A Court of Mist and Fury Page 65

Awed, perhaps a little intimidated, but … no fear. It was so unusual that I kept silent, merely observing them—their world. The normalcy that they each fought so hard to preserve. That I had once raged against, resented.

But there was no place like this in the world. Not so serene. So loved by its people and its rulers.

The other side of the city was even more crowded, with patrons in finery out to attend the many theaters we passed. I’d never seen a theater before—never seen a play, or a concert, or a symphony. In our ramshackle village, we’d gotten mummers and minstrels at best—herds of beggars yowling on makeshift instruments at worst.

We strolled along the riverside walkway, past shops and cafés, music spilling from them. And I thought—even as I hung back from the others, my gloved hands stuffed into the pockets of my heavy blue overcoat—that the sounds of it all might have been the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard: the people, and the river, and the music; the clank of silverware on plates; the scrape of chairs being pulled out and pushed in; the shouts of vendors selling their wares as they ambled past.

How much had I missed in these months of despair and numbness?

But no longer. The lifeblood of Velaris thrummed through me, and in rare moments of quiet, I could have sworn I heard the clash of the sea, clawing at the distant cliffs.

Eventually, we entered a small restaurant beside the river, built into the lower level of a two-story building, the whole space bedecked in greens and golds and barely big enough to fit all of us. And three sets of Illyrian wings.

But the owner knew them, and kissed them each on the cheek, even Rhysand. Well, except for Amren, whom the owner bowed to before she hustled back into her kitchen and bade us sit at the large table that was half in, half out of the open storefront. The starry night was crisp, the wind rustling the potted palms placed with loving care along the riverside walkway railing. No doubt spelled to keep from dying in the winter—just as the warmth of the restaurant kept the chill from disturbing us or any of those dining in the open air at the river’s edge.

Then the food platters began pouring out, along with the wine and the conversation, and we dined under the stars beside the river. I’d never had such food—warm and rich and savory and spicy. Like it filled not only my stomach, but that lingering hole in my chest, too.

The owner—a slim, dark-skinned female with lovely brown eyes—was standing behind my chair, chatting with Rhys about the latest shipment of spices that had come to the Palaces. “The traders were saying the prices might rise, High Lord, especially if rumors about Hybern awakening are correct.”

Down the table, I felt the others’ attention slide to us, even as they kept talking.

Rhys leaned back in his seat, swirling his goblet of wine. “We’ll find a way to keep the prices from skyrocketing.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, of course,” the owner said, wringing her fingers a bit. “It’s just … so lovely to have such spices available again—now that … that things are better.”

Rhys gave her a gentle smile, the one that made him seem younger. “I wouldn’t be troubling myself—not when I like your cooking so much.”

The owner beamed, flushing, and looked to where I’d half twisted in my seat to watch her. “Is it to your liking?”

The happiness on her face, the satisfaction that only a day of hard work doing something you love could bring, hit me like a stone.

I—I remembered feeling that way. After painting from morning until night. Once, that was all I had wanted for myself. I looked to the dishes, then back at her, and said, “I’ve lived in the mortal realm, and lived in other courts, but I’ve never had food like this. Food that makes me … feel awake.”

It sounded about as stupid as it felt coming out, but I couldn’t think of another way to say it. But the owner nodded like she understood and squeezed my shoulder. “Then I’ll bring you a special dessert,” she said, and strode into her kitchen.

I turned back to my plate, but found Rhysand’s eyes on me. His face was softer, more contemplative than I’d ever seen it, his mouth slightly open.

I lifted my brows. What?

He gave me a cocky grin and leaned in to hear the story Mor was telling about—

I forgot what she was talking about as the owner emerged with a metal goblet full of dark liquid and placed it before Amren.

Rhys’s Second hadn’t touched her plate, but pushed the food around like she might actually be trying to be polite. When she saw the goblet laid before her, she flicked her brows up. “You didn’t have to do that.”

The owner shrugged her slim shoulders. “It’s fresh and hot, and we needed the beast for tomorrow’s roast, anyway.”

I had a horrible feeling I knew what was inside.

Amren swirled the goblet, the dark liquid lapping at the sides like wine, then sipped from it. “You spiced it nicely.” Blood gleamed on her teeth.

The owner bowed. “No one leaves my place hungry,” she said before walking away.

Indeed, I almost asked Mor to roll me out of the restaurant by the time we were done and Rhys had paid the tab, despite the owner’s protests. My muscles were barking thanks to my earlier training in the mortal forest, and at some point during the meal, every part of me I’d used while tackling Rhys into the snow had started to ache.

Mor rubbed her stomach in lazy circles as we paused beside the river. “I want to go dancing. I won’t be able to fall asleep when I’m this full. Rita’s is right up the street.”

Dancing. My body groaned in protest and I glanced about for an ally to shoot down this ridiculous idea.

But Azriel—Azriel said, his eyes wholly on Mor, “I’m in.”

“Of course you are,” Cassian grumbled, frowning at him. “Don’t you have to be off at dawn?”

Mor’s frown now mirrored Cassian’s—as if she realized where and what he’d be doing tomorrow. She said to Azriel, “We don’t have to—”

“I want to,” Azriel said, holding her gaze long enough that Mor dropped it, twisted toward Cassian, and said, “Will you deign to join us, or do you have plans to ogle your muscles in the mirror?”

Cassian snorted, looping his elbow through hers and leading her up the street. “I’ll go—for the drinks, you ass. No dancing.”

“Thank the Mother. You nearly shattered my foot the last time you tried.”

It was an effort not to stare at Azriel as he watched them head up the steep street, arm in arm and bickering with every step. The shadows gathered around his shoulders, like they were indeed whispering to him, shielding him, perhaps. His broad chest expanded with a deep breath that sent them skittering, and then he set into an easy, graceful stroll after them. If Azriel was going with them, then any excuse I might make not to—

I turned pleading eyes to Amren, but she’d vanished.

“She’s getting more blood in the back to take home with her,” Rhys said in my ear, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. His chuckle was warm against my neck. “And then she’ll be going right to her apartment to gorge herself.”

I tried not to shudder as I faced him. “Why blood?”

“It doesn’t seem polite to ask.”

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