A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas by Sarah J. Maas - Read Online

Book Preview

A Court of Wings and Ruin - Sarah J. Maas

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1







The painting was a lie.

A bright, pretty lie, bursting with pale pink blooms and fat beams of sunshine.

I’d begun it yesterday, an idle study of the rose garden lurking beyond the open windows of the studio. Through the tangle of thorns and satiny leaves, the brighter green of the hills rolled away into the distance.

Incessant, unrelenting spring.

If I’d painted this glimpse into the court the way my gut had urged me, it would have been flesh-shredding thorns, flowers that choked off the sunlight for any plants smaller than them, and rolling hills stained red.

But each brushstroke on the wide canvas was calculated; each dab and swirl of blending colors meant to portray not just idyllic spring, but a sunny disposition as well. Not too happy, but gladly, finally healing from horrors I carefully divulged.

I supposed that in the past weeks, I had crafted my demeanor as intricately as one of these paintings. I supposed that if I had also chosen to show myself as I truly wished, I would have been adorned with flesh-shredding talons, and hands that choked the life out of those now in my company. I would have left the gilded halls stained red.

But not yet.

Not yet, I told myself with every brushstroke, with every move I’d made these weeks. Swift revenge helped no one and nothing but my own, roiling rage.

Even if every time I spoke to them, I heard Elain’s sobbing as she was forced into the Cauldron. Even if every time I looked at them, I saw Nesta fling that finger at the King of Hybern in a death-promise. Even if every time I scented them, my nostrils were again full of the tang of Cassian’s blood as it pooled on the dark stones of that bone-castle.

The paintbrush snapped between my fingers.

I’d cleaved it in two, the pale handle damaged beyond repair.

Cursing under my breath, I glanced to the windows, the doors. This place was too full of watching eyes to risk throwing it in the rubbish bin.

I cast my mind around me like a net, trawling for any others near enough to witness, to be spying. I found none.

I held my hands before me, one half of the brush in each palm.

For a moment, I let myself see past the glamour that concealed the tattoo on my right hand and forearm. The markings of my true heart. My true title.

High Lady of the Night Court.

Half a thought had the broken paintbrush going up in flames.

The fire did not burn me, even as it devoured wood and brush and paint.

When it was nothing but smoke and ash, I invited in a wind that swept them from my palms and out the open windows.

For good measure, I summoned a breeze from the garden to snake through the room, wiping away any lingering tendril of smoke, filling it with the musty, suffocating smell of roses.

Perhaps when my task here was done, I’d burn this manor to the ground, too. Starting with those roses.

Two approaching presences tapped against the back of my mind, and I snatched up another brush, dipping it in the closest swirl of paint, and lowered the invisible, dark snares I’d erected around this room to alert me of any visitors.

I was working on the way the sunlight illuminated the delicate veins in a rose petal, trying not to think of how I’d once seen it do the same to Illyrian wings, when the doors opened.

I made a good show of appearing lost in my work, hunching my shoulders a bit, angling my head. And made an even better show of slowly looking over my shoulder, as if the struggle to part myself from the painting was a true effort.

But the battle was the smile I forced to my mouth. To my eyes—the real tell of a smile’s genuine nature. I’d practiced in the mirror. Over and over.

So my eyes easily crinkled as I gave a subdued yet happy smile to Tamlin.

To Lucien.

Sorry to interrupt, Tamlin said, scanning my face for any sign of the shadows I remembered to occasionally fall prey to, the ones I wielded to keep him at bay when the sun sank beyond those foothills. But I thought you might want to get ready for the meeting.

I made myself swallow. Lower the paintbrush. No more than the nervous, unsure girl I’d been long ago. Is—you talked it over with Ianthe? She’s truly coming?

I hadn’t seen her yet. The High Priestess who had betrayed my sisters to Hybern, betrayed us to Hybern.

And even if Rhysand’s murky, swift reports through the mating bond had soothed some of my dread and terror … She was responsible for it. What had happened weeks ago.

It was Lucien who answered, studying my painting as if it held the proof I knew he was searching for. Yes. She … had her reasons. She is willing to explain them to you.

Perhaps along with her reasons for laying her hands on whatever males she pleased, whether they wished her to or not. For doing it to Rhys, and Lucien.

I wondered what Lucien truly made of it. And the fact that the collateral in her friendship with Hybern had wound up being his mate. Elain.

We had not spoken of Elain save for once, the day after I’d returned.

Despite what Jurian implied regarding how my sisters will be treated by Rhysand, I had told him, despite what the Night Court is like, they won’t hurt Elain or Nesta like that—not yet. Rhysand has more creative ways to harm them.

Lucien still seemed to doubt it.

But then again, I had also implied, in my own gaps of memory, that perhaps I had not received the same creativity or courtesy.

That they believed it so easily, that they thought Rhysand would ever force someone … I added the insult to the long, long list of things to repay them for.

I set down the brush and pulled off the paint-flecked smock, carefully laying it on the stool I’d been perched on for two hours now.

I’ll go change, I murmured, flicking my loose braid over a shoulder.

Tamlin nodded, monitoring my every movement as I neared them. The painting looks beautiful.

It’s nowhere near done, I said, dredging up that girl who had shunned praise and compliments, who had wanted to go unnoticed. It’s still a mess.

Frankly, it was some of my best work, even if its soullessness was only apparent to me.

I think we all are, Tamlin offered with a tentative smile.

I reined in the urge to roll my eyes, and returned his smile, brushing my hand over his shoulder as I passed.

Lucien was waiting outside my new bedroom when I emerged ten minutes later.

It had taken me two days to stop going to the old one—to turn right at the top of the stairs and not left. But there was nothing in that old bedroom.

I’d looked into it once, the day after I returned.

Shattered furniture; shredded bedding; clothes strewn about as if he’d gone looking for me inside the armoire. No one, it seemed, had been allowed in to clean.

