فصل 07

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CHAPTER

7

War.

The word clanged through me, freezing my veins.

“Don’t invade,” I breathed. I’d get on my knees for this. I’d crawl if I had to. “Don’t invade—please.”

Rhys cocked his head, his mouth tightening. “You truly think I’m a monster, even after everything.”

“Please,” I gasped out. “They’re defenseless, they won’t stand a chance—”

“I’m not going to invade the mortal lands,” he said too quietly.

I waited for him to go on, glad for the spacious room, the bright air, as the ground started to slide out from beneath me.

“Put your damn shield up,” he growled.

I looked inward, finding that invisible wall had dropped again. But I was so tired, and if war was coming, if my family—

“Shield. Now.”

The raw command in his voice—the voice of the High Lord of the Night Court—had me acting on instinct, my exhausted mind building the wall brick by brick. Only when it’d ensconced my mind once more did he speak, his eyes softening almost imperceptibly. “Did you think it would end with Amarantha?”

“Tamlin hasn’t said … ” And why would he tell me? But there were so many patrols, so many meetings I wasn’t allowed to attend, such … tension. He had to know. I needed to ask him—demand why he hadn’t told me—

“The King of Hybern has been planning his campaign to reclaim the world south of the wall for over a hundred years,” Rhys said. “Amarantha was an experiment—a forty-nine-year test, to see how easily and how long a territory might fall and be controlled by one of his commanders.”

For an immortal, forty-nine years was nothing. I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear he’d been planning this for far longer than a century. “Will he attack Prythian first?”

“Prythian,” Rhys said, pointing to the map of our massive island on the table, “is all that stands between the King of Hybern and the continent. He wants to reclaim the human lands there—perhaps seize the faerie lands, too. If anyone is to intercept his conquering fleet before it reaches the continent, it would be us.”

I slid into one of the chairs, my knees wobbling so badly I could hardly keep upright.

“He will seek to remove Prythian from his way swiftly and thoroughly,” Rhys continued. “And shatter the wall at some point in the process. There are already holes in it, though mercifully small enough to make it difficult to swiftly pass his armies through. He’ll want to bring the whole thing down—and likely use the ensuing panic to his advantage.”

Each breath was like swallowing glass. “When—when is he going to attack?” The wall had held steady for five centuries, and even then, those damned holes had allowed the foulest, hungriest Fae beasts to sneak through and prey on humans. Without that wall, if Hybern was indeed to launch an assult on the human world … I wished I hadn’t eaten such a large breakfast.

“That is the question,” he said. “And why I brought you here.”

I lifted my head to meet his stare. His face was drawn, but calm.

“I don’t know when or where he plans to attack Prythian,” Rhys went on. “I don’t know who his allies here might be.”

“He’d have allies here?”

A slow nod. “Cowards who would bow and join him, rather than fight his armies again.”

I could have sworn a whisper of darkness spread along the floor behind him. “Did … did you fight in the War?”

For a moment, I thought he wouldn’t answer. But then Rhys nodded. “I was young—by our standards, at least. But my father had sent aid to the mortal-faerie alliance on the continent, and I convinced him to let me take a legion of our soldiers.” He sat in the chair beside mine, gazing vacantly at the map. “I was stationed in the south, right where the fighting was thickest. The slaughter was … ” He chewed on the inside of his cheek. “I have no interest in ever seeing full-scale slaughter like that again.”

He blinked, as if clearing the horrors from his mind. “But I don’t think the King of Hybern will strike that way—not at first. He’s too smart to waste his forces here, to give the continent time to rally while we fight him. If he makes his move to destroy Prythian and the wall, it’ll be through stealth and trickery. To weaken us. Amarantha was the first part of that plan. We now have several untested High Lords, broken courts with High Priestesses angling for control like wolves around a carcass, and a people who have realized how powerless they might truly be.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I said, my voice thin, scratchy. It made no sense—none—that he would reveal his suspicions, his fears.

