Celaena took a step closer to the bars. A bucket for relieving herself, a bucket of water, the crumbs of her last meal, and moldy hay that formed a rough pallet; that was all Kaltain had been given.
All she deserves.
“Come to laugh?” Kaltain said. Her voice, which had once been rich and cultured, was little more than a hoarse whisper. It was freezing down here—it was a wonder Kaltain hadn’t fallen ill already.
“I have some questions for you,” Celaena said, keeping her words soft. Though the guards hadn’t challenged her right to enter the dungeons, she didn’t want them eavesdropping.
“I’m busy today.” Kaltain smiled, leaning her head against the stone wall. “Come back tomorrow.” She looked so much younger with her ebony hair unbound. She couldn’t be much older than Celaena herself.
Celaena dropped into a crouch, one hand braced against the bars for balance. The metal was bitingly cold. “What do you know about Roland Havilliard?”
Kaltain looked toward the stone ceiling. “He’s visiting?”
“He’s been appointed to the king’s council.”
Kaltain’s night-dark eyes met Celaena’s. There was a hint of madness there—but also wariness and exhaustion. “Why ask me about him?”
“Because I want to know if he can be trusted.”
Kaltain wheezed a laugh. “None of us can be trusted. Especially not Roland. The things I’ve heard about him are enough to turn even your stomach, I bet.”
Kaltain smirked. “Get me out of this cell and I might tell you.”
Celaena returned the smirk. “How about I walk inside that cell and find another way to get you to talk?”
“Don’t,” she whispered, shifting enough so that Celaena could see the bruises circling her wrists. They looked unnervingly like handprints.
Kaltain tucked her arms into the folds of her skirts. “The night watch looks the other way when Perrington visits.”
Celaena bit the inside of her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said, and meant it. And she would mention it to Chaol when she saw him next; make sure he had a word with the night watch.
Kaltain rested her cheek on her knee. “He’s ruined everything. And I don’t even know why. Why not just send me home instead?” Her voice had taken on a faraway quality that Celaena recognized too well from her time in Endovier. Once the memories and the pain and the fear took over, there would be no chance of talking to her.
She asked quietly, “You were close to Perrington. Did you ever overhear anything about his plans?” A dangerous question, but if anyone might tell her, it would be Kaltain.
But the girl was staring at nothing and didn’t reply.
Celaena stood. “Good luck.”
Kaltain just shivered, tucking her hands under her arms.
She should let Kaltain freeze to death for what she’d tried to do to her. She should walk out of the dungeons smiling, because for once the right person was locked away.
“They encourage the crows to fly past here,” Kaltain murmured, more to herself than to Celaena. “And my headaches are worse every day. Worse and worse, and full of all of those flapping wings.”
Celaena kept her face blank. She couldn’t hear anything—no caws, and certainly no flapping wings. Even if there were crows, the dungeon was so far underground that there was no way of hearing them here. “What do you mean?”
But Kaltain had already curled in on herself again, conserving as much warmth as she could. Celaena didn’t want to think about how frigid the cell must be at night; she knew what it felt like to curl up like that, desperate for any kernel of warmth, wondering whether you’d wake up in the morning, or if the cold would claim you before then.
Not giving herself the time to reconsider, Celaena unfastened her black cloak. She threw it through the bars, aiming carefully to avoid the long-dried vomit that was caked onto the stones. She’d also heard about the girl’s opium addiction—being locked away without a fix had to have driven her close to insanity, if she wasn’t mad to begin with.
Kaltain stared at the cloak that landed in her lap, and Celaena pivoted to return down the narrow, icy corridor and up to the warmer levels above.
“Sometimes,” Kaltain said softly, and Celaena paused. “Sometimes I think they brought me here. Not to marry Perrington, but for another purpose. They want to use me.”
“Use you for what?”
“They never say. When they come down here, they never tell me what they want. I don’t even remember. It’s all just … fragments. Shards of a broken mirror, each gleaming with its own individual image.”
She was mad. Celaena clamped down the urge to make a cutting remark, the memory of Kaltain’s bruises staying her tongue. “Thank you for your help.”
Kaltain wrapped Celaena’s cloak around herself. “Something is coming,” she whispered. “And I am to greet it.”
