A court of frost and sta.., p.16
A Court of Frost and Starlight, p.16Part #3.10 of A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
I grunted as I hauled over the three wrapped paintings. Then waited in foot-shifting silence while they opened them.
While they beheld what was inside and smiled.
I hadn’t any idea what to get them, other than this. The pieces I’d worked on recently—glimpses of their stories.
None of them explained what the paintings meant, what they beheld. But each of them kissed me on the cheek in thanks.
Before I could hand Rhys his present, I found a heap of them in my lap.
From Amren: an illuminated manuscript, ancient and beautiful. From Azriel: rare, vibrant paint from the continent. From Cassian: a proper leather sheath for a blade, to be set down the groove of my spine like a true Illyrian warrior. From Elain: fine brushes monogrammed with my initials and the Night Court insignia on the handles. And from Mor: a pair of fleece-lined slippers. Bright pink, fleece-lined slippers.
Nothing from Nesta, but I didn’t care. Not one bit.
The others passed around their gifts, and I finally found a moment to haul the last painting over to Rhys. He’d lingered by the bay window, quiet and smiling. Last year had been his first Solstice since Amarantha—this year, his second. I didn’t want to know what it had been like, what she’d done to him, during those forty-nine Solstices he’d missed.
Rhys opened my present carefully, lifting the painting so the others wouldn’t see it.
I watched his eyes rove over what was on it. Watched his throat bob.
“Tell me that’s not your new pet,” Cassian said, having snuck behind me to peer at it.
I shoved him away. “Snoop.”
Rhys’s face remained solemn, his eyes star-bright as they met mine. “Thank you.”
The others continued on a tad more loudly—to give us privacy in that crowded room.
“I have no idea where you might hang it,” I said, “but I wanted you to have it.”
For on that painting, I’d shown him what I had not revealed to anyone. What the Ouroboros had revealed to me: the creature inside myself, the creature full of hate and regret and love and sacrifice, the creature that could be cruel and brave, sorrowful and joyous.
I gave him me—as no one but him would ever see me. No one but him would ever understand.
“It’s beautiful,” he said, voice still hoarse.
I blinked away the tears that threatened at those words and leaned into the kiss he pressed to my mouth. You are beautiful, he whispered down the bond.
So are you.
I laughed, pulling away. Prick.
There were only a few presents left—Lucien’s. I opened mine to find a gift for me and my mate: three bottles of fine liquor. You’ll need it, was all the note said.
I handed Elain the small box with her name on it. Her smile faded as she opened it.
“Enchanted gloves,” she read from the card. “That won’t tear or become too sweaty while gardening.” She set aside the box without looking at it for longer than a moment. And I wondered if she preferred to have torn and sweaty hands, if the dirt and cuts were proof of her labor. Her joy.
Amren squealed—actually squealed—with delight when she beheld Rhys’s present. The jewels glittering inside the multiple boxes. But her delight turned quieter, more tender when she opened Varian’s gift. She didn’t show any of us what was inside the small box before offering him a small, private smile.
There was a tiny box left on the table by the window—a box that Mor lifted, squinted at the name tag, and said, “Az, this one’s for you.”
The shadowsinger’s brows lifted, but his scarred hand extended to take the present.
Elain turned from where she’d been speaking to Nesta. “Oh, that’s from me.”
Azriel’s face didn’t so much as shift at the words. Not even a smile as he opened the present and revealed—
“I had Madja make it for me,” Elain explained. Azriel’s brows narrowed at the mention of the family’s preferred healer. “It’s a powder to mix in with any drink.”
Elain bit her lip and then smiled sheepishly. “It’s for the headaches everyone always gives you. Since you rub your temples so often.”
Then Azriel tipped his head back and laughed.
I’d never heard such a sound, deep and joyous. Cassian and Rhys joined him, the former grabbing the glass bottle from Azriel’s hand and examining it. “Brilliant,” Cassian said.
Elain smiled again, ducking her head.
Azriel mastered himself enough to say, “Thank you.” I’d never seen his hazel eyes so bright, the hues of green amid the brown and gray like veins of emerald. “This will be invaluable.”
“Prick,” Cassian said, but laughed again.
Nesta watched warily from her chair, Elain’s present—her only present—in her lap. Her spine stiffened slightly. Not at the words, but at Elain, laughing with them. With us.
As if Nesta were looking at us through some sort of window. As if she were still standing out in the front yard, watching us in the house.
I forced myself to smile, though. To laugh with them.
I had a feeling Cassian was doing the same.
The night was a blur of laughter and drinking, even with Nesta sitting in near-silence at the packed dinner table.
It was only when the clock chimed two that the yawns began to appear. Amren and Varian were the first to leave, the latter bearing all of her presents in his arms, the former nestled in the fine ermine coat that he’d given her—a second gift to whatever one he’d put in that small box.
Settled again in the sitting room, Nesta got to her feet half an hour later. She quietly bid Elain good night, dropping a kiss to the top of her hair, and drifted for the front door.
Cassian, nestled with Mor, Rhys, and Azriel on the couch, didn’t so much as move.
