As they entered the town of Ashdown and Riona pretended to browse the various market tents and stalls, she kept a careful eye on Connor Donmagh. There would never be a right moment to tell him the truth: that Nora had locked her in the spare room and she’d made a rope from bedsheets to climb out the window. And the worst of it all: after she’d escaped the house, she’d used magic to shut the window again. She had to prevent unwelcome guests from flying inside or climbing up the bedsheet rope, into the spare room. Big displays of magic would attract the fae militia, but small ones—small ones she could risk for Nora and Donnoch’s safety. She hoped it was small enough.
“It’s just up here,” Connor said, pointing. Market stalls and tents lined both sides of the road now, as the trees had on the way into town. Beyond the market were more permeant structures and houses. “Most of these vendors are only here three days a week. They travel between Drohoven and Mudvale and here—both of those towns are west and east of here, respectively…”
He rambled on about the market and the local geography: Riona was familiar in passing with the layout of the land, but she was more interested in his sudden apprehension. This was different than this morning, when they’d run an errand together. He’d been acting strangely since she’d lied to him on the road. What had Nora told him? Maybe he knew Nora had imprisoned Riona, that she’d tied the bedsheets together and climbed out the window, and this was all a test.
The dress shop was an open-air tent on three sides, and had a tall, pointy roof like an upright spear. There was a smaller tent behind it: a private area for changing and measuring, Riona figured. The dressmaker was nowhere in sight. She went inside and perused the racks. The dresses were well made; worthy for any wealthy merchant or a noble. She was drawn to a violet dress and pulled it from the rack.
If she still lived in the palace, she would be wearing something like this. It would complement her wings. She’d have to cut holes in the back to allow them to go free, of course.
If Mama were still in power, she wouldn’t have to worry about hiding.
No, no. She thrust the dress back onto the rack. Thinking about her tyrant mother only brought pain.
Connor remained near the edge of the tent, his gaze flitting down the road to a peddler selling bound tomes of war stories and fanciful tales.
“You don’t have to stay here. You can browse the other shops if you want,” Riona said.
Connor shook his head and instead, came deeper into the tent, closer to her. “Usually the dressmaker is here…”
The back flap parted and an older woman dressed in colourful garb emerged with a wide grin. “Ah. The Donmagh boy. Is your mother in need of a new smock?” She waved her hand as if she could do magic. She couldn’t: Riona wouldn’t have entered the shop if she’d sensed another’s connection to the Spirit Mother. She could only sense Connor at the moment, thankfully.
“No, thank you, Hamlinda,” Connor replied. “My cousin needs some new dresses. She’s staying with us for a few days.”
Riona stepped closer to the shopkeeper, steeling herself for the inevitable appraisal of her body. “I can give you my measurements.”
Hamlinda weaved around the counter—crates crudely covered with fabric—and gave Riona the once over. “Oh, I prefer to do my own measurements. Come with me into the adjoining tent. I’ll get you started.”
Riona drew back. “No, I’d prefer to just give you the numbers. I’m afraid we’re on a tight schedule.”
“Oh?” She glanced at Connor. “A rush job? That will be extra.”
Connor dug into his pocket. “That’s…fine.”
Guilt hit her then. She couldn’t let Nora or Connor pay any more than they had to for these dresses. It was already an insult that Nora wanted to adorn her in the first place. “No, I meant, we’re on a schedule today. Why don’t I tell you my measurements and we’ll take whatever dresses you already have that are closest.”
The dressmaker squinted. Her eyes were cloudy. She was older than she looked. “Come closer, girl.”
Exchanging a nervous glance with Connor, she did as the dressmaker asked. Hamlinda smelled of fresh bread and spicy herbs, the kind used recreationally in the capital and larger towns. She peered beneath Riona’s hood.
“Let’s get a good look at you now.”
Before Riona could stop her, the dressmaker drew back Riona’s hood, revealing her face and long hair.
“Ahh,” Hamlinda said then, clapping her hands together. “You didn’t tell me, Connor, that your cousin was so beautiful.”
