Lady Midnight – chapter 22

Mark stood at an upstairs window and looked out at the sun rising over the desert. The mountains seemed cut out of dark paper, sharp and distinct against the sky. For a moment he imagined he could reach out and touch them, that he could fly from this window and reach the top of the highest peak.

 

The moment passed, and once again he saw the distance between himself and the mountains. Ever since he had returned to the Institute, he had felt as if he were struggling to see everything through a thin layer of glamour. Sometimes he saw the Institute as it was, sometimes it faded from view and instead he saw a bare landscape and the fires of the Wild Hunt burning in small encampments.

 

Sometimes he turned to say something to Kieran only to discover that he wasn’t there. Kieran had been there every morning that Mark had woken up for years of Faerie time.

 

Kieran had been meant to come and see him the night Mark had watched the children in the kitchen. But he’d never come. There’d been no communication from him, either, and Mark was worried now. He told himself that the faerie prince was probably just being cautious, but he found his hand straying to the arrowhead at his throat more often than usual.

 

It was a gesture that reminded him of Cristina, the way she touched the medallion at her throat when she was nervous. Cristina. He wondered what had passed between her and Diego.

 

Mark turned away from the window just as the sound came. His hearing had been sharpened by years in the Hunt; he doubted anyone else in the Institute would have heard it or been awakened.

 

It was a single note, the sound of Gwyn the Hunter’s horn: sharp and harsh, as lonely as mountains. Mark’s blood went cold. It was not a greeting or even a call to the Hunt. It was the note Gwyn blew when they were searching out a deserter. It was the sound of betrayal.

 

Julian had straightened up, raking his hands through his tangled curls, his jaw set. “Emma,” he said. “Go back inside.”

Emma turned and strode back into the Institute—only long enough to seize up Cortana from where it hung beside the door. She stalked back outside to find that the faerie convoy had dismounted their horses, who remained unnaturally still, as if tied in place. Their eyes were blood red, their manes wound with red flowers. Faerie steeds.

 

Gwyn had approached the foot of the steps. He had a strange face, slightly alien: wide eyes, broad cheekbones, wicked eyebrows. One black eye, and one that was pale blue.

 

Beside him came Iarlath, his yellow eyes unblinking. And at his other side, Kieran. He was as beautiful as Emma had remembered him, and looked as cold. His pale face was as severely cut as white marble,

 

his black and silver eyes uncanny in the daylight.

 

“What’s going on?” Emma demanded. “Has something happened?”

Gwyn glanced at her dismissively. “This is none of your affair, Carstairs girl,” he said. “This matter concerns Mark Blackthorn. None of the rest of you.”

 

Julian crossed his arms over his chest. “Anything that concerns my brother concerns me. In fact, it concerns all of us.”

 

Kieran’s mouth set into a hard, uncompromising line. “We are Gwyn and Kieran of the Wild Hunt, and Iarlath of the Unseelie Court, here on a matter of justice. And you will fetch your brother.”

 

Emma moved to stand in the center of the top step, unsheathing Cortana, which sent bright sparks skittering into the air. “Don’t tell him what to do,” she said. “Not here. Not on the steps of the Institute.”

 

Gwyn gave an unexpected, rumbling laugh. “Don’t be a fool, Carstairs girl,” he said. “No single Shadowhunter can hold off three of the Fair Folk, not even armed with one of the Great Swords.”

 

“I wouldn’t underestimate Emma,” said Julian in a voice like razor wire. “Or you’ll find your head lying on the ground next to your still-twitching body.”

“How graphic,” said Iarlath, amused.

“I’m here,” said a breathless voice behind them, and Emma half-closed her eyes, fear going through her like pain.

Mark.

It looked as if he had thrown on jeans and a sweater in a hurry, and jammed his feet into sneakers. His blond hair was ruffled and he looked younger than he usually did, his eyes wide with surprise and undefended astonishment.

