A Court of Mist and Fury Page 92

Maybe I should have asked Mor to come. But she’d left after dinner, pale-faced and jumpy, ignoring Cassian’s attempt to speak with her. Azriel had taken to the clouds to contact his spies. He’d quietly promised the pacing Cassian to find Mor when he was done.

And Rhys … He had enough going on. And he hadn’t objected when I stated I was going for a walk. He hadn’t even warned me to be careful. If it was trust, or absolute faith in the safety of his city, or just that he knew how badly I’d react if he tried to tell me not to go or warn me, I didn’t know.

I shook my head, clearing my thoughts as I again stared down the main street of the Rainbow.

I’d felt flickers these past few weeks in that hole inside my chest—flickers of images, but nothing solid. Nothing roaring with life and demand. Not in the way it had that night, seeing him kneel on that bed, naked and tattooed and winged.

It’d be stupid to venture into the quarter, anyway, when it might very well be ruined in any upcoming conflict. It’d be stupid to fall in love with it, when it might be torn from me.

So, like a coward, I turned and went home.

Rhys was waiting in the foyer, leaning against the post of the stair banister. His face was grim.

I halted in the middle of the entry carpet. “What’s wrong?”

His wings were nowhere to be seen, not even the shadow of them. “I’m debating asking you to stay tomorrow.”

I crossed my arms. “I thought I was going.” Don’t lock me up in this house, don’t shove me aside—

He ran a hand through his hair. “What I have to be tomorrow, who I have to become, is not … it’s not something I want you to see. How I will treat you, treat others …”

“The mask of the High Lord,” I said quietly.

“Yes.” He took a seat on the bottom step of the stairs.

I remained in the center of the foyer as I asked carefully, “Why don’t you want me to see that?”

“Because you’ve only started to look at me like I’m not a monster, and I can’t stomach the idea of anything you see tomorrow, being beneath that mountain, putting you back into that place where I found you.”

Beneath that mountain—underground. Yes, I’d forgotten that. Forgotten I’d see the court that Amarantha had modeled her own after, that I’d be trapped beneath the earth …

But with Cassian, and Azriel, and Mor. With … him.

I waited for the panic, the cold sweat. Neither came. “Let me help. In whatever way I can.”

Bleakness shaded the starlight in those eyes. “The role you will have to play is not a pleasant one.”

“I trust you.” I sat beside him on the stairs, close enough that the heat of his body warmed the chill night air clinging to my overcoat. “Why did Mor look so disturbed when she left?”

His throat bobbed. I could tell it was rage, and pain, that kept him from telling me outright—not mistrust. After a moment, he said, “I was there, in the Hewn City, the day her father declared she was to be sold in marriage to Eris, eldest son of the High Lord of the Autumn Court.” Lucien’s brother. “Eris had a reputation for cruelty, and Mor … begged me not to let it happen. For all her power, all her wildness, she had no voice, no rights with those people. And my father didn’t particularly care if his cousins used their offspring as breeding stock.”

“What happened?” I breathed.

“I brought Mor to the Illyrian camp for a few days. And she saw Cassian, and decided she’d do the one thing that would ruin her value to these people. I didn’t know until after, and … it was a mess. With Cassian, with her, with our families. And it’s another long story, but the short of it is that Eris refused to marry her. Said she’d been sullied by a bastard-born lesser faerie, and he’d now sooner fuck a sow. Her family … they … ” I’d never seen him at such a loss for words. Rhys cleared his throat. “When they were done, they dumped her on the Autumn Court border, with a note nailed to her body that said she was Eris’s problem.”

Nailed—nailed to her.

Rhys said with soft wrath, “Eris left her for dead in the middle of their woods. Azriel found her a day later. It was all I could do to keep him from going to either court and slaughtering them all.”

I thought of that merry face, the flippant laughter, the female that did not care who approved. Perhaps because she had seen the ugliest her kind had to offer. And had survived.

And I understood—why Rhys could not endure Nesta for more than a few moments, why he could not let go of that anger where her failings were concerned, even if I had.

Beron’s fire began crackling in my veins. My fire, not his. Not his son’s, either.

I took Rhys’s hand, and his thumb brushed against the back of my palm. I tried not to think about the ease of that stroke as I said in a hard, calm voice I barely recognized, “Tell me what I need to do tomorrow.”

CHAPTER

42

I was not frightened.

Not of the role that Rhys had asked me to play today. Not of the roaring wind as we winnowed into a familiar, snow-capped mountain range refusing to yield to spring’s awakening kiss. Not of the punishing drop as Rhys flew us between the peaks and valleys, swift and sleek. Cassian and Azriel flanked us; Mor would meet us at the gates to the mountain base.

Rhys’s face was drawn, his shoulders tense as I gripped them. I knew what to expect, but … even after he’d told me what he needed me to do, even after I had agreed, he’d been … aloof. Haunted.

Worried for me, I realized.

And just because of that worry, just to get that tightness off his face, even for these few minutes before we faced his unholy realm beneath that mountain, I said over the wind, “Amren and Mor told me that the span of an Illyrian male’s wings says a lot about the size of … other parts.”

His eyes shot to mine, then to pine-tree-coated slopes below. “Did they now.”

I shrugged in his arms, trying not to think about the naked body that night all those weeks ago—though I hadn’t glimpsed much. “They also said Azriel’s wings are the biggest.”

Mischief danced in those violet eyes, washing away the cold distance, the strain. The spymaster was a black blur against the pale blue sky. “When we return home, let’s get out the measuring stick, shall we?”

I pinched the rock-hard muscle of his forearm. Rhys flashed me a wicked grin before he tilted down—

Mountains and snow and trees and sun and utter free fall through wisps of cloud—

A breathless scream came out of me as we plummeted. Throwing my arms around his neck was instinct. His low laugh tickled my nape. “You’re willing to brave my brand of darkness and put up one of your own, willing to go to a watery grave and take on the Weaver, but a little free fall makes you scream?”

“I’ll leave you to rot the next time you have a nightmare,” I hissed, my eyes still shut and body locked as he snapped out his wings to ease us into a steady glide.

“No, you won’t,” he crooned. “You liked seeing me naked too much.”

“Prick.”

His laugh rumbled against me. Eyes closed, the wind roaring like a wild animal, I adjusted my position, gripping him tighter. My knuckles brushed one of his wings—smooth and cool like silk, but hard as stone with it stretched taut.

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