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Crown of Midnight_Throne of Glass, Page 3

Sarah J. Maas

  “Well,” Chaol said with forced lightness, “I suppose having Adarlan’s Assassin in my debt could be useful.”

  She gave him a bow. “At your service.”

  His smile was genuine this time.

  “Come on, Captain,” she said, starting into a slow jog. “I’m hungry, and I don’t feel like freezing my ass off out here.”

  He chuckled under his breath, and they ran on through the park.

  When they finished their run, Celaena’s legs were wobbling, and her lungs were so raw from the cold and exertion that she thought they might be bleeding. They slowed to a brisk walk as they headed back to the toasty interior of the palace—and the giant breakfast that she was very much looking forward to devouring before going shopping.

  They entered the castle gardens, weaving their way through the gravel paths and towering hedges. She kept her hands tucked under her arms. Even with the gloves, her fingers were frozen stiff. And her ears positively ached. Perhaps she’d start wearing a scarf over her head—even if Chaol would tease her mercilessly about it.

  She glanced sideways at her companion, who had peeled off his outer layers of clothing to reveal the sweat-drenched shirt clinging to his body. They rounded a hedge, and Celaena rolled her eyes when she saw what waited on the path ahead.

  Every morning, more and more ladies found excuses to be walking through the gardens just after dawn. At first, it had just been a few young women who’d taken one look at Chaol and his sweaty, clingy clothes and halted their walk. Celaena could have sworn their eyes had bulged out of their heads and their tongues had rolled onto the ground.

  Then the next morning, they’d appeared along the path again—wearing even nicer dresses. The day after that, more girls showed up. And then several more. And now every direct route from the game park to the castle had at least one set of young women patrolling, waiting for him to walk by.

  “Oh, please,” Celaena hissed as they passed two women, who looked up from their fur muffs to bat their eyelashes at him. They must have awoken before dawn to be dressed so finely.

  “What?” Chaol asked, his brows rising.

  She didn’t know whether he simply didn’t notice, or he didn’t want to say anything, but … “The gardens are rather busy for a winter morning,” she said carefully.

  He shrugged. “Some people go a little stir-crazy being cooped up inside all winter.”

  Or they just enjoy the sight of the Captain of the Guard and his muscles.

  But all she said was, “Right,” and then shut her mouth. No need to point it out if he was that oblivious. Especially when some of the ladies were exceptionally pretty.

  “Are you going into Rifthold to spy on Archer today?” Chaol asked softly, when the path was mercifully clear of giggling, blushing girls.

  She nodded. “I want to get a sense of his schedule, so I’ll probably trail him.”

  “Why don’t I help you?”

  “Because I don’t need your help.” She knew he’d probably interpret it as arrogance—and it partially was—but … if he did get involved, then it would complicate things when it came time to smuggle Archer to safety. That is, after she got the truth out of him—and learned what plans the king had in mind.

  “I know you don’t need my help. I just thought you might want …” He trailed off, then shook his head, as if reprimanding himself. She found herself wanting to know what he’d been about to say, but it was best to let the topic drop.

  They rounded another hedge, the castle interior so close she almost groaned at the thought of that delicious warmth, but then—

  “Chaol.” Dorian’s voice cut through the crisp morning.

  She did groan then, a barely audible sound. Chaol shot her a puzzled look before they turned to find Dorian striding toward them, a blond young man in tow. She’d never seen the youth, who was finely dressed and looked about Dorian’s age, but Chaol stiffened.

  The young man didn’t seem like a threat, though she knew better than to underestimate anyone in a court like this. He wore only a dagger at his waist, and his pale face seemed rather jovial, despite the winter morning chill.

  She found Dorian watching her with a half smile, an amused gleam in his eye that made her want to slap him. The prince then glanced at Chaol and chuckled. “And here I was, thinking that all the ladies were out so early for Roland and me. When all of them catch a vicious cold, I’ll let their fathers know that you’re to blame.”

  Chaol’s cheeks colored ever so slightly. So he wasn’t as ignorant of their morning audience as he’d led her to believe. “Lord Roland,” he said tightly to Dorian’s friend, and bowed.

