Chapter no 12

A Court of Silver Flames

Nesta stood in the training ring atop the House of Wind and scowled. “I thought we were going up to Windhaven.”

Cassian strode over to the rope ladder laid out on the ground and straightened a rung. “Change of plans.” No trace of that red-hot anger had remained on his face this morning when she’d walked into the breakfast room. Azriel was already gone, and Cassian hadn’t said a word about why he’d left. Something about the queens, presumably, judging by what she’d heard the previous night.

When she’d finished her porridge, she’d looked for any sign of Morrigan, but the female had never appeared. And Cassian had led her here, not speaking on the walk up.

Everyone hates you. The words had lingered, like a bell that wouldn’t stop ringing.

He finally clarified, “Mor’s gone back to Vallahan, and Rhys and Feyre are busy. So there’s no one to winnow us to Windhaven. We’ll be training here today.” He gestured to the empty ring. Free of any watching eyes. He added with a sharp grin that made her swallow, “Just you and me, Nes.”



Nesta had said last night she wasn’t training at the village. She’d said it multiple times, Cassian had realized. She wasn’t training at that miserable


He should have realized it days ago. He knew her better than that, after


Nesta might be willing to face down the King of Hybern himself, but

she was proud as all hell. Appearing foolish, making herself vulnerable— she’d rather die. Would rather sit on a freezing rock in the icy wind for hours than look like a fool in front of anyone, especially arrogant warriors predisposed to mock any female who attempted to fight like them.

It didn’t matter to him where she trained. So long as she began the training.

If she refused today, he didn’t know what he’d do.

The morning sun beat down, promising a warm day, and Cassian removed his leather jacket before rolling up a shirtsleeve. “Well?” he asked, lifting his eyes to her face.

“I …”

The hesitation made his chest tighten unbearably. But he stomped on that hope, slowly folding his other sleeve. He wondered if she noticed his fingers trembling slightly.

Pretend everything is normal. Don’t scare her off.

There was nowhere for her to plant that beautiful ass here. He’d already moved the lounge chairs that Amren—and sometimes Mor—liked to use for sunbathing while he and the others trained.

When Nesta remained by the doorway, Cassian found himself saying, “I’ll make a bargain with you.”

Her eyes flashed. Fae bargains were no idle thing. He knew Feyre had already versed Nesta in them, when her sister had first come here. As a precaution. From Nesta’s wary gaze, he knew she remembered Feyre’s warnings well: Fae bargains were bound by magic and marked in ink upon one’s body. The ink would not fade until the bargain had been fulfilled. And if the bargain was broken … the magic could exact terrible vengeance.

Cassian maintained a casual stance. “If you do an hour of exercises right now, I’ll owe you a favor.”

“I don’t need any favors from you.”

“Then name your price.” He struggled to calm his racing heart. “An hour of training for whatever you want.”

“That’s a fool’s bargain for you.” Her eyes narrowed. “I thought you were a general. Aren’t you supposed to be good at negotiating?”

His mouth quirked upward. She wasn’t fighting him. “For you, I have no strategies.”

She studied him with unflinching focus. “Anything I want?”

“Anything.” He added wryly, “Anything short of you ordering me to fall out of the sky and smash my head on the earth.”

She didn’t smile the way he’d hoped. Her eyes turned to chips of ice. “You truly believe me capable of such a thing?”

“No,” he said without hesitation.

Her mouth tightened. Like she didn’t believe him. And—those were purple smudges under her eyes. How long had she worked in the library last night? Demanding to know why she’d stayed up so late wouldn’t be wise. He’d save that battle for another time. In an hour, perhaps.

She surveyed him again, and Cassian willed himself to stand still, to appear open and nonthreatening and not like his very heart was in his bloody, outstretched hands.

She said at last, “Fine. Let’s just say it will be a favor. Of whatever size I wish.”

It was dangerous to allow this. Deadly. Stupid. But he said, “Yes.” He extended his hand. One last time.

Keep reaching out your hand.

“A bargain.” He met her steely expression with his own. “You train with me for an hour, and I’ll owe you one favor of whatever size you wish.”

“Agreed.” She slid her hand into his and shook firmly. Magic zapped between them, and she gasped, recoiling.

