A Court of Wings and RuinSarah J. Maas
For Josh and Annie—
A gift. All of it.
BOOKS BY SARAH J. MAAS
The Throne of Glass series
Throne of Glass
Crown of Midnight
Heir of Fire
Queen of Shadows
Empire of Storms
The Assassin’s Blade
The Throne of Glass Coloring Book
A Court of Thorns and Roses series
A Court of Thorns and Roses
A Court of Mist and Fury
A Court of Wings and Ruin
A Court of Thorns and Roses Coloring Book
Rhysand: Two Years Before the Wall
Part One: Princess of Carrion
Part Two: Cursebreaker
Part Three: High Lady
Two Years Before the Wall
The buzzing flies and screaming survivors had long since replaced the beating war-drums.
The killing field was now a tangled sprawl of corpses, human and faerie alike, interrupted only by broken wings jutting toward the gray sky or the occasional bulk of a felled horse.
With the heat, despite the heavy cloud cover, the smell would soon be unbearable. Flies already crawled along eyes gazing unblinkingly upward. They didn’t differentiate between mortal and immortal flesh.
I picked my way across the once-grassy plain, marking the banners half-buried in mud and gore. It took most of my lingering strength to keep my wings from dragging over corpse and armor. My own power had been depleted well before the carnage had stopped.
I’d spent the final hours fighting as the mortals beside me had: with sword and fist and brute, unrelenting focus. We’d held the lines against Ravennia’s legions—hour after hour, we’d held the lines, as I had been ordered to do by my father, as I knew I must do. To falter here would have been the killing blow to our already-sundering resistance.
The keep looming at my back was too valuable to be yielded to the Loyalists. Not just for its location in the heart of the continent, but for the supplies it guarded. For the forges that smoldered day and night on its western side, toiling to stock our forces.
The smoke of those forges now blended with the pyres already being kindled behind me as I kept walking, scanning the faces of the dead. I made a note to dispatch any soldiers who could stomach it to claim weapons from either army. We needed them too desperately to bother with honor. Especially since the other side did not bother with it at all.
So still—the battlefield was so still, compared with the slaughter and chaos that had finally halted hours ago. The Loyalist army had retreated rather than surrender, leaving their dead for the crows.
I edged around a fallen bay gelding, the beautiful beast’s eyes still wide with terror, flies crusting his bloodied flank. The rider was twisted beneath it, the man’s head partially severed. Not from a sword blow. No, those brutal gashes were claws.
They wouldn’t yield easily. The kingdoms and territories that wanted their human slaves would not lose this war unless they had no other choice. And even then … We’d learned the hard way, very early on, that they had no regard for the ancient rules and rites of battle. And for the Fae territories that fought beside mortal warriors … We were to be stomped out like vermin.
I waved away a fly that buzzed in my ear, my hand caked with blood both my own and foreign.
I’d always thought death would be some sort of peaceful homecoming—a sweet, sad lullaby to usher me into whatever waited afterward.
I crunched down with an armored boot on the flagpole of a Loyalist standard-bearer, smearing red mud across the tusked boar embroidered on its emerald flag.
I now wondered if the lullaby of death was not a lovely song, but the droning of flies. If flies and maggots were all Death’s handmaidens.
The battlefield stretched toward the horizon in every direction save the keep at my back.
Three days, we had held them off; three days, we had fought and died here.
But we’d held the lines. Again and again, I’d rallied human and faerie, had refused to let the Loyalists break through, even when they’d hammered our vulnerable right flank with fresh troops on the second day.
I’d used my power until it was nothing but smoke in my veins, and then I’d used my Illyrian training until swinging my shield and sword was all I knew, all I could manage against the hordes.
A half-shredded Illyrian wing jutted from a cluster of High Fae corpses, as if it had taken all six of them to bring the warrior down. As if he’d taken them all out with him.
My heartbeat pounded through my battered body as I hauled away the piled corpses.
Reinforcements had arrived at dawn on the third and final day, sent by my father after my plea for aid. I had been too lost in battle-rage to note who they were beyond an Illyrian unit, especially when so many had been wielding Siphons.
But in the hours since they’d saved our asses and turned the tide of the battle, I had not spotted either of my brothers amongst the living. Did not know if Cassian or Azriel had even fought on the plain.
The latter was unlikely, as my father kept him close for spying, but Cassian … Cassian could have been reassigned. I wouldn’t have put it past my father to shift Cassian to a unit most likely to be slaughtered. As this one had been, barely half limping off the battlefield earlier.
