فصل 08

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER

8

Tamlin paced in front of the hearth in his study, every turn as sharp as a blade.

“They are our allies,” he growled at me, at Lucien, both of us seated in armchairs flanking the mantel.

“They’re monsters,” I countered. “They butchered three innocents.”

“And you should have left it alone for me to deal with.” Tamlin heaved a jagged breath. “Not retaliated like children.” He threw a glare in Lucien’s direction. “I expected better from you.”

“But not from me?” I asked quietly.

Tamlin’s green eyes were like frozen jade. “You have a personal connection to those people. He does not.”

“That’s the sort of thinking,” I snapped, clutching the armrests, “that has allowed for a wall to be the only solution between our two peoples; for the Fae to look at these sorts of murders and not care.” I knew the guards outside could hear. Knew anyone walking by could hear. “The loss of any life on either side is a personal connection. Or is it only High Fae lives that matter to you?”

Tamlin stopped short. And snarled at Lucien, “Get out. I’ll deal with you later.”

“Don’t you talk to him like that,” I hissed, shooting to my feet.

“You have jeopardized this alliance with that stunt you two pulled—”

“Good. They can burn in hell for all I care!” I shouted. Lucien flinched.

“You sent the Bogge after them!” Tamlin roared.

I didn’t so much as blink. And I knew the sentries had heard indeed by the cough of one outside—a sound of muffled shock.

And I made sure those sentries could still hear as I said, “They terrorized those humans—made them suffer. I figured the Bogge was one of the few creatures that could return the favor.”

Lucien had tracked it down—and we’d lured it, carefully, over hours, back to that camp. Right to where Dagdan and Brannagh had been gloating over their kill. They’d managed to get away—but only after what had sounded like a good bit of screaming and fighting. Their faces remained bloodless even hours later, their eyes still brimming with hate whenever they deigned to look at us.

Lucien cleared his throat. Stood as well. “Tam—those humans were barely more than children. Feyre gave the royals an order to stand down. They ignored it. If we let Hybern walk all over us, we stand to lose more than their alliance. The Bogge reminded them that we aren’t without our claws, too.”

Tamlin didn’t take his eyes off me as he said to Lucien, “Get. Out.”

There was enough violence in the words that neither Lucien nor I objected this time as he slipped from the room and shut the double doors behind him. I speared my power into the hall, sensing him sitting on the foot of the stairs. Listening. As the six sentries in the hall were listening.

I said to Tamlin, my back ramrod straight, “You don’t get to speak to me like that. You promised you wouldn’t act this way.”

“You have no idea what’s at risk—”

“Don’t you talk down to me. Not after what I went through to get back here, to you. To our people. You think any of us are happy to be working with Hybern? You think I don’t see it in their faces? The question of whether I am worth the dishonor of it?”

His breathing turned ragged again. Good, I wanted to urge him. Good.

“You sold us out to get me back,” I said, low and cold. “You whored us out to Hybern. Forgive me if I am now trying to regain some of what we lost.”

Claws slid free. A feral growl rippled out of him.

“They hunted down and butchered those humans for sport,” I went on. “You might be willing to get on your knees for Hybern, but I certainly am not.”

He exploded.

Furniture splintered and went flying, windows cracked and shattered.

And this time, I did not shield myself.

The worktable slammed into me, throwing me against the bookshelf, and every place where flesh and bone met wood barked and ached.

My knees slammed into the carpeted floor, and Tamlin was instantly in front of me, hands shaking—

The doors burst open.

“What have you done,” Lucien breathed, and Tamlin’s face was the picture of devastation as Lucien shoved him aside. He let Lucien shove him aside and help me stand.

Something wet and warm slid down my cheek—blood, from the scent of it.

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Lucien said, an arm around my shoulders as he eased me from the room. I barely heard him over the ringing in my ears, the slight spinning to the world.

The sentries—Bron and Hart, two of Tamlin’s favorite lord-warriors among them—were gaping, attention torn between the wrecked study and my face.

With good reason. As Lucien led me past a gilded hall mirror, I beheld what had drawn such horror. My eyes were glassy, my face pallid—save for the scratch just beneath my cheekbone, perhaps two inches long and leaking blood.

Little scratches peppered my neck, my hands. But I willed that cleansing, healing power—that of the High Lord of Dawn—to keep from seeking them out. From smoothing them away.

“Feyre,” Tamlin breathed from behind us.

I halted, aware of every eye that watched. “I’m fine,” I whispered. “I’m sorry.” I wiped at the blood dribbling down my cheek. “I’m fine,” I told him again.

No one, not even Tamlin, looked convinced.

And if I could have painted that moment, I would have named it A Portrait in Snares and Baiting.

Rhysand sent word down the bond the second I was soaking in the bathtub.

Are you hurt?

The question was faint, the bond quieter and tenser than it had been days ago.

Sore, but fine. Nothing I can’t handle. Though my injuries still lingered. And showed no signs of a speedy healing. Perhaps I’d been too good at keeping those healing powers at bay.

