Home > A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)(11)

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)(11)
Sarah J. Maas

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.

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