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Miryam’s smiling face was more human than High Fae. But Miryam, I remembered as she and Drakon rose to their feet to greet me, was only half Fae. She bore the delicately pointed ears, but … there was something still human about her. In that broad smile that lit up her brown eyes.
I instantly liked her. Mud splattered her own leathers—a different make than the Illyrians’, but obviously designed by another aerial people to keep warm in the skies—and a few speckles of blood coated the honey-brown skin along her neck and hands, but she didn’t seem to notice. Or care. She held out her hands to me. “High Lady,” Miryam said, her accent the same as Drakon’s. Rolling and rich.
I took her hands, surprised to find them dry and warm. She squeezed my fingers tightly while I managed to say, “I’ve heard so much about you—thank you for coming.” I cast a look at where Rhys still remained sprawled on the cushions, watching us with raised brows. “For someone who was just dead,” I said tightly, “you seem remarkably relaxed.”
Rhys smirked. “I’m glad you’re bouncing back to your usual spirits, Feyre darling.”
Drakon snorted, and took my hands, squeezing them as tightly as his mate had. “What he doesn’t want to tell you, my lady, is that he’s so damn old he can’t stand up right now.”
I whirled to Rhys. “Are you—”
“Fine, fine,” Rhys said, waving a hand, even as he groaned a bit. “Though perhaps now you see why I didn’t bother visiting these two for so long. They’re terribly cruel to me.”
Miryam laughed, plopping down on the cushions again. “Your mate was in the middle of telling us your story, as it seems you’ve already heard ours.”
I had, but even as Prince Drakon gracefully returned to his seat and I slid into the chair beside his, just watching the two of them … I wanted to know the entire thing. One day—not tomorrow or the day after, but … one day, I wanted to hear their tale in full. But for now …
“I—saw you two. Battling Jurian.” Drakon instantly stiffened, Miryam’s eyes going shuttered as I asked, “Is he … Is he dead?”
“No,” was all Drakon said.
“Mor,” Miryam cut in, frowning, “wound up convincing us not to … settle things.”
They would have. From the expression on Drakon’s face, the prince still didn’t seem convinced. And from the haunted gleam in Miryam’s eyes, it seemed as if far more had occurred during that fight than they let on. But I still asked, “Where is he?”
Drakon shrugged. “After we didn’t kill him, I have no idea where he slithered off to.”
Rhys gave me a half smile. “He’s with Lord Graysen’s men—seeing to the wounded.”
Miryam asked carefully, “Are you—friends with Jurian?”
“No,” I said. “I mean—I don’t think so. But … every word he said was true. And he did help me. A great deal.”
Neither of them so much as nodded as they exchanged a long glance, unspoken words passing between them.
Rhys asked, “I thought I saw Nephelle during the battle—any chance I’ll get to say hello, or is she too important now to bother with me?” Laughter—beautiful laughter—danced in his eyes.
I straightened, smiling. “She’s here?”
Drakon lifted a dark brow. “You know Nephelle?”
“Know of her,” I said, and glanced toward the tent flaps as if she’d come striding right in. “I—it’s a long story.”
“We have time to hear it,” Miryam said, then added, “Or … a bit of time, I suppose.”
For there were indeed many, many things to sort out. Including—
I shook my head. “Later,” I said to Miryam, to her mate. The proof that a world could exist without a wall, without a Treaty. “There’s something …” I relayed my thought down the bond to Rhys, earning a nod of approval before I said, “Is your island still secret?”
Miryam and Drakon exchanged a guilty look. “We do apologize for that,” Miryam offered. “It seems that the glamour worked too well, if it kept well-meaning messengers away.” She shook her head, those beautiful curls moving with her. “We would have come sooner—we left the moment we realized what trouble you all were in.”
“No,” I said, shaking my own head, scrambling for the words. “No—I don’t blame you. Mother above, we owe you …” I blew out a breath. “We are in your debt.” Drakon and Miryam objected to that, but I went on, “What I mean is … If there was an object of terrible power that now needed to be hidden … Would Cretea remain a good place to conceal it?”
Again that look between them, a look between mates. “Yes,” Drakon said.
Miryam breathed, “You mean the Cauldron.”
I nodded. It had been hauled into our camp, guarded by whatever Illyrians could still stand. None of the other High Lords had asked—for now. But I could see the debate that would rage, the war we might start internally over who, exactly, got to keep the Cauldron. “It needs to disappear,” I said softly. “Permanently.” I added, “Before anyone remembers to lay claim to it.”
Drakon and Miryam considered, some unspoken conversation passing between them, perhaps down their own mating bond. “When we leave,” Drakon said at last, “one of our ships might find itself a little heavier in the water.”
I smiled. “Thank you.”
“When are you, exactly, planning to leave?” Rhys asked, lifting a brow.
“Kicking us out already?” Drakon said with a half smile.
“A few days,” Miryam cut in wryly. “As soon as the injured are ready.”
“Good,” I said.
They all looked to me. I swallowed. “I mean … Not that I’m glad for you to go …” The amusement in Miryam’s eyes spread, twinkling. I smiled myself. “I want you here. Because I’d like to call a meeting.”
