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Chapter 39

From that point on, each morning and evening, a fresh, hot meal appeared in my cell. I gobbled it down but cursed Rhysand’s name anyway. Stuck in the cell, I had nothing to do but ponder Amarantha’s riddle—usually only to wind up with a pounding headache. I recited it again and again and again, but to no avail.

Days passed, and I didn’t see Lucien or Tamlin, and Rhysand never came to taunt me. I was alone—utterly alone, locked in silence—though the screaming in the dungeons still continued day and night. When that screaming became too unbearable and I couldn’t shut it out, I would look at the eye tattooed on my palm. I wondered if he’d done it to quietly remind me of Jurian—a cruel, petty slap to the face indicating that perhaps I was well on my way to belonging to him just as the ancient warrior now belonged to Amarantha.

Every once in a while, I’d say a few words to the tattoo—then curse myself for a fool. Or curse Rhysand. But I could have sworn that as I dozed off one night, it blinked.

If I was counting the schedule of my meals correctly, about four days after I’d seen Rhysand in his room, two High Fae females arrived in my cell.

They appeared through the cracks from slivers of darkness, just as Rhysand had. But while he’d solidified into a tangible form, these faeries remained mostly made of shadow, their features barely discernable, save for their loose, flowing cobweb gowns. They remained silent when they reached for me. I didn’t fight them—there was nothing to fight them with, and nowhere to run. The hands they clasped around my forearms were cool but solid—as if the shadows were a coating, a second skin.

They had to have been sent by Rhysand—some servants of his from the Night Court. They could have been mutes for all they said to me as they pressed close to my body and we stepped—physically stepped—through the closed door, as if it wasn’t even there. As if I had become a shadow, too. My knees buckled at the sensation, like spiders crawling down my spine, my arms, as we walked through the dark, shrieking dungeons. None of the guards stopped us—they didn’t even look in our direction. We were glamoured, then; no more than flickering darkness to the passing eye.

The faeries brought me up through dusty stairwells and down forgotten halls until we reached a nondescript room where they stripped me naked, bathed me roughly, and then—to my horror—began to paint my body.

Their brushes were unbearably cold and ticklish, and their shadowy grips were firm when I wriggled. Things only worsened when they painted more intimate parts of me, and it was an effort to keep from kicking one of them in the face. They offered no explanation for why—no hint of whether this was another torment sent by Amarantha. Even if I fled, there was nowhere to escape to—not without damning Tamlin further. So I stopped demanding answers, stopped fighting back, and let them finish.

From the neck up, I was regal: my face was adorned with cosmetics—rouge on my lips, a smearing of gold dust on my eyelids, kohl lining my eyes—and my hair was coiled around a small golden diadem imbedded with lapis lazuli. But from the neck down, I was a heathen god’s plaything. They had continued the pattern of the tattoo on my arm, and once the blue-black paint had dried, they placed on me a gauzy white dress.

If you could call it a dress. It was little more than two long shafts of gossamer, just wide enough to cover my breasts, pinned at each shoulder with gold brooches. The sections flowed down to a jeweled belt slung low across my hips, where they joined into a single piece of fabric that hung between my legs and to the floor. It barely covered me, and from the cold air on my skin, I knew that most of my backside was left exposed.

The cold breeze caressing my bare skin was enough to kindle my rage. The two High Fae ignored my demands to be clothed in something else, their impossibly shadowed faces veiled from me, but held my arms firm when I tried to rip the shift off.

“I wouldn’t do that,” a deep, lilting voice said from the doorway. Rhysand was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.

I should have known it was his doing, should have known from the matching designs all over my body. “Our bargain hasn’t started yet,” I snapped. The instincts that had once told me to be quiet around Tam and Lucien utterly failed me when Rhysand was near.

“Ah, but I need an escort for the party.” His violet eyes glittered with stars. “And when I thought of you squatting in that cell all night, alone …” He waved a hand, and the faerie servants vanished through the door behind him. I flinched as they walked through the wood—no doubt an ability everyone in the Night Court possessed—and Rhysand chuckled. “You look just as I hoped you would.” From the cobwebs of my memory, I recalled similar words Tamlin had once whispered into my ear. “Is this necessary?” I said, gesturing to the paint and clothing.

“Of course,” he said coolly. “How else would I know if anyone touches you?”

He approached, and I braced myself as he ran a finger along my shoulder, smearing the paint. As soon as his finger left my skin, the paint fixed itself, returning the design to its original form. “The dress itself won’t mar it, and neither will your movements,” he said, his face close to mine. His teeth were far too near to my throat. “And I’ll remember precisely where my hands have been. But if anyone else touches you—let’s say a certain High Lord who enjoys springtime—I’ll know.” He flicked my nose. “And, Feyre,” he added, his voice a caressing murmur, “I don’t like my belongings tampered with.” Ice wrapped around my stomach. He owned me for a week every month. Apparently, he thought that extended to the rest of my life, too.

