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"ROYAL ASSASSIN" SEASON 3, EPISODE 24"


ROYAL ASSASSIN

Season 3

Episode 24

It was far too easy to lie to his men about the bruises and cuts on his face when Chaol returned to the castle—­an unfortunate incident with a drunk vagrant in Rifthold. Enduring the lies and the injuries was better than being carrion. Chaol’s bargain with Aedion and the rebels had been simple: information for information.


He’d promised more information about their queen, as well as about the king’s black rings, in exchange for what they knew regarding the king’s power. It had kept him alive that night, and every night afterward, when he’d waited for them to change their minds. But they never came for him, and to­night, he and Aedion waited until well past twelve before slipping into Celaena’s old rooms.


It was the first time he’d dared return to the tomb since that night with Celaena and Dorian, and the skull-­shaped bronze knocker, Mort, didn’t move or speak at all. Even though Chaol wore the Eye of Elena at his throat, the knocker remained frozen. Perhaps Mort only answered to those with Brannon Galathynius’s blood in their veins.


So he and Aedion combed through the tomb, the dusty halls, scouring every inch for signs of spies or ways to be discovered. When they ­were at last satisfied that no one could overhear them, Aedion said, “Tell me what I’m doing down ­here, Captain.”


The general had shown no awe or surprise as Chaol had led him into Elena and Gavin’s resting place, though his eyes had widened slightly at Damaris. But whether or not Aedion knew what it was, he’d said nothing. For all his brashness and arrogance, Chaol had a feeling the man had many, many secrets—­and was damn good at concealing them.


It was the other reason why he’d offered the bargain to Aedion and his companions: if the prince’s gifts ­were discovered, Dorian would need somewhere to hide, and someone to get him to safety if Chaol ­were incapacitated. Chaol said, “Are you prepared to share what­ever information you’ve gathered from your allies?”


Aedion gave him a lazy grin. “So long as you share yours.”


Chaol prayed to any god that would listen that he ­wasn’t making the wrong move as he pulled the Eye of Elena from his tunic. “Your Queen gave this necklace to me when she left for Wendlyn. It belonged to her ancestor—­who summoned her ­here, to give it to her.” Aedion’s eyes narrowed as he took in the amulet, the blue stone shimmering in the moonlight. “What I am about to tell you,” Chaol said, “changes everything.”


Dorian stood in the shadows of the stairwell, listening. Listening, and not quite wanting to accept that Chaol was in the tomb with Aedion Ashryver.


That had been the first shock. For the past week, he’d been creeping down ­here to hunt for answers after his explosion with Sorscha. Especially now that she had lied through her teeth and risked everything to keep his secret—­and to help him find a way to control it.


To­night he’d been horrified to find the secret door left slightly ajar. He shouldn’t have come, but he’d done it anyway, making up an easy list of lies to tell should he find an unfriendly face down ­here. Then he’d gotten close enough to hear the two male voices and almost fled . . . Almost, until he’d realized who was talking.


It was impossible, because they hated each other. Yet there they ­were, in Elena’s tomb. Allies. It was enough, too much. But then he’d heard it—­heard what Chaol said to the general, so quietly it was barely audible. “Your Queen gave this necklace to me when she left for Wendlyn.”


It was a mistake. It had to be a mistake, because . . . His chest had become too tight, too small.


You will always be my enemy. That’s what Celaena had screamed at Chaol the night Nehemia died. And she’d said—­said that she’d lost people ten years ago, but . . .


But.


Dorian ­couldn’t move as Chaol launched into another story, another truth. About Dorian’s own father. About the power the king wielded. Celaena had discovered it. Celaena was trying to find a way to destroy it.


His father had made that thing they’d fought in the library catacombs—­that monstrous thing that had seemed human. Wyrdkeys. Wyrdgates. Wyrd-­stone.


