“No, you didn’t,” the princess said. “And yes, I saw everything that you saw; my gifts enable me to see what others normally cannot. Yesterday, the bloodbane Kaltain put in your wine made you see it, too: what lurks beyond the veil of this world. I don’t think Kaltain intended that effect, but it reacted to your blood in that way. Magic calls to magic.” Celaena shifted uncomfortably at the words.
“Why did you pretend to not understand our language all these months?” Celaena asked, eager to change the subject, but also wondering why the question stung as much as her wounds.
“It was originally a defense,” Nehemia said, gently setting her hand on Celaena’s good arm. “You’d be surprised how much people are willing to reveal when they think you can’t understand them. But with each day that I pretended to not know anything, being around you became harder and harder.”
“But why make me give you lessons?”
Nehemia looked up at the ceiling. “Because I wanted a friend. Because I liked you.”
“So you truly were reading that book when I came across you in the library.”
Nehemia nodded. “I . . . I was doing research. On the Wyrdmarks, as you call them in your language. I lied to you when I said I didn’t know anything about them. I know all about them. I know how to read them—and how to use them. My entire family does, but we keep it a secret, passed down from generation to generation. They are only to be used as a last defense against evil, or in the gravest of illnesses. And here, with magic banned . . . well, even though the Wyrdmarks are a different kind of power, I’m sure that if people discovered I was using them, I’d be imprisoned for it.”
Celaena tried to sit up straighter, cursing herself for being unable to move without wanting to faint from pain. “You were using them?”
Nehemia nodded gravely. “We keep them a secret because of the terrible power that they wield. Terrible, in that it can be used for good or evil—though most have used their power for wicked deeds. Since the moment I arrived here, I was aware that someone was using the Wyrdmarks to call forth demons from the Otherworlds—realms beyond our realm. That fool Cain knew enough about the Wyrdmarks to summon the creatures, but didn’t know how to control them and send them back. I’ve spent months banishing and destroying the creatures he summoned; that is why I’ve sometimes been so absent.”
Shame burned on Celaena’s cheeks. How could she ever have believed Nehemia was the one killing the Champions? Celaena lifted her right hand so she could see the scars on it. “That was why you didn’t ask questions the night my hand was bitten. You—you used the Wyrdmarks to heal me.”
“I still don’t know how or where you came across the ridderak—but I think that’s a tale for another time.” Nehemia clicked her tongue. “The marks you found under your bed were drawn by me.” Celaena jolted a bit at that. She hissed as her body gave a collective, miserable throb of pain.
“Those symbols are for protection. You have no idea what a nuisance it was to have to keep redrawing them every time you washed them away.” A smile tugged on the edges of Nehemia’s full lips. “Without them, I think the ridderak would have been drawn to you far sooner.”
“Because Cain hated you, of course. And wanted to eliminate you from the competition. I wish he weren’t dead, so I might ask him where he learned to rip open portals like that. When the poison made you hover between worlds, his very presence somehow brought those creatures to the In-Between to shred you apart. Though after all he’s done, I think he deserved Chaol running him through like that.”
Celaena looked toward the bedroom door. She still hadn’t seen Chaol since yesterday. Had the king punished him for all that he had done to help her?
“That man cares for you more than either of you realize,” Nehemia said, a smile in her voice. Celaena’s face burned.
Nehemia cleared her throat. “I suppose you wish to know how I saved you.”
“If you’re so willing,” Celaena said, and the princess grinned.
“With the Wyrdmarks, I was able to open a portal into one of the realms of the Otherworld—and let through Elena, first queen of Adarlan.”
“You know her?” Celaena raised an eyebrow.
“No—but she answered my call for help. Not all realms are full of darkness and death. Some are filled with creatures of good—beings that, if our need is great enough, will follow us into Erilea to help in our task. She heard your plea for help long before I opened the portal.”
“Is it . . . is it possible to go to these other worlds?” Celaena vaguely recalled the Wyrdgates that she’d stumbled across in that book months and months ago.
Nehemia studied her carefully. “I don’t know. My schooling isn’t yet completed. But the queen was both in and not in this world. She was in the In-Between, where she could not fully cross over, nor could the creatures that you saw. It takes an enormous amount of power to open a true portal to let something through—and even then, the portal will close after a moment. Cain could open it long enough for the ridderak to come through, but then it would shut. So I had to open it long enough to send it back. We’ve been playing a cat-and-mouse game for months.” She rubbed her temples. “You have no idea how exhausting it’s been.”
“Cain summoned all of those things at the duel, didn’t he?”
Nehemia contemplated the question. “Perhaps. They might have already been waiting.”
“But I could only see them because of the bloodbane that Kaltain gave me?”
“I don’t know, Elentiya.” Nehemia sighed and stood. “All I know is that Cain knew the secrets of my people’s power—power that has long been forgotten in the lands of the North. And that troubles me.”
“At least he’s dead,” Celaena offered, then swallowed. “But . . . but in that . . . place—Cain didn’t look like Cain. He looked like a demon. Why?”