But I did, rising from my own chair to follow Nesta to where she was donning her layers at the front door. I waited until she’d entered the antechamber before extending my hand.
Nesta half turned toward me, focus darting to what was in my hand. The small slip of paper.
The banker’s note for her rent. And then some.
“As promised,” I said.
For a moment, I prayed she wouldn’t take it. That she would tell me to tear it up.
But Nesta’s lips only tightened, her fingers unwavering as she took the money.
As she turned her back on me and walked out the front door, into the freezing darkness beyond.
I remained in the chilly antechamber, hand still outstretched, the phantom dryness of that check lingering on my fingers.
The floorboards thudded behind me, and then I was being gently but forcibly moved to the side. It happened so fast I barely had time to realize that Cassian had gone storming past—right out the front door.
To my sister.
He’d had enough.
Enough of the coldness, the sharpness. Enough of the sword-straight spine and razor-sharp stare that had only honed itself these months.
Cassian could barely hear over the roaring in his head as he charged into the snowy night. Could barely register moving aside his High Lady to get to the front door. To get to Nesta.
She’d already made it to the gate, walking with that unfaltering grace despite the icy ground. Her collection of books tucked under an arm.
It was only when Cassian reached her that he realized he had nothing to say. Nothing to say that wouldn’t make her laugh in his face.
“I’ll walk you home,” was all that came out instead.
Nesta paused just past the low iron gate, her face cold and pale as moonlight.
Beautiful. Even with the weight loss, she was as beautiful standing in the snow as she’d been the first time he’d laid eyes on her in her father’s house.
And infinitely more deadly. In so many ways.
She looked him over. “I’m fine.”
“It’s a long walk, and it’s late.”
And you didn’t say one gods-damned word to me the entire night.
Not that he’d said a word to her.
She’d made it clear enough in those initial days after that last battle that she wanted nothing to do with him. With any of them.
He understood. He really did. It had taken him months—years—after his first battles to readjust. To cope. Hell, he was still reeling from what had happened in that final battle with Hybern, too.
Nesta held her ground, proud as any Illyrian. More vicious, too. “Go back into the house.”
Cassian gave her a crooked grin, one he knew sent that temper of hers boiling. “I think I need some fresh air, anyway.”
She rolled her eyes and launched into a walk. He wasn’t stupid enough to offer to carry her books.
Instead, he easily kept pace, an eye out for any treacherous patches of ice on the cobblestones. They’d barely survived Hybern. He didn’t need her snapping her neck on the street.
Nesta lasted all of a block, the green-roofed houses merry and still full of song and laughter, before she halted. Whirled on him.
“Go back to the house.”
“I will,” he said, flashing a grin again. “After I drop you off at your front door.”
At that piece-of-shit apartment she insisted on living in. Across the city.
Nesta’s eyes—the same as Feyre’s and yet wholly different, sharp and cold as steel—went to his hands. What was in them. “What is that.”
Another grin as he lifted the small, wrapped parcel. “Your Solstice present.”
“I don’t want one.”
Cassian continued past her, tossing the present in his hands. “You’ll want this one.”
He prayed she would. It had taken him months to find it.
He hadn’t wanted to give it to her in front of the others. Hadn’t even known she’d be there tonight. He’d been well aware of Elain’s and Feyre’s cajoling. Just as he’d been well aware of the money he’d seen Feyre give to Nesta moments before she left.
As promised, his High Lady had said.
He wished she hadn’t. Wished for a lot of things.
Nesta fell into step beside him, huffing as she kept up with his long strides. “I don’t want anything from you.”
He made himself arch an eyebrow. “You sure about that, sweetheart?”
I have no regrets in my life, but this. That we did not have time.
Cassian shut out the words. Shut out the image that chased him from his dreams, night after night: not Nesta holding up the King of Hybern’s head like a trophy; not the way her father’s neck had twisted in Hybern’s hands. But the image of her leaning over him, covering Cassian’s body with her own, ready to take the full brunt of the king’s power for him. To die for him—with him. That slender, beautiful body, arching over him, shaking in terror, willing to face that end.
He hadn’t seen a glimpse of that person in months. Had not seen her smile or laugh.
He knew about the drinking, about the males. He told himself he didn’t care.
He told himself he didn’t want to know who the bastard was who had taken her maidenhead. Told himself he didn’t want to know if the males meant anything—if he meant anything.
He didn’t know why the hell he cared. Why he’d bothered. Even from the start. Even after she’d kneed him in the balls that one afternoon at her father’s house.
Even as she said, “I’ve made my thoughts clear enough on what I want from you.”
He’d never met someone able to imply so much in so few words, in placing so much emphasis on you as to make it an outright insult.
Cassian clenched his jaw. And didn’t bother to restrain himself when he said, “I’m tired of playing these bullshit games.”
She kept her chin high, the portrait of queenly arrogance. “I’m not.”
“Well, everyone else is. Perhaps you can find it in yourself to try a little harder this year.”
Those striking eyes slid toward him, and it was an effort to stand his ground. “Try?”