And Ianthe—she might be ambitious, but she was Tamlin’s friend. My friend, of sorts. Perhaps the only ally we’d have against the other High Priestesses, Rhys’s personal dislike for her or no …

“I am telling you for two reasons,” he said, his face so cold, so calm, that it unnerved me as much as the news he was delivering. “One, you’re … close to Tamlin. He has men—but he also has long-existing ties to Hybern—”

“He’d never help the king—”

Rhys held up a hand. “I want to know if Tamlin is willing to fight with us. If he can use those connections to our advantage. As he and I have strained relations, you have the pleasure of being the go-between.”

“He doesn’t inform me of those things.”

“Perhaps it’s time he did. Perhaps it’s time you insisted.” He examined the map, and I followed where his gaze landed. On the wall within Prythian—on the small, vulnerable mortal territory. My mouth went dry.

“What is your other reason?”

Rhys looked me up and down, assessing, weighing. “You have a skill set that I need. Rumor has it you caught a Suriel.”

“It wasn’t that hard.”

“I’ve tried and failed. Twice. But that’s a discussion for another day. I saw you trap the Middengard Wyrm like a rabbit.” His eyes twinkled. “I need you to help me. To use those skills of yours to track down what I need.”

“What do you need? Whatever was tied to my reading and shielding, I’m guessing?”

“You’ll learn of that later.”

I didn’t know why I’d even bothered to ask. “There have to be at least a dozen other hunters more experienced and skilled—”

“Maybe there are. But you’re the only one I trust.”

I blinked. “I could betray you whenever I feel like it.”

“You could. But you won’t.” I gritted my teeth, and was about to say something vicious when he added, “And then there’s the matter of your powers.”

“I don’t have any powers.” It came out so fast that there was no chance of it sounding like anything but denial.

Rhys crossed his legs. “Don’t you? The strength, the speed … If I didn’t know better, I’d say you and Tamlin were doing a very good job of pretending you’re normal. That the powers you’re displaying aren’t usually the first indications among our kind that a High Lord’s son might become his Heir.”

“I’m not a High Lord.”

“No, but you were given life by all seven of us. Your very essence is tied to us, born of us. What if we gave you more than we expected?” Again, that gaze raked over me. “What if you could stand against us—hold your own, a High Lady?”

“There are no High Ladies.”

His brows furrowed, but he shook his head. “We’ll talk about that later, too. But yes, Feyre—there can be High Ladies. And perhaps you aren’t one of them, but … what if you were something similar? What if you were able to wield the power of seven High Lords at once? What if you could blend into darkness, or shape-shift, or freeze over an entire room—an entire army?”

The winter wind on the nearby peaks seemed to howl in answer. That thing I’d felt under my skin …

“Do you understand what that might mean in an oncoming war? Do you understand how it might destroy you if you don’t learn to control it?”

“One, stop asking so many rhetorical questions. Two, we don’t know if I do have these powers—”

“You do. But you need to start mastering them. To learn what you inherited from us.”

“And I suppose you’re the one to teach me, too? Reading and shielding aren’t enough?”

“While you hunt with me for what I need, yes.”

I began shaking my head. “Tamlin won’t allow it.”

“Tamlin isn’t your keeper, and you know it.”

“I’m his subject, and he is my High Lord—”

“You are no one’s subject.”

I went rigid at the flash of teeth, the smoke-like wings that flared out.

“I will say this once—and only once,” Rhysand purred, stalking to the map on the wall. “You can be a pawn, be someone’s reward, and spend the rest of your immortal life bowing and scraping and pretending you’re less than him, than Ianthe, than any of us. If you want to pick that road, then fine. A shame, but it’s your choice.” The shadow of wings rippled again. “But I know you—more than you realize, I think—and I don’t believe for one damn minute that you’re remotely fine with being a pretty trophy for someone who sat on his ass for nearly fifty years, then sat on his ass while you were shredded apart—”

“Stop it—”

“Or,” he plowed ahead, “you’ve got another choice. You can master whatever powers we gave to you, and make it count. You can play a role in this war. Because war is coming one way or another, and do not try to delude yourself that any of the Fae will give a shit about your family across the wall when our whole territory is likely to become a charnel house.”

I stared at the map—at Prythian, and that sliver of land at its southern base.

