Chapter no 12

Crown of Midnight

The masque was held in a riverfront estate along the Avery, and was so packed that Celaena had no trouble slipping in with Archer. Philippa had managed to find her a delicate white gown, made up of layers of chiffon and silk patterned like overlapping feathers. A matching mask obscured the upper half of her face, and ivory feathers and pearls had been woven into her hair.

It was fortunate it was a masquerade and not a normal party, since she certainly recognized a few faces in the crowd. They were mostly other courtesans she’d once known, along with Madame Clarisse. During the carriage ride here, Archer had promised that Arobynn Hamel wasn’t attending, and neither was Lysandra—a courtesan with whom Celaena had a long, violent history, and someone she was fairly certain she’d kill if she ever saw again. As it was, just seeing Clarisse floating through the party, arranging liaisons between her courtesans and the guests, was enough to set Celaena on edge.

While she had come as a swan, Archer had dressed as a wolf—his tunic pewter, his slender pants dove gray, and his boots shining black. His wolf mask covered all but his sensual lips, which were currently parted in a rather wolfish smile as he squeezed the hand she had on his arm.

“Not the grandest party we’ve ever been to,” he said, “but Davis has the best pastry chef in Rifthold.”

Indeed, throughout the room, tables were overflowing with the most beautiful, decadent-looking pastries she’d ever seen. Pastries stuffed with cream, cookies dusted with sugar, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate beckoning to her everywhere. Perhaps she’d swipe a few before she left. It was an effort to return her gaze to Archer. “How long has he been your client?”

That wolfish smile flickered. “A few years now. Which is how I noticed the change in his behavior.” His voice dropped to a whisper, the words tickling her ear as he leaned in. “He’s more paranoid, eats less, and holes up in his office any chance he gets.”

At the other end of the domed ballroom, massive windows faced a patio overlooking a glittering stretch of the Avery. She could imagine those doors thrown wide in summer, and how lovely it would be to dance alongside the riverbank under the stars and city lights.

“I have about five minutes before I need to make my rounds,” Archer said, his eyes following Clarisse as she patrolled the room. “She’ll expect an auction for me on a night like this.” Celaena’s stomach turned over, and she found herself reaching for his hand. But he just gave her a bemused smile. “Just a few more weeks, right?” There was still enough bitterness that she squeezed his fingers reassuringly.

“Right,” she swore.

Archer jerked his chin toward a stocky, middle-aged man holding court with a group of well-dressed people. “That’s Davis,” he said under his breath. “I haven’t seen much during my visits, but I think he might be a key leader in this group.”

“You’re assuming that based on glimpsing some papers in the house?” Archer slid his hands into his pockets. “One night about two months ago, I was here when three of his friends came over—all of them clients of mine, too. It was urgent, they said, and when Davis slipped out of the

bedroom …”

She gave him a half smile. “You somehow accidentally overheard everything?”

Archer smiled back, but it faded as he again looked at Davis, who was pouring wine for the people assembled around him, including some young women who looked a year or two shy of sixteen. Celaena’s own smile vanished as well. This was a side of Rifthold that she hadn’t missed in the least.

“They spent more time ranting about the king than making plans. And regardless of what they might claim, I don’t think they truly care about Aelin Galathynius. I think they just want to find a ruler who best serves their interests—and maybe they only want her to raise an army so their businesses can thrive during the war that would ensue. If they aid her, give her badly needed supplies …”

“Then she’d owe them. They want a puppet queen, not a true ruler.” Of course—of course they would want something like that. “Are they even from Terrasen?”

“No. Davis’s family was, years ago, but he’s spent his whole life in Rifthold. If he claims loyalty to Terrasen, it’s only a half truth.”

She ground her teeth. “Self-serving bastards.”

Archer shrugged. “That may be true. But they’ve also rescued a good number of would-be victims from the king’s gallows, apparently. The night his friends burst into the house, it was because they’d managed to save one of their informants from being interrogated by the king. They smuggled him out of Rifthold before dawn broke the next day.”

