They reached the quay, Rolfe’s massive prize ship looming out in the heaving waters, sails tied down against the storm.

At least Rolfe was here. At least that had gone right.

Dorian was so busy observing the ship that he nearly slammed into Rowan’s back as the warrior-prince halted.

He staggered back, Rowan mercifully not commenting on it, then scanned the building that had snagged the prince’s attention.

His magic perked up like a startled deer.

“I shouldn’t even be surprised,” Rowan grumbled, and the blue-painted sign clattered in the winds above the tavern entrance. THE SEA DRAGON.

Two guards stood halfway down the block—guards not for any uniform, but for the fact that they were standing in this storm, hands on their swords.

Rowan angled his head in a way that told Dorian the prince was likely contemplating whether it was worth it to chuck the men into the roiling harbor. But no one stopped them as Rowan gave Dorian a warning look and opened the door to the Pirate Lord’s personal tavern. Golden light, spices, polished wood floors and walls greeted them.

It was empty, despite the storm. Utterly empty, save for the dozen or so tables.

Rowan shut the door behind Dorian, scanning the room, the small stairs in the back. From where they stood, Dorian could see the letters covering most of the tables.

Storm-Chaser. Lady Ann. Tiger-Star.

The sterns of ships. Every table was made from them.

They hadn’t been taken from wrecks. No, this was a trophy room—a reminder to those who met with the Pirate Lord of how, exactly, he had gained his crown.

All the tables seemed centered around one in the back, bigger and more worn than the others. Thresher. The enormous slats were flecked with burn marks and gouges—but the lettering remained clear. As if Rolfe never wanted to forget what ship was used as his personal dining table.

But as for the man himself and that power they’d felt … No sign of either.

A door behind the bar opened, and a slim, brown-haired young woman stepped out. Her apron marked her as the barmaid, but her shoulders were back, head high—gray eyes sharp and clear as she scanned them and remained unimpressed. “He was wondering when you two would come snooping,” she said, her accent rich and thick—like Aedion’s.

Rowan said, “Oh?”

The barmaid jerked her delicate chin toward the narrow wood stairs in the back. “Captain wants to see you—in his office. One flight up, second door down.”


Even Dorian knew not to ignore that tone. But the girl just grabbed a glass, held it to the candlelight to inspect for smudges, and pulled a rag from her apron. Twin tattoos of roaring gray sea dragons snaked around her tan forearms, the beasts seeming to slither as her muscles shifted with the movement.

Their scales, he realized, matched her eyes perfectly as she flicked her stare over Dorian and Rowan once more and said coolly, “Don’t keep him waiting.”

Dorian murmured to Rowan as they ascended the creaky, dim stairs, “It could be a trap.”

“Possibly,” Rowan said with equal quiet. “But consider that we were allowed to come to him. If it was a trap, the smarter move would have been to catch us unawares.”

Dorian nodded, something in his chest easing. “And you—your magic is … better?”

That hard face yielded nothing. “I’ll manage.” Not an answer.

Along the second-level hallway, four steely-eyed young men had been stationed, each armed with fine swords whose hilts were fashioned after attacking sea dragons—surely the mark of their captain. None bothered to speak as he and Rowan made for the indicated door.

The Fae Prince knocked once. A grunt was all they got in response.

Dorian didn’t know what he expected from the Lord of Pirates.

But a dark-haired man, a day past thirty if that, lounging on a red velvet chaise before the rain-splattered curve of windows was not it.


The Pirate Lord of Skull’s Bay did not turn from where he was sprawled on the chaise, piles of papers littering the worn cobalt rug beneath it. From the neat columns that Dorian could barely make out from where he and Rowan stood a few feet into the man’s office, the papers seemed crammed with tallies of goods or expenses—ill-gained or otherwise.

But Rolfe continued monitoring the ships tilting and bobbing in the harbor, the shadow of Ship-Breaker’s sagging chain cleaving the storm-tossed world beyond them.

Rolfe had likely learned of their arrival not due to any magic map, but from sitting here. Indeed, dark leather gloves adorned his hands—the material scarred and cracked with age. Not a hint of the legendary tattoos lurking beneath.

Rowan didn’t move; barely blinked as he took in the captain, the office. Dorian himself had been part of enough political maneuverings to know the uses of silence—the power in who spoke first. The power in making someone wait.

The rain drumming on the windows and the muffled dripping of their own soaked clothes on the threadbare carpet filled the quiet.

Captain Rolfe tapped a gloved finger on the arm of the chaise, watching the harbor for a heartbeat longer—as if to make sure the Sea Dragon still floated—and finally turned to them.

“Take off your hoods. I want to know who I’m talking to.”

Dorian stiffened at the command, but Rowan said, “Your barmaid implied that you know damn well who we are.”

A wry half smile tugged on Rolfe’s lips, the upper-left corner flecked with a small scar. Hopefully not from Aelin. “My barmaid talks too much.”

“Then why keep her?”

“Easy on the eyes—hard to come by around here,” Rolfe said, uncoiling to his feet. He was about Dorian’s height and clothed in simple but well-made black. An elegant rapier hung at his side, along with a matching parrying knife.

Rowan snorted, but to Dorian’s surprise, removed his hood.

Rolfe’s sea-green eyes flared—no doubt at the silver hair, pointed ears, and slightly elongated canines. Or the tattoo. “A man who likes ink as much as I do,” Rolfe said with an appreciative nod. “I think you and I will get along just fine, Prince.”

“Male,” Rowan corrected. “Fae males are not human men.”

