Chapter no 56

A Court of Silver Flames

A month passed, and winter crept upon Velaris like hoarfrost over a windowpane.

Morning training became a chilled affair, their breath clouding the frosted air as they worked with swords and knives, the metal so cold it bit into their palms. Even their shields sometimes became crusted with frost. Valkyries learned to fight in all kinds of weather, Gwyn told them. Especially the cold. So when snow fell occasionally, Nesta and the others trained, too.

Nesta had to switch into another size of leathers, and when she looked in the mirror each morning to braid her hair, the face that stared back had lost its gauntness, the shadows beneath the eyes. Even with Cassian fucking her on every surface of the House, sometimes until the early hours of the morning, the exhaustion, the purple bruises under her eyes, had vanished.

She told herself it didn’t matter that he never stayed in her bed afterward to hold her. She wondered when he’d grow tired of it—of her. Surely he’d get bored and move on. Even if he feasted on her each night as if he were starving. Gripped her thighs in his powerful hands and licked and suckled at her until she writhed. Sometimes she straddled his face, hands clenching the headboard, and rode his tongue until she came on it. Sometimes it was her tongue on him, around him, and she swallowed down

every drop he spilled into her mouth. Sometimes he spilled on her chest, her stomach, her back, and she came at the first splash of him on her skin.

She couldn’t imagine tiring of him. Having him over and over only made her need grow.

She’d been practicing dances with Morrigan in the House study twice a week, the two of them barely swapping more than a few words as Nesta learned waltz after waltz, some particular to the Hewn City, others to the Autumn Court, others to the Fae in general.

Rhys had given them the Veritas orb so Morrigan might share with Nesta her memories of the dances—and the music that accompanied them.

Nesta had watched the steps, the balls and parties that were sometimes full of light and others that had darkness and sorrow around the edges. Morrigan had offered no explanation beyond comments about a dancer’s technique.

The music, though … It was brilliant. So full of life and motion that she always found herself wishing she had another hour or two of lessons just to hear it again and again and again.

No one ever showed up to watch them, not even Cassian. If Morrigan reported on their progress, she never let on.

Now, with Winter Solstice three days away, Morrigan was wrapping up her lesson as snow drifted past the wall of windows. She asked Nesta suddenly, “What are you wearing to the ball, anyway?”

Nesta, leaning against the worktable to catch her breath and listening to the strains of the violin through the Veritas orb’s shimmering mirage, shrugged. “One of my dresses.”

“Oh, no.” Sweat beaded on Morrigan’s brow, and her braided golden hair curled slightly with the moisture. “Eris …” She searched for the words. “He’s all about appearances. You have to wear the right thing.”

Nesta considered what Morrigan usually wore, and frowned. “I can’t wear something that revealing.” Both Morrigan and Feyre opted for less is more when it came to their Hewn City attire. Nesta had no issues with nudity before her bedroom partners, but in public … The human had not been ripped from her entirely.

“I’ll look around.” Morrigan pushed off the windowsill. “See what we have.”

“Thank you, Morrigan.”

It was the first normal conversation they’d had. The first time Nesta had even uttered those words to Morrigan. Ever said her name.

Morrigan blinked, realizing it, too. “It’s just Mor, you know. Amren is the only person in this court who calls me Morrigan, and that’s because she’s a cranky old bastard.”

Nesta’s lips twitched upward. “Very well, then.” She added, trying it out, “Mor.”

The clock chimed one, and Nesta began walking out the door, leaving the orb and its soaring music where it lay on the desk. “I need to head to the library.” She was already going to be late, but the music had been so enthralling she hadn’t wanted to stop.

“So do I, actually,” Morrigan—Mor—said, and they fell into step in the hall. “The work I’m doing for Rhys and Feyre in Vallahan requires some research, and Clotho has been looking into it for me.”


Stilted silence fell as they strode down the stairs, then into another hall.

The towering doors to the library appeared before Nesta asked, “Does it bother you that I’ll be dancing with Eris?”

Mor considered. “No. Because I know you’re going to make him crawl before the end of it.”

It wasn’t a compliment. Not really.

They found Clotho at her usual desk. She rose, greeting Mor with an embrace that left Nesta speechless.

“My old friend,” Mor said, her face lit with warmth. The face she showed everyone in this court except for Nesta. And those in the Hewn City.

Shame tightened Nesta’s gut. But she said nothing as Clotho’s enchanted pen and paper wrote, You look well, Mor.

“Eh.” Mor lifted a shoulder. “Nesta’s been running me ragged with dancing lessons, but I’ve been fine.”

I found the books you requested. Clotho placed a crooked hand atop a pile of books on her desk.

