Chapter no 39

Heir of Fire

“Tell me about how you learned to tattoo.” “No.”

Hunched over the wooden table in Rowan’s room a night after their encounter with the creature in the lake, Celaena looked up from where she held the bone-handled needle over his wrist. “If you don’t answer my questions, I might very well make a mistake, and . . .” She lowered the tattooing needle to his tan, muscled arm for emphasis. Rowan, to her surprise, let out a hu that might have been a laugh. She gured it was a good sign that he’d asked her to help shade in the parts of his arm he couldn’t reach himself; the tattoo around his wrist needed to be re-inked now that the wounds from her burning him had faded. “Did you learn from someone? Master and apprentice and all that?”

He gave her a rather incredulous look. “Yes, master and apprentice and all that. In the war camps, we had a commander who used to tattoo the number of enemies he’d killed on his esh—sometimes he’d write the whole story of a battle. All the young soldiers were enamored of it, and I convinced him to teach me.”

“With that legendary charm of yours, I suppose.”

at earned her a half smile at least. “Just ll in the spots where I—” A hiss as she took the needle and little mallet and made another dark, bloody mark in him. “Good. at’s the right depth.” With his immortal, fast-healing body, Rowan’s ink was mixed with salt and powdered iron to keep the magic in his blood from wiping away any trace of the tattoo.

She’d awoken that morning feeling . . . clear. e grief and pain were still there, writhing inside her, but for the rst time in a long while, she felt as though she could see. As though she could breathe.

Focusing on keeping her hand steady, she made another little mark, then another. “Tell me about your family.”

“Tell me about yours and I’ll tell you about mine,” he said through gritted teeth as she kept going. He’d instructed her thoroughly before he had let her take the needles to his skin.

“Fine. Are your parents alive?” A stupid, dangerous question to ask, given what had happened with his mate, but there was no grief in his face as he shook his head.

“My parents were very old when they conceived me.” Not old in the human sense, she knew. “I was their only child in the millennia they’d been mated. ey faded into the Afterworld before I reached my second decade.”

Before she could think more on that interesting, di erent way of describing death, Rowan said, “You had no siblings.”

She focused on her work as she let out the thinnest tendril of memory. “My mother, thanks to her Fae heritage, had a di cult time with the pregnancy. She stopped breathing during labor. ey said it was my father’s will that kept her tethered to this world. I don’t know if she even could have conceived again after that. So, no siblings. But—” Gods, she should shut her mouth. “But I had a cousin. He was ve years older than me, and we fought and loved each other like siblings.”

Aedion. She hadn’t spoken that name aloud in ten years. But she’d heard it, and seen it in papers. She had to set down the needle and mallet and ex her ngers. “I don’t know what happened, but they started saying his name—as a skilled general in the king’s army.”

She had failed Aedion so unforgivably that she couldn’t bring herself to blame or detest him for what he’d become. She’d avoided learning any details about what, exactly, he’d done in the north all these years. Aedion had been ercely, wildly loyal to Terrasen as a child. She didn’t want to know what he’d been forced to do, what had happened to him, to change that. It was by luck or fate or something else entirely that he had never been in the castle when she was there. Because not only would he have recognized her, but if he knew what she had done with her life . . . his hatred would make Rowan’s look pleasant, probably.

Rowan’s features were set in a mask of contemplation as she said, “I think facing my cousin after everything would be the worst of it—worse than facing the king.” ere was nothing she could say or do to atone for what she’d become while their kingdom fell into ruin and their people were slaughtered or enslaved.

“Keep working,” Rowan said, jerking his chin at the tools sitting in her lap. She obeyed, and he hissed again at the rst prick. “Do you think,” he said after a moment, “your cousin would kill you or help you? An army like his could change the tide of any war.”

A chill went down her spine at that word—war. “I don’t know what he would think of me, or where his loyalties lie. And I’d rather not know. Ever.”

ough their eyes were identical, their bloodlines were distant enough that she’d heard servants and courtiers alike pondering the usefulness of a Galathynius-Ashryver union someday. e idea was as laughable now as it had been ten years ago.

“Do you have cousins?” she asked.

