Main A Court of Thorns and Roses
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Mate if ya lookin for a hot dude, plot twists, a girl who can kick some major ass, some hot romance and magic related plot this one's for ya. Go for it.
02 September 2020 (17:50)
i love this book so much I RECOMMENDD!!!!
25 January 2021 (19:01)
17 February 2021 (11:16)
i love feyre so much pls
21 February 2021 (03:41)
Oh my lorddddddd I love this book, but the next in the series is even better
06 March 2021 (02:27)
i haven’t even read it yet but i have a good feeling about it seeing as so many people have recommended it to me and that there is such a large fandom behind it. here i go, off into the world of faeries
16 March 2021 (06:15)
Honestly I super wanted to like this book but the amount of times the word “mate” ,as in like soulmate lover type deal , came up made me want to light myself on fire but if that doesn’t bother you it’s actually written really well
24 March 2021 (05:07)
It was a struggle to get to enjoy this book at first... but it was all worth it 70% through and I bet what's coming is even better...don't give up halfway like I almost did it will all be rewarded.
26 March 2021 (15:27)
The best author ever
27 March 2021 (09:18)
DEFINITELY RECOMMEND THIS
01 April 2021 (01:46)
Its an amazing book to read
05 April 2021 (03:29)
the characters and plot are actually developed well but the series takes a nosedive from here
05 April 2021 (10:42)
SO OBSESSED. I think I read this too young (I had been 10) but 16 now and still very obsessed
07 April 2021 (06:38)
I have read many books from great Authors but Sarah J.Maas takes the cup..ACOTAR is lit..no book has ever made me feel this way..I actually read the last book in the series the day it got released in Feb..I dont normally write reviews but i had to appreciate perfection at its best
14 April 2021 (18:12)
I recommend this book to EVERYONE. I got hooked onto the series and couldn't let it go. Love all the books!
14 April 2021 (22:12)
I started out liking it and was even obsessed. But then I started to not like is, as the characters are bland and the series is overhyped.
21 April 2021 (15:22)
overhyppeed im sorry but lets all be honest the book is only hyped up becaus eof the sex if it wasnt for the sex in this book i doubt anybody would have ever picked it up since the plot is ...questionable
27 April 2021 (21:05)
@jk I ain't here for the "sex" I am here because I picked it. Not that I have anything against the fact you just came for it but I just want you t know that not everybody came here for the sex...
28 April 2021 (18:44)
Well @jk, I just picked it up bc I heard it was good. I also heard it had a strong female lead. Not everyone is here for the same things you are.
01 May 2021 (07:16)
One of the best fantasy fiction series in the young adult readers category. I generally do not look for young adult literature as I’m no longer part of that demographic, but am grateful A Court of Thorns and Roses was included in my Kindle recommendations. A Maas fan ever after! Charmingly fierce characters; intense, riveting plot. Couldn’t tear myself away.
05 May 2021 (07:14)
Absolute waste. Made it through 4 chapters. The writing is middle-school tier at best and mostly unnecessary exposition. Characters are boring, the dialogue staggered and awkward, and character reactions unrealistic.
Hard pass. 1/5
Hard pass. 1/5
06 May 2021 (08:59)
All of the relationships are abusive or at least toxic, most of the characters are poorly written, there's underlaying racism and every ruler in this land is a bad ruler who should be deposed. YES EVERY ONE. Even the one the fandom praises as a great and just ruler. He's not, and this book isn't feminist AT ALL. Please don't read it, or if you read it do it with open eyes
06 May 2021 (17:02)
Is it a reverse harem?
07 May 2021 (09:38)
i just love this series.. best author ever
07 May 2021 (17:26)
Join the Illuminati to become rich and famous are you, business,Man or woman, politician,you need a hight rank in your office promotion, you need a charge of living. illuminati is the way. your,musician,pastor,lawyer,actor,actress,banker, and you. want to be rich, power ,get high rank, and be famous in life. You can achieve your dreams by being a member of the Great ILLUMINATI brother hood. With this all your dreams and heart desire can be fully accomplish, if you really want to be a member of the great ILLUMINATI brotherhood, every new members are entitled with sum of 10 millions dollars and a car of you choice and Golden talisman Ring, will help and protect each other if you have any problem reguilding your from or enemies, and a free visa to travel any place in the world, . Please if you are interested contact Mr Morgan Kindly us morganilluminatirich@gmail com us+14703335103
09 May 2021 (20:36)
This book is hands down one of my favourite read
16 May 2021 (13:57)
at first I didn't really like it, but it became better! definitely recommend :)
01 June 2021 (20:50)
Me too:) can't wait to read this book!
Me too:) can't wait to read this book!
03 June 2021 (15:55)
This book was so so good
04 June 2021 (18:35)
mr and mrs jung
Pls just how can i read it ?
06 June 2021 (02:54)
the book series literally has no plot
08 June 2021 (21:11)
The book for you if you like enemies to lovers (with a twist) and are a fan of Holly Black or Jennifer L. Armentrout.
16 June 2021 (07:48)
the book was so boring and i almost dropped it but im glad i didnt bcus damn.....its so good. the character development is amazing and the plot is so good
29 June 2021 (21:27)
I thought this was pretty good. Some bits were boring but I loved it. Downloaded the second one already!! I’ve never read something like this before.
04 July 2021 (19:04)
Love tamlin the tool is a butch. Go rhysand
12 July 2021 (19:40)
Tamlin is manipulative and possessive. In the 2nd book, he locks up feyre in his court. Rhysand was the one who freed her.
Tamlin is manipulative and possessive. In the 2nd book, he locks up feyre in his court. Rhysand was the one who freed her.
15 July 2021 (07:22)
The story is boring at first but it eventually gets better. The development of the main female character was well writen and paced throughout the series though I kind of didn't like how Tamlin was perceived near the end of the series. Nevertheless ACOTAR is only the beginning so once you get through here, things just gets better. Definitely the start of a great series
17 July 2021 (01:01)
Well Morgan is persistent.
21 July 2021 (14:37)
Honestly...this book kept popping up in my recommendations so I thought why not? and let me tell you it was one of the best decisions I ever made. the beginning chapters were boring, cryptic, and didn't make sense mostly but when we reached the climax...OMG!!! it is worth it. its one of those books that I had to first take a breather before picking up the next, which I have also not finished... anyway, its a great book. HIGHLY recommend.
28 July 2021 (00:30)
For Josh— Because you would go Under the Mountain for me. I love you. Contents Map Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41 Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45 Chapter 46 Acknowledgments Pronunciation Guide Also by Sarah J. Maas Map Chapter 1 The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice. I’d been monitoring the parameters of the thicket for an hour, and my vantage point in the crook of a tree branch had turned useless. The gusting wind blew thick flurries to sweep away my tracks, but buried along with them any signs of potential quarry. Hunger had brought me farther from home than I usually risked, but winter was the hard time. The animals had pulled in, going deeper into the woods than I could follow, leaving me to pick off stragglers one by one, praying they’d last until spring. They hadn’t. I wiped my numb fingers over my eyes, brushing away the flakes clinging to my lashes. Here there were no telltale trees stripped of bark to mark the deer’s passing—they hadn’t yet moved on. They would remain until the bark ran out, then travel north past the wolves’ territory and perhaps into the faerie lands of Prythian—where no mortals would dare go, not unless they had a death wish. A shudder skittered down my spine at the thought, and I shoved it away, focusing on my surroundings, on the task ahead. That was all I could do, all I’d been able to do for years: focus on surviving the week, the day, the hour ahead. And now, with the snow, I’d be lucky to spot anything—especially from my position up in the tree, scarcely able to se; e fifteen feet ahead. Stifling a groan as my stiff limbs protested at the movement, I unstrung my bow before easing off the tree. The icy snow crunched under my fraying boots, and I ground my teeth. Low visibility, unnecessary noise—I was well on my way to yet another fruitless hunt. Only a few hours of daylight remained. If I didn’t leave soon, I’d have to navigate my way home in the dark, and the warnings of the town hunters still rang fresh in my mind: giant wolves were on the prowl, and in numbers. Not to mention whispers of strange folk spotted in the area, tall and eerie and deadly. Anything but faeries, the hunters had beseeched our long-forgotten gods—and I had secretly prayed alongside them. In the eight years we’d been living in our village, two days’ journey from the immortal border of Prythian, we’d been spared an attack—though traveling peddlers sometimes brought stories of distant border towns left in splinters and bones and ashes. These accounts, once rare enough to be dismissed by the village elders as hearsay, had in recent months become commonplace whisperings on every market day. I had risked much in coming so far into the forest, but we’d finished our last loaf of bread yesterday, and the remainder of our dried meat the day before. Still, I would have rather spent another night with a hungry belly than found myself satisfying the appetite of a wolf. Or a faerie. Not that there was much of me to feast on. I’d turned gangly by this time of the year, and could count a good number of my ribs. Moving as nimbly and quietly as I could between the trees, I pushed a hand against my hollow and aching stomach. I knew the expression that would be on my two elder sisters’ faces when I returned to our cottage empty-handed yet again. After a few minutes of careful searching, I crouched in a cluster of snow-heavy brambles. Through the thorns, I had a half-decent view of a clearing and the small brook flowing through it. A few holes in the ice suggested it was still frequently used. Hopefully something would come by. Hopefully. I sighed through my nose, digging the tip of my bow into the ground, and leaned my forehead against the crude curve of wood. We wouldn’t last another week without food. And too many families had already started begging for me to hope for handouts from the wealthier townsfolk. I’d witnessed firsthand exactly how far their charity went. I eased into a more comfortable position and calmed my breathing, straining to listen to the forest over the wind. The snow fell and fell, dancing and curling like sparkling spindrifts, the white fresh and clean against the brown and gray of the world. And despite myself, despite my numb limbs, I quieted that relentless, vicious part of my mind to take in the snow-veiled woods. Once it had been second nature to savor the contrast of new grass against dark, tilled soil, or an amethyst brooch nestled in folds of emerald silk; once I’d dreamed and breathed and thought in color and light and shape. Sometimes I would even indulge in envisioning a day when my sisters were married and it was only me and Father, with enough food to go around, enough money to buy some paint, and enough time to put those colors and shapes down on paper or canvas or the cottage walls. Not likely to happen anytime soon—perhaps ever. So I was left with moments like this, admiring the glint of pale winter light on snow. