Chapter no 16

The Cruel Prince

Attending lectures is harder than ever. For one thing, I am sick, my body fighting the effects of the fruit and the poisons I am forcing down. For another, I am exhausted from training with Madoc and training with Dain’s Court of Shadows. Madoc gives me puzzles—twelve goblin knights to storm a fortress, nine untrained Gentry to defend one—and then asks for my answers each evening after dinner. The Roach orders me to practice moving through the crowds of courtiers without being noticed, to eavesdrop without seeming interested. The Bomb teaches me how to find the weak spot in a building, the pressure point on a body. The Ghost teaches me how to hang from rafters and not be seen, to line up a shot with a crossbow, to steady my shaking hands.

I am sent on two more missions to get information. First, I steal a letter addressed to Elowyn from a knight’s desk in the palace. The next time, I wear the clothing of a faerie bride and walk through a party to the private chambers of the lovely Taracand, one of Prince Balekin’s consorts, where I take a ring from a desk. In neither case am I allowed to know the significance of what I stole.

I attend lectures beside Cardan, Nicasia, Valerian, and all the Gentry children who laughed at my humiliation. I do not give them the satisfaction of my withdrawing, but since the incident with the faerie fruit, there are no more skirmishes. I bide my time. I can only assume they are doing the same. I am not foolish enough to think we are done with one another.

Locke continues his flirtation. He sits with Taryn and me when we take our lunch, spread out on a blanket, watching the sun set. Occasionally he walks me home through the woods, stopping to kiss me near a copse of fir

trees just before Madoc’s estate. I only hope he doesn’t taste the bitterness of poison on my lips.

I do not understand why he likes me, but it is exciting to be liked.

Taryn doesn’t seem to understand it, either. She regards Locke with suspicion. Perhaps since I am worried over her mysterious paramour, it is fitting that she seems equally worried over mine.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” I overhear Nicasia ask Locke once, as he joins them for a lecture. “Cardan won’t forgive you for what you’re doing with her.”

I pause, unable to pass by without listening for his answer.

But Locke only laughs. “Is he more angry that you chose me over him or that I chose a mortal over you?”

I startle, not sure I heard him right.

She’s about to answer when she spots me. Her mouth curls. “Little mousie,” she says. “Don’t believe his sugared tongue.”

The Roach would despair of me if he saw how badly I fumbled my newfound skills. I did nothing he taught me—I neither concealed myself nor blended in with others to avoid notice. At least no one would suspect me of knowing much about spycraft.

“So has Cardan forgiven you?” I ask her, pleased by her stricken look. “Too bad. I hear a prince’s favor is a really big deal.”

“What need have I for princes?” she demands. “My mother is a queen!”

There’s much I could say about her mother, Queen Orlagh, who is planning a poisoning, but I bite my tongue. In fact, I bite it so hard that I don’t say anything at all. I just walk to where Taryn is sitting, a small, satisfied smile on my face.



More weeks pass, until the coronation is mere days away. I am so tired that I fall asleep whenever I put my head down.

I even fall asleep in the tower during a demonstration of moth summoning.

The susurration of their wings lulls me, I guess. It doesn’t take much.

I wake on the stone floor. My head is ringing, and I am scrambling for my knife. I don’t know where I am. For a moment, I think that I must have fallen. For a moment, I think I am paranoid. Then I see Valerian, grinning down at me. He has pushed me out of my chair. I know it just from the look on his face.

I have not yet become paranoid enough.

Voices sound from outside, the rest of our classmates having their luncheon on the grass as evening rolls in. I hear the shrieks of the youngest children, probably chasing one another over blankets.

“Where’s Taryn?” I ask, because it wasn’t like her not to wake me.

“She promised not to help you, remember?” Valerian’s golden hair hangs over one eye. As usual, he’s clad entirely in red, a tone so deep that it might appear black at first glance. “Not by word or by deed.”

Of course. Stupid me to forget I was on my own.

I push myself up, noticing a bruise on my calf as I do. I am not sure how long I was sleeping. I brush off my tunic and trousers. “What do you want?”

“I’m disappointed,” he says slyly. “You bragged about how you were going to best Cardan, and yet you’ve done nothing, sulking after one little prank.”

My hand slides automatically to the hilt on my knife.

