Chapter no 3

Heir of Fire

For a month now, it had been the same dream. Every night, over and over, until Chaol could see it in his waking hours.

Archer Finn groaning as Celaena shoved her dagger up through his ribs and into his heart. She embraced the handsome courtesan like a lover, but when she gazed over Archer’s shoulder, her eyes-were dead. Hollow.

e dream shifted, and Chaol could say nothing, do nothing as the golden-brown hair darkened to black and the agonized face wasn’t Archer’s but Dorian’s.

e Crown Prince jerked, and Celaena held him tighter, twisting the dagger one nal time before she let Dorian slump to the gray stones of the tunnel. Dorian’s blood was already pooling—too fast. But Chaol still couldn’t move, couldn’t go to his friend or the woman he loved.

e wounds on Dorian multiplied, and there was blood—so much blood. He knew these wounds.

ough he’d never seen the body, he’d combed through the reports detailing what Celaena had done to the rogue assassin Grave in that alley, the way she’d butchered him for killing Nehemia.

Celaena lowered her dagger, each drop of blood from its gleaming blade sending ripples through the pool already around her. She tipped back her head, breathing in deep. Breathing in the death before her, taking it into her soul, vengeance and ecstasy mingling at the slaughter of her enemy. Her true enemy. e Havilliard Empire.

e dream shifted again, and Chaol was pinned beneath her as she writhed above him, her head still thrown back, that same expression of ecstasy written across her blood-splattered face.

Enemy. Lover. Queen.

e memory of the dream splintered as Chaol blinked at Dorian, who was sitting beside him at their old table in the Great Hall—and waiting for an answer to whatever he had said. Chaol gave an apologetic wince.

e Crown Prince didn’t return Chaol’s half smile. Instead, Dorian quietly said, “You were thinking about her.”

Chaol took a bite from his lamb stew but tasted nothing. Dorian was too observant for his own good. And Chaol had no interest in talking about Celaena. Not with Dorian, not with anyone. e truth he knew about her could jeopardize more lives than hers.

“I was thinking about my father,” Chaol lied. “When he returns to Anielle in a few weeks, I’m to go with him.” It was the price for getting Celaena to the safety of Wendlyn: his father’s support in exchange for his return to the Silver Lake to take up his title as the heir of Anielle. And he’d been willing to make that sacri ce; he’d make any sacri ce to keep Celaena and her secrets safe. Even now that he knew who—what she was. Even after she’d told him about the king and the Wyrdkeys. If this was the price he had to pay, so be it.

Dorian glanced toward the high table, where the king and Chaol’s father dined. e Crown Prince should have been eating with them, but he’d chosen to sit with Chaol instead. It was the rst time Dorian had done so in ages—the rst time they had spoken since their tense conversation after the decision was made to send Celaena to Wendlyn.

Dorian would understand if he knew the truth. But Dorian couldn’t know who and what Celaena was, or what the king was truly planning. e potential for disaster was too high. And Dorian’s own secrets were deadly enough.

“I heard the rumors you were to go,” Dorian said warily. “I didn’t realize they were true.” Chaol nodded, trying to nd something—anything—to say to his friend.

ey still hadn’t spoken of the other thing between them, the other bit of truth that had come out that night in the tunnels: Dorian had magic. Chaol didn’t want to know anything about it. If the king decided to interrogate him . . . he hoped he’d hold out, if it ever came to that. e king, he knew, had far darker methods of extracting information than torture. So he hadn’t asked, hadn’t said one word. And neither had Dorian.

He met Dorian’s gaze. ere was nothing kind in it. But Dorian said, “I’m trying, Chaol.”

Trying, because Chaol’s not consulting him on the plan to get Celaena out of Adarlan had been a breach of trust, and one that shamed him, though Dorian could never know that, either. “I know.”

“And despite what happened, I’m fairly certain we’re not enemies.” Dorian’s mouth quirked to the side.

You will always be my enemy. Celaena had screamed those words at Chaol the night Nehemia had died. Screamed it with ten years’ worth of conviction and hatred, a decade spent holding the world’s greatest secret so deep within her that she’d become another person entirely.

Because Celaena was Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, heir to the throne and rightful Queen of Terrasen.

It made her his mortal enemy. It made her Dorian’s enemy. Chaol still didn’t know what to do about it, or what it meant for them, for the life he’d imagined for them. e future he’d once dreamed of was irrevocably gone.

He’d seen the deadness in her eyes that night in the tunnels, along with the wrath and exhaustion and sorrow. He’d seen her go over the edge when Nehemia died, and knew what she’d done to Grave in retribution. He didn’t doubt for one heartbeat that she could snap again. ere was such glittering darkness in her, an endless rift straight through her core.