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it—bothered to notice anything lovely or interesting. Stolen hours in a decrepit barn with Isaac Hale didn’t count; those times were hungry and empty and sometimes cruel, but never lovely. The howling wind calmed into a soft sighing. The snow fell lazily now, in big, fat clumps that gathered along every nook and bump of the trees. Mesmerizing—the lethal, gentle beauty of the snow. I’d soon have to return to the muddy, frozen roads of the village, to the cramped heat of our cottage. Some small, fragmented part of me recoiled at the thought. Bushes rustled across the clearing. Drawing my bow was a matter of instinct. I peered through the thorns, and my breath caught. Less than thirty paces away stood a small doe, not yet too scrawny from winter, but desperate enough to wrench bark from a tree in the clearing. A deer like that could feed my family for a week or more. My mouth watered. Quiet as the wind hissing through dead leaves, I took aim. She continued tearing off strips of bark, chewing slowly, utterly unaware that her death waited yards away. I could dry half the meat, and we could immediately eat the rest—stews, pies … Her skin could be sold, or perhaps turned into clothing for one of us. I needed new boots, but Elain needed a new cloak, and Nesta was prone to crave anything someone else possessed. My fingers trembled. So much food—such salvation. I took a steadying breath, double-checking my aim. But there was a pair of golden eyes shining from the brush adjacent to mine. The forest went silent. The wind died. Even the snow paused. We mortals no longer kept gods to worship, but if I had known their lost names, I would have prayed to them. All of them. Concealed in the thicket, the wolf inched closer, its gaze set on the oblivious doe. He was enormous—the size of a pony—and though I’d been warned about their presence, my mouth turned bone-dry. But worse than his size was his unnatural stealth: even as he inched closer in the brush, he remained unheard, unspotted by the doe. No animal that massive could be so quiet. But if he was no ordinary animal, if he was of Prythian origin, if he was somehow a faerie, then being eaten was the least of my concerns. If he was a faerie, I should already be running. Yet maybe … maybe it would be a favor to the world, to my village, to myself, to kill him while I remained undetected. Putting an arrow through his eye would be no burden. But despite his size, he looked like a wolf, moved like a wolf. Animal, I reassured myself. Just an animal. I didn’t let myself consider the alternative—not when I needed my head clear, my breathing steady. I had a hunting knife and three arrows. The first two were ordinary arrows—simple and efficient, and likely no more than bee stings to a wolf that size. But the third arrow, the longest and heaviest one, I’d bought from a traveling peddler during a summer when we’d had enough coppers for extra luxuries. An arrow carved from mountain ash, armed with an iron head. From songs sung to us as lullabies over our cradles, we all knew from infancy that faeries hated iron. But it was the ash wood that made their immortal, healing magic falter long enough for a human to make a killing blow. Or so legend and rumor claimed. The only proof we had of the ash’s effectiveness was its sheer rarity. I’d seen drawings of the trees, but never one with my own eyes—not after the High Fae had burned them all long ago. So few remained, most of them small and sickly and hidden by the nobility within high-walled groves. I’d spent weeks after my purchase debating whether that overpriced bit of wood had been a waste of money, or a fake, and for three years, the ash arrow had sat unused in my quiver. Now I drew it, keeping my movements minimal, efficient—anything to avoid that monstrous wolf looking in my direction. The arrow was long and heavy enough to inflict damage—possibly kill him, if I aimed right. My chest became so tight it ached. And in that moment, I realized my life boiled down to one question: Was the wolf alone? I gripped my bow and drew the string farther back. I was a decent shot, but I’d never faced a wolf. I’d thought it made me lucky—even blessed. But now … I didn’t know where to hit or how fast they moved. I couldn’t afford to miss. Not when I had only one ash arrow. And if it was indeed a faerie’s heart pounding under that fur, then good riddance. Good riddance, after all their kind had done to us. I wouldn’t risk this one later creeping into our village to slaughter and maim and torment. Let him die here and now. I’d be glad to end him. The wolf crept closer, and a twig snapped beneath one of his paws—each bigger than my hand. The doe went rigid. She glanced to either side, ears straining toward the gray sky. With the wolf’s downwind position, she couldn’t see or smell him. His head lowered, and his massive silver body—so perfectly blended into the snow and shadows—sank onto its haunches. The doe was still staring in the wrong direction. I glanced from the doe to the wolf and back again. At least he was alone—at least I’d been spared that much. But if the wolf scared the doe off, I was left with nothing but a starving, oversize wolf—possibly a faerie—looking for the next-best meal. And if he killed her, destroying precious amounts of hide and fat … If I judged wrongly, my life wasn’t the only one that would be lost. But my life had been reduced to nothing but risks these past eight years that I’d been hunting in the woods, and I’d picked correctly most of the time. Most of the time. The wolf shot from the brush in a flash of gray and white and black, his yellow fangs gleaming. He was even more gargantuan in the open, a marvel of muscle and speed and brute strength. The doe didn’t stand a chance. I fired the ash arrow before he destroyed much else of her. The arrow found its mark in his side, and I could have sworn the ground itself shuddered. He barked in pain, releasing the doe’s neck as his blood sprayed on the snow—so ruby bright. He whirled toward me, those yellow eyes wide, hackles raised. His low growl reverberated in the empty pit of my stomach as I surged to my feet, snow churning around me, another arrow drawn. But the wolf merely looked at me, his maw stained with blood, my ash arrow protruding so vulgarly from his side. The snow began falling again. He looked, and with a sort of awareness and surprise that made me fire the second arrow. Just in case—just in case that intelligence was of the immortal, wicked sort. He didn’t try to dodge the arrow as it went clean through his wide yellow eye. He collapsed to the ground. Color and darkness whirled, eddying in my vision, mixing with the snow. His legs were twitching as a low whine sliced through the wind. Impossible—he should be dead, not dying. The arrow was through his eye almost to the goose fletching. But wolf or faerie, it didn’t matter. Not with that ash arrow buried in his side. He’d be dead soon enough. Still, my hands shook as I brushed off snow and edged closer, still keeping a good distance. Blood gushed from the wounds I’d given him, staining the snow crimson. He pawed at the ground, his breathing already slowing. Was he in much pain, or was his whimper just his attempt to shove death away? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. The snow swirled around us. I stared at him until that coat of charcoal and obsidian and ivory ceased rising and falling. Wolf—definitely just a wolf, despite his size. The tightness in my chest eased, and I loosed a sigh, my breath clouding in front of me. At least the ash arrow had proved itself to be lethal, regardless of who or what it took down. A rapid examination of the doe told me I could carry only one animal—and even that would be a struggle. But it was a shame to leave the wolf. Though it wasted precious minutes—minutes during which any predator could smell the fresh blood—I skinned him and cleaned my arrows as best I could. If anything, it warmed my hands. I wrapped the bloody side of his pelt around the doe’s death-wound before I hoisted her across my shoulders. It was several miles back to our cottage, and I didn’t need a trail of blood leading every animal with fangs and claws straight to me. Grunting against the weight, I grasped the legs of the deer and spared a final glance at the steaming carcass of the wolf. His remaining golden eye now stared at the snow-heavy sky, and for a moment, I wished I had it in me to feel remorse for the dead thing. But this was the forest, and it was winter. Chapter 2 The sun had set by the time I exited the forest, my knees shaking. My hands, stiff from clenching the legs of the deer, had gone utterly numb miles ago. Not even the carcass could ward off the deepening chill. The world was awash in hues of dark blue, interrupted only by shafts of buttery light escaping from the shuttered windows of our dilapidated cottage. It was like striding through a living painting—a fleeting moment of stillness, the blues swiftly shifting to solid darkness. As I trudged up the path, each step fueled only by near-dizzying hunger, my sisters’ voices fluttered out to meet me. I didn’t need to discern their words to know they most likely were chattering about some young man or the ribbons they’d spotted in the village when they should have been chopping wood, but I smiled a bit nonetheless. I kicked my boots against the stone door frame, knocking the snow from them. Bits of ice came free from the gray stones of the cottage, revealing the faded ward-markings etched around the threshold. My father had once convinced a passing charlatan to trade the engravings against faerie harm in exchange for one of his wood carvings. There was so little that my father was ever able to do for us that I hadn’t possessed the heart to tell him the engravings were useless … and undoubtedly fake. Mortals didn’t possess magic—didn’t possess any of the superior strength and speed of the faeries or High Fae. The man, claiming some High Fae blood in his ancestry, had just carved the whorls and swirls and runes around the door and windows, muttered a few nonsense words, and ambled on his way. I yanked open the wooden door, the frozen iron handle biting my skin like an asp. Heat and light blinded me as I slipped inside. “Feyre!” Elain’s soft gasp scraped past my ears, and I blinked back the brightness of the fire to find my second-eldest sister before me. Though she was bundled in a threadbare blanket, her gold-brown hair—the hair all three of us had—was coiled perfectly about her head. Eight years of poverty hadn’t stripped from her the desire to look lovely. “Where did you get that?” The undercurrent of hunger honed her words into a sharpness that had become too common in recent weeks. No mention of the blood on me. I’d long since given up hope of them actually noticing whether I came back from the woods every evening. At least until they got hungry again. But then again, my mother hadn’t made them swear anything when they stood beside her deathbed. I took a calming breath as I slung the doe off my shoulders. She hit the wooden table with a thud, rattling a ceramic cup on its other end. “Where do you think I got it?” My voice had turned hoarse, each word burning as it came out. My father and Nesta still silently warmed their hands by the hearth, my eldest sister ignoring him, as usual. I peeled the wolf pelt from the doe’s body, and after removing my boots and setting them by the door, I turned to Elain. Her brown eyes—my father’s eyes—remained pinned on the doe. “Will it take you long to clean it?” Me. Not her, not the others. I’d never once seen their hands sticky with blood and fur. I’d only learned to prepare and harvest my kills thanks to the instruction of others. Elain pushed her hand against her belly, probably as empty and aching as my own. It wasn’t that Elain was cruel. She wasn’t like Nesta, who had been born with a sneer on her face. Elain sometimes just … didn’t grasp things. It wasn’t meanness that kept her from offering to help; it simply never occurred to her that she might be capable of getting her hands dirty. I’d never been able to decide whether she actually didn’t understand that we were truly poor or if she just refused to accept it. It still hadn’t stopped me from buying her seeds for the flower garden she tended in the milder months, whenever I could afford it. And it hadn’t stopped her from buying me three small tins of paint—red, yellow, and blue—during that same summer I’d had enough to buy the ash arrow. It was the only gift she’d ever given me, and our house still bore the marks of it, even if the paint was now fading and chipped: little vines and flowers along the windows and thresholds and edges of things, tiny curls of flame on the stones bordering the hearth. Any spare minutes I’d had that bountiful summer I used to bedeck our house in color, sometimes hiding clever decorations inside drawers, behind the threadbare curtains, underneath the chairs and table. We hadn’t had a summer that easy since. “Feyre.” My father’s deep rumble came from the fire. His dark beard was neatly trimmed, his face spotless—like my sisters’. “What luck you had today—in bringing us such a feast.” From beside my father, Nesta snorted. Not surprising. Any bit of praise for anyone—me, Elain, other villagers—usually resulted in her dismissal. And any word from our father usually resulted in her ridicule as well. I straightened, almost too tired to stand, but braced a hand on the table beside the doe as I shot Nesta a glare. Of us, Nesta had taken the loss of our fortune the hardest. She had quietly resented my father from the moment we’d fled our manor, even after that awful day one of the creditors had come to show just how displeased he was at the loss of his investment. But at least Nesta didn’t fill our heads with useless talk of regaining our wealth, like my father. No, she just spent whatever money I didn’t hide from her, and rarely bothered to acknowledge my father’s limping presence at all. Some days, I couldn’t tell which of us was the most wretched and bitter. “We can eat half the meat this week,” I said, shifting my gaze to the doe. The deer took up the entirety of the rickety table that served as our dining area, workspace, and kitchen. “We can dry the other half,” I went on, knowing that no matter how nicely I phrased it, I’d still do the bulk of it. “And I’ll go to the market tomorrow to see how much I can get for the hides,” I finished, more to myself than to them. No one bothered to confirm they’d heard me, anyway. My father’s ruined leg was stretched out before him, as close to the fire’s heat as it could get. The cold, or the rain, or a change in temperature always aggravated the vicious, twisted wounds around his knee. His simply carved cane was propped up against his chair—a cane he’d made for himself … and that Nesta was sometimes prone to leaving far out of his reach. He could find work if he wasn’t so ashamed, Nesta always said when I hissed about it. She hated him for the injury, too—for