I said nothing. To eat, flee, save my family …
Lucien drawled from his seat along the length of the table, “I told you so, Tamlin.” He flicked a glance toward his friend. “Your skills with females have definitely become rusty in recent decades.”
Tamlin. He glowered at Lucien, shifting in his seat. I tried not to stiffen at the other bit of information Lucien had given away. Decades.
Tamlin didn’t look much older than me, but his kind was immortal. He could be hundreds of years old. Thousands. My mouth dried up as I carefully studied their strange, masked faces—unearthly, primal, and imperious. Like immovable gods or feral courtiers.
“Well,” Lucien said, his remaining russet eye fixed on me, “you don’t look half as bad now. A relief, I suppose, since you’re to live with us. Though the tunic isn’t as pretty as a dress.”
Wolves ready to pounce—that’s what they were, just like their friend. I was all too aware of my diction, of the very breath I took as I said, “I’d prefer not to wear that dress.”
“And why not?” Lucien crooned.
It was Tamlin who answered for me. “Because killing us is easier in pants.”
I kept my face blank, willed my heart to calm as I said, “Now that I’m here, what … what do you plan to do with me?”
Lucien snorted, but Tamlin said with a snarl of annoyance, “Just sit down.”
An empty seat had been pulled out at the end of the table. So many foods, piping hot and wafting those enticing spices. The servants had probably brought out new food while I’d washed. So much wasted. I clenched my hands into fists.
“We’re not going to bite.” Lucien’s white teeth gleamed in a way that suggested otherwise. I avoided his gaze, avoided that strange, animated metal eye that focused on me as I inched to my seat and sat down.
Tamlin rose, stalking around the table—closer and closer, each movement smooth and lethal, a predator blooded with power. It was an effort to keep still—especially as he picked up a dish, brought it over to me, and piled some meat and sauce on my plate.
I said quietly, “I can serve myself.” Anything, anything to keep him well away from me.
Tamlin paused, so close that one swipe of those claws lurking under his skin could rip my throat out. That was why the leather baldric bore no weapons: why use them when you were a weapon yourself? “It’s an honor for a human to be served by a High Fae,” he said roughly.
I swallowed hard. He continued piling various foods on my plate, stopping only when it was heaping with meat and sauce and bread, and then filled my glass with pale sparkling wine. I loosed a breath as he prowled back to his seat, though he could probably hear it.
I wanted nothing more than to bury my face in the plate and then eat my way down the table, but I pinned my hands beneath my thighs and stared at the two faeries.
They watched me, too closely to be casual. Tamlin straightened a bit and said, “You look … better than before.”
Was that a compliment? I could have sworn Lucien gave Tamlin an encouraging nod.
“And your hair is … clean.”
Perhaps it was my raging hunger making me hallucinate the piss-poor attempt at flattery. Still, I leaned back and kept my words calm and quiet, the way I might speak to any other predator. “You’re High Fae—faerie nobility?”
Lucien coughed and looked to Tamlin. “You can take that question.”
“Yes,” Tamlin said, frowning—as if searching for anything to say to me. He settled on merely: “We are.”
Fine. A man—faerie—of few words. I had killed his friend, was an unwanted guest. I wouldn’t want to talk to me, either.
“What do you plan to do with me now that I’m here?”
Tamlin’s eyes didn’t leave my face. “Nothing. Do whatever you want.”
“So I’m not to be your slave?” I dared ask.
Lucien choked on his wine. But Tamlin didn’t smile. “I don’t keep slaves.”
I ignored the release of tightness in my chest at that. “But what am I to do with my life here?” I pressed. “Do you—do you wish me to earn my keep? To work?” A stupid question, if he hadn’t considered it, but … but I had to know.
Tamlin stiffened. “What you do with your life isn’t my problem.”
Lucien pointedly cleared his throat, and Tamlin flashed him a glare. After an exchanged look I couldn’t read, Tamlin sighed and said, “Don’t you have any … interests?”
“No.” Not entirely true, but I wasn’t about to explain the painting to him. Not when he was apparently having a great deal of trouble just talking to me civilly.
Lucien muttered, “So typically human.”
Tamlin’s mouth quirked to the side. “Do whatever you want with your time. Just stay out of trouble.”
“So you truly mean for me to stay here forever.” What I meant was: So I’m to stay in this luxury while my family starves to death?
“I didn’t make the rules,” Tamlin said tersely.
“My family is starving,” I said. I didn’t mind begging—not for this. I’d given my word, and held to that word for so long that I was nothing and no one without it. “Please let me go. There must be—must be some other loophole out of the Treaty’s rules—some other way to atone.”
“Atone?” Lucien said. “Have you even apologized yet?”
Apparently, all attempts to flatter me were dead and gone. So I looked Lucien right in his remaining russet eye and said, “I’m sorry.”
Lucien leaned back in his chair. “How did you kill him? Was it a bloody fight, or just cold-blooded murder?”
My spine stiffened. “I shot him with an ash arrow. And then an ordinary arrow through the eye. He didn’t put up a fight. After the first shot, he just stared at me.”
“Yet you killed him anyway—though he made no move to attack you. And then you skinned him,” Lucien hissed.
“Enough, Lucien,” Tamlin said to his courtier with a snarl. “I don’t want to hear details.” He turned to me, ancient and brutal and unyielding.
I spoke before he could say anything. “My family won’t last a month without me.” Lucien chuckled, and I gritted my teeth. “Do you know what it’s like to be hungry?” I demanded, anger rising to devour any common sense. “Do you know what it’s like to not know when your next meal will be?”