فصل 19

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CHAPTER

19

“Amren’s right,” Rhys drawled, leaning against the threshold of the town house sitting room. “You are like dogs, waiting for me to come home. Maybe I should buy treats.”

Cassian gave him a vulgar gesture from where he lounged on the couch before the hearth, an arm slung over the back behind Mor. Though everything about his powerful, muscled body suggested someone at ease, there was a tightness in his jaw, a coiled-up energy that told me they’d been waiting here for a while.

Azriel lingered by the window, comfortably ensconced in shadows, a light flurry of snow dusting the lawn and street behind him. And Amren …

Nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t tell if I was relieved or not. I’d have to hunt her down to give her back the necklace soon—if Rhys’s warnings and her own words were to be believed.

Damp and cold from the mist and wind that chased us down from the Prison, I strode for the armchair across from the couch, which had been shaped, like so much of the furniture here, to accommodate Illyrian wings. I stretched my stiff limbs toward the fire, and stifled a groan at the delicious heat.

“How’d it go?” Mor said, straightening beside Cassian. No gown today—just practical black pants and a thick blue sweater.

“The Bone Carver,” Rhys said, “is a busybody gossip who likes to pry into other people’s business far too much.”

“But?” Cassian demanded, bracing his arms on his knees, wings tucked in tight.

“But,” Rhys said, “he can also be helpful, when he chooses. And it seems we need to start doing what we do best.”

I flexed my numbed fingers, content to let them discuss, needing a moment to reel myself back in, to shut out what I’d revealed to the Bone Carver.

And what the Bone Carver suggested I might actually be asked to do with that book. The abilities I might have.

So Rhys told them of the Cauldron, and the reason behind the temple pillagings, to no shortage of swearing and questions—and revealed nothing of what I had admitted in exchange for the information. Azriel emerged from his wreathing shadows to ask the most questions; his face and voice remained unreadable. Cassian, surprisingly, kept quiet—as if the general understood that the shadowsinger would know what information was necessary, and was busy assessing it for his own forces.

When Rhys was done, his spymaster said, “I’ll contact my sources in the Summer Court about where the half of the Book of Breathings is hidden. I can fly into the human world myself to figure out where they’re keeping their part of the Book before we ask them for it.”

“No need,” Rhys said. “And I don’t trust this information, even with your sources, with anyone outside of this room. Save for Amren.”

“They can be trusted,” Azriel said with quiet steel, his scarred hands clenching at his leather-clad sides.

“We’re not taking risks where this is concerned,” Rhys merely said. He held Azriel’s stare, and I could almost hear the silent words Rhys added, It is no judgment or reflection on you, Az. Not at all.

But Azriel yielded no tinge of emotion as he nodded, his hands unfurling.

“So what do you have planned?” Mor cut in—perhaps for Az’s sake.

Rhys picked an invisible piece of dirt off his fighting leathers. When he lifted his head, those violet eyes were glacial. “The King of Hybern sacked one of our temples to get a missing piece of the Cauldron. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an act of war—an indication that His Majesty has no interest in wooing me.”

“He likely remembers our allegiance to the humans in the War, anyway,” Cassian said. “He wouldn’t jeopardize revealing his plans while trying to sway you, and I bet some of Amarantha’s cronies reported to him about Under the Mountain. About how it all ended, I mean.” Cassian’s throat bobbed.

When Rhys had tried to kill her. I lowered my hands from the fire.

Rhys said, “Indeed. But this means Hybern’s forces have already successfully infiltrated our lands—without detection. I plan to return the favor.”

Mother above. Cassian and Mor just grinned with feral delight. “How?” Mor asked.

Rhys crossed his arms. “It will require careful planning. But if the Cauldron is in Hybern, then to Hybern we must go. Either to take it back … or use the Book to nullify it.”

Some cowardly, pathetic part of me was already trembling.

“Hybern likely has as many wards and shields around it as we have here,” Azriel countered. “We’d need to find a way to get through them undetected first.”

A slight nod. “Which is why we start now. While we hunt for the Book. So when we get both halves, we can move swiftly—before word can spread that we even possess it.”

Cassian nodded, but asked, “How are you going to retrieve the Book, then?”

I braced myself as Rhys said, “Since these objects are spelled to the individual High Lords, and can only be found by them—through their power … Then, in addition to her uses regarding the handling of the Book of Breathings itself, it seems we possibly have our own detector.”

Now they all looked at me.

I cringed. “Perhaps was what the Bone Carver said in regard to me being able to track things. You don’t know … ” My words faded as Rhys smirked.

“You have a kernel of all our power—like having seven thumbprints. If we’ve hidden something, if we’ve made or protected it with our power, no matter where it has been concealed, you will be able to track it through that very magic.”

“You can’t know that for sure,” I tried again.