Nehemia’s death had shattered her. What he had done, his role in that death, had shattered her, too. He knew that. He just prayed that she could piece herself back together again. Because a broken, unpredictable assassin was one thing. But a queen . . .

“You look like you’re going to be sick,” Dorian said, bracing his forearms on the table. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Chaol had been staring at nothing again. For a heartbeat, the weight of everything pressed so heavily upon him that he opened up his mouth.

But the boom of swords striking shields in salute echoed from the hallway, and Aedion Ashryver

—the King of Adarlan’s infamous General of the North and cousin to Aelin Galathynius—stalked into the Great Hall.

e hall fell silent, including his father and the king at the high table. Before Aedion was halfway across the room, Chaol was positioned at the bottom of the dais.

It wasn’t that the young general was a threat. Rather, it was the way Aedion prowled toward the king’s table, his shoulder-length golden hair gleaming in the torchlight as he smirked at them all.

Handsome was a light way of describing what Aedion was. Overwhelming was more like it. Towering and heavily muscled, Aedion was every inch the warrior rumor claimed him to be. Even

though his clothes were mostly for function, Chaol could tell that the leather of his light armor was of ne make and exquisitely detailed. A white wolf pelt was slung across his broad shoulders, and a round shield had been strapped to his back—along with an ancient-looking sword.

But his face. And his eyes . . . Holy gods.

Chaol put a hand on his sword, schooling his features to remain neutral, disinterested, even as the Wolf of the North came close enough to slaughter him.

ey were Celaena’s eyes. Ashryver eyes. A stunning turquoise with a core of gold as bright as their hair. eir hair—even the shade of it was the same. ey could have been twins, if Aedion weren’t twenty-four and tanned from years in the snow-bright mountains of Terrasen.

Why had the king bothered to keep Aedion alive all those years ago? Why bother to forge him into one of his ercest generals? Aedion was a prince of the Ashryver royal line and had been raised in the Galathynius household—and yet he served the king.

Aedion’s grin remained as he stopped before the high table and sketched a bow shallow enough that Chaol was momentarily stunned. “Majesty,” the general said, those damning eyes alight.

Chaol looked at the high table to see if the king, if anyone, noticed the similarities that could doom not only Aedion but also Chaol and Dorian and everyone he cared about. His father just gave him a small, satis ed smile.

But the king was frowning. “I expected you a month ago.”

Aedion actually had the nerve to shrug. “Apologies. e Staghorns were slammed with a nal winter storm. I left when I could.”

Every person in the hall held their breath. Aedion’s temper and insolence were near-legendary— part of the reason he was stationed in the far reaches of the North. Chaol had always thought it wise to keep him far from Rifthold, especially as Aedion seemed to be a bit of a two-faced bastard, and the Bane—Aedion’s legion—was notorious for its skill and brutality, but now . . . why had the king summoned him to the capital?

e king picked up his goblet, swirling the wine inside. “I didn’t receive word that your legion was here.”

“ ey’re not.”

Chaol braced for the execution order, praying he wouldn’t be the one to do it. e king said, “I told you to bring them, General.”

“Here I was, thinking you wanted the pleasure of my company.” When the king growled, Aedion said, “ ey’ll be here within a week or so. I didn’t want to miss any of the fun.” Aedion again shrugged those massive shoulders. “At least I didn’t come empty-handed.” He snapped his ngers behind him and a page rushed in, bearing a large satchel. “Gifts from the North, courtesy of the last rebel camp we sacked. You’ll enjoy them.”

e king rolled his eyes and waved a hand at the page. “Send them to my chambers. Your gifts, Aedion, tend to o end polite company.” A low chuckle—from Aedion, from some men at the king’s table. Oh, Aedion was dancing a dangerous line. At least Celaena had the good sense to keep her mouth shut around the king.

Considering the trophies the king had collected from Celaena as Champion, the items in that satchel wouldn’t be mere gold and jewels. But to collect heads and limbs from Aedion’s own people, Celaena’s people . . .

“I have a council meeting tomorrow; I want you there, General,” the king said.

Aedion put a hand on his chest. “Your will is mine, Majesty.”

Chaol had to clamp down on his terror as he beheld what glinted on Aedion’s nger. A black ring

—the same that the king, Perrington, and most of those under their control wore. at explained why the king allowed the insolence: when it came down to it, the king’s will truly was Aedion’s.