Did Chaol know about this? Given how he’d reacted to killing Cain, she didn’t think torturing and hanging traitors were a part of his duties— or were even mentioned to him. Or Dorian, for that matter.

But if Chaol wasn’t in charge of interrogating possible traitors, then who was? Was this person the source who had given the king his latest list of traitors to the crown? Oh, there were too many things to consider, too many secrets and tangled webs.

Celaena asked, “Do you think you can get me into Davis’s office right now? I want to look around.”

Archer smirked. “My darling, why do you think I brought you over here?” He smoothly led her to a nearby side door—a servants’ entrance. No one noticed as they slipped through, and if they had, Archer’s hands roaming over her bodice, her arms, her shoulders, her neck, would suggest that they were going through the door for some privacy.

A seductive smile on his face, Archer tugged her down the small hallway, then up the stairs, always taking care to keep his hands moving on her lest anyone see them. But all the servants were preoccupied, and the upstairs hall was clear and quiet, its wood-paneled walls and red carpeting immaculate. The paintings here—several from artists she recognized—were worth a small fortune. Archer moved with a stealth that probably came from years of slipping in and out of bedrooms. He led her to a set of locked double doors.

Before she could pull one of Philippa’s pins from her hair to unlock it, a pick appeared in Archer’s hand. He gave her a conspirator’s grin. A heartbeat after that, the office door swung open, revealing a room lined with bookshelves over an ornate blue carpet, with potted ferns scattered throughout. A large desk sat in the center, two armchairs before it, and a chaise sprawled near a darkened fireplace. Celaena paused in the doorway, pressing on her bodice just to feel the slender dagger tucked inside. She brushed her legs together, checking the two daggers strapped to her thighs.

“I should go downstairs,” Archer said, glancing at the hallway behind them. The sounds of a waltz floated up from the ballroom. “Try to be quick.”

She raised an eyebrow, even though the mask covered her features. “Are you telling me how to do my job?”

He leaned in, brushing his lips against her neck. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said onto her skin. Then he turned and was gone.

Celaena quickly shut the door, then strode to the windows at the other side of the room and closed the curtains. The dim light shining beneath the door was enough to see by as she moved to the ironwood desk and lit a candle. The evening papers, a stack of response cards from tonight’s masque, a personal expenses ledger …

Normal. Completely normal. She searched the rest of the desk, rifling through the drawers and knocking on every surface to check for trick compartments. When that yielded nothing, she walked to one of the bookcases, tapping the books to see whether any were hollowed out. She was about to turn away when a title caught her eye.

A book with a single Wyrdmark written on the spine in bloodred ink.

She pulled it out and rushed to the desk, setting down the candle as she opened the book.

It was full of Wyrdmarks—every page covered with them, and with words in a language she didn’t recognize. Nehemia had said it was secret knowledge—that the Wyrdmarks were so old they’d been forgotten for centuries. Titles like this had been burned with the rest of the books on magic. She had found one in the palace library—The Walking Dead—but that had been a fluke. The art of using the Wyrdmarks was lost; only Nehemia’s family knew how to properly use their power. But here, in her hands … She flipped through the book.

Someone had written a sentence on the inside of the back cover, and Celaena brought the candle closer as she peered at what had been scribbled.

It was a riddle—or some strange turn of phrase:

It is only with the eye that one can see rightly.

But what in hell did it mean? And what was Davis, some half-corrupt businessman, doing with a book on Wyrdmarks, of all things? If he was trying to interfere with the king’s plans … For the sake of Erilea, she prayed the king had never even heard of Wyrdmarks.

She memorized the riddle. She would write it down when she returned to the castle—maybe ask Nehemia if she knew what it meant.

Or if she’d heard of Davis. Archer might have given her vital information, but he obviously didn’t know everything.

