Chapter no 55

A Court of Silver Flames

“It’s a small cut. Stop fussing.”

“Your skull was cracked, and your arm was broken. You’re grounded for a few days.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Oh, I most certainly am.”

Nesta might have smiled at Cassian and Rhysand’s standoff had she not agreed with the High Lord. Feyre stood beside her mate, concern tightening her features.

Ataraxia still weighed heavy in Nesta’s hand. The Harp in the other.

Her sister’s eyes slid to her. Nesta swallowed, holding Feyre’s gaze. She prayed that her sister could read the silent words on her face. I am sorry for what I said to you in Amren’s apartment. I am truly sorry.

Feyre’s eyes softened. And then, to Nesta’s shock, Feyre answered into her mind, Don’t worry about it.

Nesta steeled herself, shaking off her surprise. She’d forgotten that her sister was … What was the word? Daemati. Able to mind-speak, as Rhys could. Nesta said, heart thundering, I spoke in anger, and I’m sorry.

Feyre’s pause was considerable. Then she said, the words like the first rays of dawn, I forgive you.

Nesta tried not to sag. She intended to ask about the baby, but Rhys turned to her and said, “Put the Harp on the desk, Nesta.”

Nesta did, careful not to touch any of the twenty-six silver strings.

“It allowed you to winnow within and outside of the Prison,” Feyre said, peering at the Harp. “I suppose because it is Made, and exists beyond the rules of ordinary magic?” She glanced to Rhys, who shrugged. Feyre’s mouth pursed. “If any of our enemies got their hands on this, they’d use it against us in a heartbeat. No wards around this house, the House of Wind, around any of our caches and hiding places would be safe. Not to mention that the Harp seems to have a will of its own—a desire to stir up trouble. We can’t plant it back in the Prison, not now that it’s been awakened.”

Rhys rubbed his jaw. “So we lock it up with the Mask, warded and spelled so it can’t act out again.”

“I’d keep them separate,” Feyre advised. “Remember what happened when the halves of the Book were near each other? And why make it easier for an enemy to get both of them?”

“Good point,” Cassian said, wincing as if the words made his skull ache. Madja had healed the hairline fracture just above his temple, but he’d be in pain for a few days. And his broken arm was healed, but still delicate enough to require care. The sight of all the bandages was enough to make Nesta wish she could kill Lanthys again.

Rhys drummed his fingers on the desk, surveying the Harp. Then he asked Nesta, “Beyond seeing Briallyn, you said you also saw something when you first touched the Harp?”

Nesta had briefly explained it when they’d arrived. “I think whoever used it last did something horrible with it. Maybe trapped the people who once lived on the Prison’s island in the walls, somehow. Is that possible?”

Doubt shone in Rhys’s eyes.

Nesta asked, “What is the Wild Hunt?” She’d also told him of their encounter with Lanthys, and the presence of the Autumn Court soldiers. Cassian had convinced Rhys not to engage with them, at least until they could deal with Briallyn. When Rhys had raised his shield around the Prison once more, they’d already vanished.

Rhys blew out a breath, leaning back in his chair. “Honestly, I thought it mere myth. That Lanthys remembers such a thing … Well, there’s always

room for lying, I suppose, but on the off chance he was telling the truth, that’d make him more than fifteen thousand years old.”

Feyre asked, “So what is it, then?”

Rhys lifted a hand, and a book of legends from a shelf behind him floated to his fingers. He laid it upon the desk. He flipped it open to a page, revealing an image of a group of tall, strange-looking beings with crowns atop their heads.

“The Fae were not the first masters of this world. According to our oldest legends, most now forgotten, we were created by beings who were near-gods—and monsters. The Daglan. They ruled for millennia, and enslaved us and the humans. They were petty and cruel and drank the magic of the land like wine.”