Chaol kept his face blank as the king gave him a curt nod—dismissal. Chaol silently bowed, now all too eager to get back to his table. Away from the king—from the man who held the fate of their world in his bloodied hands. Away from his father, who saw too much. Away from the general, who was now making his rounds through the hall, clapping men on the shoulder, winking at women.

Chaol had mastered the horror roiling in his gut by the time he sank back into his seat and found Dorian frowning. “Gifts indeed,” the prince muttered. “Gods, he’s insu erable.”

Chaol didn’t disagree. Despite the king’s black ring, Aedion still seemed to have a mind of his own

—and was as wild o the battle eld as he was on it. He usually made Dorian look like a celibate when it came to nding debauched ways to amuse himself. Chaol had never spent much time with Aedion, nor wanted to, but Dorian had known him for some time now. Since—

ey’d met as children. When Dorian and his father had visited Terrasen in the days before the royal family was slaughtered. When Dorian had met Aelin—met Celaena.

It was good that Celaena wasn’t here to see what Aedion had become. Not just because of the ring. To turn on your own people—

Aedion slid onto the bench across from them, grinning. A predator assessing prey. “You two were sitting at this same table the last time I saw you. Good to know some things don’t change.”

Gods, that face. It was Celaena’s face—the other side of the coin. e same arrogance, the same unchecked anger. But where Celaena crackled with it, Aedion seemed to . . . pulse. And there was something nastier, far more bitter in Aedion’s face.

Dorian rested his forearms on the table and gave a lazy smile. “Hello, Aedion.”

Aedion ignored him and reached for a roast leg of lamb, his black ring glinting. “I like the new scar, Captain,” he said, jerking his chin toward the slender white line across Chaol’s cheek. e scar Celaena had given to him the night Nehemia died and she’d tried to kill him—now a permanent reminder of everything he’d lost. Aedion went on, “Looks like they didn’t chew you up just yet. And they nally gave you a big-boy sword, too.”

Dorian said, “I’m glad to see that storm didn’t dim your spirits.”

“Weeks inside with nothing to do but train and bed women? It was a miracle I bothered to come down from the mountains.”

“I didn’t realize you bothered to do anything unless it served your best interests.”

A low laugh. “ ere’s that charming Havilliard spirit.” Aedion dug into his meal, and Chaol was about to demand why he was bothering to sit with them—other than to torment them, as he’d always liked to do when the king wasn’t looking—when he noticed that Dorian was staring.

Not at Aedion’s sheer size or armor, but at his face, at his eyes . . .

“Shouldn’t you be at some party or other?” Chaol said to Aedion. “I’m surprised you’re lingering when your usual enticements await in the city.”

“Is that your courtly way of asking for an invitation to my gathering tomorrow, Captain? Surprising. You’ve always implied that you were above my sort of party.” ose turquoise eyes narrowed and he gave Dorian a sly grin. “You, however—the last party I threw worked out very well for you. Redheaded twins, if I recall correctly.”

“You’ll be disappointed to learn I’ve moved on from that sort of existence,” Dorian said. Aedion dug back into his meal. “More for me, then.”

Chaol clenched his sts under the table. Celaena had not exactly been virtuous in the past ten years, but she’d never killed a natural-born citizen of Terrasen. Had refused to, actually. And Aedion had always been a gods-damned bastard, but now . . . Did he know what he wore on his nger? Did he know that despite his arrogance, his de ance and insolence, the king could make him bend to his will whenever he pleased? He couldn’t warn Aedion, not without potentially getting himself and everyone he cared about killed should Aedion truly have allegiance to the king.

“How are things in Terrasen?” Chaol asked, because Dorian was studying Aedion again.

“What would you like me to tell you? at we are well-fed after a brutal winter? at we did not lose many to sickness?” Aedion snorted. “I suppose hunting rebels is always fun, if you’ve a taste for it. Hopefully His Majesty has summoned the Bane to the South to nally give them some real action.” As Aedion reached for the water, Chaol glimpsed the hilt of his sword. Dull metal ecked with dings and scratches, its pommel nothing more than a bit of cracked, rounded horn. Such a simple, plain sword for one of the greatest warriors in Erilea.

“ e Sword of Orynth,” Aedion drawled. “A gift from His Majesty upon my rst victory.”

Everyone knew that sword. It had been an heirloom of Terrasen’s royal family, passed from ruler to ruler. By right, it was Celaena’s. It had belonged to her father. For Aedion to possess it, considering what that sword now did, the lives it took, was a slap in the face to Celaena and to her family.

“I’m surprised you bother with such sentimentality,” Dorian said.