“Come,” Rhysand said, beckoning with a hand. “We’re already late.”

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We walked through the halls. The sounds of merriment rose ahead of us, and my face burned as I silently bemoaned the too-sheer fabric of my dress. Beneath it, my breasts were visible to everyone, the paint hardly leaving anything to the imagination, and the cold cave air raised goose bumps on my skin. With my legs, sides, and most of my stomach exposed save for the slender shafts of fabric, I had to clench my teeth to keep them from chattering. My bare feet were half-frozen, and I hoped that wherever we were going would have a giant fire.

Queer, off-kilter music brayed through two stone doors that I immediately recognized. The throne room. No. No, anyplace but here.

Faeries and High Fae gawked as we passed through the entrance. Some bowed to Rhysand, while others gaped. I spied several of Lucien’s older brothers gathered just inside the doors. The smiles they gave me were nothing short of vulpine.

Rhysand didn’t touch me, but he walked close enough for it to be obvious that I was with him—that I belonged to him. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d attached a collar and leash around my neck. Maybe he would at some point, now that I was bound to him, the bargain marked on my flesh.

Whispers snaked under the shouts of celebrating, and even the music quieted as the crowd parted and made a path for us to Amarantha’s dais. I lifted my chin, the weight of the crown digging into my skull.

I’d beaten her first task. I’d beaten her menial chores. I could keep my head high.

Tamlin was seated beside her on that same throne, in his usual clothing, no weapons sheathed anywhere on him. Rhysand had said that he wanted to tell him at the right moment, that he’d wanted to hurt Tamlin by revealing the bargain I’d made. Prick. Scheming, wretched prick.

“Merry Midsummer,” Rhysand said, bowing to Amarantha. She wore a rich gown of lavender and orchid-purple—surprisingly modest. I was a savage before her cultivated beauty.

“What have you done with my captive?” she said, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes.

Tamlin’s face was like stone—like stone, save for the white-knuckled grip on the arms of his throne. No claws. He was able to keep that sign of his temper at bay, at least.

I’d done such a foolish thing in binding myself to Rhysand. Rhysand, with the wings and talons lurking beneath that beautiful, flawless surface; Rhysand, who could shatter minds. I did it for you, I wanted to shout.

“We made a bargain,” Rhysand said. I flinched as he brushed a stray lock of my hair from my face. He ran his fingers down my cheek—a gentle caress. The throne room was all too quiet as he spoke his next words to Tamlin. “One week with me at the Night Court every month in exchange for my healing services after her first task.” He raised my left arm to reveal the tattoo, whose ink didn’t shine as much as the paint on my body. “For the rest of her life,” he added casually, but his eyes were now upon Amarantha.

The Faerie Queen straightened a little bit—even Jurian’s eye seemed fixed on me, on Rhysand. For the rest of my life—he said it as if it were going to be a long, long while.

He thought I was going to beat her tasks.

I stared at his profile, at the elegant nose and sensuous lips. Games—Rhysand liked to play games, and it seemed I was now to be a key player in whatever this one was.

“Enjoy my party” was Amarantha’s only reply as she toyed with the bone at the end of her necklace. Dismissed, Rhysand put a hand on my back to steer us away, to turn me from Tamlin, who still gripped the throne.

The crowd kept a good distance, and I couldn’t acknowledge any of them, out of fear I might have to look at Tamlin again, or might spy Lucien—glimpse the expression on his face when he beheld me.

I kept my chin up. I wouldn’t let the others notice that weakness—wouldn’t let them know how much it killed me to be so exposed to them, to have Rhysand’s symbols painted over nearly every inch of my skin, to have Tamlin see me so debased.

Rhysand stopped before a table laden with exquisite foods. The High Fae around it quickly cleared away. If there were any other members of the Night Court present, they didn’t ripple with darkness the way Rhysand and his servants did; didn’t dare approach him. The music grew loud enough to suggest there was probably dancing somewhere in the room. “Wine?” he said, offering me a goblet.

Alis’s first rule. I shook my head.

He smiled, and extended the goblet again. “Drink. You’ll need it.”

Drink, my mind echoed, and my fingers stirred, moving toward the goblet. No. No, Alis said not to drink the wine here—wine that was different from that joyous, freeing solstice wine. “No,” I said, and some faeries who were watching us from a safe distance chuckled.

