If Arobynn ever laid a hand on her or Sam again, she’d see to it that he lost that hand. Actually, she’d see to it that he lost everything up to the elbow.
Someone touched her shoulder, and Celaena looked up from her empty wine goblet to find Ilias standing behind her. She hadn’t seen much of him in the past few days, aside from at dinner, where he still glanced at her and gave her those lovely smiles. He offered his hand.
Celaena’s face instantly warmed and she shook her head, trying her best to convey a sense of not knowing these dances.
Ilias shrugged, his eyes bright. His hand remained extended.
She bit her lip and glanced pointedly at his feet. Ilias shrugged again, this time as if to suggest that his toes weren’t all that valuable, anyway.
Celaena glanced at Mikhail and Ansel, spinning wildly to a beat only the two of them could hear. Ilias raised his brows. Live a little, Sardothien! Ansel had said that day they stole the horses. Why not live a little tonight, too?
Celaena gave him a dramatic shrug and took his hand, tossing a wry smile his way. I suppose I could spare a dance or two, she wanted to say.
Even though there was no music, Ilias led her through the dances with ease, each of his movements sure and steady. It was hard to look away—not just from his face, but also from the contentment that radiated from him. And he looked back at her so intently that she had to wonder if he’d been watching her all these weeks not just to protect his father.
They danced until well after midnight; wild dances that weren’t at all like the waltzes she’d learned in Rifthold. Even when she switched partners, Ilias was always there, waiting for the next dance. It was almost as intoxicating as the oddity of dancing to no music, to hearing a collective, silent rhythm—to letting the wind and the sighing sand outside the fortress provide the beat and the melody. It was lovely and strange, and as the hours passed, she often wondered if she’d strayed into some dream.
When the moon was setting, Celaena found herself leaving the dance floor, doing her best to convey how exhausted she was. It wasn’t a lie. Her feet hurt, and she hadn’t had a proper night’s rest in weeks and weeks. Ilias tried pulling her back onto the floor for one last dance, but she nimbly slipped out of his grasp, grinning as she shook her head. Ansel and Mikhail were still dancing, holding each other closer than any other pair on the dance floor. Not wanting to interrupt her friend, Celaena left the hall, Ilias in tow.
She couldn’t deny that her racing heartbeat wasn’t just from the dancing as they walked down the empty hall. Ilias strolled beside her, silent as ever, and she swallowed tightly.
What would he say—that is, if he could speak—if he knew that Adarlan’s Assassin had never been kissed? She’d killed men, freed slaves, stolen horses, but she’d never kissed anyone. It was ridiculous, somehow. Something that she should have gotten out of the way at some point, but she’d never found the right person.
All too quickly, they were standing outside the door to her room. Celaena didn’t touch the door handle, and tried to calm her breathing as she turned to face Ilias.
He was smiling. Maybe he didn’t mean to kiss her. His room was, after all, just a few doors down.
“Well,” she said. After so many hours of silence, the word was jarringly loud. Her face burned. He stepped closer, and she tried not to flinch as he slipped a hand around her waist. It would be so simple to kiss him, she realized as she looked up at him.
His other hand slid against her neck, his thumb caressing her jaw as he gently tilted her head back. Her blood pounded through every inch of her. Her lips parted . . . but as Ilias inclined his head, she went rigid and stepped back.
He immediately withdrew, his brows crossed with concern. She wanted to seep into the stones and disappear, but she swallowed hard. “I’m sorry,” she said thickly, trying not to look too mortified. “I—I can’t. I mean, I’m leaving in a week. And . . . and you live here. And I’m in Rifthold, so . . .” She was babbling. She should stop. Actually, she should just stop talking. Forever.
But if he sensed her mortification, he didn’t show it. Instead, he just bowed his head and squeezed her shoulder. Then he gave her one of those shrugs, which she interpreted to mean, If only we didn’t live thousands of miles apart. But can you blame me for trying?
