Chapter no 48

A Court of Silver Flames

“Get up.”

Nesta tensed, cracking open an eye against the blinding brightness of dawn. Cassian stood above her, a plate of what looked like mushrooms and toast in one hand. Her entire body ached from the hardness of the ground and the chill of the night. She’d barely slept, had mostly lain there, staring at the rock, willing herself to ignore the sounds of the fire, wishing to disappear into nothing.

She eased into a sitting position, and he shoved the plate toward her. “Eat. We’ve got a long day ahead.”

She lifted her eyes, heavy and aching, to his face.

There was nothing warm in it. No challenge or light. Just solid, stone-cold warrior.

Cassian said, “We’ll be hiking from dawn until dusk, only two stops throughout the day. So eat.”

It didn’t matter. Whether she ate or slept or hiked. Any of it.

But Nesta forced herself to eat the food he’d prepared, not speaking as he doused the fire he’d built, focusing on anything but the crack of the logs. Cassian swiftly packed the few cooking supplies, along with the rest of the food, into the canvas bag.

He picked it up, muscles shifting in his forearm with the weight, and walked to her before dumping it between her feet. “I can’t fit a pack that big

on my back with the wings. So you’ll be carrying it.”

Had Azriel known that? From the icy, amused gleam in Cassian’s eye, she thought yes.

Nesta finished her food and had nothing to wash her plate with, so she shoved it into the pack.

He said, “You can wash the dishes when we get to the Gerthys River at lunch. It’s a six-hour trek from here.”

She didn’t care. Let him drive her into the ground, let him make her walk and act the servant. It wouldn’t fix anything.

Wouldn’t fix her.

Nesta stood, joints popping and body stiff. She didn’t bother to reweave her braid.

“You can see to your needs around the corner.” He nodded toward the slight curve in the cliff face. “No one is out here.”

She did as he said. When she returned, he only nodded toward the pack. “Pick it up.”

Nesta grunted as she did. It had to be at least a third of her weight. Her back nearly bowed as she hefted it onto her shoulders, but she got it on, wriggling to adjust it. She fiddled with the straps and buckles until it was snug to her spine, the weight balanced across her chest and hips.

Cassian apparently decided that she’d done a decent job. “Let’s go.”



Nesta let him lead the way, and within ten minutes, her breathing became labored, her legs burning as Cassian stalked up the hillside, cutting along the mountain’s face. He didn’t speak to her, and she didn’t speak to him.

The day was as crisp as one could ever wish, the mountains around them vibrant green, the teal rivers so clear that even from high above, she could see the white stones lining their beds.

Nesta gave herself over to it, the aching of her body, the panting of her breath—so sharp it was like glass—the roaring thoughts.

The sun arced across the sky, wringing the sweat from her brow, her neck. Her hair became soaked with it. Still she walked, trailing Cassian farther up the peak. He reached a rocky outcropping, glanced over a

shoulder once to make sure she was behind, then disappeared—presumably going downward.

She reached the outcropping and beheld just how downward it was.

He’d mentioned stopping at a river. Well, far below and ahead lay a broad band of a river, half-shrouded in trees. It didn’t look like it would take hours to reach, yet … Cassian was walking across the mountain, rather than going straight down. No one would be able to directly descend without tumbling to their death.

An entirely different set of muscles soon began to protest at the descent. It was worse than going upward, she realized—now it felt as if the pack were determined to tip her forward and send her falling into the valley and river.

Cassian didn’t bother to carefully pick his steps amongst the grasses and small stones like she did. He, at least, had the reassurance of wings. This high up, the clouds drifted past like idle watchers, none merciful enough to offer shade against the blazing sun.

Nesta’s legs shook, but she kept moving. Gripped the straps of the pack where they rested against her chest, and used her arms to ballast its weight. She followed Cassian, down the mountain, step to step, hour by hour.

She walked, one foot after another, and did not say anything at all.



They halted for lunch at the river. If hard cheese and bread could be considered lunch.

Nesta only cared that it filled her aching belly. Only cared that the river before them was clear and clean, and she was parched. She collapsed on its grassy bank, kneeling to bury her face in it. She gasped into the shock of cold, then rose, lifting water to her mouth with a cupped palm again and again, swallowing and swallowing.

She pulled back from the river to lie on her side, her breathing still heavy.

“You have thirty minutes,” Cassian said from where he sat in the tall, swaying grass, sipping from his canteen. “Use it however you wish.”

She said nothing. Even nodding felt like too much.

He opened the pack and chucked a canteen to her. “Fill this. If you faint, you might fall off the mountain and break every bone in your body.”

She didn’t look at him. Didn’t let him see the word in her eyes. Good.

He went still, though. His next words were gentler—and she resented them, too. “Rest up.”



Cassian knew that Nesta often hated herself.

But he’d never known she hated herself enough to want to … not exist anymore.

He’d seen her expression when he mentioned the threat of falling. And he knew going back to Velaris wouldn’t save her from that look. He couldn’t save her from that look, either.

Only Nesta could save herself from that feeling.

He let her rest for the thirty minutes he’d promised, and perhaps he was a little pissed at her still, because he merely said, “Let’s go,” before starting off again.

She followed in that heavy, brimming silence. As quiet as a trailing packhorse.

He knew these mountains well enough from flying over them for centuries: shepherds lived here, usually ordinary faeries who preferred the solitude of the towering green and brownish-black stones to more populated areas.

The peaks weren’t as brutal and sharp as those in Illyria, but there was a presence to them that he couldn’t quite explain. Mor had once told him that long ago, these lands had been used for healing. That people injured in body and spirit had ventured to these hills, the lake they were now two and a half days from reaching, to recover.

Perhaps that was why he’d come. Some instinct had remembered the healing, felt this land’s slumbering heart, and decided to bring Nesta here.

Mile after mile, her silence like a looming wraith behind him, Cassian wondered if it would be enough.

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