A/N A peek of my first official A Court of Thorns and Roses story. Currently unbeta-ed because I couldn't wait to post it. Anyways, hope you guys like it :)
"Do you really have to go?" Nesta asked as she swept a brush through Feyre's hair.
"For the last time, yes. The King insisted that I be there."
"I'm sure he did. Doesn't mean you have to listen to him."
Feyre remained silent, instead choosing to ignore Nesta's foul mood to fix her own hair in the mirror.
"And why wouldn't the King ask Feyre to dinner? She is his royal ward after all," Elain added, the youngest of them doing her best to appease Nesta's hard tone.
Feyre gave her a soft smile to their gentle sister. But fixing her eyes on her own features, she saw her gold brown hair; cold blue eyes that Nesta insisted she inherited from their mother. A straight nose that she liked to think accented her full lips.
These were all rather boring features she was given at birth. But also for some reason, granted either by the Gods or hell itself, Feyre was also given a million other faces with it.
Because Feyre was a siren: a magical shape shifter that could mold face and body to anything she liked.
And in their world, well, that was more than rare. One-of-a-kind even, to be able to change one's appearance to what they pleased. And to the King's knowledge, and the rest of the worlds', she was the last of them.
"It's not like Feyre is integral to the actual dinner," Nesta muttered, "The King just wants you to make his job easier. That was why he had taken us all, only to gain Feyre as a prize."
"Why do you always want to argue?" Elain sighed.
"I'll stop arguing when Feyre decides to stop working for such a foul man." Nesta said, coming behind Feyre to tug on her hair. She dropped her hands with a sigh to find her sisters eyes on her.
"Pray tell, Nesta how would you have me provide for us, if not by working for the King? He has been good to us," she said.
"Anything," Nest sighed, "Elain and I could get jobs if you allowed us to. You could even provide by selling your art work."
"I will let you keep dreaming, then, Nesta. My work with the King provides us more than well enough. No fantasies needed."
"You used to dream more than anyone. That was what kept up hope while we were in the slums," Elain finally spoke, turning to brush her own hair; ever more soft and controllable than hers. But Feyre turned her eyes away before jealousy could bloom.
How Feyre wished to be so innocent and fair as Elain. Or strong and fierce as Nesta. Instead, Feyre had been cursed with magic that made her nothing but complacent to its whims.
"I don't miss the slums, but I do miss the simplicity." Nesta said a bit softer, "There you did not have to plot nor stoop in order to please a master that could care less."
Feyre was struck silent again.
After their mother's untimely death, she and her sisters were left to their own. And since their father had left long ago. Feyre was the only one who had the skill to keep them sheltered and fed.
With her siren.
So she had once taken to the streets, using her shapeshifting powers to attract customers of insurmountable wealth. Whatever nobleman or noble-woman wanted, Feyre's siren reflected; giving each customer pleasure they could never have dreamt of.
Which meant then kept coming back. Effectively keeping Feyre and her sisters in comfort.
"Oh Nesta, when will you accept Feyre's gift and just be happy for our life here?" Elain hushed, no doubt finding the stress in the conversation.
"I will never accept it. Not when Feyre has to pay for it by doing the King's bidding"
Feyre could not oppose Nesta. Because it was true.
The King perhaps used Feyre more than any customer ever had. Even if he had never laid a finger on her, he did not mind taking her siren for advantage.
For when she was only fourteen, the King had found Feyre during his tours of the lower streets. Somehow, he had sensed what power lay under such ever-changing skin. And so he took her as his ward.
Her sister's comfort was payment for her service.
But such a kindness, Feyre discovered, came with a cost. Working for the king was not easy. Seducing or tricking any man that dare disagree with their great leader was mentally and physically exhausting. And dangerous.
But Feyre would do it to give her sister's what they deserved. Jewels and gowns and food to keep them blissfully happy.
But Nesta spoke on, "I refuse to settle for such a life. I am thankful, but not thankful enough to allow Feyre to demean herself for such a disagreeable man."
"I know, but try to remember how gracious the King has been," Elain said, "He has given us every luxury we could ever wish for."
