It was too soon for her aunt to be checking on her. She had little to show so far other than a few somewhat useful tricks and her various shields.
She took the stairs two at a time until she reached the kitchen. If Maeve learned about the invasion and ordered Rowan to leave . . . Breathing, thinking—those were the key tools to enduring this encounter.
The heat and yeasty scent hit her as she bounded down the last steps, slowing her gait, lifting her chin, even though she doubted her aunt would condescend to meet in the kitchen. Unless she wanted her unbalanced. But—
But Maeve was not in the kitchen.
Rowan was, and his back was to her as he stood at the other end with Emrys, Malakai, and Luca, talking quietly. Celaena stopped dead as she beheld at Emrys’s too pale face, the hand gripping Malakai’s arm.
As Rowan turned to her, lips thin and eyes wide with—with shock and horror and grief—the world stopped dead, too.
Rowan’s arms hung slack at his sides, his fingers clenching and unclenching. For a heartbeat, she wondered if she went back upstairs, whatever he had to say would not be true.
Rowan took a step toward her—one step, and that was all it took before she began shaking her head, before she lifted her hands in front of her as if to push him away. “Please,” she said, and her voice broke. “Please.”
Rowan kept approaching, the bearer of some inescapable doom. And she knew that she could not outrun it, and could not fall on her knees and beg for it to be undone.
Rowan stopped within reach but did not touch her, his features hardening again—not from cruelty. Because he knew, she realized, that one of them would have to hold it together. He needed to be calm—needed to keep his wits about him for this.
Rowan swallowed once. Twice. “There was . . . there was an uprising at the Calaculla labor camp,” he said.
Her heart stumbled on a beat.
“After Princess Nehemia was assassinated, they say a slave girl killed her overseer and sparked an uprising. The slaves seized the camp.” He took a shallow breath. “The King of Adarlan sent two legions to get the slaves under control. And they killed them all.”
“The slaves killed his legions?” A push of breath. There were thousands of slaves in Calaculla—all of them together would be a mighty force, even for two of Adarlan’s legions.
With horrific gentleness, Rowan grasped her hand. “No. The soldiers killed every slave in Calaculla.”
A crack in the world, through which a keening wail pushed in like a wave. “There are thousands of people enslaved in Calaculla.”
The resolve in Rowan’s countenance splintered as he nodded. And when he opened and closed his mouth, she realized it was not over. The only word she could breathe was “Endovier?” It was a fool’s plea.
Slowly, so slowly, Rowan shook his head. “Once he got word of the uprising in Eyllwe, the King of Adarlan sent two other legions north. None were spared in Endovier.”
She did not see Rowan’s face when he gripped her arms as if he could keep her from falling into the abyss. No, all she could see were the slaves she’d left behind, the ashy mountains and those mass graves they dug every day, the faces of her people, who had worked beside her—her people whom she had left behind. Whom she had let herself forget, had let suffer; who had prayed for salvation, holding out hope that someone, anyone would remember them.
She had abandoned them—and she had been too late.
Nehemia’s people, the people of other kingdoms, and—and her people. The people of Terrasen. The people her father and mother and court had loved so fiercely. There had been rebels in Endovier—rebels who fought for her kingdom when she . . . when she had been . . .
There were children in Endovier. In Calaculla.
She had not protected them.
The kitchen walls and ceiling crushed her, the air too thin, too hot. Rowan’s face swam as she panted, panted, faster and faster—
He murmured her name too softly for the others to hear.
And the sound of it, that name that had once been a promise to the world, the name she had spat on and defiled, the name she did not deserve . . .
She tore off his grip, and then she was walking out the kitchen door, across the courtyard, through the ward-stones, and along the invisible barrier—until she found a spot just out of sight of the fortress.
The world was full of screaming and wailing, so loud she drowned in it.
Celaena did not utter a sound as she unleashed her magic on the barrier, a blast that shook the trees and set the earth rumbling. She fed her power into the invisible wall, begging the ancient stones to take it, to use it. The wards, as if sensing her intent, devoured her power whole, absorbing every last ember until it flickered, hungry for more.
So she burned and burned and burned.
For weeks now, Chaol hadn’t had any contact with any of his friends—allies, whatever they had been. So, one last time, Chaol slipped into the rhythm of his old duties. Though it was more difficult than ever to oversee the king’s luncheons, though making his reports was an effort of will, he did it. He had heard nothing from Aedion or Ren, and still hadn’t yet asked Dorian to use his magic to test out their theories about the spell. He was starting to wonder if he was done playing his part in Aelin’s growing rebellion.
He’d gathered enough information, crossed enough lines. Perhaps it was time to learn what could be done from Anielle. He would be closer to Morath, and maybe he could uncover what the king was brewing down there. The king had accepted his plans to take up his mantle as heir to Anielle with hardly any objections. Soon, he was to present options for a replacement.
Chaol was currently standing guard at a state luncheon in the great hall, which Aedion and Dorian were both attending. The doors had been thrown open to welcome in the spring air, and Chaol’s men were standing at each one, weapons at the ready.
Everything was normal, everything was going smoothly, until the king stood, his black ring seeming to gobble up the midday sun streaming in through the towering windows. He lifted a goblet, and the room fell silent. Not in the way it did when Aedion spoke. Chaol hadn’t been able to stop thinking about what the general had said to him about choosing a side, or what Dorian had said about his refusal to accept Celaena and the prince for what they really were. Over and over again, he’d contemplated it.
But nothing could prepare Chaol, or anyone in that silent hall, as the king smiled to the tables below his dais and said, “Good news arrived this morning from Eyllwe and the north. The Calaculla slave rebellion has been dealt with.”
They’d heard nothing of it, and Chaol wished he could cover his ears as the king said, “We’ll have to work to replenish the mines, there and in Endovier, but the rebel taint has been purged.”