Chapter no 29

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

Rowan Whitethorn debated for a good minute if it was worthwhile to hunt down the demi-Fae prince and tear him into bloody ribbons for what he’d called Aelin, or if he was better off here, with his queen, while she paced in front of her bedroom fireplace. He understood—he really did—why the general was enraged. He’d have felt the same. But it wasn’t a good-enough excuse. Not even close.

Perched on the edge of the plush mattress, he watched her move.

Even without her magic, Aelin was a living wildfire, more so now with the red hair—a creature of such roaring emotions that he could sometimes only watch her and marvel.

And her face.

That gods-damned face.

While they’d been in Wendlyn, it had taken him a while to realize she was beautiful. Months, actually, to really notice it. And for these past few weeks, against his better judgment, he’d thought often about that face— especially that smart-ass mouth.

But he hadn’t remembered just how stunning she was until she’d taken off her hood earlier, and it had struck him stupid.

These weeks apart had been a brutal reminder of what life had been like until he had found her drunk and broken on that rooftop in Varese. The nightmares had started the very night she’d left—such relentless dreams that he’d nearly vomited when he flung himself out of them, Lyria’s screaming ringing in his ears. The memory of it sent cold licking down his spine. But even that was burned away by the queen before him.

Aelin was well on her way to wearing a track in the rug before the fireplace.

“If that’s any indication of what to expect from our court,” Rowan said at last, flexing his fingers in an attempt to dislodge the hollow shakiness he hadn’t been able to master since his magic had been smothered, “then we’ll never have a dull moment.”

She flung out a hand in a dismissive wave of irritation. “Don’t tease me right now.” She scrubbed at her face and huffed a breath.

Rowan waited, knowing she was gathering the words, hating the pain and sorrow and guilt on every line of her body. He’d sell his soul to the dark god to never have her look like that again.

“Every time I turn around,” she said, approaching the bed and leaning against the carved post, “I feel like I’m one wrong move or word away from leading them to ruin. People’s lives—your life—depend on me. There’s no room for error.”

There it was, the weight that had been slowly crushing her. It killed him that he’d have to add to it when he told her the news he carried—the reason he’d disobeyed her first order to him.

He could offer her nothing but the truth. “You will make mistakes. You will make decisions, and sometimes you will regret those choices. Sometimes there won’t be a right choice, just the best of several bad options. I don’t need to tell you that you can do this—you know you can. I wouldn’t have sworn the oath to you if I didn’t think you could.”

She slid onto the bed beside him, her scent caressing him. Jasmine, and lemon verbena, and crackling embers. Elegant, feminine, and utterly wild. Warm, and steadfast—unbreakable, his queen.

Save for the weakness they both shared: that bond between them.

For in his nightmares, he sometimes heard Maeve’s voice over the crack of a whip, cunning and cold. Not for all the world, Aelin? But what about for Prince Rowan?

He tried not to think about it: the fact that Aelin would hand over one of the Wyrdkeys for him. He locked that knowledge up so tightly that it could escape only in his dreams, or when he woke reaching across a cold bed for a princess who was thousands of miles away.

Aelin shook her head. “It was so much easier being alone.”

“I know,” he said, clamping down on the instinct to sling his arm around her shoulders and tuck her in close. He focused on listening to the city around them instead.

He could hear more than mortal ears, but the wind no longer sang its secrets to him. He no longer felt it tugging at him. And stuck in his Fae body, unable to shift … Caged. Restless. Made worse by the fact that he couldn’t shield this apartment from any enemy attacks while they were here.

Not powerless, he reminded himself. He had been bound head to toe in iron before and had still killed. He could keep this apartment secure—the old-fashioned way. He was just … off-balance. At a time when being off-balance could be fatal to her.

For a while, they sat there in silence.

“I said some appalling things to him,” she said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, unable to help the growl. “He said some equally appalling things to you. Your tempers are evenly matched.”

She let out a breathy chuckle. “Tell me about the fortress—what it was like when you went back to help rebuild.”

So he did, until he got to the knowledge he’d been holding in all night. “Just say it,” she said, with a direct, unyielding sort of look. He wondered if she realized that for all she complained about his alpha

nonsense, she was pure-blooded alpha herself. Rowan took a long breath. “Lorcan’s here.” She straightened. “That’s why you came.”

Rowan nodded. And why keeping his distance was the smarter move; Lorcan was wicked and cunning enough to use their bond against them. “I caught his scent sneaking around near Mistward and tracked it to the coast, then onto a ship. I picked up his trail when I docked this evening.” Her face was pale, and he added, “I made sure to cover my tracks before hunting you down.”

