heir of fire- Page 10

   The cold fury of his magic clawed its way up his spine. “With all due respect, Father, I have two meetings to prepare for, and—”

   “It’s not open for debate.” His father kept eating. “General Ashryver has been notified, and you will meet him outside your chambers at noon.”

   Dorian knew he should keep quiet, but he found himself asking, “Why do you tolerate Aedion? Why keep him alive—­why make him a general?” He’d been unable to stop wondering about it since the man’s arrival.

   His father gave a small, knowing smile. “Because Aedion’s rage is a useful blade, and he is capable of keeping his people in line. He will not risk their slaughter, not when he has lost so much. He has quelled many a would-­be rebellion in the North from that fear, for he is well aware that it would be his own people—­the civilians—who suffered first.”

   He shared blood with a man this cruel. But Dorian said, “It’s still surprising that you’d keep a general almost as a captive—­as little more than a slave. Controlling him through fear alone seems potentially dangerous.”

   Indeed, he wondered if his father had told Aedion about Celaena’s mission to Wendlyn—­homeland of Aedion’s royal bloodline, where Aedion’s cousins the Ashryvers still ruled. Though Aedion trumpeted about his various victories over rebels and acted like he practically owned half the empire himself . . . How much did Aedion remember of his kin across the sea?

   His father said, “I have my ways of leashing Aedion should I need to. For now, his brazen irreverence amuses me.” His father jerked his chin toward the door. “I will not be amused, however, if you miss your appointment with him today.”

   And just like that, his father fed him to the Wolf.

   •

   Despite Dorian’s offers to show Aedion the menagerie, the kennels, the stables—­even the damned library—­the general only wanted to do one thing: walk through the gardens. Aedion claimed he was feeling restless and sluggish from too much food the night before, but the smile he gave Dorian suggested otherwise.

   Aedion didn’t bother talking to him, too preoccupied with humming bawdy tunes and inspecting the various women they passed. He’d dropped the half-­civilized veneer only once, when they’d been striding down a narrow path flanked by towering rosebushes—­stunning in the summer, but deadly in the winter—­and the guards had been a turn behind, blind for the moment. Just enough time for Aedion to subtly trip Dorian into one of the thorny walls, still humming his lewd songs.

   A quick maneuver had kept Dorian from falling face-­first into the thorns, but his cloak had ripped, and his hand stung. Rather than give the general the satisfaction of seeing him hiss and inspect his cuts, Dorian had tucked his barking, freezing fingers into his pockets as the guards rounded the corner.

   They spoke only when Aedion paused by a fountain and braced his scarred hands on his hips, assessing the garden beyond as though it were a battlefield. Aedion smirked at the six guards lurking behind, his eyes bright—­so bright, Dorian thought, and so strangely familiar as the general said, “A prince needs an escort in his own palace? I’m insulted they didn’t send more guards to protect you from me.”

   “You think you could take six men?”

   The Wolf had let out a low chuckle and shrugged, the scarred hilt of the Sword of Orynth catching the near-­blinding sunlight. “I don’t think I should tell you, in case your father ever decides my usefulness is not worth my temperament.”

   Some of the guards behind them murmured, but Dorian said, “Probably not.”

   And that was it—­that was all Aedion said to him for the rest of the cold, miserable walk. Until the general gave him an edged smile and said, “Better get that looked at.” That was when Dorian realized his right hand was still bleeding. Aedion just turned away. “Thanks for the walk, Prince,” the general said over his shoulder, and it felt more like a threat than anything.

   Aedion didn’t act without a reason. Perhaps the general had convinced his father to force this excursion. But for what purpose, Dorian ­couldn’t grasp. Unless Aedion merely wanted to get a feel for what sort of man Dorian had become and how well Dorian could play the game. He ­wouldn’t put it past the warrior to have done it just to assess a potential ally or threat—­Aedion, for all his arrogance, had a cunning mind. He probably viewed court life as another sort of battlefield.

   Dorian let Chaol’s hand-­selected guards lead him back into the wonderfully warm castle, then dismissed them with a nod. Chaol hadn’t come today, and he was grateful—­after that conversation about his magic, after Chaol refused to speak about Celaena, Dorian ­wasn’t sure what ­else was left for them to talk about. He didn’t believe for one moment that Chaol would willingly sanction the deaths of innocent men, no matter whether they ­were friends or enemies. Chaol had to know, then, that Celaena ­wouldn’t assassinate the Ashryver royals, for what­ever reasons of her own. But there was no point in bothering to talk to Chaol, not when his friend was keeping secrets, too.

   Dorian mulled over his friend’s puzzle-­box of words again as he walked into the healers’ catacombs, the smell of rosemary and mint wafting past. It was a warren of supply and examination rooms, kept far from the prying eyes of the glass castle high above. There was another ward high in the glass castle, for those who ­wouldn’t deign to make the trek down ­here, but this was where the best healers in Rifthold—­and Adarlan—­had honed and practiced their craft for a thousand years. The pale stones seemed to breathe the essence of centuries of drying herbs, giving the subterranean halls a pleasant, open feeling.

   Dorian found a small workroom where a young woman was hunched over a large oak table, a variety of glass jars, scales, mortars, and pestles before her, along with vials of liquid, hanging herbs, and bubbling pots over small, solitary flames. The healing arts ­were one of the few that his father hadn’t completely outlawed ten years ago—­though once, he’d heard, they’d been even more powerful. Once, healers had used magic to mend and save. Now they ­were left with what­ever nature provided them.

   Dorian stepped into the room and the young woman looked up from the book she was scanning, a finger pausing on the page. Not beautiful, but—­pretty. Clean, elegant lines, chestnut hair woven in a braid, and golden-­tan skin that suggested at least one family member came from Eyllwe. “Can I—” She got a good look at him, then, and dropped into a bow. “Your Highness,” she said, a flush creeping up the smooth column of her neck.

   Dorian held up his bloodied hand. “Thornbush.” Rosebush made his cuts seem that much more pathetic.

   She kept her eyes averted, biting her full bottom lip. “Of course.” She gestured a slender hand toward the wooden chair before the table. “Please. Unless—­unless you’d rather go to a proper examination room?”