فصل 32

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CHAPTER

32

In the end, only Amren and I joined Rhys, Cassian having failed to sway his High Lord, Azriel still off overseeing his network of spies and investigating the human realm, and Mor tasked with guarding Velaris. Rhys would winnow us directly into Adriata, the castle-city of the Summer Court—and there we would stay, for however long it took me to detect and then steal the first half of the Book.

As Rhys’s newest pet, I would be granted tours of the city and the High Lord’s personal residence. If we were lucky, none of them would realize that Rhys’s lapdog was actually a bloodhound.

And it was a very, very good disguise.

Rhys and Amren stood in the town house foyer the next day, the rich morning sunlight streaming through the windows and pooling on the ornate carpet. Amren wore her usual shades of gray—her loose pants cut to just beneath her navel, the billowing top cropped to show the barest slice of skin along her midriff. Alluring as a calm sea under a cloudy sky.

Rhys was in head-to-toe black accented with silver thread—no wings. The cool, cultured male I’d first met. His favorite mask.

For my own, I’d selected a flowing lilac dress, its skirts floating on a phantom wind beneath the silver-and-pearl-crusted belt at my waist. Matching night-blooming silver flowers had been embroidered to climb from the hem to brush my thighs, and a few more twined down the folds at my shoulders. The perfect gown to combat the warmth of the Summer Court.

It swished and sighed as I descended the last two stairs into the foyer. Rhys surveyed me with a long, unreadable sweep from my silver-slippered feet to my half-up hair. Nuala had curled the strands that had been left down—soft, supple curls that brought out the gold in my hair.

Rhys simply said, “Good. Let’s go.”

My mouth popped open, but Amren explained with a broad, feline smile, “He’s pissy this morning.”

“Why?” I asked, watching Amren take Rhys’s hand, her delicate fingers dwarfed by his. He held out the other to me.

“Because,” Rhys answered for her, “I stayed out late with Cassian and Azriel, and they took me for all I was worth in cards.”

“Sore loser?” I gripped his hand. His calluses scraped against my own—the only reminder of the trained warrior beneath the clothes and veneer.

“I am when my brothers tag-team me,” he grumbled. He offered no warning before we vanished on a midnight wind, and then—

Then I was squinting at the glaring sun off a turquoise sea, just as I was trying to reorder my body around the dry, suffocating heat, even with the cooling breeze off the water.

I blinked a few times—and that was as much reaction as I let myself show as I yanked my hand from Rhys’s grip.

We seemed to be standing on a landing platform at the base of a tan stone palace, the building itself perched atop a mountain-island in the heart of a half-moon bay. The city spread around and below us, toward that sparkling sea—the buildings all from that stone, or glimmering white material that might have been coral or pearl. Gulls flapped over the many turrets and spires, no clouds above them, nothing on the breeze with them but salty air and the clatter of the city below.

Various bridges connected the bustling island to the larger landmass that circled it on three sides, one of them currently raising itself so a many-masted ship could cruise through. Indeed, there were more ships than I could count—some merchant vessels, some fishing ones, and some, it seemed, ferrying people from the island-city to the mainland, whose sloping shores were crammed full of more buildings, more people.

More people like the half dozen before us, framed by a pair of sea glass doors that opened into the palace itself. On our little balcony, there was no option to escape—no path out but winnowing away … or going through those doors. Or, I supposed, the plunge awaiting us to the red roofs of the fine houses a hundred feet below.

“Welcome to Adriata,” said the tall male in the center of the group.

And I knew him—remembered him.

Not from memory. I’d already remembered that the handsome High Lord of Summer had rich brown skin, white hair, and eyes of crushing, turquoise blue. I’d already remembered he’d been forced to watch as his courtier’s mind was invaded and then his life snuffed out by Rhysand. As Rhysand lied to Amarantha about what he’d learned, and spared the male from a fate perhaps worth than death.

No—I now remembered the High Lord of Summer in a way I couldn’t quite explain, like some fragment of me knew it had come from him, from here. Like some piece of me said, I remember, I remember, I remember. We are one and the same, you and I.