They had lied to him, too. They had decided he ­wasn’t to be trusted. Celaena and Chaol—­they’d decided against him. Chaol had known who and what Celaena truly was.


It was why he’d sent her to Wendlyn—­why he’d gotten her out of the castle. Dorian was still frozen on the stairs when Aedion slipped out of the tomb, sword out and looking ready to attack what­ever enemy he’d detected.


Spotting him, Aedion swore, low and viciously, his eyes bright in the glow of his torch.


Celaena’s eyes. Aelin Ashryver—Ashryver—Galathynius’s eyes.


Aedion was her cousin. And he was still loyal to her—­lying through his teeth, through every action, about where his allegiance lay.


Chaol rushed into the hall, a hand lifted beseechingly. “Dorian.”


For a moment, he could only stare at his friend. Then he managed to say, “Why?”


Chaol loosed a breath. “Because the fewer people who know, the safer—­for her, for everyone. For you. They have information that might help you.”


“You think I’d run to my father?” The words ­were barely more than a strangled whisper as the temperature plummeted.


Chaol stepped forward, putting himself between Aedion and Dorian, his palms exposed. Placating. “I ­can’t afford to guess—­to hope. Even with you.”


“How long?” Ice coated his teeth, his tongue.


“She told me about your father before she left. I figured out who she is soon afterward.”


“And you’re working with him now.”


The captain’s breath clouded in front of him. “If we can find a way to free magic, it could save you. They think they might have some answers about what happened, and how to reverse it. But if Aedion and his allies are caught, if she is caught . . . they will die. Your father will put them all down, starting with her. And right now, Dorian, we need them.”


Dorian turned to Aedion. “Are you going to kill my father?”


“Does he not deserve to die?” was the general’s reply.


Dorian could see the captain wincing—­not at the general’s words, but at the cold. “Did you tell him—­about me?” Dorian ground out.


“No,” Aedion answered for Chaol. “Though if you don’t learn to control yourself, there soon won’t be a soul in the realm who ­doesn’t know you have magic.” Aedion slid those heirloom eyes to the captain. “So that’s why you ­were so desperate to trade secrets—­you wanted the information for his sake.” A nod from Chaol. Aedion smirked at Dorian, and ice coated the stairwell. “Does your magic manifest in ice and snow, then, princeling?” the general asked.


“Come closer and find out,” Dorian said with a faint smile. Perhaps he could throw Aedion across the hall, just as he had with that creature.


“Aedion can be trusted, Dorian,” Chaol said.


“He’s as two-­faced as they come. I don’t believe for one heartbeat that he ­wouldn’t sell us out if it meant furthering his own cause.”


“He won’t,” Chaol snapped, cutting off Aedion’s reply. Chaol’s lips went blue from the cold.


Dorian knew he was hurting him—­knew it, and didn’t quite care. “Because you want to be Aedion’s king someday?”


Chaol’s face drained of color, from the cold or from fear, and Aedion barked a laugh. “My queen will die heirless sooner than marry a man from Adarlan.”


Chaol tried to hide his flicker of pain, but Dorian knew his friend well enough to spot it. For a second he wondered what Celaena would think about Aedion’s claim. Celaena, who had lied—­Celaena, who was Aelin, whom he had met ten years ago, whom he had played with in her beautiful castle. And that day in Endovier—­that first day, he had felt as if there ­were something familiar about her . . . Oh gods.


Celaena was Aelin Galathynius. He had danced with her, kissed her, slept beside her, his mortal enemy. I’ll come back for you, she’d said her final day ­here. Even then, he’d known there was something ­else behind it. She would come back, but perhaps not as Celaena. Would it be to help him, or to kill him? Aelin Galathynius knew about his magic—­and wanted to destroy his father, his kingdom. Everything she had ever said or done . . . He’d once thought it had been a charade to win favor as his Champion, but what if it had been because she was the heir of Terrasen? Was that why she was friends with Nehemia? What if, after a year in Endovier . . .


