A Court of Mist and Fury Page 128

A box … that she must have removed from wherever she was hiding it when she’d leaned down to pick up her handkerchief.

Rhys had known it. Had stopped speaking to get them out as fast as possible.

How and where she’d smuggled in that lead box was the least of my concerns.

Not as the voice of the second and final piece of the Book filled the room, sang to me.

Life and death and rebirth

Sun and moon and dark

Rot and bloom and bones

Hello, sweet thing. Hello, lady of night, princess of decay. Hello, fanged beast and trembling fawn. Love me, touch me, sing me.

Madness. Where the first half had been cold cunning, this box … this was chaos, and disorder, and lawlessness, joy and despair.

Rhys smoothly picked it up and set it on the golden queen’s chair. He did not need my power to open it—because no High Lord’s spells had been keyed to it.

Rhys flipped back the lid. A note lay atop the golden metal of the book.

I read your letter. About the woman you love. I believe you. And I believe in peace.

I believe in a better world.

If anyone asks, you stole this during the meeting.

Do not trust the others. The sixth queen was not ill.

That was it.

Rhys picked up the Book of Breathings.

Light and dark and gray and light and dark and gray—

He said to my two sisters, Cassian sticking close to Nesta, “It is your choice, ladies, whether you wish to remain here, or come with us. You have heard the situation at hand. You have done the math about an evacuation.” A nod of approval as he met Nesta’s gray-blue stare. “Should you choose to remain, a unit of my soldiers will be here within the hour to guard this place. Should you wish to come live with us in that city we just showed them, I’d suggest packing now.”

Nesta looked to Elain, still silent and wide-eyed. The tea she’d prepared—the finest, most exotic tea money could buy—sat undisturbed on the table.

Elain thumbed the iron ring on her finger.

“It is your choice,” Nesta said with unusual gentleness. For her, Nesta would go to Prythian.

Elain swallowed, a doe caught in a snare. “I—I can’t. I …”

But my mate nodded—kindly. With understanding. “The sentries will be here, and remain unseen and unfelt. They will look after themselves. Should you change your minds, one will be waiting in this room every day at noon and at midnight for you to speak. My home is your home. Its doors are always open to you.”

Nesta looked between Rhys and Cassian, then to me. Despair still paled her face, but … she bowed her head. And said to me, “That was why you painted stars on your drawer.”

CHAPTER

58

We immediately returned to Velaris, not trusting the queens to go long without noticing the Book’s absence, especially if the vague mention of the sixth alluded to further foul play amongst them.

Amren had the second half within minutes, not even bothering to ask about the meeting before she vanished into the dining room of the town house and shut the doors behind her. So we waited.

And waited.

Two days passed.

Amren still hadn’t cracked the code.

Rhys and Mor left in the early afternoon to visit the Court of Nightmares—to return the Veritas to Keir without his knowing, and ensure that the Steward was indeed readying his forces. Cassian had reports that the Illyrian legions were now camped across the mountains, waiting for the order to fly out to wherever our first battle might be.

There would be one, I realized. Even if we nullified the Cauldron using the Book, even if I was able to stop that Cauldron and the king from using it to shatter the wall and the world, he had armies gathered. Perhaps we’d take the fight to him once the Cauldron was disabled.

There was no word from my sisters, no report from Azriel’s soldiers that they’d changed their minds. My father, I remembered, was still trading in the continent for the Mother knew what goods. Another variable in this.

And there was no word from the queens. It was of them that I most frequently thought. Of the two-faced, golden-eyed queen with not just a lion’s coloring … but a lion’s heart, too.

I hoped I saw her again.

With Rhys and Mor gone, Cassian and Azriel came to stay at the town house as they continued to plan our inevitable visit to Hybern. After that first dinner, when Cassian had broken out one of Rhys’s very old bottles of wine so we could celebrate my mating in style, I’d realized they’d come to stay for company, to dine with me, and … the Illyrians had taken it upon themselves to look after me.

Rhys said as much that night when I’d written him a letter and watched it vanish. Apparently, he didn’t mind his enemies knowing he was at the Court of Nightmares. If Hybern’s forces tracked him there … good luck to them.

I’d written to Rhys, How do I tell Cassian and Azriel I don’t need them here to protect me? Company is fine, but I don’t need sentries.

He’d written back, You don’t tell them. You set boundaries if they cross a line, but you are their friend—and my mate. They will protect you on instinct. If you kick their asses out of the house, they’ll just sit on the roof.

I scribbled, You Illyrian males are insufferable.

Rhys had just said, Good thing we make up for it with impressive wingspans.

Even with him across the territory, my blood had heated, my toes curling. I’d barely been able to hold the pen long enough to write, I’m missing that impressive wingspan in my bed. Inside me.

He’d replied, Of course you are.

I’d hissed, jotting down, Prick.

I’d almost felt his laughter down the bond—our mating bond. Rhys wrote back, When I return, we’re going to that shop across the Sidra and you’re going to try on all those lacy little underthings for me.

I fell asleep thinking about it, wishing my hand was his, praying he’d finish at the Court of Nightmares and return to me soon. Spring was bursting all across the hills and peaks around Velaris. I wanted to sail over the yellow and purple blooms with him.

The next afternoon, Rhys was still gone, Amren was still buried in the book, Azriel off on a patrol of the city and nearby shoreline, and Cassian and I were—of all things—just finishing up an early afternoon performance of some ancient, revered Fae symphony. The amphi-theater was on the other side of the Sidra, and though he’d offered to fly me, I’d wanted to walk. Even if my muscles were barking in protest after his brutal lesson that morning.

The music had been lovely—strange, but lovely, written at a time, Cassian had told me, when humans had not even walked the earth. He found the music puzzling, off-kilter, but … I’d been entranced.

Walking back across one of the main bridges spanning the river, we remained in companionable silence. We’d dropped off more blood for Amren—who said thank you and get the hell out—and were now headed toward the Palace of Thread and Jewels, where I wanted to buy both of my sisters presents for helping us. Cassian had promised to send them down with the next scout dispatched to retrieve the latest report. I wondered if he’d send anything to Nesta while he was at it.

I paused at the center of the marble bridge, Cassian halting beside me as I peered down at the blue-green water idling past. I could feel the threads of the current far below, the strains of salt and fresh water twining together, the swaying weeds coating the mussel-flecked floor, the tickling of small, skittering creatures over rock and mud. Could Tarquin sense such things? Did he sleep in his island-palace on the sea and swim through the dreams of fishes?

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