Chapter no 49

A Court of Silver Flames

They were halfway up a mountain that had looked like a mere hill from a distance when Cassian said from ahead, “We camp here for the night.”

He’d stopped at an outlook over the mountainside, the nearest peak so close she could have hit it with a stone, separated only by another river snaking far below. The ground was pale and dusty, and most of all, it was flat.

Nesta said nothing as she staggered up to level ground, legs giving out at last, and sprawled onto the dirt.

It bit into her cheek, but she didn’t care, not as she breathed and breathed, her body trembling. She wouldn’t move until dawn. Not even to use the bathroom. She’d rather wet herself than have to move another muscle.

Cassian said from across the small site, “Take off the pack before you pass out so I can at least cook myself dinner.”

His words were cold, distant. He’d barely spoken to her all day. She deserved it—deserved worse.

The thought had her unclipping the straps from where they lay across her hips and chest. The pack thudded to the earth, and she twisted to nudge it toward him with a foot. Her leg trembled with the movement. But she made herself back up, until she was leaning against a small boulder.

He grabbed the pack with only a grunt, as if she hadn’t been sweating and shaking under its weight all day. Then he strode off into the nearby brush, the knee-high grasses and bushes rustling.

The wind murmured, wending between the peaks. Shadows slowly crept over the craggy sides of the mountains, the lingering sun casting their upper limits in gold, the chill deepening with each inch yielded to the rising dark.

The river roared down the mountainside, a constant rushing that she’d heard throughout the day as they walked, its many rapids just barely visible from the outlook. Even here, with the light fading, the river’s colors shifted from slate to jade to pine as it wandered between the peaks along the valley floor.

It was all so still, yet watchful, somehow. As if she were surrounded by something ancient and half-awake. As if each peak had its own moods and preferences, like whether the clouds clung to or avoided them, or trees lined their sides or left them bare. Their shapes were so odd and long that they looked as if behemoths had once lain down beside the rivers, pulled a rumpled blanket over themselves, and fallen asleep forever.

The thought of sleep must have lured her into it, for the next thing she knew, the world was dark, save for the stars and the nearly full moon, so bright that a fire hadn’t been needed. Though she could have used its warmth. Cassian lay a few feet away, his back to her, the moonlight gilding his wings.

He’d left her a plate of food—bread and hard cheese and some sort of dried meat. She didn’t touch it, though. Ignored the grumble in her stomach.

She just cracked her stiff neck, wrapped a blanket around herself, and lay upon the ground. She slid her arm again beneath her head and closed her eyes against the cold.



For the next two days, she stared at the back of Cassian’s head.

For the next two days, she did not speak.

Every pebble and stone seemed to be on a quest to trip her or twist her ankle or work its way inside her boots.

Afternoon was approaching on the following day, clouds drifting just above the peaks on a swift wind, when her head began pounding. The sunlight turned too bright; her sweat stung.

Despite days of walking, they had only cleared a few of the peaks. Mountains that Cassian sailed over when flying were endless on foot. How he selected the right path, she didn’t ask. Where they were going, she didn’t ask, either. She just followed him, eyes fixed on his back.

That sight blurred as her head, her whole body swayed a little.

She tried to swallow and found her throat so dry her tongue had stuck to the roof of her mouth. She peeled it free. Water—when had she last had a sip of water? Her canteen was at the top of her pack, but to halt, to pull it out … She didn’t feel like unbuckling her straps to drop the bag. Like signaling to him that she needed to pause.

Last night had been the same as the previous one: she had reached their camp, collapsed, and barely been able to remove the pack before falling asleep. She woke later to find a plate of cold food beside her, covered with a thin cloth against the elements. She ate while he slept, then closed her eyes again.

Only sheer exhaustion could summon the oblivion she craved. Every time they stopped throughout the day, she was so tired she fell to her knees and dumped the pack. And during the pause in motion, she was so weary she couldn’t think about the ruin she’d made of herself, the ruin she’d always been, deep down. No training, no learning about the Valkyries and their Mind-Stilling would help. Nothing would help.

So she could wait for the water. Because to stop was to allow those thoughts in, even if they trailed behind her like leaden shadows, heavier than the pack.

Her ankle twisted on a loose stone, and she gritted her teeth against the lash of pain, but continued. Cassian hadn’t so much as stumbled once. She would know: she watched him all day long. But he stumbled now. Nesta lurched forward, but—

No. That was her. She was the one falling.



Cassian was halfway up the dried riverbed when stones crunched and clacked behind him.

He whirled to find Nesta facedown. Not moving.

