THIS IS PART 8 NOW :)
Of "Time to rest your weary head" (or 'Azriel surprises Gwyn for her birthday'!!!!)
Check out the whole story here
Since last chapter was so short, I made this one bigger - and I absolutely love writing through Gwyn's perspective. I always try to be as mindful and careful as I can when I write her POV and address her trauma, but if there's anything you feel could be done differently, please let me know! :) and thank you so much for reading. Your support means everything to me <3
HEY GIRLS @katiebellf @starbornsinger @madie2200 check out my new chapter!!! and if you wanted to be tagged on this too, feel free to comment ;)
A few days passed by, and Gwyn could say she was already feeling at home in the House of Wind. She continued attending the services at dawn, pushing herself at training, then having lunch with Nesta, Cassian and sometimes Azriel, and at last spending her habitual hours in the library doing research work for Merrill before returning to the House. It was a routine she was kind of used to by now, and it made her happy.
She hadn’t been to Velaris after dinner with the Inner Circle and was secretly growing impatient to visit it again. She was planning to go shopping with Nesta and Emerie, but didn’t summon courage enough to invite them. Something about strolling around the city streets at dusk made her a bit nervous. Although she didn’t feel like admitting it out loud.
She was proud of herself, because she truly felt she was overcoming her fears. These last months were ones of a slow, but effective healing journey. She felt herself being less intimidated around others, mostly males like Cassian and Azriel. Rhysand was more distant, but even the worry she felt at dinner that night had faded. She saw Azriel almost every day and nothing seemed to have changed between them; so she believed in Rhys’s word when he promised her not to tell him.
Something caught her eye and interrupted her line of thought. She was sitting in a comfortable armchair by the fireplace at the House’s private library after a particularly exhausting afternoon, trying to read a not-too-smutty book Emerie had lent her, and immediately raised her head from the shadow near her feet to the door, where Azriel stood by.
“How long have you been there?” She asked and quietly hoped her blushed cheeks went unnoticed by him.
Surprisingly enough, sharing a hallway with Azriel didn’t mean they saw more of each other. He was so quiet she couldn’t detect his presence in his room, and usually she woke up before sunrise, so they didn’t meet each other until breakfast. A part of Gwyn couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated by that.
“Not much.” He said, stepping into the library. She motioned him to seat on the armchair across from hers, and so he did. “Actually, I just came here to ask you something.”
She felt something flunk in her chest; it’s been a while since they last met at the training ring late at night, and that was because lately her nightmares were keeping themselves at bay. She remembered their last encounter, his hazel eyes shining under the moonlight as he stared at her from across the room, and they sparred in silence almost until the time of her service.
He didn’t seem different around her, although she could notice him staring at her sometimes with a glimpse of emotion in his eyes. And she felt she was becoming better at hiding her feelings when near him; oddly, something had calmed inside her. That urge and nervousness weren’t the first things to come to mind anymore, and she was content to enjoy their friendship. At least that’s what she kept telling to herself. There were some nights in which her dreams were filled with cedar scent, a pair of hazel eyes looking at her intensely, his beautiful hands on her hair…
She shook her head slightly and forced herself to meet his stare, the firelight making his face look golden; an elegant, handsome angel staring straight at her.
“What is it?”
“I wanted to know if…” His throat bobbed once, and she couldn’t help noticing he seemed nervous. Him, the Shadowsinger, nervous. He rephrased it, staring intently at the fire.
“The Velaris Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing tomorrow. They were in a long undetermined hiatus during the last fifty years, and now they’re back.” His brows furrowed, eyes filled with anger at what had caused it. “I used to go there every other night. And I was wondering… Since you said you’re meaning to leave the House more often, if we, well…”
She tried to suppress her chuckle at the way he fought to find the words. Instead, there was a timid smile on her face when she hesitantly interrupted him:
“Are you asking me… To come with you?”
He finally tore his stare away from the fire to meet her; those hazel eyes filled with something resembling hope.
“Would you like to?”
And damn her if his smile didn’t make her heart and her chest heat up when she responded:
“I would. Very much.”
Suddenly the room felt smaller. She swore the lights dimmed a bit, and all she could think and see was the silhouette of his face and his eyes. Those eyes that’d seen so much, endured so much, and now looked at her, as if trying to vocalize something without saying anything at all. They stayed like that, lost in each other for what seemed like eons, before he cleared his throat.
“So… I’ll let you to your book, then.”
Those words sounded forced, as if he didn’t in fact want to leave. She gave him a smile, but it didn’t quite meet her eyes. Stay.
His shadows were all around her now, gently circling her shoulders.