But it was the vines—the thorns—that had made it unlivable. My old bedroom had been overrun with them. They’d curved and slithered over the walls, entwined themselves amongst the debris. As if they’d crawled off the trellises beneath my windows, as if a hundred years had passed and not months.

That bedroom was now a tomb.

I gathered the soft pink skirts of my gauzy dress in a hand and shut the bedroom door behind me. Lucien remained leaning against the door across from mine.

His room.

I didn’t doubt he’d ensured I now stayed across from him. Didn’t doubt that the metal eye he possessed was always turned toward my own chambers, even while he slept.

I’m surprised you’re so calm, given your promises in Hybern, Lucien said by way of greeting.

The promise I’d made to kill the human queens, the King of Hybern, Jurian, and Ianthe for what they’d done to my sisters. To my friends.

You yourself said Ianthe had her reasons. Furious as I might be, I can hear her out.

I had not told Lucien of what I knew regarding her true nature. It would mean explaining that Rhys had thrown her out of his own home, that Rhys had done it to defend himself and the members of his court, and it would raise too many questions, undermine too many carefully crafted lies that had kept him and his court—my court—safe.

Though I wondered if, after Velaris, it was even necessary. Our enemies knew of the city, knew it was a place of good and peace. And had tried to destroy it at the first opportunity.

The guilt for the attack on Velaris after Rhys had revealed it to those human queens would haunt my mate for the rest of our immortal lives.

She’s going to spin a story that you’ll want to hear, Lucien warned.

I shrugged, heading down the carpeted, empty hall. I can decide for myself. Though it sounds like you’ve already chosen not to believe her.

He fell into step beside me. She dragged two innocent women into this.

She was working to ensure Hybern’s alliance held strong.

Lucien halted me with a hand around my elbow.

I allowed it because not allowing it, winnowing the way I’d done in the woods those months ago, or using an Illyrian defensive maneuver to knock him on his ass, would ruin my ruse. You’re smarter than that.

I studied the broad, tan hand wrapped around my elbow. Then I met one eye of russet and one of whirring gold.

Lucien breathed, Where is he keeping her?

I knew who he meant.

I shook my head. I don’t know. Rhysand has a hundred places where they could be, but I doubt he’d use any of them to hide Elain, knowing that I’m aware of them.

Tell me anyway. List all of them.

You’ll die the moment you set foot in his territory.

I survived well enough when I found you.

You couldn’t see that he had me in thrall. You let him take me back. Lie, lie, lie.

But the hurt and guilt I expected weren’t there. Lucien slowly released his grip. I need to find her.

You don’t even know Elain. The mating bond is just a physical reaction overriding your good sense.

Is that what it did to you and Rhys?

A quiet, dangerous question. But I made fear enter my eyes, let myself drag up memories of the Weaver, the Carver, the Middengard Wyrm so that old terror drenched my scent. I don’t want to talk about that, I said, my voice a rasping wobble.

A clock chimed on the main level. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Mother and launched into a quick walk. We’ll be late.

Lucien only nodded. But I felt his gaze on my back, fixed right on my spine, as I headed downstairs. To see Ianthe.

And at last decide how I was going to shred her into pieces.

The High Priestess looked exactly as I remembered, both in those memories Rhys had shown me and in my own daydreamings of using the talons hidden beneath my nails to carve out her eyes, then her tongue, then open up her throat.

My rage had become a living thing inside my chest, an echoing heartbeat that soothed me to sleep and stirred me to waking. I quieted it as I stared at Ianthe across the formal dining table, Tamlin and Lucien flanking me.

She still wore the pale hood and silver circlet set with its limpid blue stone.

Like a Siphon—the jewel in its center reminded me of Azriel’s and Cassian’s Siphons. And I wondered if, like the Illyrian warriors’, the jewel somehow helped shape an unwieldy gift of magic into something more refined, deadlier. She had never removed it—but then again, I had never seen Ianthe summon any greater power than igniting a ball of faelight in a room.

The High Priestess lowered her teal eyes to the dark wood table, the hood casting shadows on her perfect face. I wish to begin by saying how truly sorry I am. I acted out of a desire to … to grant what I believed you perhaps yearned for but did not dare voice, while also keeping our allies in Hybern satisfied with our allegiance.

Pretty, poisoned lies. But finding her true motive … I’d been waiting these weeks for this meeting. Had spent these weeks pretending to convalesce, pretending to heal from the horrors I’d survived at Rhysand’s hands.

Why would I ever wish for my sisters to endure that? My voice came out trembling, cold.

Ianthe lifted her head, scanning my unsure, if not a bit aloof, face. So you could be with them forever. And if Lucien had discovered that Elain was his mate beforehand, it would have been … devastating to realize he’d only have a few decades.

The sound of Elain’s name on her lips sent a snarl rumbling up my throat. But I leashed it, falling into that mask of pained quiet, the newest in my arsenal.

Lucien answered, If you expect our gratitude, you’ll be waiting a while, Ianthe.

Tamlin shot him a warning look—both at the words and the tone. Perhaps Lucien would kill Ianthe before I had the chance, just for the horror she’d put his mate through that day.

No, Ianthe breathed, eyes wide, the perfect picture of remorse and guilt. No, I don’t expect gratitude in the least. Or forgiveness. But understanding … This is my home, too. She lifted a slender hand clad in silver rings and bracelets to encompass the room, the manor. We have all had to make alliances we didn’t believe we’d ever forge—perhaps unsavory ones, yes, but … Hybern’s force is too great to stop. It now can only be weathered like any other storm. A glance toward Tamlin. We have worked so hard to prepare ourselves for Hybern’s inevitable arrival—all these months. I made a grave mistake, and I will always regret any pain I caused, but let us continue this good work together. Let us find a way to ensure our lands and people survive.

At the cost of how many others? Lucien demanded.

Again, that warning look from Tamlin. But Lucien ignored him.

What I saw in Hybern, Lucien said, gripping the arms of his chair hard enough that the carved wood groaned. Any promises he made of peace and immunity … He halted, as if remembering that Ianthe might very well feed this back to the king. He loosened his grip on the chair, his long fingers flexing before settling on the arms again. We have to be careful.

