Chapter no 13

A Court of Silver Flames

She was starving. It was the only thought that occupied Nesta as she shelved book after book. That, and how sore her body was. Her thighs burned with each foot she walked up and down the ramp of the library, her arms unbearably stiff with each book she lifted to its resting place.

That much soreness, just from stretches and balance exercises. She didn’t want to consider what a workout like the ones she’d seen Cassian go through would do to her.

She was pathetic for being so weak. Pathetic for now being unable to walk so much as a step without grimacing.

“Cooldown, my ass,” she grumbled, heaving a tome into her hands. She peered at the title and groaned. It belonged on the other side of this level—a good five-minute walk across the central atrium and down the endless hall. Her throbbing legs might very well give out halfway there.

Her stomach gurgled. “I’ll deal with you later,” she told the book, and scanned the other titles remaining in her cart. None, fortunately or unfortunately, needed to be shelved in the section that book belonged in. To lug the cart all the way over there would be exhausting—better to just carry the tome, even if it was an essentially meaningless trip to deposit one book.

Not that she had anything better to do with her time. Her day. Her life.

Whatever clarity she’d felt in the training ring levels and levels above fogged up again. Whatever calm and quiet she’d managed to capture in her

head had dissipated like smoke. Only moving would keep it at bay.

Nesta found the next shelf required—quite a ways above her head, with no stool in sight. She rose onto her toes, legs shrieking in protest, but it was too high. Nesta was on the taller side for a female, standing a good two inches above Feyre, but this shelf was out of reach. Grunting, she attempted to shelve the book with her fingertips, arms straining.

“Oh, good. It’s you,” a familiar female voice said from down the row. Nesta pivoted to discover Gwyn striding swiftly toward her, arms laden with books and coppery hair shimmering in the dim light.

Nesta didn’t bother to look pleasant as she lowered herself fully onto her feet.

Gwyn angled her head, as if finally realizing what she’d been doing. “Can’t you use magic to put it up on the shelf?”

“No.” The word was cool and sullen.

Gwyn’s brows twitched toward each other. “You don’t mean to tell me you’ve been shelving everything by hand?”

“How else would I do it?”

Gwyn’s teal eyes narrowed. “You have power, though, don’t you?”

“It’s none of your concern.” It was no one’s concern. She had none of the High Fae’s usual gifts. Her power—that thing—was utterly alien. Grotesque.

But Gwyn shrugged. “Very well.” She dumped her books right into Nesta’s arms. “These can go back.”

Nesta staggered under the books’ weight and glared.

Gwyn ignored the look, instead glancing around before lowering her voice. “Have you seen volume seven of Lavinia’s The Great War?”

Nesta scanned her memory. “No. I haven’t come across that one.” Gwyn frowned. “It’s not on its shelf.”

“So someone else has it.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.” She released a dramatic breath. “Why?”

Gwyn’s voice quieted into a conspiratorial whisper. “I work for someone who is very … demanding.”

Memory tugged at Nesta. Someone named Merrill, Clotho had told her the other day. Her right hand. “I take it you’re not fond of the person?”

Gwyn leaned against one of the shelves, crossing her arms with a casualness that belied her priestess’s robes. Again, she wore no hood and no blue stone atop her head. “Honestly, while I consider many of the females here to be my sisters, there are a few who are not what I would consider nice.”

Nesta snorted.

Gwyn again peered down the row. “You know why we’re all here.” Shadows swarmed her eyes—the first Nesta had seen there. “We all have endured …” She rubbed her temple. “So I hate, I hate to even speak ill of any one of my sisters here. But Merrill is unpleasant. To everyone. Even Clotho.”

“Because of her experiences?”

“I don’t know,” Gwyn said. “All I know is that I was assigned to work with Merrill and aid in her research, and I might have made a teensy mistake.” She grimaced.

“What manner of mistake?”

Gwyn blew out a sigh toward the darkened ceiling. “I was supposed to deliver volume seven of The Great War to Merrill yesterday, along with a stack of other books, and I could have sworn I did, but this morning, while I was in her office, I looked at the stack and saw I’d given her volume eight instead.”

Nesta reined in her eye rolling. “And this is a bad thing?”

