Chapter no 23

Crown of Midnight

He must have heard her incorrectly. Because there was no possible way that she could be that brash, that foolish and insane and idealistic and brave.

“Have you lost your senses completely?” His words rose into a shout, a riot of rage and fear that rushed through him so fast he could hardly think. “He’ll kill you! He will kill you if he finds out.”

She took a step toward him, that spectacular dress glinting like a thousand stars. “He won’t find out.”

“It’s only a matter of time,” he gritted out. “He has spies who are watching everything.”

“And you’d rather I kill innocent men?” “Those men are traitors to the crown!”

“Traitors!” She barked a laugh. “Traitors. For refusing to grovel before a conqueror? For sheltering escaped slaves trying to get home? For daring to believe in a world that’s better than this gods-forsaken place?” She shook her head, some of her hair escaping. “I will not be his butcher.”

And he hadn’t wanted her to. From the second she’d been crowned Champion, he’d been sick at the thought of her doing what the king had commanded she do. But this… “You swore an oath to him.”

“And how many oaths did he swear to foreign rulers before he marched in with his armies and destroyed everything? How many oaths did he swear when he ascended the throne, only to spit on those promises?”

“He will kill you, Celaena.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “He’ll kill you, and make me do it as punishment for being your friend.” That was the terror that he grappled with—the fear that plagued him, the thing that had kept him on this side of the line for so long.

“Archer has been giving me real information—”

“I don’t give a damn about Archer. What information could that conceited ass have that could possibly help you?”

“This secret movement from Terrasen actually exists,” she said with maddening calm. “I could use the information I’ve gathered about it to bargain with the king to let me go—or just give me a shorter contract. Short enough that if he ever finds out the truth, I’ll be long gone.”

He growled. “He could have you whipped just for being that impertinent.” But then the last part of her words registered, hitting him like a punch to the face. I’ll be long gone. Gone. “Where will you go?”

“Anywhere,” she said. “As far away as I can get.”

He could hardly breathe, but he managed to say, “And what would you do?”

She shrugged, and both of them realized that he’d been gripping her shoulders. He eased his grip, but his fingers ached to grab her again, as though it would somehow keep her from leaving. “Live my life, I suppose. Live it the way I want to, for once. Learn how to be a normal girl.”

“How far away?”

Her blue-and-gold eyes flickered. “I’d travel until I found a place where they’d never heard of Adarlan. If such a place exists.”

And she would never come back.

And because she was young, and so damn clever and amusing and wonderful, wherever she made her home, there would be some man who would fall in love with her and who would make her his wife, and that was the worst truth of all. It had snuck up on him, this pain and terror and rage at the thought of anyone else with her. Every look, every word from her … He didn’t even know when it had started.

“We’ll find that place, then,” he said quietly. “What?” Her brows narrowed.

“I’ll go with you.” And though he hadn’t asked, they both knew those words held a question. He tried not to think of what she’d said last night

—of the shame she’d felt holding him when he was a son of Adarlan and she was a daughter of Terrasen.

“What about being Captain of the Guard?”

“Perhaps my duties aren’t what I expected them to be.” The king kept things from him; there were so many secrets, and perhaps he was little more than a puppet, part of the illusion that he was starting to see through …

“You love your country,” she said. “I can’t let you give all that up.” He caught the glimmer of pain and hope in her eyes, and before he knew

what he was doing, he’d closed the distance between them, one hand on her waist and the other on her shoulder.

“I would be the greatest fool in the world to let you go alone.”

And then there were tears rolling down her face, and her mouth became a thin, wobbling line.

He pulled back, but didn’t let her go. “Why are you crying?” “Because,” she whispered, her voice shaking, “you remind me of how

the world ought to be. What the world can be.”

There had never been any line between them, only his own stupid fear and pride. Because from the moment he’d pulled her out of that mine in Endovier and she had set those eyes upon him, still fierce despite a year in hell, he’d been walking toward this, walking to her.

So Chaol brushed away her tears, lifted her chin, and kissed her.



The kiss obliterated her.

It was like coming home or being born or suddenly finding an entire half of herself that had been missing.

His lips were hot and soft against hers—still tentative, and after a moment, he pulled back far enough to look into her eyes. She trembled with the need to touch him everywhere at once, to feel him touching her everywhere at once. He would give up everything to go with her.

She twined her arms around his neck, her mouth meeting his in a second kiss that knocked the world out from under her.