We will be, Tamlin promised. But we’ve already agreed to certain conditions. Sacrifices. If we break apart now … even with Hybern as our ally, we have to present a solid front. Together.

He still trusted her. Still thought that Ianthe had merely made a bad call. Had no idea what lurked beneath the beauty, the clothes, and the pious incantations.

But then again, that same blindness kept him from realizing what prowled beneath my skin as well. Ianthe bowed her head again. I will endeavor to be worthy of my friends.

Lucien seemed to be trying very, very hard not to roll his eyes.

But Tamlin said, We’ll all try.

That was his new favorite word: try.

I only swallowed, making sure he heard it, and nodded slowly, keeping my eyes on Ianthe. Don’t ever do anything like that again.

A fool’s command—one she’d expected me to make, from the quickness with which she nodded. Lucien leaned back in his seat, refusing to say anything else.

Lucien is right, though, I blurted, the portrait of concern. What of the people in this court during this conflict? I frowned at Tamlin. They were brutalized by Amarantha—I’m not sure how well they will endure living beside Hybern. They have suffered enough.

Tamlin’s jaw tightened. Hybern has promised that our people shall remain untouched and undisturbed. Our people. I nearly scowled—even as I nodded again in understanding. It was a part of our … bargain. When he’d sold out all of Prythian, sold out everything decent and good in himself, to retrieve me. Our people will be safe when Hybern arrives. Though I’ve sent out word that families should … relocate to the eastern part of the territory. For the time being.

Good. At least he’d considered those potential casualties—at least he cared that much about his people, understood what sorts of sick games Hybern liked to play and that he might swear one thing but mean another. If he was already moving those most at risk during this conflict out of the way … It made my work here all the easier. And east—a bit of information I tucked away. If east was safe, then the west … Hybern would indeed be coming from that direction. Arriving there.

Tamlin blew out a breath. That brings me to the other reason behind this meeting.

I braced myself, schooling my face into bland curiosity, as he declared, The first delegation from Hybern arrives tomorrow. Lucien’s golden skin paled. Tamlin added, Jurian will be here by noon.



I’d barely heard a whisper of Jurian these past weeks—hadn’t seen the resurrected human commander since that night in Hybern.

Jurian had been reborn through the Cauldron using the hideous remnants of him that Amarantha had hoarded as trophies for five hundred years, his soul trapped and aware within his own magically preserved eye. He was mad—had gone mad long before the King of Hybern had resurrected him to lead the human queens down a path of ignorant submission.

Tamlin and Lucien had to know. Had to have seen that gleam in Jurian’s eyes.

But … they also did not seem to entirely mind that the King of Hybern possessed the Cauldron—that it was capable of cleaving this world apart. Starting with the wall. The only thing standing between the gathering, lethal Fae armies and the vulnerable human lands below.

No, that threat certainly didn’t seem to keep Lucien or Tamlin awake at night. Or from inviting these monsters into their home.

Tamlin had promised upon my return that I was to be included in the planning, in every meeting. And he was true to his word when he explained that Jurian would arrive with two other commanders from Hybern, and I would be present for it. They indeed wished to survey the wall, to test for the perfect spot to rend it once the Cauldron had recovered its strength.

Turning my sisters into Fae, apparently, had drained it.

My smugness at the fact was short-lived.

My first task: learn where they planned to strike, and how long the Cauldron required to return to its full capacity. And then smuggle that information to Rhysand and the others.

I took extra care dressing the next day, after sleeping fitfully thanks to a dinner with a guilt-ridden Ianthe, who went to excessive lengths to kiss my ass and Lucien’s. The priestess apparently wished to wait until the Hybern commanders were settled before making her appearance. She’d cooed about wanting to ensure they had the chance to get to know us before she intruded, but one look at Lucien told me that he and I, for once, agreed: she had likely planned some sort of grand entrance.

It made little difference to me—to my plans.

Plans that I sent down the mating bond the next morning, words and images tumbling along a night-filled corridor.

I did not dare risk using the bond too often. I had communicated with Rhysand only once since I’d arrived. Just once, in the hours after I’d walked into my old bedroom and spied the thorns that had conquered it.

It had been like shouting across a great distance, like speaking underwater. I am safe and well, I’d fired down the bond. I’ll tell you what I know soon. I’d waited, letting the words travel into the dark. Then I’d asked, Are they alive? Hurt?

I didn’t remember the bond between us being so hard to hear, even when I’d dwelled on this estate and he’d used it to see if I was still breathing, to make sure my despair hadn’t swallowed me whole.

But Rhysand’s response had come a minute later. I love you. They are alive. They are healing.

That was it. As if it was all that he could manage.

I had drifted back to my new chambers, locked the door, and enveloped the entire place in a wall of hard air to keep any scent from my silent tears escaping as I curled up in a corner of the bathing room.

I had once sat in such a position, watching the stars during the long, bleak hours of the night. Now I took in the cloudless blue sky beyond the open window, listened to the birds singing to one another, and wanted to roar.

I had not dared to ask for more details about Cassian and Azriel—or my sisters. In terror of knowing just how bad it had been—and what I’d do if their healing turned grim. What I’d bring down upon these people.

Healing. Alive and healing. I reminded myself of that every day.

Even when I still heard their screams, smelled their blood.

But I did not ask for more. Did not risk touching the bond beyond that first time.

I didn’t know if someone could monitor such things—the silent messages between mates. Not when the mating bond could be scented, and I was playing such a dangerous game with it.

Everyone believed it had been severed, that Rhys’s lingering scent was because he’d forced me, had planted that scent in me.

They believed that with time, with distance, his scent would fade. Weeks or months, likely.

And when it didn’t fade, when it remained … That’s when I’d have to strike, with or without the information I needed.

