When she and Rowan had finished saying their good-byes to the others, she paused at the edge of the trees to look at the crumbling stone fortress. Emrys and Luca were waiting for them at the tree line, faces pale in the morning light. The old male had already stuffed their bags full of food and supplies, but he still pressed a hot loaf into Celaena’s hands as they looked at each other.
She said, “It might take a while, but if—when I reclaim my kingdom, the demi-Fae will always have a home there. And you two—and Malakai—will have a place in my household, should you wish it. As my friends.”
Emrys’s eyes were gleaming as he nodded, gripping Luca’s hand. The young man, who had opted to keep a long, wicked scratch bestowed in battle down his face, merely stared at her, wide-eyed. A part of her heart ached at the shadows that now lay in his face. Bas’s betrayal would haunt him, she knew. But Celaena smiled at him, ruffled his hair, and made to turn away.
“Your mother would be proud,” Emrys said.
Celaena put a hand on her heart and bowed in thanks.
Rowan cleared his throat, and Celaena gave them one last parting smile before she followed the prince into the trees—to Doranelle, and to Maeve, at last.
“Just be ready to leave for Suria in two days,” Aedion ordered Ren as the three of them gathered at midnight in the apartment where Ren and Murtaugh had stayed, still unaware of who it belonged to. “Take the southern gate—it’ll be the least monitored at that hour.”
It had been weeks since they’d last met, and three days since a vague letter had arrived for Murtaugh from Sol of Suria, a friendly invitation to a long-lost friend to visit him. The wording was simple enough that they all knew the young lord was feeling them out, hinting at interest in the “opportunity” Murtagh had mentioned in an earlier letter. Since then, Aedion had combed every path northward, calculating the movements and locations of every legion and garrison along the way. Two more days; then perhaps this court could begin to rebuild itself.
“Why does it feel like we’re fleeing, then?” Ren paused his usual pacing. The young Lord of Allsbrook had healed up just fine, though he’d now converted some of the great room into his own personal training space to rebuild his strength. Aedion wondered just how thrilled their queen would be to learn about that.
“You are fleeing,” Aedion drawled, biting into one of the apples he’d picked up at the market for Ren and the old man. “The longer you stay here,” he went on, “the bigger the risk of being discovered and of all our plans falling apart. You’re too recognizable now, and you’re of better use to me in Terrasen. There’s no negotiating, so don’t bother trying.”
“And what about you?” Ren asked the captain, who was seated in his usual chair.
Chaol frowned and said quietly, “I’m going to Anielle in a few days.” To fulfill the bargain he’d made when he sold his freedom to get Aelin to Wendlyn. If Aedion let himself think too much about it, he knew he might feel bad—might try to convince the captain to stay, even. It wasn’t that Aedion liked the captain, or even respected him. In fact, he wished Chaol had never caught him in that stairwell, mourning the slaughter of his people in the labor camps. But here they were, and there was no going back.
Ren paused his pacing to stare down the captain. “As our spy?”
“You’ll need someone on the inside, regardless of whether I’m in Rifthold or Anielle.”
“I have people on the inside,” Ren said.
Aedion waved a hand. “I don’t care about your people on the inside, Ren. Just be ready to go, and stop being a pain in my ass with your endless questions.” He would chain Ren to a horse if he had to.
Aedion was about to turn to go when feet thundered up the stairs. They all had their swords drawn as the door flew open and Murtaugh appeared, panting and grasping the doorframe. The old man’s eyes were wild, his mouth opening and closing. Behind him, the stairwell revealed no sign of a threat, no pursuit. But Aedion kept his sword out and angled himself into a better position.
Ren rushed to Murtaugh, slipping an arm under his shoulders, but the old man planted his heels in the rug. “She’s alive,” he said, to Ren, to Aedion, to himself. “She’s—she’s truly alive.”
Aedion’s heart stopped. Stopped, then started, then stopped again. Slowly, he sheathed his sword, calming his racing mind before he said, “Out with it, old man.”
Murtaugh blinked and let out a choked laugh. “She’s in Wendlyn, and she’s alive.”
The captain stalked across the floor. Aedion might have joined him had his legs not stopped working. For Murtaugh to have heard about her . . . The captain said, “Tell me everything.”
Murtaugh shook his head. “The city’s swarming with the news. People are in the streets.”
“Get to the point,” Aedion snapped.
“General Narrok’s legion did indeed go to Wendlyn,” Murtaugh said. “And no one knows how or why, but Aelin . . . Aelin was there, in the Cambrian Mountains, and was part of a host that met them in battle. They’re saying she’s been hiding in Doranelle all this time.”
Alive, Aedion had to tell himself—alive, and not dead after the battle, even if Murtaugh’s information about her whereabouts was wrong.
Murtaugh was smiling. “They slaughtered Narrok and his men, and she saved a great number of people—with magic. Fire, they say—power the likes of which the world has not seen since Brannon himself.”
Aedion’s chest tightened to the point of hurting. The captain was just staring at the old man.
It was a message to the world. Aelin was a warrior, able to fight with blade or magic. And she was done with hiding.
“I’m riding north today. It cannot wait as we had planned,” Murtaugh said, turning toward the door. “Before the king tries to keep the news from spreading, I need to let Terrasen know.” They trailed him down the stairs and into the warehouse below. Even from inside, Aedion’s Fae hearing picked up the rising commotion in the streets. The moment he entered the palace, he would have to consider his every step, every breath. Too many eyes would be on him now.
Aelin. His Queen. Aedion slowly smiled. The king would never suspect, not in a thousand years, who he’d actually sent to Wendlyn—that his own Champion had destroyed Narrok. Few had ever known about the Galathyniuses’ deeply rooted distrust of Maeve—so Doranelle would be a believable place to hide and raise a young queen all these years.
“Once I get out of the city,” Murtaugh said, going to the horse he’d tied inside the warehouse, “I’ll send riders to every contact, to Fenharrow and Melisande. Ren, you stay here. I’ll take care of Suria.”