The Assassin and the Desert (Throne of Glass 0.30) - Page 4

Outside of the markets in Rifthold and the slave ships at Skull’s Bay, she’d never seen such a mix of different kingdoms and continents. And though most of the people here were trained killers, there was an air of peace and contentment—of joy, even. She flicked her eyes to the table of foreign dignitaries that Ansel had pointed out. Men and women, hunched over their food, whispered with each other and occasionally watched the assassins in the room.

“Ah,” Ansel said quietly. “They’re just squabbling over which of us they want to make a bid for.”


Mikhail leaned forward to see the ambassadors through the crowd. “They come here from foreign courts to offer us positions. They make offers for the assassins that most impress them—sometimes just for one mission, other times for a lifelong contract. Any of us are free to go, if we wish. But not all of us want to leave.”

“And you two . . . ?”

“Ach, no,” Ansel said. “My father would wallop me from here to the ends of the earth if I bound myself to a foreign court. He’d say it’s a form of prostitution.”

Mikhail laughed under his breath. “Personally, I like it here. When I want to leave, I’ll let the Master know I’m available. But until then . . .” He glanced at Ansel, and Celaena could have sworn she saw the girl’s face flush slightly. “Until then, I’ve got my reasons to stay.”

Celaena asked, “What courts do the dignitaries hail from?”

“None in Adarlan’s grip, if that’s what you’re asking.” Mikhail scratched the day’s worth of stubble on his face. “Our Master knows well enough that everything from Eyllwe to Terrasen is your Master’s territory.”

“It certainly is.” She didn’t know why she said it. Given what Arobynn had done to her, she hardly felt defensive of the assassins in Adarlan’s empire. But . . . but to see all these assassins gathered here, so much collective power and knowledge, and to know that they wouldn’t dare intrude on Arobynn’s—on her—territory . . .

Celaena went on eating in silence as Ansel and Mikhail and a few others around them talked quietly. Vows of silence, Ansel had explained earlier, were taken for as long as each person saw fit. Some spent weeks in silence; others, years. Ansel claimed she’d once sworn to be silent for a month, and had only lasted two days before she gave up. She liked talking too much. Celaena didn’t have any trouble believing that.

A few of the people around them were pantomiming. Though it often took them a few tries to discern the vague gestures, it seemed like Ansel and Mikhail could interpret the movements of their hands.

Celaena felt someone’s attention on her, and tried not to blink when she noticed a dark-haired, handsome young man watching her from a few seats down. Stealing glances at her was more like it, since his sea-green eyes kept darting to her face, then back to his companions. He didn’t open his mouth once, but pantomimed to his friends. Another silent one.

Their eyes met, and his tan face spread into a smile, revealing dazzlingly white teeth. Well, he was certainly desirable—as desirable as Sam, maybe.

Sam—when had she ever thought of him as desirable? He’d laugh until he died if he ever knew she thought of him like that.

The young man inclined his head slightly in greeting, then turned back to his friends.

“That’s Ilias,” Ansel whispered, leaning closer than Celaena would like. Didn’t she have any sense of personal space? “The Master’s son.”

That explained the sea-green eyes. Though the Master had an air of holiness, he must not be celibate.

“I’m surprised you caught Ilias’s eye,” Ansel teased, keeping her voice low enough for only Celaena and Mikhail to hear. “He’s usually too focused on his training and meditating to notice anyone—even pretty girls.”

Celaena raised her brows, biting back a reply that she didn’t want to know any of this.

“I’ve known him for years, and he’s never been anything but aloof with me,” Ansel continued. “But maybe he has a thing for blondes.” Mikhail snorted.

“I’m not here for anything like that,” Celaena said.

“And I bet you have a flock of suitors back home, anyway.”

“I certainly do not.”

Ansel’s mouth popped open. “You’re lying.”

Celaena took a long, long sip of water. It was flavored with slices of lemon—and was unbelievably delicious. “No, I’m not.”

