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Chapter no 61

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

The trek back through Oakwald was the longest journey of Aelin’s miserable life. Nesryn had removed the arrow from Rowan’s shoulder, and Aedion had found some herbs to chew and shove into the open wound to stanch the bleeding.

But Rowan still sagged against Chaol and Aedion as they hurried through the forest.

Nowhere to go. She had nowhere to take an injured Fae male in the capital city, in this entire shit-hole kingdom.

Lysandra was pale and shaking, but she’d squared her shoulders and offered to help carry Rowan when one of them tired. None of them accepted. When Chaol at last asked Nesryn to take over, Aelin glimpsed the blood soaking his tunic and hands—Rowan’s blood—and nearly vomited.

Slower—every step was slower as Rowan’s strength flagged.

“He needs to rest,” Lysandra said gently. Aelin paused, the towering oaks pressing in around her.

Rowan’s eyes were half-closed, his face drained of all color. He couldn’t even lift his head.

She should have let the witch die.

“We can’t just camp out in the middle of the woods,” Aelin said. “He needs a healer.”

“I know where we can take him,” Chaol said. She dragged her eyes to the captain.

She should have let the witch kill him, too.

Chaol wisely averted his gaze and faced Nesryn. “Your father’s country house—the man who runs it is married to a midwife.”

Nesryn’s mouth tightened. “She’s not a healer, but—yes. She might have something.”

“Do you understand,” Aelin said very quietly to them, “that if I suspect they’re going to betray us, they will die?”

It was true, and maybe it made her a monster to Chaol, but she didn’t care.

“I know,” Chaol said. Nesryn merely nodded, still calm, still solid.

“Then lead the way,” Aelin said, her voice hollow. “And pray they can keep their mouths shut.”

 

 

Joyous, frenzied barking greeted them, rousing Rowan from the half consciousness he’d fallen into during the last few miles to the little stone farmhouse. Aelin had barely breathed the entire time.

But despite herself, despite Rowan’s injuries, as Fleetfoot raced across the high grass toward them, Aelin smiled a little.

The dog leaped upon her, licking and whining and wagging her feathery, golden tail.

She hadn’t realized how filthy and bloody her hands were until she put them on Fleetfoot’s shining coat.

Aedion grunted as he took all of Rowan’s weight while Chaol and Nesryn jogged for the large, brightly lit stone house, dusk having fallen fully around them. Good. Fewer eyes to see as they exited Oakwald and crossed the freshly tilled fields. Lysandra tried to help Aedion, but he refused her again. She hissed at him and helped anyway.

Fleetfoot danced around Aelin, then noticed Aedion, Lysandra, and Rowan, and that tail became a bit more tentative. “Friends,” she told her dog. She’d become huge since Aelin had last seen her. She wasn’t sure why it surprised her, when everything else in her life had changed as well.

Aelin’s assurance seemed good enough for Fleetfoot, who trotted ahead, escorting them to the wooden door that had opened to reveal a tall midwife with a no-nonsense face that took one look at Rowan and tightened.

One word. One damn word that suggested she might turn them in, and she was dead.

But the woman said, “Whoever put that bloodmoss on the wound saved his life. Get him inside—we need to clean it before anything else can be done.”

 

 

It took a few hours for Marta, the housekeeper’s wife, to clean, disinfect, and patch up Rowan’s wounds. Lucky, she kept saying—so lucky it didn’t hit anything vital.

Chaol didn’t know what to do with himself other than carry away the bowls of bloodied water.

Aelin just sat on a stool beside the cot in the spare room of the elegant, comfortable house, and monitored every move Marta made.

Chaol wondered if Aelin knew that she was a bloodied mess. That she looked even worse than Rowan.

Her neck was brutalized, blood had dried on her face, her cheek was bruised, and the left sleeve of her tunic was torn open to reveal a vicious slice. And then there were the dust, dirt, and blue blood of the Wing Leader coating her.

But Aelin perched on the stool, never moving, only drinking water, snarling if Marta so much as looked at Rowan funny.

Marta, somehow, endured it.

And when the midwife was done, she faced the queen. With no clue at all who sat in her house, Marta said, “You have two choices: you can either go wash up in the spigot outside, or you can sit with the pigs all night. You’re dirty enough that one touch could infect his wounds.”

Aelin glanced over her shoulder at Aedion, who was leaning against the wall behind her. He nodded silently. He’d look after him.

Aelin rose and stalked out.

“I’ll inspect your other friend now,” Marta said, and hurried to where Lysandra had fallen asleep in the adjoining room, curled up on a narrow bed cot. Upstairs, Nesryn was busy dealing with the staff—ensuring their silence. But he’d seen the tentative joy on their faces when they’d arrived: Nesryn and the Faliq family had earned their loyalty long ago.

Chaol gave Aelin two minutes, and then followed her outside.

The stars were bright overhead, the full moon nearly blinding. The night wind whispered through the grass, barely audible over the clunk and sputter of the spigot.

He found the queen crouched before it, her face in the stream of water. “I’m sorry,” he said.

She rubbed at her face and heaved the lever until more water poured over her.

Chaol went on, “I just wanted to end it for him. You were right—all this time, you were right. But I wanted to do it myself. I didn’t know it would … I’m sorry.”

She released the lever and pivoted to look up at him.

“I saved my enemy’s life today,” she said flatly. She uncoiled to her feet, wiping the water from her face. And though he stood taller than her, he felt smaller as Aelin stared at him. No, not just Aelin. Queen Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, he realized, was staring at him. “They tried to shoot my … Rowan through the heart. And I saved her anyway.”

“I know,” he said. Her scream when that arrow had gone through Rowan …

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

She gazed up at the stars—toward the North. Her face was so cold. “Would you truly have killed him if you’d had the chance?”

“Yes,” Chaol breathed. “I was ready for that.”

She slowly turned to him. “We’ll do it—together. We’ll free magic, then you and I will go in there and end it together.”

“You’re not going to insist I stay back?” “How can I deny you that last gift to him?” “Aelin—”

Her shoulders sagged slightly. “I don’t blame you. If it had been Rowan with that collar around his neck, I would have done the same thing.”

The words hit him in the gut as she walked away.

A monster, he’d called her weeks ago. He had believed it, and allowed it to be a shield against the bitter tang of disappointment and sorrow.

He was a fool.

 

 

They moved Rowan before dawn. By whatever immortal grace lingering in his veins, he’d healed enough to walk on his own, and so they slipped out of the lovely country house before any of the staff awoke. Aelin said good-bye only to Fleetfoot, who had slept curled by her side during the long night that she’d watched over Rowan.

Then they were off, Aelin and Aedion flanking Rowan, his arms slung over their shoulders as they hurried across the foothills.

The early-morning mist cloaked them as they made their way into Rifthold one last time.

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