Chapter no 22

Empire of Storms

Dorian didn’t see the Fae Prince throw the dagger until the blade thudded into the wooden wall, its hilt still bobbing with the impact.

But the dark-eyed, bronze-skinned male—so handsome that Dorian blinked—smirked at the dagger shivering beside his head. “Was your aim that shitty when you cut your own hair?”

The other male beside him—tan, tawny-eyed, with a steady sort of quiet to him—lifted his broad, tattooed hands. “Rowan, put your blades down. We’re not here for you.”

For there were already more weapons gripped in Rowan’s hands. Dorian hadn’t even heard him stand, let alone draw the sword, or the elegant hatchet in the other hand.

Dorian’s magic writhed in his veins as it studied the two strangers. Here you are, it sang.

Alone with Rowan, his magic had become accustomed to the prince’s staggering abyss of power, but the three of these males together, ancient and powerful and primal … They were their own maelstrom. They could wreck this city without even trying. He wondered if Rolfe realized it.

The Pirate Lord said drily, “I take it you know each other.”

The solemn, golden-eyed one nodded, his pale clothes so like the ones Rowan favored: layered, efficient fabric, fit for battlefields. A band of black tattoos encircled the male’s muscled neck. Dorian’s stomach lurched. From a distance, it might very well have been another sort of black collar.

Rowan said tightly, “Gavriel and Fenrys used to … work with me.” Rolfe’s sea-green eyes darted among them all, assessing, weighing.

Fenrys—Gavriel. Dorian knew those names. Rowan had mentioned them during their journey here … Two members of Rowan’s cadre.

Rowan explained to Dorian, “They are blood-sworn to Maeve. As I used to be.”

Meaning they were here under her orders. And if Maeve had sent not one, but two of her lieutenants to this continent, when Lorcan was already here…

Rowan said through his teeth but sheathed his weapons, “What is your business with Rolfe?”

Dorian released his magic into himself. It settled into his core like a bit of dropped ribbon.

Rolfe waved a hand to the two males. “They’re the bearer of the news I promised you—among other things.”

“And we were just sitting down to lunch,” Fenrys said, those dark eyes dancing. “Shall we?”

Fenrys didn’t wait for them as he ducked back into the hall and walked out.

The tattooed one—Gavriel—sighed quietly. “It’s a long tale, Rowan, and one you and the King of Adarlan”—a flick of tawny eyes in his direction—“must hear.” He gestured to the hall and said, utterly stone-faced, “You know how cranky Fenrys gets when he doesn’t eat.”

“I heard that,” called a deep male voice from the hall.

Dorian reined in his smile, watching Rowan for his reaction instead. But the Fae Prince only jerked his head at Gavriel in silent order to lead the way.

None of them, not even Rolfe, spoke as they descended into the main room. The barmaid was gone, only sparkling glasses behind the bar hinting that she’d been there. And, indeed digging into a steaming bowl of what smelled like fish stew, Fenrys now waited for them at a table in the back.

Gavriel slid into a seat beside the warrior, his mostly full bowl sloshing a bit as the table shifted, and said to Rowan when the prince halted halfway through the room, “Is…” The Fae warrior paused, as if weighing the words and how Rowan might react if the question was posed poorly. Dorian knew why the exact next moment. “Is Aelin Galathynius with you?”

Dorian didn’t know where to look: at the warriors now at the table, at Rowan beside him, or at Rolfe, brows raised as he leaned against the stair banister, with no idea that the queen was his great enemy.

Rowan shook his head once, a swift, cutting move. “My queen is not in our company.”

Fenrys flicked his brows up but continued devouring his meal, his gray jacket unbuttoned to reveal the muscled brown chest peeking through the vee of his white shirt. Gold embroidery swirled along the lapels of the jacket—the only sign of wealth among them.

Dorian didn’t quite know what had happened this past spring with Rowan’s cadre, but … they obviously hadn’t parted on good terms. At least on Rowan’s end.

Gavriel rose to drag over two chairs—closest to the exit, Dorian noticed. Perhaps Gavriel was the one who kept the peace among the cadre.

Rowan didn’t make a move for them. It was so easy to forget that the prince had centuries of handling foreign courts—had gone to war and back again. With these males.

Rowan didn’t bother with diplomacy, however, as he said, “Tell me whatever the hell this news is.”

