The hand securing him wrapped around his neck. Connor concentrated on the place where his skin touched hers. Pain swirled within his gut: she was lying.
“Evil fae,” Galen muttered. “You’d harm an innocent boy? He’s of no use to you.”
“You’re still talking,” Ree said menacingly. “Drop them.”
The men looked to Ollivan’s father. He was the highest ranking Imperial Guard for several celim. His grip on his sword tightened. “Charge.”
Powerful wielders could disappear in a swirl of smoke. Clearly she was not that skilled. Or, she chose not to display that kind of power. Instead she closed her eyes and with the wave of her hand, she summoned the smoke from the sky and created a wall with it on the ground, obscuring them once more.
“Run,” Ree said urgently.
She took his arm and together they sprinted across the field. The Imperials nipped at their heels. The treeline was close. Beyond that it was a mess of forests for about five celim, where it cleared around Drohoven. If they were lucky, they could easily lose the Imperial Guards in there.
Unless Connor left a trail.
“Don’t think about it,” Ree warned him. “They catch us, they’ll take my other wing, and they’ll imprison you for helping me. Regardless of what you tell them. The king will see to it that you are never free.”
Nothing from his gut. She was telling the truth.
“How do you know what I’m—?”
“The same way you can tell if I’m lying. Touch.” She released him, showing her hands as they ran together into the treeline.
No one knew about that secret power, not even his parents.
Now they’d never know.
He ducked under tree branches and stumbled over roots in front of him as Ree navigated up the steep hill, away from the field, deeper into the thick greenery. With each step, they were further and further from the scene of the crime, his parents’ presumably charred remains, and any evidence of who killed his parents. His anger festered as he climbed.
This was his chance. He climbed faster, Ollivan’s knife in hand. He deserved answers.
Ree heard him behind her and sighed. “Sorry about threatening you. I had to. Else they would have given us equal punishment if we’d been captured. Better they think you innocent, or more innocent than me. The people who killed your parents are still out there.” She peered deeper into the darkness of the forest. “We’ll find them.”
It was too much to process. First she helped him subdue the fire, but then she threatened to kill him. She was a duplicitous fae with dubious intentions. She wanted him away from his parents, to make him her servant for her nefarious plans. He would rather die than not be in control of his actions.
He held up Ollivan’s knife. His hand might have been unsteady but his desperation would make up for physical strength.
She wedged her flat shoe into the dirt, bracing herself like a tree ready to grow on the side of the hill. “You don’t have to threaten me.”
“Is that a command?” he demanded.
“A command?” She looked confused, then afraid. “I’m not your…sovereign.”
Interesting choice of words. “Mother told me the truth about your past.”
She didn’t appear convinced. “What did she say?”
“You enchanted their friend, Fingal, and killed my uncle, Brendan.”
She stared at him for a long moment, as if waiting for him to say more. There was nothing more—that was the whole truth.
“I didn’t kill him,” she said finally. Her voice wavered as she choked back a sob. The wind whipped through the trees. They had lost the Imperial Guards – for now. Their foot falls and shouting were long quieted by the oppressive overhanging boughs of the forest. “Nor did he die by Fingal’s hand. The truth is always more…complicated. I’m sorry about what happened to him.”
“Why would my own mother lie to me?”
“She was looking for someone to blame,” she said. “It’s easy to blame the half-breed. And the man who raised me. We have a bigger issue right now. You caught that unusual scent on the flames, didn’t you?”
Slowly, Connor nodded, but he didn’t dare lower his weapon. “What was that?”
“It was fasagsh, a plant found almost exclusively on the Archipelagoes. Grind it up, it smells horrible, but like salt, keeps food for longer, and makes anything palatable for the refined fae palate.”
The fae originally hailed from a series of islands off the western coast, colloquially named the Archipelagoes. Humans and fae had cohabitated in major cities all over the continent for almost forty years. Then the war happened, and after that, most fae had been forced into the west, or back to the Archipelagoes.
“Do you know whose scent that is?”
“I…do,” she replied, as if combatting a bad taste in her mouth. “The fae militia did this to your parents. The scent belongs to Riklar Dheediannil. I…I didn’t think that he had come all the way from Siogardonscia. That’s the biggest city on the Archipelagoes. Usually he sends smaller groups to hunt for me. We’ve…” She trailed off, absently rubbing her wrists, the place where the scars marred her perfect skin. “Riklar came here to Ashdown. He and his men burned down your house, either because they believed I was inside, or to send a message.”
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“What kind of message?” Connor asked through gritted teeth. “To spread hatred of half-breeds?”
“Perhaps,” she said slowly. “As I said. He knows my power. He wants me with him—or out of the way.”
Connor was tired of being lied to. He lowered the knife. There was one way to know the truth. “Give me your hand.”
Slowly, she reached out and clasped his hand. Her palms were rougher than they appeared. He closed his eyes and concentrated. The earth beneath them hummed as the Spirit Mother responded to his request.
“Why did you come to Ashdown?” he asked.
“Fingal told me to stay with your parents while he tracked down papers for us to enter the capital,” she replied. “I…failed to keep them safe from the fae militia.”
No pain. Only grief. It clouded his judgement. “Did you kill my uncle?”
“I…I wasn’t the one who struck the final blow. But I was there. Maybe…if only I had been more pure of heart…”
Connor wanted desperately to feel that twinge of pain he’d felt with his mother. Yet she was telling the truth, even if she wasn’t giving him a straight answer.
“You…you didn’t set fire to my home.”
“No, of course not.”
“Mother told you to go with me to the dressmaker.”
“No. She locked me in the spare room. I climbed out the window.”
“Leaving a way in for the arsonists.”
“I told you, I shut the window…with magic. The fae militia didn’t need a way in. All they needed was a reason to attack.”
Still telling the truth. Connor’s palms grew sweaty as his connection to the earth faltered.
“So this Riklar Dheediannil, he is after you, the one responsible for…my parents’ death?” he demanded, squeezing her hand and the knife hilt. He didn’t know if he could bring himself to kill her. It wasn’t his nature. Someone had to be held accountable for this. Someone had to pay.
She took a deep breath. “Yes.”
There was something else. A secret, submerged beneath her yes. “What aren’t you telling me?” he asked.
Her lips trembled. She didn’t want to say. Yet he felt her desire to tell him, burning with her, as it burned within him.
“He doesn’t just hunt me because I’m powerful, or because I’m half-fae,” Ree said slowly. “He hunts me because of whose fae blood runs in my veins.”
“Well, whose is it?”
“Ree isn’t really my name. It’s a diminutive,” she said. “Mama called me Riona. Short for her own name.”
Connor nearly dropped her hand. He’d come too far now. “Queen Caetriona.”
Next time, on Wingtorn.
In the past, Fingal receives an unusual visitor.
No one listens to Riona.
Fingal learns a devastating truth.
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