A court of frost and sta.., p.11
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       A Court of Frost and Starlight, p.11
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         Part #3.10 of A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
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  How we’d wound up here, I had no idea. But here we were, nothing but the fallen and cracked blocks of stone, winter-dry weeds, and gray sky for company.

  “The families,” I said at last, “are at their other estates.” I knew them all, wealthy merchants and nobles who had defected from the Hewn City long before the two halves of my realm had been officially severed. “With no plans to return anytime soon.” Perhaps forever. I’d heard from one of them, a matriarch of a merchant empire, that they were likely going to sell rather than face the ordeal of building from scratch.

  Mor nodded absently, the chill wind whipping strands of her hair over her face as she paused in the middle of what had once been a formal garden sloping from the house to the icy river itself. “Keir is coming here soon, isn’t he.”

  So rarely would she ever refer to him as her father. I didn’t blame her. That male hadn’t been her father for centuries. Long before that unforgivable day.

  “He is.”

  I’d managed to keep Keir at bay since the war had ended—had prepared for him to inevitably decide that no matter the work I dumped in his lap, no matter how I might interrupt his little visits with Eris, he would visit this city.

  Perhaps I had brought this upon myself, by enforcing the Hewn City’s borders for so long. Perhaps their horrible traditions and narrow minds had only grown worse while being contained. It was their territory, yes, but I’d given them nothing else. No wonder they were so curious about Velaris. Though Keir’s desire to visit only stemmed from one need: to torment his daughter.

  “When.”

  “Likely in the spring, if I’m guessing correctly.”

  Mor’s throat bobbed, her face going cold in a way I so rarely witnessed. In a way I hated, if only because I was to blame for it.

  I’d told myself it had been worth it. Keir’s Darkbringers had been crucial in our victory. And he’d suffered losses because of it. The male was a prick in every sense of the word, but he’d come through on his end.

  I had little choice but to hold up my own.

  Mor scanned me from head to toe. I’d opted for a black jacket crafted from heavier wool, and forgone wings entirely. Just because Cassian and Azriel had to suffer through having them be freezing all the time didn’t mean I had to. I remained still, letting Mor arrive at her own conclusions. “I trust you,” she said at last.

  I bowed my head. “Thank you.”

  She waved a hand, launching into a walk again down the pale gravel paths of the garden. “But I still wish there had been another way.”

  “I do, too.”

  She twisted the ends of her thick red scarf before tucking them into her brown overcoat.

  “If your father comes here,” I offered, “I can make sure you’re away.” No matter that she had been the one to push for the minor confrontation with the Steward and Eris the other night.

  She scowled. “He’ll see it for what it is: hiding. I won’t give him that satisfaction.”

  I knew better than to ask if she thought her mother would come along. We didn’t discuss Mor’s mother. Ever.

  “Whatever you decide, I’ll support you.”

  “I know that.” She paused between two low-lying boxwoods and watched the icy river beyond.

  “And you know that Az and Cassian are going to be monitoring them like hawks for the entire visit. They’ve been planning the security protocols for months now.”

  “They have?”

  I nodded gravely.

  Mor blew out a breath. “I wish we were still able to threaten to unleash Amren on the entire Hewn City.”

  I snorted, gazing across the river to the quarter of the city just barely visible over the rise of a hill. “Half of me wonders if Amren wishes the same.”

  “I assume you’re getting her a very good present.”

  “Neve was practically skipping with glee when I left the shop.”

  A small laugh. “What did you get Feyre?”

  I slid my hands into my pockets. “This and that.”

  “So, nothing.”

  I dragged a hand through my hair. “Nothing. Any ideas?”

  “She’s your mate. Shouldn’t this sort of thing be instinctual?”

  “She’s impossible to shop for.”

  Mor gave me a wry look. “Pathetic.”

  I nudged her with an elbow. “What did you get her?”

  “You’ll have to wait until Solstice evening to see.”