Ansel gave her a quizzical look, then fell back into conversation with Mikhail. Celaena pushed around the food on her plate. It wasn’t that she wasn’t romantic. She’d been infatuated with a few men before—from Archer, the young male courtesan who’d trained with them for a few months when she was thirteen, to Ben, Arobynn’s now-deceased Second, back when she was too young to really understand the impossibility of such a thing.

She dared another look at Ilias, who was laughing silently at something one of his companions had said. It was flattering that he even considered her worthy of second thought; she’d avoided looking in the mirror in the month since that night with Arobynn, only checking to ensure nothing was broken or out of place.

“So,” Mikhail said, shattering her thoughts as he pointed a fork at her, “when your master beat the living daylights out of you, did you actually deserve it?”

Ansel shot him a dark look, and Celaena straightened. Even Ilias was now listening, his lovely eyes fixed on her face. But Celaena stared right at Mikhail. “I suppose it depends on who is telling the story.”

Ansel chuckled.

“If Arobynn Hamel is telling the story, then yes, I suppose I did deserve it. I cost him a good deal of money—a kingdom’s worth of riches, probably. I was disobedient and disrespectful, and completely remorseless about what I did.”

She didn’t break her stare, and Mikhail’s smile faltered.

“But if the two hundred slaves that I freed are telling the story, then no, I suppose I didn’t deserve it.”

None of them were smiling anymore. “Holy Gods,” Ansel whispered. True silence fell over their table for a few heartbeats.

Celaena resumed eating. She didn’t feel like talking to them after that.

Under the shade of the date trees that separated the oasis from the sand, Celaena stared out at the expanse of desert stretching before them. “Say that again,” she said flatly to Ansel. After the hushed dinner last night and the utterly silent fortress walkways that had brought them here, speaking normally grated on her ears.

But Ansel, who was wearing a white tunic and pants and boots wrapped in camel pelts, just grinned and fastened her white scarf around her red hair. “It’s a three-mile run to the next oasis.” Ansel handed Celaena the two wooden buckets she’d brought with her. “These are for you.”

Celaena raised her brows. “I thought I was going to be training with the Master.”

“Oh, no. Not today,” Ansel said, picking up two buckets of her own. “When he said ‘training’ he meant this. You might be able to wallop four of our men, but you still smell like the northern wind. Once you start reeking like the Red Desert, then he’ll bother to train you.”

“That’s ridiculous. Where is he?” She looked toward the fortress towering behind them.

“Oh, you won’t find him. Not until you prove yourself. Show that you’re willing to leave behind all that you know and all that you were. Make him think you’re worth his time. Then he’ll train you. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.” Ansel’s mahogany eyes gleamed with amusement. “Do you know how many of us have begged and groveled to just have one lesson with him? He picks and chooses as he sees fit. One morning, he might approach an acolyte. The next, it might be someone like Mikhail. I’m still waiting for my turn. I don’t think even Ilias knows the method behind his father’s decisions.”

This wasn’t at all what Celaena had planned. “But I need him to write me a letter of approval. I need him to train me. I’m here so he can train me—”

Ansel shrugged. “So are we all. If I were you, though, I’d

suggest training with me until he decides that you’re worth it. If anything, I can get you into the rhythm of things. Make it seem more like you care about us, and less like you’re here just for that letter of approval. Not that we all don’t have our own secret agenda.” Ansel winked, and Celaena frowned. Panicking now wouldn’t do her any good. She needed time to come up with a logical plan of action. She’d try to speak to the Master later. Perhaps he hadn’t understood her yesterday. But for now . . . she’d tag along after Ansel for the day. The Master had been at dinner the night before; if she needed to, she could corner him in the dining hall tonight.

When Celaena didn’t object further, Ansel held up a bucket. “So this bucket is for your journey back from the oasis—you’ll need it. And this one”—she held up the other—“is just to make the trip hell.”


Ansel hooked the buckets into the yoke across her shoulders. “Because if you can run three miles across the dunes of the Red Desert, then three miles back, you can do almost anything.”

Tags: Sarah J. Maas Throne of Glass Fantasy
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