A shadow flickered in Aelin’s eyes that sent a chill down Dorian’s spine. “Spend a year in Endovier, Rolfe, and you quickly learn how to play a different sort of game.”

“I told you”—Rolfe seethed with quiet venom—“that you’d one day pay for that arrogance.”

Aelin’s smile became lethal. “Indeed I did. And so did Arobynn Hamel.”

Rolfe blinked—just once, then straightened. “Get out of my seat. And put back that emerald you slipped up your sleeve.”

Aelin snorted, and with a flash of her fingers, an emerald—the fourth one Dorian had forgotten—appeared between her fingers. “Good. At least your eyesight isn’t failing in your old age.”

“And the other one,” Rolfe said through clenched teeth.

Aelin grinned again. And then leaned back in Rolfe’s chair, tipped up her head, and spat out an emerald she’d somehow kept hidden under her tongue. Dorian watched the gem arc neatly through the air.

Its plunk in the dish was the only sound.

Dorian glanced at Rowan. But delight shone in the prince’s eyes—delight and pride and simmering lust. Dorian quickly looked away.

Aelin said to the Pirate Lord, “I have two questions for you.”

Rolfe’s hand twitched toward his rapier. “You’re in no rutting position to ask questions.”

“Aren’t I? After all, I made you a promise two and a half years ago. One that you signed.”

Rolfe snarled.

Aelin propped her chin on a fist. “Have you or have any of your ships bought, traded, or transported slaves since that … unfortunate day?”


A satisfied little nod. “And have you provided sanctuary for them here?”

“We haven’t gone out of our way, but if any arrived, yes.” Each word was tighter than the last, a spring about to burst forward and throttle the queen. Dorian prayed the man wouldn’t be dumb enough to draw on her. Not with Rowan watching his every breath.

“Good and good,” Aelin said. “Smart of you, not to lie to me. As I took it upon myself when I arrived this morning to look into your warehouses, to ask around in the markets. And then I came here…” She ran her hands over the papers and books on the desk. “To see your ledgers for myself.” She dragged a finger down a page containing various columns and numbers. “Textiles, spices, porcelain dining ware, rice from the southern continent, and various contraband, but … no slaves. I have to say, I’m impressed. Both at you honoring your word and at your thorough record keeping.”

A low snarl. “Do you know what your stunt cost me?”

Aelin flicked her eyes toward a piece of parchment on the wall, various daggers, swords, and even scissors embedded in it—target practice, apparently, for Rolfe. “Well, there’s the bar tab I left unpaid … ,” she said of the document, which was indeed a list of items, and—holy gods, that was a large sum of money.

Rolfe turned to Rowan, Fenrys, and Gavriel. “You want my assistance in this war? Here’s the cost. Kill her. Now. Then my ships and men are yours.”

Fenrys’s dark eyes glittered, but not at Rolfe, as Aelin rose to her feet. Her black clothes were travel-worn, her golden hair gleaming in the gray light. And even in a room of professional killers, she took the lion’s share of air. “Oh, I don’t think they will,” she said. “Or even can.”

Rolfe whirled to her. “You’ll find that you are not so skilled in the face of Fae warriors.”

She pointed to one of the chairs before the desk. “You might want to sit.”

“Get the hell out of—”

Aelin let out a low whistle. “Allow me to introduce to you, Captain Rolfe, the incomparable, the beautiful, and the absolutely and all-around flawless Queen of Terrasen.”

Dorian’s brows creased. But footsteps sounded, and then—

The males shifted as Aelin Galathynius indeed strode into the room, clad in a dark green tunic of equal wear and dirt, her golden hair unbound, her turquoise-and-gold eyes laughing as she strode past a slack-jawed Rolfe and perched on the arm of Aelin’s chair.

Dorian couldn’t tell—without a Fae’s sense of smell, he couldn’t tell.

“What—what devilry is this,” Rolfe hissed, yielding a single step.

Aelin and Aelin looked at each other. The one in black grinned up at the newcomer. “Oh, you are gorgeous, aren’t you?”

The one in green smiled, but for all its delight, all its wicked mischief … It was a softer smile, made with a mouth that was perhaps less used to snarling and teeth-baring and getting away with saying hideous, swaggering things. Lysandra, then.

The two queens faced Rolfe.

“Aelin Galathynius had no twin,” he growled, a hand on his sword.

Aelin in black—the true Aelin, who had been among them all along—rolled her eyes. “Ugh, Rolfe. You ruin my fun. Of course I don’t have a twin.”

She jerked her chin at Lysandra, and the shifter’s flesh glowed and melted, hair becoming a heavy, straight fall of dark tresses, her skin sun-kissed, her uptilted eyes a striking green.

Rolfe barked in alarm and staggered back—only for Fenrys to steady him with a hand on his shoulder as the Fae warrior stepped forward, eyes wide. “A shifter,” Fenrys breathed.

Aelin and Lysandra fixed the warrior with an unimpressed look that would have sent lesser men running.

Even Gavriel’s placid face was slack at the sight of the shape-shifter—his tattoos bobbing as he swallowed. Aedion’s father. And if Aedion was here with Aelin…

“As intrigued as I am to see that the cadre is present,” Aelin said, “will you verify to His Pirateness that I am who I say I am, and we can move on to more pressing matters?”

Rolfe’s face was white with fury as he realized they’d all known who truly sat before them.

