Home > Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)(15)

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)(15)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

Nehemia laughed, and Celaena found herself joining in before she tossed Fleetfoot another piece of bacon. “Let’s just stay in bed all day,” Celaena said, throwing herself back onto the pillows and nestling into the blankets.

“I certainly wish I could,” Nehemia said, sighing loudly. “Alas, I have things to do.”

And so did she, Celaena realized. Like preparing for her dinner that evening with Archer.

Chapter 10

Dorian shivered as he entered the kennels that afternoon, brushing snow from his red cloak. Beside him, Chaol puffed air into his cupped hands, and the two young men hurried farther inside, the straw-coated floors crunching underfoot. Dorian hated winter—the intolerable cold and the way his boots never seemed completely dry.

They had chosen to enter the castle through the kennels because it was the easiest way to avoid Hollin, Dorian’s ten-year-old brother, who had returned from school that morning and was already shrieking demands at anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Hollin would never look for them here. He hated animals.

They strode through the chorus of barking and whining, Dorian pausing every now and then to greet a favorite hound. He could have spent the rest of the day here—if only to avoid the court dinner in honor of Hollin. “I can’t believe my mother pulled him out of school,” he muttered.

“She missed her son,” Chaol said, still rubbing his hands together, though the kennels were deliciously warm compared to outside. “And now that there’s this movement growing against your father, he wants Hollin where we can keep an eye on him until it gets sorted out.”

Until Celaena kills all the traitors, was what Chaol didn’t need to say.

Dorian sighed. “I don’t even want to imagine what sort of absurd gift my mother bought him. Do you remember the last one?”

Chaol grinned. It was hard not to remember the last gift Georgina had bought her younger son: four white ponies with a tiny golden carriage for Hollin to drive about himself. He’d trampled half of the queen’s favorite garden.

Chaol led them toward the doors at the far end of the kennels. “You can’t avoid him forever.” Even as the captain spoke, Dorian could see him scanning, as he always did, for any sign of danger, any threat. After so many years, Dorian was used to it, but it still rankled his pride a little.

They passed through the glass doors and into the castle. To Dorian, the hall was warm and glowing; wreaths and garlands of evergreen still decorated archways and tabletops. To Chaol, he supposed, an enemy could be waiting anywhere.

“Maybe he’s changed in the past few months—matured a little,” Chaol said.

“You said that last summer, and I almost punched his teeth out.”

Chaol shook his head. “Thank the Wyrd my brother was always too afraid of me to talk back.”

Dorian tried not to look surprised. Since Chaol had abdicated his title as heir of Anielle, he hadn’t seen his family in years, and rarely spoke about them.

Dorian could have gleefully killed Chaol’s father for disowning him, refusing even to see Chaol when he brought his family to Rifthold for an important meeting with the king. Even though Chaol had never said it, Dorian knew the scars went deep.

Dorian sighed loudly. “Remind me again why I’m going to this dinner tonight?”

“Because your father will kill you and me if you don’t show up and formally greet your brother.”

“Maybe he’d hire Celaena to do it.”

“She has dinner plans tonight. With Archer Finn.”

“Isn’t she supposed to kill him?”

“She wants information, apparently.” A heavy pause. “I don’t like him.”

Dorian stiffened. They had managed, at least for the afternoon, to not talk about her—and for those few hours, it had been like nothing had ever changed between them. But things had changed. “I don’t think you need to worry about Archer stealing her away—especially if he’s going to be dead by the end of the month.” It came out sharper and colder than he intended.

Chaol cut a glance at him. “You think that’s what I’m worried about?”

Yes. And it’s obvious to everyone except the two of you.

But he didn’t want to have this conversation with Chaol, and Chaol sure as hell didn’t want to have this conversation with him, so Dorian just shrugged. “She’ll be fine, and you’ll laugh at yourself for worrying. Even if he’s as well-guarded as she claims, she’s the Champion for a reason, right?”

Chaol nodded, though Dorian could still see the worry in his eyes.

Celaena knew the scarlet dress was a little scandalous. And she knew that it was definitely not appropriate for winter, given how low the front dipped, and how much lower the back went. Low enough to reveal through the black lace mesh that she wasn’t wearing a corset beneath it.

But Archer Finn had always liked women who were daring with their clothes, who were ahead of the trend. And this dress, with its close-fitting bodice, long, tight sleeves, and gently flowing skirt, was about as new and different as it came.

Which was why, when she ran into Chaol on her way out of her rooms, she wasn’t very surprised when he stopped dead and blinked. Then blinked again.

Celaena smiled at him. “Hello to you, too.”

Chaol stood in the hallway, his bronze eyes traveling down the front of her dress, then up again. “You’re not wearing that.”

She snorted and walked past him, deliberately giving him a view of the far more provocative back. “Oh, yes. I am.”

Chaol fell into step beside her as she made her way down to the front gate and the waiting carriage. “You’re going to catch your death.”

She slung her ermine cloak around her. “Not with this, I won’t.”

“Do you even have any weapons with you?”

She stomped down the main staircase that led to the entrance hall. “Yes, Chaol, I have weapons. And I’m wearing this dress because I want Archer to ask the same thing. To think I don’t have any on me.”

There were indeed knives strapped to her legs, and the pins sweeping her hair into a curling cascade down one shoulder were long and razor-sharp—commissioned, to her delight, by Philippa, so she didn’t need to “go traipsing around with cold metal jammed between your br**sts.”

“Oh,” was all Chaol said. They reached the main entrance in silence, and Celaena slipped on her kid gloves as they neared the towering double doors that opened onto the courtyard. She was just about to walk down the front steps when Chaol touched her shoulder.

“Be careful,” he said, examining the carriage, the driver, the footman. They seemed to pass inspection. “Don’t put yourself at risk.”

“I do this for a living, you know.” She never should have told him about her capture, never should have let him see her as vulnerable, because now he’d just worry about her and doubt her and irritate her to no end. She didn’t know why she did it, but she shook off his touch and hissed, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He stiffened as if he’d been struck, his teeth flashing. “What do you mean, tomorrow?”

Again, that stupid, bright anger took over, and she gave him a slow smile. “You’re a smart boy,” she said, stalking down the steps to the carriage. “Figure it out yourself.”

Chaol kept staring as though he didn’t know her, his body so very still. She wouldn’t have him thinking her vulnerable, or foolish, or inexperienced—not when she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get to this point. Maybe it had been a mistake to let him in; because the idea of him thinking that she was weak, that she needed to be protected, made her want to shatter someone’s bones.

“Good night,” she said, and before she could reconsider all that she’d just implied, she got into the carriage and drove away.

She’d worry about Chaol later. Tonight, her focus was on Archer—and on getting the truth out of him.

Archer was waiting inside an exclusive dining room, frequented by the elite of Rifthold. Most of the tables were already occupied, the patrons’ fine clothes and jewels glimmering in the dim light.

As the servant at the front helped her out of her cloak, she made sure that she was angled away from Archer—so he could get an eyeful of the exquisite black lace that covered the open back (and mostly concealed her scars from Endovier). She felt the eyes of the servant on her, too, but pretended not to notice.

   
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