Rhys merely drawled, “Good to see you again, Tarquin.”

The five other people behind the High Lord of Summer swapped frowns of varying severity. Like their lord, their skin was dark, their hair in shades of white or silver, as if they had lived under the bright sun their entire lives. Their eyes, however, were of every color. And they now shifted between me and Amren.

Rhys slid one hand into a pocket and gestured with the other to Amren. “Amren, I think you know. Though you haven’t met her since your … promotion.” Cool, calculating grace, edged with steel.

Tarquin gave Amren the briefest of nods. “Welcome back to the city, lady.”

Amren didn’t nod, or bow, or so much as curtsy. She looked over Tarquin, tall and muscled, his clothes of sea-green and blue and gold, and said, “At least you are far more handsome than your cousin. He was an eyesore.” A female behind Tarquin outright glared. Amren’s red lips stretched wide. “Condolences, of course,” she added with as much sincerity as a snake.

Wicked, cruel—that’s what Amren and Rhys were … what I was to be to these people.

Rhys gestured to me. “I don’t believe you two were ever formally introduced Under the Mountain. Tarquin, Feyre. Feyre, Tarquin.” No titles here—either to unnerve them or because Rhys found them a waste of breath.

Tarquin’s eyes—such stunning, crystal blue—fixed on me.

I remember you, I remember you, I remember you.

The High Lord did not smile.

I kept my face neutral, vaguely bored.

His gaze drifted to my chest, the bare skin revealed by the sweeping vee of my gown, as if he could see where that spark of life, his power, had gone.

Rhys followed that gaze. “Her breasts are rather spectacular, aren’t they? Delicious as ripe apples.”

I fought the urge to scowl, and instead slid my attention to him, as indolently as he’d looked at me, at the others. “Here I was, thinking you had a fascination with my mouth.”

Delighted surprise lit Rhys’s eyes, there and gone in a heartbeat.

We both looked back to our hosts, still stone-faced and stiff-backed.

Tarquin seemed to weigh the air between my companions and me, then said carefully, “You have a tale to tell, it seems.”

“We have many tales to tell,” Rhys said, jerking his chin toward the glass doors behind them. “So why not get comfortable?”

The female a half-step behind Tarquin inched closer. “We have refreshments prepared.”

Tarquin seemed to remember her and put a hand on her slim shoulder. “Cresseida—Princess of Adriata.”

The ruler of his capital—or wife? There was no ring on either of their fingers, and I didn’t recognize her from Under the Mountain. Her long, silver hair blew across her pretty face in the briny breeze, and I didn’t mistake the light in her brown eyes for anything but razor-sharp cunning. “A pleasure,” she murmured huskily to me. “And an honor.”

My breakfast turned to lead in my gut, but I didn’t let her see what the groveling did to me; let her realize it was ammunition. Instead I gave her my best imitation of Rhysand’s shrug. “The honor’s mine, princess.”

The others were hastily introduced: three advisers who oversaw the city, the court, and the trade. And then a broad-shouldered, handsome male named Varian, Cresseida’s younger brother, captain of Tarquin’s guard, and Prince of Adriata. His attention was fixed wholly on Amren—as if he knew where the biggest threat lay. And would be happy to kill her, if given the chance.

In the brief time I’d known her, Amren had never looked more delighted.

We were led into a palace crafted of shell-flecked walkways and walls, countless windows looking out to the bay and mainland or the open sea beyond. Sea glass chandeliers swayed on the warm breeze over gurgling streams and fountains of fresh water. High fae—servants and courtiers—hurried across and around them, most brown-skinned and clad in loose, light clothing, all far too preoccupied with their own matters to take note or interest in our presence. No lesser faeries crossed our path—not one.

I kept a step behind Rhysand as he walked at Tarquin’s side, that mighty power of his leashed and dimmed, the others flowing behind us. Amren remained within reach, and I wondered if she was also to be my bodyguard. Tarquin and Rhys had been talking lightly, both already sounding bored, of the approaching Nynsar—of the native flowers that both courts would display for the minor, brief holiday.

Calanmai wouldn’t be too long after that.

