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"ROYAL ASSASSIN" EPISODE 23"


ROYAL ASSASSIN

EPISODE 23


Celaena gaped at the ground. She knew these sharp, gray rocks—knew how they crunched beneath her feet, how they smelled after the rain, how they could so easily cut into her skin when she was thrown down. The rocks stretched for miles, rising into jagged, fang-like mountains that pierced the cloudy sky. In the frigid wind, she had little clothing to protect her from its stinging gusts. As she touched the dirty rags, her stomach rose in her throat. What had happened?

She pivoted, shackles clanking, and took in the desolate waste that was Endovier.

She had failed, failed and been sent back here. There was no chance of escape. She had tasted freedom, come so close to it, and now—

Celaena screamed as excruciating pain shot down her back, barely heralded by the crack of the whip. She fell onto the ground, stone slicing into her raw knees.

“Get on your feet,” someone barked.

Tears stung her eyes, and the whip creaked as it rose again. She would be killed this time. She would die from the pain of it.

The whip fell, slicing into bone, reverberating through her body, making everything collapse and explode in agony, shifting her body into a graveyard, a dead—

Celaena’s eyes flew open. She panted.

“Are you . . . ,” someone said beside her, and she jerked.

Where was she?

“It was a dream,” said Chaol.

She stared at him, then looked around the room, running a hand through her hair. Rifthold. Rifthold—that’s where she was. In the glass castle—no, in the stone castle beneath.

She was sweating, and the sweat on her back felt uncomfortably like blood. She felt dizzy, nauseated, too small and too large all at once. Though her windows were shut, an odd draft from somewhere in her room kissed her face, smelling strangely of roses.

“Celaena. It was a dream,” the Captain of the Guard said again. “You were screaming.” He gave her a shaky smile. “I thought you were being murdered.”

Celaena reached around to touch her back, beneath her nightshirt. She could feel the three ridges—and some smaller ones, but nothing, nothing—

“I was being whipped.” She shook her head to remove the memory from her mind. “What are you doing here? It’s not even dawn.” She crossed her arms, flushing slightly.

“It’s Samhuinn. I’m canceling our training today, but I wanted to see if you planned to attend the service.”

“Today’s—what? It’s Samhuinn today? Why has no one mentioned it? Is there a feast tonight?” Could she have become so enmeshed in the competition that she’d lost track of time?

He frowned. “Of course, but you’re not invited.”

“Of course. And will you be summoning the dead to you this haunted night or lighting a bonfire with your companions?”

“I don’t partake in such superstitious nonsense.”

“Be careful, my cynical friend!” she warned, putting a hand in the air. “The gods and the dead are closest to the earth this day—they can hear every nasty comment you make!”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s a silly holiday to celebrate the coming of winter. The bonfires just produce ash to cover the fields.”

“As an offering to the gods to keep them safe!”

“As a way to fertilize them.”

Celaena pushed back the covers. “So says you,” she said as she stood. She adjusted her drenched nightgown. She reeked of sweat.

He snorted, following after her as she walked. “I never took you for a superstitious person. How does that fit into your career?”

She glared at him over her shoulder before she strode into the bathing chamber, Chaol close behind. She paused on the threshold. “Are you going to join me?” she said, and Chaol stiffened, realizing his error. He slammed the door in response.

Celaena found him waiting in her dining room when she emerged, her hair dripping water onto the floor. “Don’t you have your own breakfast?”

“You still haven’t given me an answer.”

“An answer to what?” She sat down across the table and spooned porridge into a bowl. All that was needed was a heap—no, three heaps—of sugar, and some hot cream and—

“Are you going to temple?”

“I’m allowed to go to temple, but not to the feast?” She took a spoonful of the porridge.

“Religious observances shouldn’t be denied to anyone.”

“And the feast is . . . ”

“A show of debauchery.”

“Ah, I see.” She swallowed another bite. Oh, she loved porridge! But perhaps it needed another spoonful of sugar.

“Well? Are you going? We need to leave soon if you are.”

“No,” she said through her food.

“For someone so superstitious, you risk angering the gods by not attending. I imagine that an assassin would take more interest in the day of the dead.”

