Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses), Page 3

Sarah J. Maas

  Nesta bared her teeth, silently roaring at her body to obey her orders. She’d sooner die than bow to him. To any of them.

  Rhys’s smile grew, well aware of that fact.

  “That’s enough,” Feyre snapped at Rhys. “I told you to keep out of it.”

  He dragged his star-flecked eyes to his mate, and it was all Nesta could do to keep from collapsing onto the couch as her knees gave out at last. Feyre angled her head, nostrils flaring, and said to Rhysand, “You can either leave, or you can stay and keep your mouth shut.”

  Rhys again crossed his arms, but said nothing.

  “You too,” Feyre spat to Amren. The female harrumphed and nestled into her chair.

  Nesta didn’t bother to look pleasant as Feyre twisted to face her, taking a proper seat on the couch, the velvet cushions sighing beneath her. Her sister swallowed. “We need to make some changes, Nesta,” Feyre said hoarsely. “You do—and we do.”

  Where the hell was Elain?

  “I’ll take the blame,” Feyre went on, “for allowing things to get this far, and this bad. After the war with Hybern, with everything else that was going on, it … You … I should have been there to help you, but I wasn’t, and I am ready to admit that this is partially my fault.”

  “That what is your fault?” Nesta hissed.

  “You,” Cassian said. “This bullshit behavior.”

  He’d said that at the Winter Solstice. And just as it had then, her spine locked at the insult, the arrogance—

  “Look,” Cassian went on, holding up his hands, “it’s not some moral failing, but—”

  “I understand how you’re feeling,” Feyre cut in.

  “You know nothing about how I’m feeling.”

  Feyre plowed ahead. “It’s time for some changes. Starting now.”

  “Keep your self-righteous do-gooder nonsense out of my life.”

  “You don’t have a life,” Feyre retorted. “And I’m not going to sit by for another moment and watch you destroy yourself.” She put a tattooed hand on her heart, like it meant something. “I decided after the war to give you time, but it seems that was wrong. I was wrong.”

  “Oh?” The word was a dagger thrown between them.

  Rhys tensed at the sneer, but still said nothing.

  “You’re done,” Feyre breathed, voice shaking. “This behavior, that apartment, all of it—you are done, Nesta.”

  “And where,” Nesta said, her tone mercifully icy, “am I supposed to go?”

  Feyre looked to Cassian.

  For once, Cassian wasn’t grinning. “You’re coming with me,” he said. “To train.”



  Cassian felt as if he’d loosed an arrow at a sleeping firedrake. Nesta, bundled in that worn blue coat, with her stained shoes and her wrinkled gray dress, looked him over and demanded, “What? ”

  “As of this meeting,” Feyre clarified, “you’re moving into the House of Wind.” She nodded eastward, toward the palace carved into the mountains at the far end of the city. “Rhys and I have decided that each morning, you will train with Cassian in Windhaven, in the Illyrian Mountains. After lunch, for the rest of the afternoon, you will be assigned work in the library beneath the House of Wind. But the apartment, the seedy taverns—all of that is over, Nesta.”

  Nesta’s fingers curled into fists in her lap. But she said nothing.

  He should have positioned himself beside her, instead of allowing his High Lady to sit on that couch within arm’s reach of her. No matter that Feyre already had a shield around herself courtesy of Rhys—it had been there at breakfast, too. Part of my ongoing training, Feyre had muttered when Cassian asked about the ironclad defenses, so strong they even masked her scent. Rhys is having Helion teach him about truly impenetrable shields, so of course I have the pleasure of being the test subject. I’m supposed to try to break this one to see if Rhys is following Helion’s instructions correctly. It’s a new kind of insanity.

  But one that had proved fortuitous. Even if they didn’t know what Nesta’s power could do against ordinary magic.

  Rhys seemed to be thinking the same thing, and Cassian poised himself to jump between the two sisters. His Siphons flared in warning as Rhys’s power rumbled.

