A Court of Mist and Fury Page 9

I wouldn’t, but I nodded.

As I slipped from the room, I peered toward the front—where Tamlin and Lucien were surrounded by a circle of High Fae males and females. Perhaps not as refined as some of the others, but … They had the look of people who had been together a long time, fought at each other’s sides. Tamlin’s friends. He’d introduced me to them, and I’d immediately forgotten their names. I hadn’t tried to learn them again.

Tamlin tipped his head back and laughed, the others howling with him.

I left before he could spot me, easing through the crowded halls until I was in the dim, empty upstairs of the residential wing.

Alone in my bedroom, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I’d truly laughed.

The ceiling pushed down, the large, blunt spikes so hot I could see the heat rippling off them even from where I was chained to the floor. Chained, because I was illiterate and couldn’t read the riddle written on the wall, and Amarantha was glad to let me be impaled.

Closer and closer. There was no one coming to save me from this horrible death.

It’d hurt. It’d hurt and be slow, and I’d cry—I might even cry for my mother, who had never cared for me, anyway. I might beg her to save me—

My limbs flailed as I shot upright in bed, yanking against invisible chains.

I would have lurched for the bathing room had my legs and arms not shook so badly, had I been able to breathe, breathe, breathe—

I scanned the bedroom, shuddering. Real—this was real. The horrors, those were nightmares. I was out; I was alive; I was safe.

A night breeze floated through the open windows, ruffling my hair, drying the cold sweat on me. The dark sky beckoned, the stars so dim and small, like speckles of frost.

Bron had sounded as if watching my encounter with the Middengard Wyrm was a sporting match. As if I hadn’t been one mistake away from being devoured whole and my bones spat out.

Savior and jester, apparently.

I stumbled to the open window, and pushed it wider, clearing my view of the star-flecked darkness.

I rested my head against the wall, savoring the cool stones.

In a few hours, I’d be married. I’d have my happy ending, whether I deserved it or not. But this land, these people—they would have their happy ending, too. The first few steps toward healing. Toward peace. And then things would be fine.

Then I’d be fine.

I really, truly hated my wedding gown.

It was a monstrosity of tulle and chiffon and gossamer, so unlike the loose gowns I usually wore: the bodice fitted, the neckline curved to plump my breasts, and the skirts … The skirts were a sparkling tent, practically floating in the balmy spring air.

No wonder Tamlin had laughed. Even Alis, as she’d dressed me, had hummed to herself, but said nothing. Most likely because Ianthe had personally selected the gown to complement whatever tale she’d weave today—the legend she’d proclaim to the world.

I might have dealt with it all if it weren’t for the puffy capped sleeves, so big I could almost see them glinting from the periphery of my vision. My hair had been curled, half up, half down, entwined with pearls and jewels and the Cauldron knew what, and it had taken all my self-control to keep from cringing at the mirror before descending the sweeping stairs into the main hall. My dress hissed and swished with each step.

Beyond the shut patio doors where I paused, the garden had been bedecked in ribbons and lanterns in shades of cream, blush, and sky blue. Three hundred chairs were assembled in the largest courtyard, each seat occupied by Tamlin’s court. I’d make my way down the main aisle, enduring their stares, before I reached the dais at the other end—where Tamlin would be waiting.

Then Ianthe would sanction and bless our union right before sundown, as a representative of all twelve High Priestesses. She’d hinted that they’d pushed to be present—but through whatever cunning, she’d managed to keep the other eleven away. Either to claim the attention for herself, or to spare me from being hounded by the pack of them. I couldn’t tell. Perhaps both.

My mouth went paper-dry as Alis fluffed out the sparkling train of my gown in the shadow of the garden doors. Silk and gossamer rustled and sighed, and I gripped the pale bouquet in my gloved hands, nearly snapping the stems.

Elbow-length silk gloves—to hide the markings. Ianthe had delivered them herself this morning in a velvet-lined box.

“Don’t be nervous,” Alis clucked, her tree-bark skin rich and flushed in the honey-gold evening light.

“I’m not,” I rasped.

“You’re fidgeting like my youngest nephew during a haircut.” She finished fussing over my dress, shooing away some servants who’d come to spy on me before the ceremony. I pretended I didn’t see them, or the glittering, sunset-gilded crowd seated in the courtyard ahead, and toyed with some invisible fleck of dust on my skirts.

“You look beautiful,” Alis said quietly. I was fairly certain her thoughts on the dress were the same as my own, but I believed her.

“Thank you.”

“And you sound like you’re going to your funeral.”

I plastered a grin on my face. Alis rolled her eyes. But she nudged me toward the doors as they opened on some immortal wind, lilting music streaming in. “It’ll be over faster than you can blink,” she promised, and gently pushed me into the last of the sunlight.

Three hundred people rose to their feet and pivoted toward me.

Not since my last trial had so many gathered to watch me, judge me. All in finery so similar to what they’d worn Under the Mountain. Their faces blurred, melded.

Alis coughed from the shadows of the house, and I remembered to start walking, to look toward the dais—

At Tamlin.

The breath knocked from me, and it was an effort to keep going down the stairs, to keep my knees from buckling. He was resplendent in a tunic of green and gold, a crown of burnished laurel leaves gleaming on his head. He’d loosened the grip on his glamour, letting that immortal light and beauty shine through—for me.

My vision narrowed on him, on my High Lord, his wide eyes glistening as I stepped onto the soft grass, white rose petals scattered down it—

And red ones.

Like drops of blood amongst the white, red petals had been sprayed across the path ahead.

I forced my gaze up, to Tamlin, his shoulders back, head high.

So unaware of the true extent of how broken and dark I was inside. How unfit I was to be clothed in white when my hands were so filthy.

Everyone else was thinking it. They had to be.

Every step was too fast, propelling me toward the dais and Tamlin. And toward Ianthe, clothed in dark blue robes tonight, beaming beneath that hood and silver crown.

As if I were good—as if I hadn’t murdered two of their kind.

I was a murderer and a liar.

A cluster of red petals loomed ahead—just like that Fae youth’s blood had pooled at my feet.

Ten steps from the dais, at the edge of that splatter of red, I slowed.

Then stopped.

Everyone was watching, exactly as they had when I’d nearly died, spectators to my torment.

Tamlin extended a broad hand, brows narrowing slightly. My heart beat so fast, too fast.

I was going to vomit.

Right over those rose petals; right over the grass and ribbons trailing into the aisle from the chairs flanking it.

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