The Assassin's Blade, Page 2Sarah J. Maas
“No, thank you,” Sam said. Celaena felt Sam’s eyes hard upon her, willing her to take her feet off Rolfe’s desk.
“With that mask on,” Rolfe mused, “I don’t think you could have a drink, anyway.” He poured brandy for himself and took a long sip. “You must be boiling in all that clothing.”
Celaena lowered her feet to the ground as she ran her hands along the curved edge of his desk, stretching out her arms. “I’m used to it.”
Rolfe drank again, watching her for a heartbeat over the rim of his glass. His eyes were a striking shade of sea green, as bright as the water just a few blocks away. Lowering the glass, he approached the end of the desk. “I don’t know how you handle things in the North, but down here, we like to know who we’re speaking to.”
She cocked her head. “As you said, I don’t need an introduction. And as for the privilege of seeing my beautiful face, I’m afraid that’s something few men receive.”
Rolfe’s tattooed fingers tightened on the glass. “Get out of my chair.”
Across the room, Sam tensed. Celaena examined the contents of Rolfe’s desk again. She clicked her tongue, shaking her head. “You really need to work on organizing this mess.”
She sensed the pirate grabbing for her shoulder and was on her feet before his fingers could graze the black wool of her cloak. He stood a good head taller than her. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she crooned.
Rolfe’s eyes gleamed with the challenge. “You’re in my city, and on my island.” Only a handbreadth separated them. “You’re not in any position to give me orders.”
Sam cleared his throat, but Celaena stared up into Rolfe’s face. His eyes scanned the blackness beneath the hood of her cloak—the smooth black mask, the shadows that concealed any trace of her features. “Celaena,” Sam warned, clearing his throat again.
“Very well.” She sighed loudly, and stepped around Rolfe as if he were nothing but a piece of furniture in her way. She sank into the chair beside Sam, who flashed her a glare that burned enough to melt the entirety of the Frozen Wastes.
She could feel Rolfe watching their every movement, but he merely adjusted the lapels of his midnight-blue tunic before sitting down. Silence fell, interrupted only by the cry of gulls circling above the city and the shouting of pirates calling to one another in the filthy streets.
“Well?” Rolfe rested his forearms on the desk.
Sam glanced at her. Her move.
“You know precisely why we’re here,” Celaena said. “But perhaps all that brandy’s gone to your head. Shall I refresh your memory?”
Rolfe gestured with his green, blue, and black hand for her to continue, as if he were a king on his throne listening to the complaints of the rabble. Ass.
“Three assassins from our Guild were found dead in Bellhaven. The one that got away told us they were attacked by pirates.” She draped an arm along the back of her chair. “Your pirates.”
“And how did the survivor know they were my pirates?”
She shrugged. “Perhaps it was the tattoos that gave them away.” All of Rolfe’s men had their wrists tattooed with an image of a multicolored hand.
Rolfe opened a drawer in his desk, pulling out a piece of paper and reading the contents. He said, “Once I caught wind that Arobynn Hamel might blame me, I had the shipyard master of Bellhaven send me these records. It seems the incident occurred at three in the morning at the docks.”
This time Sam answered. “That’s correct.”
Rolfe set down the paper and lifted his eyes skyward. “So if it was three in the morning, and it took place at the docks—which have no street lamps, as I’m sure you know”—she didn’t—“then how did your assassin see all of their tattoos?”
Beneath her mask, Celaena scowled. “Because it happened three weeks ago—during the full moon.”
“Ah. But it’s early spring. Even up in Bellhaven, nights are still cold. Unless my men were without coats, there was no way for—”
“Enough,” Celaena snapped. “I suppose that piece of paper has ten different paltry excuses for your men.” She grabbed the satchel from the floor and yanked out the two sealed documents. “These are for you.” She tossed them on the desk. “From our master.”
A smile tugged on Rolfe’s lips, but he pulled the documents to him, studying the seal. He held it up to the sunlight. “I’m surprised it hasn’t been tampered with.” His eyes glimmered with mischief. Celaena could sense Sam’s smugness oozing out of him.
