The Assassin and the Desert (Throne of Glass 0.30) - Page 15

Her fingers hovered over the seal. If she broke it, then Arobynn might accuse her of tampering with the letter. But what if it said horrid

things about her? Ansel said it was a letter of approval, so it couldn’t be that bad. Celaena tucked the letter back into the saddlebag.

Perhaps the Master had also realized that she was spoiled and selfish. Maybe everyone had just been tolerating her, and . . . maybe they’d heard of her fight with Ansel and decided to send her packing. It wouldn’t surprise her. They were looking out for their own, after all. Never mind that for a while, she had felt like one of their own—felt, for the first time in a long, long while, like she had a place where she belonged. Where she might learn something more than deceit and how to end lives.

But she’d been wrong. Somehow, realizing that hurt far worse than the beating Arobynn had given her.

Her lips trembled, but she squared her shoulders and scanned the night sky until she found the Stag and the crowning star that led north. Sighing, Celaena blew out the lantern, mounted Kasida, and rode into the night.

She rode toward Xandria, opting to find a ship there instead of braving the northern trek across the Singing Sands to Yurpa—the port she’d originally sailed into. Without a guide, she didn’t really have much of a choice. She took her time, often walking instead of riding Kasida, who seemed as sad as she was to leave the Silent Assassins and their luxurious stables.

The next day, she was a few miles into her late afternoon trek when she heard the thump, thump, thump. It grew louder, the movements now edged with clashing and clattering and deep voices. She hopped onto Kasida’s back and crested a dune.

In the distance, at least two hundred men were marching—straight into the desert. Some bore red and black banners. Lord Berick’s men. They marched in a long column, with mounted soldiers galloping along the flanks. Though she had never seen Berick, a quick examination of the host showed no signs of a lord being present. He must have stayed behind.

But there was nothing out here. Nothing except for . . .

Celaena’s mouth went dry. Nothing except for the assassins’ fortress.

A mounted soldier paused his riding, his black mare’s coat gleaming with sweat. He stared toward her. With her white clothes concealing all of her but her eyes, he had no way of identifying her, no way of telling what she was.

Even from the distance, she could see the bow and quiver of arrows he bore. How good was his aim?

She didn’t dare to move. The last thing she needed was the attention of all those soldiers on her. They all possessed broadswords, daggers, shields, and arrows. This definitely wasn’t going to be a friendly visit, not with this many men.

Was that why the Master had sent her away? Had he somehow known this would happen and didn’t want her caught up in it?

Celaena nodded to the soldier and continued riding toward Xandria. If the Master didn’t want anything to do with her, then she certainly didn’t need to warn them. Especially since he probably knew. And he had a fortress full of assassins. Two hundred soldiers were nothing compared to seventy or so of the sessiz suikast.

The assassins could handle themselves. They didn’t need her. They’d made that clear enough.

Still, the muffled thump of Kasida’s steps away from the fortress became more and more difficult to bear.

The next morning, Xandria was remarkably quiet. At first, Celaena thought it was because the citizens were all waiting for news about the attack on the assassins, but she soon realized she found it quiet because she had only seen it on Market Day. The winding, narrow streets that had been crammed with vendors were now empty, littered with errant palm fronds and piles of sand that slithered in the fierce winds from the sea.

She bought passage on a ship that would sail to Amier, the nearest port in Melisande across the Gulf of Oro. With the embargo on ships from Xandria going to other parts of Adarlan’s empire, a distant, forgotten port like Amier would be her best bet. From there, she’d travel on Kasida back to Rifthold, hopefully catching another boat somewhere on the long arm of the Avery River that would take her the last leg to the capital.

The ship didn’t leave until high tide that afternoon, which left Celaena with a few hours to wander the city. The Spidersilk merchant was long gone, along with the cobbler and the temple priestesses.

Nervous the mare would be identified in the city, but more worried that someone would steal Kasida if she left her unguarded, Celaena led the horse through back alleys until she found a near-private trough for Kasida. Celaena leaned against a sandstone wall as her horse drank her fill. Had Lord Berick’s men reached the fortress yet? At the rate they were going, they would probably arrive this night or early tomorrow morning. She just hoped the Master was prepared—and that he had at least restocked the flaming wall after the last attack from Berick. Had he sent her away for her own safety, or was he about to be blindsided?

She glanced up at the palace towering over the city. Berick hadn’t been with his men. Delivering the Mute Master’s head to the King of Adarlan would surely get the embargo lifted from his city. Was he doing it for the sake of his people, or for himself?

