"You've got nowhere to go," Eris said flatly, standing in the doorway.
Lucien looked up at his oldest brother from where he sat, elbows on his knees, at the end of his bed. The room felt garish and false to him, even though every bit of decoration in here he'd picked out himself. He'd gotten this bed as a coming-of-age present, one of the few times his mother had stood up to his father on his behalf. The paintings were mostly ones he'd picked out, too. But none of them were paintings he would have chosen now.
He hated these rooms. Lordling rooms, bigger than anyone needed, with richer fabrics than any fae ever truly required for comfort. Jesminda would have laughed to see them, but she never had. They'd always bought rooms in local inns, fooling themselves into believing no one realized who Lucien was. These rooms Beron's idea of luxury, not his. They'd locked him in here hours ago, after Jesminda was finally dead. He'd done all his screaming and crying since, and his throat was raw and painful.
But mostly he was just… empty, now.
"I realize that," Lucien said, in a soft voice. He put his hands up over his face, taking in a deep breath, trying not to think about the last few breaths Jesminda had taken. "Where is she now?"
Eris, who knew exactly what he was talking about, only leaned on the doorframe, crossing his arms in front of him. "They're burning her, I imagine. That's what our father sent them to do."
Lucien felt new tears in his eyes, when he'd thought himself all out of them after the past few hours, after being tied to the chair so he would have to hear - and to watch - what they did to the lesser fae he'd 'disgraced' himself with. "You won't even let her family bury her?" He asked, aware of how thin, how stretched and cracked, his voice sounded.
"I'm not 'not letting' them do anything," Eris replied coldly, unmoved. "I am standing here guarding my youngest brother to ensure he doesn't try anything stupid like suicide. I didn't touch her while she was alive and I don't intend to sully myself with her corpse, either."
Lucien groaned, flopping backwards onto the bed now, staring up at the underside of the canopy. When he'd asked for this bed, with its dark wood and rich rust-red paint, it had seemed like a way to try and fit in with his family, to be the kind of person they were. Back when he'd still had hope, or even wanted to try. "I suppose you'd like me to thank you for holding back."
Eris snorted. "No, little brother, I don't. I told you not to make attachments, didn't I? After the goat, and the horse, I figured you'd learned your lesson. You can't ever let him see you have a weakness. Some of us learn well, and some of us…" Eris smirked. "Some of us, I suppose, always learn the hard way."
"I loved her, Eris," Lucien said softly, still staring up. He'd painted a blue sky on the inside of the canopy, with fluffy white clouds. It was absolutely atrocious painting but he had been so proud of himself. His voice was an empty tomb. "I loved her."
"I can't imagine why you would think that matters to me," Eris said cooly. He stepped in, finally, closing the door behind himself. "You are High Fae, Lucien, and a High Lord's son to boot. You don't get to 'love'. That's absurdity and nonsense and you know it. I don't know how you became a grown adult in the Autumn Court thinking such a foolish thing. You don't get to fuck my future up because you couldn't keep your dick in your pants."
Lucien, startled, sat back up. "That's some language, coming from you. What makes you think I give a damn about your future?"
"Consider my language a sign of how absolutely furious I am at your irresponsibility."
"Irresponsibility? I fell in love, 'Ris! It's not like I forgot to muck out the stables or came home late from a party. I… All I did was meet someone who was so so perfect…" The tears threatened again and Lucien ground his teeth together, fighting them back. "So perfect for me."
"So perfectly beneath you, you mean."
"Oh, fuck yourself," Lucien snarled. "And get the fuck out of my room while you're at it."
"Ah, now who's talking language?" Eris actually laughed - he laughed at him - and Lucien fought the rage that built and built in his chest. "I can't leave the room, Luce. Our dear father seems to think you might want to do something rash for some reason. I cannot imagine what might have led him to think so." Eris glanced at the timepiece hanging on the wall thoughtfully. "And you've got about an hour to kill, so you might as well talk to me."
"I've got all night to kill while Father decides what to do with me." Lucien sat, glowering, watching Eris delicately pull a chair out from the small table he kept in his rooms and sat, tapping his fingernails on the table. Lucien never moved. "He probably thinks I'll do something rash because all of you just spent the past day murdering the only good fae in this Cauldron-forsaken country,' He muttered.
"I actually think it's because you repeatedly told him that if he killed your lesser fae, you'd kill yourself. That's probably what led him to think you might be intending to do just that. And I'll remind you again, you wretch, that I did not touch your whore."
