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Chapter no 11

Heir of Fire

Freezing and aching from shivering all night, Celaena awoke before dawn in her miserable little room and found an ivory tin sitting outside the door. It was lled with a salve that smelled of mint and rosemary, and beneath it was a note written in tight, concise letters.

You deserved it. Maeve sends her wishes for a speedy recovery.

Snorting at the lecture Rowan must have received, and how it must have ru ed his feathers to bring her the gift, Celaena smeared the salve onto her still-swollen lip. A glance in the speckled shard of mirror above the dresser revealed that she had seen better days. And was never drinking wine or eating teggya again. Or going more than a day without a bath.

Apparently Rowan agreed, because he’d also left a few pitchers of water, some soap, and a new set of clothes: white underthings, a loose shirt, and a pale-gray surcoat and cloak similar to what he had worn the day before. ough simple, the fabric was thick and of good quality.

Celaena washed as best she could, shaking with the cold leaking in from the misty forest beyond. Suddenly homesick for the giant bathing pool at the palace, she quickly dried and slid into the clothes, thankful for the layers.

Her teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. Hadn’t stopped chattering all night, actually. Having wet hair now didn’t help, even after she braided it back. She stu ed her feet into the knee-high leather boots and tied the thick red sash around her waist as tightly as she could manage without losing the ability to move, hoping to give herself some shape, but . . .

Celaena scowled at the mirror. She’d lost weight—enough so that her face looked about as hollow as she felt. Even her hair had become rather dull and limp. e salve had already taken down the swelling in her lip, but not the color. At least she was clean again. If frozen to her core. And—-completely overdressed for kitchen duty. Sighing, she unwrapped her sash and shrugged o the overcoat, tossing them onto the bed. Gods, her hands were so cold that the ring on her nger was slipping and sliding about. She knew it was a mistake, but she looked at it anyway, the amethyst dark in the early morning light.

What would Chaol make of all this? She was here, after all, because of him. Not just here in this physical place, but here inside this endless exhaustion, the near-constant ache in her chest. It was not his fault that Nehemia died, not when the princess had orchestrated everything. Yet he had kept information from her. He had chosen the king. Even though he’d claimed he loved her, he still loyally served that monster. Maybe she had been a fool for letting him in, for dreaming of a world where she could ignore the fact that he was captain to the man who had shattered her life again and again.

e pain in her chest sharpened enough that breathing became dif cult. She stood there for a moment, pushing back against it, letting it sink into the fog that smothered her soul, and then trudged out the door.

e one bene t to scullery duty was that the kitchen was warm. Hot, even. e great brick oven and hearth were blazing, chasing away the morning mist that slithered in from the trees beyond the bay of windows above the copper sinks. ere were only two other people in the kitchen—a hunched old man tending to the bubbling pots on the hearth and a youth at the wooden table that split the

kitchen in half, chopping onions and monitoring what smelled like bread. By the Wyrd, she was hungry. at bread smelled divine. And what was in those pots?

Despite the absurdly early hour, the young man’s merry prattling had echoed o the stones of the stairwell, but he’d fallen silent, both men stopping their work, when Rowan strode down the steps into the kitchen. e Fae prince had been waiting for her down the hall, arms crossed, already bored. But his animal-bright eyes had narrowed slightly, as if he’d been half hoping she would oversleep and give him an excuse to punish her. As an immortal, he probably had endless patience and creativity when it came to thinking up miserable punishments.

Rowan addressed the old man by the hearth—standing so still that Celaena wondered if the prince had learned it or been born with it. “Your new scullery maid for the morning shift. After breakfast, I have her for the rest of the day.” Apparently, his lack of greeting wasn’t personal. Rowan looked at her with raised brows, and she could see the words in his eyes as clearly as if he’d spoken them: You wanted to remain unidenti ed, so go ahead, Princess. Introduce yourself with whatever name you want.

At least he’d listened to her last night. “Elentiya,” she choked out. “My name is Elentiya.” Her gut tightened.

ank the gods Rowan didn’t snort at the name. She might have eviscerated him—or tried to, at least—if he mocked the name Nehemia had given her.

e old man hobbled forward, wiping his gnarled hands on a crisp white apron. His brown woolen clothes were simple and worn—a bit threadbare in places—and he seemed to have some trouble with his left knee, but his white hair was tied back neatly from his tan face. He bowed sti y. “So good of you to nd us additional help, Prince.” He shifted his chestnut-brown eyes to Celaena and gave her a no-nonsense once-over. “Ever work in a kitchen?”

