A Court of Mist and Fury Page 3

I nodded, murmuring it back as he trotted to where Lucien still waited, the emissary now frowning slightly. I didn’t watch them go.

I took my time retreating through the hedges of the gardens, the spring birds chirping merrily, gravel crunching under my flimsy shoes.

I hated the bright dresses that had become my daily uniform, but didn’t have the heart to tell Tamlin—not when he’d bought so many, not when he looked so happy to see me wear them. Not when his words weren’t far from the truth. The day I put on my pants and tunics, the day I strapped weapons to myself like fine jewelry, it would send a message far and clear across the lands. So I wore the gowns, and let Alis arrange my hair—if only so it would buy these people a measure of peace and comfort.

At least Tamlin didn’t object to the dagger I kept at my side, hanging from a jeweled belt. Lucien had gifted both to me—the dagger during the months before Amarantha, the belt in the weeks after her downfall, when I’d carried the dagger, along with many others, everywhere I went. You might as well look good if you’re going to arm yourself to the teeth, he’d said.

But even if stability reigned for a hundred years, I doubted I’d ever awaken one morning and not put on the knife.

A hundred years.

I had that—I had centuries ahead of me. Centuries with Tamlin, centuries in this beautiful, quiet place. Perhaps I’d sort myself out sometime along the way. Perhaps not.

I paused before the stairs leading up into the rose-and-ivy-covered house, and peeked toward the right—toward the formal rose garden and the windows just beyond it.

I’d only set foot in that room—my old painting studio—once, when I’d first returned.

And all those paintings, all the supplies, all that blank canvas waiting for me to pour out stories and feelings and dreams … I’d hated it.

I’d walked out moments later and hadn’t returned since.

I’d stopped cataloging color and feeling and texture, stopped noticing it. I could barely look at the paintings hanging inside the manor.

A sweet, female voice trilled my name from inside the open doors of the manor, and the tightness in my shoulders eased a bit.

Ianthe. The High Priestess, as well as a High Fae noble and childhood friend of Tamlin’s, who had taken it upon herself to help plan the wedding festivities.

And who had taken it upon herself to worship me and Tamlin as if we were newly minted gods, blessed and chosen by the Cauldron itself.

But I didn’t complain—not when Ianthe knew everyone in the court and outside of it. She’d linger by my side at events and dinners, feeding me details about those in attendance, and was the main reason why I’d survived the merry whirlwind of Winter Solstice. She’d been the one presiding over the various ceremonies, after all—and I’d been more than happy to let her choose what manner of wreaths and garlands should adorn the manor and grounds, what silverware complemented each meal.

Beyond that … while Tamlin was the one who paid for my everyday clothes, it was Ianthe’s eye that selected them. She was the heart of her people, ordained by the Hand of the Goddess to lead them from despair and darkness.

I was in no position to doubt. She hadn’t led me astray yet—and I’d learned to dread the days when she was busy at her own temple on the grounds, overseeing pilgrims and her acolytes. Today, though—yes, spending time with Ianthe was better than the alternative.

I bunched the gauzy skirts of my dawn-pink gown in a hand and ascended the marble steps into the house.

Next time, I promised myself. Next time, I’d convince Tamlin to let me go to the village.

“Oh, we can’t let her sit next to him. They’d rip each other to shreds, and then we’d have blood ruining the table linens.” Beneath her pale, blue-gray hood, Ianthe furrowed her brow, crinkling the tattoo of the various stages of a moon’s cycle stamped across it. She scribbled out the name she’d dashed onto one of the seating charts moments before.

The day had turned warm, the room a bit stuffy even with the breeze through the open windows. And yet the heavy hooded robe remained on.

All the High Priestesses wore the billowing, artfully twisted and layered robes—though they certainly were far from matronly. Ianthe’s slim waist was on display with a fine belt of sky-blue, limpid stones, each perfectly oval and held in shining silver. And atop her hood sat a matching circlet—a delicate band of silver, with a large stone at its center. A panel of cloth had been folded up beneath the circlet, a built-in swath meant to be pulled over the brow and eyes when she needed to pray, beseech the Cauldron and Mother, or just think.

Ianthe had shown me once what the panel looked like when down: only her nose and full, sensuous mouth visible. The Voice of the Cauldron. I’d found the image unsettling—that merely covering the upper part of her face had somehow turned the bright, cunning female into an effigy, into something Other. Mercifully, she kept it folded back most of the time. Occasionally, she even took the hood off entirely to let the sun play in her long, gently curling golden hair.

Ianthe’s silver rings gleamed atop her manicured fingers as she wrote another name down. “It’s like a game,” she said, sighing through her pert nose. “All these pieces, vying for power or dominance, willing to shed blood, if need be. It must be a strange adjustment for you.”

Such elegance and wealth—yet the savagery remained. The High Fae weren’t the tittering nobility of the mortal world. No, if they feuded, it would end with someone being ripped to bloody ribbons. Literally.

Once, I’d trembled to share breathing space with them.

I flexed my fingers, stretching and contorting the tattoos etched into my skin.

Now I could fight alongside them, against them. Not that I’d tried.

I was too watched—too monitored and judged. Why should the bride of the High Lord learn to fight if peace had returned? That had been Ianthe’s reasoning when I’d made the mistake of mentioning it at dinner. Tamlin, to his credit, had seen both sides: I’d learn to protect myself … but the rumors would spread.

“Humans aren’t much better,” I told her at last. And because Ianthe was about the only one of my new companions who didn’t look particularly stunned or frightened by me, I tried to make conversation and said, “My sister Nesta would likely fit right in.”

Ianthe cocked her head, the sunlight setting the blue stone atop her hood glimmering. “Will your mortal kin be joining us?”

“No.” I hadn’t thought to invite them—hadn’t wanted to expose them to Prythian. Or to what I’d become.

She tapped a long, slender finger on the table. “But they live so close to the wall, don’t they? If it was important for you to have them here, Tamlin and I could ensure their safe journey.” In the hours we’d spent together, I’d told her about the village, and the house my sisters now lived in, about Isaac Hale and Tomas Mandray. I hadn’t been able to mention Clare Beddor—or what had happened to her family.

“For all that she’d hold her own,” I said, fighting past the memory of that human girl, and what had been done to her, “my sister Nesta detests your kind.”

“Our kind,” Ianthe corrected quietly. “We’ve discussed this.”

I just nodded.

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