Celaena sat in the parlor of Archer’s townhouse, frowning at the crackling fireplace. She hadn’t touched the tea the butler had laid out for her on the low-lying marble table, though she’d certainly indulged in two creampuffs and one chocolate torte while waiting for Archer to return. She could have come back later, but it was freezing outside, and after standing on guard duty last night, she was exhausted. And in need of anything to distract her from reliving that dance with Chaol.
After the waltz had finished, he’d merely told her that if she abandoned her post again, he’d break a hole through the ice in the trout pond and toss her in. And then, as though he hadn’t just danced with her in a way that made her knees tremble, he stalked back inside and left her to suffer in the cold. He hadn’t even mentioned the dance this morning during their run. Maybe she’d just imagined the whole thing. Maybe the frigid night air had made her stupid.
She’d been distracted during her first Wyrdmarks lesson with Nehemia that morning and had earned a fair amount of scolding as a result. She blamed the complex, near-nonsensical language. She’d learned a few languages before—enough to get by in places where Adarlan’s language laws hadn’t taken root—but Wyrdmarks were completely different. Trying to learn them while also trying to unravel the labyrinth that was Chaol Westfall was impossible.
Celaena heard the front door open. Muffled words, hurried footsteps, and then—Archer’s beautiful face popped in. “Just give me a moment to freshen up.”
She stood. “That won’t be necessary. This won’t take long.”
Archer’s green eyes glimmered, but he slipped into the parlor, shutting the mahogany door behind him.
“Sit,” she told him, not particularly caring that this was his house. Archer obeyed, taking a seat in the armchair across from the couch. His face was flushed from the cold, making his lovely eyes seem even greener.
She crossed her legs. “If your butler doesn’t stop listening at the keyhole, I’m going to cut off his ears and shove them down his throat.”
There was a muffled cough, followed by retreating footsteps. Once she was sure no one else was listening, she leaned back into the couch cushions. “I need more than a list of names. I need to know what, exactly, they’re planning—and how much they know about the king.”
Archer’s face paled. “I need more time, Celaena.”
“You have little more than three weeks left.”
“Give me five.”
“The king only gave me a month to kill you. I already have a hard time convincing everyone you’re a difficult target. I can’t give you more time.”
“But I need it to wrap up things here in Rifthold and to get you more information. With Davis dead, they’re all being extra careful. No one is talking. No one dares whisper anything.”
“Do they know Davis was a mistake?”
“Mistakes happen often enough in Rifthold for us to know that most of them are anything but mistakes.” He ran his hands through his hair. “Please. Just a little more time.”
“I don’t have any to give you. I need more than names, Archer.”
“What about the Crown Prince? And the Captain of the Guard? Perhaps they have the information you need. You’re close with both of them, aren’t you?”
She bared her teeth at him. “What do you know about them?”
Archer gave her a steady, calculating look. “You think I didn’t recognize the Captain of the Guard the day you just happened to run into me outside of the Willows?” His attention flicked to her side, where her hand currently rested on a dagger. “Have you told them about your plan to keep me alive?”
“No,” she said, her grip on the dagger relaxing. “No, I haven’t. I don’t want to involve them.”
“Or is it because you don’t actually trust either of them?”
She shot to her feet. “Don’t presume to know anything about me, Archer.”
She stalked to the door and flung it open. The butler was nowhere to be seen. She looked over her shoulder at Archer, whose eyes were wide as he watched her. “You have until the end of the week—six days—to get me more information. If you don’t give me anything by then, my next visit won’t be nearly as pleasant.”
Not giving him the time to reply, she stormed out of the room, grabbed her cloak from the front closet, and strode back out onto the icy city streets.
The maps and figures in front of Dorian had to be wrong. Someone had to be playing a joke, because there was no way Calaculla had this many slaves. Seated at the long table in his father’s council chamber, Dorian glanced at the men around him. None looked surprised, none looked upset. Councilman Mullison, who had taken a special interest in Calaculla, was practically beaming.
He should have fought to get Nehemia into this council meeting. But there was probably nothing she could say right now that would have any impact on a decision that had clearly already been made.
His father was smiling faintly at Roland, his head propped on a fist. The black ring on the king’s hand glinted in the dim light from the beastly fireplace, that mouth-shaped hearth that seemed poised to devour the room.
