Chapter 26 – A Court of Thorns and Roses

Chapter 26

The next day, Lucien joined us for lunch—which was breakfast for all of us. Ever since I’d complained about the unnecessary size of the table, we’d taken to dining at a much- reduced version. Lucien kept rubbing at his temples as he ate, unusually silent, and I hid my smile as I asked him, “And where were you last night?”

Lucien’s metal eye narrowed on me. “I’ll have you know that while you two were dancing with the spirits, I was stuck on border patrol.” Tamlin gave a pointed cough, and Lucien added, “With some company.” He gave me a sly grin. “Rumor has it you two didn’t come back until after dawn.”

I glanced at Tamlin, biting my lip. I’d practically floated into my bedroom that morning. But Tamlin’s gaze now roved my face as if searching for any tinge of regret, of fear. Ridiculous.

“You bit my neck on Fire Night,” I said under my breath. “If I can face you after that, a few kisses are nothing.”

He braced his forearms on the table as he leaned closer to me. “Nothing?” His eyes flicked to my lips. Lucien shifted in his seat, muttering to the Cauldron to spare him, but I ignored him.

“Nothing,” I repeated a bit distantly, watching Tamlin’s mouth move, so keenly aware of every movement he made, resenting the table between us. I could almost feel the warmth of his breath.

“Are you sure?” he murmured, intent and hungry enough that I was glad I was sitting. He could have had me right there, on top of that table. I wanted his broad hands running over my bare skin, wanted his teeth scraping against my neck, wanted his mouth all over me.

“I’m trying to eat,” Lucien said, and I blinked, the air whooshing out of me. “But now that I have your attention, Tamlin,” he snapped, though the High Lord was looking at me again—devouring me with his eyes. I could hardly sit still, could hardly stand the clothes scratching my too-hot skin. With some effort, Tamlin glanced back at his emissary.

Lucien shifted in his seat. “Not to be the bearer of truly bad tidings, but my contact at the Winter Court managed to get a letter to me.” Lucien took a steadying breath, and I wondered—wondered if being emissary also meant being spymaster. And wondered why he was bothering to say this in my presence at all. The smile instantly faded from Tamlin’s face. “The blight,” Lucien said tightly, softly. “It took out two dozen of their younglings. Two dozen, all gone.” He swallowed. “It just … burned through their magic, then broke apart their minds. No one in the Winter Court could do anything—no one could stop it once it turned its attention toward them. Their grief is … unfathomable. My contact says

other courts are being hit hard—though the Night Court, of course, manages to remain unscathed. But the blight seems to be sending its wickedness this way—farther south with every attack.”

All the warmth, all the sparkling joy, drained from me like blood down a drain. “The blight can … can truly kill people?” I managed to say. Younglings. It had killed children, like some storm of darkness and death. And if offspring were as rare as Alis had claimed, the loss of so many would be more devastating than I could imagine.

Tamlin’s eyes were shadowed, and he slowly shook his head—as if trying to clear the grief and shock of those deaths from him. “The blight is capable of hurting us in ways you

—” He shot to his feet so quickly that his chair flipped over. He unsheathed his claws and snarled at the open doorway, canines long and gleaming.

The house, usually full of the whispering skirts and chatter of servants, had gone silent.

Not the pregnant silence of Fire Night, but rather a trembling quiet that made me want to scramble under the table. Or just start running. Lucien swore and drew his sword.

“Get Feyre to the window—by the curtains,” Tamlin growled to Lucien, not taking his eyes off the open doors. Lucien’s hand gripped my elbow, dragging me out of my chair.

“What’s—” I started, but Tamlin growled again, the sound echoing through the room. I snatched one of the knives off the table and let Lucien lead me to the window, where he pushed me against the velvet drapes. I wanted to ask why he didn’t bother hiding me behind them, but the fox-masked faerie just pressed his back into me, pinning me between him and the wall.

The tang of magic shoved itself up my nostrils. Though his sword was pointed at the floor, Lucien’s grip tightened on it until his knuckles turned white. Magic—a glamour. To conceal me, to make me a part of Lucien—invisible, hidden by the faerie’s magic and scent. I peered over his shoulder at Tamlin, who took a long breath and sheathed his claws and fangs, his baldric of knives appearing from thin air across his chest. But he didn’t draw any of the knives as he righted his chair and slouched in it, picking at his nails. As if nothing were happening.

