I took a step closer to him, my blood-covered feet sticking to the rug. I glanced down the stairs to where I could still see the prone form of the faerie and the stumps of his wings.
“Because I wouldn’t want to die alone,” I said, and my voice wobbled as I looked at Tamlin again, forcing myself to meet his stare. “Because I’d want someone to hold my hand until the end, and awhile after that. That’s something everyone deserves, human or faerie.” I swallowed hard, my throat painfully tight. “I regret what I did to Andras,” I said, the words so strangled they were no more than a whisper. “I regret that there was … such hate in my heart. I wish I could undo it—and … I’m sorry. So very sorry.”
I couldn’t remember the last time—if ever—I’d spoken to anyone like that. But he just nodded and turned away, and I wondered if I should say more, if I should kneel and beg for his forgiveness. If he felt such grief, such guilt, over a stranger, then Andras … By the time I opened my mouth, he was already down the steps.
I watched him—watched every movement he made, the muscles of his body visible through that blood-soaked tunic, watched that invisible weight bearing down on his shoulders. He didn’t look at me as he scooped up the broken body and carried it to the garden doors beyond my line of sight. I went to the window at the top of the stairs, watching as Tamlin carried the faerie through the moonlit garden and into the rolling fields beyond. He never once glanced back.
The next day, the blood of the faerie had been cleaned up by the time I ate, washed, and dressed. I’d taken my time in the morning, and it was nearly noon as I stood atop the staircase, peering down at the entry hall below. Just to make sure it was gone.
I’d been set on finding Tamlin and explaining—truly explaining—how sorry I was about Andras. If I was supposed to stay here, stay with him, then I could at least attempt to repair what I’d ruined. I glanced to the large window behind me, the view so sweeping that I could see all the way to the reflecting pool beyond the garden.
The water was still enough that the vibrant sky and fat, puffy clouds above were flawlessly reflected. Asking about them seemed vulgar after last night, but maybe—maybe once those paints and brushes did arrive, I could venture to the pool to capture it.
I might have remained staring out toward that smear of color and light and texture had Tamlin and Lucien not emerged from another wing of the manor, discussing some border patrol or another. They fell silent as I came down the stairs, and Lucien strode right out the front door without so much as a good morning—just a casual wave. Not a vicious gesture, but he clearly had no intention of joining the conversation that Tamlin and I were about to have.
I glanced around, hoping for any sign of those paints, but Tam pointed to the open front doors through which Lucien had exited. Beyond them, I could see both of our horses, already saddled and waiting. Lucien was already climbing into the saddle of a third horse. I turned to Tamlin.
Stay with him; he will keep me safe, and things will get better. Fine. I could do that.
“Where are we going?” My words were half-mumbled.
“Your supplies won’t arrive until tomorrow, and the gallery’s being cleaned, and my … meeting was postponed.” Was he rambling? “I thought we’d go for a ride—no killing involved. Or naga to worry about.” Even as he finished with a half smile, sorrow flickered in his eyes. Indeed, I’d had enough death in the past two days. Enough of killing faeries. Killing anything. No weapons were sheathed at his side or on his baldric—but a knife hilt glinted at his boot.
Where had he buried that faerie? A High Lord digging a grave for a stranger. I might not have believed it if I’d been told, might not have believed it if he hadn’t offered me sanctuary rather than death.
“Where to?” I asked. He only smiled.
I couldn’t come up with any words when we arrived—and knew that even if I had been able to paint it, nothing would have done it justice. It wasn’t simply that it was the most beautiful place I’d ever been to, or that it filled me with both longing and mirth, but it just seemed … right. As if the colors and lights and patterns of the world had come together to form one perfect place—one true bit of beauty. After last night, it was exactly where I needed to be.
We sat atop a grassy knoll, overlooking a glade of oaks so wide and high they could have been the pillars and spires of an ancient castle. Shimmering tufts of dandelion fluff drifted by, and the floor of the clearing was carpeted with swaying crocuses and snowdrops and bluebells. It was an hour or two past noon by the time we arrived, but the light was thick and golden.
Though the three of us were alone, I could have sworn I heard singing. I hugged my knees and drank in the glen.
“We brought a blanket,” Tamlin said, and I looked over my shoulder to see him jerk his chin to the purple blanket they’d laid out a few feet away. Lucien plopped down onto it and stretched his legs. Tamlin remained standing, waiting for my response.
I shook my head and faced forward, tracing my hand through the feather-soft grass, cataloging its color and texture. I’d never felt grass like it, and I certainly wasn’t going to ruin the experience by sitting on a blanket.
Rushed whispers were exchanged behind me, and before I could turn around to investigate, Tamlin took a seat at my side. His jaw was clenched tight enough that I stared ahead. “What is this place?” I said, still running my fingers through the grass.
Out of the corner of my eye, Tamlin was no more than a glittering golden figure. “Just a glen.” Behind us, Lucien snorted. “Do you like it?” Tamlin asked quickly. The green of his eyes matched the grass between my fingers, and the amber flecks were like the shafts of sunlight that streamed through the trees. Even his mask, odd and foreign, seemed to fit into the glen—as if this place had been fashioned for him alone. I could picture him here in his beast form, curled up in the grass, dozing.
“What?” I said. I’d forgotten his question.
“Do you like it?” he repeated, and his lips tugged into a smile.
I took an uneven breath and stared at the glen again. “Yes.”
He chuckled. “That’s it? ‘Yes’?”
“Would you like me to grovel with gratitude for bringing me here, High Lord?”
“Ah. The Suriel told you nothing important, did it?”
That smile of his sparked something bold in my chest. “He also said that you like being brushed, and if I’m a clever girl, I might train you with treats.”