But she—at seventeen—had gone to a death camp. And survived.
He wasn’t sure if he could survive Endovier, let alone during the winter months. He’d never been whipped, never seen anyone die. He’d never been cold and starving.
Celaena laughed at something Dorian said. She’d survived Endovier, and yet could still laugh.
While it terrified him to see her down there, a hand’s breadth from Dorian’s unprotected throat, what terrified him even more was that he trusted her. And he didn’t know what that meant about himself.
Celaena walked between the hedges, and couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face. They walked closely, but not close enough to touch. Dorian had found her just moments after dinner and invited her for a walk. In fact, he’d showed up so quickly after the servants cleared away her food that she might have thought he’d been waiting outside.
Of course, it was due entirely to the cold that she longed to link arms with him and absorb his warmth. The white, fur-lined cloak did little to keep the frigid air from freezing all of her. She could only imagine how Nehemia would react to such temperatures. But after learning about the fate of those rebels, the princess was spending most of her time in her rooms, and had declined Celaena’s repeated offers to go for walks.
It had been over three weeks since her last encounter with Elena, and she hadn’t seen or heard her at all, despite the three Tests she’d had, the most exciting of which being an obstacle course, which she passed with only a few minor scratches and bruises. Unfortunately, Pelor hadn’t done so well, and had been sent home at long last. But he’d been lucky: three other competitors had died. All found in forgotten hallways; all mutilated beyond recognition. Even Celaena had taken to jumping at every strange sound.
There were only six of them left now: Cain, Grave, Nox, a soldier, and Renault, a vicious mercenary who’d stepped up to replace Verin as Cain’s right-hand man. Not surprisingly, Renault’s favorite new activity was taunting Celaena.
She shoved thoughts of the murders aside as they strode past a fountain and she caught Dorian giving her an admiring glance from the corner of his eye. Of course, she hadn’t been thinking of Dorian when she chose such a fine lavender gown to wear tonight, or when she made sure her hair was so carefully arranged, or that her white gloves were spotless.
“What to do now?” Dorian said. “We’ve walked twice around the garden.”
“Don’t you have princely duties to attend to?” Celaena winced as a gust of icy wind blew back her hood and froze her ears. When she recovered the hood, she found Dorian staring at her throat. “What?” she asked, pulling her cloak tightly around her.
“You always wear that necklace,” he said. “Is it another gift?” Though she wore gloves, he glanced at her hand—where the amethyst ring always sat—and the spark died from his eyes.
“No.” She covered the amulet with her hand. “I found it in my jewelry box and liked the look of it, you insufferably territorial man.”
“It’s very old looking. Been robbing the royal coffer, have you?” He winked, but she didn’t feel any warmth behind it.
“No,” she repeated sharply. Even though a necklace wouldn’t protect her from the murderer, and even though Elena had some agenda she was being cagey about, Celaena wouldn’t take it off. Its presence somehow comforted her in the long hours she sat up, watching her door.
He continued staring at her hand until she lowered it from her throat. He studied the necklace. “When I was a boy, I used to read tales about the dawn of Adarlan; Gavin was my hero. I must have read every legend regarding the war with Erawan.”
How can he be that smart? He can’t have figured it out so quickly. She tried her best to look innocently interested. “And?”
“Elena, First Queen of Adarlan, had a magical amulet. In the battle with the Dark Lord, Gavin and Elena found themselves defenseless against him. He was about to kill the princess when a spirit appeared and gave her the necklace. And when she put it on, Erawan couldn’t harm her. She saw the Dark Lord for what he was and called him by his true name. It surprised him so much that he became distracted, and Gavin slew him.” Dorian looked to the ground. “They called her necklace the Eye of Elena; it’s been lost for centuries.”
How strange it was to hear Dorian, son of the man who had banished and outlawed all traces of magic, talking about powerful amulets. Still, she laughed as best she could. “And you think this trinket is the Eye? I think it’d be dust by now.”
“I suppose not,” he said, and vigorously rubbed his arms for warmth. “But I’ve seen a few illustrations of the Eye, and your necklace looks like it. Perhaps it’s a replica.”
“Perhaps.” She quickly found another subject. “When’s your brother arriving?”
He looked skyward. “I’m lucky. We received a letter this morning that snows in the mountains prevented Hollin from coming home. He’s stuck at school until after his spring term, and he’s beside himself.”
“Your poor mother,” Celaena said, half-smiling.
“She’ll probably send servants to deliver his Yulemas presents, regardless of the storm.”
Celaena didn’t hear him, and though they talked for a good hour afterward meandering through the grounds, she couldn’t get her heart to calm. Elena had to have known someone would recognize her amulet—and if this was the real thing . . . The king could kill her on the spot for wearing not only an heirloom of his house, but something of power.
Yet again, she could only wonder what Elena’s motives actually were.
Celaena glanced from her book to the tapestry on the wall. The chest of drawers remained where she’d shoved it in front of the passageway. She shook her head and returned to her book. Though she scanned the lines, none of the words registered.
What did Elena want with her? Dead queens usually didn’t come back to give orders to the living. Celaena clenched her book. It wasn’t like she wasn’t fulfilling Elena’s command to win, either—she would have fought this hard to become the King’s Champion anyway. And as for finding and defeating the evil in the castle . . . well, now that it seemed tied to who was murdering the Champions, how could she not try to figure out where it was coming from?
