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A Court of Wings and Ruin, Page 2

Sarah J. Maas

  I shook my head. “I don’t know. Rhysand has a hundred places where they could be, but I doubt he’d use any of them to hide Elain, knowing that I’m aware of them.”

  “Tell me anyway. List all of them.”

  “You’ll die the moment you set foot in his territory.”

  “I survived well enough when I found you.”

  “You couldn’t see that he had me in thrall. You let him take me back.” Lie, lie, lie.

  But the hurt and guilt I expected weren’t there. Lucien slowly released his grip. “I need to find her.”

  “You don’t even know Elain. The mating bond is just a physical reaction overriding your good sense.”

  “Is that what it did to you and Rhys?”

  A quiet, dangerous question. But I made fear enter my eyes, let myself drag up memories of the Weaver, the Carver, the Middengard Wyrm so that old terror drenched my scent. “I don’t want to talk about that,” I said, my voice a rasping wobble.

  A clock chimed on the main level. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Mother and launched into a quick walk. “We’ll be late.”

  Lucien only nodded. But I felt his gaze on my back, fixed right on my spine, as I headed downstairs. To see Ianthe.

  And at last decide how I was going to shred her into pieces.

  The High Priestess looked exactly as I remembered, both in those memories Rhys had shown me and in my own daydreamings of using the talons hidden beneath my nails to carve out her eyes, then her tongue, then open up her throat.

  My rage had become a living thing inside my chest, an echoing heartbeat that soothed me to sleep and stirred me to waking. I quieted it as I stared at Ianthe across the formal dining table, Tamlin and Lucien flanking me.

  She still wore the pale hood and silver circlet set with its limpid blue stone.

  Like a Siphon—the jewel in its center reminded me of Azriel’s and Cassian’s Siphons. And I wondered if, like the Illyrian warriors’, the jewel somehow helped shape an unwieldy gift of magic into something more refined, deadlier. She had never removed it—but then again, I had never seen Ianthe summon any greater power than igniting a ball of faelight in a room.

  The High Priestess lowered her teal eyes to the dark wood table, the hood casting shadows on her perfect face. “I wish to begin by saying how truly sorry I am. I acted out of a desire to … to grant what I believed you perhaps yearned for but did not dare voice, while also keeping our allies in Hybern satisfied with our allegiance.”

  Pretty, poisoned lies. But finding her true motive … I’d been waiting these weeks for this meeting. Had spent these weeks pretending to convalesce, pretending to heal from the horrors I’d survived at Rhysand’s hands.

  “Why would I ever wish for my sisters to endure that?” My voice came out trembling, cold.

  Ianthe lifted her head, scanning my unsure, if not a bit aloof, face. “So you could be with them forever. And if Lucien had discovered that Elain was his mate beforehand, it would have been … devastating to realize he’d only have a few decades.”

  The sound of Elain’s name on her lips sent a snarl rumbling up my throat. But I leashed it, falling into that mask of pained quiet, the newest in my arsenal.

  Lucien answered, “If you expect our gratitude, you’ll be waiting a while, Ianthe.”

  Tamlin shot him a warning look—both at the words and the tone. Perhaps Lucien would kill Ianthe before I had the chance, just for the horror she’d put his mate through that day.

  “No,” Ianthe breathed, eyes wide, the perfect picture of remorse and guilt. “No, I don’t expect gratitude in the least. Or forgiveness. But understanding … This is my home, too.” She lifted a slender hand clad in silver rings and bracelets to encompass the room, the manor. “We have all had to make alliances we didn’t believe we’d ever forge—perhaps unsavory ones, yes, but … Hybern’s force is too great to stop. It now can only be weathered like any other storm.” A glance toward Tamlin. “We have worked so hard to prepare ourselves for Hybern’s inevitable arrival—all these months. I made a grave mistake, and I will always regret any pain I caused, but let us continue this good work together. Let us find a way to ensure our lands and people survive.”

  “At the cost of how many others?” Lucien demanded.

  Again, that warning look from Tamlin. But Lucien ignored him.

