Dorian felt the eyes of the council upon them, weighing and considering every word out of her mouth, every move or reaction of his. Damning the council to hell, Dorian kissed her hair. The mark on her brow had faded. What had that meant? What had any of it meant? Cain had touched a nerve in her today—when he had mentioned her parents, she’d lost control entirely. He’d never seen her that wild, that frantic.
He hated himself for not acting, for standing like a damned coward. He would make it up to her—he would see to it that she was freed, and after that . . . After that . . .
She didn’t fight him when he carried her to her rooms, instructing the physician to follow.
He was done with politics and intrigue. He loved her, and no empire, no king, and no earthly fear would keep him from her. No, if they tried to take her from him, he’d rip the world apart with his bare hands. And for some reason, that didn’t terrify him.
Kaltain watched in despair and bewilderment as Dorian carried the weeping assassin in his arms. How had she beaten Cain, when she’d been drugged? Why was she not dead?
Seated beside the glowering king, Perrington fumed. The councilmen scribbled on paper. Kaltain drew the empty vial from her pocket. Hadn’t the duke given her enough bloodbane to seriously impair the assassin? Why wasn’t Dorian crying over her corpse? Why wasn’t she holding Dorian, comforting him? The pain in her head erupted, so violent that her vision went obsidian, and she stopped thinking clearly.
Kaltain approached the duke and hissed in his ear. “I thought you said this would work.” She fought to keep her voice in a whisper. “I thought you said this damned drug would work!”
The king and the duke stared at her, and the councilmen exchanged glances as Kaltain straightened. Then, slowly, the duke rose from his seat. “What is that in your hand?” the duke asked a bit too loudly.
“You know what it is!” she seethed, still trying to keep her voice down, even as the pain in her head turned into a thunderous roar. She could scarcely think straight; she could only answer to the fury inside of her. “The damned poison I gave her,” she murmured so only Perrington could hear.
“Poison?” Perrington asked, so loud Kaltain’s eyes grew wide. “You poisoned her? Why would you do that?” He motioned to three guards.
Why did the king not speak? Why did he not come to her aid? Perrington had given her the poison based on the king’s command, hadn’t he? The council members looked at her accusingly, whispering among themselves.
“You gave it to me!” she said to the duke.
Perrington’s orange brows furrowed. “What are you talking about?”
Kaltain started forward. “You scheming son of a harlot!”
“Restrain her, please,” the duke said, blandly, calmly—as if she were no more than a hysterical servant. As if she were nobody.
“I told you,” the duke said into the king’s ear, “that she’d do anything to get the Cro—” The words were lost as she was dragged away. There was nothing—no emotion at all—in the duke’s face. He had played her for a fool.
Kaltain struggled against the guards. “Your Majesty, please! His Grace told me that you—”
The duke merely looked away.
“I’ll kill you!” she screamed at Perrington. She turned to the king, beseechingly, but he, too, looked away, his face crumpled with distaste. He wouldn’t listen to anything she said, no matter what the truth was. Perrington had been planning this for too long. And she’d played right into his hands. He’d acted the besotted fool only to plunge a dagger into her back.
Kaltain kicked and thrashed against the guards’ grip, but the king’s table became smaller and smaller. As she reached the doors to the castle, the duke grinned at her, and her dreams shattered.
The next morning, Dorian kept his chin high as his father stared at him. He didn’t lower his gaze, no matter how many silent seconds ticked by. After his father had allowed Cain to toy with and hurt Celaena for so long, when she’d clearly been drugged . . . It was a miracle Dorian hadn’t snapped yet, but he needed this audience with his father.
“Well?” asked the king at last.
“I wish to know what will happen to Chaol. For killing Cain.”
His father’s black eyes gleamed. “What do you think should happen to him?”
“Nothing,” said Dorian. “I think he killed him to defend Cel—to defend the assassin.”
“You think the life of an assassin is worth more than that of a soldier?”
Dorian’s sapphire gaze darkened. “No, but I believe there was no honor in stabbing her in the back after she’d won.” And if he ever found out that Perrington or his father had sanctioned it, or somehow played a hand in Kaltain drugging her . . . Dorian’s hands clenched into fists at his sides.
“Honor?” The King of Adarlan stroked his beard. “And would you have slain me if I tried to kill her in such a manner?”
“You’re my father,” he said carefully. “I would trust that the choice you made was correct.”
“What a cunning liar you are! Almost as good as Perrington.”
“So you won’t punish Chaol?”
“I see no reason why I should rid myself of a perfectly capable Captain of the Guard.”
Dorian sighed. “Thank you, Father.” The gratitude in his eyes was genuine.
“Is there anything else?” asked the king offhandedly.
“I—” Dorian glanced at the window, then back at his father, steeling his nerve once more. The second reason he’d come. “I want to know what you’re going to do with the assassin,” he said, and his father smiled in a way that made Dorian’s blood run cold.
“The assassin . . . ,” his father mused. “She was rather disgraceful at the duel; I don’t know if I can have a blubbering woman as my Champion, poison or no. If she’d been really good, she would have noticed the poison before she drank. Perhaps I should send her back to Endovier.”
