Chapter no 15

Heir of Fire

Chaol wasn’t at all surprised that his father was twenty minutes late to their meeting. Nor was he surprised when his father strode into Chaol’s o ce, slid into the chair opposite his desk, and o ered no explanation for his tardiness. With calculated cool and distaste, he surveyed the o ce: no windows, a worn rug, an open trunk of discarded weapons that Chaol had never found the time to polish or send for repairs.

At least it was organized. e few papers on his desk were stacked; his glass pens were in their proper holders; his suit of armor, which he rarely had occasion to wear, gleamed from its dummy in the corner. His father said at last, “ is is what our illustrious king gives the Captain of his Guard?”

Chaol shrugged, and his father studied the heavy oak desk. A desk he’d inherited from his predecessor, and one on which he and Celaena had—

He shut down the memory before it could boil his blood, and instead smiled at his father. “ ere was a larger o ce available in the glass addition, but I wanted to be accessible to my men.” It was the truth. He also hadn’t wanted to be anywhere near the administrative wing of the castle, sharing a hallway with courtiers and councilmen.

“A wise decision.” His father leaned back in the ancient wooden chair. “A leader’s instincts.”

Chaol pinned him with a long stare. “I’m to return to Anielle with you—I’m surprised you waste your breath on attery.”

“Is that so? From what I’ve seen, you have been making no move to prepare for this so-called return. You’re not even looking for a replacement.”

“Despite your low opinion of my position, it’s one I take seriously. I won’t have just anyone looking after this palace.”

“You haven’t even told His Majesty that you’re leaving.” at pleasant, dead smile remained on his father’s face. “When I begged for my leave next week, the king made no mention of you accompanying me. Rather than land you in hot water, boy, I held my tongue.”

Chaol kept his face bland, neutral. “Again, I’m not leaving until I nd a proper replacement. It’s why I asked you to meet me. I need time.” It was true—partially, at least.

Just as he had for the past few nights, Chaol had dropped by Aedion’s party—another tavern, even more expensive, even more packed. Aedion wasn’t there again. Somehow everyone thought the general was there, and even the courtesan who’d left with him the rst night said the general had given her a gold coin—without utilizing her services—and gone o to nd more sparkling wine.

Chaol had stood on the street corner where the courtesan said she’d left him, but found nothing. And wasn’t it fascinating that no one really seemed to know exactly when the Bane would arrive, or where they were currently camped—only that they were on their way. Chaol was too busy during the day to track Aedion down, and during the king’s various meetings and luncheons, confronting the general was impossible. But tonight he planned to arrive at the party early enough that he’d see if Aedion even showed and where he slipped o to. e sooner he could get something on Aedion, the sooner he could settle all this nonsense and keep the king from looking too long in his direction before he turned in his resignation.

He’d only called this meeting because of a thought that had awoken him in the middle of the night

—a slightly insane, highly dangerous plan that would likely get him killed before it even accomplished anything. He’d skimmed through all those books Celaena had found on magic, and

found nothing at all about how he might help Dorian—and Celaena—by freeing it. But Celaena had once told him that the rebel group Archer and Nehemia had run claimed two things: one, that they knew where Aelin Galathynius was; and two, that they were close to nding a way to break the King of Adarlan’s mysterious power over the continent. e rst one was a lie, of course, but if there was the slightest chance that these rebels knew how to free magic . . . he had to take it. He was already going out to trail Aedion, and he’d seen all of Celaena’s notes about the rebel hideouts, so he had an idea of where they could be found. is would have to be dealt with carefully, and he still needed as much time as he could buy.

His father’s dead smile faded, and true steel, honed by decades of ruling Anielle, shone through. “Rumor has it you consider yourself a man of honor. ough I wonder what manner of man you truly are, if you do not honor your bargains. I wonder . . .” His father made a good show of chewing on his bottom lip. “I wonder what your motive was, then, in sending your woman to Wendlyn.” Chaol fought the urge to sti en. “For the noble Captain Westfall, there would be no question that he truly wanted His Majesty’s Champion to dispatch our foreign enemies. Yet for the oath-breaker, the liar . . .”

