heir of fire- Page 91

   Rowan’s face was drawn, but she went on. “When they would let me out, so much of my mind had shut down in the darkness that the only thing I could remember was that my name was Celaena. Celaena Sardothien, arrogant and brave and skilled, Celaena who did not know fear or despair, Celaena who was a weapon honed by Death.” She ran a shaking hand through her hair. “I don’t usually let myself think about that part of Endovier,” she admitted. “After I got out, there ­were nights when I would wake up and think I was back in those cells, and I would have to light every candle in my room to prove I ­wasn’t. They don’t just kill you in the mines—­they break you.

   “There are thousands of slaves in Endovier, and a good number are from Terrasen. Regardless of what I do with my birthright, I’m going to find a way to free them someday. I will free them. Them, and all the slaves in Calaculla, too. So my scars serve as a reminder of that.”

   She’d never said it, but there it was. Once she dealt with the King of Adarlan, if destroying him somehow didn’t put an end to the labor camps, she would. Stone by stone, if necessary.

   Rowan asked, “What happened ten years ago, Aelin?”

   “I’m not going to talk about that.”

   “If you took up your crown, you could free Endovier far more easily than—”

   “I ­can’t talk about it.”

   “Why?”

   There was a pit in the memory—­a pit she ­couldn’t climb out of if she ever fell in. It ­wasn’t her parents’ deaths. She had been able to tell others in vague terms about their murders. That pain was still staggering, still haunted her. But waking up between their corpses ­wasn’t the moment that had shattered everything Aelin Galathynius was and might have been. In the back of her mind, she heard another woman’s voice, lovely and frantic, another woman who—

   She rubbed her brows again. “There is this . . . rage,” she said hoarsely. “This despair and hatred and rage that lives and breathes inside me. There is no sanity to it, no gentleness. It is a monster dwelling under my skin. For the past ten years, I have worked every day, every hour, to keep that monster locked up. And the moment I talk about those two days, and what happened before and after, that monster is going to break loose, and there will be no accounting for what I do.

   “That is how I was able to stand before the King of Adarlan, how I was able to befriend his son and his captain, how I was able to live in that palace. Because I did not give that rage, those memories, one inch. And right now I am looking for the tools that might destroy my enemy, and I cannot let out the monster, because it will make me use those tools against the king, not put them back as I should—­and I might very well destroy the world for spite. So that is why I must be Celaena, not Aelin—­because being Aelin means facing those things, and unleashing that monster. Do you understand?”

   “For what­ever it’s worth, I don’t think you would destroy the world from spite.” His voice turned hard. “But I also think you like to suffer. You collect scars because you want proof that you are paying for what­ever sins you’ve committed. And I know this because I’ve been doing the same damn thing for two hundred years. Tell me, do you think you will go to some blessed Afterworld, or do you expect a burning hell? You’re hoping for hell—­because how could you face them in the Afterworld? Better to suffer, to be damned for eternity and—”

   “That’s enough,” she whispered. She must have sounded as miserable and small as she felt, because he turned back to the worktable. She shut her eyes, but her heart was thundering.

   She didn’t know how much time passed. After a while, the mattress shifted and groaned, and a warm body pressed against hers. Not holding her, just lying beside her. She didn’t open her eyes, but she breathed in the smell of him, the pine and snow, and her pain settled a bit.

   “At least if you’re going to hell,” he said, the vibrations in his chest rumbling against her, “then we’ll be there together.”

   “I feel bad for the dark god already.” He brushed a large hand down her hair, and she almost purred. She hadn’t realized just how much she missed being touched—­by anyone, friend or lover. “When I’m back to normal, can I assume you’re going to yell at me about almost burning out?”

   He let out a soft laugh but continued stroking her hair. “You have no idea.”

   She smiled against the pillow, and his hand stilled for a moment—­then started again.

   After a long while he murmured, “I have no doubt that you’ll be able to free the slaves from the labor camps some day. No matter what name you use.”

   Her eyes burned behind their lids, but she leaned into his touch some more, even going so far as to put a hand on his broad chest, savoring the steady, assured heartbeat pounding beneath.

   “Thank you for looking after me,” she said. He grunted—­acceptance or dismissal, she didn’t know. Sleep tugged at her, and she followed it into oblivion.

   •

   Rowan kept her cooped up in his room for a few more days, and even once she told him she was feeling fine, he made her spend an extra half day in bed. She supposed it was nice, having someone, even an overbearing, snarling Fae warrior, bothering to care whether she lived or died.

   Her birthday arrived—­nineteen somehow felt rather dull—­and her sole present was that Rowan left her alone for a few hours. He came back with the news of another demi-­Fae corpse found near the coast. She asked him to let her see it, but he flat-­out refused (barked at her was more like it) and said he’d already gone to see it himself. It was the same pattern: a dried nosebleed, a body drained until only a husk remained, and then a careless dumping. He’d also gone back to that town—­where they had been more than happy to see him, since he’d brought gold and silver.

   And he’d returned to Celaena with chocolates, since he claimed to be insulted that she considered his absence a proper birthday present. She tried to embrace him, but he would have none of that, and told her as much. Still, the next time she used the bathing room, she’d snuck behind his chair at the worktable and planted a great, smacking kiss on his cheek. He’d waved her off and wiped his face with a snarl, but she had the suspicion that he’d let her get past his defenses.

   •

   It was a mistake to think that finally going back outdoors would be delightful.

   Celaena was standing across a mossy clearing from Rowan, her knees slightly bent, hands in loose fists. Rowan hadn’t told her to, but she’d gotten into a defensive position upon seeing the faint gleam in his eyes.

   Rowan only looked like this when he was about to make her life a living hell. And since they hadn’t gone to the temple ruins, she assumed he thought she’d at least mastered one element of her power, despite the events of Beltane. Which meant they ­were on to mastering the next.