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The Assassin and the Princess, Page 2

Sarah J. Maas

  “You should try it on,” Nehemia said in Eyllwe from behind her, finishing her praline cookie. “You’ve been ogling it all day.”

  Celaena looked over her shoulder, brows high. “It’s…a bit daring. People would be scandalized.”

  The princess grinned. “Who better to wear it then?”

  Celaena found herself grinning as well. “Who indeed?”

  Thus, five minutes later, Celaena found herself wearing the sample gown before the three angled mirrors of the shop, slowly turning in place.

  Daring and scandalous were just the start of it.

  Nehemia let out an appreciative whistle from where she was sprawled on the divan. “The Captain won’t know what to do with himself.”

  Celaena shot her a glare over a shoulder. “He’s not my concern.” Though she could almost imagine Chaol’s face at the sight of the gown: tight-lipped, wide-eyed, a bit confounded and more than a bit angry. She could almost hear him, too, the claims he’d make about the King’s Champion spending such exorbitant sums on little more than scraps of cloth, the reputation she had to uphold now that she was employed by the king… Oh, she should buy the dress, if only to piss Chaol off.

  Nehemia approached, and Celaena stepped off the small platform. “What sort of story does this dress tell you?” the princess asked in Eyllwe.

  Celaena was about to open her mouth, but she caught the direction of Nehemia’s stare: the open back. The black lace did a good job of hiding the gruesomeness of her scars, but this close, it was easy to see the mangled flesh beneath.

  Their eyes met, and Celaena switched to Eyllwe as she said, “Do you think I should cover them up?”

  Nehemia’s attention again went to the scars beneath the black lace. After a moment, she said, “No.” Celaena turned back to the mirror, but Nehemia spoke again, her voice a bit too calm: “How often do you think about them—about Endovier?”

  Celaena met her own reflection in the mirror, the face that, like Kavill’s, was now familiar and foreign. “Every day. Every hour.”

  It was a truth she hadn’t admitted to anyone—perhaps even to herself until now.

  “Would you free them if you could?”

  Celaena snapped her head to the princess. “What kind of a question is that? Of course I would.”

  They had sworn—both sworn this morning—that they wouldn’t have this kind of talk. And Celaena knew precisely where this conversation would go: into Nehemia talking about slavery, the empire, the need for good people to stand and fight.

  Kavill and Marta were doing their best to look busy at the counter in the rear of the front room. Kavill’s eyes lifted from his ledger, and when her gaze met his, she realized that he knew.He knew exactly who she was, and perhaps always had. She didn’t know why, but it made her…sad. Surprisingly, absurdly sad.

  She looked back to the princess, who gave a forced smile. “I should not have mentioned it,” Nehemia said. “Today is for fun—for just being young women.”

  And for some reason, seeing that forced smile just made the weight in her chest sink a little deeper.

  Nehemia had gone to the front door to tell her guards that she was ready—and to find a carriage for hire. The sun had dropped, along with the temperature, and neither Celaena nor Nehemia felt particularly inclined to walk home in the frigid night.

  Celaena was standing at the polished wooden counter, filling out directions on how and where to deliver Nehemia’s new clothes, and paying for her own purchases. She decided to take the red velvet gown, daring and scandalous as it was. If only because not buying it felt like some sort of defeat, some irreplaceable loss that cut her every time she thought about it.

  She plucked the last piece of gold from her purse and set it on the counter, behind which Kavill stood, counting. “The red velvet gown should be ready in two weeks,” he said, taking the last piece of gold. “Do you have any special occasion in mind?”

  She shrugged, glancing at Nehemia, who remained by the door, already looking miserable at the oncoming cold. Celaena herself wasn’t too keen to leave the warmth of the shop. She should have brought gloves—and a warmer cloak. “I’m sure I’ll find some use for the dress before summer.”

  Kavill nodded, and closed his thick ledger. “Do let me know if it causes anyone to faint—or start a riot.”

