Chapter no 52

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

As they left the Sin-Eater’s temple, Chaol marveled at how strange it was to be working with Aelin and her court. How strange it was to not be fighting her for once.

He shouldn’t have even gone with them, given how much there was to do. Half the rebels had left Rifthold, more fleeing every day, and those who remained were pushing to relocate to another city. He’d kept them in line as much as he could, relying on Nesryn to back him up whenever they started to bring up his own past with the king. There were still people going missing, being executed—still people whom they rescued as often as they could from the butchering blocks. He would keep doing it until he was the last rebel left in this city; he would stay to help them, to protect them. But if what they’d learned about Erawan was true …

Gods help them all.

Back on the city street, he turned in time to see Rowan offer a helping hand to pull Aelin out of the sewers. She seemed to hesitate, but then gripped it, her hand swallowed by his.

A team, solid and unbreaking.

The Fae Prince hoisted her up and set her on her feet. Neither of them immediately let go of the other.

Chaol waited—waited for that twist and tug of jealousy, for the bile of it to sting him.

But there was nothing. Only a flickering relief, perhaps, that … That Aelin had Rowan.

He must be feeling truly sorry for himself, he decided.

Footsteps sounded, and they all went still, weapons drawn, just as— “I’ve been looking for you for an hour,” Nesryn said, hurrying out of

the alley shadows. “What’s—” She noticed their grim faces. They’d left the hellfire down there, hidden in a sarcophagus, for safekeeping—and to keep themselves from being melted should things go very wrong.

He was surprised Aelin had let him know that much—though how she planned to get into the castle, she hadn’t told him.

Just tell Ress and Brullo and the others to stay the hell away from the clock tower was her only warning so far. He’d almost demanded to know

what her plans were for the other innocents in the castle, but … It had been nice. To have one afternoon with no fighting, with no one hating him. To feel like he was part of their unit.

“I’ll fill you in later,” Chaol said to her. But Nesryn’s face was pale. “What is it?”

Aelin, Rowan, and Aedion stalked up to them with that unnatural, immortal silence.

Nesryn squared her shoulders. “I received word from Ren. He got into some minor trouble on the border, but he’s fine. He has a message for you—for us.” She brushed back a strand of her inky hair. Her hand trembled slightly.

Chaol braced himself, fought against the urge to put a hand on her arm. “The king,” Nesryn went on, “has been building an army down in Morath, under Duke Perrington’s supervision. The Valg guards around Rifthold are the first of them. More are coming up this way.”

Valg footsoldiers, then. Morath, it seemed, might very well be their first or last battleground.

Aedion cocked his head, the Wolf incarnate. “How many?”

“Too many,” Nesryn said. “We haven’t gotten a full count. Some are camped inside mountains surrounding the war camp—never out all at once, never in full sight. But it’s an army greater than any he’s assembled before.”

Chaol’s palms became slick with sweat.

“And more than that,” Nesryn said, her voice hoarse, “the king now has an aerial cavalry of Ironteeth witches—a host three thousand strong

—who have been secretly training in the Ferian Gap to ride wyverns that the king has somehow managed to create and breed.”

Gods above.

Aelin lifted her head, gazing up at the brick wall as if she could see that aerial army there, the movement revealing the ring of scars around her neck.

Dorian—they needed Dorian on the throne. Needed this shut down. “You are certain of this?” Aedion said.

Rowan was staring at Nesryn, his face the portrait of a cold, calculating warrior, and yet—yet he’d somehow moved closer to Aelin.

Nesryn said tightly, “We lost many spies to attain that information.” Chaol wondered which of them had been her friends.

Aelin spoke, her voice flat and hard. “Just to make sure I have it right: we are now facing three thousand bloodthirsty Ironteeth witches on wyverns. And a host of deadly soldiers gathering in the south of Adarlan,

likely to cut off any alliance between Terrasen and the southern kingdoms.”

Leaving Terrasen stranded. Say it, Chaol silently beseeched her. Say that you need Dorian—free and alive.

Aedion mused, “Melisande might be capable of uniting with us.” He pinned Chaol with an assessing stare—a general’s stare. “Do you think your father knows about the wyverns and witches? Anielle is the closest city to the Ferian Gap.”

His blood chilled. Was that why his father had been so keen to get him home? He sensed Aedion’s next question before the general spoke. “He doesn’t wear a black ring,” Chaol said. “But I doubt you’d find him a pleasant ally—if he bothered to ally with you at all.”