With all the things she had done, all the places and things and people she had seen, she had to say no.

“Well, I hope you’re a fast learner and quick on your feet,” he said.

“I’ll do my best.” Apparently that was all Rowan needed to hear before he stalked o , his footsteps silent, every movement smooth and laced with power. Just watching him, she knew he’d held back last night when punching her. If he’d wanted to, he could have shattered her jaw.

“I’m Emrys,” the old man said. He hurried to the oven, grabbing a long, at wooden shovel from the wall to pull a brown loaf out of the oven. Introduction over. Good. No wishy-washy nonsense or smiling or any of that. But his ears—

Half-breeds. Peeking up from Emrys’s white hair were the markers of his Fae heritage.

“And this is Luca,” the old man said, pointing to the youth at the worktable. Even though a rack of iron pots and pans hanging from the ceiling partially blocked her view of him, he gave Celaena a broad smile, his mop of tawny curls sticking up this way and that. He had to be a few years younger than her at least, and hadn’t yet grown into his tall frame or broad shoulders. He didn’t have properly

tting clothes, either, given how short the sleeves of his ordinary brown tunic were. “You and he will be sharing a lot of the scullery work, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, it’s absolutely miserable,” Luca chirped, sni ing loudly at the reek of the onions he was chopping, “but you’ll get used to it. ough maybe not the waking up before dawn part.” Emrys shot the young man a glare, and Luca amended, “At least the company’s good.”

She gave him her best attempt at a civilized nod and took in the layout again. Behind Luca, a second stone staircase spiraled up and out of sight, and the two towering cupboards on either side of

it were crammed with well-worn, if not cracked, dishes and cutlery. e top half of a wooden door by the windows was wide open, a wall of trees and mist swirling beyond a small clearing of grass. Past them, the ring of megaliths towered like eternal guardians.

She caught Emrys studying her hands and held them out, scars and all. “Already mangled and ruined, so you won’t nd me weeping over broken nails.”

“Mother keep me. What happened?” But even as the old man spoke, she could see him putting the pieces together—see him deciphering Celaena’s accent, taking in her swollen lip and the shadows under her eyes.

“Adarlan will do that to a person.” Luca’s knife thudded on the table, but Celaena kept her eyes on the old man. “Give me whatever work you want. Any work.”

Let Rowan think she was spoiled and sel sh. She was, but she wanted sore muscles and blistered hands and to fall into bed so exhausted she wouldn’t dream, wouldn’t think, wouldn’t feel much of anything.

Emrys clicked his tongue. ere was enough pity in the man’s eyes that for a heartbeat, Celaena contemplated biting his head o . en he said, “Just nish the onions. Luca, you mind the bread. I’ve got to start on the casseroles.”

Celaena took up the spot that Luca had already vacated at the end of the table, passing the giant hearth as she did so—a mammoth thing of ancient stone, carved with symbols and odd faces. Even the posts of the brazier had been fashioned into standing gures, and displayed atop the thin mantel was a set of nine iron gurines. Gods and goddesses.

Celaena quickly looked away from the two females in the center—one crowned with a star and armed with a bow and quiver, the other bearing a polished bronze disk upheld between her raised hands. She could have sworn she felt them watching her.

Breakfast was a madhouse.

As dawn lled the windows with golden light, chaos descended on the kitchen, people rushing in and out. ere weren’t any servants, just weathered people doing their chores or even helping because they felt like it. Great tubs of eggs and potatoes and vegetables vanished as soon as they were placed on the table, whisked up the stairs and into what had to be the dining hall. Jugs of water, of milk, of the gods knew what were hauled up. Celaena was introduced to some of the people, but most didn’t cast a look in her direction.

And wasn’t that a lovely change from the usual stares and terror and whispers that had marked the past ten years of her life. She had a feeling Rowan would keep his mouth shut about her identity, if only because he seemed to hate talking to others as much as she did. In the kitchen, chopping vegetables and washing pans, she was absolutely, gloriously nobody.

Her dull knife was a nightmare when it came to chopping mushrooms, scallions, and an endless avalanche of potatoes. No one, except perhaps Emrys with his all-seeing eyes, seemed to notice her perfect slices. Someone merely scooped them up and tossed them in a pot, then told her to cut something else.

en—nothing. Everyone but her two companions vanished upstairs, and sleepy laughter, grumbling, and clinking silverware echoed down the stairwell. Famished, Celaena looked longingly at the food left on the worktable just as she caught Luca staring at her.