Valerian lifts my necklace of rowan berries from his pocket and smirks at me. He must have cut it from my throat while I slept. I shudder at the thought that he was so close to me, that instead of slicing the necklace, he could have sliced skin. “Now you will do what I say.” I can practically smell the glamour in the air. He’s weaving magic with his words. “Call down to Cardan. Tell him he’s won. Then jump from the tower. After all, being born mortal is like being born already dead.”

The violence of it, the awful finality of his command, is shocking. A few months ago, I would have done it. I would have said the words, I would have leapt. If I hadn’t made that bargain with Dain, I would be dead.

Valerian may have been planning my murder since the day he choked me. I remember the light in his eyes then, the eagerness with which he watched me gasp. Taryn had warned me I was going to get myself killed, and I bragged that I was ready for it, but I am not.

“I think I’ll take the stairs,” I tell Valerian, hoping I don’t seem half as shaken as I am. Then, acting as though everything is normal, I go to move past him.

For a moment, he just looks confused, but his confusion quickly morphs into rage. He blocks my escape, moving in front of the steps. “I commanded you. Why don’t you obey me?”

Looking him dead in the eye, I force myself to smile. “You had the advantage of me twice, and twice you gave it away. Good luck getting it again.”

He’s sputtering, furious. “You’re nothing. The human species pretends it is so resilient. Mortal lives are one long game of make-believe. If you couldn’t lie to yourselves, you’d cut your own throats to end your misery.”

I am struck by the word species, by the idea that he thinks I am something entirely else, like an ant or a dog or a deer. I am not sure he’s wrong, but I don’t like the thought. “I don’t feel particularly miserable right at the moment.” I can’t show him I’m afraid.

His mouth curls. “What happiness do you have? Rutting and breeding. You’d go mad if you accepted the truth of what you are. You are nothing. You barely exist at all. Your only purpose is to create more of your kind before you die some pointless and agonizing death.”

I look him in the eye. “And?”

He seems taken aback, although the sneer doesn’t leave his face. “Yeah, yeah, sure. I am going to die. And I am a big liar. So what?”

He pushes me against the wall, hard. “So you lose. Admit that you lost.”

I try to shrug him off, but he grabs for my throat, fingers pressing hard enough to cut off my airflow. “I could kill you right now,” he says. “And you would be forgotten. It would be as though you’d never been born.”

There is no doubt in my mind that he means it, no doubt at all. Gasping, I pull the knife from my little pocket and stab him in the side. Right between his ribs. If my knife had been longer, I would have punctured his lung.

His eyes go wide with shock. His grip on me loosens. I know what Madoc would say—to push the blade higher. Go for an artery. Go for his heart. But if I manage it, I will have murdered one of the favored sons of Faerie. I cannot even guess my punishment.

You’re no killer.

I balk and pull the knife free, running out of the room. I shove the bloody blade into my pocket. My boots clatter on the stone as I head for the stairs.

Looking back, I see him on his knees, pressing a hand to his side to stanch the blood. He lets out a hiss of pain that makes me recall my knife is cold iron. Cold iron hurts faeries a lot.

I could not be gladder of carrying it.

I round the corner and nearly run down Taryn. “Jude!” she exclaims. “What happened?”

“Come on,” I tell her, dragging her toward the other students. There’s blood on my knuckles, blood on my fingers, but not much. I rub it off on my tunic.

“What did he do to you?” Taryn cries as I hustle her along.

I tell myself that I don’t mind that she left me. It wasn’t her job to stick out her neck, especially when she made it abundantly clear she didn’t want any part of this fight. Is there a treacherous part of me that’s pissed off and sad that she didn’t kick me awake and damn the consequences? Sure. But even I didn’t guess how far Valerian would go or how fast he’d get there.

We’re crossing the lawn when Cardan veers in our direction. He’s wearing loose clothes and carrying a practice sword.

His eyes narrow at the blood, and he points the wooden stick at me. “You seem to have cut yourself.” I wonder if he’s surprised that I’m alive. I wonder if he watched the tower the whole time during his luncheon, waiting for the amusing spectacle of me jumping to my death.

I take the knife out from under my tunic and show it to him, stained a flinty red. I smile. “I could cut you, too.”

“Jude!” Taryn says. She’s clearly shocked by my behavior. She should be.

My behavior is shocking.

“Oh, go already,” Cardan tells her, waving her off with one hand. “Stop boring us both.”

Taryn takes a step back. I’m surprised, too. Is this part of the game?

“Are your dirty blade and even dirtier habits supposed to mean something?” His words are airy, drawling. He is looking at me as though I’m being uncouth by pointing a weapon at him—even though he’s the one with the minion who assaulted me. Twice. He’s looking at me as though we’re going to share some kind of witty repartee, but I am not sure what to say.

