Chapter no 39

A Court of Silver Flames

The fire inside her didn’t stop.

Nesta could barely get through her work in the library that afternoon thanks to that fire, that bouncing energy. By the time the clock chimed six, she bade Clotho farewell and went straight to the outside stairwell.

Down and down, around and around and around. Step to step to step.

She didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop.

As if she had been freed from a cage she hadn’t realized she’d been held in.

Every step downward, she heard the words. Never again.

She had escaped the kelpie by pure luck. But she had been terrified. As terrified as when she’d been hauled into the depths of the Cauldron, as terrified as she’d been with Tomas. At least with Tomas, she had fought. With the kelpie, she had barely done anything until the Mask had spared her.

She had become so afraid. So meek and trembling. It was unacceptable.

Unacceptable that she had let herself balk and cower and curl inward.

Down and down, around and around and around. Step to step to step.

Never again. Never, ever again.

Nesta reached the six thousandth step and began the ascent.



The first of the autumnal rains arrived the next day, and Cassian half-expected the priestesses not to show up for practice, but they were already waiting in the cold and wet when he entered the training ring. None bothered to use magic to keep dry.

As if they wanted the grit, the extra effort.

In the center of the group stood Nesta, her eyes already focused.

Cassian’s blood heated, unable to keep his desire contained at the sight of that fierceness in her face, the eagerness to learn more, push harder.

He hadn’t sought her out last night, deciding to sleep at the river house rather than risk temptation. The sex had been that good—and he knew if he didn’t put up some semblance of a barrier, it’d consume him entirely. She’d consume him entirely.

Nesta, Emerie, and Gwyn stood together, and—there were three new priestesses today.

“Ladies,” he said by way of greeting, surveying the eleven soaked females waiting like troops to be commanded on a battlefield. Roslin had removed her hood, revealing a head of deep red hair and pale skin over delicate features. Her eyes were the color of caramel, and if she was afraid to be revealing her face at last, she did not let on. Cassian surveyed the rest of the lineup, and—well, that was new. Gwyn was in Illyrian leathers. Nesta’s old ones, from the scent of them.

Cassian observed them, all clear-eyed and eager. “I think we need another tutor.”



The next morning, though the females were hesitant around a newcomer, Azriel kept so aloof and quiet that they quickly relaxed around him. Az had readily agreed to squeeze in the lessons before heading out to keep an eye on Briallyn.

Cassian continued to train Nesta, Emerie, and Gwyn. The rain didn’t let up, and they were all soaked, but the exertion kept the bite of the cold away.

“So this can really down a male in one move?” Gwyn asked Cassian as he stood before Nesta. They’d taken a break from the swords to stretch their hands, but rather than sit idle and have their bodies go stiff with inactivity, he’d shown them a few techniques to get out of a pinch.

Gwyn had been distracted today—one eye on the other side of the ring. Cassian could only assume she was watching his brother, who had given Gwyn a small smile of greeting upon arrival. Gwyn hadn’t returned it. Cassian cursed himself for a fool. He should have asked her if she’d be comfortable with Azriel here. Perhaps he should have asked all the priestesses about including another male, but especially Gwyn—whom Azriel had found that day in Sangravah.

She’d said nothing about it during the lesson. Only glanced every now and then toward Az, who remained dutifully focused on his charges. Cassian couldn’t read the expression on her face.

He concentrated on the females in front of him. “This move will knock anyone unconscious if you hit the right spot.” Cassian took Nesta’s hand, placing it on his neck. Her fingers were so small against his, and freezing cold. He might have run his thumb over the back of her hand before he positioned her fingers. “You want to go for this pressure point. Hit it hard enough, you’ll make them drop like a stone.”

Nesta’s fingers tightened, and he grabbed her hand. But she smirked, as if knowing she’d caught him. He squeezed her chilled fingers. “I know you were thinking of it.”

“I’d never do such a thing,” she said mildly, her eyes dancing.

Cassian winked, and Nesta slid her hand from his neck. “All right,” he said. “Back to swords. Who wants to show me the eight points again?”



Despite changing their clothes, Nesta and Gwyn remained chilled to the bone an hour after their lesson had finished. Nestled in a warm, comfortable nook in a rarely visited part of the library, Nesta sipped at her peppermint tea, letting its warmth soak through her body as she read through the chapter Gwyn had copied. She’d given one to Emerie before their friend

had left, getting a promise from the Illyrian that she’d practice tonight and they’d compare notes tomorrow.

“So it’s really that easy?” Nesta asked, setting down the papers on the worn couch cushion.

Gwyn, seated on the opposite end of the couch, stretched her feet toward the fire, robes rustling. “It certainly seems easy, but according to everything I’ve read, it’s not.”

“This says you just sit somewhere comfortable and quiet, close your eyes, breathe a whole lot, and let your mind go.”

“I’m telling you: it took the Valkyries months to learn the basics, and mastering it required doing these exercises multiple times a day. But let’s try it. It says at the end of this chapter that if we’re doing this for the first time, we might grow sleepy—or even fall asleep during it—but learning to fight the urge to sleep is for further down the road.”

“I could use a nap after today’s training,” Nesta muttered, and Gwyn chuckled her agreement. Nesta set her tea on the low table before the couch. “All right. Let’s try it.”

“I memorized the steps, so I’ll lead us through it,” Gwyn offered. Nesta snorted. “Of course you did.”

