A Court of Mist and Fury Page 18

I stared at the map—at Prythian, and that sliver of land at its southern base.

“You want to save the mortal realm?” he asked. “Then become someone Prythian listens to. Become vital. Become a weapon. Because there might be a day, Feyre, when only you stand between the King of Hybern and your human family. And you do not want to be unprepared.”

I lifted my gaze to him, my breath tight, aching.

As if he hadn’t just knocked the world from beneath my feet, Rhysand said, “Think it over. Take the week. Ask Tamlin, if it’ll make you sleep better. See what charming Ianthe says about it. But it’s your choice to make—no one else’s.”

I didn’t see Rhysand for the rest of the week. Or Mor.

The only people I encountered were Nuala and Cerridwen, who delivered my meals, made my bed, and occasionally asked how I was faring.

The only evidence I had at all that Rhys remained on the premises were the blank copies of the alphabet, along with several sentences I was to write every day, swapping out words, each one more obnoxious than the last:

Rhysand is the most handsome High Lord.

Rhysand is the most delightful High Lord.

Rhysand is the most cunning High Lord.

Every day, one miserable sentence—with one changing word of varying arrogance and vanity. And every day, another simple set of instructions: shield up, shield down; shield up, shield down. Over and over and over.

How he knew if I obeyed or not, I didn’t care—but I threw myself into my lessons, I raised and lowered and thickened those mental shields. If only because it was all I had to do.

My nightmares left me groggy, sweaty—but the room was so open, the starlight so bright that when I’d jerk awake, I didn’t rush to the toilet. No walls pushing in around me, no inky darkness. I knew where I was. Even if I resented being there.

The day before our week finally finished, I was trudging to my usual little table, already grimacing at what delightful sentences I’d find waiting and all the mental acrobatics ahead, when Rhys’s and Mor’s voices floated toward me.

It was a public space, so I didn’t bother masking my footsteps as I neared where they spoke in one of the sitting areas, Rhys pacing before the open plunge off the mountain, Mor lounging in a cream-colored armchair.

“Azriel would want to know that,” Mor was saying.

“Azriel can go to hell,” Rhys sniped back. “He likely already knows, anyway.”

“We played games the last time,” Mor said with a seriousness that made me pause a healthy distance away, “and we lost. Badly. We’re not going to do that again.”

“You should be working,” was Rhysand’s only response. “I gave you control for a reason, you know.”

Mor’s jaw tightened, and she at last faced me. She gave me a smile that was more of a cringe.

Rhys turned, frowning at me. “Say what it is you came here to say, Mor,” he said tightly, resuming his pacing.

Mor rolled her eyes for my benefit, but her face turned solemn as she said, “There was another attack—at a temple in Cesere. Almost every priestess slain, the trove looted.”

Rhys halted. And I didn’t know what to process: her news, or the utter rage conveyed in one word as Rhys said, “Who.”

“We don’t know,” Mor said. “Same tracks as last time: small group, bodies that showed signs of wounds from large blades, and no trace of where they came from and how they disappeared. No survivors. The bodies weren’t even found until a day later, when a group of pilgrims came by.”

By the Cauldron. I must have made some tiny noise, because Mor gave me a strained, but sympathetic look.

Rhys, though … First the shadows started—plumes of them from his back.

And then, as if his rage had loosened his grip on that beast he’d once told me he hated to yield to, those wings became flesh.

Great, beautiful, brutal wings, membranous and clawed like a bat’s, dark as night and strong as hell. Even the way he stood seemed altered—steadier, grounded. Like some final piece of him had clicked into place. But Rhysand’s voice was still midnight-soft and he said, “What did Azriel have to say about it?”

Again, that glance from Mor, as if unsure I should be present for whatever this conversation was. “He’s pissed. Cassian even more so—he’s convinced it must be one of the rogue Illyrian war-bands, intent on winning new territory.”

“It’s something to consider,” Rhys mused. “Some of the Illyrian clans gleefully bowed to Amarantha during those years. Trying to expand their borders could be their way of seeing how far they can push me and get away with it.” I hated the sound of her name, focused on it more than the information he was allowing me to glean.

“Cassian and Az are waiting—” She cut herself off and gave me an apologetic wince. “They’re waiting in the usual spot for your orders.”

Fine—that was fine. I’d seen that blank map on the wall. I was an enemy’s bride. Even mentioning where his forces were stationed, what they were up to, might be dangerous. I had no idea where Cesere even was—what it was, actually.

Rhys studied the open air again, the howling wind that shoved dark, roiling clouds over the distant peaks. Good weather, I realized, for flying.

“Winnowing in would be easier,” Mor said, following the High Lord’s gaze.

“Tell the pricks I’ll be there in a few hours,” he merely said.

Mor gave me a wary grin, and vanished.

I studied the empty space where she’d been, not a trace of her left behind.

“How does that … vanishing work?” I said softly. I’d seen only a few High Fae do it—and no one had ever explained.

Rhys didn’t look at me, but he said, “Winnowing? Think of it as … two different points on a piece of cloth. One point is your current place in the world. The other one across the cloth is where you want to go. Winnowing … it’s like folding that cloth so the two spots align. The magic does the folding—and all we do is take a step to get from one place to another. Sometimes it’s a long step, and you can feel the dark fabric of the world as you pass through it. A shorter step, let’s say from one end of the room to the other, would barely register. It’s a rare gift, and a helpful one. Though only the stronger Fae can do it. The more powerful you are, the farther you can jump between places in one go.”

I knew the explanation was as much for my benefit as it was to distract himself. But I found myself saying, “I’m sorry about the temple—and the priestesses.”

The wrath still glimmered in those eyes as he at last turned to me. “Plenty more people are going to die soon enough, anyway.”

Maybe that was why he’d allowed me to get close, to overhear this conversation. To remind me of what might very well happen with Hybern.

“What are … ,” I tried. “What are Illyrian war-bands?”

“Arrogant bastards, that’s what,” he muttered.

I crossed my arms, waiting.

Rhys stretched his wings, the sunlight setting the leathery texture glowing with subtle color. “They’re a warrior-race within my lands. And general pains in my ass.”

“Some of them supported Amarantha?”

Darkness danced in the hall as that distant storm grew close enough to smother the sun. “Some. But me and mine have enjoyed ourselves hunting them down these past few months. And ending them.”

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