Cassian let it thunder into him, like a stampede of galloping horses. He rode it out. Whatever her power was, it had made the bargain more intense. Demanding.

He scanned his hands, his bare forearms, seeking any hint of a tattoo beyond the Illyrian ones he bore for luck and glory. Nothing.

It had to be somewhere.

He peeled off his shirt and scanned the muscled planes of his torso.


He approached the narrow mirror leaned against one end of the ring, left there for them to study their technique while exercising alone. Stopping before it, Cassian twisted, staring over a shoulder at his tattooed back.

There, dead in the center of the Illyrian tattoo snaking down his spine, a new tattoo had appeared. An eight-pointed star, whose compass points radiated in sharp lines across and up the groove of his back, twining with the Illyrian markings long inked there. The eastern and western points of the star shot right onto his wings, black blending into black. A matching one, he knew, would be on Nesta’s spine. He tried not to think about her bare expanse of skin, now marked in black ink, as he faced her.

Nesta’s eyes weren’t on the mirror, though.

No, they’d fixed on his torso. On his chest, on his abdominal muscles, on his bare arms. Her pulse fluttered in her throat.

He didn’t dare move, not as her gaze fixed on the vee of muscles that sloped beneath the waist of his pants. Not as her eyes darkened, her lashes bobbing as color crept over her pale skin.

His blood heated, skin tightening over bone and muscle, as if it could feel the touch of her blue-gray eyes, as if it were her fingers running over his stomach. Lower.

He knew better than to throw out a teasing remark. Rile her, and she’d not only refuse to train, bargain or no, but she’d stop looking at him like that.

Slowly, her eyes trailed up his body, lingering on his carved pectorals and the Illyrian tattoo that swirled over one of them before flowing down his left arm. He might have flexed. Slightly. His voice thick, he managed to say, “Ready?”

Cauldron boil him, he knew the question held more meanings than he cared to unravel.

From the glimmer in her eyes, he knew she got it. But she squared her shoulders. “All right. I owe you one hour of training.”

“You sure as hell do.” Cassian mastered his breathing, shoving aside that roaring desire. He strode to the center of the ring, but opted to keep his

shirt off. Because of the warm day. Because his skin was now burning hot.

He gestured to the space beside him, and flashed her his broadest grin. “Let’s see what you’ve got, Archeron.”



A bargain—with Cassian. Nesta didn’t know how she’d allowed herself to agree to it, to let that magic pass between them and mark her, but …

Everyone hates you.

Maybe it was that fact alone that had her agreeing to this insanity. She had no idea what favor she’d call in from him, but … Fine. This training ring, with its high walls, the sky her only witness—here, she supposed, she could let him do his worst.

No matter that Cassian without a shirt bordered on obscene, even with the collection of scars peppering his golden-brown skin. The one on his left pectoral was especially horrific—and one she knew he hadn’t received during the war with Hybern. She didn’t want to know what had been bad enough to leave a scar on his quick-healing body. Especially when all evidence of the devastating wound he’d gotten during the war was gone. Only rippling muscle and skin remained.

Honestly, there were so many muscles she couldn’t count them all. Muscles on his damned ribs. She didn’t know people could have them there. And those ones that flowed into his pants, like a golden arrow pointing to exactly what she wanted—

Nesta shook the thought out of her head as she approached Cassian in the center of the ring. He grinned like a fiend.

She stopped a good three feet away, the morning sun warm on her hair, her cheeks. It was the closest she’d stood to him without arguing or bickering in … a long time.

Cassian rolled his powerful shoulders, his sprawling tattoo shifting with the movement. “All right. We start with the basics.”

“Swords?” She indicated the rack of weapons against the wall to the left of the archway into the stairwell.

His mouth curled upward. “You won’t be getting to swords yet. You need to learn to control your movements, your balance. You’ll develop

basic strength and awareness of your body before you’ll pick up even a wooden practice sword.” He glanced at her laced-up boots. “Feet and breathing.”

She blinked. “Feet?”

“Your toes especially.”

He was completely serious. “What about my toes?”

“Learning how to grip the ground, to balance your weight—it builds a foundation for everything else.”

“I’m going to be exercising my toes.”

He chuckled. “You thought it’d be swords and arrows on day one?”

