A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses 1) - Page 31

Then another map, of a much-reduced faerie realm. Northern territories had been cut up and divided to make room for the High Fae, who had lost their lands to the south of the wall. Everything north of the wall went to them; everything south was left as a blur of nothing. A decimated, forgotten world—as if the painter couldn’t be bothered to render it.

I scanned the various lands and territories now given to the High Fae. Still so much territory—such monstrous power spread across the entire northern part of our world. I knew they were ruled by kings or queens or councils or empresses, but I’d never seen a representation of it, of how much they’d been forced to concede to the South, and how crammed their lands now were in comparison.

Our massive island had fared well for Prythian by comparison, with only the bottom tip given over to us miserable humans. The bulk of the sacrifice was borne by the southernmost of the seven territories: a territory painted with crocuses and lambs and roses. Spring lands.

I took a step closer, until I could see the dark, ugly smear that acted as the wall—another spiteful touch by the painter. No markers in the human realm, nothing to indicate any of the larger towns or centers, but … I found the rough area where our village was, and the woods that separated it from the wall. Those two days’ journey seemed so small—too small—compared to the power lurking above us. I traced a line, my finger hovering over the paint, up over the wall, into these lands—the lands of the Spring Court. Again, no markers, but it was filled with touches of spring: trees in bloom, fickle storms, young animals … At least I was to live out my days in one of the more moderate courts, weather-wise. A small consolation.

I looked northward and stepped back again. The six other courts of Prythian occupied a patchwork of territories. Autumn, Summer, and Winter were easy enough to pick out. Then above them, two glowing courts: the southernmost one a softer, redder palate, the Dawn Court; above, in bright gold and yellow and blue, the Day Court. And above that, perched in a frozen mountainous spread of darkness and stars, the sprawling, massive territory of the Night Court.

There were things in the shadows between those mountains—little eyes, gleaming teeth. A land of lethal beauty. The hair on my arms rose.

I might have examined the other kingdoms across the seas that flanked our land, like the isolated faerie kingdom to the west that seemed to have gotten away with no territory loss and was still law unto itself, had I not looked to the heart of that beautiful, living map.

In the center of the land, as if it were the core around which everything else had spread, or perhaps the place where the cauldron’s liquid had first touched, was a small, snowy mountain range. From it arose a mammoth, solitary peak. Bald of snow, bald of life—as if the elements refused to touch it. There were no more clues about what it might be; nothing to indicate its importance, and I supposed that the viewers were already supposed to know. This was not a mural for human eyes.

With that thought, I went back to my little table. At least I’d learned the layout of their lands—and I knew to never, ever go north.

I eased into my seat and found my place in the book, my face warming as I glanced at the illustrations scattered throughout. A children’s book, and yet I could scarcely make it through its twenty or so pages. Why did Tamlin have children’s books in his library? Were they from his own childhood, or in anticipation of children to come? It didn’t matter. I couldn’t even read them. I hated the smell of these books—the decaying rot of the pages, the mocking whisper of the paper, the rough skin of the binding. I looked at the piece of paper, at all those words I didn’t know.

I bunched my list in my hand, crumpling the paper into a ball, and chucked it into the rubbish bin.

“I could help you write to them, if that’s why you’re in here.”

I jerked back in my seat, almost knocking over the chair, and whirled to find Tamlin behind me, a stack of books in his arms. I pushed back against the heat rising in my cheeks and ears, the panic at the information he might be guessing I’d been trying to send. “Help? You mean a faerie is passing up the opportunity to mock an ignorant mortal?”

He set the books down on the table, his jaw tight. I couldn’t read the titles glinting on the leather spines. “Why should I mock you for a shortcoming that isn’t your fault? Let me help you. I owe you for the hand.”

Shortcoming. It was a shortcoming.

Yet it was one thing to bandage his hand, to talk to him as if he wasn’t a predator built to kill and destroy, but to reveal how little I truly knew, to let him see that part of me that was still a child, unfinished and raw … His face was unreadable. Though there had been no pity in his voice, I straightened. “I’m fine.”

“You think I’ve got nothing better to do with my time than come up with elaborate ways to humiliate you?”

I thought of that smear of nothing that the painter had used to render the human lands, and didn’t have an answer—at least, not one that was polite. I’d given enough already to them—to him.

Tamlin shook his head. “So you’ll let Lucien take you on hunts and—”

“Lucien,” I interrupted quietly but not softly, “doesn’t pretend to be anything but what he is.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he growled, but his claws stayed retracted, even as he clenched his hands into fists at his sides.

I was definitely walking a dangerous line, but I didn’t care. Even if he’d offered me sanctuary, I didn’t have to fall at his feet. “It means,” I said with that same cold quiet, “that I don’t know you. I don’t know who you are, or what you really are, or what you want.”

“It means you don’t trust me.”

“How can I trust a faerie? Don’t you delight in killing and tricking us?”

His snarl set the flames of the candles guttering. “You aren’t what I had in mind for a human—believe me.”

I could almost feel the wound deep in my chest as it ripped open and all those awful, silent words came pouring out. Illiterate, ignorant, unremarkable, proud, cold—all spoken from Nesta’s mouth, all echoing in my head with her sneering voice.

I pinched my lips together.

He winced and lifted a hand slightly, as if about to reach for me. “Feyre,” he began—softly enough that I just shook my head and left the room. He didn’t stop me.

But that afternoon, when I went to retrieve my crumpled list from the wastebasket, it was gone. And my pile of books had been disturbed—the titles out of order. It had probably been a servant, I assured myself, calming the tightness in my chest. Just Alis or some other bird-masked faerie cleaning up. I hadn’t written anything incriminating—there was no way he knew I’d been trying to warn my family. I doubted he would punish me for it, but … our conversation earlier had been bad enough.

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