“Drink,” he said, and my traitorous fingers latched onto the goblet.

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I awoke in my cell, still clad in that handkerchief he called a dress. Everything was spinning so badly that I barely made it to the corner before I vomited. Again. And again. When I’d emptied my stomach, I crawled to the opposite corner of the cell and collapsed.

Sleep came fitfully as the world continued to twirl violently around me. I was tied to a spinning wheel, going around and around and around— Needless to say, I was sick a fair amount that day.

I’d just finished picking at the hot dinner that had appeared moments before when the door creaked and a golden fox-face appeared—along with a narrowed metal eye. “Shit,” said Lucien. “It’s freezing in here.” It was, but I was too nauseated to notice. Keeping my head up was an effort, let alone keeping the food down. He unclasped his cloak and set it around my shoulders. Its heavy warmth leaked into me. “Look at all this,” he said, staring at the paint on me. Thankfully, it was all intact, save for a few places on my waist. “Bastard.” “What happened?” I got out, even though I wasn’t sure I truly wanted the answer. My memory was a dark blur of wild music.

Lucien drew back. “I don’t think you want to know.” I studied the few smudges on my waist, marks that looked like hands had held me.

“Who did that to me?” I asked quietly, my eyes tracing the arc of the spoiled paint.

“Who do you think?”

My heart clenched and I looked at the floor. “Did—did Tamlin see it?”

Lucien nodded. “Rhys was only doing it to get a rise out of him.”

“Did it work?” I still couldn’t look Lucien in the face. I knew, at least, that I hadn’t been violated beyond touching my sides. The paint told me that much.

“No,” Lucien said, and I smiled grimly.

“What—what was I doing the whole time?” So much for Alis’s warning.

Lucien let out a sharp breath, running a hand through his red hair. “He had you dance for him for most of the night. And when you weren’t dancing, you were sitting in his lap.” “What kind of dancing?” I pushed.

“Not the kind you were doing with Tamlin on Solstice,” Lucien said, and my face heated. From the murkiness of my memories of last night, I recalled the closeness of a certain pair of violet eyes—eyes that sparkled with mischief as they beheld me.

“In front of everyone?”

“Yes,” Lucien replied—more gently than I’d heard him speak to me before. I stiffened. I didn’t want his pity. He sighed and grabbed my left arm, examining the tattoo. “What were you thinking? Didn’t you know I’d come as soon as I could?” I yanked my arm from him. “I was dying! I had a fever—I was barely able to keep conscious! How was I supposed to know you’d come? That you even understood how quickly humans can die of that sort of thing? You told me you hesitated that time with the naga.” “I swore an oath to Tamlin—”

“I had no other choice! You think I’m going to trust you after everything you said to me at the manor?” “I risked my neck for you during your task. Was that not enough?” His metal eye whirred softly. “You offered up your name for me—after all that I said to you, all I did, you still offered up your name. Didn’t you realize I would help you after that? Oath or no oath?” I hadn’t realized it would mean anything to him at all. “I had no other choice,” I said again, breathing hard.

“Don’t you understand what Rhys is?”

“I do!” I barked, then sighed. “I do,” I repeated, and glared at the eye in my palm. “It’s done with. So you needn’t hold to whatever oath you swore to Tamlin to protect me—or feel like you owe me anything for saving you from Amarantha. I would have done it just to wipe the smirk off your brothers’ faces.” Lucien clicked his tongue, but his remaining russet eye shone. “I’m glad to see you didn’t sell your lively human spirit or stubbornness to Rhys.” “Just a week of my life every month.”

“Yes, well—we’ll see about that when the time comes,” he growled, that metal eye flicking to the door. He stood. “I should go. The rotation’s about to shift.” He made it a step before I said, “I’m sorry—that she still punished you for helping me during my task. I heard—” My throat tightened. “I heard what she made Tamlin do to you.” He shrugged, but I added, “Thank you. For helping me, I mean.” He walked to the door, and for the first time I noticed how stiffly he moved. “It’s why I couldn’t come sooner,” he said, his throat bobbing. “She used her—used our powers to keep my back from healing. I haven’t been able to move until today.” Breathing became a little difficult. “Here,” I said, removing his cloak and standing to hand it to him. The sudden cold sent gooseflesh rippling over me.

“Keep it. I swiped it off a dozing guard on my way in here.” In the dim light, the embroidered symbol of a sleeping dragon glimmered. Amarantha’s coat of arms. I grimaced, but shrugged it on.

“Besides,” Lucien added with a smirk, “I’ve seen enough of you through that gown to last a lifetime.” I flushed as he opened the door.

