Chapter no 40

Heir of Fire

“Tell me your greatest wish,” Dorian murmured into Sorscha’s hair as he entwined their ngers, marveling at the smoothness of her tan skin against the calluses of his. Such pretty hands, like mourning doves.

She smiled onto his chest. “I don’t have a greatest wish.” “Liar.” He kissed her hair. “You’re the world’s worst liar.”

She turned toward the window of his bedroom, the morning light making her dark hair glow. It had been two weeks since that night she’d kissed him, two weeks since she’d started creeping up here after the castle had gone to sleep. ey’d been sharing a bed, though not in the manner he still yearned to. And he detested the sneaking and the hiding.

But she’d lose her position if they were found out. With him being who he was . . . he could bring down a world of trouble on her just for being associated with him. His mother alone could nd ways to get her shipped o somewhere.

“Tell me,” he said again, bending to snatch a kiss. “Tell me, and I’ll make it happen.”

He’d always been generous with his lovers. Usually he gave them gifts to keep them from complaining when he lost interest, but this time he genuinely wanted to give her things. He had tried giving her jewelry and clothes, and she had refused it all. So he’d taken to giving her hard-to–come-by herbs and books and special tools for her workroom. She’d tried to refuse those, but he’d worn her down quickly—mostly by kissing away her protests.

“And if I asked for the moon on a string?” “ en I would start praying to Deanna.”

She smiled, but Dorian’s own grin faded. Deanna, Lady of the Hunt. He usually tried not to think about Celaena, Aelin—whoever she was. Tried not to think about Chaol and his lying, or Aedion and his treason. He wanted nothing to do with them, not now that Sorscha was with him. He’d been a fool once, swearing he would tear the world apart for Celaena. A boy in love with a wild re—or believing he was in love with one.

“Dorian?” Sorscha pulled back to study his face. She looked at him the way he’d once caught Celaena looking at Chaol.

He kissed her again, soft and lingering, and her body melted into his. He savored the silkiness of her skin as he ran a hand down her arm. She yanked back. “I have to go. I’m late.”

He groaned. It was indeed almost breakfast—and she would be noticed if she didn’t leave. She shimmied out of his embrace and into her dress, and he helped tie the stays in the back. Always hiding—was that to be his life? Not just the women he loved, but his magic, his true thoughts . . .

Sorscha kissed him and was at the door, a hand on the knob. “My greatest wish,” she said with a little smile, “is for a morning when I don’t have to run out the door at rst light.”

Before he could say anything, she was gone.

But he didn’t know what he could say, or do, to make it happen. Because Sorscha had her obligations, and he had his.

If he left to be with her, if he turned on his father, or if his magic was discovered, then his brother would become heir. And the thought of Hollin as king one day . . . What he would do to their world, especially with their father’s power . . . No, Dorian could not have the luxury of choosing, because there was no option. He was bound to his crown, and would be until the day he died.

ere was a knock on his door, and Dorian smiled, wondering if Sorscha had come back. e grin vanished as the door opened.

“We need to talk,” Chaol said from the threshold. Dorian hadn’t seen him in weeks, and yet—his friend looked older. Exhausted.

“Not going to bother with attery?” Dorian said, plopping onto the couch.

“You would see through it anyway.” Chaol shut the door behind him and leaned against it. “Humor me.”

“I am sorry, Dorian,” Chaol said softly. “More than you know.”

“Sorry because lying cost you me—and her? Would you be sorry if you hadn’t been caught?” Chaol’s jaw tightened. And perhaps Dorian was being unfair, but he didn’t care.

“I am sorry for all of it,” Chaol said. “But I—I’ve been working to x it.”

“And what about Celaena? Is working with Aedion actually to help me, or her?” “Both of you.”

“Do you still love her?” He didn’t know why he cared, why it was important.

Chaol closed his eyes for a moment. “A part of me will always love her. But I had to get her out of this castle. Because it was too dangerous, and she was . . . what she was becoming . . .”

“She was not becoming anything di erent from what she always was and always had the capacity to be. You just nally saw everything. And once you saw that other part of her . . . ,” Dorian said quietly. It had taken him until now, until Sorscha, to understand what that meant. “You cannot pick and choose what parts of her to love.” He pitied Chaol, he realized. His heart hurt for his friend, for all that Chaol had surely been realizing these past few months. “Just as you cannot pick which parts of me you accept.”

