Celaena slept for two days.
She hardly remembered what had happened after she incinerated Narrok and the Valg prince, though she had a vague sense of Rowan’s men and the others having the fortress under control. They’d lost only about fifteen in total, since the soldiers had not wanted to kill the demi-Fae but to capture them for the Valg princes to haul back to Adarlan. When they subdued the surviving enemy soldiers, locking them in the dungeon, they’d come back hours later to find them all dead. They’d carried poison with them—and it seemed they had no inclination to be interrogated.
Celaena stumbled up the blood-soaked steps and into bed, briefly stopping to frown at the hair that now fell just past her collarbones thanks to the razor-sharp nails of the Valg princes, and collapsed into a deep sleep. By the time she awoke, the gore was cleaned away, the soldiers were buried, and Rowan had hidden the four Wyrdstone collars somewhere in the woods. He would have flown them out to the sea and dumped them there, but she knew he’d stayed to look after her—and did not trust his friends to do anything but hand them over to Maeve.
Rowan’s cadre was leaving when she finally awoke, having lingered to help with repairs and healing, but it was only Gavriel who bothered to acknowledge her. She and Rowan were heading into the woods for a walk (she’d had to bully him into letting her out of bed) when they passed by the golden-haired male lingering by the back gate.
Rowan stiffened. He’d asked her point-blank what had happened when his friends had arrived—if any of them had tried to help. She had tried to avoid it, but he was relentless, and she finally told him that only Gavriel had shown any inclination. She didn’t blame his men. They didn’t know her, owed her nothing, and Rowan had been inside, in harm’s way. She didn’t know why it mattered so much to Rowan, and he told her it was none of her business.
But there was Gavriel, waiting for them at the back gate. Since Rowan was stone-faced, she smiled for both of them as they approached.
“I thought you’d be gone by now,” Rowan said.
Gavriel’s tawny eyes flickered. “The twins and Vaughan left an hour ago, and Lorcan left at dawn. He said to tell you good-bye.”
Rowan nodded in a way that made it very clear he knew Lorcan had done no such thing. “What do you want?”
She wasn’t quite sure they had the same definition of friend that she did. But Gavriel looked at her from head to toe and back up again, then at Rowan, and said, “Be careful when you face Maeve. We’ll have given our reports by then.”
Rowan’s stormy expression didn’t improve. “Travel swiftly,” he said, and kept walking.
Celaena lingered, studying the Fae warrior, the glimmer of sadness in his golden eyes. Like Rowan, he was enslaved to Maeve—and yet he thought to warn them. With the blood oath, Maeve could order him to divulge every detail, including this moment. And punish him for it. But for his friend . . .
“Thank you,” she said to the golden-haired warrior. He blinked, and Rowan froze. Her arms ached from the inside out, and her cut hand was bandaged and still tender, but she extended it to him. “For the warning. And for hesitating that day.”
Gavriel looked at her hand for a moment before shaking it with surprising gentleness. “How old are you?” he asked.
“Nineteen,” she said, and he loosed a breath that could have been sadness or relief or maybe both, and told her that made her magic even more impressive. She debated saying that he would be less impressed once he learned of her nickname for him, but winked at him instead.
Rowan was frowning when she caught up to him, but said nothing. As they walked away, Gavriel murmured, “Good luck, Rowan.”
Rowan brought her to a forest pool she’d never seen before, the clear water fed by a lovely waterfall that seemed to dance in the sunlight. He took a seat on a broad, flat, sun-warmed rock, pulling off his boots and rolling up his pants to dip his feet in the water. She winced at every sore muscle and bone in her body as she sat. Rowan scowled, but she gave him a look that dared him to order her back to bed rest.
When her own feet were in the pool and they had let the music of the forest sink into them, Rowan spoke. “There is no undoing what happened with Narrok. Once the world hears that Aelin Galathynius fought against Adarlan, they will know you are alive. He will know you are alive, and where you are, and that you do not plan to cower. He will hunt you for the rest of your life.”
“I accepted that fate from the moment I stepped outside the barrier,” she said quietly. She kicked at the water, the ripples spreading out across the pool. The movement sent shuddering pain through her magic-ravaged body, and she hissed.
Rowan handed her the skein of water he’d brought with him but hadn’t touched. She took a sip and found it contained the pain-killing tonic she’d been guzzling since she’d awoken that morning.
Good luck, Rowan, Gavriel had said to his friend. There was a day coming, all too soon, when she would also have to bid him farewell. What would her parting words be? Would she be able to offer him only a blessing for luck? She wished she had something to give him—some kind of protection against the queen who held his leash. The Eye of Elena was with Chaol. The Amulet of Orynth—she would have offered him that, if she hadn’t lost it. Heirloom or no, she would rest easier if she knew it was protecting him.
The amulet, decorated with the sacred stag on one side . . . and Wyrdmarks on the other.
Celaena stopped breathing. Stopped seeing the prince beside her, hearing the forest humming around her. Terrasen had been the greatest court in the world. They had never been invaded, had never been conquered, but they had prospered and become so powerful that every kingdom knew to provoke them was folly. A line of uncorrupted rulers, who had amassed all the knowledge of Erilea in their great library. They had been a beacon that drew the brightest and boldest to them.
She knew where it was—the third and final Wyrdkey.
It had been around her neck the night she fell into the river.
And around the neck of every one of her ancestors, going back to Brannon himself, when he stopped at the Sun Goddess’s temple to take a medallion from Mala’s High Priestess—and then destroyed the entire site to prevent anyone from tracing his steps.
