فصل 34

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CHAPTER

34

Mercifully, there was no sound from his closed bedroom. And no sounds came out of it during that night, when I jolted awake from a nightmare of being turned over a spit, and couldn’t remember where I was.

Moonlight danced on the sea beyond my open windows, and there was silence—such silence.

A weapon. I was a weapon to find that book, to stop the king from breaking the wall, to stop whatever he had planned for Jurian and the war that might destroy my world. That might destroy this place—and a High Lord who might very well overturn the order of things.

For a heartbeat, I missed Velaris, missed the lights and the music and the Rainbow. I missed the cozy warmth of the town house to welcome me in from the crisp winter, missed … what it had been like to be a part of their little unit.

Maybe wrapping his wings around me, writing me notes, had been Rhys’s way of ensuring his weapon didn’t break beyond repair.

That was fine—fair enough. We owed each other nothing beyond our promises to work and fight together.

He could still be my friend. Companion—whatever this thing was between us. His taking someone to his bed didn’t change those things.

It’d just been a relief to think that for a moment, he might have been as lonely as me.

I didn’t have the nerve to come out of my room for breakfast, to see if Rhys had returned.

To see whom he came to breakfast with.

I had nothing else to do, I told myself as I lay in bed, until my lunchtime visit with Tarquin. So I stayed there until the servants came in, apologized for disturbing me, and started to leave. I stopped them, saying I’d bathe while they cleaned the room. They were polite—if nervous—and merely nodded as I did as I’d claimed.

I took my time in the bath. And behind the locked door, I let that kernel of Tarquin’s power come out, first making the water rise from the tub, then shaping little animals and creatures out of it.

It was about as close to transformation as I’d let myself go. Contemplating how I might give myself animalistic features only made me shaky, sick. I could ignore it, ignore that occasional scrape of claws in my blood for a while yet.

I was on to water-butterflies flitting through the room when I realized I’d been in the tub long enough that the bath had gone cold.

Like the night before, Nuala walked through the walls from wherever she was staying in the palace, and dressed me, somehow attuned to when I’d be ready. Cerridwen, she told me, had drawn the short stick and was seeing to Amren. I didn’t have the nerve to ask about Rhys, either.

Nuala selected seafoam green accented with rose gold, curling and then braiding back my hair in a thick, loose plait glimmering with bits of pearl. Whether Nuala knew why I was there, what I’d be doing, she didn’t say. But she took extra care of my face, brightening my lips with raspberry pink, dusting my cheeks with the faintest blush. I might have looked innocent, charming—were it not for my gray-blue eyes. More hollow than they’d been last night, when I’d admired myself in the mirror.

I’d seen enough of the palace to navigate to where Tarquin had said to meet before we bid good night. The main hall was situated on a level about halfway up—the perfect meeting place for those who dwelled in the spires above and those who worked unseen and unheard below.

This level held all the various council rooms, ballrooms, dining rooms, and whatever other rooms might be needed for visitors, events, gatherings. Access to the residential levels from which I’d come was guarded by four soldiers at each stairwell—all of whom watched me carefully as I waited against a seashell pillar for their High Lord. I wondered if he could sense that I’d been playing with his power in the bathtub, that the piece of him he’d yielded was now here and answering to me.

Tarquin emerged from one of the adjacent rooms as the clock struck two—followed by my own companions.

Rhysand’s gaze swept over me, noting the clothes that were obviously in honor of my host and his people. Noting the way I did not meet his eyes, or Cresseida’s, as I looked solely at Tarquin and Amren beside him—Varian now striding off to the soldiers at the stairs—and gave them both a bland, close-lipped smile.

“You’re looking well today,” Tarquin said, inclining his head.

Nuala, it seemed, was a spectacularly good spy. Tarquin’s pewter tunic was accented with the same shade of seafoam green as my clothes. We might as well have been a matching set. I supposed with my brown-gold hair and pale skin, I was his mirror opposite.

I could feel Rhys still assessing me.

I shut him out. Maybe I’d send a water-dog barking after him later—let it bite him in the ass.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” I said to Amren.

