Chapter no 39

Crown of Midnight

Crouched in the shadow of a chimney atop a pretty little townhouse, Celaena watched the home next door. For the last thirty minutes, people had been slipping inside, all cloaked and hooded—looking like nothing more than cold patrons eager to get out of the freezing night.

She’d meant it when she told Archer she wanted nothing to do with him or his movement. And honestly, there was a part of her that wondered whether she should just kill them all and toss their heads at the king’s feet. But Nehemia had been a part of this group. And even if Nehemia had pretended she didn’t know anything about these people … they were still her people. She hadn’t lied to Archer when she told him that she’d bought him a few extra days; after turning over Councilor Mullison, the king didn’t hesitate to grant her a bit more time to kill the courtesan.

A snow flurry gusted up, veiling her view of the front of Archer’s townhouse. To anyone else, the gathering would seem like a dinner party for his clients. She knew only few of the faces—and bodies—that hurried up the steps, people who hadn’t fled the kingdom or been killed by her the night everything went to hell.

There were many more, however, whose names she didn’t know. She recognized the guard who had stood between her and Chaol at the warehouse—the man who had been so eager for a fight. Not by his face, which had been masked that night, but by the way he moved, and by the twin swords strapped to his back. He still wore a hood, but she could see shoulder-length dark hair gleaming beneath it, and what looked like the tan skin of a young man.

He paused at the bottom step, turning to quietly utter commands to the two hooded men flanking him. With a nod, they vanished into the night.

She contemplated trailing one of them. But she’d come here only to check on Archer, to see what he was up to. She planned to keep checking on him until the moment he got on that boat and sailed away. And once

he was gone, once she’d given the king his fake corpse … She didn’t know what she’d do then.

Celaena slipped farther behind the brick chimney as one of the guards scanned the rooftops for any signs of trouble before continuing on his way—to watch one end of the street, if she guessed correctly.

She stayed in the shadows for a few hours, moving to the rooftop across the street to better watch the front of the house, until the guests started leaving, one by one, looking for all the world like drunken revelers. She counted them, and marked what directions they went in and who walked with them, but the young man with the twin swords didn’t emerge.

She might have convinced herself that he was another client of Archer’s, even his lover, had the stranger’s two guards not returned and slipped inside.

As the front door opened, she caught a glimpse of a tall, broad-shouldered young man arguing with Archer in the foyer. His back was to the door, but his hood was off—confirming that he did indeed have night-black shoulder-length hair and was armed to the teeth. She could see nothing else. His guards immediately flanked him, keeping her from getting a closer look before the door shut again.

Not very careful—not very inconspicuous.

A moment later, the young man stormed out, hooded once more, his two men at his side. Archer stood in the open doorway, his face visibly pale, arms crossed. The young man paused at the bottom of the steps, turning to give Archer a particularly vulgar gesture.

Even from this distance, Celaena could see the smile that Archer gave the man in return. There was nothing kind in it.

She wished she’d been close enough to hear what they’d said, to understand what this was all about.

Before, she would have trailed the young stranger to seek out the answers.

But that was before. Now … now, she didn’t particularly care.

It was hard to care, she realized as she started the trek back to the castle. Incredibly hard to care, when you didn’t have anyone left to care about.



Celaena didn’t know what she was doing at this door. Even though the guards at the foot of the tower had let her pass after checking her

thoroughly for weapons, she didn’t doubt for one moment that word would go right to Chaol.

She wondered if he’d dare stop her. If he’d ever dare to utter another word to her. Last night, even from the distance at the moonlit graveyard, she’d seen the still-healing cuts on his cheek. She didn’t know whether they filled her with satisfaction or guilt.

Every little bit of interaction was draining, somehow. How exhausted would she be after tonight?

Celaena sighed and knocked on the wooden door. She was five minutes late—minutes she’d spent debating whether she truly wanted to accept Dorian’s offer to dine with him in his rooms. She’d almost eaten dinner in Rifthold instead.

There was no answer to her knock at first, so she turned away, trying to avoid looking at the guards posted on the landing. It was stupid to come here, anyway.

She had just taken a step down the spiral staircase when the door opened.

“You know, I think this is the first time you’ve been to my little tower,” Dorian said.

Foot still in the air, Celaena collected herself before looking over her shoulder at the Crown Prince.

“I was expecting more doom and gloom,” she said, walking back to the door. “It’s quite cozy.”

He held the door open and nodded to his guards. “No need to worry,” he told them as Celaena walked into the prince’s chambers.

She’d expected grandeur and elegance, but Dorian’s tower was—well, “cozy” was a good way to describe it. A bit shabby, too. There was a faded tapestry, a soot-stained fireplace, a moderate-size four-poster bed, a desk heaped with papers by the window, and books. Stacks and mountains and towers and columns of books. They covered every surface, every bit of space along the walls.