“I know that’s a foreign word to you.”
Nesta stopped at the bottom of the street, right along the icy Sidra. “Why should I have to try to do anything?” Her teeth flashed. “I was dragged into this world of yours, this court.”
“Then go somewhere else.”
Her mouth formed a tight line at the challenge. “Perhaps I will.”
But he knew there was no other place to go. Not when she had no money, no family beyond this territory. “Be sure to write.”
She launched into a walk again, keeping along the river’s edge.
Cassian followed, hating himself for it. “You could at least come live at the House,” he began, and she whirled on him.
“Stop,” she snarled.
He halted in his tracks, wings spreading slightly to balance him.
“Stop following me. Stop trying to haul me into your happy little circle. Stop doing all of it.”
He knew a wounded animal when he saw one. Knew the teeth they could bare, the viciousness they displayed. But it couldn’t keep him from saying, “Your sisters love you. I can’t for the life of me understand why, but they do. If you can’t be bothered to try for my happy little circle’s sake, then at least try for them.”
A void seemed to enter those eyes. An endless, depthless void.
She only said, “Go home, Cassian.”
He could count on one hand the number of times she’d used his name. Called him anything other than you or that one.
She turned away—toward her apartment, her grimy part of the city.
It was instinct to lunge for her free hand.
Her gloved fingers scraped against his calluses, but he held firm. “Talk to me. Nesta. Tell me—”
She ripped her hand out of his grip. Stared him down. A mighty, vengeful queen.
He waited, panting, for the verbal lashing to begin. For her to shred him into ribbons.
But Nesta only stared at him, her nose crinkling. Stared, then snorted—and walked away.
As if he were nothing. As if he weren’t worth her time. The effort.
A low-born Illyrian bastard.
This time, when she continued onward, Cassian didn’t follow.
He watched her until she was a shadow against the darkness—and then she vanished completely.
He remained staring after her, that present in his hands.
Cassian’s fingertips dug into the soft wood of the small box.
He was grateful the streets were empty when he hurled that box into the Sidra. Hurled it hard enough that the splash echoed off the buildings flanking the river, ice cracking from the impact.
Ice instantly re-formed over the hole he’d blown open. As if it, and the present, had never been.
Nesta sealed the fourth and final lock on her apartment door and slumped against the creaking, rotting wood.
Silence settled in around her, welcome and smothering.
Silence, to soothe the trembling that had chased her across this city.
She’d known it in her bones, her blood. He’d kept high in the skies, but he’d followed until she’d entered the building.
She knew he was now waiting on a nearby rooftop to see her light kindle.
Twin instincts warred within her: to leave the faelight untouched and make him wait in the freezing dark, or to ignite that bowl and just get rid of his presence. Get rid of everything he was.
She opted for the latter.
In the dim, thick silence, Nesta lingered by the table against the wall near her front door. Slid her hand into her pocket and pulled out the folded banknote.
Enough for three months’ rent.
She tried and failed to muster the shame. But nothing came.
Nothing at all.
There was anger, occasionally. Sharp, hot a
But most of the time it was silence.
Ringing, droning silence.
She hadn’t felt anything in months. Had days when she didn’t really know where she was or what she’d done. They passed swiftly and yet dripped by.
So did the months. She’d blinked, and winter had fallen. Blinked, and her body had turned too thin. As hollow as she felt.
The night’s frosty chill crept through the worn shutters, drawing another tremble from her. But she didn’t light the fire in the hearth across the room.
She could barely stand to hear the crack and pop of the wood. Had barely been able to endure it in Feyre’s town house. Snap; crunch.
How no one ever remarked that it sounded like breaking bones, like a snapping neck, she had no idea.
She hadn’t lit one fire in this apartment. Had kept warm with blankets and layers.
Wings rustled, then boomed outside the apartment.
Nesta loosed a shuddering sigh and slid down the wall until she was sitting against it.
Until she drew her knees to her chest and stared into the dimness.
Still the silence raged and echoed around her.
Still she felt nothing.
It was three by the time the others went to bed. By the time Cassian returned, quiet and brooding, and knocked back a glass of liquor before stalking upstairs. Mor followed him, worry dancing in her eyes.
Azriel and Elain remained in the sitting room, my sister showing him the plans she’d sketched to expand the garden in the back of the town house, using the seeds and tools my family had given her tonight. Whether he cared about such things, I had no idea, but I sent him a silent prayer of thanks for his kindness before Rhys and I slipped upstairs.
I reached to remove my diamond cuffs when Rhys stopped me, his hands wrapping around my wrists. “Not yet,” he said softly.
My brows bunched.
He only smiled. “Hold on.”
Darkness and wind swept in, and I clung to him as he winnowed—
Candlelight and crackling fire and colors …
“The cabin?” He must have altered the wards to allow us to winnow directly inside.
Rhys grinned, letting go of me to swagger to the couch before the fireplace and plop down, his wings draping to the floor. “For some peace and quiet, mate.”
A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas / Fantasy / Romance & Love / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes