A Court of Mist and Fury Page 118

And I had my answer.

CHAPTER

53

Mor stayed overnight, even going so far as to paint some rudimentary stick figures on the wall beside the storeroom door. Three females with absurdly long, flowing hair that all resembled hers; and three winged males, who she somehow managed to make look puffed up on their own sense of importance. I laughed every time I saw it.

She left after breakfast, having to walk out to where the no-winnowing shield ended, and I waved to her distant, shivering figure before she vanished into nothing.

I stared across the glittering white expanse, thawed enough that bald patches peppered it—revealing bits of winter-white grass reaching toward the blue sky and mountains. I knew summer had to eventually reach even this melting dreamland, for I’d found fishing poles and sporting equipment that suggested warm-weather usage, but it was hard to imagine snow and ice becoming soft grass and wildflowers.

Brief as a glimmering spindrift, I saw myself there: running through the meadow that slumbered beneath the thin crust of snow, splashing through the little streams already littering the floor, feasting on fat summer berries as the sun set over the mountains …

And then I would go home to Velaris, where I would finally walk through the artists’ quarter, and enter those shops and galleries and learn what they knew, and maybe—maybe one day—I would open my own shop. Not to sell my work, but to teach others.

Maybe teach the others who were like me: broken in places and trying to fight it—trying to learn who they were around the dark and pain. And I would go home at the end of every day exhausted but content—fulfilled.

Happy.

I’d go home every day to the town house, to my friends, chock full of stories of their own days, and we’d sit around that table and eat together.

And Rhysand …

Rhysand …

He would be there. He’d give me the money to open my own shop; and because I wouldn’t charge anyone, I’d sell my paintings to pay him back. Because I would pay him back, mate or no.

And he’d be here during the summer, flying over the meadow, chasing me across the little streams and up the sloped, grassy mountainside. He would sit with me under the stars, feeding me fat summer berries. And he would be at that table in the town house, roaring with laughter—never again cold and cruel and solemn. Never again anyone’s slave or whore.

And at night … At night we’d go upstairs together, and he would whisper stories of his adventures, and I’d whisper about my day, and …

And there it was.

A future.

The future I saw for myself, bright as the sunrise over the Sidra.

A direction, and a goal, and an invitation to see what else immortality might offer me. It did not seem so listless, so empty, anymore.

And I would fight until my last breath to attain it—to defend it.

So I knew what I had to do.

Five days passed, and I painted every room in the cottage. Mor had winnowed in extra paint before she’d left, along with more food than I could possibly eat.

But after five days, I was sick of my own thoughts for company—sick of waiting, sick of the thawing, dripping snow.

Thankfully, Mor returned that night, banging on the door, thunderous and impatient.

I’d taken a bath an hour before, scrubbing off paint in places I hadn’t even known it was possible to smear it, and my hair was still drying as I flung open the door to the blast of cool air.

But Mor wasn’t leaning against the threshold.

CHAPTER

54

I stared at Rhys.

He stared at me.

His cheeks were tinged pink with cold, his dark hair ruffled, and he honestly looked freezing as he stood there, wings tucked in tight.

And I knew that one word from me, and he’d go flying off into the crisp night. That if I shut the door, he’d go and not push it.

His nostrils flared, scenting the paint behind me, but he didn’t break his stare. Waiting.

Mate.

My—mate.

This beautiful, strong, selfless male … Who had sacrificed and wrecked himself for his family, his people, and didn’t feel it was enough, that he wasn’t enough for anyone … Azriel thought he didn’t deserve someone like Mor. And I wondered if Rhys … if he somehow felt the same about me. I stepped aside, holding the door open for him.

I could have sworn I felt a pulse of knee-wobbling relief through the bond.

But Rhys took in the painting I’d done, gobbling down the bright colors that now made the cottage come alive, and said, “You painted us.”

“I hope you don’t mind.”

He studied the threshold to the bedroom hallway. “Azriel, Mor, Amren, and Cassian,” he said, marking the eyes I’d painted. “You do know that one of them is going to paint a moustache under the eyes of whoever pisses them off that day.”

I clamped my lips to keep the smile in. “Oh, Mor already promised to do that.”

“And what about my eyes?”

I swallowed. All right, then. No dancing around it.

My heart was pounding so wildly I knew he could hear it. “I was afraid to paint them.”

Rhys faced me fully. “Why?”

No more games, no more banter. “At first, because I was so mad at you for not telling me. Then because I was worried I’d like them too much and find that you … didn’t feel the same. Then because I was scared that if I painted them, I’d start wishing you were here so much that I’d just stare at them all day. And it seemed like a pathetic way to spend my time.”

A twitch of his lips. “Indeed.”

I glanced at the shut door. “You flew here.”

He nodded. “Mor wouldn’t tell me where you’d gone, and there are only so many places that are as secure as this one. Since I didn’t want our Hybern friends tracking me to you, I had to do it the old-fashioned way. It took … a while.”

“You’re—better?”

“Healed completely. Quickly, considering the bloodbane. Thanks to you.”

I avoided his stare, turning for the kitchen. “You must be hungry. I’ll heat something up.”

Rhys straightened. “You’d—make me food?”

“Heat,” I said. “I can’t cook.”

It didn’t seem to make a difference. But whatever it was, the act of offering him food … I dumped some cold soup into a pan and lit the burner. “I don’t know the rules,” I said, my back to him. “So you need to explain them to me.”

He lingered in the center of the cabin, watching my every move. He said hoarsely, “It’s an … important moment when a female offers her mate food. It goes back to whatever beasts we were a long, long time ago. But it still matters. The first time matters. Some mated pairs will make an occasion of it—throwing a party just so the female can formally offer her mate food … That’s usually done amongst the wealthy. But it means that the female … accepts the bond.”

I stared into the soup. “Tell me the story—tell me everything.”

He understood my offer: tell me while I cooked, and I’d decide at the end whether or not to offer him that food.

A chair scraped against the wood floor as he sat at the table. For a moment, there was only silence, interrupted by the clack of my spoon against the pot.

Prev Next