Dorian’s temper flared with dizzying speed. “You’re wrong about her,” he began, but then shook his head. “You’ll not see her otherwise, no matter what I tell you.”
“Why should I see an assassin as anything but a monster? I brought her here to do my bidding, not to meddle in the life of my son and empire.”
Dorian bared his teeth. He’d never dared look at his father like this. It thrilled him, and as his father slowly sat down, Dorian wondered if the king was considering whether he had become a genuine concern. To Dorian’s surprise, he realized that he didn’t care. Perhaps the time had come for him to start questioning his father.
“She’s not a monster,” Dorian said. “Everything she’s done, she did to survive.”
“Survive? Is that the lie she told you? She could have done anything to survive, but she chose killing. She enjoyed killing. She has you at her beck and call, doesn’t she? Oh, how clever she is! What a politician she’d have made if she had been born a man!”
A deep-throated growl rippled from Dorian. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I have no attachment to her.”
But in that one sentence, Dorian made his mistake, and he knew that his father had found his new weak spot: the overwhelming terror that Celaena would be ripped from him. His hands slackened at his sides.
The King of Adarlan looked at the Crown Prince. “I shall send her my contract whenever I get around to it. Until then, you’d do well to keep your mouth shut about it, boy.”
Dorian drowned in the cold rage that lay inside of him. Yet an image came vividly to his mind: Nehemia handing Celaena her staff at the duel. Nehemia was no fool; like him, she knew that symbols held a special kind of power. Though Celaena might be his father’s Champion, she’d gained the title using a weapon from Eyllwe. And while Nehemia might be playing a game that she had no chance of winning, Dorian couldn’t deny that he greatly admired the princess for daring to play in the first place.
Perhaps he might someday work up the nerve to demand retribution for what his father had done to those rebels in Eyllwe. Not today. Not yet. But maybe he could make a start.
So he faced his father, and kept his head held high as he said, “Perrington wishes to use Nehemia as some sort of hostage in order to make the Eyllwe rebels obey.”
His father cocked his head. “Does he now? It’s an interesting idea. Do you agree?”
Though Dorian’s palms began sweating, he schooled his features into neutrality as he said, “No, I don’t. I think we’re better than that.”
“Are we? Do you know how many soldiers and supplies I’ve lost thanks to those rebels?”
“I do, but to use Nehemia like that is too risky. The rebels might use it to gain allies in other kingdoms. And Nehemia is beloved by her people. If you’re worried about losing soldiers and supplies, then you’ll lose far more if Perrington’s plan ignites a full-on rebellion in Eyllwe. We’d be better off trying to win over Nehemia—trying to work with her to get the rebels to back off. That won’t happen if we hold her hostage.”
Silence fell, and Dorian tried not to fidget as his father studied him. Every heartbeat felt like a hammer striking his body.
At last, his father nodded. “I shall order Perrington to stop his planning, then.”
Dorian almost sagged with relief, but he kept his face blank, kept his words steady as he said, “Thank you for hearing me out.”
His father didn’t reply, and without waiting for his dismissal, the prince turned on his heel and left.
Celaena tried not to wince at the pain that shot through her shoulder and leg as she awoke. Swaddled in blankets and bandages, she glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was almost one in the afternoon.
Her jaw hurt as she opened her mouth. Celaena didn’t need a mirror to know that she was covered in nasty bruises. She frowned, and her face throbbed at the movement. Undoubtedly, she looked hideous. She tried unsuccessfully to sit up. Everything hurt.
Her arm was in a sling, and her thigh stung as her legs moved under the covers. She didn’t remember much of what had happened after the duel yesterday, but at least she wasn’t dead—either by Cain or the king’s order.
Her dreams last night had been filled with Nehemia and Elena—though, more often than not, they disappeared into visions of demons and the dead. And those things Cain had said. The nightmares were so terrible that Celaena barely slept, despite her pain and exhaustion. She wondered what had become of Elena’s amulet. She had a feeling the nightmares were due to its absence, and wished repeatedly for it to be restored to her, even though Cain was now dead.
The door to her chambers opened, and she found Nehemia standing in the doorway. The princess only smiled slightly at her as she closed the bedroom door and approached. Fleetfoot lifted her head, her tail slapping against the bed as she wagged it in earnest.
“Hello,” Celaena said in Eyllwe.
“How are you feeling?” Nehemia replied in the common tongue, without a hint of her accent. Fleetfoot climbed over Celaena’s sore legs to greet the princess.
“Exactly how I look,” Celaena said, her mouth aching at the movement.
Nehemia took a seat on the edge of the mattress. As it shifted beneath her, Celaena winced. Recovery wasn’t going to be easy. Fleetfoot, done licking and sniffing at Nehemia, curled up in a ball between them and went to sleep. Celaena buried her fingers in her velvet-soft ears.
“I won’t waste time dancing around the truth,” Nehemia said. “I saved your life at the duel.”
She had a hazy memory of Nehemia’s fingers making strange symbols in the air. “I didn’t hallucinate all of that? And—and you saw everything, too?” Celaena tried to sit up a little higher, but found it too painful to even move an inch.