But out of the possibility that communicating down the bond kept its scent strong … I had to minimize how much I used it. Even if not talking to Rhys, not hearing that amusement and cunning … I would hear those things again, I promised myself over and over. See that wry smile.

And I was again thinking of how pained that face had been the last time I’d seen it, thinking of Rhys, covered in Azriel’s and Cassian’s blood, as Jurian and the two Hybern commanders winnowed into the gravel of the front drive the next day.

Jurian was in the same light leather armor, his brown hair whipping across his face in the blustery spring breeze. He spied us standing on the white marble steps into the house and his mouth curled in that crooked, smug smile.

I willed ice into my veins, the coldness from a court I had never set foot in. But I wielded its master’s gift on myself, turning burning rage into frozen calm as Jurian swaggered toward us, a hand on the hilt of his sword.

But it was the two commanders—one male, one female—that had a sliver of true fear sliding into my heart.

High Fae in appearance, their skin the same ruddy hue and hair the identical inky black as their king. But it was their vacant, unfeeling faces that snagged the eye. A lack of emotion honed from millennia of cruelty.

Tamlin and Lucien had gone rigid by the time Jurian halted at the foot of the sweeping front stairs. The human commander smirked. You’re looking better than the last time I saw you.

I dragged my eyes to his. And said nothing.

Jurian snorted and gestured the two commanders forward. May I present Their Highnesses, Prince Dagdan and Princess Brannagh, nephew and niece to the King of Hybern.

Twins—perhaps linked in power and mental bonds as well.

Tamlin seemed to remember that these were now his allies and marched down the stairs. Lucien followed.

He’d sold us out. Sold out Prythian—for me. To get me back.

Smoke curled in my mouth. I willed frost to fill it again.

Tamlin inclined his head to the prince and princess. Welcome to my home. We have rooms prepared for all of you.

My brother and I shall reside in one together, the princess said. Her voice was deceptively light—almost girlish. The utter lack of feeling, the utter authority was anything but.

I could practically feel the snide remark simmering in Lucien. But I stepped down the stairs and said, ever the lady of the house that these people, that Tamlin, had once expected me to gladly embrace, We can easily make adjustments.

Lucien’s metal eye whirred and narrowed on me, but I kept my face impassive as I curtsied to them. To my enemy. Which of my friends would face them on the battlefield?

Would Cassian and Azriel have even healed enough to fight, let alone lift a sword? I did not allow myself to dwell on it—on how Cassian had screamed as his wings had been shredded.

Princess Brannagh surveyed me: the rose-colored dress, the hair that Alis had curled and braided over the top of my head in a coronet, the pale pink pearls at my ears.

A harmless, lovely package, perfect for a High Lord to mount whenever he wished.

Brannagh’s lip curled as she glanced at her brother. The prince deemed the same thing, judging by his answering sneer.

Tamlin snarled softly in warning. If you’re done staring at her, perhaps we can move on to the business between us.

Jurian let out a low chuckle and strode up the stairs without being given leave to do so. They’re curious. Lucien stiffened at the impudence of the gesture, the words. It’s not every century that the contested possession of a female launches a war. Especially a female with such … talents.

I only turned on a heel and stalked up the steps after him. Perhaps if you’d bothered going to war over Miryam, she wouldn’t have left you for Prince Drakon.

A ripple seemed to go through Jurian. Tamlin and Lucien tensed at my back, torn between monitoring our exchange and escorting the two Hybern royals into the house. Upon my own explanation that Azriel and his network of spies were well trained, we’d cleared any unnecessary servants, wary of spying ears and eyes. Only the most trusted among them remained.

Of course, I’d forgotten to mention that I knew Azriel had pulled his spies weeks ago, the information not worth the cost of their lives. Or that it served my own purposes to have fewer people watching me.

Jurian halted at the top of the stairs, his face a mask of cruel death as I took the last steps to him. Careful what you say, girl.

I smiled, breezing past. Or what? You’ll throw me in the Cauldron?

I strode between the front doors, edging around the table in the heart of the entry hall, its towering vase of flowers arching to meet the crystal chandelier.

Right there—just a few feet away, I had crumpled into a ball of terror and despair all those months ago. Right there in the center of the foyer, Mor had picked me up and carried me out of this house and into freedom.

Here’s the first rule of this visit, I said to Jurian over my shoulder as I headed for the dining room, where lunch awaited. Don’t threaten me in my own home.

The posturing, I knew a moment later, had worked.

Not on Jurian, who glowered as he claimed a seat at the table.

But on Tamlin, who brushed a knuckle over my cheek as he passed by, unaware of how carefully I had chosen the words, how I had baited Jurian to serve up the opportunity on a platter.

That was my first step: make Tamlin believe, truly believe, that I loved him and this place, and everyone in it.

So that he would not suspect when I turned them on each other.

Prince Dagdan yielded to his twin’s every wish and order. As if he were the blade she wielded to slice through the world.

He poured her drinks, sniffing them first. He selected the finest cuts of meat from the platters and neatly arranged them on her plate. He always let her answer, and never so much as looked at her with doubt in his eyes.

One soul in two bodies. And from the way they glanced to each other in wordless exchanges, I wondered if they were perhaps … perhaps like me. Daemati.

My mental shields had been a wall of black adamant since arriving. But as we dined, beats of silence going on longer than conversation, I found myself checking them over and over.

We will set out for the wall tomorrow, Brannagh was saying to Tamlin. More of an order than a request. Jurian will accompany us. We require the use of sentries who know where the holes in it are located.

The thought of them so close to the human lands … But my sisters were not there. No, my sisters were somewhere in the vast territory of my own court, protected by my friends. Even if my father would return home from his business dealings on the continent in a matter of a month or two. I still had not figured out how I’d tell him.

Lucien and I can escort you, I offered.

Tamlin whipped his head to me. I waited for the refusal, the shutdown.

But it seemed the High Lord had indeed learned his lesson, was indeed willing to try, as he merely gestured to Lucien. My emissary knows the wall as well as any sentry.

