When my father didn’t reply, I dared another step toward the beast, drawing his attention to me. I had to get him out—get him away from my family. From the way he’d brushed away my knife, any hope of escaping lay in somehow sneaking up on him. With his hearing, I doubted I’d get a chance anytime soon, at least until he believed I was docile. If I tried to attack him or fled before then, he would destroy my family for the sheer enjoyment of it. Then he would find me again. I had no choice but to go. And then, later, I might find an opportunity to slit the beast’s throat. Or at least disable him long enough to flee.
As long as the faeries couldn’t find me again, they couldn’t hold me to the Treaty. Even if it made me a cursed oath-breaker. But in going with him, I would be breaking the most important promise I’d ever made. Surely it trumped an ancient treaty that I hadn’t even signed.
I loosened my grip on the hilt of my remaining dagger and stared into those green eyes for a long, silent while before I said, “When do we go?”
Those lupine features remained fierce—vicious. Any lingering hope I had of fighting died as he moved to the door—no, to the quiver I’d left behind it. He pulled out the ash arrow, sniffed, and snarled at it. With two movements, he snapped it in half and chucked it into the fire behind my sisters before turning back to me. I could smell my doom on his breath as he said, “Now.”
Even Elain lifted her head to gape at me in mute horror. But I couldn’t look at her, couldn’t look at Nesta—not when they were still crouched there, still silent. I turned to my father. His eyes glistened, so I glanced to the few cabinets we had, faded too-yellow daffodils curving over the handles. Now.
The beast paced in the doorway. I didn’t want to contemplate where I was going or what he would do with me. Running would be foolish until it was the right time.
“The venison should hold you for two weeks,” I said to my father as I gathered my clothes to bulk up against the cold. “Start on the fresh meat, then work your way through to the jerky—you know how to make it.”
“Feyre—” my father breathed, but I continued as I fastened my cloak.
“I left the money from the pelts on the dresser,” I said. “It will last you for a time, if you’re careful.” I finally looked at my father again and allowed myself to memorize the lines of his face. My eyes stung, but I blinked the moisture away as I stuffed my hands into my worn gloves. “When spring comes, hunt in the grove just south of the big bend in Silverspring Creek—the rabbits make their warrens there. Ask … ask Isaac Hale to show you how to make snares. I taught him last year.”
My father nodded, covering his mouth with a hand. The beast growled his warning and prowled out into the night. I made to follow him but paused to look at my sisters, still crouched by the fire, as if they wouldn’t dare to move until I was gone.
Elain mouthed my name but kept cowering, kept her head down. So I turned to Nesta, whose face was so similar to my mother’s, so cold and unrelenting.
“Whatever you do,” I said quietly, “don’t marry Tomas Mandray. His father beats his wife, and none of his sons do anything to stop it.” Nesta’s eyes widened, but I added, “Bruises are harder to conceal than poverty.”
Nesta stiffened but said nothing—both of my sisters said absolutely nothing—as I turned toward the open door. But a hand wrapped around my arm, tugging me into a stop.
Turning me around to face him, my father opened and closed his mouth. Outside, the beast, sensing I’d been detained, sent a snarl rumbling into the cottage.
“Feyre,” my father said. His fingers trembled as he grasped my gloved hands, but his eyes became clearer and bolder than I’d seen them in years. “You were always too good for here, Feyre. Too good for us, too good for everyone.” He squeezed my hands. “If you ever escape, ever convince them that you’ve paid the debt, don’t return.”
I hadn’t expected a heart-wrenching good-bye, but I hadn’t imagined this, either.
“Don’t ever come back,” my father said, releasing my hands to shake me by the shoulders. “Feyre.” He stumbled over my name, his throat bobbing. “You go somewhere new—and you make a name for yourself.”
Beyond, the beast was just a shadow. A life for a life—but what if the life offered as payment also meant losing three others? The thought alone was enough to steel me, anchor me.
I’d never told my father of the promise I’d made my mother, and there was no use explaining it now. So I shrugged off his grip and left.
I let the sounds of the snow crunching underfoot drive out my father’s words as I followed the beast to the night-shrouded woods.
Every step toward the line of trees was too swift, too light, too soon carrying me to whatever torment and misery awaited. I didn’t dare look back at the cottage.
We entered the line of trees. Darkness beckoned beyond.
But a white mare was patiently waiting—unbound—beside a tree, her coat like fresh snow in the moonlight. She only lowered her head—as if in respect, of all things—as the beast lumbered up to her.
He motioned with a giant paw for me to mount. Still the horse remained calm, even as he passed close enough to gut her in one swipe. It had been years since I’d ridden, and I’d only ridden a pony at that, but I savored the warmth of the horse against my half-frozen body as I climbed into the saddle and she set into a walk. Without light to guide me, I let her trail the beast. They were nearly the same size. I wasn’t surprised when we headed northward—toward faerie territory—though my stomach clenched so tightly it ached.
Live with him. I could live out the rest of my mortal life on his lands. Perhaps this was merciful—but then, he hadn’t specified in what manner, exactly, I would live. The Treaty forbade faeries from taking us as slaves, but—perhaps that excluded humans who’d murdered faeries.
We’d likely go to whatever rift in the wall he’d used to get here, to steal me. And once we went through the invisible wall, once we were in Prythian, there was no way for my family to ever find me. I’d be little more than a lamb in a kingdom of wolves. Wolves—wolf.
Murdered a faerie. That was what I’d done.
My throat went dry. I’d killed a faerie. I couldn’t bring myself to feel badly about it. Not with my family left behind me to surely starve; not when it meant one less wicked, awful creature in the world. The beast had burned my ash arrow—so I’d have to rely on luck to get even a splinter of the wood again, if I was to stand a chance of killing him. Or slowing him down.