A Court of Mist and Fury Page 44

“Where are we?” I said, our first words since winnowing in a moment ago. Velaris had been brisk, sunny. This place, wherever it was, was freezing, deserted, barren. Only rock and grass and mist and sea.

“On an island in the heart of the Western Isles,” Rhysand said, staring up at the mammoth mountain. “And that,” he said, pointing to it, “is the Prison.”

There was nothing—no one around.

“I don’t see anything.”

“The rock is the Prison. And inside it are the foulest, most dangerous creatures and criminals you can imagine.”

Go inside—inside the stone, under another mountain—

“This place,” he said, “was made before High Lords existed. Before Prythian was Prythian. Some of the inmates remember those days. Remember a time when it was Mor’s family, not mine, that ruled the North.”

“Why won’t Amren go in here?”

“Because she was once a prisoner.”

“Not in that body, I take it.”

A cruel smile. “No. Not at all.”

I shivered.

“The hike will get your blood warming,” Rhys said. “Since we can’t winnow inside or fly to the entrance—the wards demand that visitors walk in. The long way.”

I didn’t move. “I—” The word lodged in my throat. Go under another mountain—

“It helps the panic,” he said quietly, “to remind myself that I got out. That we all got out.”

“Barely.” I tried to breathe. I couldn’t, I couldn’t—

“We got out. And it might happen again if we don’t go inside.”

The chill mist bit at my face. And I tried—I did—to take a step toward it.

My body refused to obey.

I tried to take a step again; I tried for Elain and Nesta and the human world that might be wrecked, but … I couldn’t.

“Please,” I whispered. I didn’t care if it meant that I’d failed my first day of work.

Rhysand, as promised, didn’t ask any questions as he gripped my hand and brought us back to the winter sun and rich colors of Velaris.

I didn’t get out of bed for the rest of the day.

CHAPTER

18

Amren was standing at the foot of my bed.

I jolted back, slamming into the headboard, blinded by the morning light blazing in, fumbling for a weapon, anything to use—

“No wonder you’re so thin if you vomit up your guts every night.” She sniffed, her lip curling. “You reek of it.”

The bedroom door was shut. Rhys had said no one entered without his permission, but—

She chucked something onto the bed. A little gold amulet of pearl and cloudy blue stone. “This got me out of the Prison. Wear it in, and they can never keep you.”

I didn’t touch the amulet.

“Allow me to make one thing clear,” Amren said, bracing both hands on the carved wooden footboard. “I do not give that amulet lightly. But you may borrow it, while you do what needs to be done, and return it to me when you are finished. If you keep it, I will find you, and the results won’t be pleasant. But it is yours to use in the Prison.”

By the time my fingers brushed the cool metal and stone, she’d walked out the door.

Rhys hadn’t been wrong about the firedrake comparison.

Rhys kept frowning at the amulet as we hiked the slope of the Prison, so steep that at times we had to crawl on our hands and knees. Higher and higher we climbed, and I drank from the countless little streams that gurgled through the bumps and hollows in the moss-and-grass slopes. All around the mist drifted by, whipped by the wind, whose hollow moaning drowned out our crunching footsteps.

When I caught Rhys looking at the necklace for the tenth time, I said, “What?”

“She gave you that.”

Not a question.

“It must be serious, then,” I said. “The risk with—”

“Don’t say anything you don’t want others hearing.” He pointed to the stone beneath us. “The inmates have nothing better to do than to listen through the earth and rock for gossip. They’ll sell any bit of information for food, sex, maybe a breath of air.”

I could do this; I could master this fear.

Amren had gotten out. And stayed out. And the amulet—it’d keep me free, too.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “About yesterday.” I’d stayed in bed for hours, unable to move or think.

Rhys held out a hand to help me climb a particularly steep rock, easily hauling me up to where he perched at its top. It had been so long—too long—since I’d been outdoors, using my body, relying on it. My breathing was ragged, even with my new immortality. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” he said. “You’re here now.” But enough of a coward that I never would have gone without that amulet. He added with a wink, “I won’t dock your pay.”

I was too winded to even scowl. We climbed until the upper face of the mountain became a wall before us, nothing but grassy slopes sweeping behind, far below, to where they flowed to the restless gray sea. Rhys drew the sword from his back in a swift movement.

“Don’t look so surprised,” he said.

“I’ve—never seen you with a weapon.” Aside from the dagger he’d grabbed to slit Amarantha’s throat at the end—to spare me from agony.

“Cassian would laugh himself hoarse hearing that. And then make me go into the sparring ring with him.”

“Can he beat you?”

“Hand-to-hand combat? Yes. He’d have to earn it for a change, but he’d win.” No arrogance, no pride. “Cassian is the best warrior I’ve encountered in any court, any land. He leads my armies because of it.”

I didn’t doubt his claim. And the other Illyrian … “Azriel—his hands. The scars, I mean,” I said. “Where did they come from?”

Rhys was quiet a moment. Then he said too softly, “His father had two legitimate sons, both older than Azriel. Both cruel and spoiled. They learned it from their mother, the lord’s wife. For the eleven years that Azriel lived in his father’s keep, she saw to it he was kept in a cell with no window, no light. They let him out for an hour every day—let him see his mother for an hour once a week. He wasn’t permitted to train, or fly, or any of the things his Illyrian instincts roared at him to do. When he was eight, his brothers decided it’d be fun to see what happened when you mixed an Illyrian’s quick healing gifts with oil—and fire. The warriors heard Azriel’s screaming. But not quick enough to save his hands.”

Nausea swamped me. But that still left him with three more years living with them. What other horrors had he endured before he was sent to that mountain-camp? “Were—were his brothers punished?”

Rhys’s face was as unfeeling as the rock and wind and sea around us as he said with lethal quiet, “Eventually.”

There was enough rawness in the words that I instead asked, “And Mor—what does she do for you?”

“Mor is who I’ll call in when the armies fail and Cassian and Azriel are both dead.”

My blood chilled. “So she’s supposed to wait until then?”

“No. As my Third, Mor is my … court overseer. She looks after the dynamics between the Court of Nightmares and the Court of Dreams, and runs both Velaris and the Hewn City. I suppose in the mortal realm, she might be considered a queen.”

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