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Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

The ships would soon rejoin the rearguard left at the Florine’s mouth and patrol the coast from Ilium to Suria, but the footsoldiers—most hailing from Crown Prince Galan Ashryver’s forces—would go to the front.

A front that now lay buried under several feet of snow. With more coming.

Hidden above a narrow mountain pass in the Staghorns behind Allsbrook, Aedion scowled at the heavy sky.

His pale furs blended him into the gray and white of the rocky outcropping, a hood concealing his golden hair. And keeping him warm. Many of Galan’s troops had never seen snow, thanks to Wendlyn’s temperate climate. The Whitethorn royals and their smaller force were hardly better off. So Aedion had left Kyllian, his most trusted commander, in charge of ensuring that they were as warm as could be managed.

They were far from home, fighting for a queen they did not know or perhaps even believe in. That frigid cold would sap spirits and sprout dissent faster than the howling wind charging between these peaks.

A flicker of movement on the other side of the pass caught Aedion’s eye, visible only because he knew where to look.

She’d camouflaged herself better than he had. But Lysandra had the advantage of wearing a coat that had been bred for these mountains.

Not that he’d said that to her. Or so much as glanced at her when they’d departed on this scouting mission.

Aelin, apparently, had secret business in Eldrys and had left a note with Galan and her new allies to account for her disappearance. Which allowed Lysandra to accompany them on this task.

No one had noticed, in the nearly two months they’d been maintaining this ruse, that the Queen of Fire had not an ember to show for it. Or that she and the shape-shifter never appeared in the same place. And no one, not the Silent Assassins of the Red Desert, or Galan Ashryver, or the troops that Ansel of Briarcliff had sent with the armada ahead of the bulk of her army, had picked up the slight tells that did not belong to Aelin at all. Nor had they noted the brand on the queen’s wrist that no matter what skin she wore, Lysandra could not change.

She did a fine job of hiding the brand with gloves or long sleeves. And if a glimmer of scarred skin ever showed, it could be excused as part of the manacle markings that remained.

The fake scars she’d also added, right where Aelin had them. Along with the laugh and wicked grin. The swagger and stillness.

Aedion could barely stand to look at her. Talk to her. He only did so because he had to uphold this ruse, too. To pretend that he was her faithful cousin, her fearless commander who would lead her and Terrasen to victory, however unlikely.

So he played the part. One of many he’d donned in his life.

Yet the moment Lysandra changed her golden hair for dark tresses, Ashryver eyes for emerald, he stopped acknowledging her existence. Some days, the Terrasen knot tattooed on his chest, the names of his queen and fledgling court woven amongst it, felt like a brand. Her name especially.

He’d only brought her on this mission to make it easier. Safer. There were other lives beyond his at risk, and though he could have unloaded this scouting task to a unit within the Bane, he’d needed the action.

It had taken over a month to sail from Eyllwe with their newfound allies, dodging Morath’s fleet around Rifthold, and then these past two weeks to move inland.

They had seen little to no combat. Only a few roving bands of Adarlanian soldiers, no Valg amongst them, that had been dealt with quickly.

Aedion doubted Erawan was waiting until spring. Doubted the quiet had anything to do with the weather. He’d discussed it with his men, and with Darrow and the other lords a few days ago. Erawan was likely waiting until the dead of winter, when mobility would be hardest for Terrasen’s army, when Aedion’s soldiers would be weak from months in the snow, their bodies stiff with cold. Even the king’s fortune that Aelin had schemed and won for them this past spring couldn’t prevent that.

Yes, food and blankets and clothes could be purchased, but when the supply lines were buried under snow, what good were they then? All the gold in Erilea couldn’t stop the slow, steady leeching of strength caused by months in a winter camp, exposed to Terrasen’s merciless elements.

Darrow and the other lords didn’t believe his claim that Erawan would strike in deep winter—or believe Ren, when the Lord of Allsbrook voiced his agreement. Erawan was no fool, they claimed. Despite his aerial legion of witches, even Valg foot soldiers could not cross snow when it was ten feet deep. They’d decided that Erawan would wait until spring.

Yet Aedion was taking no chances. Neither was Prince Galan, who had remained silent in that meeting, but sought Aedion afterward to add his support. They had to keep their troops warm and fed, keep them trained and ready to march at a moment’s notice.

This scouting mission, if Ren’s information proved correct, would help their cause.

Nearby, a bowstring groaned, barely audible over the wind. Its tip and shaft had been painted white, and were now barely visible as it aimed with deadly precision toward the pass opening.

Aedion caught Ren Allsbrook’s eye from where the young lord was concealed amongst the rocks, his arrow ready to fly. Cloaked in the same white and gray furs as Aedion, a pale scarf over his mouth, Ren was little more than a pair of dark eyes and the hint of a slashing scar.

Aedion motioned to wait. Barely glancing toward the shape-shifter across the pass, Aedion conveyed the same order.

Let their enemies draw closer.

Crunching snow mingled with labored breathing.

Right on time.

Aedion nocked an arrow to his own bow and ducked lower on the outcropping.

As Ren’s scout had claimed when she’d rushed into Aedion’s war tent five days ago, there were six of them.

They did not bother to blend into the snow and rock. Their dark fur, shaggy and strange, might as well have been a beacon against the glaring white of the Staghorns. But it was the reek of them, carried on a swift wind, that told Aedion enough.

Valg. No sign of a collar on anyone in the small party, any hint of a ring concealed by their thick gloves. Apparently, even demon-infested vermin could get cold. Or their mortal hosts did.

Their enemies moved deeper into the throat of the pass. Ren’s arrow held steady.

Leave one alive, Aedion had ordered before they’d taken their positions.

It had been a lucky guess that they’d choose this pass, a half-forgotten back door into Terrasen’s low-lying lands. Only wide enough for two horses to ride abreast, it had long been ignored by conquering armies and the merchants seeking to sell their wares in the hinterlands beyond the Staghorns.

What dwelled out there, who dared make a living beyond any recognized border, Aedion didn’t know. Just as he didn’t know why these soldiers had ventured so far into the mountains.

But he’d find out soon enough.

The demon company passed beneath them, and Aedion and Ren shifted to reposition their bows.

A straight shot down into the skull. He picked his mark.

Aedion’s nod was the only signal before his arrow flew.


Black blood was still steaming in the snow when the fighting stopped.

It had lasted only a few minutes. Just a few, after Ren and Aedion’s arrows found their targets and Lysandra had leaped from her perch to shred three others. And rip the muscles from the calves of the sixth and sole surviving member of the company.

The demon moaned as Aedion stalked toward him, the snow at the man’s feet now jet-black, his legs in ribbons. Like scraps of a banner in the wind.

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