Amren shrugged her slim shoulders, clad in flagstone gray today. “We were finishing up a rather lively debate about armadas and who might be in charge of a unified front. Did you know,” she said, “that before they became so big and powerful, Tarquin and Varian led Nostrus’s fleet?”

Varian, several feet away, stiffened, but did not turn.

I met Tarquin’s eye. “You didn’t mention you were a sailor.” It was an effort to sound intrigued, like I had nothing at all bothering me.

Tarquin rubbed his neck. “I had planned to tell you during our tour.” He held out an arm. “Shall we?”

Not one word—I had not uttered one word to Rhysand. And I wasn’t about to start as I looped my arm through Tarquin’s, and said to none of them in particular, “See you later.”

Something brushed against my mental shield, a rumble of something dark—powerful.

Perhaps a warning to be careful.

Though it felt an awful lot like the dark, flickering emotion that had haunted me—so much like it that I stepped a bit closer to Tarquin. And then I gave the High Lord of Summer a pretty, mindless smile that I had not given to anyone in a long, long time.

That brush of emotion went silent on the other side of my shields.

Good.

Tarquin brought me to a hall of jewels and treasure so vast that I gawked for a good minute. A minute that I used to scan the shelves for any twinkle of feeling—anything that felt like the male at my side, like the power I’d summoned in the bathtub.

“And this is—this is just one of the troves?” The room had been carved deep beneath the castle, behind a heavy lead door that had only opened when Tarquin placed his hand on it. I didn’t dare get close enough to the lock to see if it might work under my touch—his feigned signature.

A fox in the chicken coop. That’s what I was.

Tarquin loosed a chuckle. “My ancestors were greedy bastards.”

I shook my head, striding to the shelves built into the wall. Solid stone—no way to break in, unless I tunneled through the mountain itself. Or if someone winnowed me. Though there were likely wards similar to those on the town house and the House of Wind.

Boxes overflowed with jewels and pearls and uncut gems, gold heaped in trunks so high it spilled onto the cobblestone floor. Suits of ornate armor stood guard against one wall; dresses woven of cobwebs and starlight leaned against another. There were swords and daggers of every sort. But no books. Not one.

“Do you know the history behind each piece?”

“Some,” he said. “I haven’t had much time to learn about it all.”

Good—maybe he wouldn’t know about the Book, wouldn’t miss it.

I turned in a circle. “What’s the most valuable thing in here?”

“Thinking of stealing?”

I choked on a laugh. “Wouldn’t asking that question make me a lousy thief?”

Lying, two-faced wretch—that’s what asking that question made me.

Tarquin studied me. “I’d say I’m looking at the most valuable thing in here.”

I didn’t fake the blush. “You’re—very kind.”

His smile was soft. As if his position had not yet broken the compassion in him. I hoped it never did. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s the most valuable thing. These are all priceless heirlooms of my house.”

I walked up to a shelf, scanning. A necklace of rubies was splayed on a velvet pillow—each of them the size of a robin’s egg. It’d take a tremendous female to wear that necklace, to dominate the gems and not the other way around.

On another shelf, a necklace of pearls. Then sapphires.

And on another … a necklace of black diamonds.

Each of the dark stones was a mystery—and an answer. Each of them slumbered.

Tarquin came up behind me, peering over my shoulder at what had snagged my interest. His gaze drifted to my face. “Take it.”

“What?” I whirled to him.

He rubbed the back of his neck. “As a thank-you. For Under the Mountain.”

Ask it now—ask him for the Book instead.

But that would require trust, and … kind as he was, he was a High Lord.

He pulled the box from its resting spot and shut the lid before handing it to me. “You were the first person who didn’t laugh at my idea to break down class barriers. Even Cresseida snickered when I told her. If you won’t accept the necklace for saving us, then take it for that.”

“It is a good idea, Tarquin. Appreciating it doesn’t mean you have to reward me.”

He shook his head. “Just take it.”

It would insult him if I refused—so I closed my hands around the box.

Tarquin said, “It will suit you in the Night Court.”