Fenrys and Gavriel exchanged a look. The former just rolled his eyes and gestured with his spoon for Gavriel to speak.

“Maeve’s armada sails for this continent.”

Dorian was glad he didn’t have anything in his stomach.

Rowan’s words were guttural as he asked, “Is that bitch allying with Morath?” He cut what Dorian considered to be the definition of an icy stare at Rolfe. “Are you allying with her?”

“No,” Gavriel said evenly.

Rolfe, to his credit, just shrugged. “I told you, I want no part in this war.”

“Maeve isn’t the sort to share power,” Gavriel cut in calmly. “But before we left, she was readying her armada to leave—for Eyllwe.”

Dorian whooshed out a breath. “Why Eyllwe? Is it possible she could be sending aid?”

From the look on Rowan’s face, Dorian could tell the prince was already cataloging and marking, analyzing what he knew of his former queen, of Eyllwe, and how it tied to everything else.

Dorian tried to control his thundering heart, knowing they could likely hear its shift in rhythm.

Fenrys set down his spoon. “I doubt she’s sending aid to anyone at all— at least not where this continent is concerned. And again, she didn’t tell us her specific reasons.”

“She always tells us,” Rowan countered. “She’s never contained information like that.”

Fenrys’s dark eyes flickered. “That was before you humiliated her by leaving her for Aelin of the Wildfire. And before Lorcan abandoned her as well. She trusts none of us now.”

Eyllwe … Maeve had to know how dear the kingdom was to Aelin. But to launch an armada … There had to be something there, something worth her while. Dorian ran through every lesson he’d been taught, every book he’d read on the kingdom. But nothing sparked.

Rowan said, “Maeve cannot believe she can conquer Eyllwe—at least not for any extended period of time, not without drawing all her armies here, and leaving her realm undefended.”

But perhaps it’d spread Erawan thin, even if the cost of Maeve’s invasion would be steep…

Again,” Fenrys drawled, “we don’t know details. We only told him”— a jerk of the chin toward where Rolfe still leaned against the banister with crossed arms—“as a courtesy warning—among other things.”

Dorian noted that Rowan didn’t ask if they’d have extended the courtesy to them had they not been here. Or what, exactly, those other things were. The prince said to Rolfe, “I need to dispatch messages. Immediately.”

Rolfe studied his gloved hands. “Why bother? Won’t the recipient arrive soon enough?”

“What?” Dorian braced himself at the simmering temper in Rowan’s tone.

Rolfe smiled. “Rumor has it Aelin Galathynius destroyed General Narrok and his lieutenants over in Wendlyn. And that she accomplished this with a Fae Prince at her side. Impressive.”

Rowan’s canines flashed. “And your point is, Captain?”

“I just wish to know whether Her Majesty, Queen of Fire, expects a grand parade when she arrives.”

Dorian doubted Rolfe would very much like her other title—Adarlan’s Assassin.

Rowan’s snarl was soft. “Again, she’s not coming here.”

“Oh? You mean to tell me that her lover goes to rescue the King of Adarlan, and instead of taking him north, he brings him here—and it doesn’t somehow mean I’m to soon play host to her?”

At the mention of lover, Rowan gave Fenrys a lethal stare. The beautiful male—really, there was no way to describe him other than that—just shrugged.

But Rowan said to Rolfe, “She asked me to bring King Dorian to persuade you to join our cause. But as you have no interest in any agenda but your own, it seems our trip was wasted. So we have no further use for you at this table, especially if you’re incapable of dispatching messengers.” Rowan flicked his eyes toward the stairs behind Rolfe. “You’re dismissed.”

Fenrys choked on a dark laugh, but Gavriel straightened as Rolfe hissed, “I don’t care who you are and what power you wield. You don’t give me orders in my territory.”

“You’d better get used to taking them,” Rowan said, his voice calm in that way that made Dorian’s every instinct prepare to run. “For if Morath wins this war, they will not be content to let you flounce about these islands, pretending to be king. They will lock you out of every port and river, deny you trade with cities that you have come to depend upon. Who shall your buyers be when there are none left to purchase your goods? I doubt Maeve will bother—or remember you.”

Rolfe snapped, “If these islands are sacked, we will sail to others—and others. The seas are my haven—upon the waves, we will always be free.”