“I think you need your own personal librarian,” she muttered, and Dorian laughed.

She hadn’t realized how much she missed that sound. Not just his laugh, but her own, too; any laugh, really. Even if it felt wrong to laugh these days, she missed it.

“If my servants had their way, these would all go to the library. They make dusting rather hard.” He stooped to pick up some clothes he’d left on the floor.

“From the mess, I’m surprised to hear you even have servants.”

Another laugh as he carried the pile of clothes toward a door. It opened just wide enough to reveal a dressing room nearly as big as her own, but she saw no more than that before he chucked the clothes inside and shut the door. Across the room, another door had to lead to a bathing chamber. “I have a habit of telling them to go away,” he said.

“Why?” She walked to the worn red couch before the fireplace and pushed off the books that were piled there.

“Because know where everything in this room is. All the books, the papers—and the moment they start cleaning, those things get hopelessly organized and tucked away, and I can never find them again.” He was straightening the red cloth of his bedspread, which looked rumpled enough to suggest he’d been sprawled across it until she’d knocked.

“Don’t you have people who dress you? I would have thought that Roland would be your devoted servant, at least.”

Dorian snorted, plumping his pillows. “Roland’s tried. Thankfully, he’s been suffering from awful headaches lately and has backed off.” That was good to hear—sort of. The last she’d bothered to check, the Lord of Meah had indeed become close to Dorian—a friend, even. “And,” Dorian went on, “aside from my refusal to find a bride, my mother’s greatest annoyance is my refusal to be dressed by lords eager to win my favor.”

That was unexpected. Dorian was always so well dressed that she assumed he had people doing it for him.

He went to the door to tell the guards to have their dinner brought up. “Wine?” he asked from the window, where a bottle and a few glasses were kept.

She shook her head, wondering where they would even eat their food. The desk wasn’t an option, and the table before the fireplace was a miniature library on its own. As if in answer, Dorian began clearing the table. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I meant to clear a space to eat before you got here, but I got wrapped up in reading.”

She nodded, and silence fell between them, interrupted only by the thud and hiss of him moving books.

“So,” Dorian said quietly, “can I ask why you decided to join me for dinner? You’ve made it pretty clear that you didn’t want to spend any time with me—and I thought you had work to do tonight.”

Actually, she’d been downright awful to him. But he kept his back to her, as though the question didn’t matter.

And she didn’t quite know why the words came out, but she spoke the truth anyway. “Because I have nowhere else to go.”

Sitting in her rooms in silence made the pain worse, going to the tomb only frustrated her, and the thought of Chaol still hurt so badly she couldn’t breathe. Every morning, she walked Fleetfoot by herself, then ran alone in the game park. Even the girls who had once lined the garden pathways, waiting for Chaol, had stopped showing up.

Dorian nodded, looking at her with kindness she couldn’t stand. “Then you will always have a place here.”



While their dinner was quiet, it wasn’t lachrymose. But Dorian could still see the change in her—the hesitation and consideration behind her words, the moments when she thought he wasn’t looking and an endless sorrow filled her eyes. She kept talking to him, though, and answered all his questions.

Because I have nowhere else to go.

It wasn’t an insult, not the way she’d said it. And now that she was dozing on his couch, the clock having recently chimed two, he wondered what was keeping her from going back to her own rooms. Clearly, she didn’t want to be alone—and maybe she needed to be in a place that didn’t remind her of Nehemia.

Her body was a patchwork of scars; he’d seen it with his own eyes. But these new scars might go deeper: the pain of losing Nehemia, and the different, but perhaps just as agonizing, loss of Chaol.

An awful part of him was glad she’d cut out Chaol. He hated himself for it.



“There has to be something more here,” Celaena said to Mort as she combed through the tomb the following afternoon.

Yesterday, she’d read the riddle until her eyes ached. Still it offered no hint about what the objects might be, where precisely they were concealed, or why the riddle had been hidden so elaborately in the tomb. “Some sort of clue. Something that connects the riddle to the rebel movement and Nehemia and Elena and all the rest.” She paused between the two sarcophagi. Sunlight spilled in, setting the dust motes shimmering. “It’s staring me in the face, I know it.”

“I’m afraid I can’t be of service,” Mort sniffed. “If you want an instant answer, you should find yourself a seer or an oracle.”

Celaena slowed her pacing. “You think if I read this to someone with the gift of clairvoyance, they might be able to … see some different meaning that I’m missing?”

“Perhaps. Though as far as I know, when magic vanished, those with the gift of Sight lost it, too.”

“Yes, but you’re still here.” “So?”

Celaena looked at the stone ceiling as if she could see through it, all the way to the ground above. “So perhaps other ancient beings might retain some of their gifts, too.”

“Whatever it is you’re thinking, I guarantee it’s a bad idea.” Celaena gave him a grim smile. “I’m pretty sure you’re right.”

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