heir of fire- Page 48

   Aelin Galathynius had spent a year in that labor camp. A queen of their continent had been a slave, and would bear the scars of it forever. Perhaps that entitled her, and Aedion, and even Chaol who loved her, to conspire to deceive and betray his father.

   “Dorian, please,” Chaol said. “I’m doing this for you—­I swear it.”

   “I don’t care,” Dorian said, staring them down as he walked out. “I will carry your secrets to the grave—­but I want no part of them.”

   He ripped his cold magic from the air and turned it inward, wrapping it around his heart.

   •

   Aedion took the secret subterranean exit out of the castle. He’d told Chaol it was to avoid any suspicion, to lose anyone ­else trailing them as they went back to their rooms. One look from the captain told him he knew precisely where Aedion was headed.

   Aedion contemplated what the captain had told him—­and though any other man would be horrified, though Aedion should be horrified . . . he ­wasn’t surprised. He’d suspected the king was wielding some sort of deadly power from the moment he’d given him that ring all those years ago, and it seemed in line with information his spies had long been gathering.

   The Yellowlegs Matron had been ­here for a reason. Aedion was willing to bet good money that what­ever monstrosities or weapons the king was creating, they would see them soon enough, perhaps with the witches in tow. Men didn’t build more armies and forge more weapons without having plans to use them. And they certainly didn’t hand out bits of mind-­controlling jewelry unless they wanted absolute do­min­ion. But he would face what was coming just as he had every other trial in his life: precisely, unyieldingly, and with lethal efficiency.

   He spotted the two figures waiting in the shadows of a ramshackle building by the docks, the fog off the Avery making them little more than wisps of darkness.

   “Well?” Ren demanded as Aedion leaned against a damp brick wall. Ren’s twin swords ­were out. Good Adarlanian steel, nicked and scratched enough to show they’d been used, and well-­oiled enough to show Ren knew how to care for them. They seemed to be the only things Ren cared about—­his hair was shaggy, and his clothes looked a bit worse for wear.

   “I already told you: we can trust the captain.” Aedion looked at Murtaugh. “Hello, old man.”

   He ­couldn’t see Murtaugh’s face beneath the shadows of his hood, but his voice was too soft as he said, “I hope the information is worth the risks you are taking.”

   Aedion snarled. He ­wouldn’t tell them the truth about Aelin, not until she was back at his side and could tell them herself.

   Ren took a step closer. He moved with the self-­assurance of someone who was used to fighting. And winning. Still, Aedion had at least three inches and twenty pounds of muscle on him. Should Ren attack, he’d find himself on his ass in a heartbeat. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, Aedion,” Ren said, “but if you don’t tell us where she is, how can we can trust you? And how does the captain know? Does the king have her?”

   “No,” Aedion said. It ­wasn’t a lie, but it felt like one. As Celaena, she’d signed her soul to him. “The way I see it, Ren, you and your grandfather have little to offer me—­or Aelin. You don’t have a war band, you don’t have lands, and the captain told me all about your affi­liation with that piece of shit Archer Finn. Do I need to remind you what happened to Nehemia Ytger on your watch? So I’m not going to tell you; you’ll receive information on a need-­to-­know basis.”

   Ren started. Murtaugh put an arm between them. “It’s better we don’t know, just in case.”

   Ren ­wouldn’t back down, and Aedion’s blood raced at the challenge. “What are we going to tell the court, then?” Ren demanded. “That she’s not some imposter as we ­were led to believe, but actually alive—­yet you won’t tell us where?”

   “Yes,” Aedion breathed, wondering just how badly he could bloody up Ren without hurting Murtaugh in the pro­cess. “That’s exactly what you’ll tell them. If you can even find the court.”

   Silence. Murtaugh said, “We know Ravi and Sol are still alive and in Suria.”

   Aedion knew the story. Their family’s trade business had been too important to the king to warrant executing both their parents. So their father had chosen the execution block, and their mother had been left to keep Suria running as a vital trade port. The two Surian boys would be twenty and twenty-­two by now, and since his mother’s death, Sol had become Lord of Suria. In his years leading the Bane, Aedion had never set foot in the coastal city. He didn’t want to know if they’d damn him. Adarlan’s Whore.

   “Will they fight,” Aedion said, “or will they decide they like their gold too much?”

   Murtaugh sighed. “I’ve heard Ravi is the wilder one—­he might be the one to convince.”

   “I don’t want anyone that we have to convince to join us,” Aedion said.

   “You’ll want people who aren’t afraid of Aelin—­or you,” Murtaugh snapped. “You’ll want levelheaded people who won’t hesitate to ask the hard questions. Loyalty is earned, not given.”

   “She ­doesn’t have to do a damn thing to earn our loyalty.”

   Murtaugh shook his head, his cowl swaying. “For some of us, yes. But others might not be so easily convinced. She has ten years to account for—­and a kingdom in ruin.”

   “She was a child.”

   “She is a woman now, and has been for a few years. Perhaps she will offer an explanation. But until then, Aedion, you must understand that others might not share your fervor. And others might take a good amount of convincing about you as well—­about where your true loyalties lie and how you have demonstrated them over the years.”

   He wanted to bash Murtaugh’s teeth down his throat, if only because he was right. “Who ­else of Orlon’s inner circle is still alive?”

   Murtaugh named four. Ren quickly added, “We heard they ­were in hiding for years—­always moving around, like us. They might not be easy to find.”

   Four. Aedion’s stomach dropped. “That’s it?” He’d been in Terrasen, but he’d never looked for an exact body count, never wanted to know who made it through the bloodshed and slaughter, or who had sacrificed everything to get a child, a friend, a family member out. Of course he’d known deep down, but there had always been some fool’s hope that most were still alive, still waiting to return.

   “I’m sorry, Aedion,” Murtaugh said softly. “Some minor lords escaped, and even managed to hold onto their lands and keep them thriving.” Aedion knew and hated most of them—self-serving pigs. Murtaugh went on. “Vernon Lochan survived, but only because he was already the king’s puppet, and after Cal was executed, Vernon seized his brother’s mantle as Lord of Perranth. You know what happened to Lady Marion. But we never learned what happened to Elide.” Elide—­Lord Cal and Lady Marion’s daughter and heir, almost a year younger than Aelin. If she ­were alive, she would be at least seventeen by now. “Lots of children vanished in the initial weeks,” Murtaugh finished. Aedion didn’t want to think about those too-­small graves.