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Chapter no 42

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

The front gates of the Assassins’ Keep were open, the gravel drive and manicured lawn lit with shimmering glass lamps. The pale stone estate itself was bright, beautiful, and inviting.

Aelin had told them what to expect on the carriage ride over, but even as they came to a stop at the foot of the steps, she looked at the two males crammed in with her and said, “Be on your guard, and keep your fat mouths shut. Especially with the Valg commander. No matter what you hear or see, just keep your fat mouths shut. No psychotic territorial bullshit.”

Aedion chuckled. “Remind me to tell you tomorrow how charming you are.”

But she wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

Nesryn jumped down from the driver’s seat and opened the carriage door. Aelin stepped out, leaving her cloak behind, and didn’t dare look to the house across the street—to the roof where Chaol and a few rebels were providing backup in case things went very, very wrong.

She was halfway up the marble steps when the carved oak doors swung open, flooding the threshold with golden light. It wasn’t the butler standing there, smiling at her with too-white teeth.

“Welcome home,” Arobynn purred.

He beckoned them into the cavernous entry hall. “And welcome to your friends.” Aedion and Nesryn moved around the carriage to the trunk in the back. Her cousin’s nondescript sword was drawn as they opened the compartment and yanked out the chained, hooded figure.

“Your favor,” Aelin said as they hauled him to his feet. The Valg commander thrashed and stumbled in their grip as they led him toward the house, the hood over his head swaying this way and that. A low, vicious hissing noise crept out from under the coarse-knit fibers.

“I would have preferred the servants’ door for our guest,” Arobynn said tightly. He was in green—green for Terrasen, though most would assume it was to offset his auburn hair. A way to confuse their assumptions about his intentions, his allegiance. He wore no weapons she could see, and there was nothing but warmth in those silver eyes as

he held out his hands to her, as if Aedion wasn’t now tugging a demon up the front steps. Behind them, Nesryn steered the carriage away.

She could feel Rowan bristling, sense Aedion’s disgust, but she blocked them out.

She took Arobynn’s hands—dry, warm, callused. He squeezed her fingers gently, peering into her face. “You look ravishing, but I’d expect nothing less. Not even a bruise after trapping our guest. Impressive.” He leaned closer, sniffing. “And you smell divine, too. I’m glad my gift was put to good use.”

From the corner of her eye, she saw Rowan straighten, and she knew he’d slid into the killing calm. Neither Rowan nor Aedion wore visible weapons save for the single blade her cousin now had out—but she knew they were both armed beneath their clothes, and knew Rowan would snap Arobynn’s neck if he so much as blinked wrong at her.

It was that thought alone that made her smile at Arobynn. “You look well,” she said. “I suppose you already know my companions.”

He faced Aedion, who was busy digging his sword into the commander’s side as a gentle reminder to keep moving. “I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting your cousin.”

She knew Arobynn took in every detail as Aedion came closer, pushing his charge before him; trying to find any weakness, anything to use to his advantage. Aedion just continued into the house, the Valg commander stumbling across the threshold. “You’ve recovered well, General,” Arobynn said. “Or should I call you ‘Your Highness,’ in honor of your Ashryver lineage? Whichever you prefer, of course.”

She knew then that Arobynn had no plans to let the demon—and Stevan—leave this house alive.

Aedion gave Arobynn a lazy grin over his shoulder. “I don’t give a shit what you call me.” He shoved the Valg commander farther inside. “Just take this rutting thing off my hands.”

Arobynn smiled blandly, unfazed—he’d calculated Aedion’s hatred.

With deliberate slowness, he turned to Rowan.

“You, I don’t know,” Arobynn mused, having to lift his head to see Rowan’s face. He made a show of looking Rowan over. “It’s been an age since I saw one of the Fae. I don’t remember them being quite so large.”

Rowan moved deeper into the entry hall, every step laced with power and death, coming to a stop at her side. “You can call me Rowan. That’s all you need to know.” He cocked his head to the side, a predator assessing prey. “Thank you for the oil,” he added. “My skin was a little dry.”

