A Court of Mist and Fury Page 104

“What happened?”

“We found each other. Killed our way across the mountains to get to each other. Turns out, a good number of Illyrian males wanted to prove they were stronger, smarter than us. Turns out they were wrong.”

I dared a look at his face. For a heartbeat, I could see it: blood-splattered, savage, fighting and slaughtering to get to his friends, to protect and save them.

Rhys set us down in a clearing, the pine trees towering so high they seemed to caress the underside of the heavy, gray clouds passing on the swift wind.

“So, you’re not using magic—but I am?” I said, taking a few steps from him.

“Our enemy is keyed in on my powers. You, however, remain invisible.” He waved his hand. “Let’s see what all your practicing has amounted to.”

I didn’t feel like it. I just said, “When—when did you meet Tamlin?”

I knew what Rhysand’s father had done. I hadn’t let myself think too much about it.

About how he’d killed Tamlin’s father and brothers. And mother.

But now, after last night, after the Court of Nightmares … I had to know.

Rhys’s face was a mask of patience. “Show me something impressive, and I’ll tell you. Magic—for answers.”

“I know what sort of game you’re playing—” I cut myself off at the hint of a smirk. “Very well.”

I held out my hand before me, palm cupped, and willed silence into my veins, my mind.

Silence and calm and weight, like being underwater.

In my hand, a butterfly of water flapped and danced.

Rhys smiled a bit, but the amusement died as he said, “Tamlin was younger than me—born when the War started. But after the War, when he’d matured, we got to know each other at various court functions. He … ” Rhys clenched his jaw. “He seemed decent for a High Lord’s son. Better than Beron’s brood at the Autumn Court. Tamlin’s brothers were equally as bad, though. Worse. And they knew Tamlin would take the title one day. And to a half-breed Illyrian who’d had to prove himself, defend his power, I saw what Tamlin went through … I befriended him. Sought him out whenever I was able to get away from the war-camps or court. Maybe it was pity, but … I taught him some Illyrian techniques.”

“Did anyone know?”

He raised his brows—giving a pointed look to my hand.

I scowled at him and summoned songbirds of water, letting them flap around the clearing as they’d flown around my bathing room at the Summer Court.

“Cassian and Azriel knew,” Rhys went on. “My family knew. And disapproved.” His eyes were chips of ice. “But Tamlin’s father was threatened by it. By me. And because he was weaker than both me and Tamlin, he wanted to prove to the world that he wasn’t. My mother and sister were to travel to the Illyrian war-camp to see me. I was supposed to meet them halfway, but I was busy training a new unit and decided to stay.”

My stomach turned over and over and over, and I wished I had something to lean against as Rhys said, “Tamlin’s father, brothers, and Tamlin himself set out into the Illyrian wilderness, having heard from Tamlin—from me—where my mother and sister would be, that I had plans to see them. I was supposed to be there. I wasn’t. And they slaughtered my mother and sister anyway.”

I began shaking my head, eyes burning. I didn’t know what I was trying to deny, or erase, or condemn.

“It should have been me,” he said, and I understood—understood what he’d said that day I’d wept before Cassian in the training pit. “They put their heads in boxes and sent them down the river—to the nearest camp. Tamlin’s father kept their wings as trophies. I’m surprised you didn’t see them pinned in the study.”

I was going to vomit; I was going to fall to my knees and weep.

But Rhys looked at the menagerie of water-animals I’d crafted and said, “What else?”

Perhaps it was the cold, perhaps it was his story, but hoarfrost cracked in my veins, and the wild song of a winter wind howled in my heart. I felt it then—how easy it would be to jump between them, join them together, my powers.

Each one of my animals halted mid-air … and froze into perfectly carved bits of ice.

One by one, they dropped to the earth. And shattered.

They were one. They had come from the same, dark origin, the same eternal well of power. Once, long ago—before language was invented and the world was new.

Rhys merely continued, “When I heard, when my father heard … I wasn’t wholly truthful to you when I told you Under the Mountain that my father killed Tamlin’s father and brothers. I went with him. Helped him. We winnowed to the edge of the Spring Court that night, then went the rest of the way on foot—to the manor. I slew Tamlin’s brothers on sight. I held their minds, and rendered them helpless while I cut them into pieces, then melted their brains inside their skulls. And when I got to the High Lord’s bedroom—he was dead. And my father … my father had killed Tamlin’s mother as well.”

I couldn’t stop shaking my head.

“My father had promised not to touch her. That we weren’t the kind of males who would do that. But he lied to me, and he did it, anyway. And then he went for Tamlin’s room.”

I couldn’t breathe—couldn’t breathe as Rhys said, “I tried to stop him. He didn’t listen. He was going to kill him, too. And I couldn’t … After all the death, I was done. I didn’t care that Tamlin had been there, had allowed them to kill my mother and sister, that he’d come to kill me because he didn’t want to risk standing against them. I was done with death. So I stopped my father before the door. He tried to go through me. Tamlin opened the door, saw us—smelled the blood already leaking into the hallway. And I didn’t even get to say a word before Tamlin killed my father in one blow.

“I felt the power shift to me, even as I saw it shift to him. And we just looked at each other, as we were both suddenly crowned High Lord—and then I ran.”

He’d murdered Rhysand’s family. The High Lord I’d loved—he’d murdered his friend’s family, and when I’d asked how his family died, he’d merely told me a rival court had done it. Rhysand had done it, and—

“He didn’t tell you any of that.”

“I—I’m sorry,” I breathed, my voice hoarse.

“What do you possibly have to be sorry for?”

“I didn’t know. I didn’t know that he’d done that—”

And Rhys thought I’d been comparing him—comparing him against Tamlin, as if I held him to be some paragon …

“Why did you stop?” he said, motioning to the ice shards on the pine-needle carpet.

The people he’d loved most—gone. Slaughtered in cold blood. Slaughtered by Tamlin.

The clearing exploded in flame.

The pine needles vanished, the trees groaned, and even Rhys swore as fire swept through the clearing, my heart, and devoured everything in its path.

No wonder he’d made Tamlin beg that day I’d been formally introduced to him. No wonder he’d relished every chance to taunt Tamlin. Maybe my presence here was just to—

No. I knew that wasn’t true. I knew my being here had nothing to do with what was between him and Tamlin, though he no doubt enjoyed interrupting our wedding day. Saved me from that wedding day, actually.

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