Dorian knew that Chaol had no choice, no other way out of the situation, as his friend carried Celaena out of that bloody chamber, into the servants’ stairwell, and down, down, down, until they reached the castle dungeons. He tried not to look at Kaltain’s curious, half-mad face as Chaol laid Celaena in the cell beside hers. As he locked the cell door.
“Let me give her my cloak,” Dorian said, reaching to unfasten it. “Don’t,” Chaol said quietly. His face was still bleeding. She’d gouged
four lines across his cheek with her nails. Her nails. Gods above.
“I don’t trust her with anything in there except hay.” Chaol had already taken the time to remove her remaining weapons—including six lethal-looking hairpins from her braid—and checked her boots and tunic for any hidden ones.
Kaltain was smiling faintly at Celaena. “Don’t touch her, don’t talk to her, and don’t look at her,” Chaol said, as if there wasn’t a wall of bars separating the two women. Kaltain just huffed and curled up on her side. Chaol barked orders to the guards about food and water rations, and how often the watch was to be changed, and then stalked from the dungeon.
Dorian silently followed. He didn’t know where to begin. There was grief sweeping down on him in waves as he realized again and again that Nehemia was dead; there was the sickness and terror of what he’d seen in that bedroom; and there was the horror and relief that he’d somehow used his power to stop Celaena’s hand before she stabbed Chaol, and that no one except Celaena had noticed.
And when she’d hissed at him … he’d seen something so savage in her eyes that he shuddered.
They were halfway up the winding stone stairs out of the dungeons when Chaol suddenly slumped onto a step, putting his head in his hands. “What have I done?” Chaol whispered.
And despite whatever was changing between them, he couldn’t walk away from Chaol. Not tonight. Not when he, too, needed someone to sit next to. “Tell me what happened,” Dorian said quietly, taking a seat on the stair beside him and staring into the gloom of the stairwell.
So Chaol did.
Dorian listened to his tale of kidnapping, of some rebel group trying to use him to get Celaena to trust them, of Celaena breaking into the warehouse and cutting down men like they were nothing. How the king had told Chaol of an anonymous threat to Nehemia a week ago and ordered him to keep an eye on Nehemia. How the king wanted the princess questioned and told Chaol to keep Celaena away tonight. And then Archer—the man she’d been dispatched to kill weeks ago— explaining that it had been code for Nehemia being assassinated. And then how Celaena ran from the slums all the way back here, to find that she’d been too late to save her friend.
There were things Chaol still wasn’t telling him, but Dorian understood it well enough.
His friend was trembling—which was a horror in itself, another foundation slipping out from beneath their feet. “I’ve never seen anyone move like she did,” Chaol breathed. “I’ve never seen anyone run that fast. Dorian, it was like …” Chaol shook his head. “I found a horse within seconds of her taking off, and she still outran me. Who can do that?”
Dorian might have dismissed it as a warped sense of time due to fear and grief, but he’d had magic coursing through his veins only moments ago.
“I didn’t know this would happen,” Chaol said, resting his forehead against his knees. “If your father …”
“It wasn’t my father,” Dorian said. “I dined with my parents tonight.” He’d just come from that dinner when Celaena went flying past, hell burning in her eyes. That look had been enough for him to run after her, guards in tow, until Chaol nearly collided with them in the halls. “My father said he was going to talk to Nehemia later on, after dinner. From what I saw, this happened hours before that.”
“But if your father didn’t want her dead, who did? I had extra patrols on alert for any threat; I picked those men myself. Whoever did this got through them like they were nothing. Whoever did this …”
Dorian tried not to think of the murder scene. One of Chaol’s guards had taken a look at the three bodies and vomited all over the floor. And Celaena had just stood there, staring at Nehemia, as if she’d been sucked out of herself.