Rhys’s eyes flicked to Ataraxia, then to Cassian. “Some strains of the mythology claim that one of the Fae heroes who rose up to overthrow them was Fionn, who was given the great sword Gwydion by the High Priestess Oleanna, who had dipped it into the Cauldron itself. Fionn and Gwydion overthrew the Daglan. A millennium of peace followed, and the lands were divided into rough territories that were the precursors to the courts—but at the end of those thousand years, they were at each other’s throats, on the brink of war.” His face tightened. “Fionn unified them and set himself above them as High King. The first and only High King this land has ever had.”

Nesta could have sworn the last words were spoken with a sharp look toward Cassian. But Cassian only winked at Rhys.

“What happened to the High King?” Feyre asked.

Rhys ran a hand over a page of the book. “Fionn was betrayed by his queen, who had been leader of her own territory, and by his dearest friend, who was his general. They killed him, taking some of his bloodline’s most powerful and precious weapons, and then out of the chaos that followed, the seven High Lords rose, and the courts have been in place ever since.”

Feyre asked, “Does Amren remember this?”

Rhys shook his head. “Only vaguely now. From what I’ve gleaned, she arrived during those years before Fionn and Gwydion rose, and went into the Prison during the Age of Legends—the time when this land was full of

heroic figures who were keen to hunt down the last members of their former masters’ race. They feared Amren, believing her one of their enemies, and threw her into the Prison. When she emerged again, she’d missed Fionn’s fall and the loss of Gwydion, and found the High Lords ruling.”

Nesta considered all Lanthys had said. “And what is Narben?” “Lanthys asked about it?”

“He said my sword isn’t Narben. He sounded surprised.”

Rhys studied her blade. “Narben is a death-sword. It’s lost, possibly destroyed, but stories say it can slay even monsters like Lanthys.”

“So can Nesta’s sword, apparently,” Feyre said, studying the blade as well.

“Beheading him with it killed him,” Rhys mused.

“A slice from it seemed to bind him into a physical form,” Nesta corrected. “Cassian’s dagger struck true only after Lanthys had been forced to give up his mist.”

“Interesting,” Rhys murmured.

Cassian said, “You still haven’t explained the Wild Hunt.”

Rhys turned a few pages in the book, to an illustration of a host of riders on horses and all manner of beasts. “The Daglan delighted in terrorizing the Fae and humans under their control. The Wild Hunt was a way to keep all of us in line. They’d gather a host of their fiercest, most merciless warriors and grant them free rein to kill as they pleased. The Daglan possessed mighty, monstrous beasts—hounds, they called them, though they didn’t look like the hounds we know—that they used to run prey to ground before they tortured and killed them. It’s a terrible history, and much of it might be elaborated myths.”

“The hounds looked like the beasts in the Hewn City,” Nesta said quietly.

They all looked at her.

She admitted, “Lanthys showed me a vision. Of … what he and I might be. Together. We ruled in a palace, king and queen with the Trove, and at our feet sat those hounds. They looked like the scaled beasts carved into the Hewn City’s pillars.”

Even Rhys had no answer to that.

Cassian’s jaw tightened. “So even while he tried to kill you, he was trying to seduce you?”

Nesta’s stomach churned, but she refrained from mentioning how graphic that vision had been. “There was a fourth object in the vision, but it was in shadow—was there ever a fourth part of the Trove? All I could make out was a bit of ancient bone.”

Rhys ran a hand through his dark hair. “As far as history has confirmed, there are only three objects in the Trove.”

Feyre asked, “What if it’s protected by a spell, like the one to shield all thought of the Trove, to keep people from ever knowing about the fourth object?”

Rhys’s eyes shadowed. “Then the Mother spare us, because even Amren only vaguely remembers a rumor of it.”

The words hung there. Nesta asked, “So. Now I go after the Crown.” “No,” Cassian said, his pain-hazed eyes sharpening.

Feyre nodded in agreement. “Briallyn knows we have the other two items. She sent those soldiers to get the Harp.”

