In the past few months, it had become easier to recognize the face in the mirror. Feyre knew her fae form well, but sometimes it was difficult to accept as hers. When her lips were painted red, when a crown was placed on her head and jewels on her neck, it was even harder.
“Almost done,” Nuala murmured as she pinned a lock of hair into place. Cerridwen lay out a dress on the bed, giving it another once over. The light blue material had hundreds of little pearls and gems sewn in luscious swirls that danced down her bodice and to her skirts. Feyre had gotten to pick out the off the shoulder gown with a full skirt, rather than being surprised with a dress from Rhys’s mother. Paired with a tiara made of diamonds, she aimed to emulate the horizon just before dawn, when Night was relinquishing its hold. Of course, the sleek blue was also a homage to their hosts for the night. It was not a creation of the last Lady of the Night Court, but Feyre loved it all the same.
Her other gowns, more form fitting and sleek, made her feel like a powerful goddess. This one made her feel like a queen.
The twins helped her step into the dress and laced it, flitting around to attend to any errant strands of hair or wrinkles in the fabric. When she was deemed ready, Feyre carefully walked down the stairs.
“You look stunning, as always,” Rhys said, already holding a snow-white cloak lined with fur.
Feyre fastened the cloak around her shoulders with Rhys’s help. “I’m going to freeze to death.”
“The ballroom will be heated,” Rhys said. “Mor is meeting us there with the rest of the Night Court guests.”
Feyre paused in her fidgeting, alarmed. “They’ve already arrived?”
Rhys just winked, taking her hand. “I thought you’d have adapted to my proclivity for dramatic entrances by now.” He winnowed them away as she scowled.
The terrace where they materialized was buffeted by a chilly breeze, driving Feyre to huddle into her cloak. Rhys wrapped an arm around her waist, tugging her closer and blocking the wind.
“Welcome, High Lord.” A pretty female—dressed in what Feyre assumed was the livery for Winter Court servants—greeted them. The female blushed, and added on a second too late, “and High Lady.”
“Thank you,” Feyre said before Rhys could make a comment.
“Please follow me.” She led the way inside, and Feyre strained for one glimpse of the territory. At night she couldn’t see much, but the moonlight glinting off of snow was magical. In the distance, clusters of yellow lights indicated where towns were dispersed.
I’m sure you could ask Viviane if you could visit. Rhys smiled at her wonder.
She shrugged slightly, eyes darting around the hall as they walked. Most of the walls were a pristine white with accents of icy blue. Gold gilding tastefully edged corners, just enough to look grand but not ostentatious. Maybe. Would she and Kallias let us come?
Both of us? No, probably not. A High Lord would not be so easily welcomed. But it used to be more common for the ladies of the courts to visit each other.
To do things like talk about marriages between families and gossip and parties, no doubt. Well, I am High Lady now.
Rhys’s grin grew a little when she preened at her title. That you are. I hear Viviane has been making a bid for the title herself.
That didn’t surprise her. How’s that going?
How about you ask her yourself?
And then they were standing in front of a pair of grand doors. The female who led them in murmured something to a waiting footman, who then walked off to complete another task. She returned to take Feyre’s cloak and Rhys’s outer jacket.
“What are we waiting for?” she asked Rhys when the doors remained shut.
“The Winter Court still relies on formalities,” he explained. “Entrances, especially of notable guests, are typically announced at events like this. I think Kallias is trying to ease protocol, but it’s slow work.”
Feyre nodded, cataloguing the information. She remembered the Winter Court did have a lot of ceremony, but it was also more progressive in some areas. There was little divide between High Fae and lesser faeries. The difference in roles for males and females was nonexistent compared to some other Courts.
Ahead of her, the doors to the ballroom groaned as they swung open. A voice rang out as she placed her arm in Rhys’s. “The High Lord and High Lady of the Night Court.” A sizable crowd turned to watch them enter and descended a few steps into a ballroom. There was more gold gilding here, and mirrors on walls reflecting light made the room seem enormous. The fae assembled bowed or inclined their heads in acknowledgement.
Formalities. Her knees were about to buckle because of formalities.
Feyre was saved from having to decide what to do next by Viviane, who wove her way through the crowd with a smile on her face. The movement seemed to unfreeze the room, and the talking and music resumed.