You are letting them do this; you are rationally allowing them to bring down that wall and prey upon the humans on the other side. The words tangled and hissed in my mouth.

But I made myself give Tamlin a slow, if not slightly displeased, nod. He knew I’d never be happy about it—the girl he believed had been returned to him would always seek to protect her mortal homeland. Yet he thought I’d stomach it for him, for us. That Hybern wouldn’t feast on the humans once that wall came down. That we’d merely absorb them into our territory.

We’ll leave after breakfast, I told the princess. And I added to Tamlin, With a few sentries as well.

His shoulders loosened at that. I wondered if he’d heard how I’d defended Velaris. That I had protected the Rainbow against a legion of beasts like the Attor. That I had slaughtered the Attor, brutally, cruelly, for what it had done to me and mine.

Jurian surveyed Lucien with a warrior’s frankness. I always wondered who made that eye after she carved it out.

We did not speak of Amarantha here. We had never allowed her presence into this house. And it had stifled me for those months I’d lived here after Under the Mountain, killed me day by day to shove those fears and pain down deep.

For a heartbeat, I weighed who I had been with who I was now supposed to be. Slowly healing—emerging back into the girl Tamlin had fed and sheltered and loved before Amarantha had snapped my neck after three months of torture.

So I shifted in my seat. Studied the table.

Lucien merely leveled a hard look at Jurian as the two Hybern royals watched with impassive faces. I have an old friend at the Dawn Court. She’s skilled at tinkering—blending magic and machinery. Tamlin got her to craft it for me at great risk.

A hateful smile from Jurian. Does your little mate have a rival?

My mate is none of your concern.

Jurian shrugged. She shouldn’t be any of yours, either, considering she’s probably been fucked by half the Illyrian army by now.

I was fairly certain that only centuries of training kept Lucien from leaping over the table to rip out Jurian’s throat.

But it was Tamlin’s snarl that rattled the glasses. You will behave as a proper guest, Jurian, or you will sleep in the stables like the other beasts.

Jurian merely sipped from his wine. Why should I be punished for stating the truth? Neither of you were in the War, when my forces allied with the Illyrian brutes. A sidelong glance at the two Hybern royals. I suppose you two had the delight of fighting against them.

We kept the wings of their generals and lords as trophies, Dagdan said with a small smile.

It took every bit of concentration not to glance at Tamlin. Not to demand the whereabouts of the two sets of wings his father had kept as trophies after he’d butchered Rhysand’s mother and sister.

Pinned in the study, Rhys had said.

But I hadn’t spotted any trace when I’d gone hunting for them upon returning here, feigning exploration out of sheer boredom on a rainy day. The cellars had yielded nothing, either. No trunks or crates or locked rooms containing those wings.

The two bites of roasted lamb I’d forced down now rebelled against me. But at least any hint of disgust was a fair reaction to what the Hybern prince had claimed.

Jurian indeed smiled at me as he sliced his lamb into little pieces. You know that we fought together, don’t you? Me and your High Lord. Held the lines against the Loyalists, battled side by side until gore was up to our shins.

He is not her High Lord, Tamlin said with unnerving softness.

Jurian only purred at me, He must have told you where he hid Miryam and Drakon.

They’re dead, I said flatly.

The Cauldron says otherwise.

Cold fear settled into my gut. He’d tried it already—to resurrect Miryam for himself. And had found that she was not amongst the deceased.

I was told they were dead, I said again, trying to sound bored, impatient. I took a bite of my lamb, so bland compared to the wealth of spices in Velaris. I’d think you’d have better things to do, Jurian, than obsess over the lover who jilted you.

His eyes gleamed, bright with five centuries of madness, as he skewered a morsel of meat with his fork. They say you were fucking Rhysand before you ever jilted your own lover.

"That is enough," Tamlin growled.

But I felt it then. The tap against my mind. Saw their plan, clear and simple: rile us, distract us, while the two quiet royals slid into our minds.

Mine was shielded. But Lucien’s—Tamlin’s—

I reached out with my night-kissed power, casting it like a net. And found two oily tendrils spearing for Lucien’s and Tamlin’s minds, as if they were indeed javelins thrown across the table.

I struck. Dagdan and Brannagh jolted back in their seats as if I’d landed a physical blow, while their powers slammed into a barrier of black adamant around Lucien’s and Tamlin’s minds.

They shot their dark eyes toward me. I held each of their gazes.

What’s wrong? Tamlin asked, and I realized how quiet it had become.

I made a good show of furrowing my brow in confusion. Nothing. I offered a sweet smile to the two royals. Their Highnesses must be tired after such a long journey.

And for good measure, I lunged for their own minds, finding a wall of white bone.

They flinched as I dragged black talons down their mental shields, gouging deep.

The warning blow cost me, a low, pulsing headache forming around my temples. But I merely dug back into my food, ignoring Jurian’s wink.

No one spoke for the rest of the meal.



The spring woods fell silent as we rode between the budding trees, birds and small furred beasts having darted for cover long before we passed.

Not from me, or Lucien, or the three sentries trailing a respectful distance behind. But from Jurian and the two Hybern commanders who rode in the center of our party. As if they were as awful as the Bogge, as the naga.

We reached the wall without incident or Jurian trying to bait us into distraction. I’d been awake most of the night, casting my awareness through the manor, hunting for any sign that Dagdan and Brannagh were working their daemati influence on anyone else. Mercifully, the curse-breaking ability I’d inherited from Helion Spell-Cleaver, High Lord of the Day Court, had detected no tangles, no spells, save for the wards around the house itself, preventing anyone from winnowing in or out.

Tamlin had been tense at breakfast, but had not asked me to remain behind. I’d even gone so far as to test him by asking what was wrong—to which he’d only replied that he had a headache. Lucien had just patted him on the shoulder and promised to look after me. I’d nearly laughed at the words.

But laughter was now far from my lips as the wall pulsed and throbbed, a heavy, hideous presence that loomed from half a mile away. Up close, though … Even our horses were skittish, tossing their heads and stomping their hooves on the mossy earth as we tied them to the low-hanging branches of blooming dogwoods.

