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CHAPTER EIGHT

RIONA

“All right, Iris. You’ll stay here until Fingal returns.”

Nora gestured for Riona to enter the spare room, where Riona had spent mere hours lying awake the previous night. It was modestly appointed. A single bed by the heavily curtained window. Only a sliver of the afternoon sun shone through. The floor was dusty and showed her footprints from earlier. Besides her, no one had slept in this room for a long time.

Riona stepped inside. Nora stood at the entrance. No matter that she was a head and a half shorter than Riona. She was a formidable guard.

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” Nora said, more to herself than to Riona. “I don’t want to be this person. You have forced my hand.”

“Your son has a connection to the Spirit Mother. You need to accept that. If he isn’t trained…if he can’t control his magic…there’s no telling what other disasters may occur.” They were lucky the whole library didn’t burn down.

“That…accident…in the library. It was him. Not you.”

Riona pursed her lips. “If I use my magic, I risk attracting the fae militia. They can sense me if I do anything major. I would never put Connor—or you or Donnoch—at risk.”

Nora’s steely armor cracked, but only for a moment. “We are always at risk, so long as you live.”

“I know.”

Nora glanced down the hallway, rolling the heavy key between her finger and her thumb. “I’ll send Connor to get you some dresses. I can’t believe Fingal has you running around in that…bedsheet.”

“It’s practical.”

“It’s unsuitable,” she said. “When is the last time you’ve been to a tailor?”

“When I was thirteen. In Breuce.” She’d grown like a weed that year. She and Fingal had fun thieving not only from the bandits in the woods, but also from drunk nobles in the local tavern. They’d made enough to purchase two custom dresses for Riona. It was difficult to convince the dress maker that she didn’t need to take Riona’s measurements. They couldn’t risk her seeing the wings. Everything was baggy as a result. Better to have loosely fitted clothing than tight, form fitting dresses. The less constrained her wings were, the better.

She wished Fingal were here now.

“I’ll estimate your measurements,” Nora said, eying her up and down. She was evidently thinking the same thing.

“You can measure me, if you want.”

“No, I don’t want. I have books to print.”

Riona clasped her hands in front of her. “Thank you.”

Nora looked offended. “Don’t thank me. I owe you nothing. I’m doing this out of charity. Because it is the right thing to do. Don’t mistake this as kindness.”

“I’m—”

She wouldn’t hear it. Nora left the room and slammed the door. The click of the lock cemented her anger. Riona wasn’t going anywhere.

“If you meant what you said,” Nora said through the door, “you won’t use magic to leave this room, either. If you do, I’ll ensure the Imperial Guards know that the half-breed daughter of the Evil Queen is running around, endangering my son.”

Riona slid down the door. Her torn wing twitched beneath her cloak. She removed the fabric, and tossed it across the room. She wasn’t going to hide who she was while she was alone.

“It’s not my fault Fingal chose me over Brendan,” she whispered through the door.

“Yes, it is,” Nora said coldly, hearing her. “And no matter what you do, no matter how many times Fingal tries to justify his actions—I will never forgive him for it.”

CONNOR

Connor rubbed his aching back as he sauntered down the adjoining hallway from the library into the kitchen. He’d just spent the last hour gathering all the burnt tomes, disposing them, and sweeping the sooty floor. The black ash got between the wood: likely when his mother inspected his work later, she’d make him scrub the floor until he could see his sorry reflection.

The punishment had given him time to reflect and he’d come to the conclusion that maybe he was not cut out for magic after all. He’d had one success today on the road. And one failure. And many other failures in the past year as he’d tried to decipher spells from the entry level texts. Spells he’d not only need to perform effortlessly before a committee at an entrance exam, but expound on their origins during the written component of the exam. Even if he took the exam this year, there was no way he’d pass. Especially since Ree had made it clear she wouldn’t help.

With him and Ree separated, there was no way he’d learn to control himself. Not if his parents had anything to do with it. He leaned against the kitchen table and sighed. He had to get to the bottom of this quarrel between the half-fae girl and his parents.

His mother came quickly down the stairs. She pocked a large key in her apron. “Connor. You’re finished in the library?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Where’s Ree?”

She sighed as she put the kettle on the stove. “In the spare room. Crying her heart out.”

“I should go apologize. It’s my fault.”

His mother caught him by the arm before he could make it to the stairs. “No, sweetheart. She’s very distressed. You know what happens to her when she gets upset?”

