He knew little of the duke, and had never entirely trusted him. Neither had Dorian, especially not after all his talk of using Nehemia as a hostage to get the Eyllwe rebels to cooperate. But the duke was the king’s most trusted advisor—and had offered no cause for mistrust other than a fierce belief in Adarlan’s right to conquest.
Kaltain Rompier sat a few chairs away. Chaol’s brows rose slightly. Her eyes were upon Perrington as well—filled not with the longing of a beloved, but with cold contemplation. Chaol stretched again, lifting his arms over his head. Where was Dorian? The prince hadn’t come to dinner, nor was he in the kennels with the bitch and her pups. His gaze returned to the duke. There it was—for a moment!
Perrington’s eyes fell upon the black ring on his left hand and darkened, as if his pupils had expanded to encompass all of each eye. Then it was gone—his eyes returned to normal. Chaol looked to Kaltain. Had she noticed the odd change?
No—her face remained the same. There was no bewilderment, no surprise. Her look became shallow, as if she were more interested in how his jacket might complement her dress. Chaol stretched and rose, finishing his apple as he strode from the dining hall. Strange as it was, he had enough to worry about. The duke was ambitious, but certainly not a threat to the castle or its inhabitants. But even as the Captain of the Guard walked to his rooms, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Duke Perrington had been watching him, too.
Someone was standing at the foot of her bed.
Celaena knew this long before she opened her eyes, and she eased her hand beneath her pillow, pulling out the makeshift knife she’d crafted of pins, string, and soap.
“That’s unnecessary,” a woman said, and Celaena sat upright at the sound of Elena’s voice. “And would be wholly ineffective.”
Her blood went cold at the sight of the shimmering specter of the first Queen of Adarlan. Though Elena looked fully formed, the edges of her body gleamed as though made from starlight. Her long, silver hair flowed around her beautiful face, and she smiled as Celaena set down her miserably pathetic knife. “Hello, child,” the queen said.
“What do you want?” Celaena demanded, but kept her voice down. Was she dreaming, or could the guards hear her? She tensed, her legs preparing to leap from the bed—perhaps toward the balcony, since Elena stood between her and the door.
“Simply to remind you that you must win this competition.”
“I already plan to.” She’d been woken up for this? “And it’s not for you,” she added coldly. “I’m doing it for my freedom. Do you have anything useful to say, or are you just here to bother me? Or maybe you could just tell me more about this evil thing that’s hunting the Champions down one by one.”
Elena sighed, lifting her eyes to the ceiling. “I know as little as you.” When Celaena’s frown didn’t disappear, Elena said, “You don’t trust me yet. I understand. But you and I are on the same side, whether you allow yourself to believe it or not.” She lowered her gaze to the assassin, pinning her with the intensity of it. “I came here to warn you to keep an eye on your right.”
“Excuse me?” Celaena cocked her head. “What does that mean?”
“Look to your right. You’ll find the answers there.”
Celaena looked to her right, but all she saw was the tapestry that concealed the tomb. She opened her mouth to snap a response, but when she looked back at Elena, the queen was gone.
At her Test the next day, Celaena studied the small table before her and all the goblets it contained. It had been over two weeks since Samhuinn, and while she’d passed yet another Test—knife-throwing, to her relief—another Champion had been found dead just two days ago. To say she was getting little sleep these days was an understatement. When she wasn’t searching for an indication of what the Wyrdmarks around the corpses had meant, she spent most of the night wide awake, watching her windows and doors, listening for the scrape of claw on stone. The royal guards outside her rooms didn’t help; if this beast was capable of gouging marble, it could take down a few men.
Brullo stood at the front of the sparring hall, his hands clasped behind his back, watching the thirteen remaining competitors standing at thirteen individual tables. He glanced at the clock. Celaena looked at it, too. She had five minutes left—five minutes during which she not only had to identify the poisons in seven goblets, but arrange them in the order of the most benign to the deadliest.
The true test, however, would come at the end of the five minutes, when they were to drink from the goblet they deemed the most harmless. If they got the answer wrong . . . Even with antidotes on hand, it would be unpleasant. Celaena rolled her neck and lifted one of the goblets to her nose, sniffing. Sweet—too sweet. She swirled the dessert wine they’d used to conceal the sweetness, but in the bronze goblet, it was difficult to see the color. She dipped her finger into the cup, studying the purple liquid as it dripped off her nail. Definitely belladonna.
She looked at the other goblets she’d identified. Hemlock. Bloodroot. Monkshood. Oleander. She shifted the goblets into order, squeezing in belladonna just before the goblet containing a lethal dose of oleander. Three minutes left.
Celaena picked up the penultimate goblet and sniffed. And sniffed again. It didn’t smell like anything.
She shifted her face away from the table and sniffed the air, hoping to clear her nostrils. When trying perfumes, people sometimes lose their sense of smell after sniffing too many. Which was why perfumers usually kept something on site to help clear the scent from the nose. She sniffed the goblet again, and dunked her finger. It smelled like water, looked like water . . .
Perhaps it was just water. She set down the glass and picked up the final goblet. But when she sniffed it, the wine inside didn’t have any unusual smell. It seemed fine. She bit her lip and glanced at the clock. Two minutes left.
Some of the other Champions were cursing under their breath. Whoever got the order most wrong went home.
