Chapter no 28

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

She was shaking from head to toe, and couldn’t stop crying, not as the full weight of missing Rowan crashed into her, the weight of these weeks alone. “How did you get here? How did you find me?” Aelin withdrew far enough to study the harsh face shadowed by his hood, the tattoo peeking out along the side of it, and the grim line of his smile.

He was here, he was here, he was here.

“You made it clear my kind wouldn’t be welcome on your continent,” he said. Even the sound of his voice was a balm and a blessing. “So I stowed away on a ship. You’d mentioned a home in the slums, so when I arrived this evening, I wandered until I picked up your scent.” He scanned her with a warrior’s unflinching assessment, his mouth tight. “You have a lot to tell me,” he said, and she nodded. Everything—she wanted to tell him everything. She gripped him harder, savoring the corded muscle of his forearms, the eternal strength of him. He brushed back a loose strand of her hair, his callused fingers scraping against her cheek in the lightest caress. The gentleness of it made her choke on another sob. “But you’re not hurt,” he said softly. “You’re safe?”

She nodded again and buried her face in his chest. “I thought I gave you an order to stay in Wendlyn.”

“I had my reasons, best spoken somewhere secure,” he said onto her hood. “Your friends at the fortress say hello, by the way. I think they miss having an extra scullery maid. Especially Luca—especially in the mornings.”

She laughed, and squeezed him. He was here, and he wasn’t something she’d made up, some wild dream she’d had, and—

“Why are you crying?” he asked, trying to push her back far enough to read her face again.

But she held on to him, so fiercely she could feel the weapons beneath his clothes. It would all be fine, even if it went to hell, so long as he was here with her. “I’m crying,” she sniffled, “because you smell so rutting bad my eyes are watering.”

Rowan let out a roar of laughter that made the vermin in the alley go silent. She at last pulled away, flashing a grin. “Bathing isn’t an option

for a stowaway,” he said, releasing her only to flick her nose. She gave him a playful shove, but he glanced down the alley, where Nesryn and Aedion were waiting. He’d likely been monitoring every move they made. And if he had deemed them a true threat to her safety, they’d have been dead minutes ago. “Are you just going to make them stand there all night?”

“Since when are you a stickler for manners?” She slung an arm around his waist, unwilling to let go of him lest he turn into wind and vanish. His casual arm around her shoulders was a glorious, solid weight as they approached the others.

If Rowan fought Nesryn, or even Chaol, there would be no contest. But Aedion … She hadn’t seem him fight yet—and from the look her cousin was giving Rowan, despite all of his professed admiration, she wondered if Aedion was also wondering who’d emerge from that fight alive. Rowan stiffened a bit beneath her grip.

Neither male broke their stare as they neared. Territorial nonsense.

Aelin squeezed Rowan’s side hard enough that he hissed and pinched her shoulder right back. Fae warriors: invaluable in a fight—and raging pains in her ass at all other times. “Let’s get inside,” she said.

Nesryn had retreated slightly to observe what was sure to be a battle of warrior-arrogance for the ages. “I’ll see you later,” the rebel said to none of them in particular, the corners of her mouth twitching upward before she headed off into the slums.

Part of Aelin debated calling her back—the same part that had made her invite Nesryn along. The woman had seemed lonely, a bit adrift. But Faliq had no reason to stay. Not right now.

Aedion fell into step in front of her and Rowan, silently leading the way back to the warehouse.

Even through his layers of clothes and weapons, Rowan’s muscles were tense beneath her fingers as he monitored Rifthold. She debated asking him what, exactly, he picked up with those heightened senses, what layers of the city she might never know existed. She didn’t envy him his excellent sense of smell, not in the slums, at least. But it wasn’t the time or place to ask—not until they got to safety. Until she talked to him. Alone.

Rowan examined the warehouse without comment before stepping aside to let her go in front of him. She’d forgotten how beautifully he moved that powerful body of his—a storm given flesh.

Tugging him by the hand, she led him up the stairs and into the great room. She knew he had taken in every detail, every entrance and exit and method of escape, by the time they were halfway across it.

