A Court of Mist and Fury Page 119

Then Rhys said, “I was captured during the War. By Amarantha’s army.”

I paused my stirring, my gut twisting.

“Cassian and Azriel were in different legions, so they had no idea that my forces and I had been taken prisoner. And that Amarantha’s captains held us for weeks, torturing and slaughtering my warriors. They put ash bolts through my wings, and they had those same chains from the other night to keep me down. Those chains are one of Hybern’s greatest assets—stone delved from deep in their land, capable of nullifying a High Fae’s powers. Even mine. So they chained me up between two trees, beating me when they felt like it, trying to get me to tell them where the Night Court forces were, using my warriors—their deaths and pain—to break me.

“Only I didn’t break,” he said roughly, “and they were too dumb to know that I was an Illyrian, and all they had to do to get me to yield would have been to try to cut off my wings. And maybe it was luck, but they never did. And Amarantha … She didn’t care that I was there. I was yet another High Lord’s son, and Jurian had just slaughtered her sister. All she cared about was getting to him—killing him. She had no idea that every second, every breath, I plotted her death. I was willing to make it my last stand: to kill her at any cost, even if it meant shredding my wings to break free. I’d watched the guards and learned her schedule, so I knew where she’d be. I set a day, and a time. And I was ready—I was so damned ready to make an end of it, and wait for Cassian and Azriel and Mor on the other side. There was nothing but my rage, and my relief that my friends weren’t there. But the day before I was to kill Amarantha, to make my final stand and meet my end, she and Jurian faced each other on the battlefield.”

He paused, swallowing.

“I was chained in the mud, forced to watch as they battled. To watch as Jurian took my killing blow. Only—she slaughtered him. I watched her rip out his eye, then rip off his finger, and when he was prone, I watched her drag him back to the camp. Then I listened to her slowly, over days and days, tear him apart. His screaming was endless. She was so focused on torturing him that she didn’t detect my father’s arrival. In the panic, she killed Jurian rather than see him liberated, and fled. So my father rescued me—and told his men, told Azriel, to leave the ash spikes in my wings as punishment for getting caught. I was so injured that the healers informed me if I tried to fight before my wings healed, I’d never fly again. So I was forced to return home to recover—while the final battles were waged.

“They made the Treaty, and the wall was built. We’d long ago freed our slaves in the Night Court. We didn’t trust the humans to keep our secrets, not when they bred so quickly and frequently that my forefathers couldn’t hold all their minds at once. But our world was changed nonetheless. We were all changed by the War. Cassian and Azriel came back different; I came back different. We came here—to this cabin. I was still so injured that they carried me here between them. We were here when the messages arrived about the final terms of the Treaty.

“They stayed with me when I roared at the stars that Amarantha, for all she had done, for every crime committed, would go unpunished. That the King of Hybern would go unpunished. Too much killing had occurred on either side for everyone to be brought to justice, they said. Even my father gave me an order to let it go—to build toward a future of co-existence. But I never forgave what Amarantha had done to my warriors. And I never forgot it, either. Tamlin’s father—he was her friend. And when my father slaughtered him, I was so damn smug that perhaps she’d feel an inkling of what I’d felt when she murdered my soldiers.”

My hands were shaking as I stirred the soup. I’d never known … never thought …

“When Amarantha returned to these shores centuries later, I still wanted to kill her. The worst part was, she didn’t even know who I was. Didn’t even remember that I was the High Lord’s son that she’d held captive. To her, I was merely the son of the man who had killed her friend—I was just the High Lord of the Night Court. The other High Lords were convinced she wanted peace and trade. Only Tamlin mistrusted her. I hated him, but he’d known Amarantha personally—and if he didn’t trust her … I knew she hadn’t changed.

“So I planned to kill her. I told no one. Not even Amren. I’d let Amarantha think I was interested in trade, in alliance. I decided I’d go to the party thrown Under the Mountain for all the courts to celebrate our trade agreement with Hybern … And when she was drunk, I’d slip into her mind, make her reveal every lie and crime she’d committed, and then I’d turn her brain to liquid before anyone could react. I was prepared to go to war for it.”

I turned, leaning against the counter. Rhys was looking at his hands, as if the story were a book he could read between them.

“But she thought faster—acted faster. She had been trained against my particular skill set, and had extensive mental shields. I was so busy working to tunnel through them that I didn’t think about the drink in my hand. I hadn’t wanted Cassian or Azriel or anyone else there that night to witness what I was to do—so no one bothered to sniff my drink.

“And as I felt my powers being ripped away by that spell she’d put on it at the toast, I flung them out one last time, wiping Velaris, the wards, all that was good, from the minds of the Court of Nightmares—the only ones I’d allowed to come with me. I threw the shield around Velaris, binding it to my friends so that they had to remain or risk that protection collapsing, and used the last dregs to tell them mind to mind what was happening, and to stay away. Within a few seconds, my power belonged wholly to Amarantha.”

His eyes lifted to mine. Haunted, bleak.

“She slaughtered half the Court of Nightmares right then and there. To prove to me that she could. As vengeance for Tamlin’s father. And I knew … I knew in that moment there was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her from looking at my court again. From looking too long at who I was and what I loved. So I told myself that it was a new war, a different sort of battle. And that night, when she kept turning her attention to me, I knew what she wanted. I knew it wasn’t about fucking me so much as it was about getting revenge at my father’s ghost. But if that was what she wanted, then that was what she would get. I made her beg, and scream, and used my lingering powers to make it so good for her that she wanted more. Craved more.”

I gripped the counter to keep from sliding to the ground.

“Then she cursed Tamlin. And my other great enemy became the one loophole that might free us all. Every night that I spent with Amarantha, I knew that she was half wondering if I’d try to kill her. I couldn’t use my powers to harm her, and she had shielded herself against physical attacks. But for fifty years—whenever I was inside her, I’d think about killing her. She had no idea. None. Because I was so good at my job that she thought I enjoyed it, too. So she began to trust me—more than the others. Especially when I proved what I could do to her enemies. But I was glad to do it. I hated myself, but I was glad to do it. After a decade, I stopped expecting to see my friends or my people again. I forgot what their faces looked like. And I stopped hoping.”

Silver gleamed in his eyes, and he blinked it away. “Three years ago,” he said quietly, “I began to have these … dreams. At first, they were glimpses, as if I were staring through someone else’s eyes. A crackling hearth in a dark home. A bale of hay in a barn. A warren of rabbits. The images were foggy, like looking through cloudy glass. They were brief—a flash here and there, every few months. I thought nothing of them, until one of the images was of a hand … This beautiful, human hand. Holding a brush. Painting—flowers on a table.”

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