"I love you both, but sometimes you two are a little too loyal for you own good," Nesta grumbled. Elain only fidgeted with Feyre's deep blue dress. Her sister had chosen it especially for that night. Under the King's recommendation of course.
For every part of Feyre's charade, the King made sure to have his say in it.
He thought of each mask Feyre to wear. Each jewel or dress to accent her matching figure.
And even if the worst Feyre would ever do was bat her lashes at whatever Lord needed persuading that night, she felt viler with each dinner she attended.
Even on the streets, her profession held no trickery. Yes, her face and body was never her own. But it was straight forward. Her customers paid for a service and she delivered it.
But changing political opinions and sometimes the very morals of her victims, well… it made Feyre feel wretched with guilt.
"Yes, well, you could do with a dose of loyalty here and there," Elain chastised Nesta, "You might even find that you like it."
"Say much more Elain, and Nesta might vomit," Feyre teased with a grin towards her eldest sister.
"You're right, the mere thought of bowing to that man makes me ill," Nesta groaned.
Elain rolled her eyes with a huff, "I don't see the issue. Feyre is good at her job!"
"Yes. However, what can Feyre do that the King can't do on his own?" Nesta spun on, "That is why I will never respect a man that makes someone else do his bidding"
Feyre turned her eyes away before Nesta could find the truth in them. But their eldest sister stood to brace her hands on her shoulders, forcing her look into the light eyes they all shared.
"Tell me I'm wrong."
"I don't do everything, you know," Feyre lied.
For with each scheming as to how a new body or feature could help their cause, she felt herself growing weaker and weaker.
Even worse, Feyre was growing more and more complacent to her siren's desires.
But the King always insisted she be at every dinner.
And tonight, Feyre was to welcome their new guest from the Southern Continent. And in turn, to don a seductive face and body.
"How long can you keep doing this?" Nesta asked, "I know what toll it takes, Feyre, all the while you grow tired while the King continues to take advantage."
Feyre merely brushed out from under her sister's hands, not able to look at her in the eyes anymore. Because Nesta had the annoying talent of always being right.
"You know very well why I serve him," Feyre said instead, "If I quit, I worry that we will be thrown back to the slums." Easing back to her vanity, Feyre wisely avoided both her sisters' gazes to powder her nose.
But no amount of white dust would cover up the signs of fatigue. Every day Feyre saw the dark blue circles that hung under her eyes. Collarbones that stuck out too much. Skin that was paper-thin.
Her magic was eating her from the inside out.
But the siren hid all of that. Everyone else saw a woman that was the picture of health and beauty. Perhaps even glowing.
But Feyre felt the truth.
"You mustn't worry about us," Nesta said, "I know how the Kings makes you to seduce those men. And it isn't with your wits alone, Feyre," she said with disgust. Elain remained quiet.
"Alright, Yes, the King did ask for me to wear a particularly pleasing face when I met this new Lord. So what?"
"So what?" Nesta folded her arms, "So why keep obeying a King that would rather you do all the hard work just so he can sit on his ass all day?"
"Careful, Nesta, those are treasonous words," Elain chastised. But it didn't matter. Nesta would never stop fighting.
Just like Elain would never stop comforting. And Feyre would always be helpless against the curse the Gods bestowed on her.
Even if Feyre had more of a hold around her power being twenty and one, her siren still beckoned for pleasure and seduction.
So Feyre could forever wish to be rid of it all. Nesta could try to berate it out of her. But the siren would always win.
"Well, if you have already made up your mind, I can't stop you," Nesta stood to help Feyre, "Will you at least show me what face the King wants you to wear tonight?"
"Oh, so now you're curious?"
"Hush up and show us," Nesta said, but a smile was starting to form. Feyre had already been forgiven.
Now and then she liked to imagine that Nesta and Elain could see her true skin, but sadly no one seemed to be able to see past the endless masks.
No one could see Feyre for who she really was. In the northern continent, the second largest in their world, everyone was pale as a porcelain doll, their hair and eyes just as light.
And Feyre…well, she was different.
Her hair was an odd color, telling herself that the gods had made her unique. Bright freckles dotted her sun-kissed skin, a sign she was not pure as the rest.
And her blue-gray eyes were not bright like her sisters, but dark and sinister like an impending ocean storm.
