فصل 60

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CHAPTER

60

“Velaris is secure,” Rhys said in the black hours of the night. “The wards the Cauldron took out have been remade.”

We had not stopped to rest until now. For hours we’d worked, along with the rest of the city, to heal, to patch up, to hunt down answers any way we could. And now we were all again gathered, the clock chiming three in the morning.

I didn’t know how Rhys was standing as he leaned against the mantel in the sitting room. I was near-limp on the couch beside Mor, both of us coated in dirt and blood. Like the rest of them.

Sprawled in an armchair built for Illyrian wings, Cassian’s face was battered and healing slowly enough that I knew he’d drained his power during those long minutes when he’d defended the city alone. But his hazel eyes still glowed with the embers of rage.

Amren was hardly better off. The tiny female’s gray clothes hung mostly in strips, her skin beneath pale as snow. Half-asleep on the couch across from mine, she leaned against Azriel, who kept casting alarmed glances at her, even as his own wounds leaked a bit. Atop his scarred hands, Azriel’s blue Siphons were dull, muted. Utterly empty.

As I had helped the survivors in the Rainbow tend to their wounded, count their dead, and begin repairs, Rhys had checked in every now and then while he’d rebuilt the wards with whatever power lingered in his arsenal. During one of our brief breaks, he’d told me what Amren had done on her side of the river.

With her dark power, she had spun illusions straight into the soldiers’ minds. They believed they had fallen into the Sidra and were drowning; they believed they were flying a thousand feet above and had dived, fast and swift, for the city—only to find the street mere feet away, and the crunch of their skulls. The crueler ones, the wickedest ones, she had unleashed their own nightmares upon them—until they died from terror, their hearts giving out.

Some had fallen into the river, drinking their own spreading blood as they drowned. Some had disappeared wholly.

“Velaris might be secure,” Cassian replied, not even bothering to lift his head from where it rested against the back of the chair, “but for how long? Hybern knows about this place, thanks to those wyrm-queens. Who else will they sell the information to? How long until the other courts come sniffing? Or Hybern uses that Cauldron again to take down our defenses?”

Rhys closed his eyes, his shoulders tight. I could already see the weight pushing down on that dark head.

I hated to add to that burden, but I said, “If we all go to Hybern to destroy the Cauldron … who will defend the city?”

Silence. Rhys’s throat bobbed.

Amren said, “I’ll stay.” Cassian opened his mouth to object, but Rhys slowly looked at his Second. Amren held his gaze as she added, “If Rhys must go to Hybern, then I am the only one of you who might hold the city until help arrives. Today was a surprise. A bad one. When you leave, we will be better prepared. The new wards we built today will not fall so easily.”

Mor loosed a sigh. “So what do we do now?”

Amren simply said, “We sleep. We eat.”

And it was Azriel who added, his voice raw with the aftermath of battle-rage, “And then we retaliate.”

Rhys did not come to bed.

And when I emerged from the bath, the water clouded with dirt and blood, he was nowhere to be found.

But I felt for the bond between us and trudged upstairs, my stiff legs barking in pain. He was sitting on the roof—in the dark. His great wings were spread behind him, draped over the tiles.

I slid into his lap, looping my arms around his neck.

He stared at the city around us. “So few lights. So few lights left tonight.”

I did not look. I only traced the lines of his face, then brushed my thumb over his mouth. “It is not your fault,” I said quietly.

His eyes shifted to mine, barely visible in the dark. “Isn’t it? I handed this city over to them. I said I would be willing to risk it, but … I don’t know who I hate more: the king, those queens, or myself.”

I brushed the hair out of his face. He gripped my hand, halting my fingers. “You shut me out,” he breathed. “You—shielded against me. Completely. I couldn’t find a way in.”

“I’m sorry.”

Rhys let out a bitter laugh. “Sorry? Be impressed. That shield … What you did to the Attor … ” He shook his head. “You could have been killed.”

“Are you going to scold me for it?”

His brows furrowed. Then he buried his face in my shoulder. “How could I scold you for defending my people? I want to throttle you, yes, for not going back to the town house, but … You chose to fight for them. For Velaris.” He kissed my neck. “I don’t deserve you.”

My heart strained. He meant it—truly felt that way. I stroked his hair again. And I said to him, the words the only sounds in the silent, dark city, “We deserve each other. And we deserve to be happy.”

Rhys shuddered against me. And when his lips found mine, I let him lay me down upon the roof tiles and make love to me under the stars.

Amren cracked the code the next afternoon. The news was not good.

“To nullify the Cauldron’s power,” she said by way of greeting as we crowded around the dining table in the town house, having rushed in from the repairs we’d all been making on very little sleep, “you must touch the Cauldron—and speak these words.” She had written them all down for me on a piece of paper.

“You know this for certain?” Rhys said. He was still bleak-eyed from the attack, from healing and helping his people all day.

Amren hissed. “I’m trying not to be insulted, Rhysand.”

Mor elbowed her way between them, staring at the two assembled pieces of the Book of Breathings. “What happens if we put both halves together?”

“Don’t put them together,” Amren simply said.

With either piece laid out, their voices blended and sang and hissed—evil and good and madness; dark and light and chaos.

“You put the pieces together,” she clarified when Rhys gave her a questioning look, “and the blast of power will be felt in every corner and hole in the earth. You won’t just attract the King of Hybern. You’ll draw enemies far older and more wretched. Things that have long been asleep—and should remain so.”

I cringed a bit. Rhys put a hand on my back.

