Chapter no 23

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

Aedion rose to consciousness and took in every detail that he could without opening his eyes. A briny breeze from a nearby open window tickled his face; fishermen were shouting their catches a few blocks away; and—and someone was breathing evenly, deeply, nearby. Sleeping.

He opened an eye to find that he was in a small, wood-paneled room decorated with care and a penchant for the luxurious. He knew this room. Knew this apartment.

The door across from his bed was open, revealing the great room beyond—clean and empty and bathed in sunshine. The sheets he slept between were crisp and silken, the pillows plush, the mattress impossibly soft. Exhaustion coated his bones, and pain splintered through his side, but dully. And his head was infinitely clearer as he looked toward the source of that even, deep breathing and beheld the woman asleep in the cream-colored armchair beside the bed.

Her long, bare legs were sprawled over one of the rolled arms, scars of every shape and size adorning them. She rested her head against the wing, her shoulder-length golden hair—the ends stained a reddish brown, as if a cheap dye had been roughly washed out—strewn across her face. Her mouth was slightly open as she dozed, comfortable in an oversized white shirt and what looked to be a pair of men’s undershorts. Safe. Alive.

For a moment, he couldn’t breathe. Aelin.

He mouthed her name.

As if she heard it, she opened her eyes—coming fully alert as she scanned the doorway, the room beyond, then the bedroom itself for any danger. And then finally, finally she looked at him and went utterly still, even as her hair shifted in the gentle breeze.

The pillow beneath his face had become damp.

She just stretched out her legs like a cat and said, “I’m ready to accept your thanks for my spectacular rescue at any time, you know.”

He couldn’t stop the tears leaking down his face, even as he rasped, “Remind me never to get on your bad side.”

A smile tugged at her lips, and her eyes—their eyes—sparkled. “Hello, Aedion.”

Hearing his name on her tongue snapped something loose, and he had to close his eyes, his body barking in pain as it shook with the force of the tears trying to get out of him. When he’d mastered himself, he said hoarsely, “Thank you for your spectacular rescue. Let’s never do it again.”

She snorted, her eyes lined with silver. “You’re exactly the way I dreamed you’d be.”

Something in her smile told him that she already knew—that Ren or Chaol had told her about him, about being Adarlan’s Whore, about the Bane. So all he could say was, “You’re a little taller than I’d imagined, but no one’s perfect.”

“It’s a miracle the king managed to resist executing you until yesterday.”

“Tell me he’s in a rage the likes of which have never been seen before.”

“If you listen hard enough, you can actually hear him shrieking from the palace.”

Aedion laughed, and it made his wound ache. But the laugh died as he looked her over from head to toe. “I’m going to throttle Ren and the captain for letting you save me alone.”

“And here we go.” She looked at the ceiling and sighed loudly. “A minute of pleasant conversation, and then the territorial Fae bullshit comes raging out.”

“I waited an extra thirty seconds.”

Her mouth quirked to the side. “I honestly thought you’d last ten.”

He laughed again, and realized that though he’d loved her before, he’d merely loved the memory—the princess taken away from him. But the woman, the queen—the last shred of family he had …

“It was worth it,” he said, his smile fading. “You were worth it. All these years, all the waiting. You’re worth it.” He’d known the moment she had looked up at him as she stood before his execution block, defiant and wicked and wild.

“I think that’s the healing tonic talking,” she said, but her throat bobbed as she wiped at her eyes. She lowered her feet to the floor. “Chaol said you’re even meaner than I am most of the time.”

“Chaol is already on his way to being throttled, and you’re not helping.”

She gave that half smile again. “Ren’s in the North—I didn’t get to see him before Chaol convinced him to go there for his own safety.”

“Good,” he managed to say, and patted the bed beside him. Someone had stuffed him into a clean shirt, so he was decent enough, but he managed to haul himself halfway into a sitting position. “Come here.”

She glanced at the bed, at his hand, and he wondered whether he’d crossed some line, assumed some bond between them that no longer existed—until her shoulders slumped and she uncoiled from the chair in a smooth, feline motion before plopping down on the mattress.