 

“But my time isn’t up,” Mark said. He was speaking to Gwyn but looking at Kieran. There was an expression on his face—one Emma couldn’t interpret or describe, one that seemed to mix pleading and pain and gladness. “We’re still trying to find out what’s going on. We’re nearly there. But the deadline—”

 

“Deadline?” Kieran echoed. “Listen to you. You sound like one of them.” Mark looked surprised. “But, Kieran—”

 

“Mark Blackthorn,” said Iarlath. “You stand accused of sharing one of the secrets of Faerie with a Shadowhunter, despite being expressly forbidden to do so.”

 

Mark let the door of the Institute fall shut behind him. He took several steps forward, until he was standing beside Julian. He clasped his hands behind his back; they were shaking. “I—I don’t know what you mean,” he said. “I haven’t told my family anything forbidden.”

 

“Not your family,” said Kieran, an ugly twist to his voice. “Her.” “Her?” Julian said, looking at Emma, but she shook her head. “Not me,” she said. “He means Cristina.”

 

“You didn’t expect us to leave you unobserved, did you, Mark?” Kieran said. His black and silver eyes were like etched daggers. “I was outside the window when I heard you speaking with her. You told her how Gwyn could be deprived of his powers. A secret known only to the Hunt, and forbidden to repeat.”

 

Mark had turned the color of ashes. “I didn’t—”

 

“There is no point lying,” said Iarlath. “Kieran is a prince of Faerie and cannot speak untruths. If he says he overheard this, then he did.”

 

Mark shifted his gaze to Kieran. The sunlight no longer seemed beautiful to Emma, but merciless, beating down on Mark’s gold hair and skin. Hurt spread across his face like the stain of red from a slap. “It would never mean anything to Cristina. She would never tell anyone. She would never hurt me or the Hunt.”

 

Kieran turned his face away, his beautiful mouth twisting at the corner. “Enough.” Mark took a step forward. “Kieran,” he said. “How can you do this? To me?”

Kieran’s face was bleak with pain. “Mine is not the betrayal,” he said. “Speak to your Shadowhunter

 

princess of promises broken.”

 

“Gwyn.” Mark turned to plead with the Hunt’s leader. “What is between myself and Kieran is not a matter for the law of the Courts or the Hunt. Since when did they interfere in matters of the heart?”

 

Matters of the heart. Emma could see it on both their faces, Mark’s and Kieran’s, in the way they looked at each other and the way they didn’t. She wondered how she had missed it before, in the Sanctuary, that these were two people who loved each other. Two people who had hurt each other the way only two people in love could.

 

Kieran looked at Mark as if Mark had taken something irreplaceably precious from him. And Mark looked—

 

Mark looked crushed. Emma thought of herself on the beach, in the morning, with Julian, and the lonely screech of the gulls circling overhead.

 

“Child,” said Gwyn, and to Emma’s surprise, there was gentleness in his voice. “I regret the necessity of this visit more than I can say. And believe me, the Hunt does not interfere, as you say, in matters of the heart. But you broke one of the oldest laws of the Hunt, and put every member of it into danger.”

 

“Exactly,” said Kieran. “Mark has broken the law of Faerie, and for that, he must return to Faerie with us and tarry no longer in the human world.”

“No,” said Iarlath. “That is not the punishment.”

“What?” Kieran turned to him, puzzled. His hair flared at the edges with blue and white like hoarfrost. “But you said—”

 

“I said nothing to you of punishments, princeling,” said Iarlath, stepping forward. “You told me of Mark Blackthorn’s actions and I said they would be duly dealt with. If you believed that meant he would be dragged back to Faerie to be your companion, then perhaps you should remember that the security of the gentry of Faerie is more paramount than the fancies of a son of the Unseelie King.” He looked hard at Mark, his eyes eerie in the bright sunlight. “The King has given me leave to choose your punishment,” he said. “It will be twenty whip-lashes across the back, and count yourself lucky it is not more.”