“Whoever did this got some kind of sick delight out of it,” Chaol finished. The bodies flashed through Dorian’s mind again: carefully,
“What does it mean, though?” It was easier to keep talking than to really consider what had happened. The way Celaena had looked at him without really seeing him, the way she’d wiped away his tears with a finger, then grazed her nails across his neck, as though she could sense the pulsing life’s blood beneath. And when she’d launched herself at Chaol …
“How long will you keep her here?” Dorian said, looking down the stairs.
She had attacked the Captain of the Guard in front of his men. Worse than attacked.
“As long as it takes,” Chaol said quietly. “For what?”
“For her to decide not to kill us all.”
Celaena knew where she was before she awoke. And she didn’t care. She was living the same story again and again.
The night she’d been captured, she’d also snapped, and come so close to killing the person she most wanted to destroy before someone knocked her out and she awoke in a rotting dungeon. She smiled bitterly as she opened her eyes. It was always the same story, the same loss.
A plate of bread and soft cheese, along with an iron cup of water, lay on the floor on the other side of the cell. Celaena sat up, her head throbbing, and felt the bump on the side of her skull.
“I always knew you’d wind up here,” Kaltain said from the cell beside hers. “Did Their Royal Highnesses tire of you, too?”
Celaena pulled the tray closer, then leaned against the stone wall behind the pallet of hay. “I tired of them,” she said.
“Did you kill anyone particularly deserving?”
Celaena snorted, closing her eyes against the pounding in her mind. “Almost.”
She could feel the stickiness of the blood on her hands and beneath her nails. Chaol’s blood. She hoped the four scratches scarred. She hoped she would never see him again. If she did, she’d kill him. He’d known the king wanted to question Nehemia. He’d known that the king—the most brutal and murderous monster in the world—had wanted to question her friend. And he hadn’t told her. Hadn’t warned her.
It wasn’t the king, though. No—she had gathered enough in the few minutes she’d been in that bedroom to know this wasn’t his handiwork. But Chaol had still been warned about the anonymous threat, had been aware that someone wanted to hurt Nehemia. And he hadn’t told her.
He was so stupidly honorable and loyal to the king that he didn’t even think that she could have done something to prevent this.
She had nothing left to give. After she’d lost Sam and been sent to Endovier, she’d pieced herself back together in the bleakness of the mines. And when she’d come here, she’d been foolish enough to think that Chaol had put the final piece into place. Foolish enough to think, just for a moment, that she could get away with being happy.
But death was her curse and her gift, and death had been her good friend these long, long years.
“They killed Nehemia,” she whispered into the dark, needing someone, anyone, to hear that the once-bright soul had been extinguished. To know that Nehemia had been here, on this earth, and she had been all that was good and brave and wonderful.
Kaltain was silent for a long moment. Then she said quietly, as if she were trading one piece of misery for another, “Duke Perrington is going to Morath in five days, and I am to go with him. The king told me I can either marry him, or rot down here for the rest of my life.”
Celaena turned her head, opening her eyes to find Kaltain sitting against the wall, grasping her knees. She was even dirtier and more haggard than she’d been a few weeks ago. She still clutched Celaena’s cloak around her. Celaena said, “You betrayed the duke. Why would he want you for his wife?”
Kaltain laughed quietly. “Who knows what games these people play, and what ends they have in mind?” She rubbed her dirty hands on her face. “My headaches are worse,” she mumbled. “And those wings—they never stop.”
My dreams have been filled with shadows and wings, Nehemia had said; Kaltain, too.
“What has one to do with the other?” Celaena demanded, the words sharp and hollow.
Kaltain blinked, raising her brows as though she had no idea what she’d said. “How long will they keep you here?” she asked.
For trying to kill the Captain of the Guard? Forever, perhaps. She wouldn’t care. Let them execute her.
Let them put an end to her, too.
Nehemia had been the hope of a kingdom, of many kingdoms. The court Nehemia had dreamed of would never be. Eyllwe would never be free. Celaena would never get the chance to tell her that she was sorry for the things she’d said. All that would remain were the last words Nehemia had spoken to her. The last thing her friend had thought of her.
You are nothing more than a coward.