Just as he meant to leave the room, she found herself stating:
“I’m glad you listened to it. What I said about restraining them.” She gestured with her head towards the shadows, and reached for one with her finger. The tendril seemed happy to be touched and wrapped itself in her hand, to what she giggled. “I really like them, you know.”
When she looked up to Azriel, he had a cryptic look on his face, watching in wonder the interaction in front of him.
“They like you too.” His voice was filled with a hidden emotion, and his eyes twinkled.
She smiled at him. “You can stay here for a little while, if you want. I’m not going to bed for a couple hours yet, and I must admit I’m not completely captivated by this novel.”
Even though he had that cool, unreadable mask on almost all the time, she could still see him restraining his surprise. And the way his lips tugged upward told her she was right to assume he didn’t want to leave just yet.
“What’s it about?” He asked while sitting again.
“Well” She skimmed distractedly through the pages, calming her racing heart. “She is a healer from a land up in the North, and he is a tradesman from the South. There’s a curse that connected them since birth, but they don’t know it yet. And that’s what leads them towards one another, the urge to break this curse.” She traced the title, reading the name of the author. “It’s good, just not as good as Diane.”
She casted him an amused look as he laughed quietly at her criticism, shaking his head:
“Because no one will ever compare to her.”
“Never.” She agreed dramatically, and his laugh turned into a grin. “Emerie and Nesta think I’m exaggerating, but I mean it. I must have read her books like ten times by now.”
His eyebrows shot up, clearly interested. “She must be great then.”
“Wait a second. Five hundred years and you’ve never read her?” Gwyn couldn’t hide her astonishment as she gasped.
“Why is that such a surprise?” He leaned back in his chair, that small smile never fading from his face.
“Well, is just… You had plenty of time.” She teased.
“My life is busier than you might think, Berdara.”
“Well, be that as it may, this can no longer go on. You must read it.”
Before he could answer, she called the House to deliver her the stack of Gadot’s novels that were in her bedroom. Her private collection.
“Start by this one” She handed him a copy of And So the Story Goes, that had magically appeared in the table between them “This is my favorite.”
He reached for the book, and she watched as he flipped through the pages. She would admit that sight made her heart flutter once again. The book she had ever since she was little, that she read alongside Catrin, one of the only things she asked Mor to grab her after everything. Its edges were worn, some pages marked and underlined. To have Azriel hold it in his hands…
“You can read it at your own pace. And don’t worry, I have a spare” She showed him the copy Diane had signed her, a newer edition, that beautiful inscription that she knew it by heart in its front page.
I hope you find out what you knew all along.
“I can see you read it a lot.” He stated, musing through the pages and stopping at some passages.
She leaned forward to slap his arm. “What are you doing? Start at the beginning!”
He laughed out loud at her exclamation, his eyes meeting hers.
“Ok, bossy. I definitely will.”
After a few hours of talking and laughing together, she felt the tiredness taking the best of her.
“Goodnight, Az.” She said when she stopped by the door. Even during their conversation, he still held the book, keeping it close to his chest.
“See you tomorrow, Gwyn” She had just turned away when she heard him. “And thank you.”
She looked at him over her shoulder and saw him lifting the book. “Anytime.”
And when she finally shut the door of her bedroom, she couldn’t stop the light feeling on her chest.
On the next day, she knocked on Nesta’s door. It was the afternoon, and both Cassian and Azriel were out paying one of their routine visits to the Illyrian camps.
That morning, at service, Gwyn felt like she was flying. She sang like those ancient hymns were all that was left in the world. Even some other Priestesses had commented on that after it was over. And at practice, she couldn’t help her grin when she spotted Azriel across the training ring. And couldn’t help the blush that crept onto her cheeks when he almost immediately turned his head to her, the corner of his lips tugging upward.
She woke up thinking about their meeting at the library, their casual conversation and bantering. She didn’t feel an ounce of discomfort when they were together; everything was so easy. He knew her, her story; he had saved her, for Mother’s sake, and he didn’t make her feel like porcelain, like one blow could shatter her.
Instead, she felt braver and confident when he was around. They could still talk and laugh together as if they hadn’t shared that terrible experience in the past. Mindful of each other’s traumas, indeed, but... It still was light. Trustful. She hoped he’d read the book; she could secretly picture his eyes flipping through her markings and notes. She wanted him to know that part of her.
“Come in” Nesta said from within, interrupting Gwyn’s reverie.
She opened the door, only to find her sister sitting comfortably in an armchair by the window, book in hand and a cup of tea in another. Her training leathers were displayed on the bed, as she thought of training afterwards.
“Hey” Gwyn greeted. She didn’t know where to start.