“She’ll kill me when it’s not there for her to read today.” Gwyn hopped from foot to foot. “Which could be any moment. I got away the instant I could, but the book isn’t on the shelf.” She halted her fidgeting. “Even if I found the book, she’d spot me swapping it into the pile.”

“And you can’t tell her?” Gwyn couldn’t be serious about the killing thing. Though with the faeries, Nesta supposed it might be a possibility. Despite this place being one of peace.

“Gods, no. Merrill doesn’t accept mistakes. The book is supposed to be there, I told her it was there, and … I messed up.” The priestess’s face paled. She looked almost ill.

“Why does it matter?”

Emotion stirred in those remarkable eyes. “Because I don’t like to fail. I can’t …” Gwyn shook her head. “I don’t want to make any more mistakes.” Nesta didn’t know how to unpack that statement. So she just said, “Ah.”

Gwyn went on, “These females took me in. Gave me shelter and healing and family.” Again, her large eyes darkened. “I cannot stand to fail them in anything. Especially someone as demanding as Merrill. Even when it might seem trivial.”

Admirable, though Nesta was loath to admit it. “Have you left this mountain since you arrived?”

“No. Once we come in, we do not leave unless it is time for us to depart

—back to the world at large. Though some of us remain forever.” “And never see daylight again? Never feel fresh air?”

“We have windows, in our dormitories.” At Nesta’s confused expression, she clarified, “They’re glamoured from sight on the mountainside. Only the High Lord knows about them, since they’re his spells. And you now, I suppose.”

“But you don’t leave?”

“No,” Gwyn said. “We don’t.”

Nesta knew she could let the conversation end there, but she asked, “And what do you do with the time you’re not in the library? Practice your

… religious things?”

Gwyn huffed a soft laugh. “In part. We honor the Mother, and the Cauldron, and the Forces That Be. We have a service at dawn and at dusk, and on every holy day.”

Nesta must have made a face of distaste because Gwyn snorted. “It’s not so dull as all that. The services are beautiful, the songs as fair as any you’d hear in a music hall.”

That did sound rather interesting.

“I enjoy the dusk services,” Gwyn continued. “The music was always my favorite part of it, you know. I mean, not here. I was a priestess—an acolyte still—before I came here.” She added a shade quietly, “In Sangravah.”

The name sounded familiar to Nesta, but she couldn’t place it.

Gwyn shook her head, her face pale enough that her freckles stood out in stark relief. “I need to return to Merrill before she starts wondering where I am. And come up with some way to save my hide when she can’t find that book in the pile.” She jerked her chin to the books in Nesta’s hands. “Thanks for that.”

Nesta only nodded, and the priestess was gone, coppery-brown hair fading from sight.

She made it back to her cart with minimal wincing and grunting, though standing still for so long with Gwyn had made it nearly impossible for her to start walking again.

A few priestesses drifted by, either directly past her or on one of the levels above or below, utterly silent. This whole place was utterly silent. The only bit of color and sound came from Gwyn.

Would she remain here, locked beneath the earth, for the rest of her immortal life?

It seemed a shame. Understandable for what Gwyn must have endured, yes—what all these females had endured and survived. But a shame as well.

Nesta didn’t know why she did it. Why she waited until no one was around before she said into the hushed air of the library, “Can you do me a favor?”

She could have sworn she sensed a pause in the dust and dimness, a piqued interest. So she asked, “Can you get me volume seven of The Great War? By someone named Lavinia.” The House had no problem sending her food—perhaps it could find the tome for her.

Again, Nesta could have sworn she felt that pause of interest, then a sudden vacancy.

And then a thump sounded on her cart as a gray leather-bound book with silver lettering landed atop her pile. Nesta’s lips curved upward. “Thank you.” A soft, warm breeze brushed past her legs, like a cat wending between them in warm greeting and farewell.

When the next priestess passed, Nesta approached her. “Excuse me.”

The female halted so swiftly her pale robes swayed with her, the blue stone on her hood gleaming in the soft faelight. “Yes?” Her voice was soft, breathy. Curly black hair peeked out from her robe, and rich brown skin

gleamed on her lovely, delicate hands. Like Clotho, she wore her hood over her face.

“Merrill’s office—where is it?” Nesta gestured to the cart behind her. “I have a few books for her but don’t know where she works.”

The priestess pointed. “Three levels up—Level Two—at the end of the hall on your right.”

“Thank you.”