“You want to save the mortal realm?” he asked. “Then become someone Prythian listens to. Become vital. Become a weapon. Because there might be a day, Feyre, when only you stand between the King of Hybern and your human family. And you do not want to be unprepared.”

I lifted my gaze to him, my breath tight, aching.

As if he hadn’t just knocked the world from beneath my feet, Rhysand said, “Think it over. Take the week. Ask Tamlin, if it’ll make you sleep better. See what charming Ianthe says about it. But it’s your choice to make—no one else’s.”

I didn’t see Rhysand for the rest of the week. Or Mor.

The only people I encountered were Nuala and Cerridwen, who delivered my meals, made my bed, and occasionally asked how I was faring.

The only evidence I had at all that Rhys remained on the premises were the blank copies of the alphabet, along with several sentences I was to write every day, swapping out words, each one more obnoxious than the last:

Rhysand is the most handsome High Lord.

Rhysand is the most delightful High Lord.

Rhysand is the most cunning High Lord.

Every day, one miserable sentence—with one changing word of varying arrogance and vanity. And every day, another simple set of instructions: shield up, shield down; shield up, shield down. Over and over and over.

How he knew if I obeyed or not, I didn’t care—but I threw myself into my lessons, I raised and lowered and thickened those mental shields. If only because it was all I had to do.

My nightmares left me groggy, sweaty—but the room was so open, the starlight so bright that when I’d jerk awake, I didn’t rush to the toilet. No walls pushing in around me, no inky darkness. I knew where I was. Even if I resented being there.

The day before our week finally finished, I was trudging to my usual little table, already grimacing at what delightful sentences I’d find waiting and all the mental acrobatics ahead, when Rhys’s and Mor’s voices floated toward me.

It was a public space, so I didn’t bother masking my footsteps as I neared where they spoke in one of the sitting areas, Rhys pacing before the open plunge off the mountain, Mor lounging in a cream-colored armchair.

“Azriel would want to know that,” Mor was saying.

“Azriel can go to hell,” Rhys sniped back. “He likely already knows, anyway.”

“We played games the last time,” Mor said with a seriousness that made me pause a healthy distance away, “and we lost. Badly. We’re not going to do that again.”

“You should be working,” was Rhysand’s only response. “I gave you control for a reason, you know.”

Mor’s jaw tightened, and she at last faced me. She gave me a smile that was more of a cringe.

Rhys turned, frowning at me. “Say what it is you came here to say, Mor,” he said tightly, resuming his pacing.

Mor rolled her eyes for my benefit, but her face turned solemn as she said, “There was another attack—at a temple in Cesere. Almost every priestess slain, the trove looted.”

Rhys halted. And I didn’t know what to process: her news, or the utter rage conveyed in one word as Rhys said, “Who.”

“We don’t know,” Mor said. “Same tracks as last time: small group, bodies that showed signs of wounds from large blades, and no trace of where they came from and how they disappeared. No survivors. The bodies weren’t even found until a day later, when a group of pilgrims came by.”

By the Cauldron. I must have made some tiny noise, because Mor gave me a strained, but sympathetic look.

Rhys, though … First the shadows started—plumes of them from his back.

And then, as if his rage had loosened his grip on that beast he’d once told me he hated to yield to, those wings became flesh.

Great, beautiful, brutal wings, membranous and clawed like a bat’s, dark as night and strong as hell. Even the way he stood seemed altered—steadier, grounded. Like some final piece of him had clicked into place. But Rhysand’s voice was still midnight-soft and he said, “What did Azriel have to say about it?”

Again, that glance from Mor, as if unsure I should be present for whatever this conversation was. “He’s pissed. Cassian even more so—he’s convinced it must be one of the rogue Illyrian war-bands, intent on winning new territory.”

“It’s something to consider,” Rhys mused. “Some of the Illyrian clans gleefully bowed to Amarantha during those years. Trying to expand their borders could be their way of seeing how far they can push me and get away with it.” I hated the sound of her name, focused on it more than the information he was allowing me to glean.

“Cassian and Az are waiting—” She cut herself off and gave me an apologetic wince. “They’re waiting in the usual spot for your orders.”

