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Chapter no 43

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

Aelin leaned back in her chair. Even Rowan was staring at her now, surprise and annoyance written on his face. Lysandra was doing a good job of feigning shock and confusion—even though it had been she who had fed Aelin the details, who had made her plan so much better and broader than it had been when Aelin scribbled it out on that ship.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said with a little smile. “Oh?” Arobynn swirled his wine. “You mean to tell me that when you

wrecked the Vaults beyond repair, it wasn’t a move against my investment in that property—and my monthly cut of their profits? Don’t pretend it was just vengeance for Sam.”

“The king’s men showed up. I had no choice but to fight for my life.” After she’d led them directly from the docks to the pleasure hall, of course.

“And I suppose it was an accident that the lockbox was hacked open so its contents could be snatched up by the crowd.”

It had worked—worked so spectacularly that she was surprised Arobynn had lasted this long without going for her throat.

“You know how those lowlifes get. A little chaos, and they turn into animals foaming at the mouth.”

Lysandra cringed; a stellar performance of a woman witnessing a betrayal.

“Indeed,” Arobynn said. “But especially the lowlifes at establishments from which I receive a handsome monthly sum, correct?”

“So you invited me and my friends here tonight to fling accusations at me? Here I was, thinking I’d become your personal Valg hunter.”

“You deliberately disguised yourself as Hinsol Cormac, one of my most loyal clients and investors, when you freed your cousin,” Arobynn snapped. Aedion’s eyes widened slightly. “I could dismiss it as coincidence, except a witness says he called out Cormac’s name at the prince’s party, and Cormac waved to him. The witness told the king that, too—that he saw Cormac heading toward Aedion right before the explosions happened. And what a coincidence that the very day Aedion disappeared, two carriages, belonging to a business that Cormac and I

own together, went missing—carriages Cormac then told all my clients and partners that used to get Aedion to safety when freed the general that day by impersonating him, because I, apparently, have become a gods-damned rebel sympathizer strutting about town at all hours of the day.”

She dared a look at Rowan, whose face remained carefully blank, but saw the words there anyway. You wicked, clever fox.

And here you were, thinking the red hair was just for vanityI shall never doubt again.

She turned to Arobynn. “I can’t help it if your prissy clients turn on you at the slightest hint of danger.”

“Cormac has fled the city, and continues to drag my name through the mud. It’s a miracle the king hasn’t come to haul me to his castle.”

“If you’re worried about losing money, you could always sell the house, I suppose. Or stop using Lysandra’s services.”

Arobynn hissed, and Rowan and Aedion reached casually under the table for their hidden weapons. “What will it take, dearest, for you to stop being such a raging pain in my ass?”

There they were. The words she’d wanted to hear, the reason she’d been so careful not to wreck him altogether but merely to annoy him just enough.

She picked at her nails. “A few things, I think.”

 

 

The sitting room was oversized and made to entertain parties of twenty or thirty, with couches and chairs and chaises spread throughout. Aelin lounged in an armchair before the fire, Arobynn across from her, fury still dancing in his eyes.

She could feel Rowan and Aedion in the hall outside, monitoring every word, every breath. She wondered whether Arobynn knew they’d disobeyed his command to remain in the dining room; she doubted it. They were stealthier than ghost leopards, those two. But she didn’t want them in here, either—not until she’d done what she needed to do.

She crossed one leg over the other, revealing the simple black velvet shoes she wore, and her bare legs.

“So all of this was punishment—for a crime I didn’t commit,” Arobynn said at last.

She ran a finger down the rolled arm of the chair. “First thing, Arobynn: let’s not bother with lies.”

“I suppose you’ve told your friends the truth?”

“My court knows everything there is to know about me. And they know everything you’ve done, too.”

“Casting yourself as the victim, are you? You’re forgetting that it didn’t take much encouragement to put those knives in your hands.”

“I am what I am. But it doesn’t erase the fact that you knew very well who I was when you found me. You took my family necklace off me, and told me that anyone who came looking for me would wind up killed by my enemies.” She didn’t dare let her breathing hitch, didn’t let him consider the words too much as she plowed ahead. “You wanted to shape me into your own weapon—why?”

“Why not? I was young and angry, and my kingdom had just been conquered by that bastard king. I believed I could give you the tools you needed to survive, to someday defeat him. That is why you’ve come back, isn’t it? I’m surprised you and the captain haven’t killed him yet— isn’t that what he wants, why he tried to work with me? Or are you claiming that kill for yourself?”

“You honestly expect me to believe that your end goal was to have me avenge my family and reclaim my throne.”

“Who would you have become without me? Some pampered, quaking princess. Your beloved cousin would have locked you up in a tower and thrown away the key. I gave you your freedom—I gave you the ability to bring down men like Aedion Ashryver with a few blows. And all I get for it is contempt.”

She clenched her fingers, feeling the weight of the pebbles she’d carried that morning to Sam’s grave.

“So what else do you have in store for me, O Mighty Queen? Shall I save you the trouble and tell you how else you might continue to be a thorn in my side?”

“You know the debt isn’t anywhere near paid.”

“Debt? For what? For trying to free you from Endovier? And when that didn’t work, I did the best I could. I bribed those guards and officials with money from my own coffers so that they wouldn’t hurt you beyond repair. All the while, I tried to find ways to get you out—for a year straight.”

Lies and truth, as he’d always taught her. Yes, he’d bribed the officials and guards to ensure she would still be functioning when he eventually freed her. But Wesley’s letter had explained in detail just how little effort Arobynn had put forth once it became clear she was headed for Endovier. How he’d adjusted his plans—embracing the idea of her spirit being broken by the mines.

“And what about Sam?” she breathed.

