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A Court of Divinity and Ashes

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PROLOGUE: NESTA

Both of my little sisters have died.

My fault, of course. 

I was the sister who sent Elain into the village with the last of our coin and some of her bluebells to trade for salve for the infection seeping out of Father’s shattered leg. When she didn’t return by sundown, I was the sister who failed to search for her, distracted as I was by Father’s feverish moaning and watching out the cracked window for tiny Feyre instead, who had ranted and raved at me all afternoon in her shrill, little-girl voice about foolish wives tales she heard from a medicine woman in the market until I unlocked the door and let her go hunt for honey and wild garlic at the edge of the forest beyond the cottage.

By the time I realized what was happening, Elain was gone. No one in the village had seen her. She just disappeared, as if she had been spirited away by some faerie monster, not even a sickly changeling child or ring of mushrooms left in her place. 

No frantic searching through the dark, empty market that night, no begging for help or mercy or clues from the villagers for the next week, and no shrieking her name in the woods for months on end ever brought her back.

“Best to believe it anyway, don’t you think?” an old woman in the village told me when I refused to listen to that nonsense about faeries. Her eyes were sad but sharp as she glanced between Feyre and me. “That pretty girl, adopted by a faerie lord as his own daughter, living forever in eternal Spring?”

Elain was twelve years old. Too old for such kidnappings. And if she were kidnapped by the faeries, she was likely a slave beyond the Wall, not a cherished, darling daughter. 

It was too horrible to bear thinking of.

So I snapped at the old woman as something within me snapped, too. I screamed horrible things at her until Feyre dragged me away, tear-stricken and red-faced as she, too, finally realized that Elain would never come home.

Nine years later, I was tired, so, so tired. Tired of sniping and fighting with Feyre all day and crawling into bed to hold her close every night, the absence of another body packed into bed with us like a gaping, festering wound we shared. 

So, nine years later, I was the sister who watched, spiteful and helpless, as Feyre was spirited away by a faerie beast. All I did was watch, tired and scared and suddenly frozen with awareness of all the terrible things that claws that large could do to a starving twelve year old girl, as Feyre wrenched herself from my arms and sacrificed herself to the whims of that raging monster.

And just like the horrible months after Elain disappeared, no amount of searching brought my youngest sister back. No amount of trudging through snow and calling her name in that foreboding, frostbitten part of the forest where my hair stood on end returned her to me.

The beast returned her to me, months later, heartbroken. Then, I was the sister who saddled the horse so Feyre could save her High Lord from untold danger—so she could pursue the magnificent love she found in that horrible place, the home she made away from me.

“There is a better world. There is a better world out there, Nesta, waiting for you to find it,” she told me even as I waved her off. “And if I ever get the chance, if things are ever better, safer… I will find you again.”

“Don’t,” I told her. “Send word once you’re safe, and then forget me. Forget Father. Forget Elain. Don’t trouble yourself with ghosts, Feyre. Stay with your High Lord and I… I will find out what an unattached woman might do with a fortune and a good name.”

At that, Feyre’s face went steely, and my heart ached for it. “I’ll find Elain, too.”

I wanted to believe her. 

I couldn’t. 

I couldn’t even say goodbye.

Seven months passed, and no word ever came.