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Page 16

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

By their captain’s calculations, they were just nearing the border Fenharrow shared with Adarlan. So they needed to decide where, exactly, they were sailing to. As swiftly as possible.

They’d already lost precious time skirting the Dead Islands, despite the news that they once more belonged to Captain Rolfe. Word had likely already reached Morath about their journey, but there was no need to proclaim their exact location.

But their secrecy had cost them: he’d had no news on Dorian’s location. Not a whisper as to whether he had gone north with Aelin and the fleet she’d gathered from several kingdoms. Chaol could only pray that Dorian had, and that his king remained safe.

Yrene studied the two ruks on the nearby ship. “How many scouts are going?”

“Just them.”

Yrene’s eyes flared with warning.

“Easier for smaller numbers to stay hidden.” Chaol pointed to the sky. “The cloud cover today makes it ideal for scouting, too.” When the worry in her face didn’t abate, he added, “We will have to fight in this war at some point, Yrene.” How many lives did Erawan claim for every day that they delayed?

“I know.” She clasped the silver locket at her neck. He’d given it to her, had a master engraver carve the mountains and seas onto the surface. Inside, it still bore the note Aelin Galathynius had left her years ago, when his wife worked as a barmaid in a backwater port, and the queen lived as an assassin under another name. “I just … I know it’s foolish, but I somehow didn’t think it would come upon us this quickly.”

He’d hardly call these weeks at sea quick, but he understood what she meant. “These last days will be the longest yet.”

Yrene nestled into his side, her arm going around his waist. “I need to check on the supplies. I’ll get Borte to fly me over to Hasar’s ship.”

Arcas, the fierce ruk rider’s mount, was still dozing where he slept on the stern. “You might have to wait awhile for that.”

Indeed, they’d both learned these weeks not to disturb either ruk or rider while they were sleeping. Gods help them if Borte and Aelin ever met.

Yrene smiled, and lifted her hands to cup his face. Her clear eyes scanned his. “I love you,” she said softly.

Chaol lowered his brow until it rested against hers. “Tell me that when we’re knee-deep in freezing mud, will you?”

She snorted, but made no move to pull away. Neither did he.

So brow to brow and soul to soul, they stood there amid the bitter wind and lashing waves, and waited to see what the ruks might discover.

 

She’d forgotten how damn cold it was in the North.

Even while living amongst the ruk riders in the Tavan Mountains, Nesryn Faliq had never been this frozen through.

And winter had not fully descended.

Yet Salkhi showed no hint that the cold affected him as they rushed over cloud and sea. But that might also be because Kadara flew beside him, the golden ruk unfaltering in the bitter wind.

A soft spot—her ruk had developed a soft spot and an undimming admiration for Sartaq’s mount. Though Nesryn supposed the same could be said about her and the ruk’s rider.

Nesryn tore her eyes from the swirling gray clouds and glanced to the rider at her left.

His shorn hair had grown out—barely. Just enough to be braided back against the wind.

Sensing her attention, the Heir to the khaganate signaled, All is well?

Nesryn blushed despite the cold, but signaled back, her numbed fingers clumsy over the symbols. All clear.

A blushing schoolgirl. That’s what she became around the prince, no matter the fact that they’d been sharing a bed these weeks, or what he’d promised for their future.

To rule beside him. As the future empress of the khaganate.

It was absurd, of course. The idea of her dressed like his mother, in those sweeping, beautiful robes and grand headdresses … No, she was better suited to the rukhin leathers, to the weight of steel, not jewels. She’d said as much to Sartaq. Many times.

He’d laughed her off. Had said she might walk around the palace naked if she wished. What she wore or didn’t wear wouldn’t bother him in the least.

But it was still a ridiculous notion. One the prince seemed to think was the only course for their future. He’d staked his crown on it, had told his father that if being prince meant not being with her, then he’d walk away from the throne. The khagan had offered him the title of Heir instead.

Before they’d left, his siblings had not seemed angered by it, though they’d spent their entire lives vying to be crowned their father’s Heir. Even Hasar, who sailed with them, had refrained from her usual, sharp-tongued comments. Whether Kashin, Arghun, or Duva—all still in Antica, with Kashin promised to sail with the rest of his father’s forces—had changed their minds about Sartaq’s appointment, Nesryn didn’t know.

A flutter of activity to her right had her steering Salkhi after it.

Falkan Ennar, shape-shifter and merchant-turned-rukhin-spy, had taken a falcon’s form this morning, and wielded the creature’s remarkable speed to fly ahead. He must have seen something, for he now banked and swept past them, then soared inland again. Follow, he seemed to say.

Sailing to Terrasen was still an option, depending on what they found today along the coast. Whether Lysandra might be there, if she might still be alive, was another matter entirely.

Falkan had sworn that his fortune, his properties, would be her inheritance well before he knew that she’d survived childhood, or received his family’s gifts. A strange family from the Wastes, who’d spread across the continent, his brother ending up in Adarlan long enough to sire Lysandra and abandon her mother.

But Falkan had not spoken of those desires since they’d left the Tavan Mountains, and had instead dedicated himself to helping in whatever manner he could: scouting, mostly. But a time would soon come when they’d need his further assistance, as they had against the kharankui in the Dagul Fells.

Perhaps as vital as the army they’d brought with them was the information they’d gleaned there. That Maeve was not a Fae Queen at all, but a Valg imposter. An ancient Valg queen, who had infiltrated Doranelle at the dawn of time, ripping into the two sister-queens’ minds and convincing them that they had an elder sister.

Perhaps the knowledge would bring about nothing in this war. But it might shift it in some way. To know that another enemy lurked at their backs. And that Maeve had fled to Erilea to escape the Valg king she’d wed, brother to two others—who in turn had sundered the Wyrdkeys from the gate, and ripped through worlds to find her.

That the three Valg kings had broken into this world only to be halted here, unaware that their prey now lurked on a throne in Doranelle, had been a strange twist of fate. Only Erawan remained here of those three kings, brother to Orcus, Maeve’s husband. What would he pay to know who she truly was?

It was a question, perhaps, for others to ponder. To consider how to wield.

Falkan dropped into a swooping dive through the cloud cover, and Nesryn followed.

Cold, misty air ripped at her, but Nesryn leaned into the descent, Salkhi trailing Falkan without command. For a minute, only clouds flowed past, and then—

White cliffs rose from the gray waves, and beyond them dried grasses spread in the last of Fenharrow’s northernmost plains.

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