فصل 26

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER

26

That’s who the final, empty seat was for.

And Rhys …

He remained sprawled in his chair, sipping from his wine. “Welcome back, Eris,” he drawled. “It’s been what—five centuries since you last set foot in here?”

Mor slid her eyes toward Rhys. Betrayal and—hurt. That was hurt flashing there.

For not warning us. For this … surprise.

I wondered if I schooled my features with any more success than my friend as Eris claimed the vacant seat at the table, not bothering to so much as nod to a wary-eyed Keir. “It has indeed been a while.”

He’d healed since that day on the ice—not a sign of the gut-wound Cassian had given him. His red hair was unbound, a silken drape over his well-tailored cobalt jacket.

What is he doing here, I speared down the bond, not bothering to hide any of what coursed through me.

Making sure Keir agrees to help, was all Rhys said, the words tight and clipped. Restrained.

As if he were still holding the full might of his rage in check.

Shadows curled around Azriel’s shoulders, whispering in his ear as he stared down Eris.

“You once wanted to build ties to Autumn, Keir,” said Rhys, setting down his goblet of wine. “Well, here’s your chance. Eris is willing to offer you a formal alliance—in exchange for your services in this war.”

How the hell did you get him to agree to that?

Rhys didn’t answer.

Rhysand.

Keir leaned back in his chair. “It is not enough.”

Eris snorted, pouring himself a goblet of wine from the decanter in the center of the table. “I’d forgotten why I was so relieved when our bargain fell apart the last time.”

Rhys shot him a warning look. Eris just drank deeply.

“What is it that you want, then, Keir?” Rhys purred.

I had the feeling if Keir suggested me again, he’d wind up splattered on the wall.

But Keir must have known, too. And said simply to Rhysand, “I want out. I want space. I want my people to be free of this mountain.”

“You have every comfort,” I finally said. “And yet it is not enough?”

Keir ignored me as well. As I’m sure he ignored most women in his life.

“You have been keeping secrets, High Lord,” Keir said with a hateful smile, interlacing his hands and resting them on the mauled table. Right atop the nearest deep gouge. “I always wondered—where all of you went when you weren’t here. Hybern answered the question at last—thanks to that attack on … what is its name? Velaris. Yes. On Velaris. The City of Starlight.”

Mor went utterly still.

“I want access to the city,” Keir said. “For me, and my court.”

“No,” Mor said. The word echoed off the pillars, the glass, the rock.

I was inclined to agree. The thought of these people, of Keir, in Velaris … Tainting it with their presence, their hatred and small-mindedness, their disdain and cruelty …

Rhys did not refuse. Did not shoot down the suggestion.

You can’t be serious.

Rhys only watched Keir as he answered down the bond, I anticipated this—and I took precautions.

I contemplated it. The meeting with the Palace governors … That was tied to this?

Yes.

Rhysand said to Keir, “There would be conditions.”

Mor opened her mouth, but Azriel laid a scarred hand atop hers.

She snatched her hand back as if she’d been burned—burned as he had been.

Azriel’s mask of cold didn’t so much as waver at the rejection. Though Eris chuckled softly. Enough to make Azriel’s hazel eyes glaze with rage as he settled them upon the High Lord’s son. Eris only inclined his head to the shadowsinger.

“I want unrestricted access,” Keir said to Rhys.

“You will not get it,” Rhys said. “There will be limited stays, limited numbers allowed in. To be decided later.”

Mor turned pleading eyes to Rhys. Her city—the place that she loved so much—

I could almost hear it. The crack I knew was about to sound amongst our own circle.

Keir looked to Mor at last—noted the despair and anger. And smiled.

He had no real desire to get out of here.

Only a desire to take something he’d undoubtedly gleaned that his daughter cherished.

I could have gladly shredded through his throat as Keir said, “Done.”

Rhys didn’t so much as smile. Mor was only staring and staring at him, that beseeching expression crumpling her face.

“There is one more thing,” I added, squaring my shoulders. “One more request.”

Keir deigned to acknowledge me. “Oh?”

“I have need of the Ouroboros mirror,” I said, willing ice into my veins. “Immediately.”

Interest and surprise flared in Keir’s brown eyes. Mor’s eyes.

“Who told you that I have it?” he asked quietly.

“Does it matter? I want it.”

“Do you even know what the Ouroboros is?”

“Consider your tone, Keir,” Rhys warned.

Keir leaned forward, bracing his forearms on the table. “The mirror …” He laughed under his breath. “Consider it my mating present.” He added with sweet venom, “If you can take it.”

Not a threat to face him, but— “What do you mean?”

Keir rose to his feet, smirking like a cat with a canary in its mouth. “To take the Ouroboros, to claim it, you must first look into it.” He headed for the doors, not waiting to be dismissed. “And everyone who has attempted to do so has either gone mad or been broken beyond repair. Even a High Lord or two, if legend is true.” A shrug. “So it is yours, if you dare to face it.” Keir paused at the threshold as the doors opened on a phantom wind. He said to Rhys, perhaps the closest he’d come to asking for permission to leave, “Lord Thanatos is having … difficulties with his daughter again. He requires my assistance.” Rhys only waved a hand, as if he hadn’t just yielded our city to the male. Keir jerked his chin at Eris. “I will wish to speak with you—soon.”

Once he was done gloating over his victory tonight. What we’d given.

And lost.

If the Ouroboros could not be retrieved, at least without such terrible risk … I shut out the thought, sealing it away for later, as Keir left. Leaving us alone with Eris.

The heir of Autumn just sipped his wine.

