- A Court of Frost and Starlight
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.
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.
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 Illyrians 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?
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.
I know what I want to do.
No one noticed me winnow inside the boarded-up gallery and studio space down the street.
And with the boards over the windows, no one noticed the balls of faelight that I kindled and set to floating in the air on a gentle wind.
Of course, with the boards over empty windows, and no occupant for months, the main room was freezing. Cold enough that I set down my supplies and bounced on my toes as I surveyed the space.
It had probably been lovely before the attack: a massive window faced southward, letting in endless sunshine, and skylights—also boarded up—dotted the vaulted ceiling. The gallery in the front was perhaps thirty feet wide, fifty feet deep, with a counter against one wall halfway back, and a door to what had to be the studio space or storage in the rear. A quick examination told me I was half right: storage was in the back, but no natural light for painting. Only narrow windows above a row of cracked sinks, a few metal counters still stained with paint, and old cleaning supplies.
And paint. Not paint itself, but the smell of it.
I breathed in deep, feeling it settle into my bones, letting the quiet of the space settle, too.
The gallery up front had been her studio as well. Polina must have painted while she chatted with customers surveying the hung art whose outlines I could barely make out against the white walls.
The floors beneath them were gray stone, kernels of shattered glass still shining between the cracks.
I didn’t want to do this first painting in front of others.
I could barely do it in front of myself. It was enough to drive away any guilt in regard to ignoring Ressina’s offer to join her. I’d made her no promises.
So I summoned my flame to begin warming the space, setting little balls of it burning midair throughout the gallery. Lighting it further. Warming it back to life.
Then I went in search of a stool.
I painted and painted and painted.
My heart thundered the entire time, steady as a war-drum.
I painted until my back cramped and my stomach gurgled with demands for hot cocoa and dessert.
I’d known what needed to come out of me the moment I perched on the rickety stool I’d dusted off from the back.
I’d barely been able to hold the paintbrush steady enough to make the first few strokes. From fear, yes. I was honest enough with myself to admit that.
But also from the sheer unleashing of it, as if I were a racehorse freed from my pen, the image in my mind a dashing vision that I sprinted to keep up with.