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Chapter no 19

Heir of Fire

Chaol didn’t put up a ght, though he knew he was as likely to receive death as he was answers. He recognized the sentries by their worn weapons and their uid, precise movements. He’d never forget those details, not after he’d spent a day being held prisoner in a warehouse by them—and witnessed Celaena cut through them as though they were stalks of wheat. ey’d never known that it had been their lost queen who came to slaughter them.

e sentries forced him to his knees in an empty room that smelled of old hay. Chaol found Aedion and a familiar-looking old man staring down at him. e one who had begged Celaena to stop that night in the warehouse. ere was nothing remarkable about the old man; his worn clothes were ordinary, his body lean but not yet withered. Beside him stood a young man Chaol knew by his soft, vicious laugh: the guard who had taunted him when he’d been held prisoner. Shoulder-length dark hair hung loose around a face that was more cruel than handsome, especially with the wicked scar slashing through his eyebrow and down his cheek. He dismissed the sentries with a jerk of his chin.

“Well, well,” Aedion said, circling Chaol. His sword was out, gleaming in the dim light. “Captain of the Guard, heir of Anielle, and spy? Or has your lover been giving you some tricks of the trade?”

“When you throw parties and convince my men to leave their posts, when you’re not at those parties because you’re sneaking through the streets, it’s my duty to know why, Aedion.”

e scarred young man with the twin swords stepped closer, circling with Aedion now. Two predators, sizing up their prey. ey’d probably ght over his carcass.

“Too bad your Champion isn’t here to save you this time,” the scarred one said quietly. “Too bad you weren’t there to save Archer Finn,” Chaol said.

A are of nostrils, a ash of fury in cunning brown eyes, but the young man fell silent as the old man held out a hand. “Did the king send you?”

“I came because of him.” Chaol jerked his chin at Aedion. “But I’ve been looking for you two—and your little group—as well. Both of you are in danger. Whatever you think Aedion wants, whatever he o ers you, the king keeps him on a tight leash.” Perhaps that bit of honesty would buy him what he needed: trust and information.

But Aedion barked out a laugh. “What?” His companions turned to him, brows raised. Chaol glanced at the ring on the general’s nger. He hadn’t been mistaken. It was identical to the ones the king, Perrington, and others had worn.

Aedion caught Chaol’s look and stopped his circling.

For a moment, the general stared at him, a glimmer of surprise and amusement darting across his tan face. en Aedion purred, “You’ve turned out to be a far more interesting man than I thought, Captain.”

“Explain, Aedion,” the old man said softly, but not weakly.

Aedion smiled broadly as he yanked the black ring o his nger. “ e day the king presented me with the Sword of Orynth, he also o ered me a ring. anks to my heritage, my senses are . . . sharper. I thought the ring smelled strange—and knew only a fool would accept that kind of gift from him. So I had a replica made. e real one I chucked into the sea. But I always wondered what it did,” he mused, tossing the ring with one hand and catching it. “It seems the captain knows. And disapproves.”

e man with the twin swords ceased his circling, and the grin he gave Chaol was nothing short of feral. “You’re right, Aedion,” he said without taking his eyes o Chaol. “He is more interesting than he seems.”

Aedion pocketed the ring as if it were—as if it were indeed a fake. And Chaol realized that he’d revealed far more than he’d ever intended.

Aedion began circling again, the scarred young man echoing the graceful movements. “A magical leash—when there is no magic left,” the general mused. “And yet you still followed me, believing I was under the king’s spell. inking you could use me to win the rebels’ favor? Fascinating.”

Chaol kept his mouth shut. He’d already said enough to damn himself.

Aedion went on, “ ese two said your assassin friend was a rebel sympathizer. at she handed over information to Archer Finn without thinking twice—that she allowed rebels to sneak out of the city when she was commanded to put them down. Was she the one who told you about the king’s rings, or did you discover that tidbit all on your own? What, exactly, is going on in that glass palace when the king isn’t looking?”

