فصل 18

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Chapter 18

The next day, the blood of the faerie had been cleaned up by the time I ate, washed, and dressed. I’d taken my time in the morning, and it was nearly noon as I stood atop the staircase, peering down at the entry hall below. Just to make sure it was gone.

I’d been set on finding Tamlin and explaining—truly explaining—how sorry I was about Andras. If I was supposed to stay here, stay with him, then I could at least attempt to repair what I’d ruined. I glanced to the large window behind me, the view so sweeping that I could see all the way to the reflecting pool beyond the garden.

The water was still enough that the vibrant sky and fat, puffy clouds above were flawlessly reflected. Asking about them seemed vulgar after last night, but maybe—maybe once those paints and brushes did arrive, I could venture to the pool to capture it.

I might have remained staring out toward that smear of color and light and texture had Tamlin and Lucien not emerged from another wing of the manor, discussing some border patrol or another. They fell silent as I came down the stairs, and Lucien strode right out the front door without so much as a good morning—just a casual wave. Not a vicious gesture, but he clearly had no intention of joining the conversation that Tamlin and I were about to have.

I glanced around, hoping for any sign of those paints, but Tam pointed to the open front doors through which Lucien had exited. Beyond them, I could see both of our horses, already saddled and waiting. Lucien was already climbing into the saddle of a third horse. I turned to Tamlin.

Stay with him; he will keep me safe, and things will get better. Fine. I could do that.

“Where are we going?” My words were half-mumbled.

“Your supplies won’t arrive until tomorrow, and the gallery’s being cleaned, and my … meeting was postponed.” Was he rambling? “I thought we’d go for a ride—no killing involved. Or naga to worry about.” Even as he finished with a half smile, sorrow flickered in his eyes. Indeed, I’d had enough death in the past two days. Enough of killing faeries. Killing anything. No weapons were sheathed at his side or on his baldric—but a knife hilt glinted at his boot.

Where had he buried that faerie? A High Lord digging a grave for a stranger. I might not have believed it if I’d been told, might not have believed it if he hadn’t offered me sanctuary rather than death.

“Where to?” I asked. He only smiled.

Image

I couldn’t come up with any words when we arrived—and knew that even if I had been able to paint it, nothing would have done it justice. It wasn’t simply that it was the most beautiful place I’d ever been to, or that it filled me with both longing and mirth, but it just seemed … right. As if the colors and lights and patterns of the world had come together to form one perfect place—one true bit of beauty. After last night, it was exactly where I needed to be.

We sat atop a grassy knoll, overlooking a glade of oaks so wide and high they could have been the pillars and spires of an ancient castle. Shimmering tufts of dandelion fluff drifted by, and the floor of the clearing was carpeted with swaying crocuses and snowdrops and bluebells. It was an hour or two past noon by the time we arrived, but the light was thick and golden.

Though the three of us were alone, I could have sworn I heard singing. I hugged my knees and drank in the glen.

“We brought a blanket,” Tamlin said, and I looked over my shoulder to see him jerk his chin to the purple blanket they’d laid out a few feet away. Lucien plopped down onto it and stretched his legs. Tamlin remained standing, waiting for my response.

I shook my head and faced forward, tracing my hand through the feather-soft grass, cataloging its color and texture. I’d never felt grass like it, and I certainly wasn’t going to ruin the experience by sitting on a blanket.

Rushed whispers were exchanged behind me, and before I could turn around to investigate, Tamlin took a seat at my side. His jaw was clenched tight enough that I stared ahead. “What is this place?” I said, still running my fingers through the grass.

Out of the corner of my eye, Tamlin was no more than a glittering golden figure. “Just a glen.” Behind us, Lucien snorted. “Do you like it?” Tamlin asked quickly. The green of his eyes matched the grass between my fingers, and the amber flecks were like the shafts of sunlight that streamed through the trees. Even his mask, odd and foreign, seemed to fit into the glen—as if this place had been fashioned for him alone. I could picture him here in his beast form, curled up in the grass, dozing.

“What?” I said. I’d forgotten his question.

“Do you like it?” he repeated, and his lips tugged into a smile.

I took an uneven breath and stared at the glen again. “Yes.”

He chuckled. “That’s it? ‘Yes’?”

“Would you like me to grovel with gratitude for bringing me here, High Lord?”

“Ah. The Suriel told you nothing important, did it?”