A day later … I didn’t know how it’d come together so quickly. I’d merely explained what I wanted, what we needed to do, and … Rhys and Drakon made it happen.
There was no proper space to do it—not with the camps in disarray. But there was one place—a few miles off.
And as the sun set and my family’s half-ruined estate became filled with High Lords and princes, generals and commanders, humans and Fae … I still didn’t have the words to really express it. How we could all gather in the giant sitting room, the only usable space in my family’s old estate, and actually have … this meeting.
I’d slept through the night, deep and undisturbed, Rhys in bed beside me. I hadn’t let go of him until dawn had leaked into our tent. And then … the war-camps were too full of blood and injured and the dead. And there was this meeting to arrange between various armies and camps and peoples.
It took all day, but by the end of it, I found myself in the wrecked foyer, Rhys and the others beside me, the chandelier a broken mass behind us on the cracked marble floor.
The High Lords arrived first. Starting with Beron.
Beron, who did not so much as glance at his son-who-was-not-his-son. Lucien, standing on my other side, didn’t acknowledge Beron’s existence, either. Or Eris’s, as he strode a step behind his father.
Eris was bruised and cut up enough to indicate he must have been in terrible shape after the fighting ceased yesterday, sporting a brutal slice down his cheek and neck—barely healed. Mor let out a satisfied grunt at the sight of it—or perhaps a sound of disappointment that the wound had not been fatal.
Eris continued by as if he hadn’t heard it, but didn’t sneer at least. Rather—he just nodded at Rhys.
It was silent promise enough: soon. Soon, perhaps, Eris would finally take what he desired—and call in our debt.
We did not bother to nod back. None of us.
Especially not Lucien, who continued dutifully ignoring his eldest brother.
But as Eris strode by … I could have sworn there was something like sadness—like regret, as he glanced to Lucien.
Tamlin crossed the threshold moments later.
He had a bandage over his neck, and one over his arm. He came, as he had to that first meeting, with no one in tow.
I wondered if he knew that this wrecked house had been purchased with the money he’d given my father. With the kindness he’d shown them.
But Tamlin’s attention didn’t go to me.
It went to the person just to my left. To Lucien.
Lucien stepped forward, head high, even as that metal eye whirred. My sisters were already within the sitting room, ready to guide our guests to their predetermined spots. We’d planned those carefully, too.
Tamlin paused a few feet away. None of us said a word. Not as Lucien opened his mouth.
But Tamlin’s attention had gone to the clothes Lucien now wore. The Illyrian leathers.
He might as well have been wearing Night Court black.
It was an effort to keep my mouth shut, to not explain that Lucien didn’t have any other clothes with him, and that they weren’t a sign of his allegiance—
Tamlin just shook his head, loathing simmering in his green eyes, and walked past. Not a word.
I looked at Lucien in time to see the guilt, the devastation, flicker in that russet eye. Rhys had indeed told Lucien everything about Tamlin’s covert assistance. His help in dragging Beron here. Saving me at the camp. But Lucien remained standing with us as Tamlin found his place in the sitting room to our right. Did not glance at his friend even once.
Lucien wasn’t foolish enough to beg for forgiveness.
That conversation, that confrontation—it would take place at another time. Another day, or week, or month.
I lost track of who filed in afterward. Drakon and Miryam, along with a host of their people. Including—
I started at the slight, dark-haired female who entered on Miryam’s right, her wings much smaller than the other Seraphim.
I glanced to where Azriel stood on Rhys’s other side, bandaged all over and wings in splints after he’d worked them too hard yesterday. The shadowsinger nodded in confirmation. Nephelle.
I smiled at the legendary warrior-scribe when she noticed my stare as she passed by. She grinned right back at me.
Kallias and Viviane flowed in, along with that female who was indeed her sister. Then Tarquin and Varian. Thesan and his battered Peregryn captain—whose hand he tightly held.
Helion was the last of the High Lords to arrive. I didn’t dare look through the ruined doorway to where Lucien now stood in the sitting room, close to Elain’s side as she and my sister silently kept against the wall by the intact bay of windows.
Beron, wisely, didn’t approach—and Eris only looked over every now and then. To watch.
Helion was limping, flanked by a few of his captains and generals, but still managed a grim smile. “Better enjoy this while it lasts,” he said to me and Rhys. “I doubt we’ll be so unified when we walk out of here.”
“Thank you for the words of encouragement,” I said tightly, and Helion chuckled as he eased inside.
More and more people filled that room, the tense conversation broken up by bursts of laughter or greeting. Rhys at last told our family to head into the room—while he and I waited.
Waited and waited, long minutes.
It’d take them longer to arrive, I realized. Since they could not winnow or move as quickly through the world.
I was about to turn into the room to begin without them when two male figures filled the night-darkened doorway.
Jurian. And Graysen.
And behind them … a small contingent of other humans.
I swallowed hard. Now the difficult part would begin.
