Celaena soon found herself before the other two portals. What other disappointments would she find in them? She had lost interest. But the breeze stirred again, and it blew so hard toward the far right arch that Celaena took a step. The hair on her arms rose as she watched the flame of her candle bend forward, pointing to a darkness that seemed blacker than all the rest. Whispers lay beneath the breeze, speaking to her in forgotten languages. She shuddered, and decided to go in the opposite direction—to take the far left portal. Following whispers on Samhuinn could only lead to trouble.
Despite the breeze, the passage was warm. With each step up the winding stairs, the whispers faded away. Up, and up, and up, her heavy breathing and shuffling steps the only sounds. There were no twisting passages once she reached the top, but rather one straight hall that seemed to lead on forever. She followed it, her feet already tired. After some time, she was surprised to hear music.
Actually, it was the sound of great revelry, and there was golden light ahead. It streamed in through a door or a window.
She rounded the corner and ascended a small set of steps that led into a significantly smaller hallway. In fact, the ceiling was so low that she had to duck as she waddled toward the light. It wasn’t a door, nor a window, but rather a bronze grate.
Celaena blinked at the light as she looked, from high above, at the feast in the Great Hall.
Were these tunnels for spying? She frowned at what she saw. Over a hundred people eating, singing, dancing . . . There was Chaol, sitting beside some old man, talking and—
His happiness made her own face flush in response, and Celaena set down her candle. She peered at the other end of the massive hall; there were a few other grates just below the ceiling, though she could see no other squinting eyes beyond their ornate metalwork. Celaena shifted her gaze to the dancers. Among them were a few of the champions, dressed finely, but not finely enough to conceal their poor dancing. Nox, who had now become her sparring and training partner, danced as well, perhaps a bit more elegantly than the others—though she still pitied the ladies who danced with him. But—
The other Champions were allowed to attend, and she wasn’t? She gripped the grate, pressing her face against it to get a better look. Sure enough, there were more Champions seated at the tables—even the pimply-faced Pelor sat near Chaol! A half-rate boy assassin! She bared her teeth. How dare she be denied an invitation to the feast? The tightness in her chest abated only slightly when she couldn’t find Cain’s face among the revelers. At least they kept him locked up in a cage, too.
She spotted the Crown Prince, dancing and laughing with some blond idiot. She wanted to hate him for refusing to invite her; she was his Champion, after all! But . . . she had difficulty not staring at him. She had no desire to talk to him, but rather just to look at him, to see that unusual grace, and the kindness in his eyes that had made her tell him about Sam. While he might be a Havilliard, he was . . . Well, she still very much wanted to kiss him.
Celaena scowled as the dance finished and the Crown Prince kissed the hand of the blond woman. She turned away from the grate. Here the hallway ended. She glanced back at the feast, only to see Chaol stand from the table and begin weaving his way out of the Great Hall. What if he came to her rooms and found her missing? Hadn’t he promised to bring her something from the feast?
Groaning at the thought of all the stairs she now had to climb, she picked up her candle and yarn and hurried toward the comfort of higher ceilings, rolling up the string as she went. Down and down she ran, taking the steps two by two.
She burst past the portals and darted up the stairs to her room, the small light growing with each bound. Chaol would throw her in the dungeons if he found her in some secret passageway—especially if the passageway led out of the castle!
She was sweating when she reached her chambers. She kicked the chair away, swung the stone door shut, pulled the tapestry over it, and flung herself on the bed.
After hours of enjoying himself at the feast, Dorian entered Celaena’s rooms, not sure what, exactly, he was doing in the chambers of an assassin at two in the morning. His head spun from the wine, and he was so tired from all the dancing that he was fairly certain that if he sat down, he’d fall asleep. Her chambers were silent and dark, and he cracked open her bedroom door to peer inside.
Though she was asleep on the bed, she still wore that strange dress. Somehow, it seemed far more fitting now that she lay sprawled upon the red blanket. Her golden hair was spread around her, and a flush of pink bloomed on her cheeks.
A book lay by her side, open and still waiting for her to turn the page. He remained in the doorway, fearful that she’d wake up if he took another step. Some assassin. She hadn’t even bothered to stir. But there was nothing of the assassin in her face. Not a trace of aggression or bloodlust lay across her features.
He knew her somehow. And he knew she wouldn’t harm him. It made little sense. When they talked, as sharp as her words usually were, he felt at ease, as if he could say anything. And she must have felt the same, after she’d told him about Sam, whoever he’d been. So here he was, in the middle of the night. She flirted with him, but was it real? A footstep sounded, and he found Chaol standing across the foyer.
The captain stalked over to Dorian and grabbed him by the arm. Dorian knew better than to struggle as his friend dragged him through the foyer, and stopped in front of the door to the hall. “What are you doing here?” Chaol hissed softly.
“What are you doing here?” Dorian countered, trying to keep his voice quiet. It was the better question, too. If Chaol spent so much time warning him about the dangers of associating with Celaena, what was he doing here in the middle of the night?
“By the Wyrd, Dorian! She’s an assassin. Please, please tell me you haven’t been here before.” Dorian couldn’t help his smirk. “I don’t even want an explanation. Just get out, you reckless idiot. Get out.” Chaol grabbed him by the collar of his jacket, and Dorian might have punched his friend had Chaol not been so lightning fast. Before he knew it, he was roughly tossed into the hallway, and the door closed and locked behind him.
