A Court of Mist and Fury Page 84

The sun eventually shifted, shading the garden to the point of frigidness again. Not quite willing to give up the sun yet, I trudged the three levels to the rooftop patio to watch it set.

Of course—of course—Rhysand was already lounging in one of the white-painted iron chairs, an arm slung over the back while his other hand idly gripped a glass of some sort of liquor, a crystal decanter full of it set on the table before him.

His wings were draped behind him on the tile floor, and I wondered if he was also taking advantage of the unusually mild day to sun them as I cleared my throat.

“I know you’re there,” he said without turning from the view of the Sidra and the red-gold sea beyond.

I scowled. “If you want to be alone, I can go.”

He jerked his chin toward the empty seat at the iron table. Not a glowing invitation, but … I sat down.

There was a wood box beside the decanter—and I might have thought it was something for whatever he was drinking had I not noticed the dagger fashioned of mother-of-pearl in the lid.

Had I not sworn I could smell the sea and heat and soil that was Tarquin. “What is that?”

Rhys drained his glass, held up a hand—the decanter floating to him on a phantom wind—and poured himself another knuckle’s length before he spoke.

“I debated it for a good while, you know,” he said, staring out at his city. “Whether I should just ask Tarquin for the Book. But I thought that he might very well say no, then sell the information to the highest bidder. I thought he might say yes, and it’d still wind up with too many people knowing our plans and the potential for that information to get out. And at the end of the day, I needed the why of our mission to remain secret for as long as possible.” He drank again, and dragged a hand through his blue-black hair. “I didn’t like stealing from him. I didn’t like hurting his guards. I didn’t like vanishing without a word, when, ambition or no, he did truly want an alliance. Maybe even friendship. No other High Lords have ever bothered—or dared. But I think Tarquin wanted to be my friend.”

I glanced between him and the box and repeated, “What is that?”

“Open it.”

I gingerly flipped back the lid.

Inside, nestled on a bed of white velvet, three rubies glimmered, each the size of a chicken egg. Each so pure and richly colored that they seemed crafted of—

“Blood rubies,” he said.

I pulled back the fingers that had been inching toward the stones.

“In the Summer Court, when a grave insult has been committed, they send a blood ruby to the offender. An official declaration that there is a price on their head—that they are now hunted, and will soon be dead. The box arrived at the Court of Nightmares an hour ago.”

Mother above. “I take it one of these has my name on it. And yours. And Amren’s.”

The lid flipped shut on a dark wind. “I made a mistake,” he said. I opened my mouth, but he went on, “I should have wiped the minds of the guards and let them continue on. Instead, I knocked them out. It’s been a while since I had to do any sort of physical … defending like that, and I was so focused on my Illyrian training that I forgot the other arsenal at my disposal. They probably awoke and went right to him.”

“He would have noticed the Book was missing soon enough.”

“We could have denied that we stole it and chalked it up to coincidence.” He drained his glass. “I made a mistake.”

“It’s not the end of the world if you do that every now and then.”

“You’ve been told you are now public enemy number one of the Summer Court and you’re fine with it?”

“No. But I don’t blame you.”

He loosed a breath, staring out at his city as the warmth of the day succumbed to winter’s bite once more. It didn’t matter to him.

“Perhaps you could return the Book once we’ve neutralized the Cauldron—apologize.”

Rhys snorted. “No. Amren will get that book for as long as she needs it.”

“Then make it up to him in some way. Clearly, you wanted to be his friend as much as he wanted to be yours. You wouldn’t be so upset otherwise.”

“I’m not upset. I’m pissed off.”

“Semantics.”

He gave me a half smile. “Feuds like the one we just started can last centuries—millennia. If that’s the cost of stopping this war, helping Amren … I’ll pay it.”

He’d pay with everything he had, I realized. Any hopes for himself, his own happiness.

“Do the others know—about the blood rubies?”

“Azriel was the one who brought them to me. I’m debating how I’ll tell Amren.”

“Why?”

Darkness filled those remarkable eyes. “Because her answer would be to go to Adriata and wipe the city off the map.”

I shuddered.

“Exactly,” he said.

I stared out at Velaris with him, listening to the sounds of the day wrapping up—and the night unfolding. Adriata felt rudimentary by comparison.

“I understand,” I said, rubbing some warmth into my now-chilled hands, “why you did what you had to in order to protect this city.” Imagining the destruction that had been wreaked upon Adriata here in Velaris made my blood run cold. His eyes slid to me, wary and dull. I swallowed. “And I understand why you will do anything to keep it safe during the times ahead.”

“And your point is?”

A bad day—this was a bad day, I realized, for him. I didn’t scowl at the bite in his words. “Get through this war, Rhysand, and then worry about Tarquin and the blood rubies. Nullify the Cauldron, stop the king from shattering the wall and enslaving the human realm again, and then we’ll figure out the rest after.”

“You sound as if you plan to stay here for a while.” A bland, but edged question.

“I can find my own lodging, if that’s what you’re referring to. Maybe I’ll use that generous paycheck to get myself something lavish.”

Come on. Wink at me. Play with me. Just—stop looking like that.

He only said, “Spare your paycheck. Your name has already been added to the list of those approved to use my household credit. Buy whatever you wish. Buy yourself a whole damn house if you want.”

I ground my teeth, and maybe it was panic or desperation, but I said sweetly, “I saw a pretty shop across the Sidra the other day. It sold what looked to be lots of lacy little things. Am I allowed to buy that on your credit, too, or does that come out of my personal funds?”

Those violet eyes again drifted to me. “I’m not in the mood.”

There was no humor, no mischief. I could go warm myself by a fire inside, but …

He had stayed. And fought for me.

Week after week, he’d fought for me, even when I had no reaction, even when I had barely been able to speak or bring myself to care if I lived or died or ate or starved. I couldn’t leave him to his own dark thoughts, his own guilt. He’d shouldered them alone long enough.

So I held his gaze. “I never knew Illyrians were such morose drunks.”

“I’m not drunk—I’m drinking,” he said, his teeth flashing a bit.

“Again, semantics.” I leaned back in my seat, wishing I’d brought my coat. “Maybe you should have slept with Cresseida after all—so you could both be sad and lonely together.”

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