The dawn was chill and gray as Celaena stood in the familiar field of the game park, a large stick dangling between her gloved fingers. Fleetfoot sat before her, her tail slashing through the long, dried grass that poked up through the remaining layer of snow. But the hound didn’t whine or bark for the stick to be thrown.
No, Fleetfoot just kept sitting there, watching the palace far behind them. Waiting for someone who was never going to arrive.
Celaena stared across the barren field, listening to the sighing grasses. No one had tried to stop her from leaving her rooms last night—or this morning. Yet even though the guards were gone, whenever she left her room, Ress had an uncanny habit of accidentally running into her.
She didn’t care if he reported her movements to Chaol. She didn’t even care that Chaol had been spying on her at Nehemia’s grave last night. Let him think what he would about the song.
With a sharp intake of breath, she hurled the stick as hard as she could, so far it blended in with the cloudy morning sky. She didn’t hear it land.
Fleetfoot turned to look up at Celaena, her golden eyes full of question. Celaena reached down to stroke the warm head, the long ears, the slender muzzle. But the question remained.
Celaena said, “She’s never coming back.”
The dog kept waiting.
Dorian had spent half the night in the library, searching in forgotten crevices, scouring every dark corner, every hidden nook, for any books on magic. There were none. It wasn’t surprising, but given how many books were in the library, and how many twisting passageways there were, he was a little disappointed that nothing of worth could be found.
He didn’t even know what he would do with a book like that once he found it. He couldn’t bring it back to his rooms, since his servants were likely to find it there. He would probably have to put it back in its hiding place and return to it whenever he could.
He was scanning a bookshelf built into a stone alcove when he heard footsteps. Immediately, just as he’d rehearsed, he took out the book he’d tucked into his jacket and leaned against the wall, opening to a random page.
“It’s a little dark for reading,” a female voice said. She sounded so normal, so like herself that Dorian nearly dropped the book.
Celaena was standing a few feet away, arms crossed. Pitter-pattering feet echoed against the floors, and a moment later Dorian braced himself against the wall as Fleetfoot flung herself at him, all wagging tail and bountiful kisses. “Gods, you’re huge,” he told the dog. She licked his cheek one last time and sprinted off down the hall. Dorian watched her go, brows raised. “I’m fairly certain that whatever she’s about to do, it won’t make the librarians happy.”
“She knows to stick to the poetry and mathematics books.”
Celaena’s face was grave and pale, but her eyes shone with faint amusement. She wore a dark blue tunic he’d never seen before, with golden embroidery that glinted in the dim light. In fact, her whole outfit looked new.
The silence that settled between them made him shift on his feet. What could he possibly say to her? The last time they’d been this close, she’d grazed her nails across his neck. He’d had nightmares about that moment.
“Can I help you find anything?” he asked her. Keep it normal, keep it simple.
“Crown Prince and royal librarian?”
“Unofficial royal librarian,” he said. “A title hard-won after many years of hiding here to avoid stuffy meetings, my mother, and … well, everything else.”
“And here I was, thinking you just hid in your little tower.”
Dorian laughed softly, but the sound somehow killed the amusement in her eyes. As if the sound of merriment was too raw against the wound of Nehemia’s death. Keep it simple, he reminded himself. “So? Is there a book I can help you find? If that’s a list of titles in your hand, then I could look them up in the catalog.”
“No,” she said, folding the papers in half. “No, there’s no book. I just wanted a walk.”
And he’d just come to a dark corner of the library to read.
But he didn’t push it, if only because she could easily start asking him questions, too. If she remembered what had happened when she attacked Chaol, that is. He hoped she didn’t.
There was a muffled shriek from somewhere in the library, followed by a string of howled curses and the familiar pitter-patter of paws on stone. Then Fleetfoot came sprinting down the row, a scroll of paper in her jaws.
“Wicked beast!” a man was shouting. “Come back here at once!”
Fleetfoot just zoomed on by, a blur of gold.
A moment later, when the little librarian came waddling into view and asked if they’d seen a dog, Celaena only shook her head and said that she had heard something—from the opposite direction. And then she told him to keep his voice down, because this was a library.
His eyes shooting daggers at her, the man huffed and scuttled away, his shouting a bit softer.
When he was gone, Dorian turned to her, brows high on his head. “That scroll could have been invaluable.”
She shrugged. “He looked like he could use the exercise.”
And then she was smiling. Hesitantly at first, then she shook her head, and the smile bloomed wide enough to show her teeth.
It was only when she looked at him again that he realized he’d been staring, trying to sort out the difference between this smile and the smile she’d given his father the day she’d put Grave’s head on the council table.
As if she could read his thoughts, she said, “I apologize for my behavior lately. I haven’t … been myself.”
Or she’d just been a part of herself that she usually kept on a tight, tight leash, he thought. But he said, “I understand.”
And from the way her eyes softened, he knew that was all he’d ever needed to say.
Chaol wasn’t hiding from his father. He wasn’t hiding from Celaena. And he wasn’t hiding from his men, who now felt some ridiculous urge to look after him.
But the library did offer a good amount of refuge and privacy.
Maybe answers, too.
The head librarian wasn’t in the little office tucked into one of walls of the library. So Chaol had asked an apprentice. The gawking youth pointed, gave some vague directions, and told him good luck.
Chaol followed the boy’s directions up a sweeping flight of black marble stairs and along the mezzanine rail. He was about to turn down an aisle of books when he heard them speaking.
