Chapter no 57

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

“I can smell them all right,” Aedion said, his whisper barely audible as they crept through the underbrush, each of them clothed in green and brown to remain concealed in the dense forest. He and Rowan walked several paces ahead of Aelin, arrows loosely nocked in their bows as they picked out the way with their keen hearing and smell.

If she had her damn Fae form, she could be helping instead of lingering behind with Chaol and Nesryn, but—

Not a useful thought, she told herself. She would make do with what she had.

Chaol knew the forest best, having come hunting this way with Dorian countless times. He’d laid out a path for them the night before, but had yielded leading to the two Fae warriors and their impeccable senses. His steps were unfaltering on the leaves and moss beneath their boots, his face drawn but steady. Focused.


They passed through the trees of Oakwald so silently that the birds didn’t stop their chirping.

Brannon’s forest. Her forest.

She wondered if its denizens knew what blood flowed in her veins, and hid their little party from the horrors waiting ahead. She wondered if they’d somehow help Lysandra when it came time.

Rowan paused ten feet ahead and pointed to three towering oaks. She halted, her ears straining as she scanned the forest.

Growls and roars of beasts that sounded far too large rumbled toward them, along with the scrape of leathery wings on stone.

Bracing herself, she hurried to where Rowan and Aedion were waiting by the oak trees, her cousin pointing skyward to indicate their next movement.

Aelin took the center tree, hardly disturbing a leaf or twig as she climbed. Rowan waited until she’d reached a high branch before coming up after her—in about the same amount of time she had done it, she noted a bit smugly. Aedion took the tree to the right, with Chaol and Nesryn scaling the left. They all kept climbing, as smoothly as snakes,

until the foliage blocked their view of the ground below and they could see into a little meadow up ahead.

Holy gods.

The wyverns were enormous. Enormous, vicious, and … and those were indeed saddles on their backs. “Poisoned barbs on the tail,” Rowan mouthed in her ear. “With that wingspan, they can probably fly hundreds of miles a day.”

He would know, she supposed.

Only thirteen wyverns were grounded in the meadow. The smallest of them was sprawled on his belly, face buried in a mound of wildflowers. Iron spikes gleamed on his tail in lieu of bone, scars covered his body like a cat’s stripes, and his wings … she knew the material grafted there. Spidersilk. That much of it must have cost a fortune.

The other wyverns were all normal, and all capable of ripping a man in half in one bite.

They would be dead within moments against one of these things. But an army three thousand strong? Panic pushed in.

I am Aelin Ashryver Galathynius

“That one—I bet she’s the Wing Leader,” Rowan said, pointing now to the women gathered at the edge of the meadow.

Not women. Witches.

They were all young and beautiful, with hair and skin of every shade and color. But even from the distance, she picked out the one Rowan had pointed to. Her hair was like living moonlight, her eyes like burnished gold.

She was the most beautiful person Aelin had ever seen. And the most horrifying.

She moved with a swagger that Aelin supposed only an immortal could achieve, her red cloak snapping behind her, the riding leathers clinging to her lithe body. A living weapon—that’s what the Wing Leader was.

The Wing Leader prowled through the camp, inspecting the wyverns and giving orders Aelin’s human ears couldn’t hear. The other twelve witches seemed to track her every movement, as if she were the axis of their world, and two of them followed behind her especially closely. Lieutenants.

Aelin fought to keep her balance on the wide bough.

Any army that Terrasen might raise would be annihilated. Along with the friends around her.

They were all so, so dead.

Rowan put a hand on her waist, as if he could hear the refrain pounding through her with every heartbeat. “You took down one of their Matrons,” he said in her ear, barely more than a rustling leaf. “You can take down her inferiors.”

Maybe. Maybe not, given the way the thirteen witches in the clearing moved and interacted. They were a tight-knit, brutal unit. They did not look like the sort that took prisoners.

If they did, they likely ate them.

Would they fly Lysandra to Morath once the prison wagon arrived? If so … “Lysandra doesn’t get within thirty feet of the wyverns.” If she got hauled onto one of them, then it would already be too late.

“Agreed,” Rowan murmured. “Horses approaching from the north.

And more wings from the west. Let’s go.”

The Matron, then. The horses would be the king and the prison wagon.

And Dorian.

Aedion looked ready to start ripping out witch throats as they reached the ground and slunk through the forest again, heading for the clearing. Nesryn had an arrow nocked in her bow as she slipped into the brush to provide cover, her face grave—ready for anything. At least that made one of them.

Aelin fell into step beside Chaol. “No matter what you see or hear, do not move. We need to assess Dorian before we act. Just one of those Valg princes is lethal.”

“I know,” he said, refusing to meet her stare. “You can trust me.”

“I need you to make sure Lysandra gets out. You know this forest better than any of us. Get her somewhere safe.”

Chaol nodded. “I promise.” She didn’t doubt it. Not after this winter.

She reached out, paused—and then put a hand on his shoulder. “I won’t touch Dorian,” she said. “I swear it.”

His bronze eyes flickered. “Thank you.” They kept moving.

Aedion and Rowan had them all doubling back to the area they’d scouted earlier, a little outcropping of boulders with enough brush for them to crouch unseen and observe everything that was happening in the clearing.

Slowly, like lovely wraiths from a hell-realm, the witches appeared.

The white-haired witch strode to greet an older, black-haired female who could only be the Matron of the Blackbeak Clan. Behind the Matron, a cluster of witches hauled a large covered wagon, much like the one the Yellowlegs had once parked before the glass palace. The

wyverns must have carried it between them. It looked ordinary—painted black and blue and yellow—but Aelin had a feeling that she didn’t want to know what was inside.

Then the royal party arrived.

She didn’t know where to look: at the King of Adarlan, at the small, too-familiar prison wagon in the center of the riders …

Or at Dorian, riding at his father’s side, that black collar around his neck and nothing human in his face.

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