Chapter no 16

A Court of Thorns and Roses

After soaking in the bath for nearly an hour, I found myself sitting in a low-backed chair before my room’s roaring fireplace, savoring the feel of Alis brushing out my damp hair. Though dinner was to be served soon, Alis had a cup of molten chocolate brought up and refused to do anything until I’d had a few sips.

It was the best thing I’d ever tasted. I drank from the thick mug as she brushed my hair, nearly purring at the feel of her thin fingers along my scalp.

But when the other maids had gone downstairs to help with the evening meal, I lowered my mug into my lap. “If more faeries keep crossing the court borders and attacking, is there going to be a war?” Maybe we should just take a stand—maybe it’s time to say enough, Lucien had said to Tamlin that first night.

The brush stilled. “Don’t ask such questions.

You’ll call down bad luck.”

I twisted in my seat, glaring up into her masked face. “Why aren’t the other High Lords keeping their subjects in line? Why are these awful creatures allowed to roam wherever they want? Someone—someone began telling me a story about a king in Hybern—”

Alis grabbed my shoulder and pivoted me around. “It’s none of your concern.”

“Oh, I think it is.” I turned around again, gripping the back of the wooden chair. “If this spills into the human world—if there’s war, or this blight poisons our lands …” I pushed back against the crushing panic. I had to warn my family—had to write to them. Soon.

“The less you know, the better. Let Lord Tamlin deal with it—he’s the only one who can.” The Suriel had said as much. Alis’s brown eyes were hard, unforgiving. “You think no one would tell me what you asked the kitchen to give you today, or realize what you went to trap? Foolish, stupid girl. Had the Suriel not been in a benevolent mood, you would have deserved the death it gave you. I don’t

know what’s worse: this, or your idiocy with the puca.”

“Would you have done anything else? If you had a family—”

“I do have a family.”

I looked her up and down. There was no ring on her finger.

Alis noticed my stare and said, “My sister and her mate were murdered nigh on fifty years ago, leaving two younglings behind. Everything I do, everything I work for, is for those boys. So you don’t get the right to give me that look and ask me if I would do anything different, girl.”

“Where are they? Do they live here?” Perhaps that was why there were children’s books in the study. Maybe those two small, shining figures in the garden … maybe that had been them.

“No, they don’t live here,” she said, too sharply. “They are somewhere else—far away.”

I considered what she said, then cocked my head. “Do faerie children age differently?” If their parents had been killed almost fifty years ago, they could hardly be boys.

“Ah, some age like you and can breed as often as rabbits, but there are kinds—like me, like the High Fae—who are rarely able to produce younglings. The ones who are born age quite a bit slower. We all had a shock when my sister conceived the second one only five years later— and the eldest won’t even reach adulthood until he’s seventy-five. But they’re so rare—all our young are—and more precious to us than jewels or gold.” She clenched her jaw tightly enough that I knew that was all I would likely get from her.

“I didn’t mean to question your dedication to them,” I said quietly. When she didn’t reply, I added, “I understand what you mean—about doing everything for them.”

Alis’s lips thinned, but she said, “The next time that fool Lucien gives you advice on how to trap the Suriel, you come to me. Dead chickens, my sagging ass. All you needed to do was offer it a new robe, and it would have groveled at your feet.”



By the time I entered the dining room I’d stopped shaking, and some semblance of warmth had returned to my veins. High Lord of Prythian or no, I wouldn’t cower—not after what I’d been through today.

Lucien and Tamlin were already waiting for me at the table. “Good evening,” I said, moving to my usual seat. Lucien cocked his head in a silent inquiry, and I gave him a subtle nod as I sat. His secret was still safe, though he deserved to be walloped for sending me so unprepared to the Suriel.

Lucien slouched a bit in his chair. “I heard you two had a rather exciting afternoon. I wish I could have been there to help.”

A hidden, perhaps halfhearted apology, but I gave him another little nod.

He said with forced lightness, “Well, you still look lovely, regardless of your Hell-sent afternoon.”

I snorted. I’d never looked lovely a day in my life. “I thought faeries couldn’t lie.”

Tamlin choked on his wine, but Lucien grinned,

that scar stark and brutal. “Who told you that?” “Everyone knows it,” I said, piling food on my

plate even as I began wondering about everything they’d said to me so far, every statement I’d accepted as pure truth.

Lucien leaned back in his chair, smiling with feline delight. “Of course we can lie. We find lying to be an art. And we lied when we told those ancient mortals that we couldn’t speak an untruth. How else would we get them to trust us and do our bidding?”

