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CHAPTER

24

Morrigan

She’d lied to Feyre.

Sort of.

She was going to the Winter Court. Just not as soon as she’d said. Viviane, at least, knew when to truly expect her. Although they’d been exchanging letters for months now, Mor still hadn’t told even the Lady of the Winter Court where she’d be between Solstice in Velaris and her visit to Viviane and Kallias’s mountain home.

She didn’t like telling people about this place. Had never mentioned it to the others.

And as Mor galloped over the snowy hills, her mare, Ellia, a solid, warm weight beneath her, she remembered why.

Early-morning mist hung between the bumps and hollows of the sprawling estate. Her estate. Athelwood.

She’d bought it three hundred years ago for the quiet. Had kept it for the horses.

Ellia took the hills with unfaltering grace, flowing fast as the west wind.

Mor hadn’t been raised to ride. Not when winnowing was infinitely faster.

But with winnowing, it never felt as if she were actually traveling anywhere. As if she were going, running, racing to the next place. She wished it, and there she was.

The horses, though … Mor felt every inch of land they galloped across. Felt the wind and smelled the hills and snow and could see the passing wall of dense forest to her left.

Alive. It was all alive, and her ever more so, when she rode.

Athelwood had come with six horses, the previous owner having grown bored with them. All of them rare and coveted breeds. They’d been worth as much as the sprawling estate and three hundred pristine acres northwest of Velaris. A land of rolling hills and burbling streams, of ancient forests and crashing seas.

She did not like being alone for long periods of time—couldn’t stand it. But a few days here and there were necessary, vital for her soul. And getting out on Ellia was as rejuvenating as any day spent basking in the sun.

She pulled Ellia to a halt atop one of the larger hills, letting the mare rest, even as Ellia yanked on the reins. She’d run until her heart gave out—had never been quite as docile as her handlers desired. Mor loved her all the greater for it.

She had always been drawn to the untamed, wild things of the world.

Horse and rider breathing hard, Mor surveyed her rolling grounds, the gray sky. Nestled in her Illyrian leathers and heated from the ride, she was comfortably warm. An afternoon reading by the crackling fire in Athelwood’s extensive library followed by a hearty dinner and early bed would be bliss.

How far away the continent seemed, Rhys’s request with it. To go, to play spy and courtier and ambassador, to see those kingdoms long closed, where friends had once dwelled … Yes, her blood called to her. Go as far and wide as you can. Go on the wind.

But to leave, to let Keir believe he had made her go with his bargain with Eris …

Coward. Pathetic coward.

She shut out the hissing in her head, running a hand down Ellia’s snowy mane.

She had not mentioned it these past few days in Velaris. Had wanted to make this choice on her own, and had understood how the news might cast a shadow over the merriment.

She knew Azriel would say no, would want her safe. As he had always done. Cassian would have said yes, Amren with him, and Feyre would have worried but agreed. Az would have been pissed, and withdrawn even further into himself.

She hadn’t wanted to take his joy away from him. Any more than she already did.

But she’d have to tell them, regardless of what she decided, at some point.

Ellia’s ears went flat against her head.

Mor stiffened, following the mare’s line of sight.

To the tangle of wood to their left, little more than a thatch of trees from this distance.

She rubbed Ellia’s neck. “Easy,” she breathed. “Easy.”

Even in these woods, ancient terrors had been known to emerge.

But Mor scented nothing, saw nothing. The tendril of power she speared toward the woods revealed only the usual birds and small beasts. A hart drinking from a hole in an iced-over stream.

Nothing, except—

There, between a snarl of thorns. A patch of darkness.

It did not move, did not seem to do anything but linger. And watch.

Familiar and yet foreign.

Something in her power whispered not to touch it, not to go near it. Even from this distance.

Mor obeyed.

But she still watched that darkness in the thorns, as if a shadow had fallen asleep amongst them.

Not like Azriel’s shadows, twining and whispering.

Something different.

Something that stared back, watching her in turn.

Best left undisturbed. Especially with the promise of a crackling fire and glass of wine at home.

“Let’s take the short route back,” she murmured to Ellia, patting her neck.

The horse needed no further encouragement before launching into a gallop, turning them from the woods and its shadowy watcher.

Over and between the hills they rode, until the woods were hidden in the mists behind them.

What else might she see, witness, in lands where none in the Night Court had ventured for millennia?

The question lingered with every thunderous step from Ellia over snow and brook and hill.

Its answer echoed off the rocks and trees and gray clouds overhead.

Go. Go.

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