 

“NO!” The word was like an explosion. To Emma’s surprise it was Julian—Julian, who never raised his voice. Julian, who never shouted. He started down the steps; Emma followed him, Cortana ready in her hand.

 

Kieran and Mark were silent, looking at each other. The rest of the blood had left Kieran’s face and he looked sick. He didn’t move as Julian stepped forward, blocking Kieran’s view of Mark.

“If any of you touch my brother to harm him,” Julian said, “I will kill you.”

Gwyn shook his head. “Do not think I do not admire your spirit, Blackthorn,” he said. “But I would think twice before moving to harm a convoy of Faerie.”

 

“Move to prevent this, and our agreement will be at an end,” said Iarlath. “The investigation will stop, and we will take Mark back with us to Faerie. And he will be whipped there, and worse than any whipping he could receive here. You will win nothing and lose much.”

 

Julian’s hands tightened into fists. “You think you alone understand honor? You who cannot understand what we might lose by standing here and letting you humiliate and torture Mark? This is why faeries are despised—this senseless cruelty.”

 

“Careful, boy,” rumbled Gwyn. “You have your Laws and we have ours. The difference is only that we do not pretend ours are not cruel.”

“The Law is hard,” said Iarlath with amusement, “but it is the Law.”

Mark spoke for the first time since Iarlath had pronounced his sentence. “A bad law is no law,” he said. He looked dazed. Emma thought of the boy who had collapsed in the Sanctuary, who had screamed when he was touched and spoken of beatings that still clearly terrified him. She felt as if her heart was being ripped out—to whip Mark, of all people? Mark, whose body might heal but whose soul would never recover?

 

“You came to us,” Julian said. There was desperation in his voice. “You came to us—you made a bargain with us. You needed our help. We have put everything on the line, risked everything, to solve this. Fine, Mark made a mistake, but this loyalty test is misplaced.”

 

“It is not about loyalty,” said Iarlath. “It is about setting an example. These are the laws. This is how it works. If we let Mark betray us, others will learn we are weak.” His look was pleased. Greedy. “The bargain is important. But this is more important.”

 

Mark moved forward then, catching at Julian’s shoulder. “You can’t change it, little brother,” he said. “Let it happen.” He looked at Iarlath, and then at Gwyn. He didn’t look at Kieran. “I will take the punishment.”

 

Emma heard Iarlath laugh. It was a cold, sharp sound like cracking icicles. He reached into his cloak and pulled out a handful of blood-red stones. He threw them to the ground. Mark, clearly familiar with what Iarlath was doing, blanched.

 

At the spot on the ground where Iarlath had thrown his stones, something had begun to grow. A tree, bent and gnarled and twisted, its bark and leaves the color of blood. Mark watched it in horrified fascination. Kieran looked as if he was going to throw up.

 

“Jules,” Emma whispered. It was the first time she had called him that since the night on the beach. Julian stared blindly at Emma for a moment before turning and lurching the rest of the way down the

steps. After a frozen moment Emma followed him. Iarlath moved immediately to block her way.

“Put your sword away,” he snarled. “No weapons in the presence of the Fair Folk. We know well you cannot be trusted with them.”

 

Emma whipped Cortana up so fast that the blade was a blur. The tip of it sailed beneath Iarlath’s chin, a millimeter from his skin, describing the arc of a deadly smile. He made a noise in his throat even as she slammed the sword into the sheath on her back with enough force to be audible. She stared at him, eyes blazing with rage.

Gwyn chuckled. “And here I thought all the Carstairs were good for was music.”

 

Iarlath gave Emma a filthy look before whirling away and stalking toward Mark. He had begun unwinding a coil of rope from where it was tied at his waist. “Put your hands on the trunk of the quickbeam,” he said. Emma assumed he meant the dark, twisted tree with its sharp branches and blood-colored leaves.

