A court of frost and sta.., p.12
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       A Court of Frost and Starlight, p.12

         Part #3.10 of A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
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  It could have been me. And Rhys. Had very nearly gone that way.

  Yet he had lived, and the weaver’s husband had not. We had lived, and their story had ended. She did not have a piece of him left. At least, not in the way she wished.

  I was lucky—so tremendously lucky to even be complaining about shopping for my mate. That moment when he had died had been the worst of my life, would likely remain so, but we had survived it. These months, the what-if had haunted me. All of the what-ifs that we’d so narrowly escaped.

  And this holiday tomorrow, this chance to celebrate being together, living …

  The impossible depth of blackness before me, the unlikely defiance of Hope shining through it, whispered the truth before I knew it. Before I knew what I wanted to give Rhys.

  The weaver’s husband had not come home. But mine had.

  “Feyre?”

  Elain was again at my side. I hadn’t heard her steps. Hadn’t heard any sound for moments.

  The gallery had emptied out, I realized. But I didn’t care, not as I again approached the weaver, who had stopped once more. At the mention of my name.

  The weaver’s eyes were slightly wide as she bowed her head. “My lady.”

  I ignored the words. “How.” I gestured to the loom, the half-finished piece taking form on its frame, the art on the walls. “How do you keep creating, despite what you lost?”

  Whether she noted the crack in my voice, she didn’t let on. The weaver only said, her sad, sorrowful gaze meeting mine, “I have to.”

  The simple words hit me like a blow.

  The weaver went on, “I have to create, or it was all for nothing. I have to create, or I will crumple up with despair and never leave my bed. I have to create because I have no other way of voicing this.” Her hand rested on her heart, and my eyes burned. “It is hard,” the weaver said, her stare never leaving mine, “and it hurts, but if I were to stop, if I were to let this loom or the spindle go silent …” She broke my gaze at last to look to her tapestry. “Then there would be no Hope shining in the Void.”

  My mouth trembled, and the weaver reached over to squeeze my hand, her callused fingers warm against mine.

  I had no words to offer her, nothing to convey what surged in my chest. Nothing other than, “I would like to buy that tapestry.”

  The tapestry was a gift for no one but myself, and would be delivered to the town house later that afternoon.

  Elain and I browsed various stores for another hour before I left my sister to do her own shopping at the Palace of Thread and Jewels.

  I winnowed right into the abandoned studio in the Rainbow.

  I needed to paint. Needed to get out what I’d seen, felt in the weaver’s gallery.

  I wound up staying for three hours.

  Some paintings were quick, swift renderings. Some I began plotting out with pencil and paper, mulling over the canvas needed, the paint I’d like to use.

  I painted through the grief that lingered at the weaver’s story, painted for her loss. I painted all that rose within me, letting the past bleed onto the canvas, a blessed relief with each stroke of my brush.

  It was little surprise I was caught.

  I barely had time to leap off my stool before the front door opened and Ressina entered, a mop and bucket in her green hands. I certainly didn’t have enough time to hide all the paintings and supplies.

  Ressina, to her credit, only smiled as she stopped short. “I suspected you’d be in here. I saw the lights the other night and thought it might be you.”

  My heart pounded through my body, my face as warm as a forge, but I managed to offer a close-lipped smile. “Sorry.”

  The faerie gracefully crossed the room, even with the cleaning supplies in hand. “No need to apologize. I was just headed in to do some cleaning up.”

  She dumped the mop and bucket against one of the empty white walls with a faint thud.

  “Why?” I laid my paintbrush atop the palette I’d placed on a stool beside mine.

  Ressina set her hands on her narrow hips and surveyed the place.

  By some mercy or lack of interest, she didn’t look too long at my paintings. “Polina’s family hasn’t discussed whether they’re selling, but I figured she, at least, wouldn’t want the place to be a mess.”

  I bit my lip, nodding awkwardly as I lingered by the mess I’d added. “Sorry I … I didn’t come by your studio the other night.”

