Chapter no 63

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, 4)

“Where on earth could you be headed?” Vernon said as he stood, smug as a cat.

Panic bleated in her veins. The wagon—the wagon

“Was that the plan all along? To hide among those witches, and then run?”

Elide backed toward the door. Vernon clicked his tongue.

“We both know there’s no point in running. And the Wing Leader isn’t going to be here anytime soon.”

Elide’s knees wobbled. Oh, gods.

“But is my beautiful, clever niece human—or witch-kind? Such an important question.” He grabbed her by the elbow, a small knife in his hand. She could do nothing against the stinging slice in her arm, the red blood that welled. “Not a witch at all, it seems.”

“I am a Blackbeak,” Elide breathed. She would not bow to him, would not cower.

Vernon circled her. “Too bad they’re all up north and can’t verify it.”

Fight, fight, fight, her blood sang—do not let him cage you. Your mother went down fighting. She was a witch, and you are a witch, and you do not yield—you do not yield—

Vernon lunged, faster than she could avoid in her chains, one hand gripping her under the arm while the other slammed her head into the wood so hard that her body just—stopped.

That was all he needed—that stupid pause—to pin her other arm, gripping both in his hand while the other now clenched on her neck hard enough to hurt, to make her realize that her uncle had once trained as her father had. “You’re coming with me.”

“No.” The word was a whisper of breath.

His grip tightened, twisting her arms until they barked in pain. “Don’t you know what a prize you are? What you might be able to do?”

He yanked her back, opening the door. No—no, she wouldn’t let him take her, wouldn’t—

But screaming would do her no good. Not in a Keep full of monsters. Not in a world where no one remembered she existed, or bothered to

care. She stilled, and he took that as acquiescence. She could feel his smile at the back of her head as he nudged her into the stairwell.

“Blackbeak blood is in your veins—along with our family’s generous line of magic.” He hauled her down the stairs, and bile burned her throat. There was no one coming for her—because she had belonged to no one. “The witches don’t have magic, not like us. But you, a hybrid of both lines …” Vernon gripped her arm harder, right over the cut he’d made, and she cried out. The sound echoed, hollow and small, down the stone stairwell. “You do your house a great honor, Elide.”



Vernon left her in a freezing dungeon cell.

No light.

No sound, save for the dripping of water somewhere.

Shaking, Elide didn’t even have the words to beg as Vernon tossed her inside. “You brought this upon yourself, you know,” he said, “when you allied with that witch and confirmed my suspicions that their blood flows through your veins.” He studied her, but she was gobbling down the details of the cell—anything, anything to get her out. She found nothing. “I’ll leave you here until you’re ready. I doubt anyone will notice your absence, anyway.”

He slammed the door, and darkness swallowed her entirely. She didn’t bother trying the handle.



Manon was summoned by the duke the moment she set foot in Morath.

The messenger was cowering in the archway to the aerie, and could barely get the words out as he took in the blood and dirt and dust that still covered Manon.

She’d contemplated snapping her teeth at him just for trembling like a spineless fool, but she was drained, her head was pounding, and anything more than basic movement required far too much thought.

None of the Thirteen had dared say anything about her grandmother— that she had approved of the breeding.

Sorrel and Vesta trailing mere steps behind her, Manon flung open the doors to the duke’s council chamber, letting the slamming wood say enough about what she thought of being summoned immediately.

The duke—only Kaltain beside him—flicked his eyes over her. “Explain your … appearance.”

Manon opened her mouth.

If Vernon heard that Aelin Galathynius was alive—if he suspected for one heartbeat the debt that Aelin might feel toward Elide’s mother for saving her life, he might very well decide to end his niece’s life. “Rebels attacked us. I killed them all.”

The duke chucked a file of papers onto the table. They hit the glass and slid, spreading out in a fan. “For months now, you’ve wanted explanations. Well, here they are. Status reports on our enemies, larger targets for us to strike … His Majesty sends his best wishes.”

Manon approached. “Did he also send that demon prince into my barracks to attack us?” She stared at the duke’s thick neck, wondering how easily the rough skin would tear.

Perrington’s mouth twisted to the side. “Roland had outlived his usefulness. Who better to take care of him than your Thirteen?”

“I hadn’t realized we were to be your executioners.” She should indeed rip out his throat for what he’d tried to do. Beside him, Kaltain was wholly blank, a shell. But that shadowfire … Would she summon it if the duke were attacked?

“Sit and read the files, Wing Leader.”