Aedion stood before the fireplace, hood still on, hands still within easy reach of his weapons. She said over her shoulder to her cousin as they passed, “Aedion, meet Rowan. Rowan, meet Aedion. His Highness needs a bath or I’ll vomit if I have to sit next to him for more than a minute.”

She offered no other explanation before dragging Rowan into her bedroom and shutting the door behind them.



Aelin leaned against the door as Rowan paused in the center of the bedroom, his face darkened by the shadows of his heavy gray hood. The space between them went taut, every inch of it crackling.

She bit her bottom lip as she took him in: the familiar clothes; the assortment of wicked weapons; the immortal, preternatural stillness. His presence alone stole the air from the room, from her lungs.

“Take off your hood,” he said with a soft growl, his eyes fixed on her mouth.

She crossed her arms. “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine, Prince.”

“From tears to sass in a few minutes. I’m glad the month apart hasn’t dimmed your usual good spirits.” He yanked back his hood, and she started.

“Your hair! You cut it all off!” She pulled off her own hood as she crossed the distance between them. Indeed, the long silver-white hair was now cropped short. It made him look younger, made his tattoo stand out more, and … fine, it made him more handsome, too. Or maybe that was just her missing him.

“Since you seemed to think that we would be doing a good amount of fighting here, shorter hair is more useful. Though I can’t say that your hair might be considered the same. You might as well have dyed it blue.” “Hush. Your hair was so pretty. I was hoping you’d let me braid it one day. I suppose I’ll have to buy a pony instead.” She cocked her head.

“When you shift, will your hawk form be plucked, then?”

His nostrils flared, and she clamped her lips together to keep from laughing.

He surveyed the room: the massive bed she hadn’t bothered to make that morning, the marble fireplace adorned with trinkets and books, the

open door to the giant closet. “You weren’t lying about your taste for luxury.”

“Not all of us enjoy living in warrior-squalor,” she said, grabbing his hand again. She remembered these calluses, the strength and size of his hands. His fingers closed around hers.

Though it was a face she’d memorized, a face that had haunted her dreams these past few weeks … it was new, somehow. And he just looked at her, as if he were thinking the same thing.

He opened his mouth, but she pulled him into the bathroom, lighting a few candles by the sink and on the ledge above the tub. “I meant it about the bath,” she said, twisting the faucets and plugging the drain. “You stink.”

Rowan watched as she bent to grab a towel from the small cabinet by the toilet. “Tell me everything.”

She plucked up a green vial of bath salts and another of bath oil and dumped in generous amounts of each, turning the rushing water milky and opaque. “I will, when you’re soaking in the bath and don’t smell like a vagrant.”

“If memory serves, you smelled even worse when we first met. And I didn’t shove you into the nearest trough in Varese.”

She glared. “Funny.”

“You made my eyes water for the entire damn journey to Mistward.” “Just get in.” Chuckling, he obeyed. She shrugged off her own cloak,

then began unstrapping her various weapons as she headed out of the bathroom.

She might have taken longer than usual to remove her weapons, peel off her suit, and change into a loose white shirt and pants. By the time she finished, Rowan was in the bath, the water so clouded she could see nothing of the lower body beneath.

The powerful muscles of his scarred back shifted as he scrubbed at his face with his hands, then his neck, then his chest. His skin had deepened to a golden brown—he must have spent time outdoors these past weeks. Without clothing, apparently.

He splashed water on his face again, and she started into movement, reaching for the washcloth she’d set on the sink. “Here,” she said a bit hoarsely.

He just dunked it in the milky water and attacked his face, the back of his neck, the strong column of his throat. The full tattoo down his left arm gleamed with the water sliding off him.

Gods, he took up the entire bathtub. She mutely handed him her favorite lavender-scented soap, which he sniffed at, sighed in resignation, and then began using.

She took a seat on the curved lip of the tub and told him everything that had happened since they’d left. Well, mostly everything. He washed while she spoke, scrubbing himself down with brutal efficiency. He lifted the lavender soap to his hair, and she squeaked.

“You don’t use that in your hair,” she hissed, jolting from her perch to reach for one of the many hair tonics lining the little shelf above the bath. “Rose, lemon verbena, or …” She sniffed the glass bottle. “Jasmine.” She squinted down at him.