Fine—that was fine. I’d seen that blank map on the wall. I was an enemy’s bride. Even mentioning where his forces were stationed, what they were up to, might be dangerous. I had no idea where Cesere even was—what it was, actually.

Rhys studied the open air again, the howling wind that shoved dark, roiling clouds over the distant peaks. Good weather, I realized, for flying.

“Winnowing in would be easier,” Mor said, following the High Lord’s gaze.

“Tell the pricks I’ll be there in a few hours,” he merely said.

Mor gave me a wary grin, and vanished.

I studied the empty space where she’d been, not a trace of her left behind.

“How does that … vanishing work?” I said softly. I’d seen only a few High Fae do it—and no one had ever explained.

Rhys didn’t look at me, but he said, “Winnowing? Think of it as … two different points on a piece of cloth. One point is your current place in the world. The other one across the cloth is where you want to go. Winnowing … it’s like folding that cloth so the two spots align. The magic does the folding—and all we do is take a step to get from one place to another. Sometimes it’s a long step, and you can feel the dark fabric of the world as you pass through it. A shorter step, let’s say from one end of the room to the other, would barely register. It’s a rare gift, and a helpful one. Though only the stronger Fae can do it. The more powerful you are, the farther you can jump between places in one go.”

I knew the explanation was as much for my benefit as it was to distract himself. But I found myself saying, “I’m sorry about the temple—and the priestesses.”

The wrath still glimmered in those eyes as he at last turned to me. “Plenty more people are going to die soon enough, anyway.”

Maybe that was why he’d allowed me to get close, to overhear this conversation. To remind me of what might very well happen with Hybern.

“What are … ,” I tried. “What are Illyrian war-bands?”

“Arrogant bastards, that’s what,” he muttered.

I crossed my arms, waiting.

Rhys stretched his wings, the sunlight setting the leathery texture glowing with subtle color. “They’re a warrior-race within my lands. And general pains in my ass.”

“Some of them supported Amarantha?”

Darkness danced in the hall as that distant storm grew close enough to smother the sun. “Some. But me and mine have enjoyed ourselves hunting them down these past few months. And ending them.”

Slowly was the word he didn’t need to add.

“That’s why you stayed away—you were busy with that?”

“I was busy with many things.”

Not an answer. But it seemed he was done talking to me, and whoever Cassian and Azriel were, meeting with them was far more important.

So Rhys didn’t as much as say good-bye before he simply walked off the edge of the veranda—into thin air.

My heart stopped dead, but before I could cry out, he swept past, swift as the wicked wind between the peaks. A few booming wing beats had him vanishing into the storm clouds.

“Good-bye to you, too,” I grumbled, giving him a vulgar gesture, and started my work for the day, with only the storm raging beyond the house’s shield for company.

Even as snow lashed the protective magic of the hall, even as I toiled over the sentences—Rhysand is interesting; Rhysand is gorgeous; Rhysand is flawless—and raised and lowered my mental shield until my mind was limping, I thought of what I’d heard, what they’d said.

I wondered what Ianthe would know about the murders, if she knew any of the victims. Knew what Cesere was. If temples were being targeted, she should know. Tamlin should know.

That final night, I could barely sleep—half from relief, half from terror that perhaps Rhysand really did have some final, nasty surprise in store. But the night and the storm passed, and when dawn broke, I was dressed before the sun had fully risen.

I’d taken to eating in my rooms, but I swept up the stairs, heading across that massive open area, to the table at the far veranda.

Sprawled in his usual chair, Rhys was in the same clothes as yesterday, the collar of his black jacket unbuttoned, the shirt as rumpled as his hair. No wings, fortunately. I wondered if he’d just returned from wherever he’d met Mor and the others. Wondered what he’d learned.

“It’s been a week,” I said by way of greeting. “Take me home.”

Rhys took a long sip of whatever was in his cup. It didn’t look like tea. “Good morning, Feyre.”

“Take me home.”

He studied my teal and gold clothes, a variation of my daily attire. If I had to admit, I didn’t mind them. “That color suits you.”

“Do you want me to say please? Is that it?”

