Chapter no 11

A Court of Thorns and Roses

I didn’t give myself a chance to panic, to doubt, to do anything but wish I had stolen some food from my breakfast table as I layered on tunic after tunic and bundled myself in a cloak, stuffing the knife I’d stolen into my boot. The extra clothes in the satchel would just be a burden to carry.

My father. My father had come to take me—to save me. Whatever benefits Tamlin had given him upon my departure couldn’t be too tempting, then. Maybe he had a ship prepared to take us far, far away—maybe he had somehow sold the cottage and gotten enough money to set us up in a new place, a new continent.

My father—my crippled, broken father had come.

A quick survey of the ground beneath my window revealed no one outside—and the silent house told me no one had spotted my father yet. He was still waiting by the hedge, now beckoning to

me. At least Tamlin had not returned.

With a final glance at my room, listening for anyone approaching from the hall, I grasped the nearby trellis of wisteria and eased down the building.

I winced at the crunch of gravel beneath my boots, but my father was already moving toward the outer gates, limping along with his cane. How had he even gotten here? There had to be horses nearby, then. He was hardly wearing enough clothing for the winter that would await us once we crossed the wall. But I’d layered on so much that I could spare him some items if need be.

Keeping my movements light and silent, carefully avoiding the light of the moon, I hurried after my father. He moved with surprising swiftness toward the darkened hedges and the gate beyond.

Only a few hall candles were burning inside the house. I didn’t dare breathe too loudly—didn’t dare call for my father as he limped toward the gate. If we left now, if he indeed had horses, we could be halfway home by the time they realized I

was gone. Then we’d flee—flee Tamlin, flee the blight that could soon invade our lands.

My father reached the gates. They were already open, the dark forest beyond beckoning. He must have hidden the horses deeper in. He turned toward me, that familiar face drawn and tight, those brown eyes clear for once, and beckoned. Hurry, hurry, every movement of his hand seemed to shout.

My heart was a raging beat in my chest, in my throat. Only a few feet now—to him, to freedom, to a new life—

A massive hand wrapped around my arm. “Going somewhere?”

Shit, shit, shit.

Tamlin’s claws poked through my layers of clothing as I looked up at him in unabashed terror.

I didn’t dare move, not as his lips thinned and the muscles in his jaw quivered. Not as he opened his mouth and I glimpsed fangs—long, throat-tearing fangs shining in the moonlight.

He was going to kill me—kill me right there, and then kill my father. No more loopholes, no

more flattery, no more mercy. He didn’t care anymore. I was as good as dead.

“Please,” I breathed. “My father—”

“Your father?” He lifted his stare to the gates behind me, and his growl rumbled through me as he bared his teeth. “Why don’t you look again?” He released me.

I staggered back a step, whirling, sucking in a breath to tell my father to run, but—

But he wasn’t there. Only a pale bow and a quiver of pale arrows remained, propped up against the gates. Mountain ash. They hadn’t been there moments before, hadn’t—

They rippled, as if they were nothing but water

—and then the bow and quiver became a large pack, laden with supplies. Another ripple—and there were my sisters, huddled together, weeping.

My knees buckled. “What is …” I didn’t finish the question. My father now stood there, still hunched and beckoning. A flawless rendering.

“Weren’t you warned to keep your wits about you?” Tamlin snapped. “That your human senses would betray you?” He stepped beyond me and let

out a snarl so vicious that whatever the thing was by the gates shimmered with light and darted out as fast as lightning streaking through the dark.

“Fool,” he said to me, turning. “If you’re ever going to run away, at least do it in the daytime.” He stared me down, and the fangs slowly retracted. The claws remained. “There are worse things than the Bogge prowling these woods at night. That thing at the gates isn’t one of them—and it still would have taken a good, long while devouring you.”

Somehow, my mouth began working again. And of all the things to say, I blurted, “Can you blame me? My crippled father appears beneath my window, and you think I’m not going to run for him? Did you actually think I’d gladly stay here forever, even if you’d taken care of my family, all for some Treaty that had nothing to do with me and allows your kind to slaughter humans as you see fit?”

He flexed his fingers as if trying to get the claws back in, but they remained out, ready to slice through flesh and bone. “What do you want,


“I want to go home!”

“Home to what, exactly? You’d prefer that miserable human existence to this?”

“I made a promise,” I said, my breathing ragged. “To my mother, when she died. That I’d look after my family. That I’d take care of them. All I have done, every single day, every hour, has been for that vow. And just because I was hunting to save my family, to put food in their bellies, I’m now forced to break it.”

He stalked toward the house, and I gave him a wide berth before falling into step behind him. His claws slowly, slowly retracted. He didn’t look at me as he said, “You are not breaking your vow— you are fulfilling it, and then some, by staying here. Your family is better cared for now than they were when you were there.”

Those chipped, miscolored paintings inside the cottage flashed in my vision. Perhaps they would forget who had even painted them in the first place. Insignificant—that’s what all those years I’d given them would be, as insignificant as I was to these

High Fae. And that dream I’d had, of one day living with my father, with enough food and money and paint … it had been my dream—no one else’s. I rubbed at my chest. “I can’t just give up on it,

on them. No matter what you say.”

Even if I had been a fool—a stupid, human fool

—to believe my father would ever actually come for me.

Tamlin eyed me sidelong. “You’re not giving up on them.”

“Living in luxury, stuffing myself with food?

How is that not—”

“They are cared for—they are fed and comfortable.”

Fed and comfortable. If he couldn’t lie, if it was true, then … then it was beyond anything I’d ever dared hope for.

Then … my vow to my mother was fulfilled.

It stunned me enough that I didn’t say anything for a moment as we walked.

My life was now owned by the Treaty, but … perhaps I’d been freed in another sort of way.

