A Court of Mist and Fury Page 23

Lucien cleared his throat. “She meant no harm, Tam.”

“I know she meant no harm,” he snapped.

Lucien held his gaze. “Worse things have happened, worse things can happen. Just relax.”

Tamlin’s emerald eyes were feral as he snarled at Lucien, “Did I ask for your opinion?”

Those words, the look he gave Lucien and the way Lucien lowered his head—my temper was a burning river in my veins. Look up, I silently beseeched him. Push back. He’s wrong, and we’re right. Lucien’s jaw tightened. That force thrummed in me again, seeping out, spearing for Lucien. Do not back down—

Then I was gone.

Still there, still seeing through my eyes, but also half looking through another angle in the room, another person’s vantage point—

Thoughts slammed into me, images and memories, a pattern of thinking and feeling that was old, and clever, and sad, so endlessly sad and guilt-ridden, hopeless—

Then I was back, blinking, no more than a heartbeat passing as I gaped at Lucien.

His head. I had been inside his head, had slid through his mental walls—

I stood, chucking my napkin on the table with hands that were unnervingly steady.

I knew who that gift had come from. My dinner rose in my throat, but I willed it down.

“We’re not finished with this meal,” Tamlin growled.

“Oh, get over yourself,” I barked, and left.

I could have sworn I beheld two burned handprints on the wood, peeking out from beneath my napkin. I prayed neither of them noticed.

And that Lucien remained ignorant to the violation I’d just committed.

CHAPTER

9

I paced my room for a good while. Maybe I’d been mistaken when I’d spotted those burns—maybe they’d been there before. Maybe I hadn’t somehow summoned heat and branded the wood. Maybe I hadn’t slid into Lucien’s mind as if I were moving from one room to another.

Just as she always did, Alis appeared to help me change for bed. As I sat before the vanity, letting her comb my hair, I cringed at my reflection. The purple beneath my eyes seemed permanent now—my face wan. Even my lips were a bit pale, and I sighed as I closed my eyes.

“You gave your jewels to a water-wraith,” Alis mused, and I found her reflection in the mirror. Her brown skin looked like crushed leather, and her dark eyes gleamed for a moment before she focused on my hair. “They’re a slippery sort.”

“She said they were starving—that they had no food,” I murmured.

Alis gently coaxed out a tangle. “Not one faerie in that line today would have given her the money. Not one would have dared. Too many have gone to a watery grave because of their hunger. Insatiable appetite—it is their curse. Your jewels won’t last her a week.”

I tapped a foot on the floor.

“But,” Alis went on, setting down the brush to braid my hair into a single plait. Her long, spindly fingers scratched against my scalp. “She will never forget it. So long as she lives, no matter what you said, she is in your debt.” Alis finished the braid and patted my shoulder. “Too many faeries have tasted hunger these past fifty years. Don’t think word of this won’t spread.”

I was afraid of that perhaps more than anything.

It was after midnight when I gave up waiting, walked down the dark, silent corridors, and found him in his study, alone for once.

A wooden box wrapped with a fat pink bow sat on the small table between the twin armchairs. “I was just about to come up,” he said, lifting his head to do a quick scan over my body to make sure all was right, all was fine. “You should be asleep.”

I shut the door behind me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep—not with the words we’d shouted ringing in my ears. “So should you,” I said, my voice as tenuous as the peace between us. “You work too hard.” I crossed the room to lean against the armchair, eyeing the present as Tamlin had eyed me.

“Why do you think I had such little interest in being High Lord?” he said, rising from his seat to round the desk. He kissed my brow, the tip of my nose, my mouth. “So much paperwork,” he grumbled onto my lips. I chuckled, but he pressed his mouth to the bare spot between my neck and shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, and my spine tingled. He kissed my neck again. “I’m sorry.”

I ran a hand down his arm. “Tamlin,” I started.

“I shouldn’t have said those things,” he breathed onto my skin. “To you or Lucien. I didn’t mean any of them.”

“I know,” I said, and his body relaxed against mine. “I’m sorry I snapped at you.”

“You had every right,” he said, though I technically didn’t. “I was wrong.”

What he said had been true—if he made exceptions, then other faeries would demand the same treatment. And what I had done could be construed as undermining. “Maybe I was—”

“No. You were right. I don’t understand what it’s like to be starving—or any of it.”

I pulled back a bit to incline my head toward the present waiting there, more than willing to let this be the last of it. I gave a small, wry smile. “For you?”

He nipped at my ear in answer. “For you. From me.” An apology.

Feeling lighter than I had in days, I tugged the ribbon loose, and examined the pale wood box beneath. It was perhaps two feet high and three feet wide, a solid iron handle anchored in the top—no crest or lettering to indicate what might be within. Certainly not a dress, but …

Please not a crown.

Though surely, a crown or diadem would be in something less … rudimentary.

I unlatched the small brass lock and flipped open the broad lid.

It was worse than a crown, actually.

Built into the box were compartments and sleeves and holders, all full of brushes and paints and charcoal and sheets of paper. A traveling painting kit.

Red—the red paint inside the glass vial was so bright, the blue as stunning as the eyes of that faerie woman I’d slaughtered—

“I thought you might want it to take around the grounds with you. Rather than lug all those bags like you always do.”

The brushes were fresh, gleaming—the bristles soft and clean.

Looking at that box, at what was inside, felt like examining a crow-picked corpse.

I tried to smile. Tried to will some brightness to my eyes.

He said, “You don’t like it.”

“No,” I managed to say. “No—it’s wonderful.” And it was. It really was.

“I thought if you started painting again … ” I waited for him to finish.

He didn’t.

My face heated.

“And what about you?” I asked quietly. “Will the paperwork help with anything at all?”

I dared meet his eyes. Temper flared in them. But he said, “We’re not talking about me. We’re talking—about you.”

I studied the box and its contents again. “Will I even be allowed to roam where I wish to paint? Or will there be an escort, too?”

Silence.

A no—and a yes, then.

I began shaking, but for me, for us, I made myself say, “Tamlin—Tamlin, I can’t … I can’t live my life with guards around me day and night. I can’t live with that … suffocation. Just let me help you—let me work with you.”

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