Chapter no 8

Heir of Fire

Celaena backed away, knowing exactly how many steps it would take to get into the hall, but slammed into a hard, unyielding body just as the door shut behind them. Her hands were shaking so badly she didn’t bother going for her weapons—or Rowan’s. He’d cut her down the instant Maeve gave the order.

e blood rushed from Celaena’s head. She forced herself to take a breath. And another. en she said in a too-quiet voice, “Aelin Galathynius is dead.” Just speaking her name aloud—the damned name she had dreaded and hated and tried to forget . . .

Maeve smiled, revealing sharp little canines. “Let us not bother with lies.”

It wasn’t a lie. at girl, that princess had died in a river a decade ago. Celaena was no more Aelin Galathynius than she was any other person.

e room was too hot—too small, Rowan a brooding force of nature behind her.

She was not to have time to gather herself, to make up excuses and half truths, as she should have been doing these past few days instead of free-falling into silence and the misty cold. She was to face the Queen of the Fae as Maeve wanted to be faced. And in some fortress that seemed far, far beneath the raven-haired beauty watching her with black, depthless eyes.

Gods. Gods.

Maeve was fearsome in her perfection, utterly still, eternal and calm and radiating ancient grace.

e dark sister to the fair-haired Mab.

Celaena had been fooling herself into thinking this would be easy. She was still pressed against Rowan as though he were a wall. An impenetrable wall, as old as the ward-stones surrounding the fortress. Rowan stepped away from her with his powerful, predatory ease and leaned against the door. She wasn’t getting out until Maeve allowed her.

e Queen of the Fae remained silent, her long ngers moon-white and folded in the lap of her violet gown, a white barn owl perched on the back of her chair. She didn’t bother with a crown, and Celaena supposed she didn’t need one. Every creature on earth would know who she was—what she was—even if they were blind and deaf. Maeve, the face of a thousand legends . . . and nightmares. Epics and poems and songs had been written about her, so many that some even believed she was just a myth. But here was the dream—the nightmare—made esh.

is could work to your advantage. You can get the answers you need right here, right now. Go back to Adarlan in a matter of days. Just—breathe.

Breathing, as it turned out, was rather hard when the queen who had been known to drive men to madness for amusement was observing every icker of her throat. at owl perched on Maeve’s chair

Fae or true beast?—was watching her, too. Its talons were curled around the back of the chair, digging into the wood.

It was somewhat absurd, though—Maeve holding court in this half-rotted o ce, at a desk stained with the Wyrd knew what. Gods, the fact that Maeve was seated at a desk. She should be in some ethereal glen, surrounded by bobbing will-o’-the-wisps and maidens dancing to lutes and harps, reading the wheeling stars like they were poetry. Not here.

Celaena bowed low. She supposed she should have gotten on her knees, but—she already smelled awful, and her face was likely still torn and bruised from her brawling in Varese. As Celaena rose, Maeve remained smiling faintly. A spider with a y in its web.

“I suppose that with a proper bath, you’ll look a good deal like your mother.”

No exchanging pleasantries, then. Maeve was going right for the throat. She could handle it. She could ignore the pain and terror to get what she wanted. So Celaena smiled just as faintly and said, “Had I known who I would be meeting, I might have begged my escort for time to freshen up.”

She didn’t feel bad for one heartbeat about throwing Rowan to the lions.

Maeve’s obsidian eyes icked to Rowan, who still leaned against the door. She could have sworn there was approval in the Fae Queen’s smile. As if the grueling travel were a part of this plan, too. But why? Why get her o -kilter?

“I’m afraid I must bear the blame for the pressing pace,” Maeve said. “ ough I suppose he could have bothered to at least nd you a pool to bathe in along the way.” e Queen of Faedom lifted an elegant hand, gesturing to the warrior. “Prince Rowan—”

Prince. She swallowed the urge to turn to him.

“—is from my sister Mora’s bloodline. He is my nephew of sorts, and a member of my household. An extremely distant relation of yours; there is some ancient ancestry linking you.”

Another move to get her on uneven footing. “You don’t say.”

Perhaps that wasn’t the best reply. She should probably be on the oor, groveling for answers. And she had a feeling she’d likely get to that point very, very soon. But . . .