But someone was coming, someone awful enough to frighten them—someone who would want to hurt me if they knew I was here.

The hissing voice of the Attor slithered through my memory. There were worse creatures than it, Tamlin had told me. Worse than the naga, and the Suriel, and the Bogge, too.

Footsteps sounded from the hall. Even, strolling, casual.

Tamlin continued cleaning his nails, and in front of me, Lucien assumed a position of appearing to be looking out the window. The footsteps grew louder—the scuff of boots on marble tiles.

And then he appeared.

No mask. He, like the Attor, belonged to something else. Someone else.

And worse … I’d met him before. He’d saved me from those three faeries on Fire


With steps that were too graceful, too feline, he approached the dining table and stopped a few yards from the High Lord. He was exactly as I remembered him, with his fine, rich clothing cloaked in tendrils of night: an ebony tunic brocaded with gold and silver, dark pants, and black boots that went to his knees. I’d never dared to paint him— and now knew I would never have the nerve to.

“High Lord,” the stranger crooned, inclining his head slightly. Not a bow.

Tamlin remained seated. With his back to me, I couldn’t see his face, but Tamlin’s voice was laced with the promise of violence as he said, “What do you want, Rhysand?”

Rhysand smiled—heartbreaking in its beauty—and put a hand on his chest. “Rhysand? Come now, Tamlin. I don’t see you for forty-nine years, and you start calling me Rhysand? Only my prisoners and my enemies call me that.” His grin widened as he finished, and something in his countenance turned feral and deadly, more so than I’d ever seen Tamlin look. Rhysand turned, and I held my breath as he ran an eye over Lucien. “A fox mask. Appropriate for you, Lucien.”

“Go to Hell, Rhys,” Lucien snapped.

“Always a pleasure dealing with the rabble,” Rhysand said, and faced Tamlin again. I still didn’t breathe. “I hope I wasn’t interrupting.”

“We were in the middle of lunch,” Tamlin said—his voice void of the warmth to which I’d become accustomed. The voice of the High Lord. It turned my insides cold.

“Stimulating,” Rhysand purred.

“What are you doing here, Rhys?” Tamlin demanded, still in his seat.

“I wanted to check up on you. I wanted to see how you were faring. If you got my little present.”

“Your present was unnecessary.”

“But a nice reminder of the fun days, wasn’t it?” Rhysand clicked his tongue and surveyed the room. “Almost half a century holed up in a country estate. I don’t know how you managed it. But,” he said, facing Tamlin again, “you’re such a stubborn bastard that this must have seemed like a paradise compared to Under the Mountain. I suppose it is. I’m surprised, though: forty-nine years, and no attempts to save yourself or your lands. Even now that things are getting interesting again.”

“There’s nothing to be done,” conceded Tamlin, his voice low.

Rhysand approached Tamlin, each movement smooth as silk. His voice dropped into a whisper—an erotic caress of sound that brought heat to my cheeks. “What a pity that you must endure the brunt of it, Tamlin—and an even greater pity that you’re so resigned to your fate. You might be stubborn, but this is pathetic. How different the High Lord is from the brutal war-band leader of centuries ago.”

Lucien interrupted, “What do you know about anything? You’re just Amarantha’s whore.”

“Her whore I might be, but not without my reasons.” I flinched as his voice whetted itself into an edge. “At least I haven’t bided my time among the hedges and flowers while the world has gone to Hell.”

Lucien’s sword rose slightly. “If you think that’s all I’ve been doing, you’ll soon learn otherwise.”

“Little Lucien. You certainly gave them something to talk about when you switched to Spring. Such a sad thing, to see your lovely mother in perpetual mourning over losing you.”

Lucien pointed his sword at Rhysand. “Watch your filthy mouth.”

Rhysand laughed—a lover’s laugh, low and soft and intimate. “Is that any way to speak to a High Lord of Prythian?”

My heart stopped dead. That was why those faeries had run off on Fire Night. To cross him would have been suicide. And from the way darkness seemed to ripple from him, from those violet eyes that burned like stars …

“Come now, Tamlin,” Rhysand said. “Shouldn’t you reprimand your lackey for speaking to me like that?”

“I don’t enforce rank in my court,” Tamlin said.

“Still?” Rhysand crossed his arms. “But it’s so entertaining when they grovel. I suppose your father never bothered to show you.”

“This isn’t the Night Court,” Lucien hissed. “And you have no power here—so clear out. Amarantha’s bed is growing cold.”

