There was no one else to carry out this task, not with Eyllwe soldiers and ambassadors still on their way to retrieve Nehemia’s body from where it lay interred in the royal plot. As Celaena opened the door to the room that had smelled of blood and pain, she saw that someone had cleaned away all traces of gore. The mattress was gone, and Celaena paused in the doorway as she surveyed the skeleton of the bed frame. Perhaps it would be best to leave Nehemia’s belongings to the people who came to bring her back to Eyllwe.
But would they be friends of hers? The thought of strangers touching Nehemia’s belongings, packing them away like any other objects, made her wild with grief and rage.
Almost as wild as she’d been earlier today, when she’d walked into her own dressing room and ripped every gown off its hanger, pulled out every pair of shoes, every tunic, every ribbon and cloak and thrown them into the hallway.
She’d burned the dresses that reminded her most of Nehemia, the dresses she’d worn at their lessons, at their meals, and on their walks around the castle. It was only when Philippa came in to scold her about the smoke that Celaena had relented, allowing her to take whatever clothing survived and donate it. But it had been too late to stop Celaena from burning the dress she’d worn the night of Chaol’s birthday. That gown had burned first.
And when her dressing room was empty, she shoved a bag of gold into Philippa’s hands and told her to go buy some new clothes. Philippa had only given her a sad look—another thing that made Celaena sick—and left.
It took Celaena an hour to gently, carefully pack up Nehemia’s clothes and jewelry, and she tried not to dwell too long on the memories that accompanied each item. Or the lotus-blossom smell that clung to everything.
When she had sealed all the trunks, she went to Nehemia’s desk, which was still littered with papers and books as if the princess had only stepped outside for a moment. As she reached for the first paper, her eyes fell upon the arc of scars around her right hand—the teeth marks of the ridderak.
lines, some forming symbols like the ones Nehemia had traced underneath Celaena’s bed all those months ago. How had the king’s spies not taken these? Or had he not even bothered to have her rooms searched? She started stacking them into a pile. Perhaps she could still learn some things about the marks, even if Nehemia were—
Dead, she made herself think. Nehemia is dead.
Celaena looked at the scars on her hand again and was about to turn from the desk when she spotted a familiar-looking book half tucked beneath some papers.
It was the book from Davis’s office.
This copy was older, more damaged, but it was the same book. And written on the inside cover was a sentence in Wyrdmarks—such basic marks that even Celaena could understand them.
Do not trust—
The final symbol, though, was a mystery. It looked like a wyvern—the Royal Seal. Of course she shouldn’t trust the King of Adarlan.
She flipped through the book, scanning it for any information. Nothing.
And then she turned to the back cover. And there, Nehemia had written—
It is only with the eye that one can see rightly.
It was scribbled in the common tongue, then in Eyllwe, then in some other languages that Celaena didn’t recognize. Different translations—as if Nehemia had wondered whether the riddle held any meaning in another tongue. The same book, the same riddle, the same writing in the back.
An idle lord’s nonsense, Nehemia had said.
But Nehemia … Nehemia and Archer led the group to which Davis had belonged. Nehemia had known Davis; known him and lied about it, lied about the riddle, and—
Nehemia had promised. Promised that there would be no more secrets between them.
Promised and lied. Promised and deceived her.
She fought down a scream as she tore through every other piece of paper on the desk, in the room. Nothing.
What else had Nehemia lied about?
It is only with the eye …
Celaena touched her necklace. Nehemia had known about the tomb. If she had been feeding information to this group, and had encouraged Celaena to look into the eye carved into the wall … then Nehemia had been looking, too. But after the duel, she’d returned the Eye of Elena to Celaena; if Nehemia had needed it, she would have kept it. And Archer hadn’t mentioned knowing anything about this.
Unless this wasn’t the eye the riddle referenced.
“By the Wyrd,” Celaena breathed, and rushed out of the room.
Mort hissed when she appeared at the door to the tomb. “Plan on desecrating any other sacred objects tonight?”
Carrying a satchel full of papers and books that she’d grabbed from her rooms, Celaena merely patted his head as she walked by. His bronze teeth clanked against each other as he sought to bite her.
The tomb was filled with moonlight bright enough to see by. And there, directly across the tomb from the eye in the wall, was another eye, golden and gleaming.
Damaris. It was Damaris, the Sword of Truth. Gavin could see nothing but what was right—
It is only with the eye that one can see rightly.
“Am I so blind?” Celaena dumped her leather satchel on the floor, the books and papers spilling across the stones.
“It appears so!” Mort sang. The eye-shaped pommel was the exact size …
Celaena lifted the sword from its stand and unsheathed it. The Wyrdmarks on the blade seemed to ripple. She rushed back to the wall.
“In case you didn’t realize,” called Mort, “you’re supposed to hold the eye against the hole in the wall and look through it.”