But the Red Desert also needed the assassins—and the money and the trade the foreign emissaries brought in, too.

Berick and the Master had certainly been communicating in the past few weeks. What had gone wrong? Ansel had made another trip a week ago to see him, and hadn’t mentioned trouble. She’d seemed quite jovial, actually.

Celaena didn’t really know why a chill snaked down her spine in that moment. Or why she found herself suddenly digging through the saddlebags until she pulled out the Master’s letter of approval, along with the note Ansel had written her.

If the Master had known about the attack, he would have been fortifying his defenses already; he wouldn’t have sent Celaena away. She was Adarlan’s greatest assassin, and if two hundred men were marching on his fortress, he’d need her. The Master wasn’t proud—not like Arobynn. He truly loved his disciples; he looked after and nurtured them. But he’d never trained Ansel. Why?

And with so many of his loved ones in the fortress, why send only Celaena away? Why not send them all?

Her heart beat so fast it stumbled, and Celaena tore open the letter of approval.

It was blank.

She flipped the paper over. The other side was also blank. Holding it up to the sun revealed no hidden ink, no watermark. But it had been sealed by him, hadn’t it? That was his seal on the—

It was easy to steal a signet ring. She’d done it with Captain Rolfe. And she’d seen the white line around the Master’s finger—his ring had been missing.

But if Ansel had drugged her, and given her a document sealed with the Master’s signet ring . . .

No, it wasn’t possible. And it didn’t make sense. Why would Ansel send her away and pretend the Master had done it? Unless . . .

Celaena looked up at Lord Berick’s palace. Unless Ansel hadn’t been visiting Lord Berick on behalf of the Master at all. Or maybe she had at first, long enough to gain the Master’s trust. But while the Master thought she was mending the relationships between them, Ansel was really doing quite the opposite. And that Spidersilk merchant had mentioned something about a spy among the assassins—a spy working for Berick. But why?

Celaena didn’t have time to ponder it. Not with two hundred men so close to the fortress. She might have questioned Lord Berick, but that, too, would take precious time.

One warrior might not make a difference against two hundred, but she was Celaena Sardothien. That had to count for something. That did count for something.

She mounted Kasida and turned her toward the city gates.

“Let’s see how fast you can run,” she whispered into the mare’s ear, and took off.

Chapter Eleven

Like a shooting star across a red sky, Kasida flew over the dunes, and made the jump across the Cleaver as if she were leaping over a brook. They paused only long enough for the horse to rest and fill up on water, and though Celaena apologized to the mare for pushing her so hard, Kasida never faltered. She, too, seemed to sense the urgency.

They rode through the night, until the crimson dawn broke over the dunes and smoke stained the sky, and the fortress spread before them.

Fires burned here and there, and shouts rang out, along with the clashing of weapons. The assassins hadn’t yielded yet, though their walls had been breached. A few bodies littered the sand leading up to the gates, but the gates themselves showed no sign of a forced entry—as if someone had left them unlocked.

Celaena dismounted Kasida before the final dune, leaving the horse to either follow or find her own way, and crept the rest of the way into the fortress. She paused long enough to swipe a sword from a dead soldier and tuck it into her belt. It was cheaply made and unbalanced, but the point was sharp enough to do the job. From the muffled clopping of hooves behind her, she knew Kasida had followed. Still, Celaena didn’t dare take her eyes away from the scene before her as she drew her two long daggers.

Inside the walls, bodies were everywhere—assassin and soldier alike. Otherwise, the main courtyard was empty, its little rivers now flowing red. She tried her best not to look too closely at the faces of the fallen.

Fires smoldered, most of them just smoking piles of ash. Charred remnants of arrows revealed that they’d probably been ablaze when they hit. Every step into the courtyard felt like a lifetime. The shouts and clanging weapons came from other parts of the fortress. Who was winning? If all the soldiers had gotten in with so few dead on the sand, then someone had to have let them in—probably in the dead of night. How long had it taken before the night watch spotted the soldiers creeping inside? . . . Unless the night watch had been dispatched before they could sound the alarm.

But, as Celaena took step after step, she realized that the question she should be asking was far worse. Where is the Master?

That was what Lord Berick had wanted—the Master’s head.

And Ansel . . .

Celaena didn’t want to finish that thought. Ansel hadn’t sent her away because of this. Ansel couldn’t be behind this. But . . .

Tags: Sarah J. Maas Throne of Glass Fantasy
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