“Go ahead,” he said with a grin before moving to help Emrys haul a massive iron cauldron over

toward the sink. Even with the insanity of the past hour, Luca had managed to chat up almost every person who came into the kitchen, his voice and laughter oating over the clanging pots and barked orders. “You’ll be at those dishes for a while and might as well eat now.”

Indeed, there was a tower of dishes and pots already by the sinks. e cauldron alone would take forever. So Celaena plunked down at the table, served herself some eggs and potatoes, poured a cup of tea, and dug in.

Devouring was a better word for what she did. Holy gods, it was delicious. Within moments, she’d consumed two pieces of toast laden with eggs, then started on the fried potatoes. Which were as absurdly good as the eggs. She ditched the tea in favor of downing a glass of the richest milk she’d ever tasted. Not that she ever really drank milk, since she’d had her pick of exotic juices in Rifthold, but . . . She looked up from her plate to nd Emrys and Luca gaping from the hearth. “Gods above,” the old man said, moving to sit at the table. “When was the last time you ate?”

Good food like this? A while. And if Rowan was coming back at some point, she didn’t want to be swaying from hunger. She needed her strength for training. Magic training. Which was sure to be horri c, but she would do it—to ful ll her bargain with Maeve and honor her vow to Nehemia. Suddenly not very hungry, she set down her fork. “Sorry,” she said.

“Oh, eat all you like,” Emrys said. “ ere’s nothing more satisfying to a cook than seeing someone enjoy his food.” He said it with enough humor and kindness that it chafed.

How would they react if they knew the things she’d done? What would they do if they knew about the blood she’d spilled, how she’d tortured Grave and taken him apart piece by piece, the way she’d gutted Archer in that sewer? e way she’d failed her friend. Failed a lot of people.

ey were noticeably quieter as they sat down. ey didn’t ask her any questions. Which was perfect, because she didn’t really want to start a conversation. She wouldn’t be here for long, anyway. Emrys and Luca kept to themselves, chatting about the training Luca was to do with some of the sentries on the battlements that day, the meat pies Emrys would make for lunch, the oncoming spring rains that might ruin the Beltane festival like last year. Such ordinary things to talk about, worry about. And they were so easy with each other—a family in their own way.

Uncorrupted by a wicked empire, by years of brutality and slavery and bloodshed. She could almost see the three souls in the kitchen lined up beside each other: theirs bright and clear, hers a

ickering black ame.

Do not let that light go out. Nehemia’s last words to her that night in the tunnels. Celaena pushed around the food on her plate. She’d never known anyone whose life hadn’t been overshadowed by Adarlan. She could barely remember her brief years before the continent had been enslaved, when Terrasen had still been free.

She could not remember what it was like to be free.

A pit yawned open beneath her feet, so deep that she had to move lest it swallow her whole.

She was about to get started on the dishes when Luca said from down the table, “So you either have to be very important or very unlucky to have Rowan training you to enter Doranelle.” Damned was more like it, but she kept her mouth shut. Emrys was looking on with cautious interest. “ at is what you’re training for, right?”

“Isn’t that why you’re all here?” e words came out atter than even she expected. Luca said, “Yes, but I’ve got years until I learn whether I’ve met their quali cations.”

Years. Years? Maeve couldn’t mean for her to be here that long. She looked at Emrys. “How long

have you been training?”

e old man snorted. “Oh, I was about fteen when I came here, and worked for them for about .

. . ten years, and I was never worthy enough. Too ordinary. en I decided I’d rather have a home and my own kitchen here than be looked down upon in Doranelle for the rest of my days. It didn’t hurt that my mate felt the same way. You’ll meet him soon enough. He’s always popping in to steal food for himself and his men.” He chuckled, and Luca grinned.

Mate—not husband. e Fae had mates: an unbreakable bond, deeper than marriage, that lasted beyond death. Celaena asked, “So you’re all—half-breeds?”

Luca sti ened, but ashed a smile as he said, “Only the pure-blooded Fae call us that. We prefer demi-Fae. But yes, most of us were born to mortal mothers, with the fathers unaware they’d sired us.

e gifted ones usually get snatched away to Doranelle, but for us common o spring, the humans still aren’t comfortable with us, so . . . we go here, we come to Mistward. Or to the other border outposts. Few enough get permission to go to Doranelle that most just come here to live among their own kind.” Luca’s eyes narrowed on her ears. “Looks like you got more human in you than Fae.”

“Because I’m not half.” She didn’t want to share any more details than that. “Can you shift?” Luca asked. Emrys shot him a warning look.

“Can you?” she asked.

