Feyre, Tamlin breathed from behind us.
But where did they go? I looked to Azriel, the shadowsinger still standing with preternatural stillness against the wall. You found no trace at all of where they might have vanished to?None, Rhys answered for him. Weve sent messengers back since—to no avail.
I rubbed at my face, sealing off that path of hope. Then if they are not a possible ally … How do we keep those other territories on the continent from joining with Hybern—from sending their armies here? I winced. Thats our plan—isnt it?Rhys smiled grimly. It is. One weve been working on while you were away. I waited, trying not to pace as Amrens silver eyes seemed to glow with amusement. I looked at Hybern first. At its people. As best I could.Hed gone to Hybern—
Rhys smirked at the concern flaring across my face. Id hoped that Hybern might have some internal conflict to exploit—to get them to collapse from within. That its people might not want this war, might see it as costly and dangerous and unnecessary. But five hundred years on that island, with little trade, little opportunity … Hyberns people are hungry for change. Or rather … a change back to the old days, when they had human slaves to do their work, when there were no barriers keeping them from what they now perceive as their right.Amren slammed shut the book shed been perusing. Fools. She shook her head, inky hair swaying, as she scowled up at me. Hyberns wealth has been dwindling for centuries. Most of their trade routes before the War dealt with the South—with the Black Land. But once it went to the humans … We dont know if Hyberns king deliberately failed to establish new trade routes and opportunities for his people in order to one day fuel this war, or if he was just that shortsighted and let everything fall apart. But for centuries now, Hyberns people have been festering. Hybern let their resentment of their growing stagnation and poverty fester.
There are many High Fae, Mor said carefully, who believed before the War, and still believe now, that humans … that they are property. There were many High Fae who knew nothing but privilege thanks to those slaves. And when that privilege was ripped away from them, when they were forced to leave their homelands or forced to make room for other High Fae and re-form territories—create new ones—above that wall … They have not forgotten that anger, even centuries later. Especially not in places like Hybern, where their territory and population remained mostly untouched by change. They were one of the few who did not have to yield any land to the wall—and did not yield any land to the Fae territories now looking for a new home. Isolated, growing poorer, with no slaves to do their labor … Hybern has long viewed the days before the War as a golden era. And these centuries since as a dark age.
I rubbed at my chest. Theyre all insane, to think that.Seeing how Finley is with Madison tells me it is possible for love to last, to grow. Just not for me, not now. One final lesson the Lorders have taught me is this: there are no second chances. I chose Ben, turned my back on Aiden, and I cant take it back. But Aiden was right, wasnt he? Ben was the past. I dont miss him the way I do Aiden: with Ben it is more grieving for something that was. Not something that could have been.
That should have been.One last climb and I finally reach my destination: Astrids slate mine prison. She is the only prisoner there now. Behind it are unmarked graves, with flowers and a memorial; a public ceremony today to unveil it. Mum is here, and Stella. Gregory and Dr Lysander also. There are survivors, women newly released from the prison along with Madison, wearing both the marks of their ordeals and nervous joy at unexpected freedom on their faces. Along with survivors are family and friends, like us, of those who didnt make it.
And one surprise. I almost stop breathing when Aiden walks up to me, gives me a hug. He doesnt say anything, just holds me a moment, and I cling to him, tight.The ceremony begins. Gregory had been as good as his word: hed found his daughter. Turns out she died just weeks after I was born – natural causes. If you can call dying of untreated infection after childbirth natural. Maybe, it was an escape? Though I like to think she would have stayed with me if she could.