  Cassian had no doubt Feyre could defend herself against most opponents, but Nesta …

  He wasn’t entirely sure Feyre would hit back, even if Nesta launched that terrible power at her. And he hated that he didn’t know if Nesta would sink low enough to do it. That things had become so bad that he even considered the possibility.

  “I’m not moving to the House of Wind,” Nesta said. “And I’m not training at that miserable village. Certainly not with him.” She threw him a look that was nothing short of venomous.

  “It’s not up for negotiation,” Amren said, breaking her vow to keep out of the discussion as much as possible for the second time in so many minutes. The eldest of the Archeron sisters had a talent for getting under everyone’s skin. Yet Nesta and Amren had always shared a bond—an understanding.

  Until their fight on the barge.

  “Like hell it isn’t,” Nesta challenged, but didn’t attempt to stand as Rhys’s eyes flickered with cold warning.

  “Your apartment is being packed as we speak,” Amren said, picking at a speck of lint on her silk blouse. “By the time you return, it will be empty. Your clothes are already being sent to the House, though I doubt they will be suitable for training at Windhaven.” A pointed glance at Nesta’s gray dress, baggier on her than it had once been. Did Nesta notice the faint glimmer of worry in Amren’s smoky eyes—understand how rare it was?

  More than that, did Nesta understand that this meeting wasn’t to condemn her, but instead came from a place of concern? Her simmering stare told him she considered this purely an attack.

  “You can’t do this,” Nesta said. “I’m not a member of this court.”

  “You seem to have no qualms about spending this court’s money,” Amren countered. “During the war with Hybern, you accepted the position as our human emissary. You never resigned from the role, so formal law still considers you an official member of this court.” A wave of her small fingers and a book floated toward Nesta before thumping onto the cushions beside her. That was about the extent of the magic Amren now possessed—ordinary, unremarkable High Fae magic. “Page two hundred thirty-six, if you want to check.”

  Amren had combed through their laws for this? Cassian didn’t even know such a rule existed—he’d accepted the position Rhys had offered him without question, not caring what he was agreeing to, only that he and Rhys and Azriel would be together. That they’d have a home that no one could ever take from them. Until Amarantha.

  He’d never stop being grateful for it: for the High Lady mere feet from him, who had saved them all from Amarantha’s rule, who had returned his brother to him and then brought Rhys out of the darkness that lingered.

  “So here are your options, girl,” Amren said, delicate chin rising. Cassian didn’t miss the look between Feyre and Rhys: the utter agony in his High Lady’s face at the ultimatum he knew was to be presented to Nesta, and the half-restrained rage in Rhys’s that his mate was in such pain because of it. He’d already seen that exchanged look once today—had hoped he wouldn’t see it again.

  Cassian had been eating an early breakfast with them this morning when Rhys had gotten the bill for Nesta’s night out. When Rhys had read each item aloud. Bottles of rare wine, exotic foods, gambling debts …

  Feyre had stared at her plate until silent tears dripped into her scrambled eggs.

  Cassian knew there’d been previous conversations—fights—about Nesta. About whether to give her time to heal herself, as they’d all believed would happen at first, or to step in. But as Feyre wept at the table, he knew it was a breaking of some sort. An acceptance of a hope failed.

  It had required all of Cassian’s training, every horror he’d endured on and off the battlefield, to keep that sam
e crushing sorrow from his own face.

  Rhys had laid a comforting hand on Feyre’s, squeezing gently before he looked at Azriel, and then Cassian, and laid out his plan. As if he’d had it waiting a long, long while.

  Elain had walked in halfway through. She’d been toiling in the estate gardens since dawn, and had been solemn as Rhys filled her in. Feyre had been unable to say a word. But Elain’s gaze remained steady as she listened to Rhys.

  Then Rhys summoned Amren from her attic apartment across the river. Feyre had insisted that the order come through Amren, not Rhys, to preserve any sort of familial bond between Rhys and her sister.

  Cassian didn’t think there was one to begin with, but Rhys had agreed, moving to kneel at Feyre’s side, wiping away the remnants of her tears, kissing her temple. They’d all left the table then, giving their High Lord and Lady privacy.

