Chapter no 9

A Court of Silver Flames

Nesta stepped into the warmth of the small shop. The bell above the door jangled as she entered.

The floors were fresh pine, all polished and gleaming, a matching counter occupying the back, an open door beyond it revealing a rear room. Clothes for both males and females occupied the space, some displayed on dummies, others folded neatly along display tables.

A dark-haired female appeared on the other side of the counter, her braided-back hair shining in the lights. Her face was striking—elegant and sharp, contrasting with her full mouth. Her angular eyes and light brown skin suggested a heritage from another region, perhaps a recent ancestor from the Dawn Court. The light in those eyes was direct. Clear.

“Good morning,” the female said, her voice solid and frank. “Can I help you?”

If she recognized Nesta, she didn’t let on. Nesta gestured down at her fighting leathers. “I was looking for something warmer than this. The cold leaks through.”

“Ah,” the female said, glancing toward the door and the empty street beyond. Worried that someone might see her in here? Or waiting for another customer? “The warriors are all such proud fools that they never complain about the leathers being cold. They claim they keep them perfectly warm.”

“They’re decently warm,” Nesta confessed, part of her smiling at the way the female had said proud fools. As if she shared Nesta’s instinct to be unimpressed by the males in the camp. “But the cold still hits me.”

“Hmmm.” The woman folded back the partition on the counter, entering the showroom proper. She surveyed Nesta from head to toe. “I don’t sell fighting gear, but I wonder if we could get fleece-lined leathers made.” She nodded toward the street. “How often do you train?”

“I’m not training. I’m …” Nesta struggled for the right words. Honestly, what she was doing was being a wretched asshole. “I’m watching,” she said a shade pathetically.

“Ah.” The female’s eyes glinted. “Brought here against your will?”

It was none of her business. But Nesta said, “Part of my duties to the Night Court.”

She wanted to see if the female would pry, to see if she really did not know her. If she would judge her for being a miserable waste of life.

The female angled her head, her braid slipping over the shoulder of her simple, homespun gown. Her wings twitched, the motion drawing Nesta’s eye. Scars ran down them—unusual for the Fae. Azriel and Lucien were two of the few who bore scars, both from traumas so terrible Nesta had never dared ask for details. For this female to bear them as well—

“My wings were clipped,” the female said. “My father was a … traditional male. He believed females should serve their families and be confined to their homes. I disagreed. He won, in the end.”

Sharp, short words. Rhys’s mother, Feyre had once told her, had nearly been doomed to such a fate. Only the arrival of his father had stopped the clipping from occurring. She’d been revealed as his mate, and endured the miserable union mostly from gratitude for her unharmed wings.

No one, it seemed, had been there to save this female. “I’m sorry.” Nesta shifted on her feet.

The female waved a slim hand. “It’s of no consequence now. This shop keeps me busy enough that some days I forget I could ever fly in the first place.”

“No healer can repair them?”

Her face tightened, and Nesta regretted her question. “It is extremely complex—all the connecting muscles and nerves and senses. Short of the High Lord of Dawn, I’m not certain anyone could handle it.” Thesan, Nesta recalled, was a master of healing—Feyre bore his power in her veins. Had offered to use it to heal Elain from her stupor after being turned High Fae.

Nesta blocked out the memory of that pale face, the empty brown eyes. “Anyway,” the female said quickly, “I can make inquiries to my

suppliers about whether the leathers could be made warmer. It might take a few weeks, possibly a month, but I’ll send word as soon as I hear.”

“That’s fine. Thank you.” A thought clanged through Nesta. “I— How much will it cost?” She had no money.

“You work for the High Lord, do you not?” The female angled her head again. “I can send the bill to Velaris.”

“They …” Nesta didn’t want to admit how low she’d fallen—not to this stranger. “I actually don’t need the warmer clothes.”

“I thought Rhysand paid you all well.”

“He does, but I am …” Fine. If the female could be blunt, so could she. “I’m cut off.”

Curiosity flooded the female’s eyes. “Why?”

Nesta stiffened. “I don’t know you well enough to tell you that.”

The female shrugged. “All right. I can still make inquiries. Get a price for you. If you’re cold out there, you shouldn’t suffer.” She added pointedly, “No matter what the High Lord may think.”

“I think he’d rather Cassian threw me off the edge of that cliff over there.”

The female snorted. But she held out a hand toward Nesta. “I’m Emerie.”

Nesta took her hand, surprised to find her grip like iron. “Nesta Archeron.”

“I know,” Emerie said, releasing Nesta’s hand. “You killed the King of Hybern.”

“Yes.” There was no denying that fact. And she couldn’t bring herself to lie that she wasn’t the least bit smug about it.

