Home > Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(12)

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(12)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

Aelin lunged.

Not with flame, but steel.

The dagger shuddering between Darrow’s fingers flickered with the light of the crackling hearth.

She snarled in the old man’s face, Rowan and Aedion half out of their chairs, Ren reaching for a weapon, but looking sick—sick at the sight of the ghost leopard now sitting where Lysandra had been a moment ago.

Murtaugh gaped at the shape-shifter. But Darrow glared at Aelin, his face white with rage.

“You want to sling insults at me, Darrow, then go ahead,” Aelin hissed, her nose almost touching his. “But you insult my own again, and I won’t miss next time.” She flicked her eyes to the dagger between the old man’s splayed fingers, a hairsbreadth separating the blade from his speckled flesh.

“I see you inherited your father’s temper,” Darrow sneered. “Is this how you plan to rule? When you don’t like someone, you’ll threaten them?” He slid his hand from the blade and pulled back far enough to cross his arms. “What would Orlon think of this behavior, this bullying?”

“Choose your words wisely, Darrow,” Aedion warned.

Darrow lifted his brows. “All the work I have done, all that I have sacrificed these past ten years, has been in Orlon’s name, to honor him and to save his kingdom—my kingdom. I do not plan to let a spoiled, arrogant child destroy that with her temper tantrums. Did you enjoy the riches of Rifthold these years, Princess? Was it very easy to forget us in the North when you were buying clothes and serving the monster who butchered your family and friends?”

Men, and money, and a unified Terrasen.

“Even your cousin, despite his whoring, helped us in the North. And Ren Allsbrook”—a wave of the hand in Ren’s direction—“while you were living in luxury, did you know that Ren and his grandfather were scraping together every copper they could, all to find a way to keep the rebel effort alive? That they squatted in shanties and slept under horses?”

“That’s enough,” Aedion said.

“Let him go on,” Aelin said, sitting back in her seat and crossing her arms.

“What else is there to say, Princess? Do you think the people of Terrasen will be glad to have a queen who served their enemy? Who shared a bed with the son of their enemy?”

Lysandra snarled softly, rattling the glasses.

Darrow was unfazed. “And a queen who now undoubtedly shares a bed with a Fae Prince who served the other enemy at our backs—what do you suppose our people will make of that?”

She didn’t want to know how Darrow had guessed, what he’d read between them.

“Who shares my bed,” she said, “is none of your concern.”

“And that is why you are not fit to rule. Who shares the queen’s bed is everyone’s concern. Will you lie to our people about your past, deny that you served the deposed king—and served his son, too, in a different manner?”

Beneath the table, Rowan’s hand shot out to grip her own, his fingers coated in ice that soothed the fire starting to flicker at her nails. Not in warning or reprimand—just to tell her that he, too, was struggling with the effort to keep from using the pewter food platter to smash in Darrow’s face.

So she didn’t break Darrow’s stare, even as she laced her fingers with Rowan’s.

“I will tell my people,” Aelin said quietly but not weakly, “the entire truth. I will show them the scars on my back from Endovier, the scars on my body from my years as Celaena Sardothien, and I will tell them that the new King of Adarlan is not a monster. I will tell them that we have one enemy: the bastard down in Morath. And Dorian Havilliard is the only chance for survival—and future peace between our two kingdoms.”

“And if he is not? Will you shatter his stone castle as you shattered the glass one?”

Chaol had mentioned this—months ago. She should have considered it more, that ordinary humans might demand checks against her power. Against the power of the court gathering around her. But let Darrow believe she’d shattered the glass castle; let him believe she’d killed the king. Better than the potentially disastrous truth.

“Should you still wish to be a part of Terrasen,” Darrow continued when none of them replied, “I’m sure Aedion can find some use for you in the Bane. But I will have no use for you in Orynth.”

She flicked her brows up. “Is there anything else that you have to say to me?”

His gray eyes turned flinty. “I do not recognize your right to rule; I do not recognize you as the rightful Queen of Terrasen. Neither do the Lords Sloane, Ironwood, and Gunnar, who make up the remaining surviving majority of what was once your uncle’s court. Even if the Allsbrook family sides with you, that is still one vote against four. General Ashryver has no lands or title here—and no say as a result. As for Lady Lysandra, Caraverre is not a recognized territory, nor do we recognize her lineage or your purchase of those lands.” Formal words, for a formal declaration. “Should you return to Orynth and seize your throne without our invitation, it will be considered an act of war and treason.” Darrow pulled a piece of paper from his jacket—lots of fancy writing and four different signatures on the bottom. “As of this moment, until it is otherwise decided, you shall remain a princess by blood—but not queen.”

5

Aelin stared and stared at that piece of paper, at the names that had been signed long before tonight, the men who had decided against her without meeting her, the men who had changed her future, her kingdom, with just their signatures.

Perhaps she should have waited to call this meeting until she was in Orynth—until her people saw her return and it would have been harder to kick her to the curb of the palace.

Aelin breathed, “Our doom gathers in the South of Adarlan—yet this is what you focus on?”

Darrow sneered, “When we have need of your … skill set, we will send word.”

No fire burned in her, not even an ember. As if Darrow had clenched it in his fist, snuffed it out.

“The Bane,” Aedion said with a hint of that legendary insolence, “will answer to none but Aelin Galathynius.”

“The Bane,” Darrow spat, “is now ours to command. In the event that there is no fit ruler on the throne, the lords control the armies of Terrasen.” He again surveyed Aelin, as if sensing the vague plan to publicly return to her city, to make it harder for him to shut her out, glimmering as it formed. “Set foot in Orynth, girl, and you will pay.”

“Is that a threat?” Aedion snarled, a hand darting to grip the hilt of the Sword of Orynth sheathed at his side.

“It is the law,” Darrow said simply. “One generations of Galathynius rulers have honored.”

There was such a roaring in her head, and such a still emptiness in the world beyond.

“The Valg march on us—a Valg king marches on us,” Aedion pushed, the general incarnate. “And your queen, Darrow, might be the only person capable of keeping them at bay.”

“War is a game of numbers, not magic. You know this, Aedion. You fought at Theralis.” The great plain before Orynth, host to the final, doomed battle as the empire had swept down upon them. Most of Terrasen’s forces and commanders had not walked away from the bloodbath, so thorough streams ran red for days afterward. If Aedion had fought in it … Gods, he must have been barely fourteen. Her stomach turned. Darrow concluded, “Magic failed us once before. We will not trust in it again.”

Aedion snapped, “We will need allies—”

“There are no allies,” Darrow said. “Unless Her Highness decides to be useful and gain us men and arms through marriage”—a sharp glance at Rowan—“we are alone.”

Aelin debated revealing what she knew, the money she’d schemed and killed to attain, but—

Something cold and oily clanged through her. Marriage to a foreign king or prince or emperor.

Would this be the cost? Not just in blood shed, but in dreams yielded? To be a princess eternal, but never a queen? To fight with not just magic, but the other power in her blood: royalty.

She could not look at Rowan, could not face those pine-green eyes without being sick.

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