فصل 28

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CHAPTER

28

I dragged myself out of bed by sheer will the next morning.

Amren had said the Carver wouldn’t bind himself into a Fae body—had claimed that.

But it wouldn’t hurt to try. If it gave us the slightest chance of holding out, of keeping Rhys from giving everything …

He was already gone by the time I awoke. I gritted my teeth as I dressed in my leathers and winnowed to the House of Wind.

I had my wings ready as I hit the wards protecting it, and managed a decent-enough glide into the open-air training ring on its flat top.

Cassian was already waiting, hands on his hips. Watching as I eased down, down …

Too fast. My feet skipped over the dirt, bouncing me up, up—

“Backflap—”

His warning was too late.

I slammed into a wall of crimson before I could get a face full of the ruddy rock, but—I swore, pride skinned as much as my palms as I staggered back, my wings unwieldy behind me. Cassian’s shoulders shook as he reined in a laugh, and I gave him a vulgar gesture in return.

“If you go in for a landing that way, make sure you have room.”

I scowled. “Lesson learned.”

“Or space to bank and circle until you slow—”

“I get it.”

Cassian held up his hands, but the amusement faded as he watched me dismiss the wings and stalk toward him. “You want to go hard today, or take it easy?”

I didn’t think the others gave him enough credit—for noticing the shift in someone’s emotional current. To command legions, I supposed, he needed to be able to read that sort of thing, judge when his soldiers or enemies were strong or breaking or broken.

I peered inside, to that place where I now felt like quicksand, and said, “Hard. I want to limp out of here.” I peeled off the leather jacket and rolled up the sleeves of my white shirt.

Cassian swept an assessing stare over me. He murmured, “It helps me, too—the physical activity, the training.” He rolled his shoulders as I began to stretch. “It’s always helped me focus and center myself. And after last night …” He tied back his dark hair. “I definitely need it—this.”

I held my leg folded behind me, my muscles protesting at the stretch. “I suppose there are worse methods of coping.”

A lopsided grin. “Indeed there are.”

Azriel’s lesson afterward consisted of standing in a breeze and trying to memorize his instructions on currents and downdrafts, on how heat and cold could shape wind and speed. Throughout it, he was quiet—removed. Even by his standards.

I made the mistake of asking if he’d spoken to Mor since he’d left last night.

No, he had not. And that was that.

Even if he kept flexing his scarred hand at his side. As if recalling the sensation of the hand she’d whipped free of his touch during that meeting. Over and over. I didn’t dare tell him that he’d made the right call—that perhaps he should talk to Mor, rather than let the guilt eat at him. The two of them had enough between them without me shoving myself into it.

I was indeed limping by the time I returned to the town house hours later, finding Mor at the dining table, munching on a giant pastry she’d grabbed from a bakery on her way in.

“You look like a team of horses trampled you,” she said around her food.

“Good,” I said, taking the pastry out of her hand and finishing it off. She squawked in outrage, but snapped her fingers, and a plate of carved melon from the kitchen down the hall appeared on the polished table before her.

Right atop the pile of what looked to be letters on various pieces of stationery. “What’s that?” I said, wiping the crumbs from my mouth.

“The first of the High Lords’ responses,” she said sweetly, plucking up a slice of the green fruit and biting off a chunk. No hint of last night’s rage and fear.

“That pleasant, hmm?”

“Helion’s came first this morning. Between all the innuendo, I think he said he’d be willing to … join us.”

I lifted my brows. “That’s good—isn’t it?”

A shrug. “Helion, we weren’t worried about. The other two …” She finished off the melon, chewing wetly. “Thesan says he’ll come, but won’t do it unless it’s in a truly neutral and safe location. Kallias … he doesn’t trust any of us after … Under the Mountain. He wants to bring armed guards.”

Day, Dawn, and Winter. Our closest allies. “No word from anyone else?” My gut tightened.

“No. Spring, Autumn, and Summer haven’t sent a reply.”

“We don’t have much time until the meeting. What if they refuse to reply at all?” I didn’t have the nerve to wonder aloud if Eris would be good to his word and make sure his father attended—and joined our cause. Not with the light back in her face.

Mor picked up another slice of melon. “Then we’ll have to decide if Rhys and I will go drag them by their necks to this meeting, or if we’ll have it without them.”

“I’d suggest the second option.” Mor furrowed her brows. “The first,” I clarified, “doesn’t sound conducive to actually forming an alliance.”

Though I was surprised that Tarquin hadn’t responded. Even with his blood feud with us … The male I’d met, whom I still admired so much … Surely he’d want to ally against Hybern. Unless he now wanted to ally with them to ensure Rhys and I were wiped off the map forever.

“We’ll see,” was all Mor said.

I blew out a breath through my nose. “About last night—”

“It’s fine. It’s nothing.” The swiftness with which she spoke suggested anything but.

“It’s not nothing. You’re allowed to feel that way.”

Mor fluffed her hair. “Well, it won’t help us win this war.”

“No. But … I’m not sure what to say.”

Mor stared toward the window for a long moment. “I understand why Rhys did it. The position we were in. Eris is … You know what he is like. And if he was indeed threatening to sell information about your gifts to his father … Mother above, I would have made the same bargain with Eris to keep Beron from hunting you.” Something in my chest eased at that. “It’s just … My father knew—the second he heard of this place, he probably knew what it meant to me. There would have been no other asking price for my father’s help in this war. None. Rhys knew that as well. Tried to bring Eris into it to sweeten the deal for my father—to possibly avoid this outcome with Velaris altogether.”

