“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.
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.