“Feyre!” Though they had only seen each other sparingly, Viviane embraced her like an old friend. “I’m so happy to see you.”
“You as well,” Feyre grinned. “I’m sorry we’re late—I forgot to account for Rhys’s flair for the dramatic.”
Viviane waved a hand. “Old news. How are you, Rhysand?” She was a little more formal with the High Lord of the Night Court, an instinct that had been buried in the minds of all these people for some time and was not likely to disappear soon.
“Well, thank you,” Rhys smiled. “You put together an impressive party.”
Viviane blushed a little. “Oh, well—I had a lot of help. There was a lot of pressure to put something together. And once it was actually happening, a lot of people wanted to have their hand in party planning.”
Feyre grimaced in solidarity. “Too many people?”
“Well…” Viviane hedged, giving a pointed look around the room.
“Our wedding was like that,” Feyre laughed. “Well, the second, more public ceremony. I was happy to hand over the reins until I saw what a mess it was becoming.”
“Oh, by the Cauldron, don’t get me started on the wedding,” Viviane groaned.
“You’ll have to excuse me, ladies,” Rhys cut in. “I’m afraid there are some other guests I must speak with.”
Feyre frowned. “Oh. Do you want me to come with you?”
“Only if you want, but I’ll be dreadfully boring,” Rhys squeezed her hand. “Let Viviane introduce you to some others. The Governors of the Palaces are here with the Night Court delegation. Don’t let them bully you into talking about policy. Keir didn’t send anyone tonight, so you don’t have to worry about that. This night is for you to have fun.” He left her with a farewell kiss that lasted slightly longer than appropriate.
Feyre was blushing as she stared at her mate’s retreating back. She forced herself to return attention back to Viviane. “Sorry.”
The other female just grinned, linking her arm with Feyre’s and starting to lead her through the crowd. “I’m the same with Kal, believe it or not. I’m told the allure will fade sometime before our thirtieth anniversary.”
“Not sure if I’d want it to.”
“Me either,” Viviane laughed, then scanned the room. “So, there are people I want to introduce you to, but Mor is over there if you just want me to drop you off with her. Or I can take you around a bit?”
Feyre hesitated. One on hand, Mor could do all that Viviane was doing. Feyre could entrench herself among her court, as most others did, and have that be that. But she liked Viviane. She was trying to bring the Night Court out of the shadows. Reaching out to others was a good place to start.
Readjusting her arm in Viviane’s, Feyre took a deep breath. “Where do we start?”
The Lady of Winter beamed. “Okay, so there’s a little bit of protocol we have to adhere to…”
Viviane took her to greet all the High Lords first, but Kallias was last on the list because he was the host. As the highest-ranking Lady, Feyre got the personal escort from the hostess; if she wasn’t there, the Lady of Autumn—who was the partner of the most senior High Lord— would be accompanying Viviane. As the pair wove through the crowd, Viviane chattered about Winter Court protocol and various customs she was trying to change. It would have been overwhelming had Viviane not been so blasé about it.
“Tamlin is right there,” Viviane walked slowly away from their conversation with Helion. “He’s in a group, so we go in, say hello, and I’ll make the excuses. Just…don’t say anything? Or say something if you want.”
“Right,” Feyre said, smoothing down her wrinkle-less dress.
The exchange was short and painful. Tamlin looked at her with no emotion, though Feyre was sure she didn’t hide her dislike. True to her word, Viviane didn’t make Feyre say anything beyond the usual greetings. After that, they scuttled away with as much dignity as they could muster to find Kallias.
The ballroom was packed with all manner of faeries, glimmering under golden light. Representatives from all seven courts were there, gathered in the largest party since the war ended. Feyre was surprised that Winter of all Courts had decided to host, but they certainly knew what they were doing. If anyone had balked at the idea of all the Courts being in one place, Feyre hadn’t heard of it.
Kallias had a long line of guests waiting to speak with him, but Feyre and Viviane got to cut. Mindful of the others waiting their turn to speak with the High Lord, she didn’t keep him long. They traded pleasantries, asked about some of the business of their respective Courts, and separated amicably.
“Well, that was…” Feyre tried to come up with the right words when they were done.
Viviane just reached over and squeezed her hand. “I know. There are still a few people to introduce you to—but I won’t subject you to the politics of Prythian’s families just yet. These are just friends.”
