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CHAPTER

50

I slept beside him, offering what warmth I could, monitoring the cave entrance the entirety of the night. The beasts in the forest prowled past in an endless parade, and only in the gray light before dawn did their snarls and hissing fade.

Rhys was unconscious as watery sunlight painted the stone walls, his skin clammy. I checked his wounds and found them barely healed, an oily sheen oozing from them.

And when I put a hand on his brow, I swore at the heat.

Poison had coated those arrows. And that poison remained in his body.

The Illyrian camp was so distant that my own powers, feeble from the night before, wouldn’t get us far.

But if they had those horrible chains to nullify his powers, had ash arrows to bring him down, then that poison …

An hour passed. He didn’t get better. No, his golden skin was pale—paling. His breaths were shallow. “Rhys,” I said softly.

He didn’t move. I tried shaking him. If he could tell me what the poison was, maybe I could try to find something to help him … He did not awaken.

Around midday, panic gripped me in a tight fist.

I didn’t know anything about poisons or remedies. And out here, so far from anyone … Would Cassian track us down in time? Would Mor winnow in? I tried to rouse Rhys over and over.

The poison had dragged him down deep. I would not risk waiting for help to arrive.

I would not risk him.

So I bundled him in as many layers as I could spare, yet took my cloak, kissed his brow, and left.

We were only a few hundred yards from where I’d been hunting the night before, and as I emerged from the cave, I tried not to look at the tracks of the beasts who had passed through, right above us. Enormous, horrible tracks.

What I was to hunt would be worse.

We were already near running water—so I made my trap close by, building my snare with hands that I refused to let shake.

I placed the cloak—mostly new, rich, lovely—in the center of my snare. And I waited.

An hour. Two.

I was about to start bargaining with the Cauldron, with the Mother, when a creeping, familiar silence fell over the wood.

Rippling toward me, the birds stopped chirping, the wind stopped sighing in the pines.

And when a crack sounded through the forest, followed by a screech that hollowed out my ears, I nocked an arrow into my bow and set off to see the Suriel.

It was as horrific as I remembered:

Tattered robes barely concealing a body made of not skin, but what looked to be solid, worn bone. Its lipless mouth held too-large teeth, and its fingers—long, spindly—clicked against each other while it weighed the fine cloak I’d laid in the center of my snare, as if the cloth had been blown in on a wind.

“Feyre Cursebreaker,” it said, turning toward me, in a voice that was both one and many.

I lowered my bow. “I have need of you.”

Time—I was running out of time. I could feel it, that urgency begging me to hurry through the bond.

“What fascinating changes a year has wrought on you—on the world,” it said.

A year. Yes, it had been over a year now since I’d first crossed the wall.

“I have questions,” I said.

It smiled, each of those stained, too-large brown teeth visible. “You have two questions.”

An answer and an order.

I didn’t waste time; not with Rhys, not when this wood might be full of enemies hunting for us.

“What poison was used on those arrows?”

“Bloodbane,” it said.

I didn’t know that poison—had never heard of it.

“Where do I find the cure?”

The Suriel clicked its bone fingers against each other, as if the answer lay inside the sound. “In the forest.”

I hissed, my brows flattening. “Please—please don’t be cryptic. What is the cure?”

The Suriel cocked its head, the bone gleaming in the light. “Your blood. Give him your blood, Cursebreaker. It is rich with the healing gift of the High Lord of the Dawn. It shall spare him from the bloodbane’s wrath.”

“That’s it?” I pushed. “How much blood?”

“A few mouthfuls will do.” A hollow, dry wind—not at all like the misty, cold veils that usually drifted past—brushed my face. “I helped you before. I have helped you now. And you will free me before I lose my patience, Cursebreaker.”

Some primal, lingering human part of me trembled as I took in the snare around its legs, pinning it to the ground. Perhaps this time, the Suriel had let itself be caught. And knew how to free itself—had learned it the moment I’d spared it from the naga.

A test—of honor. And a favor. For the arrow I’d shot to save it last year.

But I nocked an ash arrow into my bow, cringing at the sheen of poison coating it. “Thank you for your help,” I said, bracing myself for flight should it charge at me.

The Suriel’s stained teeth clacked against each other. “If you wish to speed your mate’s healing, in addition to your blood, a pink-flowered weed sprouts by the river. Make him chew it.”

I fired my arrow at the snare before I finished hearing its words.

The trap sprang free. And the word clicked through me.

Mate.

“What did you say?”

The Suriel rose to its full height, towering over me even from across the clearing. I had not realized that despite the bone, it was muscled— powerful.

“If you wish to … ” The Suriel paused, and grinned, showing nearly all of those brown, thick teeth. “You did not know, then.”

“Say it,” I gritted out.

“The High Lord of the Night Court is your mate.”

I wasn’t entirely sure I was breathing.

“Interesting,” the Suriel said.

Mate.

Mate.

Mate.

Rhysand was my mate.

Not lover, not husband, but more than that. A bond so deep, so permanent that it was honored over all others. Rare, cherished.

Not Tamlin’s mate.

Rhysand’s.

I was jealous, and pissed off …

You’re mine.

The words slipped out of me, low and twisted, “Does he know?”

