The Assassin and the Princess (Throne of Glass #1.1) - Chapter 2
Nehemia chuckled quietly. “I think I’m beginning to understand. Though I think you also just like to look better than everyone else, my friend.”
Celaena laughed, “I wish I could deny it.”
Nehemia grinned. “Don’t bother. It’s why I like you.”
Celaena’s heart tightened at that, her smile growing even wider.
Kavill and Marta came back out a moment later, and Marta ushered the princess into the dressing room to try on the blue ball gown. Getting Nehemia out of her clothes and into the sample gown would take a few minutes, so Celaena browsed the selection of gowns displayed in the shop.
A lavender gown trimmed with white lace caught her eye—and she paused to run a hand over the silk. “Such a gorgeous color,” she murmured, more to herself than Kavill, but he stepped up beside her.
“It’d bring out the color of your skin,” he observed, picking up the three-quarter length sleeve. “I could make these full-length, if you wanted it.”
She caught his glance at her hands—specifically, the scarring around her wrists and forearms from the shackles in Endovier.
In the castle, she didn’t need to pretend to be a courtier anymore, and certainly wasn’t ashamed of any of her scars, but… they did attract attention. And questions. Sleeves and high backs usually covered most of the damage of Endovier and ten years of training as an assassin—if only to avoid those questions. Or pitying looks.
“I’ll think about it,” she said, and moved to the red velvet dress in the window.
She knew Kavill well enough to understand he wouldn’t ask about the scars, no matter what he might suspect. She’d always wondered if he’d known who and what she really was—wondered about her relationship with the red-haired man who’d once accompanied her in here, keen to dote on his most talented pupil.
But Arobynn wasn’t a part of her life anymore, and the first time she’d come here since being appointed King’s Champion, Kavill hadn’t asked after him. Hadn’t asked where she’d been, either. It was why she’d decided to bring Nehemia to him, fine dresses aside. Kavill didn’t gossip—or pry.
But had he attempted to prevent them from seeing the slave girl for Nehemia’s sake, or hers? She didn’t want to know.
Nehemia emerged from the dressing room, already wincing, but Celaena beamed. Even Kavill let out a gasp of approval.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Celaena said, putting a hand on her hip as she motioned for Nehemia to turn. “If you don’t buy that, I’ll never forgive you.”
“It’s…different,” Nehemia said in the common tongue, facing Celaena again. “Perhaps something subtler—”
“Nonsense,” Celaena cut in, shooing past Marta to adjust the dress herself. “You’ll wear this to the next royal ball and make all the men pant after you.” She cast a meaningful glance in the direction of Nehemia’s ample bosom. “And don’t you dare cover those up with a shawl.”
Nehemia chuckled, switching to Eyllwe. “I’d never dare disobey a direct order from you.”
Celaena grinned and replied in the common tongue. “Good. Then we’ll get one of these.” She turned to Kavill and Marta, who were standing quietly a few feet away, scribbling down measurement notes in Kavill’s ledger. “Any thoughts on what jewelry might best accent this?”
Kavill opened his mouth, but Nehemia cut in using Eyllwe, “I have jewelry from Eyllwe.”
“I don’t think it’d match.”
Nehemia straightened a bit and still said in Eyllwe, “I’d like some part of me to still remind people where I come from.”
Their eyes met, and for a heartbeat, Celaena thought of the night Nehemia had come into her rooms after learning of the massacre of five hundred Eyllwe rebels. How the princess had wept for her people, for their helplessness, for their enslaved world.
It was for that world that Nehemia fought—why Nehemia would buy these dresses and play the part of the queen’s confidante.
Perhaps Nehemia thought of the same thing, for the princess let out a long breath and said, “Maybe you are right, Elentiya.”
Celaena didn’t think Kavill or Marta would notice the name the princess had given her—but she glanced at them nonetheless. They were now just watching, faces bland but pleasant. Willing to get the jewelery and accessories at a moment’s notice. Nehemia turned to them and said in her perfectly false accent, “Show me your jewelry.”
And just like that, they went through another presentation of necklaces and earrings and bracelets, then gloves and brooches and hair ornaments. And when they had decided what looked best, Nehemia was measured and pinned some more, and then ushered into the next gown. And the next, and the next.
The clock was striking four by the time they’d decided on the gowns, jewelry, and accessories Nehemia would purchase. Marta had long since brought out steaming cups of tea to Nehemia’s guards outside. She’d come back looking a little pale-faced and shaken, but at least the teacups had been empty. Nehemia’s guards weren’t a chatty sort—and were nothing short of lethal.
Nehemia was shoveling cookies down her throat as Celaena again strolled through the shop, taking in the dresses. She’d already ordered the lilac and lace gown, and since Kavill had her most recent measurements, she hadn’t bothered to try it on, save for holding it against her torso to make sure she really did love the color and fabric.
She paused in front of the red velvet dress in the display, running a finger down the skirts. There were no petticoats with this sort of dress, no corsets—she’d never seen a dress like it, actually. Never even heard of a gown like it, with the open back coated in midnight black lace, the plunging neckline, and form-hugging bodice. It left little to the imagination—and would surely turn heads.