Riona wanted to bury herself in a mound of dirt. Connor’s ears turned a bright red.
“She’s a cousin on my Da’s side,” Connor said, his voice wavering.
“The people of the Drahticht Isle are said to be infused with the blood of the fae, even before First Contact,” she said. “Such lovely skin and unusual eyes too.”
Riona stiffened. “I…don’t think that’s possible to be related to the fae.”
“No, no, but the old stories, especially those from the Isle, they have charm. My mother used to say we had relatives from the Isle. Perhaps we are related,” she said, grinning. “Tell you what. I will give you one dress, free of charge! Second dress, half price. I will even fit it for you. Today.”
“No…no thank you,” Riona said nervously.
On the counter, the pins in the cushion trembled.
“I will do it to celebrate your beauty!”
Riona’s heart pounded. This was how her mother used to get things. She couldn’t be like her, allowing people to participate and revel in her exterior beauty, and warp it to serve ulterior motives. Going down that path meant giving into the dark power swirling within, waiting to burst free if she let her guard down.
“I think we should go,” Riona said to Connor.
Something flickered beneath his gaze: more than just innocent curiosity. She’d seen it before, in all men: distrust. Suspicion. “Why should we do that?”
“No, please…I’m sorry,” Hamlinda said desperately. “I would be so honoured if you wore my handiwork. Just let me…”
As Riona drew back to exit the tent, Hamlinda grasped part of Riona’s cloak. The fabric of the cloak was strong—it was Riona’s most valuable article of clothing—but the force of Riona pulling back knocked Hamlinda off balance, causing her to tug the fabric sideways. She tumbled to the ground, clinging to the fabric like a drowning sailor in a storm.
Connor let out a surprised noise and knelt to help the older woman. “So sorry, Hamlinda, are you…?”
He trailed off as Hamlinda’s gaze widened. She pointed at Riona. “You…?”
Dread filled Riona. The cloak had slipped back far enough to reveal her untorn wing. Eager to be free, the wing unfurled to its full length, basking in the open air. The sun shone through it, illuminating the dresses in a sparkling violet light.
Riona scrambled to cover her full wing, but it was too late. Hamlinda had seen Riona’s secret.
Will she be loyal to her people - or her heart?
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“You…you are a fae…but…a half-breed?” She grabbed a pair of scissors from the counter and held them out as a weapon. “Get. Out. Or I’ll tell everyone—”“Hamlinda, she means no harm. The stories you just talked about, they’re real! She’s not—”
“Stories my arse! That is a real fae, in my shop. And after all your parents—everyone in this community—did in the war to keep us safe…”
The fear made it easy for Riona to be in touch with her magic. She could feel Hamlinda in the earth. How easy it would be to open the ground and ask it to swallow her whole. Then she wouldn’t tell anyone about her secret, the secret she and Fingal had worked so hard to hide from the world.
The ground trembled, knocking the three of them off balance. Connor grabbed her arm. “Ree…”
In the distance, she heard a horse and cart approaching at high speeds, much as they did earlier this morning. But further, if she pushed herself, and tapped into the earth, the cries of desperate men came forth, the smell of smoke wafting from rafters, and calls for help.
“Connor…” she said. When she came back to herself, Hamlinda was scrambling out the back, yelling about a fae sighting. “I think your parents—”
“FIRE!” Ollivan called as the horse and cart grew near. “Connor! Connor Donmagh, where—?”
Confused, Connor rushed out of the tent with Riona on his heel. Ollivan was in the driver’s seat, urgently gesturing for them to hop on. “Connor, the library’s on fire. Your parents—they’re trapped.”
“What? Is anyone there helping—?”
“My father and the other Imperials. Quick, get in, Iris…”
Their desperation seemed muted as Riona turned her head to the direction of the thick, black smoke rising into the air. Riklar and the fae militia had found her.
And that meant, more people were going to die.
Next time, on Wingtorn.
A deep betrayal is revealed.
Riona makes a desperate choice.
Connor smells the true culprit.
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