A court of frost and sta.., p.7
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       A Court of Frost and Starlight, p.7
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         Part #3.10 of A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
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  Az’s brows rose. “Where?”

  I winked at him. “You’re my spymaster. Shouldn’t you know?”

  Az crossed his arms, face as elegant and cold as the legendary dagger at his side. “I don’t make a point of looking after his movements.”

  “Why?”

  Not a flicker of emotion. “He is Elain’s mate.”

  I waited.

  “It would be an invasion of her privacy to track him.”

  To know when and if Lucien sought her out. What they did together.

  “You sure about that?” I asked quietly.

  Azriel’s Siphons guttered, the stones turning as dark and foreboding as the deepest sea. “Where did Lucien go.”

  I straightened at the pure order in the words. But I said, voice slipping into a drawl, “He went to the Spring Court. He’ll be there for Solstice.”

  “Tamlin kicked him out the last time.”

  “He did. But he invited him for the holiday.” Likely because Tamlin realized he’d be spending it alone in that manor. Or whatever was left of it.

  I had no pity where that was concerned.

  Not when I could still feel Feyre’s undiluted terror as Tamlin tore through the study. As he locked her in that house.

  Lucien had let him do it, too. But I’d made my peace with him. Or tried to.

  With Tamlin, it was more complicated than that. More complicated than I let myself usually dwell on.

  He was still in love with Feyre. I couldn’t blame him for it. Even if it made me want to rip out his throat.

  I shoved the thought away. “I’ll discuss Vassa and Jurian with Lucien when he returns. See if he’s up for another visit.” I angled my head. “Do you think he can handle being around Graysen?”

  Az’s expressionless face was precisely the reason he’d never lost to us at cards. “Why should I be the judge of that?”

  “You mean to tell me that you weren’t bluffing when you said you didn’t track Lucien’s every movement?”

  Nothing. Absolutely nothing on that face, on his scent. The shadows, whatever the hell they were, hid too well. Too much. Azriel only said coldly, “If Lucien kills Graysen, then good riddance.”

  I was inclined to agree. So was Feyre—and Nesta.

  “I’m half tempted to give Nesta hunting rights for Solstice.”

  “You’re getting her a gift?”

  No. Sort of. “I’d think bankrolling her apartment and drinking was gift enough.”

  Az ran a hand through his dark hair. “Are we …” Unusual for him to stumble with words. “Are we supposed to get the sisters presents?”

  “No,” I said, and meant it. Az seemed to loose a sigh of relief. Seemed to, since all but a breath of air passed from his lips. “I don’t think Nesta gives a shit, and I don’t think Elain expects to receive anything from us. I’d leave the sisters to exchange presents amongst themselves.”

  Az nodded distantly.

  I drummed my fingers on the map, right over the Spring Court. “I can tell Lucien myself in a day or two. About going to Graysen’s manor.”

  Azriel arched a brow. “You mean to visit the Spring Court?”

  I wished I could say otherwise. But I instead told him what Eris had implied: that Tamlin either might not care to enforce his borders with the human realm or might be open to letting anyone through them. I doubted I’d get a decent night’s rest until I found out for myself.

  When I finished, Az picked at an invisible speck of dust on the leather scales of his gauntlet. The only sign of his annoyance. “I can go with you.”

  I shook my head. “It’s better to do this on my own.”

  “Are you talking about seeing Lucien or Tamlin?”

  “Both.”

  Lucien, I could stomach. Tamlin … Perhaps I didn’t want any witnesses for what might be said. Or done.

  “Will you ask Feyre to join you?” One look in Azriel’s hazel eyes and I knew he was well aware of my reasons for going alone.

  “I’ll ask her in a few hours,” I said, “but I doubt she will want to come. And I doubt I will try my best to convince her to change her mind.”

  Peace. We had peace within our grasp. And yet there were debts left unpaid that I was not above righting.

  Az nodded knowingly. He’d always understood me best—more than the others. Save my mate. Whether it was his gifts that allowed him to do so, or merely the fact that he and I were more similar than most realized, I’d never learned.

