Home > Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(11)

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(11)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

The three lords watched in wide-eyed silence. Rowan sat and casually poured the water, then summoned a fifth cup, filled it, and floated it to Evangeline. The girl beamed at the magic and went back to staring out the rain-splattered window. Listening while pretending to be pretty, to be useless and small, as Lysandra had taught her.

Lord Darrow said, “At least your Fae warrior is good for something other than brute violence.”

“If this meeting is interrupted by unfriendly forces,” Aelin said smoothly, “you’ll be glad for that brute violence, Lord Darrow.”

“And what of your particular skill set? Should I be glad of that, too?”

She didn’t care how he’d learned. Aelin cocked her head, choosing each word, forcing herself to think it through for once. “Is there a skill set that you would prefer I possess?”

Darrow smiled. It didn’t reach his eyes. “Some control would do Your Highness well.”

On either side of her, Rowan and Aedion were taut as bowstrings. But if she could keep her temper leashed, then they could—

Your Highness. Not Majesty.

“I’ll take that into consideration,” she said with a little smile of her own. “As for why my court and I wished to meet with you today—”

“Court?” Lord Darrow raised his silver brows. Then he slowly raked his stare over Lysandra, then Aedion, and finally Rowan. Ren was gaping at them all, something like longing—and dismay—on his face. “This is what you consider a court?”

“Obviously, the court will be expanded once we’re in Orynth—”

“And for that matter, I do not see how there can even be a court, as you are not yet queen.”

She kept her chin high. “I’m not sure I catch your meaning.”

Darrow sipped from his tankard of ale. The plunk as he set it down echoed through the room. Beside him, Murtaugh had gone still as death. “Any ruler of Terrasen must be approved by the ruling families of each territory.”

Ice, cold and ancient, cracked through her veins. Aelin wished she could blame it on the thing hanging from her neck.

“Are you telling me,” she said too quietly, fire flickering in her gut, dancing along her tongue, “that even though I am the last living Galathynius, my throne does not yet belong to me?”

She felt Rowan’s attention fix upon her face, but she didn’t look away from Lord Darrow.

“I am telling you, Princess, that while you might be the last living direct descendant of Brannon, there are other possibilities, other directions to go in, should you be deemed unfit.”

“Weylan, please,” Murtaugh cut in. “We did not accept the offer to meet for this. It was to discuss rebuilding, to help her and work with her.”

They all ignored him.

“Other possibilities such as yourself?” Aelin asked Darrow. Smoke curled in her mouth. She swallowed it down, nearly choking on it.

Darrow didn’t so much as flinch. “You can hardly expect us to allow a nineteen-year-old assassin to parade into our kingdom and start yapping orders, regardless of her bloodline.”

Think it through, take a deep breath. Men, money, support from your already-broken people. That’s what Darrow offers, what you can stand to gain, if you just control your rutting temper.

She stifled the fire in her veins into murmuring embers. “I understand that my personal history might be considered problematic—”

“I find everything about you, Princess, to be problematic. The least of which is your choice in friends and court members. Can you explain to me why a common whore is in your company and being passed as a lady? Or why one of Maeve’s minions is now sitting at your side?” He tossed a sneer in Rowan’s direction. “Prince Rowan, is it?” He must have pieced it together from what the messenger had whispered in his ear upon arriving. “Oh, yes, we’ve heard of you. What an interesting turn of events, that when our kingdom is weakest and its heir so young, one of Maeve’s most trusted warriors manages to gain a foothold, after so many years of gazing at our kingdom with such longing. Or perhaps the better question is, why serve at Maeve’s feet when you could rule beside Princess Aelin?”

It took considerable effort to keep her fingers from curling into fists. “Prince Rowan is my carranam. He is above any doubt.”

“Carranam. A long-forgotten term. What other things did Maeve teach you in Doranelle this spring?”

She bit back her retort as Rowan’s hand grazed hers beneath the table—his face bored, uninterested. The calm of a feral, frozen storm. Permission to speak, Majesty?

She had a feeling Rowan would very, very much enjoy the task of shredding Darrow into little pieces. She also had the feeling that she’d very, very much enjoy joining him.

Aelin gave a slight nod, at a loss for words herself as she struggled to keep her flames at bay.

Honestly, she felt slightly bad for Darrow as the Fae Prince gave him a look laced with three hundred years of cold violence. “Are you accusing me of taking the blood oath to my queen with dishonor?”

Nothing human, nothing merciful in those words.

To his credit, Darrow didn’t shrink. Rather, he raised his brows at Aedion, then turned and shook his head at Aelin. “You gave away the sacred oath to this … male?”

Ren gaped a bit as he surveyed Aedion, that scar stark against his tan skin. She had not been there to protect him from it. Or to protect Ren’s sisters when their magic academy became a slaughterhouse during Adarlan’s invasion. Aedion caught Ren’s surprise and subtly shook his head, as if to say, I’ll explain later.

But Rowan leaned back in his chair with a faint smile—and it was a horrifying, terrible thing. “I have known many princesses with kingdoms to inherit, Lord Darrow, and I can tell you that absolutely none of them were ever stupid enough to allow a male to manipulate them that way, least of all my queen. But if I were going to scheme my way onto a throne, I’d pick a far more peaceful and prosperous kingdom.” He shrugged. “But I do not think my brother and sister in this room would allow me to live for very long if they suspected I meant their queen ill—or their kingdom.”

Aedion gave a grim nod, but beside him, Lysandra straightened—not in anger or surprise, but pride. It broke Aelin’s heart as much as it lightened it.

Aelin smiled slowly at Darrow, flames banking. “How long did it take you to come up with a list of every possible thing to insult me with and accuse me of during this meeting?”

Darrow ignored her and jerked his chin at Aedion. “You’re rather quiet tonight.”

“I don’t think you particularly want to hear my thoughts right now, Darrow,” Aedion replied.

“Your blood oath is stolen by a foreign prince, your queen is an assassin who appoints common whores to serve her, and yet you have nothing to say?”

Aedion’s chair groaned, and Aelin dared a look—to find him gripping the sides of it so hard his knuckles were white.

Lysandra, though stiff-backed, did not give Darrow the pleasure of blushing with shame.

And she was done. Sparks danced at her fingertips beneath the table.

But Darrow went on before Aelin could speak or incinerate the room. “Perhaps, Aedion, if you hope to still gain an official position in Terrasen, you could see if your kin in Wendlyn have reconsidered the betrothal proposition of so many years ago. See if they’ll recognize you as family. What a difference it might have made, if you and our beloved Princess Aelin had been betrothed—if Wendlyn had not rejected the offer to formally unite our kingdoms, likely at Maeve’s behest.” A smile in Rowan’s direction.

Her world tilted a bit. Even Aedion had paled. No one had ever hinted that there had been an official attempt at betrothing them. Or that the Ashryvers had truly left Terrasen to war and ruin.

“Whatever will the adoring masses say of their savior princess,” Darrow mused, putting his hands flat on the table, “when they hear of how she has spent her time while they suffered?” A slap in the face, one after another. “But,” Darrow added, “you’ve always been good at whoring yourself out, Aedion. Though I wonder if Princess Aelin knows what—”

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