Chapter no 35

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

Gods, he hated the smell of their blood.

But damn if it wasn’t a glorious thing to be covered in when two dozen Valg lay dead around him, and good people were finally safe.

Drenched in Valg blood from head to toe, Chaol Westfall searched for a clean bit of fabric with which to wipe down his black-stained blade, but came up empty. Across the hidden clearing, Nesryn was doing the same.

He’d killed four; she’d taken down seven. Chaol knew only because he’d been watching her the entire time; she’d paired off with someone else during the ambush. He’d apologized for snapping at her the other night, but she’d just nodded—and still teamed up with another rebel. But now … She gave up trying to wipe down her blade and looked toward him.

Her midnight eyes were bright, and even with her face splattered in black blood, her smile—relieved, a bit wild with the thrill of the fight, their victory—was … beautiful.

The word clanged through him. Chaol frowned, and the expression was instantly wiped from her face. His mind was always a jumble after a fight, as if it had been spun around and around and twisted upside down, and then given a heavy dose of liquor. But he strode toward her. They’d done this—together, they’d saved these people. More at once than they’d ever rescued before, and with no loss of life beyond the Valg.

Gore and blood were splattered on the grassy forest floor, the only remnants of the decapitated Valg bodies that had already been hauled away and dumped behind a boulder. When they left, they’d pay the bodies’ former owners the tribute of burning them.

Three of his group had set to unchaining the huddled prisoners now seated in the grass. The Valg bastards had stuffed so many of them into the two wagons that Chaol had nearly gagged at the smell. Each wagon had only a small, barred window high up on the wall, and a man had fainted inside. But all of them were safe now.

He wouldn’t stop until the others still hidden in the city were out of harm’s way as well.

A woman reached up with her filthy hands—her nails split and fingertips swollen as if she’d tried to claw her way out of whatever hellhole she’d been kept in. “Thank you,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. Probably from screaming that had gone unanswered.

Chaol’s throat tightened as he gave the woman’s hands a gentle squeeze, mindful of her near-broken fingers, and stepped to where Nesryn was now wiping her blade on the grass. “You fought well,” he told her.

“I know I did.” Nesryn looked over her shoulder at him. “We need to get them to the river. The boats won’t wait forever.”

Fine—he didn’t expect warmth or camaraderie after a battle, despite that smile, but … “Maybe once we’re back in Rifthold, we can go for a drink.” He needed one. Badly.

Nesryn rose from her crouch, and he fought the urge to wipe a splatter of black blood from her tan cheek. The hair she’d tied back had come loose, and the warm forest breeze set the strands floating past her face. “I thought we were friends,” she said.

“We are friends,” he said carefully.

“Friends don’t spend time with each other only when they’re feeling sorry for themselves. Or bite each other’s heads off for asking difficult questions.”

“I told you I was sorry for snapping the other night.”

She sheathed her blade. “I’m fine with distracting each other for whatever reason, Chaol, but at least be honest about it.”

He opened his mouth to object, but … maybe she was right. “I do like your company,” he said. “I wanted to go for a drink to celebrate—not … brood. And I’d like to go with you.”

She pursed her lips. “That was the most half-assed attempt at flattery I’ve ever heard. But fine—I’ll join you.” The worst part was that she didn’t even sound mad—she genuinely meant it. He could go drinking with or without her, and she wouldn’t particularly care. The thought didn’t sit well.

Personal conversation decidedly over, Nesryn surveyed the clearing, the wagon, and the carnage. “Why now? The king has had ten years to do this; why the sudden rush to get these people all down to Morath? What’s it building to?”

Some of the rebels turned their way. Chaol studied the bloody aftermath as if it were a map.

“Aelin Galathynius’s return might have started it,” Chaol said, aware of those who listened.

“No,” Nesryn said simply. “Aelin announced herself barely two months ago. Something this large … It’s been in the works for a long, long time.”

Sen—one of the leaders with whom Chaol met regularly— said, “We should consider yielding the city. Move to other places where their foothold isn’t as secure; maybe try to establish a border somehow. If Aelin Galathynius is lingering near Rifthold, we should meet with her— maybe head for Terrasen, push Adarlan out, and hold the line.”

“We can’t abandon Rifthold,” Chaol said, glancing at the prisoners being helped to their feet.

“It might be suicide to stay,” Sen challenged. Some of the others nodded their agreement.

Chaol opened his mouth, but Nesryn said, “We need to head for the river. Fast.”

He gave her a grateful look, but she was already moving.



Aelin waited until everyone was asleep and the full moon had risen before climbing out of bed, careful not to jostle Rowan.

She slipped into the closet and dressed swiftly, strapping on the weapons she’d casually dumped there that afternoon. Neither male had commented when she’d plucked Damaris from the dining table, claiming she wanted to clean it.

She strapped the ancient blade onto her back along with Goldryn, the two hilts peeking over either shoulder as she stood in front of the closet mirror and hastily braided back her hair. It was short enough now that braiding had become a nuisance, and the front bits slipped out, but at least it wasn’t in her face.

She crept from the closet, a spare cloak in hand, past the bed where Rowan’s tattooed torso gleamed in the light of the full moon leaking in from the window. He didn’t stir as she snuck from the bedroom and out of the apartment, no more than a shadow.

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