Tired but surprisingly content from a few hours of swimming and eating and lounging in the glen, I eyed Lucien as we rode back to the manor that afternoon. We were crossing a broad meadow of new spring grass when he caught me glancing at him for the tenth time, and I braced myself as he fell back from Tamlin’s side.
The metal eye narrowed on me while the other remained wary, unimpressed. “Yes?”
That was enough to persuade me not to say anything about his past. I would hate pity, too. And he didn’t know me—not well enough to warrant anything but resentment if I brought it up, even if it weighed on me to know it, to grieve for him.
I waited until Tamlin was far enough ahead that even his High Fae hearing might not pick up on my words. “I never got to thank you for your advice with the Suriel.”
Lucien tensed. “Oh?”
I looked ahead at the easy way Tamlin rode, the horse utterly unbothered by his mighty rider. “If you still want me dead,” I said, “you might have to try a bit harder.”
Lucien loosed a breath. “That’s not what I intended.” I gave him a long look. “I wouldn’t shed any tears,” he amended. I knew it was true. “But what happened to you—”
“I was joking,” I said, and gave him a little smile.
“You can’t possibly forgive me that easily for sending you into danger.”
“No. And part of me would like nothing more than to wallop you for your lack of warning about the Suriel. But I understand: I’m a human who killed your friend, who now lives in your house, and you have to deal with me. I understand,” I said again.
He was quiet for long enough that I thought he wouldn’t reply. Just as I was about to move ahead, he spoke. “Tam told me that your first shot was to save the Suriel’s life. Not your own.”
“It seemed like the right thing to do.”
The look he gave me was more contemplative than any he’d given me before. “I know far too many High Fae and lesser faeries who wouldn’t have seen it that way—or bothered.” He reached for something at his side and tossed it to me. I had to fight to stay in the saddle as I fumbled for it—a jeweled hunting knife.
“I heard you scream,” he said as I examined the blade in my hands. I’d never held one so finely crafted, so perfectly balanced. “And I hesitated. Not long, but I hesitated before I came running. Even though Tam got there in time, I still broke my word in those seconds I waited.” He jerked his chin at the knife. “It’s yours. Don’t bury it in my back, please.”
The next morning, my paint and supplies arrived from wherever Tamlin or the servants had dug them up, but before Tamlin let me see them, he brought me down hall after hall until we were in a wing of the house I’d never been to, even in my nocturnal exploring. I knew where we were going without his having to say. The marble floors shone so brightly that they had to have been freshly mopped, and that rose-scented breeze floated in through the opened windows. All this—he’d done this for me. As if I would have cared about cobwebs or dust.
When he paused before a set of wooden doors, the slight smile he gave me was enough to make me blurt, “Why do anything—anything this kind?”
The smile faltered. “It’s been a long time since there was anyone here who appreciated these things. I like seeing them used again.” Especially when there was such blood and death in every other part of his life.
He opened the gallery doors, and the breath was knocked from me.
The pale wooden floors gleamed in the clean, bright light pouring in from the windows. The room was empty save for a few large chairs and benches for viewing the … the …
I barely registered moving into the long gallery, one hand absentmindedly wrapping around my throat as I looked up at the paintings.
So many, so different, yet all arranged to flow together seamlessly … Such different views and snippets and angles of the world. Pastorals, portraits, still lifes … each a story and an experience, each a voice shouting or whispering or singing about what that moment, that feeling, had been like, each a cry into the void of time that they had been here, had existed. Some had been painted through eyes like mine, artists who saw in colors and shapes I understood. Some showcased colors I had not considered; these had a bend to the world that told me a different set of eyes had painted them. A portal into the mind of a creature so unlike me, and yet … and yet I looked at its work and understood, and felt, and cared.
“I never knew,” Tamlin said from behind me, “that humans were capable of …” He trailed off as I turned, the hand I’d put on my throat sliding down to my chest, where my heart roared with a fierce sort of joy and grief and overwhelming humility—humility before that magnificent art.
He stood by the doors, head cocked in that animalistic way, the words still lost on his tongue.
I wiped at my damp cheeks. “It’s …” Perfect, wonderful, beyond my wildest imaginings didn’t cover it. I kept my hand over my heart. “Thank you,” I said. It was all I could find to show him what these paintings—to be allowed into this room—meant.
“Come here whenever you want.”
I smiled at him, hardly able to contain the brightness in my heart. His returning smile was tentative but shining, and then he left me to admire the gallery at my own leisure.
I stayed for hours—stayed until I was drunk on the art, until I was dizzy with hunger and wandered out to find food.
After lunch, Alis showed me to an empty room on the first floor with a table full of canvases of various sizes, brushes whose wooden handles gleamed in the perfect, clear light, and paints—so, so many paints, beyond the four basic ones I’d hoped for, that the breath was knocked from me again.
And when Alis was gone and the room was quiet and waiting and utterly mine …
Then I began to paint.
Weeks passed, the days melting together. I painted and painted, most of it awful and useless.
I never let anyone see it, no matter how much Tamlin prodded and Lucien smirked at my paint-splattered clothes; I never felt satisfied that my work matched the images burning in my mind. Often I painted from dawn until dusk, sometimes in that room, sometimes out in the garden. Occasionally I’d take a break to explore the Spring lands with Tamlin as my guide, coming back with fresh ideas that had me leaping out of bed the next morning to sketch or scribble down the scenes or colors as I’d glimpsed them.