“I don’t—”

“You do. But what’s done is done, Chaol. And there is no going back, no matter how hard you try to change things. Like it or not, you played a role in getting us all to this point, too. You set her down that path, to revealing what and who she is, to whatever she decides to do now.”

“You think I wanted any of this to happen?” Chaol splayed his arms. “If I could, I would put it all back to the way it was. If I could, she wouldn’t be queen, and you wouldn’t have magic.”

“Of course—of course you still see the magic as a problem. And of course you wish she wasn’t who she is. Because you’re not really scared of those things, are you? No—it’s what they represent. e change. But let me tell you,” Dorian breathed, his magic ickering and then subsiding in a ash of pain, “things have already changed. And changed because of you. I have magic—there is no undoing that, no getting rid of it. And as for Celaena . . .” He clamped down on the power that surged as he imagined—for the rst time, he realized—what it was to be her. “As for Celaena,” he said again, “you do not have the right to wish she were not what she is. e only thing you have a right to do is decide whether you are her enemy or her friend.”

He did not know all of her story, did not know what had been truth and what had been lies, or what it had been like in Endovier to slave beside her countrymen, or to bow to the man who had murdered her family. But he had seen her—seen glimpses of the person beneath, regardless of name or title.

And he knew, deep down, that she had not blinked at his magic but rather understood that burden, and that fear. She had not walked away or wished him to be anything but what he was. I’ll come back for you.

So he stared down his friend, even though he knew Chaol was hurting and adrift, and said, “I’ve already made my decision about her. And when the time comes, regardless of whether you are here or in Anielle, I hope your choice is the same as mine.”

Aedion hated to admit it, but the captain’s self-control was impressive as they waited in the hidden apartment for Murtaugh to arrive. Ren, who couldn’t keep his ass planted in a chair for more than a moment even with his still-healing wounds, paced around the great room. But Chaol sat beside the

re, saying little but always watching, always listening.

Tonight the captain seemed di erent. Warier, but tighter. anks to all those meetings where he’d carefully watched the captain’s movements, every breath and blink, Aedion instantly noted the di erence. Had there been some news, some development?

Murtaugh was to return tonight, after a few weeks near Skull’s Bay. He had refused Ren’s o er to go with him and told his grandson to rest. Which, though Ren tried to hide it, left the young lord anxious, ungrounded, and aggressive. Aedion was honestly surprised the apartment hadn’t been torn to shreds. In his war camp, Aedion might have taken Ren into the sparring ring and let him ght it out. Or sent him on some mission of his own. Or at least made him chop wood for hours.

“So we’re just going to wait all night,” Ren said at last, pausing before the dining table and looking at them both.

e captain yielded nothing more than a vague nod, but Aedion crossed his arms and gave him a lazy grin. “You have something better to do, Ren? Are we interfering with a visit to one of your opium dens?” A low blow, but nothing that the captain hadn’t already guessed about Ren. And if Ren showed any indication of that sort of habit, Aedion wouldn’t let him within a hundred miles of Aelin.

Ren shook his head and said, “We’re always waiting these days. Waiting for Aelin to send some sign, waiting for nothing. I bet my grandfather will have nothing, too. I’m surprised we’re not all dead by now—that those men didn’t track me down.” He stared into the re, the light making his scar look even deeper. “I have someone who . . .” Ren trailed o , glancing at Chaol. “ ey could nd out more about the king.”

“I don’t trust your sources one bit—especially not after those men found you,” Chaol said. It had been one of Ren’s informants—caught and tortured—who had given his location away. And even though the information had been yielded under duress, it still didn’t sit well with Aedion. He said as much, and Ren tensed, opening his mouth to snap something undoubtedly stupid and brash, but a three-note whistle interrupted.

e captain whistled back, and Ren was at the door, opening it to nd his grandfather there. Even with his back to them, Aedion could see the relief ooding Ren’s body as they clasped forearms, weeks of waiting without word nally over. Murtaugh wasn’t young by any means—and as he threw back his hood, his face was pale and grim.

“ ere’s brandy on the bu et table,” Chaol said, and Aedion, yet again, had to admire the captain’s keen eyes—even if he would never tell him. e old man nodded his thanks, and didn’t bother to remove his cloak as he knocked back a glass of it. “Grandfather.” Ren lingered by the door.

