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A Court of War and Starlight

Chapter Text

It was quiet.

Laced beneath the quiet was death. Darkness. Wrath.

I sat in the middle of the gallery, the one place I could come where Tamlin would not enter unless I invited him--perhaps the best way he could pretend that this was still my home. I sat cross-legged on the table, a few pots of paint surrounding me, and closed my eyes.

Hello. I stroked a finger down the bond that was like my second spine, the bond that led straight to my mate. I could reach down it and feel him there, listening for me. Waiting. Living.

Raging.

We were too far apart for words, and I knew that. Still, I had begun assigning words to the vibrations in our bond, the stirrings within me that told me that Rhys was out there, that my mate was always thinking of me, and would come for me the moment the time was right.

But I was the one who would tell him when that was.

I felt the murmur down our bond in response to mine. Feyre, darling.

I love you.

I know.

Around me, tendrils of darkness extended from me like phantom limbs, brushing the canvases on the walls, rattling cans of paint. There was a clink as a paintbrush rolled off the table onto the ground. My arms were spread at my sides, the darkness swirling in tendrils around them. In particular, they caressed the tattoo on my right arm, the tattoo that identified me as their mistress, their High Lady.

Tamlin thought I was painting. He never asked to see evidence, and he never asked to watch me work. So it was the perfect time to train.

In the week since I had been back at the Spring Court, I had begun to tap into the power that being the High Lady of the Night Court gave me. I had once asked Rhys if his gift to me after Amarantha would be stronger than the magic of the other High Lords. It might not have been true then, but it was now. Flames of darkness. Shields of darkness. Wolves of darkness.

And most of all, glorious Illyrian wings stretched out behind me, their elegant tips scraping the ground behind me.

I was the High Lady of Night, the High Lady of Darkness. I was more powerful than anyone in this damned manor, and one day they would all know it.

Until then, I would hone it.

That’s my queen.

I smiled at the ripple in the bond, the pride and wonder that came with it. This--this would help me survive. Rhys and I would have an eternity together. What were mere weeks in Tamlin’s manor in comparison?

There was a knock at the door.

The shadows vanished. So did my tattoo. In the moment after I said “Come in,” I winnowed off the table to a half-empty canvas, paint-covered brush in hand.

As if I hadn’t been doing anything else at all.

Tamlin slipped in and paused just over the threshold.

He sniffed.

I watched him, doe-eyed, as he scented my power, as the confusion flickered in his emerald eyes. Then he dismissed it and took a step further.

Dismissed it, like a fool, because the Feyre he had locked up in this manor was not capable of the sort of power he had scented. The Feyre standing in front him, her mask of innocence as firmly in place as the mask of death Rhysand wore in the Court of Nightmares, however . . . this Feyre could rip this manor apart brick by brick if she chose.

Fortunately for him, I was not yet in the mood.

He stepped closer and I cocked my head just slightly as though observing my canvas, though it was only to obscure the way my nose twitched at the wrongness of his scent. It was an assault to my senses, but he was blind to it.

“It looks beautiful,” he murmured, looking at the still life I had painted--a vase of flowers like those that grew in abundance outside the manor. It was a hollow compliment, one meant only to encourage. He knew as well as I did that there was no life in this painting. I supposed he was just happy I was painting at all, when the wraith I had been could not even look at red paint.

The flowers in the vase were red. When I looked at them I saw the blood staining the cobblestones of the Rainbow of Velaris, and it reminded me what I was fighting for. My people. Velaris. Rhys. The color no longer filled me with drowning anguish, but with icy rage and determination. I would get back to them one day . . . one day soon.

It took less strength than before not to cringe away as Tamlin’s fingers scooped some of my paint-flecked hair off my shoulder. It was one of the very few ways he had tried to touch me me since we had arrived back. Holding my hand or my arm were some other ways, but he had only tried to kiss me once. He had been the one to pull away.

