Chapter no 38

A Court of Silver Flames

“You took him to your bed, didn’t you?”

Emerie’s whispered question had Nesta whipping her head toward her, stomach muscles quivering as she held the upward positioning of her curl. Emerie, a mirror image to her left, simply smirked at the shock on Nesta’s face. Gwyn, on Emerie’s other side, was just wide-eyed.

Nesta schooled her features into neutrality and uncurled to the ground, making sure to hold her abdominal muscles tight until her back was flat against the stone once more. “Why would you say that?”

“Because you and Cassian have been exchanging sultry looks all morning.”

Nesta scowled at Emerie. “We have not.”

It was an effort not to look across the ring, to where Cassian was now walking the newest group of priestesses—two this time, Ilana and Lorelei— through foot positioning and balance. Nesta had, in fact, caught him staring her way twice since the lesson had begun two hours ago, but she’d made a point not to engage in lingering eye contact.

“You have,” Gwyn whispered, low enough that Cassian’s Fae hearing wouldn’t pick up her words. Nesta rolled her eyes.

“Well, if you won’t talk about that,” Emerie said with equal quiet, “then at least tell us what happened yesterday—why there was no lesson, and where you were in the afternoon.”

“I was asked to keep it secret,” Nesta said. Her wounds had healed and vanished already, making it easy to do so.

“It has something to do with the Trove,” Gwyn said, those teal eyes noticing too much.

Nesta didn’t reply, and that was answer enough. Emerie knew the basics

—as much as Gwyn had been told—and frowned. But she kept her voice whisper-soft. “So you really didn’t sleep with him?”

Nesta did another curl, torso rising to her knees. “I didn’t say that.” Emerie let out a hmmm.

Nesta’s cheeks flushed. Emerie and Gwyn swapped glances. And it was Gwyn who said, “Was it good?”

Nesta did another curl, and Cassian barked from across the ring, “Emerie! Gwyn! If you can do those curls as well as you run your mouths, you’d be done by now.”

Emerie and Gwyn grinned fiendishly. “Sorry!” they shouted, and launched into motion.

Nesta grew still as Cassian’s gaze met hers. The space between them went taut, the sounds of the exercising priestesses fading into nothing, the sky an azure blur above, the wind a distant caress on her cheeks—

“You too, Archeron,” he ordered, pointing to where Emerie and Gwyn now exercised, apparently doing their best not to laugh. “Do another fifteen.” Nesta threw a scowl at all of them and began her curls again. That was why she’d been avoiding eye contact with him.

Cassian’s attention slid elsewhere, but with each curl upward, Nesta found herself reining in the urge to gaze his way. She lost count three times. Bastard.

Between curls, Gwyn said, “You know, Nesta, if you’re having trouble concentrating …”

“Oh, please,” Nesta muttered.

Gwyn let out a breathy laugh. “I mean it. I learned about a new Valkyrie technique last night. It’s called Mind-Stilling.”

Nesta managed to ask, body screeching with the effort of the curls, “What is it?”

“They used it to steady their minds and emotions. Some of them did it three or four times a day. But it’s basically the act of sitting and letting your mind go quiet. It might help with your … concentration.”

Emerie snickered, but Nesta paused, ignoring Gwyn’s implication. “Such a thing is possible? To train the mind?”

Gwyn halted her exercising, too. Her teasing smile turned contemplative. “Well, yes. It requires constant practice, but there’s a whole chapter in this book I summarized for Merrill about how they did it. It involved deep breathing and becoming aware of one’s body, then learning to let go. They used it to remain calm in the face of their fears, to settle themselves after a hard battle, and to fight whatever inner demons they possessed.”

“Illyrian warriors do no such thing,” Emerie murmured. “Their heads are full of rage and battle. It’s only gotten worse since the last war. Now that they’re rebuilding their ranks.”

“The Valkyries found heightened emotions distracting in the face of an opponent,” Gwyn said. “They trained their minds to be weapons as sharp as any blade. To be able to keep their composure, to know how to access that place of calm in the midst of battle, made them unshakable opponents.”

