Chaol said nothing as he began walking again. She and Nehemia took up behind him, and as they crossed the small patio in which the clock tower stood, Celaena looked at the spot where Cain had just been kneeling. He’d dug out the dirt packed into the hollows of the strange mark in the flagstone, making the mark clearer. “What do you think this is?” she asked the princess, pointing at the mark etched into the tile. And why had Cain been cleaning it?
“A Wyrdmark,” the princess replied, giving it a name in Celaena’s own language.
Celaena’s brows rose. It was just a triangle inside of a circle. “Can you read these marks?” she asked. A Wyrdmark . . . how strange!
“No,” Nehemia said quickly. “They’re a part of an ancient religion that died long ago.”
“What religion?” Celaena asked. “Look, there’s another.” She pointed at another mark a few feet away. It was a vertical line with an inverted peak stretching upward from its middle.
“You should leave it alone,” Nehemia said sharply, and Celaena blinked. “Such things were forgotten for a reason.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Chaol, and she explained the gist of their conversation. When she finished, he curled his lip, but said nothing.
They continued on, and Celaena saw another mark. It was a strange shape: a small diamond with two inverted points protruding from either side. The top and bottom peaks of the diamond were elongated into a straight line, and it seemed to be symmetrically perfect. Had the king had them carved when he built the clock tower, or did they predate it?
Nehemia was staring at her forehead, and Celaena asked, “Is there dirt on my face?”
“No,” Nehemia said a bit distantly, her brows knotting as she studied Celaena’s brow. The princess suddenly stared into Celaena’s eyes with a ferocity that made the assassin recoil slightly. “You know nothing about the Wyrdmarks?”
The clock tower chimed. “No,” Celaena said. “I don’t know anything about them.”
“You’re hiding something,” the princess said softly in Eyllwe, though it was not accusatory. “You are much more than you seem, Lillian.”
“I—well, I should hope I’m more than just some simpering courtier,” she said with as much bravado as she could muster. She grinned broadly, hoping Nehemia would stop looking so strange, and stop staring at her brow. “Can you teach me how to speak Eyllwe properly?”
“If you can teach me more of your ridiculous language,” said the princess, though some caution still lingered in her eyes. What had Nehemia seen that caused her to act that way?
“It’s a deal,” Celaena said with a weak smile. “Just don’t tell him. Captain Westfall leaves me alone in the midafternoon. The hour before supper is perfect.”
“Then I shall come tomorrow at five,” Nehemia said. The princess smiled and began to walk once more, a spark appearing in her black eyes. Celaena could only follow after her.
Celaena lay on the bed, staring at a pool of moonlight on the floor. It filled in the dusty gaps between the stone tiles, and turned everything a bluish silver that made her feel as if she were frozen in an everlasting moment.
She didn’t fear the night, though she found little comfort in its dark hours. It was just the time when she slept, the time when she stalked and killed, the time when the stars emerged with glittering beauty and made her feel wonderfully small and insignificant.
Celaena frowned. It was only midnight, and even though they had another Test tomorrow, she couldn’t sleep. Her eyes were too heavy to read, she wouldn’t play the pianoforte for fear of another embarrassing encounter, and she most certainly wouldn’t amuse herself with fantasies of what the feast was like. She was still wearing her emerald-blue gown, too lazy to change.
She traced the moonlight to where it lapped upon the tapestry-covered wall. The tapestry was odd, old, and not very carefully preserved. Images of forest animals amongst drooping trees dotted the large expanse. A woman—the only human in the tapestry—stood near the floor.
She was life-size and remarkably beautiful. Though she had silver hair, her face was young, and her flowing white gown seemed to move in the moonlight; it—
Celaena sat up in bed. Did the tapestry sway slightly? She glanced at the window. It was firmly shut. The tapestry was barely blowing outward, not to the side.
Could it be?
Her skin tingled, and she lit a candle before approaching the wall. The tapestry stopped moving. She reached to the end of the fabric and pulled it up. There was only stone. But . . .
Celaena pushed back the heavy folds of the work and tucked it behind a chest to keep it aloft. A vertical groove ran down the face of the wall, different from the rest. And then another one, not three feet from it. They emerged from the floor, and just above Celaena’s head they met in a—
It is a door!
Celaena leaned her shoulder into the slab of stone. It gave a little, and her heart jumped. She pushed again, the candle flickering in her hand. The door groaned as it moved slightly. Grunting, she shoved, and finally it swung open.
A dark passage loomed before her.
A breeze blew into the black depths, pulling the strands of her hair past her face. A shiver ran down her spine. Why was the wind going inward? Especially when it had blown the tapestry out?
She looked back at the bed, which was littered with books she wasn’t going to read tonight. She took a step into the passage.
The light of the candle revealed that it was made of stone and thickly coated in dust. She stepped back into her room. If she were to go exploring, she’d need proper provisions. It was a pity she didn’t have a sword or a dagger. Celaena put her candle down. She also needed a torch—or at least some extra candlesticks. While she might be used to darkness, she wasn’t foolish enough to trust it.