  Ressina shrugged. “Again, no need to apologize.”

  So rarely did anyone outside the Inner Circle speak to me with such casualness. Even the weaver had become more formal after I’d offered to buy her tapestry.

  “I’m just glad someone’s using this place. That you are using it,” Ressina added. “I think Polina would have liked you.”

  Silence fell when I didn’t answer. When I began scooping up supplies. “I’ll get out of your way.” I moved to set down a still-drying painting against the wall. A portrait I’d been thinking about for some time now. I sent it to that pocket between realms, along with all the others I’d been working on.

  I bent to pick up my pack of supplies.

  “You could leave those.”

  I paused, a hand looped around the leather strap. “It’s not my space.”

  Ressina leaned against the wall beside her mop and bucket. “Perhaps you could talk to Polina’s family about that. They’re motivated sellers.”

  I straightened, taking the supply pack with me. “Perhaps,” I hedged, sending the rest of the supplies and paintings tumbling into that pocket realm, not caring if they crashed into each other as I headed for the door.

  “They live out on a farm in Dunmere, by the sea. In case you’re ever interested.”

  Not likely. “Thanks.”

  I could practically hear her smile as I reached the front door. “Happy Solstice.”

  “You, too,” I threw over my shoulder before I vanished onto the street.

  And slammed right into the hard, warm chest of my mate.

  I rebounded off Rhys with a curse, scowling at his laugh as he gripped my arms to steady me against the icy street. “Going somewhere?”

  I frowned at him, but linked my arm through his and launched into a brisk walk. “What are you doing here?”

  “Why are you running out of an abandoned gallery as if you’ve stolen something?”

  “I was not running.”I pinched his arm, earning another deep, husky laugh.

  “Walking suspiciously quickly, then.”

  I didn’t answer until we’d reached the avenue that sloped down to the river. Thin crusts of ice drifted along the turquoise waters. Beneath them, I could feel the current still flowing past—not as strongly as I did in warmer months, though. As if the Sidra had fallen into a twilight slumber for the winter.

  “That’s where I’ve been painting,” I said at last as we halted at the railed walkway beside the river. A damp, cold wind brushed past, ruffling my hair. Rhys tucked a strand of it behind my ear. “I went back today—and was interrupted by an artist, Ressina. But the studio belonged to a faerie who didn’t survive the attack this spring. Ressina was cleaning up the space on her behalf. Polina’s behalf, in case Polina’s family wants to sell it.”

  “We can buy you a studio space if you need somewhere to paint by yourself,” he offered, the thin sunlight gilding his hair. No sign of his wings.

  “No—no, it’s not being alone so much as … the right space to do it. The right feel to it.” I shook my head. “I don’t know. The painting helps. Helps me, I mean.” I blew out a breath and surveyed him, the face dearer to me than anything in the world, the weaver’s words echoing through me.

  She had lost her husband. I had not. And yet she still wove, still created. I cupped Rhys’s cheek, and he leaned into the touch as I quietly asked, “Do you think it’s stupid to wonder if painting might help others, too? Not my painting, I mean. But teaching others to paint. Letting them paint. People who might struggle the same way I do.”

/>   His eyes softened. “I don’t think that’s stupid at all.”

  I traced my thumb over his cheekbone, savoring every inch of contact. “It makes me feel better—perhaps it would do the same for others.”

  He remained quiet, offering me that companionship that demanded nothing, asked nothing as I kept stroking his face. We had been mated for less than a year. If things had not gone well during that final battle, how many regrets would have consumed me? I knew—knew which ones would have hit the hardest, struck the deepest. Knew which ones were in my power to change.

  I lowered my hand from his face at last. “Do you think anyone would come? If such a space, such a thing, were available?”

  Rhys considered, scanning my eyes before kissing my temple, his mouth warm against my chilled face. “You’ll have to see, I suppose.”

  I found Amren in her loft an hour later. Rhys had another meeting to attend with Cassian and their Illyrian commanders out at Devlon’s war-camp, and had walked me to the door of her building before winnowing.