The priestess hurried along, as if even that moment of social interaction had been too much.

But Nesta gazed toward the level three stories above.



Her aching body did not make for easy stealth work, but Nesta mercifully didn’t encounter anyone on her way up. She knocked on the shut wood door.


Nesta opened the door to a rectangular cell of a room, occupied by a desk on the far side and two bookshelves lining both long walls. A small pallet lay to the left of the desk, a blanket and pillow neatly aligned. As if the hooded priestess with her back to Nesta sometimes couldn’t be bothered to return to the dormitory to sleep.

No sign of Gwyn. Nesta wondered if she’d already been dismissed for her so-called failure.

But Nesta took a few steps into the room, surveying the shelf to her right before she said, “I brought the books you requested.”

The female hunched over her work, the scratching of her pen filling the room. “Fine.” She didn’t so much as turn. Nesta scanned the other shelf.

There—volume eight of The Great War. Nesta had taken a silent step toward it when the priestess’s head snapped up. “I didn’t ask for any more books. And where’s Gwyneth? She should have returned half an hour ago.”

Nesta asked as blandly and stupidly as she could, “Who’s Gwyneth?”

Merrill turned at that, and Nesta was greeted with a surprisingly young face—and a stunningly beautiful one. All the High Fae were beautiful, but Merrill made even Mor look drab.

Hair white as fresh snow contrasted against the light brown of her skin, and eyes the color of a twilight sky blinked once, twice. As if focusing on the here and now and not whatever work she’d been doing. She noted Nesta’s leathers, the lack of any robes or stone atop her braided hair, and demanded, “Who are you?”

“Nesta.” She hefted the books in her arms. “I was told to bring these to you.”

Volume eight of The Great War lay mere inches away. If she just stuck out a hand to her left, she could snatch it off the shelf. Swap it out with volume seven from the stack in her arms.

Merrill’s remarkable eyes narrowed. She looked as young as Nesta, yet an ornery sort of energy buzzed around her. “Who gave you those orders?”

Nesta blinked, the portrait of stupidity. “A priestess.” Merrill’s full mouth tightened. “Which priestess?”

Gwyn was right in her assessment of this female. Being assigned to work with her seemed more like a punishment than an honor. “I don’t know. You all wear those hoods.”

“These are the sacred clothes of our order, girl. Not those hoods.” Merrill returned to her papers.

Nesta asked, because it would piss off the female, “So you didn’t ask for these books, Roslin?”

Merrill threw down her pen and bared her teeth. “You think I’m


“I was told to bring these books to Roslin, and someone said your—her office was here.”

“Roslin is on Level Four. I am on Level Two.” She said it as if it implied some sort of hierarchy.

Nesta shrugged again. And might have enjoyed the hell out of it.

Merrill seethed, but returned to her work. “Roslin,” she muttered. “Insufferable, inane Roslin. Endless prattling.”

Nesta reached a stealthy hand toward the shelf to her left.

Merrill whipped her head around, and Nesta snapped her arm down to her side. “Never disturb me again.” Merrill pointed to the door. “Get out

and shut the door behind you. If you see that silly Gwyneth, tell her she’s expected here immediately.

“Apologies,” Nesta said, unable to keep the glimmer of annoyance out of her eyes, but Merrill was already twisting back to her desk.

It had to be now.

One eye on the priestess, Nesta moved.

She coughed to cover the whisper of books moving. And by the time Merrill whipped her head around again, Nesta made sure she wasn’t so much as looking toward the shelf. Where volume seven of The Great War stood in place of volume eight, which now sat atop the other books in Nesta’s arms.

Nesta’s heart pounded in her entire body.

Merrill hissed, “What are you lingering for? Get out.”

“Apologies,” Nesta repeated, bowing at the waist, and left. Shut the door behind her.

And only when she stood in the silent hall did she allow herself to smile.



She found Gwyn the same way she’d found Merrill: by asking a priestess, this one more quiet and withdrawn than the other. So trembling and nervous that even Nesta had used her most gentle voice. And been unable to shake the heaviness in her heart as she’d walked to the first-level reading area. Across the hushed, cavernous space, it was easy to hear Gwyn’s soft singing as she flitted from table to table, looking at the piles of discarded books. Trying desperately to find the missing tome.