Celaena sniffed the water goblet again, racing through a list of odorless poisons. None of them could be combined with water, not without coloring it. She picked up the wine goblet, swirling the liquid. Wine could conceal any number of advanced poisons—but which one was it?
At the table to the left of her, Nox ran his hands through his dark hair. He had three goblets in front of him, the other four in line behind them. Ninety seconds left.
Poisons, poisons, poisons. Her mouth went dry. If she lost, would Elena haunt her from spite?
Celaena glanced to the right to find Pelor, the gangly young assassin, watching her. He was down to the same two goblets that she struggled with, and she watched as he put the water glass at the very end of the spectrum—the most poisonous—and the wine glass at the other.
His eyes flicked to hers, and his chin drooped in a barely detectible nod. He put his hands in his pockets. He was done. Celaena turned to her own goblets before Brullo could catch her.
Poisons. That’s what Pelor had said during their first Test. He was trained in poisons.
She glanced at him sidelong. He stood to her right.
Look to your right. You’ll find the answers there.
A chill went down her spine. Elena had been telling the truth.
Pelor stared at the clock, watching it count down the seconds until the Test was over. But why help her?
She moved the water glass to the end of the line, and put the wine glass first.
Because aside from her, Cain’s favorite Champion to torment was Pelor. And because when she’d been in Endovier, the allies she’d made hadn’t been the darlings of the overseers, but the ones the overseers had hated most. The outsiders looked out for each other. None of the other Champions had bothered to pay attention to Pelor—even Brullo, it seemed, had forgotten Pelor’s claim that first day. If he’d known, he never would have allowed them to do the Test so publicly.
“Time’s up. Make your final order,” Brullo said, and Celaena stared at her line of goblets for a moment longer. On the side of the room, Dorian and Chaol watched with crossed arms. Had they noticed Pelor’s help?
Nox cursed colorfully and shoved his remaining glasses into the line, many of the competitors doing the same. Antidotes were on hand in case mistakes were made—and as Brullo began going through the tables, telling the Champions to drink, he handed them out frequently. Most of them had assumed the wine with nothing in it was a trap and placed it toward the end of the spectrum. Even Nox wound up chugging a vial of antidote; he’d put monkshood first.
And Cain, to her delight, wound up going purple in the face after consuming belladonna. As he guzzled down the antidote, she wished Brullo had somehow run out. So far, no one had won the Test. One Champion drank the water and was on the ground before Brullo could hand him the antidote. Bloodbane—a horrible, painful poison. Even consuming just a little could cause vivid hallucinations and disorientation. Thankfully, the Weapons Master forced him to swallow the antidote, though the Champion still had to be rushed to the castle infirmary.
At last, Brullo stopped at her table to survey her line of goblets. His face revealed nothing as he said, “On with it, then.”
Celaena glanced at Pelor, whose hazel eyes shone as she lifted the glass of wine to her lips and drank a sip.
Nothing. No strange taste, no immediate sensation. Some poisons could take longer to affect you, but . . .
Brullo extended a fist to her, and her stomach clenched. Was the antidote inside?
But his fingers splayed, and he only clapped her on the back. “The right one—just wine,” he said, and the Champions murmured behind him.
He moved on to Pelor—the last Champion—and the youth drank the glass of wine. Brullo grinned at him, grasping his shoulder. “Another winner.”
Applause rippled through the sponsors and trainers, and Celaena flashed an appreciative grin in the assassin’s direction. He grinned back, going red from his neck to his copper hair.
So she’d cheated a little, but she’d won. She could handle sharing the victory with an ally. And, yes, Elena was looking out for her—but that didn’t change anything. Even if her path and Elena’s demands were now tied closely together, she wouldn’t become the King’s Champion just to serve some ghost’s agenda—an agenda that Elena had twice now failed to reveal.
Even if Elena had told her how to win the Test.
After cutting short their lesson in favor of a stroll, Celaena and Nehemia walked through the spacious halls of the castle, guards trailing behind them. Whatever Nehemia thought of the flock of guards that followed Celaena everywhere, she didn’t say anything. Despite the fact that Yulemas was a month away—and the final duel five days after that—every evening, for an hour before dinner, Celaena and the princess divided their time equally between Eyllwe and the common tongue. Celaena had Nehemia read from her library books, and then forced her to copy letter after letter until they looked flawless.
Since they’d begun their lessons, the princess had greatly improved her fluency in the common tongue, though the girls still spoke Eyllwe. Perhaps it was for ease and comfort, perhaps it was to see the raised eyebrows and gaping mouths when others overheard them, perhaps it was to keep their conversations private—whichever reason, the assassin found the language preferable. At least Endovier had taught her something.
“You’re quiet today,” Nehemia said. “Is something the matter?”
Celaena smiled weakly. Something was the matter. She’d slept so poorly the previous night that she’d wished for dawn to arrive early. Another Champion was dead. Not to mention, there was still the matter of Elena’s commands. “I was up late reading, is all.”
They entered a part of the castle that Celaena had never seen before. “I sense much worry in you,” Nehemia said suddenly, “and I hear much that you do not say. You never voice any of your troubles, though your eyes betray them.” Was she so transparent? “We’re friends,” Nehemia said softly. “When you need me, I’ll be there.”