Chapter no 36

Crown of Midnight

Dorian was just starting to feel his temper fray after hours of debate when the doors to his father’s council room were thrown open and Celaena prowled in, her dark cape billowing behind her. All twenty men at the table fell silent, including his father, whose eyes went straight to the thing dangling from Celaena’s hand. Chaol was already striding across the room from his post by the door. But he, too, stopped when he beheld the object she carried.

A head.

The man’s face was still set in a scream, and there was something vaguely familiar about the grotesque features and mousy brown hair that she gripped. It was hard to be certain as it swung from her gloved fingers.

Chaol put a hand on his sword, his face pale as death. The other guards in the room drew their blades, but didn’t move—wouldn’t move, until Chaol or the king commanded them.

“What is this?” the king demanded. The councilmen and assembled lords were gaping.

But Celaena was smiling as her eyes locked onto one of the ministers at the table, and she walked right toward him.

And no one, not even Dorian’s father, said anything as she set the severed head atop the minister’s stack of papers.

“I believe this belongs to you,” she said, releasing her grip on the hair. The head lolled to the side with a thud. Then she patted—patted—the minister’s shoulder before rounding the table and plopping into an empty chair at one end, sprawling across it.

“Explain yourself,” the king growled at her.

She crossed her arms, smiling at the minister, whose face had turned green as he stared at the head before him.

“I had a little chat with Grave about Princess Nehemia last night,” she said. Grave, the assassin from the competition—and Minister Mullison’s champion. “He sends his regards, minister. He also sends this.” She tossed something onto the long table: a small golden bracelet, engraved

with lotus blossoms. Something Nehemia would have worn. “Here’s a lesson for you, Minister, from one professional to another: cover your tracks. And hire assassins without personal connections to you. And perhaps try not to do it so soon after you’ve publicly argued with your target.”

Mullison was looking at the king with pleading eyes. “I didn’t do this.” He recoiled from the severed head. “I have no idea what she’s talking about. I’d never do something like this.”

“That’s not what Grave said,” Celaena crooned. Dorian could only stare at her. This was different from the feral creature she’d become the night Nehemia had died. What she was right now, the edge on which she was balancing … Wyrd help them all.

But then Chaol was at her chair, grasping her elbow. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Celaena looked up at him and smiled sweetly. “Your job, apparently.” She shook off his grip with a thrash, then got out of her seat, stalking around the table. She pulled a piece of paper out of her tunic and tossed it in front of the king. The impertinence in that throw should have earned her a trip to the gallows, but the king said nothing.

Following her around the table, a hand still on his sword, Chaol watched her with a face like stone. Dorian began praying they wouldn’t come to blows—not here, not again. If it riled his magic and his father saw … Dorian wouldn’t even think of that power when he was in a room with so many potential enemies. He was sitting beside the person who would give the order to have him put down.

His father took the paper. From where he sat, Dorian could see that it was a list of names, at least fifteen long.

“Before the unfortunate death of the princess,” she said, “I took it upon myself to eliminate some traitors to the crown. My target,” she said, and he knew his father was aware she meant Archer, “led me right to them.”

Dorian couldn’t look at her for a moment longer. This couldn’t be the whole truth. But she hadn’t gone after them to hunt them down, she’d gone to save Chaol. So why lie now? Why pretend she’d been hunting them? What sort of game was she playing?

Dorian looked across the table. Minister Mullison was still trembling at the severed head in front of him. He wouldn’t have been surprised if the minister vomited right there. He was the one who had made the anonymous threat against Nehemia’s life?

After a moment, his father looked up from the list and surveyed her. “Well done, Champion. Well done findeed.”

Then Celaena and the King of Adarlan smiled at each other, and it was the most terrifying thing Dorian had ever seen.

“Tell my exchequer to give you double last month’s payment,” the king said. Dorian felt his gorge rise—not just for the severed head and her blood-stiffened clothing, but also for the fact that he could not, for the life of him, find the girl he had loved anywhere in her face. And from Chaol’s expression, he knew his friend felt the same.

Celaena bowed dramatically to the king, flourishing a hand before her. Then, with a smile devoid of any warmth, she stared down Chaol before stalking from the room, her dark cape sweeping behind her.


And then Dorian’s attention returned to Minister Mullison, who merely whispered, “Please,” before the king ordered Chaol to have him dragged to the dungeons.



Celaena wasn’t done—not nearly. Perhaps the bloodletting was over, but she still had another person to visit before she could return to her bedroom and wash off the stink of Grave’s blood.

Archer was resting when she arrived at his townhouse, and his butler didn’t dare stop her as she strode up the carpeted front steps, stormed down the elegant wood-paneled hallway, and flung open the double doors to what could only have been his room.

Archer jolted in bed, wincing as he put a hand to his bandaged shoulder. Then he took in her appearance, the daggers still strapped to her waist. He went very, very still.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

She stood at the foot of his bed, staring down at him, at his wan face and injured shoulder. “You’re sorry, Chaol’s sorry, the whole damn world is sorry. Tell me what you and your movement want. Tell me what you know about the king’s plans.”