  My nose crinkled as I entered Amren’s toasty apartment. “It smells … interesting in here.”

  Amren, seated at the long worktable in the center of the space, gave me a slashing grin before gesturing to the four-poster bed.

  Rumpled sheets and askew pillows said enough about what scents I was detecting.

  “You could open a window,” I said, waving to the wall of them at the other end of the apartment.

  “It’s cold out,” was all she said, going back to—

  “A jigsaw puzzle?”

  Amren fitted a tiny piece into the section she’d been working on. “Am I supposed to be doing something else during my Solstice holiday?”

  I didn’t dare answer that as I shrugged off my overcoat and scarf. Amren kept the fire in the hearth near-sweltering. Either for herself, or her Summer Court companion, no sign of whom could I detect. “Where’s Varian?”

  “Out buying more presents for me.”

  “More?”

  A smaller smile this time, her red mouth quirking to the side as she fitted another piece into her puzzle. “He decided the ones he brought from the Summer Court were not enough.”

  I didn’t want to get into that comment, either.

  I took a seat across from her at the long, dark wood table, examining the half-finished puzzle of what seemed to be some sort of autumnal pastoral. “A new hobby of yours?”

  “Without that odious Book to decipher, I’ve found I miss such things.” Another piece snapped into place. “This is my fifth this week.”

  “We’re only three days into the week.”

  “They don’t make them hard enough for me.”

  “How many pieces is this one?”

  “Five thousand.”

  “Show-off.”

  Amren tutted to herself, then straightened in her chair, rubbing her back and wincing. “Good for the mind, but bad for the posture.”

  “Good thing you have Varian to exercise with.”

  Amren laughed, the sound like a crow’s caw. “Good thing indeed.” Those silver eyes, still uncanny, still limned with some trace of power, scanned me. “You didn’t come here to keep me company, I suppose.”

  I leaned back in the rickety old chair. None at the table matched. Indeed, each seemed from a different decade. Century. “No, I didn’t.”

  The High Lord’s Second waved a hand tipped in long red nails and stooped over her puzzle again. “Proceed.”

  I took a steadying breath. “It’s about Nesta.”

  “I suspected as much.”

  “Have you spoken to her?”

  “She comes here every few days.”

  “Really?”

  Amren tried and failed to fit a piece into her puzzle, her eyes darting over the color-sorted pieces around her. “Is it so hard to believe?”

  “She doesn’t come to the town house. Or the House of Wind.”

  “No one likes going to the House of Wind.”

  I reached for a piece and Amren clicked her tongue in warning. I set my hand back on my lap.

  “I was hoping you might have some insight into what she’s going through.”

  Amren didn’t reply for a while, scanning the pieces laid out instead. I was about to repeat myself when she said, “I like your sister.”

  One of the few.

  Amren lifted her eyes to me, as if I’d said the words aloud. “I like her because so few do. I like her because she is not easy to be around, or to understand.”

  “But?”

  “But nothing,” Amren said, returning to the puzzle. “Because I like her, I am not inclined to gossip about her current state.”

  “It’s not gossip. I’m concerned.” We all were. “She is starting down a path that—”

  “I will not betray her confidence.”

  “She’s talked to you?” Too many emotions cascaded through me at that. Relief that Nesta had talked to anyone, confusion that it had been Amren, and perhaps even some jealousy that my sister had not turned to me—or Elain.

  “No,” Amren said. “But I know she would not like me to be musing over her path with anyone. With you.”

  “But—”

  “Give her time. Give her space. Give her the opportunity to sort through this on her own.”

  “It’s been months.”

  “She’s an immortal. Months are inconsequential.”

  I clenched my jaw. “She refuses to come home for Solstice. Elain will be heartbroken if she doesn’t—”

  “Elain, or you?”

  Those silver eyes pinned me to the spot.

  “Both,” I said through my teeth.

  Again, Amren sifted through her pieces. “Elain has her own problems to focus on.”

  “Such as?”

  Amren just gave me a Look. I ignored it.