“Sam was murdered by a sadist, whom my useless bodyguard got it into his head to kill. You know I couldn’t allow that to go unpunished, not when we needed the new Crime Lord to continue working with us.”

Truth and lies, lies and truth. She shook her head and looked toward the window, ever the confused and conflicted protégée falling for Arobynn’s poisoned words.

“Tell me what I need to do to make you understand,” he said. “Do you know why I had you capture that demon? So that we could attain its knowledge. So you and I could take on the king, learn what he knows. Why do you think I let you in that room? Together—we’ll bring that monster down together, before we’re all wearing those rings. Your friend the captain can even join in, free of charge.”

“You expect me to believe a word you say?”

“I have had a long, long while to think on the wretched things I’ve done to you, Celaena.”

Aelin,” she snapped. “My name is Aelin. And you can start proving you’ve mended your ways by giving me back my family’s gods-damned amulet. Then you can prove it some more by giving me your resources— by letting me use your men to get what I need.”

She could see the wheels turning in that cold and cunning head. “In what capacity?”

No word about the amulet—no denying he had it.

“You want to take down the king,” she murmured, as if to keep the two Fae males outside the door from hearing. “Then let’s take down the king. But we do it my way. The captain and my court stay out of it.”

“What’s in it for me? These are dangerous times, you know. Why, just today, one of the top opiate dealers was caught by the king’s men and killed. Such a pity; he escaped the slaughter at the Shadow Market only to be caught buying dinner a few blocks away.”

More nonsense to distract her. She merely said, “I won’t send a tip to the king about this place—about how you operate and who your clients are. Or mention the demon in your dungeon, its blood now a permanent stain.” She smiled a little. “I’ve tried; their blood doesn’t wash away.”

“Threats, Aelin? And what if I make threats of my own? What if I mention to the king’s guard that his missing general and his Captain of the Guard are frequently visiting a certain warehouse? What if I let it slip that a Fae warrior is wandering his city? Or, worse, that his mortal enemy is living in the slums?”

“I suppose it’ll be a race to the palace, then. It’s too bad the captain has men stationed by the castle gates, messages in hand, ready for the signal to send them this very night.”

“You’d have to get out of here alive to give that signal.” “The signal is us not returning, I’m afraid. All of us.”

Again, that cold stare. “How cruel and ruthless you’ve become, my love. But will you become a tyrant as well? Perhaps you should start slipping rings onto the fingers of your followers.”

He reached into his tunic. She kept her posture relaxed as a golden chain glinted around his long white fingers, and then a tinkling sounded, and then—

The amulet was exactly as she remembered it.

It had been with a child’s hands that she’d last held it, and with a child’s eyes that she’d last seen the cerulean blue front with the ivory stag and the golden star between its antlers. The immortal stag of Mala Fire-Bringer, brought over to these lands by Brannon himself and set free in Oakwald Forest. The amulet glinted in Arobynn’s hands as he removed it from his neck.

The third and final Wyrdkey.

It had made her ancestors mighty queens and kings; had made Terrasen untouchable, a powerhouse so lethal no force had ever breached its borders. Until she’d fallen into the Florine River that night—until this man had removed the amulet from around her neck, and a conquering army had swept through. And Arobynn had risen from being a local lord of assassins to crown himself this continent’s unrivaled king of their Guild. Perhaps his power and influence derived solely from the necklace

her necklace—that he’d worn all these years.

“I’ve become rather attached to it,” Arobynn said as he handed it over. He’d known she would ask for it tonight, if he was wearing it. Perhaps he’d planned to offer it to her all along, just to win her trust—or get her

to stop framing his clients and interrupting his business.

Keeping her face neutral was an effort as she reached for it.

Her fingers grazed the golden chain, and she wished then and there that she’d never heard of it, never touched it, never been in the same room with it. Not right, her blood sang, her bones groaned. Not right, not right, not right.

The amulet was heavier than it looked—and warm from his body, or from the boundless power dwelling inside of it.

The Wyrdkey. Holy gods.

That quickly, that easily, he’d handed it over. How Arobynn hadn’t felt it, noticed it … Unless you needed magic in your veins to feel it. Unless it never … called to him as it did to her now, its raw power brushing up against her senses like a cat rubbing along her legs. How had her mother, her father—any of them—never felt it?

She almost walked out right then and there. But she slid the Amulet of Orynth around her neck, its weight becoming heavier still—a force pressing down on her bones, spreading through her blood like ink in water. Not right.

“Tomorrow morning,” she said coldly, “you and I are going to talk again. Bring your best men, or whoever is licking your boots these days. And then we’re going to plan.” She rose from the chair, her knees wobbling.

“Any other requests, Your Majesty?”

“You think I don’t realize you have the upper hand?” She willed calm to her veins, her heart. “You’ve agreed to help me far too easily. But I like this game. Let’s keep playing it.”

His answering smile was serpentine.

Each step toward the door was an effort of will as she forced herself not to think about the thing thudding between her breasts. “If you betray us tonight, Arobynn,” she added, pausing before the door, “I’ll make what was done to Sam seem like a mercy compared to what I do to you.”

“Learned some new tricks these past few years, have you?”

She smirked, taking in the details of how he looked at this exact moment: the sheen of his red hair, his broad shoulders and narrow waist, the scars on his hands, and those silver eyes, so bright with challenge and triumph. They’d probably haunt her dreams until the day she died.

“One more thing,” Arobynn said.

It was an effort to lift a brow as he came close enough to kiss her, embrace her. But he just took her hand in his, his thumb caressing her palm. “I’m going to enjoy having you back,” he purred.

Then, faster than she could react, he slid the Wyrdstone ring onto her finger.

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