Five years ago I’d taken the very last of my father’s coppers from our former fortune to purchase my bow and arrows. I’d since allotted a small sum every month for arrows and replacement strings.
“Well?” Lucien pressed. “No game good enough for you to slaughter? We’ve passed plenty of squirrels and birds.” The canopy above cast shadows upon his fox mask—light and dark and gleaming metal.
“You seem to have enough food on your table that I don’t need to add to it, especially when there’s always plenty left over.” I doubted squirrel would be good enough for their table.
Lucien snorted but didn’t say anything else as we passed beneath a flowering lilac, its purple cones drooping low enough to graze my cheek like cool, velvety fingers. The sweet, crisp scent lingered in my nose even as we rode on. Not useful, I told myself. Although … the thick brush beyond it would be a good hiding spot, if I needed one.
“You said you were an emissary for Tamlin,” I ventured. “Do emissaries usually patrol the grounds?” A casual, disinterested question.
Lucien clicked his tongue. “I’m Tamlin’s emissary for formal uses, but this was Andras’s shift. So someone needed to fill in. It’s an honor to do it.”
I swallowed hard. Andras had a place here, and friends here—he hadn’t been just some nameless, faceless faerie. No doubt he was more missed than I was. “I’m … sorry,” I said—and meant it. “I didn’t know what—what he meant to you all.”
Lucien shrugged. “Tamlin said as much, which was no doubt why he brought you here. Or maybe you looked so pathetic in those rags that he took pity on you.”
“I wouldn’t have joined you if I’d known you would use this ride as an excuse to insult me.” Alis had mentioned that Lucien could use someone who snapped back at him. Easy enough.
Lucien smirked. “Apologies, Feyre.”
I might have called him a liar for that apology had I not known he couldn’t lie. Which made the apology … sincere? I couldn’t sort it out.
“So,” he said, “when are you going to start trying to persuade me to beseech Tamlin to find a way to free you from the Treaty’s rules?”
I tried not to jolt. “What?”
“That’s why you agreed to come out here, isn’t it? Why you wound up at the stables exactly as I was leaving?” He shot me a sideways glance with that russet eye of his. “Honestly, I’m impressed—and flattered you think I have that kind of sway with Tamlin.”
I wouldn’t reveal my hand—not yet. “What are you talking—”
His cocked head was answer enough. He chuckled and said, “Before you waste one of your precious few human breaths, let me explain two things to you. One: if I had my way, you’d be gone, so it wouldn’t take much convincing on your part. Two: I can’t have my way, because there is no alternative to what the Treaty demands. There’s no extra loophole.”
“But—but there has to be something—”
“I admire your balls, Feyre—I really do. Or maybe it’s stupidity. But since Tam won’t gut you, which was my first choice, you’re stuck here. Unless you want to rough it on your own in Prythian, which”—he looked me up and down—“I’d advise against.”
No—no, I couldn’t just … just stay here. Forever. Until I died. Maybe … maybe there was some other way, or someone else who could find a way out. I mastered my uneven breathing, shoving away the panicked, bleating thoughts.
“A valiant effort,” Lucien said with a smirk.
I didn’t bother hiding the glare I cut in his direction.
We rode on in silence, and aside from a few birds and squirrels, I saw nothing—heard nothing—unusual. After a few minutes I’d quieted my riotous thoughts enough to say, “Where is the rest of Tamlin’s court? They all fled this blight on magic?”
“How’d you know about the court?” he asked so quickly that I realized he thought I meant something else.
I kept my face blank. “Do normal estates have emissaries? And servants chatter. Isn’t that why you made them wear bird masks to that party?”
Lucien scowled, that scar stretching. “We each chose what to wear that night to honor Tamlin’s shape-shifting gifts. The servants, too. But now, if we had the choice, we’d peel them off with our bare hands,” he said, tugging on his own. It didn’t move.
“What happened to the magic to make it act that way?”
Lucien let out a harsh laugh. “Something was sent from the s**t-holes of Hell,” he said, then glanced around and swore. “I shouldn’t have said that. If word got back to her—”
The color had leeched from his sun-kissed skin. He dragged a hand through his hair. “Never mind. The less you know, the better. Tam might not find it troublesome to tell you about the blight, but I wouldn’t put it past a human to sell the information to the highest bidder.”
I bristled, but the few bits of information he’d released lay before me like glittering jewels. A her who scared Lucien enough to make him worry—to make him afraid someone might be listening, spying, monitoring his behavior. Even out here. I studied the shadows between the trees but found nothing.
Prythian was ruled by seven High Lords—perhaps this she was whoever governed this territory; if not a High Lord, then a High Lady. If that was even possible.
“How old are you?” I asked, hoping he’d keep divulging some more useful information. It was better than knowing nothing.
“Old,” he said. He scanned the brush, but I had a feeling his darting eyes weren’t looking for game. His shoulders were too tense.
“What sort of powers do you have? Can you shape-shift like Tamlin?”
He sighed, looking skyward before he studied me warily, that metal eye narrowing with unnerving focus. “Trying to figure out my weaknesses so you can—” I glowered at him. “Fine. No, I can’t shape-shift. Only Tam can.”
“But your friend—he appeared as a wolf. Unless that was his—”
“No, no. Andras was High Fae, too. Tam can shift us into other shapes if need be. He saves it for his sentries only, though. When Andras went across the wall, Tam changed him into a wolf so he wouldn’t be spotted as a faerie. Though his size was probably indication enough.”