 

“No.” Kieran, sounding desperate, whirled fluidly toward Iarlath. He dropped to the ground, kneeling, his hands outstretched. “I beg you,” he said. “As a prince of the Unseelie Court, I beg you. Do not hurt Mark. Do what you will with me, instead.”

 

Iarlath snorted. “Whipping you would incur your father’s wrath. This will not. Get to your feet, child-prince. Do not shame yourself further.”

Kieran staggered upright. “Please,” he said, looking not at Iarlath, but at Mark.

Mark gave him a look full of so much searing hate Emma nearly recoiled. Kieran looked, if possible, even sicker.

 

“You should have forseen this, whelp,” said Iarlath, but his gaze wasn’t on Kieran—it was on Mark, hungry, full of appetite, as if the thought of a whipping drew him like the thought of food. Mark reached out toward the tree—

Julian stepped forward. “Whip me instead,” he said.

 

For a moment everyone froze. Emma felt as if a baseball bat had slammed into her chest. “No,” she tried to say, but the word wouldn’t come.

 

Mark whirled around to face his brother. “You can’t,” he said. “Mine is the crime. Mine must be the punishment.”

 

Julian stepped past Mark, almost pushing him aside in his determination to present himself in front of Gwyn. He stood with his back straight and chin up. “In a faerie battle, one can pick a champion to

 

represent them,” he said. “If I could stand in for my brother in a fight, why not now?” “Because I’m the one who broke the law!” Mark looked desperate.

“My brother was taken at the beginning of the Dark War,” Julian said. “He never fought in the battle. His hands are clean of faerie blood. Whereas I was in Alicante. I killed Fair Folk.”

 

“He’s goading you,” Mark said. “He doesn’t mean it—” “I do mean it,” said Julian. “It is the truth.”

 

“If someone volunteers to take the place of a condemned man, we cannot gainsay it.” Gwyn’s look was troubled. “Are you sure, Julian Blackthorn? This is not your punishment to take.”

Julian inclined his head. “I’m sure.”

“Let him take the whipping,” Kieran said. “He wants it. Let him have it.”

 

After that, things happened very quickly. Mark threw himself at Kieran, his expression murderous. He was shouting as he dug his fingers into the front of Kieran’s shirt. Emma moved forward and was knocked back by Gwyn, who moved to pull Kieran and Mark apart, pushing Mark brutally aside.

 

“Bastard,” Mark said. His mouth was bleeding. He spit at Kieran’s feet. “You arrogant—” “Enough, Mark,” snapped Gwyn. “Kieran is a prince of the Unseelie Court.”

 

“He is my enemy,” said Mark. “Now and forevermore, my enemy.” He raised a hand as if to strike Kieran; Kieran didn’t move, just looked at him with shattered eyes. Mark lowered his hand and turned away, as if he couldn’t bear to look at Kieran any longer. “Jules,” he said instead. “Julian, please, don’t do this. Let me.”

 

Julian gave his brother a slow, sweet smile. In that smile was all the love and wonder of the little boy who’d lost his brother and against all odds, gotten him back. “It can’t be you, Mark—”

 

“Take him,” Iarlath said to Gwyn, and Gwyn, reluctance written all over his face, stepped forward and caught hold of Mark, pulling him away from Julian. Mark struggled, but Gwyn was a massive man with enormous arms. He held tightly to Mark, his expression impassive, as Julian reached down and pulled off his jacket, and then his shirt.

 

In the bright daylight his skin, lightly tanned but paler over his back and chest, looked vulnerable and exposed. His hair was ruffled all over from the collar of the shirt, and as he dropped it on the ground he looked at Emma.

 

His look broke through the icy vise of shock that gripped her. “Julian.” Her voice shook. “You can’t do this.” She moved forward and found Iarlath blocking her way.

