I’d never heard of a glamour not working. But Nesta’s mind was so entirely her own; she had put up such strong walls—of steel and iron and ash wood—that even a High Lord’s magic couldn’t pierce them.
“Elain said—said you went to visit me, though. That you tried.”
Nesta snorted, her face grave and full of that long-simmering anger that she could never master. “He stole you away into the night, claiming some nonsense about the Treaty. And then everything went on as if it had never happened. It wasn’t right. None of it was right.”
My hands slackened at my sides. “You went after me,” I said. “You went after me—to Prythian.”
“I got to the wall. I couldn’t find a way through.”
I raised a shaking hand to my throat. “You trekked two days there and two days back—through the winter woods?”
She shrugged, looking at the sliver she’d pried from the table. “I hired that mercenary from town to bring me a week after you were taken. With the money from your pelt. She was the only one who seemed like she would believe me.”
“You did that—for me?”
Nesta’s eyes—my eyes, our mother’s eyes—met mine. “It wasn’t right,” she said again. Tamlin had been wrong when we’d discussed whether my father would have ever come after me—he didn’t possess the courage, the anger. If anything, he would have hired someone to do it for him. But Nesta had gone with that mercenary. My hateful, cold sister had been willing to brave Prythian to rescue me.
“What happened to Tomas Mandray?” I asked, the words strangled.
“I realized he wouldn’t have gone with me to save you from Prythian.”
And for her, with that raging, unrelenting heart, it would have been a line in the sand.
I looked at my sister, really looked at her, at this woman who couldn’t stomach the sycophants who now surrounded her, who had never spent a day in the forest but had gone into wolf territory … Who had shrouded the loss of our mother, then our downfall, in icy rage and bitterness, because the anger had been a lifeline, the cruelty a release. But she had cared—beneath it, she had cared, and perhaps loved more fiercely than I could comprehend, more deeply and loyally. “Tomas never deserved you anyway,” I said softly.
My sister didn’t smile, but a light shone in her blue-gray eyes. “Tell me everything that happened,” she said—an order, not a request.
So I did.
And when I finished my story, Nesta merely stared at me for a long while before asking me to teach her how to paint.
Teaching Nesta to paint was about as pleasant as I had expected it to be, but at least it provided an excuse for us to avoid the busier parts of the house, which became more and more chaotic as my ball drew near. Supplies were easy enough to come by, but explaining how I painted, convincing Nesta to express what was in her mind, her heart … At the very least, she repeated my brushstrokes with a precise and solid hand.
When we emerged from the quiet room we’d commandeered, both of us splattered in paint and smeared with charcoal, the chateau was finishing up its preparations. Colored glass lanterns lined the long drive, and inside, wreaths and garlands of every flower and color decorated every rail, every surface, every archway. Beautiful. Elain had selected each flower herself and instructed the staff where to put them.
Nesta and I slipped up the stairs, but as we reached the landing, my father and Elain appeared below, arm in arm.
Nesta’s face tightened. My father murmured his praises to Elain, who beamed at him and rested her head on his shoulder. And I was happy for them—for the comfort and ease of their lifestyle, for the contentment on both my father’s and my sister’s faces. Yes, they had their small sorrows, but both of them seemed so … relaxed.
Nesta walked down the hall, and I followed her. “There are days,” Nesta said as she paused in front of the door to her room, across from mine, “when I want to ask him if he remembers the years he almost let us starve to death.”
“You spent every copper I could get, too,” I reminded her.
“I knew you could always get more. And if you couldn’t, then I wanted to see if he would ever try to do it himself, instead of carving those bits of wood. If he would actually go out and fight for us. I couldn’t take care of us, not the way you did. I hated you for that. But I hated him more. I still do.”
“Does he know?”
“He’s always known I hate him, even before we became poor. He let Mother die—he had a fleet of ships at his disposal to sail across the world for a cure, or he could have hired men to go into Prythian and beg them for help. But he let her waste away.”
“He loved her—he grieved for her.” I didn’t know what the truth was—perhaps both.
“He let her die. You would have gone to the ends of the earth to save your High Lord.”
My chest hollowed out again, but I merely said, “Yes, I would have,” and slipped inside my room to get ready.
The ball was a blur of waltzing and preening, of bejeweled aristos, of wine and toasts in my honor. I lingered at Nesta’s side, because she seemed to do a good job of scaring off the too-curious suitors who wanted to know more about my fortune. But I tried to smile, if only for Elain, who flitted about the room, personally greeting each guest and dancing with all their important sons.
But I kept thinking about what Nesta had said—about saving Tamlin.
I’d known something was wrong. I’d known he was in trouble—not just with the blight on Prythian, but also that the forces gathering to destroy him were deadly, and yet … and yet I’d stopped looking for answers, stopped fighting it, glad—so selfishly glad—to be able to set down that savage, wild part of me that had only survived hour to hour. I’d let him send me home. I hadn’t tried harder to piece together the information I’d gathered about the blight or Amarantha; I hadn’t tried to save him. I hadn’t even told him I loved him. And Lucien … Lucien had known it, too—and shown it in his bitter words on my last day, his disappointment in me.
Two in the morning, and yet the party was showing no signs of slowing. My father held court with several other merchants and aristo men to whom I had been introduced but whose names I’d instantly forgotten. Elain was laughing among a circle of beautiful friends, flushed and brilliant. Nesta had silently left at midnight, and I didn’t bother to say good-bye as I finally slipped upstairs.