Celaena dipped her spoon into her porridge, tasted it, then dumped in a mountain of sugar. “I much prefer eating breakfast together than going out in the freezing cold.” Fleetfoot, her head on Celaena’s lap, huffed loudly. “I think she does, too,” she added with a grin.
Nehemia laughed softly before taking a bite of her bread. “It seems like this is the only time of day either of us get to see you,” she said in Eyllwe.
“I’ve been busy.”
“Busy hunting down the conspirators on the king’s list?” A pointed glance in her direction; another bite of toast.
“What do you want me to say?” Celaena stirred the sugar into her porridge, focusing on that instead of the look on her friend’s face.
“I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that you think your freedom is worth this price.”
“Is this why you’ve been so on edge lately?”
Nehemia set down her toast. “How can I tell my parents about you? What excuses can I make that will convince them that my friendship with the King’s Champion”—she used the common-tongue language for the two words, spitting them out like poison—“is in any way an honorable thing? How can I convince them that your soul isn’t rotted?”
“I didn’t realize that I needed parental approval.”
“You are in a position of power—and knowledge—and yet you just obey. You obey and you do not question, and you work only toward one goal: your freedom.”
Celaena shook her head and looked away.”
“You turn from me because you know it’s true.
“And what is so wrong with wanting my freedom? Haven’t I suffered enough to deserve it? So what if the means are unpleasant?”
“I won’t deny that you have suffered, Elentiya, but there are thousands more who have also suffered—and suffered more. And they do not sell themselves to the king to get what they, too, deserve. With each person you kill, I am finding fewer and fewer excuses for remaining your friend.”
Celaena flung her spoon down on the table and stalked to the fireplace. She wanted to rip down the tapestries and the paintings and smash all the silly little baubles and ornaments she’d bought to decorate her room. Mostly she just wanted to make Nehemia stop looking at her like that—like she was just as bad as the monster who sat on that glass throne. She took a breath, then another, listening for signs of anyone else in her chambers, then turned.
“I haven’t killed anyone,” she said softly.
Nehemia went still. “What?”
“I haven’t killed anyone.” She remained where she was standing, needing the distance between them to get the words out right. “I faked all of their deaths and helped them flee.”
Nehemia ran her hands over her face, smearing the powdered gold she’d dusted on her eyelids. After a moment, she lowered her fingers. Her dark, lovely eyes were wide. “You haven’t killed a single person he’s ordered you to kill?”
“Not a single one.”
“What about Archer Finn?”
“I offered Archer a bargain: I give him until the end of the month to get his affairs in order before he fakes his death and flees, and he gives me information about the actual enemies of the king.” She could tell Nehemia the rest of it later—the king’s plans, the library catacombs—but mentioning those things now would only bring up too many questions.
Nehemia took a sip of her tea, the liquid inside the cup sloshing as her hands shook. “He’ll kill you if he finds out.”
Celaena looked to the balcony doors, where a beautiful day was dawning in the wide-open world beyond. “I know.”
“And this information that Archer is giving you—what will you do with it? What sort of information is it?”
Celaena briefly explained what he’d told her about the people involved in putting Terrasen’s lost heir back on the throne, even telling her what had happened with Davis. Nehemia’s face paled. When Celaena finished, Nehemia took another trembling sip of tea. “And you trust Archer?”
“I think he values his life more than he values anything else.”
“He’s a courtesan; how can you be sure you can trust him?”
Celaena slipped back into her chair, Fleetfoot curling between her feet. “Well, you trust me, and I’m an assassin.”
“It’s not the same.”
Celaena looked to the tapestry along the wall to her left, and the chest of drawers in front of it. “While I’m telling you all the things that could get me executed, there’s something else that I should bring up.”
Nehemia followed her line of sight to the tapestry. After a moment, she let out a gasp. “Is that—that’s Elena in the tapestry, isn’t it?”
Celaena smiled crookedly and crossed her arms. “That’s not even the worst of it.”
As they walked down to the tomb, Celaena told Nehemia about everything that had occurred between her and Elena since Samhuinn—and all the adventures that had befallen her. She showed her the room where Cain had summoned the ridderak, and as they approached the tomb, Celaena winced as she remembered one miserable new detail.
“Brought a friend?”
Nehemia yelped. Celaena greeted the bronze, skull-shaped door knocker. “Hello, Mort.”