“I…” Nothing terrible had happened in the library—nothing that she’d caused. She’d looked as though she might faint. Those cuts on her arms, she hadn’t wanted him to see that. Why had she done that to herself?

“How well do you know her?”

“I know you want to know everything. I don’t want to keep secrets,” Mother said sincerely. “It’s difficult to talk about. But there is something you can do for me. And Iris. Ree.” She said her name as if it were a secret. “There is a dress shop in town. You know the one? Go there before it closes today and choose two new dresses for Ree. Get whatever you think will fit her, or if there’s nothing appropriate, put in an order. She has nothing else to wear other than what she’s got, and nothing I have will fit her. Fingal can arrange for pick-up if it arrives after they leave.”

“Of–of course.” He stood motionless, confused as his mother wiped down the kitchen counter. She couldn’t get rid of him this easily. “I’m sorry, Mother.”

Mother dropped her cloth, turned, pulled Connor close and squeezed. “I know, sweetheart. I know you didn’t mean it. It’s all right.”

“But…I destroyed all those volumes. It’ll take us months to do the inventory and print or order new copies!” Months that he would have to devote, instead of studying magic at the Tower, he realized.

She withdrew from their embrace, smiling solemnly. “This is very hard for Da and me.”

“Ree said she knew you from the war. That she…did something terrible to you,” Connor said.

Her smile faded. “She said that, did she?”

“Please don’t be mad at her. I was asking her too many questions. It’s just…you’ve never talked about this Fingal person. I didn’t know you had any friends outside of Ashdown.”

Mother sighed and gestured to the table. They sat across from one another.

“I told you I had a brother.”

“Uncle Brendan.” He died a long time ago, when Connor was young. He didn’t really remember him: just impressions of an occasional visitor, tall and friendly.

“Yes, Brendan.” She smiled sadly. “We were very close growing up.”

“In the Zepline Orphanage in Halsimarth.” Mother had talked about her tumultuous childhood from time to time. It was easier for her to talk about living in the orphanage than fighting in the war. She and Brendan had gotten up to all kinds of trouble, but they’d also helped raise some of the younger children.

“Yes. Fingal was also there. Brendan, me, and Fingal. We were best friends. Inseparable.”

“Then why have you never talked about him before? Where has he been for the past fifteen years?”

She sighed. “Something happened to Fingal during the war. He…changed. Back then, everyone hated the fae. Many still do. I suppose…the veterans, we have our grudges. Hate is slow to fade. For Fingal, the hate seemed to evaporate when he met that girl. She enchanted him.”

“Ree?” He frowned. Her power was strong. It was possible. “Why?”

She shrugged. “The fae have their reasons. She was a child at the time. All alone in the world, with no one to love her. She needed someone to take care of her, at least until she was old enough to control her magic.”

“And now?” he asked. Ree seemed in control.

“Now. She’s about your age, Connor. Nearly, but not quite full grown. Adult fae are dangerous creatures.”

Something about her tone didn’t sit well with him. “You and Da taught me to be kind, no matter if someone is human or fae. Or in her case…both.”

“Yes. Though some fae, and some humans, will do anything to hurt another because it pleases them.” She took a deep, shaky breath. “I also haven’t been completely honest. As I was saying. My brother. Brendan. He didn’t really die during the war. It was after. Fingal betrayed us. And…” She gripped the edge of the table to steady her trembling hands. “Because of her, Brendan is dead.”

(more after the jump!)

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So that was it then. Ree had killed Uncle Brendan? A fae killing a human veteran was a serious crime. If the Imperial Guard found out, she could lose her other wing, or face banishment across the sea, or death itself, depending on the king’s mood.“I had no idea…” Connor couldn’t imagine the pain of losing a sibling. “Mother, I’m so sorry…”

She nodded. “We had to bury him in the yard, beside our first house on the Drahticht Isle. I told myself and others that he’d died in the war. It was a far more honourable death than what he got.”

Connor glanced up at the landing, where he’d spied on his parents the previous night. “Why let her stay, then, if she did such a thing?” He scoffed. “Why buy her a bunch of clothes?”

Mother collected herself. “Well, your Da, he has a soft spot for Fingal. He believes the man can change. Fingal’s been with the girl for a long time now. She’s twisted him to her ways. Spend enough time with her, and that’s what she does. He thought, if we could keep her here, keep watch, maybe….maybe she can change too, if we set the right example.”