From his spot beside Perrington, Roland gestured to the map. Another black ring glinted on Roland’s hand—the same as the one Perrington wore, too. “As you can see, Calaculla can’t support the current number of slaves. There are too many to even fit in the mines as it is—and though we have them digging for new deposits, the work has been stagnant.” Roland smiled. “But, slightly to the north, right along the southern edge of Oakwald, our men have discovered an iron deposit that seems to cover a large area. It’s close enough to Calaculla that we could erect a few new buildings to house additional guards and overseers, bring in even more slaves if we want, and start work on it right away.”
Impressed murmurs, and a nod from his father to Roland made Dorian’s jaw clench. Three matching rings; three black rings to signify—what? That they were bound in some way to each other? How had Roland gotten past his father’s and Perrington’s defenses so quickly? Because of his support of a place like Calaculla?
Nehemia’s words from the night before kept ringing in his head. He’d seen the scars on Celaena’s back up close—a brutal mess of flesh that made him sick with rage to look at. How many like her were rotting away in these labor camps?
“And where will the slaves sleep?” Dorian suddenly asked. “Will you build shelter for them, too?”
Everyone, including his father, turned to look at him. But Roland just shrugged. “They’re slaves. Why shelter them, when they can sleep in the mines? Then we wouldn’t waste time bringing them in and out every day.”
More murmurs and nods. Dorian stared at Roland. “If we have a surplus of slaves, then why not let some of them go? Surely they’re not all rebels and criminals.”
A growl from down the table—his father. “Watch your tongue, Prince.”
Not a father to his son, but a king to his heir. Still, that icy rage was growing, and he kept seeing Celaena’s scars, her too-thin body the day they’d pulled her out of Endovier, her gaunt face and the hope and desperation mingling in her eyes. He heard Nehemia’s words: What she went through is a blessing compared to what most endure.
Dorian peered down the table at his father, whose face was dark with irritation. “Is this the plan? Now that we’ve conquered the continent, you’ll throw everyone into Calaculla or Endovier, until there’s no one left in the kingdoms but people from Adarlan?”
The rage dragged him down to the place where he’d felt that flicker of ancient power when Nehemia had touched his heart. “You keep tightening the leash, and it’s going to snap,” Dorian said to his father, then looked across the table to Roland and Mullison. “How about you spend a year in Calaculla, and when you’re done, you two can sit here and tell me about your plans for expansion.”
His father slammed his hands on the table, rattling the glasses and pitchers. “You will mind your mouth, Prince, or you will be thrown out of this room before the vote.”
Dorian shot out of his seat. Nehemia had been right. He hadn’t looked at the others in Endovier. He hadn’t let himself. “I’ve heard enough,” he snarled at his father, at Roland and Mullison, at Perrington, and at all the lords and men in the room. “You want my vote? Then here it is: No. Not in a thousand years.”
His father growled, but Dorian was already walking across the red marble floor, past that horrible fireplace, out the doors, and into the bright halls of the glass castle.
He didn’t know where he was going, only that he felt freezing cold—a cold that fueled the calm, glittering rage. He took flight after flight of stairs down into the stone castle, then long hallways and narrow staircases until he found a forgotten hall where there were no eyes to see him as he drew back his fist and punched the wall.
The stone cracked under his hand.
Not a small crack, but a spiderweb that kept growing and growing toward the window on the right, until—
The window exploded, glass showering everywhere as Dorian dropped into a crouch and covered his head. Air rushed in, so cold his eyes blurred, but he just knelt there, fingers in his hair, breathing, breathing, breathing as the anger ebbed out of him.
It wasn’t possible. Maybe he’d just hit the wall in the wrong spot, and the damn thing was so ancient that it had only been waiting for something like this to happen. He’d never heard of stone cracking that way—spreading out like a living thing—and then the window …
Heart racing, Dorian lowered his hands from his head and looked at them. There wasn’t a bruise or a cut, or even a trace of pain. But he’d hit that wall as hard as he could. He could have—should have—broken his hand. Yet his knuckles were unharmed—only white from gripping his fingers in a tight fist.
On trembling legs, Dorian rose and surveyed the damage.
The wall had splintered, but remained intact. The ancient window, however, had shattered completely. And around him, around where he had crouched …
A perfect circle, clean of debris, as if the glass and wood had showered everything but him.
It wasn’t possible. Because magic—
Dorian dropped to his knees and was violently sick.
Curled on the couch beside Chaol, Celaena took a sip of her tea and frowned. “Can’t you hire a servant like Philippa, so we can have someone bring us treats?”
Chaol raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you ever stay in your own rooms anymore?”
No. Not if she could help it. Not with Elena and Mort and all that nonsense just a secret door away. Ordinarily, she might have sought sanctuary in the library, but not now. Not when the library held so many secrets it made her head spin to think about them. For a moment, she wondered if Nehemia had discovered anything about the riddle in Davis’s office. She’d have to ask her tomorrow.