Moving through her room, trembling with excitement, Celaena gathered two balls of yarn from Philippa’s sewing basket, along with three sticks of chalk and one of her makeshift knives. She tucked three extra candlesticks into the pockets of her cape, which she wrapped tightly around herself.
Again, she stood before the dark passage. It was terribly dark, and seemed to be beckoning to her. The breeze blew into the passage again.
Celaena pushed a chair into the doorway—it wouldn’t do to have it slam shut on her and leave her trapped forever. She tied a string to the back of the chair, knotting it five times, and held the ball in her spare hand. If she got lost, this would lead her back. She carefully folded the tapestry over the door, just in case someone came in.
Striding into the passage, she found it to be cold, but dry. Cobwebs hung everywhere, and there were no windows, only a very long stair that descended far beyond the light of her little candle. She tensed as she stepped down, waiting for a single sound that would send her springing back to her rooms. It was silent—silent and dead and completely forgotten.
Celaena held the candle aloft, her cape trailing behind her, leaving a clean wake on the dust-covered stairs. Minutes passed, and she scanned the walls for any engravings or markings, but saw none. Was this just a forgotten servants’ passage? She found herself a bit disappointed.
The bottom of the stairs soon appeared, and she came to a halt before three equally dark and imposing portals. Where was she? She had difficulty imagining that such a space could be forgotten in a castle filled with so many people, but—
The ground was covered with dust. Not even a hint of a footprint.
Knowing how the story always went, Celaena lifted the candle to the arches above the portals, looking for any inscriptions regarding the sure death that would meet her if she walked beneath a specific arch.
She took stock of the ball of yarn in her hand. Now it was little more than a lump of string. She set down her candle and tied another ball to the end of the string. Perhaps she should have taken another. Well, at least she still had the chalk.
She chose the door in the middle, if only because it was closer. On the other side, the staircase continued downward—in fact, it went so far down that she wondered if she were beneath the castle. The passage became very damp and very cold, and Celaena’s candle sputtered in the moisture.
There were many archways now, but Celaena chose to go straight, following the moisture that grew by the inch. Water trickled down the walls, and the stone became slick with whatever fungus had grown over the centuries. Her red velvet shoes felt flimsy and thin against the wetness of the chamber. She would have considered turning back were it not for the sound that arose.
It was running water—slow-moving. In fact, as she walked, the passage became lighter. It was not the light of a candle, but rather the smooth, white light of the outdoors—of the moon.
Her yarn ran out, and she left it on the ground. There were no more turns to mark. She knew what this was—rather, she didn’t dare to hope that it was actually what she believed it to be. She hurried along, slipping twice, her heart pounding so loudly that she thought her ears would break. An archway appeared, and beyond it, beyond it . . .
Celaena stared at the sewer that ran past, flowing straight out of the castle. It smelled unpleasant, to say the least.
She stood along the side, examining the open gate that led to a wide stream that undoubtedly emptied into the sea or the Avery. There were no guards, and no locks, save for the iron fence that hovered over the surface, raised just enough to allow trash to pass through.
Four little boats were tied to either bank, and there were several other doors—some wooden, some iron—that led to this exit. It was probably an escape route for the king, though from the half-rotted condition of some of the boats, she wondered if he knew that it was here.
She strode to the iron fence, putting her hand through one of the gaps. The night air was chilled but not freezing. Trees loomed just beyond the stream: she must be in the back of the castle—the side that faced the sea . . .
Were there any guards posted outside? She found a stone on the ground—a bit of fallen ceiling—and hurled it into the water beyond the gate. There was no sound of shifting armor, no muttering or cursing. She studied the other side. There was a lever to raise the gate for the boats. Celaena set down her candle, removed her cloak, and emptied her pockets. Holding tightly with her hands, she placed one foot on the gate, then the other.
It would be so easy to raise the gate. She felt reckless—reckless and wild. What was she doing in a palace? Why was she—Adarlan’s Assassin!—participating in some absurd competition to prove that she was the best? She was the best!
They were undoubtedly drunk now, all of them. She could take one of the less-ancient boats and disappear into the night. Celaena began to climb back over. She needed her cloak. Oh, they were fools for thinking that they could tame her!
Her foot slipped on a slick rung, and Celaena barely stifled her cry as she gripped the bars, cursing as her knee banged into the gate. Clinging to the gate, she closed her eyes. It was only water.
She calmed her heart, letting her feet find their support again. The moon was almost blinding, so bright the stars were barely visible.
She knew that she could easily escape, and that it would be foolish to do so. The king would find her, somehow. And Chaol would be disgraced and relieved of his position. And Princess Nehemia would be left alone with moronic company, and, well . . .
Celaena straightened, her chin rising. She would not run from them as a common criminal. She would face them—face the king—and earn her freedom the honorable way. And why not take advantage of the free food and training for a while longer? Not to mention she’d need to stock up on provisions for her escape, and that could take weeks. Why rush any of it?
Celaena returned to her starting side and picked up the cloak. She’d win. And after she won, if she ever wanted to escape her servitude to the king . . . well, now she had a way out.
Still, Celaena had difficulty leaving the chamber. She was grateful for the silence of the passage as she walked upward, her legs burning from so many stairs. It was the right thing to do.