Arrogant ass. “You threw my sister into the training ring and did just that.”

“Your sister already possessed a skill set you don’t have, and also lacked the luxury of time.”

Hunting to keep them fed had taught Feyre that skill set. Hunting, while Nesta had stayed home, safe and warm, and let Feyre venture into that forest alone. Those skills Feyre had honed had allowed her to survive against the High Fae and all their terrors, but … Feyre only had them because of what she’d been forced to do. Because Nesta hadn’t been the one to do it. To step up.

She found Cassian watching carefully. As if he heard those thoughts, felt their weight on her.

“Feyre taught me how to use a bow.” Only a few lessons, and long ago, but Nesta remembered. It was one of the few times she and Feyre had been allies.

“Not an Illyrian bow.” Cassian gestured to a rack of massive bows and quivers beside the mirror. The bows were nearly as tall as a grown woman. “It took me until I was a mature adult to have the strength to even string one of those.”

Nesta crossed her arms, drumming her fingers on her biceps. “So I’m going to spend an hour out here, wiggling my toes?”

Cassian’s grin bloomed again. “Yes.”



At some point, Nesta began sweating. Her feet ached, her legs turned to jelly.

She’d taken off her boots and gone through a few stances with Cassian, focusing on clenching her toes, finding her balance, and generally looking like a fool. At least no one was around to see her standing on one leg while hinging at the hip, the other leg rising behind her. Or using two wooden poles to steady herself while she swung her foot from pole to pole, working her way up each stick. Or doing a basic squat—that it turned out was all wrong, her weight misplaced and back too arched.

All basic, stupid things. And all things she failed utterly at.

Cassian didn’t seem even remotely impressed as she rose from the squat he’d made her hold while supporting a wooden stick above her head. “Stand straight up, head first.”

Nesta obeyed.

“No.” He motioned for her to sink back down. “Head first. Don’t curl your back or lean forward. Shoot straight up.”

“I’m doing that.”

“You’re hunching. Push your feet into the ground. Grip with your toes as you bring your head right— Yes.” She glared as she stood. Cassian just said, “Do another good one, then our hour’s up.”

She did so, panting hard, knees trembling and thighs bleating in burning pain. When she’d finished, she propped herself up with the pole she’d lifted over her head. “That’s it?”

“Unless you want to bargain with me for a second hour.” “You really want to owe me two favors?”

“If it’ll keep you here to finish the lesson, sure.”

“I’m not sure I can take any more of these stretches.”

“Then we’ll do some breathing work and then a cooldown.” “What’s a cooldown?”

“More stretching.” He grinned. When she opened her mouth, he explained, “It’s designed to help bring your body back to a normal pace and limit any soreness you’ll have later.”

His tone held no condescension. So she asked, “And what’s breathing work?”

“Exactly what it sounds like.” He put a hand on his stomach, right on those rippling muscles, and took a big, inhaling breath before slowly releasing it. “Your power when you fight comes from many places, but your breathing is one of the big ones.” He nodded toward the stick in her hands. “Thrust it forward like you’re skewering someone with a spear.”

Brows rising, she did so, the motion awkward and inelegant. He only nodded. “Now do it again, and as you do, inhale.” She did, the motion markedly weaker.

“And now do it again, but exhale with the thrust.”

It took her a second or two to orient her breathing, but she obeyed, shoving the stick forward as she blew out a breath. Power rippled down her arms, her body.

Nesta blinked at the stick. “I could feel the difference.”

“It’s all linked. Breath and balance and movement. Bulky muscle like this”—he tapped that absurdly contoured stomach of his—“means shit when you don’t know how to utilize it.”

“So how do you learn to control your breathing?”

He smiled again, hazel eyes bright in the sun. “Like this.”

So began another series of movements, all so damned simple when he demonstrated, but nearly impossible to coordinate in her own body when she went to replicate them. But she focused on her breathing, on the power of it, as if her lungs were the bellows of some great forge.

The sun arced higher, crossing the training space, dragging the shadows with it.

Inhale. Exhale. Breaths accented by a deep lunge, or a squat, or balancing on one leg. All exercises she’d done in the first hour, but now revealed anew with the added layer of breathing.

Breathing in and out, out and in, body and mind flowing, her concentration unwavering.

