Home > Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)(4)

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)(4)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

“Surely no one would be that bold. The rebels hide out in the mountains and forests and places where the local people can conceal and support them—not here. Rifthold would be a death trap.”

Celaena shrugged again just as Fleetfoot returned and demanded the stick be thrown again. “Apparently not. And apparently the king has a list of people whom he thinks are key players in this movement against him.”

“And you’re to … kill them all?” Nehemia’s creamy brown face paled slightly.

“One by one,” Celaena said, throwing the stick as far as she could into the misty field. Fleetfoot shot off, dried grass and the remnants of the last snowstorm crunching beneath her huge paws. “He’ll only reveal one name at a time. A bit dramatic, if you ask me. But apparently they’re interfering with his plans.”

“What plans?” Nehemia said sharply.

Celaena frowned. “I was hoping you might know.”

“I don’t.” There was a tense pause. “If you learn anything …,” Nehemia began.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Celaena lied. She wasn’t even sure if she truly wanted to know what the king was up to—let alone share that information with anyone else. It was selfish, and stupid, perhaps, but she couldn’t forget the warning the king had given the day he crowned her Champion: if she stepped out of line, if she betrayed him, he’d kill Chaol. And then Nehemia, and then the princess’s family.

And all of this—every death she faked, every lie she told—put them at risk.

Nehemia shook her head but didn’t reply. Whenever the princess or Chaol or even Dorian looked at her like that, it was almost too much to bear. But they had to believe the lies, too. For their own safety.

Nehemia began wringing her hands, and her eyes grew distant. Celaena had seen that expression often in the past month. “If you’re fretting for my sake—”

“I’m not,” Nehemia said. “You can take care of yourself.”

“Then what is it?” Celaena’s stomach clenched. If Nehemia talked more about the rebels, she didn’t know how much of it she could take. Yes, she wanted to be free of the king—both as his Champion and as a child of a conquered nation—but she wanted nothing to do with whatever plots were brewing in Rifthold, and whatever desperate hope the rebels still savored. To stand against the king would be nothing but folly. They’d all be destroyed.

But Nehemia said, “Numbers in the Calaculla labor camp are swelling. Every day, more and more Eyllwe rebels arrive. Most consider it a miracle that they’re alive. After the soldiers butchered those five hundred rebels … My people are afraid.” Fleetfoot again returned, and it was Nehemia who took the stick from the dog’s mouth and chucked it into the gray dawn. “But the conditions in Calaculla …”

She paused, probably recalling the three scars that raked down Celaena’s back. A permanent reminder of the cruelty of the Salt Mines of Endovier—and a reminder that even though she was free, thousands of people still toiled and died there. Calaculla, the sister camp to Endovier, was rumored to be even worse.

“The king will not meet with me,” Nehemia said, now toying with one of her fine, slender braids. “I have asked him three times to discuss the conditions in Calaculla, and each time he claims to be occupied. Apparently, he’s too busy finding people for you to kill.”

Celaena blushed at the harshness in Nehemia’s tone. Fleetfoot returned again, but when Nehemia took the stick, the princess kept it in her hands.

“I must do something, Elentiya,” Nehemia said, using the name she’d given her on the night Celaena admitted that she was an assassin. “I must find a way to help my people. When does gathering information become a stalemate? When do we act?”

Celaena swallowed hard. That word—“act”—scared her more than she’d like to admit. Worse than the word “plans.” Fleetfoot sat at their feet, tail wagging as she waited for the stick to be thrown.

But when Celaena said nothing, when she promised nothing, just as she always did when Nehemia spoke about these things, the princess dropped the stick on the ground and quietly walked back to the castle.

Celaena waited until Nehemia’s footsteps faded and let out a long breath. She was to meet Chaol for their morning run in a few minutes, but after that … after that, she was going into Rifthold. Let Archer wait until this afternoon.

After all, the king had given her a month, and despite her own questions for Archer, she wanted to get off the castle grounds for a bit. She had blood money to burn.

Chapter 4

Chaol Westfall sprinted through the game park, Celaena keeping pace beside him. The chill morning air was like shards of glass in his lungs; his breath clouded in front of him. They’d bundled up as best they could without weighing themselves down—mostly just layers of shirts and gloves—but even with sweat running down his body, Chaol was freezing.

Chaol knew Celaena was freezing, too—her nose was tipped with pink, color stood high on her cheeks, and her ears shone bright red. Noticing his stare, she flashed him a grin, those stunning turquoise eyes full of light. “Tired?” she teased. “I knew you weren’t bothering to train while I was away.”

He let out a breathy chuckle. “You certainly didn’t train while you were on your mission. This is the second time this morning that I’ve had to slow my pace for you.”

A blatant lie. She kept up with him easily now, nimble as a stag bounding through the woods. Sometimes he found it immensely hard not to watch her—to watch the way she moved.

“Keep telling yourself that,” she said, and ran a little faster.

He increased his speed, not wanting her to leave him behind. Servants had cleared a path through the snow blanketing the game park, but the ground was still icy and treacherous underfoot.

He’d been realizing it more and more recently—how much he hated it when she left him behind. How he hated her setting off on those cursed missions and not contacting him for days or weeks. He didn’t know how or when it had happened, but he’d somehow started caring whether she came back or not. And after all that they’d already endured together …

He’d killed Cain at the duel. Killed him to save her. Part of him didn’t regret it; part of him would do it again in a heartbeat. But the other part still woke him up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat that felt too much like Cain’s blood.

She looked over at him. “What’s wrong?”

He fought the rising guilt. “Keep your eyes on the path or you’ll slip.”

For once, she obeyed him. “You want to talk about it?”

Yes. No. If there were anyone who could understand the guilt and rage he grappled with when he thought about how he’d killed Cain, it would be her. “How often,” he said in between breaths, “do you think about the people you’ve killed?”

She whipped her gaze to him, then slowed. He didn’t feel like stopping, and might have kept running, but she grabbed his elbow and forced him to pause. Her lips formed a thin line. “If you think passing judgment on me before I’ve had breakfast is in any way a good idea—”

“No,” he interrupted, panting hard. “No—I didn’t mean it like …” He swallowed a few breaths. “I wasn’t judging.” If he could just get his damn breath back, he could explain what he’d meant.

Her eyes were as frozen as the park around him, but then she tilted her head to the side. “Is this about Cain?”

Hearing her speak the name made him clench his jaw, but he managed a nod.

The ice in her eyes melted completely. He hated the sympathy in her face, the understanding.

He was the Captain of the Guard—he was bound to have killed someone at some point. He’d already seen and done enough in the name of the king; he’d fought men, hurt them. So he shouldn’t even be having these feelings, and especially shouldn’t be telling her. There was a line between them, somewhere, and he was fairly certain that he’d been toeing it more and more these days.

“I’ll never forget the people I’ve killed,” she said. Her breath curled in the air between them. “Even the ones I killed to survive. I still see their faces, still remember the exact blow it took to kill them.” She looked to the skeletal trees. “Some days, it feels like another person did those things. And most of those lives I’m glad I ended. No matter the cause, though, it—it still takes away a little piece of you each time. So I don’t think I’ll ever forget them.”

   
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