“Symbols have power, Prince,” Aedion said, pinning him with a stare. Celaena’s stare—unyielding and alive with challenge. “You’d be surprised by the power this still wields in the North—what it does to convince people not to pursue foolhardy plans.”

Perhaps Celaena’s skills and cunning weren’t unusual in her bloodline. But Aedion was an Ashryver, not a Galathynius—which meant that his great-grandmother had been Mab, one of the three Fae-Queens, in recent generations crowned a goddess and renamed Deanna, Lady of the Hunt. Chaol swallowed hard.

Silence fell, taut as a bowstring. “Trouble between you two?” Aedion asked, biting into his meat. “Let me guess: a woman. e King’s Champion, perhaps? Rumor has it she’s . . . interesting. Is that why you’ve moved on from my sort of fun, princeling?” He scanned the hall. “I’d like to meet her, I think.”

Chaol fought the urge to grip his sword. “She’s away.”

Aedion instead gave Dorian a cruel smile. “Pity. Perhaps she might have convinced me to move on as well.”

“Mind your mouth,” Chaol snarled. He might have laughed had he not wanted to strangle the general so badly. Dorian merely drummed his ngers on the table. “And show some respect.”

Aedion chuckled, nishing o the lamb. “I am His Majesty’s faithful servant, as I have always been.” ose Ashryver eyes once more settled on Dorian. “Perhaps I’ll be your whore someday, too.”

“If you’re still alive by then,” Dorian purred.

Aedion went on eating, but Chaol could still feel his relentless focus pinned on them. “Rumor has it a Matron of a witch clan was killed on the premises not too long ago,” Aedion said casually. “She vanished, though her quarters indicated she’d put up a hell of a ght.”

Dorian said sharply, “What’s your interest in that?”

“I make it my business to know when the power brokers of the realm meet their end.”

A shiver spider-walked down Chaol’s spine. He knew little about the witches. Celaena had told him a few stories—and he’d always prayed they were exaggerated. But something like dread ickered across Dorian’s face.

Chaol leaned forward. “It’s none of your concern.”

Aedion again ignored him and winked at the prince. Dorian’s nostrils ared, the only sign of the rage that was rising to the surface. at, and the air in the room shifted—brisker. Magic.

Chaol put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We’re going to be late,” he lied, but Dorian caught it. He had to get Dorian out—away from Aedion—and try to leash the disastrous storm that was brewing between the two men. “Rest well, Aedion.” Dorian didn’t bother saying anything, his sapphire eyes frozen.

Aedion smirked. “ e party’s tomorrow in Rifthold if you feel like reliving the good old days, Prince.” Oh, the general knew exactly what buttons to push, and he didn’t give a damn what a mess it made. It made him dangerous—deadly.

Especially where Dorian and his magic were concerned. Chaol forced himself to say good night to some of his men, to look casual and unconcerned as they walked from the dining hall. Aedion Ashryver had come to Rifthold, narrowly missing running into his long-lost cousin.

If Aedion knew Aelin was still alive, if he knew who and what she had become or what she had learned regarding the king’s secret power, would he stand with her, or destroy her? Given his actions, given the ring he bore . . . Chaol didn’t want the general anywhere near her. Anywhere near Terrasen, either.

He wondered how much blood would spill when Celaena learned what her cousin had done.

Chaol and Dorian walked in silence for most of the trek to the prince’s tower. When they turned down an empty hallway and were certain no one could overhear them, Dorian said, “I didn’t need you to step in.”

“Aedion’s a bastard,” Chaol growled. e conversation could end there, and part of him was tempted to let it, but he made himself say, “I was worried you’d snap. Like you did in the passages.” He loosed a tight breath. “Are you . . . stable?”

“Some days are better than others. Getting angry or frightened seems to set it o .”

ey entered the hallway that ended in the arched wooden door to Dorian’s tower, but Chaol stopped him with an arm on his shoulder. “I don’t want details,” he murmured so the guards posted outside Dorian’s door couldn’t hear, “because I don’t want my knowledge used against you. I know I’ve made mistakes, Dorian. Believe me, I know. But my priority has always been—and still is—-keeping you protected.”

Dorian stared at him for a long moment, cocking his head to the side. Chaol must have looked as miserable as he felt, because the prince’s voice was almost gentle as he said, “Why did you really send her to Wendlyn?”

Agony punched through him, raw and razor-edged. But as much as he yearned to tell the prince about Celaena, as much as he wanted to unload all his secrets so it would ll the hole in his core, he couldn’t. So he just said, “I sent her to do what needs to be done,” and strode back down the hall. Dorian didn’t call after him.

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