Is he really not worried about what I might have done to Valerian? Could he possibly not know Valerian attacked me?

Taryn spots Locke and takes off toward him, hurrying across the field. They converse for a moment, then Taryn departs. Cardan notices my noticing. He sniffs, as though the very smell of me offends him.

Locke starts toward us, all loose limbs and shining eyes. He gives me a wave. For a moment, I feel almost safe. I am immensely grateful to Taryn, for sending him over. I am immensely grateful to Locke, for coming.

“You think I don’t deserve him,” I say to Cardan.

He smiles slowly, like the moon slipping beneath the waves of the lake. “Oh no, I think you’re perfect for each other.”

A few moments later, Locke has an arm thrown around my shoulders. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s get out of here.”

And so, without a backward glance at any of them, we do.



We walk through the Crooked Forest, where all the trees are bowed in the same direction as though they’ve been blown by a strong wind since they were saplings. I stop to pick a few blackberries from prickly stems of bushes growing between them. I have to blow tiny sugar ants from each before

putting it in my mouth.

I offer a berry to Locke, but he demurs.

“So, in short, Valerian tried to kill me,” I say, finishing my story. “And I stabbed him.”

His fox eyes are steady on me. “You stabbed Valerian.” “So I might be in some trouble.” I take a deep breath.

He shakes his head. “Valerian won’t tell anyone he was bested by a mortal girl.”

“What about Cardan? Won’t he be disappointed his plan didn’t work?” I gaze out at the sea, visible between the trunks of the trees. It seems to stretch on to forever.

“I doubt he even knew about it,” Locke says, and smiles at my surprise. “Oh, he’d like to make you believe he’s our leader, but it’s more that Nicasia likes power, I like dramatics, and Valerian likes violence. Cardan can provide us with all three, or at least excuses for all three.”

“Dramatics?” I echo.

“I like for things to happen, for stories to unfold. And if I can’t find a good enough story, I make one.” He looks every inch the trickster in that moment. “I know you overheard Nicasia talking about what was between us. She had Cardan, but only in leaving him for me did she gain power over him.”

I ponder that for a moment, and while I do, I realize we’re not taking our usual path to Madoc’s grounds. Locke has been leading me another way. “Where are we going?”

“My demesne,” he says with a grin, happy to be caught out. “It’s not far. I think you’ll like the hedge maze.”

I have never been to one of their estates, save for Hollow Hall. In the human world, we children were always in the neighbors’ yards, swinging and swimming and jumping, but the rules here are nothing the same. Most of the children in the High King’s Court are royals, sent from smaller Courts to gain influence with the princes and princesses, and have no time for much else.

Of course, in the mortal world, there are such things as backyards. Here, there are forest and sea, rocks and mazes, and flowers that are red only when they get fresh blood. I don’t much like the idea of getting lost deliberately in a hedge maze, but I smile as though nothing could ever delight me more. I don’t want to disappoint him.

“There will be a gathering later,” Locke continues. “You should stay. I promise it will be diverting.”

At that, my stomach clenches. I doubt he’s having a party without his friends. “That seems foolish,” I say, to avoid refusing the invitation outright.

“Your father doesn’t like you to stay out late?” Locke gives me a pitying


I know he’s just trying to make me feel childish when he knows perfectly well why I shouldn’t be there, but even though I am aware of what he’s doing, it works.

Locke’s estate is more modest than Madoc’s and less fortified. Tall spires covered in shingles of mossy bark rise between the trees. The spiraling vines of ivy and honeysuckle that twine up the sides turn the whole thing green and leafy.

“Wow,” I say. I have ridden by here and seen those spires in the distance, but I never knew to whose house they belonged. “Beautiful.”

He gives me a quick grin. “Let’s go inside.”

Although there is a pair of grand doors in the front, he takes me around to a small door on the side that leads directly to the kitchens. A fresh loaf of bread rests on the counter, along with apples, currants, and a soft cheese, but I do not see any servants who might have prepared this.

I think, involuntarily, of the girl in Hollow Hall cleaning Cardan’s fireplace. I wonder where her family thinks she is and what bargain she made. I wonder how easily I could have been her.

“Is your family home?” I ask, pushing that thought away.

“I have none,” he tells me. “My father was too wild for the Court. He liked the deep, feral woods far better than my mother’s intrigues. He left, and then she died. Now it’s just me.”