My aching, bloodied fingers dug into dented armor and clammy, stiff flesh as I heav
ed away the last of the High Fae corpses piled atop the fallen Illyrian soldier.
The dark hair, the golden-brown skin … The same as Cassian’s.
But it was not Cassian’s death-gray face that gaped at the sky.
My breath whooshed from me, my lungs still raw from roaring, my lips dry and chapped.
I needed water—badly. But nearby, another set of Illyrian wings poked up from the piled dead.
I stumbled and lurched toward it, letting my mind drift someplace dark and quiet while I righted the twisted neck to peer at the face beneath the simple helm.
I picked my way through the corpses to another Illyrian.
Then another. And another.
Some I knew. Some I didn’t. Still the killing field stretched onward under the sky.
Mile after mile. A kingdom of the rotting dead.
And still I looked.
PRINCESS OF CARRION
The painting was a lie.
A bright, pretty lie, bursting with pale pink blooms and fat beams of sunshine.
I’d begun it yesterday, an idle study of the rose garden lurking beyond the open windows of the studio. Through the tangle of thorns and satiny leaves, the brighter green of the hills rolled away into the distance.
Incessant, unrelenting spring.
If I’d painted this glimpse into the court the way my gut had urged me, it would have been flesh-shredding thorns, flowers that choked off the sunlight for any plants smaller than them, and rolling hills stained red.
But each brushstroke on the wide canvas was calculated; each dab and swirl of blending colors meant to portray not just idyllic spring, but a sunny disposition as well. Not too happy, but gladly, finally healing from horrors I carefully divulged.
I supposed that in the past weeks, I had crafted my demeanor as intricately as one of these paintings. I supposed that if I had also chosen to show myself as I truly wished, I would have been adorned with flesh-shredding talons, and hands that choked the life out of those now in my company. I would have left the gilded halls stained red.
But not yet.
Not yet, I told myself with every brushstroke, with every move I’d made these weeks. Swift revenge helped no one and nothing but my own, roiling rage.
Even if every time I spoke to them, I heard Elain’s sobbing as she was forced into the Cauldron. Even if every time I looked at them, I saw Nesta fling that finger at the King of Hybern in a death-promise. Even if every time I scented them, my nostrils were again full of the tang of Cassian’s blood as it pooled on the dark stones of that bone-castle.
The paintbrush snapped between my fingers.
I’d cleaved it in two, the pale handle damaged beyond repair.
Cursing under my breath, I glanced to the windows, the doors. This place was too full of watching eyes to risk throwing it in the rubbish bin.
I cast my mind around me like a net, trawling for any others near enough to witness, to be spying. I found none.
I held my hands before me, one half of the brush in each palm.
For a moment, I let myself see past the glamour that concealed the tattoo on my right hand and forearm. The markings of my true heart. My true title.
High Lady of the Night Court.
Half a thought had the broken paintbrush going up in flames.
The fire did not burn me, even as it devoured wood and brush and paint.
When it was nothing but smoke and ash, I invited in a wind that swept them from my palms and out the open windows.
For good measure, I summoned a breeze from the garden to snake through the room, wiping away any lingering tendril of smoke, filling it with the musty, suffocating smell of roses.
Perhaps when my task here was done, I’d burn this manor to the ground, too. Starting with those roses.
Two approaching presences tapped against the back of my mind, and I snatched up another brush, dipping it in the closest swirl of paint, and lowered the invisible, dark snares I’d erected around this room to alert me of any visitors.
I was working on the way the sunlight illuminated the delicate veins in a rose petal, trying not to think of how I’d once seen it do the same to Illyrian wings, when the doors opened.
I made a good show of appearing lost in my work, hunching my shoulders a bit, angling my head. And made an even better show of slowly looking over my shoulder, as if the struggle to part myself from the painting was a true effort.
But the battle was the smile I forced to my mouth. To my eyes—the real tell of a smile’s genuine nature. I’d practiced in the mirror. Over and over.
So my eyes easily crinkled as I gave a subdued yet happy smile to Tamlin.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Tamlin said, scanning my face for any sign of the shadows I remembered to occasionally fall prey to, the ones I wielded to keep him at bay when the sun sank beyond those foothills. “But I thought you might want to get ready for the meeting.”
I made myself swallow. Lower the paintbrush. No more than the nervous, unsure girl I’d been long ago. “Is—you talked it over with Ianthe? She’s truly coming?”