“Good.” Emerie’s smile was a thing of dangerous beauty. She said again, “Good.” There was steel in this female. Not just in her straight spine and chin, but in her eyes.

Nesta turned toward the door and waiting cold, unsure what to do with the naked approval of what so many others had regarded either with awe or fear or doubt. “Thank you for your help.”

So strange, to speak polite, normal words. Strange to wish to offer them, and to a stranger no less.

Males and females, children darting amongst them, gawked at Nesta as she exited onto the street. A few hurried their children along. She met their stares with cool indifference.

You’re right to hide your children from me, she wanted to say. I am the monster you fear.



“Same task as yesterday?” Nesta asked Clotho by way of greeting, still half-chilled from the camp she’d departed only ten minutes earlier.

Cassian had barely spoken upon returning to Rhysand’s mother’s house, his face taut with whatever he’d dealt with at the other Illyrian villages, and Morrigan had been just as sour-faced when she’d appeared to winnow them back to the House of Wind. Cassian had dumped Nesta on the landing veranda without so much as a farewell before he pivoted to where Mor dusted herself off. Within seconds, he was carrying the blond beauty into the brisk wind.

It shouldn’t have bothered her—seeing him flying away with another female in his arms. Some small part of her knew it wasn’t remotely fair to feel that body-tightening irritation at the sight. She had pushed him away again and again, and he had no reason to believe she’d wish it differently. And she knew he had a history with Morrigan, that they’d been lovers long ago.

She’d turned from the sight, entering the House through its dining room, where she found a bowl of some sort of pork-and-bean soup waiting. A silent, thoughtful offering.

She’d just said to the House, “I’m not hungry,” before striding down to the library.

Now she waited as Clotho wrote out an answer and handed over a piece of paper.

Nesta read, There are books to be shelved on Level Five.

Nesta peered over the railing beside Clotho’s desk, silently counting. Five was … very far down. Not within the first ring of true darkness, but hovering in the dimness above it. “Nothing lives down there anymore, right? Bryaxis hasn’t come back?”

Clotho’s enchanted pen moved. The second note read, Bryaxis never harmed any of us.


The pen scratched along the paper. I think Bryaxis took pity on us. We saw our nightmares come true before we came here.

It was an effort not to look at Clotho’s gnarled hands or try to pierce the shadows beneath her hood.

The priestess added to the note, I can reassign you to a higher level.

“No,” Nesta said hoarsely. “I’ll manage.”

And that was that. An hour later, her leathers covered in dust, Nesta slumped at an empty wooden table, in need of a pause.

That same bowl of pork-and-bean soup appeared on the table. She peered at the distant ceiling. “I said I’m not hungry.”

A spoon appeared alongside the bowl. And a napkin. “This is absolutely none of your business.”

A glass of water thudded down next to the soup. Nesta crossed her arms, leaning back in the chair. “Who are you talking to?”

The light female voice had Nesta twisting around, stiffening as she found a priestess in the robes of an acolyte standing between the two nearest shelves. Her hood was thrown back, and faelight danced in the rich coppery chestnut of her pin-straight hair. Her large teal eyes were as clear and depthless as the stone usually atop a priestess’s hood, and a scattering of freckles lay across her nose and cheeks, as if someone had tossed them with a careless hand. She was young—almost coltish, with her slender,

elegant limbs. High Fae, and yet … Nesta couldn’t explain the way she sensed that there was something else mixed into her. Some secret beneath the pretty face.

Nesta gestured to the soup and water, but they were gone. She scowled at the ceiling, at the House that had the nerve to pester her and then make her look like a lunatic. But she said to the priestess, “I wasn’t talking to anyone.”

The priestess hefted the five tomes in her arms. “Are you finished for today?”

Nesta glanced at the cart of books she’d left unsorted. “No. I was taking a break.”

“You’ve only been working for an hour.”

“I didn’t realize anyone was timing me.” Nesta allowed every bit of unpleasantness to show in her face. She’d already conversed with one stranger today, fulfilling her quota of basic decency. Being kind to a second one was beyond her.

The acolyte remained unimpressed. “It’s not every day we have someone new in our library.” She dumped the books onto Nesta’s cart. “These can be shelved.”

“I don’t answer to acolytes.”

The priestess drew up to her full height, which was slightly taller than average for Fae females. A crackling sort of energy buzzed around her, and Nesta’s power grumbled in answer. “You’re here to work,” the acolyte said, her voice unruffled. “And not only for Clotho.”

“You speak rather informally of your high priestess.”

“Clotho does not enforce rank. She encourages us to use her name.”