not fighting back when that creditor and his thugs had burst into the cottage and smashed his knee again and again. Nesta and Elain had fled into the bedroom, barricading the door. I had stayed, begging and weeping through every scream of my father, every crunch of bone. I’d soiled myself—and then vomited right on the stones before the hearth. Only then did the men leave. We never saw them again. We’d used a massive chunk of our remaining money to pay for the healer. It had taken my father six months to even walk, a year before he could go a mile. The coppers he brought in when someone pitied him enough to buy his wood carvings weren’t enough to keep us fed. Five years ago, when the money was well and truly gone, when my father still couldn’t—wouldn’t—move much about, he hadn’t argued when I announced that I was going hunting. He hadn’t bothered to attempt to stand from his seat by the fire, hadn’t bothered to look up from his wood carving. He just let me walk into those deadly, eerie woods that even the most seasoned hunters were wary of. He’d become a little more aware now—sometimes offered signs of gratitude, sometimes hobbled all the way into town to sell his carvings—but not much. “I’d love a new cloak,” Elain said at last with a sigh, at the same moment Nesta rose and declared: “I need a new pair of boots.” I kept quiet, knowing better than to get in the middle of one of their arguments, but I glanced at Nesta’s still-shiny pair by the door. Beside hers, my too-small boots were falling apart at the seams, held together only by fraying laces. “But I’m freezing with my raggedy old cloak,” Elain pleaded. “I’ll shiver to death.” She fixed her wide eyes on me and said, “Please, Feyre.” She drew out the two syllables of my name—fay-ruh—into the most hideous whine I’d ever endured, and Nesta loudly clicked her tongue before ordering her to shut up. I drowned them out as they began quarreling over who would get the money the hide would fetch tomorrow and found my father now standing at the table, one hand braced against it to support his weight as he inspected the deer. His attention slid to the giant wolf pelt. His fingers, still smooth and gentlemanly, turned over the pelt and traced a line through the bloody underside. I tensed. His dark eyes flicked to mine. “Feyre,” he murmured, and his mouth became a tight line. “Where did you get this?” “The same place I got the deer,” I replied with equal quiet, my words cool and sharp. His gaze traveled over the bow and quiver strapped to my back, the wooden-hilted hunting knife at my side. His eyes turned damp. “Feyre … the risk …” I jerked my chin at the pelt, unable to keep the snap from my voice as I said, “I had no other choice.” What I really wanted to say was: You don’t even bother to attempt to leave the house most days. Were it not for me, we would starve. Were it not for me, we’d be dead. “Feyre,” he repeated, and closed his eyes. My sisters had gone quiet, and I looked up in time to see Nesta crinkle her nose with a sniff. She picked at my cloak. “You stink like a pig covered in its own filth. Can’t you at least try to pretend that you’re not an ignorant peasant?” I didn’t let the sting and ache show. I’d been too young to learn more than the basics of manners and reading and writing when our family had fallen into misfortune, and she’d never let me forget it. She stepped back to run a finger over the braided coils of her gold-brown hair. “Take those disgusting clothes off.” I took my time, swallowing the words I wanted to bark back at her. Older than me by three years, she somehow looked younger than I did, her golden cheeks always flushed with a delicate, vibrant pink. “Can you make a pot of hot water and add wood to the fire?” But even as I asked, I noticed the woodpile. There were only five logs left. “I thought you were going to chop wood today.” Nesta picked at her long, neat nails. “I hate chopping wood. I always get splinters.” She glanced up from beneath her dark lashes. Of all of us, Nesta looked the most like our mother—especially when she wanted something. “Besides, Feyre,” she said with a pout, “you’re so much better at it! It takes you half the time it takes me. Your hands are suited for it—they’re already so rough.” My jaw clenched. “Please,” I asked, calming my breathing, knowing an argument was the last thing I needed or wanted. “Please get up at dawn to chop that wood.” I unbuttoned the top of my tunic. “Or we’ll be eating a cold breakfast.” Her brows narrowed. “I will do no such thing!” But I was already walking toward the small second room where my sisters and I slept. Elain murmured a soft plea to Nesta, which earned her a hiss in response. I glanced over my shoulder at my father and pointed to the deer. “Get the knives ready,” I said, not bothering to sound pleasant. “I’ll be out soon.” Without waiting for an answer, I shut the door behind me. The room was large enough for a rickety dresser and the enormous ironwood bed we slept in. The sole remnant of our former wealth, it had been ordered as a wedding gift from my father to my mother. It was the bed in which we’d been born, and the bed in which my mother died. In all the painting I’d done to our house these past few years, I’d never touched it. I slung off my outer clothes onto the sagging dresser—frowning at the violets and roses I’d painted around the knobs of Elain’s drawer, the crackling flames I’d painted around Nesta’s, and the night sky—whorls of yellow stars standing in for white—around mine. I’d done it to brighten the otherwise dark room. They’d never commented on it. I don’t know why I’d ever expected them to. Groaning, it was all I could do to keep from collapsing onto the bed. We dined on roasted venison that night. Though I knew it was foolish, I didn’t object when each of us had a small second helping until I declared the meat off-limits. I’d spend tomorrow preparing the deer’s remaining parts for consumption, then I’d allot a few hours to currying up both hides before taking them to the market. I knew a few vendors who might be interested in such a purchase—though neither was likely to give me the fee I deserved. But money was money, and I didn’t have the time or the funds to travel to the nearest large town to find a better offer. I sucked on the tines of my fork, savoring the remnants of fat coating the metal. My tongue slipped over the crooked prongs—the fork was part of a shabby set my father had salvaged from the servants’ quarters while the creditors ransacked our manor home. None of our utensils matched, but it was better than using our fingers. My mother’s dowry flatware had long since been sold. My mother. Imperious and cold with her children, joyous and dazzling among the peerage who frequented our former estate, doting on my father—the one person whom she truly loved and respected. But she also had truly loved parties—so much so that she didn’t have time to do anything with me at all save contemplate how my budding abilities to sketch and paint might secure me a future husband. Had she lived long enough to see our wealth crumble, she would have been shattered by it—more so than my father. Perhaps it was a merciful thing that she died. If anything, it left more food for us. There was nothing left of her in the cottage beyond the ironwood bed—and the vow I’d made. Every time I looked toward a horizon or wondered if I should just walk and walk and never look back, I’d hear that promise I made eleven years ago as she wasted away on her deathbed. Stay together, and look after them. I’d agreed, too young to ask why she hadn’t begged my elder sisters, or my father. But I’d sworn it to her, and then she’d died, and in our miserable human world—shielded only by the promise made by the High Fae five centuries ago—in our world where we’d forgotten the names of our gods, a promise was law; a promise was currency; a promise was your bond. There were times when I hated her for asking that vow of me. Perhaps, delirious with fever, she hadn’t even known what she was demanding. Or maybe impending death had given her some clarity about the true nature of her children, her husband. I set down the fork and watched the flames of our meager fire dance along the remaining logs, stretching out my aching legs beneath the table. I turned to my sisters. As usual, Nesta was complaining about the villagers—they had no manners, they had no social graces, they had no idea just how shoddy the fabric of their clothes was, even though they pretended that it was as fine as silk or chiffon. Since we had lost our fortune, their former friends dutifully ignored them, so my sisters paraded about as though the young peasants of the town made up a second-rate social circle. I took a sip from my cup of hot water—we couldn’t even afford tea these days—as Nesta continued her story to Elain. “Well, I said to him, ‘If you think you can just ask me so nonchalantly, sir, I’m going to decline!’ And you know what Tomas said?” Arms braced on the table and eyes wide, Elain shook her head. “Tomas Mandray?” I interrupted. “The woodcutter’s second son?” Nesta’s blue-gray eyes narrowed. “Yes,” she said, and shifted to address Elain again. “What does he want?” I glanced at my father. No reaction—no hint of alarm or sign that he was even listening. Lost to whatever fog of memory had crept over him, he was smiling mildly at his beloved Elain, the only one of us who bothered to really speak to him at all. “He wants to marry her,” Elain said dreamily. I blinked. Nesta cocked her head. I’d seen predators use that movement before. I sometimes wondered if her unrelenting steel would have helped us better survive—thrive, even—if she hadn’t been so preoccupied with our lost status. “Is there a problem, Feyre?” She flung my name like an insult, and my jaw ached from clenching it so hard. My father shifted in his seat, blinking, and though I knew it was foolish to react to her taunts, I said, “You can’t chop wood for us, but you want to marry a woodcutter’s son?” Nesta squared her shoulders. “I thought all you wanted was for us to get out of the house—to marry off me and Elain so you can have enough time to paint your glorious masterpieces.” She sneered at the pillar of foxglove I’d painted along the edge of the table—the colors too dark and too blue, with none of the white freckling inside the trumpets, but I’d made do, even if it had killed me not to have white paint, to make something so flawed and lasting. I drowned the urge to cover up the painting with my hand. Maybe tomorrow I’d just scrape it off the table altogether. “Believe me,” I said to her, “the day you want to marry someone worthy, I’ll march up to his house and hand you over. But you’re not going to marry Tomas.” Nesta’s nostrils delicately flared. “There’s nothing you can do. Clare Beddor told me this afternoon that Tomas is going to propose to me any day now. And then I’ll never have to eat these scraps again.” She added with a small smile, “At least I don’t have to resort to rutting in the hay with Isaac Hale like an animal.” My father let out an embarrassed cough, looking to his cot by the fire. He’d never said a word against Nesta, from either fear or guilt, and apparently he wasn’t going to start now, even if this was the first he was hearing of Isaac. I laid my palms flat on the table as I stared her down. Elain removed her hand from where it lay nearby, as if the dirt and blood beneath my fingernails would somehow jump onto her porcelain skin. “Tomas’s family is barely better off than ours,” I said, trying to keep from growling. “You’d be just another mouth to feed. If he doesn’t know this, then his parents must.” But Tomas knew—we’d run into each other in the forest before. I’d seen the gleam of desperate hunger in his eyes when he spotted me sporting a brace of rabbits. I’d never killed another human, but that day, my hunting knife had felt like a weight at my side. I’d kept out of his way ever since. “We can’t afford a dowry,” I continued, and though my tone was firm, my voice quieted. “For either of you.” If Nesta wanted to leave, then fine. Good. I’d be one step closer to attaining that glorious, peaceful future, to attaining a quiet house and enough food and time to paint. But we had nothing—absolutely nothing—to entice any suitor to take my sisters off my hands. “We’re in love,” Nesta declared, and Elain nodded her agreement. I almost laughed—when had they gone from mooning over aristos to making doe-eyes at peasants? “Love won’t feed a hungry belly,” I countered, keeping my gaze as sturdy as possible. As if I’d struck her, Nesta leaped from her seat on the bench. “You’re just jealous. I heard them saying how Isaac is going to marry some Greenfield village girl for a handsome dowry.” So had I; Isaac had ranted about it the last time we’d met. “Jealous?” I said slowly, digging down deep to bury my fury. “We have nothing to offer them—no dowry; no livestock, even. While Tomas might want to marry you … you’re a burden.” “What do you know?” Nesta breathed. “You’re just a half-wild beast with the nerve to bark orders at all hours of the day and night. Keep it up, and someday—someday, Feyre, you’ll have no one left to remember you, or to care that you ever existed.” She stormed off, Elain darting after her, cooing her sympathy. They slammed the door to the bedroom hard enough to rattle the dishes. I’d heard the words before—and knew she only repeated them because I’d flinched that first time she spat them. They still burned anyway. I took a long