“I didn’t want to lie to you,” Archer said gently. “But I needed to know that I could trust you before I told you the truth. Nehemia”—she tried not to wince at the name—“said you could be trusted, but I needed to know for sure. And I needed you to trust me, too.”

“So you thought kidnapping Chaol would make me trust you?”

“We kidnapped him because we thought he and the king were planning to hurt her. I needed you to come to that warehouse and hear from Westfall’s lips that he was aware there had been threats to her safety and he didn’t tell you; to realize that he is the enemy. If I’d known you would go so berserk, I never would have done it.”

She shook her head. “That list you sent me yesterday, of the men from the warehouse—they’re truly dead?”

“You killed them, yes.”

Guilt punched through her. “For my part, I am sorry.” And she was. She’d memorized their names, tried to recall their faces. She would carry the weight of their deaths forever. Even Grave’s death, what she’d done to him in that alley; she’d never forget that, either. “I gave their names to the king. It should keep him from looking in your direction for a little while longer—five days at most.”

Archer nodded, sinking back into the pillows. “Nehemia really worked with you?”

“It was why she came to Rifthold—to see what could be done about organizing a force in the north. To give us information directly from the castle.” As Celaena had always suspected. “Her loss …” He closed his eyes. “We can’t replace her.”

Celaena swallowed.

“But you could,” Archer said, looking at her again. “I know you came from Terrasen. So part of you has to realize that Terrasen must be free.”

You are nothing more than a coward. She kept her face blank.

“Be our eyes and ears in the castle,” Archer whispered. “Help us. Help us, and we can find a way to save everyone—to save you. We don’t know what the king plans to do, only that he somehow found a source of power outside magic, and that he’s probably using that power to create monstrosities of his own. But to what end, we don’t know. That’s what Nehemia was trying to discover—and it’s knowledge that could save us all.”

She would digest all that later—much later. For now, she stared at Archer, then looked down at her blood-stiffened clothing. “I found the man who killed Nehemia.”

Archer’s eyes widened. “And?”

She turned to walk out of the room. “And the debt has been paid. Minister Mullison hired him to get rid of a thorn in his side—because

she put him down one too many times in council meetings. The minister is now in the dungeons, awaiting his trial.”

And she would be there for every minute of that trial, and the execution afterward.

Archer loosed a sigh as she put her hand on the doorknob.

She looked over her shoulder at him, at the fear and sadness on his face. “You took an arrow for me,” she said quietly, gazing at the bandages.

“It was the least I could do after I caused that whole mess.”

She chewed on her lip and opened the door. “We have five days until the king expects you to be dead. Prepare yourself and your allies.”


“But nothing,” she interrupted. “Consider yourself fortunate that I’m not going to rip out your throat for the stunt you pulled. Arrow or no arrow, and regardless of my relationship with Chaol, you lied to me. And kidnapped my friend. If it hadn’t been for that—for you—I would have been at the castle that night.” She fixed him with a stare. “I’m done with you. I don’t want your information, I’m not going to give you information, and I don’t particularly care what happens to you once you leave this city, as long as I never see you again.”

She took a step into the hallway. “Celaena?”

She looked over her shoulder.

“I am sorry. I know how much you meant to her—and she to you.”

The weight she’d been avoiding since she’d gone to hunt Grave suddenly fell on her, and her shoulders drooped. She was so tired. Now that Grave was dead, now that Minister Mullison was in the dungeon, now that she had no one left to maim and punish—she was so, so tired.

“Five days; I’ll be back in five days. If you aren’t prepared to leave Rifthold, then I won’t bother faking your death. I’ll kill you before you know I’m in the room.”



Chaol kept his face blank and his shoulders thrown back as his father surveyed him. The small breakfast room in his father’s suite was sunny and silent; pleasant, even, but Chaol remained in the doorway as he looked at his father for the first time in ten years.

The Lord of Anielle looked mostly the same, his hair a bit grayer, but his face still ruggedly handsome, far too similar to Chaol’s for his own liking.

“The breakfast is growing cold,” his father said, waving a broad hand to the table and the empty chair across from him. His first words.

Chaol clenched his jaw so hard it hurt as he walked across the bright room and slid into the chair. His father poured himself a glass of juice and said without looking at him, “At least you fill out your uniform. Thanks to your mother’s blood, your brother is all gangly limbs and awkward angles.”

Chaol bristled at the way his father spat “your mother’s blood,” but made himself pour a cup of tea, then butter a slice of bread.

“Are you just going to keep quiet, or are you going to say something?”

“What could I possibly have to say to you?”

His father gave him a thin smile. “A polite son would inquire after the state of his family.”

“I haven’t been your son for ten years. I don’t see why I should start acting like one now.”