“Things to consider,” Rowan said, “should we need an ally to punch through the southern lines.” Gods, they were actually talking about this. War—war was coming. And they might not all survive it.

“So what are they waiting for?” Aedion said, pacing. “Why not attack now?”

Aelin’s voice was soft—cold. “Me. They’re waiting for me to make my move.”

None of them contradicted her.

Chaol’s voice was strained as he shoved aside his swarming thoughts. “Anything else?”

Nesryn reached into her tunic and pulled out a letter. She handed it to Aedion. “From your second in command. They all worry for you.”

“There’s a tavern down the block. Give me five minutes, and I’ll have a reply for you,” Aedion said, already striding away. Nesryn followed him, giving Chaol a silent nod. The general said over his shoulder to Rowan and Aelin, his heavy hood concealing any telltale features, “I’ll see you at home.”

Meeting over.

But Aelin suddenly said, “Thank you.”

Nesryn paused, somehow knowing the queen had spoken to her.

Aelin put a hand on her heart. “For all that you’re risking—thank you.”

Nesryn’s eyes flickered as she said, “Long live the queen.” But Aelin had already turned away.

Nesryn met Chaol’s gaze, and he followed after her and Aedion.

An indestructible army, possibly led by Erawan, if the King of Adarlan were insane enough to raise him.

An army that could crush any human resistance.

But … but maybe not if they allied with magic-wielders.

That is, if the magic-wielders, after all that had been done to them, even wanted to bother saving their world.



“Talk to me,” Rowan said from behind her as Aelin stormed down street after street.

She couldn’t. She couldn’t form the thoughts, let alone the words. How many spies and rebels had lost their lives to get that information?

And how much worse would it feel when she sent people to their deaths

—when she had to watch her soldiers butchered by those monsters? If Elena had thrown her a bone tonight, somehow leading that opium monger to the Sin-Eater’s temple so that they might find it, she wasn’t feeling particularly grateful.

“Aelin,” Rowan said, quietly enough for only her and the alley rats to hear.

She’d barely survived Baba Yellowlegs. How would anyone survive an army of witches trained in combat?

He gripped her elbow, forcing her to stop. “We’ll face this together,” he breathed, his eyes shining bright and canines gleaming. “As we have in the past. To whatever end.”

She trembled—trembled like a gods-damned coward—and yanked free, stalking away. She didn’t even know where she was going—only that she had to walk, had to find a way to sort herself out, sort the world out, before she stopped moving, or else she would never move again.

Wyverns. Witches. A new, even bigger army. The alley pressed in on her, sealing as tightly as one of those flooded sewer tunnels.

“Talk to me,” Rowan said again, keeping a respectful distance behind. She knew these streets. A few blocks down, she would find one of the

Valg sewer entrances. Maybe she’d jump right in and hack a few of them to pieces. See what they knew about the Dark King Erawan, and whether he was still slumbering under that mountain.

Maybe she wouldn’t bother with questions at all.

There was a strong, broad hand at her elbow, yanking her back against a hard male body.

But the scent wasn’t Rowan’s.

And the knife at her throat, the blade pressing so hard that her skin stung and split …

“Going somewhere, Princess?” Lorcan breathed into her ear.



Rowan had thought he knew fear. He had thought he could face any danger with a clear head and ice in his veins.

Until Lorcan appeared from the shadows, so fast that Rowan hadn’t even scented him, and put that knife against Aelin’s throat.

“You move,” Lorcan snarled in Aelin’s ear, “and you die. You speak, and you die. Understand?”

Aelin said nothing. If she nodded, she’d slice her throat open on the blade. Blood was shining there already, just above her collarbone, filling the alley with its scent.

The smell of it alone sent Rowan sliding into a frozen, murderous calm.

Understand?” Lorcan hissed, jostling her enough that her blood flowed a bit faster. Still she said nothing, obeying his order. Lorcan chuckled. “Good. I thought so.”

The world slowed and spread around Rowan with sharp clarity, revealing every stone of the buildings and the street, and the refuse and rubbish around them. Anything to give him an advantage, to use as a weapon.

If he’d had his magic, he would have choked the air from Lorcan’s lungs by now, would have shattered through Lorcan’s own dark shields with half a thought. If he’d had his magic, he would have had a shield of their own around them from the start, so this ambush could never happen.