The young woman in the library, scared out of her mind of being caught by the fae militia—perhaps more scared that he’d noticed the scars on her arms—it was hard to think of her as a sly predator.

Maybe she’d shown him her arms on purpose, to get him to feel sorry for her.

“Oh Connor.” She took his hand and squeezed it. “It’s all right. You didn’t know. It’s not your fault for trusting her.”

Trust wasn’t exactly the right word. “She seems troubled.”

“She is. It’s not our place to help her.”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

Mother hesitated. “Well, once Fingal comes for her, they’ll be out of our lives forever. That’s all.”

Connor’s magical senses flaired. The unease that swelled in his stomach when he was lying swirled within him now, as if he could feel the lie through her hand.

He rose from the chair. “I should get to the market before it closes.”

“Of course. The walk will do you some good.” She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. “Here’s the airgid for the dresses. Stop by the bookshop if you like and pick out a tome for yourself.”

“Oh. Thanks.” He took the money and pocketed it. “Thanks, Mother. I appreciate that, especially after everything that I’ve done.”

She rounded the table and clasped him by the arms. “You’re my son. I will always forgive you.”

He took her hands once more. He had to be sure it wasn’t a fluke. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he asked, “If Ree is so villainous, if she has this power to manipulate us and your former friend Fingal, wouldn’t it be best to turn her in? Ollivan’s father could see to it that she’s locked away where she could hurt no one ever again.”

“Oh Connor, I’m glad you think so,” Mother said. She shook his hands. “But calling the Imperial Guard seems like an overreaction. Your Da and I will keep an eye on her, make sure she’s safe.”

The anxious pain in his stomach intensified.

He had no doubts now. His mother was lying to him. She would not keep an eye on Ree. She would not make sure the half-fae was safe.

Perhaps…the opposite.

He forced a smile and released her hands. “Thanks-thanks Mother. I’ll bring you back the change.”

“I’ll see you soon, Connor.” She turned away to the boiling kettle on the stove.

As soon as he was out the door, he let out a breath of relief. The Imperial Guards. Were they coming to the house? His parents weren’t vengeful people. Never had they said a bad word against the fae, even though they had fought and presumably killed them in the war.

But if Ree had murdered Uncle Brendan…maybe his mother intended on getting her own justice.

He trudged to the road, his feelings warring within him. Ree had spoken the truth about one thing: her life was not exciting. He would gladly go back to being the hopeful would-be wielder he was yesterday in exchange for knowing less about his parents’ past.

Even if it meant losing those moments with Ree where he’d felt like he could do so much more in the world.

He was halfway to Ashdown proper when he sensed movement from the line of trees to his left. He halted. “Who’s there?” If he had to, he’d defend himself. They only had to get close enough to be burned by his uncontrollable fire.

Ree peered out from behind the trees. “It’s just me.”

“What are you doing here?” Wasn’t she up in the spare room? He thought he’d heard movement upstairs when he and his mother were in the kitchen. He certainly hadn’t heard any crying.

She hopped up onto the road with the grace of a stray cat. “To get dresses. Your mother sent me.”

His gaze narrowed. That had to be a lie. “Mother gave me money for that.”

“Did she give you measurements?”

He hesitated. “No. She didn’t.”

“Good thing I’m here then.” She started down the road. “Well? The day is late.”

He glanced behind him, back at the house in the far-off distance, suddenly nervous. His mother had sent him on an errand to get him out of the house. For all she knew, Ree was back in the spare room…not knowing that Nora Donmagh intended to get her revenge.

Who was he supposed to trust? The woman who raised him? Or this potential, manipulative fae who had murdered his uncle?

“Right,” he said to her, trying to put on his best smile. He shoved his hands in his pockets. He didn’t know if he could trust himself right now, not around her. Soon they’d be in the market—and if she tried something there, he could expose her for what she was. Ree wouldn’t like that.

As she walked alongside him, adjusting her heavy cloak to hide her flawless, perfect face, he steeled himself with the knowledge that he had one thing this Fingal man didn’t: magic. He could protect himself, if it came to it. Better to keep her away from his parents. They wouldn’t last a minute against her magic. He might not last long against her, but he would lay down his life for them. They were his parents. He loved them. He would protect them with his last breath—they were all he had.

Next time, on Wingtorn.

In the past, Fingal faces the consequences.

Nora becomes attached.

And Young Riona puts her foot down.

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