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Heir of Fire, Page 2

Sarah J. Maas

  It had been a week since she’d given up her plan and abandoned any attempt to care at all. And she suspected it’d be many weeks more before she decided she was truly sick of teggya, or brawling every night just to feel something, or guzzling sour wine as she lay on rooftops all day.

  But her throat was parched and her stomach was grumbling, so Celaena slowly peeled herself off the edge of the roof. Slowly, not because of those vigilant guards, but rather because her head was well and truly spinning. She didn’t trust herself to care enough to prevent a tumble.

  She glared at the thin scar stretching across her palm as she shimmied down the drainpipe and into the alley off the market street. It was now nothing more than a reminder of the pathetic promise she’d made at Nehemia’s half-­frozen grave over a month ago, and of everything and everyone ­else she’d failed. Just like her amethyst ring, which she gambled away every night and won back before sunrise.

  Despite all that had happened, and Chaol’s role in Nehemia’s death, even after she’d destroyed what was between them, she hadn’t been able to forfeit his ring. She’d lost it thrice now in card games, only to get it back—­by what­ever means necessary. A dagger poised to slip between the ribs usually did a good deal more convincing than actual words.

  Celaena supposed it was a miracle she made it down to the alley, where the shadows momentarily blinded her. She braced a hand on the cool stone wall, letting her eyes adjust, willing her head to stop spinning. A mess—­she was a gods-­damned mess. She wondered when she’d bother to stop being one.

  The tang and reek of the woman hit Celaena before she saw her. Then wide, yellowed eyes ­were in her face, and a pair of withered, cracked lips parted to hiss, “Slattern! Don’t let me catch you in front of my door again!”

  Celaena pulled back, blinking at the vagrant woman—­and at her door, which . . . was just an alcove in the wall, crammed with rubbish and what had to be sacks of the woman’s belongings. The woman herself was hunched, her hair unwashed and teeth a ruin of stumps. Celaena blinked again, the woman’s face coming into focus. Furious, half-­mad, and filthy.

  Celaena held up her hands, backing away a step, then another. “Sorry.”

  The woman spat a wad of phlegm onto the cobblestones an inch from Celaena’s dusty boots. Failing to muster the energy to be disgusted or furious, Celaena would have walked away had she not glimpsed herself as she raised her dull gaze from the glob.

  Dirty clothes—­stained and dusty and torn. Not to mention, she smelled atrocious, and this vagrant woman had mistaken her for . . . for a fellow vagrant, competing for space on the streets.

  Well. ­Wasn’t that just wonderful. An all-­time low, even for her. Perhaps it’d be funny one day, if she bothered to remember it. She ­couldn’t recall the last time she’d laughed.

  At least she could take some comfort in knowing that it ­couldn’t get worse.

  But then a deep male voice chuckled from the shadows behind her.


  The man—­male—down the alley was Fae.

  After ten years, after all the executions and burnings, a Fae male was prowling toward her. Pure, solid Fae. There was no escaping him as he emerged from the shadows yards away. The vagrant in the alcove and the others along the alley fell so quiet Celaena could again hear those bells ringing in the distant mountains.

  Tall, broad-­shouldered, every inch of him seemingly corded with muscle, he was a male blooded with power. He paused in a dusty shaft of sunlight, his silver hair gleaming.

  As if his delicately pointed ears and slightly elongated canines ­weren’t enough to scare the living shit out of everyone in that alley, including the now-­whimpering madwoman behind Celaena, a wicked-­looking tattoo was ­etched down the left side of his harsh face, the whorls of black ink stark against his sun-­kissed skin.

  The markings could easily have been decorative, but she still remembered enough of the Fae language to recognize them as words, even in such an artistic rendering. Starting at his temple, the tattoo flowed over his jaw and down his neck, where it disappeared beneath the pale surcoat and cloak he wore. She had a feeling the markings continued down the rest of him, too, concealed along with at least half a dozen weapons. As she reached into her cloak for her own hidden dagger, she realized he might have been handsome ­were it not for the promise of violence in his pine-­green eyes.