“If they let you out,” Kaltain said, both of them staring into the blackness of their prisons, “make sure that they’re punished someday. Every last one of them.”
Celaena listened to her own breathing, felt Chaol’s blood under her nails, and the blood of all those men she’d hacked down, and the coldness of Nehemia’s room, where all that gore had soaked the bed.
“They will be,” Celaena swore to the darkness. She had nothing left to give, except that.
It would have been better if she’d stayed in Endovier. Better to have died there.
Her body didn’t feel quite like hers when she pulled the tray of food toward her, the metal scraping against the old, damp stones. She wasn’t even hungry.
“They drugged the water with a sedative,” Kaltain said as Celaena reached for the iron cup. “That’s what they do for me, too.”
“Good,” Celaena said, and drank the entire thing.
Three days passed. And every meal they brought her was drugged with that sedative.
Celaena stared into the abyss that now filled her dreams, both sleeping and awake. The forest on the other side was gone, and there was no stag; only barren terrain all around, crumbling rocks and a vicious wind that whispered the words again and again.
You are nothing more than a coward.
So Celaena drank the drugged water every time they offered it, and let it sweep her away.
“She drank the water about an hour ago,” Ress said to Chaol on the morning of the fourth day.
Chaol nodded. She was unconscious on the floor, her face gaunt. “Has she been eating?”
“A bite or two. She hasn’t tried to escape. And she hasn’t said one word to us, either.”
Chaol unlocked the cell door, and Ress and the other guards tensed.
But he couldn’t bear another moment without seeing her. Kaltain was asleep next door and didn’t stir as he strode across Celaena’s cell.
He knelt by Celaena. She reeked of old blood, and her clothes were stiff with it. His throat tightened.
In the castle above, it had been sheer pandemonium for the past several days. He had men combing the castle and city for Nehemia’s assassin. He had gone before the king multiple times already to try to explain what happened: how he’d gotten himself kidnapped, and how, even with extra men watching Nehemia, someone had slipped past them all. He was stunned the king hadn’t dismissed him—or worse.
The worst part was that the king seemed smug. He hadn’t had to dirty his hands to get rid of a problem. His main annoyance was dealing with the uproar that was sure to happen in Eyllwe. He hadn’t spared one moment to mourn Nehemia, or shown one flicker of remorse. It had taken a surprising amount of self-control for Chaol not to throttle his own sovereign.
But more than just his fate relied on his submission and good behavior. When Chaol had explained Celaena’s situation to the king, he had barely looked surprised. He’d just said to get her in line, and left it at that.
Get her in line.
Chaol gently picked up Celaena, trying not to grunt at the weight, and carried her out of the cell. He’d never forgive himself for throwing her in this rotting dungeon, even though he hadn’t had a choice. He hadn’t even let himself sleep in his own bed—the bed that still smelled like her. He’d laid down on it that first night and realized what she was lying on, and opted for his couch instead. The least he could do right now was get her back to her own rooms.
But he didn’t know how to get her in line. He didn’t know how to fix what had been broken. Both inside of her, and between them.
His men flanked him as he brought her up to her rooms.
Nehemia’s death hung around him, followed his every step. It had been days since he’d dared look in the mirror. Even if it hadn’t been the king who had ordered Nehemia dead, if Chaol had warned Celaena about
the unknown threat, at least she would have been looking out. If he’d warned Nehemia, her men would have been on alert, too. Sometimes the reality of his decision hit him so hard he couldn’t breathe.
And then there was this reality, the reality he held in his arms as Ress opened the door to her rooms. Philippa was already waiting, beckoning him to the bathing chamber. He hadn’t even thought of that—that Celaena might need to be cleaned up before getting into bed.
He couldn’t meet the servant’s gaze as he walked into the bathing chamber, because he knew the truth he’d find there.
He’d realized it the moment Celaena had turned to him in Nehemia’s bedroom.
He had lost her.
And she would never, in a thousand lifetimes, let him in again.