The medallion of cerulean blue, with the gold sun-stag crowned with immortal flame—the stag of Mala Fire-Bringer. Upon leaving Wendlyn’s shores, Brannon had stolen those same stags away to Terrasen and installed them in Oakwald. Brannon had placed the third sliver of Wyrdkey inside the amulet and never told a soul what he had done with it.
The Wyrdkeys weren’t inherently bad or good. What they were depended on how their bearers used them. Around the necks of the kings and queens of Terrasen, one of them had been unknowingly used for good, and had protected its bearers for millennia.
It had protected her, that night she fell into the river. For it had been Wyrdmarks she’d seen glowing in the frozen depths, as if she had summoned them with her watery cries for help. But she had lost the Amulet of Orynth. It had fallen into that river and—no.
No. It couldn’t have, because she wouldn’t have made it to the riverbank, let alone survived the hours she lay here. The cold would have claimed her. Which meant she’d had it when . . . when . . . Arobynn Hamel had taken it from her and kept it all these years, a prize whose power he had never guessed the depth of.
She had to get it back. She had to get it away from him and make sure that no one knew what lay inside. And if she had it . . . She didn’t let herself think that far.
She had to hurry to Maeve, retrieve the information she needed, and go home. Not to Terrasen, but to Rifthold. She had to face the man who had made her into a weapon, who had destroyed another part of her life, and who could prove to be her greatest threat.
Rowan said, “What is it?”
“The third Wyrdkey.” She swore. She could tell no one, because if anyone knew . . . they would head straight to Rifthold. Straight to the Assassins’ Keep.
“Aelin.” Was it fear, pain, or both in his eyes? “Tell me what you learned.”
“Not while you are bound to her.”
“I am bound to her forever.”
“I know.” He was Maeve’s slave—worse than a slave. He had to obey every command, no matter how wretched.
He leaned over his knees, dipping a large hand in the water. “You’re right. I don’t want you to tell me. Any of it.”
“I hate that,” she breathed. “I hate her.”
He looked away, toward Goldryn, discarded behind them on the rock. She’d told him its history this morning as she scarfed down enough food for three full-grown Fae warriors. He hadn’t seemed particularly impressed, and when she showed him the ring she’d found in the scabbard, he had nothing to say other than “I hope you find a good use for it.” Indeed.
But the silence that was building between them was unacceptable. She cleared her throat. Perhaps she couldn’t tell him the truth about the third Wyrdkey, but she could offer him another.
The truth. The truth of her, undiluted and complete. And after all that they had been through, all that she still wanted to do . . .
So she steeled herself. “I have never told anyone this story. No one in the world knows it. But it’s mine,” she said, blinking past the burning in her eyes, “and it’s time for me to tell it.”
Rowan leaned back on the rock, bracing his palms behind him.
“Once upon a time,” she said to him, to the world, to herself, “in a land long since burned to ash, there lived a young princess who loved her kingdom . . . very much.”
And then she told him of the princess whose heart had burned with wildfire, of the mighty kingdom in the north, of its downfall and of the sacrifice of Lady Marion. It was a long story, and sometimes she grew quiet and cried—and during those times he leaned over to wipe away her tears.
When she finished, Rowan merely passed her more of the tonic. She smiled at him, and he looked at her for a while before he smiled back, a different smile than all the others he’d given her before.
They were quiet for some time, and she didn’t know why she did it, but she held out a hand in front of her, palm facing the pool beneath.
And slowly, wobbling, a droplet of water the size of a marble rose from the surface to her cupped palm.
“No wonder your sense of self-preservation is so pathetic, if that’s all the water you can conjure.” But Rowan flicked her chin, and she knew he understood what it meant, to have summoned even a droplet to her hand. To feel her mother smiling at her from realms away.
She grinned at Rowan through her tears, and sent the droplet splashing onto his face.
Rowan tossed her into the pool. A moment later, laughing, he jumped in himself.
After a week of regaining her strength, she and the other injured demi-Fae had recovered enough to attend a celebration thrown by Emrys and Luca. Before she and Rowan headed downstairs to join the festivities, Celaena peered in the mirror—and stopped dead.
The somewhat shorter hair was the least of the changes.
She was now flushed with color, her eyes bright and clear, and though she’d regained the weight she’d lost that winter, her face was leaner. A woman—a woman was smiling back at her, beautiful for every scar and imperfection and mark of survival, beautiful for the fact that the smile was real, and she felt it kindle the long-slumbering joy in her heart.
She danced that night. The morning after, she knew it was time.
When she and Rowan had finished saying their good-byes to the others, she paused at the edge of the trees to look at the crumbling stone fortress. Emrys and Luca were waiting for them at the tree line, faces pale in the morning light. The old male had already stuffed their bags full of food and supplies, but he still pressed a hot loaf into Celaena’s hands as they looked at each other.
She said, “It might take a while, but if—when I reclaim my kingdom, the demi-Fae will always have a home there. And you two—and Malakai—will have a place in my household, should you wish it. As my friends.”
Emrys’s eyes were gleaming as he nodded, gripping Luca’s hand. The young man, who had opted to keep a long, wicked scratch bestowed in battle down his face, merely stared at her, wide-eyed. A part of her heart ached at the shadows that now lay in his face. Bas’s betrayal would haunt him, she knew. But Celaena smiled at him, ruffled his hair, and made to turn away.
“Your mother would be proud,” Emrys said.
Celaena put a hand on her heart and bowed in thanks.
Rowan cleared his throat, and Celaena gave them one last parting smile before she followed the prince into the trees—to Doranelle, and to Maeve, at last.
CLICK ON THIS LINK TO READ EPISODE 59