My stomach twisted. If Tamlin was intent on upholding tradition, if I was no longer with him … I didn’t let myself get that far down the road. It wouldn’t be fair. To me—to him.

“We have four main cities in my territory,” Tarquin said to me, looking over his muscled shoulder. “We spend the last month of winter and first spring months in Adriata—it’s finest at this time of year.”

Indeed, I supposed that with endless summer, there was no limit to how one might enjoy one’s time. In the country, by the sea, in a city under the stars … I nodded. “It’s very beautiful.”

Tarquin stared at me long enough that Rhys said, “The repairs have been going well, I take it.”

That hauled Tarquin’s attention back. “Mostly. There remains much to be done. The back half of the castle is a wreck. But, as you can see, we’ve finished most of the inside. We focused on the city first—and those repairs are ongoing.”

Amarantha had sacked the city? Rhys said, “I hope no valuables were lost during its occupation.”

“Not the most important things, thank the Mother,” Tarquin said.

Behind me, Cresseida tensed. The three advisers peeled off to attend to other duties, murmuring farewell—with wary looks in Tarquin’s direction. As if this might very well be the first time he’d needed to play host and they were watching their High Lord’s every move.

He gave them a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, and said nothing more as he led us into a vaulted room of white oak and green glass—overlooking the mouth of the bay and the sea that stretched on forever.

I had never seen water so vibrant. Green and cobalt and midnight. And for a heartbeat, a palette of paint flashed in my mind, along with the blue and yellow and white and black I might need to paint it …

“This is my favorite view,” Tarquin said beside me, and I realized I’d gone to the wide windows while the others had seated themselves around the mother-of-pearl table. A handful of servants were heaping fruits, leafy greens, and steamed shellfish onto their plates.

“You must be very proud,” I said, “to have such stunning lands.”

Tarquin’s eyes—so like the sea beyond us—slid to me. “How do they compare to the ones you have seen?” Such a carefully crafted question.

I said dully, “Everything in Prythian is lovely, when compared to the mortal realm.”

“And is being immortal lovelier than being human?”

I could feel everyone’s attention on us, even as Rhys engaged Cresseida and Varian in bland, edged discussion about the status of their fish markets. So I looked the High Lord of Summer up and down, as he had examined me, brazenly and without a shred of politeness, and then said, “You tell me.”

Tarquin’s eyes crinkled. “You are a pearl. Though I knew that the day you threw that bone at Amarantha and splattered mud on her favorite dress.”

I shut out the memories, the blind terror of that first trial.

What did he make of that tug between us—did he realize it was his own power, or think it was a bond of its own, some sort of strange allure?

And if I had to steal from him … perhaps that meant getting closer. “I do not remember you being quite so handsome Under the Mountain. The sunlight and sea suit you.”

A lesser male might have preened. But Tarquin knew better—knew that I had been with Tamlin, and was now with Rhys, and had now been brought here. Perhaps he thought me no better than Ianthe. “How, exactly, do you fit within Rhysand’s court?”

A direct question, after such roundabout ones—to no doubt get me on uneven footing.

It almost worked—I nearly admitted, “I don’t know,” but Rhys said from the table, as if he’d heard every word, “Feyre is a member of my Inner Circle. And is my Emissary to the Mortal Lands.”

Cresseida, seated beside him, said, “Do you have much contact with the mortal realm?”

I took that as an invitation to sit—and get away from the too-heavy stare of Tarquin. A seat had been left open for me at Amren’s side, across from Rhys.

The High Lord of the Night Court sniffed at his wine—white, sparkling—and I wondered if he was trying to piss them off by implying they’d poisoned it as he said, “I prefer to be prepared for every potential situation. And, given that Hybern seems set on making themselves a nuisance, striking up a conversation with the humans might be in our best interest.”

Varian drew his focus away from Amren long enough to say roughly, “So it’s been confirmed, then? Hybern is readying for war.”

“They’re done readying,” Rhys drawled, at last sipping from his wine. Amren didn’t touch her plate, though she pushed things around as she always did. I wondered what—who—she’d eat while here. Varian seemed like a good guess. “War is imminent.”

