A Court of Wings and Ruin Page 158

Don’t tell her, but they were.

My lips tugged toward a smile. But Rhys stared at all of us, somehow assembled here in the sun-drenched open grasses without being given the order. Our family—our court. The Court of Dreams.

They all quieted.

Rhys looked them each in the eye, even my sisters, his hand brushing the back of my own.

“Do you want the inspiring talk or the bleak one?” he asked.

“We want the real one,” Amren said.

Rhys pushed his shoulders back, elegantly folding his wings behind him. “I believe everything happens for a reason. Whether it is decided by the Mother, or the Cauldron, or some sort of tapestry of Fate, I don’t know. I don’t really care. But I am grateful for it, whatever it is. Grateful that it brought you all into my life. If it hadn’t … I might have become as awful as that prick we’re going to face today. If I had not met an Illyrian warrior-in-training,” he said to Cassian, “I would not have known the true depths of strength, of resilience, of honor and loyalty.” Cassian’s eyes gleamed bright. Rhys said to Azriel, “If I had not met a shadowsinger, I would not have known that it is the family you make, not the one you are born into, that matters. I would not have known what it is to truly hope, even when the world tells you to despair.” Azriel bowed his head in thanks.

Mor was already crying when Rhys spoke to her. “If I had not met my cousin, I would never have learned that light can be found in even the darkest of hells. That kindness can thrive even amongst cruelty.” She wiped away her tears as she nodded.

I waited for Amren to offer a retort. But she was only waiting.

Rhys bowed his head to her. “If I had not met a tiny monster who hoards jewels more fiercely than a firedrake …” A quiet laugh from all of us at that. Rhys smiled softly. “My own power would have consumed me long ago.”

Rhys squeezed my hand as he looked to me at last. “And if I had not met my mate …” His words failed him as silver lined his eyes.

He said down the bond, I would have waited five hundred more years for you. A thousand years. And if this was all the time we were allowed to have … The wait was worth it.

He wiped away the tears sliding down my face. “I believe that everything happened, exactly the way it had to … so I could find you.” He kissed another tear away.

And then he said to my sisters, “We have not known each other for long. But I have to believe that you were brought here, into our family, for a reason, too. And maybe today we’ll find out why.”

He surveyed them all again—and held out his hand to Cassian. Cassian took it, and held out his other for Mor. Then Mor extended her other to Azriel. Azriel to Amren. Amren to Nesta. Nesta to Elain. And Elain to me. Until we were all linked, all bound together.

Rhys said, “We will walk onto that field and only accept Death when it comes to haul us away to the Otherworld. We will fight for life, for survival, for our futures. But if it is decided by that tapestry of Fate or the Cauldron or the Mother that we do not walk off that field today …” His chin lifted. “The great joy and honor of my life has been to know you. To call you my family. And I am grateful—more than I can possibly say—that I was given this time with you all.”

“We are grateful, Rhysand,” Amren said quietly. “More than you know.”

Rhys gave her a small smile as the others murmured their agreement.

He squeezed my hand again as he said, “Then let’s go make Hybern very ungrateful to have known us, too.”

 

I could smell the sea long before we beheld the battlefield. Hybern had chosen well.

A vast, grassy plain stretched to the shore. A mile inland, he had planted his army.

It rippled away, a dark mass spreading to the eastern horizon. Rocky foothills arose at his back—some of his army also stationed atop them. Indeed, even the plain seemed to slope upward to the east.

I lingered at Rhysand’s side atop a broad knoll overlooking the plain, my sisters, Azriel, and Amren close behind. At the distant front lines far ahead, Helion, resplendent in golden armor and a rippling red cape, gave the order to halt. Armies obeyed, shifting into the positions they’d sorted out.

The host we faced, though … they were waiting. Poised.

So many. I knew without counting that we were vastly outnumbered.

Cassian landed from the skies, stone-faced, all of his Siphons smoldering as he crossed the flat-topped knoll in a few steps. “The prick took every inch of high ground and advantage he could find. If we want to rout them, we’ll have to chase them up into those hills. Which I have no doubt he’s already calculated. Likely set with all kinds of surprises.” In the distance, those naga-hounds began snarling and howling. With hunger.

Rhys only asked, “How long do you think we have?”

Cassian clenched his jaw, glancing at my sisters. Nesta was watching him keenly; Elain monitored the army from our minor elevation, face white with dread. “We have five High Lords, and there’s only one of him. You all could shield us for a while. But it might not be in our interest to drain every one of you like that. He’ll have shields, too—and the Cauldron. He’s been careful not to let us see the full extent of his power. I have no doubt we’re about to, though.”

“He’ll likely be using spells,” I said, remembering that he’d trained Amarantha.

“Make sure Helion is on alert,” Azriel offered, limping to Rhys’s side. “And Thesan.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Rhys said to Cassian.

Cassian sized up Hybern’s unending army, then our own. “Let’s say it goes badly. Shields shattered, disarray, he uses the Cauldron … A few hours.”

I closed my eyes. During that time, I’d have to get across the battlefield before us, find wherever he kept the Cauldron, and stop it.

“My shadows are hunting for it,” Azriel said to me, reading my face as I opened my eyes. His jaw clenched at the words. He was supposed to have been searching for it himself. He flared and settled his wings, as if testing them. “But the wards are strong—no doubt reinforced by the king after you shredded through his at the camp. You might have to go on foot. Wait until the slaughter starts getting sloppy.”

Cassian dipped his head and said to Amren, “You’ll know when.”

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