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The sun was just rising on the far hill. My heart pounded in my chest. We all knew what was to happen this day.
I rose slowly, reluctantly. A cold sweat poured down my back as I called my maid. She dressed me, pulling my corset tight to stop me from breaking into sobs. Instead they were stuck inside of me, desperate to break free.
They wouldn’t, I swore. They wouldn’t.
“Your mum should be ready now. Go join her. No breakfast today.” My maid said as she patted my shoulder and sent me my way.
I don’t remember walking down the stairs or coming to stand in front of my mother. All I could see were her cold blue eyes, like the water of my lake when the ice was frosted over it, like today.
She touched the side of my face lightly, almost affectionately. It took all of my will not to cringe away, but I stood firm just like she’d taught me.
“Today is the day, my darling,” she said without emotion or inflection. “They should be here by now.”
I nodded. She turned her back to me and began to walk. We were going to my lake, I knew. We had gone over the process more than once of how this transaction would work. It never made me feel better.
My white gown blended in with the snow that layered the ground, making it seem as if it and I were one. The only hint of color was my blond hair, which was only a small bit darker than the snow.
My mother halted as the lake came in to sight. Ice lay on it thickly, the small cracks making a web-like pattern I could stare at for hours on end. But, for once, it was not what I was watching.
They stood in the middle of the lake. They looked like me, pale and without color. There were enough of them to count as an army. An army come to take me away.
Tears pricked at my eyes, but I refused to let them come forth. They were useless things. They could get me nowhere now.
“Evelyn,” one of the pale men started forward, only to be stopped by an older one. The younger one glared, but stepped back into place.
“Why is she dressed so?” The older one asked my mother sharply.
“She is fae, is she not? Your kind can withstand this weather.” My mother answered calmly, but there was steel in her voice.
I jerked my head her way, heart beginning to race again. Fae? Is that what she thought I was?
“No,” I whispered breathlessly. “No, Mother. I am no changeling. Please, Mother, believe me. I think I would know if I was.” I pleaded, but she would not meet my eyes. She would not look at me.
“She is yours now,” she told the pale army. “I will expect payment for taking care of this abomination. And it will cost quite a bit.”
The older one shook his head. “We do not pay the human parents. You know that. You are not an exception.”
“Mother!” I exclaimed. “Please. How can you believe this?” I scrambled in front of her and sank to my knees, clasping her hands in mine. “I am begging you to believe me. They are fae—why would they tell you the truth?”
She glared at me, colder even than the snow I sat upon. “The fae do not lie. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
She jerked her hands from my grip and I cried out, my sobs breaking free. She raised a hand like she meant to strike me but, as she gazed at the pale army, she reconsidered.
“Take her to them.”
Hands jerked me from the ground and lifted me to my feet, dragging me away from my mother, from the only life I’d ever know. I screamed and kicked and cried, but it was no use. It was the end.
The hands forced me to my knees in front of the older one and tears ran hot tracks down my cheeks, falling and staining my gown.
A sharp crack rang out and the hands released me. I looked up to see the older one with his hand outstretched, face flushed with anger.
He shoved the man who had brought me, making him stumble and fall on the ice. He then locked eyes with my mother, eyes blazing.
“The next time you disrespect one of my kind, do not expect me to leave as easily as I will now. You will receive no payment and I will take what is mine. Is that clear, milady?” He said.
She nodded stiffly, anger burning like cold fire in her eyes.
“Good.” The older one turned his gaze to me now and he softened. He held a hand out to me. “You are not meant to kneel.” He told me quietly.
I stared at the hand. His fingers were long and graceful as a musician’s, but there was an underlying strength that fascinated me.
Gingerly, I reached out and took it.
He sighed in relief, pulling me gently to my feet.
“Welcome home,” he said.