Home > Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)(8)

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

“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—”

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.”

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