sip from the chipped mug. The wooden bench beneath my father groaned as he shifted. I took another swallow and said, “You should talk some sense into her.” He examined a burn mark on the table. “What can I say? If it’s love—” “It can’t be love, not on his part. Not with his wretched family. I’ve seen the way he acts around the village—there’s one thing he wants from her, and it’s not her hand in—” “We need hope as much as we need bread and meat,” he interrupted, his eyes clear for a rare moment. “We need hope, or else we cannot endure. So let her keep this hope, Feyre. Let her imagine a better life. A better world.” I stood from the table, fingers curling into fists, but there was nowhere to run in our two-room cottage. I looked at the discolored foxglove painting at the edge of the table. The outer trumpets were already chipped and faded, the lower bit of the stem rubbed off entirely. Within a few years, it would be gone—leaving no mark that it had ever been there. That I’d ever been there. When I looked at my father, my gaze was hard. “There is no such thing.” Chapter 3 The trampled snow coating the road into our village was speckled with brown and black from passing carts and horses. Elain and Nesta clicked their tongues and grimaced as we made our way along it, dodging the particularly disgusting parts. I knew why they’d come—they’d taken one look at the hides I’d folded into my satchel and grabbed their cloaks. I didn’t bother talking to them, as they hadn’t deigned to speak to me after last night, though Nesta had awoken at dawn to chop wood. Probably because she knew I’d be selling the hides at the market today and would go home with money in my pocket. They trailed me down the lone road wending through the snow-covered fields, all the way into our ramshackle village. The stone houses of the village were ordinary and dull, made grimmer by the bleakness of winter. But it was market day, which meant the tiny square in the center of town would be full of whatever vendors had braved the brisk morning. From a block away, the scent of hot food wafted by—spices that tugged on the edge of my memory, beckoning. Elain let out a low moan behind me. Spices, salt, sugar—rare commodities for most of our village, impossible for us to afford. If I did well at the market, perhaps I’d have enough to buy us something delicious. I opened my mouth to suggest it, but we turned the corner and nearly stumbled into one another as we all halted. “May the Immortal Light shine upon thee, sisters,” said the pale-robed young woman directly in our path. Nesta and Elain clicked their tongues; I stifled a groan. Perfect. Exactly what I needed, to have the Children of the Blessed in town on market day, distracting and riling everyone. The village elders usually allowed them to stay for only a few hours, but the sheer presence of the fanatic fools who still worshipped the High Fae made people edgy. Made me edgy. Long ago, the High Fae had been our overlords—not gods. And they certainly hadn’t been kind. The young woman extended her moon-white hands in a gesture of greeting, a bracelet of silver bells—real silver—tinkling at her wrist. “Have you a moment to spare so that you might hear the Word of the Blessed?” “No,” Nesta sneered, ignoring the girl’s hands and nudging Elain into a walk. “We don’t.” The young woman’s unbound dark hair gleamed in the morning light, and her clean, fresh face glowed as she smiled prettily. There were five other acolytes behind her, young men and women both, their hair long, uncut—all scanning the market beyond for young folk to pester. “It would take but a minute,” the woman said, stepping into Nesta’s path. It was impressive—truly impressive—to see Nesta go ramrod straight, to square her shoulders and look down her nose at the young acolyte, a queen without a throne. “Go spew your fanatic nonsense to some ninny. You’ll find no converts here.” The girl shrank back, a shadow flickering in her brown eyes. I reined in my wince. Perhaps not the best way to deal with them, since they could become a true nuisance if agitated— Nesta lifted a hand, pushing down the sleeve of her coat to show the iron bracelet there. The same one Elain wore; they’d bought matching adornments years ago. The acolyte gasped, eyes wide. “You see this?” Nesta hissed, taking a step forward. The acolyte retreated a step. “This is what you should be wearing. Not some silver bells to attract those faerie monsters.” “How dare you wear that vile affront to our immortal friends—” “Go preach in another town,” Nesta spat. Two plump and pretty farmers’ wives strolled past on their way to the market, arm in arm. As they neared the acolytes, their faces twisted with identical expressions of disgust. “Faerie-loving whore,” one of them hurled at the young woman. I couldn’t disagree. The acolytes kept silent. The other villager—wealthy enough to have a full necklace of braided iron around her throat—narrowed her eyes, her upper lip curling back from her teeth. “Don’t you idiots understand what those monsters did to us for all those centuries? What they still do for sport, when they can get away with it? You deserve the end you’ll meet at faerie hands. Fools and whores, all of you.” Nesta nodded her agreement to the women as they continued on their way. We turned back to the young woman still lingering before us, and even Elain frowned in distaste. But the young woman took a breath, her face again becoming serene, and said, “I lived in such ignorance, too, until I heard the Word of the Blessed. I grew up in a village so similar to this—so bleak and grim. But not one month ago, a friend of my cousin went to the border as our offering to Prythian—and she has not been sent back. Now she dwells in riches and comfort as a High Fae’s bride, and so might you, if you were to take a moment to—” “She was likely eaten,” Nesta said. “That’s why she hasn’t returned.” Or worse, I thought, if a High Fae truly was involved in spiriting a human into Prythian. I’d never encountered the cruel, human-looking High Fae who ruled Prythian itself, or the faeries who occupied their lands, with their scales and wings and long, spindly arms that could drag you deep, deep beneath the surface of a forgotten pond. I didn’t know which would be worse to face. The acolyte’s face tightened. “Our benevolent masters would never harm us. Prythian is a land of peace and plenty. Should they bless you with their attention, you would be glad to live amongst them.” Nesta rolled her eyes. Elain was shooting glances between us and the market ahead—to the villagers now watching, too. Time to go. Nesta opened her mouth again, but I stepped between them and ran an eye along the girl’s pale blue robes, the silver jewelry on her, the utter cleanness of her skin. Not a mark or smudge to be found. “You’re fighting an uphill battle,” I said to her. “A worthy cause.” The girl beamed beatifically. I gave Nesta a gentle push to get her walking and said to the acolyte, “No, it’s not.” I could feel the acolytes’ attention still fixed on us as we strode into the busy market square, but I didn’t look back. They’d be gone soon enough, off to preach in another town. We’d have to take the long way out of the village to avoid them. When we were far enough away, I glanced over a shoulder at my sisters. Elain’s face remained set in a wince, but Nesta’s eyes were stormy, her lips thin. I wondered if she’d stomp back to the girl and pick a fight. Not my problem—not right now. “I’ll meet you here in an hour,” I said, and didn’t give them time to cling to me before slipping into the crowded square. It took me ten minutes to contemplate my three options. There were my usual buyers: the weathered cobbler and the sharp-eyed clothier who came to our market from a nearby town. And then the unknown: a mountain of a woman sitting on the lip of our broken square fountain, without any cart or stall, but looking like she was holding court nonetheless. The scars and weapons on her marked her easily enough. A mercenary. I could feel the eyes of the cobbler and clothier on me, sense their feigned disinterest as they took in the satchel I bore. Fine—it would be that sort of day, then. I approached the mercenary, whose thick, dark hair was shorn to her chin. Her tan face seemed hewn of granite, and her black eyes narrowed slightly at the sight of me. Such interesting eyes—not just one shade of black, but … many, with hints of brown that glimmered amongst the shadows. I pushed against that useless part of my mind, the instincts that had me thinking about color and light and shape, and kept my shoulders back as she assessed me as a potential threat or employer. The weapons on her—gleaming and wicked—were enough to make me swallow. And stop a good two feet away. “I don’t barter goods for my services,” she said, her voice clipped with an accent I’d never heard before. “I only accept coin.” A few passing villagers tried their best not to look too interested in our conversation, especially as I said, “Then you’ll be out of luck in this sort of place.” She was massive even sitting down. “What is your business with me, girl?” She could have been aged anywhere from twenty-five to thirty, but I supposed I looked like a girl to her in my layers, gangly from hunger. “I have a wolf pelt and a doe hide for sale. I thought you might be interested in purchasing them.” “You steal them?” “No.” I held her stare. “I hunted them myself. I swear it.” She ran those dark eyes down me again. “How.” Not a question—a command. Perhaps someone who had encountered others who did not see vows as sacred, words as bonds. And had punished them accordingly. So I told her how I’d brought them down, and when I finished, she flicked a hand toward my satchel. “Let me see.” I pulled out both carefully folded hides. “You weren’t lying about the wolf’s size,” she murmured. “Doesn’t seem like a faerie, though.” She examined them with an expert eye, running her hands over and under. She named her price. I blinked—but stifled the urge to blink a second time. She was overpaying—by a lot. She looked beyond me—past me. “I’m assuming those two girls watching from across the square are your sisters. You all have that brassy hair—and that hungry look about you.” Indeed, they were still trying their best to eavesdrop without being spotted. “I don’t need your pity.” “No, but you need my money, and the other traders have been cheap all morning. Everyone’s too distracted by those calf-eyed zealots bleating across the square.” She jerked her chin toward the Children of the Blessed, still ringing their silver bells and jumping into the path of anyone who tried to walk by. The mercenary was smiling faintly when I turned back to her. “Up to you, girl.” “Why?” She shrugged. “Someone once did the same for me and mine, at a time when we needed it most. Figure it’s time to repay what’s due.” I watched her again, weighing. “My father has some wood carvings that I could give you as well—to make it more fair.” “I travel light and have no need for them. These, however”—she patted the pelts in her hands—“save me the trouble of killing them myself.” I nodded, my cheeks heating as she reached for the coin purse inside her heavy coat. It was full—and weighed down with at least silver, possibly gold, if the clinking was any indication. Mercenaries tended to be well paid in our territory. Our territory was too small and poor to maintain a standing army to monitor the wall with Prythian, and we villagers could rely only on the strength of the Treaty forged five hundred years ago. But the upper class could afford hired swords, like this woman, to guard their lands bordering the immortal realm. It was an illusion of comfort, just as the markings on our threshold were. We all knew, deep down, that there was nothing to be done against the faeries. We’d all been told it, regardless of class or rank, from the moment we were born, the warnings sung to us while we rocked in cradles, the rhymes chanted in schoolyards. One of the High Fae could turn your bones to dust from a hundred yards away. Not that my sisters or I had ever seen it. But we still tried to believe that something—anything—might work against them, if we ever were to encounter them. There were two stalls in the market catering to those fears, offering up charms and baubles and incantations and bits of iron. I couldn’t afford them—and if they did indeed work, they would buy us only a few minutes to prepare ourselves. Running was futile; so was fighting. But Nesta and Elain still wore their iron bracelets whenever they left the cottage. Even Isaac had an iron cuff around one wrist, always tucked under his sleeve. He’d once offered to buy me one, but I’d refused. It had felt too personal, too much like payment, too … permanent a reminder of whatever we were and weren’t to each other. The mercenary transferred the coins to my waiting palm, and I tucked them into my pocket, their weight as heavy as a millstone. There was no possible chance that my sisters hadn’t spotted the money—no chance they weren’t already wondering how they might persuade me to give them some. “Thank you,” I said to the mercenary, trying and failing to keep the bite from my voice as I felt my sisters sweep closer, like vultures circling a carcass. The mercenary stroked the wolf pelt. “A word of advice, from one hunter to another.” I lifted my brows. “Don’t go far into the woods. I wouldn’t even get close to where you were yesterday. A wolf this size would be the least of your problems. More