“I would ask you to reconsider,” Elide said.
Lorcan’s wrist twitched ever so slightly. He’d do it—he’d kill this innocent man, just to get them free—
The man’s knife drooped, then vanished into the sheath at his side. “There’s a bend in the river past the town. Drop me off there.”
That was all Elide needed to hear as the man rushed toward them, untying lines and leaping into the boat with the ease of someone who’d done it a thousand times. He and Lorcan grabbed the poles to push out into the river, and as soon as they were loose, Lorcan hissed, “If you betray us, you’ll be dead before the guards can even board.” The man nodded, now steering them toward the eastern exit of the town, as Lorcan dragged her into the one-room cabin.
The cabin interior was lined with windows, all clean enough to suggest the man took some pride in his boat. Lorcan half shoved her under a table in its center, the embroidered cloth covering it shielding her from anything but sounds: Lorcan’s footsteps going silent, though she could feel him taking up a hiding place to monitor the proceedings from within the cabin; the patter of rain on the flat roof; the thud of the pole as it occasionally knocked into the side of the barge.
Her body soon ached from holding herself still and quiet.
Was this to be her life for the foreseeable future? Hunted and hounded across the world?
And finding Aelin … How would she ever do that? She could go back to Terrasen, but she didn’t know who ruled from Orynth. If Aelin had not taken back her throne … Perhaps it was an unspoken message that danger lay there. That all was not well in Terrasen.
But to go to Eyllwe on a bit of speculation … Of all the rumors Elide had listened to in the past two hours, that captain’s reasons had been the wisest.
The world seemed to still with some unspoken tension, a ripple of fear.
But then the man’s voice was calling out again, and metal groaned—a gate. The city gates.
She stayed under the table, counting her breaths, thinking through all that she’d heard. She doubted the carnival would miss them.
And she’d bet all the money in her boot that Nik and Ombriel had been the ones who’d set the guards on them, deciding she and Lorcan were too much of a threat—especially with the ilken hunting her. She wondered if Molly had known all along, from that very first meeting, that they were liars and had let Nik and Ombriel sell them out when the bounty was too good to pass up, the cost of loyalty too great.
Elide sighed through her nose. A splash sounded, but the boat ambled onward.
At least she’d taken the little bit of stone with her, though she’d miss her clothes, shabby as they were. These leathers were growing stuffy in the oppressive heat, and if she were to go to Eyllwe, they’d be sweltering—
Lorcan’s footsteps sounded. “Get out.”
Wincing as her ankle barked in pain, she crawled from under the table and peered around. “No trouble?”
He shook his head. He was splattered with rain or river water. She peered around him to where the man had been steering the boat. No one there—or in the rear of the boat.
“He swam to shore back at the bend,” Lorcan explained.
Elide loosed a breath. “He might very well run to town and tell them. It won’t take long for them to catch up.”
“We’ll deal with it,” Lorcan said, turning away. Too fast. He avoided her eyes too fast—
She took in the water, the stains now on the sleeves of his shirt. Like … like he’d washed his hands quickly, sloppily.
She glanced at the hatchet at his side as he strode out of the cabin. “You killed him, didn’t you?” That was what the splash had been. A body being dumped over the side.
Lorcan halted. Looked over a broad shoulder. There was nothing human in his dark eyes. “If you want to survive, you have to be willing to do what is necessary.”
“He might have had a family depending on him.” She’d seen no wedding ring, but it didn’t mean anything.
“Nik and Ombriel didn’t give us that consideration when they reported us to the garrison.” He stalked onto the deck, and she stormed after him. Lush trees lined the river, a living shield around them.
And there—there was a stain on the planks, shining and dark. Her stomach rose.
“You planned to lie to me about it,” she seethed. “But how would you explain that?”
A shrug. Lorcan took up the pole and moved with fluid grace to the side of the barge, where he pushed them away from an approaching sandbank.
He had killed that man— “I swore to him he’d be set free.”
“You swore it, not me.”
Her fingers curled into fists. And that thing—that stone—wrapped in that bit of cloth inside her jacket began to stir.
Lorcan stilled, the pole gripped tight in his hands. “What is that,” he said too softly.
She held her ground. Like hell she’d back down from him, like hell she’d allow him to intimidate her, overrule her, kill people so they could escape—
“What. Is. That.”
She refused to speak, to even touch the lump in her pocket. It thrummed and grumbled, a beast opening an eye, but she didn’t dare to reach out, to so much as acknowledge that strange, otherworldly presence.
Lorcan’s eyes widened slightly, then he was setting down the pole and stalking across the deck and into the cabin. She lingered by the edge, unsure whether to follow or perhaps jump into the water and swim to shore, but—
There was a thud of metal on metal, as if something was being cracked open, and then—
Lorcan’s roar shook the boat, the river, the trees. Long-legged river birds hauled themselves into flight.
Then Lorcan flung open the door, so violently it nearly ripped off its hinges, and hurled what looked to be the shards of a broken amulet into the river. Or he tried to. Lorcan threw it hard enough that it cleared the river entirely and slammed into a tree, gouging out a chunk of wood.