The words of Gwyn’s merry song were in a language Nesta didn’t know, but for a heartbeat, Nesta allowed herself to listen—to savor the pure, sweet voice that rose and fell with sinuous ease.

Gwyn’s hair seemed to glow brighter with her song, skin radiating a beckoning light. Drawing any listener in.

But Merrill’s warning clanged through the beauty of Gwyn’s voice, and Nesta cleared her throat. Gwyn whirled toward her, glow fading even as her freckled face lit with surprise. “Hello again,” she said.

Nesta only extended volume eight of The Great War. Gwyn gasped.

Nesta threw her a wicked smile. “This was shelved improperly. I swapped it with the right book.”

Gwyn didn’t seem to need more than that, thankfully, and clutched the book to her chest like a treasure. “Thank you. You’ve just saved me from a terrible tongue-lashing.”

Nesta arched a brow at the book. “What’s Merrill researching, anyway?”

Gwyn frowned. “Lots of things. Merrill’s brilliant. Horrible, but brilliant. When she first came here, she was obsessed with theories regarding the existence of different realms—different worlds. Living on top of each other without even knowing it. Whether there is merely one existence, our existence, or if it might be possible for worlds to overlap, occupying the same space but separated by time and a whole bunch of other things I can’t even begin to explain to you because I barely understand them myself.”

Nesta’s brows rose. “Really?”

“Some philosophers believe there are eleven worlds like that. And some believe there are as many as twenty-six, the last one being Time itself, which …” Gwyn’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Honestly, I looked at some of her early research and my eyes bled just reading her theorizing and formulas.”

Nesta chuckled. “I can imagine. But she’s researching something else now?”

“Yes, thank the Cauldron. She’s writing a comprehensive history of the Valkyries.”

“The who?”

“A clan of female warriors from another territory. They were better fighters than the Illyrians, even. The Valkyrie name was just a title, though

—they weren’t a race like the Illyrians. They hailed from every type of Fae, usually recruited from birth or early childhood. They had three stages of training: Novice, Blade, and finally Valkyrie. To become one was the highest honor in their land. Their territory is gone now, subsumed into others.”

“And the Valkyries are gone, too?”

“Yes.” Gwyn sighed. “Valkyries existed for millennia. But the War—the one five hundred years ago—wiped out most of them, and the few survivors were elderly enough to quickly fade into old age and die afterward. From the shame, legend claims. They let themselves die, rather than face the shame of their lost battle and surviving when their sisters had not.”

“I’ve never heard of them.” She knew little about any of the Fae history, both by choice and because of the human world’s utter lack of education on it.

“The Valkyrie history and training were mostly oral, so any accounts we have are through whatever passing historians or philosophers or tradespeople wrote down. It’s just bits and pieces, scattered in various books. No primary sources beyond a few precious scrolls. Merrill got it into her head years ago to begin compiling all of it into one volume. Their history, their training techniques.”

Nesta opened her mouth to ask more, but a clock chimed somewhere behind them. Gwyn stiffened. “I’ve been gone too long. She’ll be furious.” Merrill would indeed. Gwyn twisted toward the ramp beyond the reading area. But she paused, looking over her shoulder. “But not as mad as she would have been with the wrong book.” She flashed Nesta a grin. “Thank you. I am in your debt.”

Nesta shifted on her feet. “It was nothing.”

Gwyn’s eyes sparkled, and before Nesta could avoid the emotion shining there, the priestess sprinted toward Merrill’s chambers, robes flying behind her.



Nesta made it to her room without collapsing from sheer exhaustion or Merrill realizing she’d been duped and coming to kill her, both of which she considered to be great accomplishments.

She found a hot meal waiting on the desk of her bedroom, and she’d barely sat down before she tore into the meat and bread and medley of roasted vegetables. Standing again was an effort, but she made it to her bathroom, where a hot bath was already steaming away.

Getting into the tub required all her concentration, hefting one leg at a time, and she moaned with relief as the delicious heat soaked through her. She lay there until her body had loosened enough to move, and fell into the warmed sheets without bothering to put on a nightgown.

There would be no trying the stairs tonight. No dreams chased her awake, either.

Nesta slept and slept and slept, though she could have sworn that her door opened at one point. Could have sworn a familiar, beckoning scent filled her room. She reached toward it with a sleep-heavy hand, but it was already gone.

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