  I rolled my eyes. In the centuries I’d known her, Mor’s present-buying abilities had never improved. I had a drawer full of downright hideous cuff links that I’d never worn, each gaudier than the next. I was lucky, though: Cassian had a trunk crammed with silk shirts of varying colors of the rainbow. Some even had ruffles on them.

  I could only imagine the horrors in store for my mate.

  Thin sheets of ice lazily drifted down the Sidra. I didn’t dare ask Mor about Azriel—what she’d gotten him, what she planned to do with him. I had little interest in being chucked right into that icy river.

  “I’m going to need you, Mor,” I said quietly.

  The amusement in Mor’s eyes sharpened to alertness. A predator. There was a reason she’d held her own in battle, and could hold her own against any Illyrian. My brothers and I had overseen much of the training ourselves, but she’d spent years traveling to other lands, other territories, to learn what they knew.

  Which was precisely why I said, “Not with Keir and the Hewn City, not with holding the peace long enough for things to stabilize.”

  She crossed her arms, waiting.

  “Az can infiltrate most courts, most lands. But I might need you to win those lands over.” Because the pieces that were now strewn on the table … “Treaty negotiations are dragging on too long.”

  “They’re not happening at all.”

  Truth. With the rebuilding, too many tentative allies had claimed they were busy and would reconvene in the spring to discuss the new terms.

  “You wouldn’t need to be gone for months. Just visits here and there. Casual.”

  “Casual, but make the kingdoms and territories realize that if they push too far or enter into human lands, we’ll obliterate them?”

  I huffed a laugh. “Something like that. Az has lists of the kingdoms most likely to cross the line.”

  “If I’m flitting about the continent, who will deal with the Court of Nightmares?”

  “I will.”

  Her brown eyes narrowed. “You’re not doing this because you think I can’t handle Keir, are you?”

  Careful, careful territory. “No,” I said, and wasn’t lying. “I think you can. I know you can. But your talents are better wielded elsewhere for now. Keir wants to build ties to the Autumn Court—let him. Whatever he and Eris are scheming up, they know we’re watching, and know how stupid it would be for either of them to push us. One word to Beron, and Eris’s head will roll.”

  Tempting. So damn tempting to tell the High Lord of Autumn that his eldest son coveted his throne—and was willing to take it by force. But I’d made a bargain with Eris, too. Perhaps a fool’s bargain, but only time would tell in that regard.

  Mor fiddled with her scarf. “I’m not afraid of them.”

  “I know you’re not.”

  “I just—being near them, together …” She shoved her hands into her pockets. “It’s probably what it feels like for you to be around Tamlin.”

  “If it’s any consolation, cousin, I behaved rather poorly the other day.”

  “Is he dead?”

  “No.”

  “Then I’d say you controlled yourself admirably.”

  I laughed. “Bloodthirsty of you, Mor.”

  She shrugged, again watching the river. “He deserves it.”

  He did indeed.

  She glanced sidelong at me. “When would I need to leave?”

  “Not for another few weeks, maybe a month.”

  She nodded, and fell quiet. I debated asking her if she wished to know whe
re Azriel and I thought she might go first, but her silence said enough. She’d go anywhere.

  Too long. She’d been cooped up within the borders of this court for too long. The war barely counted. And it wouldn’t happen in a month, or perhaps a few years, but I could see it: the invisible noose tightening around her neck with every day spent here.

  “Take a few days to think about it,” I offered.

  She whipped her head toward me, golden hair catching in the light. “You said you needed me. It didn’t seem like there was much room for choice.”

  “You always have a choice. If you don’t want to go, then it’s fine.”

  “And who would do it instead? Amren?” A knowing look.

  I laughed again. “Certainly not Amren. Not if we want peace.” I added, “Just—do me a favor and take some time to think about it before you say yes. Consider it an offer, not an order.”

  She fell silent once more. Together, we watched the ice floes drift down the Sidra, toward the distant, wild sea. “Does he win if I go?” A quiet, tentative question.

  “You have to decide that for yourself.”