The reply was a long time coming. Then it came all at once, as if he wanted to cram every word in before the difficulty of the distance silenced us.

I know better than to tell you to be careful, or to come home. But I want you home. Soon. And I want him dead for putting a hand on you.

Even with the entirety of the land between us, his rage rippled down the bond.

I answered, my tone soothing, dry, Technically, his magic touched me, not his hand.

The bathwater was cold by the time his reply came through. I’m glad you have a sense of humor about this. I certainly don’t.

I sent back an image of me sticking out my tongue at him.

My clothes were back on when his answer arrived.

Like mine, it was wordless, a mere image. Like mine, Rhysand’s tongue was out.

But it was occupied with doing something else.

I made a point to take a ride the next day. Made sure it was when Bron and Hart were on duty, and asked them to escort me.

They didn’t say much, but I felt their assessing glances at my every wince as we rode the worn paths through the spring wood. Felt them study the cut on my face, the bruises beneath my clothes that had me hissing every now and then. Still not fully healed to my surprise—though I supposed it worked to my advantage.

Tamlin had begged my forgiveness at dinner yesterday—and I’d given it to him. But Lucien hadn’t spoken to him all evening.

Jurian and the Hybern royals had sulked at the delay after I’d quietly admitted my bruises made it too difficult to accompany them to the wall. Tamlin hadn’t possessed the nerve to suggest they go without me, to rob me of that duty. Not when he saw the purplish markings and knew that if they were on a human, I might have been dead.

And the royals, after Lucien and I had sent the Bogge’s invisible malice after them, had backed off. For now. I kept my shields up—around myself and the others, the strain now a constant headache that had any extra sort of magic feeling feeble and thin. The reprieve on the border hadn’t done much—no, it’d made the strain worse after I’d sent my power through the wall.

I’d invited Ianthe to the house, subtly requesting her comforting presence. She arrived knowing the full details of what had transpired in that study—letting it conveniently slip that Tamlin had confessed it to her, pleading for absolution from the Mother and Cauldron and whoever else. I prattled about my own forgiveness to her that evening, and made a show of taking her good counsel, telling the courtiers and others at our crowded table that night how lucky we were to have Tamlin and Ianthe guarding our lands.

Honestly, I don’t know how none of them connected it.

How none of them saw my words as not a strange coincidence but a dare. A threat.

That last little nudge.

Especially when seven naga broke into the estate grounds just past midnight.

They were dispatched before they reached the house—an attack halted by a Cauldron-sent warning vision from none other than Ianthe herself.

The chaos and screaming woke the estate. I remained in my room, guards beneath my windows and outside my door. Tamlin himself, blood-drenched and panting, came to inform me that the grounds were again secure. That the naga had been found with the keys to the gate, and the sentry who had lost them would be dealt with in the morning. A freak accident, a final show of power from a tribe that had not gone gently after Amarantha’s reign.

All of us saved from further harm by Ianthe.

We all gathered outside the barracks the next morning, Lucien’s face pallid and drawn, purple smudges beneath his glazed eyes. He hadn’t returned to his room last night.

Beside me, the Hybern royals and Jurian were silent and grim as Tamlin paced before the sentry strung up between two posts.

“You were entrusted with guarding this estate and its people,” Tamlin said to the shuddering male, already stripped down to his pants. “You were found not only asleep at the gate last night, but it was your set of keys that originally went missing.” Tamlin snarled softly. “Do you deny this?”

“I—I never fall asleep. It’s never happened until now. I must have just nodded off for a minute or two,” the sentry stammered, the ropes restraining him groaning as he strained against them.

“You jeopardized the lives of everyone in this manor.”

And it could not go unpunished. Not with the Hybern royals here, seeking any sign of weakness.

Tamlin held out a hand. Bron, stone-faced, approached to give him a whip.

All the sentries, his most trusted warriors, shifted about. Some outright glaring at Tamlin, some trying not to watch what was about to unfold.

I grabbed Lucien’s hand. It wasn’t entirely for show.

Ianthe stepped forward, hands folded over her stomach. “Twenty lashes. And one more, for the Cauldron’s forgiveness.”

The guards turned baleful eyes toward her now.

Tamlin unfurled the whip onto the dirt.

I made my move. Slid my power into the bound sentry’s mind and freed the memory I’d coiled up tightly in his head—freed his tongue, too.

“It was her,” he panted, jerking his chin to Ianthe. “She took the keys.”

Tamlin blinked—and everyone in that courtyard looked right to Ianthe.

Her face didn’t so much as flinch at the accusation—the truth he’d flung her way.

I’d been waiting to see how she’d counter my showing of power at the solstice, tracking her movements that entire day and night. Within moments of my leaving the party she’d gone to the barracks, used some glimmer of power to lull him to sleep, and taken his keys. Then planted her warnings about the naga’s impending attacks … after she gave the creatures the keys to the gates.

So she could sound the alarm last night. So she could save us from a real threat.