She made a demented face as she continued eating. “I worship in my own way. Perhaps I’ll make a sacrifice or two of my own.”

He rose, patting his sword. “Mind yourself while I’m gone. Don’t bother dressing too elaborately—Brullo told me that you’re still training this afternoon. You’ve got a Test tomorrow.”

“Again? Didn’t we just have one three days ago?” she moaned. The last Test had been javelin throwing on horseback, and a spot on her wrist was still tender.

But he said nothing more, and her chambers turned silent. Though she tried to forget it, the sound of the whip still snapped in her ears.

Grateful the service was finally over, Dorian Havilliard strode by himself through the castle grounds. Religion neither convinced nor moved him, and after hours of sitting in a pew, muttering prayer after prayer, he was in desperate need of some fresh air. And solitude.

He sighed through his clenched teeth, rubbing a spot on his temple, and headed through the garden. He passed a cluster of ladies, each of whom curtsied and giggled behind their fans. Dorian gave them a terse nod as he strode by. His mother had used the ceremony as a chance to point out all the eligible ladies to him. He’d spent the entire service trying not to scream at the top of his lungs.

Dorian turned around a hedge, almost crashing into a figure of blue-green velvet. It was the color of a mountain lake—that gem-like shade that didn’t quite have a name. Not to mention the dress was about a hundred years out of fashion. His gaze rose to her face, and he smiled.

“Hello, Lady Lillian,” he said, bowing, and then turned to her two companions. “Princess Nehemia. Captain Westfall.” Dorian eyed the assassin’s dress again. The folds of fabric—like the flowing waters of a river—were rather attractive. “You’re looking festive.” Celaena’s brows lowered.

“The Lady Lillian’s servants were attending the service when she dressed,” said Chaol. “There was nothing else to wear.” Of course; corsets required assistance to get in and out of—and the dresses were a labyrinth of secret clasps and ties.

“My apologies, my lord prince,” Celaena said. Her eyes were bright and angry, and a blush rose to her cheek. “I’m truly sorry my clothes don’t suit your taste.”

“No, no,” he said quickly, glancing at her feet. They were clad in red shoes—red like the winter berries beginning to pop out on the bushes. “You look very nice. Just a bit—out of place.” Centuries, actually. She gave him an exasperated look. He turned to Nehemia. “Forgive me,” he said in his best Eyllwe, which wasn’t very impressive at all. “How are you?”

Her eyes shone with amusement at his shoddy Eyllwe, but she nodded in acknowledgment. “I am well, Your Highness,” she answered in his language. Dorian’s attention flicked to her two guards, who lurked in the shadows nearby—waiting, watching. Dorian’s blood thrummed in his veins.

For weeks now, Duke Perrington had been pushing for a plan to bring more forces into Eyllwe—to crush the rebels so efficiently that they wouldn’t dare challenge Adarlan’s rule again. Just yesterday, the duke presented a plan: they would deploy more legions, and keep Nehemia here to discourage any retaliation from the rebels. Not particularly inclined to add hostage-taking to his repertoire of abilities, Dorian had spent hours arguing against it. But while some of the council members had also voiced their disapproval, the majority seemed to think the duke’s strategy to be a sound one. Still, Dorian had convinced them to back off about it until his father returned. That would give him time to win over some of the duke’s supporters.

Now, standing before her, Dorian quickly looked away from the princess. If he were anyone but the Crown Prince, he would warn her. But if Nehemia left before she was supposed to, the duke would know who had told her, and inform his father. Things were bad enough between Dorian and the king; he didn’t need to be branded as a rebel sympathizer.

“Are you going to the feast tonight?” Dorian asked the princess, forcing himself to look at her and keep his features neutral.

Nehemia looked to Celaena. “Are you attending?”

Celaena gave her a smile that only meant trouble. “Unfortunately, I have other plans. Isn’t that right, Your Highness?” She didn’t bother to hide the undercurrent of annoyance.

Chaol coughed, suddenly very interested in the berries in the hedges. Dorian was on his own. “Don’t blame me,” Dorian said smoothly. “You accepted an invitation to that party in Rifthold weeks ago.” Her eyes flickered, but Dorian wouldn’t yield. He couldn’t bring her to the feast, not with so many watching. There would be too many questions. Not to mention too many people. Keeping track of her would be difficult.

