Chapter no 29

Heir of Fire

It had just been a kiss, Sorscha told herself every day afterward. A quick, breathless kiss that made the world spin. e iron in the treacle had worked, though it bothered Dorian enough that they started to toy with the dosage . . . and ways to mask it. If he were caught ingesting powders at all hours of the day, it would lead to questions.

So it became a daily contraceptive tonic. Because no one would bat an eye at that—not with his reputation. Sorscha was still reassuring herself that the kiss had meant nothing more than a thank–you as she reached the door to Dorian’s tower room, his daily dose in hand.

She knocked, and the prince called her inside. e assassin’s hound was sprawled on his bed, and the prince himself was lounging on his shabby couch. He sat up, however, and smiled at her in that way of his.

“I think I found a better combination—the mint might go down better than the sage,” she said, holding up the glass of reddish liquid. He came toward her, but there was something in his gait—a kind of prowl—that made her straighten. Especially as he set down the glass and stared at her, long and deep. “What?” she breathed, backing up a step.

He gripped her hand—not hard enough to hurt, but enough to stop her retreat. “You understand the risks, and yet you’re still helping me,” he said. “Why?”

“It’s the right thing.”

“My father’s laws say otherwise.”

Her face heated. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

His hands were cool as he brushed her cheeks, his calluses scraping gently. “I just want to thank you,” he murmured, leaning in. “For seeing me and not running.”

“I—” She was burning up from the inside out, and she pulled back, hard enough that he let go. Amithy was right, even if she was vicious. ere were plenty of beautiful women here, and anything more than a irtation would end poorly. He was Crown Prince, and she was nobody. She gestured to the goblet. “If it’s not too much trouble, Your Highness”—he cringed at the title—“send word about how this one works for you.”

She didn’t dare a by-your-leave or farewell or anything that would keep her in that room a moment longer. And he didn’t try to stop her as she walked out and shut the door behind her.

She leaned against the stone wall of the narrow landing, a hand on her thundering heart. It was the smart thing to do, the right thing to do. She had survived this long, and would only survive the road ahead if she continued to be unnoticed, reliable, quiet.

But she didn’t want to be unnoticed—not with him, not forever.

He made her want to laugh and sing and shake the world with her voice.

e door swung open, and she found him standing in the doorway, solemn and wary.

Maybe there could be no future, no hope of anything more, but just looking at him standing there, in this moment, she wanted to be sel sh and stupid and wild.

It could all go to hell tomorrow, but she had to know what it was like, just for a little while, to belong to someone, to be wanted and cherished.

He did not move, didn’t do anything but stare—seeing her exactly how she saw him—as she grabbed the lapels of his tunic, pulled his face down to hers, and kissed him ercely.

Chaol had been barely able to concentrate for the past few days thanks to the meeting he was moments away from having. It had taken longer than he had anticipated before Ren and Murtaugh-were nally ready to meet him—their rst encounter since that night in the slums. Chaol had to wait for his next night o , Aedion had to nd a secure location, and then they had to coordinate with the two lords from Terrasen. He and the general had left the castle separately, and Chaol had hated himself when he lied to his men about where he was going—hated that they wished him fun, hated that they trusted him, the man who was meeting with their mortal enemies.

Chaol shoved those thoughts aside as he approached the dim alley a few blocks from the decrepit boarding house where they were to meet. Under his heavy-hooded cloak he was armed more heavily than he usually bothered. Every breath he took felt too shallow. A two-note whistle sounded down the alley, and he echoed it. Aedion stalked through the low-lying mist coming o the Avery, his face concealed in the cowl of his own cloak.

He wasn’t wearing the Sword of Orynth. Instead, an assortment of blades and ghting knives were strapped to the general—a man able to walk into hell itself and come out grinning.

“Where are the others?” Chaol said softly. e slums were quiet tonight—too quiet for his liking. Dressed as he was, few would dare approach him, but the walk through the crooked and dark streets had been harrowing. Such poverty and despair—and desperation. It made people dangerous, willing to risk anything to scratch out another day of living.

Aedion leaned against the crumbling brick wall behind them. “Don’t get your undergarments in a twist. ey’ll be here soon.”

“I’ve waited long enough for this information.” “What’s the rush?” Aedion drawled, scanning the alley.

“I’m leaving Rifthold in a few weeks to return to Anielle.” Aedion didn’t look directly at him, but he could feel the general staring at him from beneath his dark hood.

“So get out of it—tell them you’re busy.”