Aelin Galathynius had spent a year in that labor camp. A queen of their continent had been a slave, and would bear the scars of it forever. Perhaps that entitled her, and Aedion, and even Chaol who loved her, to conspire to deceive and betray his father.


“Dorian, please,” Chaol said. “I’m doing this for you—­I swear it.”


“I don’t care,” Dorian said, staring them down as he walked out. “I will carry your secrets to the grave—­but I want no part of them.”


He ripped his cold magic from the air and turned it inward, wrapping it around his heart.


Aedion took the secret subterranean exit out of the castle. He’d told Chaol it was to avoid any suspicion, to lose anyone ­else trailing them as they went back to their rooms. One look from the captain told him he knew precisely where Aedion was headed.


Aedion contemplated what the captain had told him—­and though any other man would be horrified, though Aedion should be horrified . . . he ­wasn’t surprised. He’d suspected the king was wielding some sort of deadly power from the moment he’d given him that ring all those years ago, and it seemed in line with information his spies had long been gathering.


The Yellowlegs Matron had been ­here for a reason. Aedion was willing to bet good money that what­ever monstrosities or weapons the king was creating, they would see them soon enough, perhaps with the witches in tow. Men didn’t build more armies and forge more weapons without having plans to use them. And they certainly didn’t hand out bits of mind-­controlling jewelry unless they wanted absolute do­min­ion. But he would face what was coming just as he had every other trial in his life: precisely, unyieldingly, and with lethal efficiency.


He spotted the two figures waiting in the shadows of a ramshackle building by the docks, the fog off the Avery making them little more than wisps of darkness.


“Well?” Ren demanded as Aedion leaned against a damp brick wall. Ren’s twin swords ­were out. Good Adarlanian steel, nicked and scratched enough to show they’d been used, and well-­oiled enough to show Ren knew how to care for them. They seemed to be the only things Ren cared about—­his hair was shaggy, and his clothes looked a bit worse for wear.


“I already told you: we can trust the captain.” Aedion looked at Murtaugh. “Hello, old man.”


He ­couldn’t see Murtaugh’s face beneath the shadows of his hood, but his voice was too soft as he said, “I hope the information is worth the risks you are taking.”


Aedion snarled. He ­wouldn’t tell them the truth about Aelin, not until she was back at his side and could tell them herself.


Ren took a step closer. He moved with the self-­assurance of someone who was used to fighting. And winning. Still, Aedion had at least three inches and twenty pounds of muscle on him. Should Ren attack, he’d find himself on his ass in a heartbeat. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, Aedion,” Ren said, “but if you don’t tell us where she is, how can we can trust you? And how does the captain know? Does the king have her?”


“No,” Aedion said. It ­wasn’t a lie, but it felt like one. As Celaena, she’d signed her soul to him. “The way I see it, Ren, you and your grandfather have little to offer me—­or Aelin. You don’t have a war band, you don’t have lands, and the captain told me all about your affi­liation with that piece of shit Archer Finn. Do I need to remind you what happened to Nehemia Ytger on your watch? So I’m not going to tell you; you’ll receive information on a need-­to-­know basis.”


Ren started. Murtaugh put an arm between them. “It’s better we don’t know, just in case.”




Ren ­wouldn’t back down, and Aedion’s blood raced at the challenge. “What are we going to tell the court, then?” Ren demanded. “That she’s not some imposter as we ­were led to believe, but actually alive—­yet you won’t tell us where?”


“Yes,” Aedion breathed, wondering just how badly he could bloody up Ren without hurting Murtaugh in the pro­cess. “That’s exactly what you’ll tell them. If you can even find the court.”


Silence. Murtaugh said, “We know Ravi and Sol are still alive and in Suria.”


