heir of fire- Page 16

   “Part of it.” Again, she could have sworn she could read the unspoken words in his eyes: And I’m going to savor every damn second of your misery.

   “For an old bastard, you certainly ­haven’t bothered to learn manners at any point in your long existence.” Never mind that he looked to be in his late twenties.

   “Why should I waste flattery on a child who’s already in love with herself ?”

   “We’re related, you know.”

   “We’ve as much blood in common as I do with the fortress pig-­boy.”

   She felt her nostrils flare, and he shoved the bucket in her face. She almost knocked it right back into his, but decided that she didn’t want a broken nose and began disarming herself.

   Rowan counted every weapon she put in the bucket as though he’d already learned how many she’d been carry­ing, even the hidden ones. Then he tucked the bucket against his side and slammed the door without so much of a good-­bye beyond “Be ready at dawn.”

   “Bastard. Old stinking bastard,” she muttered, surveying the room.

   A bed, a chamber pot, and a washbasin with icy water. She’d debated a bath, but opted to use the water to clean out her mouth and tend to her lip. She was starving, but going to find food involved meeting people. So once she’d mended her lip as best she could with the supplies in her satchel, she tumbled into bed, reeking vagrant clothes and all, and lay there for several hours.

   There was one small window with no coverings in her room. Celaena turned over in bed to look through it to the patch of stars above the trees surrounding the fortress.

   Lashing out at Rowan like that, saying the things she did, trying to fight with him . . . She’d deserved that punch. More than deserved it. If she was being honest with herself, she was barely passable as a human being these days. She fingered her split lip and winced.

   She scanned the night sky until she located the Stag, the Lord of the North. The unmoving star atop the stag’s head—­the eternal crown—­pointed the way to Terrasen. She’d been told that the great rulers of Terrasen turned into those bright stars so their people would never be alone—­and would always know the way home. She hadn’t set foot there in ten years. While he’d been her master, Arobynn hadn’t let her, and afterward she hadn’t dared.

   She had whispered the truth that day at Nehemia’s grave. She’d been running for so long that she didn’t know what it was to stand and fight. Celaena loosed a breath and rubbed her eyes.

   What Maeve didn’t understand, what she could never understand, was just how much that little princess in Terrasen had damned them a de­cade ago, even worse than Maeve herself had. She had damned them all, and then left the world to burn into ash and dust.

   So Celaena turned away from the stars, nestling under the threadbare blanket against the frigid cold, and closed her eyes, trying to dream of a different world.

   A world where she was no one at all.

   9

   Manon Blackbeak stood on a cliff beside the snow-­swollen river, eyes closed as the damp wind bit her face. There ­were few sounds she enjoyed more than the groans of dying men, but the wind was one of them.

   Leaning into the breeze was the closest she came to flying these days—­save in rare dreams, when she was again in the clouds, her ironwood broom still functioning, not the scrap of useless wood it was now, chucked into the closet of her room at Blackbeak Keep.

   It had been ten years since she’d tasted mist and cloud and ridden on the back of the wind. Today would have been a flawless flying day, the wind wicked and fast. Today, she would have soared.

   Behind her, Mother Blackbeak was still talking with the enormous man from the caravan who called himself a duke. It had been more than coincidence, she supposed, that soon after she’d left that blood-­soaked field in Fenharrow she’d received a summons from her grandmother. And more than coincidence that she’d been not forty miles from the rendezvous point just over the border in Adarlan.

   Manon was on guard duty while her grandmother, the High Witch of the Blackbeak clan, spoke to the duke beside the raging Acanthus River. The rest of her coven had taken their positions around the small encampment—­twelve other witches, all around Manon’s age, all of them raised and trained together. Like Manon, they had no weapons, but it seemed that the duke knew enough to realize Blackbeaks didn’t need weapons to be deadly.

   You didn’t need a weapon at all when you ­were born one.

   And when you ­were one of Manon’s Thirteen, with whom she had fought and flown for the past hundred years . . . Often just the name of the coven was enough to send enemies fleeing. The Thirteen did not have a reputation for mercy—­or making mistakes.

   Manon eyed the armored guards around the camp. Half ­were watching the Blackbeak witches, the others monitoring the duke and her grandmother. It was an honor that the High Witch had chosen the Thirteen to guard her—­no other coven had been summoned. No other coven was needed if the Thirteen ­were present.

   Manon slid her attention to the nearest guard. His sweat, the faint tang of fear, and the heavy musk of exhaustion drifted toward her. From the look and smell of it, they’d been traveling for weeks. There ­were two prison wagons with them. One emitted a very distinct male odor—­and perhaps a remnant of cologne. One was female. Both smelled wrong.

   Manon had been born soulless, her grandmother said. Soulless and heartless, as a Blackbeak ought to be. She was wicked right down to the marrow of her bones. But the people in those wagons, and the duke, they smelled wrong. Different. Alien.

   The nearby guard shifted on his feet. She gave him a smile. His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword.

   Because she could, because she was growing bored, Manon cocked her jaw, sending her iron teeth snapping down. The guard took a step back, his breath coming faster, the acrid tang of fear sharpening.

   With her moon-­white hair, alabaster skin, and burnt-­gold eyes, she’d been told by ill-­fated men that she was beautiful as a Fae queen. But what those men realized too late was that her beauty was merely a weapon in her natural-­born arsenal. And it made things so, so fun.

   Feet crunched in the snow and bits of dead grass, and Manon turned from the trembling guard and the roaring brown Acanthus to find her grandmother approaching.

   In the ten years since magic had vanished, their aging pro­cess had warped. Manon herself was well over a century old, but until ten years ago, she had looked no older than sixteen. Now, she looked to be in her midtwenties. They ­were aging like mortals, they had soon realized with no small amount of panic. And her grandmother . . .

   The rich, voluminous midnight robes of Mother Blackbeak flowed like water in the crisp breeze. Her grandmother’s face was now marred with the beginnings of wrinkles, her ebony hair sprinkled with silver. The High Witch of the Blackbeak Clan ­wasn’t just beautiful—­she was alluring. Even now, with mortal years pressing down upon her bone-­white skin, there was something entrancing about the Matron.