Indeed, Viviane seemed to have friends in every court. The introductions and court games wore on Feyre, the same way they had in Spring. Her companion was observant though and found a moment to give Feyre a break.
“I’m sorry,” Viviane said as she gave Feyre a glass of sparkling wine from a refreshment table. “I shouldn’t have shoved so many people in your face, but they are all so eager to meet you!”
Feyre took a sip of wine, looking away. “I’m not sure if I can say the same.”
“Right,” Viviane chewed her lip, glancing around the room. “Right. Okay. One more set of introductions—just some old friends. I grew up with them. Or we could find Mor—”
“I can handle one more,” Feyre took another gulp of her wine, and off they went. Viviane wasn’t Ianthe. Feyre had to remember that she was in control, and Viviane had no wicked agenda.
It wasn’t like the Spring Court all over again—this time Feyre did have some motivation to want to meet these people. But the formal style of these other courts put her on her guard. It was hard to enjoy herself while she tiptoed around some sort of diplomatic error. This was one area of being High Lady that Feyre hadn’t yet mastered and wasn’t sure she ever would.
Viviane’s friends were easier to get along with. Though they didn’t have much in common, these fae didn’t seem to have any ulterior motives or hold ill will towards her.
One female was in the middle animatedly telling a tale of snowball fights and fleeting infatuations when she cut herself off mid-sentence and jerked Viviane’s arm.
“Ow! What are you—?”
“It’s your aunt,” she hissed, looking from the corner of her eye.
The others in the group seemed to comprehend what was happening, and they shrunk into themselves as if to appear smaller. Viviane turned her back to the crowd, shuffling a little further into the small circle they had made.
“Viviane’s aunt is…pushy,” one male filled Feyre in. “She’s been pestering her about, uh, heirs.”
Feyre’s cheeks warmed, even as she giggled a bit. “Even at a party?”
“It’s all she’ll talk about,” Viviane bemoaned. “She’s the worst. The others are more discreet when they corner me and shove a packet of tea that’s supposed to help me conceive into my hands.”
“Too much information, Viv.”
“Sorry,” The Lady of Winter flicked her white hair over her shoulder, composing herself. “It’s just—ugh. You know how it is, Feyre.”
Expectant eyes turned in her direction. “Ah, no actually. Rhys and I have decided to wait on children.”
“And no one in your court is making an objection?” A faerie with big icy blue eyes and webbed hands asked.
“Why would they?” Children were a matter for her and Rhys, no one else. It had taken some time for Feyre to completely accept the idea that he wouldn’t ask her for heirs, mostly because of what had been ingrained at the Spring Court. When they were both ready, they would make the decision to have a child. She wasn’t about to let go of her convictions that quickly, not when she had fought so hard for the right to even have those convictions.
The group around her exchanged looks, but Viviane was to one who spoke. “Well, there is a sort of…movement, I suppose. Encouraging couples to have children. It happens, after wars. We just lost huge numbers, and so predictably you have people saying we need to regain strength.”
“It’s a loud, but very small group.”
Viviane nodded to her friend. “Right. But those voices get louder when the seat of a High Lord is involved.”
“Who’s next in line in the Night Court?” A curious, if not oblivious fae asked.
Feyre straightened, ready to be done with the conversation. “You mean if Rhysand was to die? That would be me.” Viviane visibly winced, and Feyre fished for another subject. “Rhys tells me you’re trying to get the title of High Lady for yourself, Viviane.”
The conversation turned to Viviane’s lobbying effort. Kallias seemed to require little convincing; it was the rest of the court giving trouble.
“But now that you’re here—” Viviane squeezed her hand. “—you can show everyone what having a High Lady is like.”
“Let me know what I can do,” Feyre liked Viviane well enough, and she would have offered even as a favor to any friend of Mor’s. Besides, it would be nice to have another High Lady in Prythian.
As the time crawled, Feyre got more comfortable with her new acquaintances. She drank more of the sparkling wine and plucked morsels of food from passing silver trays. Formal parties like this would never be where she was most comfortable, but it was easier now. She had found some allies. Most importantly, she was comfortable in her own skin.