“That’s terrible,” I say. “And lonely.”

He shakes off my words. “I’ve heard the story of your parents. A tragedy suitable for a ballad.”

“It was a long time ago.” The last thing I want to talk about is Madoc and murder. “What happened to your mother?”

He makes a dismissive gesture in the air. “She got involved with the High King. In this Court, that’s enough. There was a child—his child, I suppose— and someone didn’t want it born. Blusher mushroom.” Although he began his speech airily, it doesn’t end that way.

Blusher mushroom. I think of the letter I found in Balekin’s house from Queen Orlagh. I try to convince myself that the note could not have referred to the poisoning of Locke’s mother, that Balekin had no motive when Dain was already the High King’s chosen heir. But no matter how I try to convince myself, I cannot stop thinking about the possibility, of the horror, of Nicasia’s mother having had a hand in Locke’s mother’s death. “I shouldn’t have asked

—that was rude of me.”

“We are children of tragedy.” He shakes his head and then smiles. “This is not how I meant to begin. I meant to give you wine and fruit and cheese. I

meant to tell you how your hair is as beautiful as curling woodsmoke, your eyes the exact color of walnuts. I thought I could compose an ode about it, but I am not very good at odes.”

I laugh, and he covers his heart as though stung by cruelty. “Before I show you the maze, let me show you something else.”

“What’s that?” I ask, curious.

He takes my hand. “Come,” he says, prankish, leading me through the house. We come to spiraling stairs. Up we go, up and up and up.

I feel dizzy. There are no doors and no landings. Just stone and steps and my heart beating loud in my chest. Just his slanted smiles and amber eyes. I try not to stumble or slip as I climb. I try not to slow down, no matter how light-headed I feel.

I think of Valerian. Jump from the tower. I keep climbing, taking shallow breaths. You are nothing. You barely exist at all.

When we get to the top, there’s a small door—half our height. I lean against the wall, waiting for my balance to return, and watch Locke turn the elaborate silver knob. He ducks as he goes in. I steel myself, push off the wall, and follow.

And gasp. We’re on a balcony at the very top of the tallest tower, one higher than the tree line. From here, lit by starlight, I can see the maze below and the folly in the center. I can see the aboveground parts of the Palace of Elfhame and Madoc’s estate and Balekin’s Hollow Hall. I can see the sea that encircles the island and beyond it, the bright lights of human cities and towns through the ever-present mist. I have never looked directly from our world into theirs.

Locke puts his hand against my back, between my shoulder blades. “At night, the human world looks as though it’s full of fallen stars.”

I lean into his touch, pushing away the awfulness of the climb, trying not to stand too close to the edge. “Have you ever been there?”

He nods. “My mother took me when I was a child. She said our world would grow stagnant without yours.”

I want to tell him that it’s not mine, that I barely understand it, but I get what he’s trying to say, and the correction would make it seem as though I didn’t. His mother’s sentiment is kind, certainly kinder than most views of the mortal world. She must have been kind herself.

He turns me toward him and then slowly brings his lips to mine. They’re soft, and his breath is warm. I feel as distant from my body as the lights of the faraway city. My hand reaches for the railing. I grip it hard as his arm goes around my waist, to ground myself in what’s happening, to convince myself

that I am here and that this moment, high above everything, is real.

He draws back. “You really are beautiful,” he says. I am never so glad to know they cannot lie.

“This is incredible,” I say, looking down. “Everything looks so small, like on a strategy board.”

He laughs, as though I cannot possibly be serious. “I take it you spend a lot of time in your father’s study?”

“Enough,” I say. “Enough to know what my odds are against Cardan.

Against Valerian and Nicasia. Against you.”

He takes my hand. “Cardan is a fool. The rest of us don’t matter.” His smile turns slanted. “But maybe this is part of your plan—persuade me to take you to the very heart of my stronghold. Maybe you’re about to reveal your evil scheme and bend me to your will. Just so you know, I don’t think it will be very hard to bend me to your will.”

I laugh despite myself. “You’re nothing like them.” “Aren’t I?” he asks.

I give him a long look. “I don’t know. Are you going to order me off this balcony?”

His eyebrows go up. “Of course not.”

“Well then, you’re not like them,” I say, poking him hard in the center of his chest. My hand flattens, almost unconsciously, letting the warmth of him seep up through my palm. I hadn’t realized how cold I’d become, standing in the wind.