Chaol clamped down on his retort. When it became clear he wouldn’t speak, Aedion shook his head.

“You know how this has to end,” Aedion said, and there wasn’t anything mocking in it. Just cold calculation. e true face of the Northern Wolf. “ e way I see it, you signed your own death warrant when you decided to trail me, and now that you know so much . . . You have two options, Captain: we can torture it out of you and then we’ll kill you, or you can tell us what you know and we’ll make it quick for you. As painless as possible, on my honor.”

ey stopped circling.

Chaol had faced death a few times in the past months. Had faced and seen and dealt it. But this death, where Celaena and Dorian and his mother would never know what happened to him . . . It disgusted him, somehow. Enraged him.

Aedion stepped closer to where Chaol knelt.

He could take out the scarred one, then hope he could stand against Aedion—or at least ee. He would ght, because that was the only way he could embrace this sort of death.

Aedion’s sword was at the ready—the sword that belonged to Celaena by blood and right. Chaol had assumed he was a two-faced butcher. Aedion was a traitor. But not to Terrasen. Aedion had been playing a very dangerous game since arriving here—since his kingdom fell ten years ago. And tricking the king into thinking that he’d been wearing his ring all this time—that was indeed information Aedion would be willing to kill to keep safe. Yet there was other information Chaol could use, perhaps, to get out of this alive.

Regardless of how shattered she’d been when she left, Celaena was safe now. She was away from Adarlan. But Dorian, with his magic, with the threat he secretly posed, was not. Aedion took a readying breath to kill him. Keeping Dorian protected was all he had left, all that had ever really mattered. If these rebels did indeed know something—anything—about magic that might help to free it, if he could use Aedion to get that information . . .

It was a gamble—the biggest gamble he’d ever made. Aedion raised his sword.

With a silent prayer for forgiveness, Chaol looked straight at Aedion. “Aelin is alive.”

Aedion Ashryver had been called Wolf, general, prince, traitor, and murderer. And he was all of

those things, and more. Liar, deceiver, and trickster were his particular favorites—the titles only those closest to him knew.

Adarlan’s Whore, that’s what the ones who didn’t know him called him. It was true—in so many ways, it was true, and he had never minded it, not really. It had allowed him to maintain control in the North, to keep the bloodshed down to a minimum and a lie. Half the Bane were rebels, and the other half sympathizers, so many of their “battles” in the North had been staged, the body count a deceit and an exaggeration—at least, once the corpses got up from the killing eld under cover of darkness and went home to their families. Adarlan’s Whore. He had not minded. Until now.

Cousin—that had been his most beloved title. Cousin, kin, protector. ose were the secret names he harbored deep within, the names he whispered to himself when the northern wind was shrieking through the Staghorns. Sometimes that wind sounded like the screams of his people being led to the butchering blocks. And sometimes it sounded like Aelin—Aelin, whom he had loved, who should have been his queen, and to whom he would have one day sworn the blood oath.

Aedion stood on the decaying planks of an empty dock in the slums, staring at the Avery. e captain was beside him, spitting blood into the water thanks to the beating given to him by Ren Allsbrook, Aedion’s newest conspirator and yet another dead man risen from the grave.

Ren, heir and Lord of Allsbrook, had trained with Aedion as a child—and had once been his rival. Ten years ago, Ren and his grandfather, Murtagh, had escaped the butchering blocks thanks to a diversion started by Ren’s parents that cost them their lives and gave Ren the nasty scar down his face. But Aedion hadn’t known—he’d thought them dead, and had been stunned to learn that they were the secret rebel group he’d hunted down upon arriving in Rifthold. He’d heard the claims that Aelin was alive and raising an army and had dragged himself down from the north to get to the bottom of it and destroy the liars, preferably cutting them up piece by piece.

e king’s summons had been a convenient excuse. Ren and Murtagh had instantly admitted that the rumors had been spread by a former member of their rebel group. ey had never had or heard of any contact with their dead queen. But seeing Ren and Murtagh, he’d since wondered who else might have survived. He had never allowed himself to hope that Aelin . . .