And I had the terrible sense that Mor had gone somewhere far, far away as Eris set down his goblet and said, “You look well, Mor.”

“You don’t speak to her,” Azriel said softly.

Eris gave a bitter smile. “I see you’re still holding a grudge.”

“This arrangement, Eris,” Rhys said, “relies solely upon you keeping your mouth shut.”

Eris huffed a laugh. “And haven’t I done an excellent job? Not even my father suspected when I left tonight.”

I glanced between my mate and Eris. “How did this come about?”

Eris looked me over. The crown and dress. “You didn’t think that I knew your shadowsinger would come sniffing around to see if I’d told my father about your … powers? Especially after my brothers so mysteriously forgot about them, too. I knew it was a matter of time before one of you arrived to take care of my memory as well.” Eris tapped the side of his head with a long finger. “Too bad for you, I learned a thing or two about daemati. Too bad for my brothers that I never bothered to teach them.”

My chest tightened. Rhys.

To keep me safe from Beron’s wrath, to keep this potential alliance with the High Lords from falling apart before it began … Rhys.

It was an effort to keep my eyes from burning.

A gentle caress down the bond was his only answer.

“Of course I didn’t tell my father,” Eris went on, drinking from his wine again. “Why waste that sort of information on the bastard? His answer would be to hunt you down and kill you—not realizing how much shit we’re in with Hybern and that you might be the key to stopping it.”

“So he plans to join us, then,” Rhys said.

“Not if he learns about your little secret.” Eris smirked.

Mor blinked—as if realizing that Rhys’s contact with Eris, his invitation here … The glance she gave me, clear and settled, told me enough. Hurt and anger still swirled, but understanding, too.

“So what’s the asking price, Eris?” Mor demanded, leaning her bare arms on the dark glass. “Another little bride for you to torture?”

Something flickered in Eris’s eyes. “I don’t know who fed you those lies to begin with, Morrigan,” he said with vicious calm. “Likely the bastards you surround yourself with.” A sneer at Azriel.

Mor snarled, rattling the glasses. “You never gave any evidence to the contrary. Certainly not when you left me in those woods.”

“There were forces at work that you have never considered,” Eris said coldly. “And I am not going to waste my breath explaining them to you. Believe what you want about me.”

“You hunted me down like an animal,” I cut in. “I think we’ll choose to believe the worst.”

Eris’s pale face flushed. “I was given an order. And sent to do it with two of my … brothers.”

“And what of the brother you hunted down alongside me? The one whose lover you helped to execute before his eyes?”

Eris laid a hand flat on the table. “You know nothing about what happened that day. Nothing.”

Silence.

“Indulge me,” was all I said.

Eris stared me down. I stared right back.

“How do you think he made it to the Spring border,” he said quietly. “I wasn’t there—when they did it. Ask him. I refused. It was the first and only time I have denied my father anything. He punished me. And by the time I got free … They were going to kill him, too. I made sure they didn’t. Made sure Tamlin got word—anonymously—to get the hell over to his own border.”

Where two of Eris’s brothers had been killed. By Lucien and Tamlin.

Eris picked at a stray thread on his jacket. “Not all of us were so lucky in our friends and family as you, Rhysand.”

Rhys’s face was a mask of boredom. “It would seem so.”

And none of this entirely erased what he’d done, but … “What is the asking price,” I repeated.

“The same thing I told Azriel when I found him snooping through my father’s woods yesterday.”

Hurt flared in Mor’s eyes as she whipped her head toward the shadowsinger. But Azriel didn’t so much as acknowledge her as he announced, “When the time comes … we are to support Eris’s bid to take the throne.”

Even as Azriel spoke, that frozen rage dulled his face. And Eris was wise enough to finally pale at the sight. Perhaps that was why Eris had kept knowledge of my powers to himself. Not just for this sort of bargaining, but to avoid the wrath of the shadowsinger. The blade at his side.

“The request still stands, Rhysand,” Eris said, mastering himself, “to just kill my father and be done with it. I can pledge troops right now.”

Mother above. He didn’t even try to hide it—to look at all remorseful. It was an effort to keep my jaw from dropping to the table at his intent, the casualness with which he spoke it.

“Tempting, but too messy,” Rhys replied. “Beron sided with us in the War. Hopefully he’ll sway that way again.” A pointed stare at Eris.

“He will,” Eris promised, running a finger over one of the claw marks gouged into the table. “And will remain blissfully unaware of Feyre’s … gifts.”

A throne—in exchange for his silence. And sway.

“Promise Keir nothing you care about,” Rhys said, waving a hand in dismissal.

Eris just rose to his feet. “We’ll see.” A frown at Mor as he drained his wine and set down the goblet. “I’m surprised you still can’t control yourself around him. You had every emotion written right on that pretty face of yours.”

“Watch it,” Azriel warned.

Eris looked between them, smiling faintly. Secretly. As if he knew something that Azriel didn’t. “I wouldn’t have touched you,” he said to Mor, who blanched again. “But when you fucked that other bastard—” A snarl ripped from Rhys’s throat at that. And my own. “I knew why you did it.” Again that secret smile that had Mor shrinking. Shrinking. “So I gave you your freedom, ending the betrothal in no uncertain terms.”

“And what happened next,” Azriel growled.

A shadow crossed Eris’s face. “There are few things I regret. That is one of them. But … perhaps one day, now that we are allies, I shall tell you why. What it cost me.”

“I don’t give a shit,” Mor said quietly. She pointed to the door. “Get out.”

Eris gave a mocking bow to her. To all of us. “See you at the meeting in twelve days.”

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