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Page 7

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, 7)

“Please,” the male sputtered. In the common tongue.

Rowan had found him, then. They couldn’t hope to track Maeve, Rowan had realized on Samhuinn. Yet finding the commanders who served Maeve, spread across various kingdoms on loan to mortal rulers—that, they could do.

And the male Rowan snarled at, his own lip bleeding, was a commander. A warrior, from the breadth of his shoulders to his muscled thighs. Rowan still dwarfed him. Gavriel and Lorcan, too. As if, even amongst the Fae, the three of them were a wholly different breed.

“Here’s how this goes,” Rowan said to the sniveling commander, his voice deadly soft. A brutal smile graced the prince’s mouth, setting the blood from his split lip running. “First I break your legs, maybe a portion of your spine so you can’t crawl.” He pointed a bloodied finger down the alley. To Lorcan. “You know who that is, don’t you?”

As if in answer, Lorcan prowled from the archway. The commander began trembling.

“The leg and spine, your body would eventually heal,” Rowan went on as Lorcan continued his stalking approach. “But what Lorcan Salvaterre will do to you …” A low, joyless laugh. “You won’t recover from that, friend.”

The commander cast frantic eyes toward Elide, toward Gavriel.

The first time this had happened—two days ago—Elide hadn’t been able to watch. That particular commander hadn’t possessed any information worth sharing, and given the unspeakable sort of brothel they’d found him in, Elide hadn’t really regretted that Rowan had left his body at one end of the alley. His head at the other.

But today, this time … Watch. See, a small voice hissed in her ear. Listen.

Despite the heat and sun, Elide shuddered. Clenched her teeth, bottling up all the words that swelled within her. Find someone else. Find a way to use your own powers to forge the Lock. Find a way to accept your fates to be trapped in this world, so we needn’t pay a debt that wasn’t ours to begin with.

Yet if Anneith now spoke when she had only nudged her these months … Elide swallowed those raging words. As all mortals were expected to. For Aelin, she could submit. As Aelin would ultimately submit.

Gavriel’s face held no mercy, only a grim sort of practicality as he beheld the shaking commander dangling from Rowan’s iron grip. “Tell him what he wants to know. You’ll only make it worse for yourself.”

Lorcan had nearly reached them, a dark wind swirling about his long fingers.

There was nothing of the male she’d come to know on his harsh face. At least, the male he’d been before that beach. No, this was the mask she’d first seen in Oakwald. Unfeeling. Arrogant. Cruel.

The commander beheld the power gathering in Lorcan’s hand, but managed to sneer at Rowan, blood coating his teeth. “She’ll kill all of you.” A black eye already bloomed, the lid swollen shut. Air pulsed at Elide’s ears as Rowan locked a shield of wind around them. Sealing in all sound. “Maeve will kill every last one of you traitors.”

“She can try,” was Rowan’s mild reply.

See, Anneith whispered again.

When the commander began screaming this time, Elide did not look away.

And as Rowan and Lorcan did what they’d been trained to do, she couldn’t decide if Anneith’s order had been to help—or a reminder of precisely what the gods might do should they disobey.

 

 

CHAPTER 3

The Staghorns were burning, and Oakwald with them.

The mighty, ancient trees were little more than charred husks, ash thick as snow raining down.

Embers drifted on the wind, a mockery of how they had once bobbed in her wake like fireflies while she’d run through the Beltane bonfires.

So much flame, the heat smothering, the air itself singeing her lungs.

You did this you did this you did this.

The crack of dying trees groaned the words, cried them.

The world was bathed in fire. Fire, not darkness.

Motion between the trees snared her attention.

The Lord of the North was frantic, mindless with agony, as he galloped toward her. As smoke streamed from his white coat, as fire devoured his mighty antlers—not the immortal flame held between them on her own sigil, the immortal flame of the sacred stags of Terrasen, and of Mala Fire-Bringer before that. But true, vicious flames.

The Lord of the North thundered past, burning, burning, burning.

She reached a hand toward him, invisible and inconsequential, but the proud stag plunged on, screams rising from his mouth.

Such horrible, relentless screams. As if the heart of the world were being shredded.

She could do nothing when the stag threw himself into a wall of flame spread like a net between two burning oaks.

He did not emerge.

 

The white wolf was watching her again.

Aelin Ashryver Whitethorn Galathynius ran an ironclad finger over the rim of the stone altar on which she lay.

As much movement as she could manage.

Cairn had left her here this time. Had not bothered moving her to the iron box against the adjacent wall.

A rare reprieve. To wake not in darkness, but in flickering firelight.

The braziers were dying, beckoning in the damp cold that pressed to her skin. To whatever wasn’t covered by the iron.

She’d already tugged on the chains as quietly as she could. But they held firm.

They’d added more iron. On her. Starting with the metal gauntlets.

She did not remember when that was. Where that had been. There had only been the box then.

The smothering iron coffin.

She had tested it for weaknesses, over and over. Before they’d sent that sweet-smelling smoke to knock her unconscious. She didn’t know how long she’d slept after that.

When she’d awoken here, there had been no more smoke.

She’d tested it again, then. As much as the irons would allow. Pushing with her feet, her elbows, her hands against the unforgiving metal. She didn’t have enough room to turn over. To ease the pain of the chains digging into her. Chafing her.

The lash wounds etched deep into her back had vanished. The ones that had cleaved her skin to the bone. Or had that been a dream, too?

She had drifted into memory, into years of training in an assassin’s keep. Into lessons where she’d been left in chains, in her own waste, until she figured out how to remove them.

But she’d been bound with that training in mind. Nothing she tried in the cramped dark had worked.

The metal of the glove scraped against the dark stone, barely audible over the hissing braziers, the roaring river beyond them. Wherever they were.

Her, and the wolf.

Fenrys.

No chains bound him. None were needed.

Maeve had ordered him to stay, to stand down, and so he would.

For long minutes, they stared at each other.

Aelin did not reflect on the pain that had sent her into unconsciousness. Even as the memory of cracking bones set her foot twitching. The chains jangled.

But nothing flickered where agony should have been rampant. Not a whisper of discomfort in her feet. She shut out the image of how that male—Cairn—had taken them apart. How she’d screamed until her voice had failed.

It might have been a dream. One of the endless horde that hunted her in the blackness. A burning stag, fleeing through the trees. Hours on this altar, her feet shattered beneath ancient tools. A silver-haired prince whose very scent was that of home.

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