A Court of Mist and Fury Page 51

“Sometimes she sank, and sometimes she swam,

’Til her corpse came to the miller’s dam.”

My breath was tight in my chest, but I kept it even—directing it through my mouth in silent breaths. I eased open the front door, just an inch.

No squeak—no whine of rusty hinges. Another piece of the pretty trap: practically inviting thieves in. I peered inside when the door had opened wide enough.

A large main room, with a small, shut door in the back. Floor-to-ceiling shelves lined the walls, crammed with bric-a-brac: books, shells, dolls, herbs, pottery, shoes, crystals, more books, jewels … From the ceiling and wood rafters hung all manner of chains, dead birds, dresses, ribbons, gnarled bits of wood, strands of pearls …

A junk shop—of some immortal hoarder.

And that hoarder …

In the gloom of the cottage, there sat a large spinning wheel, cracked and dulled with age.

And before that ancient spinning wheel, her back to me, sat the Weaver.

Her thick hair was of richest onyx, tumbling down to her slender waist as she worked the wheel, snow-white hands feeding and pulling the thread around a thorn-sharp spindle.

She looked young—her gray gown simple but elegant, sparkling faintly in the dim forest light through the windows as she sang in a voice of glittering gold:

“But what did he do with her breastbone?

He made him a viol to play on.

What’d he do with her fingers so small?

He made pegs to his viol withall.”

The fiber she fed into the wheel was white—soft. Like wool, but … I knew, in that lingering human part of me, it was not wool. I knew that I did not want to learn what creature it had come from, who she was spinning into thread.

Because on the shelf directly beyond her were cones upon cones of threads—of every color and texture. And on the shelf adjacent to her were swaths and yards of that woven thread—woven, I realized, on the massive loom nearly hidden in the darkness near the hearth. The Weaver’s loom.

I had come on spinning day—would she have been singing if I had come on weaving day instead? From the strange, fear-drenched scent that came from those bolts of fabric, I already knew the answer.

A wolf. I was a wolf.

I stepped into the cottage, careful of the scattered debris on the earthen floor. She kept working, the wheel clattering so merrily, so at odds with her horrible song:

“And what did he do with her nose-ridge?

Unto his viol he made a bridge.

What did he do with her veins so blue?

He made strings to his viol thereto.”

I scanned the room, trying not to listen to the lyrics.

Nothing. I felt … nothing that might pull me toward one object in particular. Perhaps it would be a blessing if I were indeed not the one to track the Book—if today was not the start of what was sure to be a slew of miseries.

The Weaver perched there, working.

I scanned the shelves, the ceiling. Borrowed time. I was on borrowed time, and I was almost out of it.

Had Rhys sent me on a fool’s errand? Maybe there was nothing here. Maybe this object had been taken. It would be just like him to do that. To tease me in the woods, to see what sort of things might make my body react.

And maybe I resented Tamlin enough in that moment to enjoy that deadly bit of flirtation. Maybe I was as much a monster as the female spinning before me.

But if I was a monster, then I supposed Rhys was as well.

Rhys and I were one in the same—beyond the power that he’d given me. It’d be fitting if Tamlin hated me, too, once he realized I’d truly left.

I felt it, then—like a tap on my shoulder.

I pivoted, keeping one eye on the Weaver and the other on the room as I wove through the maze of tables and junk. Like a beacon, a bit of light laced with his half smile, it tugged me.

Hello, it seemed to say. Have you come to claim me at last?

Yes—yes, I wanted to say. Even as part of me wished it were otherwise.

The Weaver sang behind me,

“What did he do with her eyes so bright?

On his viol he set at first light.

What did he do with her tongue so rough?

’Twas the new till and it spoke enough.”

I followed that pulse—toward the shelf lining the wall beside the hearth. Nothing. And nothing on the second. But the third, right above my eyeline … There.

I could almost smell his salt-and-citrus scent. The Bone Carver had been correct.

I rose on my toes to examine the shelf. An old letter knife, books in leather that I did not want to touch or smell; a handful of acorns, a tarnished crown of ruby and jasper, and—

A ring.

A ring of twisted strands of gold and silver, flecked with pearl, and set with a stone of deepest, solid blue. Sapphire—but different. I’d never seen a sapphire like that, even at my father’s offices. This one … I could have sworn that in the pale light, the lines of a six-pointed star radiated across the round, opaque surface.

Rhys—this had Rhys written all over it.

He’d sent me here for a ring?

The Weaver sang,

“Then bespake the treble string,

‘O yonder is my father the king.’”

I watched her for another heartbeat, gauging the distance between the shelf and the open door. Grab the ring, and I could be gone in a heartbeat. Quick, quiet, calm.

“Then bespake the second string,

‘O yonder sits my mother the queen.’ ”

I dropped a hand toward one of the knives strapped to my thighs. When I got back to Rhys, maybe I’d stab him in the gut.

That fast, the memory of phantom blood covered my hands. I knew how it’d feel to slide my dagger through his skin and bones and flesh. Knew how the blood would dribble out, how he’d groan in pain—

I shut out the thought, even as I could feel the blood of those faeries soaking that human part of me that hadn’t died and belonged to no one but my miserable self.

“Then bespake the strings all three,

‘Yonder is my sister that drowned me.’ ”

My hand was quiet as a final, dying breath as I plucked the ring from the shelf.

The Weaver stopped singing.

CHAPTER

21

I froze, the ring now in the pocket of my jacket. She’d finished the last song—maybe she’d start another.

Maybe.

The spinning wheel slowed.

I backed a step toward the door. Then another.

Slower and slower, each rotation of the ancient wheel longer than the last.

Only ten steps to the door.

Five.

The wheel went round, one last time, so slow I could see each of the spokes.

Two.

I turned for the door as she lashed out with a white hand, gripping the wheel and stopping it wholly.

The door before me snicked shut.

I lunged for the handle, but there was none.

Window. Get to the window—

“Who is in my house?” she said softly.

Fear—undiluted, unbroken fear—slammed into me, and I remembered. I remembered what it was to be human and helpless and weak. I remembered what it was to want to fight to live, to be willing to do anything to stay breathing—

I reached the window beside the door. Sealed. No latch, no opening. Just glass that was not glass. Solid and impenetrable.

The Weaver turned her face toward me.

Wolf or mouse, it made no difference, because I became no more than an animal, sizing up my chance of survival.

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