Gods, it was boiling in this useless excuse for a kingdom.
Or maybe it felt that way because Celaena Sardothien had been lounging on the lip of the terra-cotta roof since midmorning, an arm flung over her eyes, slowly baking in the sun like the loaves of flatbread the city’s poorest citizens left on their windowsills because they couldn’t afford brick ovens.
And gods, she was sick of flatbread—teggya, they called it. Sick of the crunchy, oniony taste of it that even mouthfuls of water couldn’t wash away. If she never ate another bite of teggya again, it would be too soon.
Mostly because it was all she’d been able to afford when she landed in Wendlyn two weeks ago and made her way to the capital city, Varese, just as she’d been ordered by his Grand Imperial Majesty and Master of the Earth, the King of Adarlan.
She’d resorted to swiping teggya and wine off vendors’ carts since her money ran out, not long after she’d taken one look at the heavily fortified limestone castle, at the elite guards, at the cobalt banners flapping so proudly in the dry, hot wind and decided not to kill her assigned targets.
So it had been stolen teggya… and wine. The sour red wine from the vineyards lining the rolling hills around the walled capital—a taste she’d initially spat out but now very, very much enjoyed. Especially since the day when she decided that she didn’t particularly care about anything at all.
She reached for the terra-cotta tiles sloping behind her, groping for the clay jug of wine she’d hauled onto the roof that morning. Patting, feeling for it, and then—
She swore. Where in hell was the wine?
The world tilted and went blindingly bright as she hoisted herself onto her elbows. Birds circled above, keeping well away from the white-tailed hawk that had been perched atop a nearby chimney all morning, waiting to snatch up its next meal. Below, the market street was a brilliant loom of color and sound, full of braying donkeys, merchants waving their wares, clothes both foreign and familiar, and the clacking of wheels against pale cobblestones. But where in hell was the—
Ah. There. Tucked beneath one of the heavy red tiles to keep cool. Just where she’d stashed it hours before, when she’d climbed onto the roof of the massive indoor market to survey the perimeter of the castle walls two blocks away. Or whatever she’d thought sounded official and useful before she’d realized that she’d rather sprawl in the shadows. Shadows that had long since been burned away by that relentless Wendlyn sun.
Celaena swigged from the jug of wine—or tried to. It was empty, which she supposed was a blessing, because gods her head was spinning. She needed water, and more teggya. And perhaps something for the gloriously painful split lip and scraped cheekbone she’d earned last night in one of the city’s tabernas.
Groaning, Celaena rolled onto her belly and surveyed the street forty feet below. She knew the guards patrolling it by now—had marked their faces and weapons, just as she had with the guards atop the high castle walls. She’d memorized their rotations, and how they opened the three massive gates that led into the castle. It seemed that the Ashryvers and their ancestors took safety very, very seriously.
It had been ten days since she’d arrived in Varese itself, after hauling ass from the coast. Not because she was particularly eager to kill her targets, but because the city was so damn large that it seemed her best chance of dodging the immigration officials, whom she’d given the slip instead of registering with their oh-so-benevolent work program. Hurrying to the capital had also provided welcome activity after weeks at sea, where she hadn’t really felt like doing anything other than lying on the narrow bed in her cramped cabin or sharpening her weapons with a near-religious zeal.
You’re nothing but a coward, Nehemia had said to her.
Every slice of the whetting stone had echoed it. Coward, coward, coward. The word had trailed her each league across the ocean.
She had made a vow—a vow to free Eyllwe. So in between moments of despair and rage and grief, in between thoughts of Chaol and the Wyrdkeys and all she’d left behind and lost, Celaena had decided on one plan to follow when she reached these shores. One plan, however insane and unlikely, to free the enslaved kingdom: find and obliterate the Wyrdkeys the King of Adarlan had used to build his terrible empire.