Chapter 31 – A Court of Thorns and Roses

Chapter 31

The ball was a blur of waltzing and preening, of bejeweled aristos, of wine and toasts in my honor. I lingered at Nesta’s side, because she seemed to do a good job of scaring off the too-curious suitors who wanted to know more about my fortune. But I tried to smile, if only for Elain, who flitted about the room, personally greeting each guest and dancing with all their important sons.

But I kept thinking about what Nesta had said—about saving Tamlin.

I’d known something was wrong. I’d known he was in trouble—not just with the blight on Prythian, but also that the forces gathering to destroy him were deadly, and yet … and yet I’d stopped looking for answers, stopped fighting it, glad—so selfishly glad—to be able to set down that savage, wild part of me that had only survived hour to hour. I’d let him send me home. I hadn’t tried harder to piece together the information I’d gathered about the blight or Amarantha; I hadn’t tried to save him. I hadn’t even told him I loved him. And Lucien … Lucien had known it, too—and shown it in his bitter words on my last day, his disappointment in me.

Two in the morning, and yet the party was showing no signs of slowing. My father held court with several other merchants and aristo men to whom I had been introduced but whose names I’d instantly forgotten. Elain was laughing among a circle of beautiful friends, flushed and brilliant. Nesta had silently left at midnight, and I didn’t bother to say good-bye as I finally slipped upstairs.

The following afternoon, bleary-eyed and quiet, we all gathered at the lunch table. I thanked my sister and father for the party, and dodged my father’s inquiries regarding whether any of his friends’ sons had caught my eye.

The summer heat had arrived, and I propped my chin on a fist as I fanned myself. I’d slept fitfully in the heat last night. It was never too hot or too cold at Tamlin’s estate.

“I’m thinking of buying the Beddor land,” my father was saying to Elain, who was the only one of us listening to him. “I heard a rumor it’ll go up for sale soon, since none of the family survived, and it would be a good investment property. Perhaps one of you girls might build a house on it when you’re ready.”

Elain nodded interestedly, but I blinked. “What happened to the Beddors?”

“Oh, it was awful,” Elain said. “Their house burned down, and everyone died. Well, they couldn’t find Clare’s body, but …” She looked down at her plate. “It happened in the dead of night—the family, their servants, everyone. The day before you came home to us, actually.”

“Clare Beddor,” I said slowly.

“Our friend, remember?” Elain said. I nodded, feeling Nesta’s eyes on me.

No—no, it couldn’t be possible. It had to be a coincidence—had to be a coincidence, because the alternative …

I had given that name to Rhysand. And he had not forgotten it.

My stomach turned over, and I fought against the nausea that roiled within me. “Feyre?” my father asked.

I put a shaking hand over my eyes, breathing in. What had happened? Not just at the Beddors’, but at home, in Prythian?

“Feyre,” my father said again, and Nesta hissed at him, “Quiet.”

I pushed back against the guilt, the disgust and terror. I had to get answers—had to know if it had been a coincidence, or if I might yet be able to save Clare. And if something had happened here, in the mortal realm, then the Spring Court … then those creatures Tamlin had been so frightened of … the blight that had infected magic, their lands …

Faeries. They had come over the wall and left no trace behind.

I lowered my hand and looked at Nesta. “You must listen very carefully,” I said to her, swallowing hard. “Everything I have told you must remain a secret. You do not come looking for me. You do not speak my name again to anyone.”

“What are you talking about, Feyre?” My father gaped at me from the end of the table.

Elain glanced between us, shifting in her seat.

But Nesta held my gaze. Unflinching.

“I think something very bad might be happening in Prythian,” I said softly. I’d never learned what warning signs Tamlin had instilled in their glamours to prod my family to run, but I wasn’t going to risk relying solely on them. Not when Clare had been taken, her family murdered … because of me. Bile burned my throat.

“Prythian!” my father and Elain blurted. But Nesta held up a hand to silence them.

I went on, “If you won’t leave, then hire guards—hire scouts to watch the wall, the forest. The village, too.” I rose from my seat. “The first sign of danger, the first rumor you hear of the wall being breached or even something being strange, you get on a ship and go. You sail far away, as far south as you can get, to someplace the faeries would never desire.”

My father and Elain began blinking, as if clearing some fog from their minds—as if emerging from a deep sleep. But Nesta followed me into the hall, up the stairs.

“The Beddors,” she said. “That was meant to be us. But you gave them a fake name— those wicked faeries who threatened your High Lord.” I nodded. I could see the plans calculating in her eyes. “Is there going to be an invasion?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening. I was told that there was a kind of

sickness that had made their powers weaken or go wild, a blight on the land that had damaged the safety of their borders and could kill people if it struck badly enough. They

—they said it was surging again … on the move. The last I heard, it wasn’t near enough to harm our lands. But if the Spring Court is about to fall, then the blight has to be getting close, and Tamlin … Tamlin was one of the last bastions keeping the other courts in check

—the deadly courts. And I think he’s in danger.”