It might have been petty or childish, but Feyre was also proud that she was able to spend some time away from Rhysand. Sometimes she thought she’d spend every second of the rest of her life with him if she could. As wonderful as that life would be, it would also become isolating. Rhys might have been part of her soul, but she needed more than just him in her life. And in her Court, with her family, she was able to find that.
Absentmindedly, Feyre gave a small tug on the bond. Rhys responded promptly.
I can send Mor to bail you out, if you need it.
No. Feyre smiled. Just checking in.
Something mischievous and a little giddy floated back to her. Before Feyre could ask what surprise Rhys had in store, he was gone. She tuned back into the conversation, but her mind still wandered.
Then a familiar tune cut through the din. Music had been playing all night, and plenty of couples had taken to the floor. Feyre had gotten asked to dance but wasn’t yet confident to accept.
But this music—this she knew like it was engraved in her heart.
“Feyre?” Someone asked, but she wasn’t looking at the group anymore. Her eyes searched the crowd until she found a familiar form, clad in black, moving towards her.
Rhys had a grin on his face, finally stopping in front of her and waiting for her reaction.
“How did you…?” Feyre gaped. “Rhys.”
He held a hand out, eyes soft. “Dance with me.”
“I…I don’t know—” She had a good guess at what this dance would entail, knew the steps, but wasn’t yet comfortable performing in public. Practicing at home was one thing. Dancing in front of a crowd…
I’ll be here the whole time.
So Feyre let Rhys take the glass out of her hand and put it Mother knows where. She let him lead her out onto the dance floor, which was now emptying of couples who didn’t know this particular tune or the traditional Night Court dance that went with it. She let him into her mind and let some of the shields that had been up all night to fall. With Rhys at the edges of her mind, she had no fear of stepping on his toes.
The dance was similar to something from the human realms, but its gracefulness was all fae. Legs and arms moved elegantly, showing dexterity and beauty. Feyre twirled with Rhys, then under his arm, then away and back toward him. Their arms moved together in sweeping arcs, necks arched just so. Though she was moving backwards and trusting Rhys to guide them both, Feyre felt peaceful, as if she were dancing in the sky.
Now that would be something to try. Rhys gripped her waist and picked her up, spinning around so fast that Feyre couldn’t contain her laughter. The tempo picked up slowly, gaining instruments and volume and gravity along the way.
The music was just as she remembered; so hopeful and beautiful and heartbreakingly sad at the same time. It was like being on the cusp of some great fall, and not knowing if you would fly or fall if you jumped.
The previous times Feyre had heard these notes, she had cried. It had been so gorgeous and she had felt so wretched. Having something so wonderful touch a damaged soul had woken her up again, made her feel when she didn’t want to. In her dark cell Under the Mountain, in the streets of Velaris, this tune had been a lifeline.
And now? With instruments crashing and her mate smiling and dancing with her without a care in the world? Now she was the happiest person in this world and all others. So it was no surprise that she started glowing, the resplendent magic of Day rippling off her skin. Rhys chuckled when he saw it, and let loose his own shadows to play in her light.
Stars Eternal and Night Triumphant. Or maybe she was the moon, huge and graceful and hanging heavy in the dreamy night sky, surrounded by a darkness pin pricked with stars. They filled the world—the dance floor too, which was clear except for a handful of other couples.
The music faded out too soon, and Feyre had to come back to reality. She still glowed a little, blushed when the light wouldn’t go away. Rhys chuckled, his own shadows easily banished. “We need to get a handle on this.” He trailed a finger down her arm.
“I thought you liked seeing me glow with happiness,” Feyre leaned into him, and his arms wound around her.
Rhys looked around the room, who’s attention was now leaving the High Lord and Lady of Night. “Do you think Viviane and Kallias would be offended if we left right now?”
“I think we can manage to stay longer,” Feyre took his hand, leading her mate off the dance floor.
Rhys wrapped an arm around her from behind, nuzzling her temple. “Can you?”
With a laugh, Feyre extricated herself from Rhys’s hold. “I can. You’ll just need to control yourself.”
“How can I?” Rhys took hold of her hand and tugged her back. His lips were dangerously close to hers as he whispered, “Do you know what you do to me when you light up like that?”
Eyes heavy with desire, Feyre murmured back. “I think I have some idea,” she bit her lip, eyes darting down to his mouth. Then she drew back, turning around and disappearing into the crowd before Rhys knew what happened. Control yourself.