“No—but there is a way to test it.” Rhys was still smiling.

“Here we go,” Cassian grumbled. Mor gave Azriel a warning glare to tell him not to volunteer this time. The spymaster just gave her an incredulous look in return.

I might have lounged in my chair to watch their battle of wills had Rhys not said, “With your abilities, Feyre, you might be able to find the half of the Book at the Summer Court—and break the wards around it. But I’m not going to take the carver’s word for it, or bring you there without testing you first. To make sure that when it counts, when we need to get that book, you—we do not fail. So we’re going on another little trip. To see if you can find a valuable object of mine that I’ve been missing for a considerably long time.”

“Shit,” Mor said, plunging her hands into the thick folds of her sweater.

“Where?” I managed to say.

It was Azriel who answered. “To the Weaver.”

Rhys held up a hand as Cassian opened his mouth. “The test,” he said, “will be to see if Feyre can identify the object of mine in the Weaver’s trove. When we get to the Summer Court, Tarquin might have spelled his half of the Book to look different, feel different.”

“By the Cauldron, Rhys,” Mor snapped, setting both feet on the carpet. “Are you out of your—”

“Who is the Weaver?” I pushed.

“An ancient, wicked creature,” Azriel said, and I surveyed the faint scars on his wings, his neck, and wondered how many such things he’d encountered in his immortal life. If they were any worse than the people who shared blood ties with him. “Who should remain unbothered,” he added in Rhys’s direction. “Find another way to test her abilities.”

Rhys merely shrugged and looked to me. To let me choose. Always—it was always my choice with him these days. Yet he hadn’t let me go back to the Spring Court during those two visits—because he knew how badly I needed to get away from it?

I gnawed on my lower lip, weighing the risks, waiting to feel any kernel of fear, of emotion. But this afternoon had drained any reserve of such things. “The Bone Carver, the Weaver … Can’t you ever just call someone by a given name?”

Cassian chuckled, and Mor settled back in the sofa cushions.

Only Rhys, it seemed, understood that it hadn’t entirely been a joke. His face was tight. Like he knew precisely how tired I was—how I knew I should be quaking at the thought of this Weaver, but after the Bone Carver, what I’d revealed to it … I could feel nothing at all.

Rhys said to me, “What about adding one more name to that list?”

I didn’t particularly like the sound of that. Mor said as much.

“Emissary,” Rhysand said, ignoring his cousin. “Emissary to the Night Court—for the human realm.”

Azriel said, “There hasn’t been one for five hundred years, Rhys.”

“There also hasn’t been a human-turned-immortal since then, either.” Rhys met my gaze. “The human world must be as prepared as we are—especially if the King of Hybern plans to shatter the wall and unleash his forces upon them. We need the other half of the Book from those mortal queens—and if we can’t use magic to influence them, then they’re going to have to bring it to us.”

More silence. On the street beyond the bay of windows, wisps of snow brushed past, dusting the cobblestones.

Rhys jerked his chin at me. “You are an immortal faerie—with a human heart. Even as such, you might very well set foot on the continent and be … hunted for it. So we set up a base in neutral territory. In a place where humans trust us—trust you, Feyre. And where other humans might risk going to meet with you. To hear the voice of Prythian after five centuries.”

“My family’s estate,” I said.

“Mother’s tits, Rhys,” Cassian cut in, wings flaring wide enough to nearly knock over the ceramic vase on the side table next to him. “You think we can just take over her family’s house, demand that of them?”

Nesta hadn’t wanted any dealings with the Fae, and Elain was so gentle, so sweet … how could I bring them into this?

“The land,” Mor said, reaching over to return the vase to its place, “will run red with blood, Cassian, regardless of what we do with her family. It is now a matter of where that blood will$flow—and how much will spill. How much human blood we can save.”

And maybe it made me a cowardly fool, but I said, “The Spring Court borders the wall—”

“The wall stretches across the sea. We’ll fly in offshore,” Rhys said without so much as a blink. “I won’t risk discovery from any court, though word might spread quickly enough once we’re there. I know it won’t be easy, Feyre, but if there’s any way you could convince those queens—”

“I’ll do it.” I said. Clare Beddor’s broken and nailed body flashed in my vision. Amarantha had been one of his commanders. Just one—of many. The King of Hybern had to be horrible beyond reckoning to be her master. If these people got their hands on my sisters … “They might not be happy about it, but I’ll make Elain and Nesta do it.”

I didn’t have the nerve to ask Rhys if he could simply force my family to agree to help us if they refused. I wondered if his powers would work on Nesta when even Tamlin’s glamour had failed against her steel mind.

“Then it’s settled,” Rhys said. None of them looked particularly happy. “Once Feyre darling returns from the Weaver, we’ll bring Hybern to its knees.”