He was staring up at her, his green eyes full of the words he knew he didn’t have to say. Do I look like I care what you pick?

She clicked her tongue. “Jasmine it is, you buzzard.”

He didn’t object as she took up a place at the head of the tub and dumped some of the tonic into his short hair. The sweet, night-filled scent of jasmine floated up, caressing and kissing her. Even Rowan breathed it in as she scrubbed the tonic into his scalp. “I could still probably braid this,” she mused. “Very teensy-tiny braids, so—” He growled, but leaned back against the tub, his eyes closed. “You’re no better than a house cat,” she said, massaging his head. He let out a low noise in his throat that might very well have been a purr.

Washing his hair was intimate—a privilege she doubted he’d ever allowed many people; something she’d never done for anyone else. But lines had always been blurred for them, and neither of them had particularly cared. He’d seen every bare inch of her several times, and she’d seen most of him. They’d shared a bed for months. On top of that, they were carranam. He’d let her inside his power, past his inner barriers, to where half a thought from her could have shattered his mind. So washing his hair, touching him … it was an intimacy, but it was essential, too.

“You haven’t said anything about your magic,” she murmured, her fingers still working his scalp.

He tensed. “What about it?”

Fingers in his hair, she leaned down to peer at his face. “I take it it’s gone. How does it feel to be as powerless as a mortal?”

He opened his eyes to glare. “It’s not funny.” “Do I look like I’m laughing?”

“I spent the first few days sick to my stomach and barely able to move. It was like having a blanket thrown over my senses.”

“And now?”

“And now I’m dealing with it.”

She poked him in the shoulder. It was like touching velvet-wrapped steel. “Grumpy, grumpy.”

He gave a soft snarl of annoyance, and she pursed her lips to keep the smile in. She pushed down on his shoulders, beckoning him to dunk under the water. He obeyed, and when he emerged, she rose from the tiles and grabbed the towel she’d left on the sink. “I’m going to find you some clothes.”

“I have—”

“Oh, no. Those are going right to the laundress. And you’ll get them back only if she can make them smell decent again. Until then, you’ll wear whatever I give you.”

She handed him the towel, but didn’t let go as his hand closed around it. “You’ve become a tyrant, Princess,” he said.

She rolled her eyes and released the towel, turning as he stood in a mighty movement, water sloshing everywhere. It was an effort not to peek over her shoulder.

Don’t you even dare, a voice hissed in her head.

Right. She’d call that voice Common Sense—and she’d listen to it from now on.

Striding into her closet, she went to the dresser in the back and knelt before the bottom drawer, opening it to reveal folded men’s undershorts, shirts, and pants.

For a moment, she stared at Sam’s old clothes, breathing in the faint smell of him clinging to the fabric. She hadn’t mustered the strength to go to his grave yet, but—

“You don’t have to give those to me,” Rowan said from behind her. She started a bit, and twisted in place to face him. He was so damn stealthy.

Aelin tried not to look too jolted by the sight of him with the towel wrapped around his hips, at the tan and muscled body that gleamed with the oils of the bath, at the scars crisscrossing it like the stripes of a great cat. Even Common Sense was at a loss for words.

Her mouth was a little dry as she said, “Clean clothes are scarce in the house right now, and these are of no use sitting here.” She pulled out a shirt and held it up. “I hope it fits.” Sam had been eighteen when he died; Rowan was a warrior honed by three centuries of training and battle.

She pulled out undershorts and pants. “I’ll get you proper clothes tomorrow. I’m pretty sure you’ll start a riot if the women of Rifthold see

you walking down the streets in nothing but a towel.”

Rowan huffed a laugh and strode to the clothes hanging along one wall of the closet: dresses, tunics, jackets, shirts … “You wore all this?” She nodded and uncoiled to her feet. He flicked through some of the dresses and embroidered tunics. “These are … very beautiful,” he admitted.

“I would have pegged you for a proud member of the anti-finery crowd.”

