A Court of Mist and Fury Page 2

He never woke when the nightmares dragged me from sleep; never woke when I vomited my guts up night after night. If he knew or heard, he said nothing about it.

I knew similar dreams chased him from his slumber as often as I fled from mine. The first time it had happened, I’d awoken—tried to speak to him. But he’d shaken off my touch, his skin clammy, and had shifted into that beast of fur and claws and horns and fangs. He’d spent the rest of the night sprawled across the foot of the bed, monitoring the door, the wall of windows.

He’d since spent many nights like that.

Curled in the bed, I pulled the blanket higher, craving its warmth against the chill night. It had become our unspoken agreement—not to let Amarantha win by acknowledging that she still tormented us in our dreams and waking hours.

It was easier to not have to explain, anyway. To not have to tell him that though I’d freed him, saved his people and all of Prythian from Amarantha … I’d broken myself apart.

And I didn’t think even eternity would be long enough to fix me.

CHAPTER

2

“I want to go.”

“No.”

I crossed my arms, tucking my tattooed hand under my right bicep, and spread my feet slightly further apart on the dirt floor of the stables. “It’s been three months. Nothing’s happened, and the village isn’t even five miles—”

“No.” The midmorning sun streaming through the stable doors burnished Tamlin’s golden hair as he finished buckling the bandolier of daggers across his chest. His face—ruggedly handsome, exactly as I’d dreamed it during those long months he’d worn a mask—was set, his lips a thin line.

Behind him, already atop his dapple-gray horse, along with three other Fae lord-sentries, Lucien silently shook his head in warning, his metal eye narrowing. Don’t push him, he seemed to say.

But as Tamlin strode toward where his black stallion had already been saddled, I gritted my teeth and stormed after him. “The village needs all the help it can get.”

“And we’re still hunting down Amarantha’s beasts,” he said, mounting his horse in one fluid motion. Sometimes, I wondered if the horses were just to maintain an appearance of civility—of normalcy. To pretend that he couldn’t run faster than them, didn’t live with one foot in the forest. His green eyes were like chips of ice as the stallion started into a walk. “I don’t have the sentries to spare to escort you.”

I lunged for the bridle. “I don’t need an escort.” My grip tightened on the leather as I tugged the horse to a stop, and the golden ring on my finger—along with the square-cut emerald glittering atop it—flashed in the sun.

It had been two months since Tamlin had proposed—two months of enduring presentations about flowers and clothes and seating arrangements and food. I’d had a small reprieve a week ago, thanks to the Winter Solstice, though I’d traded contemplating lace and silk for selecting evergreen wreaths and garlands. But at least it had been a break.

Three days of feasting and drinking and exchanging small presents, culminating in a long, rather odious ceremony atop the foothills on the longest night to escort us from one year to another as the sun died and was born anew. Or something like that. Celebrating a winter holiday in a place that was permanently entrenched in spring hadn’t done much to improve my general lack of festive cheer.

I hadn’t particularly listened to the explanations of its origins—and the Fae themselves debated whether it had emerged from the Winter Court or Day Court. Both now claimed it as their holiest holiday. All I really knew was that I’d had to endure two ceremonies: one at sunset to begin that endless night of presents and dancing and drinking in honor of the old sun’s death; and one at the following dawn, bleary-eyed and feet aching, to welcome the sun’s rebirth.

It was bad enough that I’d been required to stand before the gathered courtiers and lesser faeries while Tamlin made his many toasts and salutes. Mentioning that my birthday had also fallen on that longest night of the year was a fact I’d conveniently forgotten to tell anyone. I’d received enough presents, anyway—and would no doubt receive many, many more on my wedding day. I had little use for so many things.

Now, only two weeks stood between me and the ceremony. If I didn’t get out of the manor, if I didn’t have a day to do something other than spend Tamlin’s money and be groveled to—

“Please. The recovery efforts are so slow. I could hunt for the villagers, get them food—”

“It’s not safe,” Tamlin said, again nudging his stallion into a walk. The horse’s coat shone like a dark mirror, even in the shade of the stables. “Especially not for you.”

He’d said that every time we had this argument; every time I begged him to let me go to the nearby village of High Fae to help rebuild what Amarantha had burned years ago.

I followed him into the bright, cloudless day beyond the stables, the grasses coating the nearby foothills undulating in the soft breeze. “People want to come back, they want a place to live—”

“Those same people see you as a blessing—a marker of stability. If something happened to you … ” He cut himself off as he halted his horse at the edge of the dirt path that would take him toward the eastern woods, Lucien now waiting a few yards down it. “There’s no point in rebuilding anything if Amarantha’s creatures tear through the lands and destroy it again.”

“The wards are up—”

“Some slipped in before the wards were repaired. Lucien hunted down five naga yesterday.”

I whipped my head toward Lucien, who winced. He hadn’t told me that at dinner last night. He’d lied when I’d asked him why he was limping. My stomach turned over—not just at the lie, but … naga. Sometimes I dreamed of their blood showering me as I killed them, of their leering serpentine faces while they tried to fillet me in the woods.

Tamlin said softly, “I can’t do what I need to if I’m worrying about whether you’re safe.”

“Of course I’ll be safe.” As a High Fae, with my strength and speed, I’d stand a good chance of getting away if something happened.

“Please—please just do this for me,” Tamlin said, stroking his stallion’s thick neck as the beast nickered with impatience. The others had already moved their horses into easy canters, the first of them nearly within the shade of the woods. Tamlin jerked his chin toward the alabaster estate looming behind me. “I’m sure there are things to help with around the house. Or you could paint. Try out that new set I gave for you for Winter Solstice.”

There was nothing but wedding planning waiting for me in the house, since Alis refused to let me lift a finger to do anything. Not because of who I was to Tamlin, what I was about to become to Tamlin, but … because of what I’d done for her, for her boys, for Prythian. All the servants were the same; some still cried with gratitude when they passed me in the halls. And as for painting …

“Fine,” I breathed. I made myself look him in the eye, made myself smile. “Be careful,” I said, and meant it. The thought of him going out there, hunting the monsters that had once served Amarantha …

“I love you,” Tamlin said quietly.

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