  Cassian took to the skies moments later, letting the roaring wind drown out every thought in his head, letting its briskness cool his pounding heart. This meeting, what was to come—none of it would be easy.

  Amren, they’d agreed, had always been one of the few people who could get through to Nesta. Whom Nesta seemed to fear, if only slightly. Who understood, somehow, what Nesta was, deep down.

  She’d been the only one Nesta had truly spoken to after the war.

  It didn’t seem like a coincidence that in the past month, since they’d argued on that boat, Nesta’s behavior had deteriorated further. That she now looked like … this.

  “One,” Amren said, raising a slender finger, “you can move up to the House of Wind, train with Cassian in the mornings, and work in the library in the afternoons. You will not be a prisoner. But there will be no one to fly or winnow you down to the city. If you want to venture into the city proper, by all means, go ahead. That is, if you can brave the ten thousand steps down from the House.” Amren’s eyes glittered with the challenge. “And if you can somehow find two coppers to rub together to buy yourself a drink. But if you follow this plan, we will reevaluate where and how you live in a few months.”

  “And my other option?” Nesta spat.

  Mother above, this woman—female. She was no longer human. Cassian could think of very, very few people who would defy Amren and Rhys. Certainly not in the same room. Certainly not with such venom.

  “You go back to the human lands.”

  Amren had suggested a few days in a dungeon in the Hewn City, but Feyre had simply said that the human world would be more than enough of a prison for someone like Nesta.

  Someone like Feyre, too. And Elain.

  All three sisters were now High Fae with considerable powers, though only Feyre’s were let loose. Even Amren had no idea whether Elain’s and Nesta’s powers remained. The Cauldron had granted them unique powers, different from other High Fae: the gift of sight to the former, and the gift of … Cassian didn’t know what to call Nesta’s gift. Didn’t know whether it was a gift at all—or something she had taken. The silver fire, that sense of death looming, the raw power he’d witnessed as it blasted into the King of Hybern. Whatever it was, it existed beyond the usual array of High Fae gifts.

  The human world was behind them. They could never return. Even though all three of them were war heroes, each in their own right, the humans wouldn’t care. Would stay far, far away, if they weren’t provoked to violence. So, yes: Nesta might technically be able to return to the human lands, but she would find no companionship there, no warm welcome or town that would accept her. Wherever she was able to find a place to live, she would be essentially housebound, confined to the grounds of her home for fear of human prejudices.

  Nesta turned to Feyre, lips pulling back from her teeth. “And these are my only options?”

  “I—” Feyre caught herself before she could say the rest—I’m sorry—and squared her shoulders. Became the High Lady of the Night Court, even without her black crown, even in Rhys’s old sweater. “Yes.”

  “You have no right.”


  Nesta erupted. “You dragged me into this mess, this horrible place. You are why I am like this, why I am stuck here—”

  Feyre flinched. Rhys’s rage became palpable, a pulse of night-kissed power that tightened Cassian’s gut, every warrior’s instinct beaten into him coming to attention.

  “That’s enough,” Feyre breathed.

  Nesta blinked.

  Feyre swallowed, but didn’t balk. “That is enough. You’re moving up to the House, you’re going to train and work, and I don’t care what vitriol you spew my way. You’re doing it.”

  “Elain needs to be able to see me—”

  “Elain agreed to this hours ago. She’s currently packing your things. They’ll be waiting for you when you arrive.”

  Nesta recoiled.

  Feyre didn’t relent. “Elain knows how to contact you. If she wishes to visit you at the House of Wind, she is free to do so. One of us will gladly take her up there.”

  The words hung between them, so heavy and awkward that Cassian said, “I promise not to bite.”

  Nesta’s upper lip curled back as she faced him. “I suppose this was your idea—”

  “It was,” he lied with a grin. “We’re going to have a wonderful time together.”

  They’d likely kill each other.

  “I want to speak to my sister. Alone,” Nesta ordered.

  Cassian glanced at Rhys, who leveled an assessing stare at Nesta. Cassian had been on the receiving end of that same stare a few times over the centuries and did not envy Nesta one bit. But the High Lord of the Night Court nodded. “We’ll be in the hall.”