Graysen looked inclined to turn around, the fresh cut down his cheek crinkling as he scowled, but Jurian nudged him in. A black eye bloomed on the left side of Jurian’s face. I wondered if Miryam or Drakon had given it to him. My money was on the former.
Graysen only gave us a tight nod. Jurian smirked at me.
“I put you on opposite ends of the room,” I said.
From both Miryam and Drakon. And from Elain.
Neither man responded, and only strode, proud and tall, into that room full of Fae.
Rhys kissed my cheek and strode in behind them. Which left—
As Lucien had promised, with darkness now overhead, Vassa found me.
The last to arrive—the last piece of this meeting. She stormed over the threshold, breathless and unfaltering, and paused only a foot away.
Her unbound hair was a reddish gold, thick dark lashes and brows framing the most stunningly blue eyes I’d ever seen. Beautiful, her freckled skin golden-brown and gleaming. Only a few years older than me, but … young-feeling. Coltish. Fierce and untamed, despite her curse.
Vassa said in a lilting accent, “Are you Feyre Cursebreaker?”
“Yes,” I said, sensing Rhys listening wryly from the other room, where the rest were now beginning to quiet themselves. To wait for me.
Vassa’s full mouth tightened. “I am sorry—about your father. He was a great man.”
Nesta, striding out of the sitting room, halted at the words. Looked Vassa up and down.
Vassa returned the favor. “You are Nesta,” Vassa declared, and I wondered how my father had described her so that Vassa would know. “I am sorry for your loss, too.”
Nesta simply regarded her with that cool indifference.
“I heard you slew the King of Hybern,” Vassa said, those dark brows narrowing as she again surveyed Nesta, searching for any sign of a warrior beneath the blue dress she wore. Vassa only shrugged to herself when Nesta didn’t reply and said to me, “He was a better father to me than my own. I owe much to him, and will honor his memory as long as I live.”
The look Nesta was giving the queen was enough to wither the grass beyond the shattered front door. It didn’t get any better as Vassa said, “Can you break the curse on me, Feyre Archeron?”
“Is that why you agreed to come so quickly?”
A half smile. “Partly. Lucien suggested you had gifts. And other High Lords do as well.”
Like his father—his true one. Helion.
She went on before I could answer. “I do not have much time left—before I must return to the lake. To him.”
To the death-lord who held her leash. “Who is he?” I breathed.
Vassa only shook her head, waving a hand as her eyes darkened, and repeated, “Can you break my curse?”
“I—I don’t know how to break those kinds of spells,” I admitted. Her face fell. I added, “But … we can try.”
She considered. “With the healing of our armies, I won’t be able to leave for some time. Perhaps it will give me a … loophole, as Lucien called it, to remain longer.” Another shake of the head. “We shall discuss this later,” she declared. “Along with the threat my fellow queens pose.”
My heart stumbled a beat.
A cruel smile curved Vassa’s mouth. “They will try to intervene,” she said. “With any sort of peace talks. Hybern sent them back before this battle, but I have no doubt they were smart enough to encourage that. Not to waste their armies here.”
“But they will elsewhere?” Nesta demanded.
Vassa tossed her smooth sheet of hair over a shoulder. “We shall see. And you will think of ways to help me.”
I waited until she headed for the sitting room before I flicked my brows up at the order. Either she didn’t know or didn’t care that I was also a queen in my right.
Nesta smirked. “Good luck with that.”
I scowled, shoving down the worry already blooming in my gut, and said, “Where are you going? The meeting is starting.”
“Why should I be in there?”
“You’re the guest of honor. You killed the king.”
Shadows flickered in her face. “So what.”
I blinked. “You’re our emissary as well. You should be here for this.”
Nesta looked toward the stairs, and I noticed the object she clutched in her fist.
The small, wooden carving. I couldn’t make out what manner of animal it was, but I knew the wood. Knew the work.
One of the little carvings our father had crafted during those years he—he hadn’t done much of anything at all. I looked at her face before she could notice my attention.
Nesta said, “Do you think it will work—this meeting?”
With so many Fae ears in the room beyond, I didn’t dare give any answer but the truth. “I don’t know. But I’m willing to try.” I offered my hand to my sister. “I want you here for this. With me.”
Nesta considered that outstretched hand. For a moment, I thought she’d walk away.
But she slid her hand into mine, and together we walked into that room crammed with humans and Fae. Both parts of this world. All parts of this world.
High Fae from every court. Miryam and Drakon and their retinue. Humans from many territories.
All watching me and Nesta as we entered, as we strode to where Rhys and the others waited, facing the gathered room. I tried not to cringe at the shattered furniture that had been sorted through for any possible seats. At the ripped wallpaper, the half-dangling curtains. But it was better than nothing.
I supposed the same could be said of our world.
Silence settled. Rhys nudged me forward, a hand brushing the small of my back as I took a step past him. I lifted my chin, scanning the room. And I smiled at them, the humans and Fae assembled here—in peace.
My voice was clear and unwavering. “My name is Feyre Archeron. I was once human—and now I am Fae. I call both worlds my home. And I would like to discuss renegotiating the Treaty.”
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