فصل 11

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CHAPTER

11

Rhysand

It was Spring, and yet it wasn’t.

It was not the land I had once roamed in centuries past, or even visited almost a year ago.

The sun was mild, the day clear, distant dogwoods and lilacs still in eternal bloom.

Distant—because on the estate, nothing bloomed at all.

The pink roses that had once climbed the pale stone walls of the sweeping manor house were nothing but tangled webs of thorns. The fountains had gone dry, the hedges untrimmed and shapeless.

The house itself had looked better the day after Amarantha’s cronies had trashed it.

Not for any visible signs of destruction, but for the general quiet. The lack of life.

Though the great oak doors were undeniably worse for wear. Deep, long claw marks had been slashed down them.

Standing on the top step of the marble staircase that led to those front doors, I surveyed the brutal gashes. My money was on Tamlin having inflicted them after Feyre had duped him and his court.

But Tamlin’s temper had always been his downfall. Any bad day could have produced the gouge marks.

Perhaps today would produce more of them.

The smirk was easy to summon. So was the casual stance, a hand in the pocket of my black jacket, no wings or Illyrian leathers in sight, as I knocked on the ruined doors.

Silence.

Then—

Tamlin answered the door himself.

I wasn’t sure what to remark on: the haggard male before me, or the dark house behind him.

An easy mark. Too easy of a mark, to mock the once-fine clothes desperate for a wash, the shaggy hair that needed a trim. The empty manor, not a servant in sight, no Solstice decorations to be found.

The green eyes that met mine weren’t the ones I was accustomed to, either. Haunted and bleak. Not a spark.

It would be a matter of minutes to fillet him, body and soul. To finish what had undoubtedly started that day Feyre had called out silently at their wedding, and I had come.

But—peace. We had peace within our sights.

I could rip him apart after we attained it.

“Lucien claimed you would come,” Tamlin said by way of greeting, voice as flat and lifeless as his eyes, a hand still braced on the door.

“Funny, I thought his mate was the seer.”

Tamlin only stared at me, either ignoring or missing the humor. “What do you want.”

No whisper of sound behind him. On any acre of this estate. Not even a note of birdsong. “I came to have a little chat.” I offered him a half grin that I knew made him see red. “Can I trouble you for a cup of tea?”

The halls were dim, the embroidered curtains drawn.

A tomb.

This place was a tomb.

With each step toward what had once been the library, the dust and silence pressed in.

Tamlin didn’t speak, didn’t offer any explanations for the vacant house. For the rooms we passed, some of the carved doors cracked open enough for me to behold the destruction inside.

Shattered furniture, shredded paintings, cracked walls.

Lucien had not come here to make amends during Solstice, I realized as Tamlin opened the door to the dark library.

Lucien had come here out of pity. Mercy.

My sight adjusted to the darkness before Tamlin waved a hand, igniting the faelights in their glass bowls.

He hadn’t destroyed this room yet. Had likely taken me to the one chamber in this house that had usable furniture.

I kept my mouth shut as we strode for a large desk in the center of the space, Tamlin claiming an ornate cushioned chair on one side of it. The only thing he had that was close to a throne these days.

I slid into the matching seat across from him, the pale wood groaning in protest. The set had likely been meant to accommodate tittering courtiers, not two full-grown warriors.

Quiet fell, as thick as the emptiness in this house.

“If you’ve come to gloat, you can spare yourself the effort.”

I put a hand on my chest. “Why should I bother?”

No humor. “What did you want to talk about?”

I made a good show of surveying the books, the vaulted, painted ceiling. “Where’s my dear friend Lucien?”

“Hunting for our dinner.”

“No taste for such things these days?”

Tamlin’s eyes remained dull. “He left before I was awake.”

Hunting for dinner—because there were no servants here to make food. Or buy it.

I couldn’t say I felt bad for him.

Only for Lucien, once again stuck with being his crony.

I crossed an ankle over a knee and leaned back in my chair. “What’s this I hear about you not enforcing your borders?”

A beat of quiet. Then Tamlin gestured toward the door. “Do you see any sentries around to do it?”

Even they had abandoned him. Interesting. “Feyre did her work thoroughly, didn’t she.”

A flash of white teeth, a glimmer of light in his eyes. “With your coaching, I have no doubt.”

I smiled. “Oh, no. That was all her. Clever, isn’t she.”

