The Assassin and the Pirate Lord
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“By them, or by me?” Sam was sitting on the floor, his back against the bed.
Just to needle him, Celaena sniffed all of her food. “Do I detect … belladonna?”
Sam gave her a flat stare, and Celaena smirked as she tore a bite from the bread. They sat in silence for a few minutes, the only sounds the scrape of her utensils against the chipped plates, the drumming of the rain on the roof, and the occasional groan of a thunderhead breaking.
“So,” Sam said as she drank her tea. “Are you going to tell me what you’re planning, or should I warn Rolfe to expect the worst?”
She sipped daintily at her tea. “I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about, Sam Cortland.”
“What sort of ‘questions’ did you ask him?”
She set down her teacup. Rain lashed the shutters, muffling the clink of her cup against the saucer. “Polite ones.”
“Oh? I didn’t think you knew what polite meant.”
“I can be polite when it pleases me.”
“When it gets you what you want, you mean. So what is it you want from Rolfe?”
She studied her companion. He certainly didn’t seem to have any moral qualms about the deal. While he might not trust Rolfe, it didn’t bother him that a hundred innocent souls were about to be traded like cattle. “I wanted to ask him more about the map on his hands.”
“Damn it, Celaena!” Sam slammed his fist onto the wooden floor. “Tell me the truth!”
“Why?” she asked, giving him a pout. “And how do you know I’m not telling the truth?”
Sam got to his feet and began pacing the length of their small room. He undid the top button of his black tunic, revealing the skin beneath. Something about it felt strangely intimate, and Celaena found herself quickly looking away from him.
“We’ve grown up together.” Sam stopped at the foot of her bed. “You think I don’t know how to tell when you’re cooking up some scheme? What do you want from Rolfe?”
If she told him, he’d do everything in his power to keep her from ruining the deal. And having one enemy was enough. With her plan still unformed, she had to keep Sam out of it. Besides, if worse came to worst, Rolfe might very well kill Sam for being involved. Or just for knowing her.
“Maybe I’m just unable to resist how handsome he is,” she said.
Sam went rigid. “He’s twelve years older than you.”
“So?” He didn’t think she was serious, did he?
He gave her a look so scathing it could have turned her to ash and stalked to the window, ripping his cloak down from the shutters.
“What are you doing?”
He flung open the wooden shutters on a sky full of rain and forked lightning. “I’m sick of suffocating. And if you’re interested in Rolfe, he’s bound to find out what you look like at some point, isn’t he? So why bother slowly roasting to death?”
“Shut the window.” He only crossed his arms. “Shut it,” she growled.
When he made no move to close the window, she jumped to her feet, upsetting the tray of food on her mattress, and shoved him aside hard enough for him to take a step back. Keeping her head down, she shut the window and shutters and threw his cape over the whole thing.
“Idiot,” she seethed. “What’s gotten into you?”
Sam stepped closer, his breath hot on her face. “I’m tired of all the melodrama and nonsense that happens whenever you wear that ridiculous mask and cloak. And I’m even more tired of you ordering me around.”
So that’s what this was about. “Get used to it.”
She made to turn to her bed, but he grabbed her wrist. “Whatever plan you’re concocting, whatever bit of intrigue you’re about to drag me into, just remember that you’re not head of the Assassins’ Guild yet; you still answer to Arobynn.”
She rolled her eyes, yanking her wrist out of his grasp. “Touch me again,” she said, striding to her bed and picking up the spilled food, “and you’ll lose that hand.”
Sam didn’t speak to her after that.
Dinner with Sam was silent, and Rolfe appeared at eight to bring them both to the holding facility. Sam didn’t even ask where they were going. He just played along, as if he’d known the whole time.
The holding facility was an enormous wooden warehouse, and even from down the block, something about the place made Celaena’s instincts scream at her to get away. The sharp reek of unwashed bodies didn’t hit her until they stepped inside. Blinking against the brightness of the torches and crude chandeliers, it took her a few heartbeats to sort out what she was seeing.
Rolfe, striding ahead of them, didn’t falter as he passed cell after cell packed with slaves. Instead, he walked toward a large open space in the rear of the warehouse, where a nut-brown Eyllwe man stood before a cluster of four pirates.
Beside her, Sam let out a breath, his face wan. If the smell wasn’t bad enough, the people in the cells, clinging to the bars or cowering against the walls or clutching their children—children—ripped at every shred of her being.
Aside from some occasional muffled weeping, the slaves—a mix of prisoners from many lands—were silent. Some of their eyes widened slightly at the sight of her. She’d forgotten how she must appear—faceless, cloak waving behind her, striding past them like Death itself. Some of the slaves even sketched invisible marks in the air, warding off whatever evil they thought she was.
She took in the locks on the pens, counting the number of people crammed into each cell. They seemed to hail from all the kingdoms on the continent. There were even some orange-haired, gray-eyed mountain clansmen—wild-looking men who tracked her movements. And women—some of them barely older than Celaena herself. Had they been fighters, too, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Celaena’s heart pounded faster. Even after all these years, people still defied Adarlan’s conquest. But what right did Adarlan—or Rolfe, or anyone—have to treat them like this? Conquest wasn’t enough; no, Adarlan had to break them.