The gap in the wall is right up here, Lucien was saying, sounding about as thrilled as me to be in such company. Stomping over the fallen pink blossoms, Dagdan and Brannagh slid into step beside him, Jurian slithering off to survey the terrain, the sentries remaining with our mounts.

I followed Lucien and the royals, keeping a casual distance behind. I knew my elegant, fine clothes weren’t fooling the prince and princess into forgetting that a fellow daemati now walked at their backs. But I’d still carefully selected the embroidered sapphire jacket and brown pants—adorned only with the jeweled knife and belt that Lucien had once gifted me. A lifetime ago.

Who cleaved the wall here? Brannagh asked, surveying the hole that we could not see—no, the wall itself was utterly invisible—but rather felt, as if the air had been sucked from one spot.

We don’t know, Lucien replied, the dappled sunlight glinting along the gold thread adorning his fawn-brown jacket as he crossed his arms. Some of the holes just appeared over the centuries. This one is barely wide enough for one person to get through.

An exchanged glance between the twins. I came up behind them, studying the gap, the wall around it that made every instinct recoil at its … wrongness. This is where I came through—that first time.

Lucien nodded, and the other two lifted their brows. But I took a step closer to Lucien, my arm nearly brushing his, letting him be a barrier between us. They’d been more careful at breakfast this morning about pushing against my mental shields. Yet now, letting them think I was physically cowed by them … Brannagh studied how closely I stood to Lucien; how he shifted slightly to shield me, too.

A little, cold smile curled her lips. How many holes are in the wall?

We’ve counted three along our entire border, Lucien said tightly. Plus one off the coast—about a mile away.

I didn’t let my cool mask falter as he offered up the information.

But Brannagh shook her head, dark hair devouring the sunlight. The sea entrances are of no use. We need to break it on the land.

The continent surely has spots, too.

Their queens have an even weaker grasp on their people than you do, Dagdan said. I plucked up that gem of information, studied it.

We’ll leave you to explore it, then, I said, waving toward the hole. When you’re done, we’ll ride to the next.

It’s two days from here, Lucien countered.

Then we’ll plan a trip for that excursion, I said simply. Before Lucien could object, I asked, And the third hole?

Lucien tapped a foot against the mossy ground, but said, Two days past that.

I turned to the royals, arching a brow. Can both of you winnow?

Brannagh flushed, straightening. But it was Dagdan who admitted, I can. He must have carried both Brannagh and Jurian when they arrived. He added, Only a few miles if I bear others.

I merely nodded and headed toward a tangle of stooping dogwoods, Lucien following close behind. When there was nothing but ruffling pink blossoms and trickling sunlight through the thatch of branches, when the royals had busied themselves with the wall, out of sight and sound, I took up a perch on a smooth, bald rock.

Lucien sat against a nearby tree, folding one booted ankle over another. Whatever you’re planning, it’ll land us knee-deep in shit.

I’m not planning anything. I plucked up a fallen pink blossom and twirled it between my thumb and forefinger.

That golden eye narrowed, clicking softly.

What do you even see with that thing?

He didn’t answer.

I chucked the blossom onto the soft moss between us. Don’t trust me? After all we’ve been through?

He frowned at the discarded blossom, but still said nothing.

I busied myself by sorting through my pack until I found the canteen of water. If you’d been alive for the War, I asked him, taking a swig, would you have fought on their side? Or fought for the humans?

I would have been a part of the human-Fae alliance.

Even if your father wasn’t?

Especially if my father wasn’t.

But Beron had been part of that alliance, if I correctly recalled my lessons with Rhys all those months ago.

And yet here you are, ready to march with Hybern.

I did it for you, too, you know. Cold, hard words. I went with him to get you back.

I never realized what a powerful motivator guilt can be.

That day you—went away, he said, struggling to avoid that other word—left. I beat Tamlin back to the manor—received the message when we were out on the border and raced here. But the only trace of you was that ring, melted between the stones of the parlor. I got rid of it a moment before Tam arrived home to see it.

A probing, careful statement. Of the facts that pointed not toward abduction.

They melted it off my finger, I lied.

His throat bobbed, but he just shook his head, the sunlight leaking through the forest canopy setting the ember-red of his hair flickering.

We sat in silence for minutes. From the rustling and murmuring, the royals were finishing up, and I braced myself, calculating the words I’d need to wield without seeming suspicious.

I said quietly, Thank you. For coming to Hybern to get me.

He pulled at the moss beside him, jaw tight. It was a trap. What I thought we were to do there … it did not turn out that way.

It was an effort not to bare my teeth. But I walked to him, taking up a place at his side against the wide trunk of the tree. This situation is terrible, I said, and it was the truth.

A low snort.

I knocked my knee against his. Don’t let Jurian bait you. He’s doing it to feel out any weaknesses between us.

I know.

I turned my face to him, resting my knee against his in silent demand. Why? I asked. "Why does Hybern want to do this beyond some horrible desire for conquest? What drives him—his people? Hatred? Arrogance?"

Lucien finally looked at me, the intricate pieces and carvings on the metal eye much more dazzling up close. Do you—

Brannagh and Dagdan shoved through the bushes, frowning to find us sitting there.

But it was Jurian—right on their heels, as if he’d been divulging the details of his surveying—who smiled at the sight of us, knee to knee and nearly nose to nose.

Careful, Lucien, the warrior sneered. You see what happens to males who touch the High Lord’s belongings.

Lucien snarled, but I shot him a warning glare.

Point proven, I said silently.

And despite Jurian, despite the sneering royals, a corner of Lucien’s mouth tugged upward.

Ianthe was waiting at the stables when we returned.

She’d made her grand arrival at the end of breakfast hours before, breezing into the dining room when the sun was shining in shafts of pure gold through the windows.