“I’d hardly call squatting in your tavern in fear of Valg assassins free.”

Rolfe’s gloved hands flexed and unfurled, and Dorian wondered if he’d go for the rapier at his side. But then the Pirate Lord said to Fenrys and Gavriel, “We will meet here tomorrow at eleven.” When his gaze shifted to Rowan, it hardened. “Send however many damn messages you want. You may stay until your queen arrives, which I have no doubt she will. At that time, I will hear what the legendary Aelin Galathynius has to say for herself. Until then, get the hell out.” He jerked his chin toward Gavriel and Fenrys. “You can talk to the princes at their own damn lodgings.” Rolfe stalked to the front door, yanking it open to reveal a wall of rain and the four young but hard-looking men lingering on the soaked quay. Their hands

shot to their weapons, but Rolfe made no move to summon them. He only pointed out the door.

Rowan stared down the man for a moment, then said to his former companions, “Let’s go.”

They weren’t stupid enough to argue.



This was bad. Undeniably bad.

Rowan’s magic frayed apart as he worked to keep the shields around him and Dorian intact. But he didn’t let Fenrys or Gavriel get a whiff of that exhaustion, didn’t reveal one bit of the effort it took to hold the magic and concentrate.

Rolfe might very well be a lost cause against Erawan or Maeve— especially once he saw Aelin. If Aelin had been present during this conversation, Rowan had a feeling it would have ended with the Sea Dragon—both the inn and the ship anchored in the harbor—aflame. But those sea-wyverns … And Maeve’s armada … He’d think about that later. But shit. Just—shit.

The no-nonsense innkeeper at the Ocean Rose asked no questions as Rowan purchased two rooms—the best the inn had to offer. Not when he laid a gold piece on the counter. Two weeks’ accommodations, plus all meals, plus stabling of their horses if they had them, and unlimited laundry, she’d offered with a knowing look at his clothes.

And whatever guests he wished, she added as Rowan whistled sharply, and Dorian, Fenrys, and Gavriel crossed the flagstone courtyard, hoods on as they edged around the burbling fountain. Rain pattered on the potted palms, rustling the magenta bougainvillea crawling up the walls toward the white-painted balconies, still shuttered against the storm.

Rowan asked the woman to send up what was likely enough food for eight people, then stalked for the polished stairs at the back of the dim dining room, the others falling in behind him. Fenrys, mercifully, kept his mouth shut until they reached Rowan’s room, discarded their cloaks, and Rowan lit a few candles. The act alone left a hole in his chest.

Fenrys sank into one of the cushioned chairs before the dark fireplace, running a finger down the black-painted arm. “Such fine accommodations. Which of the royals is paying, then?”

Dorian, who had been about to claim the seat by the small desk before the shuttered windows, stiffened. Gavriel gave Fenrys a look that said, Please no brawling.

“Does it make a difference?” Rowan asked as he went wall to wall, lifting the framed pictures of lush flora for any spy holes or access points. Then he checked beneath the white-sheeted bed, its posts of twirled black wood kissed with the candlelight, trying not to consider that for all his resolutions … she’d share this room with him. This bed.

The space was secure—serene, even, with the beat of the rain in the courtyard and on the roof, the smell of sweet fruit heavy in the air.

“Someone’s got to have money to finance this war,” Fenrys purred, watching Rowan at last lean against a low dresser beside the door. “Though maybe considering yesterday’s decree from Morath, you’ll be moving to more … economical quarters.”

Well, that said enough about what Fenrys and Gavriel knew regarding Erawan’s decree concerning Dorian and his allies. “Worry over your own business, Fenrys,” Gavriel said.

Fenrys snorted, toying with a small curl of golden hair at his nape. “How you even manage to walk with that much steel on you, Whitethorn, has always been a mystery to me.”

Rowan said smoothly, “How no one has ever cut out your tongue just to shut you up has always been a mystery to me as well.”

An edged chuckle. “I’ve been told it’s my best feature. At least the women think so.”

A low laugh escaped Dorian—the first sound like it Rowan had witnessed from the king.

Rowan braced his hands on the dresser. “How did you keep your scents hidden?”

Gavriel’s tawny eyes darkened. “A new trick of Maeve’s—to keep us nearly invisible in a land that does not receive our kind warmly.” He jerked his chin at Dorian and Rowan. “Though it seems it’s not wholly effective.”