“Wait,” I said. “Is—is Tamlin all right? I mean … I mean that spell Amarantha has him under to make him so silent …” “There’s no spell. Hasn’t it occurred to you that Tamlin is keeping quiet to avoid telling Amarantha which form of your torment affects him most?” No, it hadn’t.

“He’s playing a dangerous game, though,” Lucien said, slipping out the door. “We all are.” Image

The next night, I was again washed, painted, and brought to that miserable throne room. Not a ball this time—just some evening entertainment. Which, it turned out, was me. After I drank the wine, though, I was mercifully unaware of what was happening.

Night after night, I was dressed in the same way and made to accompany Rhysand to the throne room. Thus I became Rhysand’s plaything, the harlot of Amarantha’s whore. I woke with vague shards of memories—of dancing between Rhysand’s legs as he sat in a chair and laughed; of his hands, stained blue from the places they touched on my waist, my arms, but somehow, never more than that. He had me dance until I was sick, and once I was done retching, told me to begin dancing again.

I awoke ill and exhausted each morning, and though Rhysand’s order to the guards had indeed held, the nightly activities left me thoroughly drained. I spent my days sleeping off the faerie wine, dozing to escape the humiliation I endured. When I could, I contemplated Amarantha’s riddle, turning over every word—to no avail.

And when I again entered that throne room, I was allowed only a glimpse of Tamlin before the drug of the wine took hold. But every time, every night, just for that one glance, I didn’t hide the love and pain that welled in my eyes when they met his.

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I had finished being painted and dressed—my gossamer gown a shade of blood orange that night—when Rhysand entered the room. The shadow maids, as usual, walked through the walls and vanished. But rather than beckon me to come with him, Rhysand closed the door.

“Your second trial is tomorrow night,” he said neutrally. The gold-and-silver thread in his black tunic shone in the candlelight. He never wore another color.

It was like a stone to the head. I’d lost count of the days. “So?”

“It could be your last,” he said, and leaned against the door frame, crossing his arms.

“If you’re taunting me into playing another game of yours, you’re wasting your breath.” “Aren’t you going to beg me to give you a night with your beloved?”

“I’ll have that night, and all the ones after, when I beat her final task.”

Rhysand shrugged, then flashed a grin as he pushed off the door and stepped toward me. “I wonder if you were this prickly with Tamlin when you were his captive.” “He never treated me like a captive—or a slave.”

“No—and how could he? Not with the shame of his father and brothers’ brutality always weighing on him, the poor, noble beast. But perhaps if he’d bothered to learn a thing or two about cruelty, about what it means to be a true High Lord, it would have kept the Spring Court from falling.” “Your court fell, too.”

Sadness flickered in those violet eyes. I wouldn’t have noticed it had I not … felt it—deep inside me. My gaze drifted to the eye etched in my palm. What manner of tattoo, exactly, had he given me? But instead I asked, “When you were roaming freely on Fire Night—at the Rite—you said it cost you. Were you one of the High Lords that sold allegiance to Amarantha in exchange for not being forced to live down here?” Whatever sadness had been in his eyes vanished—only cold, glittering calm remained. I could have sworn a shadow of mighty wings stained the wall behind him. “What I do or have done for my Court is none of your concern.” “And what has she been doing for the past forty-nine years? Holding court and torturing everyone as she pleases? To what end?” Tell me about the threat she poses to the human world, I wanted to beg—tell me what all of this means, why so many awful things had to happen.

“The Lady of the Mountain needs no excuses for her actions.”

“But—”

“The festivities await.” He gestured to the door behind him.

I knew I was on dangerous ground, but I didn’t care. “What do you want with me? Beyond taunting Tamlin.” “Taunting him is my greatest pleasure,” he said with a mock bow. “And as for your question, why does any male need a reason to enjoy the presence of a female?” “You saved my life.”

“And through your life, I saved Tamlin’s.”

“Why?”

He winked, smoothing his blue-black hair. “That, Feyre, is the real question, isn’t it?” With that, he led me from the room.

We reached the throne room, and I braced myself to be drugged and disgraced again. But it was Rhysand the crowd looked at—Rhysand whom Lucien’s brothers monitored. Amarantha’s clear voice rang out over the music, summoning him.

He paused, glancing at Lucien’s brothers stalking toward us, their attention pinned on me. Eager, hungry—wicked. I opened my mouth, not too proud to ask Rhysand not to leave me alone with them while he dealt with Amarantha, but he put a hand on my back and nudged me along.

“Just stay close, and keep your mouth shut,” he murmured in my ear as he led me by the arm. The crowd parted as if we were on fire, revealing all too soon what was before us.

Not us, I amended, but Rhysand.