Fortunes had been broken upon the loss of magic; people who had made their living for years by harnessing its power were suddenly left with nothing. It seemed natural for them to seek out another source of power, even though the king had outlawed it. But what—

Footsteps sounded down the hall. Celaena swiftly put the book back on the shelf, then looked to the window. Her dress was too big, and the window too small and high, for her to easily make it out that way. And with no other exit …

The lock in the double doors clicked.

Celaena leaned against the desk, whipping out her handkerchief, bowing her shoulders, and starting a miserable sniffle-sob as Davis entered his study.

The short, solid man paused at the sight of her, the smile that had been on his face fading. Thankfully, he was alone. She popped up, doing her best to look embarrassed. “Oh!” she said, dabbing at her eyes with her kerchief through the holes in her mask. “Oh, I’m sorry, I—I needed a place to be alone for a moment and they s-s-said I could come in here.”

Davis’s eyes narrowed, then shifted to the key in the lock. “How did you get in?” A smooth, slippery voice, dripping with calculation—and a hint of fear.

She let out a shuddering sniffle. “The housekeeper.” Hopefully, the poor woman wouldn’t be flayed alive after this. Celaena hitched her voice, stumbling and rushing through the words. “My-my betrothed l-l-left m-me.”

Honestly, she sometimes wondered if there was something a bit wrong with her for being able to cry so easily.

Davis took her in again, his lip curling—not out of sympathy, she realized, but from disgust at this silly, weepy woman sniffling about her fiancé. As if it would be a colossal waste of his precious time to comfort a person in pain.

The thought of Archer having to serve these people who looked at him like he was a toy to be used until he was broken … She focused on her breathing. She just had to get out of here without raising Davis’s suspicions. One word to the guards down the hall, and she’d be in more trouble than she wanted—and might possibly drag Archer down with her.

She let out another shudder-sniffle.

“There is a ladies’ powder room on the first floor,” Davis said, stepping toward her—to escort her out. Perfect.

As he approached he pulled off the bird mask he wore, revealing a face that had probably been handsome in its youth. Age and too much drinking had pummeled it into saggy cheeks, thinning straw-blond hair, and a dull complexion. Capillaries had burst on the tip of his nose, staining it a purplish-red that offset his watery gray eyes.

He stopped close enough to touch her and held out a hand. She dabbed at her eyes one more time, then slipped her handkerchief back into her dress pocket. “Thank you,” she whispered, looking at the floor as she took his hand. “I—I am sorry for intruding.”

She heard his sudden intake of breath before she caught the flash of metal.

She had him disabled and on the floor in a heartbeat—but not fast enough to avoid the sting of Davis’s dagger slicing into her forearm. The yards of fabric that made up her dress were cumbersome as she pinned him to the carpet, a thin line of blood welling up and trickling down her bare arm.

“No one has the keys to this study,” Davis hissed, despite his prone position. Brave, or foolish? “Not even my housekeeper.”

Celaena shifted her hand, going for the points in his neck that would render him unconscious. If she could hide her forearm, then she could still slip out of here unnoticed.

“What were you looking for?” Davis demanded, his breath reeking of wine as he wriggled against her hold. She didn’t bother to answer, and he surged up, trying to dislodge her. She slammed her weight into him, lifting her hand to deliver the blow.

Then he chuckled softly. “Don’t you want to know what was on that blade?”

She could have ripped his face off with her fingernails for the silken smile he gave her. In a smooth, swift movement, she snatched up his dagger and sniffed.

She’d never forget that musky smell, not in a thousand lifetimes: gloriella, a mild poison that caused hours of paralysis. It had been used the night she was captured to knock her down, to make her helpless to fight back as she was handed over to the king’s men and thrown into the royal dungeons.

Davis’s smile turned triumphant. “Just enough to knock you out until my guards arrive—and bring you to a more private location.” Where

she’d be tortured, he didn’t need to add.