“Clothes are weapons, too,” he said, pausing on a black velvet gown. Its tight sleeves and front were unadorned, the neckline skimming just beneath the collarbones, unremarkable save for the tendrils of embroidered, shimmering gold creeping over the shoulders. Rowan angled the dress to look at the back—the true masterpiece. The gold embroidery continued from the shoulders, sweeping to form a serpentine dragon, its maw roaring toward the neck, the body curving down until the narrow tail formed the border of the lengthened train. Rowan loosed a breath. “I like this one best.”

She fingered the solid black velvet sleeve. “I saw it in a shop when I was sixteen and bought it immediately. But when the dress was delivered a few weeks later, it seemed too … old. It overpowered the girl I was. So I never wore it, and it’s hung here for three years.”

He ran a scarred finger down the golden spine of the dragon. “You’re not that girl anymore,” he said softly. “Someday, I want to see you wear this.”

She dared to look up at him, her elbow brushing his forearm. “I missed you.”

His mouth tightened. “We weren’t apart that long.”

Right. To an immortal, several weeks were nothing. “So? Am I not allowed to miss you?”

“I once told you that the people you care about are weapons to be used against you. Missing me was a foolish distraction.”

“You’re a real charmer, you know that?” She hadn’t expected tears or emotion, but it would have been nice to know he’d missed her at least a fraction as badly as she had. She swallowed, her spine locking, and pushed Sam’s clothes into his arms. “You can get dressed in here.”

She left him in the closet, and went right to the bathroom, where she splashed cold water on her face and neck.

She returned to her bedroom to find him frowning.

Well, the pants fit—barely. They were too short, and did wonders for showing off his backside, but— “The shirt is too small,” he said. “I

didn’t want to rip it.”

He handed it to her, and she looked a bit helplessly at the shirt, then at his bare torso. “I’ll go out first thing.” She sighed sharply through her nose. “Well, if you don’t mind meeting Aedion shirtless, I suppose we should go say hello.”

“We need to talk.” “Good talk or bad talk?”

“The kind that will make me glad you don’t have access to your power so you don’t spew flames everywhere.”

Her stomach tightened, but she said, “That was one incident, and if you ask me, your absolutely wonderful former lover deserved it.”

More than deserved it. The encounter with the visiting group of highborn Fae at Mistward had been miserable, to say the least. And when Rowan’s former lover had refused to stop touching him, despite his request to do so, when she’d threatened to have Aelin whipped for stepping in … Well, Aelin’s new favorite nickname—fire-breathing bitch-queen—had been fairly accurate during that dinner.

A twitch of his lips, but shadows flickered in Rowan’s eyes. Aelin sighed again and looked at the ceiling. “Now or later?” “Later. It can wait a bit.”

She was half tempted to demand he tell her whatever it was, but she turned toward the door.



Aedion rose from his seat at the kitchen table as Aelin and Rowan entered. Her cousin looked Rowan over with an appreciative eye and said, “You never bothered to tell me how handsome your faerie prince is, Aelin.” Aelin scowled. Aedion just jerked his chin at Rowan. “Tomorrow morning, you and I are going to train on the roof. I want to know everything you know.”

Aelin clicked her tongue. “All I’ve heard from your mouth these past few days is Prince Rowan this and Prince Rowan that, and yet this is what you decide to say to him? No bowing and scraping?”

Aedion slid back into his chair. “If Prince Rowan wants formalities, I can grovel, but he doesn’t look like someone who particularly cares.”

With a flicker of amusement in his green eyes, the Fae Prince said, “Whatever my queen wants.”

Oh, please.

Aedion caught the words, too. My queen.

The two princes stared at each other, one gold and one silver, one her twin and one her soul-bonded. There was nothing friendly in the stares, nothing human—two Fae males locked in some unspoken dominance battle.

She leaned against the sink. “If you’re going to have a pissing contest, can you at least do it on the roof?”

Rowan looked at her, brows high. But it was Aedion who said, “She says we’re no better than dogs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she actually believes we’d piss on her furniture.”

Rowan didn’t smile, though, as he tilted his head to the side and sniffed.

“Aedion needs a bath, too, I know,” she said. “He insisted on smoking a pipe at the taproom. He said it gave him an air of dignity.”

