cleave open her skull and peer inside. Pushing, testing, tasting—
Fighting to keep her breathing steady, Celaena positioned her hands within easy reach of her blades as she pushed back against the claws in her mind. Maeve let out a low laugh, and the pressure in her head ceased.
“Your mother hid you from me for years,” Maeve said. “She and your father always had a remarkable talent for knowing when my eyes were searching for you. Such a rare gift—the ability to summon and manipulate flame. So few exist who possess more than an ember of it; fewer still who can master its wildness. And yet your mother wanted you to stifle your power—though she knew that I only wanted you to submit to it.”
Celaena’s breath burned her throat. Another flicker of memory—of lessons not about starting fires but putting them out.
Maeve went on, “Look at how well that turned out for them.”
Celaena’s blood froze. Every self-preserving instinct went right out of her head. “And where were you ten years ago?” She spoke so low, from so deep in her shredded soul, that the words were barely more than a growl.
Maeve angled her head slightly. “I do not take kindly to being lied to.”
The snarl on Celaena’s face faltered. Dropped right into her gut. Aid had never come for Terrasen from the Fae. From Wendlyn. And it was all because . . . because . . .
“I do not have more time to spare you,” Maeve said. “So let me be brief: my eyes have told me that you have questions. Questions that no mortal has the right to ask—about the keys.”
Legend said Maeve could commune with the spirit world—had Elena, or Nehemia, told her? Celaena opened her mouth, but Maeve held up a hand. “I will give you those answers. You may come to me in Doranelle to receive them.”
A growl from Rowan at the interruption.
“Because they are answers that require time,” Maeve said, then slowly added, as if she savored every word, “and answers you have not yet earned.”
“Tell me what I can do to earn them and I will do it.” Fool. A damned fool’s response.
“A dangerous thing to offer without hearing the price.”
“You want me to show you my magic? I’ll show it to you. But not here—not—”
“I have no interest in seeing you drop your magic at my feet like a sack of grain. I want to see what you can do with it, Aelin Galathynius—which currently seems like not very much at all.” Celaena’s stomach tightened at that cursed name. “I want to see what you will become under the right circumstances.”
“I do not permit mortals or half-breeds into Doranelle. For a half-breed to enter my realm, she must prove herself both gifted and worthy. Mistward, this fortress”—she waved a hand to encompass the room—“is one of several proving grounds. And a place where those who do not pass the test can spend their days.”
Beneath the growing fear, a flicker of disgust went through her. Half-breed—Maeve said it with such disdain. “And what manner of test might I expect before I am deemed worthy?”
Maeve gestured to Rowan, who had not moved from the door. “You shall come to me once Prince Rowan decides that you have mastered your gifts. He shall train you here. And you shall not set foot in Doranelle until he deems your training complete.”
After facing the horseshit she’d seen in the glass castle—demons, witches, the king—training with Rowan, even in magic, seemed rather anticlimactic.
But—but it could take weeks. Months. Years. The familiar fog of nothing crept in, threatening to smother her once again. She pushed it back long enough to say, “What I need to know isn’t something that can wait—”
“You want answers regarding the keys, heir of Terrasen? Then they shall be waiting for you in Doranelle. The rest is up to you.”
“Truthfully,” Celaena blurted. “You will truthfully answer my questions about the keys.”
Maeve smiled, and it was not a thing of beauty. “You haven’t forgotten all of our ways, then.” When Celaena didn’t react, Maeve added, “I will truthfully answer all your questions about the keys.”
It might be easier to walk away. Go find some other ancient being to pester for the truth. Celaena breathed in and out, in and out. But Maeve had been there—had been there at the dawn of this world during the Valg wars. She had held the Wyrdkeys. She knew what they looked like, how they felt. Maybe she even knew where Brannon had hidden them—especially the last, unnamed key. And if Celaena could find a way to steal the keys from the king, to destroy him, to stop his armies and free Eyllwe, even if she could find just one Wyrdkey . . . “What manner of training—”
“Prince Rowan shall explain the specifics. For now, he will escort you to your chamber to rest.”
Celaena looked Maeve straight in her death-dealing eyes. “You swear you’ll tell me what I need to know?”