Cruel High Lady.
Feyre grinned to herself as she scanned the crowd, looking for a familiar face. Whereas before she had to duck and weave a little, now people gave her a healthy breadth as she glowed. Some looked on with awe, others amusement, and a few with trepidation. The glowing skin was never something Feyre had intended to share with the world; the incidents where it had happened before had always been private. With that sobering thought and the feeling of hundreds of eyes on her, Feyre’s light dimmed.
She found Mor at the edge of the ballroom, holding court with faeries and High Fae alike. A glass of wine in one hand, the other gesturing magnificently, Mor was dominating her corner of the world. She paused in her story when she spotted Feyre.
“There she is!” Mor grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the little group, tossing a goodbye over her shoulder. “Quite the performance.”
“Thanks,” Feyre accepted the glass of water Mor gave her and took a sip. “I need to, uh, get a grip on the glowing.”
Mor frowned, running a finger down Feyre’s arm. “But it’s so pretty.”
Pretty it might be, but Feyre was finding that she wasn’t fond of the extra stares it drew. It wasn’t so much the attention that she balked at; already, she had been at the center of some Night Court festivities. But there, she was High Lady. She was loved by the people, but she was also a part of them. In contrast, being stared at because she was an oddity was unsettling.
Feyre busied herself with chatting with faeries from other courts, but her mind wandered. As cheeky as Feyre had been when she left Rhys, she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a little on edge as well. The way he had smiled at her, the feeling of his hands on her hips, when his lips had been so tantalizingly close…
She needed to think of something else. And then she wondered why she was thinking of Rhys in the first place when her conversation had been about something as dull as fall harvests.
I’m ready when you are, darling.
Feyre bristled, sending as much irritation as she could through the bond and then shoving Rhys out of her mind, closing the gap she normally left open in her mental shields. She closed her conversation and was about to look for Rhys when he found her.
“How much longer?”
She scowled. Rhys was the one who had the experience. He should know when it was appropriate to leave and when it would be considered an insult. “Come on. You can introduce me to more people.” She hooked her arm in his and Rhys obediently followed her command.
It was different from walking with Viviane. With Rhys, everyone was muted, respectful. Some still had a look of trepidation when approached by the couple. Nevertheless, he introduced her to everyone she should know. Lords and ladies, distant members of a High Lord’s family, trading partners, old acquaintances, people who were connected with some of the Night Court’s most important families—both in and outside the Hewn City. There was even a spectacularly old female, eyes glazed as she sat on the edge of the party, who was allegedly distantly related to Rhys through marriage.
“How do you remember all these people?” Feyre murmured when they took a break.
Rhys shrugged. “Decades of seeing their faces. If you don’t want to, you never have to come to one of these parties again. None of us do. Mor likes them enough to attend on our behalf for the rest of our lives.”
Feyre bit her lip. “It’s tempting. But…but that’s not what we are trying to do, right? I don’t want to be shut up and isolated.” She would defer to Rhys on this. Though Velaris was no longer a secret, she would let him decide how and when to open up their Court and their precious city. He had sacrificed too much, worked too hard to lose control over that.
“We have to move slowly,” Rhys said, catching on to what was on her mind. “But yes. Opening up our lands, it does mean opening up ourselves. To a certain extent. There will always be a front we have to put up, Feyre, especially with some of the preening and gossiping that the upper class of Prythian do. But you are right. There is a difference between putting on a mask and being on guard.”
She smiled, raising a hand to rest on her mate’s cheek. Practiced, he tilted his head to kiss her palm. Feyre caressed his cheek. “I want to stay involved. I want to keep coming here, showing our true selves as much as we can. We want a better world, we want peace. I want to—to contribute to that.”
“I know,” he looked like he was about to say something else before freezing. “Ah. Darling, there is a male who seems to be cutting a path towards us. He will most likely ask for an introduction, make small talk, and then ask you to dance. Were you serious about staying involved and contributing to a better world?”
“Yes.” She meant to sound resolute, but it came out as a question.
“Then you will likely need to accept,” he sighed heavily. “We should not be on this male’s bad side.”
Before she could ask who he was, Rhys more obviously looked over her shoulder and smiled tightly. “Tarion, I was surprised when I learned you were coming.”
