Home > A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)(10)

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)(10)
Sarah J. Maas

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.

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