Chapter no 17

Heir of Fire

Celaena awoke, freezing and groaning from a relentless headache. at, she knew, was from hitting her head on the temple stones. She hissed as she sat up, and every inch of her body, from her ears to her toes to her teeth, gave a collective burst of pain. It felt as if she’d been pummeled by a thousand iron sts and left to rot in the cold. at was from the uncontrolled shifting she’d done yesterday. e gods knew how many times she’d shuddered between one form and the other. From the tenderness of her muscles, it had to have been dozens.

But she hadn’t lost control of the magic, she reminded herself as she rose, gripping the chipped bedpost. She pulled the pale robe tighter around her as she shu ed for the dresser and basin. After the bath, she’d realized she had nothing to change into and had stolen one of the many robes, leaving her reeking clothes heaped by the door. She’d barely made it to her room before she collapsed on the bed, pulled the scrap of blanket over her, and slept.

And slept. And slept. She didn’t feel like talking with anyone. And no one came for her, anyway.

Celaena braced her hands on the dresser and grimaced at her re ection. She looked like shit, felt like shit. Even more grim and gaunt than yesterday. She picked up the tin of salve Rowan had given her, but then decided he should see what he’d done. And she’d looked worse—two years ago, when Arobynn had beaten her to a bloody pulp for disobeying his orders. is was nothing compared to how mangled she’d been then.

She opened the door to nd that someone had left clothes—the same as yesterday, but fresh. Her boots had been cleaned of mud and dust. Either Rowan had left them, or someone else had noticed her lthy clothing. Gods—she’d soiled herself in front of him.

She didn’t let herself wallow in the humiliation as she dressed and went to the kitchens, the halls dark in the moments before dawn. Already, Luca was prattling about the ghting knife a sentry had loaned him for his training, and on and on and on.

Apparently she had underestimated how horri c her face was, because Luca stopped his chattering midsentence to swear. Whirling, Emrys took one look at her and dropped his earthenware bowl before the hearth. “Great Mother and all her children.”

Celaena went to the heap of garlic cloves on the worktable and picked up a knife. “It looks worse than it feels.” A lie. Her head was still pounding from the cut on her brow, and her eye was deeply bruised beneath.

“I’ve got some salve in my room—” Luca started from where he was already washing dishes, but she gave him a long look.

She began peeling the cloves, her ngers instantly sticky. ey were still staring, so she atly said, “It’s none of your business.”

Emrys left his shattered bowl on the hearthstones and hobbled over, anger dancing in those bright, clever eyes. “It’s my business when you come into my kitchen.”

“I’ve been through worse,” she said.

Luca said, “What do you mean?” He eyed her mangled hands, her black eye, and the ring of scars around her neck, courtesy of Baba Yellowlegs. She silently invited him to do the calculations: a life in Adarlan with Fae blood, a life in Adarlan as a woman . . . His face paled.

After a long moment, Emrys said, “Leave it alone, Luca,” and stooped to pick up the fragments of the bowl.

Celaena went back to the garlic, Luca markedly quieter as he worked. Breakfast was made and sent upstairs in the same chaotic rush as yesterday, but a few more demi-Fae noticed her today. She either ignored them or stared them down, marking their faces. Many had pointed ears, but most seemed human. Some wore civilian clothing—tunics and simple gowns—while the sentries wore light leather armor and heavy gray cloaks with an array of weapons (many the worse for wear). e warriors looked her way the most, men and women both, wariness and curiosity mingling.

She was busy wiping down a copper pot when someone let out a low, appreciative whistle in her direction. “Now that is one of the most glorious black eyes I’ve ever beheld.” A tall old man—-handsome despite being around Emrys’s age—strode through the kitchen, empty platter in his hands.

“You leave her be, too, Malakai,” Emrys said from the hearth. His husband—mate. e old man gave a dashing grin and set down the platter on the counter near Celaena.

“Rowan doesn’t pull punches, does he?” His gray hair was cropped short enough to reveal his pointed ears, but his face was ruggedly human. “And it looks like you don’t bother using a healing salve.” She held his gaze but gave no reply. Malakai’s grin faded. “My mate works too much as it is. You don’t add to that burden, understand?”