I entered my room and began peeling off my gown. My sister helped me, then opened the wardrobe to pull out a heavy tunic and pants and boots. I slipped into them and was braiding back my hair when she said, “We don’t need you here, Feyre. Do not look back.”

I tugged on my boots and went for the hunting knives I’d discreetly acquired while here.

“Father once told you to never come back,” Nesta said, “and I’m telling you now. We can take care of ourselves.”

Once I might have thought it was an insult, but now I understood—understood what a gift she was offering me. I sheathed the knives at my side and slung a quiver of arrows across my back—none of them ash—before scooping up my bow. “They can lie,” I said, giving her information I hoped she would never need. “Faeries can lie, and iron doesn’t bother them one bit. But ash wood—that seems to work. Take my money and buy a damned grove of it for Elain to tend.”

Nesta shook her head, clutching her wrist, the bracelet of iron still there. “What do you think you can even do to help? He’s a High Lord—you’re just a human.” That wasn’t an insult, either. A question from a coolly calculating mind.

“I don’t care,” I admitted, at the door now, which I flung open. “But I’ve got to try.”

Nesta remained in my room. She would not say good-bye—she hated farewells as much as I did.

But I turned to my sister and said, “There is a better world, Nesta. There is a better world out there, waiting for you to find it. And if I ever get the chance, if things are ever better, safer … I will find you again.”

It was all I could offer her.

But Nesta squared her shoulders. “Don’t bother. I don’t think I’d be particularly fond of faeries.” I raised a brow. She went on with a slight shrug. “Try to send word once it’s safe. And if it ever is … Father and Elain can have this place. I think I’d like to see what else is out there, what a woman might do with a fortune and a good name.”

No limits, I thought. There were no limits to what Nesta might do, what she might make of herself once she found a place to call her own. I prayed I would be lucky enough to someday see it.

Elain, to my surprise, had a horse, a satchel of food, and supplies ready when I hurried down the stairs. My father was nowhere in sight. But Elain threw her arms around me, and, holding tightly, said, “I remember—I remember all of it now.”

I wrapped my arms around her. “Be on your guard. All of you.”

She nodded, tears in her eyes. “I would have liked to see the continent with you, Feyre.”

I smiled at my sister, memorizing her lovely face, and wiped her tears away. “Maybe someday,” I said. Another promise that I’d be lucky to keep.

Elain was still crying as I spurred my horse and galloped down the drive. I didn’t have it in me to say good-bye to my father once more.

I rode all day and stopped only when it was too dark for me to see. Due north—that’s where I would start and go until I hit the wall. I had to get back—had to see what had happened, had to tell Tamlin everything that was in my heart before it was too late.

I rode all of the second day, slept fitfully, and was off before first light. On and on, through the summer forest, lush and dense and humming.

Until an absolute silence fell. I slowed my horse to a careful walk and scanned the brush and trees ahead for any sign, any ripple. There was nothing. Nothing, and then—

My horse bucked and shook her head, and it was all I could do to stay in the saddle as she refused to go forward. But still, there was nothing—no marker. Yet when I dismounted, hardly breathing as I put a hand out, I found that I could not pass.

There, cleaving through the forest, was an invisible wall.

But the faeries came and went through it—through holes, rumor claimed. So I led my horse down the line, tapping the wall every so often to make sure I hadn’t veered away.

It took me two days—and the night between them was more terrifying than any I’d experienced at the Spring Court. Two days, before I spied the mossy stones placed across from each other, a faint whorl carved into them both. A gate.

This time, when I mounted my horse and steered her between them, she obeyed. Magic stung my nostrils, zapping until my horse bucked again, but we were through. I knew these trees.

I rode in silence, an arrow nocked and ready, the threats lurking in the forest far greater than those in the woods I’d just left.

Tamlin might be furious—he might command me to turn around and go home. But I would tell him that I was going to help, tell him that I loved him and would fight for him however I could, even if I had to tie him down to make him listen.

I became so intent on contemplating how I might convince him not to start roaring that I didn’t immediately notice the quiet—how the birds didn’t sing, even as I drew closer to the manor itself, how the hedges of the estate looked in need of a trim.

By the time I reached the gates, my mouth had gone dry. The gates were open, but the iron had been bent out of shape, as if mighty hands had wrenched them apart.

Every step of the horse’s hooves was too loud on the gravel path, and my stomach dropped further when I beheld the wide-open front doors. One of them hung at an angle,

ripped off its top hinge.

I dismounted, arrow still at the ready. But there was no need. Empty—it was utterly empty here. Like a tomb.

“Tam?” I called. I bounded up the front steps and into the house. I rushed inside, swearing as I slid on a piece of broken porcelain—the remnants of a vase. Slowly, I turned in the front hall.

It looked as if an army had marched through. Tapestries hung in shreds, the marble banister was fractured, and the chandeliers lay broken on the ground, reduced to mounds of shattered crystal.

“Tamlin?” I shouted. Nothing.

The windows had all been blown out. “Lucien?” No one answered.

“Tam?” My voice echoed through the house, mocking me. Alone in the wreckage of the manor, I sank to my knees.

He was gone.

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