We neared the sweeping stairs that led into the manor, and I finally asked, “Lucien goes on border patrol, and you’ve mentioned other sentries—yet I’ve never seen one here. Where are they all?”

“At the border,” he said, as if that were a suitable answer. Then he added, “We don’t need sentries if I’m here.”

Because he was deadly enough. I tried not to think about it, but still I asked, “Were you trained as a warrior, then?”

“Yes.” When I didn’t reply, he added, “I spent most of my life in my father’s war-band on the borders, training as a warrior to one day serve him

—or others. Running these lands … was not supposed to fall to me.” The flatness with which he said it told me enough about how he felt about his current title, about why the presence of his silver-tongued friend was necessary.

But it was too personal, too demanding, to ask what had occurred to change his circumstances so greatly. So I cleared my throat and said, “What manner of faeries prowl the woods beyond this gate, if the Bogge isn’t the worst of them? What

was that thing?

What I’d meant to ask was, What would have tormented and then eaten me? Who are you to be so powerful that they pose no threat to you?

He paused on the bottom step, waiting for me to catch up. “A puca. They use your own desires to lure you to some remote place. Then they eat you. Slowly. It probably smelled your human scent in the woods and followed it to the house.” I shivered and didn’t bother tohide it. Tamlin went on. “These lands used to be well guarded. The deadlier faeries were contained within the borders of their native territories, monitored by the local Fae lords, or driven into hiding. Creatures like the puca never would have dared set foot here. But now, the sickness that infected Prythian has weakened the wards that kept them out.” A long pause, like the words were choked out of him. “Things are different now. It’s not safe to travel alone at night

—especially if you’re human.”

Because humans were defenseless as babes compared to natural-born predators like Lucien— and Tamlin, who didn’t need weapons to hunt. I

glanced at his hands but found no trace of the claws. Only tanned, callused skin.

“What else is different now?” I asked, trailing him up the marble front steps.

He didn’t stop this time, didn’t even look over his shoulder to see me as he said, “Everything.”



So I truly was to live there forever. As much as I longed to ensure that Tamlin’s word about caring for my family was true, as much as his claim that I was taking better care of my family by staying away—even if I was truly fulfilling that vow to my mother by staying in Prythian … Without the weight of that promise, I was left hollow and empty.

Over the next three days, I found myself joining Lucien on Andras’s old patrol while Tamlin hunted the grounds for the Bogge, unseen by us. Despite being an occasional bastard, Lucien didn’t seem to mind my company, and he did most of the talking, which was fine; it left me to brood over the

consequences of firing a single arrow.

An arrow. I never fired a single one during those three days we rode along the border. That very morning I’d spied a red doe in a glen and aimed out of instinct, my arrow poised to fly right into her eye as Lucien sneered that she was not a faerie, at least. But I’d stared at her—fat and healthy and content—and then slackened the bow, replaced the arrow in my quiver, and let the doe wander on.

I never saw Tamlin around the manor—off hunting the Bogge day and night, Lucien informed me. Even at dinner, he spoke little before leaving early—off to continue his hunt, night after night. I didn’t mind his absence. It was a relief, if anything. On the third night after my encounter with the puca, I’d scarcely sat down before Tamlin got up, giving an excuse about not wanting to waste

hunting time.

Lucien and I stared after him for a moment.

What I could see of Lucien’s face was pale and tight. “You worry about him,” I said.

Lucien slumped in his seat, wholly undignified for a Fae lord. “Tamlin gets into … moods.”

“He doesn’t want your help hunting the Bogge?” “He prefers being alone. And having the Bogge on our lands … I don’t suppose you’d understand. The puca are minor enough not to bother him, but even after he’s shredded the Bogge, he’ll brood

over it.”

“And there’s no one who can help him at all?” “He would probably shred them for disobeying

his order to stay away.”

A brush of ice slithered across my nape. “He would be that brutal?”

Lucien studied the wine in his goblet. “You don’t hold on to power by being everyone’s friend. And among the faeries, lesser and High Fae alike, a firm hand is needed. We’re too powerful, and too bored with immortality, to be checked by anything else.”

It seemed like a cold, lonely position to have, especially when you didn’t particularly want it. I wasn’t sure why it bothered me so much.



The snow was falling, thick and merciless, already up to my knees as I pulled the bowstring back—farther and farther, until my arm trembled. Behind me, a shadow lurked—no, watched. I didn’t dare turn to look at it, to see who might be within that shadow, observing, not as the wolf stared at me across the clearing.

Just staring. As if waiting, as if daring me to fire the ash arrow.

No—no, I didn’t want to do it, not this time, not again, not—

But I had no control over my fingers, absolutely none, and he was still staring as I fired.

One shot—one shot straight through that golden eye.

A plume of blood splattering the snow, a thud of a heavy body, a sigh of wind. No.

It wasn’t a wolf that hit the snow—no, it was a man, tall and well formed.

No—not a man. A High Fae, with those pointed ears.

I blinked, and then—then my hands were warm

and sticky with blood, then his body was red and skinless, steaming in the cold, and it was his skin

his skin—that I held in my hands, and—



I threw myself awake, sweat slipping down my back, and forced myself to breathe, to open my eyes and note each detail of the night-dark bedroom. Real—this was real.

But I could still see that High Fae male facedown in the snow, my arrow through his eye, red and bloody all over from where I’d cut and peeled off his skin.

Bile stung my throat.

Not real. Just a dream. Even if what I’d done to Andras, even as a wolf, was … was …

I scrubbed at my face. Perhaps it was the quiet, the hollowness, of the past few days—perhaps it was only that I no longer had to think hour to hour about how to keep my family alive, but … It was regret, and maybe shame, that coated my tongue, my bones.

I shuddered as if I could fling it off, and kicked back the sheets to rise from the bed.

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