And sometimes—although it was a pathetic thought she was careful to keep inside—Feyre wished someone could see past the siren.
Nesta just gave her a long look as they waited for the new mask to revealed; which Feyre returned with an eventual smile. Elain nodded her head excitedly.
"Fine, see for yourself." With a deep breath, Feyre revealed what face she would be wearing.
The face she usually wore on a daily basis was some safely pretty village girl she saw once with mousey hair, grey eyes and a shapeless body. Something she knew wouldn't stir up too much trouble. Something safe.
But days like today, the King called on Feyre to do more. To make men leer and forget why they objected to him in the first place.
And that meant for her siren to make fantasies flesh.
But when Feyre showed what fantasy she had conjured, each of her sister's jaws dropped.
"Oh, Feyre. You can't," Elain's eyes were wide. Nesta's lips were pressed in dispute.
She only looked down to see mocha skin. Skin that, unbeknownst to her sisters, Feyre had been born with.
Thick auburn hair offset the dark tone. Close to what Feyre's real locks looked like.
All of it, if revealed as her true self, would show the world she was made differently. Even if she had been born from northern parents, Feyre was anything but.
Perhaps it was a cruel joke from the Gods. A way for them to remind Feyre every day that she was different. That she was unnatural…
"Let me explain," she said warily when Nesta had yet to speak, "The King ordered me to take on a southern skin because the new Lord I am to meet is also from the south. So my appearance is not thoughtless. It will work in our favor."
"I won't let you do this," Nesta said firmly, "You know the southern and northern continents do not mix. Up here, looking like that, you're likely to start a riot, Feyre. I mean—just look at you! "
Feyre did look, and despite what everyone else thought she looked like, she saw her real body. Broad shoulders and full breasts fell into wide hips; a figure most northern men turned their noses up at.
And it was strange to see her sister's reaction to her appearance. For neither of them had ever been to the southern continent.
Both Nesta and Elain had seen pictures in books of the rich-skinned people, and the blooming culture to match. But beyond that, they had never seen anyone that looked like Feyre.
Only once, did Feyre decide to let the world see that facet of herself. When she was merely sixteen, exhausted by the charade of her magic, did she let her mask slip.
But as soon as she showed what lied beneath, people's eyes started to follow. They treated her differently. Some even seemed to think less of Feyre; scolding her for things she never did.
So she had learned that day to never become her true self without preparing for the cost.
"The King needs more allies," Feyre explained, "And if this Southern Dignitary thinks a fellow countryman is in support of the King, then that may bring him easier to our side. Perhaps even convince him that signing a treaty with us is in his best interest."
"No, Feyre," Nesta shook her head, "Not like this. Men have often lost their minds around your siren, and this mask will definitely push them over the edge."
Indeed, if Feyre didn't control her siren well enough, some men would become crazed. Even going far enough to open their minds and let her magic take control.
But she had never allowed herself to take that last step. Even peering into minds for a second took more strength than she had.
"Just put on a pretty face from the north, it should still work," Elain offered sweetly.
"I'll be fine." Feyre turned to take a final look at the face. It was dangerously close to her real form. But not quite.
She had vowed to herself long ago that her true features would never be showed to the world. It made her feel too vulnerable. For as much as Feyre despised her masks, she secretly took comfort in the anonymity they gave her. It allowed her to do her work, and not be hurt by it. At least, that's what she kept telling herself.
"Feyre, no, just listen to us…" Nesta called.
But Feyre was already walking down the corridor.
"And just where do you think you're going?"
"The King requested my presence," Feyre announced when the two guards stepped in front of her. She had gotten curious glances her entire path to the main dining room. Yet no one had said a thing until now.
"Who are you?" one ordered, both their gazes wide as they took in her appearance; their attention flicking from her chest to her face, and then back again.
"I'm Lady Feyre. Could you open the doors, please?" She displayed the ring the King had given her for events just like this.
The golden band was engraved with her own personal sigil on top. The gold was also laced with a chemical only familiar to Feyre's skin. So if it was ever taken from her finger and worn by another, the metal would turn green.