How much had she been exposed to? The cut was shallow and short. But she knew the gloriella was already racing through her, just as it had on the days after she’d lain beside Sam’s broken corpse, smelling the musky smoke still clinging to him. She had to go. Now.

She shifted her free hand to knock him out, but her fingers felt brittle, disconnected; and despite being short, he was strong. Someone must have trained him, because in a too-fast movement he grabbed her wrists, twisting her to the ground. She slammed into the carpet so hard the air was knocked from her lungs, her head spun, and she lost her grip on the dagger. The gloriella was acting fast—too fast. She had to get out.

A bolt of panic went through her, pure and undiluted. Her confounded dress got in the way, but she focused what little control remained on bringing up her legs and kicking—so hard he let go for a moment.

Bitch!” He lunged for her again, but she’d already grabbed his poisoned dagger. A heartbeat later, he was clutching his neck as his blood sprayed on her, on her dress, on her hands.

He collapsed to the side, grasping at his throat as though he could hold it together, keep his life’s blood from spewing. He was making a familiar gurgling noise, but Celaena didn’t give him the mercy of ending it as she staggered to her feet. No, she didn’t even give him a parting glance as she took the dagger and ripped the skirts of her gown up to her knees. A moment after that she was at his office window, studying the guards and parked carriages below, each thought fuzzier than the last as she climbed onto the ledge.

She didn’t know how she made it, or how long it took, but suddenly she was on the ground and sprinting toward the open front gate.

The guards or footmen or servants started shouting. She was running

—running as fast as she could, losing control of her body with each heartbeat that pumped the gloriella through her.

They were in the wealthy part of the city—near the Royal Theater— and she scanned the skyline, searching, searching for the glass castle. There! The glowing towers had never seemed more beautiful, more welcoming. She had to get back.

Her vision blurring, Celaena gritted her teeth and ran.



She had enough awareness to snatch a cloak off a drunk dozing on a corner and wipe the blood from her face, even though it took several tries to keep her hands steady as she ran. Once the cloak concealed her ruined dress, she made for the main gates of the castle grounds—where the guards recognized her, though the lights were too dim for them to look closely. The wound had been short and shallow; she could make it. She just had to get inside, get to safety …

But she stumbled on the winding road leading up to the castle, and her run turned into a staggering walk before she even got to the castle itself. She couldn’t go in the front like this, not unless she wanted everyone to see—not unless she wanted everyone to know who was responsible for Davis’s death.

She swayed with every step as she made for a side entrance, where studded iron doors were left partially open to the night—the barracks. Not the best place to enter, but good enough. Maybe the guards would be discreet.

One foot in front of the other. Just a little farther…

She didn’t remember getting to the barracks doors, only the bite of the metal studs as she pushed them open. The light of the hall burned her eyes, but at least she was inside …

The door to the mess hall was open, and the sounds of laughter and clinking mugs floated toward her. Was she numb from the cold, or was it the gloriella taking over?

She had to tell someone what antidote to give her—just tell someone

One hand braced against the wall, the other holding her cloak tightly

around her, she slipped past the mess hall, every breath lasting a lifetime. No one stopped her; no one even looked her way.

There was one door down this hall that she had to reach—one room where she’d be safe. She kept her hand on the stone wall, counting the doors she passed. So close. Her cloak caught on the handle of a door as she passed by and ripped away.

But she made it to that door, to the room where she’d be safe. Her fingers didn’t quite feel the grain of the wood as she pushed against the door and swayed on the threshold.

Bright light, a blur of wood and stone and paper … and through the haze, a face she knew, gaping at her from behind a desk.

A choked noise came out of her throat, and she looked down at herself long enough to see the blood covering her white dress, her arms,

her hands. In the blood, she could see Davis, and the open gash across his throat. “Chaol,” she moaned, seeking that familiar face again.

But he was already running, smashing through his office. He bellowed her name as her knees buckled and she fell. She saw only the golden brown of his eyes and held on long enough to whisper, “Gloriella,” before everything tilted and went black.

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