 

“Stay,” Iarlath hissed. He stepped away from Emma, who went to go after him and found her legs pinned in place. She couldn’t move. The buzz of enchantment prickled along her legs and spine, holding her as firmly in place as a bear trap. She tried to wrench herself forward and had to bite back a shriek of pain as the faerie magic clamped and tore at her skin.

 

Julian took a step forward and put his hands against the tree, bending his head. The long line of his spine was incongruously beautiful to Emma. It looked like the arch of a wave, just before it crashed. White scars and black Marks patterned his back like a child’s illustration drawn in skin and blood.

 

“Let me go!” Mark shouted, twisting in Gwyn’s grasp.

 

It was like a nightmare, Emma thought, one of those dreams where you were running and running and never getting anywhere, except now it was real. She was struggling to move her arms and legs against the invisible force that kept her pinned like a butterfly to a board.

 

Iarlath strode toward Julian. Something flashed in his hand, something long and thin and silver. As it flicked forward, tasting the air, Emma saw he was clutching the black handle of a silver whip. He drew his arm back.

“Foolish Shadowhunters,” he said. “Too naive to even know who you can trust.”

 

The whip came down. Emma saw it bite into Julian’s skin, saw the blood, saw him arch back, his body bowing.

 

Pain exploded inside her. It was as if a bar of fire had been laid across her back. She flinched, tasting blood inside her mouth.

“Stop it!” Mark yelled. “Can’t you see you’re hurting them both? That’s not the punishment! Let me go, I don’t have a parabatai, let me go, whip me instead—”

His words ran together inside Emma’s head. Pain was still throbbing through her body.

Gwyn, Iarlath, and Kieran were looking from her to Julian. There was a long, bloody welt along Julian’s back, and he was clutching the trunk of the tree. Sweat darkened his hairline.

 

Emma’s heart cracked. If what she had felt had been agony, what had he felt? Twice, four times as much?

“Send her away,” she heard Iarlath say irritably. “This wailing is ridiculous.”

“This is not hysterics, Iarlath,” said Kieran. “It’s because she’s his parabatai. His warrior partner— they’re bonded—”

“By the Lady, such fuss,” Iarlath hissed, and brought the whip down again.

This time Julian made noise. A choked sound, barely audible. He slid to his knees, still clutching at the tree. Pain lanced through Emma again, but now she was braced, prepared. She screamed—not just any scream, but an echoing sound of horror and betrayal, a shriek of rage and pain and fury.

Gwyn threw his arm out toward Iarlath, but he was looking at Emma. “Stop,” he said.

 

Emma felt the weight of his gaze, and then a lightness as the enchantment that had pinned her in place snapped asunder.

 

She dashed toward Julian and dropped down beside him, yanking her stele from her belt. She could hear Iarlath protest, and Gwyn telling him gruffly to leave it be. She paid no attention. All she could see was Julian—Julian on his knees, his arms around the trunk of the tree, his forehead pressed to it. Blood ran down his naked back. The muscles in his shoulders flexed as she reached for him, as if he were bracing himself for a third blow.

 

Jules, she thought, and as if he heard her, he half-turned his face. He had bitten through his lower lip. Blood dripped off his chin. He looked at her blindly, like a man staring at a mirage.

“Em?” he gasped.

“Shush,” she said, putting her hand against his cheek, her fingers in his hair. He was wet with blood and sweat, his pupils blown wide open. She could see herself in them, see her pale, strained face.

 

She laid her stele against his skin. “I need to heal him,” she said. “Let me heal him.” “This is ridiculous,” Iarlath protested. “The boy should take the whipping—” “Leave it, Iarlath,” said Gwyn. His arms were tight around Mark.

 

Iarlath subsided, muttering—Mark was struggling and gasping—the stele was cold in Emma’s hand— colder still as she brought it down against Julian’s skin—

She drew the rune.

“Sleep, my love,” she whispered, so low that only Julian could hear her. For a moment his eyes fluttered wide, clear and astonished. Then they shut, and he slumped to the ground.