I had no doubt she’d planned the timing, just as she had planned the stop in the middle of one of those sunbeams, angled so her hair glowed and the jewel atop her head burned with blue fire. I would have titled the painting Model Piety.

After she’d been briefly introduced by Tamlin, she’d mostly cooed over Jurian—who had only scowled at her like some insect buzzing in his ear.

Dagdan and Brannagh had listened to her fawning with enough boredom that I was starting to wonder if the two of them perhaps preferred no one’s company but each other’s. In whatever unholy capacity. Not a blink of interest toward the beauty who often made males and females stop to gape. Perhaps any sort of physical passion had long ago been drained away, alongside their souls.

So the Hybern royals and Jurian had tolerated Ianthe for about a minute before they’d found their food more interesting. A slight that no doubt explained why she had decided to meet us here, awaiting our return as we rode in.

It was my first time on a horse in months, and I was stiff enough that I could barely move as the party dismounted. I gave Lucien a subtle, pleading look, and he barely hid his smirk as he sauntered over to me.

Our dispersing party watched as he braced my waist in his broad hands and easily hefted me off the horse, none more closely than Ianthe.

I only patted Lucien on the shoulder in thanks. Ever the courtier, he bowed back.

It was hard, sometimes, to remember to hate him. To remember the game I was already playing.

Ianthe trilled, A successful journey, I hope?

I jerked my chin toward the royals. They seemed pleased.

Indeed, whatever they’d been looking for, they’d found agreeable. I hadn’t dared ask too many prying questions. Not yet.

Ianthe bowed her head. Thank the Cauldron for that.

What do you want, Lucien said a shade too flatly.

She frowned but lifted her chin, folding her hands before her as she said, We’re to have a party in honor of our guests—and to coincide with the Summer Solstice in a few days. I wished to speak to Feyre about it. A two-faced smile. Unless you have an objection to that.

He doesn’t, I answered before Lucien could say something he’d regret. Give me an hour to eat and change, and I’ll meet you in the study.

Perhaps a tinge more assertive than I’d once been, but she nodded all the same. I linked my elbow with Lucien’s and steered him away. See you soon, I told her, and felt her gaze on us as we walked from the dim stables and into the bright midday light.

His body was taut, near-trembling.

What happened between you? I hissed when we were lost among the hedges and gravel paths of the garden.

It’s not worth repeating.

When I—was taken, I ventured, almost stumbling on the word, almost saying left. Did she and Tamlin …

I was not faking the twisting low in my gut.

No, he said hoarsely. No. When Calanmai came along, he refused. He flat-out refused to participate. I replaced him in the Rite, but …

I’d forgotten. Forgotten about Calanmai and the Rite. I did a mental tally of the days.

No wonder I’d forgotten. I’d been in that cabin in the mountains. With Rhys buried in me. Perhaps we’d generated our own magic that night.

But Lucien … You took Ianthe into that cave on Calanmai?

He wouldn’t meet my gaze. She insisted. Tamlin was … Things were bad, Feyre. I went in his stead, and I did my duty to the court. I went of my own free will. And we completed the Rite.

No wonder she’d backed off him. She’d gotten what she wanted.

Please don’t tell Elain, he said. When we—when we find her again, he amended.

He might have completed the Great Rite with Ianthe of his own free will, but he certainly hadn’t enjoyed it. Some line had been blurred—badly.

And my heart shifted a bit in my chest as I said to him with no guile whatsoever, I won’t tell anyone unless you say so. The weight of that jeweled knife and belt seemed to grow. I wish I had been there to stop it. I should have been there to stop it. I meant every word.

Lucien squeezed our linked arms as we rounded a hedge, the house rising up before us. You are a better friend to me, Feyre, he said quietly, than I ever was to you.

Alis frowned at the two dresses hanging from the armoire door, her long brown fingers smoothing over the chiffon and silk.

I don’t know if the waist can be taken out, she said without peering back at where I sat on the edge of the bed. We took so much of it in that there’s not much fabric left to play with … You might very well need to order new ones.

She faced me then, running an eye over my robed body.

I knew what she saw—what lies and poisoned smiles couldn’t hide: I had become wraith-thin while living here after Amarantha. Yet for all Rhys had done to harm me, I’d gained back the weight I’d lost, put on muscle, and discarded the sickly pallor in favor of sun-kissed skin.

For a woman who had been tortured and tormented for months, I looked remarkably well.

Our eyes held across the room, the silence hewn only by the humming of the few remaining servants in the hallway, busy with preparations for the solstice tomorrow morning.

I’d spent the past two days playing the pretty pet, allowed into meetings with the Hybern royals mostly because I remained quiet. They were as cautious as we were, hedging Tamlin and Lucien’s questions about the movements of their armies, their foreign allies—and other allies within Prythian. The meetings went nowhere, as all they wanted to know was information about our own forces.

And about the Night Court.

I fed Dagdan and Brannagh details both true and false, mixing them together seamlessly. I laid out the Illyrian host amongst the mountains and steppes, but selected the strongest clan as their weakest; I mentioned the efficiency of those blue stones from Hybern against Cassian’s and Azriel’s power but failed to mention how easily they’d worked around them. Any questions I couldn’t evade, I feigned memory loss or trauma too great to bear recalling.

But for all my lying and maneuvering, the royals were too guarded to reveal much of their own information. And for all my careful expressions, Alis seemed the only one who noted the tiny tells that even I couldn’t control.

Do you think there are any gowns that will fit for solstice? I said casually as her silence continued. The pink and green ones fit, but I’ve worn them thrice already.

You never cared for such things, Alis said, clicking her tongue.

Am I not allowed to change my mind?

Those dark eyes narrowed slightly. But Alis yanked open the armoire doors, the dresses swaying with it, and riffled through its dark interior. You could wear this. She held up an outfit.

A set of turquoise Night Court clothes, cut so similarly to Amren’s preferred fashion, dangled from her spindly fingers. My heart lurched.