He swore, rushing down the stony path, and slid to his knees before her. The sharp stones bit his legs through his pants, but he didn’t care, not as he turned her over, his heart thundering.

She’d fainted. His relief was a primal thing in him, settling, but—

He hadn’t looked back at her in hours. Filmy white crusted her lips; her skin was flushed and sweaty. He grabbed for the canteen at his belt, unscrewing the cap, and pulled her head into his lap. “Drink,” he ordered, opening her mouth for her, his blood roaring in his ears.

Nesta stirred, but didn’t fight him when he poured a little water down her throat. It was enough to have her opening her eyes. They were glazed.

Cassian demanded, “When was the last time you had water?”

Her eyes sharpened. The first time she’d really looked at him in three solid days. But she only took the canteen and drank deep, draining it.

When she’d finished, she groaned, pushing herself from his lap, but only onto her side.

He snapped, “You should have been drinking water throughout the day.”

She stared at the rocks around them.

He couldn’t stand that look—the vacancy, the indifference, as if she no longer really cared whether she lived or died here in the wild.

His stomach twisted. Instinct bellowed at him to wrap himself around her, to comfort and soothe, but another voice, an ancient and wise voice, whispered to keep going. One more mountain, that voice said. Just one more mountain.

He trusted that voice. “We’ll camp here tonight.”

Nesta didn’t try to rise, and Cassian scanned for a flatter expanse of ground. There—twenty feet up the riverbed and to the left. Flat enough. “Come on,” he coaxed. “A few more feet and you can sleep.”

She didn’t move. As if she couldn’t.

He told himself it was because she’d fainted and might not be sturdy, but he walked back to her. Crouched and picked her up in his arms, pack

and all.

She said nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But he knew it was coming—that storm. Knew that Nesta would speak again, and when she did, he’d better be ready to weather it.



Nesta found another plate waiting when she awoke to darkness. The full moon had shown her face, so bright the mountains, the rivers, the valley were illuminated enough that even the leaves on the trees far below were visible. She’d never seen such a view. It seemed like a secret, slumbering land that time had forgotten.

She was nothing before that view, these mountains. As insignificant to any of it as one of the stones that still rattled in her boot. It was a blessed relief, to be nothing and no one.

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but dawn broke, and they were again moving. Heading north, he said—showing her, in a rare moment of civility, that the mossy sides of trees always faced that way, helping him stay on course.

There was a lake, he told her during lunch. They’d reach it tonight, and stay there a day or two.

She barely heard. One foot after another, mile after mile, up and down. The mountains watched her, the river sang to her, as if guiding her onward to that lake.

No amount of driving her body into the earth would make her good. She knew it. Wondered if he did, too. Wondered if he thought he was trekking out here with her on a fool’s errand.

Or maybe it was like one of the ancient stories she’d heard as a child: he a wicked queen’s huntsman, leading her into the deep wild before carving out her heart.

She wished he would. Wished someone would cut the damned thing from her chest. Wished someone would smother the voice that whispered of every horrible thing she had ever done, every awful thought she’d had, every person she’d failed.

She had been born wrong. Had been born with claws and fangs and had never been able to keep from using them, never been able to quell the part of her that roared at betrayal, that could hate and love more violently than anyone ever understood. Elain had been the only one who perhaps grasped it, but now her sister loathed her.

She didn’t know how to fix it. How to make any of it right. How to stop being this way.

She didn’t remember a time when she hadn’t been angry. Maybe before her mother had died, but even then her mother herself had been bitter, disdainful of their father, and her mother’s disdain had become her own.

She couldn’t quell that relentless, churning anger. Couldn’t stop herself from lashing out before she could be wounded.

She was no better than a rabid dog. She had been a rabid dog with Amren and Feyre. A beast, exactly like Tamlin. She hadn’t even cared that she’d made it down the House stairs at last—did it count, when it was driven by fury?

Did she count—was she worth being counted?

It was the question that sent everything crumpling inside her.

Nesta cleared the hill Cassian had mounted ahead, and a sparkling, turquoise lake spread before them. It lay slightly sunken between two peaks, as if a pair of green hands had been cupped to hold the water within them. Gray stones lined its shore.

Nesta didn’t see the lake, or the stones, or the sunlight and green.

Her vision blurred, and her eyes stung as if they had been sliced— cleaved open to allow the tears to pass.

She made it to the stones before she fell to her knees, so hard the rock bit into her bones. Was she worth being counted?

She knew the answer. Had always known it.

Cassian whirled toward her, but Nesta didn’t see him, either, or hear his words.

Not as she buried her face in her hands and wept.

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