Tamlin tipped his head to the sky and roared with laughter. Despite myself, I let out a soft laugh.
“I might die of surprise,” Lucien said behind me. “You made a joke, Feyre.”
I turned to look at him with a cool smile. “You don’t want to know what the Suriel said about you.” I flicked my brows up, and Lucien lifted his hands in defeat.
“I’d pay good money to hear what the Suriel thinks of Lucien,” Tamlin said.
A cork popped, followed by the sounds of Lucien chugging the bottle’s contents and chuckling with a muttered “Brushed.”
Tamlin’s eyes were still bright with laughter as he put a hand at my elbow, pulling me to my feet. “Come on,” he said, jerking his head down the hill to the little stream that ran along its base. “I want to show you something.”
I got to my feet, but Lucien remained sitting on the blanket and lifted the bottle of wine in salute. He took a slug from it as he sprawled on his back and gazed at the green canopy.
Each of Tamlin’s movements was precise and efficient, his powerfully muscled legs eating up the earth as we wove between the towering trees, hopped over tiny brooks, and clambered up steep knolls. We stopped atop a mound, and my hands slackened at my sides. There, in a clearing surrounded by towering trees, lay a sparkling silver pool. Even from a distance, I could tell that it wasn’t water, but something more rare and infinitely more precious.
Tamlin grasped my wrist and tugged me down the hill, his callused fingers gently scraping against my skin. He let go of me to leap over the root of the tree in a single maneuver and prowled to the water’s edge. I could only grind my teeth as I stumbled after him, heaving myself over the root.
He crouched by the pool and cupped his hand to fill it. He tilted his hand, letting the water fall. “Have a look.”
The silvery sparkling water that dribbled from his hand set ripples dancing across the pool, each glimmering with various colors, and—“That looks like starlight,” I breathed.
He huffed a laugh, filling and emptying his hand again. I gaped at the glittering water. “It is starlight.”
“That’s impossible,” I said, fighting the urge to take a step toward the water.
“This is Prythian. According to your legends, nothing is impossible.”
“How?” I asked, unable to take my eyes from the pool—the silver, but also the blue and red and pink and yellow glinting beneath, the lightness of it …
“I don’t know—I never asked, and no one ever explained.”
When I continued gaping at the pool, he laughed, drawing away my attention—only for me to find him unbuttoning his tunic. “Jump in,” he said, the invitation dancing in his eyes.
A swim—unclothed, alone. With a High Lord. I shook my head, falling back a step. His fingers paused at the second button from his collar.
“Don’t you want to know what it’s like?”
I didn’t know what he meant: swimming in starlight, or swimming with him. “I—no.”
“All right.” He left his tunic unbuttoned. There was only bare, muscled, golden skin beneath.
“Why this place?” I asked, tearing my eyes away from his chest.
“This was my favorite haunt as a boy.”
“Which was when?” I couldn’t stop the question from coming out.
He cut a glance in my direction. “A very long time ago.” He said it so quietly that it made me shift on my feet. A very long time ago indeed, if he’d been a boy during the War.
Well, I’d started down that road, so I ventured to ask, “Is Lucien all right? After last night, I mean.” He seemed back to his usual snide, irreverent self, but he’d vomited at the sight of that dying faerie. “He … didn’t react well.”
Tamlin shrugged, but his words were soft as he said, “Lucien … Lucien has endured things that make times like last night … difficult. Not just the scar and the eye—though I bet last night brought back memories of that, too.”
Tamlin rubbed at his neck, then met my stare. Such an ancient heaviness in his eyes, in the set of his jaw. “Lucien is the youngest son of the High Lord of the Autumn Court.” I straightened. “The youngest of seven brothers. The Autumn Court is … cutthroat. Beautiful, but his brothers see each other only as competition, since the strongest of them will inherit the title, not the eldest. It is the same throughout Prythian, at every court. Lucien never cared about it, never expected to be crowned High Lord, so he spent his youth doing everything a High Lord’s son probably shouldn’t: wandering the courts, making friends with the sons of other High Lords”—a faint gleam in Tamlin’s eyes at that—“and being with females who were a far cry from the nobility of the Autumn Court.” Tamlin paused for a moment, and I could almost feel the sorrow before he said, “Lucien fell in love with a faerie whom his father considered to be grossly inappropriate for someone of his bloodline. Lucien said he didn’t care that she wasn’t one of the High Fae, that he was certain the mating bond would snap into place soon and that he was going to marry her and leave his father’s court to his scheming brothers.” A tight sigh. “His father had her put down. Executed, in front of Lucien, as his two eldest brothers held him and made him watch.”
My stomach turned, and I pushed a hand against my chest. I couldn’t imagine, couldn’t comprehend that sort of loss.
“Lucien left. He cursed his father, abandoned his title and the Autumn Court, and walked out. And without his title protecting him, his brothers thought to eliminate one more contender to the High Lord’s crown. Three of them went out to kill him; one came back.”
“Lucien … killed them?”
“He killed one,” Tamlin said. “I killed the other, as they had crossed into my territory, and I was now High Lord and could do what I wanted with trespassers threatening the peace of my lands.” A cold, brutal statement. “I claimed Lucien as my own—named him emissary, since he’d already made many friends across the courts and had always been good at talking to people, while I … can find it difficult. He’s been here ever since.”
“As emissary,” I began, “has he ever had dealings with his father? Or his brothers?”
“Yes. His father has never apologized, and his brothers are too frightened of me to risk harming him.” No arrogance in those words, just icy truth. “But he has never forgotten what they did to her, or what his brothers tried to do to him. Even if he pretends that he has.”