Over five centuries old, Lorcan was the strongest male in the Fae realm, equal only to Rowan himself. They’d never been true friends, and after the events of a few weeks ago, Rowan would have liked nothing more than to slit the male’s throat for leaving Aelin to die at the hands of the Valg princes. He might very well get the chance to do that—soon.

“He doesn’t know you well enough to immediately pick up your scent,” Rowan went on. “I’d bet good money that he got on that boat just to drag me here so I’d lead him to you.” But it was better than letting Lorcan find her while he remained in Wendlyn.

Aelin swore with creative colorfulness. “Maeve probably thinks we’ll also lead him right to the third Wyrdkey. Do you think she gave him the order to put us down—either to get the key, or afterward?”

“Maybe.” The thought was enough to shoot icy rage through him. “I won’t let that happen.”

Her mouth quirked to the side. “You think I could take him?”

“If you had your magic, possibly.” Irritation rippled in her eyes— enough so that he knew something else nagged at her. “But without magic, in your human form … You’d be dead before you could draw your sword.”

“He’s that good.”

He gave her a slow nod.

She looked him over with an assassin’s eye. “Could you take him?”

“It’d be so destructive, I wouldn’t risk it. You remember what I told you about Sollemere.” Her face tightened at the mention of the city he and Lorcan had obliterated at Maeve’s request nearly two centuries ago. It was a stain that would forever linger, no matter what he told himself about how corrupt and evil its residents had been. “Without our magic, it’s hard to call who’d win. It would depend on who wanted it more.”

Lorcan, with his unending cold rage and a talent for killing gifted to him by Hellas himself, never allowed himself to lose. Battles, riches, females—Lorcan always won, at any cost. Once, Rowan might have let him win, let Lorcan end him just to put a stop to his own miserable life, but now … “Lorcan makes a move against you, and he dies.”

She didn’t blink at the violence that laced every word. Another part of him—a part that had been knotted from the moment she left—uncoiled like some wild animal stretching out before a fire. Aelin cocked her head. “Any idea where he’d hide?”

“None. I’ll start hunting him tomorrow.”

“No,” she said. “Lorcan will easily find us without you hunting him. But if he expects me to lead him to the third key so he can bring it back to Maeve, then maybe …” He could almost see the wheels turning in her head. She let out a hum. “I’ll think about that tomorrow. Do you think Maeve wants the key merely to keep me from using it, or to use it herself?”

“You know the answer to that.”

“Both, then.” Aelin sighed. “The question is, will she try to use us to hunt down the other two keys, or does she have another one of your cadre out searching for them now?”

“Let’s hope she hasn’t sent anyone else.”

“If Gavriel knew that Aedion is his son …” She glanced toward the bedroom door, guilt and pain flickering on her lovely features. “Would he follow Maeve, even if it meant hurting or killing Aedion in the process? Is her control over him that strong?”

It had been a shock earlier to realize whose son lounged at the kitchen table. “Gavriel …” He’d seen the warrior with lovers over the centuries, and seen him leave them at Maeve’s order. He’d also seen him ink the names of his fallen men onto his flesh. And of all his cadre, only Gavriel had stopped that night to help Aelin against the Valg.

“Don’t answer now,” Aelin cut in with a yawn. “We should go to bed.”

Rowan had surveyed every inch of the apartment within moments of arriving, but he asked as casually as he could, “Where should I sleep?”

She patted the bed behind them. “Just like old times.”

He clenched his jaw. He’d been bracing himself for this all night—for weeks now. “It’s not like the fortress, where no one thinks twice about it.”

“And what if I want you to stay in here with me?”

He didn’t allow those words to sink in fully, the idea of being in that bed. He’d worked too damn hard at shutting out those thoughts. “Then I’ll stay. On the couch. But you need to be clear to the others about what my staying in here means.”

There were so many lines that needed to be held. She was off-limits— completely off-limits, for about a dozen different reasons. He’d thought he would be able to deal with it, but—

No, he would deal with it. He’d find a way to deal with it, because he wasn’t a fool, and he had some gods-damned self-control. Now that Lorcan was in Rifthold, tracking them, hunting for the Wyrdkey, he had bigger things to worry about.

She shrugged, irreverent as always. “Then I’ll issue a royal decree about my honorable intentions toward you over breakfast.”

Rowan snorted. Though he didn’t want to, he said, “And—the captain.”

“What about him?” she said too sharply.

“Just consider how he might interpret things.”

“Why?” She’d done an excellent job of not mentioning him at all.

But there was enough anger, enough pain in that one word, that Rowan couldn’t back down. “Tell me what happened.”

She didn’t meet his eyes. “He said what occurred here—to my friends, to him and Dorian, while I was away in Wendlyn—that it was my fault. And that I was a monster.”

For a moment, a blinding, blistering wrath shot through him. It was instinct to lunge for her hand, to touch the face that remained downturned. But he held himself in check. She still didn’t look at him as she said, “Do you think—”

“Never,” he said. “Never, Aelin.”