  She laughed under her breath, and turned to go, stuffing her hands into her pockets and praying her fingers didn’t fall off on the way home.

  “Here,” Kavill said, and she turned to find a pair of exquisite dove-gray suede gloves in his hands. “On the house. For many years of loyal patronage.” His face bore its usual mask of polite calm and courtesy, but his brown eyes were bright. “And a gift—for a year spent without any gloves at all.”

  Had she had any doubt before, there was no shred of it remaining now. He knew who and what she was, knew where she had spent a year enslaved—knew what kind of money she used to buy his dresses.

  She had no words—none at all to do justice to the kindness of his gesture—so she merely nodded, took the gloves, and left.

  The carriage wasn’t much warmer than the outside. Celaena and Nehemia huddled together, cursing violently and rather creatively at the endless winter.

  Nehemia’s latest vulgar concoction sent Celaena into a fit of howling laughter, so loud that one of the guards riding atop the carriage thumped twice to ask if all was right. Nehemia thumped thrice to assure him all was fine, but Celaena kept laughing until her stomach hurt.

  When silence fell again, she looked at her friend and wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes. “I’d pay good money to see you say that to Queen Georgina.”

  Nehemia chuckled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Thank you, Elentiya, for helping me today. I—I needed the dresses. And to get out of the castle for a bit.”

  Celaena sobered, and nodded. They passed through wealthiest district, a blur of alabaster houses and emerald roofs, now iced over and gleaming in the lamplight. “Thank you for pretending. For one day, at least.”

  She felt Nehemia’s eyes on her, but kept staring out at the wet streets, slick from a day of melting snow now turning to ice. After a while, Celaena asked, “Do you ever wonder what it’d be like if we truly were ordinary people?”

  The princess chewed on her lip. “Sometimes.”

  “Do you ever wish you were? Ordinary, I mean.”

  Nehemia was quiet for a long moment, her eyes distant, as if she beheld some far-off land, warm and vibrant, its grasslands undulating under a hot summer sun. “It is my most selfish wish and daydream—to be normal, to be ordinary, to be free of my burdens.”

  She hadn’t realized she’d been holding her breath, hadn’t realized just how important Nehemia’s answer was to her until she’d heard it. Celaena sighed. “And yet you and I couldn’t even pretend for a single day to be free of those burdens.”

  “I’m sorry,” Nehemia said quietly.

  “What have you to be sorry for? It was a foolish demand to make of you, anyway.”

  “I wish you could have a normal friend—not a princess or a captain or the son of the king. But just a normal friend, living a good, calm life.”

  “I don’t have an interest in normal friends. Even if I were just an ordinary girl, I wouldn’t want to be surrounded by ordinary folk. No, I’ll take the rebel princesses and the sons of kings and the grumpy captains and the whores and the thieves any day. And I’d take you over a thousand ordinary girls.”

  Nehemia’s smile trembled—just enough that Celaena had to turn to the window before she felt the sting in her own eyes.

  The carriage turned down an avenue, and the glass castle arose before them, greenish and glimmering in the night sky.

  “I am glad we’re not ordinary, Elentiya.” Nehemia was smiling into the darkness of the carriage. “It’d be so boring if we were.”

  Celaena grinned. “Incredibly boring.”

  “And, for what it’s worth, I’d pick you over a thousand ordinary
and extraordinary friends. I think even if we just met on the street, even if I just saw you in passing, I’d know what you are.”

  Celaena cocked her head to the side. “An assassin?”

  Nehemia’s dark eyes were bright as she shook her head. “The sister of my heart.”

  Celaena had to turn away. When she at last looked back, she didn’t know who reached for who, but a moment later, her hand was grasped tightly in Nehemia’s.

  “I think I’d know, too,” Celaena said quietly, and leaned against her friend’s shoulder. Both smiling faintly, the assassin and the princess rode through the quieting city and into the glass castle beyond.