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.