  “If Nesta deigns to visit you,” I said, the ancient chair groaning as I pushed it back and rose, grabbing my coat and scarf from the bench by the door, “tell her that it would mean a great deal if she came on Solstice.”

  Amren didn’t bother to look up from her puzzle. “I will make no promises, girl.”

  It was the best I could hope for.

  CHAPTER

  16

  Rhysand

  That afternoon, Cassian dumped his leather bag on the narrow bed against the wall of the fourth bedroom in the town house, the contents rattling.

  “You brought weapons to Solstice?” I asked, leaning against the door frame.

  Azriel, setting his own bag on the bed opposite Cassian’s, threw our brother a vague look of alarm. After passing out on the sitting room couches last night, and a likely uncomfortable sleep, they’d finally bothered to settle into the bedroom designated for them.

  Cassian shrugged, plopping onto the bed, which was better suited for a child than an Illyrian warrior. “Some might be gifts.”

  “And the rest?”

  Cassian toed off his boots and leaned against the headboard, folding his arms behind his head as his wings draped to the floor. “The females bring their jewelry. I bring my weapons.”

  “I know a few females in this house who might take offense to that.”

  Cassian offered me a wicked grin in response. The same grin he’d given Devlon and the commanders at our meeting an hour ago. All was ready for the storm; all patrols accounted for. A standard meeting, and one I didn’t need to attend, but it was always good to remind them of my presence. Especially before they all gathered for Solstice.

  Azriel strode to the lone window at the end of the room and peered into the garden below. “I’ve never stayed in this room.” His midnight voice filled the space.

  “That’s because you and I have been shoved to the bottom of the ladder, brother,” Cassian answered, his wings draping over the bed and to the wooden floor. “Mor gets the good bedroom, Elain is living in the other, and so we get this one.” He didn’t mention that the final, empty bedroom—Nesta’s old room—would remain open. Azriel, to his credi
t, didn’t, either.

  “Better than the attic,” I offered.

  “Poor Lucien,” Cassian said, smiling.

  “If Lucien shows up,” I corrected. No word about whether he would be joining us. Or remaining in that mausoleum Tamlin called a home.

  “My money’s on yes,” Cassian said. “Want to make a wager?”

  “No,” Azriel said, not turning from the window.

  Cassian sat up, the portrait of outrage. “No?”

  Azriel tucked in his wings. “Would you want people betting on you?”

  “You assholes bet on me all the time. I remember the last one you did—you and Mor, making wagers about whether my wings would heal.”

  I snorted. True.

  Azriel remained at the window. “Will Nesta stay here if she comes?”

  Cassian suddenly found the Siphon atop his left hand to be in need of polishing.

  I decided to spare him and said to Azriel, “Our meeting with the commanders went as well as could be expected. Devlon actually had a schedule drawn up for the girls’ training, whenever this oncoming storm blows out. I don’t think it was for show.”

  “I’d still be surprised if they remember once the storm clears,” Azriel said, turning from the garden window at last.

  Cassian grunted in agreement. “Anything new about the grumbling in the camps?”

  I kept my face neutral. Az and I had agreed to wait until after the holiday to divulge to Cassian the full extent of what we knew, who we suspected or knew was behind it. We’d told him the basics, though. Enough to assuage any sort of guilt.

  But I knew Cassian—as well as myself. Perhaps more so. He wouldn’t be able to leave it alone if he knew now. And after all he’d been putting up with these months, and long before it, my brother deserved a break. At least for a few days.

  Of course that break had already included the meeting with Devlon and a grueling training session atop the House of Wind this morning. Out of all of us, the concept of relaxing was the most foreign to Cassian.

  Azriel leaned against the carved wood footboard at the end of his bed. “Little to add to what you already know.” Smooth, easy liar. Far better than me. “But they sensed that it’s growing. The best time to assess is after Solstice, when they’ve all returned home. See who spreads the discord then. If it’s grown while they were all celebrating together or snowed in with this storm.”

 
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