and more, I’ve been hearing stories about those things slipping through the wall.” A chill spider-walked down my spine. “Are they—are they going to attack?” If it were true, I’d find a way to get my family off our miserable, damp territory and head south—head far from the invisible wall that bisected our world before they could cross it. Once—long ago and for millennia before that—we had been slaves to High Fae overlords. Once, we had built them glorious, sprawling civilizations from our blood and sweat, built them temples to their feral gods. Once, we had rebelled, across every land and territory. The War had been so bloody, so destructive, that it took six mortal queens crafting the Treaty for the slaughter to cease on both sides and for the wall to be constructed: the North of our world conceded to the High Fae and faeries, who took their magic with them; the South to we cowering mortals, forever forced to scratch out a living from the earth. “No one knows what the Fae are planning,” the mercenary said, her face like stone. “We don’t know if the High Lords’ leash on their beasts is slipping, or if these are targeted attacks. I guarded for an old nobleman who claimed it had been getting worse these past fifty years. He got on a boat south two weeks ago and told me I should leave if I was smart. Before he sailed off, he admitted that he’d had word from one of his friends that in the dead of night, a pack of martax crossed the wall and tore half his village apart.” “Martax?” I breathed. I knew there were different types of faeries, that they varied as much as any other species of animal, but I knew only a few by name. The mercenary’s night-dark eyes flickered. “Body big as a bear’s, head something like a lion’s—and three rows of teeth sharper than a shark’s. And mean—meaner than all three put together. They left the villagers in literal ribbons, the nobleman said.” My stomach turned. Behind us, my sisters seemed so fragile—their pale skin so infinitely delicate and shredable. Against something like the martax, we’d never stand a chance. Those Children of the Blessed were fools—fanatic fools. “So we don’t know what all these attacks mean,” the mercenary went on, “other than more hires for me, and you keeping well away from the wall. Especially if the High Fae start turning up—or worse, one of the High Lords. They would make the martax seem like dogs.” I studied her scarred hands, chapped from the cold. “Have you ever faced another type of faerie?” Her eyes shuttered. “You don’t want to know, girl—not unless you want to be hurling up your breakfast.” I was indeed feeling ill—ill and jumpy. “Was it deadlier than the martax?” I dared ask. The woman pulled back the sleeve of her heavy jacket, revealing a tanned, muscled forearm flecked with gruesome, twisted scars. The arc of them so similar to—“Didn’t have the brute force or size of a martax,” she said, “but its bite was full of poison. Two months—that’s how long I was down; four months until I had the strength to walk again.” She pulled up the leg of her trousers. Beautiful, I thought, even as the horror of it writhed in my gut. Against her tanned skin, the veins were black—solid black, spiderwebbed, and creeping like frost. “Healer said there was nothing to be done for it—that I’m lucky to be walking with the poison still in my legs. Maybe it’ll kill me one day, maybe it’ll cripple me. But at least I’ll go knowing I killed it first.” The blood in my own veins seemed to chill as she lowered the cuff of her pants. If anyone in the square had seen, no one dared speak about it—or to come closer. And I’d had enough for one day. So I took a step back, steadying myself against what she’d told me and shown me. “Thanks for the warnings,” I said. Her attention flicked behind me, and she gave a faintly amused smile. “Good luck.” Then a slender hand clamped onto my forearm, dragging me away. I knew it was Nesta before I even looked at her. “They’re dangerous,” Nesta hissed, her fingers digging into my arm as she continued to pull me from the mercenary. “Don’t go near them again.” I stared at her for a moment, then at Elain, whose face had gone pale and tight. “Is there something I need to know?” I asked quietly. I couldn’t remember the last time Nesta had tried to warn me about anything; Elain was the only one she bothered to really look after. “They’re brutes, and will take any copper they can get, even if it’s by force.” I glanced at the mercenary, who was still examining her new pelts. “She robbed you?” “Not her,” Elain murmured. “Some other one who passed through. We had only a few coins, and he got mad, but—” “Why didn’t you report him—or tell me?” “What could you have done?” Nesta sneered. “Challenged him to a fight with your bow and arrows? And who in this sewer of a town would even care if we reported anything?” “What about your Tomas Mandray?” I said coolly. Nesta’s eyes flashed, but a movement behind me caught her eye, and she gave me what I supposed was her attempt at a sweet smile—probably as she remembered the money I now carried. “Your friend is waiting for you.” I turned. Indeed, Isaac was watching from across the square, arms crossed as he leaned against a building. Though the eldest son of the only well-off farmer in our village, he was still lean from the winter, and his brown hair had turned shaggy. Relatively handsome, soft-spoken, and reserved, but with a sort of darkness running beneath it all that had drawn us to each other, that shared understanding of how wretched our lives were and would always be. We’d vaguely known each other for years—since my family had moved to the village—but I had never thought much about him until we’d wound up walking down the main road together one afternoon. We’d only talked about the eggs he was bringing to market—and I’d admired the variation in colors within the basket he bore—browns and tans and the palest blues and greens. Simple, easy, perhaps a bit awkward, but he’d left me at my cottage feeling not quite so … alone. A week later, I pulled him into that decrepit barn. He’d been my first and only lover in the two years since. Sometimes we’d meet every night for a week, others we’d go a month without setting eyes on each other. But every time was the same: a rush of shedding clothes and shared breaths and tongues and teeth. Occasionally we’d talk—or, rather, he’d talk about the pressures and burdens his father placed on him. Often, we wouldn’t say a word the entire time. I couldn’t say our lovemaking was particularly skilled, but it was still a release, a reprieve, a bit of selfishness. There was no love between us, and never had been—at least what I assumed people meant when they talked about love—yet part of me had sunk when he’d said he would soon be married. I wasn’t yet desperate enough to ask him to see me after he was wed. Isaac inclined his head in a familiar gesture and then ambled off down the street—out of town and to the ancient barn, where he would be waiting. We were never inconspicuous about our dealings with each other, but we did take measures to keep it from being too obvious. Nesta clicked her tongue, crossing her arms. “I do hope you two are taking precautions.” “It’s a bit late to pretend to care,” I said. But we were careful. Since I couldn’t afford it, Isaac himself took the contraceptive brew. He knew I wouldn’t have touched him otherwise. I reached into my pocket, drawing out a twenty-mark copper. Elain sucked in a breath, and I didn’t bother to look at either of my sisters as I pushed it into her palm and said, “I’ll see you at home.” Later, after another dinner of venison, when we were all gathered around the fire for the quiet hour before bed, I watched my sisters whispering and laughing together. They’d spent every copper I’d given them—on what, I didn’t know, though Elain had brought back a new chisel for our father’s wood carving. The cloak and boots they’d whined about the night before had been too expensive. But I hadn’t scolded them for it, not when Nesta went out a second time to chop more wood without my asking. Mercifully, they’d avoided another confrontation with the Children of the Blessed. My father was dozing in his chair, his cane laid across his gnarled knee. As good a time as any to broach the subject of Tomas Mandray with Nesta. I turned to her, opening my mouth. But there was a roar that half deafened me, and my sisters screamed as snow burst into the room and an enormous, growling shape appeared in the doorway. Chapter 4 I didn’t know how the wooden hilt of my hunting knife had gotten into my hand. The first few moments were a blur of the snarling of a gigantic beast with golden fur, the shrieking of my sisters, the blistering cold cascading into the room, and my father’s terror-stricken face. Not a martax, I realized—though the relief was short-lived. The beast had to be as large as a horse, and while his body was somewhat feline, his head was distinctly wolfish. I didn’t know what to make of the curled, elk-like horns that protruded from his head. But lion or hound or elk, there was no doubting the damage his black, daggerlike claws and yellow fangs could inflict. Had I been alone in the woods, I might have let myself be swallowed by fear, might have fallen to my knees and wept for a clean, quick death. But I didn’t have room for terror, wouldn’t give it an inch of space, despite my heart’s wild pounding in my ears. Somehow, I wound up in front of my sisters, even as the creature reared onto its hind legs and bellowed through a maw full of fangs: “MURDERERS!” But it was another word that echoed through me: Faerie. Those ridiculous wards on our threshold were as good as cobwebs against him. I should have asked the mercenary how she’d killed that faerie. But the beast’s thick neck—that looked like a good home for my knife. I dared a glance over my shoulder. My sisters screamed, kneeling against the wall of the hearth, my father crouched in front of them. Another body for me to defend. Stupidly, I took another step toward the faerie, keeping the table between us, fighting the shaking in my hand. My bow and quiver were across the room—past the beast. I’d have to get around him to reach the ash arrow. And buy myself enough time to fire it. “MURDERERS!” the beast roared again, hackles raised. “P-please,” my father babbled from behind me, failing to find it in himself to come to my side. “Whatever we have done, we did so unknowingly, and—” “W-w-we didn’t kill anyone,” Nesta added, choking on her sobs, arm lifted over her head, as if that tiny iron bracelet would do anything against the creature. I snatched another dinner knife off the table, the best I could do unless I found a way to get to the quiver. “Get out,” I snapped at the creature, brandishing the knives before me. No iron in sight that I could use as a weapon—unless I chucked my sisters’ bracelets at him. “Get out, and begone.” With my trembling hands, I could barely keep my grip on the hilts. A nail—I’d take a damned iron nail, if it were available. He bellowed at me in response, and the entire cottage shook, the plates and cups rattling against one another. But it left his massive neck exposed. I hurled my hunting knife. Fast—so fast I could barely see it—he slashed out with a paw, sending it skittering away as he snapped for my face with his teeth. I leaped back, almost stumbling over my cowering father. The faerie could have killed me—could have, yet the lunge had been a warning. Nesta and Elain, weeping, prayed to whatever long-forgotten gods might still be skulking about. “WHO KILLED HIM?” The creature stalked toward us. He set a paw on the table, and it groaned beneath him. His claws thudded as they embedded in the wood, one by one. I dared another step forward as the beast stretched his snout over the table to sniff at us. His eyes were green and flecked with amber. Not animal eyes, not with their shape and coloring. My voice was surprisingly even as I challenged: “Killed who?” He growled, low and vicious. “The wolf,” he said, and my heart stumbled a beat. The roar was gone, but the wrath lingered—perhaps even traced with sorrow. Elain’s wail reached a high-pitched shriek. I kept my chin up. “A wolf?” “A large wolf with a gray coat,” he snarled in response. Would he know if I lied? Faeries couldn’t lie—all mortals knew that—but could they smell the lies on human tongues? We had no chance of escaping this through fighting, but there might be other ways. “If it was mistakenly killed,” I said to the beast as calmly as I could, “what payment could we offer in exchange?” This was all a nightmare, and I’d awaken in a moment beside the fire, exhausted from my day at the market and my afternoon with Isaac. The beast let out a bark that could have been a bitter laugh. He pushed off the table to pace in a small circle before the shattered door. The cold was so intense that I shivered. “The payment you must offer is the one demanded by the Treaty between our realms.” “For a wolf?” I retorted, and my father murmured my name in warning. I had vague memories of being read the Treaty during my childhood lessons, but could recall nothing about wolves. The beast whirled on me. “Who killed the wolf?” I stared into those jade eyes. “I did.” He blinked and glanced at my sisters, then back at me, at my thinness—no doubt seeing only frailness instead. “Surely you lie to save them.” “We didn’t kill anything!” Elain wept. “Please … please, spare us!” Nesta hushed her sharply through her own sobbing, but pushed Elain farther