“I know that,” snapped Celaena.
And so, not daring to breathe the entire time, Celaena lifted the pommel to the hole until both eyes were evenly aligned. She stood on her toes and peered in—and groaned.
It was a poem.
A lengthy poem.
Celaena fished out the parchment and charcoal she’d stashed in her pocket and copied down the words, darting to and from the wall as she read, memorized, double-checked, and then recorded. It was only when she had finished the last stanza that she read it aloud.
By the Valg, three were made,
Of the Gate-Stone of the Wyrd:
Obsidian the gods forbade
And stone they greatly feared.
In grief, he hid one in the crown
Of her he loved so well,
To keep with her where she lay down
Inside the starry cell.
The second one was hidden
In a mountain made of fire,
Where all men were forbidden
Despite their great desires.
Where the third lies
Will never be told
By voice or tongue
Or sum of gold.
Celaena shook her head. More nonsense. And the rhyme with “Wyrd” and “feared” was off. Not to mention the break in the rhyme scheme in the final lines.
“Since you clearly knew that the sword could be used to read the riddle,” she said to Mort, “then why don’t you save me some trouble and tell me what the hell this one’s about?”
Mort sniffed. “It sounds to me like it’s a riddle giving the location of three very powerful items.”
She read through the poem again. “But three what? Sounds like the second thing is hidden in—in a volcano? And the first and third ones …” She gritted her teeth. “‘Gate-Stone of the Wyrd’ … What is this a riddle for? And why is it here?”
“Isn’t that the question of the millennia!” Mort crowed as Celaena walked back to the papers and books she’d scattered at the other end of the tomb. “You’d better clean up the mess you brought down here, or I’ll ask the gods to send some wicked beastie after you.”
“Already happened; Cain beat you to it months ago.” She replaced Damaris in its stand. “Too bad the ridderak didn’t take you off the door when he burst through.” A thought hit her, and she stared at the wall in front of her—where she’d once fallen to avoid being ripped apart. “Who was it that moved the carcass of the ridderak?”
“Princess Nehemia, of course.”
Celaena twisted to look toward the doorway. “Nehemia?”
Mort made a choking sound and cursed his loose tongue.
“Nehemia was—Nehemia was here? But I only brought her to the tomb …” Mort’s bronze face gleamed in the light of the candle she’d set before the door. “You’re telling me that Nehemia came here after the ridderak attacked? That she knew about this place all along? And you’re only telling me now?”
Mort closed his eyes. “Not my business.”
Another deceit. Another mystery.
“I suppose if Cain could get down here, then there are other entrances,” she said.
“Don’t ask me where they are,” Mort said, reading her mind. “I’ve never left this door.” She had a feeling it was another lie; he always seemed to know about the layout of the tomb and when she was touching things she shouldn’t be.
“Then what use are you? Brannon just made you to piss everyone off?”
“He did have a sense of humor like that.”
The thought of Mort actually having known the ancient Fae king made her quake inside. “I thought you had powers. You can’t just speak some nonsense words and have the meaning of the riddle be revealed to me?”
“Of course not. And isn’t the journey more important than the end?”
“No,” she spat. Spewing a concoction of curses that could have curdled milk, Celaena tucked the paper into her pocket. She would need to study this riddle at length.
If these items were things that Nehemia was looking for, things that she’d lied about to keep secret … Celaena might be able to accept that Archer and his friends were capable of good, but she certainly didn’t trust them to hold an object with the power that the riddle mentioned. If they were already looking, then perhaps it was in her best interest to find the items before anyone else. Nehemia hadn’t figured out that the eye riddle referred to Damaris, but had she known what the three objects were? Maybe she’d pursued the eye riddle because she was trying to find the objects before the king did.
The king’s plans—had they been to find these things?
She picked up her candle and strode from the room.
“Has the questing spirit seized you at last?”
“Not yet,” she said as she walked by. Once she found out what the three items were, then maybe she’d consider finding a way to go after them. Even if the only volcanoes she knew about were in the Desert Peninsula, and there was no way in hell the king would let her go off on her own for such a long trip.
“It’s a pity that I’m attached to this door,” sighed Mort. “Imagine all the trouble you’ll get into while trying to solve the riddle!”
He was right; and as Celaena walked up the winding stair, she found herself wishing that he actually could move about. Then she’d at least have one person to discuss this with. If she did have to go hunt these things down, whatever they were, then she’d have no one to go with her. There was no one who knew the truth.
She snorted. What truth was there now? That she had no one left to talk to? That Nehemia had lied through her teeth about so many things? That the king might be searching for an earth-shattering source of power? That he might already have something like this? Archer had mentioned a source of power outside of magic; was that what these things were? Nehemia had to have known…
Celaena slowed, the candle guttering in a damp breeze through the stairwell, and slumped onto a step, bracing her arms on her knees.
