Ultimately, she left the billiards equipment, if only because it would arouse suspicion if it all disappeared, but it would be easy enough to get a stick if she needed to escape, or to use the dense balls to knock the guards unconscious. Exhausted, she returned to her bedroom and finally hoisted herself onto the enormous bed. The mattress was so soft that she sank down a few inches, and it was wide enough for three people to sleep without noticing each other. Curling on her side, Celaena’s eyes grew heavier and heavier.
She slept for an hour, until a servant announced the arrival of the tailor, to outfit her with proper court attire. And thus another hour was spent being measured and pinned, and sitting through a presentation of different fabrics and colors. She hated most of them. A few caught her attention, but when she tried to recommend specific styles that flattered her, she received only the wave of a hand and a curl of the lip. She considered jabbing one of the tailor’s pearl-headed pins through his eye.
She bathed, feeling almost as dirty as she had in Endovier, and was grateful for the gentle servants who attended her. Many of the wounds had scabbed or remained as thin white lines, though her back retained most of its damage. After nearly two hours of pampering—trimming her hair, shaping her nails, and scraping away the callouses on her feet and hands—Celaena grinned at the mirror in the dressing room.
Only in the capital could servants have done such fine work. She looked spectacular. Utterly and completely spectacular. She wore a dress with skirts and long sleeves of white, streaked and spotted with orchid-purple. The indigo bodice was bordered with a thin line of gold, and an ice-white cape hung from her shoulders. Her hair, half up and twisted with a fuchsia ribbon, fell in loose waves. But her smile faltered as she remembered why, exactly, she was here.
The King’s Champion indeed. She looked more like the King’s Lapdog.
“Beautiful,” said an older, female voice, and Celaena pivoted, the yards of cumbersome fabric twisting with her. Her corset—the stupid, cursed thing—pushed on her ribs so hard that the breath was sucked from her. This was why she mostly preferred tunics and pants.
It was a woman, large but well contained within the gown of cobalt and peach that marked her as one of the servants of the royal household. Her face, while a bit wrinkled, was red-cheeked and finely colored. She bowed. “Philippa Spindlehead,” said the woman, rising. “Your personal servant. You must be—”
“Celaena Sardothien,” she said flatly.
Philippa’s eyes widened. “Keep that to yourself, miss,” she whispered. “I’m the only one who knows. And the guards, I suppose.”
“Then what do people think about all my guards?” she asked.
Philippa approached, ignoring Celaena’s glower as she adjusted the folds of the assassin’s gown, fluffing them in the right places. “Oh, the other . . . Champions have guards outside their rooms, too. Or people just think you’re another lady-friend of the prince.”
Philippa smiled, but kept her eyes upon the dress. “He has a big heart, His Highness.”
Celaena wasn’t at all surprised. “A favorite with women?”
“It’s not my place to speak about His Highness. And you should mind your tongue, too.”
“I’ll do as I please.” She surveyed the withered face of her servant. Why send such a soft woman to serve her? She’d overpower her in a heartbeat.
“Then you’ll find yourself back in those mines, poppet.” Philippa put a hand on her hip. “Oh, don’t scowl—you ruin your face when you look like that!” She reached to pinch Celaena’s cheek, and Celaena pulled away.
“Are you mad? I’m an assassin—not some court idiot!”
Philippa clucked. “You’re still a woman, and so long as you’re under my charge, you’ll act like one, or Wyrd help me!”
Celaena blinked, then slowly said: “You’re awfully bold. I hope you don’t act like this around court ladies.”
“Ah. There was surely a reason why I was assigned to attend you.”
“You understand what my occupation entails, don’t you?”
“No disrespect, but this sort of finery is worth far more than seeing my head roll on the ground.” Celaena’s upper lip pulled back from her teeth as the servant turned from the room. “Don’t make such a face,” Philippa called over her shoulder. “It squishes that little nose of yours.”
Celaena could only gape as the servant woman shuffled away.
The Crown Prince of Adarlan stared at his father unblinkingly, waiting for him to speak. Seated on his glass throne, the King of Adarlan watched him back. Sometimes Dorian forgot how little he looked like his father—it was his younger brother, Hollin, who took after the king, with his broad frame and his round, sharp-eyed face. But Dorian, tall, toned, and elegant, bore no resemblance to him. And then there was the matter of Dorian’s sapphire eyes—not even his mother had his eyes. No one knew where they came from.
“She has arrived?” his father asked. His voice was hard, edged with the clash of shields and the scream of arrows. As far as greetings went, that was probably the kindest one he’d get.
“She shouldn’t pose any threat or problem while she’s here,” Dorian said as calmly as he could. Picking Sardothien had been a gamble—a bet against his father’s tolerance. He was about to see if it was worth it.
“You think like every fool she’s murdered.” Dorian straightened as the king continued. “She owes allegiance to none but herself, and won’t balk at putting a knife through your heart.”
