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CHAPTER SIX

RIONA

The dairbvali tree grew in thickly forested areas of the continent. Long and spindly, like a brown snake, its wood was bendy and fibrous, perfect for crafting. Every frequent traveler in the woods knew how to coax the wood into submission, a skill not easily learned but wisely mastered by the desperate and the cunning. Riona did not have to venture far from Ollivan’s unconscious form to spot a patch of dairbvali, spiraling upward to the shaded sky above. Three thin trunks grew like vines, nearly as tall as Riona herself. Using Ollivan’s sword, she hacked them down unceremoniously, ever vigilant for enemies in the shadows. This was not the first time she had crafted dairbvali rope. Fingal had shown her years ago, and he must have learned during the war. She deftly sliced the thin dairbvali trunks in two and tested their meddle over her knee. They bent easily and did not crack. At each end, she slit the bark further, to twine the pieces together. The earthy smell of the tree wafted into her nose and reminded her of Fingal, and although she wished he was here, to guide them, Riona felt strong enough—ready—to handle this problem on her own.

She collected her supplies and trudged back to Ollivan, still slumped where they’d left him. Riona sighed. Connor was not here to help her tie up his friend—although his cooperation was not assured. She sensed him nearby, though where, she couldn’t pinpoint. To be more precise would require expending her magic, and that would leave them vulnerable to the fae militia, who may be scouting these woods for them. Connor would be fine for a few minutes. The shock of everything had only just settled upon him.

Riona moved his sword a fair distance away, digging it into the rocky soil and roots. Not good for the blade, but better than it sliding down the sloping landscape and out of sight. As she lugged Ollivan’s heavy body and set it upright against the nearest tree, and wrapped the sturdy dairbvali rope around his torso to secure him, he stirred. It caught her off-guard—but only for a moment. This was not the most terrible situation she’d ever faced. Ollivan could overpower her, but she had plenty of experience outwitting and outmaneuvering far more experienced opponents. Her fingers worked quickly as she twisted and tied each piece together. The dairbvali rope wound around Ollivan and the tree three and a half times tightly. She secured the end behind him. It would not hold forever—constant struggling would weaken the ties—but it would do the job. She just had to keep him secure until she and Connor reached Drohoven. By then, no doubt his Imperial friends would find Ollivan. Or he’d be set upon by wild animals. Not the most ideal solution—not one Riona wished upon him—but she would not let him get in the way, not when he understood so little about what was at stake.

Ollivan’s eyes fluttered open. Riona knelt beside him. Her wings were out, as there was no point in hiding. Realizing he was bound, he struggled. His arms were firmly trapped under the rope, though his fingers dangled in the grass. If she had had time, she would have bound them and his feet first, then tied him to the tree. The rope creaked—and held.

“Let me go!” he shouted.

Riona ran a hand along the dairbvali rope. No cracks in the fibers. She had done well. Fingal would be proud. “Ollivan, be calm.”

“Where’s Connor?” His head whipped from side to side.

“He’s fine. I would never hurt him.”

Ollivan didn’t believe her, of course. He also didn’t hide his flagrant curiosity for her wings. She slowly splayed them. Her good wing was happy to have fresh evening air. Her torn wing ached when she flexed it too far. Her lip twitched—the only evidence she dare give that she felt anything in that moment.

“What happened to it?” Ollivan asked, gesturing to her torn wing.

“An accident,” Riona replied.

He looked like he didn’t believe her, and he was about to inquire further when a slow thick trickle of blood made its way down his cheek. Ollivan tilted his head, feeling the liquid slide. Riona gathered her cloak, which she’d bunched in her lap, and used an end to pat away the blood. Ollivan wrinkled his nose as the fabric covered half his face.

“How do you feel?” she asked him.

“Why?” Ollivan demanded. “You’ve tied me up here. Clearly you’re going to leave me, or do away with me. Don’t try to help me.”

It was hard to tell if he had other injuries without undressing him, a task that Riona was not about to perform. The wound on his head didn’t appear serious. Blood had matted in his fair hair, but the bleeding had nearly stopped and he was conscious; aware. She was no healer. When his people found him again, they could administer whatever care they liked.

He pursed his lips, as if hiding pain, and surveyed his surroundings, as if contemplating escape, but returned his focus to Riona. Better for him to keep distracted, at least until Connor returned.

After a minute of false starts, Ollivan finally managed to string together his pent-up inquiries. “So how does it work then. You being a fae? You have a twisted healer, a sorceress maybe, sew some wings onto your back? Or did she cast some spell on you to make you appear human? That would be more likely, wouldn’t it.”

Everyone had their theories. Riona had heard them all. Yet every time she felt compelled to tell them that yes, in fact, she was half-fae, they never accepted it. Never accepted her. If they could not accept her, one who looked so much like them, they would never accept her fellow brothers and sisters, past and present, who suffered far worse fates.

“I am half-fae,” she told him calmly.

