the assassin and the pirate lord Page 3


Celaena stared at him. Arobynn had sent them here for … for slaves? How could he stoop so disgustingly low? And to tell her she was going to Skull’s Bay for one thing, but to really send her here for this … She felt her nostrils flare. Sam had known about this deal, but he’d somehow forgotten to mention the truth behind their visit—even during the ten days they’d spent at sea. As soon as she got him alone, she’d make him regret it. But for now … She couldn’t let Rolfe catch on to her ignorance.

“You’d better not botch this,” Celaena warned the Pirate Lord. “Arobynn won’t be pleased if anything goes awry.”

Rolfe chuckled. “You have my word that it will all go according to plan. I’m not Lord of the Pirates for nothing, you know.”

She leaned forward, flattening her voice into the even tones of a business partner concerned about her investment. “How long, exactly, have you been involved in the slave trade?” It couldn’t have been long. Adarlan had only started capturing and selling slaves two years ago—most of them prisoners of war from whatever territories dared rebel against their conquest. Many of them were from Eyllwe, but there were still prisoners from Melisande and Finntierland, or the isolated tribe in the White Fang Mountains. The majority of slaves went to Calaculla or Endovier, the continent’s largest and most notorious labor camps, to mine for salt and precious metals. But more and more slaves were making their way into the households of Adarlan’s nobility. And for Arobynn to make a filthy trade agreement—some sort of black market deal … It would sully the Assassins’ Guild’s entire reputation.

“Believe me,” Rolfe said, crossing his arms, “I have enough experience. You should be more concerned about your master. Investing in the slave trade is a guaranteed profit, but he might need to expend more of his resources than he’d like in order to keep our business from reaching the wrong ears.”

Her stomach turned over, but she feigned disinterest as best she could and said, “Arobynn is a shrewd businessman. Whatever you can supply, he’ll make the most of it.”

“For his sake, I hope that’s true. I don’t want to risk my name and reputation for nothing.” Rolfe stood, and Celaena and Sam rose with him. “I’ll have the documents signed and returned to you tomorrow. For now …” He pointed toward the door. “I have two rooms prepared for you.”

“We only need one,” she interrupted.

Rolfe’s eyebrows rose suggestively.

Beneath her mask, her face burned, and Sam choked on a laugh. “One room, two beds.”

Rolfe chuckled, striding to the door and opening it for them. “As you wish. I’ll have baths drawn for you as well.” Celaena and Sam followed him out into the narrow, dark hallway. “You could both use one,” he added with a wink.

It took all of her self-restraint to keep from punching him below the belt.

Chapter Three

It took them five minutes to search the cramped room for any spy-holes or signs of danger; five minutes for them to lift the framed paintings on the wood-paneled walls, tap at the floorboards, seal the gap between the door and the floor, and cover the window with Sam’s weatherworn black cloak.

When she was certain that no one could either hear or see her, Celaena ripped off her hood, untied the mask from her face, and whirled to face him.

Sam, seated on his small bed—which seemed more like a cot—raised his palms to her. “Before you bite my head off,” he said, keeping his voice quiet just in case, “let me say that I went into that meeting knowing as little as you.”

She glared at him, savoring the fresh air on her sticky, sweaty face. “Oh, really?”

“You’re not the only one who can improvise.” Sam kicked off his boots and hoisted himself farther onto the bed. “That man’s as much in love with himself as you are; the last thing we need is for him to know that he had the upper hand in there.”

Celaena dug her nails into her palms. “Why would Arobynn send us here without telling us the true reason? Reprimand Rolfe … for a crime that had nothing to do with him! Maybe Rolfe was lying about the content of the letter.” She straightened. “That might very well be—”

“He was not lying about the content of the letter, Celaena,” Sam said. “Why would he bother? He has more important things to do.”

She grumbled a slew of nasty words and paced, her black boots clunking against the uneven floorboards. Pirate Lord indeed. This was the best room he could offer them? She was Adarlan’s Assassin, the right arm of Arobynn Hamel—not some backstreet harlot!

“Regardless, Arobynn has his reasons.” Sam stretched out on his bed and closed his eyes.

“Slaves,” she spat, dragging a hand through her braided hair. Her fingers caught in the plait. “What business does Arobynn have getting involved in the slave trade? We’re better than that—we don’t need that money!”

Unless Arobynn was lying; unless all of his extravagant spending was done with nonexistent funds. She’d always assumed that his wealth was bottomless. He’d spent a king’s fortune on her upbringing—on her wardrobe alone. Fur, silk, jewels, the weekly cost of just keeping herself looking beautiful … Of course, he’d always made it clear that she was to pay him back, and she’d been giving him a cut of her wages to do so, but …

Maybe Arobynn just wanted to increase what wealth he already had. If Ben were alive, he wouldn’t have stood for it. Ben would have been just as disgusted as she was. Being hired to kill corrupt government officials was one thing, but taking prisoners of war, brutalizing them until they stopped fighting back, and sentencing them to a lifetime of slavery …

Sam opened an eye. “Are you going to take a bath, or can I go first?”

She hurled her cloak at him. He caught it with a single hand and tossed it to the ground. She said, “I’m going first.”