Emrys growled his name, but Celaena shrugged. “I don’t want to bother with any of you.”

Malakai caught the unspoken warning in her words—so don’t try to bother with me—and gave her a curt nod. She heard, more than saw, him stride to Emrys and kiss him, then the rumble of some murmured, stern words, and then his steady footsteps as he walked out again.

“Even the demi-Fae warrior males push overprotective to a whole new level,” Emrys said, the words laced with forced lightness.

“It’s in our blood,” Luca said, lifting his chin. “It is our duty, honor, and life’s mission to make sure our families are cared for. Especially our mates.”

“And it makes you a thorn in our side,” Emrys clucked. “Possessive, territorial beasts.” e old man strode to the sink, setting down the cool kettle for Celaena to wash. “My mate means well, lass. But you’re a stranger—and from Adarlan. And you’re training with . . . someone none of us quite understand.”

Celaena dumped the kettle in the sink. “I don’t care,” she said. And meant it.

Training was horrible that day. Not just because Rowan asked if she was going to vomit or piss herself again, but also because for hours—hours—he made her sit amongst the temple ruins on the ridge, battered by the misty wind. He wanted her to shift—that was his only command.

She demanded to know why he couldn’t teach her the magic without shifting, and he gave her the same answer again and again: no shift, no magic lessons. But after yesterday, nothing short of him taking his long dagger and cutting her ears into points would get her to change forms. She tried once

—when he stalked into the woods for some privacy. She tugged and yanked and pulled at whatever lay deep inside her, but got nothing. No ash of light or searing pain.

So they sat on the mountainside, Celaena frozen to the bone. At least she didn’t lose control again, no matter what insults he threw her way, either aloud or through one of their silent, vicious conversations. She asked him why he wasn’t pursuing the creature that had been in the barrow–wights’ eld, and he merely said that he was looking into it, and the rest was none of her concern.

underclouds clustered during the late afternoon. Rowan forced her to sit through the storm

until her teeth were clattering in her skull and her blood was thick with ice, and then they nally made the trek to the fortress. He ditched her by the baths again, eyes glimmering with an unspoken promise that tomorrow would be worse.

When she nally emerged, there were dry clothes in her room, folded and placed with such care that she was starting to wonder whether she didn’t have some invisible servant shadowing her. ere was no way in hell an immortal like Rowan would have bothered to do that for a human.

She debated staying in her rooms for the rest of the night, especially as rain lashed at her window, lightning illuminating the trees beyond. But her stomach gurgled. She was light-headed again, and knew she’d been eating like an idiot. With her black eye, the best thing to do was eat—even if it meant going to the kitchens.

She waited until she thought everyone had gone upstairs. ere were always leftovers after breakfast—there had to be some at dinner. Gods, she was bone-tired. And ached even worse than she had this morning.

She heard the voices long before she entered the kitchen and almost turned back, but—no one had spoken to her at breakfast save Malakai. Surely everyone would ignore her now, too.

She’d estimated a good number of people in the kitchen, but was still a bit surprised by how packed it was. Chairs and cushions had been dragged in, all facing the hearth, before which Emrys and Malakai sat, chatting with those gathered. ere was food on every surface, as if dinner had been held in here. Keeping to the shadows atop the stairs, she observed them. e dining hall was spacious, if a bit cold—why gather around the kitchen hearth?

She didn’t particularly care—not when she saw the food. She slipped in through the gathered crowd with practiced stealth and ease, lling up a plate with roast chicken, potatoes (gods, she was already sick of potatoes), and hot bread. Everyone was still chatting; those who didn’t have seats were standing against the counters or walls, laughing and sipping from their mugs of ale.

e upper half of the kitchen door was open to let out the heat from all the bodies, the sound of rain lling the room like a drum. She caught a glimmer of movement outside, but when she looked, there was nothing there.