“You must be wondering why it is I asked Prince Rowan to bring you here,” Maeve mused.

For Nehemia, she’d play this game. Celaena bit her tongue hard enough to keep her gods-damned smart-ass mouth shut.

Maeve placed her white hands on the desk. “I have been waiting a long, long while to meet you. And as I do not leave these lands, I could not see you. Not with my eyes, at least.” e queen’s long nails gleamed in the light.

ere were legends whispered over res about the other skin Maeve wore. No one had lived to tell anything beyond shadows and claws and a darkness to devour your soul.

“ ey broke my laws, you know. Your parents disobeyed my commands when they eloped. e bloodlines were too volatile to be mixed, but your mother promised to let me see you after you were born.” Maeve cocked her head, eerily similar to the owl behind her. “It would seem that in the eight years after your birth, she was always too busy to uphold her vow.”

If her mother had broken a promise . . . if her mother had kept her from Maeve, it had been for a damn good reason. A reason that tickled at the edges of Celaena’s mind, a blur of memory.

“But now you are here,” Maeve said, seeming to come closer without moving. “And a grown woman. My eyes across the sea have brought me such strange, horrible stories of you. From your scars and steel, I wonder whether they are indeed true. Like the tale I heard over a year ago, that an assassin with Ashryver eyes was spotted by the horned Lord of the North in a wagon bound for—”

“Enough.” Celaena glanced at Rowan, who was listening intently, as if this was the rst he was hearing of it. She didn’t want him knowing about Endovier—didn’t want that pity. “I know my own history.” She ashed Rowan a glare that told him to mind his own business. He merely looked away, bored again. Typical immortal arrogance. Celaena faced Maeve, tucking her hands into her pockets. “I’m an assassin, yes.”

A snort from behind, but she didn’t dare take her eyes o Maeve.

“And your other talents?” Maeve’s nostrils ared—scenting. “What has become of them?” “Like everyone else on my continent, I haven’t been able to access them.”

Maeve’s eyes twinkled, and Celaena knew—knew that Maeve could smell the half truth. “You are not on your continent anymore,” Maeve purred.

Run. Every instinct roared with the word. She had a feeling that the Eye of Elena would have been no use, but she wished she had it anyway. Wished the dead queen were here, for that matter. Rowan was still at the door—but if she was fast, if she outsmarted him . . .

A ash of memory blinded her, bright and uncontrollable, unleashed by the instinct begging her to

ee. Her mother had rarely let Fae into their home, even with her heritage. A few trusted ones were allowed to live with them, but any Fae visitors had been closely monitored, and for the duration of their stay, Celaena had been sequestered in the family’s private chambers. She’d always thought it was overprotective, but now . . . “Show me,” Maeve whispered with a spider’s smile. Run. Run.

She could still feel the burn of blue wild re exploding out of her in that demon realm, still see Chaol’s face as she lost control of it. One wrong move, one wrong breath, and she could have killed him and Fleetfoot.

e owl rustled its wings, the wood groaning beneath its talons, and the darkness in Maeve’s eyes spread, reaching. ere was a faint pulse in the air, a throbbing against her blood. A tapping, then a razor-sharp slicing against her mind—as if Maeve were trying to cleave open her skull and peer inside. Pushing, testing, tasting—

Fighting to keep her breathing steady, Celaena positioned her hands within easy reach of her blades as she pushed back against the claws in her mind. Maeve let out a low laugh, and the pressure in her head ceased.

“Your mother hid you from me for years,” Maeve said. “She and your father always had a remarkable talent for knowing when my eyes were searching for you. Such a rare gift—the ability to summon and manipulate ame. So few exist who possess more than an ember of it; fewer still who can master its wildness. And yet your mother wanted you to sti e your power—though she knew that I only wanted you to submit to it.”

Celaena’s breath burned her throat. Another icker of memory—of lessons not about starting res but putting them out.

Maeve went on, “Look at how well that turned out for them.”

Celaena’s blood froze. Every self-preserving instinct went right out of her head. “And where were you ten years ago?” She spoke so low, from so deep in her shredded soul, that the words were barely more than a growl.