  “What I saw in Hybern,” Lucien said, gripping the arms of his chair hard enough that the carved wood groaned. “Any promises he made of peace and immunity …” He halted, as if remembering that Ianthe might very well feed this back to the king. He loosened his grip on the chair, his long fingers flexing before settling on the arms again. “We have to be careful.”

  “We will be,” Tamlin promised. “But we’ve already agreed to certain conditions. Sacrifices. If we break apart now … even with Hybern as our ally, we have to present a solid front. Together.”

  He still trusted her. Still thought that Ianthe had merely made a bad call. Had no idea what lurked beneath the beauty, the clothes, and the pious incantations.

  But then again, that same blindness kept him from realizing what prowled beneath my skin as well. Ianthe bowed her head again. “I will endeavor to be worthy of my friends.”

  Lucien seemed to be trying very, very hard not to roll his eyes.

  But Tamlin said, “We’ll all try.”

  That was his new favorite word: try.

  I only swallowed, making sure he heard it, and nodded slowly, keeping my eyes on Ianthe. “Don’t ever do anything like that again.”

  A fool’s command—one she’d expected me to make, from the quickness with which she nodded. Lucien leaned back in his seat, refusing to say anything else.

  “Lucien is right, though,” I blurted, the portrait of concern. “What of the people in this court during this conflict?” I frowned at Tamlin. “They were brutalized by Amarantha—I’m not sure how well they will endure living beside Hybern. They have suffered enough.”

  Tamlin’s jaw tightened. “Hybern has promised that our people shall remain untouched and undisturbed.” Our people. I nearly scowled—even as I nodded again in understanding. “It was a part of our … bargain.” When he’d sold out all of Prythian, sold out everything decent and good in himself, to retrieve me. “Our people will be safe when Hybern arrives. Though I’ve sent out word that families should … relocate to the eastern part of the territory. For the time being.”

  Good. At least he’d considered those potential casualties—at least he cared that much about his people, understood what sorts of sick games Hybern liked to play and that he might swear one thing but mean another. If he was already moving those most at risk during this conflict out of the way … It made my work here all the easier. And east—a bit of information I tucked away. If east was safe, then the west … Hybern would indeed be coming from that direction. Arriving there.

  Tamlin blew out a breath. “That brings me to the other reason behind this meeting.”

  I braced myself, schooling my face into bland curiosity, as he declared, “The first delegation from Hybern arrives tomorrow.” Lucien’s golden skin paled. Tamlin added, “Jurian will be here by noon.”



  I’d barely heard a whisper of Jurian these past weeks—hadn’t seen the resurrected human commander since that night in Hybern.

  Jurian had been reborn through the Cauldron using the hideous remnants of him that Amarantha had hoarded as trophies for five hundred years, his soul trapped and aware within his own magically preserved eye. He was mad—had gone mad long before the King of Hybern had resurrected him to lead the human queens down a path of ignorant submission.

  Tamlin and Lucien had to know. Had to have seen that gleam in Jurian’s eyes.

  But … they also did not seem to entirely mind that the King of Hybern possessed the Cauldron—that it was capable of cleaving this world apart. Starting with the wall. The only thing standing between the gathering, lethal Fae armies and the vulnerable
human lands below.

  No, that threat certainly didn’t seem to keep Lucien or Tamlin awake at night. Or from inviting these monsters into their home.

  Tamlin had promised upon my return that I was to be included in the planning, in every meeting. And he was true to his word when he explained that Jurian would arrive with two other commanders from Hybern, and I would be present for it. They indeed wished to survey the wall, to test for the perfect spot to rend it once the Cauldron had recovered its strength.

  Turning my sisters into Fae, apparently, had drained it.

  My smugness at the fact was short-lived.

  My first task: learn where they planned to strike, and how long the Cauldron required to return to its full capacity. And then smuggle that information to Rhysand and the others.

