Home > A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)(5)

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)(5)
Sarah J. Maas

“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.

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