Celaena loosed the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. This conversation was pointless. “Good-bye, Kaltain.”
The girl only laughed softly, and the sound followed Celaena long after she’d left the freezing dungeons behind.
“Those bastards,” Nehemia spat, clenching her teacup so hard Celaena thought the princess would shatter it. They sat together in her bed, a large breakfast tray spread between them. Fleetfoot watched their every bite, ready to devour any stray crumbs. “How could the guards just turn their backs like that? How can they keep her in such conditions? Kaltain is a member of the court—and if they treat her like that, then I can’t begin to imagine how they treat criminals from the other classes.” Nehemia paused, glancing apologetically at Celaena.
Celaena shrugged and shook her head. After seeing Kaltain, she’d gone out to stalk Archer, but a snowstorm had struck, so fierce that visibility was nearly impossible. After an hour of trying to track him through the snow-swept city, she’d given up and come back to the castle.
The storm had continued all night, leaving a blanket of snow too deep for Celaena to take her usual morning run with Chaol. So she’d invited Nehemia to join her for breakfast in bed, and the princess—who was now thoroughly sick of snow—was more than happy to dash to Celaena’s rooms and hop under the warm covers.
Nehemia set down her tea. “You have to tell Captain Westfall about how she’s being treated.”
Celaena finished her scone and leaned back in her fluffed-up pillows. “I already did. He dealt with it.” No need to mention that after Chaol had returned to his bedroom, where Celaena had been reading, his tunic was rumpled, his knuckles were raw, and there was a deadly sort of gleam in his chestnut eyes that told Celaena the dungeon guard was going to have some serious changes—and new members.
“You know,” Nehemia mused, using her foot to gently shove Fleetfoot away as the dog tried to snatch some food off their tray, “the courts weren’t always like this. There was a time when people valued honor and loyalty—when serving a ruler wasn’t about obedience and fear.” She shook her head, her gold-tipped braids tinkling. In the early morning sun, her hazelnut skin was smooth and lovely. Honestly, it was a tad unfair that Nehemia naturally looked so beautiful—especially at the crack of dawn.
Nehemia went on. “I think such honor faded from Adarlan generations ago, but before Terrasen fell, its royal court was the one that set the example. My father used to tell me stories of Terrasen’s court—of the warriors and lords who served King Orlon in his inner circle, of the unrivaled power and bravery and loyalty of his court. That was why the King of Adarlan targeted Terrasen first. Because it was the strongest, and because if Terrasen had been given the chance to raise an army against him, Adarlan would have been annihilated. My father still says that if Terrasen were to rise again, it might stand a chance; it would be a genuine threat to Adarlan.”
Celaena looked toward the hearth. “I know,” she managed to get out.
Nehemia turned to look at her. “Do you think another court like that could ever rise again? Not just in Terrasen, but anywhere? I’ve heard the court in Wendlyn still follows the old ways, but they’re across the ocean, and do us no good. They looked in the other direction while the king enslaved our lands, and they still refuse all calls for aid.”
Celaena forced herself to snort, to wave her hand in dismissal. “This is an awfully heavy discussion for breakfast.” She filled her mouth with toast. When she dared a glance at the princess, Nehemia’s expression remained contemplative. “Any news about the king?”
Nehemia clicked her tongue. “Only that he’s added that little grub, Roland, to his council, and Roland seems to have been given the task of handling me. Apparently, I’ve been too pushy with Minister Mullison, the councilman responsible for dealing with Calaculla’s labor camp. Roland is supposed to placate me.”
“I can’t tell who I feel worse for: you or Roland.”
Nehemia jabbed her in the side, and Celaena chuckled, batting her hand away. Fleetfoot used their temporary distraction to swipe a piece of bacon right off the platter, and Celaena squawked. “You brazen thief!”
But Fleetfoot leapt off the bed, scuttled to the hearth, and stared right at Celaena as she gobbled down the rest of the bacon.
Nehemia laughed, and Celaena found herself joining in before she tossed Fleetfoot another piece of bacon. “Let’s just stay in bed all day,” Celaena said, throwing herself back onto the pillows and nestling into the blankets.
“I certainly wish I could,” Nehemia said, sighing loudly. “Alas, I have things to do.”
And so did she, Celaena realized. Like preparing for her dinner that evening with Archer.
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