The Assassin and the Pirate Lord
Page 9

 Sarah J. Maas

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And then promptly resumed fighting. What did Rolfe expect?
Laughing to herself, Celaena hurried down an alley. Sam was already there, blood seeping from his nose, but his eyes were bright.
“I’d say that went pretty well,” he said.
Celaena returned the look. “I never knew you were such an expert card player.” She looked him up and down. His stance was steady. “Or an expert drunkard.”
He grinned. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Celaena Sardothien.” He grabbed her shoulder, suddenly closer than she’d like. “Ready?” he asked, and she nodded, her heart pounding as she looked to the lightening sky.
“Let’s go.” She pulled out of his grasp and yanked off her gloves, stuffing them in her pocket. “The watch at the tower must have changed by now. We’ve got until dawn to disable that chain and the catapults.” They’d debated for a while about whether it would be more useful to just destroy the chain from its unguarded opposite side. But even if they did, they’d still have the catapults to contend with. It was better to risk the guards and take out both the chain and the catapults at once.
Sam stared at her for a moment longer. “If we live through this, Celaena,” he said, heading toward the side street that led to the docks, “remind me to teach you how to play cards properly.”
She cursed colorfully enough to make him laugh, and launched into a run.
They turned onto a quiet street just as someone stepped out of the shadows.
“Going somewhere?”
It was Rolfe.
Chapter Nine
Down the slope of the street, Celaena could perfectly see the two slave ships sitting—still unmoving—in the bay. And the mast-snapping chain not too far from them. Unfortunately, from his angle, so could Rolfe.
The sky had turned light gray. Dawn.
Celaena bowed her head to the Pirate Lord. “I’d rather not get my hands dirty in that mess.”
Rolfe’s lips formed a thin line. “Funny, given that you tripped the man who started the brawl.”
Sam glared at her. She’d been subtle, damn it!
Rolfe drew his sword, the dragon’s eyes gleaming in the growing light. “And also funny, since you’ve been spoiling for a fight for days, that you suddenly decided to vanish when everyone’s attention is elsewhere.”
Sam raised his hands. “We don’t want any trouble.”
Rolfe chuckled, a harsh, humorless sound. “Maybe you don’t, Sam Cortland, but she does.” Rolfe stepped toward her, his sword dangling at his side. “She’s wanted trouble since the moment she got here. What was your plan? Steal treasure? Information?”
From the corner of her eye, something shifted in the ships. Like a bird flexing its wings, a row of oars shot out from their sides. They were ready. And the chain was still up.
Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look …
But Rolfe looked, and Celaena’s breathing turned shallow as he scanned the ships.
Sam tensed beside her, his knees bending slightly.
“I am going to kill you, Celaena Sardothien,” Rolfe breathed. And he meant it.
Celaena’s fingers tightened around her sword, and Rolfe opened his mouth, lungs filling with air as he prepared to shout a warning.
Quick as a whip, she did the only thing she could think of to distract him.
Her mask clattered to the ground, and she shook off her hood. Her golden hair gleamed in the growing light.
Rolfe froze. “You … You’re … What sort of trickery is this?”
Beyond them, the oars began moving, churning the water as the boats turned toward the chain—and the freedom beyond it. “Go,” she murmured to Sam. “Now.”
Sam only nodded before he sprinted down the street.
Alone with Rolfe, Celaena raised her sword. “Celaena Sardothien, at your service.”
The pirate was still staring at her, his face pale with rage. “How dare you deceive me?”
She sketched a bow. “I did nothing of the sort. I told you I was beautiful.”
Before she could stop him, Rolfe shouted, “Thieves! They’re trying to steal our ships! To your boats! To the watchtower!”
A roar erupted around them, and Celaena prayed that Sam could reach the watchtower before the pirates reached him.
Celaena began circling the Pirate Lord. He circled her, too. He wasn’t drunk in the least.
“How old are you?” Each of his steps was carefully placed, but she noticed that he kept shifting to expose his left side.
“Sixteen.” She didn’t bother to keep her voice low and gravelly.
Rolfe swore. “Arobynn sent a sixteen-year-old to deal with me?”
“He sent the best of the best. Consider that an honor.”
With a growl, the Pirate Lord lunged.
She danced back, swinging up her sword to block the blow he aimed for her throat. She didn’t need to kill him right away—just to distract him long enough to prevent him from further organizing his men. And keep him away from the ships. She had to buy Sam enough time to disable the chain and the catapults. The ships were already turning toward the mouth of the bay.
Rolfe launched himself again, and she let him land two strikes on her sword before she ducked the third blow and slammed into him. She swept her foot, and Rolfe staggered back a step. Not missing a beat, she pulled out her long hunting knife, slashing for his chest. She let her blow fall short, ripping through the fine blue material of his tunic instead.
Rolfe stumbled into the wall of a building behind him, but caught his footing and dodged the blow that would have taken off his head. The vibrations of her sword hitting stone stung her hand, but she kept hold of the hilt.
“What was the plan?” Rolfe panted above the roar of the pirates rushing toward the docks. “Steal my slaves and take all the profit?”
She laughed, feinting to his right, but sweeping for his unprotected left with her dagger. To her surprise, Rolfe deflected both moves in a swift, sure motion.