With two deft flicks of his wrist, Rolfe sliced open both envelopes with a letter-knife she somehow hadn’t spotted. How had she missed it? A fool’s mistake.
In the silent minutes that passed as Rolfe read the letters, his only reaction was the occasional drumming of his fingers on the wooden desk. The heat was suffocating, and sweat slipped down her back. They were supposed to be here for three days—long enough for Rolfe to gather the money he owed them. Which, judging by the growing frown on Rolfe’s face, was quite a lot.
Rolfe let out a long breath when he finished and shuffled the papers into alignment.
“Your master drives a hard bargain,” Rolfe said, looking from Celaena to Sam. “But his terms aren’t unfair. Perhaps you should have read the letter before you started flinging accusations at me and my men. There will be no retribution for those dead assassins. Whose deaths, your master agrees, were not my fault in the least. He must have some common sense, then.” Celaena quelled the urge to lean forward. If Arobynn wasn’t demanding payment for the death of those assassins, then what were they doing here? Her face burned. She’d looked like a fool, hadn’t she? If Sam smiled just the slightest bit …
Rolfe drummed his inked fingers again and ran a hand through his shoulder-length dark hair. “As for the trade agreement he’s outlined … I’ll have my accountant draw up the necessary fees, but you’ll have to tell Arobynn that he can’t expect any profits until at least the second shipment. Possibly the third. And if he has an issue with that, then he can come down here himself to tell me.”
For once, Celaena was grateful for the mask. It sounded like they’d been sent for some sort of business investment. Sam nodded at Rolfe—as if he knew exactly what the Pirate Lord was talking about. “And when can we tell Arobynn to expect the first shipment?” he asked.
Rolfe stuffed Arobynn’s letters into a desk drawer and locked it. “The slaves will be here in two days—ready for your departure the day after. I’ll even loan you my ship, so you can tell that trembling crew of yours they’re free to return to Rifthold tonight, if it pleases them.”
Celaena stared at him. Arobynn had sent them here for … for slaves? How could he stoop so disgustingly low? And to tell her she was going to Skull’s Bay for one thing but to really send her here for this … She felt her nostrils flare. Sam had known about this deal, but he’d somehow forgotten to mention the truth behind their visit—even during the ten days they’d spent at sea. As soon as she got him alone, she’d make him regret it. But for now … she couldn’t let Rolfe catch on to her ignorance.
“You’d better not botch this,” Celaena warned the Pirate Lord. “Arobynn won’t be pleased if anything goes awry.”
Rolfe chuckled. “You have my word that it will all go according to plan. I’m not Lord of the Pirates for nothing, you know.”
She leaned forward, flattening her voice into the even tones of a business partner concerned about her investment. “How long, exactly, have you been involved in the slave trade?” It couldn’t have been long. Adarlan had only started capturing and selling slaves two years ago—most of them prisoners of war from whatever territories dared rebel against their conquest. Many of them were from Eyllwe, but there were still prisoners from Melisande and Fenharrow, or the isolated tribe in the White Fang Mountains. The majority of slaves went to Calaculla or Endovier, the continent’s largest and most notorious labor camps, to mine for salt and precious metals. But more and more slaves were making their way into the households of Adarlan’s nobility. And
for Arobynn to make a filthy trade agreement—some sort of black market deal … It would sully the Assassins’ Guild’s entire reputation.
“Believe me,” Rolfe said, crossing his arms, “I have enough experience. You should be more concerned about your master. Investing in the slave trade is a guaranteed profit, but he might need to expend more of his resources than he’d like in order to keep our business from reaching the wrong ears.”
Her stomach turned over, but she feigned disinterest as best she could and said, “Arobynn is a shrewd businessman. Whatever you can supply, he’ll make the most of it.”
“For his sake, I hope that’s true. I don’t want to risk my name for nothing.” Rolfe stood, and Celaena and Sam rose with him. “I’ll have the documents signed and returned to you tomorrow. For now …” He pointed toward the door. “I have two rooms prepared for you.”
“We only need one,” she interrupted.
