The Assassin and the Healer

Meet the Assassin: beautiful, defiant, destined for greatness. Celaena Sardothien has challenged her master. Now she must pay the price. Her journey to the Red Desert will be an arduous one, but it may change the fate of her cursed world for ever...

A prequel to the international bestseller Throne of Glass, sold in 13 languages pre-publication.  

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1. Chapter One

 

The strange young woman had been staying at the White Pig Inn for two days now and had hardly spoken to anyone save for Nolan, who had taken one look at her fine night-dark clothes and bent over backwards to accommodate her.

 

He gave her the best room at the Pig – the room he only offered to patrons he intended to bleed dry – and didn’t seem at all bothered by the heavy hood the young woman wore or the assortment of weapons gleaming along her long, lean body. Not when she tossed him a gold coin with a casual flick of her gloved fingers. Not when she was wearing an ornate gold brooch with a ruby the size of a robin’s egg.

 

Then again, Nolan was never really afraid of anyone, unless they seemed likely not to pay him – and even then it was anger and greed, not fear, that won out.

 

Yrene Towers had been watching the young woman from the safety of the taproom bar. Watching, if only because the stranger was young and unaccompanied, and sat at the back table with such stillness that it was impossible not to look. Not to wonder.

 

Yrene hadn’t seen her face yet, though she’d caught a glimpse every now and then of a golden braid glinting from the depths of her black hood. In any other city, the White Pig Inn would likely be considered the lowest of the low as far as luxury and cleanliness were concerned. But here in Innish, a port town so small it wasn’t on most maps, it was the finest.

 

Yrene glanced at the mug she was currently washing and tried not to wince. She did her best to keep the bar and taproom clean, to serve the Pig’s patrons – most of them sailors or merchants or mercenaries who often thought she was up for purchase as well – with a smile. But Nolan still watered down the wine, still washed the sheets only when there was no denying the presence of lice and fleas and sometimes used whatever meat could be found in the back alley for their daily stew.

 

Yrene had been working here for a year now – eleven months longer than she had intended – and the White Pig still sickened her. Considering that Yrene could stomach almost anything (a fact that caused both Nolan and Jessa to demand she clean up the most disgusting messes of their patrons), that was really saying something.

 

The stranger at the back table lifted her head, signalling with a gloved finger for Yrene to bring another ale. For someone who didn’t seem older than twenty, the young woman drank an ungodly amount – wine, ale, whatever Nolan bade Yrene bring over – but never seemed to lose herself to it. It was impossible to tell with that heavy hood though. These past two nights she’d merely stalked back to her rooms with a feline grace, not stumbling over herself like most of the patrons on their way out after last call.

 

Yrene quickly poured ale into the mug she’d just been drying and set it on a tray. She added a glass of water and some more bread – since the girl hadn’t touched the stew she’d been given for dinner. Not a single bite. Smart woman.

 

Yrene wove through the packed taproom, dodging the hands that tried to grab various soft parts of her. Halfway through her trek, she caught Nolan’s eye from where he sat by the front door. An encouraging nod, his mostly bald head gleaming in the dim light. Keep her drinking. Keep her buying.

 

Yrene avoided rolling her eyes, if only because Nolan was the sole reason she wasn’t walking the cobblestone streets with the other young women of Innish. A year ago the stout man had let her convince him that he needed more help in the tavern below the inn. Of course he’d only accepted when he realised he’d be receiving the better end of the bargain.

 

But she’d been eighteen and desperate and had gladly taken a job that offered only a few coppers and a miserable little bed in a broom closet beneath the stairs. Most of her money came from tips, but Nolan claimed half of those. And then Jessa, the other barmaid, usually claimed two-thirds of what remained, because, as Jessa often said, she was the pretty face that gets the men to part with their money, anyway.