“To free them,” she said. Beyond the chain, beyond the mouth of the bay, the clouds on the horizon began to color with the light of the coming dawn.
“Fool,” Rolfe spat, and this time feinted so well that even Celaena couldn’t avoid the rake of his sword across her arm. Warm blood seeped through her black tunic. She hissed, darting away a few steps. A careless mistake.
“You think freeing two hundred slaves will solve anything?” Rolfe kicked a fallen bottle of liquor at her. She knocked it aside with the flat of her sword, her right arm screaming in pain at the motion. Glass shattered behind her. “There are thousands of slaves out there. Are you going to march into Calaculla and Endovier and free them, too?”
Behind him, the steady strokes of the oars propelled the ships toward the chain. Sam had to hurry.
Rolfe shook his head. “Stupid girl. If I don’t kill you, your master will.”
Not him giving the luxury of a warning, she threw herself at him. She ducked, twirling at the last moment, and Rolfe barely turned before she slammed the pommel of her sword into the back of his head.
The Pirate Lord crumpled to the dirt street just as a crowd of bloodied and filthy pirates appeared around the corner. Celaena only had time to throw her hood over her head, hoping the shadows concealed enough of her face, before she took off at run.
It didn’t take much to get away from a group of half-drunk battle-crazed pirates. She just had to lead them down a few twisted streets, and then she lost them. But the wound on her arm still slowed her considerably as she ran for the watchtower. Sam was already far ahead of her. Releasing the chain was now in his hands.
Pirates raged up and down the docks, seeking any boat that was in working order. That had been the final leg of her journey last night: disabling the rudders in all of the ships along the docks, including Rolfe’s own ship, the Sea Dragon—which honestly deserved to be tampered with, given that security on board had been so lax. But, despite the damage, some pirates managed to find rowboats and piled into them, brandishing swords or cutlasses or axes and shouting profanities to the high heavens. The ramshackle buildings blurred as she sprinted toward the watchtower. Her breath was ragged in her throat, a night of no sleep already taking its toll. She burst past pirates on the docks, too busy bemoaning their ruined boats to notice her.
The slaves still rowed for the chain as if demons from every Hell-realm were upon them.
Celaena charged down the road, heading for the edge of the town. With the sloping, wide-open road, she could see Sam racing far ahead of her—and a large group of pirates not too far behind him. The cut on her arm throbbed, but she pushed herself to run faster.
Sam had mere minutes to get that chain down, or else the slaves’ ships would shatter upon it. Even if the slaves’ ships were able to stop before they hit it, there were enough smaller boats heading out that the pirates would overpower them. The pirates had weapons. Aside from whatever was onboard the ships, the slaves were mostly unarmed, even if many of them had been warriors and rebels.
There was a flash of movement from the half-crumbling tower. Steel glimmered, and there was Sam, charging up the staircase that wound up the outside of the tower.
Two pirates rushed down the steps, swords raised. Sam dodged one, knocking him down with a swift strike to the spine. Before the pirate had even finished falling, Sam’s blade skewered the other man clean through the middle.
But there was still Ship-Breaker to disable, along with the two catapults, and—
And the dozen pirates who had now reached the foot of the tower.
Celaena cursed. She was still too far. There was no way she could make it in time to disable the chain—the ships would smack into it long before she got there.
She swallowed the pain in her arm, focusing on her breathing as she ran and ran, not daring to take her eyes off the tower ahead. Sam, still a tiny figure in the distance, reached the top of the tower and the expanse of open stone where the anchor to the chain lay. Even from here, she could tell it was gargantuan. And as Sam rushed around it, hacking at whatever he could, throwing himself against the enormous lever, both of them realized the horrible truth, the one thing she’d overlooked: the chain was too heavy for one man to move.
The slaves’ ships were close now. So close that stopping … stopping was impossible.
They were going to die.
But the slaves didn’t cease rowing.
The dozen pirates were climbing the stairs. Sam had been trained to engage multiple men in combat, but a dozen pirates … Damn Rolfe and his men for delaying her!
Sam glanced toward the stairs. He knew about the pirates, too.
With a quarter of a mile left, she could see everything with such maddening clarity. Sam remained atop the tower. A level below him, perched on a platform jutting out over the sea, sat the two catapults. And in the bay, the two ships that rowed with increasing speed. Freedom or death.
Sam slung himself down to the catapult level, and Celaena staggered a step as she saw him hurl himself against the rotating platform on which the catapult sat, pushing, pushing, pushing until the catapult began to move—not toward the sea, but toward the tower itself, toward the spot in the stone wall where the chain was anchored.
She didn’t dare take her attention from the tower as Sam heaved the catapult into position. A boulder had already been loaded, and in the glare of the rising sun, she could just make out the rope stretched taut to secure the catapult.
The pirates were almost at the catapult level. The two ships rowed faster and faster, the chain so close that its shadow loomed over them.
Celaena sucked in a breath as pirates poured onto the catapult landing, weapons held high.
Sam raised his sword. Light from the sunrise gleamed off the blade, bright as a star.
A warning cry broke from her lips as a pirate’s dagger flipped toward Sam.
Sam brought his sword down on the catapult rope, doubling over. The catapult snapped so fast she could hardly follow the motion. The boulder slammed into the tower, shattering stone, wood, and metal. Rock exploded, dust clouding the air.