He began to ripple with darkness, his edges blurring into endless night.
He could be bluffing, trying to trick me into accepting his offer. Or he might be right—I might be dying. My life depended on it. More than my life depended on my choice. And if Lucien was indeed unable to come … or if he came too late …
I was dying. I’d known it for some time now. And Lucien had underestimated my abilities in the past—had never quite grasped my limitations as a human. He’d sent me to hunt the Suriel with a few knives and a bow. He’d even admitted to hesitating that day, when I had screamed for help. And he might not even know how bad off I was. Might not understand the gravity of an infection like this. He might come a day, an hour, a minute too late.
Rhysand’s moon-white skin began to darken into nothing but shadow.
The darkness consuming him paused. For Tamlin … for Tamlin, I would sell my soul; I would give up everything I had for him to be free.
“Wait,” I repeated.
The darkness vanished, leaving Rhysand in his solid form as he grinned. “Yes?”
I raised my chin as high as I could manage. “Just two weeks?”
“Just two weeks,” he purred, and knelt before me. “Two teensy, tiny weeks with me every month is all I ask.”
“Why? And what are to … to be the terms?” I said, fighting past the dizziness.
“Ah,” he said, adjusting the lapel of his obsidian tunic. “If I told you those things, there’d be no fun in it, would there?”
I looked at my ruined arm. Lucien might never come, might decide I wasn’t worth risking his life any further, not now that he’d been punished for it. And if Amarantha’s healers cut off my arm …
Nesta would have done the same for me, for Elain. And Tamlin had done so much for me, for my family; even if he had lied about the Treaty, about sparing me from its terms, he’d still saved my life that day against the naga, and saved it again by sending me away from the manor.
I couldn’t think entirely of the enormity of what I was about to give—or else I might refuse again. I met Rhysand’s gaze. “Five days.”
“You’re going to bargain?” Rhysand laughed under his breath. “Ten days.”
I held his stare with all my strength. “A week.”
Rhysand was silent for a long moment, his eyes traveling across my body and my face before he murmured: “A week it is.”
“Then it’s a deal,” I said. A metallic taste filled my mouth as magic stirred between us.
His smile became a bit wild, and before I could brace myself, he grabbed my arm. There was a blinding, quick pain, and my scream sounded in my ears as bone and flesh were shattered, blood rushed out of me, and then—
Rhysand was still grinning when I opened my eyes. I hadn’t any idea how long I’d been unconscious, but my fever was gone, and my head was clear as I sat up. In fact, the mud was gone, too; I felt as if I’d just bathed.
But then I lifted my left arm.
“What have you done to me?”
Rhysand stood, running a hand through his short, dark hair. “It’s custom in my court for bargains to be permanently marked upon flesh.”
I rubbed my left forearm and hand, the entirety of which was now covered in swirls and whorls of black ink. Even my fingers weren’t spared, and a large eye was tattooed in the center of my palm. It was feline, and its slitted pupil stared right back at me.
“Make it go away,” I said, and he laughed.
“You humans are truly grateful creatures, aren’t you?”
From a distance, the tattoo looked like an elbow-length lace glove, but when I held it close to my face, I could detect the intricate depictions of flowers and curves that flowed throughout to make up a larger pattern. Permanent. Forever.
“You didn’t tell me this would happen.”
“You didn’t ask. So how am I to blame?” He walked to the door but lingered, even as pure night wafted off his shoulders. “Unless this lack of gratitude and appreciation is because you fear a certain High Lord’s reaction.”
Tamlin. I could already see his face going pale, his lips becoming thin as the claws came out. I could almost hear the growl he’d emit when he asked me what I had been thinking.
“I think I’ll wait to tell him until the moment’s right, though,” Rhysand said. The gleam in his eyes told me enough. Rhysand hadn’t done any of this to save me, but rather to hurt Tamlin. And I’d fallen into his trap—fallen into it worse than the worm had fallen into mine.
“Rest up, Feyre,” Rhysand said. He turned into nothing more than living shadow and vanished through a crack in the door.
I tried not to look at my left arm as I scrubbed at the floors of the hallway. The ink—which, in the light, was actually a blue so dark it appeared black—was a cloud upon my thoughts, and those were bleak enough even without knowing I’d sold myself to Rhysand. I couldn’t look at the eye on my palm. I had an absurd, creeping feeling that it watched me.
I dunked the large brush into the bucket the red-skinned guards had thrown into my arms. I could barely comprehend them through their mouths full of long yellow teeth, but when they gave me the brush and bucket and shoved me into a long hallway of white marble, I understood.
“If it’s not washed and shining by supper,” one of them had said, its teeth clicking as it grinned, “we’re to tie you to the spit and give you a few good turns over the fire.”
With that, they left. I had no idea when supper was, and so I frantically began washing. My back already ached like fire, and I hadn’t been scrubbing the marble hall for more than thirty minutes. But the water they’d given me was filthy, and the more I scrubbed the floor, the dirtier it became. When I went to the door to ask for a bucket of clean water, I found it locked. There would be no help.
An impossible task—a task to torment me. The spit—perhaps that was the source of the constant screaming in the dungeons. Would a few turns on the spit melt all the flesh from me, or just burn me badly enough to force me into another bargain with Rhysand? I cursed as I scrubbed harder, the coarse bristles of the brush crinkling and whispering against the tiles. A rainbow of brown was left in their wake, and I growled as I dunked the brush again. Filthy water came out with it, dripping all over the floor.
A trail of brown muck grew with each sweep. Breathing quickly, I hurled the brush to the ground and covered my face with my wet hands. I lowered my left hand when I realized the eye was pressed against my cheek.