Elain moved fast enough that I could barely keep up, flinging open the fogged glass antechamber door in the foyer, then unlatching the heavy oak front door.
But it wasn’t Nesta who stood on the front step, cheeks flushed with cold.
No, as Elain took a step back, hand falling away from the doorknob, she revealed Lucien smiling tightly at us both.
“Happy Solstice,” was all he said.
“You look well,” I said to Lucien when we’d settled in the armchairs before the fire, Elain perched silently on the couch nearby.
Lucien warmed his hands in the glow of the birch fire, the light casting his face in reds and golds—golds that matched his mechanical eye. “You as well.” A sidelong glance toward Elain, swift and fleeting. “Both of you.”
Elain said nothing, but at least she bowed her head in thanks. In the dining room, Nuala and Cerridwen continued to add food to the table, their presence now little more than twin shadows as they walked through the walls.
“You brought presents,” I said uselessly, nodding toward the small stack he’d set by the window.
“It’s Solstice tradition here, isn’t it?”
I stifled my wince. The last Solstice I’d experienced had been at the Spring Court. With Ianthe. And Tamlin.
“You’re welcome to stay for the night,” I said, since Elain certainly wasn’t going to.
Lucien lowered his hands into his lap and leaned back in the armchair. “Thank you, but I have other plans.”
I prayed he didn’t catch the slightly relieved glimmer on Elain’s face.
“Where are you going?” I asked instead, hoping to keep his focus on me. Knowing it was an impossible task.
“I …” Lucien fumbled for the words. Not out of some lie or excuse, I realized a moment later. Realized when he said, “I’ve been at the Spring Court every now and then. But if I’m not here in Velaris, I’ve mostly been staying with Jurian. And Vassa.”
I straightened. “Really? Where?”
“There’s an old manor house in the southeast, in the humans’ territory. Jurian and Vassa were … gifted it.”
From the lines that bracketed his mouth, I knew who had likely arranged for the manor to fall into their hands. Graysen—or his father. I didn’t dare glance at Elain.
“Rhys mentioned that they were still in Prythian. I didn’t realize it was such a permanent base.”
A short nod. “For now. While things are sorted out.”
Like the world without a wall. Like the four human queens who still squatted across the continent. But now wasn’t the time to talk of it. “How are they—Jurian and Vassa?” I’d learned enough from Rhys about how Tamlin was faring. I didn’t care to hear any more of it.
“Jurian …” Lucien blew out a breath, scanning the carved wood ceiling above. “Thank the Cauldron for him. I never thought I’d say that, but it’s true.” He ran a hand through his silken red hair. “He’s keeping everything running. I think he’d have been crowned king by now if it wasn’t for Vassa.” A twitch of the lips, a spark in that russet eye. “She’s doing well enough. Savoring every second of her temporary freedom.”
I had not forgotten her plea to me that night after the last battle with Hybern. To break the curse that kept her human by night, firebird by day. A once-proud queen—still proud, yes, but desperate to reclaim her freedom. Her human body. Her kingdom.
“She and Jurian are getting along?”
I hadn’t seen them interact, could only imagine what the two of them would be like in the same room together. Both trying to lead the humans who occupied the sliver of land at the southernmost end of Prythian. Left ungoverned for so long. Too long.
No king or queen remained in these lands. No memory of their name, their lineage.
At least amongst humans. The Fae might know. Rhys might know.
But all that lingered of whoever had once ruled the southern tip of Prythian was a motley assortment of lords and ladies. Nothing else. No dukes or earls or any of the titles I’d once heard my sisters mention while discussing the humans on the continent. There were no such titles in the Fae lands. Not in Prythian.
No, there were just High Lords and lords. And now a High Lady.
I wondered if the humans had taken to using only lord as a title thanks to the High Fae who lurked above the wall.
Lurked—but no longer.
Lucien considered my question. “Vassa and Jurian are two sides of the same coin. Mercifully, their vision for the future of the human territories is mostly aligned. But the methods on how to attain that …” A frown to Elain, then a wince at me. “This isn’t very Solstice-like talk.”
