A Court of Mist and Fury Page 38

“Everyone wants to talk-talk-talk,” Mor said, giving a warning glare at Cassian, who had indeed opened his mouth. “Can’t we eat-eat-eat, and then talk?”

An interesting balance between Rhys’s terrifying Second and his disarmingly chipper Third. If Mor’s rank was higher than that of the two warriors at this table, then there had to be some other reason beyond that irreverent charm. Some power to allow her to get into the fight with Amren that Rhys had mentioned—and walk away from it.

Azriel chuckled softly at Mor, but picked up his fork. I followed suit, waiting until he’d taken a bite before doing so. Just in case—

Good. So good. And the wine—

I hadn’t even realized Mor had poured me a glass until I finished my first sip, and she clinked her own against mine. “Don’t let these old busybodies boss you around.”

Cassian said, “Pot. Kettle. Black.” Then he frowned at Amren, who had hardly touched her plate. “I always forget how bizarre that is.” He unceremoniously took her plate, dumping half the contents on his own before passing the rest to Azriel.

Azriel said to Amren as he slid the food onto his plate, “I keep telling him to ask before he does that.”

Amren flicked her fingers and the empty plate vanished from Azriel’s scarred hands. “If you haven’t been able to train him after all these centuries, boy, I don’t think you’ll make any progress now.” She straightened the silverware on the vacant place setting before her.

“You don’t—eat?” I said to her. The first words I’d spoken since sitting.

Amren’s teeth were unnervingly white. “Not this sort of food.”

“Cauldron boil me,” Mor said, gulping from her wine. “Can we not?”

I decided I didn’t want to know what Amren ate, either.

Rhys chuckled from my other side. “Remind me to have family dinners more often.”

Family dinners—not official court gatherings. And tonight … either they didn’t know that I was here to decide if I truly wished to work with Rhys, or they didn’t feel like pretending to be anything but what they were. They’d no doubt worn whatever they felt like—I had the rising feeling that I could have shown up in my nightgown and they wouldn’t have cared. A unique group indeed. And against Hybern … who would they be, what could they do, as allies or opponents?

Across from me, a cocoon of silence seemed to pulse around Azriel, even as the others dug into their food. I again peered at that oval of blue stone on his gauntlet as he sipped from his glass of wine. Azriel noted the look, swift as it had been—as I had a feeling he’d been noticing and cataloging all of my movements, words, and breaths. He held up his hands, the backs to me so both jewels were on full display. “They’re called Siphons. They concentrate and focus our power in battle.”

Only he and Cassian wore them.

Rhys set down his fork, and clarified for me, “The power of stronger Illyrians tends toward ‘incinerate now, ask questions later.’ They have little magical gifts beyond that—the killing power.”

“The gift of a violent, warmongering people,” Amren added. Azriel nodded, shadows wreathing his neck, his wrists. Cassian gave him a sharp look, face tightening, but Azriel ignored him.

Rhys went on, though I knew he was aware of every glance between the spymaster and army commander, “The Illyrians bred the power to give them advantage in battle, yes. The Siphons filter that raw power and allow Cassian and Azriel to transform it into something more subtle and varied—into shields and weapons, arrows and spears. Imagine the difference between hurling a bucket of paint against the wall and using a brush. The Siphons allow for the magic to be nimble, precise on the battlefield—when its natural state lends itself toward something far messier and unrefined, and potentially dangerous when you’re fighting in tight quarters.”

I wondered how much of that any of them had needed to do. If those scars on Azriel’s hands had come from it.

Cassian flexed his fingers, admiring the clear red stones adorning the backs of his own broad hands. “Doesn’t hurt that they also look damn good.”

Amren muttered, “Illyrians.”

Cassian bared his teeth in feral amusement, and took a drink of his wine.

Get to know them, try to envision how I might work with them, rely on them, if this conflict with Hybern exploded … I scrambled for something to ask and said to Azriel, those shadows gone again, “How did you—I mean, how do you and Lord Cassian—”

Cassian spewed his wine across the table, causing Mor to leap up, swearing at him as she used a napkin to mop her dress.

But Cassian was howling, and Azriel had a faint, wary smile on his face as Mor waved a hand at her dress and the spots of wine appeared on Cassian’s fighting—or perhaps flying, I realized—leathers. My cheeks heated. Some court protocol that I’d unknowingly broken and—

“Cassian,” Rhys drawled, “is not a lord. Though I’m sure he appreciates you thinking he is.” He surveyed his Inner Circle. “While we’re on the subject, neither is Azriel. Nor Amren. Mor, believe it or not, is the only pure-blooded, titled person in this room.” Not him? Rhys must have seen the question on my face because he said, “I’m half-Illyrian. As good as a bastard where the thoroughbred High Fae are concerned.”

“So you—you three aren’t High Fae?” I said to him and the two males.

Cassian finished his laughing. “Illyrians are certainly not High Fae. And glad of it.” He hooked his black hair behind an ear—rounded; as mine had once been. “And we’re not lesser faeries, though some try to call us that. We’re just—Illyrians. Considered expendible aerial cavalry for the Night Court at the best of times, mindless soldier grunts at the worst.”

“Which is most of the time,” Azriel clarified. I didn’t dare ask if those shadows were a part of being Illyrian, too.

“I didn’t see you Under the Mountain,” I said instead. I had to know without a doubt—if they were there, if they’d seen me, if it’d impact how I interacted while working with—

Silence fell. None of them, even Amren, looked at Rhysand.

It was Mor who said, “Because none of us were.”

Rhys’s face was a mask of cold. “Amarantha didn’t know they existed. And when someone tried to tell her, they usually found themselves without the mind to do so.”

A shudder went down my spine. Not at the cold killer, but—but … “You truly kept this city, and all these people, hidden from her for fifty years?”

Cassian was staring hard at his plate, as if he might burst out of his skin.

Amren said, “We will continue to keep this city and these people hidden from our enemies for a great many more.”

Not an answer.

Rhys hadn’t expected to see them again when he’d been dragged Under the Mountain. Yet he had kept them safe, somehow.

And it killed them—the four people at this table. It killed them all that he’d done it, however he’d done it. Even Amren.

Perhaps not only for the fact that Rhys had endured Amarantha while they had been here. Perhaps it was also for those left outside of the city, too. Perhaps picking one city, one place, to shield was better than nothing. Perhaps … perhaps it was a comforting thing, to have a spot in Prythian that remained untouched. Unsullied.

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