A brown-skinned High Fae male was sobbing on the floor before the dais. Amarantha was smiling at him like a snake—so intently that she didn’t even spare me a glance. Beside her, Tamlin remained utterly impassive. A beast without claws.

Rhysand flicked his eyes to me—a silent command to stay at the edge of the crowd. I obeyed, and when I lifted my attention to Tamlin, waiting for him to look—just look at me—he did not, his focus wholly on the queen, on the male before her. Point taken.

Amarantha caressed her ring, watching every movement that Rhysand made as he approached. “The summer lordling,” she said of the male cowering at her feet, “tried to escape through the exit to the Spring Court lands. I want to know why.” There was a tall, handsome High Fae male standing at the crowd’s edge—his hair near-white, eyes of crushing, crystal blue, his skin of richest mahogany. But his mouth was drawn as his attention darted between Amarantha and Rhysand. I’d seen him before, during that first task—the High Lord of the Summer Court. Before, he’d been shining—almost leaking golden light; now he was muted, drab. As if Amarantha had leeched every last drop of power from him while she interrogated his subject.

Rhysand slid his hands into his pockets and sauntered closer to the male on the ground.

The Summer faerie cringed, his face shining with tears. My own bowels turned watery with fear and shame as he wet himself at the sight of Rhysand. “P-p-please,” he gasped out.

The crowd was breathless, too silent.

His back to me, Rhysand’s shoulders were loose, not a stitch of clothing out of place. But I knew his talons had latched onto the faerie’s mind the moment the male stopped shaking on the ground.

The High Lord of Summer had gone still, too—and it was pain, real pain, and fear that shone in those stunning blue eyes. Summer was one of the courts that had rebelled, I remembered. So this was a new, untested High Lord, who had not yet had to make choices that cost him lives.

After a moment of silence, Rhysand looked at Amarantha. “He wanted to escape. To get to the Spring Court, cross the wall, and flee south into human territory. He had no accomplices, no motive beyond his own pathetic cowardice.” He jerked his chin toward the puddle of piss beneath the male. But out of the corner of my eye I saw the Summer High Lord sag a bit—enough to make me wonder … wonder what sort of choice Rhys had made in that moment he’d taken to search the male’s mind.

But Amarantha rolled her eyes and slouched in her throne. “Shatter him, Rhysand.” She flicked a hand at the High Lord of the Summer Court. “You may do what you want with the body afterward.” The High Lord of the Summer Court bowed—as if he’d been given a gift—and looked to his subject, who had gone still and calm on the floor, hugging his knees. The male faerie was ready—relieved.

Rhys slipped a hand out of his pocket, and it dangled at his side. I could have sworn phantom talons flickered there as his fingers curled slightly.

“I’m growing bored, Rhysand,” Amarantha said with a sigh, again fiddling with that bone. She hadn’t looked at me once, too focused on her current prey.

Rhysand’s fingers curled into a fist.

The faerie male’s eyes went wide—then glazed as he slumped to the side in the puddle of his own waste. Blood leaked from his nose, from his ears, pooling on the floor.

That fast—that easily, that irrevocably … he was dead.

“I said shatter his mind, not his brain,” Amarantha snapped.

The crowd murmured around me, stirring. I wanted nothing more than to fade back into it—to crawl back into my cell and burn this from my mind. Tamlin hadn’t flinched—not a muscle. What horrors had he witnessed in his long life if this hadn’t broken that distant expression, that control?

Rhysand shrugged, his hand sliding back into his pocket. “Apologies, my queen.” He turned away without being dismissed, and didn’t look at me as he strode for the back of the throne room. I fell into step beside him, reining in my trembling, trying not to think about the body sprawled behind us, or about Clare—still nailed to the wall.

The crowd stayed far, far back as we walked through it. “Whore,” some of them softly hissed at him, out of her earshot; “Amarantha’s whore.” But many offered tentative, appreciative smiles and words—“Good that you killed him; good that you killed the traitor.” Rhysand didn’t deign to acknowledge any of them, his shoulders still loose, his footsteps unhurried. I wondered whether anyone but he and the High Lord of the Summer Court knew that the killing had been a mercy. I was willing to bet that there had been others involved in that escape plan, perhaps even the High Lord of the Summer Court himself.

But maybe keeping those secrets had only been done in aid of whatever games Rhysand liked to play. Maybe sparing that faerie male by killing him swiftly, rather than shattering his mind and leaving him a drooling husk, had been another calculated move, too.

He didn’t pause once on that long trek across the throne room, but when we reached the food and wine at the back of the room, he handed me a goblet and downed one alongside me. He didn’t say anything before the wine swept me into oblivion.

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