The Assassin and the Desert (Throne of Glass 0.30) - Page 14

The Master snapped his fingers, and Celaena, who was yet again studying an asp, looked up. Though she’d been mirroring the snake’s movements, she hadn’t noticed it was slowly creeping toward her.

She leapt back a few feet, crouching close to the roof’s wall, but stopped when she felt the Master’s hand on her shoulder. He motioned to leave the snake be and sit beside him on the merlons that ran around the roof. Grateful for a break, she hopped up, trying not to glance down at the ground far, far below. Though she was well acquainted with heights, and had no problems with balance, sitting on an edge never really felt natural.

The Master raised his eyebrows. Talk, he seemed to say.

She tucked her left foot under her right thigh, making sure to keep an eye on the asp, which slithered into the shadows of the roof.

But telling him about her fight with Ansel felt so . . . childish. As if the Master of the Silent Assassins would want to hear about a petty squabble!

Cicadas buzzed in the trees of the keep, and somewhere in the gardens, a nightingale sang her lament. Talk. Talk about what?

She didn’t have anything to say, so they sat on the parapet in silence for a while—until even the cicadas went to sleep, and the moon slipped away behind them, and the sky began to brighten. Talk. Talk about what had been haunting her these months. Haunting every thought, every dream, every breath. Talk.

“I’m scared to go home,” she said at last, staring out at the dunes beyond the walls.

The predawn light was bright enough for her to see the Master’s brows rise. Why?

“Because everything will be different. Everything is already different. I think everything changed when Arobynn punished me, but . . . Some part of me still thinks that the world will go back to the way it was before that night. Before I went to Skull’s Bay.”

The Master’s face was unreadable, but his eyes shone like emeralds. Compassionate—sorrowful.

“I’m not sure I want it to go back to the way it was before,” she admitted. “And I think . . . I think that’s what scares me the most.”

The Master smiled at her reassuringly, then rolled his neck and stretched his arms over his head before standing atop the merlon.

Celaena tensed, unsure if she should follow.

But the Master didn’t look at her as he began a series of movements, graceful and winding, as elegant as a dance and deadly as the asp that lurked on the roof.

The asp.

Watching the Master, she could see each of the qualities she had copied for the past few weeks—the contained power and swiftness, the cunning and the smooth restraint.

He went through the motions again, and it took only a glance in her direction to get her to her feet atop the parapet wall. Mindful of her balance, she slowly copied him, her muscles singing with the rightness of the movements. She grinned as night after night of careful observation and mimicry clicked into place.

Again and again, the sweep and curve of her arm, the twisting of her torso, even the rhythm of her breathing. Again and again, until she became the asp, until the sun broke over the horizon, bathing them in red light.

Again and again, until there was nothing left but the Master and her and their steady breathing as they greeted the new day.

An hour after sunup, Celaena crept into her room, bracing herself for another fight, but found Ansel already gone to the stables. Since Ansel had abandoned her to do the chores by herself yesterday, Celaena decided to return the favor. She sighed with contentment as she collapsed atop her bed.

She was later awoken by someone shaking her shoulder—someone who smelled like manure.

“It had better be afternoon,” Celaena said, rolling onto her stomach and burying her face in her pillow.

Ansel chuckled. “Oh, it’s almost dinner. And the stables and pens are in good order, no thanks to you.”

“You left me to do it all yesterday,” Celaena mumbled.

“Yes, well . . . I’m sorry.”

Celaena straightened and peeled her face from the pillow to look at Ansel, who stood over the bed. Ansel twisted her hands. She was wearing her father’s armor again. At the sight of it, Celaena winced as she recalled what she’d said about her friend’s homeland.

Ansel tucked her red hair behind her ears. “I shouldn’t have said those things about you. I don’t think you’re spoiled or selfish.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I am—very much so.” Celaena sat up. Ansel gave her a weak smile. “But,” she went on, “I’m sorry for what I said, too. I didn’t mean it.”

Ansel nodded, glancing toward the shut door, as if she expected someone to be there. “I have lots of friends here, but you’re the first true friend I’ve had. I’ll be sorry to see you go.”

“I still have five days,” Celaena said. Given how popular Ansel was, it was surprising—and somewhat relieving—to hear that she’d also felt slightly alone.

Ansel flicked her eyes to the door again. What was she nervous about? “Try to remember me fondly, will you?”

“I’ll try. But it might be hard.”

Ansel let out a quiet laugh and took two goblets from the table beneath the window. “I brought us some wine.” She handed one to Celaena. Ansel lifted her copper goblet. “To making amends—and fond memories.”

“To being the most fearsome and imposing girls the world has ever seen.” Celaena raised her goblet high before she drank.

As she swallowed a large mouthful of wine, she had two thoughts.

The first was that Ansel’s eyes were now filled with unmasked sorrow.

And the second—which explained the first—was that the wine tasted strange.

But Celaena didn’t have time to consider what poison it was before she heard her own goblet clatter to the floor, and the world spun and went black.

Chapter Ten

Someone was hammering against an anvil somewhere very, very close to her head. So close that she felt each beat in her body, the sound shattering through her mind, stirring her from sleep.

With a jolt, Celaena sat up. There was no hammer and no anvil—just a pounding headache. And there was no assassin’s fortress, only endless miles of red dunes, and Kasida standing watch over her. Well, at least she wasn’t dead.

Cursing, she got to her feet. What had Ansel done?

The moon illuminated enough of the desert for her to see that the assassin’s fortress was nowhere in sight, and that Kasida’s saddlebags were full of her belongings. Except for her sword. She searched and searched, but it wasn’t there. Celaena reached for one of her two long daggers, but stiffened when she felt a scroll of paper tucked into her belt.

Someone had also left a lantern beside her, and it took only a few moments for Celaena to get it lit and nestled into the dune. Kneeling before the dim light, she unrolled the paper with shaking hands.

It was in Ansel’s nearly illegible handwriting, and wasn’t long.

I’m sorry it had to end this way. The Master said it would be easier to let you go like this, rather than shame you by publicly asking you to leave early. Kasida is yours—as is the Master’s letter of approval, which is in the saddlebag. Go home.

I will miss you,


Celaena read the letter three times to make sure she hadn’t missed something. She was being let go—but why? She had the letter of approval, at least, but . . . but what had she done that made it so urgent to get rid of her that he’d drug her and then dump her in the middle of the desert? She had five days left; he couldn’t have waited for her to leave?

Her eyes burned as she sorted through the events of the past few days for ways she might have offended the Master. She got to her feet and rifled through the saddlebags until she pulled out the letter of approval. It was a folded square of paper, sealed with sea-green wax—the color of the Master’s eyes. A little vain, but . . .

Tags: Sarah J. Maas Throne of Glass Fantasy
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