She didn’t appreciate the command, and let out a snarl to tell him so, but she sat.

And read.

Reports on Eyllwe, on Melisande, on Fenharrow, on the Red Desert, and Wendlyn.

And on Terrasen.

According to the report, Aelin Galathynius—long believed to be dead

—had appeared in Wendlyn and bested four of the Valg princes, including a lethal general in the king’s army. Using fire.

Aelin had fire magic, Elide had said. She could have survived the cold. But—but that meant that magic … Magic still worked in Wendlyn.

And not here.

Manon would bet a great deal of the gold hoarded at Blackbeak Keep that the man in front of her—and the king in Rifthold—was the reason why.

Then a report of Prince Aedion Ashryver, former general of Adarlan, kin to the Ashryvers of Wendlyn, being arrested for treason. For associating with rebels. He had been rescued from his execution mere weeks ago by unknown forces.

Possible suspects: Lord Ren Allsbrook of Terrasen …

And Lord Chaol Westfall of Adarlan, who had loyally served the king as his Captain of the Guard until he’d joined forces with Aedion this past spring and fled the castle the day of Aedion’s capture. They suspected the captain hadn’t gone far—and that he would try to free his lifelong friend, the Crown Prince.

Free him.

The prince had taunted her, provoked her—as if trying to get her to kill him. And Roland had begged for death.

If Chaol and Aedion were both now with Aelin Galathynius, all working together …

They hadn’t been in the forest to spy.

But to save the prince. And whoever that female prisoner had been.

They’d rescued one friend, at least.

The duke and the king didn’t know. They didn’t know how close they’d been to all their targets, or how close their enemies had come to seizing their prince.

That was why the captain had come running.

He had come to kill the prince—the only mercy he believed he could offer him.

The rebels didn’t know that the man was still inside. “Well?” the duke demanded. “Any questions?”

“You have yet to explain the necessity of the weapon my grandmother is building. A tool like that could be catastrophic. If there’s no magic, then surely obliterating the Queen of Terrasen can’t be worth the risk of using those towers.”

“Better to be overprepared than surprised. We have full control of the towers.”

Manon tapped an iron nail on the glass table.

“This is a base of information, Wing Leader. Continue to prove yourself, and you will receive more.”

Prove herself? She hadn’t done anything lately to prove herself, except

—except shred one of his demon princes and butcher that mountain tribe for no good reason. A shiver of rage went through her. Unleashing the prince in the barracks hadn’t been a message, then, but a test. To see if she could hold up against his worst, and still obey.

“Have you picked a coven for me?”

Manon forced herself to give a dismissive shrug. “I was waiting to see who behaved themselves the best while I was away. It’ll be their reward.”

“You have until tomorrow.”

Manon stared him down. “The moment I leave this room, I’m going to bathe and sleep for a day. If you or your little demon cronies bother me before then, you’ll learn just how much I enjoy playing executioner. The day after that, I’ll make my decision.”

“You wouldn’t be avoiding it, would you, Wing Leader?”

“Why should I bother handing out favors to covens that don’t deserve them?” Manon didn’t give herself one heartbeat to contemplate what the Matron was letting these men do as she gathered up the files, shoved them into Sorrel’s arms, and strode out.

She had just reached the stairs to her tower when she spotted Asterin leaning against the archway, picking at her iron nails.

Sorrel and Vesta sucked in their breath.

“What is it?” Manon demanded, flicking out her own nails. Asterin’s face was a mask of immortal boredom. “We need to talk.”



She and Asterin flew into the mountains, and she let her cousin lead—let Abraxos follow Asterin’s sky-blue female until they were far from Morath. They alighted on a little plateau covered in purple and orange wildflowers, its grasses hissing in the wind. Abraxos was practically grunting with joy, and Manon, her exhaustion as heavy as the red cloak she wore, didn’t bother to reprimand him.

They left their wyverns in the field. The mountain wind was surprisingly warm, the day clear and the sky full of fat, puffy clouds. She’d ordered Sorrel and Vesta to remain behind, despite their protests. If things had gotten to the point where Asterin could not be trusted to be alone with her … Manon did not want to consider it.

Perhaps that was why she had agreed to come.

Perhaps it was because of the scream Asterin had issued from the other side of the ravine.

It had been so like the scream of the Blueblood heir, Petrah, when her wyvern had been ripped to shreds. Like the scream of Petrah’s mother when Petrah and her wyvern, Keelie, had tumbled into thin air.

