“When she first cursed him, Tamlin sent one of his men across the wall every day. To the woods, to farms, all disguised as wolves to make it more likely for one of your kind to want to kill them. If they came back, it was with stories of human girls who ran and screamed and begged, who didn’t even lift a hand. When they didn’t come back—Tamlin’s bond with them as their Lord and master told him they’d been killed by others. Human hunters, older women, perhaps. For two years he sent them out, day after day, having to pick who crossed the wall. When all but a dozen of them were left, it broke him so badly he stopped. Called it all off. And since then, Tamlin has been here, defending his borders as chaos and disorder ruled in the other courts under Amarantha’s thumb. The other High Lords fought back, too. Forty years ago, she executed three of them and most of their families for banding together against her.”
“Open rebellion? What courts?” I straightened, taking a step away from the wall. Perhaps I might find allies among them to help me save Tamlin.
“The Day Court, Summer Court, and Winter Court. And no—it didn’t even get far enough to be considered an open rebellion. She used the High Lords’ powers to bind us to the land. So the rebel lords tried calling for aid from the other Fae territories using as messengers whatever humans were foolish enough to enter our lands—most of them young women who worshipped us like gods.” The Children of the Blessed. They had indeed made it over the wall—but not to be brides. I was too battered by what I’d heard to grieve for them, rage for them.
“But Amarantha caught them all before they left these shores, and … you can imagine how it ended for those girls. Afterward, once Amarantha also butchered the rebellious High Lords, their successors were too terrified to tempt her wrath again.”
“And where are they now? Are they allowed to live on their lands, like Tamlin was?”
“No. She keeps them and their entire courts Under the Mountain, where she can torment them as she pleases. Others—others, if they swear allegiance, if they grovel and serve her, she allows them a bit more freedom to come and go Under the Mountain as they will. Our court was only allowed to remain here until Tamlin’s curse ran out, but …” Alis shivered.
“That’s why you keep your nephews in hiding—to keep them away from this,” I said, glancing at the full satchel at her feet.
Alis nodded, and as she went to right the overturned worktable, I moved to help her, both of us grunting at the weight. “My sister and I served in the Summer Court—and she and her mate were among those put down for spite when Amarantha first invaded. I took the boys and ran before Amarantha had everyone dragged Under the Mountain. I came here because it was the only place to go, and asked Tamlin to hide my boys. He did—and when I begged him to let me help, in whatever small way, he gave me a position here, days before the masque that put this wretched thing on my face. So I’ve been here for nearly fifty years, watching as Amarantha’s noose grew tighter around his neck.”
We set the table upright again, and both of us panted a bit as we slumped against it.
“He tried,” Alis said. “Even with her spies, he tried finding ways to break the curse, to do anything against it, against having to send his men out again to be slaughtered by humans. He thought that if the human girl loved true, then bringing her here to free him was another form of slavery. And he thought that if he did indeed fall in love with her, Amarantha would do everything she could to destroy her, as her sister had been destroyed. So he spent decades refusing to do it, to even risk it. But this winter, with months to go, he just … snapped. He sent the last of his men out, one by one. And they were willing—they had begged him to go, all these years. Tamlin was desperate to save his people, desperate enough to risk the lives of his men, risk that human girl’s life to save us. Three days in, Andras finally ran into a human girl in a clearing—and you killed him with hate in your heart.”
But I had failed them. And in so doing, I’d damned them all.
I had damned each and every person on this estate, damned Prythian itself.
I was glad I was leaning against the table’s edge—or else I might have slid to the floor.
“You could have broken it,” Alis snarled, those sharp teeth mere inches from my face. “All you had to do was say that you loved him—say that you loved him and mean it with your whole useless human heart, and his power would have been freed. You stupid, stupid girl.”
No wonder Lucien had resented me and yet still tolerated my presence—no wonder he’d been so bitterly disappointed when I left, had argued with Tamlin to let me stay longer. “I’m sorry,” I said, my eyes burning.
Alis snorted. “Tell that to Tamlin. He had only three days after you left before the forty-nine years were over. Three days, and he let you go. She came here with her cronies at the exact moment the seven times seven years were over and seized him, along with most of the court, and brought them Under the Mountain to be her subjects. Creatures like me are too lowly for her—though she’s not above murdering us for sport.”
I tried not to visualize it. “But what of the King of Hybern—if she’s conquered Prythian for herself and stolen his spells, then does he see her as insubordinate or as an ally?”
“If they are on bad terms, he has made no move to punish her. For forty-nine years now, she’s held these lands in her grip. Worse, after the High Lords fell, all the wicked ones in our lands—the ones too awful even for the Night Court—flocked to her. They still do. She’s offered them sanctuary. But we know—we know she’s building her army, biding her time before launching an attack on your world, armed with the most lethal and vicious faeries in Prythian and Hybern.”
“Like the Attor,” I said, horror and dread twisting in my gut, and Alis nodded. “In the human territory,” I said, “rumor claims more and more faeries have been sneaking over the wall to attack humans. And if no faeries can cross the wall without her permission, then that has to mean she’s been sanctioning those attacks.”
And if I was right about what had happened to Clare Beddor and her family, then Amarantha had given the order for that, too.
Alis swiped some dirt I couldn’t see from the table we leaned against. “I would not be surprised if she has sent her minions into the human realm to investigate your strengths and weaknesses in anticipation of the destruction she one day hopes to cause.”