Nesta took that as her cue to leave, and nodded to the females as they fell into a discussion about the material. Gwyn was waiting a level below, watching them—with Emerie in the stacks behind her.

“What are you doing here?” Nesta asked Emerie. She’d still been in the training ring when Nesta had hurried off to her dancing lesson. But that had been hours ago.

“I wanted to see where you two work,” Emerie said, eyes upon Clotho and Mor a level above. She sighed, nodding toward Mor. “I always forget how beautiful she is. “She never comes to Windhaven these days.” Nesta could have sworn pink stole over Emerie’s brown cheeks.

Indeed, in the library’s deep gloom, Mor shone like a ray of sunshine.

Even the darkness at its bottom seemed to slither away.

“I was showing Emerie the wonders of Merrill’s office while she’s off at a meeting,” Gwyn said. “I’ve got to go work, but I thought you could bring her around while you shelve.” Gwyn threw her a wry glance. “And dance.”

Nesta rolled her eyes. She might have been caught practicing her waltzes in the stacks once or twice. Or ten times.

Nesta nodded to Emerie, drawing the female’s gaze away from Mor’s animated hand gestures. “Come on.”

But Gwyn said, “Actually, before you two go, I wanted to give you something. Since it’s probably the last time we’ll see each other until Winter Solstice is over.”

Nesta and Emerie swapped confused looks. The latter asked, “You got us presents?”

Gwyn only said, “I’ll meet you down at your cart.” With that, she dashed into the gloom.

Emerie and Nesta aimed for Level Five, where Nesta had left her cart. It had been replenished with books needing to be shelved. She explained what she did, but Emerie seemed to be half-listening. Her face had gone pale.

“What?” Nesta asked.

Emerie’s brows bunched. “I … I must not have drunk enough water during training.” They’d tried out two new Valkyrie techniques that Gwyn had found the night before, and both had been particularly brutal, ordering them to use shields as springboards for launching a fellow Valkyrie into the skies, and to do their abdominal curls bearing the weights of those shields.

No one had managed to cut the ribbon, though Emerie had nicked an edge two days ago.

“What’s wrong?” Nesta pressed.

Emerie’s eyes turned bleak. “It’s … I swear, I can hear my father yelling down here.” Her hands trembled as she lifted one to brush a strand of hair behind an ear. “I can hear him screaming at me, can hear the furniture breaking …”

Nesta’s blood went cold. She whipped her head to the downward slope to their right. No darkness lurked there, but they were low enough … “This place is ancient and strange,” she said, even as she processed what Emerie had admitted. She had never spoken of her father beyond the wing clipping. But Nesta had gathered enough: the man had been a beast like Tomas Mandray’s father.

“Let’s go up a level, where the darkness doesn’t whisper so loudly. I’m sure Gwyn will find us easily enough.” She linked her arm with Emerie’s, pressing her body close, letting some of her warmth leak into her friend.

Emerie nodded, though she remained wan.

Nesta wondered if Emerie heard her father’s bellowing every step of the way.

Gwyn did find them, the priestess panting and flushed as she handed out two rectangular parcels, each roughly the size of a large, thin book. “One for each of you.”

Nesta opened the brown paper and beheld a stack of pages filled with writing. At the top of the first page, it merely said, Chapter Twenty-One. She read the first few lines beneath it, then nearly dropped the pages. “This

—this is about us.”

Gwyn beamed. “I convinced Merrill to add us into the penultimate chapter. She even let me write it—with her own annotations, of course. But it’s about the rebirth of the Valkyries. About what we’re doing.”

Nesta had no words. Emerie’s hands were once more shaking as she leafed through the pages. “You had this much to say about us?” Emerie said, choking on a laugh.

Gwyn rubbed her hands together. “With more to come.”

Nesta read a line at random on the fifth page. Whether the sun beat hot on their brows or freezing rain turned their bones to ice, Nesta, Emerie, and Gwyneth arrived at practice each morningready to …

The back of her throat ached; her eyes stung. “We’re in a book.”

Gwyn’s fingers slid into hers, squeezing tight. Nesta looked up to find her holding Emerie’s free hand as well. Gwyn smiled again, her eyes bright. “Our stories are worth telling.”



Nesta was still reeling from the generosity of Gwyn’s gift that evening when she found a note from Cassian, telling her he needed to stay overnight in one of the Illyrian outposts to deal with some petty squabble between war-bands. With the Blood Rite mere months away, he’d said, tensions were always high, but this year seemed particularly bad. New feuds popping up every few days, old grudges resurfacing … Nesta, despite the note’s contents, had smiled to herself, picturing Cassian’s take-no-bullshit face as he laid down the law.

