His face ghastly white, Tamlin’s eyes met with mine, and they almost imperceptibly widened. No.
But it was either this or death—death like Clare’s, slow and brutal. The Attor hissed behind me, a warning to reply. I didn’t believe in Fate or the Cauldron—and I had no other choice.
Because when I looked into Tamlin’s eyes, even now, seated beside Amarantha as her slave or worse, I loved him with a fierceness that swept up my whole heart. Because when he had widened his eyes, I’d known he still loved me.
I had nothing left but that, but the shred of fool’s hope that I might win—that I might outwit and defeat a Faerie Queen as ancient as the stone beneath me.
“Well?” Amarantha demanded. Behind me, I sensed the Attor preparing to pounce, to beat the answer from me, if need be. She’d tricked them all, but I hadn’t survived poverty and years in the woods for naught. My best chance lay in revealing nothing about myself, or what I knew. What was her court but another forest, another hunting ground?
I glanced at Tamlin one last time before I said “Agreed.”
Amarantha gave me a small, horrible smile, and magic sizzled in the air between us as she snapped her fingers. She nestled back in her throne. “Give her a greeting worthy of my hall,” she said to someone behind me.
The Attor’s hiss was my only warning as something rock-hard collided with my jaw.
I was thrown sideways, stunned from the pain, but another brutal blow to my face awaited. Bones crunched—my bones. My legs twisted beneath me, and the Attor’s leathery skin grated against my cheek as it punched me again. I ricocheted away, but met with the fist of another—a twisted, lesser faerie whose face I didn’t glimpse. It was like being slugged with a brick. Crunch, crack. I think there were three of them, and I became their punching bag—passed off from blow to blow, my bones screaming in agony. Maybe I was screaming in agony, too.
Blood sprayed from my mouth, and its metallic tang coated my tongue before I knew no more.
My senses slowly returned to me, each one more painful than the last. The sound of dripping water first, then the fading echo of heavy footsteps. A lingering coppery taste coated my mouth—blood. Above the wheezing of what had to be my clogged nostrils, the tang of mold and the reek of mildew scented the damp, cold air. Sharp bits of hay jabbed my cheek. My tongue probed the makings of a split lip, and the movement set my face on fire. Wincing, I opened my eyes, but could only manage to widen them a little—swelling. What I beheld through my undoubtedly black eyes didn’t do much for my spirits.
I was in a prison cell. My weapons were gone, and my only sources of light were the torches beyond the door. Amarantha had said a cell was to be where I would spend my time, but even as I sat up—my head so dizzy I almost blacked out again—my heartbeat quickened. A dungeon. I examined the slants of light that crept in through the cracks between the door and the wall, then gingerly touched my face.
It ached—ached worse than anything I’d ever endured. I bit down on a cry as my fingers grazed my nose, flakes of blood crumbling from my nostrils. It was broken. Broken. I would have clenched my teeth had my jaw not been a throbbing mess of agony, too.
I couldn’t panic. No, I had to keep my tears in check, had to keep my wits together. I had to survey the damage as best I could, then figure out what to do. Maybe my shirt could be used for bandages—maybe they would give me water at some point to wash out the injuries. Taking a breath that was all too shallow, I explored the rest of my face. My jaw wasn’t broken, and though my eyes were swollen and my lip was split, the worst damage was to my nose.
I curled my knees to my chest, grasping them tightly as I reined in my breathing. I’d violated one of Alis’s rules. I’d had no choice, though. Seeing Tamlin seated beside Amarantha …
My jaw protested, but I ground my teeth anyway. The full moon—it had been a half moon when I left my father’s home. How long had I been unconscious down here? I wasn’t foolish enough to believe that any amount of time would prepare me for Amarantha’s first task.
I didn’t allow myself to imagine what she had in mind for me. It was enough to know that she expected me to die—that there wouldn’t be enough left of me for her to torture.
I gripped my legs harder to keep my hands from shaking. Somewhere—not too far off—screaming began. A high-pitched, pleading bleat, accentuated with crescendos of shrieking that made bile sting in my throat. I might sound like that when faced with Amarantha’s first task.
A whip cracked, and the screaming built, hardly pausing for a breath. Clare had probably cried similarly. I had as good as tortured her myself. What had she made of all this—all these faeries lusting after her blood and misery? I deserved this—deserved whatever pain and suffering was in store—if only for what she had endured. But … but I would make it right. Somehow.
I must have drifted off at some point, because I awoke to the scrape of my cell door against stone. Forgetting the cascading pain in my face, I scrambled to duck into the shadows of the nearest corner. Someone slipped into my cell and swiftly shut the door—leaving it just a bit ajar.
I tried to stand, but my legs shook so badly that I couldn’t move. “Lucien?” I breathed, and the hay crunched as he dropped to the ground before me.
“By the Cauldron, are you all right?”
A small light flared by his head, and as his eyes swam into view, the metal one narrowed. He hissed. “Have you lost your mind? What are you doing here?”
I fought the tears—they were pointless, anyway. “I went back to the manor … Alis told me … told me about the curse, and I couldn’t let Amarantha—”
“You shouldn’t have come, Feyre,” he said sharply. “You weren’t meant to be here. Don’t you understand what he sacrificed in getting you out? How could you be so foolish?”
“Well, I’m here now!” I said, louder than was wise. “I’m here, and there’s nothing that can be done about it, so don’t bother telling me about my weak human flesh and my stupidity! I know all that, and I …” I wanted to cover my face in my hands, but it hurt too much. “I just … I had to tell him that I love him. To see if it wasn’t too late.”
Lucien sat back on his heels. “So you know everything, then.” I managed to nod without blacking out from the pain. My agony must have shown, because he winced. “Well, at least we don’t have to lie to you anymore. Let’s clean you up a bit.”