  It would have been a mistake to call him young—­just as it would have been a mistake to call him anything but a warrior, even without the sword strapped across his back and the vicious knives at his sides. He moved with lethal grace and surety, scanning the alley as if he ­were walking onto a killing field.

  The hilt of the dagger was warm in her hand, and Celaena adjusted her stance, surprised to be feeling—­fear. And enough of it that it cleared the heavy fog that had been clouding her senses these past few weeks.

  The Fae warrior stalked down the alley, his knee-­high leather boots silent on the cobblestones. Some of the loiterers shrank back; some bolted for the sunny street, to random doorways, anywhere to escape his challenging stare.

  Celaena knew before his sharp eyes met hers that he was ­here for her, and who had sent him.

  She reached for her Eye amulet, startled to find it was no longer around her neck. She’d given it to Chaol—­the only bit of protection she could grant him upon leaving. He’d probably thrown it away as soon as he figured out the truth. Then he could go back to the haven of being her enemy. Maybe he’d tell Dorian, too, and the pair of them would both be safe.

  Before she could give in to the instinct to scuttle back up the drainpipe and onto the roof, she considered the plan she’d abandoned. Had some god remembered she existed and decided to throw her a bone? She’d needed to see Maeve.

  Well, ­here was one of Maeve’s elite warriors. Ready. Waiting.

  And from the vicious temper emanating from him, not entirely happy about it.

  The alley remained as still as a graveyard while the Fae warrior surveyed her. His nostrils flared delicately, as if he ­were—

  He was getting a whiff of her scent.

  She took some small satisfaction in knowing she smelled horrific, but it ­wasn’t that smell he was reading. No, it was the scent that marked her as her—­the smell of her lineage and blood and what and who she was. And if he said her name in front of these people . . . then she knew that Galan Ashryver would come running home. The guards would be on high alert, and that was not part of her plan at all.

  The bastard looked likely to do such a thing, just to prove who was in charge. So she summoned her energy as best she could and sauntered over to him, trying to remember what she might have done months ago, before the world had gone to hell. “Well met, my friend,” she purred. “Well met, indeed.”

  She ignored the shocked faces around them, focusing solely on sizing him up. He stood with a stillness that only an immortal could achieve. She willed her heartbeat and breathing to calm. He could probably hear them, could probably smell every emotion raging through her. There’d be no fooling him with bravado, not in a thousand years. He’d probably lived that long already. Perhaps there’d be no beating him, either. She was Celaena Sardothien, but he was a Fae warrior and had likely been one for a great while.

  She stopped a few feet away. Gods, he was huge. “What a lovely surprise,” she said loudly enough for everyone to hear. When was the last time she’d sounded that pleasant? She ­couldn’t even remember the last time she’d spoken in full sentences. “I thought we ­were to meet at the city walls.”

  He didn’t bow, thank the gods. His harsh face didn’t even shift. Let him think what he wanted. She was sure she looked nothing like what he’d been told to expect—­and he’d certainly laughed when that woman mistook her for a fellow vagrant.

  “Let’s go,” was all he said, his deep, somewhat bored voice seeming to echo off the stones as he turned to
leave the alley. She’d bet good money that the leather vambraces on his forearms concealed blades.

  She might have given him a rather obnoxious reply, just to feel him out a bit more, but people ­were still watching. He prowled along, not deigning to look at any of the gawkers. She ­couldn’t tell if she was impressed or revolted.

  She followed the Fae warrior into the bright street and through the bustling city. He was heedless of the humans who paused their working and walking and milling about to stare. He certainly didn’t wait for her to catch up as he strode up to a pair of ordinary mares tied by a trough in a nondescript square. If memory served her correctly, the Fae usually possessed far finer ­horses. He had probably arrived in another form and purchased these ­here.

  All Fae possessed a secondary animal form. Celaena was currently in hers, her mortal human body as animal as the birds wheeling above. But what was his? He could have been a wolf, she thought, with that layered surcoat that flowed to midthigh like a pelt, his footfalls so silent. Or a mountain cat, with that predatory grace.

