فصل 06

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CHAPTER

6

Morrigan

There was no light in this place.

There never had been.

Even the evergreen garlands, holly wreaths, and crackling birchwood fires in honor of the Solstice couldn’t pierce the eternal darkness that dwelled in the Hewn City.

It was not the sort of darkness that Mor had come to love in Velaris, the sort of darkness that was as much a part of Rhys as his blood.

It was the darkness of rotting things, of decay. The smothering darkness that withered all life.

And the golden-haired male standing before her in the throne room, amongst the towering pillars carved with those scaled, slithering beasts—he had been created from it. Thrived in it.

“I apologize if we interrupted your festivities,” Rhysand purred to him. To Keir. And to the male beside him.

Eris.

The throne room was empty now. A word from Feyre, and the usual ilk who dined and danced and schemed here were gone, leaving only Keir and the High Lord of Autumn’s eldest son.

The former spoke first, adjusting the lapels on his black jacket. “To what do we owe this pleasure?”

The sneering tone. She could still hear the hissed insults beneath it, whispered long ago in her family’s private suite, whispered at every meeting and gathering when her cousin was not present. Half-breed monstrosity. A disgrace to the bloodline.

“High Lord.”

The words came out of her without thought. And her voice, the voice she used here … Not her own. Never her own, never down here with them in the darkness. Mor kept her voice just as cold and unforgiving as she corrected, “To what do we owe this pleasure, High Lord.”

She didn’t bother to keep her teeth from flashing.

Keir ignored her.

His preferred method of insult: to act as if a person weren’t worth the breath it’d take to speak with them.

Try something new, you miserable bastard.

Rhys cut in before Mor could contemplate saying just that, his dark power filling the room, the mountain, “We came, of course, to wish you and yours well for the Solstice. But it seems you already had a guest to entertain.”

Az’s information had been flawless, as it always was. When he’d found her reading up on Winter Court customs in the House of Wind’s library this morning, she hadn’t asked how he’d learned that Eris was to come tonight. She’d long since learned that Az was just as likely not to tell her.

But the Autumn Court male standing beside Keir … Mor made herself look at Eris. Into his amber eyes.

Colder than any hall of Kallias’s court. They had been that way from the moment she’d met him, five centuries ago.

Eris laid a pale hand on the breast of his pewter-colored jacket, the portrait of Autumn Court gallantry. “I thought I’d extend some Solstice greetings of my own.”

That voice. That silky, arrogant voice. It had not altered, not in tone or timbre, in the passing centuries, either. Had not changed since that day.

Warm, buttery sunlight through the leaves, setting them glowing like rubies and citrines. The damp, earthen scent of rotting things beneath the leaves and roots she lay upon. Had been thrown and left upon.

Everything hurt. Everything. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t do anything but watch the sun drift through the rich canopy far overhead, listen to the wind between the silvery trunks.

And the center of that pain, radiating outward like living fire with each uneven, rasping breath …

Light, steady steps crunched on the leaves. Six sets. A border guard, a patrol.

Help. Someone to help—

A male voice, foreign and deep, swore. Then went silent.

Went silent as a single pair of steps approached. She couldn’t turn her head, couldn’t bear the agony. Could do nothing but inhale each wet, shuddering breath.

“Don’t touch her.”

Those steps stopped.

It was not a warning to protect her. Defend her.

She knew the voice that spoke. Had dreaded hearing it.

She felt him approach now. Felt each reverberation in the leaves, the moss, the roots. As if the very land shuddered before him.

“No one touches her,” he said. Eris. “The moment we do, she’s our responsibility.”

Cold, unfeeling words.

“But—but they nailed a—”

“No one touches her.”

Nailed.

They had spiked nails into her.

Had pinned her down as she screamed, pinned her down as she roared at them, then begged them. And then they had taken out those long, brutal iron nails. And the hammer.

Three of them.

Three strikes of the hammer, drowned out by her screaming, by the pain.

She began shaking, hating it as much as she’d hated the begging. Her body bellowed in agony, those nails in her abdomen relentless.

A pale, beautiful face appeared above her, blocking out the jewel-like leaves above. Unmoved. Impassive. “I take it you do not wish to live here, Morrigan.”

She would rather die here, bleed out here. She would rather die and return—return as something wicked and cruel, and shred them all apart.

He must have read it in her eyes. A small smile curved his lips. “I thought so.”

Eris straightened, turning. Her fingers curled in the leaves and loamy soil.

She wished she could grow claws—grow claws as Rhys could—and rip out that pale throat. But that was not her gift. Her gift … her gift had left her here. Broken and bleeding.

Eris took a step away.

Someone behind him blurted, “We can’t just leave her to—”

“We can, and we will,” Eris said simply, his pace unfaltering as he strode away. “She chose to sully herself; her family chose to deal with her like garbage. I have already told them my decision in this matter.” A long pause, crueler than the rest. “And I am not in the habit of fucking Illyrian leftovers.”