Clever idea—had it not played right into everything I’d laid out.

Ianthe said smoothly, “Why should I take the keys? I warned you of the attack.”

“You were at the barracks—I saw you that night,” the sentry insisted, then turned pleading eyes to Tamlin. It wasn’t fear of pain that propelled him, I realized. No, the lashings would have been deserved and earned and borne well. It was the fear of honor lost.

“I would have thought one of your sentries, Tamlin, would have more dignity than to spread lies to spare himself from some fleeting pain.” Ianthe’s face remained serene as always.

Tamlin, to his credit, studied the sentry for a long moment.

I stepped forward. “I will hear his story.”

Some of the guards loosed sighs. Some looked at me with pity and affection.

Ianthe lifted her chin. “With all due respect, milady, it is not your judgment to make.”

And there it was. The attempt to knock me down a few pegs.

Just because it would make her see red, I ignored her completely and said to the sentry, “I will hear your story.”

I kept my focus on him, even as I counted my breaths, even as I prayed that Ianthe would take the bait—

“You’ll take the word of a sentry over that of a High Priestess?”

My disgust at her blurted words wasn’t entirely feigned—even though hiding my faint smile was an effort. The guards shifted on their feet at the insult, the tone. Even if they had not already trusted their fellow sentry, from her words alone, they realized her guilt.

I looked to Tamlin then—saw his eyes sharpen as well. With understanding. Too many protests from Ianthe.

Oh, he was well aware that Ianthe had perhaps planned that naga attack to reclaim some shred of power and influence—as a savior of these people.

Tamlin’s mouth tightened in disapproval.

I’d given them both a length of rope. I supposed now would be the moment to see whether they’d hang themselves with it.

I dared one more step forward, upturning my palms to Tamlin. “Perhaps it was a mistake. Don’t take it from his hide—or his honor. Let’s hear him out.”

Tamlin’s eyes softened a fraction. He remained silent—considering.

But behind me, Brannagh snorted.

“Pathetic,” she murmured, though everyone could hear it.

Weak. Vulnerable. Ripe for conquest. I saw the words slam through Tamlin’s face, as if they were shutting doors in their wake.

There was no other interpretation—not for Tamlin.

But Ianthe assessed me, standing before the crowd, the influence I’d made so very clear I was capable of stealing. If she admitted guilt … whatever she had left would come crumbling down.

Tamlin opened his mouth, but Ianthe cut him off. “There are laws to be obeyed,” she told me, gently enough that I wanted to drag my nails down her face. “Traditions. He has broken our trust, has let our blood be spilled for his carelessness. Now he seeks to accuse a High Priestess of his failings. It cannot go unpunished.” She nodded to Tamlin. “Twenty-one lashes, High Lord.”

I glanced between them, my mouth going dry. “Please. Just listen to him.”

The guard hanging between the posts had such hope and gratitude in his eyes.

In this … in this, my revenge edged toward something oily, something foreign and queasy. He would heal from the pain, but the blow to his honor … It’d take a little piece out of mine as well.

Tamlin stared at me, then Ianthe. Then glanced to the smirking Hybern royals—to Jurian, who crossed his arms, his face unreadable.

And like I’d gambled, Tamlin’s need for control, for strength, won out.

Ianthe was too important an ally to risk isolating. The word of a low sentry … no, it did not matter as much as hers.

Tamlin turned to the sentry tied to the posts. “Put the bit in,” he quietly ordered Bron.

There was a heartbeat of hesitation from Bron—as if the shock of Tamlin’s order had rippled through him. Through all the guards. Siding with Ianthe—over them. His sentries.

Who had gone over the wall, again and again, to try to break that curse for him. Who had gladly done it, gladly died, hunted down as those wolves, for him. And the wolf I’d felled, Andras … He’d gone willingly, too. Tamlin had sent them all over, and not all of them had come back. They had gone willingly, yet this … this was his thanks. His gratitude. His trust.

But Bron did as commanded, sliding the small piece of wood into the now-trembling sentry’s mouth.

Judging by the barely concealed disdain in the guards’ faces, at least they were aware of what had occurred—or what they believed had occurred: the High Priestess had orchestrated this entire attack to cast herself as a savior, offering up the reputation of one of their own as the asking price. They had no idea—none—that I’d goaded her into it, pushed and pushed her to reveal just what a snake she was. How little anyone without a title meant to her.

How Tamlin listened to her without question—to a fault.

It wasn’t much of an act when I put a hand to my throat, backing up a step, then another, until Lucien’s warmth was against me, and I leaned fully into him.

The sentries were sizing up Ianthe, the royals. Tamlin had always been one of them—fought for them.

Until now. Until Hybern. Until he put these foreign monsters before them.

Until he put a scheming High Priestess before them.

Tamlin’s eyes were on us, on the hand Lucien put on my arm to steady me, as he drew back the whip.

The thunderous crack as it cleaved the air snapped through the barracks, the estate.

Through the very foundations of the court.

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