Gwyn playfully smacked her on the shoulder. “Learning this is my job, you know.”

“You’d have memorized this information anyway.”

“Fair enough.” Gwyn laughed, finishing her own tea and then sitting up straight. “Get into a comfortable seated position—alert, but at ease.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

Gwyn demonstrated, scooting until her spine touched the back cushions, feet flat on the floor, hands lightly resting on her knees. Nesta copied the position. Gwyn surveyed her, then nodded. “Now take three deep breaths, in through your nose for a count of six, out through your mouth for a count of six. After you finish the third breath, close your eyes, and keep breathing.”

Nesta obeyed. Inhaling and exhaling for that long required more concentration and effort than she expected. Her breathing was too loud to

her ears; each breath seemed out of sync with Gwyn’s. Had she taken two breaths, or three? Or four?

“I can feel you overthinking this,” Gwyn murmured. “Close your eyes and keep breathing. Take five breaths.”

Nesta did. Without anything to visually distract her, she figured her breathing would be easier to track.

It wasn’t. Somehow, her mind just wanted to wander off. She told herself to focus on the count, on timing each breath and keeping a tally of how many she’d taken, and yet she found herself thinking of the couch cushions, her cooling tea, her still-damp hair—

How many breaths had it been? “I think I’m losing my mind,” Nesta muttered.

Gwyn shushed her. “Now let your breathing steady, and focus on the sounds around you. Acknowledge them, then let them fade away.”

Nesta did. To her left, she could make out shuffling feet and whispering robes. Who was walking through the stacks? What book were they—

Focus. Let the sounds go. Someone was walking nearby. She marked it, and with an exhale, sent the thought floating away. To her right, Gwyn’s breathing remained steady.

Gwyn was probably good at this. Gwyn was good at everything, actually. It didn’t irk her, though. For whatever reason, Nesta wanted to crow about her friend to anyone who’d listen.

Her friend. That was what Gwyn was. It had been—

Focus. Let go. Nesta noted Gwyn’s breathing, released the thought, and moved on to the next sound. Then the next.

“Now survey your body,” Gwyn said softly. “Starting at your head, slowly working down to your toes, assess how you’re feeling. If there are sore spots—”

“Everything is sore after that sword lesson,” Nesta hissed.

Gwyn choked on another laugh. “I mean it. Note if there are sore spots, if there are spots that feel good …” Papers rustled. “Oh, and the instructions also say that when you’re done, you should assess how you are feeling. Don’t dwell on it, but just acknowledge it.”

Nesta didn’t particularly like the sound of the last bit, but she obeyed. Every part of her body ached, from a stiffness in her neck to a soreness along her left foot. She hadn’t realized how many little pieces of herself existed, all constantly blaring their pains or status. How much noise it produced in her head. But she acknowledged each of those things. Let them drift away.

Assessing her emotions, however … How was she feeling? Right now, tired yet … content to be here with Gwyn. Laughing. Doing this. If she went deeper …

“Now we’re going to work on focused breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Do ten of them, then start over. If a thought pops up, acknowledge it, then send it on its way. Tell yourself, I am the rock against which the surf crashes. Your thoughts are the surf. Let them crash over you.”

Easy enough.

It wasn’t. The first few times Nesta counted ten breaths, no thoughts plagued her at all. But when she began the next set …

What would Elain think, to see Nesta here with a friend? The thought bubbled up from nowhere. As if in opening her mind, it had rushed toward her. Would Elain be pleased, or would she feel the need to warn Gwyn about Nesta’s true self?

She’d been on breath five. No, six. Wait—maybe it had only been three. “Start over if you lose count,” Gwyn said, as if she’d heard the halt of

Nesta’s steady breathing.

Nesta did so, focusing on the breaths and not Elain. I acknowledge this thought about my sister, and I am letting it go.

She was on her seventh breath when her sister appeared again. And yet somehow all you think of is what my trauma did to you.

Had Elain been right? Feyre had admitted she was guilty of it, too, but

—Feyre hadn’t known Elain as Nesta did. Or, it hadn’t been that way before. Before Elain had chosen Feyre.

Before Amren had chosen Feyre. Before—

I acknowledge these thoughts and I am letting them go.

Nesta inhaled an eighth time. I am focusing on my breathing. These thoughts exist, and I am letting them pass me by.

Nesta took another breath. Forced her mind to think only of her breathing.

“When you finish your next set of ten,” Gwyn said, near and yet far away, “stop counting your breaths and just let your mind do as it wishes. We’ll do that for a few heartbeats, then stop. The goal is to work up to longer and longer periods of this.”

Nesta did so, counting each of the ten remaining breaths. Feeling that moment of halting like a looming wave. She finished the tenth breath.

Do as you want, mindGo drift into those dark, horrible places.

It didn’t, though. Her mind lingered. Didn’t wander. It just … sat there.

Contented. Resting. Like a cat curled at her feet.


Only a few moments passed before Gwyn whispered, “Begin to sink back into your body. Mark the sounds around us. Mark the feeling in your fingers, your toes.”

Strange—so strange to find her body suddenly … calmed. Distant. Like she’d somehow indeed been able to step back. Let it rest. And her mind …

“Open your eyes,” Gwyn breathed.

Nesta did. And for the first time in her life, she felt utterly settled into her own skin.

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