Home > Fae's Captive (Fae's Captive #1)(5)

Fae's Captive (Fae's Captive #1)(5)
Author: Lily Archer

She stops at my chair and offers her hand. I take it and kiss the back, her skin cold and pale. Gareth doesn’t make a sound, but I can sense his laughter as if he were guffawing loudly at the summer realm’s etiquette.

“Thank you for coming this evening.” She pulls her long fingers back.

“Of course.” I’ve been pressing for this meeting for years, ever since the first sign of trouble. She’s put me off, though. Probably unworried about winter realm disappearances. But now some of her people are missing as well.

She glides to her seat and settles, the rest of the table following suit. “Where is Lord Tyrios?” She asks no one in particular and glances to the empty seat at her right hand.

“He had some business in the dungeon. Runaway changeling, apparently. Nasty business. But he will be—”

The doors at the end of the room open and a high fae strides in, his gait unhurried despite his lateness.

“Speak and he appears.” The queen smiles.

“My deepest apologies.” He bows to her before taking his seat. “Changeling trouble.”

“They can be so difficult.” She tsks and motions for everyone to continue their meal.

She says a few more things to Tyrios, but I’m not listening. The scent. He’s covered in it. I stare at him, trying to place it, trying to figure out what it is and why it’s sending my mind into a tumult of confusion.

He catches my gaze, and a hint of fear passes across his face. I suppose it’s not every day that a winter realm warlord examines you with such focus.

“Shall we get down to business?” The queen waves away her plate. “I have no appetite for anything other than a solution to this pressing problem of disappearing summer fae.” She nods toward me. “And winter fae, as well, of course.”

Of course.

“The disappearances began in the winter realm, did they not?” A noble toward the end of the table pipes up.

“They did.” I push back from the table and stand. “We have been working to solve the situation for nearly a decade.”

“And you have no leads?” Tyrios arches a white brow.

“No. I’ve sent my most trusted soldiers to the border areas where the lesser fae are going missing. No one knows anything. The only thread we’ve found that runs through each disappearance is a certain melancholy feeling settling on the missing fae within the months prior.”

“But this only affects lesser fae.” A female in a ruby gown tips her nose into the air.

One of the servants—a lesser fae—pauses, his eyes widening, then continues with his duties. Surely he’s accustomed to these preening dandies not giving a damn about him?

“If it only affects others, what cause do we have to worry?” she asks.

I force myself to keep my composure, even though her words rake across my skull like icy fingers. “Lesser fae are members of our realms. They have families, businesses, entire communities. More than that, they are a part of our world. We can’t turn our backs on them. High and lesser fae live and work together. Before the curse, some high and lesser fae were mated in the winter realm—”

Lord Tyrios snorts. “Perhaps that is considered appropriate in the winter realm, but we do not allow high and lesser fae to mingle in such a demeaning fashion.”

Gareth tenses. I remember attending his sister’s wedding to a lesser fae, the groom’s ancestry a mix of fae and water sprite. This conversation is already getting out of hand.

Tyrios continues, “But, then again, Queen Aurentia’s line has long forbidden dirtying the high fae bloodlines with—”

“Dirtying?” Gareth leans forward, his voice a gravelly threat.

Tyrios blanches.

“You sit here with your jewels and finery—all of it given to you by your lesser fae slaves in the southern mines or the silk factories of the east—and dare to impugn our king for—”

“Gareth.” I grip his shoulder.

He goes silent and sits back, but I can feel the anger roiling inside him.

Tyrios swallows hard.

“King Gladion is correct.” Queen Aurentia holds my gaze. “Lesser fae are members of our realms and deserve our protection. To that end, I believe winter and summer should work together to find whoever is behind it. I’ve already sent my spies to the affected towns along our western border, but they’ve yet to find any clues. Perhaps if we work together, we’ll have better luck. Lord Tyrios, do you have the letters of cooperation I asked you to draft?”

“Of course, my queen.” He snaps his fingers.