Dorian, for some reason, didn’t sleep well that night.
Chaol Westfall took a deep breath. What was he doing here? Had he any right to treat the Crown Prince of Adarlan in such a manner when he himself was going against reason? He didn’t understand the rage that arose upon seeing Dorian standing in the doorway, didn’t want to understand that sort of anger. It wasn’t jealousy, but something beyond it. Something that transformed his friend into someone else, someone he didn’t know. He was fairly certain she was a virgin, but did Dorian know it? It probably made him more interested. He sighed and eased the door open, wincing as it creaked loudly.
She was still in her clothes, and while she looked beautiful, that did nothing to mask the killing potential that lay beneath. It was present in her strong jaw, in the slope of her eyebrows, in the perfect stillness of her form. She was a honed blade made by the King of Assassins for his own profit. She was a sleeping animal—a mountain cat or a dragon—and her markings of power were everywhere. He shook his head and walked into the bedroom.
At the sound of his step, she opened an eye. “It’s not morning,” she grumbled, and rolled over.
“I brought you a present.” He felt immensely foolish, and for a moment considered running from her rooms.
“A present?” she said more clearly, turning toward him and blinking.
“It’s nothing; they were giving them out at the party. Just give me your hand.” It was a lie—sort of. They had given them to the women of the nobility as favors, and he’d snagged one from the basket as it was passed around. Most of the women would never wear them—they would be tossed aside or given to a favorite servant.
“Let me see it.” She lazily extended an arm.
He fished in his pockets and pulled out the gift. “Here.” He placed it in her palm.
She examined it, smiling drowsily. “A ring.” She put it on. “How pretty.” It was simple: crafted of silver, its only ornamentation lay in the fingernail-sized amethyst embedded in its center. The surface of the gem was smooth and round, and it gleamed up at the assassin like a purple eye. “Thank you,” she said, her eyelids drooping.
“You’re wearing your gown, Celaena.” His blush refused to fade.
“I’ll change in a moment.” He knew she wouldn’t. “I just need . . . to rest.” Then she was asleep, a hand upon her breast, the ring hovering over her heart. With a disgruntled sigh, the captain grabbed a blanket from the nearby sofa and tossed it over her. He was half tempted to remove the ring from her finger, but . . . Well, there was something peaceful looking about her. Rubbing his neck, his face still burning, he walked from her rooms, wondering how, exactly, he’d explain this to Dorian tomorrow.
Celaena dreamt. She was walking down the long, secret passage again. She didn’t have a candle, nor did she have a string to lead her. She chose the portal on the right, for the other two were dank and unwelcoming, and this one seemed to be warm and pleasant. And the smell—it wasn’t the smell of mildew, but of roses. The passage twisted and wound, and Celaena found herself descending a narrow set of stairs. For some reason she couldn’t name, she avoided brushing against the stone. The staircase swooped down, winding on and on, and she followed the rose scent whenever another door or arch appeared. Just when she grew tired of so much walking, she reached the bottom of a set of stairs and stopped. She stood before an old wooden door.
A bronze knocker in the form of a skull hung in its center. It seemed to be smiling. She waited for that terrible breeze, or to hear someone cry, or for it to become cold and damp. But it was still warm, and it still smelled lovely, and so Celaena, with a bit of mustered courage, turned the handle. Without a sound, the door swung open.
She expected to find a dark, forgotten room, but this was something far different. A shaft of moonlight shot through a small hole in the ceiling, falling upon the face of a beautiful marble statue lying upon a stone slab. No—not a statue. A sarcophagus. It was a tomb.
Trees were carved into the stone ceiling, and they stretched above the sleeping female figure. A second sarcophagus had been placed beside the woman, depicting a man. Why was the woman’s face bathed in moonlight and the man’s in darkness?
He was handsome, his beard clipped and short, his brow broad and clear, and his nose straight and sturdy. He held a stone sword between his hands, its handle resting upon his chest. Her breath was sucked from her. A crown sat upon his head.
The woman, too, wore a crown. It wasn’t a tacky, enormous thing, but rather a slender peak with a blue gem embedded in the center—the only jewel in the statue. Her hair, long and wavy, spilled around her head and tumbled over the side of the lid, so lifelike that Celaena could have sworn it was real. The moonlight fell upon her face, and Celaena’s hand trembled as she reached out and touched the smooth, youthful cheek.
It was cold and hard, as a statue should be. “Which queen were you?” she said aloud, her voice reverberating through the still chamber. She ran a hand across the lips, then across the brow. Her eyes narrowed. A mark was faintly carved into the surface, practically invisible to the eye. She traced it with her finger, then traced it again. Deciding that the moonlight must be bleaching it, Celaena shielded the spot with her hand. A diamond, two arrows piercing its side, then a vertical line through its middle . . .
It was the Wyrdmark she’d seen earlier. She stepped back from the sarcophagi, suddenly cold. This was a forbidden place.
She tripped on something, and as she staggered, she noticed the floor. Her mouth fell open. It was covered in stars—raised carvings that mirrored the night sky. And the ceiling depicted the earth. Why were they reversed? She looked at the walls and put a hand to her heart.