Kieran didn’t know how long he had been riding. This deep into the Unseelie Lands, days and nights blurred together, all red twilight and pounding hooves, and the whirling stars never set.
He tried not to look at the stars. They made him think of Mark.
He hadn’t eaten in . . . it must have been days. He slept only when exhaustion tumbled him from Windspear’s back. Every time he closed his eyes, images of Mark flashed through his vision. The look in his eyes, hard and hurt at the same time as he unfastened the elf-bolt from around his neck. The warm pressure of his fingers as he closed Kieran’s hand over the little blade on its silver chain. The set of his shoulders as he turned away from Kieran and left him standing in the wind.
He had run from the Hunt soon after. He didn’t know if Gwyn was searching for him, but he would wager his life that some of his fellow Hunters were. They would drag him beaten and bloody back to the Hunt, if they caught him. And maybe that was what he deserved.
But he had his own hunt to finish first.
He couldn’t blame Iarlath for what had happened between Mark and himself. That guilt lay solely on his own shoulders, crushing him under its weight. But oh, he could hate the other faerie. Iarlath had hurt Mark’s family, had planned to hurt Mark. Kieran would kill him for that.
He knew that if he was caught, the sentence would be of torture at best, death more likely. He didn’t care: torture he could stand. And if the sentence was death, he’d always known he’d die for Mark one day.
He was close to Iarlath now, he knew. The older faerie had not bothered to cover his tracks, and the prints of his horse’s hooves stood out clearly against the forest floor. Iarlath was riding hard, but not as hard as Kieran.
He kept going.
There was a smell of smoke in the air, and the glow of a fire shone through the trees. A shape moved against the glow, an unmistakeable silhouette.
Kieran slid from Windspear’s back, sending the horse away with a soft slap on the rump. Windspear hesitated, but Kieran shook his head firmly. He didn’t want his mount injured.
Windspear galloped away, the leaves underfoot deadening the sound of his hooves.
Kieran dropped a hand to his knife, touching the worn leather grip. It was his only weapon. He’d never needed anything else.
Blade in hand, he made his way towards the firelight.
Iarlath looked up when Kieran was still outside the firelit circle. “Show yourself!” he commanded.
Kieran stepped into the light, bringing his knife up before his face. “I am Kieran of the Hunt,” he said. “Fight me.”
Iarlath smiled, a feral grin that spread slowly across his face. “The little princeling,” he said, with obvious delight. “Where is your halfbreed lover?”
“Fight me,” Kieran repeated.
Iarlath grinned wider, if that was possible. “I am Iarlath of the Court,” he said. “Very well.”
He pulled a long, single-edged sword from his pack. By the way the light glinted off it, Kieran could tell it was razor-sharp.
Kieran raised his own knife, dropped a mocking, courtly bow in Iarlath’s direction.
“Begin,” he said.
They fought for a long time. Kieran was fast and angry, but Iarlath was older, stronger and more skilled, and his long sword had the reach on Kieran’s knife. Iarlath was toying with him, sword flickering backwards and forwards, opening shallow cuts along the boy’s body, keeping him at arm’s reach.
But Kieran refused to give in.
Hoofbeats echoed among the trees - Hunt steeds, the Wild Hunters that Kieran had known were hunting him. Iarlath snarled in anger, his sword moving faster. He wasn’t playing with Kieran now.
He was trying to kill him.
Iarlath’s blade slashed across Kieran’s wrist, forcing him to drop the knife. As Kieran gasped in pain, Iarlath kicked out, striking him in the chest and knocking him to the ground.
Before Kieran could move, Iarlath was on him. He dragged a hand roughly down Kieran’s face and neck, smiling his feral, predatory smile. Kieran flinched away, and Iarlath grinned and raised his sword.
Hooves clattered as the Wild Hunt rode into the clearing.
Kieran’s fingers found the elf-bolt and ripped the chain from around his neck. “This I do for you, Mark of my heart,” he whispered, and brought the little blade up and into Iarlath’s throat.