  The blond young man bowed back to Chaol. “Captain Westfall.” His voice was pleasant enough, but something in it made her pause. It wasn’t amusement or arrogance or anger … She couldn’t put her finger on it.

  “Allow me to introduce my cousin,” Dorian said to her, clapping Roland on the shoulder. “Lord Roland Havilliard of Meah.” He extended a hand to Celaena. “Roland, this is Lillian. She works for my father.”

  They still used her alias whenever she couldn’t avoid running into members of the court, though most everyone knew to some degree that she was not in the palace for administrative nonsense or politics.

  “My pleasure,” Roland said, bowing at the waist. “Are you newly arrived to court? I don’t think I’ve seen you in years past.”

  Just the way he spoke told her enough about his history with women. “I arrived this autumn,” she said a bit too quietly.

  Roland gave her a courtier’s smile. “And what sort of work do you do for my uncle?”

  Dorian shifted on his feet and Chaol went very still, but Celaena returned Roland’s smile and said, “I bury the king’s opponents where nobody will ever find them.”

  Roland, to her surprise, actually chuckled. She didn’t dare look at Chaol, whom she was certain would give her a tongue-lashing for it later. “I’d heard about the King’s Champion. I didn’t think it would be someone so … lovely.”

  “What brings you to the castle, Roland?” the captain demanded. When Chaol looked at her like that, she usually found herself running in the other direction.

  Roland smiled again. He smiled too much—and too smoothly. “His Majesty has offered me a position on his council.” Chaol’s eyes snapped to Dorian, who gave a shrug of confirmation. “I arrived last night, and I’m to start today.”

  Chaol smiled—if you could call it that. It was more a flash of teeth. Yes, she’d most definitely be running if Chaol looked at her like that.

  Dorian understood the look, too, and gave a deliberate chuckle. But before the prince could speak, Roland studied Celaena further, a tad too intently. “Perhaps you and I shall get to work with each other, Lillian. Your position intrigues me.”

  She wouldn’t mind working with him—but not in the way Roland meant. Her way would include a dagger, a shovel, and an unmarked grave.

  As if he could read her thoughts, Chaol put a guiding hand on her back. “We’re late for breakfast,” he said, bowing his head to Dorian and Roland. “Congratulations on your appointment.” He sounded like he’d swallowed rancid milk.

  As she let Chaol lead her inside the castle, she realized she was in desperate need of a bath. But it had nothing to do with her sweaty clothes, and everything to do with the oily grin and roaming eyes of Roland Havilliard.

  Dorian watched Celaena and Chaol disappear behind the hedges, the captain’s hand still on the middle of her back. She did nothing to shake it off.

  “An unexpected choice for your father to make, even with that competition,” Roland mused beside him.

  Dorian checked his irritation before replying. He’d never particularly liked his cousin, whom he’d seen at least twice a year while growing up.

  Chaol positively hated Roland, and whenever he came up in conversation, it was usually accompanied by phrases like “conniving wretch” and “sniveling, spoiled ass.” At least, that’s what Chaol had been roar
ing three years ago, after the captain had punched Roland so hard in the face that the youth blacked out.

  But Roland had deserved it. Deserved it enough that it hadn’t interfered with Chaol’s sterling reputation and later appointment to Captain of the Guard. If anything, it had improved Chaol’s standing among the other guards and lesser nobles.

  If Dorian worked up the nerve, he’d ask his father what he’d been thinking when he appointed Roland to the council. Meah was a small yet prosperous coastal city in Adarlan, but it held no real political power. It didn’t even have a standing army, save for the city’s sentries. Roland was his father’s cousin’s son; perhaps the king felt that they needed more Havilliard blood in the council room. Still—Roland was untried, and had always seemed more interested in girls than politics.

  “Where did your father’s Champion come from?” Roland asked, drawing Dorian’s attention back to the present.

  Dorian turned toward the castle, heading for a different entrance than the one Chaol and Celaena had used. He still remembered the way they’d looked when he’d walked in on them embracing in her rooms after the duel, two months ago.

