the assassin and the pirate lord (throne of glass #0.1) Page 1
From the fishermen along the docks, they learned that the rowboats tied to the piers belonged to nobody in particular, and that tomorrow’s morning tide came in just after sunrise. Not advantageous, but better than midday.
From flirting with the harlots along the main street, Sam learned that every once in a while, Rolfe covered the tab for all the pirates in his service, and the revelry lasted for days. Sam also picked up a few other pointers that he refused to tell Celaena about.
And from the half-drunk pirate languishing in an alley, Celaena learned how many men guarded the slave ships, what manner of weapons they carried, and where the slaves were kept.
When four o’clock rolled around, Celaena and Sam were standing aboard the ship Rolfe had promised them, watching and counting as the slaves stumbled onto the wide deck. Ninety-three. Mostly men, most of them young. The women were a broader range of ages, and there were only a handful of children, just as Rolfe had said.
“Do they meet your refined tastes?” Rolfe asked as he approached.
“I thought you said there’d be more,” she replied coldly, keeping her eyes upon the chained slaves.
“We had an even hundred, but seven died on the journey.”
She bit back the anger that flared inside her. Sam, knowing her far too well for her liking, cut in. “And how many can we expect to lose on the journey to Rifthold?” His face was relatively neutral, though his brown eyes flashed with annoyance. Fine—he was a good liar. As good as she was, maybe.
Rolfe ran a hand through his dark hair. “Don’t you two ever stop questioning? There’s no way of predicting how many slaves you’ll lose. Just keep them watered and fed.”
A low growl slipped through her teeth, but Rolfe was already walking to his group of guards. Celaena and Sam followed him, observing as the last of the slaves were shoved onto the deck.
“Where are the slaves from yesterday?” Sam asked.
Rolfe waved a hand. “Most are on that ship, and will leave tomorrow.” He pointed to a nearby ship and ordered one of the slave drivers to start the inspection.
They waited until a few slaves had been looked over, offering remarks on how fit a slave was, where he’d fetch a good price in Rifthold. Each word tasted fouler than the last.
“Tonight,” she said to the Pirate Lord, “you can guarantee that this ship’s protected?” Rolfe sighed loudly and nodded. “That watchtower across the bay,” she pressed. “I assume that they’ll also be responsible for monitoring this ship, too?”
“Yes,” Rolfe snapped. Celaena opened her mouth, but he interrupted. “And before you ask, let me say that we change the watch just before dawn.” So they’d have to target the morning watch instead, to avoid any alarm being raised at dawn—at high tide. Which was a slight hitch in her plan, but they could easily fix it.
“How many of the slaves speak our language?” she asked.
Rolfe raised a brow. “Why?”
She could feel Sam tense beside her, but she shrugged. “It might add to their value.”
Rolfe studied her a bit too closely, then whirled to face a slave woman standing nearby. “Do you speak the common tongue?”
Her eyes widened, and she looked this way and that, clutching her scraps of clothing to her—a mix of fur and wool undoubtedly worn to keep her warm in the frigid mountain passes of the White Fangs.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” Rolfe demanded. The woman lifted her shackled hands. Raw, red skin lay around the iron.
“I think the answer is no,” Sam offered.
Rolfe glared at him, then walked through the stables. “Can any of you speak the common tongue?” He repeated himself, and was about to turn back when an older Eyllwe man—reed thin and covered with cuts and bruises—stepped forward.
“I can,” he said.
“That’s it?” Rolfe barked at the slaves. “No one else?” Celaena approached the man who had spoken, committing his face to memory. He recoiled at her mask and her cloak.
“Well, at least he might fetch a higher price,” Celaena said over her shoulder to Rolfe. Sam summoned Rolfe with a question about the mountain-woman in front of him, providing enough distraction. “What’s your name?” Celaena asked the slave.
“Dia.” His long, frail fingers trembled slightly.
He nodded. “My—my mother was from Bellhaven. My father was a merchant from Banjali. I grew up with both languages.”
And he’d probably never worked a day in his life. How had he gotten caught up in this mess? The other slaves on the deck hung back, huddling together, even some of the larger men and women whose scars and bruises marked them as fighters—prisoners of war. Had they already seen enough of slavery to break them? For both her sake and theirs, she hoped not.
“Good,” she said, and strode away.
Hours later, no one noticed—or if they did, they certainly didn’t care—when two cloaked figures slipped into two rowboats and headed toward the slave ships hovering several hundred yards offshore. A few lanterns illuminated the behemoth vessels, but the moon was bright enough for Celaena to easily make out the Golden Wolf as she rowed toward it.
To her right, Sam rowed as quietly as he could to the Loveless, where the slaves from yesterday were being held. Silence was their only hope and ally, though the town behind them was already in the midst of revelry. It hadn’t taken long for word to get out that Arobynn Hamel’s assassins had opened a celebratory tab at the tavern, and even as they had strode to the docks, pirates were already streaming the other way toward the inn.
Panting through her mask, Celaena’s arms ached with each stroke. It wasn’t the town she was worried about, but the solitary watchtower to her left. A fire burned in its jagged turret, faintly illuminating the catapults and the ancient chain across the narrow bay mouth. If they were to be caught, the first alarm would be sounded from there.