“What else were you hiding, Nehemia?” she whispered into the darkness.
Celaena didn’t need to turn to know who sat behind her when something silver and glimmering shone in the corner of her eye.
“I thought you were too exhausted to come here,” she said to the first Queen of Adarlan.
“I can only stay for a few moments,” Elena said, her dress rustling as she took a seat a few steps up from Celaena. It seemed a distinctly un-queenlike thing to do.
Together, they stared into the gloom of the stairwell, Celaena’s breathing the only sound. She supposed Elena didn’t need to breathe—didn’t make any sounds unless she wanted to.
Celaena gripped her knees. “What was it like?” she asked quietly.
“Painless,” Elena said with equal quiet. “Painless, and easy.”
“Were you frightened?”
“I was a very old woman, surrounded by my children, and their children, and their children’s children. I had nothing to be afraid of when the time came.”
“Where did you go?”
A soft laugh. “You know I can’t tell you that.”
Celaena’s lips wobbled. “She didn’t die an old woman in her bed.”
“No, she didn’t. But when her spirit left her body, there was no more pain—no more fear. She is safe now.”
Celaena nodded. Elena’s dress rustled again, and then she was on the step beside her, an arm around her shoulders. She hadn’t realized how cold she was until she found herself leaning into Elena’s warmth.
The queen didn’t say anything as Celaena buried her face in her hands and wept at last.
There was one last thing she had to do. Perhaps the hardest and the worst of all the things she had done since Nehemia had died.
The moon was overhead, casting the world in silver. Even though they didn’t recognize her in her current attire, the night watch at the royal mausoleum hadn’t stopped her as she passed through the iron gates at the back of one of the castle gardens. Nehemia wouldn’t be entombed inside the white marble building, though; inside was for the royal family.
Celaena walked around the domed building, feeling as if the wyverns carved into the side stared at her as she passed.
The few people still active at this hour had quickly looked away as she made her way here. She didn’t blame them. A black dress and a sheer, flowing black veil spoke enough about her grief, and kept everyone at a long, long distance. As though her sorrow were a plague.
But she didn’t give a damn what the others thought; the mourning clothes weren’t for them. She rounded the back of the mausoleum and beheld the rows of graves in the gravel garden behind it, the pale and worn stones illuminated by the moon. Statues depicting everything from mourning gods to dancing maidens marked the resting places of distinguished nobility, some so lifelike they seemed to be people frozen in stone.
It had not snowed since before Nehemia’s murder, so it was easy enough to spot the grave by the upturned earth before it.
There were no flowers, not even a headstone. Just fresh soil and a sword thrust into the earth—one of the curved swords of Nehemia’s fallen guards. Apparently, no one had bothered to give her anything more, not when she would be retrieved and brought back to Eyllwe.
Celaena stared at the dark, tilled earth, a chill wind rustling her veil.
Her chest ached, but this was the one last thing she had to do, the one last honor she could give her friend.
Celaena tilted her head to the sky, closed her eyes, and began to sing.
Chaol had told himself that he was only following Celaena to make sure she didn’t hurt herself or anyone else, but as she’d neared the royal mausoleum, he followed for other reasons.
The night provided good cover, but the moon was bright enough to keep him back, far enough away so she wouldn’t see or hear his approach. But then he saw where she had stopped, and realized he had no right to be here for this. He’d been about to turn away when she lifted her face to the moon and sang.
It was not in any language that he knew. Not in the common tongue, or in Eyllwe, or in the languages of Fenharrow or Melisande or anywhere else on the continent.
This language was ancient, each word full of power and rage and agony.
She did not have a beautiful voice. And many of the words sounded like half sobs, the vowels stretched by the pangs of sorrow, the consonants hardened by anger. She beat her breast in time, so full of savage grace, so at odds with the black gown and veil she wore. The hair on the back of his neck stood as the lament poured from her mouth, unearthly and foreign, a song of grief so old that it predated the stone castle itself.
And then the song finished, its end as brutal and sudden as Nehemia’s death had been.
She stood there for a few moments, silent and unmoving.
He was about to walk away when she half turned to him.
Her thin silver circlet shimmered in the moonlight, weighing down a veil so concealing that only he had recognized her.
A breeze whipped past them, making the branches of the trees moan and creak, setting her veil and skirts billowing to one side.
“Celaena,” he pleaded. She didn’t move, her stillness the only sign that she’d heard him. And that she had no interest in talking.
What could he ever say to repair the rift between them, anyway? He’d kept information from her. Even if he hadn’t been directly responsible for Nehemia’s death, if either girl had been more alert, they might have had their own defenses prepared. The loss she felt, the stillness with which she watched him—it was all his fault.
If the punishment for that was losing her, then he’d endure it.
So Chaol walked away, her lament still echoing through the night around him, carried on the wind like the pealing of distant bells.