Because humans were defenseless as babes compared to natural-born predators like Lucien—and Tamlin, who didn’t need weapons to hunt. I glanced at his hands but found no trace of the claws. Only tanned, callused skin.
“What else is different now?” I asked, trailing him up the marble front steps.
He didn’t stop this time, didn’t even look over his shoulder to see me as he said, “Everything.”
So I truly was to live there forever. As much as I longed to ensure that Tamlin’s word about caring for my family was true, as much as his claim that I was taking better care of my family by staying away—even if I was truly fulfilling that vow to my mother by staying in Prythian … Without the weight of that promise, I was left hollow and empty.
Over the next three days, I found myself joining Lucien on Andras’s old patrol while Tamlin hunted the grounds for the Bogge, unseen by us. Despite being an occasional bastard, Lucien didn’t seem to mind my company, and he did most of the talking, which was fine; it left me to brood over the consequences of firing a single arrow.
An arrow. I never fired a single one during those three days we rode along the border. That very morning I’d spied a red doe in a glen and aimed out of instinct, my arrow poised to fly right into her eye as Lucien sneered that she was not a faerie, at least. But I’d stared at her—fat and healthy and content—and then slackened the bow, replaced the arrow in my quiver, and let the doe wander on.
I never saw Tamlin around the manor—off hunting the Bogge day and night, Lucien informed me. Even at dinner, he spoke little before leaving early—off to continue his hunt, night after night. I didn’t mind his absence. It was a relief, if anything.
On the third night after my encounter with the puca, I’d scarcely sat down before Tamlin got up, giving an excuse about not wanting to waste hunting time.
Lucien and I stared after him for a moment.
What I could see of Lucien’s face was pale and tight. “You worry about him,” I said.
Lucien slumped in his seat, wholly undignified for a Fae lord. “Tamlin gets into … moods.”
“He doesn’t want your help hunting the Bogge?”
“He prefers being alone. And having the Bogge on our lands … I don’t suppose you’d understand. The puca are minor enough not to bother him, but even after he’s shredded the Bogge, he’ll brood over it.”
“And there’s no one who can help him at all?”
“He would probably shred them for disobeying his order to stay away.”
A brush of ice slithered across my nape. “He would be that brutal?”
Lucien studied the wine in his goblet. “You don’t hold on to power by being everyone’s friend. And among the faeries, lesser and High Fae alike, a firm hand is needed. We’re too powerful, and too bored with immortality, to be checked by anything else.”
It seemed like a cold, lonely position to have, especially when you didn’t particularly want it. I wasn’t sure why it bothered me so much.
The snow was falling, thick and merciless, already up to my knees as I pulled the bowstring back—farther and farther, until my arm trembled. Behind me, a shadow lurked—no, watched. I didn’t dare turn to look at it, to see who might be within that shadow, observing, not as the wolf stared at me across the clearing.
Just staring. As if waiting, as if daring me to fire the ash arrow.
No—no, I didn’t want to do it, not this time, not again, not—
But I had no control over my fingers, absolutely none, and he was still staring as I fired.
One shot—one shot straight through that golden eye.
A plume of blood splattering the snow, a thud of a heavy body, a sigh of wind. No.
It wasn’t a wolf that hit the snow—no, it was a man, tall and well formed.
No—not a man. A High Fae, with those pointed ears.
I blinked, and then—then my hands were warm and sticky with blood, then his body was red and skinless, steaming in the cold, and it was his skin—his skin—that I held in my hands, and—
I threw myself awake, sweat slipping down my back, and forced myself to breathe, to open my eyes and note each detail of the night-dark bedroom. Real—this was real.
But I could still see that High Fae male facedown in the snow, my arrow through his eye, red and bloody all over from where I’d cut and peeled off his skin.
Bile stung my throat.
Not real. Just a dream. Even if what I’d done to Andras, even as a wolf, was … was …
I scrubbed at my face. Perhaps it was the quiet, the hollowness, of the past few days—perhaps it was only that I no longer had to think hour to hour about how to keep my family alive, but … It was regret, and maybe shame, that coated my tongue, my bones.
I shuddered as if I could fling it off, and kicked back the sheets to rise from the bed.
I couldn’t entirely shake the horror, the gore of my dream as I walked down the dark halls of the manor, the servants and Lucien long since asleep. But I had to do something—anything—after that nightmare. If only to avoid sleeping. A bit of paper in one hand and a pen gripped in the other, I carefully traced my steps, noting the windows and doors and exits, occasionally jotting down vague sketches and Xs on the parchment.
It was the best I could do, and to any literate human, my markings would have made no sense. But I couldn’t write or read more than my basic letters, and my makeshift map was better than nothing. If I were to remain here, it was essential to know the best hiding places, the easiest way out, should things ever go badly for me. I couldn’t entirely let go of the instinct.
It was too dim to admire any of the paintings lining the walls, and I didn’t dare risk a candle. These past three days, there had been servants in the halls when I’d worked up the nerve to look at the art—and the part of me that spoke with Nesta’s voice had laughed at the idea of an ignorant human trying to admire faerie art. Some other time, then, I’d told myself. I would find another day¸ a quiet hour when no one was around, to look at them. I had plenty of hours now—a whole lifetime in front of me. Perhaps … perhaps I’d figure out what I wished to do with it.
I crept down the main staircase, moonlight flooding the black-and-white tiles of the entrance hall. I reached the bottom, my bare feet silent on the cold tiles, and listened. Nothing—no one.
I set my little map on the foyer table and drew a few Xs and circles to signify the doors, the windows, the marble stairs of the front hall. I would become so familiar with the house that I could navigate it even if someone blinded me.