My mouth became a thin, tight line. He was telling the truth—because if he was lying … The logic of it made my head spin. “Iron?” I managed to say.

“Doesn’t do us a lick of harm. Only ash, as you well know.”

My face warmed. I’d taken everything they said as truth. Perhaps the Suriel had been lying today, too, with that long-winded explanation about the politics of the faerie realms. About staying with the High Lord, and everything being fixed in the end.

I looked to Tamlin. High Lord. That wasn’t a lie

—I could feel its truth in my bones. Even though he didn’t act like the High Lords of legend who had sacrificed virgins and slaughtered humans at will. No—Tamlin was … exactly as those fanatic, calf-eyed Children of the Blessed had depicted the bounties and comforts of Prythian.

“Even though Lucien revealed some of our closely guarded secrets,” Tamlin said, throwing the last word at his companion with a growl, “we’ve never used your misinformation against you.” His gaze met mine. “We never willingly lied to you.”

I managed a nod and took a long sip of water. I ate in silence, so busy trying to decipher every word I’d overheard since arriving that I didn’t realize when Lucien excused himself before dessert. I was left alone with the most dangerous being I’d ever encountered.

The walls of the room pressed in on me.

“Are you feeling … better?” Though he had his chin propped on a fist, concern—and perhaps surprise at that concern—shone in his eyes.

I swallowed hard. “If I never encounter a naga

again, I’ll consider myself fortunate.”

“What were you doing out in the western woods?”

Truth or lie, lie or truth … both. “I heard a legend once about a creature who answers your questions, if you can catch it.”

Tamlin flinched as his claws shot out, slicing his face. But the wounds closed as soon as they opened, leaving only a smear of blood running down his golden skin—which he wiped away with the back of his sleeve. “You went to catch the Suriel.”

“I caught the Suriel,” I corrected.

“And did it tell you what you wanted to know?” I wasn’t sure he was breathing.

“We were interrupted by the naga before it could tell me anything worthwhile.”

His mouth tightened. “I’d start shouting, but I think today was punishment enough.” He shook his head. “You actually snared the Suriel. A human girl.”

Despite myself, despite the afternoon, my lips twitched upward. “Is it supposed to be hard?”

He chuckled, then fished something out of his pocket. “Well, if I’m lucky, I won’t have to trap the Suriel to learn what this is about.” He lifted my crumpled list of words.

My heart dropped to my stomach. “It’s …” I couldn’t think of a suitable lie—everything was absurd.

Unusual? Queue? Slaying? Conflagration?” He read the list. I wanted to curl up and die. Words I couldn’t recognize from the books— words that now seemed so simple, so absurdly easy as he was saying them aloud. “Is this a poem about murdering me and then burning my body?”

My throat closed up, and I had to clench my hands into fists to keep from hiding my face behind them. “Good night,” I said, barely more than a whisper, and stood on shaking knees.

I was nearly to the door when he spoke again. “You love them very much, don’t you?”

I half turned to him. His green eyes met mine as he rose from his chair to walk to me. He stopped a respectable distance away.

The list of malformed words was still clutched

in his hand. “I wonder if your family realizes it,” he murmured. “That everything you’ve done wasn’t about that promise to your mother, or for your sake, but for theirs.” I said nothing, not trusting my voice to keep my shame hidden. “I know—I know that when I said it earlier, it didn’t come out well, but I could help you write—”

“Leave me alone,” I said. I was almost through the door when I ran into someone—into him. I stumbled back a step. I’d forgotten how fast he was.

“I’m not insulting you.” His quiet voice made it all the worse.

“I don’t need your help.”

“Clearly not,” he said with a half smile. But the smile faded. “A human who can take down a faerie in a wolf’s skin, who ensnared the Suriel and killed two naga on her own …” He choked on a laugh, and shook his head. The firelight danced along his mask. “They’re fools. Fools for not seeing it.” He winced. But his eyes held no mischief. “Here,” he said, extending the list of words.

I shoved it into my pocket. I turned, but he gently grabbed my arm. “You gave up so much for them.” He lifted his other hand as if to brush my cheek. I braced myself for the touch, but he lowered it before making contact. “Do you even know how to laugh?”

I shook off his arm, unable to stop the angry words. High Lord be damned. “I don’t want your pity.”

His jade eyes were so bright I couldn’t look away. “What about a friend?”

“Can faeries be friends with mortals?”

“Five hundred years ago, enough faeries were friends with mortals that they went to war on their behalf.”

“What?” I’d never heard that before. And it hadn’t been in that mural in the study.