Rough hands were on him, grabbing at him, dragging him out from under Iarlath’s body. He was forced to his knees against a tree, his shirt torn from his back. A tall faerie stepped around behing him, shaking out a long whip.
“Princeling,” he said. “Murderer, too.”
Kieran swore. Athler.
“Gwyn isn’t here,” came Athler’s voice, singsong and mocking. “He can’t see us.”
The whip came down, and Kieran crushed back a cry.
“Do you remember what we do when Gwyn can’t see us?”
Yes, Kieran remembered. He shut his eyes and closed his fingers around the elf-bolt, hard enough that the blade sliced into his palm.
He wouldn’t let it go.
The lashes kept coming. They planned to whip him unconscious, Kieran knew.
After a long time, they succeeded.
They took Kieran back to the Hunt, as he’d known they would. Afterwards, he didn’t remember much of it - everything was blurred, faded out by exhaustion and pain. He stumbled along behind the Hunters’ horses, hands bound by a long rope tied to Athler’s saddle.
Somewhere along the way, Athler left. An errand in the Court, he said. Kieran was too far gone to notice. It was only later that he realised Athler had gone to the Unseelie King.
A few hours after he stumbled into the clearing the Wild Hunt were camped in, half-dead from exhaustion and wrists chafed to bleeding, the soldiers of the Court came to take him.
Kieran fought them. And when he was finally overpowered, forced to his knees at their leader’s feet, the last thing he saw was Gwyn’s face, lined with sadness and anger. Then the butt of a dagger slammed against his temple and he fell down, down, into blackness.
Kieran woke on a cold stone floor. His hands were bound and his back burned with pain - strange. He hadn’t taken a whipping in weeks.
Where was he? He had been at the Shadowhunters’ Institute, watching as Mark talked to the rose girl - Cristina - but he didn’t think the Shadowhunters had done this. Mark wouldn’t have let them. He had to believe that.
Wait. What was that in his hand?
He looked down. A chain spilled from the side of his fist, and something cold slammed into his heart. Slowly, he opened his hand.
Mark’s elf-bolt. Bloodstained, the chain snapped at the clasp. Why did Kieran have it? Was Mark hurt?
Even . . . killed?
No. No, he couldn’t let himself think that.
Footsteps rang on stone and a familiar, hated laugh echoed through the room.
The Unseelie prince stepped into view, his hands and arms sheathed to the bicep in thick leather gloves. That meant iron, or perhaps a branding. Why?
Kieran stood, wincing. He was cut all over - how had that happened?
“So,” said Erec. “Kieran Kinslayer.”
“Kinslayer? Do not play games with me, Erec. What is going on? Where is Mark?”
Erec just laughed. “Oh, your little Nephilim lover is safe enough with his own kind. He’s left you out in the cold, I’m afraid.”
No. No, that couldn’t be true . . . but Erec couldn’t lie.
The Unseelie prince continued. “You killed Iarlath. You see? Kinslayer.”
Kieran shook his head. “I would remember that.”
Erec laughed again. “No, you wouldn’t. Father’s taken some of your memories. But you killed him, all the same.”
Kieran looked down at his bound hands. There was blood under his nails, blood with a darker, greener tint than his own. And he had hated Iarlath.
“You’ve already been sentenced,” Erec went on. He was enjoying it, the bastard. “You won’t remember the trial, either, but it was hilarious. You could barely stand.” He grinned. “You die at the full moon.”
Kieran felt his face pale, and hated himself for it. He couldn’t show fear in front of Erec.
And anyway, he wouldn’t die. Mark would come for him, no matter what Erec said. Mark would come.
Erec stepped forward, grabbing both Kieran’s wrists in one gloved hand and shoving him hard against the wall. “The full moon’s two days away,” he hissed. “Think how much fun we can have in two whole days.”
Kieran shut his eyes, pulling back inside his head and making his mind a blank - the best way he knew of dealing with Erec’s torments. He just had to hold on until Mark came.
And Mark would come, of course he would.
Mark would come.