Rowan’s head was still angled as he asked, “Your mothers were cousins, Prince, but who sired you?”

Aedion lounged in his chair. “Does it matter?” “Do you know?” Rowan pressed.

Aedion shrugged. “She never told me—or anyone.” “I’m guessing you have some idea?” Aelin asked.

Rowan said, “He doesn’t look familiar to you?” “He looks like me.”

“Yes, but—” He sighed. “You met his father. A few weeks ago.




Aedion stared at the shirtless warrior, wondering if he’d strained his injuries too much tonight and was now hallucinating.

The prince’s words sank in. Aedion just kept staring. A wicked tattoo in the Old Language stretched down the side of Rowan’s face and along his neck, shoulder, and muscled arm. Most people would take one look at that tattoo and run in the other direction.

Aedion had seen plenty of warriors in his day, but this male was a Warrior—law unto himself.

Just like Gavriel. Or so the legends claimed.

Gavriel, Rowan’s friend, one of his cadre, whose other form was a mountain lion.

“He asked me,” Aelin murmured. “He asked me how old I was, and seemed relieved when I said nineteen.”

Nineteen was too young, apparently, to be Gavriel’s daughter, though she looked so similar to the woman he’d once bedded. Aedion didn’t

remember his mother well; his last memories were of a gaunt, gray face as she sighed her final breath. As she refused the Fae healers who could have cured the wasting sickness in her. But he had heard she’d once looked almost identical to Aelin and her mother, Evalin.

Aedion’s voice was hoarse as he asked, “The Lion is my father?” A nod from Rowan.

“Does he know?”

“I bet seeing Aelin was the first time he wondered if he’d sired a child with your mother. He probably still doesn’t have any idea, unless that prompted him to start looking.”

His mother had never told anyone—anyone but Evalin—who his father was. Even when she was dying, she’d kept it to herself. She’d refused those Fae healers because of it.

Because they might identify him—and if Gavriel knew he had a son

… If Maeve knew …

An old ache ripped through him. She’d kept him safe—had died to keep him out of Maeve’s hands.

Warm fingers slid around his hand and squeezed. He hadn’t realized how cold he was.

Aelin’s eyes—their eyes, the eyes of their mothers—were soft. Open. “This changes nothing,” she said. “About who you are, what you mean to me. Nothing.”

But it did. It changed everything. Explained everything: the strength, the speed, the senses; the lethal, predatory instincts he’d always struggled to keep in check. Why Rhoe had been so hard on him during his training.

Because if Evalin knew who his father was, then Rhoe certainly did, too. And Fae males, even half-Fae males, were deadly. Without the control Rhoe and his lords had drilled into him from an early age, without the focus … They’d known. And kept it from him.

Along with the fact that after he swore the blood oath to Aelin one day

… he might very well remain young while she grew old and died.

Aelin brushed her thumb against the back of his hand, and then pivoted toward Rowan. “What does this mean where Maeve is concerned? Gavriel is bound through the blood oath, so would she have a claim on his offspring?”

“Like hell she does,” Aedion said. If Maeve tried to claim him, he’d rip out her throat. His mother had died for fear of the Fae Queen. He knew it in his bones.

Rowan said, “I don’t know. Even if she thought so, it would be an act of war to steal Aedion from you.”

“This information doesn’t leave this room,” Aelin said. Calm. Calculating—already sorting through every plan. The other side of their fair coin. “It’s ultimately your choice, Aedion, whether to approach Gavriel. But we have enough enemies gathering around us as it is. I don’t need to start a war with Maeve.”

But she would. She would go to war for him. He saw it in her eyes.

It nearly knocked the breath from him. Along with the thought of what the carnage would be like on both sides, if the Dark Queen and the heir of Mala Fire-Bringer collided.

“It stays with us,” Aedion managed to say. He could feel Rowan assessing and weighing him and bit back a snarl. Slowly, Aedion lifted his gaze to meet the prince’s.

The sheer dominance in that stare was like being hit in the face with a stone.

Aedion held it. Like hell he’d back down; like hell he’d yield. And there would be a yielding—somewhere, at some point. Probably when Aedion took that blood oath.