“Which is why she’ll be fully capable of winning this competition of yours.” His father said nothing, and Dorian went on, his heart racing. “Come to think of it, the whole competition might be unnecessary.”
“You say that because you’re afraid of losing good coin.” If only his father knew that he hadn’t just ventured to find a champion to win gold, but also to get out—to get away from him, for as long as he could manage.
Dorian steeled his nerve, remembering the words he’d been brooding over for the entire journey from Endovier. “I guarantee she’ll be able to fulfill her duties; we truly don’t need to train her. I’ve told you already: it’s foolish to have this competition at all.”
“If you do not mind your tongue, I’ll have her use you for practice.”
“And then what? Have Hollin take the throne?”
“Do not doubt me, Dorian,” his father challenged. “You might think this . . . girl can win, but you forget that Duke Perrington is sponsoring Cain. You would have been better off picking a Champion like him—forged in blood and iron on the battlefield. A true Champion.”
Dorian stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Don’t you find the title a little ridiculous, given that our ‘Champions’ are no more than criminals?”
His father rose from his throne and pointed at the map painted on the far wall of his council chamber. “I am the conqueror of this continent, and soon to be ruler of all Erilea. You will not question me.”
Dorian, realizing how close he was to crossing a boundary between impertinence and rebellion—a boundary that he’d been very, very careful to maintain—mumbled his apologies.
“We’re at war with Wendlyn,” his father went on. “I have enemies all around. Who better to do my work than someone utterly grateful for being granted not only a second chance, but also wealth and the power of my name?” The king smiled when Dorian didn’t reply. Dorian tried not to flinch as his father studied him. “Perrington tells me that you behaved yourself well on this trip.”
“With Perrington as a watchdog, I couldn’t do otherwise.”
“I’ll not have some peasant woman banging on the gate, wailing that you’ve broken her heart.” Dorian’s face colored, but he did not drop his father’s stare. “I’ve toiled too hard and long to establish my empire; you will not complicate it with illegitimate heirs. Marry a proper woman, then dally as you will after you give me a grandson or two. When you are king, you will understand consequences.”
“When I’m king, I won’t declare control over Terrasen through thin claims of inheritance.” Chaol had warned him to watch his mouth when speaking to his father, but when he spoke to him like that, as if he were a pampered idiot . . .
“Even if you offered them self-rule, those rebels would mount your head on a pike before the gates of Orynth.”
“Perhaps alongside all my illegitimate heirs, if I’m so fortunate.”
The king gave him a poisonous smile. “My silver-tongued son.” They watched each other in silence before Dorian spoke again.
“Perhaps you should consider our difficulty in getting past Wendlyn’s naval defenses to be a sign that you should stop playing at being a god.”
“Playing?” The king smiled, his crooked teeth glowing yellow in the firelight. “I am not playing. And this is not a game.” Dorian’s shoulders stiffened. “Though she may look pleasant, she’s still a witch. You are to keep your distance, understood?”
“Who? The assassin?”
“She’s dangerous, boy, even if you’re sponsoring her. She wants one thing and one thing only—don’t think she won’t use you to get it. If you court her, the consequences will not be pleasant. Not from her, and not from me.”
“And if I condescend to associate with her, what would you do, father? Throw me in the mines as well?”
His father was upon him before Dorian could brace himself. The back of the king’s hand connected with Dorian’s cheek, and the prince staggered, but regained his countenance. His face throbbed, stinging so badly he fought to keep his eyes from watering. “Son or no son,” the king snarled, “I am still your king. You will obey me, Dorian Havilliard, or you will pay. I’ll have no more of your questioning.”
Knowing he’d only cause more trouble for himself if he stayed, the Crown Prince of Adarlan bowed silently and left his father, eyes gleaming with barely controlled anger.
Celaena walked down a marble hall, her dress flowing behind in a purple and white wave. Chaol strode beside her, a hand on the eagle-shaped pommel of his sword.
“Is there anything interesting down this hall?”
“What else would you care to see? We’ve already seen all three gardens, the ballrooms, the historical rooms, and the nicest views offered from the stone castle. If you refuse to go into the glass castle, there’s nothing else to see.”
She crossed her arms. She’d managed to convince him to give her a tour under the pretense of extreme boredom—when, in fact, she’d used every moment to plot a dozen escape routes from her room. The castle was old, and most of its halls and stairwells went nowhere; escaping would require some thought. But with the competition beginning tomorrow, what else did she have to do? And what better way to prepare for a potential disaster?
“I don’t understand why you refuse to enter the glass addition,” he went on. “There’s no difference between the interiors—you wouldn’t even know that you were inside it unless someone told you or you looked out the window.”
“Only an idiot would walk in a house made of glass.”
“It’s as sturdy as steel and stone.”
“Yes, until someone just a bit too heavy enters and it comes crashing down.”
The thought of standing on floors of glass made her queasy. “Is there no menagerie or library that we could see?” They passed by a set of closed doors. The sounds of lilting speech reached them, along with the gentle strumming of a harp. “What’s in there?”