His father’s eyes flicked to the sword at Chaol’s side, examining, judging, weighing. Chaol reined in the urge to walk out. It had been a mistake to accept his father’s invitation. He should have burned the note he received last night. But after he’d ensured that Minister Mullison was locked up, the king’s lecture about Celaena making a fool out of him and his guards had somehow worn through his better judgment.

And Celaena … He had no idea how she’d gotten out of her rooms. None. The guards had been alert and had reported no noise. The windows hadn’t been opened, and neither had her front door. And when he asked Philippa, she only said that the bedroom door had been locked all night.

Celaena was keeping secrets again. She’d lied to the king about the men she’d killed in the warehouse to rescue him. And there were other mysteries lurking around her, mysteries that he’d better start figuring out if he was to stand a chance of surviving her wrath. What his men had reported about the body that had been found in that alley …

“Tell me what you’ve been up to.”

“What do you wish to know?” Chaol said flatly, not touching his food or drink.

His father leaned back in his seat—a movement that had once made Chaol start sweating. It usually meant that his father was about to focus all of his attention on him, that he would judge and consider and dole out punishment for any weakness, any missteps. But Chaol was a grown man now, and he answered only to his king.

“Are you enjoying the position you sacrificed your lineage to attain?” “Yes.”

“I suppose I have you to thank for being dragged to Rifthold. And if Eyllwe rises up, then I suppose we can all thank you as well.”

It took every ounce of will he had, but Chaol just took a bite from his bread and stared at his father.

Something like approval flickered in the man’s eyes, and he took a bite of his own bread before he said, “Do you have a woman, at least?”

The effort it took to keep his face blank was considerable. “No.” His father smiled slowly. “You were always a horrible liar.”

Chaol looked toward the window, toward the cloudless day that was revealing the first hint of spring.

“For your sake, I hope she’s at least of noble blood.” “For my sake?”

“You might have spat on your lineage, but you are still a Westfall— and we do not marry scullery maids.”

Chaol snorted, shaking his head. “I’ll marry whomever I please, whether she’s a scullery maid or a princess or a slave. And it’ll be none of your damn business.”

His father folded his hands in front of him. After a long silence, he said quietly, “Your mother misses you. She wants you home.”

The breath was knocked out of him. But he kept his face blank, his tone steady, as he said, “And do you, Father?”

His father stared right at him—through him. “If Eyllwe rises up in retaliation, if we find ourselves facing a war, then Anielle will need a strong heir.”

“If you’ve groomed Terrin to be your heir, then I’m sure he’ll do just fine.”

“Terrin is a scholar, not a warrior. He was born that way. If Eyllwe rebels, there is a good chance that the wild men in the Fangs will rise up, too. Anielle will be the first place they sack. They’ve been dreaming of revenge for too long.”

Chaol wondered just how much this was grating on his father’s pride, and part of him truly wanted to make him suffer for it.

But he’d had enough of suffering, and enough of hatred. And he hardly had any fight left in him now that Celaena had made it clear she’d sooner eat hot coals than look at him with affection in her eyes. Now that Celeana was—gone. So he just said, “My position is here. My life is here.”

“Your people need you. They will need you. Would you be so selfish as to turn your back on them?”

“The way my father turned his back on me?”

His father smiled again, a cruel, cold thing. “You disgraced your family when you gave up your title. You disgraced me. But you have made yourself useful these years—made the Crown Prince rely upon you. And when Dorian is king, he’ll reward you for it, won’t he? He could make Anielle a duchy and bless you with lands large enough to rival Perrington’s territory around Morath.”

“What is it that you really want, Father? To protect your people, or to use my friendship with Dorian to your gain?”

“Would you throw me in the dungeons if I said both? I hear you like to do that to the people who dare provoke you these days.” And then there was that gleam in his eyes that told Chaol just how much his father already knew. “Perhaps if you do, your woman and I can exchange notes about the conditions.”

“If you want me back in Anielle, you’re not doing a very good job of convincing me.”

“Do I need to convince you? You failed to protect the princess, and that has created the possibility of war. The assassin who was warming your bed now wants nothing more than to spill your innards on the ground. What’s left for you here, except more shame?”

Chaol slammed his hands on the table, rattling the dishes. “Enough.”

He didn’t want his father knowing anything about Celaena, or about the remaining fragments of his heart. He wouldn’t let his servants change the sheets on his bed because they still smelled like her, because he went to sleep dreaming that she was still lying beside him.

“I have worked for ten years to be in this position, and it’ll take far more than a few taunts from you to get me back to Anielle. And if you think Terrin is weak, then send him to me for training. Maybe here he’ll learn how real men act.”

Chaol shoved his chair away from the table, rattling the dishes again, and stormed to the door. Five minutes. He’d lasted less than five minutes.

He paused in the doorway and looked back at his father. The man was smiling faintly at him, still taking him in, still assessing how useful he would be. “You talk to her—you so much as look in her direction,” Chaol warned, “and, father or not, I’ll make you wish you’d never set foot in this castle.”

And though he didn’t wait to hear what his father had to say, Chaol left with the sinking feeling that he’d somehow just stepped right into his father’s snare.

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