“How do you think the human armies survived as long as they did, and did such damage that my kind even came to agree to a treaty? With ash weapons alone? There were faeries who fought and died at the humans’ sides for their freedom, and who mourned when the only solution was to

separate our peoples.” “Were you one of them?”

“I was a child at the time, too young to understand what was happening—or even to be told,” he said. A child. Which meant he had to be over … “But had I been old enough, I would have. Against slavery, against tyranny, I would gladly go to my death, no matter whose freedom I was defending.”

I wasn’t sure if I would do the same. My priority would be to protect my family—and I would have picked whatever side could keep them safest. I hadn’t thought of it as a weakness until now.

“For what it’s worth,” Tamlin said, “your family knows you’re safe. They have no memory of a beast bursting into their cottage, and think a long-lost, very wealthy aunt called you away to aid her on her deathbed. They know you’re alive, and fed, and cared for. But they also know that there have been rumors of a … threat in Prythian, and are prepared to run should any of the warning signs about the wall faltering occur.”

“You—you altered their memories?” I took a

step back. Faerie arrogance, such faerie arrogance to change our minds, to implant thoughts as if it wasn’t a violation—

“Glamoured their memories—like putting a veil over them. I was afraid your father might come after you, or persuade some villagers to cross the wall with him and further violate the Treaty.”

And they all would have died anyway, once they ran into things like the puca or the Bogge or the naga. A silence blanketed my mind, until I was so exhausted I could barely think, and couldn’t stop myself from saying, “You don’t know him. My father wouldn’t have bothered to do either.”

Tamlin looked at me for a long moment. “Yes, he would have.”

But he wouldn’t—not with that twisted knee. Not with it as an excuse. I’d realized that the moment the puca’s illusion had been ripped away.

Fed, comfortable, and safe—they’d even been warned about the blight, whether they understood that warning or not. His eyes were open, honest. He had gone farther than I would have ever guessed toward assuaging my every concern. “You

truly warned them about—the possible threat?”

A grave nod. “Not an outright warning, but … it’s woven into the glamour on their memories— along with an order to run at the first sign of something being amiss.”

Faerie arrogance, but … but he had done more than I could. My family might have ignored my letter entirely. Had I known he possessed those abilities, I might have even asked the High Lord to glamour their memories if he hadn’t done it himself.

I truly had nothing to fret about, save for the fact that they’d probably forget me sooner than expected. I couldn’t entirely blame them. My vow fulfilled, my task complete—what was left for me? The firelight danced on his mask, warming the gold, setting the emeralds glinting. Such color and variation—colors I didn’t know the names of, colors I wanted to catalog and weave together.

Colors I had no reason not to explore now. “Paint,” I said, barely more than a breath. He

cocked his head and I swallowed, squaring my shoulders. “If—if it’s not too much to ask, I’d like

some paint. And brushes.”

Tamlin blinked. “You like—art? You like to paint?”

His stumbling words weren’t unkind. It was enough for me to say, “Yes. I’m not—not any good, but if it’s not too much trouble … I’ll paint outside, so I don’t make a mess, but—”

“Outside, inside, on the roof—paint wherever you want. I don’t care,” he said. “But if you need paint and brushes, you’ll also need paper and canvas.”

“I can work—help around the kitchen or in the gardens—to pay for it.”

“You’d be more of a hindrance. It might take a few days to track them down, but the paint, the brushes, the canvas, and the space are yours. Work wherever you want. This house is too clean, anyway.”

“Thank you—I mean it, truly. Thank you.”

“Of course.” I turned, but he spoke again. “Have you seen the gallery?”

I blurted, “There’s a gallery in this house?”

He grinned—actually grinned, the High Lord of the Spring Court. “I had it closed off when I inherited this place.” When he inherited a title he seemed to have little joy in holding. “It seemed like a waste of time to have the servants keep it cleaned.”

Of course it would, to a trained warrior.

He went on. “I’m busy tomorrow, and the gallery needs to be cleaned up, so … the next day

—let me show it to you the next day.” He rubbed at his neck, faint color creeping into those cheeks of his—more alive and warm than I’d yet seen them. “Please—it would be my pleasure.” And I believed him that it would.

I nodded dumbly. If the paintings along the halls were exquisite, then the ones selected for the gallery had to be beyond my human imaginings. “I would like that—very much.”

He smiled at me still, broadly and without restraint or hesitation. Isaac had never smiled at me like that. Isaac had never made my breath catch, just a little bit.

The feeling was startling enough that I walked

out, grasping the crumpled paper in my pocket as if doing so could somehow keep that answering smile from tugging on my lips.

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