Nehemia frowned at Celaena. “So you’re not going?”

“No, but I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time,” Celaena said, then switched into Eyllwe and said something else. Dorian’s Eyllwe was just competent enough that he understood the gist of it to be: “His Highness certainly knows how to keep women entertained.”

Nehemia laughed, and Dorian’s face warmed. They made a formidable pair, gods help them all.

“Well, we’re very important and very busy,” Celaena said to him, linking elbows with the princess. Perhaps allowing them to be friends was a horrible, dangerous idea. “So, we must be off. Good day to you, Your Highness.” She curtsied, the red and blue gems in her belt sparkling in the sun. She looked over her shoulder, giving Dorian a sneer as she led the princess deeper into the garden.

Dorian glared at Chaol. “Thanks for your help.”

The captain clapped him on the shoulder. “You think that was bad? You should see them when they really get going.” With that, he strode after the women.

Dorian wanted to yell, to pull out his hair. He’d enjoyed seeing Celaena the other night—enjoyed it immensely. But for the past few weeks, he’d gotten caught up in council meetings and holding court, and hadn’t been able to visit her. Were it not for the feast, he’d go to her again. He hadn’t meant to annoy her with talk about the dress—though it was outdated—nor had he known she’d be that irritated about not being invited to the feast, but . . .

Dorian scowled and walked off to the kennels.

Celaena smiled to herself, running a finger across a neatly trimmed hedge. She thought the dress was lovely. Festive indeed!

“No, no, Your Highness,” Chaol was saying to Nehemia, slow enough that she could understand. “I’m not a soldier. I’m a guard.”

“There is no difference,” the princess retorted, her accent thick and a bit unwieldy. Still, Chaol understood enough to bristle, and Celaena could hardly contain her glee.

She’d managed to see Nehemia a fair amount over the past two weeks—mostly just for brief walks and dinners, where they discussed what it was like for Nehemia to grow up in Eyllwe, what she thought of Rifthold, and who at court had managed to annoy the princess that day. Which, to Celaena’s delight, was usually everyone.

“I’m not trained to fight in battles,” Chaol replied through his teeth.

“You kill on the orders of your king.” Your king. Nehemia might not be fully versed in their language, but she was smart enough to know the power of saying those two words. “Your king,” not hers. While Celaena could listen to Nehemia rant about the King of Adarlan for hours, they were in a garden—other people might be listening. A shudder went through Celaena, and she interrupted before Nehemia could say more.

“I think it’s useless arguing with her, Chaol,” Celaena said, nudging the Captain of the Guard with her elbow. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have given Terrin your title. Can you reclaim it? It’d prevent a lot of confusion.”

“How’d you remember my brother’s name?”

She shrugged, not quite understanding the gleam in his eye. “You told me. Why wouldn’t I remember it?” He looked handsome today. It was in the way his hair met his golden skin—in the tiny gaps between the strands, in the way it fell across his brow.

“I suppose you’ll enjoy the feast—without me there, that is,” she said morosely.

He snorted. “Are you that upset about missing it?”

“No,” she said, sweeping her unbound hair over a shoulder. “But—well, it’s a party, and everyone loves parties.”

“Shall I bring you a trinket from the revelry?”

“Only if it consists of a sizable portion of roast lamb.”

The air was bright and clear around them. “The feast isn’t that exciting,” he offered. “It’s the same as any supper. I can assure you the lamb will be dry and tough.”

“As my friend, you should either bring me along, or keep me company.”

“Friend?” he asked.

She blushed. “Well, ‘scowling escort’ is a better description. Or ‘reluctant acquaintance,’ if you prefer.” To her surprise, he smiled.

The princess grabbed Celaena’s hand. “You’ll teach me!” she said in Eyllwe. “Teach me how to better speak your language—and teach me how to write and read it better than I do now. So I don’t have to suffer through those horribly boring old men they call tutors.”

“I—” Celaena began in the common tongue, and winced. She felt guilty for leaving Nehemia out of the conversation for so long, and having the princess be fluent in both languages would be great fun. But convincing Chaol to let her see Nehemia was always a hassle—because he insisted on being there to keep watch. He’d never agree to sitting through lessons. “I don’t know how to properly teach you my language,” Celaena lied.