I had realized with wry delight that I still smelled of Rhys--he was in all my pores, my hair, under my skin. Where he belonged. Tamlin was too stubborn to recognize it as the mate bond, to understand that it wasn’t going away. So he was waiting. I wasn’t sure how long he would wait for Rhys’s scent to fade before he realized the truth, but for now it was saving me from the most difficult part of my charade.

His hand fell down and gently pulled the paintbrush from my fingers, and I offered no resistance. “I made a promise,” he said. “No more secrets.”

I gave him a false, grateful smile. No more secrets, indeed. I laced my fingers through his, and when he snapped his fingers my paint-covered clothes disappeared, replaced with insubstantial Spring Court chiffon. He led me from the gallery, and as we walked he was completely unaware of how I flitted around his mental shields, getting to know them, learning their weaknesses. I had yet to attempt a full breach, but I knew I would need to at some point. Unlike with Tarquin, or with Lucien, I felt absolutely no guilt at skirting around Tamlin’s mind. He had betrayed me, and so I would betray him. I might not crush his mind . . . but it would be sorely tempting.

He led me to his study--the scars from his outburst months ago cleared away from the walls, though not from my mind. There, waiting near the window, was Ianthe.

No amount of acting could hold back the snarl that ripped from my lips at the sight of her.

Tamlin looked at me in shock, and I thought the skin around Ianthe’s eyes went a touch paler, but her expression remained neutral. Then her face crumpled with sympathy, the sunlight from the window glinting in her golden hair, and she extended her arms out to me. “Feyre,” she said, her voice almost a sigh. “You’re home at last.”

“I know what you did, Ianthe.” Sweet venom, I instructed myself. Leash the monster . . . for now.

Ianthe’s pink lips parted and her hands fell to her sides. “Oh, Feyre. If you had been here, I would have told you. It hurt me so badly to see you alone, without your family. I wanted to bring your sisters here for you.”

The image of Nesta’s threatening finger rising above the lip of the Cauldron flashed through my mind, and my hatred for Ianthe burned so hot that I could feel the embers at my fingertips. She was still lying to me. Worse, I knew that the Feyre she had seduced months ago would have believed her.

“I didn’t know what the King was going to do to them,” she said.

Liar. I schooled my face into cold disdain and said, “It seems like you ought to know your allies better.” I did not look at Tamlin, but his hand twitched in mine. He knew the words were for him just as much as they were for Ianthe.

“So ought you,” she said, and I bristled. “Oh, Feyre, I don’t blame you. The High Lord of Night is a deceiver. He won your trust and then abused it. Abused you. But now you’re home, and we can make things right.”

Lies lies lies lies lies. The word rang through my bones as I heard Ianthe’s honeyed voice tell exactly the truth about what had happened to me, but turn it around on my family as though they were the perpetrators. She was the deceiver.

“Why is she still here, Tamlin?” I asked point-blank. Ianthe’s eyes widened a fraction. “She lied to you. She was plotting to overthrow the High Lords. You heard it from the King of Hybern himself.” Rhysand would have misted her by now.

Tamlin shifted, his eyes locked on Ianthe. “Ianthe has made mistakes. We’ve spoken a great deal since Hybern, and she has admitted that she let the king’s promises get to her head. She has seen her errors.”

“I would call treason a little bit more than an error,” I purred. Cauldron, I sounded like Rhysand. I took a breath and reminded myself that I was the bride of Spring here, not the queen of Night.

“Ianthe is the reason you’re home,” Tamlin said firmly. Then he softened and turned to face me. The emotion in his eyes filled my gut with nausea. “We all made sacrifices, Feyre. What happened with your sisters . . . that wasn’t supposed to happen. But we’ll get them back, I promise.”

No, you won’t. Because I knew where they were--likely the cabin in the Illyrian mountains, or maybe the House of Wind. I didn’t think Rhys would quite trust Nesta with the townhome yet for fear that she would tear it to shreds. It was likely she would too, until Cassian trained her.

