Chapter no 61

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Helion winnowed me into the camp. Right into Rhys’s war-tent.

My mate was pale. Blood-splattered and filthy, from his skin to his armor to his hair.

I opened my mouth—to ask how the battle had gone, to say what had happened, I don’t know.

But Rhys just reached for me, folding me into his chest.

And at the smell and warmth and solidity of him … I began weeping again.

I didn’t know who was in the tent. Who had survived the battle. But they all left.

Left, while my mate held me, rocking me gently, as I cried and cried.



He only told me what had happened when my tears had quieted. When he’d washed the Suriel’s black blood from my hands, my face.

I was out of the tent a heartbeat later, charging through the mud, dodging exhausted and weary soldiers. Rhys was a step behind me, but said nothing as I shoved through flaps of another tent and took stock of what and who was before me.

Mor and Azriel were standing before the cot, monitoring every move the healer sitting beside it made.

As she held her glowing hands over Cassian.

I understood then—the quiet Cassian had once mentioned to me.

It was now in my head as I looked at his muddy, pained face—pained, even in unconsciousness. As I heard his labored, wet breathing.

As I beheld the slice curving up from his navel to the bottom of his

sternum. The split flesh. The blood—mostly just a trickle.

I swayed—only for Rhys to grip me beneath the elbows.

The healer didn’t turn to look at me as her brow bunched in concentration, hands flaring with white light. Beneath them—slowly, the lips of the wound reached toward each other.

If it was this bad now—

“How,” I rasped. Rhys had told me three things a moment ago:

We’d won—barely. Tarquin had again decided what to do with any survivors. And Cassian had been gravely injured.

“Where were you,” was all Mor said to me. She was soaked, bloody, and coated in mud. Azriel was, too. No sign of injuries beyond minor cuts, mercifully.

I shook my head. I’d let Rhys into my mind while he held me. Showed him everything—explained Ianthe and the Suriel and the Weaver. What it had told me. Rhys’s eyes had gone distant for a moment, and I knew Amren was on her way, the Book in tow. To help Nesta track that Cauldron—or try to. He could explain to Mor.

He’d only known I was gone after the battle stopped—when he realized Mor had been fighting. And that I was not at the camp anymore. He’d just reached Elain’s tent when Helion sent word he’d found me. Using whatever gift he possessed that allowed him to sense such things. And was bringing me back. Vague, brief details.

“Is he—is he going to—” I couldn’t finish the rest. Words had become as foreign and hard to reach as the stars.

“No,” the healer said without looking at me. “He’ll be sore for a few days, though.”

Indeed, she’d gotten either side of the wound to touch—to now start weaving together.

Bile surged up my throat at the sight of that raw flesh— “How,” I asked again.

“He wouldn’t wait for us,” Mor said flatly. “He kept charging—trying to re-form the line. One of their commanders engaged him. He wouldn’t turn away. By the time Az got there, he was down.”

Azriel’s face was stone-cold, even as his hazel eyes fixed unrelentingly upon that knitting wound.

Mor said again, “Where did you go?”

“If you’re about to fight,” the healer said sharply, “take it outside. My

patient doesn’t need to hear this.” None of us moved.

Rhys brushed a hand down my arm. “You are, as always, free to go wherever and whenever you wish. But what I think Mor is saying is … try to leave a note the next time.”

The words were casual, but that was panic in his eyes. Not—not the controlling fear Tamlin had once succumbed to, but … genuine terror of not knowing where I was, if I needed help. Just as I would want to know where he was, if he needed help, if he vanished when our enemies surrounded us. “I’m sorry,” I said. To him, to the others.

Mor didn’t so much as look at me.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Rhys replied, hand sliding to cup my cheek. “You decided to take things into your own hands, and got us valuable information in the process. But …” His thumb stroked over my cheekbone. “We have been lucky,” he breathed. “Keeping a step ahead—keeping out of Hybern’s claws. Even if today … today wasn’t so fortunate on the battlefield. But the cynic in me wonders if our luck is about to expire. And I would rather it not end with you.”

