A Court of Mist and Fury Page 88

Tell me about the painting.

I’d written back from my seat in the garden, the fountain finally revived with the return of milder weather, There’s not much to say.

Tell me about it anyway.

It had taken me a while to craft the response, to think through that little hole in me and what it had once meant and felt like. But then I said, There was a time when all I wanted was enough money to keep me and my family fed so that I could spend my days painting. That was all I wanted. Ever.

A pause. Then he’d written, And now?

Now, I’d replied, I don’t know what I want. I can’t paint anymore.

Why?

Because that part of me is empty. Though maybe that night I’d seen him kneeling in the bed … maybe that had changed a bit. I had contemplated the next sentence, then written, Did you always want to be High Lord?

A lengthy pause again. Yes. And no. I saw how my father ruled and knew from a young age that I did not want to be like him. So I decided to be a different sort of High Lord; I wanted to protect my people, change the perceptions of the Illyrians, and eliminate the corruption that plagued the land.

For a moment, I hadn’t been able to stop myself from comparing: Tamlin hadn’t wanted to be High Lord. He resented being High Lord—and maybe … maybe that was part of why the court had become what it was. But Rhysand, with a vision, with the will and desire and passion to do it … He’d built something.

And then gone to the mat to defend it.

It was what he’d seen in Tarquin, why those blood rubies had hit him so hard. Another High Lord with vision—a radical vision for the future of Prythian.

So I wrote back, At least you make up for your shameless flirting by being one hell of a High Lord.

He’d returned that evening, smirking like a cat, and had merely said “One hell of a High Lord?” by way of greeting.

I’d sent a bucket’s worth of water splashing into his face.

Rhys hadn’t bothered to shield against it. And instead shook his wet hair like a dog, spraying me until I yelped and darted away. His laughter had chased me up the stairs.

Winter was slowly loosening its grip when I awoke one morning and found another letter from Rhys beside my bed. No pen.

No training with your second-favorite Illyrian this morning. The queens finally deigned to write back. They’re coming to your family’s estate tomorrow.

I didn’t have time for nerves. We left after dinner, soaring into the thawing human lands under cover of darkness, the brisk wind screaming as Rhys held me tightly.

My sisters were ready the following morning, both dressed in finery fit for any queen, Fae or mortal.

I supposed I was, too.

I wore a white gown of chiffon and silk, cut in typical Night Court fashion to reveal my skin, the gold accents on the dress glittering in the midmorning light streaming through the sitting room windows. My father, thankfully, would remain on the continent for another two months—due to whatever vital trade he’d been seeking across the kingdoms.

Near the fireplace, I stood beside Rhys, who was clad in his usual black, his wings gone, his face a calm mask. Only the dark crown atop his head—the metal shaped like raven’s feathers—was different. The crown that was the sibling to my gold diadem.

Cassian and Azriel monitored everything from the far wall, no weapons in sight.

But their Siphons gleamed, and I wondered what manner of weapon, exactly, they could craft with it, if the need demanded it. For that had been one of the demands the queens had issued for this meeting: no weapons. No matter that the Illyrian warriors themselves were weapons enough.

Mor, in a red gown similar to mine, frowned at the clock atop the white mantel, her foot tapping on the ornate carpet. Despite my wishes for her to get to know my sisters, Nesta and Elain had been so tense and pale when we’d arrived that I’d immediately decided now was not the time for such an encounter.

One day—one day, I’d bring them all together. If we didn’t die in this war first. If these queens chose to help us.

Eleven o’clock struck.

There had been two other demands.

The meeting was to begin at eleven. No earlier. No later.

And they had wanted the exact geographical location of the house. The layout and size of each room. Where the furniture was. Where the windows and doors were. What room, likely, we would greet them in.

Azriel had provided it all, with my sisters’ help.

The chiming of the clock atop the mantel was the only sound.

And I realized, as it finished its last strike, that the third demand wasn’t just for security.

No, as a wind brushed through the room, and five figures appeared, flanked by two guards apiece, I realized it was because the queens could winnow.

CHAPTER

40

The mortal queens were a mixture of age, coloring, height, and temperament. The eldest of them, clad in an embroidered wool dress of deepest blue, was brown-skinned, her eyes sharp and cold, and unbent despite the heavy wrinkles carved into her face.

The two who appeared middle-aged were opposites: one dark, one light; one sweet-faced, one hewn from granite; one smiling and one frowning. They even wore gowns of black and white—and seemed to move in question and answer to each other. I wondered what their kingdoms were like, what relations they had. If the matching silver rings they each wore bound them in other ways.

And the youngest two queens … One was perhaps a few years older than me, black-haired and black-eyed, careful cunning oozing from every pore as she surveyed us.

And the final queen, the one who spoke first, was the most beautiful—the only beautiful one of them. These were women who, despite their finery, did not care if they were young or old, fat or thin, short or tall. Those things were secondary; those things were a sleight of hand.

But this one, this beautiful queen, perhaps no older than thirty …

Her riotously curly hair was as golden as Mor’s, her eyes of purest amber. Even her brown, freckled skin seemed dusted with gold. Her body was supple where she’d probably learned men found it distracting, lithe where it showed grace. A lion in human flesh.

“Well met,” Rhysand said, remaining still as their stone-faced guards scanned us, the room. As the queens now took our measure.

The sitting room was enormous enough that one nod from the golden queen had the guards peeling off to hold positions by the walls, the doors. My sisters, silent before the bay window, shuffled aside to make room.

Rhys stepped forward. The queens all sucked in a little breath, as if bracing themselves. Their guards casually, perhaps foolishly, rested a hand on the hilt of their broadswords—so large and clunky compared to Illyrian blades. As if they stood a chance—against any of us. Myself included, I realized with a bit of a start.

But it was Cassian and Azriel who would play the role of mere guards today—distractions.

But Rhys bowed his head slightly and said to the assembled queens, “We are grateful you accepted our invitation.” He lifted a brow. “Where is the sixth?”

The ancient queen, her blue gown heavy and rich, merely said, “She is unwell, and could not make the journey.” She surveyed me. “You are the emissary.”

My back stiffened. Beneath her gaze, my crown felt like a joke, like a bauble, but—“Yes,” I said. “I am Feyre.”

A cutting glance toward Rhysand. “And you are the High Lord who wrote us such an interesting letter after your first few were dispatched.”

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