"She wasn't a whore, 'Ris - she was my intended-"
"She was common street trash, Luce. We are High Fae, and the sons of a High Lord, no less. We have to aim higher than common street trash." Eris held out one hand. "Come sit at the table with me."
"You just called the love of my life street trash, you piece of shit, I'll stay where I am."
"Fair enough." Eris watched him, thoughtfully, his fingers continuing their idle tapping on the table. "You had to understand that you would never be allowed to marry her."
"No," Lucien said heavily. "I didn't. None of you care about me. Father doesn't, beyond using me as a punching bag when things don't go his way. Mother doesn't stand up to him. The rest of you are just waiting for a reason to kill me off anyway. So why this?"
"You embarrassed him," Eris said mildly. "That's why. You embarrassed him by not acting within the boundary of his control, and beyond that - you showed a backbone. You know how he hates people who have backbones. Luce, you've never been any good at hiding yourself from him. You had to know he'd find out."
"I knew he would eventually. I guess I just thought, if we had decided to marry, that he… would let me abdicate. Let me declare myself lesser fae and not his problem any longer and let us just… disappear into the countryside." He found himself smiling, just faintly. It had been such a good dream, what he and Jesminda had shared. "I was going to buy a farm."
"You were going to what?" Eris's derisive laughter echoed through the room and Lucien cut his eyes away. "Buy a farm? Cauldron, you're more of an idiot than I thought. Father will never let you walk away. You're too valuable a chess piece. Now he's trying to decide if he can salvage you."
"How?" Lucien didn't really care what the answer was.
"By marrying you off, of course," Eris smirked. "It's not usually customary to marry the youngest before the eldest, but… after what happened with my own intended, Father is taking his time before committing to another bride for me."
"Serves you right. That girl was better than you by far."
"That we both agree with," Eris said, his tone unoffended. "She'd have wilted away here, ended up just like Mother. I'm glad she showed some fire."
"Maybe you could have thanked her for it, instead of torturing her?"
"I didn't torture her," Eris shrugged, looking towards Lucien's window, at the starry, clear night outside. The wind blew in, chilled and comforting in the slightly-too-warm room. "And I made sure she got back home."
"I saw what she looked like when they carried her away, Eris," Lucien said tightly. "You can't lie to me about that."
"I'm not lying. I don't give a fuck what has happened to her since. But I never touched that girl, and I never intend to." He stepped his fingers in thought, watching Lucien closely with his golden eyes. He looked like a paler version of Lucien, really - his skin was nearly paper-white, and he kept his hair short, but you could see the way they both took after their mother and not Beron. Lucien's skin was much darker, and maybe he had a wider mouth more accustomed to smiling, but that was nearly all the difference between them. "You will be married, you know. Father is already sending out messages to potentials, to try and make something out of this unfortunate situation."
"I'll tell him no. I don't care who he offers."
Eris laughed again, and each time it burned more to hear it. "He doesn't give a shit whether you want to be married or not. You will be, and you'll go through with it. You'll stand there before the priestess and be wed, and go to the noblelady's bed, and you'll perform your duties like a good little husband. That's all younger sons are really good for."
"Tamlin at the Spring Court didn't marry, he went into the army-"
"Tamlin at the Spring Court is a feral beast. His father let him go because he couldn't be trusted not to slurp soup from a bowl or scratch at fleas." Eris snorted. "He never married because no family wanted him, even after he became High Lord."
"That's not true. I know he's turned down proposals-"
"Proposals from the Never-Fading-Flower don't count, Luce. Father sent a message to her, too, you know."
"He what." Not Amarantha. She was centuries older than him, and her eyes had always been firmly focused on Tamlin anyway. The High Lord of Spring was her particular obsession. Anything else would be a faded nothing to her. But she did want an 'in' to Prythian society, and she had been sniffing around the Autumn Court for an alliance… Lucien had assumed she just wanted an easy way into Spring, but… "He wouldn't."
"He would. And furthermore, so would I. I'd sell you to her in a heartbeat to get you off my hands," Eris said, "if I were in Father's position. She's a good fae to build an alliance with Hybern, which has been itching for trade to open up between us. If we were the first to get on her good side, we might be able to make good use of an exclusive trading agreement. Families in other courts have sold younger sons into marriage for less."
"Not sons," Lucien said, numbly. "Daughters, maybe, but not-"
"Ha! And you think you're any different? A seventh son is valueless unless he marries well. I would hope Amarantha isn't interested, if I were you, or you'll find out what it's like in her bed." Eris frowned, then, some measure of sympathy on his face. "The rumors I've heard don't make it sound pleasant."
