A Court of Mist and Fury Page 50

“Go to hell. Why not get this object yourself, if it’s so important?”

“Because the Weaver knows me—and if I am caught, there would be a steep price. High Lords are not to interfere with her, no matter the direness of the situation. There are many treasures in her hoard, some she has kept for millennia. Most will never be retrieved—because the High Lords do not dare be caught, thanks to the laws that protect her, thanks to her wrath. Any thieves on their behalf … Either they do not return, or they are never sent, for fear of it leading back to their High Lord. But you … She does not know you. You belong to every court.”

“So I’m your huntress and thief?”

His hands slid down to cup the backs of my knees as he said with a roguish grin, “You are my salvation, Feyre.”

CHAPTER

20

Rhysand winnowed us into a wood that was older, more aware, than any place I’d been.

The gnarled beech trees were tightly woven together, splattered and draped so thoroughly with moss and lichen that it was nearly impossible to see the bark beneath.

“Where are we?” I breathed, hardly daring to whisper.

Rhys kept his hands within casual reach of his weapons. “In the heart of Prythian, there is a large, empty territory that divides the North and South. At the center of it is our sacred mountain.”

My heart stumbled, and I focused on my steps through the ferns and moss and roots. “This forest,” Rhys went on, “is on the eastern edge of that neutral territory. Here, there is no High Lord. Here, the law is made by who is strongest, meanest, most cunning. And the Weaver of the Wood is at the top of their food chain.”

The trees groaned—though there was no breeze to shift them. No, the air here was tight and stale. “Amarantha didn’t wipe them out?”

“Amarantha was no fool,” Rhys said, his face dark. “She did not touch these creatures or disturb the wood. For years, I tried to find ways to manipulate her to make that foolish mistake, but she never bought it.”

“And now we’re disturbing her—for a mere test.”

He chuckled, the sound bouncing off the gray stones strewn across the forest floor like scattered marbles. “Cassian tried to convince me last night not to take you. I thought he might even punch me.”

“Why?” I barely knew him.

“Who knows? With Cassian, he’s probably more interested in fucking you than protecting you.”

“You’re a pig.”

“You could, you know,” Rhys said, holding up the branch of a scrawny beech for me to slip under. “If you needed to move on in a physical sense, I’m sure Cassian would be more than happy to oblige.”

It felt like a test in itself. And it pissed me off enough that I crooned, “Then tell him to come to my room tonight.”

“If you survive this test.”

I paused atop a little lichen-crusted rock. “You seem pleased by the idea that I won’t.”

“Quite the opposite, Feyre.” He prowled to where I stood on the stone. I was almost eye level with him. The forest went even quieter—the trees seeming to lean closer, as if to catch every word. “I’ll let Cassian know you’re … open to his advances.”

“Good,” I said. A bit of hollowed-out air pushed against me, like a flicker of night. That power along my bones and blood stirred in answer.

I made to jump off the stone, but he gripped my chin, the movement too fast to detect. His words were a lethal caress as he said, “Did you enjoy the sight of me kneeling before you?”

I knew he could hear my heart as it ratcheted into a thunderous beat. I gave him a hateful little smirk, anyway, yanking my chin out of his touch and leaping off the stone. I might have aimed for his feet. And he might have shifted out of the way just enough to avoid it. “Isn’t that all you males are good for, anyway?” But the words were tight, near-breathless.

His answering smile evoked silken sheets and jasmine-scented breezes at midnight.

A dangerous line—one Rhys was forcing me to walk to keep me from thinking about what I was about to face, about what a wreck I was inside.

Anger, this … flirtation, annoyance … He knew those were my crutches.

What I was about to encounter, then, must be truly harrowing if he wanted me going in there mad—thinking about sex, about anything but the Weaver of the Wood.

“Nice try,” I said hoarsely. Rhysand just shrugged and swaggered off into the trees ahead.

Bastard. Yes, it had been to distract me, but—

I stormed after him as silently as I could, intent on tackling him and slamming my fist into his spine, but he held up a hand as he stopped before a clearing.

A small, whitewashed cottage with a thatched roof and half-crumbling chimney sat in the center. Ordinary—almost mortal. There was even a well, its bucket perched on the stone lip, and a wood pile beneath one of the round windows of the cottage. No sound or light within—not even smoke puffed from the chimney.

The few birds in the forest fell quiet. Not entirely, but to keep their chatter to a minimum. And—there.

Faint, coming from inside the cottage, was a pretty, steady humming.

It might have been the sort of place I would have stopped if I were thirsty, or hungry, or in need of shelter for the night.

Maybe that was the trap.

The trees around the clearing, so close that their branches nearly clawed at the thatched roof, might very well have been the bars of a cage.

Rhys inclined his head toward the cottage, bowing with dramatic grace.

In, out—don’t make a sound. Find whatever object it was and snatch it from beneath a blind person’s nose.

And then run like hell.

Mossy earth paved the way to the front door, already cracked slightly. A bit of cheese. And I was the foolish mouse about to fall for it.

Eyes twinkling, Rhys mouthed, Good luck.

I gave him a vulgar gesture and slowly, silently made my way toward the front door.

The woods seemed to monitor each of my steps. When I glanced behind, Rhys was gone.

He hadn’t said if he’d interfere if I were in mortal peril. I probably should have asked.

I avoided any leaves and stones, falling into a pattern of movement that some part of my body—some part that was not born of the High Lords—remembered.

Like waking up. That’s what it felt like.

I passed the well. Not a speck of dirt, not a stone out of place. A perfect, pretty trap, that mortal part of me warned. A trap designed from a time when humans were prey; now laid for a smarter, immortal sort of game.

I was not prey any longer, I decided as I eased up to that door.

And I was not a mouse.

I was a wolf.

I listened on the threshold, the rock worn as if many, many boots had passed through—and perhaps never passed back over again. The words of her song became clear now, her voice sweet and beautiful, like sunlight on a stream:

“There were two sisters, they went playing,

To see their father’s ships come sailing …

And when they came unto the sea-brim

The elder did push the younger in.”

A honeyed voice, for an ancient, horrible song. I’d heard it before—slightly different, but sung by humans who had no idea that it had come from faerie throats.

I listened for another moment, trying to hear anyone else. But there was only a clatter and thrum of some sort of device, and the Weaver’s song.

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