They all had to think me young and reckless.

No, Rhys said through the bond, and I realized I’d left my shields open. Believe me, if you knew half of the shit Cassian and Mor have pulled, you’d get why we don’t. I just … Leave a note. Or tell me the next time.

Would you have let me go if I had?

I do not let you do anything. He tilted my face up, Mor and Azriel looking away. You are your own person, you make your own choices. But we are mates—I am yours, and you are mine. We do not let each other do things, as if we dictate the movements of each other. But … I might have insisted I go with you. More for my own mental well-being, just to know you were safe.

You were occupied.

A slash of a smile. If you were hell-bent on going into the Middle, I would have unoccupied myself from battle.

I waited for him to chide me about not waiting until they were done, about all of it, but … he angled his head. “I wonder if the Weaver forgives you now,” he mused aloud.

Even the healer seemed to start at the name—the words. A shiver ran down my spine. “I don’t want to know.” Rhys let out a low laugh. “Then let’s never find out.”

But the amusement faded as he again surveyed Cassian. The wound that was now sealed over.

The Suriel wasn’t your fault.

I loosed a breath as Cassian’s eyelids began to shift and flutter. I know.

I’d already added its death to my ever-growing list of things I’d soon make Hybern pay for.

Long minutes passed, and we stood in silence. I did not ask where Nesta was. Mor barely acknowledged me. And Rhys …

He perched on the foot of the cot as Cassian’s eyes at last opened, and the general let out a groan of pain.

“That’s what you get,” the healer chided, gathering her supplies, “for stepping in front of a sword.” She frowned at him. “Rest tonight and tomorrow. I know better than to insist on a third day after that, but try not to leap in front of blades anytime soon.”

Cassian just blinked rather dazedly at her before she bowed to Rhys and me and left.

“How bad,” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“How bad was your injury,” Rhys said mildly, “or how badly did we have our asses kicked?”

Cassian blinked again. Slowly. As if whatever sedative he’d been given still held sway.

“To answer the second question,” Rhys went on, Mor and Azriel backing away a step or two as something sharpened in my mate’s voice, “we managed. Keir took heavy hits, but … we won. Barely. To answer the first …” Rhys bared his teeth. “Don’t you ever pull that kind of shit again.”

The glaze wore off Cassian’s eyes as he heard the challenge, the anger, and tried to sit up. He hissed, scowling down at the red, angry slice down his chest.

“Your guts were hanging out, you stupid prick,” Rhys snapped. “Az held them in for you.”

Indeed, the shadowsinger’s hands were caked in blood—Cassian’s blood.

And his face … cold with—anger.

“I’m a soldier,” Cassian said flatly. “It’s part of the job.”

“I gave you an order to wait,” Rhys growled. “You ignored it.”

I glanced to Mor, to Azriel—a silent question of whether we should remain. They were too busy watching Rhys and Cassian to notice.

“The line was breaking,” Cassian retorted. “Your order was bullshit.”

Rhys braced his hands on either side of Cassian’s legs and snarled in his face, “I am your High Lord. You don’t get to disregard orders you don’t like.”

Cassian sat up this time, swearing at the pain lingering in his body. “Don’t you pull rank because you’re pissed off—”

“You and your damned theatrics on the battlefield nearly got you killed.” And even as Rhys spat the words—that was panic, again, in his eyes. His voice. “I’m not pissed. I’m furious.”

“So you’re allowed to be mad about our choices to protect you—and we’re not allowed to be furious with you for your self-sacrificing bullshit?”

Rhys just stared at him. Cassian stared right back.

“You could have died,” was all Rhys said, his voice raw. “So could you.”

Another beat of silence—and in its wake, the anger shifted. Rhys said quietly, “Even after Hybern … I can’t stomach it.” Seeing him hurt. Any of us hurt.