"She wants Tamlin, anyway, she'd never agree to it-"
"I don't think Amarantha would even balk at taking the Spring Lord to bed, even if she had a husband to worry about. And if I were you, and it happened, I'd just be grateful for the reprieve. Enough horror stories. Come sit and drink with me. You still have about twenty minutes."
Eris only shook his head, and gestured to the table again. This time, Lucien, feeling like skin stretched over nothing but air, got up and sat down across from him. He kept thinking of Jesminda, how she'd cursed him at the end, cursed him for not stopping them. Even if he'd been tied to a chair, even if he'd been unable to free himself. She'd still blamed him - and really, it was his fault for ever allowing himself to feel for someone in the first place. For allowing Beron to see that he had.
Their father hated nothing so much as his children having feelings he did not control.
Eris poured them each a glass of wine, taking a swig from the bottle first to show he hadn't poisoned it, an old habit everyone in the Autumn Court picked up after a while. Lucien took a sip, letting the dry red settle over his tongue like Jesminda's blood, swallowing it with difficulty.
"I don't think it'll be her," Eris said finally. "I was just teasing you. Kallias at the Night Court has a High Fae, Lyssa, who might be acceptable. She's come of age and I know you've met her and enjoyed her company before."
Lucien nodded slowly, taking another drink.
"You could pretend at feeling, with her, I think." Eris stared into his own wineglass. "I'll do what I can to influence the process."
"Why should you give a damn about me?" Lucien still didn't look up. "You hate me."
Eris leaned over the table and Lucien finally looked up, seeing an intensity in those golden eyes he hadn't expected. His eldest brother was glaring at him, with real hurt in his eyes. "I don't hate you, you little shit," He hissed. "You're the only person in this whole Cauldron-damned palace I give even one damn about. I want you to marry well and get out of this Court and never come back. I want you to sire a dozen children with whatever female you're saddled with and never think of us again. I want you to leave us so you don't turn into us.."
"Why?" Lucien shrank from that gaze, so like his father's own rage, the temper smoldering underneath until it flared into violence.
Eris just chuckled, sitting back, all the anger out of him as quickly as it had come. "I don't know. Maybe because you held onto it longer than the rest of us did."
"Held onto what?"
"Softness." Eris drank the rest of his wine in one gulp and poured himself another glass "The ability to care about people. I don't know. All the things our father has burned, and beat, and kicked out of us." He and Lucien only looked at each other, from across a table and from a distance neither one could truly cross. "If you stay here, I will ensure you are married away from this court, Lucien. It's the least I can do."
"I don't want to stay here," Lucien spat back. "I hate all of you for what you've done."
"I didn't touch her," Eris repeated, a little bristling this time.
"You didn't stop them, either."
"Neither did you, little brother."
"I was tied to a fucking chair!"
"Excuses, excuses," Eris said smoothly. "Besides, where are you going to go, Luce? You don't have anywhere that will take you in. Anyplace you go will only turn you right back over to Father to avoid the inevitable conflict. You could go ask Amarantha for safe haven, she could have you spirited to Hybern. She'd charge a high price, though. Although it's not like she'd be interested in money, which is good, since you've only got the one thing to trade for freedom."
"I'll die first," Lucien mumbled. "Tamlin hates her, he says the rest of you have been fooled-"
"Lot of talk about Tamlin these days," Eris said with one eyebrow raised. "Did he talk you into this ill-starred love affair? That'd be just like that mongrel, thinking High Fae and lesser can just… be together."
"He didn't talk me into anything. He's just the only person I've met who gives a shit what I think."
"Is he now?" Eris smiled into his cup. "Do you think he would take you in?"
Lucien blinked, sitting back in his chair. He looked back over at the open window, then back at Eris. "He might."
"He's got a small court. Most of them ran off when he took over, couldn't handle his… manners, such as they are. Or the way he runs things. He could use someone who can actually handle themselves at a party or a negotiation."
"Are you suggesting I run away to Spring?"
"I'm not telling you to do anything," Eris said airily. "You could sell yourself to Rhysand and see how compassionate that arrogant half-breed is feeling these days for all I care. I'm only here to keep you from killing yourself, remember?"
Lucien tapped his own fingers on the table now, a gesture they had both picked up from their mother. Eris watched him, taking in the young face, barely an adult, really. The auburn hair he'd only just started growing out when he came of age, just down to his shoulders now, barely skimming them. His striking golden eyes, their mother's own, just like Eris.
"Tamlin needs help," Lucien said softly. "I could be help. If I can make it over the border and he claims me, I'd belong to the Spring Court and Father couldn't touch me." He frowned. "I'd have to make it there. And he'd have to agree to claim me as property of Spring."
