Home > To Carve a Fae Heart (The Fair Isle Trilogy #1)

To Carve a Fae Heart (The Fair Isle Trilogy #1)
Author: Tessonja Odette

Chapter One

 


Every young woman dreams of marrying a royal. A king, a prince, it doesn’t matter, so long as he’s richer than sin and handsome enough to fake a smile at. What else could a girl ask for?

Well, a working brain, for starters. And I do suggest all young women have one of those. That way, she’d know marrying a royal would be The. Worst. Thing.

You see, here in Eisleigh, all young women are eligible to be married off to a king. There’s just one problem.

He’ll probably eat you before you make it to your wedding bed.

And I’d rather not get torn to shreds by razor sharp fangs, thank you very much.

So you might be wondering why, after such a declaration, a sensible young woman like me would be traipsing through the woods toward the faewall in the middle of the night. I’ll tell you why. To bribe my way to freedom.

Some might call it superstition to leave gifts for the fae. If fae weren’t real, I’d agree. Unfortunately for the residents of Eisleigh, they are real. Dangerously, terrifyingly, blood curdlingly real. And I’m not about to offend them tonight.

I hear a rustling nearby. The snap of a twig to my left. The crinkling of falling leaves. I whirl to find nothing but the silhouette of an owl launching from a branch overhead to soar into the night sky. With a shaking breath, I pull my heavy wool cloak tighter around me and refocus on the path ahead. Even with the moonlight speckling the forest floor, I can barely make out the well-worn trail between the trees.

Yet I manage, trying my best not to trip on twining roots and rocks and all sorts of earthly assassins bent on making me regret coming here alone. It’s usually Mother who comes to the faewall with me. Or Amelie, my sister. Tonight though, it’s just me. I’m too old to need the protection of my mother, and Amelie—well, I’m usually the one protecting her even though she’s two years older than I am. Besides, she has better things to do tonight.

You’re welcome, Amelie. I hope you’re enjoying your date. Hopefully my hard work can keep us both from certain doom! In all honesty, I can’t blame her for not being with me tonight. For all she knows, this might be her last night of freedom.

Once the trees begin to thin, I catch a glimpse of the faewall up ahead. The wall is always an unsettling sight, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. It’s composed of massive standing stones, twice my height and three times as wide, set a dozen or so feet apart. Between the stones, all you can see is dense mist towering high into the sky, showing nothing of the fae lands beyond. The wall spans from one end of the Fair Isle to the other, dividing it in half to separate the human lands of Eisleigh from the fae lands of Faerwyvae.

A shiver crawls up my spine as I approach the wall. There’s no mistaking the danger radiating from between each pair of stones and the mist beckoning behind them. Each between is an entrance to Faerwyvae, the place humans never go on purpose and never return from when they do.

My heart quickens, and I pat the sheathed dagger that hangs from the belt around my waist, feeling the comfort of its weight against my hip. With slow, creeping steps, I make my way to one of the stones, then unshoulder my bag. From within, I remove a plate and saucer—both marked with my family surname and the name of my village on the bottom—and set them on the ground at the base of the stone. Then I take out a heel of fresh brown bread and a canteen of goat’s milk, placing the bread on the plate and pouring the milk into the bowl.

My movements are routine and reverent, following the tradition Mother taught me every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Hundred Year Reaping. It’s meant to curry favor with the fae in a way that will ensure my sister and I won’t be chosen for the next Reaping. Since the Hundred Year Reaping comes at dawn tomorrow, I could use that favor now more than ever.

I stare at my offering, then look at similar ones farther down the wall. At the next stone over, I see a patterned scarf with a sparkling, moonlit brooch perched upon it. Farther down, I’m almost certain I see the silhouette of an entire deer corpse.

I return my attention to my offering of bread and milk. It’s always been bread and milk, ever since I was a girl. Mother says anything fancier could draw the attention of the Reaping, while anything less could be seen as an insult fit for punishment. It seems the only way to guarantee my sister and I won’t become the brides of monstrous fae is to remain respectfully unmemorable.

Why the fae give a lamb’s ass about silly human offerings in the first place is beyond me. We couldn’t possibly give them anything they don’t already have in the fae lands. Besides, do fae even eat? Aside from human brains and the tears of young maidens?

I take one last glimpse at my offering, hoping it’s enough to keep me and my sister safe, then turn around.

A new wall blocks my path.

A towering, brooding wall of shadow and teeth. I gasp and launch a step back. My vision clears and focuses, revealing the figure of a man, taller than me by two heads. He’s dressed in dark, nondescript clothing beneath an equally dark cloak that makes it impossible to get an impression of anything but his face. That accounts for the shadows I saw at first glance. As for the teeth, I must have been mistaken, because there are none to be seen beneath his self-righteous smirk. My eyes trail from his mouth to his upturned nose and angled eyes.

A fae. Great.

It isn’t unusual for fae to be seen on this side of the wall, but there are only two reasons one would be here at all. First, to cause trouble. This is most often performed by lesser fae—goblins, sprites, trolls. Second, to clean up said trouble. This is usually done by the fae ambassadors, sent by the high fae who like to pretend their kind mean us no harm. So which one is he? Trouble? Or charm?

It doesn’t matter, I suppose. Even the most refined-seeming fae can tear out your heart before you see it coming.

I steady my breathing and put on a brave face, reminding myself to blink as I hold his gaze. If I forget to blink, he could maintain eye contact long enough to glamour me. Or, more accurately, he could maintain eye contact long enough to suppress the proper functioning of my amygdala.

This fae is just like any other creature, I remind myself. A dangerous creature, yes, but a creature bound by the laws of science. Science, I can understand. Science, I can confront.

Despite my mantra, I know I’m in the presence of danger. I’m vulnerable, small, wildly aware of my state of undress. My cloak suddenly seems too frail a thing to hide the fact that I’m wearing a thin cotton nightdress tucked into trousers. Why couldn’t I have put on a proper top? Then again, I wasn’t expecting to find anyone here, much less a fae. A towering, beautiful, horrible fae.

Luckily, his eyes don’t stray to my clothing as he extends his hand toward the stones and the offerings at their bases. “Seeking favor, human? Hoping you’ll be chosen to win the hand of King Aspen?” His voice is low and deep, dripping honey.

I suppress a laugh. Does he honestly believe any of us would want to be chosen as a bride of the fae? It’s called the Reaping for a reason. Otherwise, we’d call it the Hundred Year Whimsy. Now, how do I answer that question without getting my face ripped off? “I ask only that my offering is received fairly and that my relationship with your kind maintains its good and distant standing.”

His lips twitch, but I can’t tell if he’s on the verge of smiling or scowling. “Your gift comes too late. The Chosen have already been selected.”

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