Faerie arrogance, but … but he had done more than I could. My family might have ignored my letter entirely. Had I known he possessed those abilities, I might have even asked the High Lord to glamour their memories if he hadn’t done it himself.
I truly had nothing to fret about, save for the fact that they’d probably forget me sooner than expected. I couldn’t entirely blame them. My vow fulfilled, my task complete—what was left for me?
The firelight danced on his mask, warming the gold, setting the emeralds glinting. Such color and variation—colors I didn’t know the names of, colors I wanted to catalog and weave together. Colors I had no reason not to explore now.
“Paint,” I said, barely more than a breath. He cocked his head and I swallowed, squaring my shoulders. “If—if it’s not too much to ask, I’d like some paint. And brushes.”
Tamlin blinked. “You like—art? You like to paint?”
His stumbling words weren’t unkind. It was enough for me to say, “Yes. I’m not—not any good, but if it’s not too much trouble … I’ll paint outside, so I don’t make a mess, but—”
“Outside, inside, on the roof—paint wherever you want. I don’t care,” he said. “But if you need paint and brushes, you’ll also need paper and canvas.”
“I can work—help around the kitchen or in the gardens—to pay for it.”
“You’d be more of a hindrance. It might take a few days to track them down, but the paint, the brushes, the canvas, and the space are yours. Work wherever you want. This house is too clean, anyway.”
“Thank you—I mean it, truly. Thank you.”
“Of course.” I turned, but he spoke again. “Have you seen the gallery?”
I blurted, “There’s a gallery in this house?”
He grinned—actually grinned, the High Lord of the Spring Court. “I had it closed off when I inherited this place.” When he inherited a title he seemed to have little joy in holding. “It seemed like a waste of time to have the servants keep it cleaned.”
Of course it would, to a trained warrior.
He went on. “I’m busy tomorrow, and the gallery needs to be cleaned up, so … the next day—let me show it to you the next day.” He rubbed at his neck, faint color creeping into those cheeks of his—more alive and warm than I’d yet seen them. “Please—it would be my pleasure.” And I believed him that it would.
I nodded dumbly. If the paintings along the halls were exquisite, then the ones selected for the gallery had to be beyond my human imaginings. “I would like that—very much.”
He smiled at me still, broadly and without restraint or hesitation. Isaac had never smiled at me like that. Isaac had never made my breath catch, just a little bit.
The feeling was startling enough that I walked out, grasping the crumpled paper in my pocket as if doing so could somehow keep that answering smile from tugging on my lips.
I jerked awake in the middle of the night, panting. My dreams had been filled with the clicking of the Suriel’s bone-fingers, the grinning naga, and a pale, faceless woman dragging her bloodred nails across my throat, splitting me open bit by bit. She kept asking for my name, but every time I tried to speak, my blood bubbled out of the shallow wounds on my neck, choking me.
I ran my hands through my sweat-damp hair. As my panting eased, a different sound filled the air, creeping in from the front hall through the crack beneath the door. Shouts, and someone’s screams.
I was out of my bed in a heartbeat. The shouts weren’t aggressive, but rather commanding—organizing. But the screaming …
Every hair on my body stood upright as I flung open the door. I might have stayed and cowered, but I’d heard screams like that before, in the forest at home, when I didn’t make a clean kill and the animals suffered. I couldn’t stand it. And I had to know.
I reached the top of the grand staircase in time to see the front doors of the manor bang open and Tamlin rush in, a screaming faerie slung over his shoulder.
The faerie was almost as big as Tamlin, and yet the High Lord carried him as if he were no more than a sack of grain. Another species of the lesser faeries, with his blue skin, gangly limbs, pointed ears, and long onyx hair. But even from atop the stairs, I could see the blood gushing down the faerie’s back—blood from the black stumps protruding from his shoulder blades. Blood that now soaked into Tamlin’s green tunic in deep, shining splotches. One of the knives from his baldric was missing.
Lucien rushed into the foyer below just as Tamlin shouted, “The table—clear it off!” Lucien shoved the vase of flowers off the long table in the center of the hall. Either Tamlin wasn’t thinking straight, or he’d been afraid to waste the extra minutes bringing the faerie to the infirmary. Shattering glass set my feet moving, and I was halfway down the stairs before Tamlin eased the shrieking faerie face-first onto the table. The faerie wasn’t wearing a mask; there was nothing to hide the agony contorting his long, unearthly features.
“Scouts found him dumped just over the borderline,” Tamlin explained to Lucien, but his eyes darted to me. They flashed with warning, but I took another step down. He said to Lucien, “He’s Summer Court.”
“By the Cauldron,” Lucien said, surveying the damage.
“My wings,” the faerie choked out, his glossy black eyes wide and staring at nothing. “She took my wings.”
Again, that nameless she who haunted their lives. If she wasn’t ruling the Spring Court, then perhaps she ruled another. Tamlin flicked a hand, and steaming water and bandages just appeared on the table. My mouth dried up, but I reached the bottom of the stairs and kept walking toward the table and the death that was surely hovering in this hall.
“She took my wings,” said the faerie. “She took my wings,” he repeated, clutching the edge of the table with spindly blue fingers.
Tamlin murmured a soft, wordless sound—gentle in a way I hadn’t heard before—and picked up a rag to dunk in the water. I took up a spot across the table from Tamlin, and the breath whooshed from my chest as I beheld the damage.
Whoever she was, she hadn’t just taken his wings. She’d ripped them off.
Blood oozed from the black velvety stumps on the faerie’s back. The wounds were jagged—cartilage and tissue severed in what looked like uneven cuts. As if she’d sawed off his wings bit by bit.