He smiled slightly. He was trying to fight it—whatever feeling had been hounding him. “I’ve never seen you look lovelier.” He eyed the bed. “Do you mind if I lie down? I’m exhausted.”
She didn’t object as he removed his boots and unbuttoned his jacket. With a groan, he stretched out beside her, putting his hands on his stomach. She watched him close his eyes and let out a long breath through his nose. Some semblance of normalcy returned to his face.
“How’s Chaol?” she asked, tensing. She remembered the spray of blood and his staring, horrified face.
Dorian opened an eye. “He’ll be fine. He took yesterday and today off. I think he needs it.” Celaena’s heart tightened. “You shouldn’t feel responsible,” he said, turning onto his side to look directly into her face. “He did what he saw fit.”
“No,” insisted Dorian. “Chaol knew what he was doing.” He brushed a finger down her cheek. His finger was icy, but she held in her shiver. “I’m sorry,” he said again, taking his finger from her face. “I’m sorry I didn’t save you.”
“What are you talking about? That is what you’ve been agonizing over?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t stop Cain the moment I knew something was wrong. Kaltain drugged you, and I should have known—I should have found a way to prevent her from doing it. And when I realized you were hallucinating, I . . . I’m sorry I didn’t find a way to stop it.”
Green skin and yellow fangs flashed before her eyes, and Celaena’s aching fingers curled into a fist. “You shouldn’t be sorry,” she said, not wanting to speak about the horrors that she’d seen, or of Kaltain’s treachery, or what Nehemia had confided in her. “You did as anyone would have—should have done. If you’d interfered, I would have been disqualified.”
“I should have sliced Cain open the moment he laid a hand on you. Instead, I stood there as Chaol knelt at the sidelines. I should have been the one to kill Cain.”
The demons faded, and a smirk spread. “You’re starting to sound like an assassin, my friend.”
“Perhaps I spend too much time around you.” Celaena moved her head from the pillow to rest in the soft space between his shoulder and chest. Heat rushed through her. Though her body almost seized up in agony as she turned over, Celaena put her injured hand on his stomach. Dorian’s breath was warm on her head, and she smiled as he brought his arm around her, cupping her shoulder. They were silent for a while.
“Dorian,” she began, and he flicked her on the nose. “Ow,” she said, wrinkling her nose. Though her face was peppered with bruises, miraculously, Cain hadn’t marred her in any permanent way, though the cut on the leg would leave yet another scar.
“Yes?” he said, resting his chin on her head.
She listened to the sound of his heart beating, the steadiness of it. “When you retrieved me from Endovier—did you actually think I’d win?”
“Of course. Why else would I have bothered to journey so far to find you?”
She snorted onto his chest, but he gently lifted her chin. His eyes were familiar—like something she’d forgotten. “I knew you’d win the moment I met you,” he whispered, and her heart writhed as she understood what lay before them. “Though I’ll admit that I didn’t quite see this coming. And . . . no matter how frivolous and twisted that competition was, I’m grateful it brought you into my life. As long as I live, I’ll always be thankful for that.”
“Do you intend to make me cry, or are you just foolish?”
Dorian leaned forward and kissed her. It made her jaw hurt.
Seated on his glass throne, the King of Adarlan stroked Nothung’s pommel. Perrington knelt before him, waiting. Let him wait.
Though the assassin was his Champion, he had yet to send her contract. She was close with both his son and Princess Nehemia; would appointing her somehow be a risk?
But the Captain of the Guard trusted the assassin well enough to save her life. The king’s face became like stone. He wouldn’t punish Chaol Westfall—if only to avoid Dorian raising hell in the captain’s defense. If only Dorian had been born a soldier, not a reader.
But there was a man somewhere in Dorian—a man who could be honed into a warrior. Perhaps a few months at the battlefront would do him some good. A helmet and a sword could do wondrous things to a young man’s temperament. And after that show of will and power in his throne room . . . Dorian could be a strong general, if he was pushed.
And as for the assassin . . . once her injuries were healed, what better person to have at his bidding? Besides, there were no others in whom he could place his trust. Celaena Sardothien was his best and only choice now that Cain was dead.
The king traced a mark on the glass arm of his seat. He was well versed in Wyrdmarks, but he’d never seen one like hers. He would find out. And if it were an indication of some fell deed or prophecy, he’d have the girl hanging by nightfall. Seeing her thrash about while drugged had almost convinced him to order her death. But then he’d felt them—felt the angry and furious eyes of the dead . . . Someone had interfered and saved her. And if these creatures both protected and attacked her . . .
Perhaps she was not a person to die at his command. Not before he discovered the meaning of her mark. For now, though, he had more important things to worry about.
“Your manipulation of Kaltain was interesting,” said the king at last. Perrington remained kneeling. “Were you using the power on her?”
“No; I’ve relaxed it recently, as you suggested,” the duke replied, rotating the obsidian ring around his thick finger. “Besides, she was starting to look noticeably affected—drained and pale, and she even mentioned the headaches.”