I mask my surprise as I re-take my seat. If she already has letters drawn up, she intended to agree to my request before we even met this evening. Perhaps she is more worried about the disappearances—and the so-called king beyond the mountain—than she’s been letting on?

Tyrios snaps his fingers again, his lips twisting into a glower. “My changeling has been acting odd. She used to belong to my daughter, who went and spoiled her. Now she’s practically useless. So hard to find a decent servant from human stock.”

A lesser fae hurries out of the dining room as the rest offer dessert to the nobles. After a moment, a slight scuffle sounds from an adjacent room before a changeling is pushed through it, a sheaf of papers in her hands.

The world goes silent except for her. All I can hear is her thundering heartbeat. All I can see is the fear in her eyes, the painful marks along her face. Her scent hits me full force, and something inside me unfurls like dark wings. She is mine. I can feel it, an unbreakable tether linking me to her.

I rise to my feet, staring at her as she shuffles forward and hands the papers to Tyrios. Her hair is light brown, and I know it will feel soft under my rough fingers. Though her eyes are downcast, I can tell they are a light blue, like the sky at first light on a snowy morning. Her stained shift covers the rest of her, and the need to rip it away and see her has me practically humming with tension. She doesn’t look up, doesn’t sense her mate—but that doesn’t matter. I’ve sensed her. Her fate is sealed.

“All my papers are wrinkled and covered with your filthy changeling fingerprints.” He snarls and raises his hand to strike her.

I’m across the table with my hand around his throat before he can blink.



The huge man lunges across the table, food and cutlery flying. I stumble backwards as he grabs my master’s throat. His dark eyes pin me to the spot as the soldiers stationed around the room rush forward. I drop the papers and try to back away, only to bump into one of the guards, several of them forming a wall behind me.

The gigantic man with the crown and the black hair snarls at them, and my master lets out a quaking whimper. The guards advance, their swords all around me, as if I’m not even standing here. They’d cut right through me without a thought. The crowned man points at me, the fierceness in his eyes like a knife through my heart.

Oh god, he is going to kill me. I can’t breathe.

My knees weaken, and under the harshness of the ferocious man’s stare, my bladder lets go. I’m going to die here. And I don’t even know where here is.

Another dark-haired man stands and yells something, blades in his hands as he stands in a defensive posture. The guards continue advancing.

The beautiful woman at the head of the table says something in a tone that seems to slice through the air. Everyone stops. Everyone except the man with the death grip on my master’s throat.

She addresses him directly, and he responds, his voice low and gruff in that odd tongue.

Her white eyebrows rise, and she flicks her gaze to me, catching me like a deer in headlights.

Footsteps echo inside my mind, and a voice whispers like a tickle against my skull. “Strange changeling.” It’s the woman’s voice. “I suspect there’s more to you than I can presently see.”

“Let me go.” I think, wondering if she can hear it. “I don’t belong here. I want to go back.”

“I’m afraid there’s no going back.” She flicks her gaze to the deadly warrior who even now stares at me. “Not now. Not ever.” Her presence fades, and I blink, unsure if I’m losing my mind.

She flicks a hand at the black-haired man and speaks in the strange tongue. Finally, he releases my master, who stands and backs away sputtering. I take some joy in seeing him afraid, but it’s short-lived. The black-haired man advances on me with his hand out, as if to grab me.

I scream and try to escape, but the men at my back don’t move. I’m trapped.

The black-haired man speaks to me, his voice still dark and gravelly but somehow coaxing, as if he’s speaking to a skittish kitten. I shake my head as he slowly comes closer, his hand still out.

“Don’t.” My eyes well and I wrap my arms around myself. “Please.”

He keeps talking and advancing.

I want to scream again, to run. But there’s no use. The fae at the table just watch, some of them with their mouths hanging open. The other black-haired man has stowed his blades, but he observes warily.

“Let me go.” I tremble and blink the tears away. Sending an imploring look to the beautiful woman who spoke in my mind, I find her whispering with another fae and paying no attention to me.

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