heir of fire- Page 73

   “No better than alley cats, brawling at all hours of the day and night,” Emrys said, slamming two bowls of stew onto the worktable. “Eat, both of you. And then get cleaned up. Elentiya, you’re off kitchen duty to­night and tomorrow.” Celaena opened her mouth to object, but the old man held up a hand. “I don’t want you bleeding on everything. You’ll be more trouble than you’re worth.” Wincing, Celaena slumped next to Rowan on the bench, and swore viciously at the pain in her leg, her face, her arms. Swore at the pain in the ass sitting right next to her. “Clean out your mouth, too, while you’re at it,” Emrys snapped.

   Luca was huddled by the fire, wide-­eyed and making a sharp, cutting gesture across his neck, as if to warn Celaena about something. Even Malakai, seated at the other end of the table with two weathered sentries, was watching her with raised brows.

   Rowan was already hunched over the table, digging into his stew. She glanced again at Luca, who frantically tapped his ears.

   She hadn’t shifted back. And—­well, now they’d all noticed, even with the blood and dirt and leaves. Malakai met her stare, and she dared him—­just dared the old man to say anything. But he shrugged and went back to his meal. So it really ­wasn’t a surprise after all. She took a bite of her stew and had to bite back her moan. Was it her Fae senses, or was it even more delicious to­night?

   Emrys was watching from the hearth, and Celaena gave him that challenging look, too. She punched back through the veil, aching as she shifted into her mortal form. But the old man brought her and Rowan a loaf of bread and said, “Makes no difference to me whether your ears are pointy or round, or what your teeth look like. But,” he added, looking at Rowan, “I ­can’t deny I’m glad to see you got in a few punches this time.”

   Rowan’s head snapped up from his bowl, and Emrys pointed a spoon at him. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough of beating each other into a pulp?” Malakai stiffened, but Emrys went on, “What good does it accomplish, other than providing me with a scullery maid whose face scares the wits out of our sentries? You think any of us like to hear you two cursing and screaming every afternoon? The language you use is enough to curdle all the milk in Wendlyn.”

   Rowan lowered his head and mumbled something into his stew.

   For the first time in a long, long while, Celaena felt the corners of her lips tug up.

   And that was when Celaena walked to the old man—­and got onto her knees. She apologized, profusely. To Emrys, to Luca, to Malakai. Apologized because they deserved it. They accepted, but Emrys still looked wary. Hurt, even. The shame of what she’d said to that man, to all of them, would cling to her for a while.

   Though it made her stomach twist and palms sweat, though they didn’t mention names, she ­wasn’t all that surprised when Emrys told her that he and the other old Fae knew who she was, and that her mother had worked to help them. But she was surprised when Rowan took a spot at the sink and helped clean up after the eve­ning meal.

   They worked in an easy silence. There ­were still truths she hadn’t confessed to, stains on her soul she ­couldn’t yet explore or express. But maybe—­maybe he ­wouldn’t walk away whenever she did find the courage to tell him.

   At the table, Luca was grinning with delight. Just seeing that smile—­that bit of proof that today’s events hadn’t scarred him completely—­made Celaena look at Emrys and say, “We had an adventure today.”

   Malakai set down his spoon and said, “Let me guess: it had something to do with that roar that sent the livestock into pandemonium.”

   Though Celaena didn’t smile, her eyes crinkled. “What do you know of a creature that dwells in the lake under . . .” She glanced at Rowan to finish.

   “Bald Mountain. And he ­can’t know that story,” Rowan said. “No one does.”

   “I am a Story Keeper,” Emrys said, staring down at him with all the wrath of one of the iron figurines on the mantel. “And that means that the tales I collect might not come from Fae or human mouths, but I hear them anyway.” He sat down at the table, folding his hands in front of him. “I heard one story, years ago, from a fool who thought he could cross the Cambrian Mountains and enter Maeve’s realm without invitation. He was on his way back, barely clinging to life thanks to Maeve’s wild wolves in the passes, so we brought him ­here while we sent for the healers.”

   Malakai murmured, “So that’s why you ­wouldn’t give him a moment’s peace.” A twinkle in those old eyes, and Emrys gave his mate a wry smile.

   “He had a fierce infection, so at the time I thought it might have been a fever dream, but he told me he found a cave at the base of the Bald Mountain. He camped there, because it was raining and cold and he planned to be off at first light. Still, he felt like something was watching him from the lake. He drifted off, and awoke only because the ripples ­were lapping against the shore—­ripples from the center of the lake. And just beyond the light of his fire, out in the deep, he spied something swimming. Bigger than a tree or any beast he’d ever seen.”

   “Oh, it was horrific,” Luca cut in.

   “You said you ­were out with Bas and the other scouts on border patrol today!” Emrys barked, then gave Rowan a look that suggested he’d better test his next meal for poison.

   Emrys cleared his throat and was soon staring at the table again, lost in thought. “What the fool learned that night was this: the creature was almost as old as the mountain itself. It claimed to have been born in another world, but had slipped into this one when the gods ­were looking elsewhere. It had preyed upon Fae and humans until a mighty Fae warrior challenged it. And before the warrior was through, he carved one of the creature’s eyes out—­for spite or sport—­and cursed the beast, so that as long as that mountain stood, the creature would be forced to live beneath it.”

   A monster from another realm. Had it been let in during the Valg wars, when demons had opened and closed portals to another world at will? How many of the horrific creatures that dwelled in this land ­were only ­here because of those long-­ago battles over the Wyrdkeys?

   “So it has dwelled in the labyrinth of underwater caves under the mountain. It has no name—­for it forgot what it was called long ago, and those who meet it do not return home.”

   Celaena rubbed her arms, wincing as the split skin of her knuckles stretched with the movement. Rowan was staring directly at Emrys, his head cocked ever so slightly to the side. Rowan glanced at her, as if to make sure she was listening, and asked, “Who was the warrior who carved out its eye?”

   “The fool didn’t know, and neither did the beast. But the language it spoke was Fae—­an archaic form of the Old Language, almost indecipherable. It could remember the gold ring he bore, but not what he looked like.”