“Perhaps the evil he kept summoning seeped into his soul and twisted him into something he was not.”
“He talked about me. Like he knew everything.” Celaena clenched the blankets.
Something flickered in Nehemia’s gaze. “Sometimes, the wicked will tell us things just to confuse us—to haunt our thoughts long after we’ve faced them. He would be delighted to know you’re still fretting over whatever nonsense he said.” Nehemia patted her hand. “Don’t give him the satisfaction of knowing that he’s still troubling you; put those thoughts from your mind.”
“At least the king doesn’t know about any of this; I can’t imagine what he’d do if he had access to that kind of power.”
“I can imagine a great deal,” Nehemia said softly. “Do you know what the Wyrdmark is that burned on your forehead?”
Celaena stiffened. “No. Do you?”
Nehemia gave her a weighing look. “No, I do not. But I have seen it there before. It seems to be a part of you. And I do worry what the king thinks of it. It’s a miracle he hasn’t questioned it further.” Celaena’s blood went cold, and Nehemia quickly added, “Don’t worry. If he wanted to question you, he would have done it already.”
Celaena let out a shuddering breath. “Why are you really here, Nehemia?”
The princess was quiet for a moment. “I will not claim ties of allegiance to the King of Adarlan. You know this already. And I’m not afraid to tell you that I came to Rifthold only for the excellent view it offered of his movements—of his plans.”
“You truly came here to spy?” Celaena whispered.
“If you want to put it that way. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my country—no sacrifice too great to keep my people alive and out of slavery, to keep another massacre from happening.” Pain flickered across her eyes.
Celaena’s heart twisted. “You’re the bravest person I’ve ever met.”
Nehemia stroked Fleetfoot’s coat. “My love for Eyllwe drowns out my fear of the King of Adarlan. But I will not involve you, Elentiya.” Celaena almost sighed with relief, though it shamed her to feel that way. “Our paths might be entwined, but . . . but I think you must continue to travel your own road for now. Adjust to your new position.”
Celaena nodded and cleared her throat. “I won’t tell anyone about your powers.”
Nehemia smiled sadly. “And there shall be no more secrets between us. When you are better, I’d like to hear how you got entangled with Elena.” She glanced down at Fleetfoot. “Do you mind if I take her for a walk? I need to feel the wind on my face today.”
“Of course,” Celaena said. “She’s been cooped up here all morning.”
As if the dog understood, she jumped off the bed and sat at Nehemia’s feet.
“I’m glad to have you as my friend, Elentiya,” the princess said.
“I’m even gladder to have you guarding my back,” Celaena said, fighting a yawn. “Thank you for saving my life. Twice now, actually. Or perhaps more.” Celaena frowned. “Do I even want to know how many times you secretly saved me from one of Cain’s creatures?”
“Not if you want to sleep tonight.” Nehemia kissed the top of her head before walking to the door, Fleetfoot in tow. The princess paused in the doorway, though, and tossed something to Celaena. “This belongs to you. One of my guards picked it up after the duel.” It was the Eye of Elena.
Celaena wrapped a hand around the hard metal of the amulet. “Thank you.”
When Nehemia had left, Celaena smiled, despite all that she had just learned, and closed her eyes. The amulet gripped in her hand, she slept more soundly than she had in months.
Celaena awoke the next day, unsure what time it was. There had been a knock on her door, and she blinked the sleep from her eyes in time to see Dorian enter. He stared at her for a moment from the doorway, and she managed a smile. “Hello,” she said hoarsely. She remembered him carrying her, holding her down as the healers stitched her leg . . .
He came forward, his steps heavy. “You look even worse today,” he whispered. Despite the pain, Celaena sat up.
“I’m fine,” she lied. She wasn’t. Cain had cracked one of her ribs, and it ached every time she breathed. He clenched his jaw, staring out the window. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked. She tried to reach out to grab his jacket, but it hurt too much and he was too far.
“I—I don’t know,” he said. The vacant, lost look in his eyes increased the tempo of her heart. “I haven’t been able to sleep since the duel.”
“Here,” she said as gently as she could, patting a space beside her. “Come sit.”
Obediently, he sat, though he kept his back to her as he put his head in his hands and took several deep breaths. Celaena gingerly touched his back. He stiffened, and she almost pulled away. But his spine relaxed, and he continued his controlled breathing. “Are you ill?” she asked.
“No,” he mumbled.
“Dorian. What happened?”
“What do you mean, ‘what happened’?” he said, keeping his face in his hands. “One minute, you were walloping Grave, and the next, Cain was beating the living daylights out of you—”
“You lost sleep because of that?”
“I can’t—I can’t . . .” He groaned. She gave him a moment, letting him sort through his thoughts. “I’m sorry,” he said, removing his hands from his face and straightening. She nodded. She wouldn’t push him. “How are you truly feeling?” The fear still lay beneath his words.
“Awful,” she said cautiously. “And I suspect I look as bad as I feel.”