With that, he strode the few feet to his room. He gave her a friendly wave before disappearing inside.
Alone in the hallway, Celaena watched the shadows cast by the torches. It hadn’t been the mere impossibility of a relationship with Ilias that had made her pull away.
No; it was the memory of Sam’s face that had stopped her from kissing him.
Ansel didn’t come back to their room that night. And when she stumbled into the stables the following morning, still wearing her clothes from the party, Celaena could assume she’d either spent the whole night dancing, or with Mikhail. From the flush on Ansel’s freckled cheeks, Celaena thought it might be both.
Ansel took one look at the grin on Celaena’s face and glowered. “Don’t you even start.”
Celaena shoveled a heap of manure into the nearby wagon. Later she’d cart it to the gardens, where a gardener would take it for fertilizer. “What?” Celaena said, grinning even wider. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”
Ansel snatched her shovel from where it leaned against the wooden wall, several pens down from where Kasida and Hisli now had their new homes. “Good. I got enough of it from the others while I was walking here.”
Celaena leaned against her shovel in the open gate. “I’m sure Mikhail will get his fair share of teasing, too.”
Ansel straightened, her eyes surprisingly dark. “No, he won’t. They’ll congratulate him, just like they always do, for a conquest well made.” She let out a long sigh from her nose. “But me? I’ll get teased until I snap at them. It’s always the same.”
They continued their work in silence. After a moment, Celaena spoke. “Even though they tease you, you still want to be with Mikhail?”
Ansel shrugged again, flinging dung into the pile she’d gathered in the wagon. “He’s an amazing warrior; he’s taught me far more than I would have learned without him. So they can tease me all they want, but at the end of the day, he’s still the one giving me extra attention when we train.”
That didn’t sit well with Celaena, but she opted to keep her mouth shut.
“Besides,” Ansel said, glancing sidelong at Celaena, “not all of us can so easily convince the Master to train us.”
Celaena’s stomach twisted a little. Was Ansel jealous of that? “I’m not entirely sure why he changed his mind.”
“Oh?” Ansel said, sharper than Celaena had ever heard he
r. It scared her, surprisingly. “The noble, clever, beautiful assassin from the North—the great Celaena Sardothien, has no idea why he’d want to train her? No idea that he might want to leave his mark on you, too? To have a hand in shaping your glorious fate?”
Celaena’s throat tightened, and she cursed herself for feeling so hurt by the words. She didn’t think the Master felt that way at all, but she still hissed, “Yes, my glorious fate. Shoveling dung in a barn. A worthy task for me.”
“But certainly a worthy task for a girl from the Flatlands?”
“I didn’t say that,” Celaena said through her teeth. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“Why not? I know you think it—and you know I’m telling the truth. I’m not good enough for the Master to train me. I began seeing Mikhail to get extra attention during lessons, and I certainly don’t have a notorious name to flaunt around.”
“Fine,” Celaena said. “Yes: most of the people in the kingdoms know my name—know to fear me.” Her temper rose with dizzying speed. “But you . . . You want to know the truth about you, Ansel? The truth is, even if you go home and get what you want, no one will give a damn if you take back your speck of territory—no one will even hear about it. Because no one except for you will even care.”
She regretted the words the instant they left her mouth. Ansel’s face went white with anger, and her lips trembled as she pressed them together. Ansel threw down her shovel. For a moment, Celaena thought that she’d attack, and even went as far as slightly bending her knees in anticipation of a fight.
But Ansel stalked past her and said, “You’re just a spoiled, selfish bitch.” With that, she left Celaena to finish their morning chores.
Celaena couldn’t focus on her lesson with the Master that night. All day, Ansel’s words had been ringing in her ears. She hadn’t seen her friend for hours—and dreaded the moment when she’d have to return to her room and face her again. Though Celaena hated to admit it, Ansel’s parting claim had felt true. She was spoiled. And selfish.