I hadn’t seen her yet. The High Priestess who had betrayed my sisters to Hybern, betrayed us to Hybern.
And even if Rhysand’s murky, swift reports through the mating bond had soothed some of my dread and terror … She was responsible for it. What had happened weeks ago.
It was Lucien who answered, studying my painting as if it held the proof I knew he was searching for. “Yes. She … had her reasons. She is willing to explain them to you.”
Perhaps along with her reasons for laying her hands on whatever males she pleased, whether they wished her to or not. For doing it to Rhys, and Lucien.
I wondered what Lucien truly made of it. And the fact that the collateral in her friendship with Hybern had wound up being his mate. Elain.
We had not spoken of Elain save for once, the day after I’d returned.
Despite what Jurian implied regarding how my sisters will be treated by Rhysand, I had told him, despite what the Night Court is like, they won’t hurt Elain or Nesta like that—not yet. Rhysand has more creative ways to harm them.
Lucien still seemed to doubt it.
But then again, I had also implied, in my own “gaps” of memory, that perhaps I had not received the same creativity or courtesy.
That they believed it so easily, that they thought Rhysand would ever force someone … I added the insult to the long, long list of things to repay them for.
I set down the brush and pulled off the paint-flecked smock, carefully laying it on the stool I’d been perched on for two hours now.
“I’ll go change,” I murmured, flicking my loose braid over a shoulder.
Tamlin nodded, monitoring my every movement as I neared them. “The painting looks beautiful.”
“It’s nowhere near done,” I said, dredging up that girl who had shunned praise and compliments, who had wanted to go unnoticed. “It’s still a mess.”
Frankly, it was some of my best work, even if its soullessness was only apparent to me.
“I think we all are,” Tamlin offered with a tentative smile.
I reined in the urge to roll my eyes, and returned his smile, brushing my hand over his shoulder as I passed.
Lucien was waiting outside my new bedroom when I emerged ten minutes later.
It had taken me two days to stop going to the old one—to turn right at the top of the stairs and not left. But there was nothing in that old bedroom.
I’d looked into it once, the day after I returned.
Shattered furniture; shredded bedding; clothes strewn about as if he’d gone looking for me inside the armoire. No one, it seemed, had been allowed in to clean.
But it was the vines—the thorns—that had made it unlivable. My old bedroom had been overrun with them. They’d curved and slithered over the walls, en
twined themselves amongst the debris. As if they’d crawled off the trellises beneath my windows, as if a hundred years had passed and not months.
That bedroom was now a tomb.
I gathered the soft pink skirts of my gauzy dress in a hand and shut the bedroom door behind me. Lucien remained leaning against the door across from mine.
I didn’t doubt he’d ensured I now stayed across from him. Didn’t doubt that the metal eye he possessed was always turned toward my own chambers, even while he slept.
“I’m surprised you’re so calm, given your promises in Hybern,” Lucien said by way of greeting.
The promise I’d made to kill the human queens, the King of Hybern, Jurian, and Ianthe for what they’d done to my sisters. To my friends.
“You yourself said Ianthe had her reasons. Furious as I might be, I can hear her out.”
I had not told Lucien of what I knew regarding her true nature. It would mean explaining that Rhys had thrown her out of his own home, that Rhys had done it to defend himself and the members of his court, and it would raise too many questions, undermine too many carefully crafted lies that had kept him and his court—my court—safe.
Though I wondered if, after Velaris, it was even necessary. Our enemies knew of the city, knew it was a place of good and peace. And had tried to destroy it at the first opportunity.
The guilt for the attack on Velaris after Rhys had revealed it to those human queens would haunt my mate for the rest of our immortal lives.
“She’s going to spin a story that you’ll want to hear,” Lucien warned.
I shrugged, heading down the carpeted, empty hall. “I can decide for myself. Though it sounds like you’ve already chosen not to believe her.”
He fell into step beside me. “She dragged two innocent women into this.”
“She was working to ensure Hybern’s alliance held strong.”
Lucien halted me with a hand around my elbow.
I allowed it because not allowing it, winnowing the way I’d done in the woods those months ago, or using an Illyrian defensive maneuver to knock him on his ass, would ruin my ruse. “You’re smarter than that.”
I studied the broad, tan hand wrapped around my elbow. Then I met one eye of russet and one of whirring gold.
Lucien breathed, “Where is he keeping her?”
I knew who he meant.