  Cassian’s fist tightened at the implied insult that they didn’t trust her enough to go farther than that, despite the shield on Feyre. Even if the rational, warrior-minded part of him agreed. Nesta’s eyes flared, and he knew she’d understood it, too.

  From the way Feyre’s jaw tightened, he suspected she wasn’t pleased at the subtle jab—it wouldn’t help convince Nesta that they were doing this to help her. Rhys would be getting the verbal beating he deserved later.

  Cassian waited until Rhys and Amren rose before following them out. True to his word, Rhys walked three steps down the hall, away from the wood doors spelled against eavesdroppers, and leaned against the wall.

  Doing the same, Cassian said to Amren, “I didn’t even know we had laws like that about court membership.”

  “We don’t.” Amren picked at her red-painted nails.

  He swore under his breath.

  Rhys smiled wryly. But Cassian frowned toward the shut double doors and prayed Nesta didn’t do anything stupid.

  Nesta held her spine ramrod straight, back aching with the effort. She had never hated anyone so much as she hated all of them now. Save for the King of Hybern, she supposed.

  They’d all been discussing her, deeming her unfit and unchecked, and—

  “You didn’t care before,” Nesta said. “Why now?”

  Feyre toyed with her silver-and-star-sapphire wedding ring. “I told you: it wasn’t that I didn’t care. We—everyone, I mean—had multiple conversations about this. About you. We— I decided that giving you time and space would be best.”

  “And what did Elain have to say about it?” Part of her didn’t want to know.

  Feyre’s mouth tightened. “This isn’t about Elain. And last I checked, you barely saw her, either.”

  Nesta hadn’t realized they were paying such close attention.

  She’d never explained to Feyre—had never found the words to explain—why she’d put such distance between them all. Elain had been stolen by the Cauldron and saved by Azriel and Feyre. Yet the terror still gripped Nesta, waking and asleep: the memory of how it had felt in those moments after hearing the Cauldron’s seductive call and realizing it had been for Elain, not for her or Feyre. How it had felt to find Elain’s tent empty, to see that blue cloak discarded.

  Things had only gotten worse from there.

  You have your lives, an
d I have mine, she’d said to Elain last Winter Solstice. She’d known how deeply it would wound her sister. But she couldn’t bear it—the bone-deep horror that lingered. The flashes of that discarded cloak or the Cauldron’s chill waters or Cassian crawling toward her or her father’s neck snapping—

  Feyre said carefully, “For what it’s worth, I was hoping you’d turn yourself around. I wanted to give you space to do it, since you seem to lash out at everyone who comes close enough, but you didn’t even try.”

  Perhaps you can find it in yourself to try a little harder this year. Cassian’s words from nine months ago still rang fresh in Nesta’s mind, uttered on an ice-slick street blocks from here.

  Try? It was all she could think to say.

  I know that’s a foreign word to you.

  Then her rage had ruptured from her. Why should I have to try to do anything? I was dragged into this world of yours, this court.

  Then go somewhere else.

  She’d swallowed her own response: I have nowhere to go.

  It was the truth. She had no desire to return to the human realm. Had never felt at home there, not really. And this strange, new Fae world … She might have accepted her different, altered body, that she was now permanently changed and her humanity gone, but she didn’t know where she belonged in this world, either. The thought was one she tried to drown in liquor and music and cards, as often as she used those things to quell that writhing power deep inside.

  Feyre continued, “All you have done is help yourself to our money.”

  “Your mate’s money.” Another flash of hurt. Nesta’s blood sang at the direct blow. “Thank you so much for taking time out of your homemaking and shopping to remember me.”

  “I built a room in this house for you. I asked you to help me decorate it. You told me to piss off.”

  “Why would I ever want to stay in this house?” Where she could see precisely how happy they were, where none of them seemed remotely as decimated as she’d been by the war. She’d come so close to being a part of it—of that circle. Had held their hands as they’d stood together on the morning of the final battle and believed they might all make it.