Arobynn blinked—as much surprise as he’d show.

It took her a moment to process what Rowan had said, and to realize that the almond smell hadn’t just been coming from her. He’d worn it, too.

Arobynn flicked his attention to Aedion and the Valg commander. “Third door on the left—take him downstairs. Use the fourth cell.”

Aelin didn’t dare look at her cousin as he dragged Stevan along. There was no sign of the other assassins—not even a servant. Whatever Arobynn had planned … he didn’t want any witnesses.

Arobynn trailed after Aedion, his hands in his pockets.

But Aelin remained in the hall for a moment, looking at Rowan.

His brows were high as she read the words in his eyes, his posture. He never specified that only you had to wear it.

Her throat tightened and she shook her head.

What? he seemed to ask.

You just … She shook her head again. Surprise me sometimes. Good. I’d hate for you to get bored.

Despite herself, despite what was to come, a smile tugged on her lips as Rowan took her hand and gripped it tightly.

When she turned to head into the dungeons, her smile faded as she found Arobynn watching.

 

 

Rowan was about a hair’s breadth from ripping out the King of the Assassins’ throat as he led them down, down, down into the dungeons.

Rowan kept a step behind Aelin while they descended the long, curving stone staircase, the reek of mildew and blood and rust growing stronger with each step. He’d been tortured enough, and done enough torturing himself, to know what this place was.

To know what sort of training Aelin had received down here.

A girl—she’d been a girl when the red-haired bastard a few steps ahead had brought her here and taught her how to cut up men, how to keep them alive while she did it, how to make them scream and plead. How to end them.

There was no part of her that disgusted him, no part of her that scared him, but the thought of her in this place, with these smells, in this darkness …

With every step down the stairs, Aelin’s shoulders seemed to droop, her hair seeming to grow duller, her skin paler.

it.

This was where she’d last seen Sam, he realized. And her master knew

“We use this for most of our meetings—harder to eavesdrop or be

caught unawares,” Arobynn said to no one in particular. “Though it also has other uses, as you’ll soon see.” He opened door after door, and it seemed to Rowan that Aelin was counting them, waiting, until—

“Shall we?” Arobynn said, gesturing toward the cell door.

Rowan touched her elbow. Gods, his self-control had to be in shreds tonight; he couldn’t stop making excuses to touch her. But this touch was essential. Her eyes met his, dim and cold. You give the word—just one damn word and he’s dead, and then we can search this house from top to bottom for that amulet.

She shook her head as she entered the cell, and he understood it well enough. Not yet. Not yet.

 

 

She’d almost balked on the stairs to the dungeons, and it was only the thought of the amulet, only the warmth of the Fae warrior at her back that made her put one foot in front of the other and descend into the dark stone interior.

She would never forget this room. It still haunted her dreams.

The table was empty, but she could see him there, broken and almost unrecognizable, the scent of gloriella clinging to his body. Sam had been tortured in ways she hadn’t even known until she read Wesley’s letter. The worst of it had been requested by Arobynn. Requested, as punishment for Sam’s loving her—punishment for tampering with Arobynn’s belongings.

Arobynn sauntered into the room, hands in his pockets. Rowan’s sharp sniff told her enough about what this place smelled like.

Such a dark, cold room where they’d put Sam’s body. Such a dark, cold room where she’d vomited and then lain beside him on that table for hours and hours, unwilling to leave him.

Where Aedion now chained Stevan to the wall.

“Get out,” Arobynn said simply to Rowan and Aedion, who stiffened. “The two of you can wait upstairs. We don’t need unnecessary distractions. And neither does our guest.”

“Over my rotting corpse,” Aedion snapped. Aelin shot him a sharp look.

