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Page 6

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

Gavriel arched a golden brow.

Elide mirrored the gesture. “I can hear your stomach grumbling.”

Gavriel huffed a laugh and took the apple with an incline of his head before cleaning it on the sleeve of his pale jacket. “Indeed it is.”

Down the alley, Elide could have sworn the dark figure stiffened. She paid him no heed.

Gavriel bit into the apple, his canines flashing. Aedion Ashryver’s father—the resemblance was uncanny, though the similarities stopped at appearance. In the brief few days she’d spent with Aedion, he’d proved himself the opposite of the soft-spoken, thoughtful male.

She’d worried, after Asterin and Vesta had left them aboard the ship they’d sailed here, that she might have made a mistake in choosing to travel with three immortal males. That she’d be trampled underfoot.

But Gavriel had been kind from the start, making sure Elide ate enough and had blankets on frigid nights, teaching her to ride the horses they’d spent precious coin to purchase because Elide wouldn’t stand a chance of keeping up with them on foot, ankle or no. And for the times when they had to lead their horses over rough terrain, Gavriel had even braced her leg with his magic, his power a warm summer breeze against her skin.

She certainly wasn’t allowing Lorcan to do so for her.

She would never forget the sight of him crawling after Maeve once the queen had severed the blood oath. Crawling after Maeve like a shunned lover, like a broken dog desperate for its master. Aelin had been brutalized, their very location betrayed by Lorcan to Maeve, and still he tried to follow. Right through the sand still wet with Aelin’s blood.

Gavriel ate half the apple and offered Elide the rest. “You should eat, too.”

She frowned at the bruised purple beneath Gavriel’s eyes. Beneath her own, she had no doubt. Her cycle, at least, had come last month, despite the hard travel that burned up any reserves of food in her stomach.

That had been particularly mortifying. To explain to three warriors who could already smell the blood that she needed supplies. More frequent stops.

She hadn’t mentioned the cramping that twisted her gut, her back, and lashed down her thighs. She’d kept riding, kept her head down. She knew they would have stopped. Even Rowan would have stopped to let her rest. But every time they paused, Elide saw that iron box. Saw the whip, shining with blood, as it cracked through the air. Heard Aelin’s screaming.

She’d gone so Elide wouldn’t be taken. Had not hesitated to offer herself in Elide’s stead.

The thought alone kept Elide astride her mare. Those few days had been made slightly easier by the clean strips of linen that Gavriel and Rowan provided, undoubtedly from their own shirts. When they’d cut them up, she had no idea.

Elide bit into the apple, savoring the sweet, tart crispness. Rowan had left some coppers from a rapidly dwindling supply on a stump to account for the fruit they’d taken.

Soon they’d have to steal their suppers. Or sell their horses.

A thumping sounded from behind the sealed windows a level above, punctuated with muffled male shouting.

“Do you think we’ll have better luck this time?” Elide quietly asked.

Gavriel studied the blue-painted shutters, carved in an intricate latticework. “I have to hope so.”

Luck had indeed run thin these days. They’d had little since that blasted beach in Eyllwe, when Rowan had felt a tug in the bond between him and Aelin—the mating bond—and had followed its call across the ocean. Yet when they’d reached these shores after several dreadful weeks on storm-wild waters, there had been nothing left to track.

No sign of Maeve’s remaining armada. No whisper of the queen’s ship, the Nightingale, docking in any port. No news of her returning to her seat in Doranelle.

Rumors were all they’d had to go on, hauling them across mountains piled deep with snow, through dense forests and dried-out plains.

Until the previous kingdom, the previous city, the packed streets full of revelers out to celebrate Samhuinn, to honor the gods when the veil between worlds was thinnest.

They had no idea those gods were nothing but beings from another world. That any help the gods offered, any help Elide had ever received from that small voice at her shoulder, had been with one goal in mind: to return home. Pawns—that’s all Elide and Aelin and the others were to them.

It was confirmed by the fact that Elide had not heard a whisper of Anneith’s guidance since that horrible day in Eyllwe. Only nudges during the long days, as if they were reminders of her presence. That someone was watching.

That, should they succeed in their quest to find Aelin, the young queen would still be expected to pay the ultimate price to those gods. If Dorian Havilliard and Manon Blackbeak were able to recover the third and final Wyrdkey. If the young king didn’t offer himself up as the sacrifice in Aelin’s stead.

So Elide endured those occasional nudges, refusing to contemplate what manner of creature had taken such an interest in her. In all of them.

Elide had discarded those thoughts as they’d combed through the streets, listening for any whisper of Maeve’s location. The sun had set, Rowan snarling with each passing hour that yielded nothing. As all other cities had yielded nothing.

Elide had made them keep strolling the merry streets, unnoticed and unmarked. She’d reminded Rowan each time he flashed his teeth that there were eyes in every kingdom, every land. And if word got out that a group of Fae warriors was terrorizing cities in their search for Maeve, surely it would get back to the Fae Queen in no time.

Night had fallen, and in the rolling golden hills beyond the city walls, bonfires had kindled.

Rowan had finally stopped growling at the sight. As if they had tugged on some thread of memory, of pain.

But then they’d passed by a group of Fae soldiers out drinking and Rowan had gone still. Had sized the warriors up in that cold, calculating way that told Elide he’d crafted some plan.

When they’d ducked into an alley, the Fae Prince had laid it out in stark, brutal terms.

A week later, and here they were. The shouting grew in the building above.

Elide grimaced as the cracking wood overpowered the ringing city bells. “Should we help?”

Gavriel ran a tattooed hand through his golden hair. The names of warriors who had fallen under his command, he’d explained when she’d finally dared ask last week. “He’s almost done.”

Indeed, even Lorcan now scowled with impatience at the window above Elide and Gavriel.

As the noon bells finished pealing, the shutters burst open.

Shattered was a better word for it as two Fae males came flying through them.

One of them, brown-haired and bloodied, shrieked while he fell.

Prince Rowan Whitethorn said nothing while he fell with him. While he held his grip on the male, teeth bared.

Elide stepped aside, giving them ample space while they crashed into the pile of crates in the alley, splinters and debris soaring.

She knew a gust of wind kept the fall from being fatal for the broad-shouldered male, whom Rowan hauled from the wreckage by the collar of his blue tunic.

He was of no use to them dead.

Gavriel drew a knife, remaining by Elide’s side as Rowan slammed the stranger against the alley wall. There was nothing kind in the prince’s face. Nothing warm.

Only cold-blooded predator. Hell-bent on finding the queen who held his heart.

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