Tamlin gripped the curved arm of his chair. “I thought the High Lord of the Night Court couldn’t be bothered to brag.”

I didn’t smile as I countered with, “I suppose you think I should be thanking you, for stepping up to assist in reviving me.”

“I have no illusions that the day you thank me for anything, Rhysand, is the day the burning fires of hell go cold.”

“Poetic.”

A low snarl.

Too easy. It was far too easy to bait him, rile him. And though I reminded myself of the wall, of the peace we needed, I said, “You saved my mate’s life on several occasions. I will always be thankful for that.”

I knew the words found their mark. My mate.

Low. It was a low blow. I had everything—everything I’d wished for, dreamed of, begged the stars to grant me.

He had nothing. Had been given everything and squandered it. He didn’t deserve my pity, my sympathy.

No, Tamlin deserved what he’d brought upon himself, this husk of a life.

He deserved every empty room, every snarl of thorns, every meal he had to hunt for himself.

“Does she know you’re here?”

“Oh, she certainly does.” One look at Feyre’s face yesterday when I’d invited her along had given me her answer before she’d voiced it: she had no interest in ever seeing the male across from me again.

“And,” I went on, “she was as disturbed as I was to learn that your borders are not as enforced as we’d hoped.”

“With the wall gone, I’d need an army to watch them.”

“That can be arranged.”

A soft snarl rumbled from Tamlin, and a hint of claws gleamed at his knuckles. “I’m not letting your ilk onto my lands.”

“My ilk, as you call them, fought most of the war that you helped bring about. If you need patrols, I will supply the warriors.”

“To protect humans from us?” A sneer.

My hands ached to wrap around his throat. Indeed, shadows curled at my fingertips, heralds of the talons lurking just beneath.

This house—I hated this house. Had hated it from the moment I’d set foot in it that night, when Spring Court blood had flowed, payment for a debt that could never be repaid. Payment for two sets of wings, pinned in the study.

Tamlin had burned them long ago, Feyre had told me. It made no difference. He’d been there that day.

Had given his father and brothers the information on where my sister and mother would be waiting for me to meet them. And done nothing to help them as they were butchered.

I still saw their heads in those baskets, their faces still etched with fear and pain. And saw them again as I beheld the High Lord of Spring, both of us crowned in the same blood-soaked night.

“To protect humans from us, yes,” I said, my voice going dangerously quiet. “To maintain the peace.”

“What peace?” The claws slid back under his skin as he crossed his arms, less muscled than I’d last seen them on the battlefields. “Nothing is different. The wall is gone, that’s all.”

“We can make it different. Better. But only if we start off the right way.”

“I’m not allowing one Night Court brute onto my lands.”

His people despised him enough, it seemed.

And at that word—brute—I had enough. Dangerous territory. For me, at least. To let my own temper get the better of me. At least around him.

I rose from the chair, Tamlin not bothering to stand. “You brought every bit of this upon yourself,” I said, my voice still soft. I didn’t need to yell to convey my rage. I never had.

“You won,” he spat, sitting forward. “You got your mate. Is that not enough?”

“No.”

The word echoed through the library.

“You nearly destroyed her. In every way possible.”

Tamlin bared his teeth. I bared mine back, temper be damned. Let some of my power rumble through the room, the house, the grounds.

“She survived it, though. Survived you. And you still felt the need to humiliate her, belittle her. If you meant to win her back, old friend, that wasn’t the wisest route.”

“Get out.”

I wasn’t finished. Not even close. “You deserve everything that has befallen you. You deserve this pathetic, empty house, your ravaged lands. I don’t care if you offered that kernel of life to save me, I don’t care if you still love my mate. I don’t care that you saved her from Hybern, or a thousand enemies before that.” The words poured out, cold and steady. “I hope you live the rest of your miserable life alone here. It’s a far more satisfying end than slaughtering you.” Feyre had once arrived at the same decision. I’d agreed with her then, still did, but now I truly understood.

Tamlin’s green eyes went feral.

I braced for it, readied for it—wanted it. For him to explode out of that chair and launch himself at me, for his claws to start slashing.

My blood hammered in my veins, my power coiling inside me.

We could wreck this house in our fight. Bring it down to rubble. And then I’d turn the stones and wood into nothing but black dust.

But Tamlin only stared. And after a heartbeat, his eyes lowered to the desk. “Get out.”

I blinked, the only sign of my surprise. “Not in the mood for a brawl, Tamlin?”