Maeve angled her head slightly. “I do not take kindly to being lied to.”

e snarl on Celaena’s face faltered. Dropped right into her gut. Aid had never come for Terrasen from the Fae. From Wendlyn. And it was all because . . . because . . .

“I do not have more time to spare you,” Maeve said. “So let me be brief: my eyes have told me that you have questions. Questions that no mortal has the right to ask—about the keys.”

Legend said Maeve could commune with the spirit world—had Elena, or Nehemia, told her? Celaena opened her mouth, but Maeve held up a hand. “I will give you those answers. You may come to me in Doranelle to receive them.”

“Why not—”

A growl from Rowan at the interruption.

“Because they are answers that require time,” Maeve said, then slowly added, as if she savored every word, “and answers you have not yet earned.”

“Tell me what I can do to earn them and I will do it.” Fool. A damned fool’s response. “A dangerous thing to o er without hearing the price.”

“You want me to show you my magic? I’ll show it to you. But not here—not—”

“I have no interest in seeing you drop your magic at my feet like a sack of grain. I want to see what you can do with it, Aelin Galathynius—which currently seems like not very much at all.” Celaena’s stomach tightened at that cursed name. “I want to see what you will become under the right circumstances.”

“I don’t—”

“I do not permit mortals or half-breeds into Doranelle. For a half-breed to enter my realm, she must prove herself both gifted and worthy. Mistward, this fortress”—she waved a hand to encompass the room—“is one of several proving grounds. And a place where those who do not pass the test can spend their days.”

Beneath the growing fear, a icker of disgust went through her. Half-breed—Maeve said it with such disdain. “And what manner of test might I expect before I am deemed worthy?”

Maeve gestured to Rowan, who had not moved from the door. “You shall come to me once Prince Rowan decides that you have mastered your gifts. He shall train you here. And you shall not set foot in Doranelle until he deems your training complete.”

After facing the horseshit she’d seen in the glass castle—demons, witches, the king—training with Rowan, even in magic, seemed rather anticlimactic.

But—but it could take weeks. Months. Years. e familiar fog of nothing crept in, threatening to smother her once again. She pushed it back long enough to say, “What I need to know isn’t something that can wait—”

“You want answers regarding the keys, heir of Terrasen? en they shall be waiting for you in Doranelle. e rest is up to you.”

“Truthfully,” Celaena blurted. “You will truthfully answer my questions about the keys.”

Maeve smiled, and it was not a thing of beauty. “You haven’t forgotten all of our ways, then.” When Celaena didn’t react, Maeve added, “I will truthfully answer all your questions about the keys.” It might be easier to walk away. Go nd some other ancient being to pester for the truth. Celaena breathed in and out, in and out. But Maeve had been there—had been there at the dawn of this world during the Valg wars. She had held the Wyrdkeys. She knew what they looked like, how they felt. Maybe she even knew where Brannon had hidden them—especially the last, unnamed key. And if Celaena could nd a way to steal the keys from the king, to destroy him, to stop his armies and

free Eyllwe, even if she could nd just one Wyrdkey . . . “What manner of training—”

“Prince Rowan shall explain the speci cs. For now, he will escort you to your chamber to rest.”

Celaena looked Maeve straight in her death-dealing eyes. “You swear you’ll tell me what I need to know?”

“I do not break my promises. And I have the feeling that you are unlike your mother in that regard, too.”

Bitch. Bitch, she wanted to hiss. But then Maeve’s eyes icked to Celaena’s right palm. She knew everything. rough whatever spies or power or guesswork, Maeve knew everything about her and the vow to Nehemia.

“To what end?” Celaena asked softly, the anger and the fear dragging her down into an inescapable exhaustion. “You want me to train only so I can make a spectacle of my talents?”

Maeve ran a moon-white nger down the owl’s head. “I wish you to become who you were born to be. To become queen.”

Become queen.

e words haunted Celaena that night—kept her from sleeping, even though she was so exhausted she could have wept for the dark-eyed Silba to put her out of her misery. Queen. e word throbbed right along with the fresh split lip that also made sleeping very uncomfortable.

She could thank Rowan for that.