Nehemia squinted at the skull. “How is this—” She looked over her shoulder at Celaena. “How is this possible?”
“Ancient spells and nonsense,” Celaena said, cutting off Mort as he began recite the story of how King Brannon created him. “Someone used a spell with the Wyrdmarks.”
“Someone!” Mort sputtered. “That someone is—”
“Shut it,” Celaena said, and flung open the tomb door, letting Nehemia inside. “Save it for someone who cares.”
Mort huffed what sounded like a violent stream of curses, and Nehemia’s eyes twinkled as they entered the tomb. “It’s incredible,” the princess whispered, gazing at the walls where the Wyrdmarks had been written.
“What does it say?”
“‘Death, Eternity, Rulers,’” Nehemia recited. “Standard tomb posturing.” She continued moving through the room. As Nehemia strode about, Celaena leaned against a wall and slumped to the ground. Sighing, she rubbed her heel against one of the raised stars on the floor, examining the curve that they made across the room.
Do they make a constellation?
Celaena rose to her feet and stared down. Nine of the stars made up a familiar pattern—the Dragonfly. Her brows rose. She’d never realized it before. A few feet away another constellation lay on the floor—the Wyvern. It sat at the head of Gavin’s sarcophagus.
A symbol of Adarlan’s house, as well as the second constellation in the sky.
Celaena followed the line that the shapes made, weaving through the tomb. The night sky passed beneath her feet, and by the time she reached the final constellation, she would have collided with the wall had Nehemia not grabbed her by the arm.
“What is it?”
Celaena was staring down at the last constellation—the Stag, Lord of the North. The symbol of Terrasen, Elena’s home country. The constellation faced the wall, and its head seemed to be pointed upward, as though it were looking at something …
Celaena followed the stag’s stare, up through the dozens of Wyrdmarks that covered the wall, until—
“By the Wyrd. Look at this,” she said, pointing.
An eye, no larger than her palm, was etched into the wall. A hole was bored in its center, a perfectly crafted puncture that had been carefully concealed within the eye. The Wyrdmark itself made a face, and while the other eye was filled in and smooth, this one held a hollowed-out iris.
It is only with the eye that one can see rightly. There was no way she was that lucky—it was surely no more than coincidence. Calming her growing excitement, she lifted onto her toes to see into the eye.
How had she not noticed this before? She took a step back, and the Wyrdmark faded into the wall. She stepped back onto the constellation, and it appeared again.
“You can only see the face when you stand on the stag,” Nehemia whispered.
Celaena ran her hands over the face, feeling for any cracks or slight breezes that might suggest a door into another room. Nothing. With a deep breath, she rose onto her toes and faced the eye, her dagger held aloft in case anything leapt out at her. Nehemia chuckled softly. And Celaena conceded a smile as she put her eye against the stone and peered into the gloom.
There was nothing. Just a distant wall, illuminated by a small shaft of moonlight.
“It’s just—just a blank wall. Does that make any sort of sense?” She’d been jumping to conclusions—trying to see things and make connections that weren’t there. Celaena stepped away so Nehemia could see for herself. “Mort!” she hollered while the princess looked. “What the hell is that wall? Does it make any sense to you why it would be here?”
“No,” Mort said dully.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Lie to you? To you? Oh, I couldn’t lie to you. You asked me whether it makes sense, and I said no. You must learn to ask the right questions before you can receive the right answers.”
Celaena growled. “What sort of question might I ask to receive the right answer?”
Mort clicked his tongue. “I’ll have none of that. Come back when you have some proper questions.”
“You promise you’ll tell me then?”
“I’m a door knocker; it’s not in my nature to make promises.”
Nehemia stepped away from the wall and rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to his teasing. I can’t see anything, either. Perhaps it is just a prank. Old castles are full of nonsense intended only to confuse and bother later generations. But—all these Wyrdmarks …”
Celaena took a too-short breath, and then made the request that she’d been contemplating for some time now. “Could you—could you teach me how to read them?”
“Oho!” cackled Mort from the hall. “Are you sure you’re not too dim to understand?”
Celaena ignored him. She hadn’t told Nehemia about Elena’s latest demand to uncover the king’s source of power, because she knew what Nehemia’s response would be: listen to the dead queen. But the Wyrdmarks seemed so connected to everything, somehow—even to that eye riddle and this stupid trick wall. And perhaps if she learned how to use them, then she could unlock the iron door in the library and find some answers beyond it. “Maybe … maybe just the basics?”