Cassian growled. “I thought Eris was being an asshole, but when I told him about the two dozen soldiers in Oorid, he said there had been more in the unit that disappeared.” He rubbed his jaw. “I should have listened. Should have looked into it. Briallyn had another dozen waiting to attack.” Self-loathing filled his face, and Nesta suppressed the urge to reach for his hand.

Feyre countered, “Eris spews enough bullshit on a good day that anyone might miss an offhanded comment like that, Cass. At least we can now tell Eris where the rest of his soldiers are.” Nesta could have hugged her sister for the relief that bowed Cassian’s shoulders upon hearing her words. For all his arrogance, the opinions of his friends, his family, mattered deeply. None of them would ever chide him for failure, but he’d punish himself for it.

Nesta brushed her fingers against Cassian’s in silent understanding. His own curled against hers, meeting her stare as if to say, See? We’re the same after all.

Feyre went on, “If Briallyn wants the Mask and the Harp badly enough that she acted so swiftly today, she’ll keep coming to us. And we’ll be waiting for her.” A fierce light entered her eyes.

Rhys frowned. “Even with just the Crown, though, Briallyn can do a great deal of damage. For all we know, Beron is under her control, as in thrall to her as Eris’s soldiers are. We need to put an end to her and retrieve the Crown. Before war truly erupts.”

“It’s too risky,” Feyre countered. “We pursued the Cauldron in Hybern and it went badly.”

“Then we learn from our mistakes,” Rhys challenged.

“She’ll have set a trap,” Feyre said. “We don’t go after it.”

Silence fell before Rhysand said, “Then we need to secure wartime alliances again—and fast. And do some damage control on the ones we already have that might be strained.”

Cassian arched a brow, worry shining in his eyes. “You sound as if you have an idea.”

“Eris is coming to the Winter Solstice celebration at the Hewn City,” Rhys said. It was fast approaching, Nesta realized. “He’s shaken by Tamlin catching you two meeting with him, and wondering if we’ll balk from the alliance now that there’s the slim chance Tamlin might reveal it. Or decide to sell him out first. We need to remind Eris of our continued commitment, and that he is … important to us. That we have his back.”

Cassian snarled with disgust; Feyre echoed the expression.

“So buy him a present,” Feyre said, waving a hand, “and tell him we all send our love.”

“He’ll want more than that,” Rhys said, mouth twitching, and his eyes fell upon Nesta.

Cassian straightened before Rhys could even speak. “You’re not going to use her.”

Feyre glanced between them, and after a second, as if her mate had spoken into her mind, she demanded, “Really, Rhys?”

Rhys leaned back, and Nesta frowned, the only one of them apparently not aware of what this meant. Rhys said to her, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t wish to. But Elain mentioned that you have particular

skill on the dance floor. Skill that once won you the hand of a duke in a single waltz.”

She’d forgotten that night, the blur of jewels and silks and that duke’s handsome face. All she’d felt then was wild, savage triumph.

“Over my dead fucking body,” Cassian exploded.

Nesta asked, “You want me to dance with Eris?” Her heart began to pound, not entirely with fear.

“I want you to seduce him,” Rhys said. “Not into bed, but to make him realize what he might attain once he understands that we have no plans to break this alliance. To weigh the benefits more strongly than the risks.”

Nesta crossed her arms, ignoring Cassian’s pointed glare, silently demanding that she dismiss this notion entirely. “You really think my dancing with Eris will solidify his loyalty?”

“I think Eris is our ally, and will expect to dance with a lady of this court at the ball no matter what. I won’t let Feyre within five feet of him, Mor might kill him, and Amren is more likely to scare him off than win him over, so you and Elain are the only options.”

“Elain doesn’t go near him,” Feyre said. “And you won’t let me near him?”

Rhys threw her a charming smile. “You know what I mean.”

Feyre rolled her eyes. “You’re becoming insufferable.” She turned to Nesta. “Eris isn’t … He’s not good. He’s not like Beron, but he …”

“I know what he did to Morrigan,” Nesta said. Or rather, what he didn’t do: help her, when her family had brutalized her and dumped her over the Autumn Court border as punishment for ruining their marriage alliance. Eris had found her, and then merely walked away. “I dealt with him the other day. I know what I’d be getting into with him.”