“I want you to talk to me like a person. Start with ‘good morning’ and let’s see where it gets us.”

“Good morning.”

A faint smile. Bastard. “Are you ready to face the consequences of your departure?”

I straightened. I hadn’t thought about the wedding. All week, yes, but today … today I’d only thought of Tamlin, of wanting to see him, hold him, ask him about everything Rhys had claimed. During the past several days, I hadn’t shown any signs of the power Rhysand believed I had, hadn’t felt anything stirring beneath my skin—and thank the Cauldron.

“It’s none of your business.”

“Right. You’ll probably ignore it, anyway. Sweep it under the rug, like everything else.”

“No one asked for your opinion, Rhysand.”

“Rhysand?” He chuckled, low and soft. “I give you a week of luxury and you call me Rhysand?”

“I didn’t ask to be here, or be given that week.”

“And yet look at you. Your face has some color—and those marks under your eyes are almost gone. Your mental shield is stellar, by the way.”

“Please take me home.”

He shrugged and rose. “I’ll tell Mor you said good-bye.”

“I barely saw her all week.” Just that first meeting—then that conversation yesterday. When we hadn’t exchanged two words.

“She was waiting for an invitation—she didn’t want to pester you. I wish she extended me the same courtesy.”

“No one told me.” I didn’t particularly care. No doubt she had better things to do, anyway.

“You didn’t ask. And why bother? Better to be miserable and alone.” He approached, each step smooth, graceful. His hair was definitely ruffled, as if he’d been dragging his hands through it. Or just flying for hours to whatever secret spot. “Have you thought about my offer?”

“I’ll let you know next month.”

He stopped a hand’s breadth away, his golden face tight. “I told you once, and I’ll tell you again,” he said. “I am not your enemy.”

“And I told you once, so I’ll tell you again. You’re Tamlin’s enemy. So I suppose that makes you mine.”

“Does it?”

“Free me from my bargain and let’s find out.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Can’t, or won’t?”

He just extended his hand. “Shall we go?”

I nearly lunged for it. His fingers were cool, sturdy—callused from weapons I’d never seen on him.

Darkness gobbled us up, and it was instinct to grab him as the world vanished from beneath my feet. Winnowing indeed. Wind tore at me, and his arm was a warm, heavy weight across my back while we tumbled through realms, Rhys snickering at my terror.

But then solid ground—flagstones—were under me, then blinding sunshine above, greenery, little birds chirping—

I shoved away from him, blinking at the brightness, at the massive oak hunched over us. An oak at the edge of the formal gardens—of home.

I made to bolt for the manor house, but Rhys gripped my wrist. His eyes flashed between me and the manor. “Good luck,” he crooned.

“Get your hand off me.”

He chuckled, letting go.

“I’ll see you next month,” he said, and before I could spit on him, he vanished.

I found Tamlin in his study, Lucien and two other sentries standing around the map-covered worktable.

Lucien was the first to turn to where I lurked in the doorway, falling silent mid-sentence. But then Tamlin’s head snapped up, and he was racing across the room, so fast that I hardly had time to draw breath before he was crushing me against him.

I murmured his name as my throat burned, and then—

Then he was holding me at arm’s length, scanning me from head to toe. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” I said, noticing the exact moment when he realized the Night Court clothes I was wearing, the strip of bare skin exposed at my midriff. “No one touched me.”

But he kept scouring my face, my neck. And then he rotated me, examining my back, as if he could discern through the clothes. I tore out of his grip. “I said no one touched me.”

He was breathing hard, his eyes wild. “You’re all right,” he said. And then said it again. And again.

My heart cracked, and I reached to cup his cheek. “Tamlin,” I murmured. Lucien and the other sentries, wisely, made their exit. My friend caught my gaze as he left, giving me a relieved smile.

“He can harm you in other ways,” Tamlin croaked, closing his eyes against my touch.

“I know—but I’m all right. I truly am,” I said as gently as I could. And then noticed the study walls—the claw marks raked down them. All over them. And the table they’d been using … that was new. “You trashed the study.”