I tried not to breathe too loudly. Rhysand—he’d been the one to send that head. As a gift. I flinched. Was the Night Court where this woman—this Amarantha—was located, too?

Rhysand snickered, but then he was upon Lucien, too fast for me to follow with my human eyes, growling in his face. Lucien pressed me into the wall with his back, hard enough that I stifled a cry as I was squished against the wood.

“I was slaughtering on the battlefield before you were even born,” Rhysand snarled. Then, as quickly as he had come, he withdrew, casual and careless. No, I would never dare to paint that dark, immortal grace—not in a hundred years. “Besides,” he said, stuffing his hands into his pockets, “who do you think taught your beloved Tamlin the finer aspects of swords and females? You can’t truly believe he learned everything in his father’s little war-camps.”

Tamlin rubbed his temples. “Save it for another time, Rhys. You’ll see me soon enough.”

Rhysand meandered toward the door. “She’s already preparing for you. Given your current state, I think I can safely report that you’ve already been broken and will reconsider her offer.” Lucien’s breath hitched as Rhysand passed the table. The High Lord of the Night Court ran a finger along the back of my chair—a casual gesture. “I’m looking forward to seeing your face when you—”

Rhysand studied the table.

Lucien went stick-straight, pressing me harder against the wall. The table was still set for three, my half-eaten plate of food sitting right before him.

“Where’s your guest?” Rhysand asked, lifting my goblet and sniffing it before setting it down again.

“I sent them off when I sensed your arrival,” Tamlin lied coolly.

Rhysand now faced the High Lord, and his perfect face was void of emotion before his brows rose. A flicker of excitement—perhaps even disbelief—flashed across his features, but he whipped his head to Lucien. Magic seared my nostrils, and I stared at Rhysand in undiluted terror as his face contorted with rage.

“You dare glamour me?” he growled, his violet eyes burning as they bore into my own.

Lucien just pressed me harder into the wall.

Tamlin’s chair groaned as it was shoved back. He rose, claws at the ready, deadlier than any of the knives strapped to him.

Rhysand’s face became a mask of calm fury as he stared and stared at me. “I remember you,” he purred. “It seems like you ignored my warning to stay out of trouble.” He turned to Tamlin. “Who, pray tell, is your guest?”

“My betrothed,” Lucien answered.

“Oh? Here I was, thinking you still mourned your commoner lover after all these centuries,” Rhysand said, stalking toward me. The sunlight didn’t gleam on the metallic threads of his tunic, as if it balked from the darkness pulsing from him.

Lucien spat at Rhysand’s feet and shoved his sword between us.

Rhysand’s venom-coated smile grew. “You draw blood from me, Lucien, and you’ll learn how quickly Amarantha’s whore can make the entire Autumn Court bleed. Especially its darling Lady.”

The color leached from Lucien’s face, but he held his ground. It was Tamlin who answered. “Put your sword down, Lucien.”

Rhysand ran an eye over me. “I knew you liked to stoop low with your lovers, Lucien, but I never thought you’d actually dabble with mortal trash.” My face burned. Lucien was trembling—with rage or fear or sorrow, I couldn’t tell. “The Lady of the Autumn Court will be grieved indeed when she hears of her youngest son. If I were you, I’d keep your new pet well away from your father.”

“Leave, Rhys,” Tamlin commanded, standing a few feet behind the High Lord of the Night Court. And yet he didn’t make a move to attack, despite the claws, despite Rhysand still approaching me. Perhaps a battle between two High Lords could tear this manor to its foundations—and leave only dust in its wake. Or perhaps, if Rhysand was indeed this woman’s lover, the retaliation from hurting him would be too great. Especially with the added burden of facing the blight.

Rhysand brushed Lucien aside as if he were a curtain.

There was nothing between us now, and the air was sharp and cold. But Tamlin remained where he was, and Lucien didn’t so much as blink as Rhysand, with horrific gentleness, pried the knife from my hands and sent it scattering across the room.

“That won’t do you any good, anyway,” Rhysand said to me. “If you were wise, you would be screaming and running from this place, from these people. It’s a wonder that you’re still here, actually.” My confusion must have been written across my face, for Rhysand laughed loudly. “Oh, she doesn’t know, does she?”

I trembled, unable to find words or courage.

“You have seconds, Rhys,” Tamlin warned. “Seconds to get out.” “If I were you, I wouldn’t speak to me like that.”

