A Court of Mist and Fury Page 89

I didn’t dare look at him. He’d sent many letters through my sisters by now.

You didn’t ask what was inside them, he said mind to mind with me, laughter dancing along the bond. I’d left my mental shields down—just in case we needed to silently communicate.

“I am,” Rhysand said with a hint of a nod. “And this is my cousin, Morrigan.”

Mor stalked toward us, her crimson gown floating on a phantom wind. The golden queen sized her up with each step, each breath. A threat—for beauty and power and dominance. Mor bowed at my side. “It has been a long time since I met with a mortal queen.”

The black-clad queen placed a moon-white hand on her lower bodice. “Morrigan—the Morrigan from the War.”

They all paused as if in surprise. And a bit of awe and fear.

Mor bowed again. “Please—sit.” She gestured to the chairs we’d laid out a comfortable distance from each other, all far enough apart that the guards could flank their queens as they saw fit.

Almost as one, the queens sat. Their guards, however, remained at their posts around the room.

The golden-haired queen smoothed her voluminous skirts and said, “I assume those are our hosts.” A cutting look at my sisters.

Nesta had gone straight-backed, but Elain bobbed a curtsy, flushing rose pink.

“My sisters,” I clarified.

Amber eyes slid to me. To my crown. Then Rhys’s. “An emissary wears a golden crown. Is that a tradition in Prythian?”

“No,” Rhysand said smoothly, “but she certainly looks good enough in one that I can’t resist.”

The golden queen didn’t smile as she mused, “A human turned into a High Fae … and who is now standing beside a High Lord at the place of honor. Interesting.”

I kept my shoulders back, chin high. Cassian had been teaching me these weeks about how to feel out an opponent—what were her words but the opening movements in another sort of battle?

The eldest declared to Rhys, “You have an hour of our time. Make it count.”

“How is it that you can winnow?” Mor asked from her seat beside me.

The golden queen now gave a smile—a small, mocking one—and replied, “It is our secret, and our gift from your kind.”

Fine. Rhys looked to me, and I swallowed as I inched forward on my seat. “War is coming. We called you here to warn you—and to beg a boon.”

There would be no tricks, no stealing, no seduction. Rhys could not even risk looking inside their heads for fear of triggering the inherent wards around the Book and destroying it.

“We know war is coming,” the oldest said, her voice like crackling leaves. “We have been preparing for it for many years.”

It seemed the three others were positioned as observers while the eldest and the golden-haired one led the charge.

I said as calmly and clearly as I could, “The humans in this territory seem unaware of the larger threat. We’ve seen no signs of preparation.” Indeed, Azriel had gleaned as much these weeks, to my dismay.

“This territory,” the golden one explained coolly, “is a slip of land compared to the vastness of the continent. It is not in our interests to defend it. It would be a waste of resources.”

No. No, that—

Rhys drawled, “Surely the loss of even one innocent life would be abhorrent.”

The eldest queen folded her withered hands in her lap. “Yes. To lose one life is always a horror. But war is war. If we must sacrifice this tiny territory to save the majority, then we shall do it.”

I didn’t dare look at my sisters. Look at this house, that might very well be turned to rubble. I rasped, “There are good people here.”

The golden queen sweetly parried with, “Then let the High Fae of Prythian defend them.”

Silence.

And it was Nesta who hissed from behind us, “We have servants here. With families. There are children in these lands. And you mean to leave us all in the hands of the Fae?”

The eldest one’s face softened. “It is no easy choice, girl—”

“It is the choice of cowards,” Nesta snapped.

I interrupted before Nesta could dig us a deeper grave, “For all that your kind hate ours … You’d leave the Fae to defend your people?”

“Shouldn’t they?” the golden one asked, sending that cascade of curls sliding over a shoulder as she angled her head to the side. “Shouldn’t they defend against a threat of their own making?” A snort. “Should Fae blood not be spilled for their crimes over the years?”

“Neither side is innocent,” Rhys countered calmly. “But we might protect those who are. Together.”

“Oh?” said the eldest, her wrinkles seeming to harden, deepen. “The High Lord of the Night Court asks us to join with him, save lives with him. To fight for peace. And what of the lives you have taken during your long, hideous existence? What of the High Lord who walks with darkness in his wake, and shatters minds as he sees fit?” A crow’s laugh. “We have heard of you, even on the continent, Rhysand. We have heard what the Night Court does, what you do to your enemies. Peace? For a male who melts minds and tortures for sport, I did not think you knew the word.”

Wrath began simmering in my blood; embers crackled in my ears. But I cooled that fire I’d slowly been stoking these past weeks and tried, “If you will not send forces here to defend your people, then the artifact we requested—”

“Our half of the Book, child,” the crone cut me off, “does not leave our sacred palace. It has not left those white walls since the day it was gifted as part of the Treaty. It will never leave those walls, not while we stand against the terrors in the North.”

“Please,” was all I said.

Silence again.

“Please,” I repeated. Emissary—I was their emissary, and Rhys had chosen me for this. To be the voice of both worlds. “I was turned into this—into a faerie—because one of the commanders from Hybern killed me.”

Through our bond, I could have sworn I felt Rhys flinch.

“For fifty years,” I pushed on, “she terrorized Prythian, and when I defeated her, when I freed its people, she killed me. And before she did, I witnessed the horrors that she unleashed on human and faerie alike. One of them—just one of them was able to cause such destruction and suffering. Imagine what an army like her might do. And now their king plans to use a weapon to shatter the wall, to destroy all of you. The war will be swift, and brutal. And you will not win. We will not win. Survivors will be slaves, and their children’s children will be slaves. Please … Please, give us the other half of the Book.”

The eldest queen swapped a glance with the golden one before saying gently, placatingly, “You are young, child. You have much to learn about the ways of the world—”

“Do not,” Rhys said with deadly quiet, “condescend to her.” The eldest queen—who was but a child to him, to his centuries of existence—had the good sense to look nervous at that tone. Rhys’s eyes were glazed, his face as unforgiving as his voice as he went on, “Do not insult Feyre for speaking with her heart, with compassion for those who cannot defend themselves, when you speak from only selfishness and cowardice.”

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