فصل 38

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CHAPTER

38

Mor was shaking me. I only knew it because Rhys threw me out of his mind the moment he unleashed himself upon those soldiers.

You were here too long, was all he said, caressing a dark talon down my face. Then I was out, stumbling down the bond, his shield slamming shut behind me.

“Feyre,” Mor was saying, fingers digging into my shoulders through my leathers. “Feyre.”

I blinked, the sun and blood and narrow street coming into focus.

Blinked—and then vomited all over the cobblestones between us.

People, shaken and petrified, only stared.

“This way,” Mor said, and looped her arm around my waist as she led me into a dusty, empty alley. Far from watching eyes. I barely took in the city and bay and sea beyond—barely noticed that a mighty maelstrom of darkness and water and wind was now shoving Hybern’s fleet back over the horizon. As if Tarquin’s and Rhys’s powers had been unleashed by the king’s vanishing.

I made it to a pile of fallen stones from the half-wrecked building beside us when I vomited again. And again.

Mor put a hand on my back, rubbing soothing circles as I retched. “I did the same after my first battle. We all did.”

It wasn’t even a battle—not in the way I’d pictured: army against army on some unremarkable battlefield, chaotic and muddy. Even the real battle today had been out on the sea—where the Illyrians were now sailing inland.

I couldn’t bear to start counting how many made the return trip.

I didn’t know how Mor or Rhys or Cassian or Azriel could bear it.

And what I’d just seen … “The king was here,” I breathed.

Mor’s hand stilled on my back. “What?”

I leaned my brow against the sun-warmed brick of the building before me and told her—what I’d seen in Rhys’s mind.

The king—he had been here and yet not here. Another trick—another spell. No wonder Rhys hadn’t been able to attack his mind: the king hadn’t been present to do so.

I closed my eyes as I finished, pressing my brow harder into the brick.

Blood and sweat still coated me. I tried to remember the usual fit of my soul in my body, the priority of things, my way of looking at the world. What to do with my limbs in the stillness. How did I usually position my hands without a blade between them? How did I stop moving?

Mor squeezed my shoulder, as if she understood the racing thoughts, the foreignness of my body. The War had raged for seven years. Years. How long would this one last?

“We should find the others,” she said, and helped me straighten before winnowing us back to the palace towering high above.

I couldn’t bring myself to send another thought down the bond. See where Rhys was. I didn’t want him to see me—feel me—in such a state. Even if I knew he wouldn’t judge.

He, too, had spilled blood on the battlefield today. And many others before it. All of my friends had.

And I could understand—just for a heartbeat, as the wind tore around us—why some rulers, human and Fae, had bowed before Hybern. Bowed, rather than face this.

It wasn’t only the cost of life that ripped and devastated and sundered. It was the altering of a soul with it—the realization that I could perhaps go back home to Velaris, perhaps see peace achieved and cities rebuilt … but this battle, this war … I would be the thing forever changed.

War would linger with me long after it had ended, some invisible scar that would perhaps fade, but never wholly vanish.

But for my home, for Prythian and the human territory and so many others …

I would clean my blades, and wash the blood from my skin.

And I would do it again and again and again.

The middle level of the palace was a flurry of motion: blood-drenched Summer Court soldiers limped around healers and servants rushing to the injured being laid on the floor.

The stream through the center of the hall ran red.

More and more winnowed in, borne by wide-eyed High Fae.

A few Illyrians—just as bloody but eyes clear—hauled in their own wounded through the open windows and balcony doors.

Mor and I scanned the space, the throngs of people, the reek of death and screams of the injured.

I tried to swallow, but my mouth was too dry. “Where are—”

I recognized the warrior the same moment he spied me.

Varian, kneeling over an injured soldier with his thigh in ribbons, went utterly still as our eyes met. His brown skin was splattered in blood as bright as the rubies they’d sent to us, his white hair plastered to his head, as if he’d just chucked off his helmet.

He whistled through his teeth, and a soldier appeared at his side, taking up his position of tying a tourniquet around the hurt male’s thigh. The Prince of Adriata rose to his feet.

I did not have any magic left in me to shield. After seeing Rhys with the king, there was only an empty pit where my fear had been a wild sea within me. But I felt Mor’s power slide into place between us.

There was a death-promise on my head. From them.

Varian approached—slowly. Stiffly. As if his entire body ached. Though his handsome face revealed nothing. Only bone-weary exhaustion.

His mouth opened—then shut. I didn’t have words, either.

So Varian rasped, his voice hoarse enough that I knew he’d been screaming for a long, long time, “He’s in the oak dining room.”

The one where I had first dined with them.

I just nodded at the prince and began easing my way through the crowd, Mor keeping close to my side.

I’d thought Varian meant Rhysand.

But it was Tarquin who stood in gore-flecked silver armor at the dining table, maps and charts before him, Summer Court Fae either blood-soaked or pristine filling the sunny chamber.

The High Lord of the Summer Court looked up from the table as we paused on the threshold. Took in me, then Mor.

The kindness, the consideration that I had last seen on the High Lord’s face was gone. Replaced by a grim, cold thing that made my stomach turn.