“Oh, no. Neither of us can. If we could, we’d probably be in Doranelle with the other ‘gifted’ o spring that Maeve likes to collect.”

Emrys growled. “Careful, Luca.”

“Maeve doesn’t deny it, so why should I? at’s what Bas and the others are saying, too. Anyway, there are a few sentries here who have secondary forms, like Malakai—Emrys’s mate. And they’re-here because they want to be.”

She wasn’t at all surprised that Maeve took an interest in the gifted ones—or that Maeve locked all the useless ones out. “And do either of you have—gifts?”

“You mean magic?” Luca said, his mouth quirking to the side. “Oh, no—neither of us got a lick of it. I heard your continent always had more wielders than we did, anyway, and more variety. Say, is it true that it’s all gone over there?”

She nodded. Luca let out a low whistle. He opened his mouth to ask more, but she wasn’t particularly in the mood to talk about it so she said, “Does anyone at this fortress have magic?” Maybe they’d be able to tell her what to expect with Rowan—and Maeve.

Luca shrugged. “Some. ey’ve only got a hint of boring stu , like encouraging plants to grow or

nding water or convincing rain to come. Not that we need it here.”

ey’d be of no assistance with Rowan or Maeve, then. Wonderful.

“But,” Luca chattered on, “no one here has any exciting or rare abilities. Like shape-shifting into whatever form they want, or controlling re”—her stomach clenched at that—“or oracular sight. We did have a female wander in with raw magic two years ago—she could do anything she wanted, summon any element, and she was here a week before Maeve called her to Doranelle and we never heard from her again. A shame—she was so pretty, too. But it’s the same here as it is everywhere-else: a few people with a pathetic trace of elemental powers that are really only fun for farmers.”

Emrys clicked his tongue. “You should pray the gods don’t strike you with lightning for speaking like that.” Luca groaned, rolling his eyes, but Emrys continued his lecture, gesturing at the youth with his teacup. “ ose powers were gifts given to us by them long ago—gifts we needed to survive

—and were passed down through the generations. Of course they’d be aligned with the elements, and of course they’d be watered down after so long.”

Celaena glanced toward those iron gurines on the mantel. She contemplated mentioning that some believed the gods had also bred with ancient humans and given them magic that way, but . . . that would involve more talking than necessary. She tilted her head to the side. “What do you know about Rowan? How old is he?” e more she learned, the better.

Emrys wrapped his wrinkled hands around his teacup. “He’s one of the few Fae we see around Mistward—he stops in every now and then to retrieve reports for Maeve, but he keeps to himself. Never stays the night. Occasionally he’ll come with the others like him—there are six of them who closely serve the Queen as war leaders or spies, you see. ey never talk to us, and all we hear are rumors about where they go and what they do. But I’ve known Rowan since I rst came here. Not that I really know him, mind you. Sometimes he’s gone for years, o serving Her Majesty. And I don’t think anyone knows how old he is. When I was fteen, the oldest people living here had known him since they were younglings, so . . . I’d say he’s very old.”

“And mean as an adder,” Luca muttered.

Emrys gave him a warning look. “You’d best mind your tongue.” He glanced toward the doors, as if Rowan would be lurking there. When his gaze fell again on Celaena, it was wary. “I’ll admit that you’re probably in for a good heap of di culty.”

“He’s a stone-cold killer and a sadist is what he means,” Luca added. “ e meanest of Maeve’s personal cabal of warriors, they say.”

Well, that wasn’t a surprise, either. But there were ve others like him—that was an unpleasant fact. She said quietly, “I can handle him.”

“We’re not allowed to learn the Old Language until we enter Doranelle,” Luca said, “but I heard his tattoo is a list of all the people he’s slaughtered.”

“Hush,” Emrys said.

“It’s not like he doesn’t act like it.” Luca frowned again at Celaena. “Maybe you should consider whether Doranelle is worth it, you know? It’s not so bad living here.”

She’d already had enough interacting. “I can handle him,” she repeated. Maeve couldn’t intend to keep her here for years. If that started to seem likely, Celaena would leave. And nd another way to stop the king.

Luca opened his mouth but Emrys hushed him again, his gaze falling on Celaena’s scarred hands. “Let her run her own course.”

Luca started chattering about the weather, and Celaena headed to the mountain of dishes. As she washed, she fell into a rhythm, as she’d done while cleaning her weapons aboard that ship.

e kitchen sounds turned mu ed as she let herself spiral down, contemplating that horrible realization again and again: she could not remember what it was like to be free.

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