Rolfe’s eyebrows rose suggestively.
Beneath her mask, her face burned, and Sam choked on a laugh.
“One room, two beds.”
Rolfe chuckled, striding to the door and opening it for them. “As you wish. I’ll have baths drawn for you as well.” Celaena and Sam followed him out into the narrow, dark hallway. “You could both use one,” he added with a wink.
It took all of her self-restraint to keep from punching him below the belt.
It took them five minutes to search the cramped room for any spyholes or signs of danger; five minutes for them to lift the framed paintings on the wood-paneled walls, tap at the floorboards, seal the gap between the door and the floor, and cover the window with Sam’s weatherworn black cloak.
When she was certain that no one could either hear or see her, Celaena ripped off her hood, untied the mask, and whirled to face him.
Sam, seated on his small bed—which seemed more like a cot—raised his palms to her. “Before you bite my head off,” he said, keeping his voice quiet just in case, “let me say that I went into that meeting knowing as little as you.”
She glared at him, savoring the fresh air on her sticky, sweaty face. “Oh, really?”
“You’re not the only one who can improvise.” Sam kicked off his boots and hoisted himself farther onto the bed. “That man’s as much in love with himself as you are; the last thing we need is for him to know that he had the upper hand in there.”
Celaena dug her nails into her palms. “Why would Arobynn send us here without telling us the true reason? Reprimand Rolfe … for a crime that had nothing to do with him! Maybe Rolfe was lying about the content of the letter.” She straightened. “That might very well be—”
“He was not lying about the content of the letter, Celaena,” Sam said. “Why would he bother? He has more important things to do.”
She grumbled a slew of nasty words and paced, her black boots clunking against the uneven floorboards. Pirate Lord indeed. This was the best room he could offer them? She was Adarlan’s Assassin, the right arm of Arobynn Hamel—not some backstreet harlot!
“Regardless, Arobynn has his reasons.” Sam stretched out on his bed and closed his eyes.
“Slaves,” she spat, dragging a hand through her braided hair. Her fingers caught in the plait. “What business does Arobynn have getting involved in the slave trade? We’re better than that—we don’t need that money!”
Unless Arobynn was lying; unless all of his extravagant spending was done with nonexistent funds. She’d always assumed that his wealth was bottomless. He’d spent a king’s fortune on her upbringing—on her wardrobe alone. Fur, silk, jewels, the weekly cost of just keeping herself looking beautiful … Of course, he’d always made it clear that she was to pay him back, and she’d been giving him a cut of her wages to do so, but …
Maybe Arobynn wanted to increase what wealth he already had. If Ben were alive, he wouldn’t have stood for it. Ben would have been as disgusted as she was. Being hired to kill corrupt government officials was one thing, but taking prisoners of war, brutalizing them until they stopped fighting back, and sentencing them to a lifetime of slavery …
Sam opened an eye. “Are you going to take a bath, or can I go first?”
She hurled her cloak at him. He caught it with a single hand and tossed it to the ground. She said, “I’m going first.”
“Of course you are.”
She shot him a dirty look and stormed into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
Of all the dinners she’d ever attended, this was by far the worst. Not because of the company—which was, she grudgingly admitted, somewhat interesting—and not because of the food, which looked and smelled wonderful, but simply because she couldn’t eat anything, thanks to that confounded mask.
Sam, of course, seemed to take second helpings of everything solely to mock her. Celaena, seated at Rolfe’s left, half-hoped the food was poisoned. Sam had only served himself from the array of meats and stews after watching Rolfe eat some himself, so the likelihood of that wish coming true was rather low.
“Mistress Sardothien,” Rolfe said, his dark brows rising high on his forehead. “You must be famished. Or is my food not pleasing enough for your refined palate?”
Beneath the cape and the cloak and the dark tunic, Celaena was not just famished, but also hot and tired. And thirsty. Which, combined with her temper, usually turned out to be a lethal combination. Of course, they couldn’t see any of that.
“I’m quite fine,” she lied, swirling the water in her goblet. It lapped against the sides, taunting her with each rotation. Celaena stopped.
