A Court of Mist and Fury Page 7

He waited, and I wanted to spit at him, because he knew—he knew that I didn’t know what it was, and wanted me to admit to it. “Tell me,” I said flatly.

“Twice a year, usually around the Summer and Winter Solstices, each member of the Spring Court, whether they’re High Fae or lesser faerie, must pay a Tithe, dependent on their income and status. It’s how we keep the estate running, how we pay for things like sentries and food and servants. In exchange, Tamlin protects them, rules them, helps them when he can. It’s a give or take. This year, he pushed the Tithe back by a month—just to grant them that extra time to gather funds, to celebrate. But soon, emissaries from every group, village, or clan will be arriving to pay their Tithes. As Tamlin’s wife, you will be expected to sit with him. And if they can’t pay … You will be expected to sit there while he metes out judgment. It can get ugly. I’ll be keeping track of who does and doesn’t show up, who doesn’t pay. And afterward, if they fail to pay their Tithe within the three days’ grace he will officially offer them, he’ll be expected to hunt them down. The High Priestesses themselves—Ianthe—grant him sacred hunting rights for this.”

Horrible—brutal. I wanted to say it, but the look Lucien was giving me … I’d had enough of people judging me.

“So give him time, Feyre,” Lucien said. “Let’s get through the wedding, then the Tithe next month, and then … then we can see about the rest.”

“I’ve given him time,” I said. “I can’t stay cooped up in the house forever.”

“He knows that—he doesn’t say it, but he knows it. Trust me. You will forgive him if his family’s own slaughter keeps him from being so … liberal with your safety. He’s lost those he cares for too many times. We all have.”

Every word was like fuel added to the simmering pit in my gut. “I don’t want to marry a High Lord. I just want to marry him.”

“One doesn’t exist without the other. He is what he is. He will always, always seek to protect you, whether you like it or not. Talk to him about it—really talk to him, Feyre. You’ll figure it out.” Our gazes met. A muscle feathered in Lucien’s jaw. “Don’t ask me to pick.”

“But you’re deliberately not telling me things.”

“He is my High Lord. His word is law. We have this one chance, Feyre, to rebuild and make the world as it should be. I will not begin that new world by breaking his trust. Even if you …”

“Even if I what?”

His face paled, and he stroked a hand down the mare’s cobweb-colored mane. “I was forced to watch as my father butchered the female I loved. My brothers forced me to watch.”

My heart tightened for him—for the pain that haunted him.

“There was no magic spell, no miracle to bring her back. There were no gathered High Lords to resurrect her. I watched, and she died, and I will never forget that moment when I heard her heart stop beating.”

My eyes burned.

“Tamlin got what I didn’t,” Lucien said softly, his breathing ragged. “We all heard your neck break. But you got to come back. And I doubt that he will ever forget that sound, either. And he will do everything in his power to protect you from that danger again, even if it means keeping secrets, even if it means sticking to rules you don’t like. In this, he will not bend. So don’t ask him to—not yet.”

I had no words in my head, my heart. Giving Tamlin time, letting him adjust … It was the least I could do.

The clamor of construction overtook the chittering of forest birds long before we set foot in the village: hammers on nails, people barking orders, livestock braying.

We cleared the woods to find a village halfway toward being built: pretty little buildings of stone and wood, makeshift structures over the supplies and livestock … The only things that seemed absolutely finished were the large well in the center of the town and what looked to be a tavern.

Sometimes, the normalcy of Prythian, the utter similarities between it and the mortal lands, still surprised me. I might as well have been in my own village back home. A much nicer, newer village, but the layout, the focal points … All the same.

And I felt like just as much an outsider when Lucien and I rode into the heart of the chaos and everyone paused their laboring or selling or milling about to look at us.

At me.

Like a ripple of silence, the sounds of activity died in even the farthest reaches of the village.

“Feyre Cursebreaker,” someone whispered.

Well, that was a new name.

I was grateful for the long sleeves of my riding habit, and the matching gloves I’d tugged on before we’d entered the village border.

Lucien pulled up his mare to a High Fae male who looked like he was in charge of building a house bordering the well fountain. “We came to see if any help was needed,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Our services are yours for the day.”

The male blanched. “Gratitude, my lord, but none is needed.” His eyes gobbled me up, widening. “The debt is paid.”

The sweat on my palms felt thicker, warmer. My mare stomped a hoof on the ruddy dirt street.

“Please,” Lucien said, bowing his head gracefully. “The effort to rebuild is our burden to share. It would be our honor.”

The male shook his head. “The debt is paid.”

And so it went at every place we stopped in the village: Lucien dismounting, asking to help, and polite, reverent rejections.

Within twenty minutes, we were already riding back into the shadows and rustle of the woods.

“Did he let you take me today,” I said hoarsely, “so that I’d stop asking to help rebuild?”

“No. I decided to take you myself. For that exact reason. They don’t want or need your help. Your presence is a distraction and a reminder of what they went through.”

I flinched. “They weren’t Under the Mountain, though. I recognized none of them.”

Lucien shuddered. “No. Amarantha had … camps for them. The nobles and favored faeries were allowed to dwell Under the Mountain. But if the people of a court weren’t working to bring in goods and food, they were locked in camps in a network of tunnels beneath the Mountain. Thousands of them, crammed into chambers and tunnels with no light, no air. For fifty years.”

“No one ever said—”

“It was forbidden to speak of it. Some of them went mad, started preying on the others when Amarantha forgot to order her guards to feed them. Some formed bands that prowled the camps and did—” He rubbed his brows with a thumb and forefinger. “They did horrible things. Right now, they’re trying to remember what it is to be normal—how to live.”

Bile burned my throat. But this wedding … yes, perhaps it would be the start of that healing.

Still, a blanket seemed to smother my senses, drowning out sound, taste, feeling.

“I know you wanted to help,” Lucien offered. “I’m sorry.”

So was I.

The vastness of my now-unending existence yawned open before me.

I let it swallow me whole.

CHAPTER

4

A few days before the wedding ceremony, guests began arriving, and I was grateful that I’d never be High Lady, never be Tamlin’s equal in responsibility and power.

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