  Mor turned toward the ruined house and grounds behind us. Staring not at them, I realized, but eastward.

  Toward the continent and the lands within. As if wondering what might be waiting there.

  CHAPTER

  15

  Feyre

  I had yet to find or even come up with a vague idea for what to give Rhysand for Solstice.

  Mercifully, Elain quietly approached me at breakfast, Cassian still passed out on the couch in the sitting room across the foyer and no sign of Azriel where he’d fallen asleep on the couch across from him, both too lazy—and perhaps a little drunk, after all the wine we’d had last night—to make the trek up to the tiny spare bedroom they’d be sharing during Solstice. Mor had taken my old bedroom, not minding the clutter I’d added, and Amren had gone back to her own apartment when we’d finally drifted to sleep in the early hours of the morning. Both my mate and Mor were still sleeping, and I’d been content to let them continue doing so. They’d earned that rest. We all had.

  But Elain, it seemed, was as sleepless as me, especially after my stinging talk with Nesta that even the wine I’d returned home to drink couldn’t dull, and she wanted to see if I was game for a walk about the city, providing me with the perfect excuse to head out for more shopping.

  Decadent—it felt decadent, and selfish, to shop, even if it was for people I loved. There were so many in this city and beyond it who had next to nothing, and every additional, unnecessary moment I spent peering into window displays and running my fingers over various goods grated against my nerves.

  “I know it’s not easy for you,” Elain observed as we drifted through a weaver’s shop, admiring the fine tapestries, rugs, and blankets she’d crafted into images of various Night Court scenes: Velaris under the glow of Starfall; the rocky, untamed shores of the northern isles; the stelae of the temples of Cesere; the insignia of this court, the three stars crowning a mountain peak.

  I turned from a wall covering depicting that very image. “What’s not easy?”

  We kept our voices to a near-murmur in the quiet, warm space, more out of respect to the other browsers admiring the work.

  Elain’s brown eyes roved over the Night Court insignia. “Buying things without a dire need to do so.”

  In the back of the vaulted, wood-paneled shop, a loom thrummed and clicked as the dark-haired artist who made the pieces continued her work, pausing only to answer questions from customers.

  So different. This space was so different from the cottage of horrors that had belonged to the Weaver in the Wood. To Stryga.

  “We have everything we need,” I admitted to Elain. “Buying presents feels excessive.”

  “It’s their tradition, though,” Elain countered, her face still flushed with the cold. “One that they fought and died to protect in the war. Perhaps that’s the better way to think of it, rather than feeling guilty. To remember that this day means something to them. All of them, regardless of who has more, who has less, and in celebrating the traditions, even through the presents, we honor those who fought for its very existence, for the peace this city now has.”

  For a moment, I just stared at my sister, the wisdom she’d spoken. Not a whisper of those oracular abilities. Just clear eyes and an open expression. “You’re right,” I said, taking in the insignia rising before me.

  The tapestry had been woven from fabric so black it seemed to devour the light, so black it almost strained the eye. The insignia, however, had been rendered in silver thread—no, not silver. A sort of iridescent thread that shifted with sparks of color. Like woven starlight.

  “You’re thinking of getting it?” Elain asked. She hadn’t bought anything in the hour we’d already been out, but she’d stopped often enough to contemplate. A gift for Nesta, she’d said. She was looking for a gift for our sister, regardless of whether Nesta deigned to join us tomorrow.

  But Elain had seemed more than content to simply watch the humming city, to take in the sparkling strands of faelights strung between buildings and over the squares, to sample any tidbit of food offered by an eager vendor, to listen to minstrels busking by the now-silent fountains.

  As if my sister, too, had merely been looking for an excuse to get out of the house today.

  “I don’t know who I’d get it for,” I admitted, extending a finger toward the black fabric of the tapestry. The moment my nail touched the velvet-soft surface, it seemed to vanish. As if the material truly did gobble up all color, all light. “But …” I looked toward the weaver at the other end of the space, another piece half-formed on her loom. Leaving my thought unfinished, I strode for her.