She didn’t know how long they stood on that roof, tangled up in each other, mouths and hands roving until she moaned and dragged him through the greenhouse, down the stairs, and into the carriage waiting outside. And then there was the ride home, where he did things to her neck and ear that made her forget her own name. They managed to straighten themselves out as they reached the castle gates, and kept a respectable distance as they walked back to her room, though every inch of her felt so alive and burning that it was a miracle she made it back to her door without pulling him into a closet.

But then they were inside her rooms, and then at her bedroom door, and he paused as she took his hand to lead him in. “Are you sure?”

She lifted a hand to his face, exploring every curve and freckle that had become so impossibly precious to her. She had waited once before— waited with Sam, and then it had been too late. But now, there was no doubt, no shred of fear or uncertainty, as if every moment between her and Chaol had been a step in a dance that had led to this threshold.

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life,” she told him. His eyes blazed with hunger that matched her own, and she kissed him again, tugging him into her bedroom. He let her pull him, not breaking the kiss as he kicked the door shut behind them.

And then there was only them, and skin against skin, and when they reached that moment when there was nothing more between them at all, Celaena kissed Chaol deeply and gave him everything she had.



Celaena awoke as dawn poured into her room. Chaol still held her to him, just as he had all night, as if she would somehow slip away during sleep. She smiled to herself, pressing her nose against his neck and breathing him in. He shifted, just enough for her to know that he’d awoken.

His hands began moving, twining themselves in her hair. “There’s no way in hell I’m getting out of this bed and going for a run,” he murmured onto her head. She chuckled quietly. His hands grazed lower, down her back, not even stumbling over the scar tissue. He’d kissed every scar on her back, on her entire body, last night. She smiled against his neck. “How are you feeling?”

Like she was everywhere and nowhere all at once. Like she’d somehow been half-blind all her life and could now see everything clearly. Like she could stay here forever and be content. “Tired,” she admitted. He tensed. “But happy.”

She almost whined when he let go of her long enough to prop himself up on an elbow and stare down at her face. “You’re all right, though?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m pretty certain ‘tired, but happy’ is a normal reaction after one’s first time.” And she was pretty certain she’d have to talk to Philippa about a contraceptive tonic as soon as she dragged herself out of bed. Because Gods above, a baby … She snorted.


She just shook her head, smiling. “Nothing.” She ran her fingers through his hair. A thought hit her, and her smile faded. “How much trouble will you get in for this?”

She watched his muscled chest expand as he took a deep breath, dipping his head to rest his brow on her shoulder. “I don’t know. Maybe the king won’t care. Maybe he’ll dismiss me. Maybe worse. It’s hard to tell; he’s unpredictable like that.”

She chewed her lip and ran her hands down his powerful back. She’d longed to touch him like this for so long—longer than she’d realized. “Then we’ll keep it secret. We spend enough time together that no one should notice the change.”

He lifted himself again, peering into her eyes. “I don’t want you to think I’m agreeing to keep it secret because I’m ashamed in any way.”

“Who said anything about shame?” She gestured down to her naked body, even though it was covered by the blanket. “Honestly, I’m surprised you’re not strutting about, boasting to everyone. certainly would be if I’d tumbled me.”

“Does your love for yourself know no bounds?”

“Absolutely none.” He leaned down to nip at her ear, and her toes curled. “We can’t tell Dorian,” she said quietly. “He’ll figure it out, I bet, but … I don’t think we should tell him outright.”

He paused his nibbling. “I know.” But then he pulled back, and she winced inwardly as he studied her again. “Do you still—”

“No. Not for a long while.” The relief in his eyes made her kiss him. “But he’d be another complication if he knew.” And there was no telling how he’d react, given how tense things had been between them. He was important enough in Chaol’s life that she didn’t want to ruin that relationship.

“So,” he said, flicking her nose, “how long have you wanted—”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business, Captain Westfall. And I won’t tell you until you tell me.”

He flicked her nose again, and she batted away his fingers. He caught her hand in his, holding it up so he could look at her amethyst ring—the ring she never took off, not even to bathe. “The Yulemas ball. Maybe earlier. Maybe even Samhuinn, when I brought you this ring. But Yulemas was the first time I realized I didn’t like the idea of you with— with someone else.” He kissed the tips of her fingers. “Your turn.”

“I’m not telling you,” she said. Because she had no idea; she was still figuring out when it had happened, exactly. It somehow felt as if it had always been Chaol, even from the very beginning, even before they’d ever met. He began to protest, but she pulled him back down on top of

her. “And that’s enough talking. I might be tired, but there are still plenty of things to do instead of going for a run.”

The grin Chaol gave her was hungry and wicked enough that she shrieked when he yanked her under the blankets.

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