That smile of his sparked something bold in my chest. “He also said that you like being brushed, and if I’m a clever girl, I might train you with treats.” Tamlin tipped his head to the sky and roared with laughter. Despite myself, I let out a soft laugh.

“I might die of surprise,” Lucien said behind me. “You made a joke, Feyre.”

I turned to look at him with a cool smile. “You don’t want to know what the Suriel said about you.” I flicked my brows up, and Lucien lifted his hands in defeat.

“I’d pay good money to hear what the Suriel thinks of Lucien,” Tamlin said.

A cork popped, followed by the sounds of Lucien chugging the bottle’s contents and chuckling with a muttered “Brushed.” Tamlin’s eyes were still bright with laughter as he put a hand at my elbow, pulling me to my feet. “Come on,” he said, jerking his head down the hill to the little stream that ran along its base. “I want to show you something.” I got to my feet, but Lucien remained sitting on the blanket and lifted the bottle of wine in salute. He took a slug from it as he sprawled on his back and gazed at the green canopy.

Each of Tamlin’s movements was precise and efficient, his powerfully muscled legs eating up the earth as we wove between the towering trees, hopped over tiny brooks, and clambered up steep knolls. We stopped atop a mound, and my hands slackened at my sides. There, in a clearing surrounded by towering trees, lay a sparkling silver pool. Even from a distance, I could tell that it wasn’t water, but something more rare and infinitely more precious.

Tamlin grasped my wrist and tugged me down the hill, his callused fingers gently scraping against my skin. He let go of me to leap over the root of the tree in a single maneuver and prowled to the water’s edge. I could only grind my teeth as I stumbled after him, heaving myself over the root.

He crouched by the pool and cupped his hand to fill it. He tilted his hand, letting the water fall. “Have a look.” The silvery sparkling water that dribbled from his hand set ripples dancing across the pool, each glimmering with various colors, and—“That looks like starlight,” I breathed.

He huffed a laugh, filling and emptying his hand again. I gaped at the glittering water. “It is starlight.” “That’s impossible,” I said, fighting the urge to take a step toward the water.

“This is Prythian. According to your legends, nothing is impossible.”

“How?” I asked, unable to take my eyes from the pool—the silver, but also the blue and red and pink and yellow glinting beneath, the lightness of it … “I don’t know—I never asked, and no one ever explained.”

When I continued gaping at the pool, he laughed, drawing away my attention—only for me to find him unbuttoning his tunic. “Jump in,” he said, the invitation dancing in his eyes.

A swim—unclothed, alone. With a High Lord. I shook my head, falling back a step. His fingers paused at the second button from his collar.

“Don’t you want to know what it’s like?”

I didn’t know what he meant: swimming in starlight, or swimming with him. “I—no.”

“All right.” He left his tunic unbuttoned. There was only bare, muscled, golden skin beneath.

“Why this place?” I asked, tearing my eyes away from his chest.

“This was my favorite haunt as a boy.”

“Which was when?” I couldn’t stop the question from coming out.

He cut a glance in my direction. “A very long time ago.” He said it so quietly that it made me shift on my feet. A very long time ago indeed, if he’d been a boy during the War.

Well, I’d started down that road, so I ventured to ask, “Is Lucien all right? After last night, I mean.” He seemed back to his usual snide, irreverent self, but he’d vomited at the sight of that dying faerie. “He … didn’t react well.” Tamlin shrugged, but his words were soft as he said, “Lucien … Lucien has endured things that make times like last night … difficult. Not just the scar and the eye—though I bet last night brought back memories of that, too.” Tamlin rubbed at his neck, then met my stare. Such an ancient heaviness in his eyes, in the set of his jaw. “Lucien is the youngest son of the High Lord of the Autumn Court.” I straightened. “The youngest of seven brothers. The Autumn Court is … cutthroat. Beautiful, but his brothers see each other only as competition, since the strongest of them will inherit the title, not the eldest. It is the same throughout Prythian, at every court. Lucien never cared about it, never expected to be crowned High Lord, so he spent his youth doing everything a High Lord’s son probably shouldn’t: wandering the courts, making friends with the sons of other High Lords”—a faint gleam in Tamlin’s eyes at that—“and being with females who were a far cry from the nobility of the Autumn Court.” Tamlin paused for a moment, and I could almost feel the sorrow before he said, “Lucien fell in love with a faerie whom his father considered to be grossly inappropriate for someone of his bloodline. Lucien said he didn’t care that she wasn’t one of the High Fae, that he was certain the mating bond would snap into place soon and that he was going to marry her and leave his father’s court to his scheming brothers.” A tight sigh. “His father had her put down. Executed, in front of Lucien, as his two eldest brothers held him and made him watch.” My stomach turned, and I pushed a hand against my chest. I couldn’t imagine, couldn’t comprehend that sort of loss.

