Chapter 40 – A Court of Thorns and Roses

Chapter 40 – A Court of Thorns and Roses

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 …

A slight hiss echoed across the room, dragging my gaze away. Amarantha was frowning up at Tamlin from her seat. I hadn’t realized we’d been staring at each other, the cavern wholly silent.

“Begin,” Amarantha snapped.

Before I could brace myself, the floor shuddered.

My knees wobbled, and I swung my arms to keep upright as the stones beneath me began sinking, lowering me into a large, rectangular pit. Some faeries cackled, but I found Tamlin’s stare again and held it until I was lowered so far down that his face disappeared beyond the edge.

I scanned the four walls around me, looking for a door, for any sign of what was to come. Three of the walls were made of a single sheet of smooth, shining stone—too polished and flat to climb. The other wall wasn’t a wall at all, but an iron grate splitting the chamber in two, and through it—

My breath caught in my throat. “Lucien.”

Lucien lay chained to the center of the floor on the other side of the chamber, his remaining russet eye so wide that it was surrounded with white. The metal one spun as if set wild; his brutal scar was stark against his pale skin. Again he was to be Amarantha’s toy to torment.

There were no doors, no way for me to get to his side except to climb over the gate between us. It had such thick, wide holes that I could probably climb it to jump onto his side. I didn’t dare.

The faeries began murmuring, and gold clinked. Had Rhysand bet on me again? In the crowd, red hair gleamed—four heads of red hair—and I stiffened my spine. I knew his brothers would be smiling at Lucien’s predicament—but where was his mother? His father? Surely the High Lord of the Autumn Court would be present. I scanned the crowd. No sign of them. Only Amarantha, standing with Tamlin at the edge of the pit, peering in. She bowed her head to me and gestured with an elegant hand to the wall beneath her feet.

“Here, Feyre darling, you shall find your task. Simply answer the question by selecting the correct lever, and you’ll win. Select the wrong one to your doom. As there are only three options, I think I gave you an unfair advantage.” She snapped her fingers, and something metallic groaned. “That is,” she added, “if you can solve the puzzle in time.”

Not too high above, the two giant, spike-encrusted grates I’d dismissed as chandeliers began lowering, slowly descending toward the chamber—

I whirled to Lucien. That was the reason for the gate cleaving the chamber in two—so I would have to watch as he splattered beneath, just as I myself was squashed. The spikes, which had been supporting candles and torches, glowed red—and even from a distance, I could see the heat rippling off them.

Lucien wrenched at his chains. This would not be a clean death. And then I turned to the wall that Amarantha had gestured to.

A lengthy inscription was carved into its smooth surface, and beneath it were three stone levers with the numbers I, II, and III engraved above them.

I began to shake. I recognized only basic words—useless ones like the and but and went. Everything else was a blur of letters I didn’t know, letters I’d have to slowly sound out or research to understand.

The spiked grate was still descending, now level with Amarantha’s head, and would soon shut off any chance I stood of getting out of this pit. The heat from the glowing iron already smothered me, sweat starting to bead at my temples. Who had told her I couldn’t read?

“Something wrong?” She raised an eyebrow. I snapped my attention to the inscription, keeping my breathing as steady as I could. She hadn’t mentioned reading as an issue—she would have mocked me more if she’d known about my illiteracy. Fate—a cruel, vicious twist of fate.

The chains rattled and strained, and Lucien cursed as he beheld what was before me. I

turned to him, but when I saw his face, I knew he was too far to be able to read it aloud to me, even with his enhanced metal eye. If I could hear the question, I might stand a chance at solving it—but riddles weren’t my strong point.

I was going to be skewered by burning-hot spikes and then crushed on the ground like a grape.

The grate now passed over the lip of the pit, filling it entirely—no corner was safe. If I didn’t answer the question before the grate passed the levers—

My throat closed up, and I read and read and read, but no words came. The air became thick and stank of metal—not magic but burning, unforgiving steel creeping toward me, inch by inch.

“Answer it!” Lucien shouted, his voice hitched. My eyes stung. The world was just a blur of letters, mocking me with their turns and shapes.

The metal groaned as it scraped against the smooth stone of the chamber, and the faeries’ whispers grew more frenzied. Through the holes in the grate, I thought I saw Lucien’s eldest brother chuckle. Hot—so unbearably hot.

