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"ROYAL ASSASSIN" SEASON 3, EPISADE 42"


ROYAL ASSASSIN

Season 3

EPISODE 42


Her back.


Rowan soared over the trees, riding and shaping the winds to push him onward, faster, their roar negligible to the bellowing in his head. He took in the passing world out of instinct rather than interest, his eyes turned inward—­toward that slab of ruined flesh glistening in the candlelight.


The gods knew he’d seen plenty of harrowing injuries. He’d be­­stowed plenty of them on his enemies and friends alike. In the grand sense of things, her back ­wasn’t even close to some of those wounds. Yet when he’d seen it, his heart had clean stopped—­and for a moment, there had been an overwhelming silence in his mind.


He felt his magic and his warrior’s instincts honing into a lethal combination the longer he stared—­howling to rip apart the people who had done that with his bare hands. Then he’d just left, hardly making it out of the baths before he shifted and soared into the night.


Maeve had lied. Or lied by omission. But she knew. She knew what the girl had gone through—­knew she’d been a slave. That day—­that day early on, he’d threatened to whip the girl, gods above. And she had lost it. He’d been such a proud fool that he’d assumed she’d lashed out because she was nothing more than a child. He should have known better—­should have known that when she did react to something like that, it meant the scars went deep. And then there ­were the other things he’d said . . .


He was almost to the towering line of the Cambrian Mountains. She had barely been grown into her woman’s body when they hurt her like that. Why hadn’t she told him? Why hadn’t Maeve told him? His hawk loosed a piercing cry that echoed on the dark gray stones of the mountain wall before him. A chorus of unearthly howls ­rose in response—­Maeve’s wild wolves, guarding the passes. Even if he flew all the way to Doranelle, he’d reach his queen and demand answers and . . . she would not give them to him. With the blood oath, she could command he not go back to Mistward.


He gripped the winds with his magic, choking off their current. Aelin . . . Aelin had not trusted him—­had not wanted him to know.


And she’d almost burned out completely, gods be damned, leaving her currently defenseless. Primal anger sharpened in his gut, brimming with a territorial, possessive need. Not a need for her, but a need to protect—­a male’s duty and honor. He had not handled the news as he should have.


If she hadn’t wanted to tell him about being a slave, then she probably had done so assuming the worst about him—­just as she was probably assuming the worst about his leaving. The thought didn’t sit well.


So he veered back to the north and reined his magic to pull the winds with him, easing his flight back to the fortress.


He would get answers from his queen soon enough.


The healers gave her a tonic, and when Celaena reassured them that she ­wasn’t going to incinerate herself, she stayed in the bath until her teeth ­were chattering. It took three times as long as usual to get back to her rooms, and she was so frozen and drained that she didn’t change into clothes before she dropped into bed.


She didn’t want to think about what it meant that Rowan had left like that, but she did, aching and cramping from the magic. She drifted into a jerking, fitful sleep, the cold so fierce she ­couldn’t tell whether it was from the temperature or the aftermath of the magic. At some point, she was awoken by the laughing and singing of the returning revelers. After a while, even the drunkest found their bed or someone ­else’s. She was almost asleep again, teeth still chattering, when her window groaned open in the breeze. She was too cold and sore to get up. There was a flutter of wings and a flash of light, and before she could roll over, he’d scooped her up, blanket and all.


If she’d had any energy, she might have objected. But he carried her up the two flights of stairs, down the hall, and then—
A roaring fire, warm sheets, and a soft mattress. And a heavy quilt that was tucked in with surprising gentleness. The fire dimmed on a phantom wind, and then the mattress shifted.


In the flickering dark, he said roughly, “You’re staying with me from now on.” She found him lying as far away from her as he could get without falling off the mattress. “The bed is for to­night. Tomorrow, you’ll get a cot. You’ll clean up after yourself or you’ll be back in that room.”


She nestled into her pillow. “Very well.” The fire dimmed, yet the room remained toasty. It was the first warm bed she’d had in months. But she said, “I don’t want your pity.”


“This is not pity. Maeve decided not to tell me what happened to you. You have to know that I—­I ­wasn’t aware you had—”


She slid an arm across the bed to grasp his hand. She knew that if she wanted to, she could strike him a wound so deep it would fracture him. “I knew. At first, I was afraid you’d mock me if I told you, and I would kill you for it. Then I didn’t want you to pity me. And more than any of that, I didn’t want you to think it was ever an excuse.”


“Like a good soldier,” he said. She had to look away for a moment to keep from letting him see just what that meant to her. He took a long breath that made his broad chest expand. “Tell me how you ­were sent there—­and how you got out.”


She was tired in her bones, but she rallied her energy one last time and told him of the years in Rifthold, of stealing Asterion ­horses and racing across the desert, of dancing until dawn with courtesans and thieves and all the beautiful, wicked creatures in the world. And then she told him about losing Sam, and of that first whipping in Endovier, when she’d spat blood in the Chief Overseer’s face, and what she had seen and endured in the following year. She spoke of the day she had snapped and sprinted for her own death. Her heart grew heavy when at last she got to the eve­ning when the Captain of the Royal Guard prowled into her life, and a tyrant’s son had offered her a shot at freedom. She told him what she could about the competition and how she’d won it, until her words slurred and her eyelids drooped.


There would be more time to tell him of what happened next—­of the Wyrdkeys and Elena and Nehemia and how she had become so broken and useless. She yawned, and Rowan rubbed his eyes, his other hand still in hers. But he didn’t let go. And when she awoke before dawn, warm and safe and rested, Rowan was still holding her hand, clasped to his chest.


Something molten rushed through her, pouring over every crack and fracture still left gaping and open. Not to hurt or mar—­but to weld. To forge.
_________


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