Aedion set his sword on the wooden rail and ran his scarred ngers down it, taking in the nicks and lines, each mark a tale of legendary battles fought, of great kings long dead. e sword was the last shred of proof that a mighty kingdom had once existed in the North.

It wasn’t his sword, not really. In those initial days of blood and conquest, the King of Adarlan had snatched the blade from Rhoe Galathynius’s cooling body and brought it to Rifthold. And there it had stayed, the sword that should have been Aelin’s.

So Aedion had fought for years in those war camps and battle elds, fought to prove his invaluable worth to the king, and had taken everything that was done to him, again and again. When he and the Bane won that rst battle and the king had proclaimed him the Northern Wolf and o ered him a boon, Aedion had asked for the sword.

e king attributed the request to an eighteen-year-old’s romanticism, and Aedion had swaggered about his own glory until everyone believed that he was a traitorous, butchering bastard who made a mockery of the sword just by touching it. But winning back the sword didn’t erase his failure.

Even though he’d been thirteen, and even though he’d been forty miles away in Orynth when Aelin had been killed on the country estate, he should have stopped it. He’d been sent to her land upon his mother’s death to become Aelin’s sword and shield, to serve in the court she was supposed

to have ruled, that child of kings. So he should have ridden out when the castle erupted with news that Orlon Galathynius had been assassinated. By the time anyone did, Rhoe, Evalin, and Aelin-were dead.

It was that reminder he’d carried with him on his back, the reminder of who the sword belonged to, and to whom, when he took his last breath and went to the Otherworld, he’d nally give it.

But now the sword, that weight he’d embraced for years, felt . . . lighter and sharper, far more fragile. In nitely precious. e world had slipped from beneath his feet.

No one had spoken for a moment after the Captain of the Guard made his claim. Aelin is alive.

en the captain had said he’d only speak with Aedion about it.

Just to show they weren’t blu ng about torturing him, Ren had bloodied him up with a cool precision that Aedion grudgingly admired, but the captain had taken the blows. And whenever Ren paused, Murtaugh looking on disapprovingly, the captain said the same thing. After it became clear that the captain would either tell only Aedion or die, he’d called o Ren. e heir of Allsbrook bristled, but Aedion had dealt with plenty of young men like him in the war camps. It never took much to get them to fall in line. Aedion gave him a long, hard stare, and Ren backed down.

Which was how they wound up here, Chaol cleaning o his face with a scrap of his shirt. For the past few minutes, Aedion had listened to the most unlikely story he’d ever heard. e story of Celaena Sardothien, the infamous assassin, being trained by Arobynn Hamel, the story of her downfall and year in Endovier, and how she’d wound up in the ridiculous competition to become the King’s Champion. e story of Aelin, his Queen, in a death camp, and then serving in her enemy’s-house.

Aedion braced his hands on the rail. It couldn’t be true. Not after ten years. Ten years without hope, without proof.

“She has your eyes,” Chaol said, working his jaw. If this assassin—an assassin, gods above—was truly Aelin, then she was the King’s Champion. en she was the captain’s—

“You sent her to Wendlyn,” Aedion said, his voice ragged. e tears would come later. Right now, he was emptied. Gutted. Every lie, every rumor and act and party he’d thrown, every battle, real or faked, every life he’d taken so more could live . . . How would he ever explain that to her? Adarlan’s Whore.

“I didn’t know who she was. I just thought she would be safer there because of what she is.”