“I am not breaking my vow to you,” Chaol said, meaning every word. “I intend to go to Anielle—I will swear that in any temple, before any god. But only when I’ve found a replacement.”

“You swore a month,” his father growled.

“You’re to have me for the rest of my damned life. What is a month or two more to you?”

His father’s nostrils ared. What purpose, then, did his father have in wanting him to return so quickly? Chaol was about to ask, itching to make his father squirm a bit, when an envelope landed on his desk.

It had been years—years and years, but he still remembered his mother’s handwriting, still recalled the elegant way in which she drew his name. “What is this?”

“Your mother sent a letter to you. I suppose she’s expressing her joy at your anticipated return.” Chaol didn’t touch the envelope. “Aren’t you going to read it?”

“I have nothing to say to her, and no interest in what she has to say to me,” Chaol lied. Another trap, another way to unnerve him. But he had so much to do here, so many things to learn and uncover. He’d honor his vow soon enough.

His father snatched back the letter, tucking it into his tunic. “She will be most saddened to hear that.” And he knew his father, well aware of Chaol’s lie, would tell his mother exactly what he’d said. For a heartbeat, his blood roared in his ears, the way it always had when he’d witnessed his father belittling his mother, reprimanding her, ignoring her.

He took a steadying breath. “Four months, then I’ll go. Set the date and it’ll be done.” “Two months.”

“ ree.”

A slow smile. “I could go to the king right now and ask for your dismissal instead of waiting three months.”

Chaol clenched his jaw. “Name your price, then.”

“Oh, there’s no price. But I think I like the idea of you owing me a favor.” at dead smile returned. “I like that idea very much. Two months, boy.”

ey did not bother with good-byes.

Sorscha was called up to the Crown Prince’s chambers just as she was settling in to brew a calming tonic for an overworked kitchen girl. And though she tried not to seem too eager and pathetic, she found a way to very, very quickly dump the task on one of the lower-level apprentices and make the trek to the prince’s tower.

She’d never been here, but she knew where it was—all the healers did, just in case. e guards let her pass with hardly a nod, and by the time she’d ascended the spiral staircase, the door to his chambers was already open.

A mess. His rooms were a mess of books and papers and discarded weapons. And there, sitting at a table with hardly a foot of space cleared for him, was Dorian, looking rather embarrassed—either at the mess, or at his split lip.

She managed to bow, even as that traitorous heat ooded her again, up her neck and across her face. “Your Highness summoned me?”

A cleared throat. “I—well, I think you can see what needs repairing.”

Another injury to his hand. is one looked like it was from sparring, but the lip . . . getting that close to him would be an e ort of will. Hand rst, then. Let that distract her, anchor her.

She set down her basket of supplies and lost herself in the work of readying ointments and bandages. His scented soap caressed her nose, strong enough to suggest he’d just bathed. Which was a horrible thing to think about as she stood beside his chair, because she was a professional healer, and imagining her patients naked was not a—

“Aren’t you going to ask what happened?” the prince said, peering up at her.

“It’s not my place to ask—and unless it’s relevant to the injury, it’s nothing I need to know.” It came out colder, harder than she meant. But it was true.

E ciently, she patched up his hand. e silence didn’t bother her; she’d sometimes spent days in the catacombs without speaking to anyone. She’d been a quiet child before her parents had died, and after the massacre in the city square, she’d become even more so. It wasn’t until she’d come to the castle that she found friends—found that she sometimes liked talking. Yet now, with him . . . well, it seemed that the prince didn’t like silence, because he looked up at her again and said, “Where are you from?”

Such a tricky question to answer, since the how and why of her journey to this castle were stained by the actions of his father. “Fenharrow,” she said, praying that would be the end of it.

“Where in Fenharrow?”

She almost cringed, but she had more self-control than that after ve years of tending gruesome injuries and knowing that one icker of disgust or fear on her face could shatter a patient’s control. “A small village in the south. Most people have never heard of it.”

“Fenharrow is beautiful,” he said. “All that open land, stretching on forever.”

