Emma had quite a few questions—how they could tell when it was first light down here, why Nene seemed to dislike the Wild Hunt so much, and, of course, where they were going. She kept them to herself, though, and eventually they reached the end of a corridor where the walls were polished rock, gleaming with semiprecious stones: tiger’s-eye, azurite, jasper. Gaps in the rock were covered with long velvet hangings, embroidered with glimmering thread.
Nene swept one of the hangings aside, revealing a room whose walls were smooth and curved in toward a domed ceiling. White hangings drifted down, half-covering a bed made of thick branches wound with flowers.
Nene set down her lamp. “Lay the Hunter down,” she said.
Kieran had gone quiet since they’d entered the Seelie Court proper. He let Mark lead him over to the bed. He looked pretty awful, Emma thought, as Mark helped Kieran settle onto the mattress. She wondered how many times Mark had done this sort of thing for Kieran when Kieran was exhausted after a hunt—or how many times Kieran had done it for Mark. Being a Hunter was a risky job; she couldn’t imagine how much of each other’s blood they’d seen.
“Is there a healer in this Court?” Mark asked, straightening up.
“I am the healer,” said Nene. “Though I rarely work alone. Usually I am assisted, but the hour is late and the Court half-empty.” Her gaze fell on Cristina. “You will help me.”
“Me?” Cristina looked startled.
“You have a healing air about you,” said Nene, bustling up to a wooden cabinet and throwing the doors open. In it were jars of herbs, dangling strings of dried flowers, and vials of different-colored liquids. “Can you name any of these?”
“Foamflower,” said Cristina promptly, as if they were in class. “Miner’s lettuce, false lily, queen’s cup.”
Nene looked impressed. She pulled a stack of linens, including strips cut neatly into bandage size, from a drawer and handed them to Cristina. “Too many people in the room will slow a patient’s healing. I will take these two next door; you must remove Kieran’s clothes.”
Cristina’s cheeks flamed. “Mark can do that.”
Nene rolled her eyes. “As you like.” She turned toward the bed, where Kieran was collapsed back against the pillows. There were rusty smears of blood all over Mark’s shirt and skin, but he didn’t seem to notice. “Crush some foamflower, give it to him with water. Do not bandage him yet. We must inspect the wound.”
She hurried from the room, and Emma and Julian dashed after her. They went only a few steps down the corridor, to where a dark red curtain hid an open door. Nene pushed it aside and gestured the two of them to come in.
Once inside, Emma had to suppress a gasp. This room was much grander than the other. The roof was lost in shadows. The walls were silvery quartz, and glowed from within, lighting the room with a soft radiance. Creamy white and ivory flowers cascaded down the walls, perfuming the air with the scent of a garden. A massive bed stood on a platform, steps leading up to it. It was piled with velvet cushions and a rich coverlet.
“Will this do?” Nene asked.
Emma could only nod. A hedge atop which grew a lattice of roses stretched across one end of the room, and behind it a cascade of water rushed down the rocks. When she glanced around the hedge, she saw that it emptied into a rock pool, lined with green and blue stones that formed the shape of a butterfly.
“Not as fancy as the Institute,” she heard Julian say, “but it’ll do.”
“Whose room is this?” Emma asked. “Is it the Queen’s?”
Nene laughed. “The Queen’s chambers? Certainly not. This is Fergus’s—actually, he has two. He is much favored in Court. He won’t mind if you sleep here; he has night watch.”
She turned to walk away, but stopped at the curtain and glanced back at them. “You are my nephew’s brother and sister?”
Emma opened her mouth, then closed it again. Mark was more of a brother to her than anything else. Certainly more of a brother than Julian.
“Yes,” Julian said, sensing her hesitation.
“And you love him,” said Nene.
“I think you will find, if you take the time to get to know him, that he is easy to love,” said Jules, and Emma’s heart expanded, yearning for him, for him and Mark together, happy and laughing as brothers should be, and for the challenge in Julian’s eyes when he looked at Nene. You owe my brother the love he deserves; show it, or I turn my back on you.
Nene cleared her throat. “And my niece? Alessa?”
“Her name is Helen now,” said Julian. He paused for a moment, and Emma could see him weighing the mention of Helen’s situation and dismissing it—he did not trust Nene enough, not yet. “Yes, she is my sister; yes, I love her as I love Mark. They are both easy to love.”
“Easy to love,” echoed Nene, in a musing voice. “There are few of our people I would ever have said were easy to love.” She ducked back through the door. “I must hurry back, before that Hunter boy expires,” she said, and was gone.
Julian looked at Emma with arched eyebrows. “She’s very . . .”
“Yes,” agreed Emma, not needing the rest of the words to know what he meant. She and Julian almost always agreed on people. She felt her mouth curve up as she smiled at him, despite everything, despite the incredible, impossible strain of the night.
And it wasn’t as if the risk was over, she thought, turning to gaze at the room. She had hardly ever been in such a beautiful space. She had even heard of cave hotels, places in Cappadocia and Greece where gorgeous rooms were dug out of rocks and draped with silks and velvets. But it was the flowers, here, that tugged at her heart—those white flowers that smelled like cream and sugar, like the white flowers that grew in Idris. They seemed to radiate light.
And then there was the bed. With a sort of belated shock, she realized that she and Julian had been left alone together in a wildly romantic room with only one, very large and very plush, bed.
Definitely, the night’s worries were not over, at all.
When Nene returned, she cleaned Kieran’s wound gently with damp linens, pressing the edges of the cut carefully with her fingers. He sat upright and rigid on the edge of the bed, not moving or acknowledging what was going on, but Cristina could see from the deep crescent marking his lower lip that he was in pain.
Mark sat quietly beside him. He seemed wrung out, exhausted, and did not move to hold Kieran’s hand, only sat with his shoulder touching the other boy’s. But then, they had never been the hand-holding type, Cristina thought. The Wild Hunt had not been a place where such gentle expressions of affection were welcome.
“There was monkshood on the Unseelie’s arrow,” Nene said when she was done cleaning the wound. She held her hand out for a bandage and began wrapping Kieran’s slender torso. He had been undressed and re-dressed in clean trousers, a shirt folded on the bed next to him. There were scars on Kieran’s back, not unlike the ones on Mark’s, and they stretched to the tops of his arms and down his forearms, too. He was thin but strong-looking, with clear lines of muscles in his arms and across his chest. “If you were a human or even ordinary fey, it would have killed you, but Hunters have their own protection. You will live.”
“Yes,” Kieran said, an arrogant tilt to his chin. But Cristina wondered. He didn’t say, Yes, I knew I would live. He had doubted, she suspected. He had feared he would die.
She rather admired his bravery. She couldn’t help it.
Nene rolled her eyes, finishing with the bandages. She tapped Cristina’s shoulder as Kieran shrugged his shirt on, doing the buttons up with slow, shaking fingers, and indicated a shallow marble dish on the nightstand, filled with damp cloths swimming in a greenish liquid. “Those are poultices to prevent infection. Put a new one on the wound every two hours.”
Cristina nodded. She wasn’t sure how she would set an alarm or wake up every two hours, or if she was simply meant to stay awake through the night, but she would manage, either way.
“Here,” Nene said, leaning down to Kieran with another vial. “Drink this. It will not harm you, only help you.”