At last she met his stare, with eyes that were too old, too sad and tired to be nineteen. It had been a mistake to ever call her a girl—and there were indeed moments when Rowan forgot how young she truly was. The woman before him shouldered burdens that would break the spine of someone three times her age. “If you’re a monster, I’m a monster,” he said with a grin broad enough to show off his elongated canines.

She let out a rough laugh, close enough that it warmed his face. “Just sleep in the bed,” she said. “I don’t feel like digging up bedding for the


Maybe it was the laugh, or the silver lining her eyes, but he said, “Fine.” Fool—he was such a stupid fool when it came to her. He made himself add, “But it sends a message, Aelin.”

She lifted her brows in a way that usually meant fire was going to start flickering—but none came. Both of them were trapped in their bodies, stranded without magic. He’d adapt; he’d endure.

“Oh?” she purred, and he braced himself for the tempest. “And what message does it send? That I’m a whore? As if what I do in the privacy of my own room, with my body, is anyone’s concern.”

“You think I don’t agree?” His temper slipped its leash. No one else had ever been able to get under his skin so fast, so deep, in the span of a few words. “But things are different now, Aelin. You’re a queen of the realm. We have to consider how it looks, what impact it might have on our relationships with people who find it to be improper. Explaining that it’s for your safety—”

“Oh, please. My safety? You think Lorcan or the king or whoever the hell else has it in for me is going to slither through the window in the middle of the night? I can protect myself, you know.”

“Gods above, I know you can.” He’d never been in doubt of that.

Her nostrils flared. “This is one of the stupidest fights we’ve ever had. All thanks to your idiocy, I might add.” She stalked toward her closet, her hips swishing as if to accentuate every word as she snapped, “Just get in bed.”

He loosed a tight breath as she and those hips vanished into the closet.

Boundaries. Lines. Off-limits.

Those were his new favorite words, he reminded himself as he grimaced at the silken sheets, even as the huff of her breath still touched his cheek.



Aelin heard the bathroom door close, then running water as Rowan washed up with the toiletries she’d left out for him.

Not a monster—not for what she’d done, not for her power, not when Rowan was there. She’d thank the gods every damn day for the small mercy of giving her a friend who was her match, her equal, and who would never look at her with horror in his eyes. No matter what happened, she’d always be grateful for that.

But … Improper. Improper indeed.

He didn’t know how improper she could be.

She opened the top drawer of the oak dresser. And slowly smiled.

Rowan was in bed by the time she strutted toward the bathroom. She heard, rather than saw, him jolt upright, the mattress groaning as he barked, “What in hell is that?”

She kept going toward the bathroom, refusing to apologize or look down at the pink, delicate, very short lace nightgown. When she emerged, face washed and clean, Rowan was sitting up, arms crossed over his bare chest. “You forgot the bottom part.”

She merely blew out the candles in the room one by one. His eyes tracked her the entire time. “There is no bottom part,” she said, flinging back the covers on her side. “It’s starting to get so hot, and I hate sweating when I sleep. Plus, you’re practically a furnace. So it’s either this or I sleep naked. You can sleep in the bathtub if you have a problem with it.”

His growl rattled the room. “You’ve made your point.”

“Hmm.” She slid into bed beside him, a healthy, proper distance away.

For a few heartbeats, there was only the sound of rustling blankets as she nestled down.

“I need to fill in the ink a bit more in a few places,” he said flatly. She could barely see his face in the dark. “What?”

“Your tattoo,” he said, staring at the ceiling. “There are a few spots I need to fill in at some point.”

Of course. He wasn’t like other men—not even close. There was so little she could do to jar him, taunt him. A naked body was a naked body. Especially hers.

“Fine,” she said, turning so that her back was to him.

They were silent again. Then Rowan said, “I’ve never seen—clothing like that.”

She rolled over. “You mean to tell me the females in Doranelle don’t have scandalous nightclothes? Or anywhere else in the world?”

His eyes gleamed like an animal’s in the dark. She’d forgotten what it was like to be Fae, to have one foot always in the forest. “My encounters with other females usually didn’t involve parading around in nightclothes.”

“And what clothes did they involve?” “Usually, none at all.”

She clicked her tongue, shoving away the image. “Having had the utter delight of meeting Remelle this spring, I have a hard time believing she didn’t subject you to clothing parades.”

He turned his face toward the ceiling again. “We’re not talking about this.”

She chuckled. Aelin: one, Rowan: zero.

She was still smiling when he asked, “Are all your nightclothes like that?”

“So curious about my negligees, Prince. Whatever would the others say? Maybe you should issue a decree to clarify.” He growled, and she grinned into her pillow. “Yes, I have more, don’t worry. If Lorcan is going to murder me in my sleep, I might as well look good.”

