I might be forced to live in Prythian forever, but my family … I dared ask, “And do you care to destroy the wall?”
He looked me up and down, as if deciding whether I was worth the effort of explaining. “I have no interest in the mortal lands, though I can’t speak for my kind.”
But he still hadn’t answered my question. “Then what was your friend doing there?”
Tamlin stilled. Such unearthly, primal grace, even to his breathing. “There is … a sickness in these lands. Across Prythian. There has been for almost fifty years now. It is why this house and these lands are so empty: most have left. The blight spreads slowly, but it has made magic act … strangely. My own powers are diminished due to it. These masks”—he tapped on his—“are the result of a surge of it that occurred during a masquerade forty-nine years ago. Even now, we can’t remove them.”
Stuck in masks—for nearly fifty years. I would have gone mad, would have peeled my skin off my face. “You didn’t have a mask as a beast—and neither did your friend.”
“The blight is cruel like that.”
Either live as a beast, or live with the mask. “What—what sort of sickness is it?”
“It’s not a disease—not a plague or illness. It’s focused solely on magic, on those dwelling in Prythian. Andras was across the wall that day because I sent him to search for a cure.”
“Can it hurt humans?” My stomach twisted. “Will it spread over the wall?”
“Yes,” he said. “There is … a chance of it affecting mortals, and your territory. More than that, I don’t know. It’s slow-moving, and your kind is safe for now. We haven’t had any progression in decades—magic seems to have stabilized, even though it’s been weakened.” That he’d even admitted so much spoke volumes about how he imagined my future: I was never going home, never going to encounter another human to whom I might spill this secret vulnerability.
“A mercenary told me she believed faeries might be thinking of attacking. Is it related?”
A hint of a smile, perhaps a bit surprised. “I don’t know. Do you talk to mercenaries often?”
“I talk to whoever bothers to tell me anything useful.”
He straightened, and it was only his promise not to kill me that kept me from cringing. Then he rolled his shoulders, as if shaking off his annoyance. “Was the trip wire you rigged in your room for me?”
I sucked on my teeth. “Can you blame me if it was?”
“I might take an animal form, but I am civilized, Feyre.”
So he did remember my name, at least. But I looked pointedly at his hands, at the razor-sharp tips of those long, curved claws poking through his tanned skin.
Noticing my stare, he tucked his hands behind his back. He said sharply, “I’ll see you at dinner.”
It wasn’t a request, but I still gave him a nod as I strode off between the hedges, not caring where I was going—only that he stayed far behind.
A sickness in their lands, affecting their magic, draining it from them … A magical blight that might one day spread to the human world. After so many centuries without magic, we’d be defenseless against it—against whatever it could do to humans.
I wondered if any of the High Fae would bother warning my kind.
It didn’t take me long to know the answer.
I pretended to meander through the exquisite and silent gardens, mentally marking the paths and clever places for hiding if I ever needed them. He’d taken my weapons, and I wasn’t stupid enough to hope for an ash tree somewhere on the property with which to make my own. But his baldric had been laden with knives; there had to be an armory somewhere on the estate. And if not, I would find another weapon, then—steal it if I had to. Just in case.
Upon inspection the night before, I’d learned that there was no lock on my window. Sneaking out and rappelling down the wisteria vines wouldn’t be difficult at all—I’d climbed enough trees to not mind the height. Not that I planned to escape, but … it was good to know, at least, how I might do so should I ever be desperate enough to risk it.
I didn’t doubt Tamlin’s claim that the rest of Prythian was deadly for a human—and if there was indeed some blight on these lands … I was better off here for the time being.
But not without trying to find someone who might plead my case to Tamlin.
Though Lucien—he could do with someone snapping at him, if you’ve the courage for it, Alis had said to me yesterday.
I chewed on my stubby nails as I walked, considering every possible plan and pitfall. I’d never been particularly good with words, had never learned the social warfare my sisters and mother had been so adept at, but … I’d been decent enough when selling hides at the village market.
So perhaps I’d seek out Tamlin’s emissary, even if he detested me. He clearly had little interest in my living here—he’d suggested killing me. Perhaps he’d be eager to send me back, to persuade Tamlin to find some other way to fulfill the Treaty. If there even was one.
I approached a bench in an alcove blooming with foxglove when the sound of steps on shifting gravel filled the air. Two pairs of light, quick feet. I straightened, peering down the way I’d come, but the path was empty.
I lingered at the edge of an open field of lanky meadow buttercups. The vibrant green-and-yellow field was deserted. Behind me arose a gnarled crab apple tree in full, glorious bloom, the petals of its flowers littering the shaded bench on which I’d been about to sit. A breeze set the branches rustling, a waterfall of white petals flittering down like snow.
I scanned the garden, the field—carefully, carefully watching and listening for those two sets of feet.
There was nothing in the tree, or behind it.
A prickling sensation ran down my spine. I’d spent enough time in the woods to trust my instincts.
Someone stood behind me—perhaps two of them. A faint sniff and a quiet giggle issued from far too close. My heart leaped into my throat.
I cast a subtle glance over my shoulder. But only a shining silvery light flickered in the corner of my vision.
I had to turn around. I had to face it.
The gravel crunched, nearer now. The shimmering in the corner of my eye grew larger, separating into two small figures no taller than my waist. My hands clenched into fists.
“Feyre!” Alis’s voice cut across the garden. I jumped out of my skin as she called me again. “Feyre, lunch!” she hollered. I whirled, a shout forming on my lips to alert her to whatever stood behind me, raising my fists, however futile it would be.