My heart was a raging beat in my chest, in my throat. Only a few feet now—to him, to freedom, to a new life—
A massive hand wrapped around my arm. “Going somewhere?”
S**t, s**t, s**t.
Tamlin’s claws poked through my layers of clothing as I looked up at him in unabashed terror.
I didn’t dare move, not as his lips thinned and the muscles in his jaw quivered. Not as he opened his mouth and I glimpsed fangs—long, throat-tearing fangs shining in the moonlight.
He was going to kill me—kill me right there, and then kill my father. No more loopholes, no more flattery, no more mercy. He didn’t care anymore. I was as good as dead.
“Please,” I breathed. “My father—”
“Your father?” He lifted his stare to the gates behind me, and his growl rumbled through me as he bared his teeth. “Why don’t you look again?” He released me.
I staggered back a step, whirling, sucking in a breath to tell my father to run, but—
But he wasn’t there. Only a pale bow and a quiver of pale arrows remained, propped up against the gates. Mountain ash. They hadn’t been there moments before, hadn’t—
They rippled, as if they were nothing but water—and then the bow and quiver became a large pack, laden with supplies. Another ripple—and there were my sisters, huddled together, weeping.
My knees buckled. “What is …” I didn’t finish the question. My father now stood there, still hunched and beckoning. A flawless rendering.
“Weren’t you warned to keep your wits about you?” Tamlin snapped. “That your human senses would betray you?” He stepped beyond me and let out a snarl so vicious that whatever the thing was by the gates shimmered with light and darted out as fast as lightning streaking through the dark.
“Fool,” he said to me, turning. “If you’re ever going to run away, at least do it in the daytime.” He stared me down, and the fangs slowly retracted. The claws remained. “There are worse things than the Bogge prowling these woods at night. That thing at the gates isn’t one of them—and it still would have taken a good, long while devouring you.”
Somehow, my mouth began working again. And of all the things to say, I blurted, “Can you blame me? My crippled father appears beneath my window, and you think I’m not going to run for him? Did you actually think I’d gladly stay here forever, even if you’d taken care of my family, all for some Treaty that had nothing to do with me and allows your kind to slaughter humans as you see fit?”
He flexed his fingers as if trying to get the claws back in, but they remained out, ready to slice through flesh and bone. “What do you want, Feyre?”
“I want to go home!”
“Home to what, exactly? You’d prefer that miserable human existence to this?”
“I made a promise,” I said, my breathing ragged. “To my mother, when she died. That I’d look after my family. That I’d take care of them. All I have done, every single day, every hour, has been for that vow. And just because I was hunting to save my family, to put food in their bellies, I’m now forced to break it.”
He stalked toward the house, and I gave him a wide berth before falling into step behind him. His claws slowly, slowly retracted. He didn’t look at me as he said, “You are not breaking your vow—you are fulfilling it, and then some, by staying here. Your family is better cared for now than they were when you were there.”
Those chipped, miscolored paintings inside the cottage flashed in my vision. Perhaps they would forget who had even painted them in the first place. Insignificant—that’s what all those years I’d given them would be, as insignificant as I was to these High Fae. And that dream I’d had, of one day living with my father, with enough food and money and paint … it had been my dream—no one else’s.
I rubbed at my chest. “I can’t just give up on it, on them. No matter what you say.”
Even if I had been a fool—a stupid, human fool—to believe my father would ever actually come for me.
Tamlin eyed me sidelong. “You’re not giving up on them.”
“Living in luxury, stuffing myself with food? How is that not—”
“They are cared for—they are fed and comfortable.”
Fed and comfortable. If he couldn’t lie, if it was true, then … then it was beyond anything I’d ever dared hope for.
Then … my vow to my mother was fulfilled.
It stunned me enough that I didn’t say anything for a moment as we walked.
My life was now owned by the Treaty, but … perhaps I’d been freed in another sort of way.
We neared the sweeping stairs that led into the manor, and I finally asked, “Lucien goes on border patrol, and you’ve mentioned other sentries—yet I’ve never seen one here. Where are they all?”
“At the border,” he said, as if that were a suitable answer. Then he added, “We don’t need sentries if I’m here.”
Because he was deadly enough. I tried not to think about it, but still I asked, “Were you trained as a warrior, then?”
“Yes.” When I didn’t reply, he added, “I spent most of my life in my father’s war-band on the borders, training as a warrior to one day serve him—or others. Running these lands … was not supposed to fall to me.” The flatness with which he said it told me enough about how he felt about his current title, about why the presence of his silver-tongued friend was necessary.
But it was too personal, too demanding, to ask what had occurred to change his circumstances so greatly. So I cleared my throat and said, “What manner of faeries prowl the woods beyond this gate, if the Bogge isn’t the worst of them? What was that thing?”
What I’d meant to ask was, What would have tormented and then eaten me? Who are you to be so powerful that they pose no threat to you?
He paused on the bottom step, waiting for me to catch up. “A puca. They use your own desires to lure you to some remote place. Then they eat you. Slowly. It probably smelled your human scent in the woods and followed it to the house.” I shivered and didn’t bother tohide it. Tamlin went on. “These lands used to be well guarded. The deadlier faeries were contained within the borders of their native territories, monitored by the local Fae lords, or driven into hiding. Creatures like the puca never would have dared set foot here. But now, the sickness that infected Prythian has weakened the wards that kept them out.” A long pause, like the words were choked out of him. “Things are different now. It’s not safe to travel alone at night—especially if you’re human.”