  I took extra care dressing the next day, after sleeping fitfully thanks to a dinner with a guilt-ridden Ianthe, who went to excessive lengths to kiss my ass and Lucien’s. The priestess apparently wished to wait until the Hybern commanders were settled before making her appearance. She’d cooed about wanting to ensure they had the chance to get to know us before she intruded, but one look at Lucien told me that he and I, for once, agreed: she had likely planned some sort of grand entrance.

  It made little difference to me—to my plans.

  Plans that I sent down the mating bond the next morning, words and images tumbling along a night-filled corridor.

  I did not dare risk using the bond too often. I had communicated with Rhysand only once since I’d arrived. Just once, in the hours after I’d walked into my old bedroom and spied the thorns that had conquered it.

  It had been like shouting across a great distance, like speaking underwater. I am safe and well, I’d fired down the bond. I’ll tell you what I know soon. I’d waited, letting the words travel into the dark. Then I’d asked, Are they alive? Hurt?

  I didn’t remember the bond between us being so hard to hear, even when I’d dwelled on this estate and he’d used it to see if I was still breathing, to make sure my despair hadn’t swallowed me whole.

  But Rhysand’s response had come a minute later. I love you. They are alive. They are healing.

  That was it. As if it was all that he could manage.

  I had drifted back to my new chambers, locked the door, and enveloped the entire place in a wall of hard air to keep any scent from my silent tears escaping as I curled up in a corner of the bathing room.

  I had once sat in such a position, watching the stars during the long, bleak hours of the night. Now I took in the cloudless blue sky beyond the open window, listened to the birds singing to one another, and wanted to roar.

  I had not dared to ask for more details about Cassian and Azriel—or my sisters. In terror of knowing just how bad it had been—and what I’d do if their healing turned grim. What I’d bring down upon these people.

  Healing. Alive and healing. I reminded myself of that every day.

  Even when I still heard their screams, smelled their blood.

  But I did not ask for more. Did not risk touching the bond beyond that first time.

  I didn’t know if someone could monitor such things—the silent messages between mates. Not when the mating bond could be scented, and I was playing such a dangerous game with it.

  Everyone believed it had been severed, that Rhys’s lingering scent was because he’d forced me, had planted that scent in me.

  They believed that with time, with distance, his scent would fade. Weeks or months, likely.

  And when it didn’t fade, when it remained … That’s when I’d have to strike, with or without the information I needed.

  But out of the possibility that communicating down the bond kept its scent strong … I had to minimize how much I used it. Even if not talking to Rhys, not hearing that amusement and cunning … I would hear those things again, I promised myself over and over. See that wry smile.

  And I was again thinking of how pained that face had been the last time I’d seen it, thinking of Rhys, covered in Azriel’s and Cassian’s blood, as Jurian and the two Hybern commanders winnowed into the gravel of the front drive the next day.

  Jurian was in the same light leather armor, his brown hair whipping across his face in the blustery spring breeze. He spied us standing on the white marble steps into the house and his mouth curled in that crooked, smug smile.

  I willed ice into my veins, the coldness from a court I had never set foot in. But I wielded its master’s gift on myself, turning burning rage into frozen calm as Jurian swaggered toward us, a hand on the hilt of his sword.

  But it was the two commanders—one male, one female—that had a sliver of true fear sliding into my heart.

  High Fae in appearance, their skin the same ruddy hue and hair the identical inky black as their king. But it was their vacant, unfeeling faces that snagged the eye. A lack of emotion honed from millennia of cruelty.

  Tamlin and Lucien had gone rigid by the time Jurian halted at the foot of the sweeping front stairs. The human commander smirked. “You’re looking better than the last time I saw you.”

  I dragged my eyes to his. And said nothing.

  Jurian snorted and gestured the two commanders forward. “May I present Their Highnesses, Prince Dagdan and Princess Brannagh, nephew and niece to the King of Hybern.”

  Twins—perhaps linked in power and mental bonds as well.

  Tamlin seemed to remember that these were now his allies and marched down the stairs. Lucien followed.

  He’d sold us out. Sold out Prythian—for me. To get me back.