Aside from Rhys, no one was aware of her recent discovery about the mating bond. Of course, that didn’t stop her sisters from smirking mischievously whenever Azriel was around, at training or during meals. Gwyn knew both Nesta and Emerie had picked upon whatever she was feeling towards him, but they were kind enough not to inquire in public.
“What’s going on?” Her brows furrowed as she got up of her chair.
“Nothing.” Gwyn took in a deep breath. Out with it, Berdara. “I was wondering if you could borrow me a dress.”
Nesta squinted her eyes, and raised an eyebrow as a slow smile started to appear on her face. Cunning, as ever. “May I ask what for?”
Gwyn herself didn’t know. When she found herself alone with Azriel for a moment during training, she had asked him what outfit would be suit for the occasion. He just shrugged with a half-smile, and reassured her she didn’t have to worry about it. But even so, she wanted to look decent for a night out.
“I’m going to Velaris tonight.”
Nesta gasped quietly, and Gwyn could see her eyes were shining with pride. “Alone?”
“No.” Gwyn went to sit at the trunk by the bed. Seeing that Nesta was still staring at her with that knowing smile, she added “Azriel’s taking me to see the Velaris Philarmonic Orchestra.”
She watched as her sister gave her a broad smile, and couldn’t help the blush on her cheeks. “What?”
“Nothing” Nesta hummed back, as she opened the doors to her wardrobe. “Just the two of you?”
Gwyn nodded, standing up and joining her sister in front of her rack full of clothes. So, so many outfits, a myriad compared to Gwyn’s scattered ones. “I don’t know what one’s supposed to wear to the theater. Even less so to watch a live orchestra.”
Nesta huffed a laugh, but her eyes were fixed on the garments in front of them as she scrolled through her various dresses. “Well, I do.”
They spent the next few seconds in silence, as her sister skillfully searched through fabrics. Strangely enough, Gwyn didn’t feel as nervous to have told her as she thought she would. But she was certain Nesta was only waiting for the right moment to fill her with questions.
“Oh, wait. I know.” She passed Gwyn and went to the trunk by that king-sized bed she shared with Cassian. The thought of her sister and her mate didn’t make Gwyn blush the way she once used to, but now the predominant feeling was that she could have that, perhaps. One day. That thought alone made her stomach flutter.
“Here” Nesta drew a burgundy midi dress out of the trunk. “Try this on.”
The V-necked laced bodice wasn’t too tight around the waist, and it had a light and also lacey skirt that draped around her knees, showcasing her legs. It was modest, and yet delicate and elegant.
When Gwyn looked at herself in the mirror, Nesta standing behind her as she zipped her up, she was breathless. It’s been a long, long time since she wore a dress, and this one fitted her perfectly. Alongside with the necklace, her freckled skin and hair, it made her feel… Beautiful. Stunning, even.
“You look splendid” Nesta stared at her through the mirror.
“Thank you.” She turned to her friend, who grabbed her arms and hugged her. She could see she was having fun.
“Do you have shoes to match this?”
Gwyn tilted her head.
“I could use my flats.”
Her sister shook her head, and reached for a matching pair of ankle-strapped scarpin heels under her bed. “Now there you go.”
Suddenly Gwyn felt an urge to cry. She was so happy to count with her sisters at moments like these. It made her excited for the ones to come.
“Hey” Nesta seemed to notice her tearful eyes, and urged her to sit next to her by the bed “Are you ok?”
She nodded and sighed. “I’m just… Happy. I’m nervous, but it feels good to know you girls have my back.”
“You know, Gwyn” Nesta grabbed her hand, her tone gentle. “I was going to say that you didn’t have to do this if you didn’t feel like it, that Azriel would understand…”
The thought of her declining his invitation made her heart ache. She didn’t once consider it; she was just glad to be spending time with him. That hewanted to spend time with her. Just as she opened her mouth to state that, her sister went on:
“But I can see that you want to do this. And I just wanted to let you know that I’m happy for you. And I can’t wait to know all about it when you get back.”
Gwyn squeezed her hand and gave her a cheeky grin:
“I’m excited, Nes.” Her words were barely a whisper as she confided.
“As you should. Now go” She nudged towards the door, smiling. “Go have some fun.”
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You know.... Now that I think about it, I think I would have preferred Nesta and Cassian accepting each other despite their flaws rather than glorifying each other in their pursuit of self-deprecation. This concept of Cassian being “too good” and Nesta deserving someone more than him- a prince, king, blah blah blah, is so weird to me, especially because those ideas aren’t really disputed. At the end, they think exactly the same way, because one of them is unrealistically glorified more than the other in their minds. I understand it, it’s just a narrative decision I don’t particularly like, because of how it’s framed. I HATE the idea that you have to deserve someone or work to have someone. Relationships are work, but... love is not deserved. That implies some level of acceptability, which is the whole problem with the book, because that’s Nesta’s entire narrative--how much does she deserve healing? How much does she deserve decency or agency? How much does she deserve free will, love, and acceptance? Is she acceptable for all of these things? When does she become acceptable enough to be accepted?
