Chapter no 41

Crown of Midnight

Chaol and Dorian stood on a balcony and watched the carnival be dismantled bit by bit. It would leave tomorrow morning, and then Chaol could finally have his men back to doing useful things. Like making sure no other assassins got into the castle.

But Chaol’s most pressing problem was Celaena. Late last night, after the royal librarian had gone to bed, Chaol had returned to the library and found the genealogy records. Someone had gotten them all out of order, so it had taken him a while to locate the right one, but he at last found himself staring at the list of Terrasen’s noble houses.

None of them bore the name of Sardothien, though that was little surprise. Part of him had always known that wasn’t Celaena’s true name. So he’d made a list—a list that now sat in his pocket, burning a hole through it—of all the noble houses she might have come from, houses with children at the time of Terrasen’s conquest. There were at least six families that had survived … but what if she hailed from one that had been entirely slaughtered? When he had finished writing down the names, he was no closer to figuring out who she really was than he’d been at the start.

“So, are you going to ask me whatever it is you dragged me out here to ask, or am I just going to enjoy freezing my ass off for the rest of the night?” Dorian said.

Chaol raised a brow, and Dorian gave him a slight smile.

“How is she?” Chaol asked. He’d heard that they’d had dinner—and that she hadn’t left his rooms until the middle of the night. Had it been a deliberate move on her part? Something to throw in his face, make him ache just a bit more?

“Coping,” Dorian said. “Coping as best she can. And since I know you’re too proud to ask it, I’ll just tell you that no, she hasn’t mentioned you. Nor do I think she will.”

Chaol took a long breath. How could he convince Dorian to stay away from her? Not because he was jealous, but because Celaena might be

more of a threat than Dorian could ever imagine. Only the truth would work, but …

“Your father is curious about you,” Dorian said. “After the council meetings, he always asks me about you. I think he wants you back in Anielle.”

“I know.”

“Are you going to go with him?” “Do you want me to?”

“It’s not for me to decide.”

Chaol clamped his teeth. He certainly wasn’t going anywhere, not while Celaena was here. And not just because of who she actually was. “I have no interest in being Lord of Anielle.”

“Men would kill for the kind of power that Anielle wields.” “I’ve never wanted it.”

“No.” Dorian braced his hands on the balcony rail. “No, you’ve never wanted anything for yourself, save for the position you have now, and Celaena.”

Chaol opened his mouth, excuses already forming on his tongue. “You think I’m blind?” Dorian asked, his gaze a frozen, ice blue. “Do

you know why I approached her at the Yulemas ball? Not because I

wanted to ask her to dance, but because I saw the way you two were looking at each other. Even then, I knew how you felt.”

“You knew, and yet you asked her to dance.” His hands clenched into fists.

“She’s capable of making up her own mind. And she did.” Dorian gave him a bitter smile. “About both of us.”

Chaol took a steadying breath, calming his rising anger. “If you feel the way you do, then why let her stay shackled to your father? Why not find a way to get her out of her contract? Or are you just afraid that if you set her free, she’ll never come back to you?”

“I’d be careful what you say,” Dorian said softly.

But it was true. Even though he couldn’t imagine a world without Celaena, Chaol knew he had to get her out of this castle. Yet he couldn’t tell if it was for Adarlan’s sake or her own.

“My father is temperamental enough to punish me—and her—if I try to broach that subject. I agree with you, I truly do: it’s not right to keep her here. But you should still mind what you say.” The Crown Prince of Adarlan stared him down. “And consider where your true loyalties lie.”

Once, Chaol might have argued. Once, he might have protested that his loyalty to the crown was his greatest asset. But that blind loyalty and obedience had started this descent.

And it had destroyed everything.



Celaena knew she’d only been out for a few seconds, but it was long enough for Yellowlegs to yank her arms behind her back and get the chain around her wrists. Her head was pounding, and blood slid down the side of her neck, trickling into her tunic. Nothing too bad—she’d had worse wounds. Her weapons were gone, though, discarded somewhere in the wagon. Even the ones in her hair and clothes. And boots. Clever woman.

So she didn’t give the witch a chance, not even a heartbeat, to realize she was conscious. With no warning, she surged her shoulders up, throwing back her head as hard as she could.

Bone cracked, and Yellowlegs howled, but Celaena had already twisted, getting her legs beneath her. Yellowlegs scrambled for the other end of the chain, fast as a viper. Celaena stomped on the length of chain between them, her other foot lashing out to meet Yellowlegs’s face.

The woman went flying, as though she were made of nothing but dust and wind, tumbling into the shadows between mirrors.