Celaena was about to slip back up the stairs when Malakai clapped his hands and everyone stopped talking. Celaena paused again in the shadows of the stairwell. Smiles spread, and people settled in. Seated on the oor in front of Emrys’s chair was Luca, a pretty young woman pressed into his side, his arm casually draped around her shoulders—casually, but with enough of a grip to tell every other male in the room that she was his. Celaena rolled her eyes, not at all surprised.

Still, she caught the look Luca gave the girl, the mischief in his eyes that sent a pang of jealousy right through her. She’d looked at Chaol with that same expression. But their relationship had never been as unburdened, and even if she hadn’t ended things, it never would have been like that. e ring on her nger became a weight.

Lightning ashed, revealing the grass and forest beyond. Seconds later, thunder shook the stones, triggering a few shrieks and laughs.

Emrys cleared his throat, and every eye snapped to his lined face. e ancient hearth illuminated his silver hair, casting shadows throughout the room. “Long ago,” Emrys began, his voice weaving between the drumming rain and grumbling thunder and crackling re, “when there was no mortal king on Wendlyn’s throne, the faeries still walked among us. Some were good and fair, some were prone to little mischiefs, and some were fouler and darker than the blackest night.”

Celaena swallowed. ese were words that had been spoken in front of hearths for thousands of years—spoken in kitchens like this one. Tradition.

“It was those wicked faeries,” Emrys went on, the words resonating in every crack and crevice, “that you always had to watch for on the ancient roads, or in the woods, or on nights like this, when you can hear the wind moaning your name.”

“Oh, not that one,” Luca groaned, but it wasn’t heartfelt. Some of the others laughed—a bit nervously, even. Someone else protested, “I won’t sleep for a week.”

Celaena leaned against the stone wall, shoveling food down her throat as the old man wove his tale. e hair on her neck stood on end for the duration of it, and she could see every horri c moment of the story as clearly as if she had lived it.

As Emrys nished his tale, thunder boomed, and even Celaena inched, almost upsetting her empty plate. ere were some wary laughs, some taunts and gentle pushes. Celaena frowned. If she’d heard this story—with the wretched creatures who delighted in skin-sewing and bone-crunching and lightning-crisping—before traveling here with Rowan, she never would have followed him. Not in a million years.

Rowan hadn’t lit a single re on the journey here—hadn’t wanted to attract attention. From these sorts of creatures? He hadn’t known what that thing was the day before in the barrows. And if an immortal didn’t know . . . She used breathing exercises to calm her pounding heart. Still, she’d be lucky if she slept tonight.

ough everyone else seemed to be waiting for the next story, Celaena stood. As she turned to leave, she looked again to that half-open kitchen door, just to make sure there was nothing lurking outside. But it was not some fell creature who waited in the rain. A large white-tailed hawk was perched in the shadows.

It sat absolutely still. But the hawk’s eyes—there was something strange about them . . . She’d seen that hawk before. It had watched her for days as she’d lazed on that rooftop in Varese, watched her drink and steal and doze and brawl.

At least she now knew what Rowan’s animal form was. What she didn’t know was why he bothered to listen to these stories.

“Elentiya.” Emrys was extending a hand from where he sat before the hearth. “Would you perhaps share a story from your lands? We’d love to hear a tale, if you’d do us the honor.”

Celaena kept her eyes on the old man as everyone turned to where she stood in the shadows. Not one of them o ered a word of encouragement, save for Luca, who said, “Tell us!”

But she had no right to tell those stories as if they were her own. And she could not remember them correctly, not as they had been told at her bedside.

She clamped down on the thought as hard as she could, shoving it back long enough to calmly say, “No, thank you,” and walk away. No one came after her. She didn’t give a damn what Rowan made of the whole thing.

e whispers died with each step, and it wasn’t until she’d shut the door to her freezing room and slid into bed that she loosed a sigh. e rain stopped, the clouds cleared on a brisk wind, and through the window, a patch of stars ickered above the tree line.

She had no stories to tell. All the legends of Terrasen were lost to her, and only fragments were strewn through her memories like rubble.

She pulled her scrap of blanket higher and draped an arm over her eyes, shutting out the ever–

watching stars.

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