“Too many. Mora’s line was always the most widespread, and my meddlesome, gossiping cousins make my visits to Doranelle . . . irksome.” She smiled a little at the thought. “You’d probably get along with my cousins,” he said. “Especially with the snooping.”

She paused her inking and squeezed his hand hard enough to hurt anyone but an immortal. “You’re one to talk, Prince. I’ve never been asked so many questions in my life.”

Not quite true, but not quite an exaggeration, either. No one had ever asked her these questions. And she’d never told anyone the answers.

He bared his teeth, though she knew he didn’t mean it, and glanced meaningfully at his wrist. “Hurry up, Princess. I want to go to bed at some point before dawn.”

She used her free hand to make a particularly vulgar gesture, and he caught it with his own, teeth still out. “ at is not very queenly.”

“ en it’s good I’m not a queen, isn’t it?”

But he wouldn’t let go of her hand. “You have sworn to free your friend’s kingdom and save the world—but will not even consider your own lands. What scares you about seizing your birthright?

e king? Facing what remains of your court?” He kept his face so close to hers that she could see the ecks of brown in his green eyes. “Give me one good reason why you won’t take back your throne. One good reason, and I’ll keep my mouth shut about it.”

She weighed the earnestness in his gaze, his breathing, and then said, “Because if I free Eyllwe and destroy the king as Celaena, I can go anywhere after that. e crown . . . my crown is just another set of shackles.”

It was sel sh and horrible, but it was true. Nehemia, long ago, had once said as much—it was her most ardent and sel sh wish to be ordinary, without the weight of her crown. Had her friend known how deeply those words had echoed in her?

She waited for the scolding, saw it simmering in Rowan’s eyes. But then he quietly said, “What do you mean, another set of shackles?”

He loosened his grip to reveal the two thin bands of scars that wrapped around her wrist. His mouth tightened, and she yanked her wrist back hard enough that he let go.

“Nothing,” she said. “Arobynn, my master, liked to use them for training every now and then.” Arobynn had chained her to make her learn how to get free. But the shackles at Endovier had been crafted with people like her in mind. It wasn’t until Chaol had removed them that she’d gotten out.

She didn’t want Rowan knowing that—any of it. Anger and hatred she could handle, but pity . . . And she couldn’t talk about Chaol, couldn’t explain just how much he had rebuilt and then shattered her heart, not without explaining Endovier. Not without explaining how one day, she didn’t know how distant, she was going back to Endovier and freeing them all. Each and every slave, even if she had to unshackle them all herself.

Celaena went back to her work, and Rowan’s face remained tight—as if he could smell her half truth. “Why did you stay with Arobynn?”

“I knew I wanted two things: First, to disappear from the world and from my enemies, but . . . ah.” It was hard to look him in the eye. “I wanted to hide from myself, mostly. I convinced myself I should disappear, because the second thing I wanted, even then, was to be able to someday . . . hurt people the way I had been hurt. And it turned out that I was very, very good at it.

“If he had tossed me away, I would either have died or wound up with the rebels. If I had grown up with them, I probably would have been found by the king and slaughtered. Or I would have grown up so hateful that I would have been killing Adarlanian soldiers from a young age.” His brows rose, and she clicked her tongue. “You thought I was just going to spread my whole history at your feet the moment I met you? I’m sure you have even more stories than I do, so stop looking so surprised. Maybe we should just go back to beating each other into a pulp.”

His eyes gleamed with near-predatory intent. “Oh, not a chance, Princess. You can tell me what you want, when you want, but there’s no going back now.”

She lifted her tools again. “I’m sure your other friends just adore having you around.”

A feral smile, and he grabbed her by the chin—not hard enough to hurt, but to get her to look at him. “First thing,” he breathed, “we’re not friends. I’m still training you, and that means you’re still under my command.” e icker of hurt must have shown, because he leaned closer, his grip tightening on her jaw. “Second—whatever we are, whatever this is? I’m still guring it out, too. So if I’m going to give you the space you deserve to sort yourself out, then you can damn well give it to me.”

She studied him for a moment, their breath mingling. “Deal,” she said.

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