“Lysandra is waiting for you in the drawing room,” Arobynn said with expert politeness, his eyes now fixed on the hooded Valg chained to the wall. Stevan’s gloved hands tugged at the chains, his incessant hissing rising with impressive violence. “She’ll entertain you. We’ll be up for dinner shortly.”

Rowan was watching Aelin very, very carefully. She gave him a slight nod.

Rowan met Aedion’s gaze—the general stared right back.

Honestly, had she been anywhere else, she might have pulled up a chair to watch this latest little dominance battle. Thankfully, Aedion just turned toward the stairs. A moment later, they were gone.

Arobynn stalked to the demon and snatched the hood from his head. Black, rage-filled eyes glared at them and blinked, scanning the room. “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way,” Arobynn drawled.

Stevan just smiled.

 

 

Aelin listened to Arobynn interrogate the demon, demanding to know what it was, where it had come from, what the king wanted. After thirty minutes and minimal slicing, the demon was talking about anything and everything.

How does the king control you?” Arobynn pushed. The demon laughed. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Arobynn half turned to her, holding up his dagger, a trickle of dark blood sliding down the blade. “Would you like to do the honors? This is for your benefit, after all.”

She frowned at her dress. “I don’t want to get blood on it.”

Arobynn smirked and slashed his dagger down the man’s pectoral. The demon screeched, drowning out the pitter-patter of blood on the stones. “The ring,” it panted after a moment. “We’ve all got them.” Arobynn paused, and Aelin cocked her head. “Left—left hand,” it said.

Arobynn yanked off the man’s glove, revealing the black ring. “How?”

“He has a ring, too—uses it to control us all. Ring goes on, and it doesn’t come off. We do what he says, whatever he says.”

“Where did he get the rings from?”

“Made ’em, I don’t know.” The dagger came closer. “I swear! We wear the rings, and he makes a cut on our arms—licks our blood so it’s in him, and then he can control us however he wants. It’s the blood that links us.”

“And what does he plan to do with you all, now that you’re invading my city?”

“We’re searching for the general. I won’t—won’t tell anyone he’s here

… Or that she’s here, I swear. The rest—the rest I don’t know.” His eyes met hers—dark, pleading.

“Kill him,” she said to Arobynn. “He’s a liability.”

“Please,” Stevan said, his eyes still holding hers. She looked away. “He does seem to have run out of things to tell me,” Arobynn mused.

Swift as an adder, Arobynn lunged for him, and Stevan screamed so loudly it hurt her ears as Arobynn sliced off his finger—and the ring that held it—in one brutal movement. “Thank you,” Arobynn said above Stevan’s screaming, and then slashed his knife across the man’s throat.

Aelin stepped clear of the spray of blood, holding Stevan’s stare as the light faded from his gaze. When the spray had slowed, she frowned at Arobynn. “You could have killed him and then cut off the ring.”

“Where would the fun be in that?” Arobynn held up the bloody finger and pried off the ring. “Lost your bloodlust?”

“I’d dump that ring in the Avery if I were you.”

“The king is enslaving people to his will with these things. I plan to study this one as best I can.” Of course he did. He pocketed the ring and inclined his head toward the door. “Now that we’re even, darling … shall we eat?”

It was an effort to nod with Stevan’s still-bleeding body sagging from the wall.

 

 

Aelin was seated to Arobynn’s right, as she’d always been. She’d expected Lysandra to be across from her, but instead the courtesan was beside her. No doubt meant to reduce her options to two: deal with her longtime rival, or talk to Arobynn. Or something like that.

She had bid hello to Lysandra, who’d been keeping Aedion and Rowan company in the drawing room, keenly aware of Arobynn on her heels as she shook Lysandra’s hand, subtly passing over the note she’d kept hidden in her dress all night.

The note was gone by the time Aelin leaned in to kiss the courtesan’s cheek, the peck of someone not entirely thrilled to be doing so.

Arobynn had seated Rowan to his left, with Aedion beside the warrior. The two members of her court were separated by the table to keep them from reaching her, and to leave her unprotected from Arobynn. Neither had asked what happened in the dungeon.