“Perhaps I’ll stay here and help you revolutionize the world.”

His mouth twisted to the side. “I could use an ally in the North.”

Was that why he had brought me? Why he’d given me the gift? I hadn’t realized how alone we were down here, that I was beneath ground, in a place that could be easily sealed—

“You have nothing to fear from me,” he said, and I wondered if my scent was that readable. “But I meant it—you have … sway with Rhysand. And he is notoriously difficult to deal with. He gets what he wants, has plans he does not tell anyone about until after he’s completed them, and does not apologize for any of it. Be his emissary to the human realm—but also be ours. You’ve seen my city. I have three others like it. Amarantha wrecked them almost immediately after she took over. All my people want now is peace, and safety, and to never have to look over their shoulders again. Other High Lords have told me about Rhys—and warned me about him. But he spared me Under the Mountain. Brutius was my cousin, and we had forces gathering in all of our cities to storm Under the Mountain. They caught him sneaking out through the tunnels to meet with them. Rhys saw that in Brutius’s mind—I know he did. And yet he lied to her face, and defied her when she gave the order to turn him into a living ghost. Maybe it was for his own schemes, but I know it was a mercy. He knows that I am young—and inexperienced, and he spared me.” Tarquin shook his head, mostly at himself. “Sometimes, I think Rhysand … I think he might have been her whore to spare us all from her full attention.”

I would betray nothing of what I knew. But I suspected he could see it in my eyes—the sorrow at the thought.

“I know I’m supposed to look at you,” Tarquin said, “and see that he’s made you into a pet, into a monster. But I see the kindness in you. And I think that reflects more on him than anything. I think it shows that you and he might have many secrets—”

“Stop,” I blurted. “Just—stop. You know I can’t tell you anything. And I can’t promise you anything. Rhysand is High Lord. I only serve in his court.”

Tarquin glanced at the ground. “Forgive me if I’ve been forward. I’m still learning how to play the games of these courts—to my advisers’ chagrin.”

“I hope you never learn how to play the games of these courts.”

Tarquin held my gaze, face wary, but a bit bleak. “Then allow me to ask you a blunt question. Is it true you left Tamlin because he locked you up in his house?”

I tried to block out the memory, the terror and agony of my heart breaking apart. But I nodded.

“And is it true that you were saved from confinement by the Night Court?”

I nodded again.

Tarquin said, “The Spring Court is my southern neighbor. I have tenuous ties with them. But unless asked, I will not mention that you were here.”

Thief, liar, manipulator. I didn’t deserve his alliance.

But I bowed my head in thanks. “Any other treasure troves to show me?”

“Are gold and jewels not impressive enough? What of your merchant’s eye?”

I tapped the box. “Oh, I got what I wanted. Now I’m curious to see how much your alliance is worth.”

Tarquin laughed, the sound bouncing off the stone and wealth around us. “I didn’t feel like going to my meetings this afternoon, anyway.”

“What a reckless, wild young High Lord.”

Tarquin linked elbows with me again, patting my arm as he led me from the chamber. “You know, I think it might be very easy to love you, too, Feyre. Easier to be your friend.”

I made myself look away shyly as he sealed the door shut behind us, placing a palm flat on the space above the handle. I listened to the click of locks sliding into place.

He took me to other rooms beneath his palace, some full of jewels, others weapons, others clothes from eras long since past. He showed me one full of books, and my heart leaped—but there was nothing in there. Nothing but leather and dust and quiet. No trickle of power that felt like the male beside me—no hint of the book I needed.

Tarquin brought me to one last room, full of crates and stacks covered in sheets. And as I beheld all the artwork looming beyond the open door I said, “I think I’ve seen enough for today.”

He asked no questions as he resealed the chamber and escorted me back to the busy, sunny upper levels.

There had to be other places where it might be stored. Unless it was in another city.

I had to find it. Soon. There was only so long Rhys and Amren could draw out their political debates before we had to go home. I just prayed I’d find it fast enough—and not hate myself any more than I currently did.

Rhysand was lounging on my bed as if he owned it.