  But Azriel knew a thing or two about old scores to settle. Imbalances to be righted.

  So did most of my inner circle, I supposed.

  “No word on Bryaxis, I take it.” I peered toward the marble beneath my boots, as if I could see all the way to the library beneath this mountain and the now-empty lower levels that had once been occupied.

  Az studied the floor as well. “Not a whisper. Or a scream, for that matter.”

  I chuckled. My brother had a sly, wicked sense of humor. I’d planned to hunt Bryaxis down for months now—to take Feyre and let her track down the entity that, for lack of a better explanation, seemed to be fear itself. But, as with so many of my plans for my mate, running this court and figuring out the world beyond it had gotten in the way.

  “Do you want me to hunt it down?” An easy, unruffled question.

  I waved a hand, my mating band catching in the morning light. That I hadn’t heard from Feyre yet told me enough: still asleep. And as tempting as it was to wake her just to hear the sound of her voice, I had little desire to have my balls nailed to the wall for disrupting her sleep. “Let Bryaxis enjoy the Solstice as well,” I said.

  A rare smile curled Az’s mouth. “Generous of you.”

  I inclined my head dramatically, the portrait of regal magnanimity, and dropped into my chair before propping my feet on the desk. “When do you head out for Rosehall?”

  “The morning after Solstice,” he supplied, turning toward the glittering sprawl of Velaris. He winced—slightly. “I still need to do some shopping before I go.”

  I offered my brother a crooked smile. “Buy her something from me, will you? And put it on my account this time.”

  I knew Az wouldn’t, but he nodded all the same.

  CHAPTER

  8

  Cassian

  A storm was coming.

  Right in time for Solstice. It wouldn’t hit for another day or two, but Cassian could smell it on the wind. The others in the Windhaven camp could as well, the usual flurry of activity now a swift, efficient thrum. Houses and tents checked, stews and roasts being prepared, people departing or arriving earlier than expected to outrace it.

  Cassian had given the girls the day off because of it. Had ordered all training and exercises, males included, to be postponed until after the storm. Limited patrols would still go out, only by those skilled and eager to test themselves against the sure-to-be-brutal winds and frigid temperatures. Even in a storm, enemies could strike.

  If the storm was as great as he sensed it would be, this camp would be buried under snow for a good few days.

  Which is why he wound up standing in the small craftsman center of the camp, beyond the tents and handful of permanent houses. Only a few shops occupied either side of the unpaved road, usually just a dirt track in warmer months. A general goods store, which had already posted a sold-out sign, two blacksmiths, a cobbler, a wood-carver, and a clothier.

  The wooden building of the clothier was relatively new. At least by Illyrian standards—perhaps ten years old. Above the first-floor store seemed to be living quarters, lamps burning brightly within. And in the glass display window of the store: exactly what he’d come seeking.

  A bell above the leaded-glass door tinkled as Cassian entered, tucking his wings in tight even with the broader-than-usual doorway. Warmth hit him, welcome and delicious, and he quickly shut the door behind him.

  The slender young female behind the pine counter was already standing still. Watching him.

  Cass
ian noticed the scars on her wings first. The careful, brutal scars down the center tendons.

  Nausea roiled in his gut, even as he offered a smile and strode toward the polished counter. Clipped. She’d been clipped.

  “I’m looking for Proteus,” he said, meeting the female’s brown eyes. Sharp and shrewd. Taken aback by his presence, but unafraid. Her dark hair was braided simply, offering a clear view of her tan skin and narrow, angular face. Not a face of beauty, but striking. Interesting.

  Her eyes did not lower, not in the way Illyrian females had been ordered and trained to do. No, even with the clipping scars that proved traditional ways ran brutally deep in her family, she held his stare.

  It reminded him of Nesta, that stare. Frank and unsettling.

  “Proteus was my father,” she said, untying her white apron to reveal a simple brown dress before she emerged from behind the counter. Was.

  “I’m sorry,” he said.

  “He didn’t come home from the war.”