Nehemia smiled. “The basics are the hardest part.”
Usefulness aside, it was a forgotten secret language, a system for accessing a strange power. Who wouldn’t want to learn about it? “Morning lessons instead of our walk, then?”
Nehemia beamed, and Celaena felt a twinge of guilt for not telling her about the catacombs as the princess said, “Of course.”
When they left, Nehemia spent a few minutes studying Mort—mostly asking him questions about his creation spell, which he claimed to have forgotten, then claimed was too private, then claimed she had no business hearing.
After Nehemia’s near-infinite patience wore thin, they cursed Mort soundly and stormed back upstairs, where Fleetfoot was anxiously waiting in the bedroom. The dog refused to set foot in the secret passage—probably because of some foul stench left over from Cain and his creature. Even Nehemia hadn’t been able to coax her downstairs with them.
Once the door was closed and hidden, Celaena leaned against her desk. The eye in the tomb hadn’t been the solution to the riddle. Now she wondered if Nehemia might have a better sense of what it was about.
“I found a book on Wyrdmarks in Davis’s office,” she told Nehemia. “I can’t tell if it’s a riddle or a proverb, but someone wrote this on the inside back cover: It is only with the eye that one can see rightly.”
Nehemia frowned. “Sounds like an idle lord’s nonsense to me.”
“But do you think it’s just coincidence that he was a part of this movement against the king and had a book on Wyrdmarks? What if this is some sort of riddle about them?”
Nehemia snorted. “What if Davis wasn’t even in this group? Perhaps Archer had his information wrong. I bet that book had been there for years—and I bet Davis didn’t even know it existed. Or maybe he saw it in a bookshop and bought it to look daring.”
But maybe he didn’t—and maybe Archer was on to something. She would question him when she saw him next. Celaena fiddled with the chain of her amulet—then went rod-straight. The Eye. “Do you think it could be this Eye?”
“No,” Nehemia said. “It wouldn’t be that easy.”
“But—” Celaena pushed off the desk.
“Trust me,” Nehemia said. “It’s a coincidence—just like that eye in the wall. ‘The eye’ could refer to anything—anything at all. Having eyes plastered all over things used to be quite popular centuries ago as a ward against evil. You’ll drive yourself mad, Elentiya. I can do some research on the subject, but it might take a while before I find anything.”
Celaena’s face warmed. Fine; maybe she was wrong. She didn’t want to believe Nehemia, didn’t want to think that the riddle could be that impossible to solve, but … the princess knew far more about ancient lore than she did. So Celaena sat down at her breakfast table again. Her porridge had gone cold, but she ate it anyway. “Thank you,” she said in between mouthfuls as Nehemia sat down again, too. “For not exploding on me.”
Nehemia laughed. “Elentiya, I’m honestly surprised you told me.”
An opening and closing door, then footsteps, then Philippa knocked and bustled in, carrying a letter for Celaena. “Good morning, beautiful ladies,” she clucked, making Nehemia grin. “A letter for our most esteemed Champion.”
Celaena beamed at Philippa and took it, and her smile grew as she read the contents once the servant left. “It’s from Archer,” she told Nehemia. “He’s given me some names of people who might be involved in this movement—people associated with Davis.” She was a little shocked he’d risk putting it all in a letter. Perhaps she needed to teach him a thing or two about code-writing.
Nehemia had stopped smiling, though. “What sort of man just hands out this information like it’s nothing more than morning gossip?”
“A man who wants his freedom and has had enough of serving pigs.” Celaena folded the letter and stood. If the men on this list were anything like Davis, then perhaps handing them over to the king and using them as leverage wouldn’t be so horrible after all. “I should get dressed; I need to go into the city.” She was halfway to her dressing room when she turned. “We’ll have our first lesson over breakfast tomorrow?”
Nehemia nodded, digging into her food again.
It took her all day to hunt down the men—to learn where they lived, whom they spoke to, how well-guarded they were. None of it yielded anything useful.
She was tired and cranky and hungry when she trudged back to the castle at sundown, and her mood only took a turn for the worse when she arrived at her rooms and found a note from Chaol. The king had commanded her to be on guard duty yet again for the royal ball that night.
CLICK HERE TO READ EPISODE 17