“Mor,” Rhys went on, “can teach you the dances. She had to learn all of them, and since she still presides over the Court of Nightmares, she’s the best one to instruct you.”

“Nesta hasn’t agreed to anything,” Cassian snapped. “Even one dance with that prick is too much—”

“I’ll do it,” Nesta cut in, if only to spite him for being so … territorial. She glanced to the sword still in her hand. “I just killed an immortal being.

Eris is nothing. And if it will make him remember why he wants to be allied with us, make him think he might attain me if he holds up his end, then fine.”

“He’s already our ally,” Cassian countered. “One dance is really going to secure his continued cooperation?”

“We need to show Eris that we respect and trust him,” Feyre conceded with a defeated sigh. “Even if we don’t. And letting him dance with one of our family is proof of that—at least for someone from the Autumn Court. If he winds up eating out of Nesta’s hand, fantastic. If it just makes him remember that we’re on his side, good. But these bonds have to be maintained.”

“I don’t like it,” Cassian growled.

“You don’t have to like it,” Feyre said, head lifting, full of that High Lady’s authority. “You just have to watch from the sidelines and not look like you want to rip his head off.”

Nesta cut in, “Tell Morrigan I’ll meet with her for dancing lessons whenever she’s available.”

Feyre and Cassian, still bristling at each other, silently turned toward


Nesta approached the desk, laying Ataraxia there. “Here,” she said to

Rhys. “You can take it back.”

Rhys said nothing, but Feyre’s brows rose. “Why don’t you keep it?”

Cassian’s curious stare seared her like a brand, but Nesta only said, “I have no interest in more death.”



Nesta inhaled through her nose for a count of six, held her breath for a few seconds, then exhaled through her mouth for another six beats. In the quiet of her bedroom that night, settled in the chair, she focused on her breath, nothing more.

Any thoughts that came in, she acknowledged and let pass. Even if some kept returning.

She didn’t care where they hid the Harp. If they needed her blood to ward it as they had for the Mask, they’d let her know. But the thought of

what came next—

Breathe. Count.

Nesta inhaled again, attention fixing on her expanding ribs, the feeling of the breath in her body. Even weeks into it, some days’ Mind-Stilling exercises were harder than others. But she kept at it, ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night.

Nesta exhaled, counting. Kept going.

That was all she supposed she could do: just keep going. One day, one breath at a time.

She let that thought go, too. Breathed and breathed, and then stopped the counting altogether. Let her mind wander.

But her mind did not shoot in every direction. It remained calm.


Content right where it was.



War had left the cottage untouched. But the harsh winters since Nesta had last seen it had not been so kind.

Azriel had winnowed her and Cassian here after training, but hadn’t lingered. Apparently, Gwyn wanted him to go over dagger handling, so he’d left them with a promise to return in an hour.

Nesta had no idea if an hour would be too much, or too little. Had no idea why she’d asked Cassian to come here with her, really. But she’d gotten it into her head that she needed to visit. To see this place.

The midday autumn sun made the disrepair all the more stark: the thatched roof that had molded or balded in spots, the overgrown weeds already turning brown before the winter, rising up to the small windows in the stone walls. Nesta’s throat tightened, but she forced herself to walk toward the entry.

Cassian remained silent behind her, footsteps so quiet he could have been the brisk wind through the too-tall grasses. His head and arm had been fully healed by this morning, two days after Nesta had agreed to bewitch Eris. Cassian had even exercised alongside her earlier, though at a slower pace than usual. Like he was indeed heeding Rhys and Madja’s warning to

go easy. That he’d gone through the exercises without grimacing had caused some intrinsic part of her to sigh with relief—and dare ask him to join her today. She’d never have invited him along if he’d still been injured.

Not that there was much of an enemy here to pose a threat. No humans wandered the leaf-strewn road beyond the cottage; only a few birds chirped a halfhearted melody from the almost barren trees.