"As far as sanctuaries go, you could do worse," Eris nodded. "Becoming another High Lord's property would be a safe haven."
Lucien bit his lower lip, absently gnawing at the skin. "He'll send them after me. He'll send you after me."
"I, for one, wouldn't go." Eris smiled. It was not a pleasant expression. "I'd say good riddance to bad rubbish and never think of you again."
"That's a lie and you know it," Lucien replied, without any warmth. "We used to like each other, you know."
"Before Father found out."
"Right. I don't know if Tamlin would agree. His hold on his court isn't strong, he might be too worried about losing it if Autumn attacked-"
"Tamlin won't worry about that." Eris laughed, but this laugh was kinder than any of the previous ones had been. "The only people in his land who do like him are his troops. They'll die for him. Autumn won't dare rise against that kind of loyalty. Whether the nobles like it or not, Tamlin's a man of his people. Always has been. Until the Night Court slaughtered them all, his family barely tolerated him at Rosehall."
"Right." That had happened before Lucien was old enough to remember, or maybe before he was even born - he didn't know. All he knew was that the Spring Court had murdered the Night Court Lord's wife and daughter, and Night had retaliated by murdering Spring's entire ruling family, save Tamlin himself. The only two survivors had been Rhysand and Tamlin, standing in a hallway staring at each other. Somehow they had both emerged unscathed.
Rhysand, the only son of Night, was the new Lord of that scheming bunch of bastards - and Tamlin the new High Lord of Spring, untrained, uncouth, and unwilling. "So I just have to run away. How?"
Eris's eyes flicked to Lucien's open window.
"We're on the second story, 'Ris. I'd probably fall flat on my face."
"Not my problem," Eris said smoothly. "But time is up, so if you're going to go, I suggest you go now."
"Run, Luce." Eris leaned over the table once more and grabbed Lucien's hand, holding it tightly, gold eyes burning into his face. "Get the fuck out of this house, find somewhere better than this, and I better never see you here again. For the next few minutes, the usual guard downstairs will be mysteriously distracted by a ruckus on the other side of the building. You have ten minutes before that wears off or someone comes to relieve me of my duties watching over you. I suggest you hit me pretty fucking hard and shimmy down the drain if you have to."
"Hit… you?" Lucien had never been violent. It was one more way he disappointed his father, one more thing he failed at. Beron liked violence. He liked to use it as a weapon and he liked his children to be as violent as he was. Lucien had been a sweet child, and that was the gravest sin of all in the Autumn Court. "'Ris, I can't-"
"Then I'm not going to let you leave. So hit me."
Eris pushed himself back, standing up, staring down at Lucien, who slowly pushed himself to his feet as well. He looked back at the open window, then to Eris's face
"Hit me, Luce. Then get out of here."
Lucien took a deep breath, put his hand into a fist, and hit Eris across the face as hard as he could. Pain blossomed through his hand and arm and he groaned, stumbling back, shaking his fingers out. "Ow ow ow ow-"
Eris had stumbled back, hand to his eye, but laughed, that same derisive laughter again. "Cauldron, don't you know how to throw a punch by now? Get out of here!"
Lucien ran to the window, hearing Eris throwing things around the room behind him, making it look like a fight had taken place. He climbed out, finding a line of lower roof he could crawl on if he only dropped three or four feet. He crept along until he found another place to jump, and then another. The night was quiet, and calm, and clear. By the time he got to the ground, he was aching from falling gracelessly from roof to roof, and he knew he'd be covered in bruises by morning.
He was out the front gates before anyone came to relieve Eris and found him, seemingly unconscious, lying in the middle of a wrecked and ruined room.
He had stolen a horse and turned south towards Spring before the guards were being rounded up and his father and brothers notified of what had happened. It was decided Lucien must have paid a servant to create a diversion, and his brothers, furious, ran for their horses to catch him.
Lucien, riding at full gallop, didn't have much time, and he tried to go as fast as he could. He didn't dare slow for even a second or they'd catch up to him. He didn't want to know how his father could possibly make things worse.
Eris, left alone again as someone ran for a healer, called up a tiny wisp of light, that sang and danced only for him.
He whispered into it, "It's done. Lucien is coming to you for sanctuary. Don't make me come down there and cut your head off myself, you overgrown dog," and sent the wisplight flying through the air towards the south.
He poured himself the last glass of wine out of the bottle, slowly beginning to smile as he collapsed back into the chair, his growing black eye a throbbing, welcome pain.