“Yes, you mentioned that in your letter,” Tarquin said, claiming the seat at the head of the table between Rhys and Amren. A bold move, to situate himself between two such powerful beings. Arrogance—or an attempt at friendship? Tarquin’s gaze again drifted to me before focusing on Rhys. “And you know that against Hybern, we will fight. We lost enough good people Under the Mountain. I have no interest in being slaves again. But if you are here to ask me to fight in another war, Rhysand—”

“That is not a possibility,” Rhys smoothly cut in, “and had not even entered my mind.”

My glimmer of confusion must have shown, because Cresseida crooned to me, “High Lords have gone to war for less, you know. Doing it over such an unusual female would be nothing unexpected.”

Which was likely why they had accepted this invitation, favor or no. To feel us out.

If—if Tamlin went to war to get me back. No. No, that wouldn’t be an option.

I’d written to him, told him to stay away. And he wasn’t foolish enough to start a war he could not win. Not when he wouldn’t be fighting other High Fae, but Illyrian warriors, led by Cassian and Azriel. It would be slaughter.

So I said, bored and flat and dull, “Try not to look too excited, princess. The High Lord of Spring has no plans to go to war with the Night Court.”

“And are you in contact with Tamlin, then?” A saccharine smile.

My next words were quiet, slow, and I decided I did not mind stealing from them, not one bit. “There are things that are public knowledge, and things that are not. My relationship with him is well known. Its current standing, however, is none of your concern. Or anyone else’s. But I do know Tamlin, and I know that there will be no internal war between courts—at least not over me, or my decisions.”

“What a relief, then,” Cresseida said, sipping from her white wine before cracking a large crab claw, pink and white and orange. “To know we are not harboring a stolen bride—and that we need not bother returning her to her master, as the law demands. And as any wise person might do, to keep trouble from their doorstep.”

Amren had gone utterly still.

“I left of my own free will,” I said. “And no one is my master.”

Cresseida shrugged. “Think that all you want, lady, but the law is the law. You are—were his bride. Swearing fealty to another High Lord does not change that. So it is a very good thing that he respects your decisions. Otherwise, all it would take would be one letter from him to Tarquin, requesting your return, and we would have to obey. Or risk war ourselves.”

Rhysand sighed. “You are always a joy, Cresseida.”

Varian said, “Careful, High Lord. My sister speaks the truth.”

Tarquin laid a hand on the pale table. “Rhysand is our guest—his courtiers are our guests. And we will treat them as such. We will treat them, Cresseida, as we treat people who saved our necks when all it would have taken was one word from them for us to be very, very dead.”

Tarquin studied me and Rhysand—whose face was gloriously disinterested. The High Lord of Summer shook his head and said to Rhys, “We have more to discuss later, you and I. Tonight, I’m throwing a party for you all on my pleasure barge in the bay. After that, you’re free to roam in this city wherever you wish. You will forgive its princess if she is protective of her people. Rebuilding these months has been long and hard. We do not wish to do it again any time soon.”

Cresseida’s eyes grew dark, haunted.

“Cresseida made many sacrifices on behalf of her people,” Tarquin offered gently—to me. “Do not take her caution personally.”

“We all made sacrifices,” Rhysand said, the icy boredom now shifting into something razor-sharp. “And you now sit at this table with your family because of the ones Feyre made. So you will forgive me, Tarquin, if I tell your princess that if she sends word to Tamlin, or if any of your people try to bring her to him, their lives will be forfeit.”

Even the sea breeze died.

“Do not threaten me in my own home, Rhysand,” Tarquin said. “My gratitude goes only so far.”

“It’s not a threat,” Rhys countered, the crab claws on his plate cracking open beneath invisible hands. “It’s a promise.”

They all looked at me, waiting for any response.

So I lifted my glass of wine, looked them each in the eye, holding Tarquin’s gaze the longest, and said, “No wonder immortality never gets dull.”

Tarquin chuckled—and I wondered if his loosed breath was one of profound relief.

And through that bond between us, I felt Rhysand’s flicker of approval.

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