Murtaugh turned to Aedion. “Answer me truthfully, boy: do you know who General Narrok is?”

Aedion rose to his feet in a smooth movement. Ren took a few steps toward them, but Murtaugh held his ground as Aedion stalked to the bu et table and slowly, with deliberate care, poured himself

a glass of brandy. “Call me boy again,” Aedion said with lethal calm, holding the old man’s stare, “and you’ll nd yourself back squatting in shanties and sewers.”

e old man threw up his hands. “When you’re my age, Aedion—”

“Don’t waste your breath,” Aedion said, returning to his chair. “Narrok’s been in the south—last I heard, he was bringing the armada to the Dead Islands.” Pirate territory. “But that was months ago. We’re kept on a need-to-know basis. I learned about the Dead Islands because some of the Pirate Lord’s ships sailed north looking for trouble, and they informed us that they’d come to avoid Narrok’s eet.”

e pirates had scattered, actually. e Pirate Lord Rolfe had taken half of them south; some had gone east; and some had made the fatal mistake of sailing to Terrasen’s north coast.

Murtaugh sagged against the bu et table. “Captain?” “I’m afraid I know even less than Aedion,” Chaol said.

Murtaugh rubbed his eyes, and Ren pulled out a chair at the table for his grandfather. e old man slid into it with a small groan. It was a miracle the bag of bones was still breathing. Aedion shoved down a icker of regret. He’d been raised better than that—he knew better than to act like an arrogant, hotheaded prick. Rhoe would have been ashamed of him for speaking to an elder in that manner. But Rhoe was dead—all the warriors he’d loved and worshipped were ten years dead, and the world was worse for it. Aedion was worse for it.

Murtaugh sighed. “I ed here as quickly as I could. I have not rested for more than a few hours this past week. Narrok’s eet is gone. Captain Rolfe is again Pirate Lord of Skull’s Bay, though not more than that. His men do not venture into the eastern Dead Islands.”

Despite the hint of shame, Aedion ground his teeth when Murtaugh didn’t immediately get to the point. “Why?” he demanded.

e lines of Murtaugh’s face deepened in the light of the re. “Because the men who go into the eastern islands do not come back. And on windy nights, even Rolfe swears he can hear . . . roaring, roaring from the islands; human, but not quite.

“ e crew that hid in the islands during Narrok’s occupation claim it’s quieted down, as if he took the source of the sound with him. And Rolfe . . .” Murtaugh rubbed the bridge of his nose. “He told me that on the night they sailed back into the islands, they saw something standing on an outcropping of rocks, just on the border of the eastern islands. Looked like a pale man, but . . . not. Rolfe might be in love with himself, but he’s not a liar. He said whatever—whoever—it was felt wrong. Like there was a hole of silence around it, at odds with the roaring they usually hear. And that it just watched them sail past. e next day, when they returned to the same spot, it was gone.”

“ ere have always been legends of strange creatures in the seas,” the captain said. “Rolfe and his men swore that this was nothing from legend. It was made, they said.”

“How did they know?” Aedion asked, eyeing the captain, whose face was still bone-white.

“It bore a black collar—like a pet. It took a step toward them, as if to go into the sea and hunt them down, but it was yanked back by some invisible hand—some hidden leash.”

Ren raised his scarred brow. “ e Pirate Lord thinks there are monsters in the Dead Islands?”

“He thinks, and I also believe, that they were being made there. And Narrok took some of them with him.”

It was Chaol who asked, “Where did Narrok go?”

“To Wendlyn,” Murtaugh said. Aedion’s heart, damn him, stopped. “Narrok took the eet to

Wendlyn—to launch a surprise attack.”

“ at’s impossible,” the captain said, shooting to his feet. “Why? Why now?”

“Because someone,” the old man said, sharper than Aedion had ever heard him, “convinced the king to send his Champion there to kill the royal family. What better time to try out these alleged monsters than when the country is in chaos?”

Chaol gripped the back of a chair. “She’s not actually going to kill them—she would never. It—it was all a ruse,” he said. Aedion supposed that was all he would tell the Allsbrook men, and all they really needed to know right now. He ignored the wary glance Ren tossed him, no doubt to see how he would react to news of his Ashryver kin having targets on their backs. But they’d been dead to him for ten years already, from the moment they refused to send aid to Terrasen. Gods help them if he ever set foot in their kingdom. He wondered what Aelin thought of them—if she thought Wendlyn might be convinced of an alliance now, especially with Adarlan launching a larger-scale assault on their borders. Perhaps she would be content to let them all burn, as the people of Terrasen had burned. He wouldn’t mind either way.