Dorian said, “She is Aelin Galathynius. And Celaena Sardothien.”

But it was to Fenrys and Gavriel, the outside party, that Rolfe turned. Gavriel nodded, Fenrys’s eyes now fixed on the queen. “She is who she says she is.”

Rolfe turned to Aelin, but the queen frowned up at Lysandra as the shifter handed her a wax-sealed tube. “You made your hair shorter.”

“You try hair that long and see if you last more than a day,” Lysandra said, fingering the hair brushing her collarbone.

Rolfe gaped at them. Aelin grinned at her companion and faced the Pirate Lord.

“So, Rolfe,” the queen drawled, tossing the tube from hand to hand, “let’s discuss this little business of you refusing to aid my cause.”


Aelin Galathynius didn’t bother to contain her smugness as Rolfe pointed to the large table on the right side of his office—far grander than the piece-of-shit office where he’d once had her and Sam meet him.

She managed all of one step toward her designated seat before Rowan was at her side, a hand on her elbow.

His face—oh, gods, she’d missed that harsh, unyielding face—was tight as he leaned in to whisper with Fae softness, “The cadre is working with us on the condition that it’ll lead them to Lorcan, since Maeve sent them to kill him. I refused to divulge his whereabouts. Most of Adarlan’s fleet is in the Gulf of Oro thanks to some foul agreement with Melisande to use their ports, and Maeve’s own armada sails for Eyllwe—whether to attack or aid, we don’t know.”

Well, it was nice to know absolute hell awaited them and that the information about Maeve’s armada was correct. But then Rowan added, “And I missed you like hell.”

She smiled despite what he’d told her, pulling back to look at him. Untouched, unharmed.

It was more than she could have hoped for. Even with the news he’d delivered.

Aelin decided she didn’t particularly give a shit who was watching and rose up on her toes to brush her mouth against his. It had taken all her wits and abilities to avoid leaving traces of her scent today for him to detect—and the shocked delight on his face had been utterly worth it.

Rowan’s hand on her arm tightened as she pulled away. “The feeling, Prince,” she murmured, “is mutual.”

The others were doing their best not to watch them—save for Rolfe, who was still seething.

“Oh, don’t look so put out, Captain,” she said, turning away from Rowan and sliding into a seat across from Rolfe. “You hate me, I hate you, we both hate being told what to do by busybody, overlording empires—it’s a perfect pairing.”

Rolfe spat, “You nearly wrecked everything I’ve worked for. Your silver tongue and arrogance won’t get you through this.”

Just for the hell of it, she smiled and stuck out her tongue. Not the real thing—but a forked tongue of silver fire that wriggled like a snake’s in the air.

Fenrys choked on a dark laugh. She ignored him. She’d deal with their presence later. She just prayed she’d be able to warn Aedion before he ran into his father—who was now sitting two seats down from her, gawking at her as if she had ten heads.

Gods, even the expression was like Aedion’s. How hadn’t she noticed that this spring in Wendlyn? Aedion had been a boy the last time she’d seen him—but as a man … With Gavriel’s immortality, they even looked the same age. Different in many ways, but that look … it was a reflection.

Rolfe wasn’t smiling. “A queen who plays with fire is not one who makes a solid ally.”

“And a pirate whose men abandoned him at the first test of allegiance makes for a shit naval commander, yet here I am, at this table.”

“Careful, girl. You need me more than I need you.”

“Do I?” A dance—that was all this was. Long before she’d set foot on this horrible island, it had been a dance, and she was now to enter into its second movement. She set Murtaugh’s sealed letter of recommendation on the table between them. “The way I see it, I have the gold, and I have the ability to raise you up from a common criminal to a respectable, established businessman. Fenharrow can dispute who owns these islands, but … what if I were to throw my support behind you? What if I were to make you not a Pirate Lord but a Pirate King?”

“And who would verify the word of a nineteen-year-old princess?”

She jerked her chin at the wax-sealed tube. “Murtaugh Allsbrook would. He wrote you a nice, long letter about it.”

Rolfe picked up the tube, studied it, and chucked it in a neat arc—right into his rubbish bin. The thud echoed through the office.

“And I would,” Dorian said, leaning forward before Aelin could snarl at the ignored letter. “We win this war, and you have the two largest kingdoms on this continent proclaiming you the undisputed King of all Pirates. Skull’s Bay and the Dead Islands become not a hideout for your people, but a proper home. A new kingdom.”

Rolfe let out a low laugh. “The talk of young idealists and dreamers.”

“The world,” Aelin said, “will be saved and remade by the dreamers, Rolfe.”

“The world will be saved by the warriors, by the men and women who will spill their blood for it. Not for empty promises and gilded dreams.”

Aelin laid her hands flat on the table. “Perhaps. But if we win this war, it will be a new world—a free world. That is my promise—to you, to anyone who will march under my banner. A better world. And you will have to decide where your place in it shall be.”

“That is the promise of a little girl who still doesn’t know how the world truly works,” Rolfe said. “Masters are needed to maintain order—to keep things running and profitable. It will not end well for those who seek to upend it.”

Aelin purred, “Do you want gold, Rolfe? Do you want a title? Do you want glory or women or land? Or is it just the bloodlust that drives you?” She gave a pointed glance at his gloved hands. “What was the cost for the map? What was the end goal if that sacrifice had to be made?”