“Nonsense,” Nehemia said. “You’ll teach me. After . . . whatever it is you do with this one. For an hour every day before supper.”

Nehemia raised her chin in a way that suggested saying no wasn’t an option. Celaena swallowed, and did her best to look pleasant as she turned to Chaol, who observed them with raised brows. “She wishes me to tutor her every day before supper.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” he said. She translated.

Nehemia gave him the withering glare that usually made people start sweating. “Why not?” She fell into Eyllwe. “She’s smarter than most of the people in this castle.”

Chaol, thankfully, caught the general gist of it. “I don’t think that—”

“Am I not Princess of Eyllwe?” Nehemia interrupted in the common tongue.

“Your Highness,” Chaol began, but Celaena silenced him with a wave of her hand. They were approaching the clock tower—black and menacing, as always. But kneeling before it was Cain. His head bent, he focused on something on the ground.

At the sound of their footsteps, Cain’s head shot up. He grinned broadly and stood. His hands were covered in dirt, but before Celaena could better observe him, or his strange behavior, he nodded to Chaol and stalked away behind the tower.

“Nasty brute,” Celaena breathed, still staring in the direction in which he’d disappeared.

“Who is he?” Nehemia asked in Eyllwe.

“A soldier in the king’s army,” Celaena said, “though he now serves Duke Perrington.”

Nehemia looked after Cain, and her dark eyes narrowed. “Something about him makes me want to beat in his face.”

Celaena laughed. “I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

Chaol said nothing as he began walking again. She and Nehemia took up behind him, and as they crossed the small patio in which the clock tower stood, Celaena looked at the spot where Cain had just been kneeling. He’d dug out the dirt packed into the hollows of the strange mark in the flagstone, making the mark clearer. “What do you think this is?” she asked the princess, pointing at the mark etched into the tile. And why had Cain been cleaning it?

“A Wyrdmark,” the princess replied, giving it a name in Celaena’s own language.

Celaena’s brows rose. It was just a triangle inside of a circle. “Can you read these marks?” she asked. A Wyrdmark . . . how strange!

“No,” Nehemia said quickly. “They’re a part of an ancient religion that died long ago.”

“What religion?” Celaena asked. “Look, there’s another.” She pointed at another mark a few feet away. It was a vertical line with an inverted peak stretching upward from its middle.

“You should leave it alone,” Nehemia said sharply, and Celaena blinked. “Such things were forgotten for a reason.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Chaol, and she explained the gist of their conversation. When she finished, he curled his lip, but said nothing.

They continued on, and Celaena saw another mark. It was a strange shape: a small diamond with two inverted points protruding from either side. The top and bottom peaks of the diamond were elongated into a straight line, and it seemed to be symmetrically perfect. Had the king had them carved when he built the clock tower, or did they predate it?

Nehemia was staring at her forehead, and Celaena asked, “Is there dirt on my face?”

“No,” Nehemia said a bit distantly, her brows knotting as she studied Celaena’s brow. The princess suddenly stared into Celaena’s eyes with a ferocity that made the assassin recoil slightly. “You know nothing about the Wyrdmarks?”

The clock tower chimed. “No,” Celaena said. “I don’t know anything about them.”

“You’re hiding something,” the princess said softly in Eyllwe, though it was not accusatory. “You are much more than you seem, Lillian.”

“I—well, I should hope I’m more than just some simpering courtier,” she said with as much bravado as she could muster. She grinned broadly, hoping Nehemia would stop looking so strange, and stop staring at her brow. “Can you teach me how to speak Eyllwe properly?”

“If you can teach me more of your ridiculous language,” said the princess, though some caution still lingered in her eyes. What had Nehemia seen that caused her to act that way?

“It’s a deal,” Celaena said with a weak smile. “Just don’t tell him. Captain Westfall leaves me alone in the midafternoon. The hour before supper is perfect.”


“Then I shall come tomorrow at five,” Nehemia said. The princess smiled and began to walk once more, a spark appearing in her black eyes. Celaena could only follow after her.

_____

CLICK HERE TO READ EPISODE 24

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