Blood had clotted from a thick slice down his neck, the caked bits crumbling away as Tarquin glanced to the people in the room and said, “Leave us.”

No one even dared glance twice at him as they filed out.

I had done a horrible thing the last time we were here. I had lied, and stolen. I had torn into his mind and tricked him into believing me innocent. Harmless. I did not blame him for the blood ruby he had sent. But if he sought to exact his vengeance now …

“I heard you two cleared the palace. And helped clear the island.”

His words were low—lifeless.

Mor inclined her head. “Your soldiers fought bravely beside us.”

Tarquin ignored her, his crushing turquoise eyes upon me. Taking in the blood, the wounds, the leathers. Then the mating band on my finger, the star sapphire dull, blood crusted between the delicate folds and arcs of metal.

“I thought you came to finish the job,” Tarquin said to me.

I didn’t dare move.

“I heard Tamlin took you. Then I heard the Spring Court fell. Collapsed from within. Its people in revolt. And you had vanished. And when I saw the Illyrian legion sweeping in … I thought you had come for me, too. To help Hybern finish us off.”

Varian had not told him—of the message he’d snuck to Amren. Not a call for aid, but a frantic warning for Amren to save herself. Tarquin hadn’t known that we’d be coming.

“We would never ally with Hybern,” Mor said.

“I am talking to Feyre Archeron.”

I’d never heard Tarquin use that tone. Mor bristled, but said nothing.

“Why?” Tarquin demanded, sunlight glinting on his armor—whose delicate, overlapping scales were fashioned after a fish’s.

I didn’t know what he meant. Why had we deceived and stolen from him? Why had we come to help? Why to both?

“Our dreams are the same,” was all I could think to say.

A united realm, in which lesser faeries were no longer shoved down. A better world.

The opposite of what Hybern fought for. What his allies fought for.

“Is that how you justified stealing from me?”

My heart stumbled a beat.

Rhysand said from behind me, no doubt having winnowed in, “My mate and I had our reasons, Tarquin.”

My knees nearly buckled at the evenness in his voice, at the blood-speckled face that still revealed no sign of great injury, at the dark armor—the twin to Azriel’s and Cassian’s—that had held intact despite a few deep scratches I could barely stand to note. Cassian and Azriel?

Fine. Overseeing the Illyrian injured and setting up camp in the hills.

Tarquin glanced between us. “Mate.”

“Wasn’t it obvious?” Rhysand asked with a wink. But there was an edge in his eyes—sharp and haunted.

My chest tightened. Did the king leave some sort of trap to—

He slid a hand against my back. No. No—I’m all right. Pissed I didn’t see that he was an illusion, but … Fine.

Tarquin’s face didn’t so much as shift from that cold wrath. “When you went into the Spring Court and deceived Tamlin as well about your true nature, when you destroyed his territory … You left the door open for Hybern. They docked in his harbors.” No doubt to wait for the wall to collapse and then sail south. Tarquin snarled, “It was an easy trip to my doorstep. You did this.”

I could have sworn I felt Rhys flinch through the bond. But my mate said calmly, “We did nothing. Hybern chooses its actions, not us.” He jerked his chin toward Tarquin. “My force shall remain camped in the hills until you’ve deemed the city secure. Then we will go.”

“And do you plan to steal anything else before you do?”

Rhys went utterly still. Debating, I realized, whether to apologize. Explain.

I spared him from the choice. “Tend to your wounded, Tarquin.”

“Don’t give me orders.”

The face of the former Summer Court admiral—the prince who had commanded the fleet in the harbor until the title was thrust upon him. I took in the weariness fogging his eyes, the anger and grief.

People had died. Many people. The city he had fought so hard to rebuild, the people who had tried to fight past the scars of Amarantha …

“We are at your disposal,” I said to him, and walked out.

Mor kept close, and we emerged into the hall to find a cluster of his advisers and soldiers watching us carefully. Behind us, Rhys said to Tarquin, “I didn’t have a choice. I did it to try to avoid this, Tarquin. To stop Hybern before he got this far.” His voice was strained.

Tarquin only said, “Get out. And take your army with you. We can hold the bay now that they don’t have surprise on their side.”

Silence. Mor and I lingered just outside the open doors, not turning back, but both of us listening. Listening as Rhysand said, “I saw enough of Hybern in the War to tell you this attack is just a fraction of what the king plans to unleash.” A pause. “Come to the meeting, Tarquin. We need you—Prythian needs you.”

Another beat of quiet. Then Tarquin said, “Get out.”

“Feyre’s offer holds: we are at your disposal.”

“Take your mate and leave. And I’d suggest warning her not to give High Lords orders.”

I stiffened, about to whirl around, when Rhys said, “She is High Lady of the Night Court. She may do as she wishes.”

The wall of Fae standing before us withdrew slightly. Now studying me, some gaping. A murmur rippled through them. Tarquin let out a low, bitter laugh. “You do love to spit on tradition.”

Rhys didn’t say anything more, his strolling footsteps sounding over the tiled floor until his hand warmed my shoulder. I looked up at him, aware of all who gawked at us. At me.

Rhys pressed a kiss to my sweaty, blood-crusted temple and we vanished.

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