A Court of Mist and Fury Page 75

Tarquin’s lips were pursed, but his eyes were considering. “Would you spare them if war came?”

Such a dangerous, loaded question. I wouldn’t tell him what we were doing over the wall—not until Rhys had indicated we should.

“My sisters dwell with my father on his estate. For them, I would fight. But for those sycophants and peacocks … I would not mind to see their order disrupted.” Like the hate-mongering family of Elain’s betrothed.

Tarquin said very quietly, “There are some in Prythian who would think the same of the courts.”

“What—get rid of the High Lords?”

“Perhaps. But mostly eliminate the inherent privileges of High Fae over the lesser faeries. Even the terms imply a level of unfairness. Maybe it is more like the human realm than you realize, not as blurred as it might seem. In some courts, the lowest of High Fae servants has more rights than the wealthiest of lesser faeries.”

I became aware that we were not the only people on the barge, at this table. And that we were surrounded by High Fae with animal-keen hearing. “Do you agree with them? That it should change?”

“I am a young High Lord,” he said. “Barely eighty years old.” So he’d been thirty when Amarantha took over. “Perhaps others might call me inexperienced or foolish, but I have seen those cruelties firsthand, and known many good lesser faeries who suffered for merely being born on the wrong side of power. Even within my own residences, the confines of tradition pressure me to enforce the rules of my predecessors: the lesser faeries are neither to be seen nor heard as they work. I would like to one day see a Prythian in which they have a voice, both in my home and in the world beyond it.”

I scanned him for any deceit, manipulation. I found none.

Steal from him—I would steal from him. But what if I asked instead? Would he give it to me, or would the traditions of his ancestors run too deep?

“Tell me what that look means,” Tarquin said, bracing his muscled arms on the gold tablecloth.

I said baldly, “I’m thinking it would be very easy to love you. And easier to call you my friend.”

He smiled at me—broad and without restraint. “I would not object to either.”

Easy—very easy to fall in love with a kind, considerate male.

But I glanced over at Cresseida, who was now almost in Rhysand’s lap. And Rhysand was smiling like a cat, one finger tracing circles on the back of her hand while she bit her lip and beamed. I faced Tarquin, my brows high in silent question.

He made a face and shook his head.

I hoped they went to her room.

Because if I had to listen to Rhys bed her … I didn’t let myself finish the thought.

Tarquin mused, “It has been many years since I saw her look like that.”

My cheeks heated—shame. Shame for what? Wanting to throttle her for no good reason? Rhysand teased and taunted me—he never … seduced me, with those long, intent stares, the half smiles that were pure Illyrian arrogance.

I supposed I’d been granted that gift once—and had used it up and fought for it and broken it. And I supposed that Rhysand, for all he had sacrificed and done … He deserved it as much as Cresseida.

Even if … even if for a moment, I wanted it.

I wanted to feel like that again.

And … I was lonely.

I had been lonely, I realized, for a very, very long time.

Rhys leaned in to hear something Cresseida was saying, her lips brushing his ear, her hand now entwining with his.

And it wasn’t sorrow, or despair, or terror that hit me, but … unhappiness. Such bleak, sharp unhappiness that I got to my feet.

Rhys’s eyes shifted toward me, at last remembering I existed, and there was nothing on his face—no hint that he felt any of what I did through our bond. I didn’t care if I had no shield, if my thoughts were wide open and he read them like a book. He didn’t seem to care, either. He went back to chuckling at whatever Cresseida was telling him, sliding closer.

Tarquin had risen to his feet, scanning me and Rhys.

I was unhappy—not just broken. But unhappy.

An emotion, I realized. It was an emotion, rather than the unending emptiness or survival-driven terror.

“I need some fresh air,” I said, even though we were in the open. But with the golden lights, the people up and down the table … I needed to find a spot on this barge where I could be alone, just for a moment, mission or no.

“Would you like me to join you?”

I looked at the High Lord of Summer. I hadn’t lied. It would be easy to fall in love with a male like him. But I wasn’t entirely sure that even with the hardships he’d encountered Under the Mountain, Tarquin could understand the darkness that might always be in me. Not only from Amarantha, but from years spent being hungry, and desperate.

That I might always be a little bit vicious or restless. That I might crave peace, but never a cage of comfort.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I said, and headed for the sweeping staircase that led down onto the stern of the ship—brightly lit, but quieter than the main areas at the prow. Rhys didn’t so much as look in my direction as I walked away. Good riddance.

I was halfway down the wood steps when I spotted Amren and Varian—both leaning against adjacent pillars, both drinking wine, both ignoring each other. Even as they spoke to no one else.

Perhaps that was another reason why she’d come: to distract Tarquin’s watchdog.

I reached the main deck, found a spot by the wooden railing that was a bit more shadowed than the rest, and leaned against it. Magic propelled the boat—no oars, no sails. So we moved through the bay, silent and smooth, hardly a ripple in our wake.

I didn’t realize I’d been waiting for him until the barge docked at the base of the island-city, and I’d somehow spent the entire final hour alone.

When I filed onto land with the rest of the crowd, Amren, Varian, and Tarquin were waiting for me at the docks, all a bit stiff-backed.

Rhysand and Cresseida were nowhere to be seen.

CHAPTER

34

Mercifully, there was no sound from his closed bedroom. And no sounds came out of it during that night, when I jolted awake from a nightmare of being turned over a spit, and couldn’t remember where I was.

Moonlight danced on the sea beyond my open windows, and there was silence—such silence.

A weapon. I was a weapon to find that book, to stop the king from breaking the wall, to stop whatever he had planned for Jurian and the war that might destroy my world. That might destroy this place—and a High Lord who might very well overturn the order of things.

For a heartbeat, I missed Velaris, missed the lights and the music and the Rainbow. I missed the cozy warmth of the town house to welcome me in from the crisp winter, missed … what it had been like to be a part of their little unit.

Maybe wrapping his wings around me, writing me notes, had been Rhys’s way of ensuring his weapon didn’t break beyond repair.

That was fine—fair enough. We owed each other nothing beyond our promises to work and fight together.

He could still be my friend. Companion—whatever this thing was between us. His taking someone to his bed didn’t change those things.

It’d just been a relief to think that for a moment, he might have been as lonely as me.

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