Her scent hit him. For a second, he could only breathe it deep into his lungs, his Fae instincts roaring that this was his family, this was his queen, this was Aelin. He would have known her even if he were blind.

Even if there was another scent entwined with hers. Staggeringly powerful and ancient and—male. Interesting.

She plumped up the pillows, and he wondered if she knew how much it meant to him, as a demi-Fae male, to have her lean over to straighten his blankets, too, then run a sharp, critical eye down his face. To fuss over him.

He stared right back, scanning for any wounds, any sign that the blood on her the other day hadn’t belonged only to those men. But save for a few shallow, scabbed cuts on her left forearm, she was unharmed.

When she seemed assured that he wasn’t about to die, and when he was assured the wounds on her arm weren’t infected, she leaned back on the pillows and folded her hands over her abdomen. “Do you want to go first, or should I?”

Outside, gulls were crying to each other, and that soft, briny breeze kissed his face. “You,” he whispered. “Tell me everything.”

So she did.



They talked and talked, until Aedion’s voice became hoarse, and then Aelin bullied him into drinking a glass of water. And then she decided that he was looking peaky, so she padded to the kitchen and dug up some beef broth and bread. Lysandra, Chaol, and Nesryn were nowhere to be seen, so they had the apartment to themselves. Good. Aelin didn’t feel like sharing her cousin right now.

As Aedion devoured his food, he told her the unabridged truth of what had happened to him these past ten years, just as she’d done for him.

And when they were both finished telling their stories, when their souls were drained and grieving—but gilded with growing joy—she nestled down across from Aedion, her cousin, her friend.

They’d been forged of the same ore, two sides of the same golden, scarred coin.

She’d known it when she spied him atop the execution platform. She couldn’t explain it. No one could understand that instant bond, that soul-deep assurance and rightness, unless they, too, had experienced it. But she owed no explanations to anyone—not about Aedion.

They were still sprawled on the bed, the sun now settling into late afternoon, and Aedion was just staring at her, blinking, as if he couldn’t quite believe it.

“Are you ashamed of what I’ve done?” she dared to ask. His brow creased. “Why would you ever think that?”

She couldn’t quite look him in the eye as she ran a finger down the blanket. “Are you?”

Aedion was silent long enough that she lifted her head—but found him gazing toward the door, as though he could see through it, across the city, to the captain. When he turned to her, his handsome face was open

—soft in a way she doubted many ever saw. “Never,” he said. “I could never be ashamed of you.”

She doubted that, and when she twisted away, he gently grabbed her chin, forcing her eyes to him.

“You survived; I survived. We’re together again. I once begged the gods to let me see you—if only for a moment. To see you and know you’d made it. Just once; that was all I ever hoped for.”

She couldn’t stop the tears that began slipping down her face. “Whatever you had to do to survive, whatever you did from spite or

rage or selfishness … I don’t give a damn. You’re here—and you’re perfect. You always were, and you always will be.”

She hadn’t realized how much she needed to hear that.

She flung her arms around him, careful of his injuries, and squeezed him as tightly as she dared. He wrapped an arm around her, the other bracing them, and buried his face in her neck.

“I missed you,” she whispered onto him, breathing in his scent—that male warrior’s scent she was just learning, remembering. “Every day, I missed you.”

Her skin grew damp beneath his face. “Never again,” he promised.



It was honestly no surprise that after Aelin had trashed the Vaults, a new warren of sin and debauchery had immediately sprung up in the slums.

The owners weren’t even trying to pretend it wasn’t a complete imitation of the original—not with a name like the Pits. But while its predecessor had at least provided a tavern-like atmosphere, the Pits didn’t bother. In an underground chamber hewn from rough stone, you paid for your alcohol with your cover charge—and if you wanted to drink, you had to brave the casks in the back and serve yourself. Aelin found herself somewhat inclined to like the owners: they operated by a different set of rules.

But some things remained the same.

The floors were slick and reeking of ale and piss and worse, but Aelin had anticipated that. What she hadn’t expected, exactly, was the deafening noise. The rock walls and close quarters magnified the wild cheers from the fighting pits the place had been named after, where onlookers were betting on the brawls within.