“You realize you’ve only given me a bigger reason to kill you.” Aedion clenched his jaw. “Do you have any idea what kind of risk you took in telling me? I could be working for the king—you thought I was in thrall to him, and all you had for proof against it was a quick story. You might as well have killed her yourself.” Fool—stupid, reckless fool. But the captain still had the upper hand here—the king’s noble captain, who was now toeing the line of treason. He’d wondered about the captain’s allegiance when Ren told him about the involvement of the King’s Champion with the rebels, but

—damn. Aelin. Aelin was the King’s Champion, Aelin had helped the rebels, and gutted Archer Finn. His knees threatened to buckle, but he swallowed the shock, the surprise and terror and glimmer of delight.

“I know it was a risk,” the captain said. “But the men who have those rings—something changes in their eyes, a kind of darkness that sometimes manifests physically. I haven’t seen it in you since you’ve been here. And I’ve never seen someone throw so many parties, but only attend for a few minutes. You wouldn’t go to such lengths to hide your meetings with the rebels if you were enslaved to the

king, especially when during all this time the Bane still hasn’t come, despite your assurances that it will be here soon. It doesn’t add up.” e captain met his stare. Perhaps not quite a fool, then. “I think she’d want you to know.”

e captain looked down the river toward the sea. is place reeked. Aedion had smelled and seen worse in war camps, but the slums of Renaril certainly gave them a run for their money. And Terrasen’s capital, Orynth, its once-shining tower now a slab of lthy white stone, was well on its way to falling into this level of poverty and despair. But maybe, someday soon . . .

Aelin was alive. Alive, and as much of a killer as he was, and working for the same man. “Does the prince know?” He’d never been able to speak with the prince without remembering the days before Terrasen’s downfall; he’d never been able to hide that hatred.

“No. He doesn’t even know why I sent her to Wendlyn. Or that she’s—you’re both . . . Fae.”

Aedion had never possessed a fraction of the power that had smoldered in her veins, which had burned libraries and caused such general worry that there had been talk—in those months before the world went to hell—of sending her somewhere so that she could learn to control it. He’d overheard debate over packing her o to various academies or tutors in distant lands, but never to their aunt Maeve, waiting like a spider in a web to see what became of her niece. And yet she’d wound up in Wendlyn, on her aunt’s doorstep.

Maeve had either never known or never cared about his inherited gifts. No, all he had were some of the physical traits of their immortal kin: strength, swiftness, sharp hearing, keen smell. It had made him a formidable opponent on the battle eld—and saved his life more than once. Saved his very soul, if the captain was right about those rings.

“Is she coming back?” Aedion asked quietly. e rst of the many, many questions he had for the captain, now that he’d proved himself to be more than a useless servant of the king.

ere was enough agony in the captain’s eyes that Aedion knew that he loved her. Knew, and felt a tug of jealousy, if only because the captain knew her that well. “I don’t know,” Chaol admitted. If he hadn’t been his enemy, Aedion would have respected the man for the sacri ce implied. But Aelin had to come back. She would come back. Unless that return only earned her a walk to the butchering block.

He would sort through each wild thought when he was alone. He gripped the damp rail harder,

ghting the urge to ask more.

But then the captain gave him a weighing look, as if he could see through every mask Aedion had ever worn. For a heartbeat, Aedion considered putting the blade right through the captain and dumping his body in the Avery, despite the information he possessed. e captain glanced at the blade, too, and Aedion wondered if he was thinking the same thing—regretting his decision to trust him. e captain should regret it, should curse himself for a fool.

Aedion said, “Why were you tracking the rebels?”

“Because I thought they might have valuable information.” It had to be truly valuable, then, if he’d risk revealing himself as a traitor to get it.

Aedion had been willing to torture the captain—to kill him, too. He’d done worse before. But torturing and killing his queen’s lover wouldn’t go over well if—when she returned. And the captain was now his greatest source of information. He wanted to know more about Aelin, about her plans, about what she was like and how he could nd her. He wanted to know everything. Anything. Especially where the captain now stood on the game board—and what the captain knew about the

king. So Aedion said, “Tell me more about those rings.”

But the captain shook his head. “I want to make a bargain with you.”

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