Chapter no 80

A Court of Wings and Ruin

A world divided was not a world that could thrive.

That first meeting went on for hours, many of us short-tempered with exhaustion, but … channels were made. Stories were exchanged. Tales narrated of either side of the wall.

I told them my story. All of it.

I told it to the strangers who did not know me, I told it to my friends, and I told it to Tamlin, hard-faced by the distant wall. I explained the years of poverty, the trials Under the Mountain, the love I had found and let go, the love that had healed and saved me. My voice did not quaver. My voice did not break. Nearly everything I had seen in the Ouroboros—I let them see it, too. Told them.

And when I was done, Miryam and Drakon stepped forward to tell their own story.

Another glimmer of proof—that humans and Fae could not only work together, live together, but become so much more. I listened to every word of it—and did not bother to brush away my tears at times. I only clutched Rhys’s hand, and did not let go.

There were several others with tales. Some that went counter to our own. Relations that had not gone so well. Crimes committed. Hurts that could not be forgiven.

But it was a start.

There was still much work to be done, trust to build, but the matter of crafting a new wall …

It remained to be seen whether we could agree on that. Many of us were against it. Many of the humans, rightfully so, were wary. There were still

other Fae territories to contend with—those who had found Hybern’s promises appealing. Seductive.

The High Lords quarreled the most about the possibility of a new wall. And with every word of it, just as Helion said, that temporary allegiance frayed and snapped. Court lines were redrawn.

But at least they stayed until the end—until the early hours of the morning when we finally decided that the rest would be discussed on another day. At another place.

It would take time. Time, and healing, and trust.

And I wondered if the road ahead—the road to true peace—would perhaps be the hardest and longest one yet.

The others left, winnowing or flying or striding off into the darkness, already peeling back into their groups and courts and war-bands. I watched them go from the open doorway of the estate until they were only shadows against the night.

I’d seen Elain staring out the window earlier—watching Graysen leave with his men without so much as a look back at her. He had meant every word that day at his keep. Whether he noticed that Elain still wore his engagement ring, that Elain stared and stared at him as he walked off into the night … I didn’t know. Let Lucien deal with that—for now.

I sighed, leaning my head against the cracked stone door frame. The grand wooden door had been shattered completely, the splinters still scattered on the marble entry behind me.

I recognized his scent before I heard his easy steps approach.

“Where do you go now?” I asked without looking over my shoulder as Jurian paused beside me and stared into the darkness. Miryam and Drakon had left quickly, needing to tend to their wounded—and to spirit away the Cauldron to one of their ships before the other High Lords had a moment to consider its whereabouts.

Jurian leaned against the opposite door frame. “Queen Vassa offered me a place within her court.” Indeed, Vassa still remained inside, chatting with Lucien animatedly. I supposed that if she only had until dawn before turning back into that firebird, she wanted to make every minute count. Lucien, surprisingly, was chuckling, his shoulders loose and his head angled while he listened.

“Are you going to accept?”

Jurian’s face was solemn—tired. “What sort of court can a cursed queen

have? She’s bound to that death-lord—she has to go back to his lake on the continent at some point.” He shook his head. “Too bad the king was so spectacularly beheaded by your sister. I bet he could have found a way to break that curse of hers.”

“Too bad indeed,” I muttered. Jurian grunted his amusement.

“Do you think we stand a chance?” I asked, motioning to the human figures still walking, far away, back toward the camp. “Of peace between all of us?”

Jurian was silent for a long moment. “Yes,” he said softly. “I do.” And I didn’t know why, but it gave me comfort.



I was still mulling over Jurian’s words days later, when that war-camp was at last dismantled. When we said our final good-byes, and made promises— some more sincere than others—to see each other again.

When my court, my family, winnowed back to Velaris.

Sunlight still leaked in through the windows of the town house. The scent of citrus and the sea and baked bread still filled every room.

And distantly … Children were still laughing in the streets. Home. Home was the same—home was untouched.

I squeezed Rhys’s hand so tightly I thought he’d complain, but he only squeezed right back.