The Suriel clenched the robes of its new cloak in its bone-fingers. “Yes.”

“For a long while?”

“Yes. Since—”

“No. He can tell me—I want to hear it from his lips.”

The Suriel cocked its head. “You are—you are feeling too much, too fast. I cannot read it.”

“How can I possibly be his mate?” Mates were equals—matched, at least in some ways.

“He is the most powerful High Lord to ever walk this earth. You are … new. You are made of all seven High Lords. Unlike anything. Are you two not similar in that? Are you not matched?”

Mate. And he knew—he’d known.

I glanced toward the river, as if I could see all the way to the cave, to where Rhysand slept.

When I looked back at the Suriel, it was gone.

I found the pink weed, and ripped it out of the ground as I stalked back to the cave.

Mercifully, Rhys was half-awake, the layers I’d thrown on him now scattered across the blanket, and he gave me a strained smile as I entered.

I chucked the weed at him, showering his bare chest with soil. “Chew on that.”

He blinked blearily at me.

Mate.

But he obeyed, frowning at the plant before he plucked off a few leaves and started chewing. He grimaced as he swallowed. I tore off my jacket, shoved up my sleeve, and strode to him. He’d known, and kept it from me.

Had the others known? Had they guessed?

He’d—he’d promised not to lie, not to keep things from me.

And this—this most important thing in my immortal existence …

I drew a dagger across my forearm, the cut long and deep, and dropped to my knees before him. I didn’t feel the pain. “Drink this. Now.”

Rhys blinked again, brows raising, but I didn’t give him the chance to object before I gripped the back of his head, lifted my arm to his mouth, and shoved him against my skin.

He paused as my blood touched his lips. Then his mouth opened wider, his tongue brushing my arm as he sucked in my blood. One mouthful. Two. Three.

I yanked back my arm, the wound already healing, and shoved down my sleeve.

“You don’t get to ask questions,” I said, and he looked up at me, exhaustion and pain lining his face, my blood shining on his lips. Part of me hated the words, for acting like this while he was wounded, but I didn’t care. “You only get to answer them. And nothing more.”

Wariness flooded his eyes, but he nodded, biting off another mouthful of the weed and chewing.

I stared down at him, the half-Illyrian warrior who was my soul-bonded partner.

“How long have you known that I’m your mate?”

Rhys stilled. The entire world stilled.

He swallowed. “Feyre.”

“How long have you known that I’m your mate?”

“You … You ensnared the Suriel?” How he’d pieced it together, I didn’t give a shit.

“I said you don’t get to ask questions.”

I thought something like panic might have flashed over his features. He chewed again on the plant—as if it instantly helped, as if he knew that he wanted to be at his full strength to face this, face me. Color was already blooming on his cheeks, perhaps from whatever healing was in my blood.

“I suspected for a while,” Rhys said, swallowing once more. “I knew for certain when Amarantha was killing you. And when we stood on the balcony Under the Mountain—right after we were freed, I felt it snap into place between us. I think when you were Made, it … it heightened the smell of the bond. I looked at you then and the strength of it hit me like a blow.”

He’d gone wide-eyed, had stumbled back as if shocked—terrified. And had vanished.

That had been over half a year ago.

My blood pounded in my ears. “When were you going to tell me?”

“Feyre.”

“When were you going to tell me?”

“I don’t know. I wanted to yesterday. Or whenever you’d noticed that it wasn’t just a bargain between us. I hoped you might realize when I took you to bed, and—”

“Do the others know?”

“Amren and Mor do. Azriel and Cassian suspect.”

My face burned. They knew—they— “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were in love with him; you were going to marry him. And then you … you were enduring everything and it didn’t feel right to tell you.”

“I deserved to know.”

“The other night you told me you wanted a distraction, you wanted fun. Not a mating bond. And not to someone like me—a mess.” So the words I’d spat after the Court of Nightmares had haunted him.

“You promised—you promised no secrets, no games. You promised.”

Something in my chest was caving in on itself. Some part of me I’d thought long gone.

“I know I did,” Rhys said, the glow returning to his face. “You think I didn’t want to tell you? You think I liked hearing you wanted me only for amusement and release? You think it didn’t drive me out of my mind so completely that those bastards shot me out of the sky because I was too busy wondering if I should just tell you, or wait—or maybe take whatever pieces that you offered me and be happy with it? Or that maybe I should let you go so you don’t have a lifetime of assassins and High Lords hunting you down for being with me?”

“I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to hear you explain how you assumed that you knew best, that I couldn’t handle it—”

“I didn’t do that—”

“I don’t want to hear you tell me that you decided I was to be kept in the dark while your friends knew, while you all decided what was right for me—”

“Feyre—”

“Take me back to the Illyrian camp. Now.”

He was panting in great, rattling gulps. “Please.”

But I stormed to him and grabbed his hand. “Take me back now.”

And I saw the pain and sorrow in his eyes. Saw it and didn’t care, not as that thing in my chest was twisting and breaking. Not as my heart—my heart—ached, so viciously that I realized it’d somehow been repaired in these past few months. Repaired by him.

And now it hurt.

Rhys saw all that and more on my face, and I saw nothing but agony in his as he rallied his strength and, grunting in pain, winnowed us into the Illyrian camp.

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