Rhys and the others were gone that night—where, no one told me. But after the events of the day, I barely finished devouring the food Nuala and Cerridwen brought to my room before I tumbled into sleep.

I dreamed of a long, white bone, carved with horrifying accuracy: my face, twisted in agony and despair; the ash knife in my hand; a pool of blood leaking away from two corpses—

But I awoke to the watery light of winter dawn—my stomach full from the night before.

A mere minute after I’d risen to consciousness, Rhys knocked on my door. I’d barely granted him permission to enter before he stalked inside like a midnight wind, and chucked a belt hung with knives onto the foot of the bed.

“Hurry,” he said, flinging open the doors of the armoire and yanking out my fighting leathers. He tossed them onto the bed, too. “I want to be gone before the sun is fully up.”

“Why?” I said, pushing back the covers. No wings today.

“Because time is of the essence.” He dug out my socks and boots. “Once the King of Hybern realizes that someone is searching for the Book of Breathings to nullify the powers of the Cauldron, then his agents will begin hunting for it, too.”

“You suspected this for a while, though.” I hadn’t had the chance to discuss it with him last night. “The Cauldron, the king, the Book … You wanted it confirmed, but you were waiting for me.”

“Had you agreed to work with me two months ago, I would have taken you right to the Bone Carver to see if he confirmed my suspicions about your talents. But things didn’t go as planned.”

No, they most certainly hadn’t.

“The reading,” I said, sliding my feet into fleece-lined, thick-soled slippers. “That’s why you insisted on the lessons. So if your suspicions were true and I could harness the Book … I could actually read it—or any translation of whatever is inside.” A book that old might very well be written in an entirely different language. A different alphabet.

“Again,” he said, now striding for the dresser, “had you started to work with me, I would have told you why. I couldn’t risk discovery otherwise.” He paused with a hand on the knob. “You should have learned to read no matter what. But yes, when I told you it served my own purposes—it was because of this. Do you blame me for it?”

“No,” I said, and meant it. “But I’d prefer to be notified of any future schemes.”

“Duly noted.” Rhys yanked open the drawers and pulled out my undergarments. He dangled the bits of midnight lace and chuckled. “I’m surprised you didn’t demand Nuala and Cerridwen buy you something else.”

I stalked to him, snatching the lace away. “You’re drooling on the carpet.” I slammed the bathing room door before he could respond.

He was waiting as I emerged, already warm within the fur-lined leather. He held up the belt of knives, and I studied the loops and straps. “No swords, no bow or arrows,” he said. He’d worn his own Illyrian fighting leathers—that simple, brutal sword strapped down his spine.

“But knives are fine?”

Rhys knelt and spread wide the web of leather and steel, beckoning for me to stick a leg through one loop.

I did as instructed, ignoring the brush of his steady hands on my thighs as I stepped through the other loop, and he began tightening and buckling things. “She will not notice a knife, as she has knives in her cottage for eating and her work. But things that are out of place—objects that have not been there … A sword, a bow and arrow … She might sense those things.”

“What about me?”

He tightened a strap. Strong, capable hands—so at odds with the finery he usually wore to dazzle the rest of the world into thinking he was something else entirely. “Do not make a sound, do not touch anything but the object she took from me.”

Rhys looked up, hands braced on my thighs.

Bow, he’d once ordered Tamlin. And now here he was, on his knees before me. His eyes glinted as if he remembered it, too. Had that been a part of his game—that façade? Or had it been vengeance for the horrible blood feud between them?

“If we’re correct about your powers,” he said, “if the Bone Carver wasn’t lying to us, then you and the object will have the same … imprint, thanks to the preserving spells I placed on it long ago. You are one and the same. She will not notice your presence so long as you touch only it. You will be invisible to her.”

“She’s blind?”

A nod. “But her other senses are lethal. So be quick, and quiet. Find the object and run out, Feyre.” His hands lingered on my legs, wrapping around the back of them.

“And if she notices me?”

His hands tightened slightly. “Then we’ll learn precisely how skilled you are.”

Cruel, conniving bastard. I glared at him.

Rhys shrugged. “Would you rather I locked you in the House of Wind and stuffed you with food and made you wear fine clothes and plan my parties?”

“Go to hell. Why not get this object yourself, if it’s so important?”

“Because the Weaver knows me—and if I am caught, there would be a steep price. High Lords are not to interfere with her, no matter the direness of the situation. There are many treasures in her hoard, some she has kept for millennia. Most will never be retrieved—because the High Lords do not dare be caught, thanks to the laws that protect her, thanks to her wrath. Any thieves on their behalf … Either they do not return, or they are never sent, for fear of it leading back to their High Lord. But you … She does not know you. You belong to every court.”

“So I’m your huntress and thief?”

His hands slid down to cup the backs of my knees as he said with a roguish grin, “You are my salvation, Feyre.”

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