  Smoke curled in my mouth. I willed frost to fill it again.

  Tamlin inclined his head to the prince and princess. “Welcome to my home. We have rooms prepared for all of you.”

  “My brother and I shall reside in one together,” the princess said. Her voice was deceptively light—almost girlish. The utter lack of feeling, the utter authority was anything but.

  I could practically feel the snide remark simmering in Lucien. But I stepped down the stairs and said, ever the lady of the house that these people, that Tamlin, had once expected me to gladly embrace, “We can easily make adjustments.”

  Lucien’s metal eye whirred and narrowed on me, but I kept my face impassive as I curtsied to them. To my enemy. Which of my friends would face them on the battlefield?

  Would Cassian and Azriel have even healed enough to fight, let alone lift a sword? I did not allow myself to dwell on it—on how Cassian had screamed as his wings had been shredded.

  Princess Brannagh surveyed me: the rose-colored dress, the hair that Alis had curled and braided over the top of my head in a coronet, the pale pink pearls at my ears.

  A harmless, lovely package, perfect for a High Lord to mount whenever he wished.

  Brannagh’s lip curled as she glanced at her brother. The prince deemed the same thing, judging by his answering sneer.

  Tamlin snarled softly in warning. “If you’re done staring at her, perhaps we can move on to the business between us.”

  Jurian let out a low chuckle and strode up the stairs without being given leave to do so. “They’re curious.” Lucien stiffened at the impudence of the gesture, the words. “It’s not every century that the contested possession of a female launches a war. Especially a female with such … talents.”

  I only turned on a heel and stalked up the steps after him. “Perhaps if you’d bothered going to war over Miryam, she wouldn’t have left you for Prince Drakon.”

  A ripple seemed to go through Jurian. Tamlin and Lucien tensed at my back, torn between monitoring our exchange and escorting the two Hybern royals into the house. Upon my own explanation that Azriel and his network of spies were well trained, we’d cleared any unnecessary servants, wary of spying ears and eyes. Only the most trusted among them remained.

  Of course, I’d forgotten to mention that I knew Azriel had pulled his spies weeks ago, the information not worth the cost of their lives. Or that it served my own purposes to have fewer peo
ple watching me.

  Jurian halted at the top of the stairs, his face a mask of cruel death as I took the last steps to him. “Careful what you say, girl.”

  I smiled, breezing past. “Or what? You’ll throw me in the Cauldron?”

  I strode between the front doors, edging around the table in the heart of the entry hall, its towering vase of flowers arching to meet the crystal chandelier.

  Right there—just a few feet away, I had crumpled into a ball of terror and despair all those months ago. Right there in the center of the foyer, Mor had picked me up and carried me out of this house and into freedom.

  “Here’s the first rule of this visit,” I said to Jurian over my shoulder as I headed for the dining room, where lunch awaited. “Don’t threaten me in my own home.”

  The posturing, I knew a moment later, had worked.

  Not on Jurian, who glowered as he claimed a seat at the table.

  But on Tamlin, who brushed a knuckle over my cheek as he passed by, unaware of how carefully I had chosen the words, how I had baited Jurian to serve up the opportunity on a platter.

  That was my first step: make Tamlin believe, truly believe, that I loved him and this place, and everyone in it.

  So that he would not suspect when I turned them on each other.

  Prince Dagdan yielded to his twin’s every wish and order. As if he were the blade she wielded to slice through the world.

  He poured her drinks, sniffing them first. He selected the finest cuts of meat from the platters and neatly arranged them on her plate. He always let her answer, and never so much as looked at her with doubt in his eyes.

  One soul in two bodies. And from the way they glanced to each other in wordless exchanges, I wondered if they were perhaps … perhaps like me. Daemati.

  My mental shields had been a wall of black adamant since arriving. But as we dined, beats of silence going on longer than conversation, I found myself checking them over and over.

  “We will set out for the wall tomorrow,” Brannagh was saying to Tamlin. More of an order than a request. “Jurian will accompany us. We require the use of sentries who know where the holes in it are located.”