 

One glance into a corner revealed that pretty face perched on the lap of a bearded sailor, giggling and tossing her thick brown curls. Yrene sighed through her nose but didn’t complain, because Jessa was Nolan’s favourite, and Yrene had nowhere – absolutely nowhere – left to go. Innish was her home now, and the White Pig was her haven. Outside of it, the world was too big, too full of splintered dreams and armies that had crushed and burned everything Yrene held dear.

 

Yrene at last reached the stranger’s table and found the young woman looking up at her. ‘I brought you some water and bread too,’ Yrene stammered by way of greeting. She set down the ale but hesitated over the other two items on her tray.

 

The young woman just said, ‘Thank you.’ Her voice was low and cool – cultured. Educated. And completely uninterested in Yrene.

 

Not that there was anything about her that was remotely interesting, with her homespun wool dress doing little for her too-slim figure. Like most who hailed from southern Fenharrow, Yrene had golden-tan skin, ordinary brown hair and was of average height. Only her eyes, a bright gold-brown, gave her any source of pride. Not that most people saw them. Yrene did her best to keep her eyes down most of the time, avoiding any invitation for communication or the wrong kind of attention.

 

So, eyes downcast, Yrene set down the bread and water and took the empty mug of ale from where the girl had pushed it to the centre of the table. But curiosity won out and she peered into the black depths beneath the young woman’s cowl. Nothing but shadows, a gleam of gold hair and a hint of pale skin. She had so many questions – so, so many questions. Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going? Can you use all those blades you carry?

 

Nolan was watching the entire encounter, so Yrene curtsied and walked back to the bar through that field of groping hands, eyes down as she plastered a distant smile on her face.

 

*

 

Celaena Sardothien sat at her table in the absolutely worthless inn, wondering how her life had gone to hell so quickly.

 

She hated Innish. Hated the reek of trash and filth, hated the heavy blanket of mist that shrouded it day and night, hated the second-rate merchants and mercenaries and generally miserable people that occupied it.

 

No one here knew who she was, or why she’d come – no one knew that the girl beneath the hood was Celaena Sardothien, the most notorious assassin in Adarlan’s empire. But then again, she didn’t want them to know. Couldn’t let them know, actually. And didn’t want them discovering that she was just over a week away from turning seventeen either.

 

She’d been here for two days now – two days spent either holed up in her despicable room (a ‘suite’, the oily innkeeper had the nerve to call it) or down here in the taproom that stank of sweat, stale ale and unwashed bodies.

 

She would have left, if she’d had any choice. But she was forced to be here, thanks to her master, Arobynn Hamel, King of the Assassins. She’d always been proud of her status as his chosen heir – always flaunted it. But now . . . This trek was her punishment for destroying his atrocious slave-trade agreement with the Pirate Lord of Skull’s Bay. So unless she wanted to risk the trek through the Bogdano Jungle – the feral bit of land that bridged the continent to the Deserted Land – sailing across the Gulf of Oro was the only way. Which meant waiting here, in this dump of a tavern, for a ship to take her to Yurpa.

 

Celaena sighed and took a long drink of her ale. She almost spat it out. Disgusting. Cheap as cheap can be, like the rest of this place. Like the stew she hadn’t touched. Whatever meat was in there wasn’t from any creature worth eating. Bread and mild cheese it was, then.

 

Celaena sat back in her seat, watching the barmaid with the brown-gold hair slip through the labyrinth of tables and chairs. The girl nimbly dodged the men that groped for her behind, all without disrupting the tray she carried over a shoulder. What a waste of swift feet, good balance and intelligent, stunning eyes. The girl wasn’t dumb. Celaena had noted the way she watched the room and its patrons – the way she watched Celaena herself. What personal hell had driven her to work here?

 

Celaena didn’t particularly care. The questions were mostly to drive the boredom away. She’d already devoured the three books she’d carried with her from Rifthold, and not one of the shops in Innish had a single book for sale – just some spices, fish, out-of-fashion clothing, and nautical gear. For a port town, it was pathetic. But the Kingdom of Melisande had fallen on hard times in the past eight and a half years – since the King of Adarlan had conquered the continent and redirected trade through Eyllwe, rather than Melisande’s few eastern ports.