He whirled, and Elide’s anger stumbled a step at the blistering wrath twisting his features. He prowled for her, grabbing the pole as if to keep from throttling her, and said, “What is it that you carry?”
And the demand, the violence and entitlement and arrogance, had her seeing red, too. So Elide said with quiet venom, “Why don’t you just slit my throat and find out for yourself?”
Lorcan’s nostrils flared. “If you have a problem with my killing someone who reeked of itching to betray us the moment he got the chance, then you are going to love your queen.”
For a while now, he’d hinted that he knew of her, that he knew of her well enough to call her horrible things, but— “What do you mean?”
Lorcan, gods above, looked as if his temper had at last slipped its leash as he said, “Celaena Sardothien is a nineteen-year-old assassin—who calls herself the best in the world.” A snort. “She killed and reveled and shopped her way through life and never once apologized for it. She gloried in it. And then this spring, one of my sentinels, Prince Rowan Whitethorn, was tasked to deal with her when she washed up on Wendlyn’s shores. Turns out, he fell in love with her instead, and she with him. Turns out, whatever they were doing up in the Cambrian Mountains got her to stop calling herself Celaena and start going by her true name again.” A brutal smile. “Aelin Galathynius.”
Elide could barely feel her body. “What?” was about the only word she could manage.
“Your fire-breathing queen? She’s a gods-damned assassin. Trained to be a killer from the moment your mother died defending her. Trained to be no better than the man who butchered your mother and your royal family.”
Elide shook her head, her hands slackening. “What?” she said again.
Lorcan laughed mirthlessly. “While you were locked in that tower for ten years, she was indulging in the riches of Rifthold, spoiled and coddled by her master—the King of the Assassins—whom she murdered in cold blood this spring. So you’ll find that your long-lost savior is little better than I am. You’ll find that she would have killed that man the same as I did, and would have as little tolerance for your whining as I do.”
Aelin … an assassin. Aelin—the same person she’d been tasked to give the stone to …
“You knew,” she said. “This whole time we’ve been together—you knew I was looking for the same person.”
“I told you that to find one would be to find the other.”
“You knew, and you didn’t tell me. Why?”
“You still haven’t told me your secrets. I don’t see why I should tell all of mine, either.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to ignore the dark stain on the wood—trying to soothe the sting of his words and seal the hole that had opened beneath her feet. What had been in that amulet? Why had he roared and—
“Your little queen,” Lorcan sneered, “is a murderer, and a thief, and a liar. So if you’re going to call me such things, then be prepared to fling them at her, too.”
Her skin was too tight, her bones too brittle to bear the anger that took control. She scrambled for the right words to hurt him, wound him, as if they were fistfuls of rocks that she could hurl at Lorcan’s head.
Elide hissed, “I was wrong. I said you and I were the same—that we had no family, no friends. But I have none because land and circumstance separate me from them. You have none because no one can stomach being around you.” She tried—and succeeded, if the ire that rippled in his eyes was any indication—to look down her nose at him, even with him towering over her. “And you know what is the biggest lie you tell everyone, Lorcan? It’s that you prefer it that way. But what I hear, when you rant about my bitch-queen? All I hear are the words of someone who is deeply, deeply jealous, and lonely, and pathetic. All I hear are the words of someone who saw Aelin and Prince Rowan fall in love and resented them for their happiness—because you are so unhappy.” She couldn’t stop the words once they started flinging out. “So call Aelin a murderer and a thief and a liar. Call her a bitch-queen and a fire-breather. But forgive me if I take it upon myself to be the judge of those things when I meet her. Which I will do.” She pointed to the muddy gray river flowing around them. “I’m going to Eyllwe. Take me ashore and I’ll wash my hands of you as easily as you washed the blood of that man off yours.”
Lorcan looked her over, teeth bared enough to show those slightly elongated canines. But she didn’t care about his Fae heritage, or his age, or his ability to kill.
After a moment, he went back to pushing the pole against the river bottom—not to bring them to shore, but to guide them along.
“Did you not hear what I said? Take me to shore.”
Her rage overcame any sort of common sense, any warning from Anneith as she stormed over to him. “No?”
He let the pole drag in the water and turned his face to her. No emotion—not even anger lingered there. “The river veered southward two miles ago. From the map in the cabin, we can take it straight south, then find the fastest route to Banjali.” She wiped the rain from her dripping brow as Lorcan brought his face close enough for them to share breath. “Turns out, I now have business with Aelin Galathynius, too. Congratulations, Lady. You just got yourself a guide to Eyllwe.”
A cold, killing light was in his eyes, and she wondered what the hell he’d roared about.
But those eyes dipped to her mouth, clamped tight in her rage. And a part of her that had nothing to do with fear went still at the attention, even as other parts went a bit molten.
Lorcan’s eyes at last found her own, and his voice was a midnight growl as he said, “As far as anyone’s concerned, you’re still my wife.”
Elide didn’t object—even as she walked back into the cabin, his insufferable magic helping with her limp, and slammed the door shut so hard the glass rattled.
Storm clouds drifted away to reveal a star-flecked night and a moon bright enough for Lorcan to navigate the narrow, sleepy river.