It might have been easier to escape now—take down the watchtower, overpower the slave ships, and set sail—but the chain was only the first in a line of defenses. The Dead Islands were nearly impossible to navigate at night, and at low tide … They’d get a few miles and run aground on a reef or a sandbank.
Celaena drifted the last few feet to the Golden Wolf and grasped the rung of a wooden ladder to keep the boat from thudding too hard against the hull.
They were better off at first light tomorrow, when the pirates would be too drunk or unconscious to notice, and when they had high tide on their side.
Sam flashed a compact mirror, indicating he’d made it to the Loveless. Catching the light in her own mirror, she signaled him back, then flashed twice, indicating that she was ready.
A moment later, Sam returned the same signal. Celaena took a long, steadying breath. It was time.
Nimble as a cat and smooth as a snake, Celaena climbed the wooden ladder built into the side of the ship.
The first guard didn’t notice she was upon him until her hands were around his neck, striking the two points that sent him into unconsciousness. (After all, she was an assassin, not a murderer.) He slumped to the deck, and she caught him by his filthy tunic, softening his fall. Quiet as mice, quiet as the wind, quiet as the grave.
The second guard, stationed at the helm, saw her coming up the staircase. He managed to emit a muffled cry before the pommel of her dagger slammed into his forehead, knocking him out, too. Not as neat, and not as quiet: he hit the deck with a thud that made the third guard, stationed at the prow, whirl to see.
But it was shadowy, and there were yards of ship between them. Celaena crouched low to the deck, covering the fallen guard’s body with her cloak.
“Jon?” the third guard called across the deck. Celaena winced at the sound. Not too far away, the Loveless was silent.
Celaena grimaced at the reek from Jon’s unwashed body.
“Jon?” the guard said, and thumping steps followed. Closer and closer. He’d see the first guard soon.
Three … Two … One …
“What in hell?” The guard tripped over the first guard’s prostrate body.
She swung over the railing fast enough that the guard didn’t look up until she’d landed behind him. All it took was a swift blow to the head and she was easing his body down atop the first guard’s. Her heart hammering through every inch of her, she sprinted to the prow of the ship. She flashed the mirror three times. Three guards down.
“Come on, Sam.” She signaled again.
Far too many heartbeats later, a signal greeted her. The air rushed from her lungs in a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. The guards on the Loveless were unconscious, too.
She signaled once. The watchtower was still quiet. If the guards were up there, they hadn’t seen anything. They had to be quick, had to get this done before their disappearance was noticed.
The guard outside the captain’s quarters managed to kick the wall hard enough to wake the dead before she knocked him out, but it didn’t stop Captain Fairview from squealing when she slipped into his office and shut the door.
When Fairview was secured in the brig, gagged and bound and fully aware that his cooperation and the cooperation of his guards meant his life, she crept down to the cargo area.
The passages were cramped, but the two guards at the door still didn’t notice her until she took the liberty of rendering them unconscious.
Silently as she could, she grabbed a lantern hanging from a peg on the wall and opened the door.
The ceiling was so low she almost grazed it with her head. The slaves had all been chained, sitting, to the floor. No latrines, no source of light, no food or water.
The slaves murmured, squinting against the sudden brightness of the torchlight leaking in from the hallway.
Celaena took the ring of keys she’d stolen from the captain’s quarters and stepped into the cargo chamber. “Where is Dia?” she asked. They said nothing, either because they didn’t understand, or out of solidarity.
Celaena sighed, stepping farther into the chamber, and some of the wild-eyed mountain-men murmured to each other. While they might have only recently declared themselves Adarlan’s enemies, the people of the White Fang Mountains had long been known for their unyielding love of violence. If she were to meet with any trouble in here, it would be from them. “Where is Dia?” she asked more loudly.
A trembling voice came from the back of the cargo area. “Here.” Her eyes strained in the darkness to see his narrow, fine features. “I’m here.”
She strode carefully through the crowded darkness. They were so close together that there was no room to move, and hardly any air to breathe. No wonder seven had died on the voyage here.
She took out Captain Fairview’s key and freed the shackles at Dia’s feet, then his manacles, before offering him a hand up. “You’re going to translate for me.” The mountain-folk and whoever else didn’t speak either the common tongue or Eyllwe could figure out enough on their own.
Dia rubbed his wrists, which were bleeding and scabbed in places. “Who are you?”
Celaena unlocked the chains of the too-thin woman beside Dia, then held out the keys in her direction. “A friend,” she said. “Tell her to unlock everyone, but tell them not to leave this room.”
Dia nodded, and spoke in Eyllwe. The woman, mouth slightly open, looked at Celaena, then took the keys. Without a word, she set about freeing her companions. Dia then addressed the entire cargo bay, his voice soft but fierce.
“The guards are unconscious,” she said. Dia translated. “The captain has been locked in the brig, and tomorrow, should you choose to act, he will guide you through the Dead Islands and to safety. He knows that the penalty for bad information is death.”
Dia translated, his eyes growing wider and wider. Somewhere near the back, one of the mountain-men began translating. And then two others translated, too—one in the language of Melisande, and another in a language she didn’t recognize. Had it been clever or cowardly of them not to speak up last night when she asked who spoke the common tongue?