But her amusement had soon faded, and though she tried Mind-Stilling twice after dinner, she couldn’t get herself to settle. Kept thinking of Gwyn’s gift, of Emerie’s terrified face as she sensed whatever was in the darkness.

Sitting at her desk, staring at nothing, Nesta cupped her forehead in her palm.

A mug of hot chocolate appeared beside her, along with a handful of shortbread. Nesta chuckled. “Thank you.”

She sipped from her drink, nearly sighing at the richness of the cocoa. “I’d like to try a fire,” she said quietly. “A small one.”

Instantly, the House had a tiny blaze going in the fireplace. A log popped, and Nesta straightened, stomach twisting.

It was a fire. Not her father’s neck. Her gaze shifted to the carved wooden rose she’d placed upon the mantel, half-hidden in the shadows beside a figurine of a supple-bodied female, her upraised arms clasping a full moon between them. Some sort of primal goddess—perhaps even the Mother herself. Nesta hadn’t let herself dwell on why she’d felt the need to set the rose there. Why she hadn’t just thrown it in a drawer.

Another log cracked, and Nesta flinched. But she remained sitting there.

Staring at that carved rose.

Would she live the rest of her life like Emerie, always glancing over a shoulder for the shadow of the past to haunt her? Did she appear as Emerie had this afternoon, terrified and pained?

She owed herself more than that. Emerie, too, deserved more. A chance to live a life without fear and dread.

So Nesta could try. Right now. She’d face this fire.

Another log cracked. Nesta ground her teeth. Breathe. Inhale for six, hold, exhale for six.

She did just that.

This is a fire. It reminds you of your father, of something horrible happening. But this is not him, and while you are feeling uncomfortable, you can get through it.

Nesta focused on her breathing. Made herself unclench each of her too-tight muscles, starting with her face and working all the way down to her toes.

All while she told herself, over and over, This is a fire. It makes you uncomfortable. This is why you react as you do. You can breathe through this. Work through this.

Her body didn’t loosen, but she was able to sit there. Endure the fire until it dimmed to embers, and then went out entirely.

She didn’t know why she found herself on the verge of tears as the cinders smoldered. Didn’t know why the rush of pride that filled her chest made her want to laugh and whoop and dance around the room. She hadn’t done anything more than sit by a fire, but … she had sat. Stayed.

She had not failed. She had faced it and survived.

She might not have saved the world or led armies, but she had made this small, initial step.

Nesta wiped at her eyes, and when she looked around her quiet room, she startled to find a trail of evergreen twigs leading to her now-open door.

Cocking a brow, she rose. “What’s all this about?” she asked the House, following the trail it had left.

Down the hall, along the stairs, all the way down to the library itself. “Where are we going?” Nesta asked the warm air. Mercifully, even the night owls amongst the priestesses had gone to sleep, leaving no one to see her hurrying after the trail of branches. Around the levels of the library they twined, deeper and deeper, until they reached the seventh level.

Nesta drew up short as the trail stopped at the edge of the wall of darkness.

A light flickered beyond it. Several lights. As if to say, Come. Don’t be afraid.

So Nesta sucked in a breath as she stepped into the gloom.

Little tea lights wended into a familiar darkness. She and Feyre had once ventured down here—had faced horrors here. No evidence remained of that day. Only the firelit dimness, the candles leading her to the lowest levels of the library.

To the pit itself.

Nesta followed them, spiraling to the bottom of the pit, where one small lantern glowed, faintly illuminating the rows of books veiled in permanent shadow around it.

Heart racing, Nesta lifted the lantern in one hand and gazed at the darkness, untouched by the light from the library high, high above. The heart of the world, of existence. Of self.

The heart of the House.

“This …” Her fingers tightened on the lantern. “This darkness is your


As if in answer, the House laid a little evergreen sprig at her feet. “A Winter Solstice present. For me.”

She could have sworn a warm hand brushed her neck in answer. “But your darkness …” Wonder softened her voice. “You were trying to show

me. Show others. Who you are, down deep. What haunts you. You were trying to show them all those dark, broken pieces because the priestesses, and Emerie, and I … We’re the same as you.”

Her throat constricted at what the House had gifted her. This knowledge.

She lifted the lantern higher and blew out its flame. Let the darkness sweep in. Embraced it.

“I’m not afraid,” she whispered into it. “You are my friend, and my home. Thank you for sharing this with me.”

Again, Nesta could have sworn that phantom touch caressed her neck, her cheek, her brow.

“Happy Solstice,” she said into the beautiful, fractured darkness.

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