Rhysand flicked his eyes to me—a silent command to stay at the edge of the crowd. I obeyed, and when I lifted my attention to Tamlin, waiting for him to look—just look at me—he did not, his focus wholly on the queen, on the male before her. Point taken.
Amarantha caressed her ring, watching every movement that Rhysand made as he approached. “The summer lordling,” she said of the male cowering at her feet, “tried to escape through the exit to the Spring Court lands. I want to know why.”
There was a tall, handsome High Fae male standing at the crowd’s edge—his hair near-white, eyes of crushing, crystal blue, his skin of richest mahogany. But his mouth was drawn as his attention darted between Amarantha and Rhysand. I’d seen him before, during that first task—the High Lord of the Summer Court. Before, he’d been shining—almost leaking golden light; now he was muted, drab. As if Amarantha had leeched every last drop of power from him while she interrogated his subject.
Rhysand slid his hands into his pockets and sauntered closer to the male on the ground.
The Summer faerie cringed, his face shining with tears. My own bowels turned watery with fear and shame as he wet himself at the sight of Rhysand. “P-p-please,” he gasped out.
The crowd was breathless, too silent.
His back to me, Rhysand’s shoulders were loose, not a stitch of clothing out of place. But I knew his talons had latched onto the faerie’s mind the moment the male stopped shaking on the ground.
The High Lord of Summer had gone still, too—and it was pain, real pain, and fear that shone in those stunning blue eyes. Summer was one of the courts that had rebelled, I remembered. So this was a new, untested High Lord, who had not yet had to make choices that cost him lives.
After a moment of silence, Rhysand looked at Amarantha. “He wanted to escape. To get to the Spring Court, cross the wall, and flee south into human territory. He had no accomplices, no motive beyond his own pathetic cowardice.” He jerked his chin toward the puddle of piss beneath the male. But out of the corner of my eye I saw the Summer High Lord sag a bit—enough to make me wonder … wonder what sort of choice Rhys had made in that moment he’d taken to search the male’s mind.
But Amarantha rolled her eyes and slouched in her throne. “Shatter him, Rhysand.” She flicked a hand at the High Lord of the Summer Court. “You may do what you want with the body afterward.”
The High Lord of the Summer Court bowed—as if he’d been given a gift—and looked to his subject, who had gone still and calm on the floor, hugging his knees. The male faerie was ready—relieved.
Rhys slipped a hand out of his pocket, and it dangled at his side. I could have sworn phantom talons flickered there as his fingers curled slightly.
“I’m growing bored, Rhysand,” Amarantha said with a sigh, again fiddling with that bone. She hadn’t looked at me once, too focused on her current prey.
Rhysand’s fingers curled into a fist.
The faerie male’s eyes went wide—then glazed as he slumped to the side in the puddle of his own waste. Blood leaked from his nose, from his ears, pooling on the floor.
That fast—that easily, that irrevocably … he was dead.
“I said shatter his mind, not his brain,” Amarantha snapped.
The crowd murmured around me, stirring. I wanted nothing more than to fade back into it—to crawl back into my cell and burn this from my mind. Tamlin hadn’t flinched—not a muscle. What horrors had he witnessed in his long life if this hadn’t broken that distant expression, that control?
Rhysand shrugged, his hand sliding back into his pocket. “Apologies, my queen.” He turned away without being dismissed, and didn’t look at me as he strode for the back of the throne room. I fell into step beside him, reining in my trembling, trying not to think about the body sprawled behind us, or about Clare—still nailed to the wall.
The crowd stayed far, far back as we walked through it. “W***e,” some of them softly hissed at him, out of her earshot; “Amarantha’s w***e.” But many offered tentative, appreciative smiles and words—“Good that you killed him; good that you killed the traitor.”
Rhysand didn’t deign to acknowledge any of them, his shoulders still loose, his footsteps unhurried. I wondered whether anyone but he and the High Lord of the Summer Court knew that the killing had been a mercy. I was willing to bet that there had been others involved in that escape plan, perhaps even the High Lord of the Summer Court himself.
But maybe keeping those secrets had only been done in aid of whatever games Rhysand liked to play. Maybe sparing that faerie male by killing him swiftly, rather than shattering his mind and leaving him a drooling husk, had been another calculated move, too.
He didn’t pause once on that long trek across the throne room, but when we reached the food and wine at the back of the room, he handed me a goblet and downed one alongside me. He didn’t say anything before the wine swept me into oblivion.
My second task arrived.
Its teeth gleaming, the Attor grinned at me as I stood before Amarantha. Another cavern—smaller than the throne room, but large enough to perhaps be some sort of old entertaining space. It had no decorations, save for its gilded walls, and no furniture; the queen herself only sat on a carved wooden chair, Tamlin standing behind her. I didn’t gaze too long at the Attor, who lingered on the other side of the queen’s chair, its long, slender tail slashing across the floor. It only smiled to unnerve me.
It was working. Not even gazing at Tamlin could calm me. I clenched my hands at my sides as Amarantha smiled.
“Well, Feyre, your second trial has come.” She sounded so smug—so certain that my death hovered nearby. I’d been a fool to refuse death in the teeth of the worm. She crossed her arms and propped her chin on a hand. Within the ring, Jurian’s eye turned—turned to face me, its pupil dilating in the dim light. “Have you solved my riddle yet?”
I didn’t deign to make a response.
“Too bad,” she said with a moue. “But I’m feeling generous tonight.” The Attor chuckled, and several faeries behind me gave hissing laughs that snaked their way up my spine. “How about a little practice?” Amarantha said, and I forced my face into neutrality. If Tamlin was playing indifferent to keep us both safe, so would I.
But I dared a glance at my High Lord, and found his eyes hard upon me. If I could just hold him, feel his skin for just a moment—smell him, hear him say my name …