Asterin walked to the edge of the plateau, the wildflowers swaying about her calves, her riding leathers shining in the bright sun. She unbraided her hair, shaking out the golden waves, then unbuckled her sword and daggers and let them thud to the ground. “I need you to listen, and not talk,” she said as Manon came to stand beside her.

A high demand to make of her heir, but there was no challenge, no threat in it. And Asterin had never spoken to her like that. So Manon


Asterin stared out across the mountains—so vibrant here, now that they were far from the darkness of Morath. A balmy breeze flitted between them, ruffling Asterin’s curls until they looked like sunshine given form.

“When I was twenty-eight, I was off hunting Crochans in a valley just west of the Fangs. I had a hundred miles to go before the next village, and when a storm rolled in, I didn’t feel like landing. So I tried to outrace the storm on my broom, tried to fly over it. But the storm went on and on, up and up. I don’t know if it was the lightning or the wind, but suddenly I was falling. I managed to get control of my broom long enough to land, but the impact was brutal. Before I blacked out, I knew my arm was broken in two different places, my ankle twisted beyond use, and my broom shattered.”

Over eighty years ago—this had been over eighty years ago, and Manon had never heard of it. She’d been off on her own mission— where, she couldn’t remember now. All those years she’d spent hunting Crochans had blurred together.

“When I awoke, I was in a human cabin, my broom in pieces beside the bed. The man who had found me said he’d been riding home through the storm and saw me fall from the sky. He was a young hunter—mostly of exotic game, which was why he had a cabin out in the deep wild. I think I would have killed him if I’d had any strength, if only because I wanted his resources. But I faded in and out of consciousness for a few days while my bones knitted together, and when I awoke again … he fed me enough that he stopped looking like food. Or a threat.”

A long silence.

“I stayed there for five months. I didn’t hunt a single Crochan. I helped him stalk game, found ironwood and began carving a new broom, and … And we both knew what I was, what he was. That I was long-lived and he was human. But we were the same age at that moment, and we didn’t care. So I stayed with him until my orders bade me report back to Blackbeak Keep. And I told him … I said I’d come back when I could.”

Manon could hardly think, hardly breathe over the silence in her head. She’d never heard of this. Not a whisper. For Asterin to have ignored her sacred duties … For her to have taken up with this human man …

“I was a month pregnant when I arrived back at Blackbeak Keep.” Manon’s knees wobbled.

“You were already gone—off on your next mission. I told no one, not until I knew that the pregnancy would actually survive those first few months.”

Not unexpected, as most witches lost their offspring during that time.

For the witchling to grow past that threshold was a miracle in itself.

“But I made it to three months, then four. And when I couldn’t hide it anymore, I told your grandmother. She was pleased, and ordered me on bed rest in the Keep, so nothing disturbed me or the witchling in my womb. I told her I wanted to go back out, but she refused. I knew better than to tell her I wanted to return to that cabin in the forest. I knew she’d kill him. So I remained in the tower for months, a pampered prisoner. You even visited, twice, and she didn’t tell you I was there. Not until the witchling was born, she said.”

A long, uneven breath.

It wasn’t uncommon for witches to be overprotective of those carrying witchlings. And Asterin, bearing the Matron’s bloodline, would have been a valued commodity.

“I made a plan. The moment I recovered from the birth, the moment they looked away, I’d take the witchling to her father and present her to him. I thought maybe a life in the forest, quiet and peaceful, would be better for my witchling than the bloodshed we had. I thought maybe it would be better … for me.”

Asterin’s voice broke on the last two words. Manon couldn’t bring herself to look at her cousin.

“I gave birth. The witchling almost ripped me in two coming out. I thought it was because she was a fighter, because she was a true Blackbeak. And I was proud. Even as I was screaming, even as I was bleeding, I was so proud of her.”

Asterin fell silent, and Manon looked at her at last.

Tears were rolling down her cousin’s face, gleaming in the sunshine. Asterin closed her eyes and whispered into the wind. “She was stillborn. I waited to hear that cry of triumph, but there was only silence. Silence, and then your grandmother …” She opened her eyes. “Your grandmother struck me. She beat me. Again and again. All I wanted was to see my witchling, and she ordered them to have her burned instead. She refused to let me see her. I was a disgrace to every witch who had come before me; I was to blame for a defective witchling; I had dishonored the Blackbeaks; I had disappointed her. She screamed it at me again and again, and when I sobbed, she … she …”

Manon didn’t know where to stare, what to do with her arms.