I really didn’t think that their relationship was set up to be like that. I assumed (wrongly) based on what we got in ACOMAF and ACOWAR that they were the only two people who understood each other intrinsically and ALL of the ugly parts of each other-where it came from, how it made them feel, the actions that they took because of this. Cassian was pushy. Nesta was mean. But the pull was strong, and it was deeper than sexual. I read it that they both had very thick masks, Cassian being the funny, friendly, easy going guy and Nesta being this snarky, angry, arrogant woman, and they were the only two who saw what was beneath those masks and didn’t shy away. It made no difference to them, because they couldn’t stop this pull. But it did make them wary, because to be known is scary and so much would then change, because these masks are a lie or at least not all they are. No longer would Cassian be able to have this love “triangle” or... view himself with that persona only, it wasn’t going to fool Nesta, and Nesta wouldn’t be able to get away with just being on the defense and saying harsh words or giving harsh looks. It wasn’t going to push him away. It didn’t in ACOWAR, in Wings of Ember, in ACOMAF.
I was very excited for them to discover their actual lives, their backgrounds and opinions, etc--for them to decide what they actually understood about each other, because they didn’t know each other at all. They just saw what they did, what actions they took in the present time, what information they already knew from observation or Feyre. It was just the surface of each other, and still they showed this deep level of caring, where Cassian kept coming back, and told her he’d fight for the humans and Nesta worrying about him and almost sacrificing her life. It really parallels her powers IMO, because we only knew the surface of them from the very beginning, but we knew they were great and all powerful, and unfortunately like her powers, it was not explored beyond the surface. A fact I find ironic because drowning and the sea is a theme around Nesta, and most of the ocean I guess is left unexplored and so is... everything regarding Nesta.
But anyway, to empathize with someone is to understand the reasoning behind unacceptable circumstances, because you see it from their eyes, walk in their shoes. I don’t care how many people argue that knowing a character’s background (sob story) is excusing actions. There’s a difference between excuses and explanations, and that relies a lot on how the text is framed, the actions that the character takes, and the opinion of the author, really on how they’re going to make that differentiation. Accountability has a lot to do with it, but as we’ve all argued the balance of this series about accountability is way off. But, to be known is the beginning of being understood. And, I for sure think that this book, knowing that Nesta is the character “who feels so much” should then have had a narrative that is centered around empathy. That only makes sense to me for her as a character and as a concept, but also for the basis of their relationship, because from the beginning Cassian saw through her and she saw through him.
That being said I think I would have preferred their narratives to be framed around the fact that they feel they suck as individuals and love each other anyway but without the glorification of the other. Because that’s probably correct, they’re suppose to be flawed and they’ve been characterized now as being self-depreciating, so that does have to come in to play, but they’re NOT perfect or above each other. I would have preferred this idea that they may suck, they may have done “unacceptable things” or been in “unacceptable” circumstances or feel “unacceptable”, but they accept this. They accept that they will never be good enough, and learn that “love is complicated” like Cassian says and it isn’t deserved. It’s maintained... and in that maintenance they can heal those wounds where they feel that they don’t like themselves or are undeserving. It’s basically the same thing, except it’s without this condition of “acceptability” and without the imbalance of glorification. They are equal then. Not because they both think that they now have a partner that is someone that they couldn’t imagine having and that they’re so happy and grateful for them and they’re working on themselves, because that’s an imbalance in itself, but because they don’t have to be anyone but themselves, the vulnerable versions, where Nesta is allowed to drop the angry defense and Cassian is allowed to stop portraying ease, where they can portray these versions safely and comfortably with each other.
Which happens! Because to some degree they do become more vulnerable with each other. But because of these imbalances, these narrative choices (ie. Nesta being villainized, that is never refuted, not even a little, Cassian not having a strong development as a MC or being held accountable for what he says, there is little to no empathy, there really isn’t too much learning about each other--it’s still very surface level, books, training, dad, war, surface past, and that’s it, etc) the book frames love in acceptability terms--in an imbalanced way. It’s so weird to me. I can only describe it as to the left of healing/love and to the left of what she already wrote in previous books. Technically, it’s all understandable and I could see why she chose certain characterizations, but the framing and decisions for certain points are so off, that it doesn’t seem exactly right...
To me, It’s both in and out of character. So, so strange.
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