Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5) - Sarah J. Maas
The bone drums had been pounding across the jagged slopes of the Black Mountains since sundown.
From the rocky outcropping on which her war tent groaned against the dry wind, Princess Elena Galathynius had monitored the dread-lord’s army all afternoon as it washed across those mountains in ebony waves. And now that the sun had long since vanished, the enemy campfires flickered across the mountains and valley below like a blanket of stars.
So many fires—so many, compared to those burning on her side of the valley.
She did not need the gift of her Fae ears to hear the prayers of her human army, both spoken and silent. She’d offered up several herself in the past few hours, though she knew they would go unanswered.
Elena had never considered where she might die—never considered that it might be so far from the rocky green of Terrasen. That her body might not be burned, but devoured by the dread-lord’s beasts.
There would be no marker to tell the world where a Princess of Terrasen had fallen. There would be no marker for any of them.
“You need rest,” a rough male voice said from the tent entrance behind her.
Elena looked over her shoulder, her unbound silver hair snagging on the intricate leather scales of her armor. But Gavin’s dark gaze was already on the two armies stretching below them. On that narrow black band of demarcation, too soon to be breached.
For all his talk of rest, Gavin hadn’t removed his own armor upon entering their tent hours before. Only minutes ago had his war leaders finally shoved out of the tent, bearing maps in their hands and not a shred of hope in their hearts. She could scent it on them—the fear. The despair.
Gavin’s steps hardly crunched on the dry, rocky earth as he approached her lonely vigil, near-silent thanks to his years roaming the wilds of the South. Elena again faced those countless enemy fires.
He said hoarsely, “Your father’s forces could still make it.”
A fool’s hope. Her immortal hearing had picked up every word of the hours of debate raging inside the tent behind them. “This valley is now a death trap,” Elena said.
And she had led them all here.
Gavin did not answer.
“Come dawn,” Elena went on, “it will be bathed in blood.”
The war leader at her side remained silent. So rare for Gavin, that silence. Not a flicker of that untamed fierceness shone in his uptilted eyes, and his shaggy brown hair hung limp. She couldn’t remember the last time either of them had bathed.
Gavin turned to her with that frank assessment that had stripped her bare from the moment she’d first met him in her father’s hall nearly a year ago. Lifetimes ago.
Such a different time, a different world—when the lands had still been full of singing and light, when magic hadn’t begun to flicker in the growing shadow of Erawan and his demon soldiers. She wondered how long Orynth would hold out once the slaughter here in the South had ended. Wondered if Erawan would first destroy her father’s shining palace atop the mountain, or if he would burn the royal library—burn the heart and knowledge of an age. And then burn its people.
“Dawn is yet hours away,” said Gavin, his throat bobbing. “Time enough for you to make a run for it.”
“They’d tear us to shreds before we could clear the passes—”
“Not us. You.” The firelight cast his tan face in flickering relief. “You alone.”
“I will not abandon these people.” Her fingers grazed his. “Or you.”
Gavin’s face didn’t stir. “There is no avoiding tomorrow. Or the bloodshed. You overheard what the messenger said—I know you did. Anielle is a slaughterhouse. Our allies from the North are gone. Your father’s army is too far behind. We will all die before the sun is fully risen.”
“We’ll all die one day anyway.”
“No.” Gavin squeezed her hand. “I will die. Those people down there—they will die. Either by sword or time. But you…” His gaze flicked to her delicately pointed ears, the heritage of her father. “You could live for centuries. Millennia. Do not throw it away for a doomed battle.”
“I would sooner die tomorrow than live for a thousand years with a coward’s shame.”
But Gavin stared across the valley again. At his people, the last line of defense against Erawan’s horde.
“Get behind your father’s lines,” he said roughly, “and continue the fight from there.”
She swallowed hard. “It would be no use.”
Slowly, Gavin looked at her. And after all these months, all this time, she confessed,