Aedion knew the story. Their family’s trade business had been too important to the king to warrant executing both their parents. So their father had chosen the execution block, and their mother had been left to keep Suria running as a vital trade port. The two Surian boys would be twenty and twenty-­two by now, and since his mother’s death, Sol had become Lord of Suria. In his years leading the Bane, Aedion had never set foot in the coastal city. He didn’t want to know if they’d damn him. Adarlan’s Whore.


“Will they fight,” Aedion said, “or will they decide they like their gold too much?”


Murtaugh sighed. “I’ve heard Ravi is the wilder one—­he might be the one to convince.”


“I don’t want anyone that we have to convince to join us,” Aedion said.


“You’ll want people who aren’t afraid of Aelin—­or you,” Murtaugh snapped. “You’ll want levelheaded people who won’t hesitate to ask the hard questions. Loyalty is earned, not given.”


“She ­doesn’t have to do a damn thing to earn our loyalty.”


Murtaugh shook his head, his cowl swaying. “For some of us, yes. But others might not be so easily convinced. She has ten years to account for—­and a kingdom in ruin.”


“She was a child.”


“She is a woman now, and has been for a few years. Perhaps she will offer an explanation. But until then, Aedion, you must understand that others might not share your fervor. And others might take a good amount of convincing about you as well—­about where your true loyalties lie and how you have demonstrated them over the years.”


He wanted to bash Murtaugh’s teeth down his throat, if only because he was right. “Who ­else of Orlon’s inner circle is still alive?”


Murtaugh named four. Ren quickly added, “We heard they ­were in hiding for years—­always moving around, like us. They might not be easy to find.”


Four. Aedion’s stomach dropped. “That’s it?” He’d been in Terrasen, but he’d never looked for an exact body count, never wanted to know who made it through the bloodshed and slaughter, or who had sacrificed everything to get a child, a friend, a family member out. Of course he’d known deep down, but there had always been some fool’s hope that most were still alive, still waiting to return.


“I’m sorry, Aedion,” Murtaugh said softly. “Some minor lords escaped, and even managed to hold onto their lands and keep them thriving.” Aedion knew and hated most of them—self-serving pigs. Murtaugh went on. “Vernon Lochan survived, but only because he was already the king’s puppet, and after Cal was executed, Vernon seized his brother’s mantle as Lord of Perranth. You know what happened to Lady Marion. But we never learned what happened to Elide.” Elide—­Lord Cal and Lady Marion’s daughter and heir, almost a year younger than Aelin. If she ­were alive, she would be at least seventeen by now. “Lots of children vanished in the initial weeks,” Murtaugh finished. Aedion didn’t want to think about those too-­small graves.


He had to look away for a moment, and even Ren stayed quiet. At last, Aedion said, “Send out feelers to Ravi and Sol, but hold off on the others. Ignore the minor lords for now. Small steps.”


To his surprise, Ren said, “Agreed.” For a heartbeat, their eyes met, and he knew that Ren felt what he often did—­what he tried to keep buried. They had survived, when so many had not. And no one ­else could understand what it was like to bear it, unless they had lost as much.


Ren had escaped at the cost of his parents’ lives—­and had lost his home, his title, his friends, and his kingdom. He had hidden and trained and never lost sight of his cause.


They ­were not friends now; they never really had been. Ren’s father hadn’t particularly liked that Aedion, not Ren, was favored to take the blood oath to Aelin. The oath of pure submission—­the oath that would have sealed Aedion as her lifelong protector, the one person in whom she could have absolute trust. Everything he possessed, everything he was, should have belonged to her.


Yet the prize now was not just a blood oath but a kingdom—­a shot at vengeance and rebuilding their world. Aedion made to walk away, but looked back. Just two cloaked figures, one hunched, the other tall and armed. The first shred of Aelin’s court. The court he’d raise for her to shatter Adarlan’s chains. He could keep playing the game—­for a little longer.


“When she returns,” Aedion said quietly, “what she will do to the King of Adarlan will make the slaughtering ten years ago look merciful.” And in his heart, Aedion hoped he spoke true.
_________


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