“Then we move in now,” Cassian said. His face had healed, but he limped a bit from an injury I couldn’t see beneath his fighting leathers. He jerked his chin to Rhys. “Since you can’t winnow without being tracked, Mor and Az will winnow us all in, Feyre breaks the Cauldron, and we get out. We’ll be there and gone before anyone notices and the King of Hybern will have a new piece of cookware.”

I swallowed. “It could be anywhere in his castle.”

“We know where it is,” Cassian countered.

I blinked. Azriel said to me, “We’ve been able to narrow it down to the lower levels.” Through his spying, their planning for this trip all these months. “Every inch of the castle and surrounding lands is heavily guarded, but not impossible to get through. We’ve worked out the timing of it—for a small group of us to get in and out, quick and silent, and be gone before they know what’s happening.”

Mor said to him, “But the King of Hybern could notice Rhys’s presence the moment he arrives. And if Feyre needs time to nullify the Cauldron, and we don’t know how much time, that’s a risky variable.”

Cassian said, “We’ve considered that. So you and Rhys will winnow us in off the coast; we fly in while he stays.” They’d have to winnow me, I realized, since I still had not yet mastered doing it over long distances. At least, not with many stops in between. “As for the spell,” Cassian continued, “it’s a risk we’ll have to take.”

Silence fell as they waited for Rhys’s answer. My mate scanned my face, eyes wide.

Azriel pushed, “It’s a solid plan. The king doesn’t know our scents. We wreck the Cauldron and vanish before he notices … It’ll be a graver insult than the bloodier, direct route we’d been considering, Rhys. We beat them yesterday, so when we go into that castle … ” Vengeance indeed danced in that normally placid face. “We’ll leave a few reminders that we won the last damn war for a reason.”

Cassian nodded grimly. Even Mor smiled a bit.

“Are you asking me,” Rhys finally said, far too calmly, “to stay outside while my mate goes into his stronghold?”

“Yes,” Azriel said with equal calm, Cassian shifting himself slightly between them. “If Feyre can’t nullify the Cauldron easily or quickly, we steal it—send the pieces back to the bastard when we’re done breaking it apart. Either way, Feyre calls you through the bond when we’re done—you and Mor winnow us out. They won’t be able to track you fast enough if you only come to retrieve us.”

Rhysand dropped onto the couch beside me at last, loosing a breath. His eyes slid to me. “If you want to go, then you go, Feyre.”

If I hadn’t been already in love with him, I might have loved him for that—for not insisting I stay, even if it drove his instincts mad, for not locking me away in the aftermath of what had happened yesterday.

And I realized—I realized how badly I’d been treated before, if my standards had become so low. If the freedom I’d been granted felt like a privilege and not an inherent right.

Rhys’s eyes darkened, and I knew he read what I thought, felt. “You might be my mate,” he said, “but you remain your own person. You decide your fate—your choices. Not me. You chose yesterday. You choose every day. Forever.”

And maybe he only understood because he, too, had been helpless and without choices, had been forced to do such horrible things, and locked up. I threaded my fingers through his and squeezed. Together—together we’d find our peace, our future. Together we’d fight for it.

“Let’s go to Hybern,” I said.

I was halfway up the stairs an hour later when I realized that I still had no idea what room to go to. I’d gone to my bedroom since we’d returned from the cabin, but … what of his?

With Tamlin, he’d kept his own rooms and slept in mine. And I supposed—I supposed it’d be the same.

I was almost to my bedroom door when Rhysand drawled from behind me, “We can use your room if you like, but … ” He was leaning against his open bedroom door. “Either your room or mine—but we’re sharing one from now on. Just tell me whether I should move my clothes or yours. If that’s all right with you.”

“Don’t you—you don’t want your own space?”

“No,” he said baldly. “Unless you do. I need you protecting me from our enemies with your water-wolves.”

I snorted. He’d made me tell him that part of my tale over and over. I jerked my chin toward his bedroom. “Your bed is bigger.”

And that was that.

I walked in to find my clothes already there, a second armoire now beside his. I stared at the massive bed, then at all the open space around us.

Rhys shut the door and went to a small box on the desk—then silently handed it to me.

My heart thundered as I opened the lid. The star sapphire gleamed in the candlelight, as if it were one of the Starfall spirits trapped in stone. “Your mother’s ring?”

“My mother gave me that ring to remind me she was always with me, even during the worst of my training. And when I reached my majority, she took it away. It was an heirloom of her family—had been handed down from female to female over many, many years. My sister wasn’t yet born, so she wouldn’t have known to give it to her, but … My mother gave it to the Weaver. And then she told me that if I were to marry or mate, then the female would either have to be smart or strong enough to get it back. And if the female wasn’t either of those things, then she wouldn’t survive the marriage. I promised my mother that any potential bride or mate would have the test … And so it sat there for centuries.”

My face heated. “You said this was something of value—”

“It is. To me, and my family.”

“So my trip to the Weaver—”

“It was vital that we learn if you could detect those objects. But … I picked the object out of pure selfishness.”

“So I won my wedding ring without even being asked if I wanted to marry you.”

“Perhaps.”

I cocked my head. “Do—do you want me to wear it?”

“Only if you want to.”

“When we go to Hybern … Let’s say things go badly. Will anyone be able to tell that we’re mated? Could they use that against you?”

Rage flickered in his eyes. “If they see us together and can scent us both, they’ll know.”

“And if I show up alone, wearing a Night Court wedding ring—”

He snarled softly.

I closed the box, leaving the ring inside. “After we nullify the Cauldron, I want to do it all. Get the bond declared, get married, throw a stupid party and invite everyone in Velaris—all of it.”

Rhys took the box from my hands and set it down on the nightstand before herding me toward the bed. “And if I wanted to go one step beyond that?”

“I’m listening,” I purred as he laid me on the sheets.

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