heir of fire- Page 15

   Ahead of her, Rowan’s own steps ­were silent on the dark stones of the hallway. The torches hadn’t been lit yet, and in the murky interior, she could hardly tell he was there. But she knew—­if only because she could almost feel the ire radiating off him. Good. At least one other person ­wasn’t particularly thrilled about this bargain.

   Training. Training.

   Her ­whole life had been training, from the moment she was born. Rowan could train her until he was blue in the face, and as long as it got her the answers about the Wyrdkeys, she’d play along. But it didn’t mean that, when the time came, she had to do anything. Certainly not take up her throne.

   She didn’t even have a throne, or a crown, or a court. Didn’t want them. And she could bring down the king as Celaena Sardothien, thank you very much.

   She tightened her fingers into fists.

   They encountered no one as they descended a winding staircase and started down another corridor. Did the residents of this fortress—Mistward, Maeve had called it—know who was in that study upstairs? Maeve probably got off on terrifying them. Maybe she had all of them—half-­breeds, she’d called them—­enslaved through some bargain or another. Disgusting. It was disgusting, to keep them ­here just for having a mixed heritage that was no fault of theirs.

   Celaena finally opened up her mouth.

   “You must be very important to Her Immortal Majesty if she put you on nurse duty.”

   “Given your history, she didn’t trust anyone but her best to keep you in line.”

   Oh, the prince wanted to tangle. What­ever self-­control he’d had on their trek to the fortress was hanging by a thread. Good.

   “Playing warrior in the woods ­doesn’t seem like the greatest indicator of talent.”

   “I fought on killing fields long before you, your parents, or your grand-­uncle ­were even born.”

   She bristled—­exactly like he wanted. “Who’s to fight ­here except birds and beasts?”

   Silence. Then—“The world is a far bigger and more dangerous place than you can imagine, girl. Consider yourself blessed to receive any training—­to have the chance to prove yourself.”

   “I’ve seen plenty of this big and dangerous world, princeling.”

   A soft, harsh laugh. “Just wait, Aelin.”

   Another jab. And she let herself fall for it. “Don’t call me that.”

   “It’s your name. I’m not going to call you anything different.”

   She stepped in his path, getting right near those too-­sharp canines. “No one ­here can know who I am. Do you understand?”

   His green eyes gleamed, animal-­bright in the dark. “My aunt has given me a harder task than she realizes, I think.” My aunt. Not our aunt.

   And then she said one of the foulest things she’d ever uttered in her life, bathing in the pure hate of it. “Fae like you make me understand the King of Adarlan’s actions a bit more, I think.”

   Faster than she could sense, faster than anything had a right to be, he punched her.

   She shifted enough to keep her nose from shattering but took the blow on her mouth. She hit the wall, whacked her head, and tasted blood. Good.

   He struck again with that immortal speed—­or would have. But with equally unnerving swiftness, he halted his second blow before it fractured her jaw and snarled in her face, low and vicious.

   Her breathing turned ragged as she purred, “Do it.”

   He looked more interested in ripping out her throat than in talking, but he held the line he’d drawn. “Why should I give you what you want?”

   “You’re just as useless as the rest of your brethren.”

   He let out a soft, lethal laugh that raked claws down her temper. “If you’re that desperate to eat stone, go ahead: I’ll let you try to land the next punch.”

   She knew better than to listen. But there was such a roar in her blood that she could no longer see right, think right, breathe right. So she damned the consequences to hell as she swung.

   Celaena hit nothing but air—­air, and then his foot hooked behind hers in an efficient maneuver that sent her careening into the wall once more. Impossible—­he’d tripped her as if she was nothing more than a trembling novice.

   He was now a few feet away, arms crossed. She spat blood and swore. He smirked. It was enough to send her hurtling for him again, to tackle or pummel or strangle him, she didn’t know.

   She caught his feint left, but when she dove right, he moved so swiftly that despite her lifetime of training, she crashed into a darkened brazier behind him. The clatter echoed through the too-­quiet hall as she landed face-­first on the stone floor, her teeth singing.

   “Like I said,” Rowan sneered down at her, “you have a lot to learn. About everything.”

   Her lip already aching and swollen, she told him exactly what he could go do to himself.

   He sauntered down the hall. “Next time you say anything like that,” he said without looking over his shoulder, “I’ll have you chopping wood for a month.”

   Fuming, hatred and shame already burning her face, Celaena got to her feet. He dumped her in a very small, very cold room that looked like little more than a prison cell, letting her take all of two steps inside before he said, “Give me your weapons.”

   “Why? And no.” Like hell she’d give him her daggers.

   In a swift movement, he grabbed a bucket of water from beside her door and tossed the contents onto the hall floor before holding it out. “Give me your weapons.”

   Training with him would be absolutely wonderful. “Tell me why.”

   “I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

   “Then ­we’re going to have another brawl.”

   His tattoo seeming impossibly darker in the dim hall, he stared at her beneath lowered brows as if to say, You call that a brawl? But ­in­­stead he growled, “Starting at dawn, you’ll earn your keep by hel­ping in the kitchen. Unless you plan to murder everyone in the fortress, there is no need for you to be armed. Or to be armed while we train. So I’ll keep your daggers until you’ve earned them back.”

   Well, that felt familiar. “The kitchen?”

   He bared his teeth in a wicked grin. “Everyone pulls their weight ­here. Princesses included. No one’s above some hard labor, least of all you.”

   And didn’t she have the scars to prove it. Not that she’d tell him that. She didn’t know what she’d do if he learned about Endovier and mocked her for it—­or pitied her. “So my training includes being a scullery maid?”