Aelin’s eyes met his.

And fear—that was genuine fear shining there.

She knew she was in a compromised position. They both knew that no matter how fast he was, she was, Lorcan’s slice would be faster.

Lorcan smiled at Rowan, his dark hood off for once. No doubt so that Rowan could see every bit of triumph in Lorcan’s black eyes. “No words, Prince?”

“Why?” was all Rowan could ask. Every action, every possible plan still left him too far away. He wondered whether Lorcan realized that if he killed her, Lorcan himself would be next. Then Maeve. And maybe the world, for spite.

Lorcan craned his head to look at Aelin’s face. Her eyes narrowed to slits. “Where is the Wyrdkey?”

Aelin tensed, and Rowan willed her not to speak, not to taunt Lorcan. “We don’t have it,” Rowan said. Rage—unending, cataclysmic rage— pounded through him.

Exactly what Lorcan wanted. Exactly how Rowan had witnessed the demi-Fae warrior manipulate their enemies for centuries. So Rowan locked that rage down. Tried to, at least.

“I could snap this neck of yours so easily,” Lorcan said, grazing his nose against the side of her throat. Aelin went rigid. The possessiveness in that touch alone half blinded him with feral wrath. It was an effort to stifle it again as Lorcan murmured onto her skin, “You’re so much better when you don’t open that hideous mouth.”

“We don’t have the key,” Rowan said again. He’d slaughter Lorcan in the way only immortals learned and liked to kill: slowly, viciously, creatively. Lorcan’s suffering would be thorough.

“What if I told you we were working for the same side?” Lorcan said. “I’d tell you that Maeve works for only one side: her own.”

“Maeve didn’t send me here.”

Rowan could almost hear the words Aelin was struggling to keep in.

Liar. Piece-of-shit liar.

“Then who did?” Rowan demanded. “I left.”

“If we’re on the same side, then put your rutting knife down,” Rowan growled.

Lorcan chuckled. “I don’t want to hear the princess yapping. What I have to say applies to both of you.” Rowan waited, taking every second to assess and reassess their surroundings, the odds. At last, Lorcan loosened the blade slightly. Blood slid down Aelin’s neck, onto her suit. “You made the mistake of your short, pathetic mortal life when you gave Maeve that ring.”

Through the lethal calm, Rowan felt the blood drain from his face. “You should have known better,” Lorcan said, still gripping Aelin

around the waist. “You should have known she wasn’t some sentimental fool, pining after her lost love. She had plenty of things from Athril— why would she want his ring? His ring, and not Goldryn?”

“Stop dancing around it and tell us what it is.” “But I’m having so much fun.”

Rowan leashed his temper so hard that he choked on it.

“The ring,” Lorcan said, “wasn’t some family heirloom from Athril. She killed Athril. She wanted the keys, and the ring, and he refused, and she killed him. While they fought, Brannon stole them away, hiding the ring with Goldryn and bringing the keys here. Didn’t you ever wonder why the ring was in that scabbard? A demon-hunting sword—and a ring to match.”

“If Maeve wants to kill demons,” Rowan said, “we won’t complain.” “The ring doesn’t kill them. It grants immunity from their power. A

ring forged by Mala herself. The Valg could not harm Athril when he wore it.”

Aelin’s eyes widened even more, the scent of her fear shifting to something far deeper than dread of bodily harm.

“The bearer of that ring,” Lorcan went on, smiling at the terror coating her smell, “need never fear being enslaved by Wyrdstone. You handed her your own immunity.”

“That doesn’t explain why you left.”

Lorcan’s face tightened. “She slaughtered her lover for the ring, for the keys. She will do far worse to attain them now that they are on the playing board again. And once she has them … My queen will make herself a god.”

“So?” The knife remained too close to Aelin’s neck to risk attacking. “It will destroy her.”

Rowan’s rage stumbled. “You plan to get the keys—to keep them from her.”

“I plan to destroy the keys. You give me your Wyrdkey,” Lorcan said, opening the fist he’d held against Aelin’s abdomen, “and I’ll give you the ring.”

Sure enough, in his hand shone a familiar gold ring.

“You shouldn’t be alive,” Rowan said. “If you had stolen the ring and fled, she would have killed you already.” It was a trap. A pretty, clever trap.

“I move quickly.”

Lorcan had been hauling ass out of Wendlyn. It didn’t prove anything, though.

