A Court of Mist and Fury Page 91

“I fought in the War, you will do well to remember—”

“No,” Azriel said again, refusing to break her stare. His shifting wings rasped against the back of his chair. “They would string you up and make an example of you.”

“They’d have to catch me first.”

“That palace is a death trap for our kind,” Azriel countered, his voice low and rough. “Built by Fae hands to protect the humans from us. You set foot inside it, Mor, and you won’t walk out again. Why do you think we’ve had such trouble getting a foothold in there?”

“If going into their territory isn’t an option,” I cut in before Mor could say whatever the temper limning her features hissed at her to retort and surely wound the shadowsinger more than she intended, “and deceit or any mental manipulation might make the magic wreck the Book … What proof can be offered?” Rhys lifted his head. “Who is—who is this Miryam? Who was she to Jurian, and who was that prince you spoke of—Drakon? Perhaps we … perhaps they could be used as proof. If only to vouch for you.”

The heat died from Mor’s eyes as she shifted a foot against the moss and flagstone.

But Rhys interlocked his fingers in the space between his knees before he said, “Five hundred years ago, in the years leading up to the War, there was a Fae kingdom in the southern part of the continent. It was a realm of sand surrounding a lush river delta. The Black Land. There was no crueler place to be born a human—for no humans were born free. They were all of them slaves, forced to build great temples and palaces for the High Fae who ruled. There was no escape; no chance of having their freedom purchased. And the queen of the Black Land … ” Memory stirred in his face.

“She made Amarantha seem as sweet as Elain,” Mor explained with soft venom.

“Miryam,” Rhys continued, “was a half-Fae female born of a human mother. And as her mother was a slave, as the conception was … against her mother’s will, so, too, was Miryam born in shackles, and deemed human—denied any rights to her Fae heritage.”

“Tell the full story another time,” Amren cut in. “The gist of it, girl,” she said to me, “is that Miryam was given as a wedding gift by the queen to her betrothed, a foreign Fae prince named Drakon. He was horrified, and let Miryam escape. Fearing the queen’s wrath, she fled through the desert, across the sea, into more desert … and was found by Jurian. She fell in with his rebel armies, became his lover, and was a healer amongst the warriors. Until a devastating battle found her tending to Jurian’s new Fae allies—including Prince Drakon. Turns out, Miryam had opened his eyes to the monster he planned to wed. He’d broken the engagement, allied his armies with the humans, and had been looking for the beautiful slave-girl for three years. Jurian had no idea that his new ally coveted his lover. He was too focused on winning the War, on destroying Amarantha in the North. As his obsession took over, he was blind to witnessing Miryam and Drakon falling in love behind his back.”

“It wasn’t behind his back,” Mor snapped. “Miryam ended it with Jurian before she ever laid a finger on Drakon.”

Amren shrugged. “Long story short, girl, when Jurian was slaughtered by Amarantha, and during the long centuries after, she told him what had happened to his lover. That she’d betrayed him for a Fae male. Everyone believed Miryam and Drakon perished while liberating her people from the Black Land at the end of the War—even Amarantha.”

“And they didn’t,” I said. Rhys and Mor nodded. “It was all a way to escape, wasn’t it? To start over somewhere else, with both their peoples?” Another set of nods. “So why not show the queens that? You started to tell them—”

“Because,” Rhys cut in, “in addition to it not proving a thing about my character, which seemed to be their biggest gripe, it would be a grave betrayal of our friends. Their only wish was to remain hidden—to live in peace with their peoples. They fought and bled and suffered enough for it. I will not bring them into this conflict.”

“Drakon’s aerial army,” Cassian mused, “was as good as ours. We might need to call upon him by the end.”

Rhys merely shook his head. Conversation over. And perhaps he was right: revealing Drakon and Miryam’s peaceful existence explained nothing about his own intentions. About his own merits and character.

“So, what do we offer them instead?” I asked. “What do we show them?”

Rhys’s face was bleak. “We show them Velaris.”

“What?” Mor barked. But Amren shushed her.

“You can’t mean to bring them here,” I said.

“Of course not. The risks are too great, entertaining them for even a night would likely result in bloodshed.” Rhys said. “So I plan to merely show them.”

“They’ll dismiss it as mind tricks,” Azriel countered.

“No,” Rhys said, getting to his feet. “I mean to show them—playing by their own rules.”

Amren clicked her nails against each other. “What do you mean, High Lord?”

But Rhys only said to Mor, “Send word to your father. We’re going to pay him and my other court a visit.”

My blood iced over. The Court of Nightmares.

There was an orb, it turned out, that had belonged to Mor’s family for millennia: the Veritas. It was rife with the truth-magic she’d claimed to possess—that many in her bloodline also bore. And the Veritas was one of their most valued and guarded talismans.

Rhys wasted no time planning. We’d go to the Court of Nightmares within the Hewn City tomorrow afternoon, winnowing near the massive mountain it was built within, and then flying the rest of the way.

Mor, Cassian, and I were mere distractions to make Rhys’s sudden visit less suspicious—while Azriel stole the orb from Mor’s father’s chambers.

The orb was known amongst the humans, had been wielded by them in the War, Rhys told me over a quiet dinner that night. The queens would know it. And would know it was absolute truth, not illusion or a trick, when we used it to show them—like peering into a living painting—that this city and its good people existed.

The others had suggested other places within his territory to prove he wasn’t some warmongering sadist, but none had the same impact as Velaris, Rhys claimed. For his people, for the world, he’d offer the queens this slice of truth.

After dinner, I wandered into the streets, and found myself eventually standing at the edge of the Rainbow, the night in full swing, patrons and artists and everyday citizens bustling from shop to shop, peering in the galleries, buying supplies.

Compared to the sparkling lights and bright colors of the little hill sloping down to the river ahead, the streets behind me were shadowed, sleeping.

I’d been here nearly two months and hadn’t worked up the courage to walk through the artists’ quarter.

But this place … Rhys would risk this beautiful city, these lovely people, all for a shot at peace. Perhaps the guilt of leaving it protected while the rest of Prythian had suffered drove him; perhaps offering up Velaris on a silver platter was his own attempt to ease the weight. I rubbed at my chest, an ache building in there.

I took a step toward the quarter—and halted.

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