The prince’s throat bobbed, but he kept his head high. “Because I can’t stand the thought of her spending another minute in this festering shithole that you call a court.” Aedion couldn’t help but admire him for it—for yielding nothing until the king showed his hand. Smart man—brave man. But it might not be enough to get them out of this alive.
“Good,” the king said. “Neither can I.”
He waved a hand, and before Aedion could bark a warning, the guards separated the prince and the girl. Four held Dorian back, and two forced Sorscha to kneel with a kick behind the knees.
She cried out as she hit the marble, but went silent—the whole room went silent—as a third guard pulled a sword and placed it lightly on the back of her slender neck.
“Don’t you dare,” Dorian growled.
Aedion looked to Chaol, but the captain was frozen. These were not his guards. Their uniforms were those of the men who had hunted Ren. They had the same dead eyes, the same vileness, that had made him not at all regret killing their colleagues in the alley. He’d taken down six that night with minimal damage—how many could he cut down now? His gaze met the captain’s, and the captain flicked his eyes to the guard who held Aedion’s sword. That would be one of his first moves—get Aedion a sword so they could fight.
Because they would fight. They would fight their way out of this, or to their deaths.
The king said to Dorian, “I would choose your next words carefully, Prince.”
Chaol couldn’t start the fight, not with that sword resting on Sorscha’s neck. That was his first goal: get the girl out alive. Then Aedion. Dorian, the king wouldn’t kill—not here, not in this way. But Aedion and Sorscha had to get away. And that could not happen until the king called off the guard. Then Dorian spoke.
“Let her go and I’ll tell you anything.” Dorian took a step toward his father, palms out. “She has nothing to do with—with whatever this is. Whatever you think has happened.”
“But you do?” The king was still smiling. There was a carved, round bit of familiar black stone resting on the small table beside the king. From the distance, Chaol couldn’t see what it was, but it made his stomach turn over regardless. “Tell me, son: why were General Ashryver and Captain Westfall meeting these months?”
“I don’t know.”
The king clicked his tongue, and the guard raised his sword to strike. Chaol started forward as Sorscha sucked in a breath.
“No—stop!” Dorian flung out a hand.
“Then answer the question.”
“I am! You bastard, I am! I don’t know why they were meeting!”
The guard’s sword still remained up, ready to fall before Chaol could move an inch.
“Do you know that there has been a spy in my castle for several months now, Prince? Someone feeding information to my enemies and plotting against me with a known rebel leader?”
Shit. Shit. He had to mean Ren—the king knew who Ren was, had sent those men to hunt him down.
“Just tell me who, Dorian, and you can do whatever you wish with your friend.”
The king didn’t know, then—if it was he or Aedion or both of them who had been meeting with Ren. He didn’t know how much they’d learned about his plans, his control over magic. Aedion was somehow still keeping his mouth shut, somehow still looking ready for battle.
Aedion, who had survived for so long without hope, holding together his kingdom as best he could . . . who would never see the queen he so fiercely loved. He deserved to meet her, and she deserved to have him serve in her court.
Chaol took a breath, preparing himself for the words that would doom him.
But it was Aedion who spoke.
“You want a spy? You want a traitor?” the general drawled, and flung his replicated black ring on the floor. “Then here I am. You want to know why the captain and I were meeting? It was because your stupid bastard of a boy-captain figured out that I’d been working with one of the rebels. He’s been blackmailing information out of me for months to give to his father to offer you when the Lord of Anielle needed a favor. And you know what?” Aedion grinned at them all, the Northern Wolf incarnate. If the king was shocked about the ring, he didn’t show it. “All you monsters can burn in hell. Because my queen is coming—and she will spike you to the walls of your gods-damned castle. And I can’t wait to help her gut you like the pigs you are.” He spat at the king’s feet, right on top of the fake ring that had stopped bouncing.
It was flawless—the rage and the arrogance and the triumph. But as he stared each of them down, Chaol’s heart fractured.
Because for a flicker, as those turquoise eyes met with his, there was none of that rage or triumph. Only a message to the queen that Aedion would never see. And there were no words to convey it—the love and the hope and the pride. The sorrow at not knowing her as the woman she had become. The gift Aedion thought he was giving her in sparing Chaol’s life.
Chaol nodded slightly, because he understood that he could not help, not at this point—not until that sword was removed from Sorscha’s neck. Then he could fight, and he might still get them out alive.
Aedion didn’t struggle as the guards clapped shackles around his wrists and ankles.
“I’ve always wondered about that ring,” the king said. “Was it the distance, or some true strength of spirit that made you so unresponsive to its suggestions? But regardless, I am so glad that you confessed to treason, Aedion.” He spoke with slow, deliberate glee. “So glad you did it in front of all these witnesses, too. It will make your execution that much easier. Though I think . . .” The king smiled and looked at the fake black ring. “I think I’ll wait. Perhaps give it a month or two. Just in case any last-minute guests have to travel a long, long way for the execution. Just in case someone gets it into her head that she can rescue you.”
Aedion snarled. Chaol bit back his own reaction. Perhaps the king had never had anything on them—perhaps this had only been a ruse to get Aedion to confess to something, because the king knew that the general would offer up his own life instead of an innocent’s. The king wanted to savor this, and savor the trap that he had now set for Aelin, even if it cost him a fine general in the process. Because once she heard that Aedion was captured, once she knew the execution date . . . she would run to Rifthold.
“After she comes for you,” Aedion promised the king, “they’ll have to scrape what’s left of you off the walls.”
The king only smiled. Then he looked to Dorian and Sorscha, who seemed to be hardly breathing. The healer remained on the floor and did not lift her head as the king braced his massive forearms on his knees and said, “And what do you have to say for yourself, girl?”