 

The whole world had fallen on hard times, it seemed. Celaena included.

 

She fought the urge to touch her face. The swelling from the beating Arobynn had given her had gone down, but the bruises remained. She had avoided looking in the sliver of mirror above her dresser, knowing what she’d see: mottled purple and blue and yellow along her cheekbones, a vicious black eye and a still-healing split lip.

 

It was all proof of what Arobynn had done the day she returned from Skull’s Bay – proof of how she’d betrayed him, and the two hundred slaves she’d saved from a terrible fate. She had made a powerful enemy of the Pirate Lord, and she was fairly certain she’d ruined her relationship with Arobynn, but she had been right. It was worth it – it would always be worth it, she told herself.

 

Even if she was sometimes so angry that she couldn’t think straight. Even if she’d got into not one, not two, but three bar fights in the two weeks that she’d been travelling from Rifthold to the Red Desert. One of the brawls, at least, had been rightfully provoked: a man had cheated at a round of cards. But the other two . . .

 

There was no denying it: she’d just been spoiling for a fight. No blades, no weapons. Just fists and feet. Celaena supposed she should feel bad about it – about the broken noses and jaws, about the heaps of unconscious bodies in her wake. But she didn’t.

 

She couldn’t bring herself to care, because those moments she spent brawling were the few moments she felt like herself again. When she felt like Adarlan’s greatest assassin, Arobynn Hamel’s chosen heir.

 

Even if her opponents were drunks and untrained fighters; even if she should know better.

 

The barmaid reached the safety of the bar counter, and Celaena glanced about the room. The innkeeper was still watching her, as he had for the past two days, wondering how he could squeeze even more money out of her purse. There were several other men watching her too. Some she recognised from the past two nights, others were new faces that she quickly sized up. Was it fear or luck that had kept them away from her so far?

 

She’d made it no secret that she carried money with her. And her clothes and weapons spoke volumes about her wealth too. The ruby brooch she wore was practically begging for trouble – she wore it just to invite trouble actually. A gift from Arobynn on her sixteenth birthday, she hoped someone would try to steal it. If they were good enough, she might just let them. So it was only a matter of time, really, before one of them tried to rob her.

 

And before she decided she was bored of fighting only with fists and feet. She glanced at the sword by her side and it glinted in the tavern’s dank light.

 

But she would be leaving at dawn – to sail to the Deserted Land, from where she’d make the journey to the Red Desert and meet the Mute Master and his Silent Assassins, where she was to train for a month as further punishment for her betrayal of Arobynn. If she were being honest with herself though, she’d started entertaining the thought of not going to the Red Desert.

 

It was tempting. She could take a ship somewhere else – to the Southern Continent perhaps – and start a new life for herself. She could leave behind Arobynn, the Assassins’ Guild, the city of Rifthold and Adarlan’s whole damned empire. There was little stopping her, save for the feeling that Arobynn would hunt her down no matter how far she went. And the fact that Sam . . . well, she didn’t know what had happened to her fellow assassin that night the world had gone to hell. But the lure of the unknown remained, the wild rage that begged her to cast off the last of Arobynn’s shackles and sail to a place where she could establish her own Assassins’ Guild. It would be so, so easy.

 

But even if she decided not to take the ship to Yurpa tomorrow and instead took one bound for the Southern Continent, it still left her with another night in this awful inn. Another sleepless night, where she could hear only the roar of anger in her blood as it thrashed inside her.

 

If she were smart, if she were level-headed, she would avoid any confrontation tonight and leave Innish in peace, no matter where she went.

 

But she wasn’t feeling particularly smart or level-headed – certainly not when the hours passed and the air in the inn shifted into a hungry, wild thing that howled for blood.

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