Before she could think more on that interesting, different way of describing death, Rowan said, “You had no siblings.”
She focused on her work as she let out the thinnest tendril of memory. “My mother, thanks to her Fae heritage, had a difficult time with the pregnancy. She stopped breathing during labor. They said it was my father’s will that kept her tethered to this world. I don’t know if she even could have conceived again after that. So, no siblings. But—” Gods, she should shut her mouth. “But I had a cousin. He was five years older than me, and we fought and loved each other like siblings.”
Aedion. She hadn’t spoken that name aloud in ten years. But she’d heard it, and seen it in papers. She had to set down the needle and mallet and flex her fingers. “I don’t know what happened, but they started saying his name—as a skilled general in the king’s army.”
She had failed Aedion so unforgivably that she couldn’t bring herself to blame or detest him for what he’d become. She’d avoided learning any details about what, exactly, he’d done in the north all these years. Aedion had been fiercely, wildly loyal to Terrasen as a child. She didn’t want to know what he’d been forced to do, what had happened to him, to change that. It was by luck or fate or something else entirely that he had never been in the castle when she was there. Because not only would he have recognized her, but if he knew what she had done with her life . . . his hatred would make Rowan’s look pleasant, probably.
Rowan’s features were set in a mask of contemplation as she said, “I think facing my cousin after everything would be the worst of it—worse than facing the king.” There was nothing she could say or do to atone for what she’d become while their kingdom fell into ruin and their people were slaughtered or enslaved.
“Keep working,” Rowan said, jerking his chin at the tools sitting in her lap. She obeyed, and he hissed again at the first prick. “Do you think,” he said after a moment, “your cousin would kill you or help you? An army like his could change the tide of any war.”
A chill went down her spine at that word—war. “I don’t know what he would think of me, or where his loyalties lie. And I’d rather not know. Ever.”
Though their eyes were identical, their bloodlines were distant enough that she’d heard servants and courtiers alike pondering the usefulness of a Galathynius-Ashryver union someday. The idea was as laughable now as it had been ten years ago.
“Do you have cousins?” she asked.
“Too many. Mora’s line was always the most widespread, and my meddlesome, gossiping cousins make my visits to Doranelle . . . irksome.” She smiled a little at the thought. “You’d probably get along with my cousins,” he said. “Especially with the snooping.”
She paused her inking and squeezed his hand hard enough to hurt anyone but an immortal. “You’re one to talk, Prince. I’ve never been asked so many questions in my life.”
Not quite true, but not quite an exaggeration, either. No one had ever asked her these questions. And she’d never told anyone the answers.
He bared his teeth, though she knew he didn’t mean it, and glanced meaningfully at his wrist. “Hurry up, Princess. I want to go to bed at some point before dawn.”
She used her free hand to make a particularly vulgar gesture, and he caught it with his own, teeth still out. “That is not very queenly.”
“Then it’s good I’m not a queen, isn’t it?”
But he wouldn’t let go of her hand. “You have sworn to free your friend’s kingdom and save the world—but will not even consider your own lands. What scares you about seizing your birthright? The king? Facing what remains of your court?” He kept his face so close to hers that she could see the flecks of brown in his green eyes. “Give me one good reason why you won’t take back your throne. One good reason, and I’ll keep my mouth shut about it.”
She weighed the earnestness in his gaze, his breathing, and then said, “Because if I free Eyllwe and destroy the king as Celaena, I can go anywhere after that. The crown . . . my crown is just another set of shackles.”
It was selfish and horrible, but it was true. Nehemia, long ago, had once said as much—it was her most ardent and selfish wish to be ordinary, without the weight of her crown. Had her friend known how deeply those words had echoed in her?
She waited for the scolding, saw it simmering in Rowan’s eyes. But then he quietly said, “What do you mean, another set of shackles?”
He loosened his grip to reveal the two thin bands of scars that wrapped around her wrist. His mouth tightened, and she yanked her wrist back hard enough that he let go.
“Nothing,” she said. “Arobynn, my master, liked to use them for training every now and then.” Arobynn had chained her to make her learn how to get free. But the shackles at Endovier had been crafted with people like her in mind. It wasn’t until Chaol had removed them that she’d gotten out.
She didn’t want Rowan knowing that—any of it. Anger and hatred she could handle, but pity . . . And she couldn’t talk about Chaol, couldn’t explain just how much he had rebuilt and then shattered her heart, not without explaining Endovier. Not without explaining how one day, she didn’t know how distant, she was going back to Endovier and freeing them all. Each and every slave, even if she had to unshackle them all herself.
Celaena went back to her work, and Rowan’s face remained tight—as if he could smell her half truth. “Why did you stay with Arobynn?”
“I knew I wanted two things: First, to disappear from the world and from my enemies, but . . . ah.” It was hard to look him in the eye. “I wanted to hide from myself, mostly. I convinced myself I should disappear, because the second thing I wanted, even then, was to be able to someday . . . hurt people the way I had been hurt. And it turned out that I was very, very good at it.
“If he had tossed me away, I would either have died or wound up with the rebels. If I had grown up with them, I probably would have been found by the king and slaughtered. Or I would have grown up so hateful that I would have been killing Adarlanian soldiers from a young age.” His brows rose, and she clicked her tongue. “You thought I was just going to spread my whole history at your feet the moment I met you? I’m sure you have even more stories than I do, so stop looking so surprised. Maybe we should just go back to beating each other into a pulp.”
His eyes gleamed with near-predatory intent. “Oh, not a chance, Princess. You can tell me what you want, when you want, but there’s no going back now.”
She lifted her tools again. “I’m sure your other friends just adore having you around.”