A Court of Mist and Fury Page 113

I set the small bit of serrated edge against the arrow and began sawing as gently as I could. The blood-soaked muscles of his back shifted and tensed, and his breathing turned sharp, uneven. Too slow—I was going too slowly.

But any faster and it might hurt him more, might damage the sensitive wing.

“Did you know,” I said over the sound of my sawing, “that one summer, when I was seventeen, Elain bought me some paint? We’d had just enough to spend on extra things, and she bought me and Nesta presents. She didn’t have enough for a full set, but bought me red and blue and yellow. I used them to the last drop, stretching them as much as I could, and painted little decorations in our cottage.”

His breath heaved out of him, and I finally sawed through the shaft. I didn’t let him know what I was doing before I yanked out the arrowhead in a smooth pull.

He swore, body locking up, and blood gushed out—then stopped.

I almost loosed a sigh of relief. I set to work on the next arrow.

“I painted the table, the cabinets, the doorway … And we had this old, black dresser in our room—one drawer for each of us. We didn’t have much clothing to put in there, anyway.” I got through the second arrow faster, and he braced himself as I tugged it out. Blood flowed, then clotted. I started on the third. “I painted flowers for Elain on her drawer,” I said, sawing and sawing. “Little roses and begonias and irises. And for Nesta … ” The arrow clattered to the ground and I ripped out the other end.

I watched the blood flow and stop—watched him slowly lower the wing to the ground, his body trembling.

“Nesta,” I said, starting on the other wing, “I painted flames for her. She was always angry, always burning. I think she and Amren would be fast friends. I think she would like Velaris, despite herself. And I think Elain—Elain would like it, too. Though she’d probably cling to Azriel, just to have some peace and quiet.”

I smiled at the thought—at how handsome they would be together. If the warrior ever stopped quietly loving Mor. I doubted it. Azriel would likely love Mor until he was a whisper of darkness between the stars.

I finished the fourth arrow and started on the fifth.

Rhys’s voice was raw as he said to the floor, “What did you paint for yourself?”

I drew out the fifth, moving to the sixth before saying, “I painted the night sky.”

He stilled. I went on, “I painted stars and the moon and clouds and just endless, dark sky.” I finished the sixth, and was well on my way sawing through the seventh before I said, “I never knew why. I rarely went outside at night—usually, I was so tired from hunting that I just wanted to sleep. But I wonder … ” I pulled out the seventh and final arrow. “I wonder if some part of me knew what was waiting for me. That I would never be a gentle grower of things, or someone who burned like fire—but that I would be quiet and enduring and as faceted as the night. That I would have beauty, for those who knew where to look, and if people didn’t bother to look, but to only fear it … Then I didn’t particularly care for them, anyway. I wonder if, even in my despair and hopelessness, I was never truly alone. I wonder if I was looking for this place—looking for you all.”

The blood stopped flowing, and his other wing lowered to the ground. Slowly, the lashes on his back began to clot. I walked around to where he was bowed over the floor, hands braced on the rock, and knelt.

His head lifted. Pain-filled eyes, bloodless lips. “You saved me,” he rasped.

“You can explain who they were later.”

“Ambush,” Rhys said anyway, his eyes scanning my face for signs of hurt. “Hybern soldiers with ancient chains from the king himself, to nullify my power. They must have traced the magic I used yesterday … I’m sorry.” The words tumbled out of him. I brushed back his dark hair. That was why I hadn’t been able to use the bond, to speak mind to mind.

“Rest,” I said, and moved to retrieve the blanket from my pack. It’d have to do. He gripped my wrist before I could rise. His eyelids lowered. Consciousness ripped from him—too fast. Much too fast and too heavy.

“I was looking for you, too,” Rhys murmured.

And passed out.

CHAPTER

50

I slept beside him, offering what warmth I could, monitoring the cave entrance the entirety of the night. The beasts in the forest prowled past in an endless parade, and only in the gray light before dawn did their snarls and hissing fade.

Rhys was unconscious as watery sunlight painted the stone walls, his skin clammy. I checked his wounds and found them barely healed, an oily sheen oozing from them.

And when I put a hand on his brow, I swore at the heat.

Poison had coated those arrows. And that poison remained in his body.

The Illyrian camp was so distant that my own powers, feeble from the night before, wouldn’t get us far.

But if they had those horrible chains to nullify his powers, had ash arrows to bring him down, then that poison …

An hour passed. He didn’t get better. No, his golden skin was pale—paling. His breaths were shallow. “Rhys,” I said softly.

He didn’t move. I tried shaking him. If he could tell me what the poison was, maybe I could try to find something to help him … He did not awaken.

Around midday, panic gripped me in a tight fist.

I didn’t know anything about poisons or remedies. And out here, so far from anyone … Would Cassian track us down in time? Would Mor winnow in? I tried to rouse Rhys over and over.

The poison had dragged him down deep. I would not risk waiting for help to arrive.

I would not risk him.

So I bundled him in as many layers as I could spare, yet took my cloak, kissed his brow, and left.

We were only a few hundred yards from where I’d been hunting the night before, and as I emerged from the cave, I tried not to look at the tracks of the beasts who had passed through, right above us. Enormous, horrible tracks.

What I was to hunt would be worse.

We were already near running water—so I made my trap close by, building my snare with hands that I refused to let shake.

I placed the cloak—mostly new, rich, lovely—in the center of my snare. And I waited.

An hour. Two.

I was about to start bargaining with the Cauldron, with the Mother, when a creeping, familiar silence fell over the wood.

Rippling toward me, the birds stopped chirping, the wind stopped sighing in the pines.

And when a crack sounded through the forest, followed by a screech that hollowed out my ears, I nocked an arrow into my bow and set off to see the Suriel.

It was as horrific as I remembered:

Tattered robes barely concealing a body made of not skin, but what looked to be solid, worn bone. Its lipless mouth held too-large teeth, and its fingers—long, spindly—clicked against each other while it weighed the fine cloak I’d laid in the center of my snare, as if the cloth had been blown in on a wind.

“Feyre Cursebreaker,” it said, turning toward me, in a voice that was both one and many.

I lowered my bow. “I have need of you.”

Time—I was running out of time. I could feel it, that urgency begging me to hurry through the bond.

“What fascinating changes a year has wrought on you—on the world,” it said.

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