A stillborn was a witch’s greatest sorrow—and shame. But for her grandmother …

Asterin unbuttoned her jacket and shrugged it off into the flowers. She removed her shirt, and the one beneath, until her golden skin glowed in the sunlight, her breasts full and heavy. Asterin turned, and Manon fell to her knees in the grass.

There, branded on Asterin’s abdomen in vicious, crude letters was one word:


“She branded me. Had them heat up the iron in the same flame where my witchling burned and stamped each letter herself. She said I had no business ever trying to conceive a Blackbeak again. That most men would take one look at the word and run.”

Eighty years. For eighty years she had hidden this. But Manon had seen her naked, had—

No. No, she hadn’t. Not for decades and decades. When they were witchlings, yes, but …

“In my shame, I told no one. Sorrel and Vesta … Sorrel knew because she was in that room. Sorrel fought for me. Begged your grandmother. Your grandmother snapped her arm and sent her out. But after the Matron chucked me into the snow and told me to crawl somewhere and die, Sorrel found me. She got Vesta, and they brought me to Vesta’s aerie deep in the mountains, and they secretly took care of me for the months that I … that I couldn’t get out of bed. Then one day, I just woke up and decided to fight.

“I trained. I healed my body. I grew strong—stronger than I’d been before. And I stopped thinking about it. A month later I went hunting for Crochans, and walked back into the Keep with three of their hearts in a box. If your grandmother was surprised I hadn’t died, she didn’t show it. You were there that night I came back. You toasted in my honor, and said you were proud to have such a fine Second.”

Still on her knees, the damp earth soaking into her pants, Manon stared at that hideous brand.

“I never went back to the hunter. I didn’t know how to explain the brand. How to explain your grandmother, or apologize. I was afraid he’d treat me as your grandmother had. So I never went back.” Her mouth wobbled. “I’d fly overhead every few years, just … just to see.” She wiped at her face. “He never married. And even when he was an old man, I’d sometimes see him sitting on that front porch. As if he were waiting for someone.”

Something … something was cracking and aching in Manon’s chest, caving in on itself.

Asterin sat among the flowers and began pulling on her clothes. She was weeping silently, but Manon didn’t know if she should reach out. She didn’t know how to comfort, how to soothe.

“I stopped caring,” Asterin said at last. “About anything and everything. After that, it was all a joke, and a thrill, and nothing scared me.”

That wildness, that untamed fierceness … They weren’t born of a free heart, but of one that had known despair so complete that living brightly, living violently, was the only way to outrun it.

“But I told myself”—Asterin finished buttoning her jacket—“I would dedicate my life wholly to being your Second. To serving you. Not your grandmother. Because I knew your grandmother had hidden me from you for a reason. I think she knew you would have fought for me. And whatever your grandmother saw in you that made her afraid … It was worth waiting for. Worth serving. So I have.”

That day Abraxos had made the Crossing, when her Thirteen had looked ready to fight their way out should her grandmother give the order to kill her …

Asterin met her stare. “Sorrel, Vesta, and I have known for a very long time what your grandmother is capable of. We never said anything because we feared that if you knew, it could jeopardize you. The day you saved Petrah instead of letting her fall … You weren’t the only one who understood why your grandmother made you slaughter that Crochan.” Asterin shook her head. “I am begging you, Manon. Do not let your grandmother and these men take our witches and use them like this. Do not let them turn our witchlings into monsters. What they’ve already done … I am begging you to help me undo it.”

Manon swallowed hard, her throat achingly tight. “If we defy them, they will come after us, and they will kill us.”

“I know. We all know. That’s what we wanted to tell you the other night.”

Manon looked at her cousin’s shirt, as if she could see through to the brand beneath. “That is why you’ve been behaving this way.”

“I am not foolish enough to pretend that I don’t have a weak spot where witchlings are concerned.”

This was why her grandmother had pushed for decades to have Asterin demoted.

“I don’t think it’s a weak spot,” Manon admitted, and glanced over her shoulder to where Abraxos was sniffing at the wildflowers. “You’re to be reinstated as Second.”

Asterin bowed her head. “I am sorry, Manon.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” She dared add, “Are there others whom my grandmother treated this way?”

“Not in the Thirteen. But in other covens. Most let themselves die when your grandmother cast them out.” And Manon had never been told. She had been lied to.

Manon gazed westward across the mountains. Hope, Elide had said— hope for a better future. For a home.

Not obedience, brutality, discipline. But hope. “We need to proceed carefully.”

Asterin blinked, the gold flecks in her black eyes glittering. “What are you planning?”

“Something very stupid, I think.”

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