“Come,” I said, rising from my chair and tugging on his hand. The calluses scraped against mine, but his fingers tightened as he looked up at me. “I have something for you.”
“For me,” he repeated carefully, but rose. I led him out of the dining room. When I went to drop his hand, he didn’t let go. It was enough to keep me walking quickly, as if I could outrun my thundering heart or the sheer immortal presence of him at my side. I brought him down hall after hall until we got to my little painting room, and he finally released my hand as I reached for the key. Cold air bit into my skin without the warmth of his hand around mine.
“I knew you’d asked Alis for a key, but I didn’t think you actually locked the room,” he said behind me.
I gave him a narrowed glance over my shoulder as I pushed open the door. “Everyone snoops in this house. I didn’t want you or Lucien coming in here until I was ready.”
I stepped into the darkened room and cleared my throat, a silent request for him to light the candles. It took him longer than I’d seen him need before, and I wondered if shortening the table had somehow drained him more than he’d let on. The Suriel had said the High Lords were Power—and yet … yet something had to be truly, thoroughly wrong if this was all he could manage. The room gradually flared with light, and I pushed my worry aside as I stepped farther into the room. I took a deep breath and gestured to the easel and the painting I’d put there. I hoped he wouldn’t notice the paintings I’d leaned against the walls.
He turned in place, staring around him at the room.
“I know they’re strange,” I said, my hands sweating again. I tucked them behind my back. “And I know they’re not like—not as good as the ones you have here, but …” I walked to the painting on the easel. It was an impression, not a lifelike rendering. “I wanted you to see this one,” I said, pointing to the smear of green and gold and silver and blue. “It’s for you. A gift. For everything you’ve done.”
Heat flared in my cheeks, my neck, my ears, as he silently approached the painting.
“It’s the glen—with the pool of starlight,” I said quickly.
“I know what it is,” he murmured, studying the painting. I backed away a step, unable to bear watching him look at it, wishing I hadn’t brought him in here, blaming it on the wine I’d had at dinner, on the stupid dress. He examined the painting for a miserable eternity, then looked away—to the nearest painting leaning against the wall.
My gut tightened. A hazy landscape of snow and skeletal trees and nothing else. It looked like … like nothing, I supposed, to anyone but me. I opened my mouth to explain, wishing I’d turned the others away from view, but he spoke.
“That was your forest. Where you hunted.” He came closer to the painting, gazing at the bleak, empty cold, the white and gray and brown and black. “This was your life,” he clarified.
I was too mortified, too stunned, to reply. He walked to the next painting I’d left against the wall. Darkness and dense brown, flickers of ruby red and orange squeezing out between them. “Your cottage at night.”
I tried to move, to tell him to stop looking at those ones and look at the others I’d laid out, but I couldn’t—couldn’t even breathe properly as he moved to the next painting. A tanned, sturdy male hand fisted in the hay, the pale pieces of it entwined among strands of brown coated with gold—my hair. My gut twisted. “The man you used to see—in your village.” He cocked his head again as he studied the picture, and a low growl slipped out. “While you made love.” He stepped back, looking at the row of pictures. “This is the only one with any brightness.”
Was that … jealousy? “It was the only escape I had.” Truth. I wouldn’t apologize for Isaac. Not when Tamlin had just been in the Great Rite. I didn’t hold that against him—but if he was going to be jealous of Isaac—
Tamlin must have realized it, too, for he loosed a long, controlled breath before moving to the next painting. Tall shadows of men, bright red dripping off their fists, off their wooden clubs, hovering and filling the edges of the painting as they towered over the curled figure on the floor, the blood leaking from him, the leg at a wrong angle.
Tamlin swore. “You were there when they wrecked your father’s leg.”
“Someone had to beg them to stop.”
Tamlin threw a too-knowing glance in my direction and turned to look at the rest of the paintings. There they were, all the wounds I’d slowly been leeching these few months. I blinked. A few months. Did my family believe that I would be forever away with this so-called dying aunt?
At last, Tamlin looked at the painting of the glen and the starlight. He nodded in appreciation. But he pointed to the painting of the snow-veiled woods. “That one. I want that one.”
“It’s cold and melancholy,” I said, hiding my wince. “It doesn’t suit this place at all.”
He went up to it, and the smile he gave me was more beautiful than any enchanted meadow or pool of stars. “I want it nonetheless,” he said softly.
I’d never yearned for anything more than to remove his mask and see the face beneath, to find out whether it matched how I’d dreamed he looked.
“Tell me there’s some way to help you,” I breathed. “With the masks, with whatever threat has taken so much of your power. Tell me—just tell me what I can do to help you.”
“A human wishes to help a faerie?”
“Don’t tease me,” I said. “Please—just … tell me.”
“There’s nothing I want you to do, nothing you can do—or anyone. It’s my burden to bear.”
“You don’t have to—”
“I do. What I have to face, what I endure, Feyre … you would not survive.”
“So I’m to live here forever, in ignorance of the true scope of what’s happening? If you don’t want me to understand what’s going on … would you rather …” I swallowed hard. “Rather I found someplace else to live? Where I’m not a distraction?”
“Didn’t Calanmai teach you anything?”
“Only that magic makes you into a brute.”
He laughed, though not entirely with amusement. When I remained silent, he sighed. “No, I don’t want you to live somewhere else. I want you here, where I can look after you—where I can come home and know you’re here, painting and safe.”