A stone formed in my stomach. Cassian. His wings. I hoped they’d found a healer, hoped they had repaired them, or else . . . I couldn’t imagine Cassian bound to the land, not when the wind sang in his very bones.

Tamlin. Tamlin had let that happen to him. It was a struggle to keep looking at him. “What now then?” I said. “It has been a quiet week. Just what is going on out there? When does your bargain begin?”

Tamlin’s jaw tightened. “After Calanmai. Once the magic is replenished, the king will move his forces here.”

A straightforward answer. I almost admitted that I was surprised. But after Calanmai . . . that was only a week away. A real tremble ran over my skin, and I didn’t mind letting them see it.

“They’ll really destroy the wall?” I murmured, sounding meek and terrified. “He really means to start a war?”

I knew the answers to these questions better than anyone, but I wanted to hear what Tamlin would say. Would he really continue to deny it after all we had seen and heard?

“He means to take down the wall,” Tamlin said, “but I do not think there will be a war.”

I wanted to strangle him. I wanted to scream at him that I had seen the armies raining bloodshed on Velaris, the City of Starlight.

“The king wants to unify our two lands,” Ianthe said. “Why do you think he allied himself with the mortal queens? He does not seek destruction. He seeks unity.”

Unity under his heel, I wanted to hiss. But instead I placed a hand on my chest and shook my head. “I’m not . . . I’m not feeling well,” I said. “I need some fresh air.”

“A ride, perhaps?” Ianthe said, perking up. “Your horse has missed you.”

I couldn’t even remember my horse’s name.

“I’d be happy to escort you,” Ianthe said.

“Allow me the pleasure.”

I whipped around to see Lucien gliding smoothly into the room. His face was as cool as the fox mask he had worn for fifty years, but his metal eye whirred as he regarded each one of us. He held my eye for a moment longer than the rest, and I let him. I wanted him to think I had nothing to hide, though he, out of all of them, had been the most suspicious after my return.

“Lucien,” Tamlin said, nodding at his emissary. Lucien smiled blandly at the High Lord and stepped forward to offer me his arm. I was actually amazed that Tamlin stepped back and allowed me to loop my arm through Lucien’s. Their eyes met and I knew there was a silent order there. Only take her on the paths. Keep her safe. Don’t let her get far.

And in that glance I knew that Tamlin would be following us. Far enough back that he thought I wouldn’t notice, but near enough that he would hear whatever it was Lucien wanted to say to me.

I could play that game. I wondered if Lucien knew it was a game, if he had seen his master’s promise to lurk. I hardly cared.

Lucien and I did not say anything to each other while we walked to the stables arm in arm. I mounted my horse in silence, as did Lucien, and soon we were leaving the manor behind to ride the main paths of the tame wood.

“It is good to have you back, Feyre,” Lucien said, his metal eye scanning me.

“It is good to be back,” I lied. “I missed it here. Missed the colors. The warmth. The . . . the goodness.”

Lucien almost flinched at my cloaked accusation. He had always been smarter than Tamlin. He could read beneath my words. That made this all the more fun.

“You were the best thing about this place,” Lucien said. A message for me, too. Were. I could feel the unspoken questions radiating from him. I could pluck them from his mind if I wanted, but I had no interest in invading Lucien’s mind. Not since the time I had accidentally done so, before . . . before Rhys. There had been such sorrow in Lucien’s mind. I thought it would only be worse now, in the absence of his mate.

Elain.

My sister. Lucien’s mate was my sister. There had been a time when I had imaged them meeting, Lucien’s clever goodness twining with Elain’s sweet endurance. Still, I had never really thought . . .

I wished it wasn’t true. Lucien was not worthy of her, not now. I hated myself for wanting to keep them apart, especially because I knew exactly how it felt, but . . .

“Could you tell me about her?” he rasped.