Nesta’s heart pounded with every word. Quieting her mind … “Can you get a scribe to make copies of the chapter?”

Gwyn grinned. “I already did.”

Cassian barked, “Do you three want to gossip or train?”

Nesta threw him a scathing look. “Don’t tell him of this,” she warned them. “It’s our secret.” And wouldn’t Cassian be surprised when she became the unflappable one?

Emerie and Gwyn nodded their agreement as Cassian sauntered over. Every muscle, every bit of blood and bone in Nesta’s body went on alert. She’d returned to the House this morning, winnowed in by a too-neutral Rhys. Cassian had been nowhere in sight.

She’d had all of thirty minutes to eat breakfast and change into her spare leathers, since the ones she’d worn in the bog were still soaked. The pair she’d donned were bigger—not baggy, but just slightly larger. She hadn’t noticed how tight her usual set was until she slid into the far more

comfortable ones. Hadn’t noticed how much muscle she’d packed onto her thighs and arms this month until she realized her movements had been restricted by the old pair.

Cassian paused before them, hands on his hips. “Is there something more interesting today than your training?”

He knew. The bastard knew they’d been discussing him. The spark in his eye, the half grin, told her.

Emerie’s lips quivered with the effort to keep from smiling. “Not at all.” Gwyn’s attention bounced between Nesta and Cassian.

Cassian said to the priestess, “Yes?”

Gwyn shook her head too quickly to be innocent and began her abdominal curls again, sweat gleaming on her freckled face. Emerie joined her, the two of them working so diligently that it was laughable. Nesta peered up at Cassian. “What?”

His eyes danced with wicked amusement. “Did you finish your set?” “Yes.”

“And the push-ups?” “Yes.”

He stepped closer, and she couldn’t help but think of how he’d approached last night, the way those hands had grasped her hips as he’d pounded into her from behind. Something must have shown on her face, because he said in a low voice, “You’ve certainly been productive, Nes.”

She swallowed, and knew the two females beside her were eating up every word. But she lifted her chin. “When do we get to do something of use? When do we start on archery or swords?”

“You think you’re ready to handle a sword?” Emerie let out a fizzing noise, but kept working.

Nesta refused to smile, to blush, and said without breaking Cassian’s stare, “Only you can tell me that.”

His nostrils flared. “Get up.”



Cassian had told himself two dozen times since walking out of that bedroom that the sex had been a mistake. But watching Nesta challenge

him, the innuendo like a sizzling flame, he couldn’t for the life of him remember why.

Something to do with her only wanting sex, something to do with the sex being the best damn sex he’d ever had, and how it had left him in veritable pieces.

Nesta blinked. “What?”

He nodded toward the center of the pit. “You heard me. You think you’re ready to handle a sword, then prove it.”

Her friends were clearly aware of what they’d done last night. Emerie couldn’t even hide her laughing, and Gwyn kept sneaking looks at them.

He barked at the two females, “Finish your exercises now or do double.”

They stopped their gawking.

Nesta was still staring up at him, sweat and exertion filling that beautiful face of hers with color. A bead of perspiration slid down her temple, and he had to clench his fists to keep from leaning in to lick it away. She asked, “We’re going to learn swords?”

He aimed for the rack across the ring and she followed. “We’re going to start with wooden practice swords. Over my rotting corpse am I putting actual steel into the hands of novices.”

She snickered, and he stiffened. He tossed over a shoulder, “If you’re too childish to talk of blades without giggling, then you’re not ready for swordplay.”

She scowled. But Cassian said, “These are weapons of death.” He let his voice lift so all the females could hear him, though he spoke only to her. “They need to be treated with a healthy dose of respect. I didn’t even touch a real sword for the first seven years.”

“Seven years?” Gwyn demanded behind them.

He reached the rack and drew out a long blade, a near-replica of the Illyrian one down his back. “You think children should be swinging around a real sword?”

