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A Court of Thorns and Roses (Page 22)

A Court of Thorns and Roses(22)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

In my room, I found a small satchel in the armoire and filled it with a spare set of clothes, along with my stolen knife. It was a pitiful blade, but a piece of cutlery was better than nothing. Just in case I was ever allowed to go—and had to leave at a moment’s notice.

Just in case.

Chapter 9

The following morning, as Alis and the other servant woman prepared my bath, I contemplated my plan. Tamlin had mentioned that he and Lucien had various duties, and aside from running into him in the house yesterday, I’d seen neither of them around. So, locating Lucien—alone—would be the first order of business.

A casual question tossed in Alis’s direction had her revealing that she believed Lucien was on border patrol today—and would be at the stables, preparing to leave.

I was halfway through the gardens, hurrying toward the outcropping of buildings I’d spied the day before, when Tamlin said from behind me, “No trip wires today?”

I froze midstep and looked over my shoulder. He was standing a few feet away.

How had he crept up so silently on the gravel? Faerie stealth, no doubt. I willed calm into my veins, my head. I said as politely as I could, “You said I was safe here. So I listened.”

His eyes narrowed slightly, but he put on what I supposed was his attempt at a pleasant smile. “My morning work was postponed,” he said. Indeed, his usual tunic was off, the baldric gone, and the sleeves of his white shirt had been rolled up to the elbows to reveal tanned forearms corded with muscle. “If you want a ride across the grounds—if you’re interested in your new … residence, I can take you.”

Again, that effort to be accommodating, even when every word seemed to pain him. Maybe he could eventually be swayed by Lucien. And until then … how much could I get away with, if he was going to such lengths to make his people swear not to harm me, to shield me from the Treaty? I smiled blandly and said, “I’d prefer to spend today alone, I think. But thank you for the offer.”

He tensed. “What about—”

“No, thank you,” I interrupted, marveling a bit at my own audacity. But I had to catch Lucien alone, had to feel him out. He might already be gone.

Tamlin clenched his hands into fists, as if fighting against the claws itching to burst out. But he didn’t reprimand me, didn’t do anything other than prowl back into the house without another word.

Soon enough, if I was lucky, Tamlin wouldn’t be my problem anymore. I hurried for the stables, tucking away the information. Maybe one day, if I was ever released, if there was an ocean and years between us, I would think back and wonder why he’d bothered.

I tried not to look too eager, too out of breath when I finally reached the pretty, painted stables. It didn’t surprise me that the stableboys all wore horse masks. For them I felt a shred of pity at what the blight had done, the ridiculous masks they now had to wear until someone could figure out how to undo the magic binding them to their faces. But none of the stable hands even looked at me—either because I wasn’t worth it or because they, too, resented me for the death of Andras. I didn’t blame them.

Any attempt at casualness took a stumble when I finally found Lucien astride a black gelding, grinning down at me with too-white teeth.

“Morning, Feyre.” I tried to hide the stiffening in my shoulders, tried to smile a bit. “Going for a ride, or merely reconsidering Tam’s offer to live with us?” I tried to recall the words I’d come up with earlier, the words to win him, but he laughed—and not pleasantly. “Come now. I’m to patrol the southern woods today, and I’m curious about the … abilities you used to bring down my friend, whether accidental or not. It’s been a while since I encountered a human, let alone a Fae-killer. Indulge me in a hunt.”

Perfect—at least that part of this had gone well, even if it sounded as lovely as facing a bear in its den. So I stepped aside to let a stableboy pass. He moved with a fluid smoothness, like all of them here. And didn’t look at me, either—no indication at all of what he thought of having a Fae-killer in his stable.

But my kind of hunting couldn’t be done on horseback. Mine consisted of careful stalking and well-laid traps and snares. I didn’t know how to give chase atop a horse. Lucien accepted a quiver of arrows from the returning stableboy with a nod of thanks. Lucien smiled in a way that didn’t meet that metal eye—or the russet one. “No ash arrows today, unfortunately.”

I clenched my jaw to keep a retort from slipping off my tongue. If he was forbidden from hurting me, I couldn’t fathom why he would invite me along, save to mock me in whatever way he could. Perhaps he was truly that bored. Better for me.

So I shrugged, looking as bored as I could. “Well … I suppose I’m already dressed for a hunt.”

“Perfect,” Lucien said, his metal eye gleaming in the sunlight slanting in through the open stable doors. I prayed Tamlin wouldn’t come prowling through them—prayed he wouldn’t decide to go for a ride on his own and catch us here.

“Let’s go, then,” I said, and Lucien motioned for them to prepare a horse. I leaned against a wooden wall as I waited, keeping an eye on the doorway for signs of Tamlin, and offered my own bland replies to Lucien’s remarks about the weather.

Mercifully, I was soon astride a white mare, riding with Lucien through the spring-shrouded woods beyond the gardens. I kept a healthy distance from the fox-masked faerie on the broad path, hoping that eye of his couldn’t see through the back of his head.

The thought didn’t sit well, and I shoved it away—along with the part of me that marveled at the way the sun illuminated the leaves, and the clusters of crocuses that grew like flashes of vibrant purple against the brown and green. Those were things that weren’t necessary to my plans, useless details that only blocked out everything else: the shape and slope of the path, what trees were good for climbing, sounds of nearby water sources. Those things could help me survive if I ever needed to. But, like the rest of the grounds, the forest was utterly empty. No sign of faeries, nor any High Fae wandering around. Just as well.

“Well, you certainly have the quiet part of hunting down,” Lucien said, falling back to ride beside me. Good—let him come to me, rather than me seeming too eager, too friendly.

I adjusted the weight of the quiver strap across my chest, then ran a finger along the smooth curve of the yew bow in my lap. The bow was larger than the one I used at home, the arrows heavier and heads thicker. I would probably miss whatever target I found until I adjusted to the weight and balance of the bow.

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