A Court of Mist and Fury Page 60

Elain flushed a bit. “The—the bedrooms that have two beds aren’t next to each other,” she murmured.

I sighed. “We’ll move things around. It’s fine. This one,” I added with a glare in Rhys’s direction, “is only cranky because he’s old and it’s past his bedtime.”

Rhys chuckled, Cassian’s wrath slipping enough that he grinned, and Elain, noticing Azriel’s ease as proof that things weren’t indeed about to go badly, offered one of her own as well.

Nesta just rose to her feet, a slim pillar of steel, and said to no one in particular, “If we’re done eating, then this meal is over.”

And that was that.

Rhys wrote the letter for me, Cassian and Azriel chiming in with corrections, and it took us until midnight before we had a draft we all thought sounded impressive, welcoming, and threatening enough.

My sisters cleaned the dishes while we worked, and had excused themselves to bed hours before, mentioning where to find our rooms.

Cassian and Azriel were to share one, Rhys and I the other.

I frowned at the large guest bedroom as Rhys shut the door behind us. The bed was large enough for two, but I wasn’t sharing it. I whirled to him, “I’m not—”

Wood thumped on carpet, and a small bed appeared by the door. Rhys plopped onto it, tugging off his boots. “Nesta is a delight, by the way.”

“She’s … her own creature,” I said. It was perhaps the kindest thing I could say about her.

“It’s been a few centuries since someone got under Cassian’s skin that easily. Too bad they’re both inclined to kill the other.”

Part of me shuddered at the havoc the two would wreak if they decided to stop fighting.

“And Elain,” Rhys said, sighing as he removed his other boot, “should not be marrying that lord’s son, not for about a dozen reasons, the least of which being the fact that you won’t be invited to the wedding. Though maybe that’s a good thing.”

I hissed. “That’s not funny.”

“At least you won’t have to send a gift, either. I doubt her father-in-law would deign to accept it.”

“You have a lot of nerve mocking my sisters when your own friends have equally as much melodrama.” His brows lifted in silent question. I snorted. “Oh, so you haven’t noticed the way Azriel looks at Mor? Or how she sometimes watches him, defends him? And how both of them do such a good job letting Cassian be a buffer between them most of the time?”

Rhys leveled a look at me. “I’d suggest keeping those observations to yourself.”

“You think I’m some busybody gossip? My life is miserable enough as it is—why would I want to spread that misery to those around me as well?”

“Is it miserable? Your life, I mean.” A careful question.

“I don’t know. Everything is happening so quickly that I don’t know what to feel.” It was more honest than I’d been in a while.

“Hmmm. Perhaps once we return home, I should give you the day off.”

“How considerate of you, my lord.”

He snorted, unbuttoning his jacket. I realized I stood in all my finery—with nothing to wear to sleep.

A snap of Rhys’s fingers, and my nightclothes—and some flimsy underthings—appeared on the bed. “I couldn’t decide which scrap of lace I wanted you to wear, so I brought you a few to choose from.”

“Pig,” I barked, snatching the clothes and heading to the adjoining bathing room.

The room was toasty when I emerged, Rhys in the bed he’d summoned from wherever, all light gone save for the murmuring embers in the hearth. Even the sheets were warm as I slid between them.

“Thank you for warming the bed,” I said into the dimness.

His back was to me, but I heard him clearly as he said, “Amarantha never once thanked me for that.”

Any warmth leeched away. “She didn’t suffer enough.”

Not even close, for what she had done. To me, to him, to Clare, to so many others.

Rhys didn’t answer. Instead he said, “I didn’t think I could get through that dinner.”

“What do you mean?” He’d been rather … calm. Contained.

“Your sisters mean well, or one of them does. But seeing them, sitting at that table … I hadn’t realized it would hit me as strongly. How young you were. How they didn’t protect you.”

“I managed just fine.”

“We owe them our gratitude for letting us use this house,” he said quietly, “but it will be a long while yet before I can look at your sisters without wanting to roar at them.”

“A part of me feels the same way,” I admitted, nestling down into the blankets. “But if I hadn’t gone into those woods, if they hadn’t let me go out there alone … You would still be enslaved. And perhaps Amarantha would now be readying her forces to wipe out these lands.”

Silence. Then, “I am paying you a wage, you know. For all of this.”

“You don’t need to.” Even if … even if I had no money of my own.

“Every member of my court receives one. There’s already a bank account in Velaris for you, where your wages will be deposited. And you have lines of credit at most stores. So if you don’t have enough on you when you’re shopping, you can have the bill sent to the House.”

“I—you didn’t have to do that.” I swallowed hard. “And how much, exactly, am I getting paid each month?”

“The same amount the others receive.” No doubt a generous—likely too generous—salary. But he suddenly asked, “When is your birthday?”

“Do I even need to count them anymore?” He merely waited. I sighed. “It’s the Winter Solstice.”

He paused. “That was months ago.”

“Mmmhmm.”

“You didn’t … I don’t remember seeing you celebrate it.”

Through the bond, through my unshielded, mess of a mind. “I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want a party when there was already all that celebrating going on. Birthdays seem meaningless now, anyway.”

He was quiet for a long minute. “You were truly born on the Winter Solstice?”

“Is that so hard to believe? My mother claimed I was so withdrawn and strange because I was born on the longest night of the year. She tried one year to have my birthday on another day, but forgot to do it the next time—there was probably a more advantageous party she had to plan.”

“Now I know where Nesta gets it. Honestly, it’s a shame we can’t stay longer—if only to see who’ll be left standing: her or Cassian.”

“My money’s on Nesta.”

A soft chuckle that snaked along my bones—a reminder that he’d once bet on me. Had been the only one Under the Mountain who had put money on me defeating the Middengard Wyrm. He said, “So’s mine.”

CHAPTER

25

Standing beneath the latticework of snow-heavy trees, I took in the slumbering forest and wondered if the birds had gone quiet because of my presence. Or that of the High Lord beside me.

“Freezing my ass off first thing in the morning isn’t how I intended to spend our day off,” Rhysand said, frowning at the wood. “I should take you to the Illyrian Steppes when we return—the forest there is far more interesting. And warmer.”

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