“I made a promise,” Chaol said. “I’ve already bargained for time, but I want to have . . . done something for the prince before I leave.”

e general turned to him then. “I’d heard you were estranged from your father; why the sudden change?”

It would have been easier to lie, but Chaol said, “My father is a powerful man—he has the ear of many in uential members at court and is on the king’s council.”

Aedion let out a low laugh. “I’ve butted heads with him in more than a few war councils.”

at Chaol would have paid good money to see, but he wasn’t smiling as he said, “It was the only way I could get her sent to Wendlyn.” He quickly explained the bargain he’d made, and when he was

nished, Aedion loosed a long breath.

“Damn,” the general said, then shook his head. “I didn’t think that kind of honor still existed in Adarlan.”

He supposed it was a compliment—and a high one, coming from Aedion. “And what of your father?” Chaol said, if only to shift conversation away from the hole in his chest. “I know your mother was kin to—to her, but what of your father’s line?”

“My mother never admitted who my father was, even when she was wasting away on her sickbed,” Aedion said atly. “I don’t know if it was from shame, or because she couldn’t even remember, or to protect me somehow. Once I was brought over here, I didn’t really care. But I’d rather have no father

than your father.”

Chaol chuckled and might have asked another question had boots not scraped on stone at the other end of the alley, followed by a rasping breath.

at fast, Aedion had palmed two ghting knives, and Chaol drew his own sword—a bland, nondescript blade he’d swiped from the barracks—as a man staggered into view.

He had an arm wrapped around his middle, the other bracing himself against the brick wall of an abandoned building. Aedion was instantly moving, knives sheathed again. It wasn’t until Chaol heard him say, “Ren?” that he also hurried toward the young man.

In the moonlight, the blood on Ren’s tunic was a shining, deep stain.

“Where is Murtaugh?” Aedion demanded, slinging an arm under Ren’s shoulders.

“Safe.” Ren panted, his face dealthy pale. Chaol scanned either end of the alley. “We were—-followed. So we tried losing them.” He heard, more than saw, Ren’s wince. “ ey cornered me.”

“How many?” Aedion said softly, though Chaol could almost feel the violence simmering o the general.

“Eight,” Ren said, and hissed in pain. “Killed two, then got free. ey’re following me.”

Leaving six. If they were unharmed, they were probably close behind. Chaol examined the stones beyond Ren. e wound to his abdomen couldn’t be deep, if he’d managed to keep the blood ow from leaving a trail. But it still had to be agonizing—potentially fatal, if it had pierced the wrong spot.

Aedion went rigid, hearing something that Chaol couldn’t. He quietly, gently passed the sagging Ren into Chaol’s arms. “ ere are three barrels ten paces away,” the general said with lethal calm as he faced the alley entrance. “Hide behind them and keep your mouths shut.”

at was all Chaol needed to hear as he took Ren’s weight and hauled him to the large barrels, then eased him onto the ground. Ren sti ed a groan of pain, but kept still. ere was a small crack between two of the barrels where Chaol could see the alley, and the six men who stalked into it almost shoulder-to-shoulder. He couldn’t make out much more than dark tunics and cloaks.

e men paused when they beheld Aedion standing before them, still hooded. e general drew his ghting knives and purred, “None of you are leaving this alley alive.”

ey didn’t.

Chaol marveled at Aedion’s skill—the speed and swiftness and utter con dence that made it like watching a brutal, unforgiving dance.

It was over before it really started. e six assailants seemed at ease with weapons, but against a man with Fae blood surging in his veins, they were useless.

No wonder Aedion had risen to such high ranking so quickly. He’d never seen another man ght like that. Only—only Celaena had come close. He couldn’t tell which of them would win if they-were ever matched against each other, but together . . . Chaol’s heart went cold at the thought. Six men dead in a matter of moments—six.

Aedion wasn’t smiling as he came back over to Chaol and dropped a scrap of fabric on the ground before them. Even Ren, panting through clenched teeth, looked.

It was a black, heavy material—and emblazoned on it in dark thread, nearly invisible save for the glint of the moonlight, was a wyvern. e royal sigil.

“I don’t know these men,” Chaol said, more to himself than to protest his innocence. “I’ve never

seen that uniform.”

“From the sound of it,” Aedion said, that rage still simmering in his voice as he cocked his head toward noises that Chaol could not hear with his human ears, “there are more of them out there, and they’re combing the slums door-to-door for Ren. We need a place to hide.”

Ren held on to consciousness long enough to say, “I know where.”

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