“I trashed half the house,” he said, leaning forward to press his brow to mine. “He took you away, he stole you—”

“And left me alone.”

Tamlin pulled back, growling. “Probably to get you to drop your guard. You have no idea what games he plays, what he’s capable of doing—”

“I know,” I said, even as it tasted like ash on my tongue. “And the next time, I’ll be careful—”

“There won’t be a next time.”

I blinked. “You found a way out?” Or perhaps Ianthe had.

“I’m not letting you go.”

“He said there were consequences for breaking a magical bargain.”

“Damn the consequences.” But I heard it for the empty threat it was—and how much it destroyed him. That was who he was, what he was: protector, defender. I couldn’t ask him to stop being that way—to stop worrying about me.

I rose onto my toes and kissed him. There was so much I wanted to ask him, but—later. “Let’s go upstairs,” I said onto his lips, and he slid his arms around me.

“I missed you,” he said between kisses. “I went out of my mind.”

That was all I needed to hear. Until—

“I need to ask you some questions.”

I let out a low sound of affirmation, but angled my head further. “Later.” His body was so warm, so hard against mine, his scent so familiar—

Tamlin gripped my waist, pressing his brow to my own. “No—now,” he said, but groaned softly as I slid my tongue against his teeth. “While … ” He pulled back, ripping his mouth from mine. “While it’s all fresh in your mind.”

I froze, one hand tangled in his hair, the other gripping the back of his tunic. “What?”

Tamlin stepped back, shaking his head as if to clear the desire addling his senses. We hadn’t been apart for so long since Amarantha, and he wanted to press me for information about the Night Court? “Tamlin.”

But he held up a hand, his eyes locked on mine as he called for Lucien.

In the moments that it took for his emissary to appear, I straightened my clothes—the top that had ridden up my torso—and finger-combed my hair. Tamlin just strode to his desk and plopped down, motioning for me to take a seat in front of it. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly, as Lucien’s strolling footsteps neared again. “This is for our own good. Our safety.”

I took in the shredded walls, the scuffed and chipped furniture. What nightmares had he suffered, waking and asleep, while I was away? What had it been like, to imagine me in his enemy’s hands, after seeing what Amarantha had done to me?

“I know,” I murmured at last. “I know, Tamlin.” Or I was trying to know.

I’d just slid into the low-backed chair when Lucien strode in, shutting the door behind him. “Glad to see you in one piece, Feyre,” he said, claiming the seat beside me. “I could do without the Night Court attire, though.”

Tamlin gave a low growl of agreement. I said nothing. Yet I understood—I really did—why it’d be an affront to them.

Tamlin and Lucien exchanged glances, speaking without uttering a word in that way only people who had been partners for centuries could do. Lucien gave a slight nod and leaned back in his chair—to listen, to observe.

“We need you to tell us everything,” Tamlin said. “The layout of the Night Court, who you saw, what weapons and powers they bore, what Rhys did, who he spoke to, any and every detail you can recall.”

“I didn’t realize I was a spy.”

Lucien shifted in his seat, but Tamlin said, “As much as I hate your bargain, you’ve been granted access into the Night Court. Outsiders rarely get to go in—and if they do, they rarely come out in one piece. And if they can function, their memories are usually … scrambled. Whatever Rhysand is hiding in there, he doesn’t want us knowing about it.”

A chill slithered down my spine. “Why do you want to know? What are you going to do?”

“Knowing my enemy’s plans, his lifestyle, is vital. As for what we’re going to do … That’s neither here nor there.” His green eyes pinned me. “Start with the layout of the court. Is it true it’s under a mountain?”

“This feels an awful lot like an interrogation.”

Lucien sucked in a breath, but remained silent.

Tamlin spread his hands on the desk. “We need to know these things, Feyre. Or—or can you not remember?” Claws glinted at his knuckles.

“I can remember everything,” I said. “He didn’t damage my mind.” And before he could question me further, I began to speak of all that I had seen.