“And what is your name?” She would certainly be complaining to Clotho about this impertinent acolyte’s attitude.

The priestess’s eyes glittered with amusement, as if aware of Nesta’s plan. “Gwyneth Berdara.” Unusual, for these Fae to use family names. Even Rhys didn’t use one, as far as Nesta knew. “But most call me Gwyn.”

A level above, two priestesses walked by the railing in silence, hooded heads bowed and books in their arms. Nesta could have sworn one of them watched, though.

Gwyn tracked the focus of her attention. “That’s Roslin and Deirdre.”

“How can you tell?” With their hoods on, they appeared nearly identical save for their hands.

“Their scents,” Gwyn said simply, and turned to the books she’d left on the cart. “Do you plan to shelve these, or do I need to take them elsewhere?”

Nesta leveled a flat look at her. Living down here, there was a good chance the priestesses didn’t know who she was. What she’d done. What power she bore. “I’ll do it,” Nesta said through clenched teeth.

Gwyn hooked her hair behind her arched ears. Freckles dotted her hands, too, like splattered bits of rust. If marks of trauma lingered, any evidence was hidden by her robe.

But Nesta knew well how invisible wounds could be. How they could scar as deeply and badly as any physical breaking.

And it was for that reminder alone that Nesta said more gently, “I’ll do it right now.” Perhaps she had a little bit of her decency quota left.

Gwyn marked the change. “I don’t need your pity.” The words were sharp, as clear as her teal eyes.

“It wasn’t pity.”

“I’ve been here for nearly two years, but I haven’t become so disconnected from others that I can’t tell when someone remembers why I am here and alters their behavior.” Gwyn’s mouth flattened to a line. “I don’t need to be coddled. Only spoken to like a person.”

“I doubt you’ll enjoy the way I speak to most people,” Nesta said. Gwyn snorted. “Try me.”

Nesta looked at her from under lowered brows again. “Get out of my sight.”

Gwyn grinned, a broad, bright thing that showed most of her teeth and made her eyes sparkle in a way Nesta knew her own never had. “Oh, you’re good.” Gwyn turned back to the stacks. “Really good.” She vanished into the gloom.

Nesta stared after her for a long moment, wondering if she’d imagined the whole thing. Two friendly conversations in one day. She had no idea when such a thing had last occurred.

Another hooded priestess drifted by, and offered Nesta a bob of the chin in greeting.

Quiet settled around her, as if Gwyn had been a summer storm that blew in and evaporated within a moment. Sighing, Nesta gathered the books Gwyn had left on the cart.



Hours later, dusty and exhausted and finally hungry, Nesta stood before Clotho’s desk and said, “Same story tomorrow?”

Clotho wrote, Are you not pleased by your work?

“I would be if your acolytes didn’t boss me around like a servant.”

Gwyneth mentioned she had run into you earlier. She works for Merrill, my right hand, who is a fiercely demanding scholar. If Gwyneth’s requests were abrupt, it was due to the pressing nature of the work she does.

“She wanted me to shelve her books, not find more.”

Other scholars need them. But I am not in the business of explaining my acolytes’ behavior. If you did not like Gwyneth’s request, you should have said so. To her.

Nesta bristled. “I did. She’s a piece of work.”

Some might say the same of you.

Nesta crossed her arms. “Some might.”

She’d have bet that Clotho was smiling beneath her hood, but the priestess wrote, Gwyneth, like you, has her own history of bravery and survival. I would ask that you give her the benefit of the doubt.

Acid that felt an awful lot like regret burned in Nesta’s veins. She shoved it aside. “Noted. And the work is fine.”

Clotho only wrote, Good night, Nesta.

Nesta trudged up the steps, and entered the House proper. The wind seemed to moan through the halls, answered only by her grumbling stomach.

The private library was mercifully empty when she strode through the double doors, instantly relaxing at the sight of all those books crammed close, the sunset on the city below, the Sidra a living band of gold. Sitting at

the desk before the wall of windows, she said to the House, “I’m sure you won’t do it now, but I would like that soup.”

Nothing. She sighed up at the ceiling. Fantastic.

Her stomach twisted, as if it’d devour her organs if she didn’t eat soon.

She added tightly, “Please.”

The soup appeared, a glass of water beside it. A napkin and silverware followed. A fire roared to life in the hearth, but she said quickly, “No fire. No need.”

It banked to nothing, but the faelights in the room flared brighter.

Nesta was reaching for her spoon when a plate of fresh, crusty bread appeared. As if the House were a fussing mother hen.

“Thank you,” she said into the quiet, and dug in.

The faelights flickered once, as if to say, You’re welcome.

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