She couldn’t stop it, then. The tears that slid out, hot and burning.

Alone. They would leave her alone here. Her friends did not know where she had gone. She barely knew where she was.

“But—” That dissenting voice cut in again.

“Move out.”

There was no dissension after that.

And when their steps faded away, then vanished, the silence returned.

The sun and the wind and the leaves.

The blood and the iron and the soil beneath her nails.

The pain.

A subtle nudge of Feyre’s hand against her own drew her out, away from that bloody clearing just over the border of the Autumn Court.

Mor threw her High Lady a grateful glance, which Feyre smartly ignored, already returning her attention to the conversation. Never having taken her focus off it in the first place.

Feyre had fallen into the role of mistress of this horrible city with far more ease than she had. Clad in a sparkling onyx gown, the crescent-moon diadem atop her head, her friend looked every part the imperious ruler. As much a part of this place as the twining, serpentine beasts carved and etched everywhere. What Keir, perhaps, had one day pictured for Mor herself.

Not the red gown Mor wore, bright and bold, or the gold jewelry at her wrists, her ears, shimmering like sunlight down here in the gloom.

“If you wanted this little liaison to remain private,” Rhys was saying with lethal calm, “perhaps a public gathering was not the wisest place to meet.”

Indeed.

The Steward of the Hewn City waved a hand. “Why should we have anything to hide? After the war, we’re all such good friends.”

She often dreamed of gutting him. Sometimes with a knife; sometimes with her own bare hands.

“And how does your father’s court fare, Eris?” A mild, bored question from Feyre.

His amber eyes held nothing but distaste.

A roaring filled Mor’s head at that look. She could barely hear his drawled answer. Or Rhys’s reply.

It had once been her delight to taunt Keir and this court, to keep them on their toes. Hell, she’d even snapped a few of the Steward’s bones this spring—after Rhys had shattered his arms into uselessness. Had been glad to do it, after what Keir had said to Feyre, and then delighted when her mother had banished her from their private quarters. An order that still held. But from the moment Eris had walked into that council chamber all those months ago …

You are over five hundred years old, she often reminded herself. She could face it, handle it better than this.

I am not in the habit of fucking Illyrian leftovers.

Even now, even after Azriel had found her in those woods, after Madja had healed her until no trace of those nails marred her stomach … She should not have come here tonight.

Her skin became tight, her stomach roiling. Coward.

She had faced down enemies, fought in many wars, and yet this, these two males together—

Mor felt more than saw Feyre stiffen beside her at something Eris had said.

Her High Lady answered Eris, “Your father is forbidden to cross into the human lands.” No room for compromise with that tone, with the steel in Feyre’s eyes.

Eris only shrugged. “I don’t think it’s your call.”

Rhys slid his hands into his pockets, the portrait of casual grace. Yet the shadows and star-flecked darkness that wafted from him, that set the mountain shuddering beneath his every step—that was the true face of the High Lord of the Night Court. The most powerful High Lord in history. “I would suggest reminding Beron that territory expansion is not on the table. For any court.”

Eris wasn’t fazed. Nothing had ever disturbed him, ruffled him. Mor had hated it from the moment she’d met him—that distance, that coldness. That lack of interest or feeling for the world. “Then I would suggest to you, High Lord, that you speak to your dear friend Tamlin about it.”

“Why.” Feyre’s question was sharp as a blade.

Eris’s mouth curved in an adder’s smile. “Because Tamlin’s territory is the only one that borders the human lands. I’d think that anyone looking to expand would have to go through the Spring Court first. Or at least obtain his permission.”

Another person she’d one day kill. If Feyre and Rhys didn’t do it first.

It didn’t matter what Tamlin had done in the war, if he’d brought Beron and the human forces with him. If he’d played Hybern.

It was another day, another female lying on the ground, that Mor would not forget, could not forgive.

Rhys’s cold face turned contemplative, though. She could easily read the reluctance in his eyes, the annoyance at having Eris tip him off, but information was information.

Mor glanced toward Keir and found him watching her.

Save for her initial order to the Steward, she had not spoken a word. Contributed to this meeting. Stepped up.

She could see that in Keir’s eyes. The satisfaction.

Say something. Think of something to say. To strip him down to nothing.

But Rhys deemed they were done, linking his arm through Feyre’s and guiding them away, the mountain indeed trembling beneath their steps. What he’d said to Eris, Mor had no idea.

Pathetic. Cowardly and pathetic.

Truth is your gift. Truth is your curse.

Say something.

But the words to strike down her father did not come.

Her red gown flowing behind her, Mor turned her back on him, on the smirking heir to Autumn, and followed her High Lord and Lady through the darkness and back into the light.

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