Muted, drab, and empty. That was how this land felt, even with autumn upon it. As if even the sun couldn’t be bothered to shine properly here.

Nesta’s heart thundered as she laid a hand against the cold wooden door. Claw marks still gouged it.

“Tamlin’s handiwork, I take it?” Cassian asked behind her.

Nesta shrugged, unable to find the words. She and Elain had rehung the door after Tamlin had broken it. Their father, his leg wrecked beyond repair and unable to bear weight, had watched them, offering unhelpful advice.

Her fingers curled into a fist and she shouldered the door open. Its rusted hinges objected, creaking, and a dusty, half-rotten scent swarmed her nose.

Her cheeks heated. For Cassian to be here, to see this—

“Just a brute, remember?” He stepped to her side. “I’ve lived in far worse. At least you had walls and a roof.”

Nesta hadn’t realized how much she needed to hear those words, and her shoulders loosened as she stepped into the cottage proper. In the chill dimness, broken only by rays of sunlight, she frowned at the ceiling. “This house used to have a roof.” The damage had let in all manner of creatures and weather—the former had made themselves comfortable, judging by the nests and various scattered droppings.

Nesta’s mouth turned dry. This horrible, awful, dark place. She couldn’t stop her shaking.

Cassian laid a hand on her shoulder. “Walk me through it.” She couldn’t. Couldn’t find the words.

He pointed to a long worktable. One leg had collapsed, and the whole thing lay at a slant. “You ate here?”

She nodded. They’d eaten here, some meals in silence, some with her and Elain trying to fill the quiet with their idle chatter, some with her and

Feyre at each other’s throats. Like those last meals they’d had with her in this house.

Nesta’s stare drifted to the paint flaking off the walls. The intricate little designs. Cassian followed her stare. “Did Feyre paint that?”

Nesta swallowed, and managed to get out, “She painted every chance she got. Any extra coin she managed to save went toward paints.”

“Have you ever seen what she’s done to the cabin up in the mountains?” “No.” She’d never been there.

“Feyre painted the whole thing. Just like this. She told me once that there’s a dresser here …”

Nesta aimed for the bedroom. “This one?” Cassian followed her, and gods, it was so cramped and dark and smelly. The bed was still covered with its stained linens. The three of them had slept here for years.

Cassian ran a hand over the painted dresser, marveling. “She really did paint stars for herself before she knew Rhys was her mate. Before she knew he existed.” His fingers traced the twining vines of flowers on the second drawer. “Elain’s drawer.” They drifted lower, curling over a lick of flame. “And yours.”

Nesta managed a grunt of confirmation, her chest tight to the point of pain. There in the corner sat a pair of worn, half-rotted shoes. Her shoes. One of them was bursting at the toe’s seam. She’d worn those shoes—in public. Could still remember mud and stones creeping in.

Her heart thundered, and she walked out of the room, back into the main space.

She didn’t mean to, but she looked toward the dark fireplace. Toward the mantel.

Her father’s wood figurines lay atop it, thickly coated with dust and cobwebs. Some had been knocked over, presumably by whatever creatures now lived here.

That familiar roaring filled her ears, and Nesta’s steps thudded too loudly on the dusty floorboards as she approached the fireplace.

A carving of a rearing bear—no bigger than her fist—sat in the center.

Nesta’s fingers shook as she picked it up and blew off the dust. “He had some skill,” Cassian said quietly.

“Not enough,” Nesta said, setting the bear back onto the stone mantel.

She was going to vomit.

No. She could master this. Master herself. And face what lay before her.

She inhaled through her nose. Exhaled through her mouth. Counted the breaths.

Cassian stood beside her through all of it. Not speaking, not touching. Just there, should she need him. Her friend—whom she’d asked to come here with her not because he was sharing her bed, but because she wanted him here. His steadiness and kindness and understanding.

