Chapter no 27

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

The creature rose, its black stone body cutting through the water with hardly a ripple.

The Valg commander knelt before it, head down, not moving a muscle as the horror uncoiled to its full height.

Her heart leaped into a wild beat, and she willed it to calm as she took in the details of the creature that now stood waist-deep in the pool, water dripping off its massive arms and elongated, serpentine snout.

She’d seen it before.

One of eight creatures carved into the clock tower itself; eight gargoyles that she’d once sworn had … watched her. Smiled at her.

Was there currently one missing from the clock tower, or had the statues been molded after this monstrosity?

She willed strength to her knees. A faint blue light began pulsing from beneath her suit—shit. The Eye. Never a good sign when it flared— never, never, never.

She put a hand over it, smothering the barely perceptible glow. “Report,” the thing hissed through a mouth of dark stone teeth.

Wyrdhound—that’s what she would call it. Even if it didn’t look remotely like a dog, she had the feeling the gargoyle-thing could track and hunt as well as any canine. And obeyed its master well.

The commander kept his head lowered. “No sign of the general, or those who helped him get away. We received word that he’d been spotted heading down the southern road, riding with five others for Fenharrow. I sent two patrols after them.”

She could thank Arobynn for that.

“Keep looking,” the Wyrdhound said, the dim light glinting on the iridescent veins running through its obsidian skin. “The general was injured—he can’t have gotten far.”

The creature’s voice stopped her cold. Not the voice of a demon, or a man.

But the king.

She didn’t want to know what sort of things he’d done in order to see through this thing’s eyes, speak through its mouth.

A shudder crawled down her spine as she backed down the tunnel. The water running beside the raised walkway was shallow enough that the creature couldn’t possibly swim there, but … she didn’t dare breathe too loudly.

Oh, she’d give Arobynn his Valg commander, all right. Then she’d let Chaol and Nesryn hunt them all into extinction.

But not until she had the chance to speak to one on her own.



It took Aelin ten blocks to stop the shaking in her bones, ten blocks to debate whether she would even tell them what she’d seen and what she had planned—but walking in the door and seeing Aedion pacing by the window was enough to set her on edge again.

“Would you look at that,” she drawled, throwing back her hood. “I’m alive and unharmed.”

“You said two hours—you were gone four.”

“I had things to do—things that only can do. So to accomplish those things, I needed to go out. You’re in no shape to be in the streets, especially if there’s danger—”

“You swore there wasn’t any danger.”

“Do I look like an oracle? There is always danger—always.” That wasn’t even the half of it.

“You reek of the gods-damned sewers,” Aedion snapped. “Want to tell me what you were doing there?”

No. Not really.

Aedion rubbed at his face. “Do you understand what it was like to sit on my ass while you were gone? You said two hours. What was I supposed to think?”

“Aedion,” she said as calmly as she could, and pulled off her filthy gloves before taking his broad, callused hand. “I get it. I do.”

“What were you doing that was so important it couldn’t wait a day or two?” His eyes were wide, pleading.


“You’re good at this, aren’t you—half truths.”

“One, just because you’re … you, it doesn’t entitle you to information about everything I do. Two—”

“There you go with the lists again.”

She squeezed his hand hard enough to shatter a lesser man’s bones. “If you don’t like my lists, then don’t pick fights with me.”

He stared at her; she stared right back.

Unyielding, unbreakable. They’d been cut from the same cloth.

Aedion loosed a breath and looked at their joined hands—then opened his to examine her scarred palm, crisscrossed with the marks of her vow to Nehemia and the cut she’d made the moment she and Rowan became carranam, their magic joining them in an eternal bond.

“It’s hard not to think all of your scars are my fault.” Oh. Oh.

It took her a breath or two, but she managed to cock her chin at a devious angle and say, “Please. Half of these scars I rightly deserved.” She showed him a small scar down the inside of her forearm. “See that one? A man in a tavern sliced me open with a bottle after I cheated him in a round of cards and tried to steal his money.”

A choked sound came from him. “You don’t believe me?”

“Oh, I believe you. I didn’t know you were so bad at cards that you had to resort to cheating.” Aedion chuckled quietly, but the fear lingered. So she peeled back the collar of her tunic to reveal a thin necklace of scars. “Baba Yellowlegs, Matron of the Yellowlegs Witch-Clan, gave me these when she tried to kill me. I cut off her head, then cut her corpse

into little bits, then shoved it all into the oven of her wagon.”

“I wondered who killed Yellowlegs.” She could have embraced him for that sentence alone—for the lack of fear or disgust in those eyes.