“Vain until the bitter end.”

She pushed back against the thought of Lorcan, of what Maeve might want, and said, “Is there a specific color you’d like me to wear? If I’m going to scandalize you, I should at least do it in something you like.”

“You’re a menace.”

She laughed again, feeling lighter than she had in weeks, despite the news Rowan had given her. She was fairly certain they were done talking for the night when his voice rumbled across the bed. “Gold. Not yellow

—real, metallic gold.”

“You’re out of luck,” she said into her pillow. “I would never own anything so ostentatious.”

She could almost feel him smiling at her as she fell asleep.



Thirty minutes later, Rowan was still staring up at the ceiling, teeth gritted as he calmed the roaring in his veins that was steadily shredding through his self-control.

That gods-damned nightgown. Shit.

He was in such deep, unending shit.



Rowan was asleep, his massive body half covered with blankets, as dawn streamed in through the lace curtains. Silently rising, Aelin stuck out her tongue at him as she shrugged on her pale-blue silk robe, tied her already-fading red hair into a knot atop her head, and padded into the kitchen.

Until the Shadow Market had burned to cinders, that miserable merchant there had been making a small fortune off all the bricks of dye she’d kept buying. Aelin winced at the thought of having to track down

the vendor again—the woman had seemed the sort who would have escaped the flames. And would now charge double, triple, on her already overpriced dyes to make up for her lost goods. And since Lorcan could track her by scent alone, changing the color of her hair would have no impact on him. Though she supposed that with the king’s guard on the lookout for her … Oh, it was too damn early to consider the giant pile of horseshit that had become her life.

Groggy, she made tea mostly by muscle memory. She started on toast, and prayed they had eggs left in the cooling box—they did. And bacon, to her delight. In this house, food tended to vanish as soon as it came in.

One of the biggest pigs of all approached the kitchen on immortal-silent feet. She braced herself as, arms full of food, she nudged the small cooling box shut with a hip.

Aedion eyed her warily while she went to the small counter beside the stove and began pulling down bowls and utensils. “There are mushrooms somewhere,” he said.

“Good. Then you can clean and cut them. And you get to chop the onion.”

“Is that punishment for last night?”

She cracked the eggs one by one into a bowl. “If that’s what you think is an acceptable punishment, sure.”

“And is making breakfast at this ungodly hour your self-imposed punishment?”

“I’m making breakfast because I’m sick of you burning it and making the whole house smell.”

Aedion laughed quietly and came up beside her to begin slicing the onion.

“You stayed on the roof the whole time you were out, didn’t you?” She yanked an iron skillet from the rack over the stove, set it on a burner, and chucked a thick pat of butter onto its dark surface.

“You kicked me out of the apartment, but not the warehouse, so I figured I might as well make myself useful and take watch.” The twisty, bendy Old Ways manner of warping orders. She wondered what the Old Ways had to say about queenly propriety.

She grabbed a wooden spoon and pushed the melting butter around a bit. “We both have atrocious tempers. You know I didn’t mean what I said, about the loyalty thing. Or about the half-human thing. You know none of that matters to me.” Gavriel’s son—holy gods. But she would keep her mouth shut about it until Aedion felt like broaching the subject.

“Aelin, I’m ashamed of what I said to you.”

“Well, that makes two of us, so let’s leave it at that.” She whisked the eggs, keeping an eye on the butter. “I—I understand, Aedion, I really do, about the blood oath. I knew what it meant to you. I made a mistake not telling you. I don’t normally admit to that kind of thing, but … I should have told you. And I’m sorry.”

He sniffed at the onions, his expert slicing leaving a neat heap of them on one end of the cutting board, and then started on the small brown mushrooms. “That oath meant everything to me. Ren and I used to be at each other’s throats because of it when we were children. His father hated me because I was the one favored to take it.”

She took the onions from him and chucked them into the butter, sizzling filling the kitchen. “There’s nothing that says you can’t take the oath, you know. Maeve has several blood-sworn members in her court.” Who were now making Aelin’s life a living hell. “You can take it, and so can Ren—only if you want to, but … I won’t be upset if you don’t want to.”

“In Terrasen, there was only one.”

She stirred the onions. “Things change. New traditions for a new court. You can swear it right now if you wish.”

Aedion finished the mushrooms and set down the knife as he leaned against the counter. “Not now. Not until I see you crowned. Not until we can be in front of a crowd, in front of the world.”

She dumped in the mushrooms. “You’re even more dramatic than I am.”

Aedion snorted. “Hurry up with the eggs. I’m going to die of starvation.”

“Make the bacon, or you don’t get to eat any.” Aedion could hardly move fast enough.

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