After Maeve’s command, Celaena hadn’t bothered with good-byes before walking out. Rowan had only cleared the way because Maeve gave him a nod, and he followed Celaena into a narrow hallway that smelled of roasting meat and garlic. Her stomach grumbled, but she’d probably hurl her guts up the second she swallowed anything. So she trailed Rowan down the corridor, down the stairs, each footstep alternating between iron-willed control and growing rage.

Left. Nehemia.

Right. You made a vow, and you will keep it, by whatever means necessary. Left. Training. Queen.

Right. Bitch. Manipulative, cold-blooded, sadistic bitch.

Ahead of her, Rowan’s own steps were silent on the dark stones of the hallway. e torches hadn’t been lit yet, and in the murky interior, she could hardly tell he was there. But she knew—if only because she could almost feel the ire radiating o him. Good. At least one other person wasn’t particularly thrilled about this bargain.

Training. Training.

Her whole life had been training, from the moment she was born. Rowan could train her until he was blue in the face, and as long as it got her the answers about the Wyrdkeys, she’d play along. But it didn’t mean that, when the time came, she had to do anything. Certainly not take up her throne.

She didn’t even have a throne, or a crown, or a court. Didn’t want them. And she could bring down the king as Celaena Sardothien, thank you very much.

She tightened her ngers into sts.

ey encountered no one as they descended a winding staircase and started down another corridor. Did the residents of this fortress—Mistward, Maeve had called it—know who was in that study upstairs? Maeve probably got o on terrifying them. Maybe she had all of them—half-breeds, she’d called them—enslaved through some bargain or another. Disgusting. It was disgusting, to keep them here just for having a mixed heritage that was no fault of theirs.

Celaena nally opened up her mouth.

“You must be very important to Her Immortal Majesty if she put you on nurse duty.” “Given your history, she didn’t trust anyone but her best to keep you in line.”

Oh, the prince wanted to tangle. Whatever self-control he’d had on their trek to the fortress was hanging by a thread. Good.

“Playing warrior in the woods doesn’t seem like the greatest indicator of talent.”

“I fought on killing elds long before you, your parents, or your grand-uncle were even born.” She bristled—exactly like he wanted. “Who’s to ght here except birds and beasts?”

Silence. en—“ e world is a far bigger and more dangerous place than you can imagine, girl. Consider yourself blessed to receive any training—to have the chance to prove yourself.”

“I’ve seen plenty of this big and dangerous world, princeling.” A soft, harsh laugh. “Just wait, Aelin.”

Another jab. And she let herself fall for it. “Don’t call me that.” “It’s your name. I’m not going to call you anything di erent.”

She stepped in his path, getting right near those too-sharp canines. “No one here can know who I am. Do you understand?”

His green eyes gleamed, animal-bright in the dark. “My aunt has given me a harder task than she realizes, I think.” My aunt. Not our aunt.

And then she said one of the foulest things she’d ever uttered in her life, bathing in the pure hate of it. “Fae like you make me understand the King of Adarlan’s actions a bit more, I think.”

Faster than she could sense, faster than anything had a right to be, he punched her.

She shifted enough to keep her nose from shattering but took the blow on her mouth. She hit the wall, whacked her head, and tasted blood. Good.

He struck again with that immortal speed—or would have. But with equally unnerving swiftness, he halted his second blow before it fractured her jaw and snarled in her face, low and vicious.

Her breathing turned ragged as she purred, “Do it.”

He looked more interested in ripping out her throat than in talking, but he held the line he’d drawn. “Why should I give you what you want?”

“You’re just as useless as the rest of your brethren.”

He let out a soft, lethal laugh that raked claws down her temper. “If you’re that desperate to eat stone, go ahead: I’ll let you try to land the next punch.”

She knew better than to listen. But there was such a roar in her blood that she could no longer see right, think right, breathe right. So she damned the consequences to hell as she swung.

Celaena hit nothing but air—air, and then his foot hooked behind hers in an e cient maneuver that sent her careening into the wall once more. Impossible—he’d tripped her as if she was nothing more than a trembling novice.

He was now a few feet away, arms crossed. She spat blood and swore. He smirked. It was enough to send her hurtling for him again, to tackle or pummel or strangle him, she didn’t know.