  He mounted the larger of the mares, leaving her to the piebald beast that looked more interested in seeking out a quick meal than trekking across the land. That made two of them. But they’d gone far enough without any explanation.

  She stuffed her satchel into a saddlebag, angling her hands so that her sleeves hid the narrow bands of scars on her wrists, reminders of where the manacles had been. Where she had been. It was none of his business. None of Maeve’s business, either. The less they knew about her, the less they could use against her. “I’ve known a few brooding warrior-­types in my day, but I think you might be the broodiest of them all.” He whipped his head to her, and she drawled, “Oh, hello. I think you know who I am, so I won’t bother introducing myself. But before I’m carted off to gods-­know-­where, I’d like to know who you are.”

  His lips thinned. He surveyed the square—­where people ­were now watching. And everyone instantly found somewhere ­else to be.

  When they’d scattered, he said, “You’ve gathered enough about me at this point to have learned what you need to know.” He spoke the common tongue, and his accent was subtle—­lovely, if she was feeling generous enough to admit it. A soft, rolling purr.

  “Fair enough. But what am I to call you?” She gripped the saddle but didn’t mount it.

  “Rowan.” His tattoo seemed to soak up the sun, so dark it looked freshly inked.

  “Well, Rowan—” Oh, he did not like her tone one bit. His eyes narrowed slightly in warning, but she went on, “Dare I ask where ­we’re going?” She had to be drunk—­still drunk or descending to a new level of apathy—if she was talking to him like this. But she ­couldn’t stop, even as the gods or the Wyrd or the threads of fate readied to shove her back toward her original plan of action.

  “I’m taking you where you’ve been summoned.”

  As long as she got to see Maeve and ask her questions, she didn’t particularly care how she got to Doranelle—­or whom she traveled with.

  Do what has to be done, Elena had told her. In her usual fashion, Elena had omitted to specify what had to be done once she arrived in Wendlyn. At least this was better than eating flatbread and drinking wine and being mistaken for a vagrant. Perhaps she could be on a boat back to Adarlan within three weeks, possessing the answers that would solve everything.

  It should have energized her. But instead she found herself silently mounting her mare, out of words and the will to use them. Just the past few minutes of interaction had drained her completely.

  It was better that Rowan didn’t seem inclined to speak as she followed him out of the city. The guards merely waved them through the walls, some even backing away.

  As they rode on, Rowan didn’t ask why she was ­here and what she’d been doing for the past ten years while the world had gone to hell. He pulled his pale hood over his silver hair and moved ahead, though it was still easy enough to mark him as different, as a warrior and law unto himself.

  If he was truly as old as she suspected, she was likely little more than a speck of dust to him, a fizzle of life in the long-­burning fire of his immortality. He could probably kill her without a second thought—­and then move on to his next task, utterly untroubled by ending her existence.

  It didn’t unnerve her as much as it should have.


  For a month now, it had been the same dream. Every night, over and over, until Chaol could see it in his waking hours.

  Archer Finn groaning as Celaena shoved her dagger up through his ribs and into his heart. She embraced the handsome courtesan like a lover, but when she gazed over Archer’s shoulder, her eyes ­were dead. Hollow.

  The dream shifted, and Chaol could say nothing, do nothing as the golden-­brown hair darkened to black and the agonized face ­wasn’t Archer’s but Dorian’s.

  The Crown Prince jerked, and Celaena held him tighter, twisting the dagger one final time before she let Dorian slump to the gray stones of the tunnel. Dorian’s blood was already pooling—­too fast. But Chaol still ­couldn’t move, ­couldn’t go to his friend or the woman he loved.

  The wounds on Dorian multiplied, and there was blood—­so much blood. He knew these wounds. Though he’d never seen the body, he’d combed through the reports detailing what Celaena had done to the rogue assassin Grave in that alley, the way she’d butchered him for killing Nehemia.

