A Court of Mist and Fury Page 4

But she went on, “We are old, and cunning, and enjoy using words like blades and claws. Every word from your mouth, every turn of phrase, will be judged—and possibly used against you.” As if to soften the warning, she added, “Be on your guard, Lady.”

Lady. A nonsense name. No one knew what to call me. I wasn’t born High Fae.

I’d been Made—resurrected and given this new body by the seven High Lords of Prythian. I wasn’t Tamlin’s mate, as far as I knew. There was no mating bond between us—yet.

Honestly … Honestly, Ianthe, with her bright gold hair, those teal eyes, elegant features, and supple body, looked more like Tamlin’s mate. His equal. A union with Tamlin—a High Lord and a High Priestess—would send a clear message of strength to any possible threats to our lands. And secure the power Ianthe was no doubt keen on building for herself.

Among the High Fae, the priestesses oversaw their ceremonies and rituals, recorded their histories and legends, and advised their lords and ladies in matters great and trivial. I hadn’t witnessed any magic from her, but when I’d asked Lucien, he’d frowned and said their magic was drawn from their ceremonies, and could be utterly lethal should they choose it. I’d watched her on the Winter Solstice for any signs of it, marking the way she’d positioned herself so that the rising sun filled her uplifted arms, but there had been no ripple or thrum of power. From her, or the earth beneath us.

I didn’t know what I’d really expected from Ianthe—one of the twelve High Priestesses who together governed their sisters across every territory in Prythian. Ancient, celibate, and quiet had been the extent of my expectations, thanks to those whispered mortal legends, when Tamlin had announced that an old friend was soon to occupy and renovate the crumbling temple complex on our lands. But Ianthe had breezed into our house the next morning and those expectations had immediately been trampled. Especially the celibate part.

Priestesses could marry, bear children, and dally as they would. It would dishonor the Cauldron’s gift of fertility to lock up their instincts, their inherent female magic in bearing life, Ianthe had once told me.

So while the seven High Lords ruled Prythian from thrones, the twelve High Priestesses reigned from the altars, their children as powerful and respected as any lord’s offspring. And Ianthe, the youngest High Priestess in three centuries, remained unmarried, childless, and keen to enjoy the finest males the land has to offer.

I often wondered what it was like to be that free and so settled within yourself.

When I didn’t respond to her gentle reprimand, she said, “Have you given any thought to what color roses? White? Pink? Yellow? Red—”

“Not red.”

I hated that color. More than anything. Amarantha’s hair, all that blood, the welts on Clare Beddor’s broken body, spiked to the walls of Under the Mountain—

“Russet could be pretty, with all the green … But maybe that’s too Autumn Court.” Again, that finger tapped on the table.

“Whatever color you want.” If I were being blunt with myself, I’d admit that Ianthe had become a crutch. But she seemed willing to do it—caring when I couldn’t bring myself to.

Yet Ianthe’s brows lifted slightly.

Despite being a High Priestess, she and her family had escaped the horrors of Under the Mountain by running. Her father, one of Tamlin’s strongest allies amongst the Spring Court and a captain in his forces, had sensed trouble coming and packed off Ianthe, her mother, and two younger sisters to Vallahan, one of the countless faerie territories across the ocean. For fifty years, they’d lived in the foreign court, biding their time while their people were butchered and enslaved.

She hadn’t once mentioned it. I knew better than to ask.

“Every element of this wedding sends a message to not only Prythian, but the world beyond,” she said. I stifled a sigh. I knew—she’d told me this before. “I know you are not fond of the dress—”

Understatement. I hated the monstrosity of tulle she’d selected. Tamlin had, too—though he’d laughed himself hoarse when I showed him in the privacy of my room. But he’d promised me that though the dress was absurd, the priestess knew what she was doing. I’d wanted to push back about it, hating that though he agreed with me, he had sided with her, but … it took more energy than it was worth.

Ianthe went on, “But it makes the right statement. I’ve spent time amongst enough courts to know how they operate. Trust me in this.”

“I do trust you,” I said, and waved a hand toward the papers before us. “You know how to do these things. I don’t.”

Silver tinkled at Ianthe’s wrists, so like the bracelets the Children of the Blessed wore on the other side of the wall. I sometimes wondered if those foolish humans had stolen the idea from the High Priestesses of Prythian—if it had been a priestess like Ianthe who had spread such nonsense among humans.

“It’s an important moment for me as well,” Ianthe said carefully, adjusting the circlet atop her hood. Teal eyes met mine. “You and I are so alike—young, untested amongst these … wolves. I am grateful to you, and to Tamlin, to allow me to preside over the ceremony, to be invited to work with this court, be a part of this court. The other High Priestesses do not particularly care for me, nor I for them, but … ” She shook her head, the hood swaying with her. “Together,” she murmured, “the three of us make a formidable unit. Four, if you count Lucien.” She snorted. “Not that he particularly wants anything to do with me.”

A leading statement.

She often found ways to bring him up, to corner him at events, to touch his elbow or shoulder. He ignored it all. Last week, I’d finally asked him if she’d set her sights on him, and Lucien had merely given me a look, snarling softly, before stalking off. I took that as a yes.

But a match with Lucien would be nearly as beneficial as one with Tamlin: the right hand of a High Lord and another High Lord’s son … Any offspring would be powerful, coveted.

“You know it’s … hard for him, where females are involved,” I said neutrally.

“He has been with many females since the death of his lover.”

“Perhaps it’s different with you—perhaps it’d mean something he’s not ready for.” I shrugged, searching for the right words. “Perhaps he stays away because of it.”

She considered, and I prayed she bought my half lie. Ianthe was ambitious, clever, beautiful, and bold—but I did not think Lucien forgave her, or would ever forgive her, for fleeing during Amarantha’s reign. Sometimes I honestly wondered if my friend might rip her throat out for it.

Ianthe nodded at last. “Are you at least excited for the wedding?”

I fiddled with my emerald ring. “It’ll be the happiest day of my life.”

The day Tamlin had asked me to marry him, I’d certainly felt that way. I’d wept with joy as I told him yes, yes, a thousand times yes, and made love to him in the field of wildflowers where he’d brought me for the occasion.

Ianthe nodded. “The union is Cauldron-blessed. Your survival of the horrors Under the Mountain only proves it.”

I caught her glance then—toward my left hand, the tattoos.

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