فصل 43

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CHAPTER

43

The wind roared around Rhys and me as he winnowed from the skies above his court. But Velaris didn’t greet us.

Rather, we were standing by a moonlit mountain lake ringed in pine trees, high above the world. We’d left the court as we’d come in—with swagger and menace. Where Cassian, Azriel, and Mor had gone with the orb, I had no idea.

Alone at the edge of the lake, Rhys said hoarsely, “I’m sorry.”

I blinked. “What do you possibly have to be sorry for?”

His hands were shaking—as if in the aftermath of that fury at what Keir had called me, what he’d threatened. Perhaps he’d brought us here before heading home in order to have some privacy before his friends could interrupt. “I shouldn’t have let you go. Let you see that part of us. Of me.” I’d never seen him so raw, so … stumbling.

“I’m fine.” I didn’t know what to make of what had been done. Both between us and to Keir. But it had been my choice. To play that role, to wear these clothes. To let him touch me. But … I said slowly, “We knew what tonight would require of us. Please—please don’t start … protecting me. Not like that.” He knew what I meant. He’d protected me Under the Mountain, but that primal, male rage he’d just shown Keir … A shattered study splattered in paint flashed through my memory.

Rhys rasped, “I will never—never lock you up, force you to stay behind. But when he threatened you tonight, when he called you … ” Whore. That’s what they’d called him. For fifty years, they’d hissed it. I’d listened to Lucien spit the words in his face. Rhys released a jagged breath. “It’s hard to shut down my instincts.”

Instincts. Just like … like someone else had instincts to protect, to hide me away. “Then you should have prepared yourself better,” I snapped. “You seemed to be going along just fine with it, until Keir said—”

“I will kill anyone who harms you,” Rhys snarled. “I will kill them, and take a damn long time doing it.” He panted. “Go ahead. Hate me—despise me for it.”

“You are my friend,” I said, and my voice broke on the word. I hated the tears that slipped down my face. I didn’t even know why I was crying. Perhaps for the fact that it had felt real on that throne with him, even for a moment, and … and it likely hadn’t been. Not for him. “You’re my friend—and I understand that you’re High Lord. I understand that you will defend your true court, and punish threats against it. But I can’t … I don’t want you to stop telling me things, inviting me to do things, because of the threats against me.”

Darkness rippled, and wings tore from his back. “I am not him,” Rhys breathed. “I will never be him, act like him. He locked you up and let you wither, and die.”

“He tried—”

“Stop comparing. Stop comparing me to him.”

The words cut me short. I blinked.

“You think I don’t know how stories get written—how this story will be written?” Rhys put his hands on his chest, his face more open, more anguished than I’d seen it. “I am the dark lord, who stole away the bride of spring. I am a demon, and a nightmare, and I will meet a bad end. He is the golden prince—the hero who will get to keep you as his reward for not dying of stupidity and arrogance.”

The things I love have a tendency to be taken from me. He’d admitted that to me Under the Mountain.

But his words were kindling to my temper, to whatever pit of fear was yawning open inside of me. “And what about my story?” I hissed. “What about my reward? What about what I want?”

“What is it that you want, Feyre?”

I had no answer. I didn’t know. Not anymore.

“What is it that you want, Feyre?”

I stayed silent.

His laugh was bitter, soft. “I thought so. Perhaps you should take some time to figure that out one of these days.”

“Perhaps I don’t know what I want, but at least I don’t hide what I am behind a mask,” I seethed. “At least I let them see who I am, broken bits and all. Yes—it’s to save your people. But what about the other masks, Rhys? What about letting your friends see your real face? But maybe it’s easier not to. Because what if you did let someone in? And what if they saw everything, and still walked away? Who could blame them—who would want to bother with that sort of mess?”

He flinched.

The most powerful High Lord in history flinched. And I knew I’d hit hard—and deep.

Too hard. Too deep.

“Rhys,” I said.

“Let’s go home.”

