She opened her mouth, then shook her head. “What are you doing here? It’s almost midnight, and I’ve got a Test tomorrow.” She couldn’t deny having him here was a bit of a relief—the murderer only seemed to attack Champions when they were alone.
“Have you moved from literature to history?” He surveyed the books on the table. “A Brief History of Modern Erilea,” he read. “Symbols and Power. Eyllwe Culture and Customs.” He raised an eyebrow.
“I read what I like.”
He slid into the seat beside her, his leg brushing hers. “Is there a connection between all of these?”
“No.” It wasn’t quite a lie—though she had hoped for all of them to contain something about Wyrdmarks, or what they meant beside a corpse. “I assume you heard about Verin’s death.”
“Of course,” he said, a dark expression crossing his handsome face. She was all too aware of how close his leg was, but she couldn’t bring herself to shift away.
“And you’re not at all concerned that so many Champions have been brutally murdered at the hands of someone’s feral beast?”
Dorian leaned in, his eyes fixed on hers. “All of those murders occurred in dark, isolated hallways. You’re never without guards—and your chambers are well-watched.”
“I’m not concerned for myself,” she said sharply, pulling back a bit. Which wasn’t entirely true. “I just think it reflects poorly on your esteemed father to have all of this going on.”
“When was the last time you bothered to care for the reputation of my ‘esteemed’ father?”
“Since I became his son’s Champion. So perhaps you ought to devote some additional resources to solving these murders, before I win this absurd competition just because I’m the last one left alive.”
“Any more demands?” he asked, still close enough for her lips to graze his if she dared.
“I’ll let you know if I think of any.” Their eyes locked. A slow smile spread across her face. What sort of a man was the Crown Prince? Though she didn’t want to admit it, it was nice to have someone around, even if he was a Havilliard.
She pushed claw marks and brainless corpses from her thoughts. “Why are you so disheveled? Has Kaltain been clawing at you?”
“Kaltain? Thankfully, not recently. But what a miserable day it was! The pups are mutts, and—” He put his head in his hands.
“One of my bitches gave birth to a litter of mongrels. Before, they were too young to tell. But now . . . Well, I’d hoped for purebreds.”
“Are we speaking of dogs or of women?”
“Which would you prefer?” He gave her an impish grin.
“Oh, hush up,” she hissed, and he chuckled.
“Why, might I ask, are you so disheveled?” His smile faltered. “Chaol told me he took you to see the body; I hope it wasn’t too harrowing.”
“Not at all. It’s just that I haven’t slept well.”
“Me, neither,” he admitted. He straightened. “Will you play the pianoforte for me?” Celaena tapped her foot on the floor, wondering how he had moved on to such a different subject.
“Of course not.”
“You played beautifully.”
“If I had known someone was spying on me, I wouldn’t have played at all.”
“Why is playing so personal for you?” He leaned back in his chair.
“I can’t hear or play music without— Never mind.”
“No, tell me what you were going to say.”
“Nothing interesting,” she said, stacking the books.
“Does it stir up memories?”
She eyed him, searching for any sign of mockery. “Sometimes.”
“Memories of your parents?” He reached to help her stack the remaining books.
Celaena stood suddenly. “Don’t ask such stupid questions.”
“I’m sorry if I pried.”
She didn’t respond. The door in her mind that she kept locked at all times had been cracked open by the question, and now she tried frantically to close it. Seeing his face, seeing him so near to her . . . The door shut and she turned the key.
“It’s just,” he said, oblivious to the battle that had just occurred, “it’s just that I don’t know anything about you.”
“I’m an assassin.” Her heartbeat calmed. “That’s all there is to know.”
“Yes,” he said with a sigh. “But why is it so wrong for me to want to know more? Like how you became an assassin—and what things were like for you before that.”
“It’s not interesting.”
“I wouldn’t find it boring.” She didn’t say anything. “Please? One question—and I promise, nothing too sensitive.”
Her mouth twisted to the side and she looked at the table. What harm was there in a question? She could choose not to reply. “Very well.”
He grinned. “I need a moment to think of a good one.” She rolled her eyes, but sat down. After a few seconds, he asked, “Why do you like music so much?”
She made a face. “You said nothing sensitive!”
“Is it that prying? How different is that from asking why you like to read?”
“No, no. That question is fine.” She let out a long breath through her nose and stared at the table. “I like music,” she said slowly, “because when I hear it, I . . . I lose myself within myself, if that makes sense. I become empty and full all at once, and I can feel the whole earth roiling around me. When I play, I’m not . . . for once, I’m not destroying. I’m creating.” She chewed on her lip. “I used to want to be a healer. Back when I was . . . Back before this became my profession, when I was almost too young to remember, I wanted to be a healer.” She shrugged. “Music reminds me of that feeling.” She laughed under her breath. “I’ve never told anyone that,” she admitted, then saw his smile. “Don’t mock me.”
