A Court of Mist and Fury Page 78

Rhysand’s teeth flashed. “Do you think I particularly like having to flirt with a lonely female to get information about her court, her High Lord? Do you think I feel good about myself, doing that? Do you think I enjoy doing it just so you have the space to ply Tarquin with your smiles and pretty eyes, so we can get the Book and go home?”

“You seemed to enjoy yourself plenty last night.”

His snarl was soft—vicious. “I didn’t take her to bed. She wanted to, but I didn’t so much as kiss her. I took her out for a drink in the city, let her talk about her life, her pressures, and brought her back to her room, and went no farther than the door. I waited for you at breakfast, but you slept in. Or avoided me, apparently. And I tried to catch your eye this afternoon, but you were so good at shutting me out completely.”

“Is that what got under your skin? That I shut you out, or that it was so easy for Tarquin to get in?”

“What got under my skin,” Rhys said, his breathing a bit uneven, “is that you smiled at him.”

The rest of the world faded to mist as the words sank in. “You are jealous.”

He shook his head, stalking to the little table against the far wall and knocking back a glass of amber liquid. He braced his hands on the table, the powerful muscles of his back quivering beneath his shirt as the shadow of those wings struggled to take form.

“I heard what you told him,” he said. “That you thought it would be easy to fall in love with him. You meant it, too.”

“So?” It was the only thing I could think of to say.

“I was jealous—of that. That I’m not … that sort of person. For anyone. The Summer Court has always been neutral; they only showed backbone during those years Under the Mountain. I spared Tarquin’s life because I’d heard how he wanted to even out the playing field between High Fae and lesser faeries. I’ve been trying to do that for years. Unsuccessfully, but … I spared him for that alone. And Tarquin, with his neutral court … he will never have to worry about someone walking away because the threat against their life, their children’s lives, will always be there. So, yes, I was jealous of him—because it will always be easy for him. And he will never know what it is to look up at the night sky and wish.”

The Court of Dreams.

The people who knew that there was a price, and one worth paying, for that dream. The bastard-born warriors, the Illyrian half-breed, the monster trapped in a beautiful body, the dreamer born into a court of nightmares … And the huntress with an artist’s soul.

And perhaps because it was the most vulnerable thing he’d said to me, perhaps it was the burning in my eyes, but I walked to where he stood over the little bar. I didn’t look at him as I took the decanter of amber liquid and poured myself a knuckle’s length, then refilled his.

But I met his stare as I clinked my glass against his, the crystal ringing clear and bright over the crashing sea far below, and said, “To the people who look at the stars and wish, Rhys.”

He picked up his glass, his gaze so piercing that I wondered why I had bothered blushing at all for Tarquin.

Rhys clinked his glass against mine. “To the stars who listen—and the dreams that are answered.”

CHAPTER

35

Two days passed. Every moment of it was a balancing act of truth and lies. Rhys saw to it that I was not invited to the meetings he and Amren held to distract my kind host, granting me time to scour the city for any hint of the Book.

But not too eagerly; not too intently. I could not look too intrigued as I wandered the streets and docks, could not ask too many leading questions of the people I encountered about the treasures and legends of Adriata. Even when I awoke at dawn, I made myself wait until a reasonable hour before setting out into the city, made myself take an extended bath to secretly practice that water-magic. And while crafting water-animals grew tedious after an hour … it came to me easily. Perhaps because of my proximity to Tarquin, perhaps because of whatever affinity for water was already in my blood, my soul—though I certainly was in no position to ask.

Once breakfast had finally been served and consumed, I made sure to look a bit bored and aimless when I finally strode through the shining halls of the palace on my way out into the awakening city.

Hardly anyone recognized me as I casually examined shops and houses and bridges for any glimmer of a spell that felt like Tarquin, though I doubted they had reason to. It had been the High Fae—the nobility—that had been kept Under the Mountain. These people had been left here … to be tormented.

Scars littered the buildings, the streets, from what had been done in retaliation for their rebellion: burn marks, gouged bits of stone, entire buildings turned to rubble. The back of the castle, as Tarquin had claimed, was indeed in the middle of being repaired. Three turrets were half shattered, the tan stone charred and crumbling. No sign of the Book. Workers toiled there—and throughout the city—to fix those broken areas.

Just as the people I saw—High Fae and faeries with scales and gills and long, spindly webbed fingers—all seemed to be slowly healing. There were scars and missing limbs on more than I could count. But in their eyes … in their eyes, light gleamed.

I had saved them, too.

Freed them from whatever horrors had occurred during those five decades.

I had done a terrible thing to save them … but I had saved them.

And it would never be enough to atone, but … I did not feel quite so heavy, despite not finding a glimmer of the Book’s presence, when I returned to the palace atop the hill on the third night to await Rhysand’s report on the day’s meetings—and learn if he’d managed to discover anything, too.

As I strode up the steps of the palace, cursing myself for remaining so out of shape even with Cassian’s lessons, I spied Amren perched on the ledge of a turret balcony, cleaning her nails.

Varian leaned against the threshold of another tower balcony within jumping range—and I wondered if he was debating if he could clear the distance fast enough to push her off.

A cat playing with a dog—that’s what it was. Amren was practically washing herself, silently daring him to get close enough to sniff. I doubted Varian would like her claws.

Unless that was why he hounded her day and night.

I shook my head, continuing up the steps—watching as the tide swept out.

The sunset-stained sky caught on the water and tidal muck. A little night breeze whispered past, and I leaned into it, letting it cool the sweat on me. There had once been a time when I’d dreaded the end of summer, had prayed it would hold out for as long as possible. Now the thought of endless warmth and sun made me … bored. Restless.

I was about to turn back to the stairs when I beheld the bit of land that had been revealed near the tidal causeway. The small building.

No wonder I hadn’t seen it, as I’d never been up this high in the day when the tide was out … And during the rest of the day, from the muck and seaweed now gleaming on it, it would have been utterly covered.

Even now, it was half submerged. But I couldn’t tear my eyes from it.

Like it was a little piece of home, wet and miserable-looking as it was, and I need only hurry along the muddy causeway between the quieter part of the city and the mainland—fast, fast, fast, so I might catch it before it vanished beneath the waves again.

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