Home > A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3)(8)

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3)(8)
Author: Sarah J. Maas


“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.”

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