And the way Rhys spoke, the way Cassian leaned forward, wincing again, and gripped Rhys’s shoulder …

I strode out of the tent. Left them to talk. Azriel and Mor followed behind me.

I squinted at the watery light—the very last before true dark. When my vision adjusted … Nesta stood by the nearest tent, an empty water bucket between her feet. Her hair a damp mess atop her mud-flecked head. Watching us emerge, grim-faced—

“He’s fine. Healed and awake,” I said quickly. Nesta’s shoulders sagged a bit.

She’d saved me the trouble of hunting her down to ask her about tracking the Cauldron. Better to do it now, with some privacy. Especially before Amren arrived.

But Mor said coldly, “Shouldn’t you be refilling that bucket?”

Nesta went stiff. Sized up Mor. But Mor didn’t flinch from that look.

After a moment, Nesta picked up her bucket, mud caked up to her shins, and continued on, steps squelching.

I turned, finding Azriel striding for the commanders’ tent, but Mor—

Livid. She was absolutely livid as she faced me. “She didn’t bother to tell anyone that you left.”

Hence the anger. “Nesta is many things, but she’s certainly loyal.” Mor didn’t smile. Not as she said, “You lied.”

She stormed for her own tent, and with that comment … I had no choice but to follow her in.

The space was mostly occupied with her bed and a small desk littered with weapons and maps. “I didn’t lie,” I said, wincing. “I just … didn’t tell you what I planned to do.”

She gaped at me. “You nudged me to leave you, insisting you would be safe at the camp.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Sorry? Sorry?” She splayed her arms. Bits of mud flew off.

I didn’t know what to do with my own—how to even look her in the eye. I’d seen her mad before, but never … never at me. I’d never had a friend to quarrel with—who cared enough.

“I know everything you’re about to say, every excuse for why I couldn’t go with you,” Mor snapped. “But none of it excuses you for lying to me. If you’d explained, I would have let you go—if you’d trusted me, I would have let you go. Or maybe talked you out of an idiotic idea that nearly got you killed. They are hunting for you. They want to get their hands on you and use youHurt you. You’ve only seen a taste of what Hybern can do, what they delight in. And to break you to his will, the king will do anything.”

I didn’t know what to say other than, “We needed this information.”

“Of course we did. But do you know what it felt like to look Rhys in the eye and tell him I had no idea where you were? To realize—for myself—that you had vanished, and likely duped me into enabling it?” She scrubbed at her filthy face, smearing the mud and gore further. “I thought you were smarter than that. Better than that sort of thing.”

The words sent a line of fire searing across my vision, burning down my spine. “I’m not going to listen to this.”

I turned to leave, but Mor was already there, gripping my arm. “Oh, yes, you are. Rhys might be all smiles and forgiveness, but you still have us to answer to. You are my High Lady. Do you understand what it means when you imply you don’t trust us to help you? To respect your wishes if you want to do something alone? When you lie to us?”

“You want to talk about lying?” I didn’t even know what came out of my mouth. I wished I’d killed Ianthe myself, if only to get rid of the rage that writhed along my bones. “How about the fact that you lie to yourself and all of us every single day?”

She went still, but didn’t loosen her hold on my arm. “You don’t know

what you’re talking about.”

“Why haven’t you ever made a move for Azriel, Mor? Why did you invite Helion to your bed? You clearly found no pleasure in it—I saw the way you looked the next day. So before you accuse me of being a liar, I’d suggest you look long and hard at yourself—”

“That’s enough.”

“Is it? Don’t like someone pushing you about it? About your choices?

Well, neither do I.”

Mor dropped my arm. “Get out.” “Fine.”

I didn’t glance back as I left. I wondered if she could hear my thunderous heartbeat with every storming step I took through the muddy camp.

Amren found me within twenty steps, a wrapped bundle in her arms. “Every time you lot leave me at home, someone manages to get gutted.”

You'll Also Like