She caught his feint left, but when she dove right, he moved so swiftly that despite her lifetime of training, she crashed into a darkened brazier behind him. e clatter echoed through the too-quiet hall as she landed face- rst on the stone oor, her teeth singing.

“Like I said,” Rowan sneered down at her, “you have a lot to learn. About everything.” Her lip already aching and swollen, she told him exactly what he could go do to himself.

He sauntered down the hall. “Next time you say anything like that,” he said without looking over his shoulder, “I’ll have you chopping wood for a month.”

Fuming, hatred and shame already burning her face, Celaena got to her feet. He dumped her in a very small, very cold room that looked like little more than a prison cell, letting her take all of two steps inside before he said, “Give me your weapons.”

“Why? And no.” Like hell she’d give him her daggers.

In a swift movement, he grabbed a bucket of water from beside her door and tossed the contents onto the hall oor before holding it out. “Give me your weapons.”

Training with him would be absolutely wonderful. “Tell me why.” “I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“ en we’re going to have another brawl.”

His tattoo seeming impossibly darker in the dim hall, he stared at her beneath lowered brows as if to say, You call that a brawl? But instead he growled, “Starting at dawn, you’ll earn your keep by helping in the kitchen. Unless you plan to murder everyone in the fortress, there is no need for you to be armed. Or to be armed while we train. So I’ll keep your daggers until you’ve earned them back.”

Well, that felt familiar. “ e kitchen?”

He bared his teeth in a wicked grin. “Everyone pulls their weight here. Princesses included. No one’s above some hard labor, least of all you.”

And didn’t she have the scars to prove it. Not that she’d tell him that. She didn’t know what she’d do if he learned about Endovier and mocked her for it—or pitied her. “So my training includes being a scullery maid?”

“Part of it.” Again, she could have sworn she could read the unspoken words in his eyes: And I’m going to savor every damn second of your misery.

“For an old bastard, you certainly haven’t bothered to learn manners at any point in your long existence.” Never mind that he looked to be in his late twenties.

“Why should I waste attery on a child who’s already in love with herself ?” “We’re related, you know.”

“We’ve as much blood in common as I do with the fortress pig-boy.”

She felt her nostrils are, and he shoved the bucket in her face. She almost knocked it right back into his, but decided that she didn’t want a broken nose and began disarming herself.

Rowan counted every weapon she put in the bucket as though he’d already learned how many she’d been carrying, even the hidden ones. en he tucked the bucket against his side and slammed the door without so much of a good-bye beyond “Be ready at dawn.”

“Bastard. Old stinking bastard,” she muttered, surveying the room.

A bed, a chamber pot, and a washbasin with icy water. She’d debated a bath, but opted to use the water to clean out her mouth and tend to her lip. She was starving, but going to nd food involved meeting people. So once she’d mended her lip as best she could with the supplies in her satchel, she tumbled into bed, reeking vagrant clothes and all, and lay there for several hours.

ere was one small window with no coverings in her room. Celaena turned over in bed to look through it to the patch of stars above the trees surrounding the fortress.

Lashing out at Rowan like that, saying the things she did, trying to ght with him . . . She’d deserved that punch. More than deserved it. If she was being honest with herself, she was barely passable as a human being these days. She ngered her split lip and winced.

She scanned the night sky until she located the Stag, the Lord of the North. e unmoving star atop the stag’s head—the eternal crown—pointed the way to Terrasen. She’d been told that the great rulers of Terrasen turned into those bright stars so their people would never be alone—and would always know the way home. She hadn’t set foot there in ten years. While he’d been her master, Arobynn hadn’t let her, and afterward she hadn’t dared.

She had whispered the truth that day at Nehemia’s grave. She’d been running for so long that she didn’t know what it was to stand and ght. Celaena loosed a breath and rubbed her eyes.

What Maeve didn’t understand, what she could never understand, was just how much that little princess in Terrasen had damned them a decade ago, even worse than Maeve herself had. She had damned them all, and then left the world to burn into ash and dust.

So Celaena turned away from the stars, nestling under the threadbare blanket against the frigid cold, and closed her eyes, trying to dream of a di erent world.

A world where she was no one at all.

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