Rowan said, “You two better have a damn good explanation for why you’re here—and why you dragged Rolfe into whatever it is.”

Fenrys drawled, “You get everything you want, Rowan, yet you’re still a stone-cold bastard. Lorcan would be proud.”

“Where’s Connall?” was Rowan’s mocking reply, naming Fenrys’s twin.

Fenrys’s face tightened. “Where do you think? One of us is always the anchor.”

“She’d stop keeping him as collateral if you didn’t make your discontent so obvious.”

Fenrys had always been a pain in his ass. And Rowan had not forgotten that it was Fenrys who had wanted the task of handling Aelin Galathynius this past spring. Fenrys loved anything that was wild and beautiful, and to dangle Aelin before him … Maeve had known it was torture.

Perhaps it was torture, too, for Fenrys to be so far from Maeve’s grip— but to know that his twin was back in Doranelle, that if Fenrys never came back … Connall would be punished in unspeakable ways. It was how the queen had ensnared them in the first place: offspring were rare among the Fae—but twins? Even rarer. And for twins to be born gifted with strength, to grow into males whose dominance rivaled that of warriors centuries older than them…

Maeve had coveted them. Fenrys had refused the offer to join her service. So she’d gone after Connall—the dark to Fenrys’s gold, quiet to Fenrys’s roar, thoughtful to Fenrys’s recklessness.

Fenrys got what he wanted: women, glory, wealth. Connall, though skilled, was forever in his twin’s shadow. So when the queen approached him about the blood oath, at a time when Fenrys, not Connall, had been selected to fight in the war with the Akkadians … Connall had sworn it.

And when Fenrys returned to find his brother bound to the queen, and learned what Maeve forced him to do behind closed doors … Fenrys had bargained: he’d swear the oath, but only to get Maeve to back off his brother. For over a century now, Fenrys had served in the queen’s bedroom, had sat chained by invisible shackles beside her dark throne.

Rowan might have liked the male. Respected him. If it weren’t for that damned mouth of his.

“So,” Fenrys said, well aware he had not answered Rowan’s demand for information, “are we soon to call you King Rowan?”

Gavriel murmured, “Gods above, Fenrys.” He gave the sigh of the long-suffering and added before Fenrys could open that stupid mouth, “Your arrival, Rowan, was a fortunate turn of events.”

Rowan faced the male beside him—second-in-command for Maeve now that Rowan had vacated the title. As if the golden-haired warrior read the name from his eyes, Gavriel asked, “Where is Lorcan?”

Rowan had been debating how to answer that question from the moment he’d seen them. That Gavriel had asked … Why had they come to Skull’s Bay?

“I don’t know where Lorcan is,” Rowan said. Not a lie. If they were lucky, his former commander would get the other two Wyrdkeys, realize Aelin had tricked him, and come running—delivering the two keys for Aelin to then destroy.

If they were lucky.

Gavriel said, “You don’t know where he is—but you’ve seen him.” Rowan nodded.

Fenrys snorted. “Are we really going to play truths and lies? Just tell us, you bastard.”

Rowan pinned Fenrys with a look. The White Wolf of Doranelle smiled right back at him.

Gods help them all if Fenrys and Aedion ever sat in a room together.

Rowan said, “Are you here on Maeve’s command—ahead of the armada?”

Gavriel shook his head. “Our presence has nothing to do with the armada sailing. She sent us to hunt him. You already know the crime he committed.”

An act of love—though only in the twisted way that Lorcan could love things. Only in the twisted way he loved Maeve.

“He claims to be doing it in her best interest,” Rowan said casually, aware of the king seated beside him. Rowan knew most underestimated the sharp intelligence under that disarming smile. Knew that Dorian’s value wasn’t his godlike magic, but his mind. He’d latched on to Rolfe’s fear and trauma at the hands of the Valg and laid the foundation—one he’d make sure Aelin would exploit.

“Lorcan’s always been arrogant that way,” Fenrys drawled. “This time, he crossed the line.”

“So you’ve been sent here to bring Lorcan back?”

Those tattoos on Gavriel’s throat—marks Rowan himself had inked— bobbed with each word as he said, “We’ve been sent here to kill hi

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