She walked to the buffet table and pulled out a bottle of wine from inside the cabinet. “I’m surprised you beasts didn’t drink all my good alcohol these past months.” She frowned at the cabinet. “Looks like one of you got into the brandy.”

“Ren’s grandfather,” Aedion said, tracking her movements from his spot by the window. She opened the bottle of wine and didn’t bother with a glass as she slumped onto the couch and swigged.

“This one,” she said, pointing to a jagged scar by her elbow. Aedion came around the couch to sit beside her. He took up nearly half of the damn thing. “The Pirate Lord of Skull’s Bay gave that to me after I trashed his entire city, freed his slaves, and looked damn good while doing it.”

Aedion took the bottle of wine and drank from it. “Has anyone ever taught you humility?”

“You didn’t learn it, so why should I?”

Aedion laughed, and then showed her his left hand. Several of the fingers were crooked. “In the training camps, one of those Adarlanian

bastards broke every finger when I mouthed off. Then he broke them in a second place because I wouldn’t stop swearing at him after.”

She whistled through her teeth, even as she marveled at the bravery, the defiance. Even as pride for her cousin mingled with the slightest tinge of shame for herself. Aedion yanked up his shirt to reveal a muscled abdomen where a thick, jagged slash plunged from his ribs to his belly button. “Battle near Rosamel. Six-inch serrated hunting knife, curved on the tip. Rutting prick got me here”—he pointed to the top, then dragged his finger down—“and sliced south.”

“Shit,” she said. “How the hell are you still breathing?”

“Luck—and I was able to move as he dragged it down, keeping him from gutting me. At least I learned the value of shielding after that.”

So they went on through the evening and the night, passing the wine between them.

One by one, they told the stories of the wounds accumulated in the years spent apart. And after a while, she peeled off her suit and turned to show him her back—to show him the scars, and the tattoos she’d had etched over them.

When she again reclined on the couch, Aedion showed her the scar across his left pectoral, from the first battle he’d fought, when he’d finally been able to win back the Sword of Orynth—her father’s sword.

He padded to what she now considered his room, and when he returned, he held the sword in his hands as he knelt. “This belongs to you,” he said hoarsely. Her swallow was loud in her ears.

She folded Aedion’s hands around the scabbard, even as her heart fractured at the sight of her father’s blade, at what he had done to attain it, to save it. “It belongs to you, Aedion.”

He didn’t lower the blade. “It was just for safekeeping.”

“It belongs to you,” she said again. “There is no one else who deserves it.” Not even her, she realized.

Aedion took a shuddering breath and bowed his head. “You’re a sad drunk,” she told him, and he laughed.

Aedion set the sword on the table behind him and slumped back onto the couch. He was large enough that she was nearly popped off her own cushion, and she glared at him as she straightened. “Don’t break my couch, you hulking brute.”

Aedion ruffled her hair and stretched his long legs out before him. “Ten years, and that’s the treatment I get from my beloved cousin.”

She elbowed him in the ribs.



Two more days passed, and Aedion was going out of his mind, especially as Aelin kept sneaking out only to return covered in filth and reeking to Hellas’s fiery realm. Going to the rooftop for fresh air wasn’t the same as going out, and the apartment was small enough that he was starting to contemplate sleeping in the warehouse downstairs to have some sense of space.

He always felt that way, though—whether in Rifthold or Orynth or at the finest of palaces—if he went too long without walking through forests or fields, without the kiss of the wind on his face. Gods above, he’d even take the Bane’s war camp over this. It had been too long since he’d seen his men, laughed with them, listened to and secretly envied their stories about their families, their homes. But no longer—not now that his own family had been returned to him; not now that Aelin was his home.

Even if the walls of her home now pushed on him.

He must have looked as caged as he felt, because Aelin rolled her eyes when she came back into the apartment that afternoon.

“All right, all right,” she said, throwing up her hands. “I’d rather have you wreck yourself than destroy my furniture from boredom. You’re worse than a dog.”

Aedion bared his teeth in a smile. “I aim to impress.”

So they armed and cloaked themselves and made it two steps outside before he detected a female scent—like mint and some spice he couldn’t identify—approaching them. Fast. He’d caught that scent before, but couldn’t place it.

Pain whipped his ribs as he reached for his dagger, but Aelin said, “It’s Nesryn. Relax.”

Indeed, the approaching woman lifted a hand in greeting, though she was cloaked so thoroughly that Aedion could see nothing of the pretty face beneath.