Actually, he heard Fleetfoot’s prancing first, and looked over the marble rail in time to see Celaena and Dorian walking toward the towering main doors. They were a comfortable, casual distance apart, but … but she was talking. Her shoulders were relaxed, her gait smooth. So different from the woman of shadow and darkness that he’d seen yesterday.
What were the two of them doing here—together?
It wasn’t his business. Frankly, he was grateful that she was talking to anyone, and not burning her clothes or butchering rogue assassins. Still, something twanged in his heart that Dorian was the one beside her.
But she was talking.
So Chaol quickly turned from the balcony rail and walked deeper into the library, trying to shove the image from his mind. He found Harlan Sensel, the head librarian, huffing and puffing down one of the main paths through the library, shaking a fistful of paper shreds at the air around him.
Sensel was so busy cursing that he hardly noticed when Chaol stepped in his path. The librarian had to tilt his head back to see Chaol, and then frowned at him.
“Good, you’re here,” Sensel said, and resumed walking. “Higgins must have sent word.”
Chaol had no idea what Sensel was talking about. “Is there some issue that you need assistance with?”
“Issue!” Sensel waved the shredded papers. “There are feral beasts running amok in my library! Who let that—that creature in here? I demand that they pay!”
Chaol had had a feeling that Celaena had something to do with this. He just hoped she and Fleetfoot were out of the library before Sensel reached the office.
“What sort of scroll was damaged? I’ll see to it that they replace it.”
“Replace it!” Sensel sputtered. “Replace this?”
“What, exactly, is it?”
“A letter! A letter from a very close friend of mine!”
He bit back his annoyance. “If it’s just a letter, then I don’t think the creature’s owner can offer a payment. Though perhaps they’d be happy to donate a few books in—”
“Throw them in the dungeons! My library has become little more than a circus! Did you know that there’s a cloaked person skulking about the stacks at all hours of the night? They probably unleashed that horrible beast in the library! So track them down and—”
“The dungeons are full,” Chaol lied. “But I’ll look into it.” While Sensel finished his rant about the truly exhausting hunt he’d gone on to retrieve the letter, Chaol debated whether he should just leave.
But he had questions, and once they reached the mezzanine and he was certain that Celaena, Fleetfoot, and Dorian were long gone, he said, “I have a question for you, sir.”
Sensel preened at the honorific, and Chaol tried his best to look uninterested.
“If I wanted to look up funeral dirges—laments—from other kingdoms, where would be the best place to start?”
Sensel gave him a confused look, then said, “What a dreadful subject.”
Chaol shrugged and took a shot in the dark. “One of my men is from Terrasen, and his mother recently died, so I’d like to honor him by learning one of their songs.”
“Is that what the king pays you to do—learn sad songs with which to serenade your men?”
He almost snorted at the idea of serenading his men, but shrugged again. “Are there any books where those songs might be?”
Even a day later, he couldn’t get the song out of his head, couldn’t stop the chill that went up his neck when its words echoed through his mind. And then there were those other words, the words that had changed everything: You will always be my enemy.
She was hiding something—a secret she kept locked up so tight that only the horror and shattering loss of that night could have made her slip in such a way. So the more he could discover about her, the better chance he stood of being prepared when the secret came to light.
“Hmm,” the little librarian said, walking down the main steps. “Well, most of the songs were never written down. And why would they be?”
“Surely the scholars in Terrasen recorded some of them. Orynth had the greatest library in Erilea at one time,” Chaol countered.
“That they did,” Sensel said, a twinge of sorrow in his words. “But I don’t think anyone ever bothered to write down their dirges. At least, not in a way that would have made it here.”
“What about in other languages? My guard from Terrasen mentioned something about a dirge he once heard sung in another tongue—though he never learned what it was.”
The librarian stroked his silver beard. “Another language? Everyone in Terrasen speaks the common tongue. No one’s spoken a different language there for a thousand years.”
They were close to the office, and he knew that once they arrived, the little bastard would probably shut him out until he’d brought Fleetfoot to justice. Chaol pressed a bit harder. “So there are no dirges in Terrasen that are sung in a different language?”
“No,” he said, drawing out the word as he pondered. “But I once heard that in the high court of Terrasen, when the nobility died, they sang their laments in the language of the Fae.”
Chaol’s blood froze and he almost tripped, but he managed to keep walking and say, “Would these songs have been known by everyone—not just the nobility?”
“Oh, no,” Sensel said, only half-listening as he recited whatever history was in his head. “Those songs were sacred to the court. Only those of noble blood ever learned or sang them. They were taught and sung in secret, their dead buried by the light of the moon, when no other ears could hear them. At least, that’s what rumor claimed. I’ll admit to my own morbid curiosity in that I’d hoped to hear them ten years ago, but by the time the slaughter had ended, there was no one left in those noble houses to sing them.”
No one, except …
You will always be my enemy.
“Thank you,” Chaol got out, then quickly turned away, walking toward the exit. Sensel called after him, demanding his oath that he’d find the dog and punish it, but Chaol didn’t bother to reply.
Which house did she belong to? Her parents hadn’t just been murdered—they were part of the nobility who had been executed by the king.
She’d been found in their bed—after they’d been killed. And then she must have run until she found the place where a Terrasen nobleman’s daughter could hide: the Assassins’ Keep. She’d learned the only skills that could keep her safe. To escape death, she’d become death.
Regardless of what territory her parents had lorded over, if Celaena ever took up the mantle she’d lost, and if Terrasen ever got to its feet …
Then Celaena could become a powerhouse—potentially capable of standing against Adarlan. And that made Celaena more than just his enemy.
It made her the greatest threat he’d ever encountered.