“You’re not the way they said you would be,” he says, bending toward me.

He kisses me again.

I don’t want to think about the things they must have said, not now. I want his mouth on mine, blotting out everything else.

It takes us a long time to wend our way back down the stairs. My hands are in his hair. His mouth is on my neck. My back is against the ancient stone wall. Everything is slow and perfect and makes no sense at all. This can’t be my life. This feels nothing like my life.

We sit at the long, empty banquet table and eat cheese and bread. We drink pale green wine that tastes of herbs out of massive goblets that Locke finds in the back of a cabinet. They’re so thick with dust he has to wash them twice before we can use them.

When we’re done, he presses me back against the table, lifting me so that I am seated on it, so that our bodies are pressed together. It’s exhilarating and terrifying, like so much of Faerie.

I am not sure I am very good at kissing. My mouth is clumsy. I am shy. I want to pull him closer and push him away at the same time. Faeries do not

have a lot of taboos around modesty, but I do. I am afraid that my mortal body stinks of sweat, of decay, of fear. I am not sure where to put my hands, how hard to grab, how deep to sink my nails into his shoulders. And while I know what comes after kissing, while I know what it means to have his hands slide up over my bruised calf to my thigh, I have no idea how to hide my inexperience.

He pulls back to look at me, and I try to keep the panic out of my eyes. “Stay tonight,” he murmurs.

For a moment, I think he means with him, like with him, and my heart speeds with some combination of desire and dread. Then, abruptly, I remember there’s going to be a party—that’s what he’s asking me to stay for. Those unseen servants, wherever they are, must be preparing the estate. Soon Valerian, my would-be murderer, might be dancing in the garden.

Well, maybe not dancing. He’ll probably be leaning against a wall stiffly, with a drink in his hand, bandages around his ribs, and a new plan to murder me in his heart. If not new orders to murder me from Cardan.

“Your friends won’t like it,” I say, sliding off the table.

“They’ll quickly be too drunk to notice. You can’t spend your life locked up in Madoc’s glorified barracks.” He gives me a smile that is clearly meant to charm me. It kind of works. I think about Dain’s offer to give me a love mark on my brow and wonder idly if Locke might have one, because, despite everything, I am tempted.

“I don’t have the right clothes,” I say, gesturing to the tunic I have on, stained with Valerian’s blood.

He looks me up and down longer than an inspection of my garments requires. “I can find you a gown. I can find you anything you’d like. You asked me about Cardan, Valerian, and Nicasia—come see them outside of school, come see them be foolish and drunk and debased. See their vulnerabilities, the cracks in their armor. You’ve got to know them to beat them, right? I don’t say you’ll like them any better, but you don’t need to like them.”

“I like you,” I tell him. “I like playing pretend with you.” “Pretend?” he echoes, as though he’s not sure if I’m insulting him.

“Of course,” I say, going to the windows of the hall and looking out. Moonlight streams onto the leafy entrance to the maze. Torches are burning nearby, the flames flickering and wavering in the wind. “Of course we’re pretending! We don’t belong together, but it’s fun anyway.”

He gives me an evaluating, conspiratorial look. “Then let’s keep doing it.” “Okay,” I say helplessly. “I’ll stay. I’ll go to your party.” I have had little

fun in my life so far. The promise of more is difficult to resist.

He leads me through several rooms until we come to double doors. For a moment, he hesitates, glancing back at me. Then he pushes them open, and we’re in an enormous bedroom. A thick, oppressive layer of dust blankets everything. There are footprints—two sets. He’s come in here before, but not many times.

“The dresses in the closet were my mother’s. Borrow whatever you like,” he says, taking my hand.

Looking around this untouched room at the heart of the house, I understand the grief that made him lock it up for so long. I am glad to be let in. If I had a room full of my mother’s things, I do not know if I would let anyone inside. I don’t even know if I would brave it myself.

He opens one of the closets. Much of the clothing is moth-eaten, but I can see what they once were. A skirt with a beaded pattern of pomegranates, another that pulls up, like a curtain, to show a stage with jeweled mechanical puppets underneath. There is even one stitched with the silhouette of dancing fauns as tall as the skirt itself. I’ve admired Oriana’s dresses for their elegance and opulence, but these awaken in me a hunger for a dress that’s riotous. They make me wish I’d seen Locke’s mother in one of her gowns. They make me think she must have liked to laugh.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dress like any of these,” I tell him. “You really want me to wear one?”