It would hurt—those spikes were large and blunt. It wouldn’t be quick. It would take some force to pierce through my body. Sweat slid down my neck, my back as I stared at the letters, at the I, II, and III that had somehow become my lifeline. Two choices would doom me—one choice would stop the grate.

I found numbers in the inscription—it must be a riddle, a logic problem, a maze of words worse than any worm’s labyrinth.

Feyre!” Lucien cried, panting as he stared at the ever-lowering spikes. The gleeful faces of the High Fae and lesser faeries sneered at me above the grate.

Three … grass … grasshope … grasshoppers …

The gate wouldn’t stop, and there wasn’t a full body length between my head and the first of those spikes. I could have sworn the heat devoured the air in the pit.

… were … boo … bow … boon … king … sing … bouncing …

I should say my good-byes to Tamlin. Right now. This was what my life amounted to— these were my last moments, this was it, the final breaths of my body, the last beatings of my heart.

Just pick one!” Lucien shouted, and some of those in the crowd laughed—his brothers no doubt the loudest.

I reached a hand toward the levers and stared at the three numbers beyond my trembling, tattooed fingers.


They meant nothing to me beyond life and death. Chance might save me, but—

Two. Two was a lucky number, because that was like Tamlin and me—just two people. One had to be bad, because one was like Amarantha, or the Attor—solitary beings. One was a nasty number, and three was too much—it was three sisters crammed into a tiny

cottage, hating each other until they choked on it, until it poisoned them.

Two. It was two. I could gladly, willingly, fanatically believe in a Cauldron and Fate if they would take care of me. I believed in two. Two.

I reached for the second lever, but a blinding pain racked my hand before I could touch the stone. I hissed, withdrawing. I opened my palm to reveal the slitted eye tattooed there. It narrowed. I had to be hallucinating.

The grate was about to cover the inscription, barely six feet above my head. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. The heat was too much, and metal sizzled, so close to my ears.

I again reached for the middle lever, but the pain paralyzed my fingers.

The eye had returned to its usual state. I extended my hand toward the first lever.

Again, pain.

I reached for the third lever. No pain. My fingers met with stone, and I looked up to find the grate not four feet from my head. Through it, I found a star-flecked violet gaze.

I reached for the first lever. Pain. But when I reached for the third lever …

Rhysand’s face remained a mask of boredom. Sweat slipped down my brow, stinging my eyes. I could only trust him; I could only give myself up again, forced to concede by my helplessness.

The spikes were so enormous up close. All I had to do was lift my arm above my head and I’d burn the flesh off my hands.

Feyre, please!” Lucien moaned.

I shook so badly I could scarcely stand. The heat of the spikes bore down on me. The stone lever was cool in my hand.

I shut my eyes, unable to look at Tamlin, bracing myself for the impact and the agony, and pulled the third lever.


The pulsing heat didn’t grow closer. Then—a sigh. Lucien.

I opened my eyes to find my tattooed fingers white-knuckled beneath the ink as they gripped the lever. The spikes hovered not inches from my head.

Unmoving—stopped. I had won—I had …

The grate groaned as it lifted toward the ceiling, cool air flooding the chamber. I gulped it down in uneven breaths.

Lucien was offering up some kind of prayer, kissing the ground again and again. The floor beneath me rose, and I was forced to release the lever that had saved me as I was brought to the surface again. My knees wobbled.

I couldn’t read, and it had almost killed me. I hadn’t even won properly. I sank to my knees, letting the platform carry me, and covered my face in my shaking hands.

Tears burned just before pain seared through my left arm. I would never beat the third task. I would never free Tamlin, or his people. The pain shot through my bones again, and through my increasing hysteria, I heard words inside my head that stopped me short.

Don’t let her see you cry.

Put your hands at your sides and stand up. I couldn’t. I couldn’t move.

Stand. Don’t give her the satisfaction of seeing you break.

My knees and spine, not entirely of my own will, forced me upright, and when the ground at last stopped moving, I looked at Amarantha with tearless eyes.

Good, Rhysand told me. Stare her down. No tears—wait until you’re back in your cell. Amarantha’s face was drawn and white, her black eyes like onyx as she beheld me. I had won, but I should be dead. I should be squashed, my blood oozing everywhere.

Count to ten. Don’t look at Tamlin. Just stare at her.

I obeyed. It was the only thing that kept me from giving in to the sobs trapped within my chest, thundering to get out.