He shook his head, wiping the smile from his lips. “I’m not mocking you—I’m just . . .”
“Unused to hearing people speak from the heart?”
She smiled slightly. “Now it’s my turn. Are there any limitations?”
“No.” He tucked his hands behind his head. “I’m not nearly as private as you are.”
She made a face as she thought of the question. “Why aren’t you married yet?”
“Married? I’m nineteen!”
“Yes, but you’re the Crown Prince.”
He crossed his arms. She tried not to notice the cut of muscle that shifted just beneath the fabric of his shirt. “Ask another question.”
“I want to hear your answer—it must be interesting if you’re so ardently resisting.”
He looked at the window and the snow that swirled beyond. “I’m not married,” he said softly, “because I can’t stomach the idea of marrying a woman inferior to me in mind and spirit. It would mean the death of my soul.”
“Marriage is a legal contract—it’s not a sacred thing. As Crown Prince, you should have given up such fanciful notions. What if you’re ordered to marry for the sake of alliance? Would you start a war because of your romantic ideals?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Oh? Your father wouldn’t command you to marry some princess in order to strengthen his empire?”
“My father has an army to do that for him.”
“You could easily love some woman on the side. Marriage doesn’t mean you can’t love other people.”
His sapphire eyes flashed. “You marry the person you love—and none other,” he said, and she laughed. “You’re mocking me! You’re laughing in my face!”
“You deserve to be laughed at for such foolish thoughts! I spoke from my soul; you speak only from selfishness.”
“You’re remarkably judgmental.”
“What’s the point in having a mind if you don’t use it to make judgments?”
“What’s the point in having a heart if you don’t use it to spare others from the harsh judgments of your mind?”
“Oh, well said, Your Highness!” He stared at her sullenly. “Come now. I didn’t wound you that severely.”
“You’ve attempted to ruin my dreams and ideals. I get enough from my mother as it is. You’re just being cruel.”
“I’m being practical. There’s a difference. And you’re the Crown Prince of Adarlan. You’re in a position where it’s possible for you to change Erilea for the better. You could help create a world where true love isn’t needed to secure a happy ending.”
“And what sort of world would I need to create for that to happen?”
“A world where men govern themselves.”
“You speak of anarchy and treason.”
“I do not speak of anarchy. Call me a traitor all you like—I’ve been convicted as an assassin already.”
He sidled closer to her, and his fingers brushed hers—calloused, warm, and hard. “You can’t resist the opportunity to respond to everything I say, can you?” She felt restless—but at the same time remarkably still. Something was brought to life and laid to sleep in his gaze. “Your eyes are very strange,” he said. “I’ve never seen any with such a bright ring of gold.”
“If you’re attempting to woo me with flattery, I’m afraid it won’t work.”
“I was merely observing; I have no agenda.” He looked at his hand, still touching hers. “Where did you get that ring?”
She contracted her hand into a fist as she pulled it away from him. The amethyst in her ring glowed in the firelight. “It was a gift.”
“That’s none of your concern.”
He shrugged, though she knew better than to tell him who’d really given it to her—rather, she knew Chaol wouldn’t want Dorian to know. “I’d like to know who’s been giving rings to my Champion.”
The way the collar of his black jacket lay across his neck made her unable to sit still. She wanted to touch him, to trace the line between his tan skin and the golden lining of the fabric.
“Billiards?” she asked, rising to her feet. “I could use another lesson.” Celaena didn’t wait for his answer as she strode toward the gaming room. She very much wanted to stand close to him and have her skin warm under his breath. She liked that. Worse than that, she realized, she liked him.
Chaol watched Perrington at his table in the dining hall. When he had approached the duke about Verin’s death, he hadn’t seemed bothered. Chaol looked around the cavernous hall; in fact, most of the Champions’ sponsors went about as usual. Idiots. If Celaena was actually right about it, then whoever was responsible for killing the Champions could be among them. But which of the members of the king’s council would be so desperate to win that he’d do such a thing? Chaol stretched his legs beneath the table and shifted his attention back to Perrington.
He’d seen how the duke used his size and title to win allies on the king’s council and keep opponents from challenging him. But it wasn’t his maneuverings that had captured the interest of the Captain of the Guard tonight. Rather, it was the moments between the grins and laughter, when a shadow passed across the duke’s face. It wasn’t an expression of anger or of disgust, but a shade that clouded his eyes. It was so strange that when Chaol had first seen it, he’d extended his dinner just to see if it happened again.
A few moments later, it did. Perrington’s eyes became dark and his face cleared, as if he saw everything in the world for what it was and found no joy or amusement in it. Chaol leaned back in his chair, sipping his water.