Cassian’s commands were firm, but gentle, encouraging without being irksome. Hold it, hold it, hold it—and releaseGood. Again. Again. Again.

There wasn’t a part of her body that wasn’t sliding with sweat, wasn’t one part that wasn’t shaking as he bade her lie down on a black mat at the far end of the ring. “Cooldown,” he said, kneeling and patting the mat.

She was too tired to object, practically flinging herself onto it and staring at the sky.

The blue bowl arched into forever, the sun stinging against the sweat on her face. Wisps of clouds drifted through the dazzling blue, unconcerned with her entirely.

Her mind had become as clear as that sky, the fog and pressing shadows gone. “Do you like flying?” She didn’t know where the question came from.

He peered down at her. “I love it.” The truth rang out in those words. “It’s freedom and joy and challenge.”

“I met a female shop owner at Windhaven who’d had her wings clipped.” She turned her head from the sky to look over at him. His face had tightened. “Why do Illyrians do that?”

“To control their women,” Cassian said with quiet anger. “It’s an old tradition. Rhys and I tried to stamp it out by making it illegal, but change takes a while amongst the High Fae. For stubborn asses like the Illyrians, it takes even longer. Emerie—I’m assuming that’s who you met, since she’s the only female shop owner—was one who slipped through the cracks. It was during Amarantha’s reign, and … a lot of shit slipped through the cracks.”

His eyes turned haunted, not only from what had been done to Emerie by her father, Nesta could tell, but at the memories of those fifty years. The guilt.

And perhaps it was to save him from reliving those memories, to banish that unwarranted guilt in his eyes, that she nestled against the mat and said, “Cooldown.”

“You sound eager.”

She met his stare. “I …” She swallowed. Hated herself for balking, and forced herself to say, “The breathing makes my head stop being so …” Horrible. Awful. Miserable. “Loud.”

“Ah.” Understanding washed over his face. “Mine too.”

For a moment, she held his gaze, watched the wind tug at the strands of his shoulder-length hair. The instinct to touch the sable locks had her pressing her palms to the mat, as if physically restraining herself.

“Right.” Cassian cleared his throat. “Cooldown.”



She’d done well. Really damn well.

Nesta finished the cooldown and sprawled on the black mat, as if needing to piece herself together. Rally her strength.

Cassian let her, rising to his feet and walking to the water station to the right of the archway. “You need to drink as much water as you can,” he said, taking two glasses and filling them from the ewer on the small table. He returned to her side, sipping from his own.

Nesta remained prone, limbs loose, eyes closed, the sunlight making her hair, her sweaty skin, shine. He couldn’t stop the image from rising: of her lying in his bed like this, sated, her body limp with pleasure.

He swallowed hard. She cracked open an eye, sitting up slowly, and took the water he extended. Chugged it, realized how thirsty she was, and eased to her feet. He watched as she aimed for the ewer, filling her glass and draining it twice more before she finally set it down.

“You never told me what you wanted for the second hour of training,” he said eventually.

She looked over a shoulder. Her skin was rosy in a way he hadn’t seen for a long, long time, her eyes bright. The breathing, she’d said, had helped her. Settled her. Looking at the slight change on her face, he believed it.

What would happen when the high wore off remained to be seen. Small steps, he assured himself. Small, small steps.

Nesta said, “The second hour was on the house.”

She didn’t smile, didn’t so much as wink, but Cassian grinned. “Generous of you.”

She rolled her eyes, but without her usual venom. “I have to change before I go to the library.”

As Nesta entered the archway, the gloom of the stairwell beyond it, Cassian blurted, “I didn’t mean what I said last night—about everyone hating you.”

She halted, her blue-gray eyes frosting. “It’s true.”

“It’s not.” He dared one step closer. “You’re here because we don’t hate you.” He cleared his throat, running a hand through his hair. “I wanted you to know that. That we don’t—that don’t hate you.”

She weighed whatever the hell lay in his stare. Likely more than was wise to let her see. But she said quietly, “And I have never hated you, Cassian.”

With that, she walked through the doorway into the House, as if she hadn’t hit him right in the gut, first with the words, then by using his name.

It wasn’t until she’d vanished down the stairs that he released the breath he’d been holding.

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