Brawls like the one she was about to participate in.

Beside her, Chaol, cloaked and masked, shifted on his feet. “This is a terrible idea,” he murmured.

“You said you couldn’t find the Valg nests, anyway,” she said with equal quiet, tucking a loose strand of her hair—dyed red once more— back under her hood. “Well, here are some lovely commanders and minions, just waiting for you to track them home. Consider it Arobynn’s form of an apology.” Because he knew that she would bring Chaol with her tonight. She’d guessed as much, debated not bringing the captain, but in the end she needed him here, needed to be here herself, more than she needed to upend Arobynn’s plans.

Chaol sliced a glare in her direction, but then shifted his attention to the crowd around them, and said again, “This is a terrible idea.”

She followed his stare toward Arobynn, who stood across the sandy pit in which two men were fighting, now so bloodied up she couldn’t tell who was in worse shape. “He summons, I answer. Just keep your eyes open.”

It was the most they’d said to each other all night. But she had other things to worry about.

It had taken just one minute in this place to understand why Arobynn had summoned her.

The Valg guards flocked to the Pits—not to arrest and torture, but to watch. They were interspersed among the crowd, hooded, smiling, cold.

As if the blood and rage fueled them.

Beneath her black mask, Aelin focused on her breathing.

Three days after his rescue, Aedion was still injured badly enough that he remained bedridden, one of Chaol’s most trusted rebels watching over the apartment. But she needed someone at her back tonight, so she’d asked Chaol and Nesryn to come. Even if she knew it would play into Arobynn’s plans.

She’d tracked them down at a covert rebel meeting, to no one’s delight.

Especially when, apparently, the Valg had vanished with their victims and couldn’t be found despite days of tracking them. One look at Chaol’s pursed lips had told her exactly whose antics he thought were to blame for it. So she was glad to talk to Nesryn instead, if only to take her mind off the new task pressing on her, its chiming now a mocking invitation from the glass castle. But destroying the clock tower—freeing magic— had to wait.

At least she’d been right about Arobynn wanting Chaol here, the Valg clearly an offering meant to entice the captain to continue trusting and confiding in him.

Aelin sensed Arobynn’s arrival at her side moments before his red hair slid into her peripheral vision.

“Any plans to wreck this establishment, too?”

A dark head appeared at his other side, along with the wide-eyed male stares that followed it everywhere. Aelin was grateful for the mask that hid the tightness in her face as Lysandra inclined her head in greeting. Aelin made a good show of looking Lysandra up and down, and then turned to Arobynn, dismissing the courtesan as if she were no more than a bit of ornamentation.

“I just cleaned the suit,” Aelin drawled to Arobynn. “Wrecking this shit-hole would only mess it up again.”

Arobynn chuckled. “In case you were wondering, a certain celebrated dancer was on a ship heading south with all her dancers before word of your escapades even reached the docks.” The roar of the crowd nearly drowned out his words. Lysandra frowned at a reveler who nearly spilled his ale on the skirts of her mint-and-cream gown.

“Thank you,” Aelin said, and meant it. She didn’t bring up Arobynn’s little game of playing her and Chaol against each other—not when that was precisely what he wanted. Arobynn gave her a smile smug enough to make her ask, “Is there a particular reason that my services are necessary here tonight, or is this another present of yours?”

“After you so gleefully wrecked the Vaults, I’m now in the market for a new investment. The owners of the Pits, despite being public about wanting an investor, are hesitant to accept my offer. Participating tonight will go a long way toward convincing them of my considerable assets and … what I might bring to the table.” And make a threat to the owners, to show off his deadly arsenal of assassins—and how they might help turn an even higher profit with fixed fights against trained killers. She knew exactly what he would say next. “Alas, my fighter fell through,” Arobynn went on. “I needed a replacement.”

“And who am I fighting as, exactly?”

“I told the owners you were trained by the Silent Assassins of the Red Desert. You remember them, don’t you? Give the pit-lord whatever name you want.”

Prick. She’d never forget those months in the Red Desert. Or who had sent her there.

She jerked her chin at Lysandra. “Aren’t you a little fussy for this sort of place?”

