“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.”
“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.
What followed the second trial was a series of days that I don’t care to recall. A permanent darkness settled over me, and I began to look forward to the moment when Rhysand gave me that goblet of faerie wine and I could lose myself for a few hours. I stopped contemplating Amarantha’s riddle—it was impossible. Especially for an illiterate, ignorant human.
Thinking of Tamlin made everything worse. I’d beaten two of Amarantha’s tasks, but I knew—knew it deep in my bones—that the third would be the one to kill me. After what had happened to her sister, what Jurian had done, she would never let me leave here alive. I couldn’t entirely blame her; I doubted I would ever forget or forgive something like that being done to Nesta or Elain, no matter how many centuries had passed. But I still wasn’t going to leave here alive.
The future I’d dreamed of was just that: a dream. I’d grow old and withered, while he would remain young for centuries, perhaps millennia. At best, I’d have decades with him before I died.
Decades. That was what I was fighting for. A flash in time for them—a drop in the pool of their eons.
So I greedily drank the wine, and I stopped caring about who I was and what had once mattered to me. I stopped thinking about color, about light, about the green of Tamlin’s eyes—about all those things I had still wanted to paint and now would never get to.
I wasn’t going to leave this mountain alive.
I was walking to the dressing chamber with Rhysand’s two shadow-servants, staring at nothing and thinking of even less, when a hissing noise and the flap of wings sounded from around an upcoming corner. The Attor. The faeries beside me tensed, but their chins rose slightly.
I’d never become accustomed to the Attor, but I had come to accept its malignant presence. Seeing my escorts stiffen awakened a dormant dread, and my mouth turned dry as we neared the bend. Even though we were veiled and hidden by shadow, each step brought me closer to that winged demon. My feet turned leaden.
Then a lower, guttural voice grunted in response to the hissing of the Attor. Nails clicked on stone, and my escorts swapped glances before they swung me into an alcove, a tapestry that hadn’t been there a moment before falling over us, the shadows deepening, solidifying. I had a feeling that if someone pulled back that tapestry, they would see only darkness and stone.
One of them covered my mouth with a hand, holding me tightly to her, shadows slithering down her arm and onto mine. She smelled of jasmine—I’d never noticed that before. After all these nights, I didn’t even know their names.
The Attor and its companion rounded the bend, still talking—their voices low. It was only when I could understand their words that I realized we weren’t merely hiding.
“Yes,” the Attor was saying, “good. She’ll be most pleased to hear that they’re ready at last.”
“But will the High Lords contribute their forces?” the guttural voice replied. I could have sworn it snorted like a pig.
They came closer and closer, unaware of us. My escorts pressed in tighter to me, so tense that I realized they were holding their breath. Handmaidens—and spies.
“The High Lords will do as she tells them,” the Attor gloated, and its tail slithered and slashed across the floor.
“I heard talk from soldiers in Hybern that the High King is not pleased regarding this situation with the girl. Amarantha made a fool’s bargain. She cost him the War the last time because of her madness with Jurian; if she turns her back on him again, he will not be so willing to forgive her. Stealing his spells and taking a territory for her own is one thing. Failure to aid in his cause a second time is another.”
There was a loud hiss, and I trembled as the Attor snapped its jaws at its companion. “Milady makes no bargains that are not advantageous to her. She lets them claw at hope—but once it is shattered, they are her beautifully broken minions.”
They had to be passing right before the tapestry.
“You had better hope so,” the guttural voice replied. What manner of creature was this thing to be so unmoved by the Attor? My escort’s shadowy hand clamped tighter around my mouth, and the Attor passed on.
Don’t trust your senses, Alis’s voice echoed through my mind. The Attor had caught me once before when I thought I was safe …
“And you had better hold your tongue,” the Attor warned. “Or Milady will do so for you—and her pincers are not kind.”