My head snapped to look at him. This was not where I had thought this conversation was going. “What?”

“Just . . . something. Do you think she’s safe? Or, perhaps you could tell me nothing important at all. What is her favorite flower? Would she like the Spring Court? Does she like . . .?” He trailed off, spreading his fingers across his face to hide his shame and agony.

And, Cauldron damn me, I felt for him. I had not wanted to have any sympathy for him at all, not after he had tried to steal me in the Illyrian woods, but this man, my once-friend, so vulnerable, so hurt . . .

“Peonies,” I said. “Peonies were always her favorite.”

Lucien sucked in a breath and bit his bottom lip, casting his gaze up to the leafy canopy above us. He rolled his shoulders, and then all of a sudden, the cool, calm Lucien was back.

No, come back. I wanted to say. Fight. Rage. Break free. Earn her.

I was sorely tempted to tell him that she was safe, but that would betray far too much.

“You were really his mate?” Lucien asked me so quietly that I didn’t think even Tamlin would be able to hear him from whatever hiding place he had made for himself.

I cringed. “I don’t know. I don’t . . . his control was so complete, I think maybe he just made me think we were mated . . .” I had rehearsed this performance many times in my hours alone in the gallery.

“You still smell like him.” Not quietly. This was for Tamlin.

I shuddered. “I know. It’s terrible . . . it’s like he’s haunting me. It doesn’t matter how hard I scrub, how hard I wish it gone . . .” I ran my hand through my hair. “I hope it will go away soon.”

Lucien didn’t say anything. He suddenly grabbed the reins of his horse and brought it near mine, close enough so that I didn’t have time to react when he grabbed me and winnowed us away.

I gasped when we landed in an empty, wilder clearing far from the main path. I looked at him, my mouth open slightly. He looked at me with steel in his eyes, his arms crossed over his chest. And I understood.

This was not part of the plan.

“Show me,” he said, jutting his chin toward me.

“What?” I asked.

“Show me who you are.”

He was looking for who I had been in the Illyrian forests, with the fighting leathers and the wings and the darkness leaking from my pores.

“Lucien, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I protested, straightening and smoothing my skirts.

He snarled. “Don’t lie to me!” I stepped back in alarm, though he hadn’t truly frightened me. “You can lie to everyone else in this damn court, Feyre, but please, don’t lie to me.”

“Why would I lie to you?” I demanded. Because you betrayed me. Because you chose him. Because you refuse to fight, and I can’t trust you.

“I saw you,” he snapped, prowling closer to me. “I saw you in the forest, and again in Hybern. I saw your power, I saw the way you . . . the way you looked at him. Rhysand is powerful, Feyre, but I don’t think even he could conjure what I saw in your eyes.”

“Rhysand is a liar,” I spat, even as I gripped the bond in my core for dear life, sending waves of apologies down it to my mate. It was a lie that was necessary, agreed upon, one that he would even encourage, but it did not make it any easier to speak such vile things about my mate. “I barely remember those months. That time in the woods, when I saw you, Lucien . . .” My expression softened and he paused. “That is one of the clearest memories I have. I would have gone with you, before Rhysand appeared, before he . . . claimed my mind again.” I prayed Lucien would agree with me, would remember that day the way I was spinning it.

“You winnowed,” he said blankly. “Away from me.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and gave him a look. “You might be forgetting the ravine only two steps behind me? I winnowed so that you wouldn’t accidentally knock me in!” I held back my own pleased grin. Even I had impressed myself with that one. Instead, my usual irritated frown adorned my face, and Lucien . . . Lucien backed down.

“I don’t even know what’s true anymore,” he sighed, shaking his head. The woods were darker here, but the copper of his hair still shimmered. “Come on, Feyre. Let’s go back. Tam is going to be pissed with me anyway, so we might as well.”

He offered his hand to me, and I kept my eyes locked on his as we winnowed back to the manor.