And even though we had all bathed, as we stood there … there was a grime to us. Like the blood hadn’t entirely washed off.

And I realized that home was indeed the same, but we … perhaps we were not.

Amren muttered, “I suppose I shall have to eat real food now.” “A monumental sacrifice,” Cassian quipped.

She gave him a vulgar gesture, but her eyes narrowed at the sight of his still-bandaged wings. Her eyes—normal silver eyes—slid to Nesta, holding herself by the stair rail, as if she’d retreat to her room.

My sister had barely spoken, barely eaten these past few days. Had not visited Cassian in his healing bed. Still had not talked to me about what had happened.

Amren said to her, “I’m surprised you didn’t take the king’s head back to have stuffed and hung on your wall.”

Nesta’s eyes shot to her.

Mor clicked her tongue. “Some would consider that joke to be in bad taste, Amren.”

“I saved your asses. I’m entitled to say what I want.”

And with that Amren stalked out of the house and into the city streets. “The new Amren is even crankier than the old one,” Elain said softly.

I burst out laughing. The others joined me, and even Elain smiled— broadly.

All but Nesta, who stared at nothing.

When the Cauldron had broken … I didn’t know if it had broken that power in her, too. Severed its bond. Or if it still lived, somewhere within her.

“Come on,” Mor said, slinging her arm around Azriel’s shoulders, then one carefully around Cassian’s and leading them toward the sitting room. “We need a drink.”

“We’re opening the fancy bottles,” Cassian called over his shoulder to Rhys, still limping on that barely healed leg.

My mate sketched a subservient bow. “Save a bit for me, at least.”

Rhys glanced at my sisters, then winked at me. The shadows of battle still lingered, but that wink … I was still shaky with terror that it wasn’t real. That it was all some fever dream inside the Cauldron.

It is real, he purred into my mind. I’ll prove it to you later. For hours.

I snorted, and watched as he made an excuse to no one in particular about finding food and sauntered down the hall, hands in his pockets.

Alone in the foyer with my sisters, Elain still smiling a bit, Nesta stone-faced, I took a breath.

Lucien had remained behind to help with any of the human wounded still needing Fae healing, but had promised to come here when he finished. And as for Tamlin …

I had not spoken to him. Had barely seen him after he’d told me to be happy, and given me back my mate. He’d left the meeting before I could say anything.

So I gave Lucien a note to hand to him if he saw him. Which I knew—I knew he would. There was a stop that Lucien had to make before he came here, he’d said. I knew where he meant.

My note to Tamlin was short. It conveyed everything I needed to say.

Thank you.

I hope you find happinesstoo.

And I did. Not just for what he’d done for Rhys, but … Even for an immortal, there was not enough time in life to waste it on hatred. On feeling it and putting it into the world.

So I wished him well—I truly did, and hoped that one day … One day, perhaps he would face those insidious fears, that destructive rage rotting away inside him.

“So,” I said to my sisters. “What now?”

Nesta just turned and went up the stairs, each step slow and stiff. She shut her door with a decisive click once she got to her bedroom.

“With Father,” Elain whispered, still staring up those steps, “I don’t think Nesta—”

“I know,” I murmured. “I think Nesta needs to sort through … a lot of it.” Too much of it.

Elain faced me. “Do we help her?”

I fiddled with the end of my braid. “Yes—but not today. Not tomorrow.” I loosed a breath. “When—when she’s ready.” When we were ready, too.

Elain nodded, smiling up at me, and it was tentative joy—and life that shone in her eyes. A promise of the future, gleaming and sweet.

I led her into the sitting room, where Cassian had a bottle of amber-colored liquor in each hand, Azriel was already rubbing his temples, and Mor was grabbing fine-cut crystal glasses off a shelf.

“What now?” Elain mused, at last answering my question from moments ago as her attention drifted to the windows facing the sunny street. That smile grew, bright enough that it lit up even Azriel’s shadows across the room. “I would like to build a garden,” she declared. “After all of this … I think the world needs more gardens.”

My throat was too tight to immediately reply, so I just kissed my sister’s cheek before I said, “Yes—I think it does.”

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