“No,” Gwyn sputtered. “I just meant—do you plan for us to practice with wooden swords for seven years?”

“If you three keep giggling, then yes.”

Nesta said to Gwyn and Emerie, “Don’t let him bully you.”

Cassian snorted. “Dangerous words for a female about to go head-to-head with me.”

She rolled her eyes, but hesitated when he extended the practice sword to her hilt-first. “It’s heavy,” she observed as she took its full weight.

“The real sword weighs more.”

Nesta glanced to his shoulder, where the hilt of his blade peeked over. “Really?”

“Yes.” He nodded to her hands. “Double-handed grip on the hilt. Don’t choke up too close to the shaft.”

Emerie began coughing, and Nesta’s mouth twitched, but she held it— fought it. Even Cassian had to tamp down a laugh before he cleared his throat.

But Nesta did as he bade.

“Feet where I showed you,” he said, well aware of every eye on them. From the way Nesta’s face turned grave, Cassian knew she was aware, too. That this moment, with these priestesses watching, was pivotal, somehow.




Nesta met Cassian’s stare. And every thought of sex, of how good it had felt, eddied from her head as she lifted the blade before her.

It was like a key sliding into a lock at last.

It was a wooden sword, and yet it wasn’t. It was a part of practice, and yet it wasn’t.

Cassian walked her through eight different cuts and blocks. Each was an individual move, he’d explained, and like the punches, they could be combined. The most difficult thing was to remember to lead with the hilt of the sword—and to use her entire body, not just her arms.

“Block one,” he ordered, and she lifted the sword perpendicular to her body, raising upward against an invisible enemy. “Slice three.” She rotated the blade, reminding herself to lead with the stupid hilt, and slashed downward at an angle. “Thrust one.” Another pivot and she lunged forward, slamming the blade through the breastplate of an imaginary enemy.

Everyone had stopped to watch.

“Block three,” Cassian commanded. Nesta switched to a one-handed grip, her left hand coming up to her chest, where he’d told her to hold it. That would be her shield hand, he’d said, and learning to keep it tucked close would be key to her survival. “Slice two.” She dragged the sword in a straight line upward, splitting that enemy from groin to sternum. “Block two.” She pivoted on one foot, dragging the sword from that enemy’s chest to intercept another invisible blow.

None of her movements possessed any semblance of his elegance or power. They were stilted and it took her a second to remember each of the steps, but she told herself that would take more than thirty minutes of instruction. Cassian had reminded her of that often enough.

“Good.” He crossed his arms. “Block one, slice three, thrust two.”

She did so. The movements flowed faster, surer. Her breath clicked into sync with her body with each thrust.

Good, Nesta. Again.”

She could see the muddy battlefield, and hear the screams of friend and foe alike. Each movement was a fight for survival, for victory.


She could see the King of Hybern, and the Cauldron, and the Ravens— see the kelpie and Tomas and all those people who had sneered at the Archerons’ poverty and desperation, the friends who had walked away with smiles on their faces.

Her arm was a distant ache, secondary to that building song in her blood.

It felt good. It felt so, so good.

Cassian threw out different combinations, and she obeyed, let them flow through her.

Every hated enemy, every moment she’d been powerless against them simmered to the surface. And with each movement of the sword, each breath, a thought formed. It echoed with every inhale, every thrust and block.

Never again.

Never again would she be weak.

Never again would she be at someone’s mercy. Never again would she fail.

Never again, never again, never again.

Cassian’s voice stopped, and then the world paused, and all that existed was him, his fierce smile, as if he knew what song roared in her blood, as if he alone understood that the blade was an instrument to channel this raging fire in her.

The other females were utterly silent. Their hesitation and shock shimmered in the air.

Slowly, Nesta broke her stare from Cassian and looked to Emerie and Gwyn, already moving across the ring. Cassian had the wooden swords ready by the time they arrived.

No fear shone in their eyes. As if they, too, saw what Cassian did. As if they, too, heard those words within Nesta’s head.

Never again.

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