Rhys pushed a flurry of information to her as she turned around. A wealthy man from Winter, well-known for his business dealings in every Court in Prythian. Tarion was not from an old family. He had no great bloodline. He was just very smart and very rich.
She didn’t know what she was expecting, but the plain male in front of her wasn’t it. He was just a little shorter than Rhys with black hair that went a little past his shoulders and tanned skin that spoke of being outdoors often.
“High Lord Rhysand,” the male nodded. “And…High Lady.”
“My mate,” Rhys said, not hiding the pride in his voice. “Feyre.”
She didn’t know what to say—certainly not “nice to meet you”. But the male took the initiative, holding out his hand. She gave it to him, and he placed a delicate, formal kiss to it before releasing her. “Pleased to meet you.”
“You as well,” she said, though it was with a little reluctance.
The males struck up a conversation about something inane, even as Rhys pushed more information to her. Tarion was young, born after the War. He never involved himself in human-fae politics and stayed away from the talk of war. When violence did arrive on Prythian’s shores, he was neutral.
“And you, High Lady?” Tarion asked, and Feyre barely managed not to jump. “Does your opinion differ from your mate in how the Night Court has been handling investments?”
He was digging for information, and she spotted it right away. He wanted to know if she was actually High Lady, if she had a voice, or if it was just a title and Rhys actually held the reins. Feyre gave him an icy smile. “Rhys and I worked together on the new monetary policy. I think, if you look at our most recent budgets and proposals, that there are some key differences from proceeding years.”
“That, there are,” Rhys said. “Feyre had some fantastic insights on ship building and partnerships in the mortal world. We have been isolated for so long that my information was not as up to date as I’d like.”
Rhys would say so, but Feyre held the opinion that he was exaggerating magnificently. She had made some suggestions and encouraged Rhys to be a little more responsible with the official Night Court budget. But it was laughable to think that Rhys and Azriel didn’t know every development on the Continent or could if they cared to.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Tarion said. “Rhysand is keeping you busy, then, for someone so young.”
Next to her, her mate bristled. “Feyre is more than capable.”
Tarion blinked, raising a hand in defense. “I meant no disrespect.”
In this hall of ploys and politics, Feyre was surprised to find that she did trust those words. “There is always something new to learn.” She took pity on him, moving the conversation along. “For young people, as well as centuries old fae.”
“Is that a veiled insult, my love?” Rhys grinned at her crookedly.
“You’re the one who took it that way,” she shot back. They chatted for a few more minutes. Feyre wasn’t completely comfortable with this male, but she didn’t feel threatened in his presence.
Inevitably, Rhys’s prediction came true. “High Lady, may I have the next dance?”
“Of course,” she replied smoothly, taking his proffered arm. She didn’t even have to glance at Rhys for reassurance.
He led them smoothly to the dance floor, where the last song was just finishing up. They waited in silence, though it was not too awkward.
Why did you say he was going to ask me to dance? She took the spare moment to ask Rhys. And why was it important that I said yes?
I never quite pinned down where Tarion’s…loyalties are. Rhys admitted. I always felt he was a little too cautious, but he’s also too powerful to be left alone. We have to court him and his money, because literally everyone else will. And I knew he was going to ask because—like everyone in this room—he must be incredibly curious about you. He was just the only one with the balls to approach us.
He was right. They had done all the approaching that evening. For someone who didn’t know them, it must have been a brave move to initiate a conversation without any friends or advisors by his side.
Feyre’s musings were cut short when the song ended and Tarion led her onto the floor. She would need all her concentration for this.
“I should warn you,” she said as they got into position. “I am not a very good dancer.”
“I will watch my toes,” Tarion smiled, though it did not meet his eyes. “And if needed, High Lady, simply say the word and we shall dance to a dark corner of the hall where you can escape without notice.”
Feyre’s grin was real this time. “Very gallant.”
“Gallantry made up half of my education.” Then the song started, and they were off. Thankfully, Feyre knew the simple dance.
She had no desire to talk, but she knew that the dance would be awkward if she remained silent. In her time as High Lady, conversation was still a struggle. She constantly had to fish for something that sounded “High Lady”-ish.
But Tarion did not have such problems. As he had mentioned, he had been well-trained. “I hear that your Court has been recovering well after the Hybern’s attacks.”
