As consciousness left me at last, I thought I heard him speak, his mouth close to my ear.
“I love you,” he whispered, and kissed my brow. “Thorns and all.”
He was gone when I awoke, and I was certain I had dreamed it.
There wasn’t much to my packing and farewells. I was somewhat surprised when Alis clothed me in an outfit very unlike my usual garb—frilly and confining and binding in all the wrong places. Some mortal fashion among the wealthy, no doubt. The dress was made up of layers of pale pink silk, accented with white and blue lace. Alis placed a short, lightweight jacket of white linen on me, and atop my head she angled an absurd little ivory hat, clearly for decoration. I half expected a parasol to go with it.
I said as much to Alis, who clicked her tongue. “Shouldn’t you be giving me a weepy farewell?”
I tugged at the lace gloves—useless and flimsy. “I don’t like good-byes. If I could, I’d just walk out and not say anything.”
Alis gave me a long look. “I don’t like them, either.”
I went to the door, but despite myself, I said, “I hope you get to be with your nephews again soon.”
“Make the most of your freedom” was all she said.
Downstairs, Lucien snorted at the sight of me. “Those clothes are enough to convince me I never want to enter the human realm.”
“I’m not sure the human realm would know what to do with you,” I said.
Lucien’s smile was edged, his shoulders tight as he gave a sharp look behind me to where Tam was waiting in front of a gilded carriage. When he turned back, that metal eye narrowed. “I thought you were smarter than this.”
“Good-bye to you, too,” I said. Friend indeed. It wasn’t my choice, or my fault that they’d kept the bulk of their conflict from me. Even if I could do nothing against the blight, or against the creatures, or against Amarantha—whoever she was.
Lucien shook his head, his scar stark in the bright sun, and stalked toward Tamlin, despite the High Lord’s warning growl. “You’re not even going to give her a few more days? Just a few—before you send her back to that human cesspit?” Lucien demanded.
“This isn’t up for debate,” Tamlin snapped, pointing at the house. “I’ll see you at lunch.”
Lucien stared him down for a moment, spat on the ground, and stormed up the stairs. Tamlin didn’t reprimand him.
I might have thought more on Lucien’s words, might have shouted a retort after him, but … My chest hollowed out as I faced Tamlin in front of the gilded carriage, my hands sweaty within the gloves.
“Remember what I told you,” he said. I nodded, too busy memorizing the lines of his face to reply. Had he meant what I thought he’d said last night—that he loved me? I shifted, already aching in the little white pumps into which Alis had stuffed my poor feet. “The mortal realm remains safe—for you, for your family.” I nodded, wondering whether he might have tried to persuade me to leave our territory, to sail south, but understood that I would have refused to be so far from the wall, from him. That going back to my family was as far as I would allow to be sent from his side.
“My paintings—they’re yours,” I said, unable to come up with anything better to express how I felt, what it did to me to be sent away, and how terrified I was of the carriage looming behind me.
He lifted my chin with a finger. “I will see you again.”
He kissed me, and pulled away too quickly. I swallowed hard, fighting the burning in my eyes. I love you, Feyre.
I turned before my vision blurred, but he was immediately there to help me into the opulent carriage. He watched me take my seat through the open door, his face a mask of calm. “Ready?”
No, no, I wasn’t ready, not after last night, not after all these months. But I nodded. If Rhysand came back, if this Amarantha person was indeed such a threat that I would only be another body for Tamlin to defend … I needed to go.
He shut the door, sealing me inside with a click that sounded through me. He leaned through the open window to caress my cheek—and I could have sworn that I felt my heart crack. The footman snapped the whip.
Tamlin’s fingers brushed my mouth. The carriage jolted as the six white horses started into a walk. I bit my lip to keep it from wobbling.
Tamlin smiled at me one last time. “I love you,” he said, and stepped away.
I should say it—I should say those words, but they got stuck in my throat, because … because of what he had to face, because he might not find me again despite his promise, because … because beneath it all, he was an immortal, and I would grow old and die. And maybe he meant it now, and perhaps last night had been as altering for him as it had been for me, but … I would not become a burden to him. I would not become another weight pressing upon his shoulders.
So I said nothing as the carriage moved. And I did not look back as we passed through the manor gates and into the forest beyond.
Almost as soon as the carriage entered the woods, the sparkle of magic stuffed itself up my nose and I was dragged into a deep sleep. I was furious when I jerked awake, wondering why it had been at all necessary, but the air was full of the thunderous clopping of hooves against a flagstone path. Rubbing my eyes, I peered out the window to see a sloping drive lined with conical hedges and irises. I had never been here before.
I took in as many details as I could as the carriage came to a stop before a chateau of white marble and emerald roofs—nearly as large as Tamlin’s manor.
The faces of the approaching servants were unfamiliar, and I kept my face blank as I gripped the footman’s hand and stepped out of the carriage.
Human. He was utterly human, with his rounded ears, his ruddy face, his clothes.
The other servants were human, too—all of them restless, not at all like the utter stillness with which the High Fae held themselves. Unfinished, graceless creatures of earth and blood.
The servants were eyeing me but keeping back—shrinking away. Did I look so grand, then? I straightened at the flurry of motion and color that burst from the front doors.
I recognized my sisters before they saw me. They approached, smoothing their fine dresses, their brows rising at the gilded carriage.
That cracking, caved-in feeling in my chest worsened. Tamlin had said he’d taken care of my family, but this …
Nesta spoke first, curtsying low. Elain followed suit. “Welcome to our home,” Nesta said a bit flatly, her eyes on the ground. “Lady …”