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.
The firelight shone upon his exposed fangs, and I wondered how they’d feel on my throat, and how loudly my sisters would scream before they, too, died. But I knew—with a sudden, uncoiling clarity—that Nesta would buy Elain time to run. Not my father, whom she resented with her entire steely heart. Not me, because Nesta had always known and hated that she and I were two sides of the same coin, and that I could fight my own battles. But Elain, the flower-grower, the gentle heart … Nesta would go down swinging for her.
It was that flash of understanding that had me angling my remaining knife at the beast. “What is the payment the Treaty requires?”
His eyes didn’t leave my face as he said, “A life for a life. Any unprovoked attacks on faerie-kind by humans are to be paid only by a human life in exchange.”
My sisters quieted their weeping. The mercenary in town had killed a faerie—but had attacked her first. “I didn’t know,” I said. “Didn’t know about that part of the Treaty.”
Faeries couldn’t lie—and he spoke plainly enough, no word-twisting.
“Most of you mortals have chosen to forget that part of the Treaty,” he said, “which makes punishing you far more enjoyable.”
My knees quaked. I couldn’t escape this, couldn’t outrun this. Couldn’t even try to run, since he blocked the way to the door. “Do it outside,” I whispered, my voice trembling. “Not … here.” Not where my family would have to wash away my blood and gore. If he even let them live.
The faerie huffed a vicious laugh. “Willing to accept your fate so easily?” When I just stared at him, he said, “For having the nerve to request where I slaughter you, I’ll let you in on a secret, human: Prythian must claim your life in some way, for the life you took from it. So as a representative of the immortal realm, I can either gut you like swine, or … you can cross the wall and live out the remainder of your days in Prythian.”
I blinked. “What?”
He said slowly, as if I were indeed as stupid as a swine, “You can either die tonight or offer your life to Prythian by living in it forever, forsaking the human realm.”
“Do it, Feyre,” my father whispered from behind me. “Go.”
I didn’t look at him as I said, “Live where? Every inch of Prythian is lethal to us.” I’d be better off dying tonight than living in pure terror across the wall until I met my end in doubtlessly an even more awful way.
“I have lands,” the faerie said quietly—almost reluctantly. “I will grant you permission to live there.”
“Why bother?” Perhaps a fool’s question, but—
“You murdered my friend,” the beast snarled. “Murdered him, skinned his corpse, sold it at the market, and then said he deserved it, and yet you have the nerve to question my generosity?” How typically human, he seemed to silently add.
“You didn’t need to mention the loophole.” I stepped so close the faerie’s breath heated my face. Faeries couldn’t lie, but they could omit information.
The beast snarled again. “Foolish of me to forget that humans have such low opinions of us. Do you humans no longer understand mercy?” he said, his fangs inches from my throat. “Let me make this clear for you, girl: you can either come live at my home in Prythian—offer your life for the wolf’s in that way—or you can walk outside right now and be shredded to ribbons. Your choice.”
My father’s hobbling steps sounded before he gripped my shoulder. “Please, good sir—Feyre is my youngest. I beseech you to spare her. She is all … she is all …” But whatever he meant to say died in his throat as the beast roared again. But hearing those few words he’d managed to get out, the effort he’d made … it was like a blade to my belly. My father cringed as he said, “Please—”
“Silence,” the creature snapped, and rage boiled up in me so blistering it was an effort to keep from lunging to stab my dagger in his eye. But by the time I had so much as raised my arm, I knew he would have his maw around my neck.
“I can get gold—” my father said, and my rage guttered. The only way he would get money was by begging. Even then, he’d be lucky to get a few coppers. I’d seen how pitiless the well-off were in our village. The monsters in our mortal realm were just as bad as those across the wall.
The beast sneered. “How much is your daughter’s life worth to you? Do you think it equates to a sum?”
Nesta still had Elain held behind her, Elain’s face so pale it matched the snow drifting in from the open door. But Nesta monitored every move the beast made, her brows lowered. She didn’t bother to look at my father—as if she knew his answer already.