Home > Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)(5)

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)(5)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

Her gaze found his again, and he nodded.

“But, Chaol,” she said, and tightened her grip on his arm, a grip he hadn’t realized she’d still been holding, “what happened with Cain—that wasn’t an assassination, or even a cold-blooded murder.” He tried to step back, but she held firm. “What you did wasn’t dishonorable—and I’m not just saying that because it was my life you were saving.” She paused for a long moment. “You will never forget killing Cain,” she said at last, and when her eyes met his, his heart pounded so hard he could feel it across his whole body. “But I will never forget what you did to save me, either.”

The urge to lean into her warmth was staggering. He made himself step back, away from the grip of her hand, made himself nod again. There was a line between them. The king might not think twice about their friendship, but crossing that final line could be deadly for both of them; it could make the king question his loyalty, his position, everything.

And if it ever came down to having to choose between his king and Celaena … He prayed to the Wyrd that he’d never be faced with that decision. Staying firmly on this side of the line was the logical choice. The honorable one, too, since Dorian … He’d seen the way Dorian still looked at her. He wouldn’t betray his friend like that.

“Well,” Chaol said with forced lightness, “I suppose having Adarlan’s Assassin in my debt could be useful.”

She gave him a bow. “At your service.”

His smile was genuine this time.

“Come on, Captain,” she said, starting into a slow jog. “I’m hungry, and I don’t feel like freezing my ass off out here.”

He chuckled under his breath, and they ran on through the park.

When they finished their run, Celaena’s legs were wobbling, and her lungs were so raw from the cold and exertion that she thought they might be bleeding. They slowed to a brisk walk as they headed back to the toasty interior of the palace—and the giant breakfast that she was very much looking forward to devouring before going shopping.

They entered the castle gardens, weaving their way through the gravel paths and towering hedges. She kept her hands tucked under her arms. Even with the gloves, her fingers were frozen stiff. And her ears positively ached. Perhaps she’d start wearing a scarf over her head—even if Chaol would tease her mercilessly about it.

She glanced sideways at her companion, who had peeled off his outer layers of clothing to reveal the sweat-drenched shirt clinging to his body. They rounded a hedge, and Celaena rolled her eyes when she saw what waited on the path ahead.

Every morning, more and more ladies found excuses to be walking through the gardens just after dawn. At first, it had just been a few young women who’d taken one look at Chaol and his sweaty, clingy clothes and halted their walk. Celaena could have sworn their eyes had bulged out of their heads and their tongues had rolled onto the ground.

Then the next morning, they’d appeared along the path again—wearing even nicer dresses. The day after that, more girls showed up. And then several more. And now every direct route from the game park to the castle had at least one set of young women patrolling, waiting for him to walk by.

“Oh, please,” Celaena hissed as they passed two women, who looked up from their fur muffs to bat their eyelashes at him. They must have awoken before dawn to be dressed so finely.

“What?” Chaol asked, his brows rising.

She didn’t know whether he simply didn’t notice, or he didn’t want to say anything, but … “The gardens are rather busy for a winter morning,” she said carefully.

He shrugged. “Some people go a little stir-crazy being cooped up inside all winter.”

Or they just enjoy the sight of the Captain of the Guard and his muscles.

But all she said was, “Right,” and then shut her mouth. No need to point it out if he was that oblivious. Especially when some of the ladies were exceptionally pretty.

“Are you going into Rifthold to spy on Archer today?” Chaol asked softly, when the path was mercifully clear of giggling, blushing girls.

She nodded. “I want to get a sense of his schedule, so I’ll probably trail him.”

“Why don’t I help you?”

“Because I don’t need your help.” She knew he’d probably interpret it as arrogance—and it partially was—but … if he did get involved, then it would complicate things when it came time to smuggle Archer to safety. That is, after she got the truth out of him—and learned what plans the king had in mind.

“I know you don’t need my help. I just thought you might want …” He trailed off, then shook his head, as if reprimanding himself. She found herself wanting to know what he’d been about to say, but it was best to let the topic drop.

They rounded another hedge, the castle interior so close she almost groaned at the thought of that delicious warmth, but then—

“Chaol.” Dorian’s voice cut through the crisp morning.

She did groan then, a barely audible sound. Chaol shot her a puzzled look before they turned to find Dorian striding toward them, a blond young man in tow. She’d never seen the youth, who was finely dressed and looked about Dorian’s age, but Chaol stiffened.

The young man didn’t seem like a threat, though she knew better than to underestimate anyone in a court like this. He wore only a dagger at his waist, and his pale face seemed rather jovial, despite the winter morning chill.

She found Dorian watching her with a half smile, an amused gleam in his eye that made her want to slap him. The prince then glanced at Chaol and chuckled. “And here I was, thinking that all the ladies were out so early for Roland and me. When all of them catch a vicious cold, I’ll let their fathers know that you’re to blame.”

Chaol’s cheeks colored ever so slightly. So he wasn’t as ignorant of their morning audience as he’d led her to believe. “Lord Roland,” he said tightly to Dorian’s friend, and bowed.

The blond young man bowed back to Chaol. “Captain Westfall.” His voice was pleasant enough, but something in it made her pause. It wasn’t amusement or arrogance or anger … She couldn’t put her finger on it.

“Allow me to introduce my cousin,” Dorian said to her, clapping Roland on the shoulder. “Lord Roland Havilliard of Meah.” He extended a hand to Celaena. “Roland, this is Lillian. She works for my father.”

They still used her alias whenever she couldn’t avoid running into members of the court, though most everyone knew to some degree that she was not in the palace for administrative nonsense or politics.

“My pleasure,” Roland said, bowing at the waist. “Are you newly arrived to court? I don’t think I’ve seen you in years past.”

Just the way he spoke told her enough about his history with women. “I arrived this autumn,” she said a bit too quietly.

Roland gave her a courtier’s smile. “And what sort of work do you do for my uncle?”

Dorian shifted on his feet and Chaol went very still, but Celaena returned Roland’s smile and said, “I bury the king’s opponents where nobody will ever find them.”

Roland, to her surprise, actually chuckled. She didn’t dare look at Chaol, whom she was certain would give her a tongue-lashing for it later. “I’d heard about the King’s Champion. I didn’t think it would be someone so … lovely.”

“What brings you to the castle, Roland?” the captain demanded. When Chaol looked at her like that, she usually found herself running in the other direction.

Roland smiled again. He smiled too much—and too smoothly. “His Majesty has offered me a position on his council.” Chaol’s eyes snapped to Dorian, who gave a shrug of confirmation. “I arrived last night, and I’m to start today.”

Chaol smiled—if you could call it that. It was more a flash of teeth. Yes, she’d most definitely be running if Chaol looked at her like that.

Dorian understood the look, too, and gave a deliberate chuckle. But before the prince could speak, Roland studied Celaena further, a tad too intently. “Perhaps you and I shall get to work with each other, Lillian. Your position intrigues me.”

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