“Of course you are.”

She shot him a dirty look and stormed into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

Of all the dinners she’d ever attended, this was by far the worst. Not because of the company—which was, she grudgingly admitted, somewhat interesting—and not because of the food, which looked and smelled wonderful, but simply because she couldn’t eat anything, thanks to that confounded mask.

Sam, of course, seemed to take second helpings of everything solely to mock her. Celaena, seated at Rolfe’s left, half hoped the food was poisoned. Sam had only served himself from the array of meats and stews after watching Rolfe eat some himself, so the likelihood of that wish coming true was rather low.

“Mistress Sardothien,” Rolfe said, his dark brows rising high on his forehead. “You must be famished. Or is my food not pleasing enough for your refined palate?”

Beneath the cape and the cloak and the dark tunic, Celaena was not just famished, but also hot and tired. And thirsty. Which, combined with her temper, usually turned out to be a lethal combination. Of course, they couldn’t see any of that.

“I’m quite fine,” she lied, swirling the water in her goblet. It lapped against the sides, taunting her with each rotation. Celaena stopped.

“Maybe if you took off your mask, you might have an easier time eating,” Rolfe said, taking a bite of roast boar. “Unless what lies beneath it will make us lose our appetites.”

The five other pirates—all captains in Rolfe’s fleet—sniggered, and she straightened.

“Keep talking like that”—Celaena gripped the stem of her goblet—“and I might give you a reason to wear a mask.” Sam kicked her under the table, and she kicked him back, a deft blow to his shins—hard enough that he choked on his water.

Some of the assembled captains stopped laughing, but Rolfe chuckled. She rested her gloved hand atop the stained dining table. The table was freckled with burns and deep gouges; it had clearly seen its fair share of brawls. Didn’t Rolfe have any taste for luxury? Perhaps he wasn’t so well off, if he was resorting to the slave trade. But Arobynn … Arobynn was as rich as the King of Adarlan himself. Why did he need to stoop so low?

Rolfe flicked his sea-green eyes to Sam, who was frowning yet again. “Have you seen her without the mask?”

Sam, to her surprise, grimaced. “Once.” He gave her an all too believably wary look. “And that was enough.”

Rolfe studied Sam for a heartbeat, then took another bite of his meat. “Well, if you won’t show me your face, then perhaps you’ll indulge us with the tale of how, exactly, you became protégée to Arobynn Hamel?”

“I trained,” she said dully. “For years. We aren’t all lucky enough to have a magic map inked on our hands. Some of us had to climb to the top.”

Rolfe stiffened, and the other pirates halted their eating. He stared at her long enough for Celaena to want to squirm, and then set down his fork.

Sam leaned a bit closer to her, but, she realized, only to see better as Rolfe laid both of his hands palm-up on the table for her to observe.

Together, his hands formed a map of their continent—and only that.

“This map hasn’t moved for eight years.” His voice was a low growl. A chill went down her spine. Eight years. Exactly the time that had passed since the Fae had been banished and executed, when Adarlan had conquered and enslaved the rest of the continent and magic had disappeared. “Don’t think,” Rolfe continued, withdrawing his hands, “that I haven’t had to claw and kill my way as much as you.”

If he was nearly thirty, then he’d probably done even more killing than she had. And, from the many scars on his hands and face, it was easy to tell that he’d done a lot of clawing.

“Good to know we’re kindred spirits,” she said. If Rolfe was already used to getting his hands dirty, then trading slaves wasn’t a stretch. But he was a filthy pirate. They were Arobynn Hamel’s assassins—educated, wealthy, refined. Slavery was beneath them.

Rolfe gave her that crooked smile. “Do you act like this because it’s actually in your nature, or is it just because you’re afraid of dealing with people?”

“I’m the world’s greatest assassin.” She lifted her chin. “I’m not afraid of anyone.”

“Really?” Rolfe asked. “Because I’m the world’s greatest pirate, and I’m afraid of a great number of people. That’s how I’ve managed to stay alive for so long.”

She didn’t deign to reply. Slave-mongering pig. He shook his head, smiling in exactly the same way she smirked at Sam when she wanted to piss him off.

“I’m surprised Arobynn hasn’t made you check your arrogance,” Rolfe said. “Your companion seems to know when to keep his mouth shut.”

Sam coughed loudly and leaned forward. “How did you become Pirate Lord, then?”

Rolfe ran a finger along a deep groove in the wooden table. “I killed every pirate who was better than me.” The three other captains—all older, all more weathered and far less attractive than him—huffed, but didn’t refute it. “Anyone arrogant enough to think they couldn’t possibly lose to a young man with a patchwork crew and only one ship to his name. But they all fell, one by one. When you get a reputation like that, people tend to flock to you.” Rolfe glanced between Celaena and Sam. “You want my advice?” he asked her.

“No.”

“I’d watch your back around Sam. You might be the best, Sardothien, but there’s always someone waiting for you to slip.”

Sam, the traitorous bastard, didn’t hide his smirk. The other pirate captains chuckled.

Celaena stared hard at Rolfe. Her stomach twisted with hunger. She’d eat later—swipe something from the tavern kitchens. “You want my advice?”