Ollivan’s face twisted into a horrible glare. “Gross.”

Riona flinched and swallowed a reply. The less she said, the better at this point. She’d staunch the remaining bleeding in his head wound and leave him bound to the tree, and fetch Connor herself. Although the sky had begun to darken, Connor and Riona could travel for a time at night, as long as he led the way. Her fae eyesight was terrible, especially in the dark.

“Despite what you might think,” Riona said, “I am not your enemy. There is far worse in these woods for us to worry about, and I’m not talking about the Imperials nor the fae militia.”

Ollivan sneered. “Right. If you’re referring to the bandits, I can handle them. Prove you’re on my side and untie me, and then we’ll see.”

Riona had been thinking of the bandits, though she had not sensed any other humans in their immediate area, and had mostly meant to scare Ollivan. Unfortunately, she’d only emboldened him. He was foolish and rash, as she’d suspected. Just like his father. No, Riona corrected herself, as she checked the handmade rope once more. At least Captain Stovel had the experience of war, and while she was not fond of him by any measure, his actions had been and would continue to be driven by the entrenched mistrust delivered to him by the Imperial Guard.

This young man only had stories of glory to guide him, just like Connor. Until he stared death in the face, as Riona had, as Fingal and Nora and Donnoch had, Riona would never take Ollivan seriously.

She rose to her feet and gathered her cloak, sorting the fabric to cover her wings once more. “Someone will be along in time, Ollivan Stovel. Friend or foe, I’m sure you will handle them to the best of your ability.”

“What does that mean? Hey!” Ollivan shouted, as she turned from him to throw her thick cloak around her shoulders. “You are vile. And you can’t control me. Not anymore.”

The cloak enveloped her wings and for a moment, she felt sheltered from his stinging remark. The wind whipped suddenly through the trees. She could allow his words to be carried away with it, away from her, as she had allowed in the past, when Fingal was present.

It didn’t work that way. She could see herself, a year from now, puzzling out Ollivan’s words, wishing she had said something biting in return, hating herself even more than she did now for saying nothing to defend herself.

Riona looked at him first over her shoulder, tentatively. “Whatever you have thought or done, I have nothing to do with it.”

Ollivan sneered. “So you know then. Of course you do. You probably see my thoughts right now. Probably editing them. Revising them.” If she did have that power, she’d tell him to stop speaking. Yet, he continued. “I thought, when I met you first on the road, and you both told me you were of Connor’s blood…well, the natural thought of a young man with my apparent future would be to make an offer of courtship. If you didn’t pursue me first.”

To express interest in courtship, it wasn’t uncommon for humans to leave trinkets outside their love interest’s door. Riona thought this custom odd, especially when Fingal was on the receiving end, on the odd time they had stayed at an inn or with a sympathetic acquaintance. Back when it was safe to stay in hamlets and towns on the continent. Riona, of course, had never gotten anything of the sort. Nor had she given. Fingal wouldn’t approve.

Fingal wasn’t here anymore.

Ollivan continued. “But that’s not happening now. Or ever. Because those weren’t really my thoughts, were they? It’s fae trickery. You aren’t even a real woman.”

She turned fully now to face him, feeling cold, even with the cloak secure around her shoulders. Fingal had tried to shield her from those who would shower her with attention, especially as she grew older. Fingal and Riona could hide who they were, but Riona was not a princess to be locked away, to be bartered for treaties. The fae blood called to humans, her mother had said once, long ago. They don’t know why they are being called, but they can rarely resist. It is true for me, and it will be true for you, one day, young Riona.

She despised everything about her blood. How could a substance in her veins twist and bend the will and feelings of another? It couldn’t be. A man’s actions were his own, especially when she had cast no spell and spoken no ill will against him. An easy sentiment to think and hard to believe.

“I am very real,” she said definitively. She couldn’t keep the anger from her voice. Her fingers twitched and curled in her palms.

“You’re afraid,” Ollivan said. Somehow, his confidence was growing, even though he was the one bound to the tree and she was the one with the power. She shook her head hesitantly, because it was true, she was afraid—afraid of what she would do if he continued to taunt her.

One strike—that’s all it would take. He could die here in these woods for his ignorance. Riona turned from him, afraid of herself, and the raging anger within her. Unlike Connor, she had training. Far more time to tame the magic swirling in her veins, and the call of the Spirit Mother beneath her feet.

“Fly away and leave me then,” Ollivan said non-committedly. “Maybe when Connor comes back, his mind will be clear, and together we’ll take care of your other wing.”

All her life, Fingal had trained her to take insults and threats in stride. Powerful wielders had taught her to control the gift of magic, made stronger by the blood in her veins. Yet training was nothing in the face of vomited ignorance.

“I should have trusted my first instinct about you,” Riona said, and filled her hand with potent, dangerous magic, and pointed it at Ollivan.

Next time, on Wingtorn.

Connor is faced with a difficult choice

Ollivan makes a compelling argument

And trouble is just out of sight.

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