the assassin and the pirate lord Page 4


He waved a hand, beckoning her to go on.

“Mind your own business.”

Rolfe gave her a lazy smile.

“I don’t mind Rolfe,” Sam mused later into the pitch darkness of their room. Celaena, who’d taken first watch, glared toward where his bed lay against the far wall.

“Of course you don’t,” she grumbled, relishing the free air on her face. Seated on her bed, she leaned against the wall and picked at the threads on the blanket. “He told you to assassinate me.”

Sam chuckled. “It is wise advice.”

She rolled up the sleeves of her tunic. Even at night, this rotten place was scorching hot. “Perhaps it isn’t a wise idea for you to go to sleep, then.”

Sam’s mattress groaned as he turned over. “Come on—you can’t take a bit of teasing?”

“Where my life is concerned? No.”

Sam snorted. “Believe me, if I came home without you, Arobynn would skin me alive. Literally. If I’m going to kill you, Celaena, it’ll be when I can actually get away with it.”

She scowled. “I appreciate that.” She fanned her sweating face with a hand. She’d sell her soul to a pack of demons for a cool breeze right now, but they had to keep the window covered—unless she wanted some spying pair of eyes to discover what she looked like. Though, now that she thought about it, she’d love to see the look on Rolfe’s face if he found out the truth. Most already knew that she was a young woman, but if he knew he was dealing with a sixteen-year-old, his pride might never recover.

They’d only be here for three nights; they could both go without a little sleep if it meant keeping her identity—and their lives—safe.

“Celaena?” Sam asked into the dark. “Should I worry about going to sleep?”

She blinked, then laughed under her breath. At least Sam took her threats somewhat seriously. She wished she could say the same for Rolfe. “No,” she said. “Not tonight.”

“Some other night, then,” he mumbled. Within minutes, he was out.

Celaena rested her head against the wooden wall, listening to the sound of his breathing as the long hours of the night stretched by.

Chapter Four

Even when her turn to sleep came, Celaena lay awake. In the hours she’d spent watching over their room, one thought had become increasingly problematic.

The slaves.

Perhaps if Arobynn had sent someone else—perhaps if it was just a business deal that she found out about later, when she was too busy to care—she might not have been so bothered by it. But to send her to retrieve a shipment of slaves … people who had done nothing wrong, only dared to fight for their freedom and the safety of their families …

How could Arobynn expect her to do that? If Ben had been alive, she might have found an ally in him; Ben, despite his profession, was the most compassionate person she knew. His death left a vacancy that she didn’t think could ever be filled.

She sweated so much that her sheets became damp, and slept so little that when dawn came, she felt like she’d been trampled by a herd of wild horses from the Eyllwe grasslands.

Sam finally nudged her—a none-too-gentle prodding with the pommel of his sword. He took one look at her and said, “You look horrible.”

Deciding to let that set the tone for the day, Celaena got out of bed and promptly slammed the bathroom door.

When she emerged a while later, as fresh as she could get using only the washbasin and her hands, she understood one thing with perfect clarity.

There was no way—no way in any realm of Hell—that she was going to bring those slaves to Rifthold. Rolfe could keep them for all she cared, but she wouldn’t be the one to transport them to the capital city.

That meant she had two days to figure out how to ruin Arobynn and Rolfe’s deal.

And find a way to come out of it alive.

She slung her cape over her shoulders, silently bemoaning the fact that the yards of fabric concealed much of her lovely black tunic—especially its delicate golden embroidery. Well, at least her cape was also exquisite. Even if it was a bit dirty from so much traveling.

“Where are you going?” Sam asked. He sat up from where he lounged on the bed, cleaning his nails with the tip of a dagger. Sam definitely wouldn’t help her. She’d have to find a way to get out of the deal on her own.

“I have some questions to ask Rolfe. Alone.” She fastened her mask and strode to the door. “I want breakfast waiting for me when I return.”

Sam went rigid, his lips forming a thin line. “What?”

Celaena pointed to the hallway, toward the kitchen. “Breakfast,” she said slowly. “I’m hungry.”

Sam opened his mouth, and she waited for the retort, but it never came. He bowed deeply. “As you wish,” he said. They swapped particularly vulgar gestures before she stalked down the hallway.

Dodging puddles of filth, vomit, and the gods knew what else, Celaena found it just a tad difficult to match Rolfe’s long stride. With rain clouds gathering overhead, many of the people in the street—raggedy pirates swaying where they stood, prostitutes stumbling past after a long night, barefoot orphans running amok—had begun migrating into the various ramshackle buildings.

Skull’s Bay wasn’t known as a beautiful city, and many of the leaning and sagging buildings seemed to have been constructed from little more than wood and nails. Aside from its denizens, the city was most famous for Ship-Breaker, the giant chain that hung across the mouth of the horseshoe-shaped bay.

It had been around for centuries, and was so large that, as its name implied, it could snap the mast of any ship that came up against it. While mostly designed to discourage any attacks, it also kept anyone from sneaking off. And given that the rest of the island was covered with towering mountains, there weren’t many other places for a ship to safely dock. So, any ship that wanted to enter or exit the harbor had to wait for it to be lowered under the surface—and be ready to pay a hefty fee.