“I have to say,” Arobynn mused as their first course—tomato and basil soup, courtesy of vegetables grown in the hothouse in the back—was cleared away by silent servants who had been summoned now that Stevan had been dealt with. Aelin recognized some, though they didn’t look at her. They had never looked at her, even when she was living here. She knew they wouldn’t dare whisper a word about who dined at this table tonight. Not with Arobynn as their master. “You’re a rather quiet group. Or has my protégée scared you into silence?”

Aedion, who had watched every bite she took of that soup, lifted an eyebrow. “You want us to make small talk after you just interrogated and butchered a demon?”

Arobynn waved a hand. “I’d like to hear more about you all.” “Careful,” she said too quietly to Arobynn.

The King of the Assassins straightened the silverware flanking his plate. “Shouldn’t I be concerned about who my protégée is living with?”

“You weren’t concerned about who I was living with when you had me shipped off to Endovier.”

A slow blink. “Is that what you think I did?”

Lysandra stiffened beside her. Arobynn noted the movement—as he noted every movement—and said, “Lysandra can tell you the truth: I fought tooth and nail to free you from that prison. I lost half my men to the effort, all of them tortured and killed by the king. I’m surprised your friend the captain didn’t tell you. Such a pity he’s on rooftop watch tonight.”

He missed nothing, it seemed.

Arobynn looked to Lysandra—waiting. She swallowed and murmured, “He did try, you know. For months and months.”

It was so convincing that Aelin might have believed it. Through some miracle, Arobynn had no idea that the woman had been meeting with them in secret. Some miracle—or Lysandra’s own wits.

Aelin drawled to Arobynn, “Do you plan on telling me why you insisted we stay for dinner?”

“How else would I get to see you? You would have just dumped that thing on my doorstep and left. And we learned so much—so much that we could use, together.” The chill down her spine wasn’t faked. “Though I have to say, this new you is much more … subdued. I suppose for Lysandra that’s a good thing. She always looks at the hole you left in the entry wall when you threw that dagger at her head. I kept it there as a little reminder of how much we all missed you.”

Rowan was watching her, an asp ready to strike. But his brows bunched slightly, as if to say, You really threw a dagger at her head?

Arobynn began talking about a time Aelin had brawled with Lysandra and they’d rolled down the stairs, scratching and yowling like cats, so Aelin looked at Rowan a moment longer. I was a tad hotheaded.

I’m beginning to admire Lysandra more and moreSeventeen-year-old Aelin must have been a delight to deal with.

She fought the twitching in her lips. I would pay good money to see seventeen-year-old Aelin meet seventeen-year-old Rowan.

His green eyes glittered. Arobynn was still talking. Seventeen-year-old Rowan wouldn’t have known what to do with you. He could barely speak to females outside his family.

Liar—I don’t believe that for a second.

It’s true. You would have scandalized him with your nightclothes— even with that dress you have on.

She sucked on her teeth. He would probably have been even more scandalized to learn I’m not wearing any undergarments beneath this dress.

The table rattled as Rowan’s knee banged into it.

Arobynn paused, but continued when Aedion asked about what the demon had told him.

You can’t be serious, Rowan seemed to say.

Did you see any place where this dress might hide them? Every line and wrinkle would show.

Rowan shook his head subtly, his eyes dancing with a light that she’d only recently come to glimpse—and cherish. Do you delight in shocking me?

She couldn’t stop her smile. How else am I supposed to keep a cranky immortal entertained?

His grin was distracting enough that it took her a moment to notice the silence, and that everyone was staring at them—waiting.

She glanced at Arobynn, whose face was a mask of stone. “Did you ask me something?”

There was only calculating ire in his silver eyes—which might have once made her start begging for mercy. “I asked,” Arobynn said, “if you’ve had fun these past few weeks, wrecking my investment properties and ensuring that all my clients won’t touch me.”

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