I raised my brows in silent question.

“We talked—Rhys and I. This morning. While Cassian was kicking your ass.”

I snorted. “What about Azriel?” So much for my decision to stay out of it.

Mor resumed picking at the melon. “Az … He had a tough call to make, when Eris found him. He …” She chewed on her lip. “I don’t know why I expected him to side with me, why it caught me so off guard.” I refrained from suggesting she tell him that. Mor shrugged. “It just … it all took me by surprise. And I will never be happy about any of these terms, but … My father wins, Eris wins, all the males like them win if I let it get to me. If I let it impact my joy, my life. My relationships with all of you.” She sighed at the ceiling. “I hate war.”

“Likewise.”

“Not just for the death and awfulness,” Mor went on. “But because of what it does to us. These decisions.”

I nodded, even if I was only starting to understand. The choices and the costs.

I opened my mouth, but a knock on the front door sounded. I glanced to the clock in the sitting room across the foyer. Right. The healer.

I’d mentioned to Elain this morning that Madja was coming to see her at eleven, and I’d gotten a noncommittal response. Better than outright refusal, I supposed.

“Are you going to answer the door, or should I?”

I made a vulgar gesture at the sheer sass in Mor’s question, but my friend gripped my hand as I rose from my chair.

“If you need anything … I’ll be right here.”

I gave Mor a small, grateful smile. “As will I.”

She was still smiling at me as I took a deep breath before heading for the entry.

The healer found nothing.

I believed her—if only because Madja was one of the few High Fae I’d seen whose dark skin was etched with wrinkles, her hair spindrift fine with age. Her brown eyes were still clear and kindled with an inner warmth, and her knobby hands remained steady as she passed them over Elain’s body while my sister lay patiently, silently, on the bed.

Magic, sweet and cooling, had thrummed from the female, filling Elain’s bedroom. And when she had gently laid her hands on either side of Elain’s head and I’d started, Madja had only smiled wryly over her thin shoulder and told me to relax.

Nesta, sharp-eyed in the corner, had kept quiet.

After a long minute, Madja asked us to join her in fetching Elain a cup of tea—with a pointed glance to the door. We both took the invitation and left our sister in her sunlit room.

“What do you mean, nothing is wrong with her?” Nesta hissed under her breath as the ancient female braced a hand on the stair railing to help herself down. I kept beside the healer, a hand in easy reach of her elbow, should she need it.

Madja, I reminded myself, had healed Cassian and Azriel—and countless injuries beyond that. She’d healed Rhys’s wings during the War. She looked ancient, but I had no doubt of her stamina—or sheer will to help her patients.

Madja didn’t deign to answer Nesta until we were at the bottom of the steps. Lucien was already waiting in the sitting room, Mor still lingering in the dining room. Both of them rose to their feet, but remained in their respective rooms, flanking the foyer.

“What I mean,” Madja said at last, sizing up Nesta, then me, “is that I can find nothing wrong with her. Her body is fine—too thin and in need of more food and fresh air, but nothing amiss. And as for her mind … I cannot enter it.”

I blinked. “She has a shield?”

“She is Cauldron-Made,” the healer said, again looking over Nesta. “You are not like the rest of us. I cannot pierce the places it left its mark most deeply.” The mind. The soul. She shot me a warning glance. “And I would not try if I were you, Lady.”

“But do you think there’s something wrong, even if there are no signs?” Nesta pushed.

“I have seen the victims of trauma before. Her symptoms match well with many of those invisible wounds. But … she was also Made by something I do not understand. Is there something wrong with her?” Madja chewed over the words. “I do not like that word—wrong. Different, perhaps. Changed.”

“Does she need further help?” Nesta said through her teeth.

The ancient healer jerked her chin toward Lucien. “See what he can do. If anyone can sense if something is amiss, it’s a mate.”

“How.” The word was barely more than a barked command.

I braced myself to warn Nesta to be polite, but Madja said to my sister, as if she were a small child, “The mating bond. It is a bridge between souls.”

The healer’s tone made my sister stiffen, but Madja was already hobbling for the front door. She pointed at Lucien as she saw herself out. “Try sitting down with her. Just talking—sensing. See what you pick up. But don’t push.” Then she was gone.

I whirled on Nesta. “A little respect, Nesta—”

“Call another healer.”

“Not if you’re going to bark them out of the house.”

“Call another healer.”

Mor strode for us with deceptive calm, and Nesta gave her a withering glare.

I caught Lucien’s eye. “Would you try it?”

Nesta snarled, “Don’t you even attempt—”

“Be quiet,” I snapped.

Nesta blinked.

I bared my teeth at her. “He will try. And if he doesn’t find anything amiss, we’ll consider bringing another healer.”

“You’re just going to drag her down here?”

“I’m going to invite her.”

Nesta faced Mor, still watching from the archway. “And what will you be doing?”

Mor gave my sister a half smile. “I’ll be sitting with Feyre. Keeping an eye on things.”

Lucien muttered something about not needing to be monitored, and we all looked at him with raised brows.

He just lifted his hands, claimed he wanted to freshen up, and headed down the hall.

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