Chapter no 54

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Jurian was not my enemy.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Even as Rhys and I both looked. I didn’t linger for long.

The pain and guilt and rage, what he had seen and endured … But Jurian spoke true. Laid himself bare to us.

He knew the spot they planned to attack. Where and when and how many.

Azriel vanished without a glance at any of us—to warn Cassian and move the legion.

Jurian was saying to Mor, “They didn’t kill the sixth queen. Vassa. She saw through me—or thought she did—from the start. Warned them against this. Told them that if I was reborn, it was a bad sign, and to rally their armies to face the threat before it grew too large. But Vassa is too brash, too young. She didn’t play the game the way the golden one, Demetra, did. Didn’t see the lust in their eyes when I told them of the Cauldron’s powers. Didn’t know that from the moment I began to spin Hybern’s lies … they became her enemies. They couldn’t kill Vassa—the next in line to her throne is far more willful. So they found an old death-lord above the wall, with a penchant for enslaving young women. He cursed her, and stole her away … The entire world believes she’s been sick these past months.”

“We know,” Mor said, and none of us dared glance at Elain. “We learned about it.”

And even with the truth laid bare … none of us told him that Lucien had gone after her.

Elain seemed to remember, though. Who was hunting for that missing queen. And she said to Graysen, stone-faced and sorrowful through all of this, “I did not mean to deceive you.”

His father answered, “I find I have trouble believing that.”

Graysen swallowed. “Did you think you could come back here—live with me as this … lie?”

“No. Yes. I—I don’t know what I wanted—”

“And you are bound to some … Fae male. A High Lord’s son.”

A different High Lord’s heir, likely, I wanted to say.

“His name is Lucien.” I wasn’t certain if I’d ever heard his name from her lips.

“I don’t care what his name is.” The first sharp words from Graysen. “You are his mate. Do you even know what that means?”

“It means nothing,” Elain said, her voice breaking. “It means nothing. I don’t care who decided it or why they did—”

“You belong to him.”

“I belong to no one. But my heart belongs to you.” Graysen’s face hardened. “I don’t want it.”

He would have been better off hitting her, that’s how deep the hurt in her eyes went. And seeing her face crumple …

I stepped close, pushing her behind me. “Here is what is going to happen. You are going to take in any people who can make it here. We will supply these walls with wards.”

“We don’t need them,” sneered Nolan.

“Shall I demonstrate for you,” I said, “how wrong you are? Or shall you take my word for it that I could reduce this wall to rubble with half a thought? And that is to say nothing of my friends. You will find, Lord Nolan, that you want our wards, and our help. All in exchange for taking in whatever humans need the safety.”

“I don’t want riffraff wandering through here.”

“So only the rich and chosen will walk through the gates?” Rhys asked, arching a brow. “I can’t imagine the aristocracy being content to work your land and fish in your lake or butcher your meat.”

“We have plenty of workers here to do that.”

It was happening again. Another fight with narrow-minded, hateful people

But Jurian said to the lords, “I fought beside your ancestor. And he would

be ashamed if you locked out those who needed it. You would spit on his grave to do so. I hold a position of trust with Hybern. One word from me, and I will make sure his legion takes a visit here. To you.”

“You’ll threaten to bring the very enemy you seek to protect us from?”

Jurian shrugged. “I can also convince Hybern to steer clear. He trusts me that much. You let in those people … I will do my best to keep his armies far away.”

He gave Rhys a look, daring him to doubt it.

We were still too stunned to even try to look neutral.

But then Nolan said, “I do not pretend to have a large army. Only a considerable unit of soldiers. If what you say is true …” A glance at Graysen. “We will take them. Whoever can make it.”

I wondered if the elder lord might be the one who could actually be reasoned with. Especially as Graysen said to Elain, “Take that ring off.”

Elain’s fingers curved into a fist. “No.”

Ugly. This was about to get ugly in the worst way— “Take. It. Off.”

It was Nolan’s turn to murmur a warning to his son. Graysen ignored him.

Elain did not move.

Take it off! ” The roared words barked over the stones.

“That’s enough,” Rhys said, his voice lethally calm. “The lady keeps the ring, if she wants it. Though none of us will be particularly sad to see it go. Females tend to prefer gold or silver to iron.”

Graysen leveled a seething look at Rhysand. “Is this the start of it? You Fae males will come to take our women? Are your own not fuckable enough?”

“Watch your tongue, boy,” his father said. Elain turned white at the coarse language.

Graysen only said to her, “I am not marrying you. Our engagement is over.

I will take whatever people occupy your lands. But not you. Never you.”

Tears began sliding down Elain’s face, their scent filling the room with salt.

Nesta stepped forward. Then another step. And another.

Until she was in front of Graysen, faster than anyone could see.

Until Nesta smacked him hard enough that his head snapped to the side. “You never deserved her,” Nesta snarled into the stunned silence as

Graysen cupped his face and swore, bending over. Nesta only looked back at me. Rage, unfiltered and burning, roiled in her eyes. But her voice was stone-cold as she said to me, “I assume we’re done here.”

I gave her a wordless nod. And proud as any queen, Nesta took Elain’s arm

and led her from the guardhouse. Mor trailed behind, guarding their backs as they entered the veritable field of weapons and snarling hounds waiting outside.

The two lords saw themselves out without so much as a good-bye.

Alone, Jurian said, “Tell the shadowsinger I’m sorry about the arrow to the chest.”

Rhys shook his head. “What’s the next move, then? I assume you’re doing more than warning humans to flee or hide.”

Jurian pushed off the table. “The next move, Rhysand, is me going back to that Hybern war-camp and throwing a fit that my search for Miryam and Drakon’s whereabouts wasn’t fruitful. My step after that is to take another trip to the continent and sow the seeds of discord amongst the queens’ courts. To let some vital things slip about their agenda. Who they really support. What they really want. It will keep them busy—too worried about their own internal conflict to consider sailing here. And once that’s done … who knows? Perhaps I’ll join you on the battlefield.”

Rhys rubbed his brows with a thumb and forefinger, the locks of his hair sliding forward as he dipped his head. “I wouldn’t believe a word, except I looked into that head of yours.”

Jurian tapped a hand on the door frame. “Tell Cassian to hammer the left flank hard tomorrow. Hybern is putting his untrained nobles there for some seasoning—they’re spoiled and untested. Buckle the ranks there, and it’ll spook the grunts. Hit them with everything you’ve got, and fast—don’t give them time to rally or find their courage.” Jurian gave me a grim smile. “I never congratulated you for slaughtering Dagdan and Brannagh. Good riddance.”

“I did it for those Children of the Blessed,” I said. “Not for glory.”

“I know,” Jurian said, flicking up his brows. “Why do you think I decided to trust you?”

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