I willed myself to meet Amarantha’s gaze. It was cold and vast and full of ancient malice, but I held it. I counted to ten.

Good girl. Now walk away. Turn on your heel—good. Walk toward the door. Keep your chin high. Let the crowd part. One step after another.

I listened to him, let him keep me tethered to sanity as I was escorted back to my cell by the guards—who still kept their distance. Rhysand’s words echoed through my mind, holding me together.

But when my cell door closed, he went silent, and I dropped to the floor and wept.

I wept for hours. For myself, for Tamlin, for the fact that I should be dead and had somehow survived. I cried for everything I’d lost, every injury I’d ever received, every wound—physical or otherwise. I cried for that trivial part of me, once so full of color and light—now hollow and dark and empty.

I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t beat her. She won today, and she hadn’t known it.

She’d won; it was only by cheating that I’d survived. Tamlin would never be free, and I would perish in the most awful of ways. I couldn’t read—I was an ignorant, human fool. My shortcomings had caught up with me, and this place would become my tomb. I would never paint again; never see the sun again.

The walls closed in—the ceiling dropped. I wanted to be crushed; I wanted to be snuffed out. Everything converged, squeezing inward, sucking out air. I couldn’t keep myself in my body—the walls were forcing me out of it. I was grasping for my body, but it hurt too much each time I tried to maintain the connection. All I had wanted—all I had dared want, was a life that was quiet, easy. Nothing more than that. Nothing extraordinary.

But now … now …

I felt the ripple in the darkness without having to look up, and didn’t flinch at the soft footsteps that approached me. I didn’t bother hoping that it would be Tamlin. “Still weeping?”


I didn’t lower my hands from my face. The floor rose toward the lowering ceiling—I would soon be flattened. There was no color, no light here.

“You’ve just beaten her second task. Tears are unnecessary.”

I wept harder, and he laughed. The stones reverberated as he knelt before me, and though I tried to fight him, his grip was firm as he grasped my wrists and pried my hands from my face.

The walls weren’t moving, and the room was open—gaping. No colors, but shades of darkness, of night. Only those star-flecked violet eyes were bright, full of color and light. He gave me a lazy smile before he leaned forward.

I pulled away, but his hands were like shackles. I could do nothing as his mouth met with my cheek, and he licked away a tear. His tongue was hot against my skin, so startling that I couldn’t move as he licked away another path of salt water, and then another. My body went taut and loose all at once and I burned, even as chills shuddered along my limbs. It was only when his tongue danced along the damp edges of my lashes that I jerked back.

He chuckled as I scrambled for the corner of the cell. I wiped my face as I glared at him.

He smirked, sitting down against a wall. “I figured that would get you to stop crying.” “It was disgusting.” I wiped my face again.

“Was it?” He quirked an eyebrow and pointed to his palm—to the place where my tattoo would be. “Beneath all your pride and stubbornness, I could have sworn I detected something that felt differently. Interesting.”

“Get out.”

“As usual, your gratitude is overwhelming.”

“Do you want me to kiss your feet for what you did at the trial? Do you want me to offer another week of my life?”

“Not unless you feel compelled to do so,” he said, his eyes like stars.

It was bad enough that my life was forfeited to this Fae lord—but to have a bond where he could now freely read my thoughts and feelings and communicate …

“Who would have thought that the self-righteous human girl couldn’t read?” “Keep your damned mouth shut about it.”

“Me? I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone. Why waste that kind of knowledge on petty gossip?”

If I’d had the strength, I would have leaped on him and ripped him apart. “You’re a disgusting bastard.”

“I’ll have to ask Tamlin if this kind of flattery won his heart.” He groaned as he stood, a soft, deep-throated noise that traveled along my bones. His eyes met with mine, and he smiled slowly. I exposed my teeth, almost hissing.

“I’ll spare you the escort duties tomorrow,” he said, shrugging as he walked to the cell door. “But the night after, I expect you to be looking your finest.” He gave me a grin that suggested my finest wasn’t very much at all. He paused by the door, but didn’t dissolve into darkness. “I’ve been thinking of ways to torment you when you come to my court. I’m wondering: Will assigning you to learn to read be as painful as it looked today?”

He vanished into shadow before I could launch myself at him.

I paced through my cell, scowling at the eye in my hand. I spat every curse I could at it, but there was no response.

It took me a long while to realize that Rhysand, whether he knew it or not, had effectively kept me from shattering completely.

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