Feyre’s guard went up, wondering what information he was looking for. She opted not to give him anything. “Attacks are a mild way to put it.”
“Indeed,” Tarion bowed his head a little. “All I meant was that the Night Court was less touched. And, of course, normally wars last for years.”
“Then we are fortunate that ours was so short,” Feyre said.
Tarion twirled her under his arm, then his hand went back to her waist. “Of course. But the destruction Hybern brought, I’m sure you’ll agree, left many scars.”
“Maybe it is not the length of the war, but the intensity of it that matters.” She didn’t know if what she was saying actually made any sense, but she wasn’t about to let this male—who knew nothing of the suffering of her people—tell her what they had gone through.
“I agree,” he said. “There are some fascinating scholars on the subject. They write on the tempo of war, what factors have historically increased it, what might slow it down. I can send over a list of books if you would like?”
The last thing Feyre wanted to do was to read about war and death, but she nodded anyway. It might give them an insight into how the male thought. If anything, it would amuse Cassian.
If they talked after that, it was nothing memorable. Tarion led her back to Rhys when the dance was over, said his goodbyes, and then was gone.
“So?” Rhys raised an eyebrow.
Feyre made some noncommittal noise, staring at Tarion’s back as he melted into the crowd.
What’s that look on your face mean? Rhys prodded her.
She finally blinked, looking away and idly scanning the crowd. He wanted the dance for a reason. He wanted to know something about me. But I don’t know what he was looking for. Judging by the way he left, he got an answer though.
Looking for a steady head, maybe. Rhys gave her a smile and a shrug. Even I don’t know exactly, darling. I could find out for you, if you’d like?
That put a smile on her face. That won’t be necessary.
The party ebbed and flowed around them, and soon Feyre and Rhys were back in its current.
Politics and appearance, words said and unsaid all flitted through Feyre’s mind. There was a fascination in it. A wonder that, despite how many wondrous things she had already been exposed to and participated in, drew her in like a wide-eyed child. It was new to her. They were at a party, and people were laughing and talking together, and there was no war or argument or problem on the horizon. At least, nothing out of the normal.
Alongside that queer feeling of novelty was the realization that this was normal. It could continue to be normal, if Feyre wanted it and worked for it.
This was life in Prythian. This was life as High Lady. She was new and she was an outsider, but with each introduction, with each day that passed, she belonged more and more. Not just as High Lady. But as a citizen of Prythian.
Another round of mingling found her back on the dance floor with Rhys. This time, they were persuaded to join in a group dance by Mor. Mor and Rhys had both spent plenty of time tutoring her on the various dances she could expect, and it would be a waste if she did not participate in this one.
The tune started out simple and slow, and it was easy to keep up as Feyre and Rhys spun and stepped around the others. The dancers made up two long lines, completing a set with their partner before moving on to another.
When it was time to move, Rhys winked at her. She smiled back, turning to the next person in line. They wouldn’t find their way back to each other in this dance, but that was all right. Feyre hadn’t messed up so far, and she had no intention of doing so.
The steps were easy enough to make light conversation with those around her. Feyre traded idle pleasantries, talking about the Winter Court or the decorations or a popular book. Some people were chatty, others were silent. When she looked into the eyes of her partners, she saw no animosity. No disgust for the Night Court. Not even the veneration she had once so completely despised. They looked at her with respect, curiosity, maybe a little caution.
This was the future. She decided it as she performed the closing steps of a set. This cordiality—at the very least—and friendliness among all the peoples of their island was what she wanted their future to be.
All those thoughts evaporated from her mind as she saw the face of her next, and last, partner.
Tamlin froze, too. They were only a beat behind before instinct seemed to kick in for him, which spurred her on. A younger version of herself, one that was still licking her wounds, would have spun around and exited. Somehow, Feyre found that she could not.
She was not insensitive to the murmurs and whispers around her. She could feel the eyes of the crowd. She had clearly felt the slight but purposeful tap in her mind.
But she didn’t look at anyone else.
Tamlin’s green eyes seemed similarly fixed on her own as they stepped and dipped, never touching. But they didn’t move away either. The formal steps were in stark contrast to other dances they had shared in the Spring Court, the ones with no steps, no rules, where she had lost herself.