Because I trust you, Rhysand had said. And maybe—maybe he had scrambled my mind, even with the lessons in shielding, because describing the layout of his home, his court, the mountains around them, felt like bathing in oil and mud. He was my enemy, he was holding me to a bargain I’d made from pure desperation—

I kept talking, describing that tower room. Tamlin grilled me on the figures on the maps, making me turn over every word Rhysand had uttered, until I mentioned what had weighed on me the most this past week: the powers Rhys believed I now possessed … and Hybern’s plans. I told him about that conversation with Mor—about that temple being sacked (Cesere, Tamlin explained, was a northern outpost in the Night Court, and one of the few known towns), and Rhysand mentioning two people named Cassian and Azriel. Both of their faces had tightened at that, but they didn’t mention if they knew them, or of them. So I told him about whatever the Illyrians were—and how Rhys had hunted down and killed the traitors amongst them. When I finished, Tamlin was silent, Lucien practically buzzing with whatever repressed words he was dying to spew.

“Do you think I might have those abilities?” I said, willing myself to hold his gaze.

“It’s possible,” Tamlin said with equal quiet. “And if it’s true … ”

Lucien said at last, “It’s a power other High Lords might kill for.” It was an effort not to fidget while his metal eye whirred, as if detecting whatever power ran through my blood. “My father, for one, would not be pleased to learn a drop of his power is missing—or that Tamlin’s bride now has it. He’d do anything to make sure you don’t possess it—including kill you. There are other High Lords who would agree.”

That thing beneath my skin began roiling. “I’d never use it against anyone—”

“It’s not about using it against them; it’s about having an edge when you shouldn’t,” Tamlin said. “And the moment word gets out about it, you will have a target on your back.”

“Did you know?” I demanded. Lucien wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Did you suspect?”

“I’d hoped it wasn’t true,” Tamlin said carefully. “And now that Rhys suspects, there’s no telling what he’ll do with the information—”

“He wants me to train.” I wasn’t stupid enough to mention the mental shield training—not right now.

“Training would draw too much attention,” Tamlin said. “You don’t need to train. I can guard you from whatever comes our way.”

For there had been a time when he could not. When he had been vulnerable, and when he had watched me be tortured to death. And could do nothing to stop Amarantha from—

I would not allow another Amarantha. I would not allow the King of Hybern to bring his beasts and minions here to hurt more people. To hurt me and mine. And bring down that wall to hurt countless others across it. “I could use my powers against Hybern.”

“That’s out of the question,” Tamlin said, “especially as there will be no war against Hybern.”

“Rhys says war is inevitable, and we’ll be hit hard.”

Lucien said drily, “And Rhys knows everything?”

“No—but … He was concerned. He thinks I can make a difference in any upcoming conflict.”

Tamlin flexed his fingers—keeping those claws contained. “You have no training in battle or weaponry. And even if I started training you today, it’d be years before you could hold your own on an immortal battlefield.” He took a tight breath. “So despite what he thinks you might be able to do, Feyre, I’m not going to have you anywhere near a battlefield. Especially if it means revealing whatever powers you have to our enemies. You’d be fighting Hybern at your front, and have foes with friendly faces at your back.”

“I don’t care—”

“I care,” Tamlin snarled. Lucien whooshed out a breath. “I care if you die, if you’re hurt, if you will be in danger every moment for the rest of our lives. So there will be no training, and we’re going to keep this between us.”

“But Hybern—”

Lucien intervened calmly, “I already have my sources looking into it.”

I gave him a beseeching look.

Lucien sighed a bit and said to Tamlin, “If we perhaps trained her in secret—”

“Too many risks, too many variables,” Tamlin countered. “And there will be no conflict with Hybern, no war.”

I snapped, “That’s wishful thinking.”

Lucien muttered something that sounded like a plea to the Cauldron.

Tamlin stiffened. “Describe his map room for me again,” was his only response.

End of discussion. No room for debate.

We stared each other down for a moment, and my stomach twisted further.

He was the High Lord—my High Lord. He was the shield and defender of his people. Of me. And if keeping me safe meant that his people could continue to hope, to build a new life, that he could do the same … I could bow to him on this one thing.

I could do it.

You are no one’s subject.

Maybe Rhysand had altered my mind, shields or no.

The thought alone was enough for me to begin feeding Tamlin details once more.

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