He brushes a hand over a sleeve. “I guess they’re a bit rotted.” “No,” I say. “I like them.”

The one with the fauns is the least damaged. I dust it off and tug it on behind an old screen. I struggle, because it’s the sort of dress that’s difficult to put on without Tatterfell’s help. I have no idea how to arrange my hair any differently, so I leave it as is—braided in a crown around my head. When I wipe off a silver mirror with my hand and see myself dressed in a dead faerie’s clothes, a shudder goes through me.

Suddenly, I do not know why I am here in this place. I am not sure of Locke’s intentions. When he tries to drape me in his mother’s jewels, I refuse them.

“Let’s go out to the garden,” I say. I no longer want to be in this empty, echoing room.

He puts away the long string of emeralds he was holding. As we leave, I look back at the closet of moldering clothes. Despite my feelings of unease, there’s a part of me that can’t help imagining what it would be like to be the mistress of this place. Imagining Prince Dain with the crown. Imagining entertaining at the long table we kissed against, my classmates all drinking the pale green wine and pretending they had never tried to murder me. Locke,

with his hand in mine.

And me, spying on them all for the king.



The hedge maze is taller than the height of an ogre and formed of dense, glossy leaves in a deep green. Apparently, Cardan’s circle meets here often. I can hear them laughing at the center of the maze when I walk outside with Locke, late to his own gathering. The smell of pine liquor is alive in the air. The firelight of the torches makes long shadows and limns everything in scarlet. My steps slow.

Reaching into the pocket of the borrowed dress, I touch my knife, still stained with Valerian’s blood. When I do, my fingers light on something else, something Locke’s mother must have left years before. I pull out her bauble— a golden acorn. It doesn’t look like jewelry—there is no chain—and I cannot imagine what purpose it might have had other than to be pretty. I drop it back into my pocket.

Locke holds my hand as we move through the turns of the hedge maze. It does not seem as though there are many. I try to map it in my mind as I go, in case I have to find my way out alone. The simplicity of the maze makes me nervous rather than confident. I do not believe there are many simple things in Faerie. At home, dinner will be coming to a close without me. Taryn will be whispering to Vivi how I went somewhere with Locke. Madoc will be frowning and stabbing his meat, annoyed with me for missing his lessons.

I have braved worse things.

At the center of the maze, a piper is playing a lilting, wild song. White rose petals blow through the air. Folk are gathered, eating and drinking from a long banquet table that seems mostly piled with different distillations— cordials in which mandrake roots float, sour plum wine, a clear liquor infused with handfuls of red clover. And beside those, vials of golden nevermore.

Cardan is lying on a blanket, his head tipped back and his loose white shirt unbuttoned. Although it is still early in the night, he appears to be very drunk. His mouth is flaked with gold. A horned girl I don’t know is kissing his throat, and another, this one with daffodil hair, presses her mouth against the calf of his leg, just above the top of his boot.

To my relief, I do not see Valerian. I hope he’s home, nursing that wound I gave him.

Locke brings me a thimbleful of liquor, and I take a tiny scalding sip for the sake of politeness. I start coughing immediately. At that moment,

Cardan’s gaze goes to me. His eyes are barely open, but I can see the shine of them, wet as tar. He watches me as the girl kisses his mouth, watches me as she slides her hand beneath the hem of his silly, ruffly shirt.

My cheeks heat. I look away and then am angry with myself for giving him the satisfaction of seeming uncomfortable. He’s the one who’s making a spectacle of himself.

“I see a member of the Circle of Worms has chosen to grace us with her presence tonight,” Nicasia says, swanning up to us in a dress with all the colors of the sunset in it. She peers into my face. “But which one is it?”

“The one you don’t like,” I tell her, ignoring her jibe.

That makes her give a high, false laugh. “Oh, you might be surprised how some of us feel about both of you.”

“I promised you better amusements than this,” Locke says stiffly, taking my elbow. I am grateful when he pulls me toward a low table with pillows strewn haphazardly around it, but I can’t help giving Nicasia a small, antagonizing wave as I go. I pour out my thimble of liquor onto the grass when Locke isn’t looking. The piper finishes, and a naked boy, shining with gold paint, takes out a lyre and sings a filthy song about broken hearts: “O lady fair! O lady cruel! How I miss your sweet misrule. I miss your hair. I miss your eyes. But most of all, I miss your thighs.

Locke kisses me again, in front of the fire. Everyone can see it, but I don’t know if they’re looking, because I close my eyes as tightly as they will go.

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