A Court of Mist and Fury Page 74

“Fine.” His breath caressed my mouth.

“Fine,” I said, aware of every inch between us, the distance smaller and smaller, the challenge heightening with each second neither of us moved.

“Do not,” he said softly, his eyes like stars, “jeopardize this mission.”

“I know the cost.” The sheer power of him enveloped me, shaking me awake.

The salt and the sea and the breeze tugged on me, sang to me.

And as if Rhys heard them, too, he inclined his head toward the unlit candle on the dresser. “Light it.”

I debated arguing, but looked at the candle, summoning fire, summoning that hot anger he managed to rile—

The candle was knocked off the dresser by a violent splash of water, as if someone had chucked a bucketful.

I gaped at the water drenching the dresser, its dripping on the marble floor the only sound.

Rhys, hands still braced on either side of me, laughed quietly. “Can’t you ever follow orders?”

But whatever it was—being here, close to Tarquin and his power … I could feel that water answering me. Feel it coating the floor, feel the sea churning and idling in the bay, taste the salt on the breeze. I held Rhys’s gaze.

No one was my master—but I might be master of everything, if I wished. If I dared.

Like a strange rain, the water rose from the floor as I willed it to become like those stars Rhys had summoned in his blanket of darkness. I willed the droplets to separate until they hung around us, catching the light and sparkling like crystals on a chandelier.

Rhys broke my stare to study them. “I suggest,” he murmured, “you not show Tarquin that little trick in the bedroom.”

I sent each and every one of those droplets shooting for the High Lord’s face.

Too fast, too swiftly for him to shield. Some of them sprayed me as they ricocheted off him.

Both of us now soaking, Rhys gaped a bit—then smiled. “Good work,” he said, at last pushing off the dresser. He didn’t bother to wipe away the water gleaming on his skin. “Keep practicing.”

But I said, “Will he go to war? Over me?”

He knew who I meant. The hot temper that had been on Rhys’s face moments before turned to lethal calm. “I don’t know.”

“I—I would go back. If it came to that, Rhysand. I’d go back, rather than make you fight.”

He slid a still-wet hand into his pocket. “Would you want to go back? Would going to war on your behalf make you love him again? Would that be a grand gesture to win you?”

I swallowed hard. “I’m tired of death. I wouldn’t want to see anyone else die—least of all for me.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“No. I wouldn’t want to go back. But I would. Pain and killing wouldn’t win me.”

Rhys stared at me for a moment longer, his face unreadable, before he strode to the door. He stopped with his fingers on the sea urchin–shaped handle. “He locked you up because he knew—the bastard knew what a treasure you are. That you are worth more than land or gold or jewels. He knew, and wanted to keep you all to himself.”

The words hit me, even as they soothed some jagged piece in my soul. “He did—does love me, Rhysand.”

“The issue isn’t whether he loved you, it’s how much. Too much. Love can be a poison.”

And then he was gone.

The bay was calm enough—perhaps willed to flatness by its lord and master—that the pleasure barge hardly rocked throughout the hours we dined and drank aboard it.

Crafted of richest wood and gold, the enormous boat was amply sized for the hundred or so High Fae trying their best not to observe every movement Rhys, Amren, and I made.

The main deck was full of low tables and couches for eating and relaxing, and on the upper level, beneath a canopy of tiles set with mother-of-pearl, our long table had been set. Tarquin was summer incarnate in turquoise and gold, bits of emerald shining at his buttons and fingers. A crown of sapphire and white gold fashioned like cresting waves sat atop his seafoam-colored hair—so exquisite that I often caught myself staring at it.

As I was now, when he turned to where I sat on his right and noticed my stare.

“You’d think with our skilled jewelers, they could make a crown a bit more comfortable. This one digs in horribly.”

A pleasant enough attempt at conversation, when I’d stayed quiet throughout the first hour, instead watching the island-city, the water, the mainland—casting a net of awareness, of blind power, toward it, to see if anything answered. If the Book slumbered somewhere out there.

Nothing had answered my silent call. So I figured it was as good a time as any as I said, “How did you keep it out of her hands?”

Saying Amarantha’s name here, amongst such happy, celebrating people, felt like inviting in a rain cloud.

Seated at his left, deep in conversation with Cresseida, Rhys didn’t so much as look over at me. Indeed, he’d barely spoken to me earlier, not even noting my clothes.

Unusual, given that even I had been pleased with how I looked, and had again selected it for myself: my hair unbound and swept off my face with a headband of braided rose gold, my sleeveless, dusk-pink chiffon gown—tight in the chest and waist—the near-twin to the purple one I’d worn that morning. Feminine, soft, pretty. I hadn’t felt like those things in a long, long while. Hadn’t wanted to.

But here, being those things wouldn’t earn me a ticket to a life of party planning. Here, I could be soft and lovely at sunset, and awaken in the morning to slide into Illyrian fighting leathers.

Tarquin said, “We managed to smuggle out most of our treasure when the territory fell. Nostrus—my predecessor—was my cousin. I served as prince of another city. So I got the order to hide the trove in the dead of night, fast as we could.”

Amarantha had killed Nostrus when he’d rebelled—and executed his entire family for spite. Tarquin must have been one of the few surviving members, if the power had passed to him.

“I didn’t know the Summer Court valued treasure so much,” I said.

Tarquin huffed a laugh. “The earliest High Lords did. We do now out of tradition, mostly.”

I said carefully, casually, “So is it gold and jewels you value, then?”

“Among other things.”

I sipped my wine to buy time to think of a way to ask without raising suspicions. But maybe being direct about it would be better. “Are outsiders allowed to see the collection? My father was a merchant—I spent most of my childhood in his office, helping him with his goods. It would be interesting to compare mortal riches to those made by Fae hands.”

Rhys kept talking to Cresseida, not even a hint of approval or amusement going through our bond.

Tarquin cocked his head, the jewels in his crown glinting. “Of course. Tomorrow—after lunch, perhaps?”

He wasn’t stupid, and he might have been aware of the game, but … the offer was genuine. I smiled a bit, nodding. I looked toward the crowd milling about on the deck below, the lantern-lit water beyond, even as I felt Tarquin’s gaze linger.

He said, “What was it like? The mortal world?”

I picked at the strawberry salad on my plate. “I only saw a very small slice of it. My father was called the Prince of Merchants—but I was too young to be taken on his voyages to other parts of the mortal world. When I was eleven, he lost our fortune on a shipment to Bharat. We spent the next eight years in poverty, in a backwater village near the wall. So I can’t speak for the entirety of the mortal world when I say that what I saw there was … hard. Brutal. Here, class lines are far more blurred, it seems. There, it’s defined by money. Either you have it and you don’t share it, or you are left to starve and fight for your survival. My father … He regained his wealth once I went to Prythian.” My heart tightened, then dropped into my stomach. “And the very people who had been content to let us starve were once again our friends. I would rather face every creature in Prythian than the monsters on the other side of the wall. Without magic, without power, money has become the only thing that matters.”

Prev Next