I took one look at the hands crossed behind his head, the long legs draped over the edge of the mattress, and ground my teeth. “What do you want?” I shut the door loud enough to emphasize the bite in my words.

“Flirting and giggling with Tarquin did you no good, I take it?”

I chucked the box onto the bed beside him. “You tell me.”

The smile faltered as he sat up, flipping open the lid. “This isn’t the Book.”

“No, but it’s a beautiful gift.”

“You want me to buy you jewelry, Feyre, then say the word. Though given your wardrobe, I thought you were aware that it was all bought for you.”

I hadn’t realized, but I said, “Tarquin is a good male—a good High Lord. You should just ask him for the damned Book.”

Rhys snapped shut the lid. “So he plies you with jewels and pours honey in your ear, and now you feel bad?”

“He wants your alliance—desperately. He wants to trust you, rely on you.”

“Well, Cresseida is under the impression that her cousin is rather ambitious, so I’d be careful to read between his words.”

“Oh? Did she tell you that before, during, or after you took her to bed?”

Rhys stood in a graceful, slow movement. “Is that why you wouldn’t look at me? Because you think I fucked her for information?”

“Information or your own pleasure, I don’t care.”

He came around the bed, and I stood my ground, even as he stopped with hardly a hand’s breadth between us. “Jealous, Feyre?”

“If I’m jealous, then you’re jealous about Tarquin and his honey pouring.”

Rhysand’s teeth flashed. “Do you think I particularly like having to flirt with a lonely female to get information about her court, her High Lord? Do you think I feel good about myself, doing that? Do you think I enjoy doing it just so you have the space to ply Tarquin with your smiles and pretty eyes, so we can get the Book and go home?”

“You seemed to enjoy yourself plenty last night.”

His snarl was soft—vicious. “I didn’t take her to bed. She wanted to, but I didn’t so much as kiss her. I took her out for a drink in the city, let her talk about her life, her pressures, and brought her back to her room, and went no farther than the door. I waited for you at breakfast, but you slept in. Or avoided me, apparently. And I tried to catch your eye this afternoon, but you were so good at shutting me out completely.”

“Is that what got under your skin? That I shut you out, or that it was so easy for Tarquin to get in?”

“What got under my skin,” Rhys said, his breathing a bit uneven, “is that you smiled at him.”

The rest of the world faded to mist as the words sank in. “You are jealous.”

He shook his head, stalking to the little table against the far wall and knocking back a glass of amber liquid. He braced his hands on the table, the powerful muscles of his back quivering beneath his shirt as the shadow of those wings struggled to take form.

“I heard what you told him,” he said. “That you thought it would be easy to fall in love with him. You meant it, too.”

“So?” It was the only thing I could think of to say.

“I was jealous—of that. That I’m not … that sort of person. For anyone. The Summer Court has always been neutral; they only showed backbone during those years Under the Mountain. I spared Tarquin’s life because I’d heard how he wanted to even out the playing field between High Fae and lesser faeries. I’ve been trying to do that for years. Unsuccessfully, but … I spared him for that alone. And Tarquin, with his neutral court … he will never have to worry about someone walking away because the threat against their life, their children’s lives, will always be there. So, yes, I was jealous of him—because it will always be easy for him. And he will never know what it is to look up at the night sky and wish.”

The Court of Dreams.

The people who knew that there was a price, and one worth paying, for that dream. The bastard-born warriors, the Illyrian half-breed, the monster trapped in a beautiful body, the dreamer born into a court of nightmares … And the huntress with an artist’s soul.

And perhaps because it was the most vulnerable thing he’d said to me, perhaps it was the burning in my eyes, but I walked to where he stood over the little bar. I didn’t look at him as I took the decanter of amber liquid and poured myself a knuckle’s length, then refilled his.

But I met his stare as I clinked my glass against his, the crystal ringing clear and bright over the crashing sea far below, and said, “To the people who look at the stars and wish, Rhys.”

He picked up his glass, his gaze so piercing that I wondered why I had bothered blushing at all for Tarquin.

Rhys clinked his glass against mine. “To the stars who listen—and the dreams that are answered.”

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