A Court of Mist and Fury Page 97

She offered him a little grin that would no doubt spread rumors, and sauntered into the crowd again. Dazzling, distracting, leaving them thinking Az had been here the whole time, leaving them pondering if she’d extend Azriel an invitation to her bed.

Azriel just stared after Mor, distant and bored. I wondered if he was as much of a mess inside as I was.

Rhys crooked a finger to Keir, who, scowling a bit in his daughter’s direction, stumbled forward with my wine. He’d barely reached the dais before Rhys’s power took it from him, floating the goblet to us.

Rhys set it on the ground beside the throne, a stupid task he’d thought up for the Steward to remind him of his powerlessness, that this throne was not his.

“Should I test it for poison?” Rhys drawled even as he said into my mind, Cassian’s waiting. Go.

Rhys had the same, sex-addled expression on his perfect face—but his eyes … I couldn’t read the shadows in his eyes.

Maybe—maybe for all our teasing, after Amarantha, he didn’t want to be touched by a woman like that. Didn’t even enjoy being wanted like that.

I had been tortured and tormented, but his horrors had gone to another level.

“No, milord,” Keir groveled. “I would never dare harm you.” Another distraction, this conversation. I took that as my cue to stride to Cassian, who was snarling by a pillar at anyone who came too close.

I felt the eyes of the court slide to me, felt them all sniff delicately at what was so clearly written over my body. But as I passed Keir, even with the High Lord at my back, he hissed almost too quietly to hear, “You’ll get what’s coming to you, whore.”

Night exploded into the room.

People cried out. And when the darkness cleared, Keir was on his knees.

Rhys still lounged on the throne. His face a mask of frozen rage.

The music stopped. Mor appeared at the edge of the crowd—her own features set in smug satisfaction. Even as Azriel approached her side, standing too close to be casual.

“Apologize,” Rhys said. My heart thundered at the pure command, the utter wrath.

Keir’s neck muscles strained, and sweat broke out on his lip.

“I said,” Rhys intoned with such horrible calm, “apologize.”

The Steward groaned. And when another heartbeat passed—

Bone cracked. Keir screamed.

And I watched—I watched as his arm fractured into not two, not three, but four different pieces, the skin going taut and loose in all the wrong spots—

Another crack. His elbow disintegrated. My stomach churned.

Keir began sobbing, the tears half from rage, judging by the hatred in his eyes as he looked at me, then Rhys. But his lips formed the words, I’m sorry.

The bones of his other arm splintered, and it was an effort not to cringe.

Rhys smiled as Keir screamed again and said to the room, “Should I kill him for it?”

No one answered.

Rhys chuckled. He said to his Steward, “When you wake up, you’re not to see a healer. If I hear that you do … ” Another crack—Keir’s pinkie finger went saggy. The male shrieked. The heat that had boiled my blood turned to ice. “If I hear that you do, I’ll carve you into pieces and bury them where no one can stand a chance of putting you together again.”

Keir’s eyes widened in true terror now. Then, as if an invisible hand had struck the consciousness from him, he collapsed to the floor.

Rhys said to no one in particular, “Dump him in his room.”

Two males who looked like they could be Mor’s cousins or brothers rushed forward, gathering up the Steward. Mor watched them, sneering faintly—though her skin was pale.

He’d wake up. That’s what Rhys had said.

I made myself keep walking as Rhys summoned another courtier to give him reports on whatever trivial matters.

But my attention remained on the throne behind me, even as I slipped beside Cassian, daring the court to approach, to play with me. None did.

And for the long hour afterward, my focus half remained on the High Lord whose hands and mouth and body had suddenly made me feel awake—burning. It didn’t make me forget, didn’t make me obliterate hurts or grievances, it just made me … alive. Made me feel as if I’d been asleep for a year, slumbering inside a glass coffin, and he had just shattered through it and shaken me to consciousness.

The High Lord whose power had not scared me. Whose wrath did not wreck me.

And now—now I didn’t know where that put me.

Knee-deep in trouble seemed like a good place to start.

CHAPTER

43

The wind roared around Rhys and me as he winnowed from the skies above his court. But Velaris didn’t greet us.

Rather, we were standing by a moonlit mountain lake ringed in pine trees, high above the world. We’d left the court as we’d come in—with swagger and menace. Where Cassian, Azriel, and Mor had gone with the orb, I had no idea.

Alone at the edge of the lake, Rhys said hoarsely, “I’m sorry.”

I blinked. “What do you possibly have to be sorry for?”

His hands were shaking—as if in the aftermath of that fury at what Keir had called me, what he’d threatened. Perhaps he’d brought us here before heading home in order to have some privacy before his friends could interrupt. “I shouldn’t have let you go. Let you see that part of us. Of me.” I’d never seen him so raw, so … stumbling.

“I’m fine.” I didn’t know what to make of what had been done. Both between us and to Keir. But it had been my choice. To play that role, to wear these clothes. To let him touch me. But … I said slowly, “We knew what tonight would require of us. Please—please don’t start … protecting me. Not like that.” He knew what I meant. He’d protected me Under the Mountain, but that primal, male rage he’d just shown Keir … A shattered study splattered in paint flashed through my memory.

Rhys rasped, “I will never—never lock you up, force you to stay behind. But when he threatened you tonight, when he called you … ” Whore. That’s what they’d called him. For fifty years, they’d hissed it. I’d listened to Lucien spit the words in his face. Rhys released a jagged breath. “It’s hard to shut down my instincts.”

Instincts. Just like … like someone else had instincts to protect, to hide me away. “Then you should have prepared yourself better,” I snapped. “You seemed to be going along just fine with it, until Keir said—”

“I will kill anyone who harms you,” Rhys snarled. “I will kill them, and take a damn long time doing it.” He panted. “Go ahead. Hate me—despise me for it.”

“You are my friend,” I said, and my voice broke on the word. I hated the tears that slipped down my face. I didn’t even know why I was crying. Perhaps for the fact that it had felt real on that throne with him, even for a moment, and … and it likely hadn’t been. Not for him. “You’re my friend—and I understand that you’re High Lord. I understand that you will defend your true court, and punish threats against it. But I can’t … I don’t want you to stop telling me things, inviting me to do things, because of the threats against me.”

Darkness rippled, and wings tore from his back. “I am not him,” Rhys breathed. “I will never be him, act like him. He locked you up and let you wither, and die.”

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