There was no affection, no magnetic pull that accompanied a heady feeling of attraction. If anything, the magnetism was powered by wariness. Feyre had learned to never take her eyes off a threat. But if she was looking at him like he could hurt her, so was he.
Feyre spared a thought for what this moment looked like. It was what could have been. She had no doubt that she and Tamlin made a courtly picture, just as she did when standing next to Rhys. Despite the animosity and hurt between her and Tamlin, they still moved smoothly around each other. She knew him, she knew his body, as much as she wished she did not.
The music alerted her to the end of the dance. Feyre completed the last few steps, making one last final turn to face Tamlin head on. Bows were dragged over strings in one final, long note. Tamlin, without taking his eyes off her, dipped his head just a little. Feyre reciprocated.
When she straightened, she knew that others were applauding the musicians, moving off of the dance floor. She also knew people were watching her to see what happened next.
Tamlin glanced away, and she thought that would be it. She managed a step back before he spoke. “Are you happy, Feyre?”
The way he said it, the inflection on his words…it was more of a callback than a question. Feyre raised her chin. “I am—” and then before she could think “—and you?”
Tamlin smiled, but it was without any joy. He shook his head, looking down, away, past her head, over her shoulder. “I’ll get there.”
Feyre couldn’t smile at him. But she hoped her face spoke to her sincerity. “I hope you do.”
Finally he met her eyes again. Feyre couldn’t name what she saw in his face, but it was different from the love, the agony, the hatred she had seen before. And that was enough. She nodded once more, turned, and left.
Smoothly, Rhys appeared at her side and she found herself holding onto his arm. Well?
I’m fine. Feyre reassured him. This was the second time she could feel eyes on her after a dance, and she hated it even more.
They were waiting for bloodshed. Beneath the levity, there was still a current of concern.
Does that usually happen at these gatherings?
Sometimes. Rhys reached over with his free hand, squeezing her fingers that were hooked into his elbow. You’re really all right?
I don’t know what happened. Feyre sighed. But it was good. Whatever it was.
On your way to healing? There was no judgement or jealousy in his tone. There never had been.
Feyre stepped a little closer to her mate, smiling at him. I think we could be.
She did not know if she could ever be Tamlin’s friend. But the wretched animosity and hatred between the both of them was a poison. Feyre had felt no obligations to him—she never had. If her opinion was going to change, if she was ever to forgive him, it would be for her healing. Not for Tamlin.
She didn’t know what she was supposed to feel about it. She didn’t know what was right. She only knew that Tamlin brought her great happiness once and placing that beside the absolute misery he had created hurt. But she couldn’t ignore the good. The good was what had made the bad so horrific.
She was happy with Tamlin, for a time. She found happiness after him. And, for the first time, she found herself hoping he could find some peace after her, too.
Now can we go home? Rhys’s pouting broke through her thoughts. He had led her to a quiet corner of the room, knowing she needed a moment.
Feyre laughed out loud. “You’re especially impatient today,”
“If I had my way, you and I would never leave home,” Rhys shamelessly claimed.
She hummed, turning so she could wrap her arms around his waist. Rhys pulled her close, hands resting on her back. Feyre studied his face, his smile. “And if I wanted to stay?”
“Then we stay.” Something sparked in his eyes. “You and I could never come to one of these things again, and the world would stay the same. But I have a suspicion that neither of us want that.”
Feyre looked down, studying the silver patterns on Rhys’s jacket. “For so long I was searching for peace and happiness for myself. If that was all I had, I could be happy. It’s more than what I ever dreamed of. And I think I have that now, but I want to do more.”
“You want happiness for others. You want a better world,” Rhys put words to her thoughts. “You make quite the High Lady.”
“I’m sure that's what all these High Lords want,” she brushed aside his compliment.
“Maybe,” Rhys said. “Most of them, probably.”
Feyre nodded to herself. “But you know what that means, right?”
“We can’t go home yet.”
“Unless you really want to,” she offered. There was work to do here, but nothing that couldn’t wait.
Rhys shook his head. “The Night Court has waited for too long.”
The enormity of what was ahead of them daunted Feyre. But only for a moment. There were many steps to peace. Opening the Night Court a bit more, cultivating relationships, gaining trust. Moving past their own personal grievances.
And even if she thought it was silly that a party was one of the steps they had to take…well, she didn’t hate the parties themselves. She might even learn to like them.