He didn’t bother to look at me again. “Get out” was all he said.

A broken male.

Broken, from his own actions, his own choices.

It was not my concern. He did not deserve my pity.

But as I winnowed away, the dark wind ripping around me, a strange sort of hollowness took root in my stomach.

Tamlin didn’t have shields around the house. None to prevent anyone from winnowing in, to guard against enemies appearing in his bedroom and slitting his throat.

It was almost as if he was waiting for someone to do it.

I found Feyre walking home from presumably doing some shopping, a few bags dangling from her gloved hands.

Her smile when I landed beside her, snow whipping around us, was like a fist to my heart.

It faded immediately, however, when she read my face.

Even in the middle of the busy city street, she put a hand to my cheek. “That bad?”

I nodded, leaning into her touch. The most I could manage.

She pressed a kiss to my mouth, her lips warm enough that I realized I’d gone cold.

“Walk home with me,” she said, looping her arm through mine and pressing close.

I obeyed, taking the bags from her other hand. As the blocks passed and we crossed over the icy Sidra, then up the steep hills, I told her. Everything I’d said to Tamlin.

“Having heard you rip into Cassian, I’d say you were fairly mild,” she observed when I’d finished.

I snorted. “Profanity wasn’t necessary here.”

She contemplated my words. “Did you go because you were concerned about the wall, or just because you wanted to say those things to him?”

“Both.” I couldn’t bring myself to lie to her about it. “And perhaps slaughter him.”

Alarm flared in her eyes. “Where is this coming from?”

I didn’t know. “I just …” Words failed me.

Her arm tightened around mine, and I turned to study her face. Open, understanding. “The things you said … they weren’t wrong,” she offered. No judgment, no anger.

Something still a bit hollow inside me filled slightly. “I should have been the bigger male.”

“You’re the bigger male most days. You’re entitled to a slipup.” She smiled broadly. Bright as the full moon, lovelier than any star.

I still had not gotten her a Solstice gift. And birthday present.

She angled her head at my frown, her braid slipping over a shoulder. I ran my hand along it, savoring the silken strands against my frozen fingers. “I’ll meet you at home,” I said, handing her the bags once more.

It was her turn to frown. “Where are you going?”

I kissed her cheek, breathing in her lilac-and-pear scent. “I have some errands that need tending to.” And looking at her, walking beside her, did little to cool the rage that still roiled in me. Not when that beautiful smile made me want to winnow back to the Spring Court and punch my Illyrian blade through Tamlin’s gut.

Bigger male indeed.

“Go paint my nude portrait,” I told her, winking, and shot into the bitterly cold sky.

The sound of her laughter danced with me all the way to the Palace of Thread and Jewels.

I surveyed the spread my preferred jeweler had laid out on black velvet atop the glass counter. In the lights of her cozy shop bordering the Palace, they flickered with an inner fire, beckoning.

Sapphires, emeralds, rubies … Feyre had them all. Well, in moderate amounts. Save for those cuffs of solid diamond I’d given her for Starfall.

She’d worn them only twice:

That night I had danced with her until dawn, barely daring to hope that she might be starting to return a fraction of what I felt for her.

And the night we’d returned to Velaris, after that final battle with Hybern. When she had worn only those cuffs.

I shook my head, and said to the slim, ethereal faerie behind the counter, “Beautiful as they are, Neve, I don’t think milady wants jewels for Solstice.”

A shrug that wasn’t at all disappointed. I was a frequent enough customer that Neve knew she’d make a sale at some point.

She slid the tray beneath the counter and pulled out another, her night-veiled hands moving smoothly.

Not a wraith, but something similar, her tall, lean frame wrapped in permanent shadows, only her eyes—like glowing coals—visible. The rest tended to come in and out of view, as if the shadows parted to reveal a dark hand, a shoulder, a foot. Her people all master jewel smiths, dwelling in the deepest mountain mines in our court. Most of the heirlooms of our house had been Tartera-made, Feyre’s cuffs and crowns included.

Neve waved a shadowed hand over the tray she’d laid out. “I had selected these earlier, if it’s not too presumptuous, to consider for Lady Amren.”

Indeed, these all sang Amren’s name. Large stones, delicate settings. Mighty jewelry, for my mighty friend. Who had done so much for me, my mate—our people. The world.

I surveyed the three pieces. Sighed. “I’ll take all of them.”

Neve’s eyes glowed like a living forge.

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