Aelin met her halfway down the block, moving with ease in that wicked black suit of hers, and didn’t bother waiting for Aedion as she said, “Is something wrong?”

The woman’s attention flicked from Aedion to his queen. He hadn’t forgotten that day at the castle—the arrow she’d fired and the one she’d pointed at him. “No. I came to deliver the report on the new nests we’ve found. But I can return later, if you two are busy.”

“We were just going out,” Aelin said, “to get the general a drink.”

Nesryn’s shoulder-length night-dark hair shifted beneath her hood as she cocked her head. “You want an extra set of eyes watching your back?”

Aedion opened his mouth to say no, but Aelin looked contemplative. She glanced over her shoulder at him, and he knew she was assessing his condition to decide whether she might indeed want another sword among them. If Aelin were in the Bane, he might have tackled her right there.

Aedion drawled to the young rebel, “What I want is a pretty face that doesn’t belong to my cousin. Looks like you’ll do the trick.”

“You’re insufferable,” Aelin said. “And I hate to tell you, Cousin, but the captain wouldn’t be very pleased if you made a move on Faliq.”

“It’s not like that,” Nesryn said tightly.

Aelin lifted a shoulder. “It would make no difference to me if it was.” The bare, honest truth.

Nesryn shook her head. “I wasn’t considering you, but—it’s not like that. I think he’s content to be miserable.” The rebel waved a hand in dismissal. “We could die any day, any hour. I don’t see a point in brooding.”

“Well, you’re in luck, Nesryn Faliq,” Aelin said. “Turns out I’m as sick of my cousin as he is of me. We could use some new company.”

Aedion sketched a bow to the rebel, the motion making his ribs positively ache, and gestured to the street ahead. “After you.”

Nesryn stared him down, as though she could see exactly where his injury was groaning in agony, and then followed after the queen.

Aelin took them to a truly disreputable tavern a few blocks away. With impressive swagger and menace, she kicked out a couple of thieves sitting at a table in the back. They took one look at her weapons, at that utterly wicked suit of hers, and decided they liked having their organs inside their bodies.

The three of them stayed at the taproom until last call, hooded so heavily they could hardly recognize one another, playing cards and refusing the many offers to join other players. They didn’t have money to waste on real games, so for currency they used some dried beans that Aedion sweet-talked the harried serving girl into bringing them.

Nesryn barely spoke as she won round after round, which Aedion supposed was good, given that he hadn’t quite decided if he wanted to kill her for that arrow she’d fired. But Aelin asked her questions about her family’s bakery, about life for her parents on the Southern Continent, about her sister and her nieces and nephews. When at last they left the drinking hall, none of them having dared to get inebriated in public, and

none of them too eager to go to sleep just yet, they meandered through the alleys of the slums.

Aedion savored every step of freedom. He’d been locked in that cell for weeks. It had hit an old wound, one he hadn’t spoken about to Aelin or anyone else, though his highest-ranking warriors in the Bane knew, if only because they’d helped him exact his revenge years after the fact. Aedion was still brooding about it when they strode down a narrow, foggy alley, its dark stones silvered with the light of the moon peeking out above.

He picked up the scrape of boots on stone before his companions did, his Fae ears catching the sound, and threw out an arm in front of Aelin and Nesryn, who froze with expert silence.

He sniffed the air, but the stranger was downwind. So he listened.

Just one person, judging from the near-silent footfalls that pierced through the wall of fog. Moving with a predator’s ease that made Aedion’s instincts rise to the forefront.

Aedion palmed his fighting knives as the male’s scent hit him— unwashed, but with a hint of pine and snow. And then he smelled Aelin on the stranger, the scent complex and layered, woven into the male himself.

The male emerged from the fog; tall—maybe taller than Aedion himself, if only by an inch—powerfully built, and heavily armed both above and beneath his pale gray surcoat and hood.

Aelin took a step forward. One step, as if in a daze.

She loosed a shuddering breath, and a small, whimpering noise came out of her—a sob.

And then she was sprinting down the alley, flying as though the winds themselves pushed at her heels.

She flung herself on the male, crashing into him hard enough that anyone else might have gone rocking back into the stone wall.

But the male grabbed her to him, his massive arms wrapping around her tightly and lifting her up. Nesryn made to approach, but Aedion stopped her with a hand on her arm.

Aelin was laughing as she cried, and the male was just holding her, his hooded head buried in her neck. As if he were breathing her in.

“Who is that?” Nesryn asked. Aedion smiled. “Rowan.”

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