Spring bloomed fully around Velaris, and Feyre and Nyx were finally well enough to leave the house each day, going on walks that often lasted hours thanks to the well-wishers who longed to see the child. Someone always accompanied them, usually Rhys or Mor, who was just as protective as the parents of the babe. Cassian and Azriel were hardly better.
But none of the others were present on a warm day a few weeks later, when Nesta joined Feyre and Elain for a walk outside the city. Even a glance at the sky revealed no sign of Cassian, who had been keeping Nesta up until dawn with his lovemaking and had become utterly obnoxious about calling her mate any chance he got, except at their continuing morning training with the priestesses.
Succeeding in the Blood Rite didn’t mean the training stopped. No, after she and her friends told Cassian and Azriel most of the details of their ordeal, the two commanders had compiled a long list of mistakes that the three of them had made that needed to be corrected, and the others wanted to learn from them, too. So they would keep training, until they were all well and truly Valkyries. Gwyn, despite the Rite, had returned to living in the library.
Gwyn had said she might leave for Nesta and Cassian’s mating ceremony in three days, which would take place in the small temple on the river house’s grounds. Despite Nesta’s wishes for an ornate ceremony, she
hadn’t wanted a giant crowd. The temple was already being bedecked with flowers of every variety, enchanted against wilting, as well as silks and lace and candles and garlands—all of it paid for by Rhys, who could not stop buying her presents. Dresses and jewels and throw pillows and all manner of nonsense had rained down on her until Nesta had to order him to stop, saying that an extravagant mating ceremony would make them even.
So Rhys had ensured that the ceremony would be as outrageous as possible. Nesta had no doubt the temple would be covered in such riches it’d be laughable.
But all that mattered, she realized, was the male who would be standing with her, first as they swore their vows, then as they offered each other food, and then as their friends and family bound their hands together with a length of black ribbon, to remain until the mating was consummated.
Even though the consummating had been going on two or three times a day for weeks now.
But it didn’t matter. Nesta could hardly wait for it—the ceremony, the
… whatever awaited her beyond it. None of it frightened her. None of it left her with that pit of despair. Not with Cassian at her side, her friends at her back, the House of Wind …
That had been Rhys’s last present before the ceremony: It was theirs.
Since the House had decided it liked Nesta more than anyone else, Rhys had given it to her and Cassian, with the caveat that the library belonged to the priestesses and that the court still had use of the House for formal occasions. It was good enough for Nesta—better than good.
She’d joined them at the river house one night to find a mating present from Feyre waiting for her. Hanging on the wall in the grand entry.
A portrait of Nesta, holding the line at the Pass of Enalius. She’d let Rhys see some parts of the Rite—but had no idea he’d asked not out of curiosity, but to give his mate ideas for this.
Nesta had stared and stared at her portrait, hung between one of Feyre and one of Elain, and hadn’t realized she was crying until Feyre had held her tightly.
A home. The House of Wind, Velaris, this court … they were her home. The thought kindled a kernel of light in her chest that had not extinguished, even in the days after the Rite.
That kernel was still flickering as Nesta faced that day’s task. The task that was so long overdue.
Feyre left the ornate black carriage at the base of the grassy hill, carrying Nyx as the three of them scaled its soft slope. The city spread before them, glowing in the spring sunshine, but Nesta’s eyes remained on the lone stone atop the hill.
Her heart thundered, and she kept a step back as Feyre knelt before the grave marker, showing Nyx to the stone. “Your grandson, Father,” she whispered, voice thick. And then Feyre bowed her head, speaking too low for Nesta or Elain, standing at Nesta’s side, to hear.
After a few minutes, Feyre rose, letting her tears run, as holding the babe kept her hands occupied. Elain went forward, whispered a few things to their father’s grave, and then both sisters looked to Nesta, smiling tentatively.
Feyre had asked this morning if Nesta wanted to come. To show their father the baby.
And there had been no answer in Nesta’s heart except one.
So she nodded to her sisters to go on ahead, and they obeyed, easing back down the grassy hill as Nesta lingered by the gravestone.
She searched for the words, for any explanation or apology, but none came.
The sun was a warm hand on her shoulder, like the one that had prevented the last of her power from vanishing, as if telling her that the apology, the begging for forgiveness … it was no longer needed.
Her father had died for her, with love in his heart, and though she might not have deserved it then … She would do all she could now to earn it. To deserve not just his love, but that of those around her. Of Cassian.
Some days might indeed be difficult, but she’d do it. Fight for it.
Her father had died for her, with love in his heart, and Nesta held love in her own heart as she pulled the small, carved rose from her pocket and
set it upon the gravestone. A permanent marker of the beauty and good he’d tried to bring into the world.
Nesta brought her fingers to her lips, pressed a kiss to them, then laid her hand upon the gravestone.
“Thank you,” she said, blinking back the stinging in her eyes. “Thank you.”
A swift shadow passed overhead, followed by a whisper of wings, and Nesta didn’t need to look to know who sailed high above, making sure all was safe. That she was safe.
Busybody. But she blew Cassian a soft kiss, too.
Her mate. Her love. Her friend. The light within her chest brightened to a radiant sun.
She found Feyre and Elain waiting halfway down the hill, Nyx now dozing peacefully in Elain’s arms. Her sisters beamed, beckoning her to join.
And Nesta smiled back, her steps light as she hurried down the hill to meet them.