That—why— Words stumbled out of me, bulky and slippery, and I silenced myself with a sharp yank on my inner leash. I straightened. I have never known you to be cruel, Alis.

A snort. She chucked the clothes back into the armoire. Tamlin shredded the two other sets—missed this one because it was in the wrong drawer.

I wove a mental thread into the hallway to ensure no one was listening. He was upset. I wish he’d destroyed that pair, too.

I was there that day, you know, Alis said, folding her spindly arms across her chest. I saw the Morrigan arrive. Saw her reach into that cocoon of power and pick you up like a child. I begged her to take you out.

My swallow wasn’t feigned.

I never told him that. Never told any of them. I let them think you’d been abducted. But you clung to her, and she was willing to slaughter all of us for what had happened.

I don’t know why you’d assume that. I tugged the edges of my silk robe tighter around me.

Servants talk. And Under the Mountain, I never heard of or saw Rhysand laying a hand on a servant. Guards, Amarantha’s cronies, the people he was ordered to kill, yes. But never the meek. Never those unable to defend themselves.

He’s a monster.

They say you came back different. Came back wrong. A crow’s laugh. I never bother to tell them I think you came back right. Came back right at last.

A precipice yawned open before me. Lines—there were lines here, and my survival and that of Prythian depended upon navigating them. I rose from the bed, hands shaking slightly.

But then Alis said, My cousin works in the palace at Adriata.

Summer Court. Alis had originally been from the Summer Court, and had fled here with her two nephews after her sister had been brutally murdered during Amarantha’s reign.

Servants in that palace are not meant to be seen or heard, but they see and hear plenty when no one believes they’re present.

She was my friend. She had helped me at great risk Under the Mountain. Had stood by me in the months after. But if she jeopardized everything—

She said you visited. And that you were healthy, and laughing, and happy.

It was a lie. He made me act that way. The wobble in my voice didn’t take much to summon.

A knowing, crooked smile. If you say so.

"I do say so."

Alis pulled out a dress of creamy white. You never got to wear this one. I had it ordered for after your wedding day.

It wasn’t exactly bride-like, but rather pure. Clean. The kind of gown I’d have resented when I returned from Under the Mountain, desperate to avoid any comparison to my ruined soul. But now … I held Alis’s stare, and wondered which of my plans she’d deciphered.

Alis whispered, I will only say this once. Whatever you plan to do, I beg you leave my boys out of it. Take whatever retribution you desire, but please spare them.

I would never—I almost began. But I only shook my head, knotting my brows, utterly confused and distressed. All I want is to settle back into life here. To heal.

Heal the land of the corruption and darkness spreading across it.

Alis seemed to understand it, too. She set the dress on the armoire door, airing out the loose, shining skirts.

Wear this on solstice, she said quietly.

So I did.



Summer Solstice was exactly as I had remembered: streamers and ribbons and garlands of flowers everywhere, casks of ale and wine hauled out to the foothills surrounding the estate, High Fae and lesser faeries alike flocking to the celebrations.

But what had not existed here a year ago was Ianthe.

The celebrating would be sacrilege, she intoned, if we did not give thanks first.

So we all were up two hours before the dawn, bleary-eyed and none of us too keen to endure her ceremony as the sun crested the horizon on the longest day of the year. I wondered if Tarquin had to weather such tedious rituals in his shining palace by the sea. Wondered what sort of celebrations would occur in Adriata today, with the High Lord of Summer who had come so very close to being a friend.

As far as I knew, despite the murmurings between servants, Tarquin still had never sent word to Tamlin about the visit Rhys, Amren, and I had made. What did the Summer lord now think of my changed circumstances? I had little doubt Tarquin had heard. And I prayed he stayed out of it until my work here was finished.

Alis had found me a luxurious white velvet cloak for the brisk ride into the hills, and Tamlin had lifted me onto a moon-pale mare with wildflowers woven into her silver mane. If I had wanted to paint a picture of serene purity, it would have been the image I cast that morning, my hair braided above my head, a crown of white hawthorn blossoms upon it. I’d dabbed rouge onto my cheeks and lips—a slight hint of color. Like the first blush of spring across a winter landscape.

As our procession arrived at the hill, a gathered crowd of hundreds already atop it, all eyes turned to me. But I kept my gaze ahead, to where Ianthe stood before a rudimentary stone altar bedecked in flowers and the first fruits and grains of summer. The hood was off her pale blue robe for once, the silver circlet now resting directly atop her golden head.

I smiled at her, my mare obediently pausing at the northern arc of the half circle that the crowd had formed around the hill’s edge and Ianthe’s altar, and wondered if Ianthe could spy the wolf grinning beneath.

Tamlin helped me off the horse, the gray light of predawn shimmering along the golden threads in his green jacket. I forced myself to meet his eyes as he set me on the soft grass, aware of every other stare upon us.

The memory gleamed in his gaze—in the way his gaze dipped to my mouth.

A year ago, he had kissed me on this day. A year ago, I’d danced amongst these people, carefree and joyous for the first time in my life, and had believed it was the happiest I’d ever been and ever would be.

I gave him a little, shy smile and took the arm he extended. Together, we crossed the grass toward Ianthe’s stone altar, the Hybern royals, Jurian, and Lucien trailing behind.

I wondered if Tamlin was also remembering another day all those months ago, when I’d worn a different white gown, when there had also been flowers strewn about.

When my mate had rescued me after I’d decided not to go through with the wedding, some fundamental part of me knowing it wasn’t right. I had believed I didn’t deserve it, hadn’t wanted to burden Tamlin for an eternity with someone as broken as I’d been at the time. And Rhys … Rhys would have let me marry him, believing me to be happy, wanting me to be happy even if it killed him. But the moment I had said no … He had saved me. Helped me save myself.

I glanced sidelong at Tamlin.

But he was studying my hand, braced on his arm. The empty finger where that ring had once perched.

What did he make of it—where did he think that ring had gone, if Lucien had hidden the evidence? For a heartbeat, I pitied him.

Pitied that not only Lucien had