Definitely not, but I didn’t mind. And as for Elain …
My sister rose to her feet. “I should get refreshments.”
Lucien rose as well. “No need to trouble yourself. I’m—”
But she was already out of the room.
When her footsteps had faded from earshot, Lucien slumped into his armchair and blew out a long breath. “How is she?”
“Better. She makes no mention of her abilities. If they remain.”
“Good. But is she still …” A muscle flickered in his jaw. “Does she still mourn him?”
The words were little more than a growl.
I chewed on my lip, weighing how much of the truth to reveal. In the end, I opted for all of it. “She was deeply in love with him, Lucien.”
His russet eye flashed with simmering rage. An uncontrollable instinct—for a mate to eliminate any threat. But he remained sitting. Even as his fingers dug into the arms of his chair.
I continued, “It has only been a few months. Graysen made it clear that the engagement is ended, but it might take her a while longer to move past it.”
Again that rage. Not from jealousy, or any threat, but—“He’s as fine a prick as any I’ve ever encountered.”
Lucien had encountered him, I realized. Somehow, in living with Jurian and Vassa at that manor, he’d run into Elain’s former betrothed. And managed to leave the human lord breathing.
“I would agree with you on that,” I admitted. “But remember that they were engaged. Give her time to accept it.”
“To accept a life shackled to me?”
My nostrils flared. “That’s not what I meant.”
“She wants nothing to do with me.”
“Would you, if your positions were reversed?”
He didn’t answer.
I tried, “After Solstice wraps up, why don’t you come stay for a week or two? Not in your apartment, I mean. Here, at the town house.”
“And do what?”
“Spend time with her.”
“I don’t think she’ll tolerate two minutes alone with me, so forget about two weeks.” His jaw worked as he studied the fire.
Fire. His mother’s gift.
Not his father’s.
Yes, it was Beron’s gift. The gift of the father who the world believed had sired him. But not the gift of Helion. His true father.
I still hadn’t mentioned it. To anyone other than Rhys.
Now wasn’t the time for that, either.
“I’d hoped,” I ventured to say, “that when you rented the apartment, it meant you would come work here. With us. Be our human emissary.”
“Am I not doing that now?” He arched a brow. “Am I not sending twice-weekly reports to your spymaster?”
“You could come live here, is all I’m saying,” I pushed. “Truly live here, stay in Velaris for longer than a few days at a time. We could get you nicer quarters—”
Lucien got to his feet. “I don’t need your charity.”
I rose as well. “But Jurian and Vassa’s is fine?”
“You’d be surprised to see how the three of us get along.”
Friends, I realized. They had somehow become his friends. “So you’d rather stay with them?”
“I’m not staying with them. The man
or is ours.”
His golden eye whirred. “What is.”
Not feeling very festive at all, I said sharply, “That you now feel more comfortable with humans than with the High Fae. If you ask me—”
“It seems like you’ve decided to fall in with two people without homes of their own as well.”
Lucien stared at me, long and hard. When he spoke, his voice was rough. “Happy Solstice to you, Feyre.”
He turned toward the foyer, but I grabbed his arm to halt him. The corded muscle of his forearm shifted beneath the fine silk of his sapphire jacket, but he made no move to shake me off. “I didn’t mean that,” I said. “You have a home here. If you want it.”
Lucien studied the sitting room, the foyer beyond and dining room on its other side. “The Band of Exiles.”
“That’s what we call ourselves. The Band of Exiles.”
“You have a name for yourselves.” I fought my incredulous tone.
“Jurian isn’t an exile,” I said. Vassa, yes. Lucien, two times over now.
“Jurian’s kingdom is nothing but dust and half-forgotten memory, his people long scattered and absorbed into other territories. He can call himself whatever he likes.”
Yes, after the battle with Hybern, after Jurian’s aid, I supposed he could.
But I asked, “And what, exactly, does this Band of Exiles plan to do? Host events? Organize party-planning committees?”
Lucien’s metal eye clicked faintly and narrowed. “You can be as much of an asshole as that mate of yours, you know that?”
True. I sighed again. “I’m sorry. I just—”