She did not remember enough of it to recall whether she had loved the at expanse of farmland, bordered on the west by mountains and on the east by the sea.

“Did you always want to be a healer?”

“Yes,” she said, because she was entrusted to heal the heir to the empire and could show nothing but absolute certainty.

A slash of a grin. “Liar.”

She didn’t mean to, but she met his gaze—those sapphire eyes so bright in the late afternoon sun streaming through the small window. “I did not mean any o ense, Your—”

“I’m prying.” He tested the bandages. “I was trying to distract myself.”

She nodded, because she had nothing to say and could never come up with anything clever anyway. She drew out her tin of disinfecting salve. “For your lip, if you don’t mind, Your Highness, I want to make sure there’s no dirt or anything in the wound so it—”

“Sorscha.” She tried not to let it show, what it did to her to have him remember her name. Or to hear him say it. “Do what you need to do.”

She bit her lip, a stupid nervous habit, and nodded as she tilted his chin up so she could better see his mouth. His skin was so warm. She touched the wound and he hissed, his breath caressing her

ngers, but didn’t pull back or reprimand or strike her as some of the other courtiers did. She applied the salve to his lip as quickly as she could. Gods, his lips were soft.

She hadn’t known he was the prince the day she rst saw him, striding through the gardens, the captain in tow. ey were barely into their teenage years, and she was an apprentice in hand-me–down clothes, but for a moment, he’d looked at her and smiled. He’d seen her when no one else had for years, so she found excuses to be in the upper levels of the castle. But she’d wept the next month when she spied him again, and two apprentices had whispered about how handsome the prince was

—Dorian, heir to the throne.

It had been secret and stupid, this infatuation with him. Because when she nally encountered him again, years later while helping Amithy with a patient, he did not look at her. She had become invisible, like many of the healers—invisible, just as she had wanted. “Sorscha?”

Her horror achieved new depths as she realized she’d been staring at his mouth, ngers still in her tin of salve. “I’m sorry,” she said, wondering whether she should throw herself from the tower and end her humiliation. “It’s been a long day.” at wasn’t a lie.

She was acting like a fool. She’d been with a man before—one of the guards, just once and long enough to know she wasn’t particularly interested in letting another one touch her anytime soon. But standing so close, his legs brushing the skirt of her brown homespun dress . . .

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” he asked quietly. “About me and my friends.”

She backed away a step but held his stare, even though training and instinct told her to avert her eyes. “You were never cruel to the healers—to anyone. I like to think that the world needs . . .” Saying that was too much. Because the world was his father’s world.

“Needs better people,” he nished for her, standing. “And you think my father would have used your knowledge of our . . . comings and goings against us.”

So he knew that Amithy reported anything unusual. Amithy had told Sorscha to do the same, if she knew what was good for her. “I don’t mean to imply that His Majesty would—”

“Does your village still exist? Are your parents still alive?”

Even years later, she couldn’t keep the pain from her voice as she said, “No. It was burned. And no: they brought me to Rifthold and were killed in the city’s immigrant purge.”

A shadow of grief and horror in his eyes. “So why would you ever come here—work here?”

She gathered her supplies. “Because I had nowhere else to go.” Agony ickered on his face. “Your Highness, have I—”

But he was staring as if he understood—and saw her. “I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t your decision. Or your soldiers who rounded up my parents.”

He only looked at her for a long moment before thanking her. A polite dismissal. And she wished, as she left that cluttered tower, that she’d never opened her mouth—because perhaps he’d never call

on her again for the sheer awkwardness of it. She wouldn’t lose her position, because he wasn’t that cruel, but if he refused her services, then it might lead to questions. So Sorscha resolved, as she lay that night in her little cot, to nd a way to apologize—or maybe nd excuses to keep the prince from seeing her again. Tomorrow, she’d gure it out tomorrow.

e following day she didn’t expect the messenger who arrived after breakfast, asking for the name of her village. And when she hesitated, he said that the Crown Prince wanted to know.

Wanted to know, so he could have it added to his personal map of the continent.

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