فصل 15

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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.

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.

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