A door shut somewhere inside her rooms, and Celaena jumped, the book flying from her hands. She grabbed the brass candlestick beside her bed, ready to leap off the mattress, but lowered it as Philippa’s humming filtered through the doors to her bedroom. She groaned as she climbed out of the warmth of her bed to retrieve her book.
It had fallen under the bed, and Celaena knelt upon the icy floor, straining to reach the book. She couldn’t feel it anywhere, so she grabbed the candle. She saw the book immediately, tucked against the back wall, but as her fingers grappled onto the cover, a glimmer of candlelight traced a white line across the floor beneath her bed.
Celaena yanked the book back to her and stood with a jolt. Her hands trembled as she pushed the bed out of position, her feet slipping on the half-frozen floor. It moved slowly, but eventually, she had shifted it enough to see what had been sketched on the floor beneath.
Everything inside of her turned to ice.
Dozens of Wyrdmarks had been drawn onto the floor with chalk. They formed a giant spiral, with a large mark in its center. Celaena stumbled back, slamming into her dresser.
What was this? She ran a shaking hand through her hair, staring at the center mark.
She’d seen that mark. It had been etched on one side of Verin’s body.
Her stomach rising in her throat, she rushed to her nightstand and grabbed the pitcher of water atop it. Without a thought, she tossed the water onto the marks, then raced to her bathing chamber to draw more water. When the water had finished loosening the chalk, she took a towel and scrubbed the floor until her back ached and her legs and hands were frozen.
Then, only then, did she throw on a pair of pants and a tunic and head out the door.
Thankfully, the guards didn’t say anything when she asked them to escort her to the library at midnight. They remained in the main room of the library as she set off through the stacks, heading toward the musty, forgotten alcove where she’d found the majority of the books on the Wyrdmarks. She couldn’t walk fast enough, and kept looking over her shoulder.
Was she next? What did any of it mean? She wrung her fingers. She rounded a corner, not ten stacks from the alcove, and came to a halt.
Nehemia, seated at a small desk, stared at her with wide eyes.
Celaena put a hand on her racing heart. “Damn,” she said. “You gave me a fright!”
Nehemia smiled, but not very well. Celaena cocked her head as she approached the table. “What are you doing here?” Nehemia demanded in Eyllwe.
“I couldn’t sleep.” She shifted her eyes to the princess’s book. That wasn’t the book they used during their lessons. No, it was a thick, aging book, crammed with dense lines of text. “What are you reading?”
Nehemia slammed the book shut and stood. “Nothing.”
Celaena observed her face; her lips were pursed, and the princess lifted her chin. “I thought you couldn’t read at that level yet.”
Nehemia tucked the book into the crook of her arm. “Then you’re like every ignorant fool in this castle, Lillian,” she said with perfect pronunciation in the common tongue. Not giving her a chance to reply, the princess strode away.
Celaena watched her go. It didn’t make sense. Nehemia couldn’t read books that advanced, not when she still stumbled through lines of text. And Nehemia never spoke with that kind of flawless accent, and—
In the shadows behind the desk, a piece of paper had fallen between the wood and the stone wall. Easing it out, Celaena unfolded the crumpled paper.
She whirled around, to the direction where Nehemia had disappeared. Her throat constricting, Celaena tucked the piece of paper into her pocket and hurried back toward the great room, the Wyrdmark drawn on the paper burning a hole in her clothing.
Celaena rushed down a staircase, then strode along a hallway lined with books.
No, Nehemia couldn’t have played her like that—Nehemia wouldn’t have lied day after day about how little she knew. Nehemia had been the one to tell her that the etchings in the garden were Wyrdmarks. She knew what they were—she’d warned her to stay away from the Wyrdmarks, again and again. Because Nehemia was her friend—because Nehemia had wept when her people had been murdered, because she’d come to her for comfort.
But Nehemia came from a conquered kingdom. And the King of Adarlan had ripped the crown off her father’s head and stripped his title from him. And the people of Eyllwe were being kidnapped in the night and sold into slavery, right along with the rebels that rumor claimed Nehemia supported so fiercely. And five hundred Eyllwe citizens had just been butchered.
Celaena’s eyes stung as she spotted the guards loitering in armchairs in the great room.
Nehemia had every reason to deceive them, to plot against them. To tear apart this stupid competition and send everyone into a tizzy. Who better to target than the criminals living here? No one would miss them, but the fear would seep into the castle.
But why would Nehemia plot against her?
Days passed without seeing Nehemia, and Celaena kept her mouth shut about the incident to Chaol or Dorian or anyone who visited her chambers. She couldn’t confront Nehemia—not without more concrete proof, not without ruining everything. So she spent her spare time researching the Wyrdmarks, desperate for a way to decipher them, to find those symbols, to learn what it all meant, and how it connected to the killer and the killer’s beast. Amidst her worrying, another Test passed without incident or embarrassment—though she couldn’t say the same for the soldier who’d been sent home—and she kept up her intense training with Chaol and the other Champions. There were five of them left now. The final Test was three days away, and the duel two days after that.