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Page 4

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

“We’ve all made mistakes this past decade.” The gods knew Aedion had plenty to atone for.

Ren tensed, as if the choices that haunted him had nipped at his back.

“I never told her,” Aedion said quietly, so that the falcon sitting in the rafters might not hear. “About the opium den in Rifthold.”

About the fact that Ren had known the owner, and had frequented the woman’s establishment plenty before the night Aedion and Chaol had hauled in a nearly unconscious Ren to hide from the king’s men.

“You can be a real prick, you know that?” Ren’s voice turned hoarse.

“I’d never use that against you.” Aedion held the young lord’s raging dark stare, let Ren feel the dominance simmering within his own. “What I meant to say, before you flew off the handle,” he added when Ren’s mouth opened again, “was that Aelin offered you a place in this court without knowing that part of your past.” A muscle flickered in Ren’s jaw. “But even if she had, Ren, she still would have made that offer.”

Ren studied the stone floor beneath their boots. “There is no court.”

“Darrow can scream it all he wants, but I beg to differ.” Aedion slid into the armchair across from Ren’s. If Ren truly backed Aelin, with Elide Lochan now returned, and Sol and Ravi of Suria likely to support her, it gave his queen three votes in her favor. Against the four opposing her.

There was little hope that Lysandra’s vote, as Lady of Caraverre, would be recognized.

The shifter had not asked to see the land that was to be her home if they survived this war. Had only changed into a falcon on the trek here and flown off for a while. When she’d returned, she’d said nothing, though her green eyes had been bright.

No, Caraverre would not be recognized as a territory, not until Aelin took up her throne.

Until Lysandra instead was crowned queen, if his own did not return.

She would return. She had to.

A door opened at the far end of the hall, followed by rushing, light steps. He rose a heartbeat before a joyous “Aedion!” sang over the stones.

Evangeline was beaming, clad head to toe in green woolen clothes bordered with white fur, her red-gold hair hanging in two plaits. Like the mountain girls of Terrasen.

Her scars stretched wide as she grinned, and Aedion threw open his arms just before she launched herself on him. “They said you arrived late last night, but you left before first light, and I was worried I’d miss you again—”

Aedion pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “You look like you’ve grown a full foot since I last saw you.”

Evangeline’s citrine eyes glowed as she glanced between him and Ren. “Where’s—”

A flash of light, and there she was.

Shining. Lysandra seemed to be shining as she swept a cloak around her bare body, the garment left on a nearby chair for precisely this purpose. Evangeline hurled herself into the shifter’s arms, half sobbing with joy. Evangeline’s shoulders shook, and Lysandra smiled, deeply and warmly, stroking the girl’s head. “You’re well?”

For all the world, the shifter would have seemed calm, serene. But Aedion knew her—knew her moods, her secret tells. Knew that the slight tremor in her words was proof of the raging torrent beneath the beautiful surface.

“Oh, yes,” Evangeline said, pulling away to beam toward Ren. “He and Lord Murtaugh brought me here soon after. Fleetfoot’s with him, by the way. Murtaugh, I mean. She likes him better than me, because he sneaks her treats all day. She’s fatter than a lazy house cat now.”

Lysandra laughed, and Aedion smiled. The girl had been well cared for.

As if realizing it herself, Lysandra murmured to Ren, her voice a soft purr, “Thank you.”

Red tinted Ren’s cheeks as he rose to his feet. “I thought she’d be safer here than in the war camp. More comfortable, at least.”

“Oh, it’s the most wonderful place, Lysandra,” Evangeline chirped, gripping Lysandra’s hand between both of hers. “Murtaugh even took me to Caraverre one afternoon—before it started snowing, I mean. You must see it. The hills and rivers and pretty trees, all right up against the mountains. I thought I spied a ghost leopard hiding atop the rocks, but Murtaugh said it was a trick of my mind. But I swear it was one—even bigger than yours! And the house! It’s the loveliest house I ever saw, with a walled garden in the back that Murtaugh says will be full of vegetables and roses in the summer.”

For a heartbeat, Aedion couldn’t endure the emotion on Lysandra’s face as Evangeline prattled off her grand plans for the estate. The pain of longing for a life that would likely be snatched away before she had a chance to claim it.

Aedion turned to Ren, the lord’s gaze transfixed on Lysandra. As it had been whenever she’d taken her human form.

Fighting the urge to clench his jaw, Aedion said, “You recognize Caraverre, then.”

Evangeline continued her merry jabbering, but Lysandra’s eyes slid toward them.

“Darrow is not Lord of Allsbrook,” was all Ren said.

Indeed. And who wouldn’t want such a pretty neighbor?

That is, when she wasn’t living in Orynth under another’s skin and crown, using Aedion to sire a fake royal bloodline. Little more than a stud to breed.

Lysandra again nodded her thanks, and Ren’s blush deepened. As if they hadn’t spent all day trekking through snow and slaughtering Valg. As if the scent of gore didn’t still cling to them.

Indeed, Evangeline sniffed at the cloak Lysandra kept wrapped around herself and scowled. “You smell terrible. All of you.”

“Manners,” Lysandra admonished, but laughed.

Evangeline put her hands on her hips in a gesture Aedion had seen Aelin make so many times that his heart hurt to behold it. “You asked me to tell you if you ever smelled. Especially your breath.”

Lysandra smiled, and Aedion resisted the tug on his own mouth. “So I did.”

Evangeline yanked on Lysandra’s hand, trying to haul the shifter down the hall. “You can share my room. There’s a bathing chamber in there.” Lysandra conceded a step.

“A fine room for a guest,” Aedion muttered to Ren, his brows rising. It had to be one of the finest here, to have its own bathing chamber.

Ren ducked his head. “It belonged to Rose.”

His oldest sister. Who had been butchered along with Rallen, the middle Allsbrook sibling, at the magic academy they’d attended. Near the border with Adarlan, the school had been directly in the path of invading troops.

Even before magic fell, they would have had few defenses against ten thousand soldiers. Aedion didn’t let himself often remember the slaughter of Devellin—that fabled school. How many children had been there. How none had escaped.

Ren had been close to both his elder sisters, but to high-spirited Rose most of all.

“She would have liked her,” Ren clarified, jerking his chin toward Evangeline. Scarred, Aedion realized, as Ren was. The slash down Ren’s face had been earned while escaping the butchering blocks, his parents’ lives the cost of the diversion that got him and Murtaugh out. Evangeline’s scars hailed from a different sort of escape, narrowly avoiding the hellish life her mistress endured.

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