One guard finally blinked at the jewelry, recognizing what the King had given her for this exact occasion, "Lady Feyre, I'm so sorry. My apologizes; it's just—"
"I know, I look different," she rolled her shoulders, preparing for what would follow—"Than usual, I suppose," she finished. They just continued to gawk. "If you please, the King awaits," she motioned to the double doors when neither responded.
The second guard finally leapt into action, "Of course, your ladyship. Our apologies."
They thrust open the doors a moment later. And she felt their eyes on her behind when she passed. Feyre raised her chin to the feeling.
There would be much more staring to follow, no doubt.
Because the dining room was stuffed to the brim with pale nobility. As each Northern dignitary and his wife looked to Feyre in shock. They all bore white bland faces. And they were all thinking the same thing.
Feyre did nothing but head for the open seat to the right of the King.
The hall was finely dressed for the occasion. With gold and blue banners hanging from each wall she guessed were to honor the foreign Lord she was to seduce. Colors that perfectly matched Feyre's own dress and jewelry.
As her heels clacked dully on the stone floor, her attention went to each guest she passed. Every face was blander than the next. But she still noticed how wide each of the men's eyes went. Or how the women raised their brows in disgust.
She merely pushed past that feeling. Perhaps she was different or did not belong. It was a fact Feyre should be proud of. Wearing masks and drifting anonymously from victim to victim had always been her life, after all.
But even the King eyes flared before realizing who she was. Even to him, Feyre was a stranger.
But then he recognized his prize. The temptress of the North. She was nothing more than a trick pony, gaining more seduction and power with each face she wore.
And the realization made Feyre feel wholly alone in the world.
"Hello, my Flower," the King said, using that horrid pet name as he recovered, "I must admit, we wondered if you were going to make it at all."
"My King, apologies for the tardiness." She gave a quick curtsey before taking her seat; careful to keep her head down. Feyre felt the King's eyes survey her dress; could imagine the pleasure fill his gray eyes.
Thankfully the King seemed satisfied as he turned attention to his left, "You see, your Highness? I told you she would be worth the wait."
Feyre didn't look to who the King spoke to. But the sheer possessiveness in the statement made her want to raise her head to correct him: that she was no one's possession.
But she was, wasn't she? Nothing more than stock being paraded about.
And glancing down the table, Feyre saw every single Lord thought the same.
Before she could retch completely, she swiped a passing glass of champagne. She swallowed it in one gulp, not caring who the King was speaking to. This Lord was probably as vile and cold as the rest.
But then the stranger finally answered, "I never doubted Feyre would be worth every second of the wait." This new voice was dark, elegant. And Feyre's muscles went loose at the accent: rich like velvet.
Ever so carefully, she brought her eyes up to see whomever such a voice could belong to. And as soon as she did, her breath caught.
Stunning. The most stunning man Feyre had seen. She hardly knew it was possible for a man to be so beautiful.
The dark male only quirked a brow at her attention. "How are you, Lady Feyre?"
Yes. he was definitely from the southern continent. If his accent didn't say as much, his sun-kissed skin did and black hair did.
His hair was a shimmer of blue and black as it shifted under the light. Feyre merely blinked as he angled his head at her. His face was something else entirely.
Sharp cheekbones framed his straight nose. He looked like he was carved more perfectly than the Gods themselves.
And seated as the focal point of his features, were eyes such a vibrant blue that Feyre hardly knew the color possible. They were ebbing closer towards violet as they took her in.
"Lady Feyre?" he repeated, a slow smile spreading when she had yet to answer.
"I am doing well, thank you," she all but sputtered. His smile turned into a grin, showing off sparkling white teeth. Feyre adverted her eyes it was so overwhelming.
"Now that you're here," the King started, "Feyre, let me introduce you to his Royal Highness, Prince Rhysand of the Southern Continent. He was the new guest I was telling you about."
And all attraction for this stranger evaporated at that name. Feyre's knew it from rumors alone.
The soon-to-be King of the biggest continent in the world. Ruthless in his affairs of his people. Cunning in each decision made for their welfare. Powerful in his resources.
It could be argued that beside the King, Rhysand was the single most powerful man in the world.
And he was currently staring at Feyre like he knew what lay beneath. Mask and all.
A/N Tell me what you think! After I finish the last chapter of A Court of Desolation and despair, I will start posting regularly :)