“The others—”

“None of them know. You think I trust them not to say anything?” “The blood oath makes betrayal impossible.”

“I’m doing this for her sake,” Lorcan said. “I’m doing this because I do not wish to see my queen become a demon herself. I am obeying the oath in that regard.”

Aelin was bristling now, and Lorcan closed his fingers around the ring again. “You’re a fool, Rowan. You think only of the next few years, decades. What I am doing is for the sake of the centuries. For eternity. Maeve will send the others, you know. To hunt you. To kill you both. Let tonight be a reminder of your vulnerability. You will never know peace

for a single moment. Not one. And even if we don’t kill Aelin of the Wildfire … time will.”

Rowan shut out the words.

Lorcan peered at Aelin, his black hair shifting with the movement. “Think it over, Princess. What is immunity worth in a world where your enemies are waiting to shackle you, where one slip could mean becoming their eternal slave?”

Aelin just bared her teeth.

Lorcan shoved her away, and Rowan was already moving, lunging for her.

She whirled, the built-in blades in her suit flashing free. But Lorcan was gone.



After deciding that the slices on her neck were shallow and that she was in no danger of dying from them, Rowan didn’t talk to her for the rest of the journey home.

If Lorcan was right … No, he wasn’t right. He was a liar, and his bargain reeked of Maeve’s tricks.

Aelin pressed a handkerchief to her neck as they walked, and by the time they reached the apartment, the wounds had clotted. Aedion, mercifully, was already in bed.

Rowan strode right into their bedroom.

She followed him in, but he reached the bathroom and quietly shut the door behind him.

Running water gurgled a heartbeat later. A bath.

He’d done a good job concealing it, and his rage had been … she’d never seen someone that wrathful. But she’d still seen the terror on his face. It had been enough to make her master her own fear as fire started crackling in her veins. And she’d tried—gods damn it, she’d tried—to find a way out of that hold, but Lorcan … Rowan had been right. Without her magic, she was no match for him.

He could have killed her.

All she had been able to think about, in spite of her kingdom, in spite of all she still had to do, was the fear in Rowan’s eyes.

And that it would be a shame if he never knew … if she never told him …

Aelin cleaned her neck in the kitchen, washed the little bit of blood from her suit and hung it in the living room to dry, then pulled on one of Rowan’s shirts and climbed into bed.

She barely heard any splashing. Maybe he was just lying in the tub, staring at nothing with that hollow expression he’d worn since Lorcan had removed the knife from her throat.

Minutes passed, and she shouted good night to Aedion, whose echoing good night rumbled through the walls.

Then the bathroom door opened, a veil of steam rippled out, and Rowan appeared, a towel slung low across his hips. She took in the muscled abdomen, the powerful shoulders, but—

But the emptiness in those eyes. She patted the bed. “Come here.”

He stood there, his eyes lingering on her scabbed neck.

“We both are experts at clamming up, so let’s make an agreement to talk right now like even-tempered, reasonable people.”

He didn’t meet her gaze as he padded toward the bed and slumped down beside her, stretching out over the blankets. She didn’t even reprimand him for getting the sheets wet—or mention that he could have taken half a minute to put on some clothes.

“Looks like our days of fun are over,” she said, propping her head with a fist and staring down at him. He gazed blankly at the ceiling. “Witches, dark lords, Fae Queens … If we make it through this alive, I’m going to take a nice, long vacation.”

His eyes were cold.

“Don’t shut me out,” she breathed.

“Never,” he murmured. “That’s not—” He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “I failed you tonight.” His words were a whisper in the darkness.


“He got close enough to kill you. If it had been another enemy, they might have.” The bed rumbled as he took a shuddering sigh and lowered his hand from his eyes. The raw emotion there made her bite her lip. Never—never did he let her see those things. “I failed you. I swore to protect you, and I failed tonight.”

“Rowan, it’s fine—”

“It’s not fine.” His hand was warm as it clamped on her shoulder. She let him turn her onto her back, and found him half on top of her as he peered into her face.

His body was a massive, solid force of nature above hers, but his eyes

—the panic lingered. “I broke your trust.”

“You did no such thing. Rowan, you told him you wouldn’t hand over the key.”

He sucked in a breath, his broad chest expanding. “I would have. Gods, Aelin—he had me, and he didn’t even know it. He could have waited another minute and I would have told him, ring or no ring. Erawan, witches, the king, Maeve … I would face all of them. But losing you …” He bowed his head, his breath warming her mouth as he closed his eyes. “I failed you tonight,” he murmured, his voice hoarse. “I’m sorry.”