behind her. My chest caved in at the sight of it. My father climbed to his feet, grunting at the pain in his leg as he bobbled, but before he could limp toward me, I repeated: “I killed it.” The beast, who had been sniffing at my sisters, studied me. I squared my shoulders. “I sold its hide at the market today. If I had known it was a faerie, I wouldn’t have touched it.” “Liar,” he snarled. “You knew. You would have been more tempted to slaughter it had you known it was one of my kind.” True, true, true. “Can you blame me?” “Did it attack you? Were you provoked?” I opened my mouth to say yes, but—“No,” I said, letting out a snarl of my own. “But considering all that your kind has done to us, considering what your kind still likes to do to us, even if I had known beyond a doubt, it was deserved.” Better to die with my chin held high than groveling like a cowering worm. Even if his answering growl was the definition of wrath and rage. The firelight shone upon his exposed fangs, and I wondered how they’d feel on my throat, and how loudly my sisters would scream before they, too, died. But I knew—with a sudden, uncoiling clarity—that Nesta would buy Elain time to run. Not my father, whom she resented with her entire steely heart. Not me, because Nesta had always known and hated that she and I were two sides of the same coin, and that I could fight my own battles. But Elain, the flower-grower, the gentle heart … Nesta would go down swinging for her. It was that flash of understanding that had me angling my remaining knife at the beast. “What is the payment the Treaty requires?” His eyes didn’t leave my face as he said, “A life for a life. Any unprovoked attacks on faerie-kind by humans are to be paid only by a human life in exchange.” My sisters quieted their weeping. The mercenary in town had killed a faerie—but had attacked her first. “I didn’t know,” I said. “Didn’t know about that part of the Treaty.” Faeries couldn’t lie—and he spoke plainly enough, no word-twisting. “Most of you mortals have chosen to forget that part of the Treaty,” he said, “which makes punishing you far more enjoyable.” My knees quaked. I couldn’t escape this, couldn’t outrun this. Couldn’t even try to run, since he blocked the way to the door. “Do it outside,” I whispered, my voice trembling. “Not … here.” Not where my family would have to wash away my blood and gore. If he even let them live. The faerie huffed a vicious laugh. “Willing to accept your fate so easily?” When I just stared at him, he said, “For having the nerve to request where I slaughter you, I’ll let you in on a secret, human: Prythian must claim your life in some way, for the life you took from it. So as a representative of the immortal realm, I can either gut you like swine, or … you can cross the wall and live out the remainder of your days in Prythian.” I blinked. “What?” He said slowly, as if I were indeed as stupid as a swine, “You can either die tonight or offer your life to Prythian by living in it forever, forsaking the human realm.” “Do it, Feyre,” my father whispered from behind me. “Go.” I didn’t look at him as I said, “Live where? Every inch of Prythian is lethal to us.” I’d be better off dying tonight than living in pure terror across the wall until I met my end in doubtlessly an even more awful way. “I have lands,” the faerie said quietly—almost reluctantly. “I will grant you permission to live there.” “Why bother?” Perhaps a fool’s question, but— “You murdered my friend,” the beast snarled. “Murdered him, skinned his corpse, sold it at the market, and then said he deserved it, and yet you have the nerve to question my generosity?” How typically human, he seemed to silently add. “You didn’t need to mention the loophole.” I stepped so close the faerie’s breath heated my face. Faeries couldn’t lie, but they could omit information. The beast snarled again. “Foolish of me to forget that humans have such low opinions of us. Do you humans no longer understand mercy?” he said, his fangs inches from my throat. “Let me make this clear for you, girl: you can either come live at my home in Prythian—offer your life for the wolf’s in that way—or you can walk outside right now and be shredded to ribbons. Your choice.” My father’s hobbling steps sounded before he gripped my shoulder. “Please, good sir—Feyre is my youngest. I beseech you to spare her. She is all … she is all …” But whatever he meant to say died in his throat as the beast roared again. But hearing those few words he’d managed to get out, the effort he’d made … it was like a blade to my belly. My father cringed as he said, “Please—” “Silence,” the creature snapped, and rage boiled up in me so blistering it was an effort to keep from lunging to stab my dagger in his eye. But by the time I had so much as raised my arm, I knew he would have his maw around my neck. “I can get gold—” my father said, and my rage guttered. The only way he would get money was by begging. Even then, he’d be lucky to get a few coppers. I’d seen how pitiless the well-off were in our village. The monsters in our mortal realm were just as bad as those across the wall. The beast sneered. “How much is your daughter’s life worth to you? Do you think it equates to a sum?” Nesta still had Elain held behind her, Elain’s face so pale it matched the snow drifting in from the open door. But Nesta monitored every move the beast made, her brows lowered. She didn’t bother to look at my father—as if she knew his answer already. When my father didn’t reply, I dared another step toward the beast, drawing his attention to me. I had to get him out—get him away from my family. From the way he’d brushed away my knife, any hope of escaping lay in somehow sneaking up on him. With his hearing, I doubted I’d get a chance anytime soon, at least until he believed I was docile. If I tried to attack him or fled before then, he would destroy my family for the sheer enjoyment of it. Then he would find me again. I had no choice but to go. And then, later, I might find an opportunity to slit the beast’s throat. Or at least disable him long enough to flee. As long as the faeries couldn’t find me again, they couldn’t hold me to the Treaty. Even if it made me a cursed oath-breaker. But in going with him, I would be breaking the most important promise I’d ever made. Surely it trumped an ancient treaty that I hadn’t even signed. I loosened my grip on the hilt of my remaining dagger and stared into those green eyes for a long, silent while before I said, “When do we go?” Those lupine features remained fierce—vicious. Any lingering hope I had of fighting died as he moved to the door—no, to the quiver I’d left behind it. He pulled out the ash arrow, sniffed, and snarled at it. With two movements, he snapped it in half and chucked it into the fire behind my sisters before turning back to me. I could smell my doom on his breath as he said, “Now.” Now. Even Elain lifted her head to gape at me in mute horror. But I couldn’t look at her, couldn’t look at Nesta—not when they were still crouched there, still silent. I turned to my father. His eyes glistened, so I glanced to the few cabinets we had, faded too-yellow daffodils curving over the handles. Now. The beast paced in the doorway. I didn’t want to contemplate where I was going or what he would do with me. Running would be foolish until it was the right time. “The venison should hold you for two weeks,” I said to my father as I gathered my clothes to bulk up against the cold. “Start on the fresh meat, then work your way through to the jerky—you know how to make it.” “Feyre—” my father breathed, but I continued as I fastened my cloak. “I left the money from the pelts on the dresser,” I said. “It will last you for a time, if you’re careful.” I finally looked at my father again and allowed myself to memorize the lines of his face. My eyes stung, but I blinked the moisture away as I stuffed my hands into my worn gloves. “When spring comes, hunt in the grove just south of the big bend in Silverspring Creek—the rabbits make their warrens there. Ask … ask Isaac Hale to show you how to make snares. I taught him last year.” My father nodded, covering his mouth with a hand. The beast growled his warning and prowled out into the night. I made to follow him but paused to look at my sisters, still crouched by the fire, as if they wouldn’t dare to move until I was gone. Elain mouthed my name but kept cowering, kept her head down. So I turned to Nesta, whose face was so similar to my mother’s, so cold and unrelenting. “Whatever you do,” I said quietly, “don’t marry Tomas Mandray. His father beats his wife, and none of his sons do anything to stop it.” Nesta’s eyes widened, but I added, “Bruises are harder to conceal than poverty.” Nesta stiffened but said nothing—both of my sisters said absolutely nothing—as I turned toward the open door. But a hand wrapped around my arm, tugging me into a stop. Turning me around to face him, my father opened and closed his mouth. Outside, the beast, sensing I’d been detained, sent a snarl rumbling into the cottage. “Feyre,” my father said. His fingers trembled as he grasped my gloved hands, but his eyes became clearer and bolder than I’d seen them in years. “You were always too good for here, Feyre. Too good for us, too good for everyone.” He squeezed my hands. “If you ever escape, ever convince them that you’ve paid the debt, don’t return.” I hadn’t expected a heart-wrenching good-bye, but I hadn’t imagined this, either. “Don’t ever come back,” my father said, releasing my hands to shake me by the shoulders. “Feyre.” He stumbled over my name, his throat bobbing. “You go somewhere new—and you make a name for yourself.” Beyond, the beast was just a shadow. A life for a life—but what if the life offered as payment also meant losing three others? The thought alone was enough to steel me, anchor me. I’d never told my father of the promise I’d made my mother, and there was no use explaining it now. So I shrugged off his grip and left. I let the sounds of the snow crunching underfoot drive out my father’s words as I followed the beast to the night-shrouded woods. Chapter 5 Every step toward the line of trees was too swift, too light, too soon carrying me to whatever torment and misery awaited. I didn’t dare look back at the cottage. We entered the line of trees. Darkness beckoned beyond. But a white mare was patiently waiting—unbound—beside a tree, her coat like fresh snow in the moonlight. She only lowered her head—as if in respect, of all things—as the beast lumbered up to her. He motioned with a giant paw for me to mount. Still the horse remained calm, even as he passed close enough to gut her in one swipe. It had been years since I’d ridden, and I’d only ridden a pony at that, but I savored the warmth of the horse against my half-frozen body as I climbed into the saddle and she set into a walk. Without light to guide me, I let her trail the beast. They were nearly the same size. I wasn’t surprised when we headed northward—toward faerie territory—though my stomach clenched so tightly it ached. Live with him. I could live out the rest of my mortal life on his lands. Perhaps this was merciful—but then, he hadn’t specified in what manner, exactly, I would live. The Treaty forbade faeries from taking us as slaves, but—perhaps that excluded humans who’d murdered faeries. We’d likely go to whatever rift in the wall he’d used to get here, to steal me. And once we went through the invisible wall, once we were in Prythian, there was no way for my family to ever find me. I’d be little more than a lamb in a kingdom of wolves. Wolves—wolf. Murdered a faerie. That was what I’d done. My throat went dry. I’d killed a faerie. I couldn’t bring myself to feel badly about it. Not with my family left behind me to surely starve; not when it meant one less wicked, awful creature in the world. The beast had burned my ash arrow—so I’d have to rely on luck to get even a splinter of the wood again, if I was to stand a chance of killing him. Or slowing him down. Knowledge of that weakness, of their susceptibility to ash, was the only reason we’d ever survived against the High Fae during the ancient uprising, a secret betrayed by one of their own. My blood chilled further as I uselessly scanned for any signs of the narrow trunk and explosion of branches that I’d learned marked ash trees. I’d never seen the forest so still. Whatever was out there had to be tame compared to the beast beside me, despite the horse’s ease around him. Hopefully he would keep other faeries away after we entered his realm. Prythian. The word was a death knell that echoed through me again and again. Lands—he’d said he had lands, but what kind of dwelling? My horse was beautiful and its saddle was crafted of rich leather, which meant he had some sort of contact with civilized life. I’d never heard the specifics of what the lives of faeries or High Fae were like—never heard much about anything other than their deadly abilities and appetites. I clenched the reins to keep my hands from shaking. There were few firsthand accounts of Prythian itself. The mortals who went over the wall—either willingly as tributes from the Children of the Blessed or stolen—never came back. I’d learned most of the legends from villagers, though my father had occasionally offered up a milder tale or two on the nights he made an attempt to remember we existed. As far as we knew, the High Fae still governed the northern parts of our world—from our enormous island over the narrow sea separating