“It doesn’t matter if they are assassinated or not,” Murtaugh said. “When these things arrive, I think the world will soon learn what our queen is up against.”

“Can we send a warning?” Ren demanded. “Can Rolfe get word to Wendlyn?”

“Rolfe will not get involved. I o ered him promises of gold, of land when our queen returns . . . nothing can sway him. He has his territory back, and he will not risk his men again.”

“ en there has to be some blockade runner, some message we can smuggle,” Ren went on. Aedion debated informing Ren that Wendlyn hadn’t bothered to help Terrasen, but decided he didn’t particularly feel like getting into an ethical debate.

“I have sent a few that way,” Murtaugh said, “but I do not have much faith in them. And by the time they arrive, it may be too late.”

“So what do we do?” Ren pushed.

Murtaugh sipped his brandy. “We keep looking for ways to help here. Because I do not believe for one moment that His Majesty’s newest surprises were located only in the Dead Islands.”

at was an interesting point. Aedion took a sip from the brandy, but set it down. Alcohol-wouldn’t help him sort through the jumble of forming plans. So Aedion half listened to the others as he slipped into the steady rhythm, the beat to which he calculated all his battles and campaigns.

Chaol watched Aedion pace in the apartment, Murtagh and Ren having left to see to their own agendas. Aedion said, “You want to tell me why you look like you’re going to vomit?”

“You know everything I know, so it’s easy to guess why,” Chaol said from his armchair, his jaw clenched. His ght with Dorian had left him in no hurry to get back to the castle, even if he needed the prince to test out his theories on that spell. Dorian had been right about Celaena—about Chaol resenting her darkness and abilities and true identity, but . . . it hadn’t changed how he felt.

“I still don’t quite grasp your role in things, Captain,” Aedion said. “You’re not ghting for Aelin or for Terrasen; for what, then? e greater good? Your prince? Whose side does that put you on? Are you a traitor—a rebel?”

“No.” Chaol’s blood chilled at the thought. “I’m on neither side. I only wish to help my friend before I leave for Anielle.”

Aedion’s lip pulled back in a snarl. “Perhaps that’s your problem. Perhaps not picking a side is what

costs you. Perhaps you need to tell your father you’re breaking your promise.”

“I will not turn my back on my kingdom or my prince,” Chaol snapped. “I will not ght in your army and slaughter my people. And I will not break my vow to my father.” His honor might very well be all he would have left at the end of this.

“What if your prince sides with us?”

“ en I will ght alongside him, however I am able, even if it’s from Anielle.”

“So you will ght alongside him, but not for what is right. Have you no free will, no wants of your own?”

“My wants are none of your concern.” And those wants . . . “Regardless of what Dorian decides, he would never sanction the killing of innocents.”

A sneer. “No taste for blood?”

Chaol wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of rising to meet his temper. Instead he went for the throat and said, “I think your queen would condemn you if you spilled one drop of innocent blood. She would spit in your face. ere are good people in this kingdom, and they deserve to be considered in any course of action your side takes.”

Aedion’s eyes icked to the scar on Chaol’s cheek. “Just like how she condemned you for the death of her friend?” Aedion gave him a slow, vicious smile, and then, almost too fast to register, the general was in his face, arms braced on the wings of the chair.

Chaol wondered if Aedion would strike him, or kill him, as the general’s features turned more lupine than he’d ever seen them, nose crinkled, teeth exposed. Aedion said, “When your men have died around you, when you have seen your women unforgivably hurt, when you have watched droves of orphaned children starve to death in the streets of your city, then you can talk to me about sparing innocent lives. Until then, the fact remains, Captain, that you have not picked a side because you are still a boy, and you are still afraid. Not of losing innocent lives, but of losing whatever dream it is you’re clinging to. Your prince has moved on, my queen has moved on. But you have not. And it will cost you in the end.”

Chaol had nothing to say after that and quickly left the apartment. He hardly slept that night, hardly did anything but stare at his sword, discarded on his desk. When the sun rose, he went to the king and told him of his plans to return to Anielle.

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