His pine-and-snow scent wrapped around her. She should move away, roll out of reach. Don’t touch me like that.

Yet there he was, his hand a brand on her bare shoulder, his body nearly covering hers. “You have nothing to be sorry for,” she whispered. “I trust you, Rowan.”

He gave her a barely perceptible nod.

“I missed you,” he said quietly, his gaze darting between her mouth and eyes. “When I was in Wendlyn. I lied when I said I didn’t. From the moment you left, I missed you so much I went out of my mind. I was glad for the excuse to track Lorcan here, just to see you again. And tonight, when he had that knife at your throat …” The warmth of his callused finger bloomed through her as he traced a path over the cut on her neck. “I kept thinking about how you might never know that I missed you with only an ocean between us. But if it was death separating us … I would find you. I don’t care how many rules it would break. Even if I had to get all three keys myself and open a gate, I would find you again. Always.”

She blinked back the burning in her eyes as he reached between their bodies and took her hand, guiding it up to lay against his tattooed cheek.

It was an effort to remember how to breathe, to focus on anything but that smooth, warm skin. He didn’t tear his eyes away from hers as she grazed her thumb along his sharp cheekbone. Savoring each stroke, she caressed his face, that tattoo, never breaking his stare, even as it stripped her naked.

I’m sorry, he still seemed to say.

She kept her stare locked on his as she let go of his face and slowly, making sure he understood every step of the way, tilted her head back until her throat was arched and bared before him.

“Aelin,” he breathed. Not in reprimand or warning, but … a plea. It sounded like a plea. He lowered his head to her exposed neck and hovered a hair’s breadth away.

She arched her neck farther, a silent invitation.

Rowan let out a soft groan and grazed his teeth against her skin.

One bite, one movement, was all it would take for him to rip out her throat.

His elongated canines slid along her flesh—gently, precisely. She clenched the sheets to keep from running her fingers down his bare back and drawing him closer.

He braced one hand beside her head, his fingers twining in her hair. “No one else,” she whispered. “I would never allow anyone else at my

throat.” Showing him was the only way he’d understand that trust, in a manner that only the predatory, Fae side of him would comprehend. “No one else,” she said again.

He let out another low groan, answer and confirmation and request, and the rumble echoed inside her. Carefully, he closed his teeth over the spot where her lifeblood thrummed and pounded, his breath hot on her skin.

She shut her eyes, every sense narrowing on that sensation, on the teeth and mouth at her throat, on the powerful body trembling with restraint above hers. His tongue flicked against her skin.

She made a small noise that might have been a moan, or a word, or his name. He shuddered and pulled back, the cool air kissing her neck. Wildness—pure wildness sparked in those eyes.

Then he thoroughly, brazenly surveyed her body, his nostrils flaring delicately as he scented exactly what she wanted.

Her breathing turned ragged as he dragged his stare to hers—hungry, feral, unyielding.

“Not yet,” he said roughly, his own breathing uneven. “Not now.” “Why?” It was an effort to remember speech with him looking at her

like that. Like he might eat her alive. Heat pounded through her core.

“I want to take my time with you—to learn … every inch of you. And this apartment has very, very thin walls. I don’t want to have an audience,” he added as he leaned down again, brushing his mouth over the cut at the base of her throat, “when I make you moan, Aelin.”

Oh, by the Wyrd. She was in trouble. So much rutting trouble. And when he said her name like that …

“This changes things,” she said, hardly able to get the words out. “Things have been changing for a while already. We’ll deal with it.”

She wondered how long his resolve to wait would last if she lifted her face to claim his mouth with her own, if she ran her fingers down the groove of his spine. If she touched him lower than that. But—

Wyverns. Witches. Army. Erawan.

She loosed a heavy breath. “Sleep,” she mumbled. “We should sleep.”

He swallowed again, slowly peeling himself away from her and strode to the closet to dress. Honestly, it was an effort not to leap after him and rip that damn towel away.

Maybe she should make Aedion go stay somewhere else. Just for a night.

And then she would burn in hell for all eternity for being the most selfish, awful person to ever grace the earth.

She forced herself to put her back to the closet, not trusting herself to so much as look at Rowan without doing something infinitely stupid.

Oh, she was in so much gods-damned trouble.

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