  Cassian kept his chin from lowering. “I am even sorrier, then.”

  “Why should you be?” An unmoved, uninterested question. She extended a slender hand. “I’m Emerie. This is my shop now.”

  A line in the sand. And an unusual one. Cassian shook her hand, unsurprised to find her grip strong and unfaltering.

  He’d known Proteus. Had been surprised when the male had joined the ranks during the war. Cassian knew he’d had one daughter and no sons. No close male relatives, either. With his death, the store would have gone to one of them. But for his daughter to step up, to insist this store was hers, and to keep running it … He surveyed the small, tidy space.

  Glanced through the front window to the shop across the street, the sold-out sign there.

  Stock filled Emerie’s store. As if she’d just gotten a fresh shipment. Or no one had bothered to come in. Ever.

  For Proteus to have owned and built this place, in a camp where the idea of shops was one that had only started in the past fifty or so years, meant he’d had a good deal of money. Enough perhaps for Emerie to coast on. But not forever.

  “It certainly seems like it’s your shop,” he said at last, turning his attention back to her. Emerie had drifted a few feet away, her back straight, chin upraised.

  He’d seen Nesta in that particular pose, too. He called it her I Will Slay My Enemies pose.

  Cassian had named about two dozen poses for Nesta at this point. Ranging from I Will Eat Your Eyes for Breakfast to I Don’t Want Cassian to Know I’m Reading Smut. The latter was his particular favorite.

  Suppressing his smile, Cassian gestured to the pretty piles of shearling-lined gloves and thick scarves that bedecked the window display. “I’ll take every bit of winter gear you have.”

  Her dark brows rose toward her hairline. “Really?”

  He fished a hand into the pocket of his leathers to pull out his money pouch and extended it to her. “That should cover it.”

  Emerie weighed the small leather pouch in her palm. “I don’t need charity.”

  “Then take whatever the cost is for your gloves and boots and scarves and coats out of it and give the rest back to me.”

  She made no answer before chucking the pouch on the counter and bustling to the window display. Everything he asked for she gathered onto the counter in neat piles and stacks, even going into the back room behind the counter and emerging with more. Until there wasn’t an empty bit of space on the polished counter, and only the sound of clinking coins filled the shop.

  She wordlessly handed him back his pouch. He refrained from mentioning that she was one of the few Illyrians who’d ever accepted his money. Most had spat on it, or thrown it on the ground. Even after Rhys had become High Lord.

  Emerie surveyed the piles of winter goods on the counter. “Do you want me to find some bags and boxes?”

  He shook his head. “That won’t be necessary.”

  Again, her dark brows rose.

  Cassian reached into his money pouch and set three heavy coins onto the only sliver of empty space he could find on the counter. “For the delivery charges.”

  “To whom?” Emerie blurted.

  “You live above the shop, don’t you?” A terse nod. “Then I assume you know enough about this camp and who has plenty, and who has nothing. A storm is going to hit in a few days. I’d like you to distribute this amongst those who might feel its impact the hardest.”

  She blinked, and he saw her reassessment. Emerie studied the piled goods. “They—a lot of them don’t like me,” she said, more softly than he’d heard.

  “They don’t like me, either. You’re in good company.”

  A reluctant curl of her lips at that. Not quite a smile. Certainly not with a male she didn’t know.

  “Consider it good advertising for this shop,” he went on. “Tell them it was a gift from their High Lord.”

  “Why not you?”

  He didn’t want to answer that. Not today. “Better to leave me out of it.”

  Emerie took his measure for a moment, then nodded. “I’ll make sure this has been delivered to those who need it most by sundown.”

  Cassian bowed his head in thanks and headed for the glass door. The door and windows on this building alone had likely cost more than most Illyrians could afford in years.

  Proteus had been a wealthy man—a good businessman. And a decent warrior. To have risked this by going to war, he had to have possessed some shred of pride.

  But the scars on Emerie’s wings, proof that she’d never taste the wind again …

  Half of him wished that Proteus were still alive. If only so he could kill the male himself.

