A Court of Mist and Fury Page 32

The walls of this city have not been breached for five thousand years.

Meaning Amarantha …

“How is this city here?” I met Nuala’s gaze in the mirror. “How—how did it survive?”

Nuala’s face tightened, and her dark eyes flicked to her twin, who slowly rose from a dresser drawer, fleece-lined slippers for me in hand. Cerridwen’s throat bobbed as she swallowed.

“The High Lord is very powerful,” Cerridwen said—carefully. “And was devoted to his people long before his father’s mantle passed to him.”

“How did it survive?” I pushed. A city—a lovely one, if the sounds from my window, the garden beyond it, were any indication—lay all around me. Untouched, whole. Safe. While the rest of the world had been left to ruin.

The twins exchanged looks again, some silent language they’d learned in the womb passing between them. Nuala set down the brush on the vanity. “It is not for us to tell.”

“He asked you not to—”

“No,” Cerridwen interrupted, folding back the covers of the bed. “The High Lord made no such demand. But what he did to shield this city is his story to tell, not ours. We would be more comfortable if he told you, lest we get any of it wrong.”

I glared between them. Fine. Fair enough.

Cerridwen moved to shut the curtains, sealing the room in darkness.

My heart stumbled, taking my anger with it, and I blurted, “Leave them open.”

I couldn’t be sealed up and shut in darkness—not yet.

Cerridwen nodded and left the curtains open, both of the twins telling me to send word if I needed anything before they departed.

Alone, I slid into the bed, hardly feeling the softness, the smoothness of the sheets.

I listened to the crackling fire, the chirp of birds in the garden’s potted evergreens—so different from the spring-sweet melodies I was used to. That I might never hear or be able to endure again.

Maybe Amarantha had won after all.

And some strange, new part of me wondered if my never returning might be a fitting punishment for him. For what he had done to me.

Sleep claimed me, swift and brutal and deep.

CHAPTER

15

I awoke four hours later.

It took me minutes to remember where I was, what had happened. And each tick of the little clock on the rosewood writing desk was a shove back-back-back into that heavy dark. But at least I wasn’t tired. Weary, but no longer on the cusp of feeling like sleeping forever.

I’d think about what happened at the Spring Court later. Tomorrow. Never.

Mercifully, Rhysand’s Inner Circle left before I’d finished dressing.

Rhys was waiting at the front door—which was open to the small wood-and-marble antechamber, which in turn was open to the street beyond. He ran an eye over me, from the suede navy shoes—practical and comfortably made—to the knee-length sky-blue overcoat, to the braid that began on one side of my head and curved around the back. Beneath the coat, my usual flimsy attire had been replaced by thicker, warmer brown pants, and a pretty cream sweater that was so soft I could have slept in it. Knitted gloves that matched my shoes had already been stuffed into the coat’s deep pockets.

“Those two certainly like to fuss,” Rhysand said, though something about it was strained as we headed out the front door.

Each step toward that bright threshold was both an eternity and an invitation.

For a moment, the weight in me vanished as I gobbled down the details of the emerging city:

Buttery sunlight that softened the already mild winter day, a small, manicured front lawn—its dried grass near-white—bordered with a waist-high wrought iron fence and empty flower beds, all leading toward a clean street of pale cobblestones. High Fae in various forms of dress meandered by: some in coats like mine to ward against the crisp air, some wearing mortal fashions with layers and poofy skirts and lace, some in riding leathers—all unhurried as they breathed in the salt-and-lemon-verbena breeze that even winter couldn’t chase away. Not one of them looked toward the house. As if they either didn’t know or weren’t worried that their own High Lord dwelled in one of the many marble town houses lining either side of the street, each capped with a green copper roof and pale chimneys that puffed tendrils of smoke into the brisk sky.

In the distance, children shrieked with laughter.

I staggered to the front gate, unlatching it with fumbling fingers that hardly registered the ice-cold metal, and took all of three steps into the street before I halted at the sight at the other end.

The street sloped down, revealing more pretty town houses and puffing chimneys, more well-fed, unconcerned people. And at the very bottom of the hill curved a broad, winding river, sparkling like deepest sapphire, snaking toward a vast expanse of water beyond.

The sea.

The city had been built like a crust atop the rolling, steep hills that flanked the river, the buildings crafted from white marble or warm sandstone. Ships with sails of varying shapes loitered in the river, the white wings of birds shining brightly above them in the midday sun.

No monsters. No darkness. Not a hint of fear, of despair.

Untouched.

The city has not been breached in five thousand years.

Even during the height of her dominance over Prythian, whatever Rhys had done, whatever he’d sold or bartered … Amarantha truly had not touched this place.

The rest of Prythian had been shredded, then left to bleed out over the course of fifty years, yet Velaris … My fingers curled into fists.

I sensed something looming and gazed down the other end of the street.

There, like eternal guardians of the city, towered a wall of flat-topped mountains of red stone—the same stone that had been used to build some of the structures. They curved around the northern edge of Velaris, to where the river bent toward them and flowed into their shadow. To the north, different mountains surrounded the city across the river—a range of sharp peaks like fish’s teeth cleaved the city’s merry hills from the sea beyond. But these mountains behind me … They were sleeping giants. Somehow alive, awake.

As if in answer, that undulating, slithering power slid along my bones, like a cat brushing against my legs for attention. I ignored it.

“The middle peak,” Rhys said from behind me, and I whirled, remembering he was there. He just pointed toward the largest of the plateaus. Holes and—windows seemed to have been built into the uppermost part of it. And flying toward it, borne on large, dark wings, were two figures. “That’s my other home in this city. The House of Wind.”

Sure enough, the flying figures swerved on what looked to be a wicked, fast current.

“We’ll be dining there tonight,” he added, and I couldn’t tell if he sounded irritated or resigned about it.

And I didn’t quite care. I turned toward the city again and said, “How?”

He understood what I meant. “Luck.”

“Luck? Yes, how lucky for you,” I said quietly, but not weakly, “that the rest of Prythian was ravaged while your people, your city, remained safe.”

The wind ruffled Rhys’s dark hair, his face unreadable.

“Did you even think for one moment,” I said, my voice like gravel, “to extend that luck to anywhere else? Anyone else?”

“Other cities,” he said calmly, “are known to the world. Velaris has remained secret beyond the borders of these lands for millennia. Amarantha did not touch it, because she did not know it existed. None of her beasts did. No one in the other courts knows of its existence, either.”

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