- A Court of Frost and Starlight
Still no words, not even a whisper of movement. Very well, then.
“I spoke to Varian, Prince of Adriata,” I said, lingering on the other side of the table, the rack of antlers like a briar of thorns between us. “I requested that he ask Tarquin to dispatch soldiers to your border.” I’d done it last night, pulling Varian aside during dinner. He’d readily agreed, swearing it would be done. “They will arrive within a few days.”
“Is that acceptable to you?” As part of the Seasonal Courts, Summer and Spring had long been allies—until this war.
Slowly, Tamlin’s head lifted, his unbound golden hair dull and matted.
“Do you think she will forgive me?” The question was a rasp. As if he’d been screaming.
I knew whom he meant. And I didn’t know. I didn’t know if her wishing him happiness was the same as forgiveness. If Feyre would ever want to offer that to him. Forgiveness could be a gift to both, but what he’d done … “Do you want her to?”
His green eyes were empty. “Do I deserve it?”
He must have read it on my face, because he asked, “Do you forgive me—for your mother and sister?”
“I don’t recall ever hearing an apology.”
As if an apology would ever right it. As if an apology would ever cover the loss that still ate at me, the hole that remained where their bright, lovely lives had once glowed.
“I don’t think one will make a difference, anyway,” Tamlin said, staring at the felled elk once more. “For either of you.”
Broken. Utterly broken.
You will need Tamlin as an ally before the dust has settled, Lucien had warned my mate. Perhaps that was why I’d come, too.
I waved a hand, my magic slicing and sundering, and the elk’s coat slid to the floor in a rasp of fur and slap of wet flesh. Another flicker of power, and slabs of meat had been carved from its sides, piled next to the dark stove—which soon kindled.
“Eat, Tamlin,” I said. He didn’t so much as blink.
It was not forgiveness—it was not kindness. I could not, would not, ever forget what he’d done to those I loved most.
But it was Solstice, or had been. And perhaps because Feyre had given me a gift greater than any I could dream of, I said, “You can waste away and die after we’ve sorted out this new world of ours.”
A pulse of my power, and an iron skillet slid onto the now-hot stove, a steak of meat thumping into it with a sizzle.
“Eat, Tamlin,” I repeated, and vanished on a dark wind.
She’d lied to Feyre.
She was going to the Winter Court. Just not as soon as she’d said. Viviane, at least, knew when to truly expect her. Although they’d been exchanging letters for months now, Mor still hadn’t told even the Lady of the Winter Court where she’d be between Solstice in Velaris and her visit to Viviane and Kallias’s mountain home.
She didn’t like telling people about this place. Had never mentioned it to the others.
And as Mor galloped over the snowy hills, her mare, Ellia, a solid, warm weight beneath her, she remembered why.
Early-morning mist hung between the bumps and hollows of the sprawling estate. Her estate. Athelwood.
She’d bought it three hundred years ago for the quiet. Had kept it for the horses.
Ellia took the hills with unfaltering grace, flowing fast as the west wind.
Mor hadn’t been raised to ride. Not when winnowing was infinitely faster.
But with winnowing, it never felt as if she were actually traveling anywhere. As if she were going, running, racing to the next place. She wished it, and there she was.
The horses, though … Mor felt every inch of land they galloped across. Felt the wind and smelled the hills and snow and could see the passing wall of dense forest to her left.
Alive. It was all alive, and her ever more so, when she rode.
Athelwood had come with six horses, the previous owner having grown bored with them. All of them rare and coveted breeds. They’d been worth as much as the sprawling estate and three hundred pristine acres northwest of Velaris. A land of rolling hills and burbling streams, of ancient forests and crashing seas.
She did not like being alone for long periods of time—couldn’t stand it. But a few days here and there were necessary, vital for her soul. And getting out on Ellia was as rejuvenating as any day spent basking in the sun.
She pulled Ellia to a halt atop one of the larger hills, letting the mare rest, even as Ellia yanked on the reins. She’d run until her heart gave out—had never been quite as docile as her handlers desired. Mor loved her all the greater for it.
She had always been drawn to the untamed, wild things of the world.
Horse and rider breathing hard, Mor surveyed her rolling grounds, the gray sky. Nestled in her Illyrian leathers and heated from the ride, she was comfortably warm. An afternoon reading by the crackling fire in Athelwood’s extensive library followed by a hearty dinner and early bed would be bliss.
How far away the continent seemed, Rhys’s request with it. To go, to play spy and courtier and ambassador, to see those kingdoms long closed, where friends had once dwelled … Yes, her blood called to her. Go as far and wide as you can. Go on the wind.
But to leave, to let Keir believe he had made her go with his bargain with Eris …
Coward. Pathetic coward.
She shut out the hissing in her head, running a hand down Ellia’s snowy mane.
She had not mentioned it these past few days in Velaris. Had wanted to make this choice on her own, and had understood how the news might cast a shadow over the merriment.
She knew Azriel would say no, would want her safe. As he had always done. Cassian would have said yes, Amren with him, and Feyre would have worried but agreed. Az would have been pissed, and withdrawn even further into himself.
She hadn’t wanted to take his joy away from him. Any more than she already did.
But she’d have to tell them, regardless of what she decided, at some point.
Ellia’s ears went flat against her head.
Mor stiffened, following the mare’s line of sight.
To the tangle of wood to their left, little more than a thatch of trees from this distance.
She rubbed Ellia’s neck. “Easy,” she breathed. “Easy.”
Even in these woods, ancient terrors had been known to emerge.
But Mor scented nothing, saw nothing. The tendril of power she speared toward the woods revealed only the usual birds and small beasts. A hart drinking from a hole in an iced-over stream.
There, between a snarl of thorns. A patch of darkness.
It did not move, did not seem to do anything but linger. And watch.
Familiar and yet foreign.
Something in her power whispered not to touch it, not to go near it. Even from this distance.
But she still watched that darkness in the thorns, as if a shadow had fallen asleep amongst them.
Not like Azriel’s shadows, twining and whispering.
Something that stared back, watching her in turn.
Best left undisturbed. Especially with the promise of a crackling fire and glass of wine at home.
“Let’s take the short route back,” she murmured to Ellia, patting her neck.
The horse needed no further encouragement before launching into a gallop, turning them from the woods and its shadowy watcher.
Over and between the hills they rode, until the woods were hidden in the mists behind them.