A Court of Mist and Fury Page 33

“How?”

“Spells and wards and my ruthless, ruthless ancestors, who were willing to do anything to preserve a piece of goodness in our wretched world.”

“And when Amarantha came,” I said, nearly spitting her name, “you didn’t think to open this place as a refuge?”

“When Amarantha came,” he said, his temper slipping the leash a bit as his eyes flashed, “I had to make some very hard choices, very quickly.”

I rolled my eyes, twisting away to scan the rolling, steep hills, the sea far beyond. “I’m assuming you won’t tell me about it.” But I had to know—how he’d managed to save this slice of peace and beauty.

“Now’s not the time for that conversation.”

Fine. I’d heard that sort of thing a thousand times before at the Spring Court, anyway. It wasn’t worth dredging up the effort to push about it.

But I wouldn’t sit in my room, couldn’t allow myself to mourn and mope and weep and sleep. So I would venture out, even if it was an agony, even if the size of this place … Cauldron, it was enormous. I jerked my chin toward the city sloping down toward the river. “So what is there that was worth saving at the cost of everyone else?”

When I faced him, his blue eyes were as ruthless as the churning winter sea in the distance. “Everything,” he said.

Rhysand wasn’t exaggerating.

There was everything to see in Velaris: tea shops with delicate tables and chairs scattered outside their cheery fronts, surely heated by some warming spell, all full of chattering, laughing High Fae—and a few strange, beautiful faeries. There were four main market squares; Palaces, they were called: two on this side—the southern side—of the Sidra River, two on the northern.

In the hours that we wandered, I only made it to two of them: great, white-stoned squares flanked by the pillars supporting the carved and painted buildings that watched over them and provided a covered walkway beneath for the shops built into the street level.

The first market we entered, the Palace of Thread and Jewels, sold clothes, shoes, supplies for making both, and jewelry—endless, sparkling jeweler’s shops. Yet nothing inside me stirred at the glimmer of sunlight on the undoubtedly rare fabrics swaying in the chill river breeze, at the clothes displayed in the broad glass windows, or the luster of gold and ruby and emerald and pearl nestled on velvet beds. I didn’t dare glance at the now-empty finger on my left hand.

Rhys entered a few of the jewelry shops, looking for a present for a friend, he said. I chose to wait outside each time, hiding in the shadows beneath the Palace buildings. Walking around today was enough. Introducing myself, enduring the gawking and tears and judgment … If I had to deal with that, I might very well climb into bed and never get out.

But no one on the streets looked twice at me, even at Rhysand’s side. Perhaps they had no idea who I was—perhaps city-dwellers didn’t care who was in their midst.

The second market, the Palace of Bone and Salt, was one of the Twin Squares: one on this side of the river, the other one—the Palace of Hoof and Leaf—across it, both crammed with vendors selling meat, produce, prepared foods, livestock, confections, spices … So many spices, scents familiar and forgotten from those precious years when I had known the comfort of an invincible father and bottomless wealth.

Rhysand kept a few steps away, hands in his pockets as he offered bits of information every now and then. Yes, he told me, many stores and homes used magic to warm them, especially popular outdoor spaces. I didn’t inquire further about it.

No one avoided him—no one whispered about him or spat on him or stroked him as they had Under the Mountain.

Rather, the people that spotted him offered warm, broad smiles. Some approached, gripping his hand to welcome him back. He knew each of them by name—and they addressed him by his.

But Rhys grew ever quieter as the afternoon pressed on. We paused at the edge of a brightly painted pocket of the city, built atop one of the hills that flowed right to the river’s edge. I took one look at the first storefront and my bones turned brittle.

The cheery door was cracked open to reveal art and paints and brushes and little sculptures.

Rhys said, “This is what Velaris is known for: the artists’ quarter. You’ll find a hundred galleries, supply stores, potters’ compounds, sculpture gardens, and anything in between. They call it the Rainbow of Velaris. The performing artists—the musicians, the dancers, the actors—dwell on that hill right across the Sidra. You see the bit of gold glinting near the top? That’s one of the main theaters. There are five notable ones in the city, but that’s the most famous. And then there are the smaller theaters, and the amphitheater on the sea cliffs … ” He trailed off as he noticed my gaze drifting back to the assortment of bright buildings ahead.

High Fae and various lesser faeries I’d never encountered and didn’t know the names of wandered the streets. It was the latter that I noticed more than the others: some long-limbed, hairless, and glowing as if an inner moon dwelled beneath their night-dark skin, some covered in opalescent scales that shifted color with each graceful step of their clawed, webbed feet, some elegant, wild puzzles of horns and hooves and striped fur. Some were bundled in heavy overcoats, scarves, and mittens—others strode about in nothing but their scales and fur and talons and didn’t seem to think twice about it. Neither did anyone else. All of them, however, were preoccupied with taking in the sights, some shopping, some splattered with clay and dust and—and paint.

Artists. I’d never called myself an artist, never thought that far or that grandly, but …

Where all that color and light and texture had once dwelled, there was only a filthy prison cell. “I’m tired,” I managed to say.

I could feel Rhys’s gaze, didn’t care if my shield was up or down to ward against him reading my thoughts. But he only said, “We can come back another day. It’s almost time for dinner, anyway.”

Indeed, the sun was sinking toward where the river met the sea beyond the hills, staining the city pink and gold.

I didn’t feel like painting that, either. Even as people stopped to admire the approaching sunset—as if the residents of this place, this court, had the freedom, the safety of enjoying the sights whenever they wished. And had never known otherwise.

I wanted to scream at them, wanted to pick up a loose piece of cobblestone and shatter the nearest window, wanted to unleash that power again boiling beneath my skin and tell them, show them, what had been done to me, to the rest of the world, while they admired sunsets and painted and drank tea by the river.

“Easy,” Rhys murmured.

I whipped my head to him, my breathing a bit jagged.

His face had again become unreadable. “My people are blameless.”

That easily, my rage vanished, as if it had slipped a rung of the ladder it had been steadily climbing inside me and splattered on the pale stone street.

Yes—yes, of course they were blameless. But I didn’t feel like thinking more on it. On anything. I said again, “I’m tired.”

His throat bobbed, but he nodded, turning from the Rainbow. “Tomorrow night, we’ll go for a walk. Velaris is lovely in the day, but it was built to be viewed after dark.”

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