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Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(8)
Author: Sarah J. Maas


She had slaughtered and fought and nearly died again and again for the past ten years. Yet he knew she would balk at sending soldiers—at sending him—to fight.

That, above all else, would be her first test as queen.

But before that … this meeting. “You remember everything I told you about them?”

Aelin gave him a flat look. “Yes, I remember everything, cousin.” She poked him hard in the ribs, right where the still-healing tattoo Rowan had inked on him three days ago now lay. All their names, entwined in a complex Terrasen knot right near his heart. Aedion winced as she jabbed the sore flesh, and he batted away her hand as she recited, “Murtaugh was a farmer’s son, but married Ren’s grandmother. Though he wasn’t born into the Allsbrook line, he still commands the seat, despite his insistence that Ren take up the title.” She looked skyward. “Darrow is the wealthiest landowner after yours truly, and more than that, he holds sway over the few surviving lords, mostly through his years of carefully handling Adarlan during the occupation.” She gave him a glare sharp enough to slice skin.

Aedion lifted his hands. “Can you blame me for wanting to make sure this goes smoothly?”

She shrugged but didn’t bite his head off.

“Darrow was your uncle’s lover,” he added, stretching his legs out before him. “For decades. He’s never spoken once to me about your uncle, but … they were very close, Aelin. Darrow didn’t publicly mourn Orlon beyond what was required after the passing of a king, but he became a different man afterward. He’s a hard bastard now, but still a fair one. Much of what he’s done has been out of his unfading love for Orlon—and for Terrasen. His own maneuvering kept us from becoming completely starved and destitute. Remember that.” Indeed, Darrow had long straddled a line between serving the King of Adarlan and undermining him.

“I. Know,” she said tightly. Pushing too far—that tone was likely her first and last warning that he was starting to piss her off. He’d spent many of the miles they’d traveled these past few days telling her about Ren, and Murtaugh, and Darrow. Aedion knew she could likely now recite their land holdings, what crops and livestock and goods they yielded, their ancestors, and dead and surviving family members from this past decade. But pushing her about it one last time, making sure she knew … He couldn’t shut the instincts down to ensure it all went well. Not when so much was at stake.

From where he’d been perched on a high branch to monitor the forest, Rowan clicked his beak and flapped into the rain, sailing through his shield as if it parted for him.

Aedion eased to his feet, scanning the forest, listening. Only the trickle of rain on leaves filled his ears. Lysandra stretched, baring her long teeth as she did so, her needlelike claws slipping free and glinting in the firelight.

Until Rowan gave the all clear—until it was just those lords and no one else—the safety protocols they’d established would hold.

Evangeline, as they had taught her, crept to the fire. The flames pulled apart like drawn curtains to allow her and Fleetfoot, sensing the child’s fear and pressing close, passage to an inner ring that would not burn her. But would melt the bones of their enemies.

Aelin merely glanced at Aedion in silent order, and he stepped toward the western side of the fire, Lysandra taking up a spot at the southern point. Aelin took the northern but gazed west—toward where Rowan had flapped away.

A dry, hot breeze flowed through their little bubble, and sparks danced like fireflies at Aelin’s fingers, her hand hanging casually at her side. The other gripped Goldryn, the ruby in its hilt bright as an ember.

Leaves rustled and branches snapped, and the Sword of Orynth gleamed gold and red in the light of Aelin’s flames as he drew it free. He angled the ancient dagger Rowan had gifted him in his other hand. Rowan had been teaching Aedion—teaching all of them, really—about the Old Ways these weeks. About the long-forgotten traditions and codes of the Fae, mostly abandoned even in Maeve’s court. But reborn here, and enacted now, as they fell into the roles and duties that they had sorted out and decided for themselves.

Rowan emerged from the rain in his Fae form, his silver hair plastered to his head, his tattoo stark on his tan face. No sign of the lords.

But Rowan held his hunting knife against the bared throat of a young, slender-nosed man and escorted him toward the fire—the stranger’s travel-stained, soaked clothes bearing Darrow’s crest of a striking badger.

“A messenger,” Rowan ground out.

 

 

Aelin decided right then and there she didn’t particularly enjoy surprises.

The messenger’s blue eyes were wide, but his rain-slick, freckled face was calm. Steady. Even as he took in Lysandra, her fangs gilded with firelight. Even as Rowan nudged him forward, that cruel knife still angled at his throat.

Aedion jerked his chin at Rowan. “He can’t very well deliver the message with a blade at his windpipe.”

Rowan lowered his weapon, but the Fae Prince didn’t sheathe his knife. Didn’t move more than a foot from the man.

Aedion demanded, “Where are they?”

The man bowed swiftly to her cousin. “At a tavern, four miles from here, General—”

The words died as Aelin at last stepped around the curve of the fire. She kept it burning high, kept Evangeline and Fleetfoot ensconced within. The messenger let out a small noise.

He knew. With the way he kept glancing between her and Aedion, seeing the same eyes, the same hair color … he knew. And as if the thought had hit him, the messenger bowed.

Aelin watched the way the man lowered his eyes, watched the exposed back of his neck, his skin shining with rain. Her magic simmered in response. And that thing—that hideous power hanging between her breasts—seemed to open an ancient eye at all the commotion.

The messenger stiffened, wide-eyed at Lysandra’s silent approach, her whiskers twitching as she sniffed at his wet clothes. He was smart enough to remain still.

“Is the meeting canceled?” Aedion said tightly, scanning the woods again.

The man winced. “No, General—but they want you to come to the tavern where they’re staying. Because of the rain.”

Aedion rolled his eyes. “Go tell Darrow to drag his carcass out here. Water won’t kill him.”

“It’s not Lord Darrow,” the man said quickly. “With all due respect, Lord Murtaugh’s slowed down this summer. Lord Ren didn’t want him out in the dark and rain.”

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