Isellta and Maelin reached the top landing. Since she was in the lead, she got there first.
They walked down a narrow, dimly lit hall. Elephant head sconces lined the walls. Their eyes glowed a dismal red while green smoke snaked out of their curved trunks.
Isellta stuck close to her. “Where are we going?”
She headed straight for the closed door at the end of the hall.
He held back, ready to run. Just in case.
She opened the door, turned on the light, and went inside.
The darkness ate the light as the door drifted shut.
Isellta didn’t waste time on thoughts.
He ran into the room.
Going from darkness to light dazzled his eyes. It took him a couple of minutes to recover.
As soon as he recovered, he wished that his eyes were still dazzled.
Mark Caten covered every square inch of the ceiling and the walls.
In picture frames.
And completely shirtless.
Stark nude in at least five of them. Hordes of desperate looking women crowded around his naked form. Some of the women were crying. Crying from joy, presumably.
Isellta walked up to one that was set in a diamond encrusted silver frame.
Mark Caten was making a doily. His face was completely focused. The tip of his tongue just sticking out the side. A young girl sat beside him on what looked like an enlarged tribble. She had her mouth open as if she were either instructing him or scolding him.
Isellta flapped his wings. He ran his fingers over the thick layers of paint.
I shouldn’t like this, but I do.
Maelin stopped next to the fey and side-glanced at him. “What are you thinking?”
“You’d be surprised if I told you.”
He looked over at her. “Who painted all of these?”
“He did? He’s very talented. I’m surprised that Queen Preyuna hasn’t taken him as part of her harem.”
“Maybe she would have. If he hadn’t taken her first.”
He tilted his head. “What do you mean?”
She studied the painting before them. “I mean, she is at his beck and call. He calls all of the shots for her.”
He frowned as he struggled to make sense of that. Beck and call? Beckand call? Bec Kan Call? No. It doesn’t make sense. And what about that other part? Calls all of the shots? What shots? How does he call them? What does that even mean? What is he even shooting? “I don’t understand.”
“I guess the simpler way of putting it is: Queen Preyuna is part of his harem.”
He shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense. Queen Fae cannot be harem members. It isn’t possible. It just isn’t done. It’s—”
“It is how it is, Isellta.”
“Oh.” He focused on the doily’s fine detail. So pretty. “How do you know?”
“It’s common knowledge. She has been seen entering his room at night.”
“Maybe he has business for her to attend to.”
“Isellta. No woman attends to decent business dressed in a silk negligee robe.”
“Then.” His wings flittered. “She has done it with him.”
His wings flittered again.
Did she really want to help me?
Or was she just looking for someone new to play with?
Everything she told me…
“She never said a true word to me.” he said softly. “I see. I’m not stupid. I see and I know. She never cared about me. Everything she said. Her reasons.” His wings flattened against his back. “It was never about me. Only her. That’s why she won’t stop. That’s why. It makes sense. It makes so much sense. It does. It makes.”
He exhaled a soft sigh and looked at Maelin.
And what about her?
She hasn’t given me a reason to doubt her.
She hasn’t hurt me.
She barely even touches me.
Is it all a matter of time before she snaps? Shouldn’t I stay on my guard with her? Can I trust her?
She loves Jay.
Jay cares about me.
If she hrrash ka kaed with me, Jay would be hurt. I know it. He loves her so much. So much even I can see it.
Would she betray his trust?
Can I trust her?
He looked down at her hand.
He curled his hand around her index finger.
He looked up at her.
And he wasn’t afraid.