“They are horrible,” Cristina said, almost before Kieran had finished speaking. “Horrible. That they would go that far—!”
“We must check in on Diego and the others,” said Mark, though Diego Rocio Rosales was one of his least favorite people. “See if they’re all right.”
“I will write to Diego,” Cristina said. “Kieran, I am so sorry. I thought you would be safe at the Scholomance.”
“You could not have known,” said Kieran. “While I was at the Scholomance, I chided Diego for not planning for the future, but this is not a future anyone could imagine.”
“Kieran’s right. It’s not your fault,” said Mark. “The Cohort is out of control. I’d guess it was one of them who followed Emma and Julian into Faerie.”
Kieran shoved his blankets off with a harsh, sudden gesture. “I owe it to Emma and Julian to go after them. I understand that now. I regretted what I had done even before the water of the pool touched me. But I was never able to testify. I was never able to earn their forgiveness or make up for what I did.”
“Emma has forgiven you,” Cristina said.
Kieran did not look convinced. When he spoke, it was haltingly. “I want to show you something.”
When neither Mark nor Cristina moved, he turned around, kneeling on the bed, and pulled up his shirt, baring his back. Mark heard Cristina suck in her breath as Kieran’s skin was revealed.
It was covered in whip marks. They looked newly healed, as if a few weeks old, no longer bleeding but still scarlet. Mark dry-swallowed. He knew every mark and scar on Kieran’s skin. These were new.
“The Cohort whipped you?” he whispered.
“No,” said Kieran. He let his shirt fall, though he didn’t move from where he was, facing the wall behind the bed. “These marks appeared on my back when the water of the pool touched me. They are Emma’s. I bear them now as a reminder of the agony she would not have been caused if not for me. When the pool water touched me, I felt her fear and pain. How can she forgive me for that?”
Cristina rose to her feet. Her brown eyes glimmered with distress; she touched her hand lightly to Kieran’s back. “Kieran,” she said. “As we all have an infinite capacity to make mistakes, we all have an infinite capacity for forgiveness. Emma bears these scars cheerfully because to her, they are a mark of valor. Let them be the same to you. You are a prince of Faerie. I have seen you be as brave as anyone I have known. Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is confront our own failings.”
“You are a prince of Faerie.” Kieran smiled a little, though it was crooked. “Someone else said that to me tonight.”
“To realize that you have made mistakes and hope to correct them is all anyone can hope to do,” said Mark. “Sometimes we may have the best intentions—you were trying to save my life when you went to Gwyn and Iarlath—and the results are terrible. We all had the best intentions when we went to the Council meeting, and now Livvy is dead and Alicante is in the hands of the Cohort.”
Wincing, Kieran turned to face them both. “I swear to you,” he said. “I will fight to my last breath to help you save the ones you love.”
Cristina smiled, clearly touched. “Let’s just focus on Emma and Julian right now,” she said. “We will be grateful to have you with us in Faerie tomorrow.”
Mark reached behind his neck and untied his elf-bolt necklace. “I want you to wear this, Kieran. You must never be defenseless again.”
Kieran didn’t reach for the elf-bolt. “I gave it to you because I wished you to have it.”
“And now I want you to have it,” said Mark. “There are many who seek to harm you, here and in Faerie. I want to be certain you will always have a weapon close to hand.”
Kieran slowly reached out and caught the necklace from Mark’s hand. “I will wear it then, if it pleases you.”
Cristina gave Mark an unreadable look as Kieran looped the necklace over his head. There was something approving in her expression, as though she were glad of Mark’s generosity.
Kieran ran his hands through his hair. It slipped through his fingers in ink-blue locks. “Exhaustion claims me,” he said. “I am sorry.”
In the Hunt, Mark would have wrapped his arms around Kieran and held him. They would have been cushions for each other’s bodies against the hard ground. “Would you like us to make you a bed of blankets on the floor?” Mark offered.