Home > A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)(8)

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)(8)
Sarah J. Maas

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.

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