She plucked another figurine from the mantel: a rose carved from a dark sort of wood. She held it in her palm, its solid weight surprising, and traced a finger over one of the petals. “He made this one for Elain. Since it was winter and she missed the flowers.”

“Did he ever make any for you?”

“He knew better than to do that.” She inhaled a shuddering breath, held it, released it. Let her mind calm. “I think he would have, if I’d given him the smallest bit of encouragement, but … I never did. I was too angry.”

“You’d had your life overturned. You were allowed to be angry.”

“That’s not what you told me the first time we met.” She pivoted to find him arching a brow. “You told me I was a piece of shit for letting my younger sister go into the woods to hunt while I did nothing.”

“I didn’t say it like that.”

“The message was the same.” She squared her shoulders, turning to the small, broken cot in the shadows beyond the fireplace. “And you were right.” He didn’t reply as she strode to the cot. “My father slept here for years, letting us have the bedroom. That bed in there … I was born in that bed. My mother died in that bed. I hate that bed.” She ran a hand over the cracking wood of the cot’s frame. Splinters snagged at her fingertips. “But I hate this cot even more. He’d drag it in front of the fire every night and curl up there, huddling under the blankets. I always thought he looked so … so weak. Like a cowering animal. It enraged me.”

“Does it enrage you now?” A casual, but careful question.

“It …” Her throat worked. “I thought him sleeping here was a fitting punishment while we got the bed. It never occurred to me that he wanted us

to have the bed, to keep warm and be as comfortable as we could. That we’d only been able to take a few items of furniture from our former home and he’d chosen that bed as one of them. For our comfort. So we didn’t have to sleep on cots, or on the floor.” She rubbed at her chest. “I wouldn’t even let him sleep in the bed when the debtors shattered his leg. I was so lost in my grief and rage and … and sorrow, that I wanted him to feel a fraction of what I did.” Her stomach churned.

He squeezed her shoulder, but said nothing.

“He had to have known that,” she said hoarsely. “He had to have known how awful I was, and yet … he never yelled. That enraged me, too. And then he named a ship after me. Sailed it into battle. I just … I don’t understand why.”

“You were his daughter.”

“And that’s an explanation?” She scanned his face, the sadness etched there. Sadness—for her. For the ache in her chest and the stinging in her eyes.

“Love is complicated.”

She dropped his stare at that. She was a coward for avoiding his gaze. But she lifted her chin. “I never once considered what it was like for him. To go from this man who had made his own fortune, become known as the Prince of Merchants, and then lose everything. I don’t think losing my mother broke him the same way as losing his fleet. He’d been so sure the venture would gain him even more wealth—an obscene amount of wealth. People told him he was mad, but he refused to listen. When they were proved right … I think that humiliation broke him as much as the financial loss.”

She studied the calluses already building across her fingers and palms. “The debtors seemed gleeful when they came here—like they’d resented him all this time and were more than happy to take it out on his leg. I spent the entire time more terrified for what they’d do to me and Elain. Feyre … She tried to get them to stop. Stayed here with him while we hid in the bedroom.” She made herself meet Cassian’s gaze again. “I didn’t just fail Feyre by letting her go into the woods. There were plenty of other times.”

“Have you ever told her this?”

Nesta snorted. “No. I don’t know how.”

He studied her, and she resisted the urge to squirm under the scrutiny. “You’ll learn how. When you’re ready.”

“How very wise of you.” Cassian sketched a bow.

Despite this house, the history all around her, Nesta smiled. She pocketed the carved rose. “I’ve seen enough.”

He arched a brow. “Really?”

She clenched the wooden rose in her pocket. “I think I just needed to see this place. One last time. To know we got out. That there’s nothing left here except dust and bad memories.”

He slid an arm around her waist as they walked for the door, again surveying all the little paintings Feyre had squeezed into the cottage. “Az won’t be back for a little while. Let’s go flying.”

“What about the humans?” They’d run screaming in terror.

Cassian gave her a wicked smile, opening that half-broken door for her. Leading her into the sunlight and clean air. “It’ll add a little spice to their days.”

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