- A Court of Frost and Starlight
Azriel didn’t let go. “Wait until everyone is seated before eating.”
“Pig,” Mor supplied.
Cassian gave a pointed look to the plate of green beans, chicken, bread, and ham already half eaten on Mor’s plate. But he relaxed his hand, leaning back in his chair. “I never knew you were a stickler for manners, Az.”
Azriel only released Cassian’s hand, and stared at his wineglass.
Elain swept in, apron gone and hair rebraided. “Please don’t wait on my account,” she said, taking the seat at the head of the table.
Cassian glared at Azriel. Az pointedly ignored him.
But Cassian waited until Elain had filled her plate before he took another scoop of anything. As did the others.
I met Rhys’s stare across the table. What was that about?
Rhys sliced into his glazed ham in smooth, skilled strokes. It had nothing to do with Cassian.
Rhys took a bite, gesturing with his knife for me to eat. Let’s just say it hit a little close to home. At my beat of confusion, he added, There are some scars when it comes to how his mother was treated. Many scars.
His mother, who had been a servant—near-slave—when he was born. And afterward. None of us bother to wait for everyone to sit, least of all Cassian.
It can strike at odd times.
I did my best not to look toward the shadowsinger. I see.
Turning to Amren, I studied her plate. Small portions of everything. “Still getting used to it?”
Amren grunted, rolling around her roasted, honeyed carrots. “Blood tastes better.”
Mor and Cassian choked.
“And it didn’t take so much time to consume,” Amren groused, lifting the teensiest scrap of roast chicken to her red-painted lips.
Small, slow meals for Amren. The first normal meal she’d eaten after returning—a bowl of lentil soup—had made her vomit for an hour. So it had been a gradual adjustment. She still couldn’t dive into a meal the way the rest of us were prone to. Whether it was wholly physical or perhaps some sort of personal adjustment period, none of us knew.
“And then there are the other unpleasant results of eating,” Amren went on, slicing her carrots into tiny slivers.
Azriel and Cassian swapped a glance, then both seemed to find their plates very interesting. Even as smiles tugged on their faces.
Elain asked, “What sort of results?”
“Don’t answer that,” Rhys said smoothly, pointing to Amren with his fork.
Amren hissed at him, her dark hair swaying like a curtain of liquid night, “Do you know what an inconvenience it is to need to find a place to relieve myself everywhere I go?”
A fizzing noise came from Cassian’s side of the table, but I clamped my lips together. Mor gripped my knee beneath the table, her body shaking with the effort of keeping her laugh reined in.
Rhys drawled to Amren, “Shall we start building public toilets for you throughout Velaris, Amren?”
“I mean it, Rhysand,” Amren snapped. I didn’t dare meet Mor’s stare. Or Cassian’s. One look and I’d completely dissolve. Amren waved a hand down at herself. “I should have selected a male form. At least you can whip it out and go wherever you like without having to worry about spilling on—”
Cassian lost it. Then Mor. Then me. And even Az, chuckling faintly.
“You really don’t know how to pee?” Mor roared. “After all this time?”
Amren seethed. “I’ve seen animals—”
“Tell me you know how a toilet works,” Cassian burst out, slapping a broad hand on the table. “Tell me you know that much.”
I clapped a hand over my mouth, as if it would push the laugh back in. Across the table, Rhys’s eyes were brighter than stars, his mouth a quivering line as he tried and failed to remain serious.
“I know how to sit on a toilet,” Amren growled.
Mor opened her mouth, laughter dancing on her face, but Elain asked, “Could you have done it? Decided to take a male form?”
The question cut through the laughter, an arrow fired between us.
Amren studied my sister, Elain’s cheeks red from our unfiltered talk at the table. “Yes,” she said simply. “Before, in my other form, I was neither. I simply was.”
“Then why did you pick this body?” Elain asked, the faelight of the chandelier catching in the ripples of her golden-brown braid.
“I was more drawn to the female form,” Amren answered simply. “I thought it was more symmetrical. It pleased me.”
Mor frowned down at her own form, ogling her considerable assets. “True.”
Elain asked, “And once you were in this body, you couldn’t change?”
Amren’s eyes narrowed slightly. I straightened, glancing between them. Unusual, yes, for Elain to be so vocal, but she’d been improving. Most days, she was lucid—perhaps quiet and prone to melancholy, but aware.
Elain, to my surprise, held Amren’s gaze.
Amren said after a moment, “Are you asking out of curiosity for my past, or your own future?”
The question left me too stunned to even reprimand Amren. The others, too.
Elain’s brow furrowed before I could leap in. “What do you mean?”
“There’s no going back to being human, girl,” Amren said, perhaps a tad gently.
“Amren,” I warned.
Elain’s face reddened further, her back straightening. But she didn’t bolt. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I’d never heard Elain’s voice so cold.
I glanced at the others. Rhys was frowning, Cassian and Mor were both grimacing, and Azriel … It was pity on his beautiful face. Pity and sorrow as he watched my sister.
Elain hadn’t mentioned being Made, or the Cauldron, or Graysen in months. I’d assumed that perhaps she was becoming accustomed to being High Fae, that she’d perhaps begun to let go of that mortal life.
“Amren, you have a spectacular gift for ruining dinner conversation,” Rhys said, swirling his wine. “I wonder if you could make a career out of it.”
His Second glared at him. But Rhys held her stare, silent warning in his face.
Thank you, I said down the bond. A warm caress echoed in answer.
“Pick on someone your own size,” Cassian said to Amren, shoveling roast chicken into his mouth.
“I’d feel bad for the mice,” Azriel muttered.
Mor and Cassian howled, earning a blush from Azriel and a grateful smile from Elain—and no shortage of scowling from Amren.
But something in me eased at that laughter, at the light that returned to Elain’s eyes.
A light I wouldn’t see dimmed further.
I need to go out after dinner, I said to Rhys as I dug into my meal again. Care for a flight across the city?
Nesta didn’t open her door.
I knocked for perhaps a good two minutes, scowling at the dim wooden hallway of the ramshackle building that she’d chosen to live in, then sent a tether of magic through the apartment beyond.
Rhys had erected wards around the entire thing, and with our magic, our souls’ bond, there was no resistance to the thread of power I unspooled through the door and into the apartment itself.
Nothing. No sign of life or—or worse beyond.
She wasn’t at home.
I had a good idea of where she’d be.
Winnowing into the freezing street, I pinwheeled my arms to keep upright as my boots slid on the ice coating the stones.