The treachery of Lady Kaltain was disturbing, but had he known of Perrington’s plan to reveal her character—even to prove how easily she’d adapt to their plans, and how strong her determination ran—he would have prevented it. Such a public revelation only brought about irritating questions.
“It was clever of you to experiment on her. She’s become a strong ally—and still suspects nothing of our influence. I have high hopes for this power,” the king confided, looking at his own black ring. “Cain proved the physical transformative effects, and Kaltain proves the ability to influence thoughts and emotions. I would like to test its full ability to hone the minds of a few others.”
“Part of me wishes Kaltain hadn’t been so susceptible,” grumbled Perrington. “She wanted to use me to get to your son, but I don’t want the power to turn her into Cain. Despite myself, I don’t like the thought of her rotting in those dungeons for long.”
“Do not fear for Kaltain, my friend. She won’t remain in the dungeons forever. When the scandal has been forgotten and the assassin is busy with my work, we’ll make Kaltain an offer she can’t refuse. But there are ways of controlling her, if you think she can’t be trusted.”
“Let’s first see how the dungeons change her mind,” Perrington said quickly.
“Of course, of course. It’s only a suggestion.”
They were silent, and the duke rose.
“Duke,” the king said, his voice echoing through the chamber. The fire in the mouth-shaped fireplace flickered, and green light filled the shadows of the room. “We will soon have much to do in Erilea. Prepare yourself. And stop pushing your plan to use the Eyllwe princess—it’s attracting too much attention.”
The duke only nodded, bowed, and strode out of the chamber.
Celaena leaned back in her seat and propped her feet on the table, balancing the chair precariously on its hind legs. She savored the stretch and release of tension in her stiff muscles, and turned the page in the book she was holding aloft. Fleetfoot dozed beneath the table, snoring faintly. Outside, the sunny afternoon had transformed the snow into dripping, shimmering water that cast light about the whole bedroom. Her injuries had stopped being so irksome, but she still couldn’t walk without limping. With any luck, she’d start running again soon.
It had been a week since the duel. Philippa was already busy with the task of cleaning out Celaena’s closet to accommodate more clothing. All the clothing Celaena planned to buy when she was free to venture into Rifthold and do some shopping for herself, once she had her outrageous salary as King’s Champion. Which she’d hopefully start receiving as soon as she signed her contract . . . whenever that would be.
With Philippa occupied, Nehemia and Dorian had taken to attending her—and the prince often read aloud to her long into the night. When she finally did sleep, her dreams were filled with archaic words and long-forgotten faces, with Wyrdmarks that glowed blue, with the king, and with a dead army summoned from the realms of Hell. Upon waking, she did her best to forget them—especially the magic.
Her doorknob clicked and her heart leapt into her throat. Was it time to finally sign her contract with the king? But it wasn’t Dorian or Nehemia, not even a page. The world stopped when Chaol entered instead.
Fleetfoot rushed to him, tail wagging. Celaena almost fell out of her chair as she removed her feet from the table, and winced at the pain that shot through the wound on her leg. She was standing in an instant, but when she opened her mouth, she had nothing to say.
After Chaol gave Fleetfoot a friendly rub on the head, the dog trotted back beneath the table, circled twice, and curled up.
Why wouldn’t he move from the doorway? Celaena glanced at her nightgown and blushed as she noticed him staring at her bare legs.
“How are your injuries?” he asked. His voice was soft—and she realized he wasn’t staring at the amount of skin she was showing, but rather the bandage wrapped around her thigh.
“I’m all right,” she said quickly. “The bandage is just to elicit sympathy now.” She tried to smile, but failed. “I—I haven’t seen you in a week.” It had felt like a lifetime. “Have you . . . Are you all right?”
His brown eyes met hers. Suddenly, she was back at the duel, prostrate on the ground, Cain laughing behind her, but all she could see, all she could hear, was Chaol as he knelt and reached for her. Her throat tightened. She had understood something in that moment. But she couldn’t remember what. Maybe it had been a hallucination, too.
“I’m fine,” he said, and she took a step toward him, all too aware of how short her nightgown was. “I just . . . wanted to apologize for not checking in on you sooner.”
She stopped barely a foot away from him and cocked her head. He wasn’t wearing his sword. “I’m sure you’ve been busy,” she said.
He only stood there. She swallowed, and tucked a strand of her unbound hair behind an ear. She took another step closer to him, now having to tip her head back to look into his face. His eyes were so sorrowful. She bit her lip. “You—you saved my life, you know. Twice.”
Chaol’s brows narrowed slightly. “I did what I had to.”
“And that’s why I owe you my gratitude.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” he said, his voice strained. And when his eyes flickered, her heart tightened.
She took his hand in hers, but he pulled it away. “I just wanted to see how you were. I have to go to a meeting,” he said, and she knew he was lying.
“Thank you for killing Cain.” He stiffened. “I—I still remember how it felt when I made my first kill. It wasn’t easy.”
He dropped his gaze to the floor. “That’s why I can’t stop thinking about it. Because it was easy. I just took my sword and killed him. I wanted to kill him.” He pinned her with his stare. “He knew about your parents. How?”