Eyllwe, she’d heard, had taken the brunt of it. Though their king had yielded his power to the King of Adarlan, Eyllwe soldiers still could be found fighting in the rebel groups that plagued Adarlan’s forces. But the land itself was too vital for Adarlan to abandon. Eyllwe boasted two of the most prosperous cities on the continent; its territory—rich in farmland, waterways, and forests—was a crucial vein in trade routes. Now, it seemed, Adarlan had decided that it might make money off its people, too.
The men standing around the Eyllwe prisoner parted as Rolfe approached, bowing their heads. She recognized two of the men from dinner the previous night: the short, bald Captain Fairview and the one-eyed, hulking Captain Blackgold. Celaena and Sam stopped beside Rolfe.
The Eyllwe man had been stripped naked, his wiry, lean body already bruised and bleeding.
“This one fought back a bit,” said Captain Fairview. Though sweat gleamed on the slave’s skin, he kept his chin high, his eyes upon some distant sight. He must have been around twenty. Did he have a family?
“Keep him in irons, though, and he’ll fetch a good price,” Fairview went on, wiping his face on the shoulder of his crimson tunic. The gold embroidery was fraying, and the fabric, which had probably once been rich with color, was faded and stained in spots. “I’d send him to the market in Bellhaven. Lots of rich men there needing strong hands to do their building. Or women needing strong hands for something else entirely.” He winked in Celaena’s direction.
Unyielding rage boiled up so fast the breath was knocked from her. She didn’t realize her hand was moving toward her sword until Sam knotted his fingers through hers. It was a casual-enough gesture, and to anyone else, it might have looked affectionate. But he squeezed her fingers tightly enough for her to know that he was well aware of what she was about to do.
“How many of these slaves will actually be deemed useful?” Sam asked, releasing her gloved fingers. “Ours are all going to Rifthold, but you’re dividing this batch up?”
Rolfe said, “You think your master is the first to strike a deal with me? We have other agreements in different cities. My partners in Bellhaven tell me what the wealthy are looking for, and I supply them. If I can’t think of a good place to sell the slaves, I’ll send them to Calaculla. If your master has leftovers, sending them to Endovier might be a good option. Adarlan’s stingy with what they’ll offer when buying slaves for the salt mines, but it’s better than making no money at all.”
So Adarlan wasn’t just snatching prisoners from battlefields and their homes—they were buying slaves for the Salt Mines of Endovier, too.
“And the children?” she asked, keeping her voice was neutral as possible. “Where do they go?”
Rolfe’s eyes darkened a bit at that, glimmering with enough guilt that Celaena wondered if the slave trade had been a last resort for him. “We try to keep the children with their mothers,” he said quietly. “But at the auction block, we can’t control whether they’re separated.”
She fought the retort on her tongue, and just said, “I see. Are they a burden to sell? And how many children can we expect in our shipment?”
“We have about ten here,” Rolfe said. “Your shipment shouldn’t contain more than that. And they’re not a burden to sell, if you know where to sell them.”
“Where?” Sam demanded.
“Some wealthy households might want them for scullery maids or stableboys.” Though his voice remained steady, Rolfe studied the ground. “A brothel madam might show up at the auction, too.”
Sam’s face went white with fury. If there was one thing that set him off, one subject she knew she could always rely upon to rile him, it was this.
His mother, sold at eight to a brothel, had spent her too-short twenty-eight years clawing her way up from an orphan to one of the most successful courtesans in Rifthold. She’d had Sam only six years before she’d died—murdered by a jealous client. And though she’d amassed some money, it hadn’t been enough to liberate her from her brothel—or to provide for Sam. But she’d been a favorite of Arobynn’s, and when he’d learned that she wanted Sam to be trained by him, he’d taken the boy in.
“We’ll take that into consideration,” Sam said sharply.
It wasn’t enough for Celaena to ensure the deal fell apart. No, that wasn’t nearly enough. Not when all of these people were imprisoned here. Her blood pounded in her veins. Death, at least, was quick. Especially when dealt by her hand. But slavery was unending suffering.
“Very well,” she said, lifting her chin. She had to get out of here—and get Sam out of here before he snapped. A deadly gleam was growing in his eyes. “I look forward to seeing our shipment tomorrow night.” She inclined her head toward the pens behind her. “When will these slaves be sent out?” It was such a dangerous, stupid question.
Rolfe looked to Captain Fairview, who rubbed his dirty head. “This lot? We’ll divvy them up, and they’ll be loaded onto a new ship tomorrow, probably. They’ll sail around the same time you do, I bet. We need to assemble crews.” He and Rolfe started off on a conversation about manning the ships, and Celaena took that as her cue to leave.
With a final look at the slave still standing there, Celaena strode out of the warehouse that stank of fear and death.
“Celaena, wait!” Sam called, panting as he walked after her.
She couldn’t wait. She’d just started walking, and walking, and walking, and now, as she reached the empty beach far from the lights of Skull’s Bay, she wouldn’t stop walking until she reached the water.