“You have three blocks,” Rolfe said. “Better make them count.”

Was he deliberately walking fast? Steadying her rising temper, Celaena focused on the jagged, lush mountains hovering around the city, on the glittering curve of the bay, on the hint of sweetness in the air. She’d found Rolfe just about to leave the tavern to go to a business meeting, and he’d agreed to let her ask her questions as he walked.

“When the slaves arrive,” she asked, trying to sound as inconvenienced as possible, “will I get the chance to inspect them, or can I trust that you’re giving us a good batch?”

He shook his head at her impertinence, and Celaena jumped over the outstretched legs of an unconscious—or dead—drunk in her path. “They’ll arrive tomorrow afternoon. I was planning to inspect them myself, but if you’re so worried about the quality of your wares, I’ll allow you to join me. Consider it a privilege.”

She snorted. “Where? On your ship?” Better to get a good sense of how everything worked, and then build her plan from there. Just knowing how things operated might create some ideas for how to make the deal fall apart with as little risk to herself as possible.

“I’ve converted a large stable at the other end of the town into a holding facility. I usually examine all the slaves there, but since you’re leaving the next morning, we’ll just examine yours on the ship itself.”

She clicked her tongue loudly enough for him to hear it. “And how long can I expect this to take?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You have better things to do?”

“Just answer the question.” Thunder rumbled in the distance.

They reached the docks, which were by far the most impressive thing about the town. Ships of all shapes and sizes rocked against the wooden piers, and pirates scurried along the decks, tying down various things before the storm hit. On the horizon, lightning flashed just above the lone watchtower perched along the northern entrance to the bay—the watchtower from which Ship-Breaker was raised and lowered. In the flash, she’d also seen the two catapults atop one of the tower landings. If Ship-Breaker didn’t destroy a boat, then those catapults finished the job.

“Don’t worry, Mistress Sardothien,” Rolfe said, striding past the various taverns and inns that lined the docks. They had two blocks left. “Your time won’t be wasted. Though getting through a hundred slaves will take a while.”

A hundred slaves on one ship! Where did they all fit?

“As long as you don’t try to fool me,” she snapped, “I’ll consider it time well spent.”

“Just so you don’t find reasons to complain—and I’m sure you’ll try your best to do just that—I have another shipment of slaves being inspected at the holding facility tonight. Why don’t you join me? That way, you can have something to compare them to tomorrow.”

That would be perfect, actually. Perhaps she could just claim the slaves weren’t up to par and refuse to do business with him because of it. And then leave, no harm done to either of them. She’d still have to face Sam—and then Arobynn—but … she’d figure them out later.

She shrugged, waving a hand. “Fine, fine. Just send someone for me when it’s time.” The humidity was so thick she felt as if she were swimming through it. “And after Arobynn’s slaves are inspected?” Any bit of information could later be used as a weapon against him. “Are they mine to look after on the ship, or will your men be watching them for me? Your pirates might very well think they’re free to take whatever slaves they wish.”

Rolfe clenched the hilt of his sword. It glinted in the muted light, and she admired the intricate pommel, shaped like a sea dragon’s head. “If I give the order that no one is to touch your slaves, then no one will touch them,” Rolfe said through his teeth. His annoyance was an unexpected delight. “However, I’ll arrange to have a few guards on the ship, if that will make you sleep easier. I wouldn’t want Arobynn to think I don’t take his investment seriously.”

They approached a blue-painted tavern, where several men in dark tunics lounged out front. At the sight of Rolfe, they straightened, saluting him. His guards? Why hadn’t anyone escorted him through the streets?

“That will be fine,” she said crisply. “I don’t want to be here any longer than necessary.”

“I’m sure you’re eager to return to your clients in Rifthold.” Rolfe stopped in front of the faded door. The sign above it, swinging in the growing storm winds, said THE SEA DRAGON. It was also the name of his famed ship, which was docked just behind them, and really didn’t look all that spectacular, anyway. Perhaps this was the Pirate Lord’s headquarters. And if he was making her and Sam stay at that tavern a few blocks away, then perhaps he trusted them as little as they trusted him.

“I think I’m more eager just to return to civilized society,” she said sweetly.

Rolfe let out a low growl, and stepped onto the threshold of the tavern. Inside, it was all shadows and murmuring voices—and reeked of stale ale. Other than that, she could see nothing.

“One day,” Rolfe said, too quietly, “someone’s really going make you pay for that arrogance.” Lightning made his green eyes flicker. “I just hope I’m there to see it.”

He shut the tavern door in her face.

Celaena smiled, and her smile grew wider as fat drops of rain splattered on the rust-colored earth, instantly cooling the muggy air.

That had gone surprisingly well.

“Is it poisoned?” she asked Sam, plopping down on her bed just as a clap of thunder shook the tavern to its foundations. The teacup rattled in its saucer, and she breathed in the smell of fresh-baked bread, sausage, and porridge as she threw back her hood and removed her mask.