Swearing under her breath, Celaena’s wrists ached against the cold iron. But she’d been taught to free herself from worse. Arobynn had bound her up from head to toe and made her learn how to get loose, even if it meant spending two days prostrate on the ground in her own filth, or dislocating her shoulder to get out. So, not all that surprisingly, she had the chains off in a matter of seconds.

She yanked a handkerchief from her pocket and used it to snatch up a long mirror shard. Angling the glass, Celaena peered into the shadows where Yellowlegs had gone flying. Nothing. Just a smear of dark blood.

“Do you know how many young women I’ve trapped in this wagon in the past five hundred years?” Yellowlegs’s voice was everywhere and nowhere. “How many Crochan witches I destroyed? They were warriors, too—such talented, beautiful warriors. They tasted like summer grass and cool water.”

Confirming that Yellowlegs was a blue-blooded Ironteeth witch changed nothing, Celaena told herself. Nothing, except that she’d have to find a bigger weapon.

Celaena scanned the wagon—for the witch, for her lost daggers, for anything to use against the crone. Her gaze lifted to the shelves on the nearby wall. Books, crystal balls, paper, dead things in jars …

Celaena would have missed it if she’d blinked. It was coated in dirt, but still gleamed faintly in the light of the distant oven. Mounted on the wall above a woodpile was a long, single-bladed ax.

She smiled faintly as she yanked it off the wall. All around, Yellowlegs’s image danced in the mirrors, a thousand possibilities for where she could be standing, watching, waiting.

Celaena swung the ax at the nearest one. Then the next. And the next.

The only way to kill a witch is to cut off her head. A friend had told her that once.

Celaena wove between the mirrors, smashing them as she went, the reflections of the crone vanishing until the real witch stood along the narrow pathway between Celaena and the hearth, the chain back in her hands.

Celaena hefted the ax over a shoulder. “One more chance,” she breathed. “You agree to never say one word about me and Dorian, and I’ll walk out of here.”

“I can taste your lies,” Yellowlegs said. Faster than should be possible, she came for Celaena, scuttling like a spider, the chain swinging from her fingers.

Celaena dodged the first whip of the chain. She heard the second before she saw it, and though it missed her, it struck a mirror and glass exploded everywhere. Celaena had no choice but to shield her eyes, to look away for one heartbeat.

It was enough.

The chain wrapped around her ankle, stinging and bruising, and then


The world tilted as Yellowlegs pulled her feet out from under her, and Celaena went crashing to the floor. Yellowlegs rushed for her, but Celaena rolled across the shards, chain tangling around her, clinging to the ax with one hand, until her face brushed against the coarse fibers of the ancient rug before the oven.

There was a firm yank on the chain, and then another whipping sound. Metal slammed into Celaena’s forearm, so hard that she lost her grip on the ax. She flipped onto her back, still tangled in the infernal chain, only to find the iron teeth of Baba Yellowlegs looming above her. In a flash, the witch slammed Celaena back down into the carpet.

The iron nails dug into her skin, drawing blood as the witch pinned her by the shoulder. “Hold still, you foolish girl,” Yellowlegs hissed, grabbing for the length of the chain lying nearly.

The rug scratched against Celaena’s fingers as she stretched for the fallen ax, just inches out of reach. Her arm throbbed mercilessly, her ankle, too. If she could just get the ax … Yellowlegs lunged for Celaena’s neck, her teeth snapping.

Celaena threw herself to the side, narrowly dodging those iron teeth, and grabbed the ax at last. She hauled it up so hard that its blunt end slammed into the side of the old woman’s face.

Yellowlegs was knocked away, collapsing in a heap of billowing brown robes. Celaena scrambled back and raised the weapon between them.

Pushing to her hands and knees, Yellowlegs spat dark blood—blue blood—onto the aged rug, her eyes blazing. “I am going to make you wish you’d never been born. Both you and your prince.” And then Yellowlegs shot forward so fast Celaena could have sworn she was flying.

But she only got as far as Celaena’s feet.

Celaena brought the ax down, throwing every bit of strength into her arms. Blue blood sprayed everywhere.

There was a smile on Baba Yellowlegs’s decapitated head as it thudded to a stop.

Quiet fell. Even the fire, still burning so hot that she was sweating again, seemed to have gone silent. Celaena swallowed. Once. Twice.

Dorian couldn’t know. Even though she wanted to scold him to high hell for asking questions that Yellowlegs had deemed valuable enough to sell to others, he couldn’t know what had happened here. No one could.

When she at last found the strength to disentangle herself, her pants and boots were stained blue-black. Another outfit to be burned. She studied the body and the stained, soaking carpet. It hadn’t been quick, but it could still be clean. A missing person was better than a decapitated corpse.

Celaena raised her eyes to the large oven grate.

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