She remembered the ceremony. Bear prodding her arm with the rod, and the terrible sting she’d felt spreading into her muscle. Then the fading of sounds, of voices and drums, and a tilting, tilting hall.
She’d been poisoned.
She pressed her eyes closed. It was so unbelievably medieval that she’d laugh if she could, but then rage and fear collided inside of her. The shaking in her hands spread to the rest of her body as the reality of what had happened sank in. She didn’t know how she could feel so cold with her blood burning, searing inside her veins. Rolling onto her side, she tucked into a ball and squeezed every muscle tight as chills shook her.
Who had done this? Brooke? Wylan? Was it Molly? Could it have been the one person she’d begun to trust here? Aria remembered the night she’d sung with Roar in the cookhouse. So many people had smiled at her then. Had they smiled while she’d been poisoned, too?
She licked her dry lips. The bitterness she tasted—was that poison? Her eye caught on the falcon figurine sitting on the nightstand, its small, blunt lines painted blue with Aether. She stared at it as sleep came and swept her away.
When she woke again, someone had lit a candle by the bedside. She squinted, the brightness of the flame hurting her eyes. Perry was speaking in the next room, his voice hoarse and anxious. Her pulse immediately picked up.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I felt sick in there. But I didn’t know it was because of her. ”
Reef responded with no trace of surprise. “You’re rendered to her. ” Aria heard the creak of a floorboard and then his soft curse. “I thought you might be. I’ve been praying I was wrong. ”
Aria stared at the door, struggling to understand. Perry had rendered to her?
“You think that’s the last time her tempers are going to affect you?” Reef said. “Because it won’t be. You’re rendered to a girl no one wants around. I can’t think of anything worse than that. She’s clouding your judgment—”
“She is, Perry. She can’t stay. You have to see that. And after what you just did, the Tides sure as hell won’t accept her now. You just chose her over one of them. ”
“That’s not what I did. I can’t allow murder under my nose, no matter who’s involved. ”
“Of course not,” Reef said, “but people see what they want to see. They’ll come after her aga
in, or worse, they’ll come after you. And don’t tell me you’re going north. The Tides need you here. ”
She waited for Perry to disagree. He didn’t.
A moment later the door opened, and he walked in, his fingers pressed to his eyes. He looked up, freezing when he saw her awake. Then he shut the door and came to the bed. He took her hand, his green eyes filling with tears.
“Aria … I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. There’s no way for me to tell you how sorry I am. ”
She shook her head. “Not you. Not your fault. ” She couldn’t find the strength to talk. A red bruise spread over one side of his jaw, and his lower lip was swollen. “You’re hurt. ”
“It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. ”
It did matter. He was hurt because of her. It mattered.
“What time is it?” She had no idea if an hour had passed. A day. A week. Every time she woke, it was dark in the room. Night outside. That was all she knew.
“Almost dawn. ”
“Have you slept?” she asked.
Perry lifted his eyebrows. “Sleep?” He shook his head. “No … haven’t even tried. ”
She was too tired. Too weak to say what she wanted. Then she realized it would only take one word. She patted the bed. “You. ”
He lay down, gathering her close. Aria slumped against him, turning her ear to his chest. She listened to his heartbeat—a good, solid sound—as the warmth of his body melted into her. She’d been in a fog earlier. Hallucinating and searching for what was real. She found it in him. He was real.
“We’re together now,” he whispered against her forehead. “The way we should be. ”
She closed her eyes and relaxed her breathing, seeking calm. He was rendered to her. Maybe he’d feel it too. “Sleep, Perry. ”
“I will,” he said. “With you right here, I will. ”