He walked to the door, and for the first time I noticed how stiffly he moved. “It’s why I couldn’t come sooner,” he said, his throat bobbing. “She used her—used our powers to keep my back from healing. I haven’t been able to move until today.”
Breathing became a little difficult. “Here,” I said, removing his cloak and standing to hand it to him. The sudden cold sent gooseflesh rippling over me.
“Keep it. I swiped it off a dozing guard on my way in here.” In the dim light, the embroidered symbol of a sleeping dragon glimmered. Amarantha’s coat of arms. I grimaced, but shrugged it on.
“Besides,” Lucien added with a smirk, “I’ve seen enough of you through that gown to last a lifetime.” I flushed as he opened the door.
“Wait,” I said. “Is—is Tamlin all right? I mean … I mean that spell Amarantha has him under to make him so silent …”
“There’s no spell. Hasn’t it occurred to you that Tamlin is keeping quiet to avoid telling Amarantha which form of your torment affects him most?”
No, it hadn’t.
“He’s playing a dangerous game, though,” Lucien said, slipping out the door. “We all are.”
The next night, I was again washed, painted, and brought to that miserable throne room. Not a ball this time—just some evening entertainment. Which, it turned out, was me. After I drank the wine, though, I was mercifully unaware of what was happening.
Night after night, I was dressed in the same way and made to accompany Rhysand to the throne room. Thus I became Rhysand’s plaything, the harlot of Amarantha’s w***e. I woke with vague shards of memories—of dancing between Rhysand’s legs as he sat in a chair and laughed; of his hands, stained blue from the places they touched on my waist, my arms, but somehow, never more than that. He had me dance until I was sick, and once I was done retching, told me to begin dancing again.
I awoke ill and exhausted each morning, and though Rhysand’s order to the guards had indeed held, the nightly activities left me thoroughly drained. I spent my days sleeping off the faerie wine, dozing to escape the humiliation I endured. When I could, I contemplated Amarantha’s riddle, turning over every word—to no avail.
And when I again entered that throne room, I was allowed only a glimpse of Tamlin before the drug of the wine took hold. But every time, every night, just for that one glance, I didn’t hide the love and pain that welled in my eyes when they met his.
I had finished being painted and dressed—my gossamer gown a shade of blood orange that night—when Rhysand entered the room. The shadow maids, as usual, walked through the walls and vanished. But rather than beckon me to come with him, Rhysand closed the door.
“Your second trial is tomorrow night,” he said neutrally. The gold-and-silver thread in his black tunic shone in the candlelight. He never wore another color.
It was like a stone to the head. I’d lost count of the days. “So?”
“It could be your last,” he said, and leaned against the door frame, crossing his arms.
“If you’re taunting me into playing another game of yours, you’re wasting your breath.”
“Aren’t you going to beg me to give you a night with your beloved?”
“I’ll have that night, and all the ones after, when I beat her final task.”
Rhysand shrugged, then flashed a grin as he pushed off the door and stepped toward me. “I wonder if you were this prickly with Tamlin when you were his captive.”
“He never treated me like a captive—or a slave.”
“No—and how could he? Not with the shame of his father and brothers’ brutality always weighing on him, the poor, noble beast. But perhaps if he’d bothered to learn a thing or two about cruelty, about what it means to be a true High Lord, it would have kept the Spring Court from falling.”
“Your court fell, too.”
Sadness flickered in those violet eyes. I wouldn’t have noticed it had I not … felt it—deep inside me. My gaze drifted to the eye etched in my palm. What manner of tattoo, exactly, had he given me? But instead I asked, “When you were roaming freely on Fire Night—at the Rite—you said it cost you. Were you one of the High Lords that sold allegiance to Amarantha in exchange for not being forced to live down here?”
Whatever sadness had been in his eyes vanished—only cold, glittering calm remained. I could have sworn a shadow of mighty wings stained the wall behind him. “What I do or have done for my Court is none of your concern.”
“And what has she been doing for the past forty-nine years? Holding court and torturing everyone as she pleases? To what end?” Tell me about the threat she poses to the human world, I wanted to beg—tell me what all of this means, why so many awful things had to happen.
“The Lady of the Mountain needs no excuses for her actions.”
“The festivities await.” He gestured to the door behind him.
I knew I was on dangerous ground, but I didn’t care. “What do you want with me? Beyond taunting Tamlin.”
“Taunting him is my greatest pleasure,” he said with a mock bow. “And as for your question, why does any male need a reason to enjoy the presence of a female?”
“You saved my life.”
“And through your life, I saved Tamlin’s.”
He winked, smoothing his blue-black hair. “That, Feyre, is the real question, isn’t it?”
With that, he led me from the room.
We reached the throne room, and I braced myself to be drugged and disgraced again. But it was Rhysand the crowd looked at—Rhysand whom Lucien’s brothers monitored. Amarantha’s clear voice rang out over the music, summoning him.
He paused, glancing at Lucien’s brothers stalking toward us, their attention pinned on me. Eager, hungry—wicked. I opened my mouth, not too proud to ask Rhysand not to leave me alone with them while he dealt with Amarantha, but he put a hand on my back and nudged me along.
“Just stay close, and keep your mouth shut,” he murmured in my ear as he led me by the arm. The crowd parted as if we were on fire, revealing all too soon what was before us.
Not us, I amended, but Rhysand.
A brown-skinned High Fae male was sobbing on the floor before the dais. Amarantha was smiling at him like a snake—so intently that she didn’t even spare me a glance. Beside her, Tamlin remained utterly impassive. A beast without claws.