A Court of Mist and Fury Page 126

Amren clicked her tongue and instead jerked her chin at me. “I heard you grew fangs in the forest and killed some Hybern beasts. Good for you, girl.”

“She saved his sorry ass is more like it,” Mor said, filling her glass of wine. “Poor little Rhys got himself in a bind.”

I held out my own glass for Mor to fill. “He does need unusual amounts of coddling.”

Azriel choked on his wine, and I met his gaze—warm for once. Soft, even. I felt Rhys tense beside me and quickly looked away from the spymaster.

A glance at the guilt in Rhys’s eyes told me he was sorry. And fighting it. So strange, the High Fae with their mating and primal instincts. So at odds with their ancient traditions and learning.

We left for the mortal lands soon after dinner. Mor carried the orb; Cassian carried her, Azriel flying close, and Rhys … Rhys held me tightly, his arms strong and unyielding around me. We were silent as we soared over the dark water.

As we went to show the queens the secret they’d all suffered so much, for so long, to keep.

CHAPTER

57

Spring had at last dawned on the human world, crocuses and daffodils poking their heads out of the thawed earth.

Only the eldest and the golden-haired queens came this time.

They were escorted by just as many guards, however.

I once again wore my flowing, ivory gown and crown of gold feathers, once again beside Rhysand as the queens and their sentries winnowed into the sitting room.

But now Rhys and I stood hand in hand—unflinching, a song without end or beginning.

The eldest queen slid her cunning eyes over us, our hands, our crowns, and merely sat without our bidding, adjusting the skirts of her emerald gown around her. The golden queen remained standing for a moment longer, her shining, curly head angling slightly. Her red lips twitched upward as she claimed the seat beside her companion.

Rhys did not so much as lower his head to them as he said, “We appreciate you taking the time to see us again.”

The younger queen merely gave a little nod, her amber gaze leaping over to our friends behind us: Cassian and Azriel on either side of the bay of windows where Elain and Nesta stood in their finery, Elain’s garden in bloom behind them. Nesta’s shoulders were already locked. Elain bit her lip.

Mor stood on Rhys’s other side, this time in blue-green that reminded me of the Sidra’s calm waters, the onyx box containing the Veritas in her tan hands.

The ancient queen, surveying us all with narrowed eyes, let out a huff. “After being so gravely insulted the last time … ” A simmering glare thrown at Nesta. My sister leveled a look of pure, unyielding flame right back at her. The old woman clicked her tongue. “We debated for many days whether we should return. As you can see, three of us found the insult to be unforgivable.”

Liar. To blame it on Nesta, to try to sow discord between us for what Nesta had tried to defend … I said with surprising calm, “If that is the worst insult any of you have ever received in your lives, I’d say you’re all in for quite a shock when war comes.”

The younger one’s lips twitched again, amber eyes alight—a lion incarnate. She purred to me, “So he won your heart after all, Cursebreaker.”

I held her stare as Rhys and I both sat in our chairs, Mor sliding into one beside him. “I do not think,” I said, “that it was mere coincidence that the Cauldron let us find each other on the eve of war returning between our two peoples.”

“The Cauldron? And two peoples?” The golden one toyed with a ruby ring on her finger. “Our people do not invoke a Cauldron; our people do not have magic. The way I see it, there is your people—and ours. You are little better than those Children of the Blessed.” She lifted a groomed brow. “What does happen to them when they cross the wall?” She angled her head at Rhys, at Cassian and Azriel. “Are they prey? Or are they used and discarded, and left to grow old and infirm while you remain young forever? Such a pity … so unfair that you, Cursebreaker, received what all those fools no doubt begged for. Immortality, eternal youth … What would Lord Rhysand have done if you had aged while he did not?”

Rhys said evenly, “Is there a point to your questions, other than to hear yourself talk?”

A low chuckle, and she turned to the ancient queen, her yellow dress rustling with the movement. The old woman simply extended a wrinkled hand to the box in Mor’s slender fingers. “Is that the proof we asked for?”

Don’t do it, my heart began bleating. Don’t show them.

Before Mor could so much as nod, I said, “Is my love for the High Lord not proof enough of our good intentions? Does my sisters’ presence here not speak to you? There is an iron engagement ring upon my sister’s finger—and yet she stands with us.”

Elain seemed to be fighting the urge to tuck her hand behind the skirts of her pale pink and blue dress, but stayed tall while the queens surveyed her.

“I would say that it is proof of her idiocy,” the golden one sneered, “to be engaged to a Fae-hating man … and to risk the match by associating with you.”

“Do not,” Nesta hissed with quiet venom, “judge what you know nothing about.”

The golden one folded her hands in her lap. “The viper speaks again.” She raised her brows at me. “Surely the wise move would have been to have her sit this meeting out.”

“She offers up her house and risks her social standing for us to have these meetings,” I said. “She has the right to hear what is spoken in them. To stand as a representative of the people of these lands. They both do.”

The crone interrupted the younger before she could reply, and again waved that wrinkled hand at Mor. “Show us, then. Prove us wrong.”

Rhys gave Mor a subtle nod. No—no, it wasn’t right. Not to show them, not to reveal the treasure that was Velaris, that was my home …

War is sacrifice, Rhys said into my mind, through the small sliver I now kept open for him. If we do not gamble Velaris, we risk losing Prythian—and more.

Mor opened the lid of the black box.

The silver orb inside glimmered like a star under glass. “This is the Veritas,” Mor said in a voice that was young and old. “The gift of my first ancestor to our bloodline. Only a few times in the history of Prythian have we used it—have we unleashed its truth upon the world.”

She lifted the orb from its velvet nest. It was no larger than a ripe apple, and fit within her cupped palms as if her entire body, her entire being, had been molded for it.

“Truth is deadly. Truth is freedom. Truth can break and mend and bind. The Veritas holds in it the truth of the world. I am the Morrigan,” she said, her eyes not wholly of this earth. The hair on my arms rose. “You know I speak truth.”

She set the Veritas onto the carpet between us. Both queens leaned in.

But it was Rhys who said, “You desire proof of our goodness, our intentions, so that you may trust the Book in our hands?” The Veritas began pulsing, a web of light spreading with each throb. “There is a place within my lands. A city of peace. And art. And prosperity. As I doubt you or your guards will dare pass through the wall, then I will show it to you—show you the truth of these words, show you this place within the orb itself.”

Prev Next