Aelin clicked her tongue at Rowan. “Stop doing that alpha-male nonsense. Once was enough.”

Rowan didn’t so much as blink. “I’m not doing anything.” But the prince’s mouth quirked into a smile, as if saying to Aedion, You think you can take me, cub?

Aedion grinned. Any place, any time, Prince.

Aelin muttered, “Insufferable,” and gave Rowan a playful shove in the arm. He didn’t move an inch. “Are you actually going to get into a pissing contest with every person we meet? Because if that’s the case, then it’ll take us an hour just to make it down one block of this city, and I doubt the residents will be particularly happy.”

Aedion fought the urge to take a deep breath as Rowan broke his stare to give their queen an incredulous look.

She crossed her arms, waiting.

“It’ll take time to adjust to a new dynamic,” Rowan admitted. Not an apology, but from what Aelin had told him, Rowan didn’t often bother with such things. She looked downright shocked by the small concession, actually.

Aedion tried to lounge in his chair, but his muscles were taut, his blood thrumming in his veins. He found himself saying to the prince, “Aelin never said anything about sending for you.”

“Does she answer to you, General?” A dangerous, quiet question. Aedion knew that when males like Rowan spoke softly, it usually meant violence and death were on their way.

Aelin rolled her eyes. “You know he didn’t mean it that way, so don’t pick a fight, you prick.”

Aedion stiffened. He could fight his own battles. If Aelin thought he needed protecting, if she thought Rowan was the superior warrior—

Rowan said, “I’m blood-sworn to you—which means several things, one of which being that I don’t particularly care for the questioning of others, even your cousin.”

The words echoed in his head, his heart.


Aelin went pale.

Aedion asked, “What did he just say?”

Rowan had taken the blood oath to Aelin. His blood oath.

Aelin squared her shoulders, and said clearly, steadily, “Rowan took the blood oath to me before I left Wendlyn.”

A roaring sound went through him. “You let him do what?”

Aelin exposed her scarred palms. “As far as I knew, Aedion, you were loyally serving the king. As far as I knew, I was never going to see you again.”

You let him take the blood oath to you?” Aedion bellowed. She had lied to his face that day on the roof.

He had to get out, out of his skin, out of this apartment, out of this gods-damned city. Aedion lunged for one of the porcelain figurines atop the hearth mantel, needing to shatter something to just get that roaring out of his system.

She flung out a vicious finger, advancing on him. “You break one thing, you shatter just one of my possessions, and I will shove the shards down your rutting throat.”

A command—from a queen to her general.

Aedion spat on the floor, but obeyed. If only because ignoring that command might very well shatter something far more precious.

He instead said, “How dare you? How dare you let him take it?

“I dare because it is my blood to give away; I dare because you did not exist for me then. Even if neither of you had taken it yet, I would still give it to him because he is my carranam, and he has earned my unquestioning loyalty!”

Aedion went rigid. “And what about our unquestioning loyalty? What have you done to earn that? What have you done to save our people since

you’ve returned? Were you ever going to tell me about the blood oath, or was that just another of your many lies?”

Aelin snarled with an animalistic intensity that reminded him she, too, had Fae blood in her veins. “Go have your temper tantrum somewhere else. Don’t come back until you can act like a human being. Or half of one, at least.”

Aedion swore at her, a filthy, foul curse that he immediately regretted. Rowan lunged for him, knocking back his chair hard enough to flip it over, but Aelin threw out a hand. The prince stood down.

That easily, she leashed the mighty, immortal warrior.

Aedion laughed, the sound brittle and cold, and smiled at Rowan in a way that usually made men throw the first punch.

But Rowan just set his chair upright, sat down, and leaned back, as if he already knew where he’d strike Aedion’s death blow.

Aelin pointed at the door. “Get the hell out. I don’t want to see you again for a good while.”

The feeling was mutual.

All his plans, everything he’d worked for … Without the blood oath he was just a general; just a landless prince of the Ashryver line.

Aedion stalked to the front door and flung it open so hard he almost ripped it off its hinges.

Aelin didn’t call after him.

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