The word hung between us, and I wondered if he’d take it back—even as I waited for my own mouth to bark that it wasn’t home. But the thought of the clear, crisp blue skies of Velaris at sunset, the sparkle of the city lights …

Before I could say yes, he grabbed my hand, not meeting my stare, and winnowed us away.

The wind was hollow as it roared around us, the darkness cold and foreign.

Cassian, Azriel, and Mor were indeed waiting at the town house. I bid them good night while they ambushed Rhysand for answers about what Keir had said to provoke him.

I was still in my dress—which felt vulgar in the light of Velaris—but found myself heading into the garden, as if the moonlight and chill might cleanse my mind.

Though, if I was being honest … I was waiting for him. What I’d said …

I had been awful. He’d told me those secrets, those vulnerabilities in confidence. And I’d thrown them in his face.

Because I knew it’d hurt him. And I knew I hadn’t been talking about him, not really.

Minutes passed, the night still cool enough to remind me that spring had not fully dawned, and I shivered, rubbing my arms as the moon drifted. I listened to the fountain, and the city music … he didn’t come. I wasn’t sure what I’d even tell him.

I knew he and Tamlin were different. Knew that Rhysand’s protective anger tonight had been justified, that I would have had a similar reaction. I’d been bloodthirsty at the barest details of Mor’s suffering, had wanted to punish them for it.

I had known the risks. I had known I’d be sitting in his lap, touching him, using him. I’d been using him for a while now. And maybe I should tell him I didn’t … I didn’t want or expect anything from him.

Maybe Rhysand needed to flirt with me, taunt me, as much for a distraction and sense of normalcy as I did.

And maybe I’d said what I had to him because … because I’d realized that I might very well be the person who wouldn’t let anyone in. And tonight, when he’d recoiled after he’d seen how he affected me … It had crumpled something in my chest.

I had been jealous—of Cresseida. I had been so profoundly unhappy on that barge because I’d wanted to be the one he smiled at like that.

And I knew it was wrong, but … I did not think Rhys would call me a whore if I wanted it—wanted … him. No matter how soon it was after Tamlin.

Neither would his friends. Not when they had been called the same and worse.

And learned to live—and love—beyond it. Despite it.

So maybe it was time to tell Rhys that. To explain that I didn’t want to pretend. I didn’t want to write it off as a joke, or a plan, or a distraction.

And it’d be hard, and I was scared and might be difficult to deal with, but … I was willing to try—with him. To try to … be something. Together. Whether it was purely sex, or more, or something between or beyond them, I didn’t know. We’d find out.

I was healed—or healing—enough to want to try.

If he was willing to try, too.

If he didn’t walk away when I voiced what I wanted: him.

Not the High Lord, not the most powerful male in Prythian’s history.

Just … him. The person who had sent music into that cell; who had picked up that knife in Amarantha’s throne room to fight for me when no one else dared, and who had kept fighting for me every day since, refusing to let me crumble and disappear into nothing.

So I waited for him in the chilled, moonlit garden.

But he didn’t come.

Rhys wasn’t at breakfast. Or lunch. He wasn’t in the town house at all.

I’d even written him a note on the last piece of paper we’d used.

I want to talk to you.

I’d waited thirty minutes for the paper to vanish.

But it’d stayed in my palm—until I threw it in the fire.

I was pissed enough that I stalked into the streets, barely remarking that the day was balmy, sunny, that the very air now seemed laced with citrus and wildflowers and new grass. Now that we had the orb, he’d no doubt be in touch with the queens. Who would no doubt waste our time, just to remind us they were important; that they, too, had power.

Part of me wished Rhys could crush their bones the way he’d done with Keir’s the night before.

I headed for Amren’s apartment across the river, needing the walk to clear my head.

Winter had indeed yielded to spring. By the time I was halfway there, my overcoat was slung over my arm, and my body was slick with sweat beneath my heavy cream sweater.

I found Amren the same way I’d seen her the last time: hunched over the Book, papers strewn around her. I set the blood on the counter.