She kicked Chaol in the ribs with a sock-covered foot. “All I’m saying is that I’d like some chocolate cake every now and then.”
He closed his eyes. “And an apple tart, and a loaf of bread, and a pot of stew, and a mountain of cookies, and a—” He chuckled as she put her foot against his face and pushed. He grabbed her foot and wouldn’t let go when she tried yanking her leg back. “It’s true, and you know it, Laena.”
“So what if it is? Haven’t I earned the right to eat as much as I want, whenever I want?” She wrenched her foot out of his grasp as the smile faded from his face.
“Yes,” he said quietly, his voice barely audible over the crackling fire. “You have.” After a few moments of silence, he stood up and walked to the door.
She sat up on her elbows. “Where are you going?”
He opened the door. “To get you chocolate cake.”
When he returned, and after they’d both eaten half of the cake he’d swiped from the kitchens, Celaena lay back on the couch, a hand on her full belly. Chaol was already sprawled across the cushions, sleeping soundly. Staying up until the middle of the night at the ball, then awakening for their sunrise run this morning had been exhausting. Why hadn’t he just canceled the run?
You know, the courts weren’t always like this, Nehemia had said. There was a time when people valued honor and loyalty—when serving a ruler wasn’t about obedience and fear…. Do you think another court like that could ever rise again?
Celaena hadn’t given Nehemia an answer. She hadn’t wanted to talk about it. But looking at Chaol now, at the man he was, and the man he was still becoming …
Yes, she thought. Yes, Nehemia. It could rise again, if we could find more men like him.
But not in a world with this king, she realized. He’d crush a court like that before Nehemia could muster one. If the king were gone, then the court that Nehemia dreamed of could change the world. That court could undo the damage of a decade of brutality and terror; it could restore the lands ravaged by conquest and renew the hearts of the kingdoms that shattered when Adarlan marched in.
And in that world … Celaena swallowed hard. She and Chaol would never be a normal boy and girl, but perhaps in that world they could make a life of their own. She wanted that life. Because even though he’d pretended nothing had happened after the dance they’d shared last night, something had. And maybe it had taken her this long to realize it, but this man—she wanted that life with him.
The world Nehemia dreamed about, and the world Celaena sometimes dared let herself consider, was nothing more than a shred of hope and a memory of what the kingdoms had once been. But perhaps the rebel movement truly knew about the king’s plans and how to ruin them—how to destroy him, with or without Aelin Galathynius and whatever army they claimed she was raising.
Celaena sighed and eased off the couch, gently shifting Chaol’s legs so she didn’t disturb him. She turned back, though—just once, leaning down to brush her fingers through his short hair, then graze them along his cheek. Then she quietly slipped from his room, taking the remnants of the chocolate cake with her.
She was wondering whether eating the rest of the chocolate cake would make her severely sick when she turned down her hallway and spotted Dorian sitting on the floor outside her rooms. He looked over when he saw her, his eyes going to the cake in her hands. Celaena blushed and lifted her chin. They hadn’t spoken since their argument over Roland. Perhaps he’d come to apologize. Served him right.
But as she neared and Dorian got to his feet, she took one look at the expression in his sapphire eyes and knew he wasn’t here for an apology.
“It’s a bit late for a visit,” she said by way of greeting.
Dorian put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. His face was pale, his eyes haunted, but he gave her half a smile. “It’s a bit late for chocolate cake, too. Been raiding the kitchens?”
She remained outside her rooms, running an eye over him. He looked fine—no bruises, no signs of injury—yet something was off. “What are you doing here?”
He avoided her gaze. “I was looking for Nehemia, but her servants said she was out. I thought they meant here; then I thought you two might be out for a stroll.”
“I haven’t seen her since this morning. Is there something you want from her?”
Dorian took a ragged breath, and Celaena suddenly realized just how cold it was in the hallway. How long had he been sitting here on the freezing floor? “No,” he said, shaking his head as if convincing himself of something. “No, there isn’t.”
He began walking away. She started speaking before she knew she’d opened her mouth. “Dorian. What’s wrong?”
He turned. For a heartbeat, there was something in his eyes that reminded her of a world long since burned—a glimmer of color and power that still stalked the edges of her nightmares. But he blinked, and it was gone. “Nothing. There’s nothing wrong at all.” He strode away, hands still in his pockets. “Enjoy your cake,” he said over his shoulder, and then was gone.
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