A Court of Mist and Fury Page 66

I frowned up at him. “Are you going dancing?”

He peered over my shoulder at his friends, who had almost scaled the steep street, some people pausing to greet them. “I’d rather walk home,” Rhys said at last. “It’s been a long day.”

Mor turned back at the top of the hill, her purple clothes floating around her in the winter wind, and raised a dark gold brow. Rhys shook his head, and she waved, followed by short waves from Azriel and Cassian, who’d dropped back to talk with his brother-in-arms.

Rhys gestured forward. “Shall we? Or are you too cold?”

Consuming blood with Amren in the back of the restaurant sounded more appealing, but I shook my head and fell into step beside him as we walked along the river toward the bridge.

I drank in the city as greedily as Amren had gobbled down the spiced blood, and I almost stumbled as I spied the glimmer of color across the water.

The Rainbow of Velaris glowed like a fistful of jewels, as if the paint they used on their houses came alive in the moonlight.

“This is my favorite view in the city,” Rhys said, stopping at the metal railing along the river walkway and gazing toward the artists’ quarter. “It was my sister’s favorite, too. My father used to have to drag her kicking and screaming out of Velaris, she loved it so much.”

I fumbled for the right response to the quiet sorrow in those words. But like a useless fool, I merely asked, “Then why are both your houses on the other side of the river?” I leaned against the railing, watching the reflections of the Rainbow wobble on the river surface like bright fishes struggling in the current.

“Because I wanted a quiet street—so I could visit this clamor whenever I wished and then have a home to retreat to.”

“You could have just reordered the city.”

“Why the hell would I change one thing about this place?”

“Isn’t that what High Lords do?” My breath clouded in front of me in the brisk night. “Whatever they please?”

He studied my face. “There are a great many things that I wish to do, and don’t get to.”

I hadn’t realized how close we were standing. “So when you buy jewelry for Amren, is it to keep yourself in her good graces or because you’re—together?”

Rhys barked a laugh. “When I was young and stupid, I once invited her to my bed. She laughed herself hoarse. The jewelry is just because I enjoy buying it for a friend who works hard for me, and has my back when I need it. Staying in her good graces is an added bonus.”

None of it surprised me. “And you didn’t marry anyone.”

“So many questions tonight.” I stared at him until he sighed. “I’ve had lovers, but I never felt tempted to invite one of them to share a life with me. And I honestly think that if I’d asked, they all would have said no.”

“I would have thought they’d be fighting each other to win your hand.” Like Ianthe.

“Marrying me means a life with a target on your back—and if there were offspring, then a life of knowing they’d be hunted from the moment they were conceived. Everyone knows what happened to my family—and my people know that beyond our borders, we are hated.”

I still didn’t know the full story, but I asked, “Why? Why are you hated? Why keep the truth of this place secret? It’s a shame no one knows about it—what good you do here.”

“There was a time when the Night Court was a Court of Nightmares and was ruled from the Hewn City. Long ago. But an ancient High Lord had a different vision, and rather than allowing the world to see his territory vulnerable at a time of change, he sealed the borders and staged a coup, eliminating the worst of the courtiers and predators, building Velaris for the dreamers, establishing trade and peace.”

His eyes blazed, as if he could peer all the way back in time to see it. With those remarkable gifts of his, it wouldn’t surprise me.

“To preserve it,” Rhys continued, “he kept it a secret, and so did his offspring, and their offspring. There are many spells on the city itself—laid by him, and his Heirs, that make those who trade here unable to spill our secrets, and grant them adept skills at lying in order to keep the origin of their goods, their ships, hidden from the rest of the world. Rumor has it that ancient High Lord cast his very life’s blood upon the stones and river to keep that spell eternal.

“But along the way, despite his best intentions, darkness grew again—not as bad as it had once been … But bad enough that there is a permanent divide within my court. We allow the world to see the other half, to fear them—so that they might never guess this place thrives here. And we allow the Court of Nightmares to continue, blind to Velaris’s existence, because we know that without them, there are some courts and kingdoms that might strike us. And invade our borders to discover the many, many secrets we’ve kept from the other High Lords and courts these millennia.”

“So truly none of the others know? In the other courts?”

“Not a soul. You will not find it on a single map, or mentioned in any book beyond those written here. Perhaps it is our loss to be so contained and isolated, but … ” He gestured to the city around us. “My people do not seem to be suffering much for it.”

Indeed, they did not. Thanks to Rhys—and his Inner Circle. “Are you worried about Az going to the mortal lands tomorrow?”

He tapped a finger against the rail. “Of course I am. But Azriel has infiltrated places far more harrowing than a few mortal courts. He’d find my worrying insulting.”

“Does he mind what he does? Not the spying, I mean. What he did to the Attor today.”

Rhys loosed a breath. “It’s hard to tell with him—and he’d never tell me. I’ve witnessed Cassian rip apart opponents and then puke his guts up once the carnage stopped, sometimes even mourn them. But Azriel … Cassian tries, I try—but I think the only person who ever gets him to admit to any sort of feeling is Mor. And that’s only when she’s pestered him to the point where even his infinite patience has run out.”

I smiled a bit. “But he and Mor—they never … ?”

“That’s between them—and Cassian. I’m not stupid or arrogant enough to get in the middle of it.” Which I would certainly be if I shoved my nose in their business.

We walked in silence across the packed bridge to the other side of the river. My muscles quivered at the steep hills between us and the town house.

I was about to beg Rhys to fly me home when I caught the strands of music pouring from a group of performers outside a restaurant.

My hands slackened at my sides. A reduced version of the symphony I’d heard in a chill dungeon, when I had been so lost to terror and despair that I had hallucinated—hallucinated as this music poured into my cell … and kept me from shattering.

And once more, the beauty of it hit me, the layering and swaying, the joy and peace.

They had never played a piece like it Under the Mountain—never this sort of music. And I’d never heard music in my cell save for that one time.

“You,” I breathed, not taking my eyes from the musicians playing so skillfully that even the diners had set down their forks in the cafés nearby. “You sent that music into my cell. Why?”

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