“Maybe if you took off your mask, you might have an easier time eating,” Rolfe said, taking a bite of roasted duck. “Unless what lies beneath it will make us lose our appetites.”
The five other pirates—all captains in Rolfe’s fleet—sniggered.
“Keep talking like that”—Celaena gripped the stem of her goblet—“and I might give you a reason to wear a mask.” Sam kicked her under the table, and she kicked him back, a deft blow to his shins—hard enough that he choked on his water.
Some of the assembled captains stopped laughing, but Rolfe chuckled. She rested her gloved hand atop the stained dining table. The table was freckled with burns and deep gouges; it had clearly seen its fair share of brawls. Didn’t Rolfe have any taste for luxury? Perhaps he wasn’t so well off, if he was resorting to the slave trade. But Arobynn … Arobynn was as rich as the King of Adarlan himself.
Rolfe flicked his sea-green eyes to Sam, who was frowning yet again. “Have you seen her without the mask?”
Sam, to her surprise, grimaced. “Once.” He gave her an all too believably wary look. “And that was enough.”
Rolfe studied Sam for a heartbeat, then took another bite of his meat. “Well, if you won’t show me your face, then perhaps you’ll indulge us with the tale of how, exactly, you became protégée to Arobynn Hamel?”
“I trained,” she said dully. “For years. We aren’t all lucky enough to have a magic map inked on our hands. Some of us had to climb to the top.”
Rolfe stiffened, and the other pirates halted their eating. He stared at her long enough for Celaena to want to squirm, and then set down his fork.
Sam leaned a bit closer to her, but, she realized, only to see better as Rolfe laid both of his hands palm up on the table.
Together, his hands formed a map of their continent—and only that.
“This map hasn’t moved for eight years.” His voice was a low growl. A chill went down her spine. Eight years. Exactly the time that had passed since the Fae had been banished and executed, when Adarlan had conquered and enslaved the rest of the continent and magic had disappeared. “Don’t think,” Rolfe continued, withdrawing his hands, “that I haven’t had to claw and kill my way as much as you.”
If he was nearly thirty, then he’d probably done even more killing than she had. And, from the many scars on his hands and face, it was easy to tell that he’d done a lot of
“Good to know we’re kindred spirits,” she said. If Rolfe was already used to getting his hands dirty, then trading slaves wasn’t a stretch. But he was a filthy pirate. They were Arobynn Hamel’s assassins—educated, wealthy, refined. Slavery was beneath them.
Rolfe gave her that crooked smile. “Do you act like this because it’s actually in your nature, or is it just because you’re afraid of dealing with people?”
“I’m the world’s greatest assassin.” She lifted her chin. “I’m not afraid of anyone.”
“Really?” Rolfe asked. “Because I’m the world’s greatest pirate, and I’m afraid of a great number of people. That’s how I’ve managed to stay alive for so long.”
She didn’t deign to reply. Slave-mongering pig. He shook his head, smiling in exactly the same way she smirked at Sam when she wanted to piss him off.
“I’m surprised Arobynn hasn’t made you check your arrogance,” Rolfe said. “Your companion seems to know when to keep his mouth shut.”
Sam coughed loudly and leaned forward. “How did you become Pirate Lord, then?”
Rolfe ran a finger along a deep groove in the wooden table. “I killed every pirate who was better than me.” The three other captains—all older, all more weathered and far less attractive than him—huffed, but didn’t refute it. “Anyone arrogant enough to think they couldn’t possibly lose to a young man with a patchwork crew and only one ship to his name. But they all fell, one by one. When you get a reputation like that, people tend to flock to you.” Rolfe glanced between Celaena and Sam. “You want my advice?” he asked her.
“I’d watch your back around Sam. You might be the best, Sardothien, but there’s always someone waiting for you to slip.”
Sam, the traitorous bastard, didn’t hide his smirk. The other pirate captains chuckled.
Celaena stared hard at Rolfe. Her stomach twisted with hunger. She’d eat later—swipe something from the tavern kitchens. “You want my advice?”
He waved a hand, beckoning her to go on.