  Celaena lowered her dagger, ­each drop of blood from its gleaming blade sending ripples through the pool already around her. She tipped back her head, breathing in deep. Breathing in the death before her, taking it into her soul, vengeance and ecstasy mingling at the slaughter of her enemy. Her true enemy. The Havilliard Empire.

  The dream shifted again, and Chaol was pinned beneath her as she writhed above him, her head still thrown back, that same expression of ecstasy written across her blood-­splattered face.

  Enemy. Lover.



  The memory of the dream splintered as Chaol blinked at Dorian, who was sitting beside him at their old table in the Great Hall—­and waiting for an answer to what­ever he had said. Chaol gave an apologetic wince.

  The Crown Prince didn’t return Chaol’s half smile. Instead, Dorian quietly said, “You ­were thinking about her.”

  Chaol took a bite from his lamb stew but tasted nothing. Dorian was too observant for his own good. And Chaol had no interest in talking about Celaena. Not with Dorian, not with anyone. The truth he knew about her could jeopardize more lives than hers.

  “I was thinking about my father,” Chaol lied. “When he returns to Anielle in a few weeks, I’m to go with him.” It was the price for getting Celaena to the safety of Wendlyn: his father’s support in exchange for his return to the Silver Lake to take up his title as the heir of Anielle. And he’d been willing to make that sacrifice; he’d make any sacrifice to keep Celaena and her secrets safe. Even now that he knew who—what she was. Even after she’d told him about the king and the Wyrdkeys. If this was the price he had to pay, so be it.

  Dorian glanced toward the high table, where the king and Chaol’s father dined. The Crown Prince should have been eating with them, but he’d chosen to sit with Chaol instead. It was the first time Dorian had done so in ages—­the first time they had spoken since their tense conversation after the decision was made to send Celaena to Wendlyn.

  Dorian would understand if he knew the truth. But Dorian ­couldn’t know who and what Celaena was, or what the king was truly planning. The potential for disaster was too high. And Dorian’s own secrets ­were deadly enough.

  “I heard the rumors you ­were to go,” Dorian said warily. “I didn’t realize they ­were true.”

  Chaol nodded, trying to find something—­anything—to say to his friend.

  They still hadn’t spoken of the other thing between them, the other bit of truth that
had come out that night in the tunnels: Dorian had magic. Chaol didn’t want to know anything about it. If the king decided to interrogate him . . . he hoped he’d hold out, if it ever came to that. The king, he knew, had far darker methods of extracting information than torture. So he hadn’t asked, hadn’t said one word. And neither had Dorian.

  He met Dorian’s gaze. There was nothing kind in it. But Dorian said, “I’m trying, Chaol.”

  Trying, because Chaol’s not consulting him on the plan to get Celaena out of Adarlan had been a breach of trust, and one that shamed him, though Dorian could never know that, either. “I know.”

  “And despite what happened, I’m fairly certain ­we’re not enemies.” Dorian’s mouth quirked to the side.

  You will always be my enemy. Celaena had screamed those words at Chaol the night Nehemia had died. Screamed it with ten years’ worth of conviction and hatred, a de­cade spent holding the world’s greatest secret so deep within her that she’d become another person entirely.

  Because Celaena was Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, heir to the throne and rightful Queen of Terrasen.

  It made her his mortal enemy. It made her Dorian’s enemy. Chaol still didn’t know what to do about it, or what it meant for them, for the life he’d imagined for them. The future he’d once dreamed of was irrevocably gone.

  He’d seen the deadness in her eyes that night in the tunnels, along with the wrath and exhaustion and sorrow. He’d seen her go over the edge when Nehemia died, and knew what she’d done to Grave in retribution. He didn’t doubt for one heartbeat that she could snap again. There was such glittering darkness in her, an endless rift straight through her core.

  Nehemia’s death had shattered her. What he had done, his role in that death, had shattered her, too. He knew that. He just prayed that she could piece herself back together again. Because a broken, unpredictable assassin was one thing. But a queen . . .

  “You look like you’re going to be sick,” Dorian said, bracing his forearms on the table. “Tell me what’s wrong.”