She said without looking up, “Ah. The reason why Rhys bit my head off this morning.”

I leaned against the counter, frowning. “Where’s he gone off to?”

“To hunt whoever attacked you yesterday.”

If they had ash arrows in their arsenal … I tried to soothe the worry that bit deep. “Do you think it was the Summer Court?” The blood ruby still sat on the floor, still used as a paperweight against the river breeze blowing in from the open windows. Varian’s necklace was now beside her bed. As if she fell asleep looking at it.

“Maybe,” Amren said, dragging a finger along a line of text. She must be truly absorbed to not even bother with the blood. I debated leaving her to it. But she went on, “Regardless, it seems that our enemies have a track on Rhys’s magic. Which means they’re able to find him when he winnows anywhere or if he uses his powers.” She at last looked up. “You lot are leaving Velaris in two days. Rhys wants you stationed at one of the Illyrian war-camps—where you’ll fly down to the human lands once the queens send word.”

“Why not today?”

Amren said, “Because Starfall is tomorrow night—the first we’ve had together in fifty years. Rhys is expected to be here, amongst his people.”

“What’s Starfall?”

Amren’s eyes twinkled. “Outside of these borders, the rest of the world celebrates tomorrow as Nynsar—the Day of Seeds and Flowers.” I almost flinched at that. I hadn’t realized just how much time had passed since I’d come here. “But Starfall,” Amren said, “only at the Night Court can you witness it—only within this territory is Starfall celebrated in lieu of the Nynsar revelry. The rest, and the why of it, you’ll find out. It’s better left as a surprise.”

Well, that explained why people had seemed to already be preparing for a celebration of sorts: High Fae and faeries hustling home with arms full of vibrant wildflower bouquets and streamers and food. The streets were being swept and washed, storefronts patched up with quick, skilled hands.

I asked, “Will we come back here once we leave?”

She returned to the Book. “Not for a while.”

Something in my chest started sinking. To an immortal, a while must be … a long, long time.

I took that as an invitation to leave, and headed for the door in the back of the loft. But Amren said, “When Rhys came back, after Amarantha, he was a ghost. He pretended he wasn’t, but he was. You made him come alive again.”

Words stalled, and I didn’t want to think about it, not when whatever good I’d done—whatever good we’d done for each other—might have been wiped away by what I’d said to him.

So I said, “He is lucky to have all of you.”

“No,” she said softly—more gently than I’d ever heard. “We are lucky to have him, Feyre.” I turned from the door. “I have known many High Lords,” Amren continued, studying her paper. “Cruel ones, cunning ones, weak ones, powerful ones. But never one that dreamed. Not as he does.”

“Dreams of what?” I breathed.

“Of peace. Of freedom. Of a world united, a world thriving. Of something better—for all of us.”

“He thinks he’ll be remembered as the villain in the story.”

She snorted.

“But I forgot to tell him,” I said quietly, opening the door, “that the villain is usually the person who locks up the maiden and throws away the key.”

“Oh?”

I shrugged. “He was the one who let me out.”

If you’ve moved elsewhere, I wrote after getting home from Amren’s apartment, you could have at least given me the keys to this house. I keep leaving the door unlocked when I go out. It’s getting to be too tempting for the neighborhood burglars.

No response. The letter didn’t even vanish.

I tried after breakfast the next day—the morning of Starfall. Cassian says you’re sulking in the House of Wind. What un-High-Lord-like behavior. What of my training?

Again, no reply.

My guilt and—and whatever else it was—started to shift. I could barely keep from shredding the paper as I wrote my third one after lunch.

Is this punishment? Or do people in your Inner Circle not get second chances if they piss you off? You’re a hateful coward.

I was climbing out of the bath, the city abuzz with preparations for the festivities at sundown, when I looked at the desk where I’d left the letter.

And watched it vanish.

Nuala and Cerridwen arrived to help me dress, and I tried not to stare at the desk as I waited—waited and waited for the response.

It didn’t come.

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