  “Lillian’s story is hers to tell,” Dorian lied. He just didn’t feel like explaining the competition to his cousin. It was bad enough that his father had ordered him to take Roland on a walk this morning. The only bright spot had been seeing Celaena so obviously contemplate ways to bury the young lord.

  “Is she for your father’s personal use, or do the other councilmen also employ her?”

  “You’ve been here for less than a day, and you already have enemies to dispatch, cousin?”

  “We’re Havilliards, cousin. We’ll always have enemies that need dispatching.”

  Dorian frowned. It was true, though. “Her contract is exclusively with my father. But if you feel threatened, then I can have Captain Westfall assign a—”

  “Oh, of course not. I was merely curious.”

  Roland was a pain in the ass, and too aware of the effect his looks and his Havilliard name had on women, but he was harmless. Wasn’t he?

  Dorian didn’t know the answer—and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to.

  Her salary as King’s Champion was considerable, and Celaena spent every last copper of it. Shoes, hats, tunics, dresses, jewelry, weapons, baubles for her hair, and books. Books and books and books. So many books that Philippa had to bring up another bookcase for her room.

  When Celaena returned to her rooms that afternoon, lugging hat boxes, colorful bags full of perfume and sweets, and brown paper parcels with the books she absolutely had to read immediately, she nearly dropped it all at the sight of Dorian Havilliard sitting in her foyer.

  “Gods above,” he said, taking in all of her purchases.

  He didn’t know the half of it. This was just what she could carry. More had been ordered, and more would be delivered soon.

  “Well,” he said as she dumped the bags on the table, nearly toppling into a heap of tissue paper and ribbons, “at least you’re not wearing that dreadful black today.”

  She shot him a glare over her shoulder as she straightened. Today she was wearing a lilac and ivory gown—a little bright for the end of winter, but worn in the hope that spring would soon come. Plus, dressing nicely guaranteed her the best service in whatever stores she visited. To her surprise, many of the shopkeepers remembered her from years ago—and had bought her lie about a long journey to the southern continent.

  “And to what do I owe this pleasure?” She untied her white fur cloak—another gift to herself—and tossed it onto one of the chairs around the foyer table. “Didn’t I already see you this morning in the garden?”

  Dorian remained seated, that familiar, boyish grin on his face. “Aren’t friends allowed to visit each other more than once a day?”

  She stared down at him. Being friends with Dorian wasn’t something she was certain she could actually do. Not when he would always have that gleam in his sapphire eyes—and not when he was the son of the man who gripped her fate in his hands. But in the two months since she’d ended whatever had been between them, she’d often found herself missing him. Not the kissing and flirting, but just him.

  “What do you want, Dorian?”

  A glimmer of ire flashed across his face, and he stood. She had to tip her head back to look at him. “You said you still wanted to be friends with me.” His voice was low.

  She closed her eyes for a moment. “I meant it.”

  “So be my friend,” he said, his tone lifting. “Dine with me, play billiards with me. Tell me what books you’re reading—or buying,” he added with a wink in the direction of her parcels.

  “Oh?” she asked, forcing herself to give him a half smile. “And you have so much time on your hands these days that you can spend hours with me again?”

  “Well, I have my usual flock of ladies to attend to, but I can always make time for you.”

  She batted her eyelashes at him. “I’m truly honored.” Actually, the thought of Dorian with other women made her want to shatter a window, but it wouldn’t be fair to let him know that. She glanced at the clock on the small table beside a wall. “I actually need to go back into Rifthold right now,” she said. It wasn’t a lie. She still had a few hours of daylight left—enough time to survey Archer’s elegant townhouse and start trailing him to get a sense of his usual whereabouts.

  Dorian nodded, his smile fading.

  Silence fell, interrupted only by the ticking of the clock on the table. She crossed her arms, remembering how he’d smelled, how his lips had tasted. But this distance between them, this horrible gap that spread every day … it was for the best.

