فصل 78

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER

78

Amongst the sprawling field of corpses and wounded, there was one body I wanted to bury.

Only Nesta, Elain, and I returned to that clearing, once Azriel had given the all-clear that the battle was well and truly over.

Letting Rhys out of my sight to wrangle our scattered armies, sort through the living and dead, and figure out some semblance of order was an effort in self-control.

I nearly begged Rhys to come with us, so I didn’t have to let go of his hand, which I had not stopped clutching since those moments I’d heard his beautiful, solid heartbeat echoing into his body once more.

But this task, this farewell … I knew, deep down, that it was only for my sisters and me.

So I released Rhys’s hand, kissing him once, twice, and left him in the war-camp to help Mor haul a barely standing Cassian to the nearest healer.

Nesta was watching them when I reached her and Elain at the tree-lined outskirts. Had she done some healing, somehow, in those moments after she’d severed the king’s head? Or had it been Cassian’s immortal blood and Azriel’s battlefield patching that had already healed him enough to manage to stand, even with the wing and leg? I didn’t ask my sister, and she supplied no answer as she took the water bucket dangling from Elain’s still-bloody hands, and I followed them both through the trees.

The King of Hybern’s corpse lay in the clearing, crows already picking at it.

Nesta spat on it before we approached our father. The crows barely scattered in time.

The screams and moaning of the wounded was a distant wall of sound—another world away from the sun-dappled clearing. From the blood still fresh on the moss and grass. I blocked out the coppery tang of it—Cassian’s blood, the king’s blood, Nesta’s blood.

Only our father had not bled. He hadn’t been given the chance to. And through whatever small mercy of the Mother, the crows hadn’t started on him.

Elain quietly washed his face. Combed out his hair and beard. Straightened his clothes.

She found flowers—somewhere. She laid them at his head, on his chest.

We stared down at him in silence.

“I love you,” Elain whispered, voice breaking.

Nesta said nothing, face unreadable. There were such shadows in her eyes. I had not told her what I’d seen—had let them tell me what they wanted.

Elain breathed, “Should we—say a prayer?”

We did not have such things in the human world, I remembered. My sisters had no prayers to offer him. But in Prythian …

“Mother hold you,” I whispered, reciting words I had not heard since that day Under the Mountain. “May you pass through the gates; may you smell that immortal land of milk and honey.” Flame ignited at my fingertips. All I could muster. All that was left. “Fear no evil. Feel no pain.” My mouth trembled as I breathed, “May you enter eternity.”

Tears slid down Elain’s pallid cheeks as she adjusted an errant flower on our father’s chest, white-petaled and delicate, and then backed away to my side with a nod.

Nesta’s face did not shift as I sent that fire to ignite our father’s body.

He was ash on the wind in a matter of moments.

We stared at the burned slab of earth for long minutes, the sun shifting overhead.

Steps crunched on the grass behind us.

Nesta whirled, but—

Lucien. It was Lucien.

Lucien, haggard and bloody, panting for breath. As if he’d run from the shore.

His gaze settled on Elain, and he sagged a little. But Elain only wrapped her arms around herself and remained at my side.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, coming toward us. Spying the blood speckling Elain’s hands.

He halted short as he noticed the King of Hybern’s decapitated head on the other side of the clearing. Nesta was still showered with his blood.

“I’m fine,” Elain said quietly. And then asked, noticing the gore on him, the torn clothes and still-bloody weapons, “Are you—”

“Well, I never want to fight in another battle as long as I live, but … yes, I’m in one piece.”

A faint smile bloomed on Elain’s lips. But Lucien noticed that scorched patch of grass behind us and said, “I heard—what happened. I’m sorry for your loss. All of you.”

I just strode to him and threw my arms around his neck, even if it wasn’t the embrace he was hoping for. “Thank you—for coming. With the battle, I mean.”

“I’ve got one hell of a story to tell you,” he said, squeezing me tightly. “And don’t be surprised if Vassa corners you as soon as the ships are sorted. And the sun sets.”

“Is she really—”

“Yes. But your father, ever the negotiator …” A sad, small smile toward that burnt grass. “He managed to cut a deal with Vassa’s keeper to come here. Temporarily, but … better than nothing. But yes—queen by night, firebird by day.” He blew out a breath. “Nasty curse.”

“The human queens are still out there,” I said. Maybe I’d hunt them down.

“Not for long—not if Vassa has anything to do with it.”

“You sound like an acolyte.”

Lucien blushed, glancing at Elain. “She’s got a foul temper and a fouler mouth.” He cut me a wry look. “You’ll get along just fine.”

I nudged him in the ribs.

But Lucien again looked at that singed grass, and his blood-splattered face turned solemn. “He was a good man,” he said. “He loved you all very much.”

I nodded, unable to form the words. The thoughts. Nesta didn’t so much as blink to indicate she’d heard. Elain just wrapped her arms tighter around herself, a few more tears streaking free.

I spared Lucien the torment of debating whether to touch her, and linked my arm through his as I began to walk away, letting my sisters decide to follow or remain—if they wanted a moment alone with that burnt grass.

Elain came.

Nesta stayed.

Elain fell into step beside me, peering at Lucien. He noticed it. “I heard you made the killing blow,” he said.

Elain studied the trees ahead. “Nesta did. I just stabbed him.”

Lucien seemed to fumble for a response, but I said to him, “So where now? Off with Vassa?” I wondered if he’d heard of Tamlin’s role—the help he’d given us. A look at my friend showed me he had. Someone, perhaps my mate, had informed him.

Lucien shrugged. “First—here. To help. Then …” Another glance at Elain. “Who knows?”

I nudged Elain, who blinked at me, then blurted, “You could come to Velaris.”

He saw all of it, but nodded graciously. “It would be my pleasure.”

As we strode back to the camp, Lucien told us of his time away—how he’d hunted for Vassa, how he’d found her already with my father, an army marching westward. How Miryam and Drakon had found them on their own journey to help us.

I was still mulling over all he said when I slipped into my tent to finally change out of my leathers, leaving him and Elain to go find a place to wash up. And talk—perhaps.

But as I strode through the flaps, sound greeted me within—talking. Many voices, one of them belonging to my mate.

I got one step inside and knew I wouldn’t be changing my clothes anytime soon.

For seated in a chair before the brazier was Prince Drakon, Rhys sprawled and still bloody on the cushions across from him. And on the pillows beside Rhys sat a lovely female, her dark hair tumbling down her back in luscious curls, already smiling at me.

Miryam.

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