“Semantics,” Rolfe said, flicking his attention to Dorian. “So you’re the king everyone’s in such a tizzy over.”

Dorian finally tugged back his hood. “What of it?”

With that gloved hand, Rolfe pointed toward a paper-covered desk and two upholstered chairs before it. Like the man himself, it was elegant, but worn—either from age, use, or battles past. And those gloves … To cover the maps inked there?

Rowan gave Dorian a nod to sit. The flames on the candles burning throughout guttered as they passed, and claimed their seats.

Rolfe edged around the stacks of papers on the floor and took up his spot at the desk. His carved, high-backed chair might very well have been a throne from some distant kingdom. “You seem remarkably calm for a king who’s just been declared a traitor to his crown and robbed of his throne.”

Dorian was glad he was in the process of sitting down.

Rowan lifted a brow. “According to whom?”

“According to the messengers who arrived yesterday,” Rolfe said, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms. “Duke Perrington—or should I call him King Perrington now?—issued a decree, signed by the majority of Adarlan’s lords and ladies, naming you, Majesty, an enemy to your kingdom, and claiming that he liberated Rifthold from your claws after you and the Queen of Terrasen slaughtered so many innocents this spring. It also claims that any ally”—a nod toward Rowan—“is an enemy. And that you will be crushed under his armies if you do not yield.”

Silence filled his head. Rolfe went on, perhaps a bit more gently, “Your brother has been named Perrington’s heir and Crown Prince.”

Oh gods. Hollin was a child, but still … something had rotted in him, festered—

He had left them there. Rather than deal with his mother and brother, he’d told them to stay in those mountains. Where they were now as good as lambs surrounded by a pack of wolves.

He wished Chaol were with him. Wished for time to just … stop so he might sort out all these fractured pieces of himself, put them into some kind of order, if not back together entirely.

Rolfe said, “From the look on your face, I’m guessing your arrival indeed has something to do with the fact that Rifthold now lies in ruin, its people fleeing wherever they can.”

Dorian shoved out the insidious thoughts and drawled, “I came to learn what side of the line you stand on, Captain, in regard to this conflict.”

Rolfe sat forward, resting his forearms on the desk. “You must be desperate indeed, then.” A glance at Rowan. “And is your queen equally desperate for my aid?”

“My queen,” Rowan said, “is not a part of this discussion.”

Rolfe only grinned at Dorian. “You wish to know what side of the line I stand on? I stand on the side that keeps the hell out of my territory.”

“Rumor has it,” Rowan countered smoothly, “that the easternmost part of this archipelago is no longer your territory at all.”

Rolfe held Rowan’s gaze. A heartbeat passed. Then another. A muscle flickered in Rolfe’s jaw.

Then he pulled off those gloves to reveal hands tattooed from fingertip to wrist. He turned them palm up, revealing a map of the archipelago, and what—

Dorian and Rowan leaned forward as the blue waters did indeed flow, little dots among it sailing by. And in the easternmost tip of the archipelago, curving out to sea…

Those waters were gray, the islands a ruddy brown. But nothing moved—no dots indicated ships. As if the map had frozen.

“They have magic that shields them—even from this,” Rolfe said. “I can’t get a count of their ships, or men, or beasts. Scouts never return. This winter, we’d hear roaring from the islands—some almost-human, some definitely not. Often, we’d spy … things standing out on those rocks. Men, but not. We let it go unchecked for too long—and paid the price.”

“Beasts,” Dorian said. “What sort of beasts?”

A grim smile, scar stretching. “Ones to make you consider fleeing this continent, Majesty.”

The condescension snapped something loose in Dorian’s temper. “I have walked through more nightmares than you realize, Captain.”

Rolfe snorted, but his eyes went to that pale line across Dorian’s throat.

Rowan leaned back in his chair with lazy grace—the War Commander incarnate. “It must be a solid truce you hold, then, if you’re still camped here with minimal ships in your harbor.”

Rolfe simply tugged on his worn gloves. “My fleet does have to do a little pirating every now and then, you know. Bills to pay and all that.”

“I’m sure. Especially when you employ four guards to watch your hallway.”

Dorian caught Rowan’s train of thought and said to the Fae Prince, “I didn’t scent the Valg in town.” No, whatever that power had been … it had flickered into nothing now.

“That’s because,” Rolfe drawled, cutting them off, “we killed most of them.”

Wind rattled the windows, smearing the rain across them.

“And as for the four men in the hall—they are all that’s left of my crew. Thanks to the battle we had early this spring to reclaim this island after Perrington’s general stole it from us.”

Dorian swore low and viciously. The captain nodded.

“But I am again Pirate Lord of Skull’s Bay, and if the eastern islands are as far as Morath plans to go, then Perrington and his beasts can have them. The Dead End is barely more than caves and rock anyway.”

“What manner of beasts,” Dorian said again.

Rolfe’s pale green eyes darkened. “Sea-wyverns. Witches rule the skies with their wyverns—but these waters are now ruled by beasts bred for naval battle, foul corruptions of an ancient template. Imagine a creature half the size of a first-rate ship—faster than a racing dolphin—and the damage it can cause with tooth and claw and a poisoned tail big as a mast. Worse, if you kill one of their vicious offspring, the adults will hunt you to the ends of the earth.” Rolfe shrugged. “So you will find, Majesty, that I have no interest in disturbing the eastern islands if they do not disturb me any further. I have no interest in doing anything but continuing to profit from my endeavors.” He waved a vague hand to the papers scattered throughout.