فصل 16

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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 credit, 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.”

The perfect way to then reveal the full extent of what we knew.

If the Illyrians revolted … I didn’t want to think that far down the road. What it would cost me. What it would cost Cassian, to fight the people he still so desperately wanted to be a part of. To kill them. It’d be far different from what we’d done to the Illyrians who’d gladly served Amarantha, and done such terrible things in her name. Far different.

I shut out the thought. Later. After Solstice. We’d deal with it then.

Cassian, mercifully, seemed inclined to do the same. Not that I blamed him, given the hour of bullshit posturing he’d endured before we’d winnowed here. Even now, centuries later, the camp-lords and commanders still challenged him. Spat on him.

Cassian toed his own footboard, his legs not even fully stretched out. “Who used this bed anyway? It’s Amren-sized.”

I snorted. “Careful how you whine. Feyre calls us Illyrian babies often enough.”

Azriel chuckled. “Her flying has improved enough that I think she’s entitled to do so.”

Pride rippled through me. Perhaps she wasn’t a natural, but she made up for it with sheer grit and focus. I’d lost count of the hours we spent in the air—the precious time we’d managed to steal for ourselves.

I said to Cassian, “I can see about finding you two longer beds.” With Solstice Eve here, it would take a minor miracle. I’d have to turn Velaris upside down.

He waved a hand. “No need. Better than the couch.”

“You being too drunk to climb the stairs last night aside,” I said wryly, earning a vulgar gesture in response, “space in this house does indeed seem to be an issue. You could stay up at the House if you’d prefer. I can winnow you in.”

“The House is boring.” Cassian yawned for emphasis. “Az sneaks off into shadows and I’m left all alone.”

Azriel gave me a look that said, Illyrian baby indeed.

I hid my smile and said to Cassian, “Perhaps you should get a place of your own, then.”

“I have one in Illyria.”

“I meant here.”

Cassian lifted a brow. “I don’t need a house here. I need a room.” He again toed the footboard, rocking the wood panel. “This one would be fine, if it didn’t have a doll’s bed.”

I chuckled again, but held in my retort. My suggestion that he might want a place of his own. Soon.

Not that anything was happening on that front. Not anytime soon. Nesta had made it clear enough she had no interest in Cassian—not even in being in the same room as him. I knew why. I’d seen it happen, had felt that way plenty.

“Perhaps that will be your Solstice present, Cassian,” I replied instead. “A new bed here.”

“Better than Mor’s presents,” Az muttered.

Cassian laughed, the sound booming off the walls.

But I peered in the direction of the Sidra and lifted a brow.

She looked radiant.

Solstice Eve had fully settled upon Velaris, quieting the thrum that had pulsed through the city for the past few weeks, as if everyone paused to listen to the falling snow.

A gentle fall, no doubt, compared with the wild storm unleashing itself upon the Illyrian Mountains.

We’d gathered in the sitting room, the fire crackling, wine opened and flowing. Though neither Lucien nor Nesta had shown their faces, the mood was far from somber.

Indeed, as Feyre emerged from the kitchen hallway, I took a moment to simply drink her in from where I sat in an armchair near the fire.

She went right to Mor—perhaps because Mor was holding the wine, the bottle already outreached.

I admired the view from behind as Feyre’s glass was filled.

It was an effort to leash every raging instinct at that particular view. At the curves and hollows of my mate, the color of her—so vibrant, even in this room of so many personalities. Her midnight-blue velvet gown hugged her perfectly, leaving little to the imagination before it pooled to the floor. She’d left her hair down, curling slightly at the ends—hair I knew I later wanted to plunge my hands into, scattering the silver combs pinning up the sides. And then I’d peel off that dress. Slowly.

“You’ll make me vomit,” Amren hissed, kicking me with her silver silk shoe from where she sat in the armchair adjacent to mine. “Rein in that scent of yours, boy.”

I cut her an incredulous look. “Apologies.” I threw a glance to Varian, standing to the side of her armchair, and silently offered him my condolences.

Varian, clad in Summer Court blue and gold, only grinned and inclined his head toward me.

Strange—so strange to see the Prince of Adriata here. In my town house. Smiling. Drinking my liquor.

Until—

“Do you even celebrate Solstice in the Summer Court?”

Until Cassian decided to open his mouth.

Varian turned his head toward where Cassian and Azriel lounged on the sofa, his silver hair sparkling in the firelight. “In the summer, obviously. As there are two Solstices.”

Azriel hid his smile by taking a sip from his wine.

Cassian slung an arm across the back of the sofa. “Are there really?”

Mother above. It was going to be this sort of night, then.

“Don’t bother answering him,” Amren said to Varian, sipping from her own wine. “Cassian is precisely as stupid as he looks. And sounds,” she added with a slashing glance.

Cassian lifted his glass in salute before drinking.

“I suppose your Summer Solstice is the same in theory as ours,” I said to Varian, though I knew the answer. I’d seen many of them—long ago. “Families gather, food is eaten, presents shared.”

Varian gave me what I could have sworn was a grateful nod. “Indeed.”

Feyre appeared beside my seat, her scent settling into me. I tugged her down to perch on the rolled arm of my chair.

She did so with a familiarity that warmed something deep in me, not even bothering to look my way before her arm slid around my shoulders. Just resting there—just because she could.

Mate. My mate.

“So Tarquin doesn’t celebrate Winter Solstice at all?” she asked Varian.

A shake of the head.

“Perhaps we should have invited him,” Feyre mused.

“There’s still time,” I offered. The Cauldron knew we needed alliances more than ever. “The call is yours, Prince.”

Varian peered down at Amren, who seemed to be entirely focused on her goblet of wine. “I’ll think about it.”

I nodded. Tarquin was his High Lord. Should he come here, Varian’s focus would be elsewhere. Away from where he wished that focus to be—for the few days he had with Amren.

Mor plopped onto the sofa between Cassian and Azriel, her golden curls bouncing. “I like it to be just us anyway,” she declared. “And you, Varian,” she amended.

Varian offered her a smile that said he appreciated the effort.

The clock on the mantel chimed eight. As if it had summoned her, Elain slid into the room.

Mor was instantly on her feet, offering—insisting on wine. Typical.

Elain politely refused, taking up a spot in one of the wooden chairs set in the bay of windows. Also typical.

But Feyre was staring at the clock, her brow furrowed. Nesta isn’t coming.

You invited her for tomorrow. I sent a soothing caress down the bond, as if it could wipe away the disappointment rippling from her.

Feyre’s hand tightened on my shoulder.

I lifted my glass, the room quieting. “To family old and new. Let the Solstice festivities begin.”

We all drank to that.

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