“Lucien left. He cursed his father, abandoned his title and the Autumn Court, and walked out. And without his title protecting him, his brothers thought to eliminate one more contender to the High Lord’s crown. Three of them went out to kill him; one came back.” “Lucien … killed them?”

“He killed one,” Tamlin said. “I killed the other, as they had crossed into my territory, and I was now High Lord and could do what I wanted with trespassers threatening the peace of my lands.” A cold, brutal statement. “I claimed Lucien as my own—named him emissary, since he’d already made many friends across the courts and had always been good at talking to people, while I … can find it difficult. He’s been here ever since.” “As emissary,” I began, “has he ever had dealings with his father? Or his brothers?”

“Yes. His father has never apologized, and his brothers are too frightened of me to risk harming him.” No arrogance in those words, just icy truth. “But he has never forgotten what they did to her, or what his brothers tried to do to him. Even if he pretends that he has.” It didn’t quite excuse everything Lucien had said and done to me, but … I understood now. I could understand the walls and barriers he had no doubt constructed around himself. My chest was too tight, too small to fit the ache building in it. I looked at the pool of glittering starlight and let out a heavy breath. I needed to change the subject. “What would happen if I were to drink the water?” Tamlin straightened a bit—then relaxed, as if glad to release that old sadness. “Legend claims you’d be happy until your last breath.” He added, “Perhaps we both need a glass.” “I don’t think that entire pool would be enough for me,” I said, and he laughed.

“Two jokes in one day—a miracle sent from the Cauldron,” he said. I cracked a smile. He came a step closer, as if forcibly leaving behind the dark, sad stain of what had happened to Lucien, and the starlight danced in his eyes as he said, “What would be enough to make you happy?” I blushed from my neck to the top of my head. “I—I don’t know.” It was true—I’d never given that sort of thing any thought beyond getting my sisters safely married off and having enough food for me and my father, and time to learn to paint.

“Hmm,” he said, not stepping away. “What about the ringing of bluebells? Or a ribbon of sunshine? Or a garland of moonlight?” He grinned wickedly.

High Lord of Prythian indeed. High Lord of Foolery was more like it. And he knew—he knew I’d say no, that I’d squirm a bit from merely being alone with him.

No. I wouldn’t let him have the satisfaction of embarrassing me. I’d had enough of that lately, enough of … of that girl encased in ice and bitterness. So I gave him a sweet smile, doing my best to pretend that my stomach wasn’t flipping over itself. “A swim sounds delightful.” I didn’t allow myself room for second-guessing. And I took no small amount of pride in the fact that my fingers didn’t tremble once as I removed my boots, then unbuttoned my tunic and pants and shucked them onto the grass. My undergarments were modest enough that I wasn’t showing much, but I still looked straight at him as I stood on the grassy bank. The air was warm and mild, and a soft breeze kissed its way across my bare stomach.

Slowly, so slowly, his eyes roved down, then up. As if he were studying every inch, every curve of me. And even though I wore my ivory underthings, that gaze alone stripped me bare.

His eyes met mine and he gave me a lazy smile before removing his clothes. Button by button. I could have sworn the gleam in his eyes turned hungry and feral—enough so that I had to look anywhere but at his face.

I let myself indulge in the glimpse of a broad chest, arms corded with muscle, and long, strong legs before I walked right into that pool. He wasn’t built like Isaac, whose body had very much still been in that gangly place between boy and man. No—Tamlin’s glorious body was honed by centuries of fighting and brutality.

The liquid was delightfully warm, and I strode in until it was deep enough to swim out a few strokes and casually tread in place. Not water, but something smoother, thicker. Not oil, but something purer, thinner. Like being wrapped in warm silk. I was so busy savoring the tug of my fingers through the silvery substance that I didn’t notice him until he was treading beside me.

“Who taught you to swim?” he asked, and dunked his head under the surface. When he came up, he was grinning, sparkling streams of starlight running along the contours of his mask.