us from the massive continent, across depthless fjords and frozen wastelands and sandblasted deserts, all the way to the great ocean on the other side. Some faerie territories were empires; some were overseen by kings and queens. Then there were places like Prythian, divided and ruled by seven High Lords—beings of such unyielding power that legend claimed they could level buildings, break apart armies, and butcher you before you could blink. I didn’t doubt it. No one had ever told me why humans chose to linger in our territory, when so little space had been granted to us and we remained in such close proximity to Prythian. Fools—whatever humans had stayed here after the War must have been suicidal fools to live so close. Even with the centuries-old Treaty between the mortal and faerie realms, there were rifts in the warded wall separating our lands, holes big enough for those lethal creatures to slip into our territory to amuse themselves with tormenting us. That was the side of Prythian that the Children of the Blessed never deigned to acknowledge—perhaps a side of Prythian I’d soon witness. My stomach turned. Live with him, I reminded myself, again and again and again. Live, not die. Though I supposed I could also live in a dungeon. He would likely lock me up and forget that I was there, forget that humans needed things like food and water and warmth. Prowling ahead of me, the beast’s horns spiraled toward the night sky, and tendrils of hot breath curled from his snout. We had to make camp at some point; the border of Prythian was days away. Once we stopped, I would keep awake for the entirety of the night and never let him out of my sight. Even though he’d burned my ash arrow, I’d smuggled my remaining knife in my cloak. Maybe tonight would grant me an opportunity to use it. But it was not my own doom I contemplated as I let myself tumble into dread and rage and despair. As we rode on—the only sounds snow crunching beneath paws and hooves—I alternated between a wretched smugness at the thought of my family starving and thus realizing how important I was, and a blinding agony at the thought of my father begging in the streets, his ruined leg giving out on him as he stumbled from person to person. Every time I looked at the beast, I could see my father limping through town, pleading for coppers to keep my sisters alive. Worse—what Nesta might resort to in order to keep Elain alive. She wouldn’t mind my father’s death. But she would lie and steal and sell anything for Elain’s sake—and her own as well. I took in the way the beast moved, trying to find any—any—weakness. I could detect none. “What manner of faerie are you?” I asked, the words nearly swallowed up by the snow and trees and star-heavy sky. He didn’t bother to turn around. He didn’t bother to say anything at all. Fair enough. I’d killed his friend, after all. I tried again. “Do you have a name?” Or anything to curse him by. A huff of air that could have been a bitter laugh. “Does it even matter to you, human?” I didn’t answer. He might very well change his mind about sparing me. But perhaps I would escape before he decided to gut me. I would grab my family and we’d stow away on a ship and sail far, far away. Perhaps I would try to kill him, regardless of the futility, regardless of whether it constituted another unprovoked attack, just for being the one who came to claim my life—my life, when these faeries valued ours so little. The mercenary had survived; maybe I could, too. Maybe. I opened my mouth to again ask him for his name, but a growl of annoyance rippled out of him. I didn’t have a chance to struggle, to fight back, when a charged, metallic tang stung my nose. Exhaustion slammed down upon me and blackness swallowed me whole. I awoke with a jolt atop the horse, secured by invisible bonds. The sun was already high. Magic—that’s what the tang had been, what was keeping my limbs tucked in tight, preventing me from going for my knife. I recognized the power deep in my bones, from some collective mortal memory and terror. How long had it kept me unconscious? How long had he kept me unconscious, rather than have to speak to me? Gritting my teeth, I might have demanded answers from him—might have shouted to where he still lumbered ahead, heedless of me. But then chirping birds flitted past me, and a mild breeze kissed my face. I spied a hedge-bordered metal gate ahead. My prison or my salvation—I couldn’t decide which. Two days—it took two days from my cottage to reach the wall and enter the southernmost border of Prythian. Had I been held in an enchanted sleep for that long? Bastard. The gate swung open without porter or sentry, and the beast continued through. Whether I wanted to or not, my horse followed after him. Chapter 6 The estate sprawled across a rolling green land. I’d never seen anything like it; even our former manor couldn’t compare. It was veiled in roses and ivy, with patios and balconies and staircases sprouting from its alabaster sides. The grounds were encased by woods, but stretched so far that I could barely see the distant line of the forest. So much color, so much sunlight and movement and texture … I could hardly drink it in fast enough. To paint it would be useless, would never do it justice. My awe might have subdued my fear had the place not been so wholly empty and silent. Even the garden through which we walked, following a gravel path to the main doors of the house, seemed hushed and sleeping. Above the array of amethyst irises and pale snowdrops and butter-yellow daffodils swaying in the balmy breeze, the faint stench of metal ticked my nostrils. Of course it would be magic, because it was spring here. What wretched power did they possess to make their lands so different from ours, to control the seasons and weather as if they owned them? Sweat trickled down my spine as my layers of clothes turned suffocating. I rotated my wrists and shifted in the saddle. Whatever bonds had held me were gone. The faerie meandered on ahead, leaping nimbly up the grand marble staircase that led to the giant oak doors in one mighty, fluid movement. The doors swung open for him on silent hinges, and he prowled inside. He’d planned this entire arrival, no doubt—keeping me unconscious so I didn’t know where I was, didn’t know the way home or what other deadly faerie territories might be lurking between me and the wall. I felt for my knife, but found only layers of frayed clothes. The thought of those claws pawing through my cloak to find my knife made my mouth go dry. I shoved away the fury and terror and disgust as my horse came to a stop of her own accord at the foot of the stairs. The message was clear enough. The towering estate house seemed to be watching, waiting. I glanced over my shoulder toward the still-open gates. If I were to bolt, it would have to be now. South—all I had to do was go south, and I would eventually make it to the wall. If I didn’t encounter anything before then. I tugged on the reins, but the mare remained stationary—even as I dug my heels into her sides. I let out a low, sharp hiss. Fine. On foot. My knees buckled as I hit the ground, bits of light flashing in my vision. I grasped the saddle and winced as soreness and hunger racked my senses. Now—I had to go now. I made to move, but the world was still spinning and flashing. Only a fool would run with no food, no strength. I wouldn’t get half a mile like this. I wouldn’t get half a mile before he caught me and tore me to ribbons, as he’d promised. I took a long, shuddering breath. Food—getting food, then running at the next opportune moment. It sounded like a solid plan. When I was steady enough to walk, I left the horse at the bottom of the stairs, taking the steps one at a time. My breath tight in my chest, I passed through the open doors and into the shadows of the house. Inside, it was even more opulent. Black-and-white checkered marble shone at my feet, flowing to countless doors and a sweeping staircase. A long hall stretched ahead to the giant glass doors at the other end of the house, and through them I glimpsed a second garden, grander than the one out front. No sign of a dungeon—no shouts or pleas rising up from hidden chambers below. No, just the low growl from a nearby room, so deep that it rattled the vases overflowing with fat clusters of hydrangea atop the scattered hall tables. As if in response, an open set of polished wooden doors swung wider to my left. A command to follow. My fingers shook as I rubbed my eyes. I’d known the High Fae had once built themselves palaces and temples around the world—buildings that my mortal ancestors had destroyed after the War out of spite—but I’d never considered how they might live today, the elegance and wealth they might possess. Never contemplated that the faeries, these feral monsters, might own estates grander than any mortal dwelling. I tensed as I entered the room. A long table—longer than any we’d ever possessed at our manor—filled most of the space. It was laden with food and wine—so much food, some of it wafting tendrils of steam, that my mouth watered. At least it was familiar, and not some strange faerie delicacy: chicken, bread, peas, fish, asparagus, lamb … it could have been a feast at any mortal manor. Another surprise. The beast padded to the oversized chair at the head of the table. I lingered by the threshold, gazing at the food—all that hot, glorious food—that I couldn’t eat. That was the first rule we were taught as children, usually in songs or chants: If misfortune forced you to keep company with a faerie, you never drank their wine, never ate their food. Ever. Unless you wanted to wind up enslaved to them in mind and soul—unless you wanted to wind up dragged back to Prythian. Well, the second part had already happened, but I might stand a chance at avoiding the first. The beast plopped into the chair, the wood groaning, and, in a flash of white light, turned into a golden-haired man. I stifled a cry and pushed myself against the paneled wall beside the door, feeling for the molding of the threshold, trying to gauge the distance between me and escape. This beast was not a man, not a lesser faerie. He was one of the High Fae, one of their ruling nobility: beautiful, lethal, and merciless. He was young—or at least what I could see of his face seemed young. His nose, cheeks, and brows were covered by an exquisite golden mask embedded with emeralds shaped like whorls of leaves. Some absurd High Fae fashion, no doubt. It left only his eyes—looking the same as they had in his beast form, strong jaw, and mouth for me to see, and the latter tightened into a thin line. “You should eat something,” he said. Unlike the elegance of his mask, the dark green tunic he wore was rather plain, accented only with a leather baldric across his broad chest. It was more for fighting than style, even though he bore no weapons I could detect. Not just one of the High Fae, but … a warrior, too. I didn’t want to consider what might require him to wear a warrior’s attire and tried not to look too hard at the leather of the baldric gleaming in the sunlight streaming in through the bank of windows behind him. I hadn’t seen a cloudless sky like that in months. He filled a glass of wine from an exquisitely cut crystal decanter and drank deeply. As if he needed it. I inched toward the door, my heart beating so fast I thought I’d vomit. The cool metal of the door’s hinges bit into my fingers. If I moved fast, I could be out of the house and sprinting for the gate within seconds. He was undoubtedly faster—but chucking some of those pretty pieces of hallway furniture in his path might slow him down. Though his Fae ears—with their delicate, pointed arches—would pick up any whisper of movement from me. “Who are you?” I managed to say. His light golden hair was so similar to the color of his beast form’s pelt. Those giant claws undoubtedly still lurked just below the surface of his skin. “Sit,” he said gruffly, waving a broad hand to encompass the table. “Eat.” I ran through the chants in my head, again and again. Not worth it—easing my ravenous hunger was definitely not worth the risk of being enslaved to him in mind and soul. He let out a low growl. “Unless you’d rather faint?” “It’s not safe for humans,” I managed to say, offense be damned. He huffed a laugh—more feral than anything. “The food is fine for you to eat, human.” Those strange green eyes pinned me to the spot, as if he could detect every muscle in my body that was priming to bolt. “Leave, if you want,” he added with a flash of teeth. “I’m not your jailer. The gates are open—you can live anywhere in Prythian.” And no doubt be eaten or tormented by a wretched faerie. But while every inch of this place was civilized and clean and beautiful, I had to get out, had to get back. That promise to my mother, cold and vain as she was, was all I had. I made no move toward the food. “Fine,” he said, the word laced with a growl, and began serving himself. I didn’t have to face the consequences of refusing him another time, as someone strode past me, heading right for the head of the table. “Well?” the stranger said—another High Fae: red-haired and finely dressed in a tunic of muted silver. He, too, wore a mask. He sketched a bow to the seated male and then crossed his arms. Somehow, he hadn’t spotted me where I was still pressed against the wall. “Well, what?” My captor cocked his head, the movement more animal than human. “Is Andras dead, then?” A nod from my captor—savior, whatever he was. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “How?” the stranger demanded, his knuckles white as he gripped his muscled arms. “An ash arrow,” said the other. His red-haired companion hissed. “The Treaty’s summons led me to the mortal. I gave her safe haven.” “A girl—a mortal girl actually killed Andras.” Not a question so much as a venom-coated string of words. He glanced at the end of the table, where my empty chair stood. “And the summons found the girl responsible.” The golden-masked one gave a low, bitter laugh and pointed at me. “The Treaty’s magic brought me right to her doorstep.” The stranger whirled with fluid grace. His mask was bronze and fashioned after a fox’s features, concealing all but the lower half of his face—along with most of what looked like a wicked, slashing scar from his brow down to his jaw. It didn’t hide the eye that was missing—or the carved golden orb that had replaced it and moved as though he could use it. It fixed on me. Even from across the room, I could see his remaining russet eye widen. He sniffed once, his lips curling a bit to reveal straight white teeth, and then he turned to the other faerie. “You’re joking,” he said quietly. “That scrawny thing brought down Andras with a single ash arrow?” Bastard—an absolute bastard. A pity I didn’t have the arrow now—so I could shoot him instead. “She admitted to it,” the golden-haired one said tightly, tracing the rim of his goblet with a finger. A long, lethal claw slid out, scraping against the metal. I fought to keep my breathing steady. Especially as he added, “She didn’t try to deny it.” The fox-masked faerie sank onto the edge of the table, the light catching in his long fire-red hair. I could understand his mask, with that brutal scar and missing eye, but the other High Fae seemed fine. Perhaps he wore it out of solidarity. Maybe that explained the absurd fashion. “Well,” the red-haired one seethed, “now we’re stuck with that, thanks to your useless mercy, and you’ve ruined—” I stepped forward—only a step. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, but being spoken about that way … I kept my mouth shut, but it was enough. “Did you enjoy killing my friend, human?” the red-haired one said. “Did you hesitate, or was the hatred in your heart riding you too hard to consider sparing him? It must have been so satisfying for a small mortal thing like you to take him down.” The golden-haired one said nothing, but his jaw tightened. As they studied me, I reached for a knife that wasn’t there. “Anyway,” the fox-masked one continued, facing his companion again with a sneer. He would likely laugh if I ever drew a weapon on him. “Perhaps there’s a way to—” “Lucien,” my captor said quietly, the name echoing with a hint of a snarl. “Behave.” Lucien went rigid, but he hopped off the edge of the table and bowed deeply to me. “My apologies, lady.” Another joke at my expense. “I’m Lucien. Courtier and emissary.” He gestured to me with a flourish. “Your eyes are like stars, and your hair like burnished gold.” He cocked his head—waiting for me to give him my name. But telling him anything about me, about my family and where I came from— “Her name is Feyre,” said the one in charge—the beast. He must have learned my name at my cottage. Those striking green eyes met mine again and then flicked to the door. “Alis will take you to your room. You could use a bath and fresh clothes.” I couldn’t decide whether it was an insult or not. There was a firm hand at my elbow, and I flinched. A rotund brown-haired woman in a simple brass bird mask tugged on my arm and inclined her head toward the open door behind us. Her white apron was crisp above her homespun brown dress—a servant. The masks had to be some sort of trend, then. If they cared so much about their clothes, about what even their servants wore, maybe they were shallow and vain enough for me to deceive, despite their master’s warrior clothes. Still, they were High Fae. I would have to be clever and quiet and bide my time until I could escape. So I let Alis lead me away. Room—not cell. A small relief, then. I’d barely made it a few steps before Lucien growled, “That’s the hand the Cauldron thought to deal us? She brought Andras down? We never should have sent him out there—none of them should have been out there. It was a fool’s mission.” His growl was more bitter than threatening. Could he shape-shift as well? “Maybe we should just take a stand—maybe it’s time to say enough. Dump the girl somewhere, kill her, I don’t care—she’s nothing but a burden here. She’d sooner put a knife in your back than talk to you—or any of us.” I kept my breathing calm, my spine locking, and— “No,” the other bit out. “Not until we know for certain that there is no other way will we make a move. And as for the girl, she stays. Unharmed. End of discussion. Her life in that hovel was Hell enough.” My cheeks heated, even while I loosed a tight breath, and I avoided looking at Alis as I felt her eyes slide to me. A hovel—I suppose that’s what our cottage was when compared to this place. “Then you’ve got your work cut out for you, old son,” Lucien said. “I’m sure her life will be a fine replacement for Andras’s—maybe she can even train with the others on the border.” A snarl of irritation resonated through the air. The shining, spotless halls swallowed me up before I could hear more. Alis led me through halls of gold and silver until we came to a lavish bedroom on the second level. I’ll admit I didn’t fight that hard when Alis and two other servants—also masked—bathed me, cut my hair, and then plucked me until I felt like a chicken being prepared for dinner. For all I knew, I might very well be their next meal. It was only the High Fae’s promise—to live out my days in Prythian instead of dying—that kept me from being sick at the thought. While these faeries also looked human, save for their ears, I’d never learned what the High Fae called their servants. But I didn’t dare to ask, or to speak to them at all, not when just having their hands on me, having them so close was enough to make me focus solely on not trembling. Still, I took one look at the velvet turquoise dress Alis had placed on the bed and wrapped my white dressing gown tightly around me, sinking into a chair and pleading for my old clothes to be returned. Alis refused, and when I begged again, trying my best to sound pathetic and sad and pitiful, she stormed out. I hadn’t worn a dress in years. I wasn’t about to start, not when escape was my main priority. I wouldn’t be able to move freely in a gown. Bundled in my robe, I sat for minute after minute, the chattering of small birds in the garden beyond the windows the only sounds. No screaming, no clashing weapons, no hint of any slaughter or torture. The bedroom was larger than our entire cottage. Its walls were pale green, delicately sketched with patterns of gold, and the moldings were golden as well. I might have thought it tacky had the ivory furniture and rugs not complemented it so well. The gigantic bed was of a similar color scheme, and the curtains that hung from the towering headboard drifted in the faint breeze from the open windows. My dressing gown was of the finest silk, edged with lace—simple and exquisite enough that I ran a finger along the lapels. The few stories I’d heard had been wrong—or five hundred years of separation had muddled them. Yes, I was still prey, still born weak and useless compared to them, but this place was … peaceful. Calm. Unless that was an illusion, too, and the loophole in the Treaty was a lie—a trick to set me at ease before they destroyed me. The High Fae liked to play with their food. The door creaked, and Alis returned—a bundle of clothing in her hands. She lifted a sodden grayish shirt. “You want to wear this?” I gaped at the holes in the sides and sleeves. “It fell apart the moment the laundresses put it in water.” She held up a few scraps of brown. “Here’s what’s left of your pants.” I clamped down on the curse building in my chest. She might be a servant, but she could easily kill me, too. “Will you wear the dress now?” she demanded. I knew I should get up, should agree, but I slumped farther into my seat. Alis stared me down for a moment before leaving again. She returned with trousers and a tunic that fit me well, both of them rich with color. A bit fancy, but I didn’t complain when I donned the white shirt, nor when I buttoned the dark blue tunic and ran my hands over the scratchy, golden thread embroidered on the lapels. It had to cost a fortune in itself—and it tugged at that useless part of my mind that admired lovely and strange and colorful things. I was too young to remember much before my father’s downfall. He’d tolerated me enough to allow me to loiter about his offices, and sometimes even explained various goods and their worth, the details of which I’d long since forgotten. My time in his offices—full of the scents of exotic spices and the music of foreign tongues—made up the majority of my few happy memories. I didn’t need to know the worth of everything in this room to understand that the emerald curtains alone—silk, with gold velvet—could have fed us for a lifetime. A chill scuttled down my spine. It had been days since I’d left. The venison would be running low already. Alis herded me into a low-backed chair before the darkened fireplace, and I didn’t fight back as she ran a comb through my hair and began braiding it. “You’re hardly more than skin and bones,” she said, her fingers luxurious against my scalp. “Winter does that to poor mortals,” I said, fighting to keep the sharpness from my tone. She huffed a laugh. “If you’re wise, you’ll keep your mouth shut and your ears open. It’ll do you more good here than a loose tongue. And keep your wits about you—even your senses will try to betray you here.” I tried not to cringe at the warning. Alis went on. “Some folk are bound to be upset about Andras. Yet if you ask me, Andras was a good sentinel, but he knew what he would face when he crossed the wall—knew he’d likely find trouble. And the others understand the terms of the Treaty, too—even if they might resent your presence here, thanks to the mercy of our master. So keep your head down, and none of them will bother you. Though Lucien—he could do with someone snapping at him, if you’ve the courage for it.” I didn’t, and when I went to ask more about whom I should try to avoid, she had already finished with my hair and opened the door to the hall. Chapter 7 The golden-haired High Fae and Lucien were lounging at the table when Alis returned me to the dining room. They no longer had plates before them, but still sipped from golden goblets. Real gold—not paint or foil. Our mismatched cutlery flashed through my mind as I paused in the middle of the room. Such wealth—such staggering wealth, when we had nothing. A half-wild beast, Nesta had called me. But compared to him, compared to this place, compared to the elegant, easy way they held their goblets, the way the golden-haired one had called me human … we were all half-wild beasts to the High Fae. Even if they were the ones who could don fur and claws. Food still remained on the table, the array of spices lingering in the air, beckoning. I was starving, my head unnervingly light. The golden-haired High Fae’s mask gleamed with the last rays of the afternoon sunshine. “Before you ask again: the food is safe for you to eat.” He pointed to the chair at the other end of the table. No sign of his claws. When I didn’t move, he sighed sharply. “What do you want, then?” I said nothing. To eat, flee, save my family … Lucien drawled from his seat along the length of the table, “I told you so, Tamlin.” He flicked a glance toward his friend. “Your skills with females have definitely become rusty in recent decades.” Tamlin. He glowered at Lucien, shifting in his seat. I tried not to stiffen at the other bit of information Lucien had given away. Decades. Tamlin didn’t look much older than me, but his kind was immortal. He could be hundreds of years old. Thousands. My mouth dried up as I carefully studied their strange, masked faces—unearthly, primal, and imperious. Like immovable gods or feral courtiers. “Well,” Lucien said, his remaining russet eye fixed on me, “you don’t look half as bad now. A relief, I suppose, since you’re to live with us. Though the tunic isn’t as pretty as a dress.” Wolves ready to pounce—that’s what they were, just like their friend. I was all too aware of my diction, of the very breath I took as I said, “I’d prefer not to wear that dress.” “And why not?” Lucien crooned. It was Tamlin who answered for me. “Because killing us is easier in pants.” I kept my face blank, willed my heart to calm as I said, “Now that I’m here, what … what do you plan to do with me?” Lucien snorted, but Tamlin said with a snarl of annoyance, “Just sit down.” An empty seat had been pulled out at the end of the table. So many foods, piping hot and wafting those enticing spices. The servants had probably brought out new food while I’d washed. So much wasted. I clenched my hands into fists. “We’re not going to bite.” Lucien’s white teeth gleamed in a way that suggested otherwise. I avoided his gaze, avoided that strange, animated metal eye that focused on me as I inched to my seat and sat down. Tamlin rose, stalking around the table—closer and closer, each movement smooth and lethal, a predator blooded with power. It was an effort to keep still—especially as he picked up a dish, bro