“You should try it on,” Nehemia said in Eyllwe from behind her, finishing her praline cookie. “You’ve been ogling it all day.”
Celaena looked over her shoulder, brows high. “It’s…a bit daring. People would be scandalized.”
The princess grinned. “Who better to wear it then?”
Celaena found herself grinning as well. “Who indeed?”
Thus, five minutes later, Celaena found herself wearing the sample gown before the three angled mirrors of the shop, slowly turning in place.
Daring and scandalous were just the start of it.
Nehemia let out an appreciative whistle from where she was sprawled on the divan. “The Captain won’t know what to do with himself.”
Celaena shot her a glare over a shoulder. “He’s not my concern.” Though she could almost imagine Chaol’s face at the sight of the gown: tight-lipped, wide-eyed, a bit confounded and more than a bit angry. She could almost hear him, too, the claims he’d make about the King’s Champion spending such exorbitant sums on little more than scraps of cloth, the reputation she had to uphold now that she was employed by the king… Oh, she should buy the dress, if only to piss Chaol off.
Nehemia approached, and Celaena stepped off the small platform. “What sort of story does this dress tell you?” the princess asked in Eyllwe.
Celaena was about to open her mouth, but she caught the direction of Nehemia’s stare: the open back. The black lace did a good job of hiding the gruesomeness of her scars, but this close, it was easy to see the mangled flesh beneath.
Their eyes met, and Celaena switched to Eyllwe as she said, “Do you think I should cover them up?”
Nehemia’s attention again went to the scars beneath the black lace. After a moment, she said, “No.” Celaena turned back to the mirror, but Nehemia spoke again, her voice a bit too calm: “How often do you think about them—about Endovier?”
Celaena met her own reflection in the mirror, the face that, like Kavill’s, was now familiar and foreign. “Every day. Every hour.”
It was a truth she hadn’t admitted to anyone—perhaps even to herself until now.
“Would you free them if you could?”
Celaena snapped her head to the princess. “What kind of a question is that? Of course I would.”
They had sworn—both sworn this morning—that they wouldn’t have this kind of talk. And Celaena knew precisely where this conversation would go: into Nehemia talking about slavery, the empire, the need for good people to stand and fight.
Kavill and Marta were doing their best to look busy at the counter in the rear of the front room. Kavill’s eyes lifted from his ledger, and when her gaze met his, she realized that he knew.He knew exactly who she was, and perhaps always had. She didn’t know why, but it made her…sad. Surprisingly, absurdly sad.
She looked back to the princess, who gave a forced smile. “I should not have mentioned it,” Nehemia said. “Today is for fun—for just being young women.”
And for some reason, seeing that forced smile just made the weight in her chest sink a little deeper.
Nehemia had gone to the front door to tell her guards that she was ready—and to find a carriage for hire. The sun had dropped, along with the temperature, and neither Celaena nor Nehemia felt particularly inclined to walk home in the frigid night.
Celaena was standing at the polished wooden counter, filling out directions on how and where to deliver Nehemia’s new clothes, and paying for her own purchases. She decided to take the red velvet gown, daring and scandalous as it was. If only because not buying it felt like some sort of defeat, some irreplaceable loss that cut her every time she thought about it.
She plucked the last piece of gold from her purse and set it on the counter, behind which Kavill stood, counting. “The red velvet gown should be ready in two weeks,” he said, taking the last piece of gold. “Do you have any special occasion in mind?”
She shrugged, glancing at Nehemia, who remained by the door, already looking miserable at the oncoming cold. Celaena herself wasn’t too keen to leave the warmth of the shop. She should have brought gloves—and a warmer cloak. “I’m sure I’ll find some use for the dress before summer.”
Kavill nodded, and closed his thick ledger. “Do let me know if it causes anyone to faint—or start a riot.”
She laughed under her breath, and turned to go, stuffing her hands into her pockets and praying her fingers didn’t fall off on the way home.
“Here,” Kavill said, and she turned to find a pair of exquisite dove-gray suede gloves in his hands. “On the house. For many years of loyal patronage.” His face bore its usual mask of polite calm and courtesy, but his brown eyes were bright. “And a gift—for a year spent without any gloves at all.”
Had she had any doubt before, there was no shred of it remaining now. He knew who and what she was, knew where she had spent a year enslaved—knew what kind of money she used to buy his dresses.
She had no words—none at all to do justice to the kindness of his gesture—so she merely nodded, took the gloves, and left.
The carriage wasn’t much warmer than the outside. Celaena and Nehemia huddled together, cursing violently and rather creatively at the endless winter.
Nehemia’s latest vulgar concoction sent Celaena into a fit of howling laughter, so loud that one of the guards riding atop the carriage thumped twice to ask if all was right. Nehemia thumped thrice to assure him all was fine, but Celaena kept laughing until her stomach hurt.
When silence fell again, she looked at her friend and wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes. “I’d pay good money to see you say that to Queen Georgina.”
Nehemia chuckled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Thank you, Elentiya, for helping me today. I—I needed the dresses. And to get out of the castle for a bit.”
Celaena sobered, and nodded. They passed through wealthiest district, a blur of alabaster houses and emerald roofs, now iced over and gleaming in the lamplight. “Thank you for pretending. For one day, at least.”