I didn’t go under, didn’t quite know if he’d been joking about the water making me mirthful if I drank it. “When I was twelve, I watched the village children swimming at a pond and figured it out myself.” It had been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, and I’d swallowed half the pond in the process, but I’d gotten the gist of it, managed to conquer my blind panic and terror and trust myself. Knowing how to swim had seemed like a vital ability—one that might someday mean the difference between life and death. I’d never expected it would lead to this, though.

He went under again, and when he emerged, he ran a hand through his golden hair. “How did your father lose his fortune?” “How’d you know about that?”

Tamlin snorted. “I don’t think born peasants have your kind of diction.”

Some part of me wanted to come up with a comment about snobbery, but … well, he was right, and I couldn’t blame him for being a skilled observer.

“My father was called the Prince of Merchants,” I said plainly, treading that silky, strange water. I hardly had to put any effort into it—the water was so warm, so light, that it felt as if I were floating in air, every ache in my body oozing away into nothing. “But that title, which he’d inherited from his father, and his father before that, was a lie. We were just a good name that masked three generations of bad debts. My father had been trying to find a way to ease those debts for years, and when he found an opportunity to pay them off, he took it, regardless of the risks.” I swallowed. “Eight years ago, he amassed our wealth on three ships to sail to Bharat for invaluable spices and cloth.” Tamlin frowned. “Risky indeed. Those waters are a death trap, unless you go the long way.”

“Well, he didn’t go the long way. It would have taken too much time, and our creditors were breathing down his neck. So he risked sending the ships directly to Bharat. They never reached Bharat’s shores.” I tipped my hair back in the water, clearing the memory of my father’s face the day that news arrived of the sinking. “When the ships sank, the creditors circled him like wolves. They ripped him apart until there was nothing left of him but a broken name and a few gold pieces to purchase that cottage. I was eleven. My father … he just stopped trying after that.” I couldn’t bring myself to mention that final, ugly moment when that other creditor had come with his cronies to wreck my father’s leg.

“That’s when you started hunting?”

“No; even though we moved to the cottage, it took almost three years for the money to entirely run out,” I said. “I started hunting when I was fourteen.” His eyes twinkled—no trace of the warrior forced to accept a High Lord’s burden. “And here you are. What else did you figure out for yourself?” Maybe it was the enchanted pool, or maybe it was the genuine interest behind the question, but I smiled and told him about those years in the woods.

Image

Tired but surprisingly content from a few hours of swimming and eating and lounging in the glen, I eyed Lucien as we rode back to the manor that afternoon. We were crossing a broad meadow of new spring grass when he caught me glancing at him for the tenth time, and I braced myself as he fell back from Tamlin’s side.

The metal eye narrowed on me while the other remained wary, unimpressed. “Yes?”

That was enough to persuade me not to say anything about his past. I would hate pity, too. And he didn’t know me—not well enough to warrant anything but resentment if I brought it up, even if it weighed on me to know it, to grieve for him.

I waited until Tamlin was far enough ahead that even his High Fae hearing might not pick up on my words. “I never got to thank you for your advice with the Suriel.” Lucien tensed. “Oh?”

I looked ahead at the easy way Tamlin rode, the horse utterly unbothered by his mighty rider. “If you still want me dead,” I said, “you might have to try a bit harder.” Lucien loosed a breath. “That’s not what I intended.” I gave him a long look. “I wouldn’t shed any tears,” he amended. I knew it was true. “But what happened to you—” “I was joking,” I said, and gave him a little smile.

“You can’t possibly forgive me that easily for sending you into danger.”

“No. And part of me would like nothing more than to wallop you for your lack of warning about the Suriel. But I understand: I’m a human who killed your friend, who now lives in your house, and you have to deal with me. I understand,” I said again.

He was quiet for long enough that I thought he wouldn’t reply. Just as I was about to move ahead, he spoke. “Tam told me that your first shot was to save the Suriel’s life. Not your own.” “It seemed like the right thing to do.”

The look he gave me was more contemplative than any he’d given me before. “I know far too many High Fae and lesser faeries who wouldn’t have seen it that way—or bothered.” He reached for something at his side and tossed it to me. I had to fight to stay in the saddle as I fumbled for it—a jeweled hunting knife.

“I heard you scream,” he said as I examined the blade in my hands. I’d never held one so finely crafted, so perfectly balanced. “And I hesitated. Not long, but I hesitated before I came running. Even though Tam got there in time, I still broke my word in those seconds I waited.” He jerked his chin at the knife. “It’s yours. Don’t bury it in my back, please.”

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