“And here I was thinking you and Lysandra had become friends after your dramatic rescue.”

“Arobynn, let’s go watch somewhere else,” Lysandra murmured. “The fight’s ending.”

She wondered what it was like to have to endure the man who had slaughtered your lover. But Lysandra’s face was a mask of worried, wary mindlessness—another skin she wore as she idly cooled herself with a gorgeous fan of lace and ivory. So out of place in this cesspit.

“Pretty, isn’t it? Arobynn gave it to me,” Lysandra said, noticing her attention.

“A small trinket for such a tremendously talented lady,” Arobynn said, leaning down to kiss Lysandra’s bare neck.

Aelin clamped down on her disgust so hard that she choked on it. Arobynn sauntered off into the crowd like a snake through the grass,

catching the eye of the willowy pit-lord. When he was deep enough into the crowd, Aelin stepped closer to Lysandra. The courtesan glanced away from her, and Aelin knew it wasn’t an act.

So softly no one could hear, Aelin said, “Thank you—for the other day.”

Lysandra kept her eyes on the crowd and the bloodied fighters around them. They landed on the Valg, and she quickly looked at Aelin again, shifting so that the crowd formed a wall between her and the demons across the pit. “Is he all right?”

“Yes—just resting and eating as much as he can,” Aelin said. And now that Aedion was safe … she would soon have to begin fulfilling her little favor to Arobynn. Though she doubted her former master had long to live once Aedion recovered and found out what sort of danger Arobynn was putting her in. Let alone what he’d done to her throughout the years.

“Good,” Lysandra said, the crowd keeping them cocooned.

Arobynn clapped the pit-lord on the shoulder and stalked back toward them. Aelin tapped her foot until the King of the Assassins was between them again.

Chaol subtly moved within earshot, a hand on his sword.

Aelin just braced her hands on her hips. “Who shall my opponent be?” Arobynn inclined his head toward a pack of the Valg guards. “Whichever one of them you desire. I just hope you choose one in less

time than it’s taken you to decide which one to hand over to me.”

So that was what this was about. Who had the upper hand. And if she refused, with the debt unpaid … He could do worse. So much worse.

“You’re insane,” Chaol said to Arobynn, following his line of sight. “So he speaks,” Arobynn purred. “You’re welcome, by the way—for

the little tip.” He flicked his gaze toward the gathered Valg. So they were a gift for the captain, then.

Chaol glared. “I don’t need you to do my work—”

“Stay out of it,” Aelin snapped, hoping Chaol would understand the ire wasn’t for him. He turned back toward the blood-splattered sand, shaking his head. Let him be mad; she had plenty to rage at him for anyway.

The crowd died down, and the pit-lord called for the next fighter. “You’re up,” Arobynn said, smiling. “Let’s see what those things are

capable of.”

Lysandra squeezed his arm, as if pleading for him to let it go. “I would keep back,” Aelin said to her, cracking her neck. “You wouldn’t want to get blood on that pretty dress.”

Arobynn chuckled. “Put on a good show, would you? I want the owners impressed—and pissing themselves.”

Oh, she would put on a show. After days cooped up in the apartment at Aedion’s side, she had energy to spare.

And she didn’t mind spilling some Valg blood.

She shoved through the crowd, not daring to draw more attention to Chaol by saying good-bye. People took one look at her and backed away.

With the suit, the boots, and the mask, she knew she was Death incarnate.

Aelin dropped into a swagger, her hips shifting with each step, rolling her shoulders as if loosening them. The crowd grew louder, restless.

She sidled up to the willowy pit-lord, who looked her over and said, “No weapons.”

She merely cocked her head and lifted her arms, turning in a circle, and even allowed the pit-lord’s little minion to pat her down with his sweaty hands to prove that she was unarmed.

As far as they could tell.

“Name,” the pit-lord demanded. Around her, gold was already flashing.

“Ansel of Briarcliff,” she said, the mask distorting her voice to a gravelly rasp.


Aelin looked across the pit, to the crowd gathered, and pointed. “Him.”

The Valg commander was already grinning at her.

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