Against my volition, my body straightened, every muscle going taut, my bones straining. Magic, but deeper than that. Power that seized everything inside me and took control: even my blood flowed where he willed it.

I couldn’t move. An invisible, talon-tipped hand scraped against my mind. And I knew

—one push, one swipe of those mental claws, and who I was would cease to exist.

“Let her go,” Tamlin said, bristling, but didn’t advance forward. A kind of panic had entered his eyes, and he glanced from me to Rhysand. “Enough.”

“I’d forgotten that human minds are as easy to shatter as eggshells,” Rhysand said, and ran a finger across the base of my throat. I shuddered, my eyes burning. “Look at how delightful she is—look how she’s trying not to cry out in terror. It would be quick, I promise.”

Had I retained any semblance of control over my body, I might have vomited.

“She has the most delicious thoughts about you, Tamlin,” he said. “She’s wondered about the feeling of your fingers on her thighs—between them, too.” He chuckled. Even as he said my most private thoughts, even as I burned with outrage and shame, I trembled at the grip still on my mind. Rhysand turned to the High Lord. “I’m curious: Why did she wonder if it would feel good to have you bite her breast the way you bit her neck?”

“Let. Her. Go.” Tamlin’s face was twisted with such feral rage that it struck a different, deeper chord of terror in me.

“If it’s any consolation,” Rhysand confided to him, “she would have been the one for you—and you might have gotten away with it. A bit late, though. She’s more stubborn than you are.”

Those invisible claws lazily caressed my mind again—then vanished. I sank to the floor, curling over my knees as I reeled in everything that I was, as I tried to keep from sobbing, from screaming, from emptying my stomach onto the floor.

“Amarantha will enjoy breaking her,” Rhysand observed to Tamlin. “Almost as much as she’ll enjoy watching you as she shatters her bit by bit.”

Tamlin was frozen, his arms—his claws—hanging limply at his side. I’d never seen him look like that. “Please” was all that Tamlin said.

“Please what?” Rhysand said—gently, coaxingly. Like a lover. “Don’t tell Amarantha about her,” Tamlin said, his voice strained.

“And why not? As her whore,” he said with a glance tossed in Lucien’s direction, “I should tell her everything.”

“Please,” Tamlin managed, as if it were difficult to breathe.

Rhysand pointed at the ground, and his smile became vicious. “Beg, and I’ll consider not telling Amarantha.”

Tamlin dropped to his knees and bowed his head. “Lower.”

Tamlin pressed his forehead to the floor, his hands sliding along the floor toward Rhysand’s boots. I could have wept with rage at the sight of Tamlin being forced to bow to someone, at the sight of my High Lord being put so low. Rhysand pointed at Lucien. “You too, fox-boy.”

Lucien’s face was dark, but he lowered himself to his knees, then touched his head to the ground. I wished for the knife Rhysand had chucked away, for anything with which to kill him.

I stopped shaking long enough to hear Rhys speak again. “Are you doing this for your sake, or for hers?” he pondered, then shrugged, as if he weren’t forcing a High Lord of Prythian to grovel. “You’re far too desperate, Tamlin. It’s off-putting. Becoming High Lord made you so boring.”

“Are you going to tell Amarantha?” Tamlin said, keeping his face on the floor. Rhysand smirked. “Perhaps I’ll tell her, perhaps I won’t.”

In a flash of motion too fast for me to detect, Tamlin was on his feet, fangs dangerously close to Rhysand’s face.

“None of that,” Rhysand said, clicking his tongue and lightly shoving Tamlin away with a single hand. “Not with a lady present.” His eyes shifted to my face. “What’s your name, love?”

Giving him my name—and my family name—would lead only to more pain and suffering. He might very well find my family and drag them into Prythian to torment, just to amuse himself. But he could steal my name from my mind if I hesitated for too long. Keeping my mind blank and calm, I blurted the first name that came to mind, a village friend of my sisters’ whom I’d never spoken to and whose face I couldn’t recall. “Clare Beddor.” My voice was nothing more than a gasp.

Rhysand turned back to Tamlin, unfazed by the High Lord’s proximity. “Well, this was entertaining. The most fun I’ve had in ages, actually. I’m looking forward to seeing you three Under the Mountain. I’ll give Amarantha your regards.”

Then Rhysand vanished into nothing—as if he’d stepped through a rip in the world— leaving us alone in horrible, trembling silence.

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