  Cassian reached for the brass handle, the metal cold against his palm.

  “Lord Cassian.”

  He peered over a shoulder to where Emerie still stood behind the counter. He didn’t bother to correct her, to say that he did not and would never accept using lord before his name. “Happy Solstice,” she said tersely.

  Cassian flashed her a smile. “You, too. Send word if you have any trouble with the deliveries.”

  Her narrow chin rose. “I’m sure I won’t need to.”

  Fire in those words. Emerie would make the families take them, whether they wanted to or not.

  He’d seen that fire before—and the steel. He half wondered what might happen if the two of them ever met. What might come of it.

  Cassian shouldered his way out of the shop and into the freezing day, the bell tinkling in his wake. A herald of the storm to come.

  Not just the storm that was barreling toward these mountains.

  But perhaps one that had been brewing here for a long, long time.

  CHAPTER

  9

  Feyre

  I shouldn’t have eaten dinner.

  It was the thought tumbling through my head as I neared the studio Ressina occupied, darkness full overhead. As I saw the lights spilling into the frosted street, mixing with the glow from the lamps.

  At this hour, three days before Solstice, it was packed with shoppers—not just residents of the quarter, but those from across the city and its countryside. So many High Fae and faeries, many of the latter kinds that I had never seen before. But all smiling, all seeming to shimmer with merriment and goodwill. It was impossible not to feel the thrum of that energy under my skin, even as nerves threatened to send me flying home, frigid wind or no.

  I’d hauled a pack full of supplies down here, a canvas tucked under my arm, unsure whether they would be provided or if it would look rude to show up at Ressina’s studio and appear to have expected to be given them. I’d walked from the town house, not wanting to winnow with so many things, and not wanting to risk losing the canvas to the tug of the bitter wind if I flew.

  Staying warm aside, shielding against the wind while still flying on the wind was something I’d yet to master, despite my now-occasional lessons with Rhys or Azriel, and with additional weight in my arms, plus the cold … I didn’t know how the Il
lyrians did it, up in their mountains, where it was cold all year.

  Perhaps I’d find out soon, if the grumblings and malcontent spread across the war-camps.

  Not the time to think about it. My stomach was already uneasy enough.

  I paused a house away from Ressina’s studio, my palms sweating within my gloves.

  I’d never painted with a group before. I rarely liked to share my paintings with anyone.

  And this first time back in front of a canvas, unsure of what might come spilling out of me …

  A tug on the bond.

  Everything all right?

  A casual, soft question, the cadence of Rhys’s voice soothing the tremors along my nerves.

  He’d told me where he planned to go tomorrow. What he planned to inquire about.

  He’d asked me if I’d like to go with him.

  I’d said no.

  I might owe Tamlin my mate’s life, I might have told Tamlin that I wished him peace and happiness, but I did not wish to see him. Speak with him. Deal with him. Not for a good long while. Perhaps forever.

  Maybe it was because of that, because I’d felt worse after declining Rhys’s invitation than I had when he’d asked, that I’d ventured out into the Rainbow tonight.

  But now, faced with Ressina’s communal studio, already hearing the laughter flitting out from where she and others had gathered for their weekly paint-in, my resolve sputtered out.

  I don’t know if I can do this.

  Rhys was quiet for a moment. Do you want me to come with you?

  To paint?

  I’d be an excellent nude model.

  I smiled, not caring that I was by myself in the street with countless people streaming past me. My hood concealed most of my face, anyway. You’ll forgive me if I don’t feel like sharing the glory that is you with anyone else.

  Perhaps I’ll model for you later, then. A sensuous brush down the bond that had my blood heating. It’s been a while since we had paint involved.

  That cabin and kitchen table flashed into my mind, and my mouth went a bit dry. Rogue.

  A chuckle. If you want to go in, then go in. If you don’t, then don’t. It’s your call.

  I frowned down at the canvas tucked under one arm, the box of paints cradled in the other. Frowned toward the studio thirty feet away, the shadows thick between me and that golden spill of light.

 
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