I couldn’t entirely shake the horror, the gore of my dream as I walked down the dark halls of the manor, the servants and Lucien long since asleep. But I had to do something—anything—after that nightmare. If only to avoid sleeping. A bit of paper in one hand and a pen gripped in the other, I carefully traced my steps, noting the windows and doors and exits, occasionally jotting down vague sketches and Xs on the parchment.
It was the best I could do, and to any literate human, my markings would have made no sense. But I couldn’t write or read more than my basic letters, and my makeshift map was better than nothing. If I were to remain here, it was essential to know the best hiding places, the easiest way out, should things ever go badly for me. I couldn’t entirely let go of the instinct.
It was too dim to admire any of the paintings lining the walls, and I didn’t dare risk a candle.
These past three days, there had been servants in the halls when I’d worked up the nerve to look at the art—and the part of me that spoke with Nesta’s voice had laughed at the idea of an ignorant human trying to admire faerie art. Some other time, then, I’d told myself. I would find another day¸ a quiet hour when no one was around, to look at them. I had plenty of hours now—a whole lifetime in front of me. Perhaps … perhaps I’d figure out what I wished to do with it.
I crept down the main staircase, moonlight flooding the black-and-white tiles of the entrance hall. I reached the bottom, my bare feet silent on the cold tiles, and listened. Nothing—no one.
I set my little map on the foyer table and drew a f e w Xs and circles to signify the doors, the windows, the marble stairs of the front hall. I would become so familiar with the house that I could navigate it even if someone blinded me.
A breeze announced his arrival—and I turned from the table toward the long hall, to the open glass doors to the garden.
I’d forgotten how huge he was in this form—
forgotten the curled horns and lupine face, the bearlike body that moved with a feline fluidity. His green eyes glowed in the darkness, fixing on me, and as the doors snicked shut behind him, the clicking of claws on marble filled the hall. I stood still—not daring to flinch, to move a muscle.
He limped slightly. And in the moonlight, dark, shining stains were left in his wake.
He continued toward me, stealing the air from the entire hall. He was so big that the space felt cramped, like a cage. The scrape of claw, a huff of uneven breathing, the dripping of blood.
Between one step and the next, he changed forms, and I squeezed my eyes shut at the blinding flash. When at last my eyes adjusted to the returning darkness, he was standing in front of me.
Standing, but—not quite there. No sign of the baldric, or his knives. His clothes were in shreds
—long, vicious slashes that made me wonder how he wasn’t gutted and dead. But the muscled skin peering out beneath his shirt was smooth, unharmed.
“Did you kill the Bogge?” My voice was hardly
more than a whisper.
“Yes.” A dull, empty answer. As if he couldn’t be bothered to remember to be pleasant. As if I were at the very, very bottom of a long list of priorities.
“You’re hurt,” I said even more quietly.
Indeed, his hand was covered in blood, even more splattering on the floor beneath him. He looked at it blankly—as if it took some monumental effort to remember that he even had a hand, and that it was injured. What effort of will and strength had it taken to kill the Bogge, to face that wretched menace? How deep had he had to dig inside himself—to whatever immortal power and animal that lived there—to kill it?
He glanced down at the map on the table, and his voice was void of anything—any emotion, any anger or amusement—as he said, “What is that?”
I snatched up the map. “I thought I should learn my surroundings.”
Drip, drip, drip.
I opened my mouth to point out his hand again, but he said, “You can’t write, can you.”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t know what to say.
Ignorant, insignificant human.
“No wonder you became so adept at other things.”
I supposed he was so far gone in thinking about his encounter with the Bogge that he hadn’t realized the compliment he’d given me. If it was a compliment.
Another splatter of blood on the marble. “Where can we clean up your hand?”
He lifted his head to look at me again. Still and silent and weary. Then he said, “There’s a small infirmary.”
I wanted to tell myself that it was probably the most useful thing I’d learned all night. But as I followed him there, avoiding the blood he trailed, I thought of what Lucien had told me about his isolation, that burden, thought of what Tamlin had mentioned about how these estates should not have been his, and felt … sorry for him.
The infirmary was well stocked, but was more of a supply closet with a worktable than an actual place to host sick faeries. I supposed that was all they needed when they could heal themselves with their immortal powers. But this wound—this wound wasn’t healing.
Tamlin slumped against the edge of the table, gripping his injured hand at the wrist as he watched me sort through the supplies in the cabinets and drawers. When I’d gathered what I needed, I tried not to balk at the thought of touching him, but … I didn’t let myself give in to my dread as I took his hand, the heat of his skin like an inferno against my cool fingers.
I cleaned off his bloody, dirty hand, bracing for the first flash of those claws. But his claws remained retracted, and he kept silent as I bound and wrapped his hand—surprisingly enough, there were no more than a few vicious cuts, none of them requiring stitching.
I secured the bandage in place and stepped away, bringing the bowl of bloody water to the deep sink in the back of the room. His eyes were a
brand upon me as I finished cleaning, and the room became too small, too hot. He’d killed the Bogge and walked away relatively unscathed. If Tamlin was that powerful, then the High Lords of Prythian must be near-gods. Every mortal instinct in my body bleated in panic at the thought.
I was almost at the open door, stifling the urge to bolt back to my room, when he said, “You can’t write, yet you learned to hunt, to survive. How?”
I paused with my foot on the threshold. “That’s what happens when you’re responsible for lives other than your own, isn’t it? You do what you have to do.”
He was still sitting on the table, still straddling that inner line between the here and now and wherever he’d had to go in his mind to endure the fight with the Bogge. I met his feral and glowing stare.
“You aren’t what I expected—for a human,” he said.
I didn’t reply. And he didn’t say good-bye as I walked out.
The next morning, as I made my way down the grand staircase, I tried not to think too much about the clean-washed marble tiles on the floor below
—no sign of the blood Tamlin had lost. I tried not to think too much at all about our encounter, actually.
When I found the front hall empty, I almost smiled—felt a ripple in that hollow emptiness that had been hounding me. Perhaps now, perhaps in this moment of quiet, I could at last look through the art on the walls, take time to observe it, learn it, admire it.
Heart racing at the thought, I was about to head toward a hall I had noted was nearly covered in painting after painting when low male voices floated out from the dining room.
I paused. The voices were tense enough that I made my steps silent as I slid into the shadows behind the open door. A cowardly, wretched thing to do—but what they were saying had me shoving aside any guilt.
“I just want to know what you think you’re doing.” It was Lucien—that familiar lazy viciousness coating each word.
“What are you doing?” Tamlin snapped. Through the space between the hinge and the door I could glimpse the two of them standing almost face-to-face. On Tamlin’s nonbandaged hand, his claws shone in the morning light.
“Me?” Lucien put a hand on his chest. “By the Cauldron, Tam—there isn’t much time, and you’re just sulking and glowering. You’re not even trying to fake it anymore.”
My brows rose. Tamlin turned away but whirled back a moment later, his teeth bared. “It was a mistake from the start. I can’t stomach it, not after what my father did to their kind, to their lands. I won’t follow in his footsteps—won’t be that sort of person. So back off.”
“Back off? Back off while you seal our fates and ruin everything? I stayed with you out of hope, not to watch you stumble. For someone with a heart of stone, yours is certainly soft these days. The Bogge was on our lands—the Bogge, Tamlin! The
barriers between courts have vanished, and even our woods are teeming with filth like the puca. Are you just going to start living out there, slaughtering every bit of vermin that slinks in?”
“Watch your mouth,” Tamlin said.
Lucien stepped toward him, exposing his teeth as well. A pulsing kind of air hit me in the stomach, and a metallic stench filled my nose. But I couldn’t see any magic—only feel it. I couldn’t tell if that made it worse.
“Don’t push me, Lucien.” Tamlin’s tone became dangerously quiet, and the hair on the back of my neck stood as he emitted a growl that was pure animal. “You think I don’t know what’s happening on my own lands? What I’ve got to lose? What’s lost already?”
The blight. Perhaps it was contained, but it seemed it was still wreaking havoc—still a threat, and perhaps one they truly didn’t want me knowing about, either from lack of trust or because … because I was no one and nothing to them. I leaned forward, but as I did, my finger slipped and softly thudded against the door. A human might not have
heard, but both High Fae whirled. My heart stumbled.
I stepped toward the threshold, clearing my throat as I came up with a dozen excuses to shield myself. I looked at Lucien and forced myself to smile. His eyes widened, and I had to wonder if it was because of that smile, or because I looked truly guilty. “Are you going out for a ride?” I said, feeling a bit sick as I gestured behind me with a thumb. I hadn’t planned on riding with him today, but it sounded like a decent excuse.
Lucien’s russet eye was bright, though the smile he gave me didn’t meet it. The face of Tamlin’s emissary—more court-trained and calculating than I’d seen him yet. “I’m unavailable today,” he said. He jerked his chin to Tamlin. “He’ll go with you.”
Tamlin shot his friend a look of disdain that he took few pains to hide. His usual baldric was armed with more knives than I’d seen before, and their ornate metal handles glinted as he turned to me, his shoulders tight. “Whenever you want to go, just say so.” The claws of his free hand slipped back under his skin.
No. I almost said it aloud as I turned pleading eyes to Lucien. Lucien merely patted my shoulder as he passed by. “Perhaps tomorrow, human.”
Alone with Tamlin, I swallowed hard. He stood there, waiting.
“I don’t want to go for a hunt,” I finally said quietly. True. “I hate hunting.”
He cocked his head. “Then what do you want to do?”
Tamlin led me down the halls. A soft breeze laced with the scent of roses slipped in through the open windows to caress my face.
“You’ve been going for hunts,” Tamlin said at last, “but you really don’t have any interest in hunting.” He cast me a sidelong glance. “No wonder you two never catch anything.”
No trace of the hollow, cold warrior of the night before, or of the angry Fae noble of minutes before. Just Tamlin right now, it seemed.
I’d be a fool to let my guard down around
Tamlin, to think that his acting naturally meant anything, especially when something was so clearly amiss at his estate. He’d taken down the Bogge—and that made him the most dangerous creature I’d ever encountered. I didn’t quite know what to make of him, and said somewhat stiltedly, “How’s your hand?”
He flexed his bandaged hand, studying the white bindings, stark and clean against his sun-kissed skin. “I didn’t thank you.”
“You don’t need to.”
But he shook his head, and his golden hair caught and held the morning light as if it were spun from the sun itself. “The Bogge’s bite was crafted to slow the healing of High Fae long enough to kill us. You have my gratitude.” When I shrugged it off, he added, “How did you learn to bind wounds like this? I can still use the hand, even with the wrappings.”
“Trial and error. I had to be able to pull a bowstring the next day.”
He was quiet as we turned down another sun-drenched marble hallway, and I dared to look at
him. I found him carefully studying me, his lips in a thin line. “Has anyone ever taken care of you?” he asked quietly.
“No.” I’d long since stopped feeling sorry for myself about it.
“Did you learn to hunt in a similar manner—trial and error?”
“I spied on hunters when I could get away with it, and then practiced until I hit something. When I missed, we didn’t eat. So learning how to aim was the first thing I figured out.”
“I’m curious,” he said casually. The amber in his green eyes was glowing. Perhaps not all traces of that beast-warrior were gone. “Are you ever going to use that knife you stole from my table?”
I stiffened. “How did you know?”
Beneath the mask, I could have sworn his brows were raised. “I was trained to notice those things. But I could smell the fear on you, more than anything.”
I grumbled, “I thought no one noticed.”
He gave me a crooked smile, more genuine than all the faked smiles and flattery he’d given me
before. “Regardless of the Treaty, if you want to stand a chance at escaping my kind, you’ll need to think more creatively than stealing dinner knives. But with your affinity for eavesdropping, maybe you’ll someday learn something valuable.”
My ears flared with heat. “I—I wasn’t … Sorry,” I mumbled. But I ran through what I’d overheard. There was no point in pretending I hadn’t eavesdropped. “Lucien said you didn’t have much time. What did he mean? Are more creatures like the Bogge going to come here thanks to the blight?”
Tamlin went rigid, scanning the hall around us, taking in every sight and sound and scent. Then he shrugged, too stiff to be genuine. “I’m an immortal. I have nothing but time, Feyre.”
He said my name with such … intimacy. As if he weren’t a creature capable of killing monsters made from nightmares. I opened my mouth to demand more of an answer, but he cut me off. “The force plaguing our lands and powers—that, too, will pass someday, if we’re Cauldron-blessed. But yes—now that the Bogge entered these lands, I’d
say it’s fair to assume others might follow it, especially if the puca was already so bold.”
If the borders between the courts were gone, though, as I’d heard Lucien say—if everything in Prythian was different, as Tamlin had claimed, thanks to this blight … Well, I didn’t want to be caught up in some brutal war or revolution. I doubted I’d survive very long.
Tamlin strode ahead and opened a set of double doors at the end of the hall. The powerful muscles of his back shifted beneath his clothes. I’d never forget what he was—what he was capable of. What he’d been trained to do, apparently.
“As requested,” he said, “the study.”
I saw what lay beyond him and my stomach twisted.