  Dorian took a step closer, exposing his palms to her. “Do you want me to fight for you? Is that it?”

  “No,” she said quietly. “I just want you to leave me alone.”

  His eyes flickered with the words left unsaid. Celaena stared at him, unmoving, until he silently left.

  Alone in the foyer, Celaena clenched and unclenched her fists, suddenly disgusted with all of the pretty packages on the table.

  Chapter 5

  On a rooftop in a very fashionable and respectable part of Rifthold, Celaena crouched in the shadow of a chimney and frowned into the chill wind gusting off the Avery. She checked her pocket watch for the third time. Archer Finn’s previous two appointments had only been an hour each. He’d been in the house across the street for almost two.

  There was nothing interesting about the elegant, green-roofed townhouse, and she hadn’t learned anything about who lived there, other than the client’s name—some Lady Balanchine. She had used the same trick she’d employed at the other two houses to gain that bit of information: she pretended to be a courier with a package for Lord So-and-So. And when the butler or housekeeper said that this was not Lord So-and-So’s house, she’d feigned embarrassment, asked whose house it was, chatted up the servant a bit, and then went on her way.

  Celaena adjusted the position of her legs and rolled her neck. The sun had nearly set, the temperature dropping with each passing minute. Unless she could get into the houses themselves, she wasn’t going to learn much else. And given the likelihood that Archer might actually be doing what he was paid to do, she was in no rush to go inside. Better to learn where he went, who he saw, and then take the next step.

  It had been so long since she’d done something like this in Rifthold—since she’d crouched on the emerald rooftops and learned what she could about her prey. It was different than when the king had sent her off to Bellhaven or to some lord’s estate. Here, now, in Rifthold, it felt like …

  It felt like she’d never left. As if she might look over her shoulder and find Sam Cortland crouching behind her. As if she might return at the end of the night not to the glass castle, but to the Assassins’ Keep on the other side of the city.

  Celaena sighed, tucking her hands under her arms to keep her fingers warm and agile.

  It had been over a year and a half since the
night she’d lost her freedom; a year and a half since she’d lost Sam. And somewhere, in this city, were the answers to how it all had happened. If she dared to look, she knew she’d find them. And she knew it would destroy her again.

  The front door of the townhouse opened, and Archer swaggered down the steps, right into his waiting carriage. She barely caught a glimpse of his golden-brown hair and fine clothes before he was whisked away.

  Groaning, Celaena straightened from her crouch and hurried off the roof. Some harrowing climbing and a few jumps soon had her back on the cobbled streets.

  She trailed Archer’s carriage, slipping in and out of shadows as they made their way across the city, a slow journey thanks to traffic. While she might be in no hurry to seek out the truth behind her own capture and Sam’s death, and while she was fairly certain the king had to be wrong about Archer, part of her wondered whether whatever truth she uncovered about this rebel movement and the king’s plans would destroy her, too.

  And not just destroy her—but also everything she’d grown to care about.

  Savoring the warmth of the crackling fire, Celaena leaned her head against the back of the small couch and dangled her legs over the cushioned arm. The lines on the paper she held before her were beginning to blur, which was no surprise, given that it was well past eleven, and she’d been up before dawn.

  Sprawled on the well-worn red carpet in front of her, Chaol’s glass pen flickered with firelight as he scanned through documents and signed things and scribbled notes. Giving a little sigh through her nose, Celaena lowered the paper in her hands.

  Unlike her spacious suite, Chaol’s bedroom was one large chamber, furnished only with a table by the solitary window and the old couch set before the stone fireplace. A few tapestries hung on the gray stone walls, a towering oak armoire stood in one corner, and his four-poster bed was decorated with a rather old and faded crimson duvet. There was a bathing room attached—not as large as her own, but still spacious enough to accommodate its own pool and privy. He had only one small bookcase, filled and neatly arranged. In alphabetical order, if she knew Chaol at all. And it probably contained only his most beloved books—unlike Celaena’s, which housed every title she got her hands on, whether she liked the book or not. Regardless of his unnaturally organized bookshelf, she liked it here; it was cozy.