  The weaver was High Fae, full-figured and pale-skinned. A sheet of black hair had been braided back from her face, the length of the plait dropping over the shoulder of her thick, red sweater. Practical brown pants and shearling-lined boots completed her attire. Simple, comfortable clothes. What I might wear while painting. Or doing anything.

  What I was wearing beneath my heavy blue overcoat, to be honest.

  The weaver halted her work, deft fingers stilling, and lifted her head. “How can I help you?”

  Despite her pretty smile, her gray eyes were … quiet. There was no way of explaining it. Quiet, and a little distant. The smile tried to offset it, but failed to mask the heaviness lingering within.

  “I wanted to know about the tapestry with the insignia,” I said. “The black fabric—what is it?”

  “I get asked that at least once an hour,” the weaver said, her smile remaining yet no humor lighting her eyes.

  I cringed a bit. “Sorry to add to that.” Elain drifted to my side, a fuzzy pink blanket in one hand, a purple blanket in the other.

  The weaver waved off my apology. “It’s an unusual fabric. Questions are expected.” She smoothed a hand over the wooden frame of her loom. “I call it Void. It absorbs the light. Creates a complete lack of color.”

  “You made it?” Elain asked, now staring over her shoulder toward the tapestry.

  A solemn nod. “A newer experiment of mine. To see how darkness might be made, woven. To see if I could take it farther, deeper than any weaver has before.”

  Having been in a void myself, the fabric she’d woven came unnervingly close. “Why?”

  Her gray eyes shifted toward me again. “My husband didn’t return from the war.”

  The frank, open words clanged through me.

  It was an effort to hold her gaze as she continued, “I began trying to create Void the day after I learned he’d fallen.”

  Rhys hadn’t asked anyone in this city to join his armies, though. Had deliberately made it a choice. At the confusion on my face, the weaver added softly, “He thought it was right. To help fight. He left with several others who felt the same, and joined up with a Summer Court legion they found on their way south. He died in the battle for Adriata.”

  “I’
m sorry,” I said softly. Elain echoed the words, her voice gentle.

  The weaver only stared toward the tapestry. “I thought we’d have a thousand more years together.” She began to coax the loom back into movement. “In the three hundred years we were wed, we never had the chance to have children.” Her fingers moved beautifully, unfaltering despite her words. “I don’t even have a piece of him in that way. He’s gone, and I am not. Void was born of that feeling.”

  I didn’t know what to say as her words settled in. As she continued working.

  It could have been me.

  It could have been Rhys.

  That extraordinary fabric, created and woven in grief that I had briefly touched and never wished to know again, contained a loss I could not imagine recovering from.

  “I keep hoping that every time I tell someone who asks about Void, it will get easier,” the weaver said. If people asked about it as frequently as she’d claimed … I couldn’t have endured it.

  “Why not take it down?” Elain asked, sympathy written all over her face.

  “Because I do not want to keep it.” The shuttle swept across the loom, flying with a life of its own.

  Despite her poise, her calm, I could almost feel her agony radiating into the room. A few touches of my daemati gifts and I might ease that grief, make the pain less. I’d never done so for anyone, but …

  But I could not. Would not. It would be a violation, even if I made it with good intentions.

  And her loss, her unending sorrow—she had created something from it. Something extraordinary. I couldn’t take that away from her. Even if she asked me to.

  “The silver thread,” Elain asked. “What is that called?”

  The weaver paused the loom again, the colorful strings vibrating. She held my sister’s gaze. No attempt at a smile this time. “I call it Hope.”

  My throat became unbearably tight, my eyes stinging enough that I had to turn away, to walk back toward that extraordinary tapestry.

  The weaver explained to my sister, “I made it after I mastered Void.”

  I stared and stared at the black fabric that was like peering into a pit of hell. And then stared at the iridescent, living silver thread that cut through it, bright despite the darkness that devoured all other light and color.

 
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