“We’re only three days into the week.”
“They don’t make them hard enough for me.”
“How many pieces is this one?”
Amren tutted to herself, then straightened in her chair, rubbing her back and wincing. “Good for the mind, but bad for the posture.”
“Good thing you have Varian to exercise with.”
Amren laughed, the sound like a crow’s caw. “Good thing indeed.” Those silver eyes, still uncanny, still limned with some trace of power, scanned me. “You didn’t come here to keep me company, I suppose.”
I leaned back in the rickety old chair. None at the table matched. Indeed, each seemed from a different decade. Century. “No, I didn’t.”
The High Lord’s Second waved a hand tipped in long red nails and stooped over her puzzle again. “Proceed.”
I took a steadying breath. “It’s about Nesta.”
“I suspected as much.”
“Have you spoken to her?”
“She comes here every few days.”
Amren tried and failed to fit a piece into her puzzle, her eyes darting over the color-sorted pieces around her. “Is it so hard to believe?”
“She doesn’t come to the town house. Or the House of Wind.”
“No one likes going to the House of Wind.”
I reached for a piece and Amren clicked her tongue in warning. I set my hand back on my lap.
“I was hoping you might have some insight into what she’s going through.”
Amren didn’t reply for a while, scanning the pieces laid out instead. I was about to repeat myself when she said, “I like your sister.”
One of the few.
Amren lifted her eyes to me, as if I’d said the words aloud. “I like her because so few do. I like her because she is not easy to be around, or to understand.”
“But nothing,” Amren said, returning to the puzzle. “Because I like her, I am not inclined to gossip about her current state.”
“It’s not gossip. I’m concerned.” We all were. “She is starting down a path that—”
“I will not betray her confidence.”
“She’s talked to you?” Too many emotions cascaded through me at that. Relief that Nesta had talked to anyone, confusion that it had been Amren, and perhaps even some jealousy that my sister had not turned to me—or Elain.
“No,” Amren said. “But I know she would not like me to be musing over her path with anyone. With you.”
“Give her time. Give her space. Give her the opportunity to sort through this on her own.”
“It’s been months.”
“She’s an immortal. Months are inconsequential.”
I clenched my jaw. “She refuses to come home for Solstice. Elain will be heartbroken if she doesn’t—”
“Elain, or you?”
Those silver eyes pinned me to the spot.
“Both,” I said through my teeth.
Again, Amren sifted through her pieces. “Elain has her own problems to focus on.”
Amren just gave me a Look. I ignored it.
“If Nesta deigns to visit you,” I said, the ancient chair groaning as I pushed it back and rose, grabbing my coat and scarf from the bench by the door, “tell her that it would mean a great deal if she came on Solstice.”
Amren didn’t bother to look up from her puzzle. “I will make no promises, girl.”
It was the best I could hope for.
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 credi
t, 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.”