“Emma!” Mark’s voice was a shout. “What have you done?”

Emma rose to her feet, turning to see Iarlath’s face, blazing with rage. Gwyn, though—she thought she caught a flash of amusement in his eyes.

“I knocked him out,” she said. “He’s unconscious. Nothing you can do will wake him.”

Iarlath’s lip curled. “You think to deprive us of our punishment by depriving him of his ability to feel it? Are you such a fool?” He turned toward Gwyn. “Bring Mark forward,” he snarled. “We will whip him instead, and then we will have whipped two Blackthorns.”

“No!” Kieran cried. “No! I forbid it—I cannot bear it—”

 

“No one cares what you can bear, princeling, least of all I,” said Iarlath. His smile was twisted. “Yes, we will whip both brothers,” he said. “Mark will not escape. And I doubt your parabatai will soon

 

forgive you for it,” he added, turning back to Emma.

 

“Instead of whipping two Blackthorns,” she said, “you can whip a Carstairs. Wouldn’t that be better?” Gwyn hadn’t moved at Iarlath’s order; now his eyes widened. Kieran drew in his breath.

 

“Julian told you he killed faeries during the Dark War,” she said. “But I have killed many more. I cut their throats; I wet my fingers with their blood. I’d do it again.”

“Silence!” Rage filled Iarlath’s voice. “How dare you brag of such things?”

She reached down and yanked up her shirt. Mark’s eyes widened as she dropped it to the ground. She was standing in front of all of them in just her bra and jeans. She didn’t care. She didn’t feel naked—she felt clothed in rage and fury, like a warrior from one of Arthur’s tales.

 

“Whip me,” she said. “Agree to it and this will end here. Otherwise I swear I will hunt you through the lands of Faerie unto eternity. Mark can’t, but I can.”

 

Iarlath said something exasperated in a language Emma didn’t know, turning to look at the ocean. Kieran moved forward as he did so, toward Julian’s crumpled form.

 

“Don’t you touch him!” Mark yelled, but Kieran didn’t look at him, just slid his hands under Julian’s arms and drew him away from the tree. He laid him down a few feet away, removing his own long tunic to wrap it around Jules’s unconscious, bleeding body.

 

Emma expelled a breath of relief. The sun felt hot on her naked back. “Do it,” she said. “Unless you are too cowardly to whip a girl.”

“Emma, stop,” said Mark. His voice was full of a terrible ache. “Let it be me.”

Iarlath’s eyes had brightened with a cruel light. “Very well, Carstairs,” he said. “Do as your parabatai did. Ready yourself for the whip.”

 

Emma saw Gwyn’s expression turn to one of sadness as she moved toward the tree. The bark, up close, was smooth and dark red-brown. It felt cool to the touch as she slid her arms around it. She could see the individual cracks in the bark.

 

She gripped the wood with her hands. She heard Mark call her name again, but it seemed to be coming from very far away. Iarlath moved to stand behind her.

 

The whip whistled as he raised it. She closed her eyes. In the darkness behind her eyelids, she saw Julian, and fire around him. Fire in the chambers of the Silent City. She heard his voice whisper the words, those old words from the Bible, taken and remade by Shadowhunters to form the parabatai oath.

 

Whither thou goest, I will go—

The whip came down. If she had thought she felt pain before, it was agony now. Her back felt as if it were being opened up by fire. She ground her teeth together to silence her scream.

Entreat me not to leave thee—

Again. The pain was worse this time. Her fingers bit into the wood of the tree.

Or to return from following after thee—

Again. She slid to her knees.

The Angel do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.

 

Again. The pain rose up like a wave, blotting out the sun. She screamed, but she couldn’t hear herself— her ears were stoppered, the world crumpling, folding in on itself. The whip came down a fifth time, a sixth, a seventh, but now she barely felt it as the darkness swallowed her.

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