RENNA smiled when he saw Ora standing in the kitchen’s open doorway. He sat on a barrel with a half-eaten pear in one hand. “You look like you slept poorly,” he said and snatched another pear from the wood bowl beside him. “Breakfast?”
Stomach growling, she gave a quick nod, and he tossed the pale-yellow fruit over. The first bite was so sweet and juicy that she could not help but close her eyes a moment to savor the taste. She grew up eating burberries, fog apples, thimble grapes, and countless wild mushrooms. None could compare to the spectacular, sugary fruit of the fae realm. Without pause for breath, she devoured the rest of the pear in a few giant bites.
As she swallowed the last bite, Renna said, “Magus Marigen left this morning. You can breathe for a few days.”
Still dazed from a night of books and unexpected magic, she shook her head. “Days?”
“Yes. She took three mages earlier this morning. They’re clearing out some rebels.”
Ora pulled her sleeve up over her hand and wiped pear juice from her lips. “There’s still Callum,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll breathe, as you say, until I’m back in Nor.”
“Ah, still set on that, aren’t you?” He jumped up from the barrel and grabbed a large basket. “Come on, Ora. We’re going to gather plums.”
Though she chose a smaller basket, Renna did not complain. They set off across the courtyard and followed a walkway between plain, gray-stoned barracks. A few Yewolyns hurried past, late for training and looking panicked. Beyond the living quarters, the grounds stretched for several green acres to the wall surrounding the complex.
As Renna led her across a footbridge over a shallow stream, Ora caught sight of a round slab of stone with glyph-like carvings swirling toward its center. It looked similar to the circle she spied in the palace grounds.
As they began to skirt around the edge, Ora felt a strange, old power rising from the stone. It resonated through her body. Her heart fluttered. “Renna—” she began.
“That is a crossing,” he said without slowing his pace. “You have to know the words of passage to use it, but even that’s not enough. To cross the Ether, you must be a practiced mage. It takes focus to direct that much energy. A simple turn of the mind, and you could end up in an unknown land. Do you understand?”
They pressed on, giving Ora little time to study the circle. “I understand,” she said. Her grip on the basket tightened. “You mean I can’t go alone. I will need help.”
He glanced back at her. “That’s exactly what I mean.”
They had come to a small grove of plum trees. Ripe fruits had fallen from the branches and were scattered across the ground. Wasps drifted between decaying pieces, dipping down to nibble at the sweet rot. Renna picked up one of the foggy, violet plums and bit into it. “They’re perfect this time of year. Help yourself. Just make sure you fill the basket before we go back.”
Ora balanced the basket against her hip. “Do you know how to use the crossings?” she asked.
Renna spoke between bites. “No. I do not. Yewolyn mages study words of passage, and they won’t help you. That mostly leaves merchants and treasure hunters. But they’re unreliable and often poorly studied. Plenty have been ripped to shreds in the Ether. What you want is a wayfarer. The thing is, they’re pricey.”
“Well, do you have anything that you cherish?”
Ora’s hand went to her waist. The yellow handkerchief was the only piece of home that she had, the only thing she owned in the fae realm. “I think so,” she said.
“Whatever it is, you’ll have to hope that it makes do. But, Ora, there’s another problem to solve. How do you plan to reverse the transformation spell cast upon your brother? What use is it returning to your home if you cannot change him back?”
She hesitated to answer. Without a mage to aid her, Hademar would likely be a pig forever. Even if she had woken up to a mysterious orb of light, it did not mean she was capable of casting more complicated spells. It had to be a fluke, a side effect of spending time in the fae realm. She squeezed her eyes shut and drew in a deep breath. “I can at least look after him. Ensure he isn’t hunted down for someone’s dinner.”
Renna’s expression became grim, and he nodded. “Very well. There’s a small crossing in the market district. You might chance upon a willing wayfarer there.”
“Thank you,” Ora said, her voice soft.
He ignored her and bent to start gathering the plums. “Come on. Get to work, Ora. I didn’t bring you out here just to chat.”
Suspecting that to be a lie, she smothered a smile and began to fill her basket. They worked in silence alongside each other. Ora wanted to hate Renna because he was a dren and a Yewolyn’s brother, but he was also kind. She looked up once to study him. He was bent over, eating another plum, and had started humming to himself.
“What’s that song?” she asked.
“Would you like to learn it?”
“No,” she said, as swift and pointed as an arrow.
“Then teach me a Norrish song.”
“You’ll have to find another Nor, one more willing to sing for you,” she said.
Most of the songs she knew were the ones Lupin loved. He would drink and then dance through Mathilde’s inn, bellowing ballads and tales until Mathilde herself stormed out to quiet him. Thinking of this, Ora smirked. “I do know one about how awful the fae are. How they steal babies and leave hideous changelings behind. Maybe you’d like that one?”
“Oh sure, we have the same sort of songs about humans. How they steal our magic, leaving their victims hollow and forlorn.” He sat on a stump to wait for her to finish filling her basket. “You know, changelings aren’t real.”
“Of course not. That’s just a story.”
“Well, our silver blades are real. I had one too.” She straightened, her fists against her hips. “And if I had it now, I would drive it through any fae standing between me and—”
“Ora! It’s terrible thing to do. Silver is poison to us.”
“So is name binding.”
At a stalemate, they both stared hard at each other. Then, Renna muttered, “You’re right.”
The fight drained from Ora’s blood. Her shoulders fell. “I’m sorry, Renna,” she said.
“You have nothing to be sorry for. But you should know, not all of us fae share the same opinion on name binding.” He lifted up his basket of plums and tilted his head toward the main lodge. “Let’s head back.”
Renna was quick to forget their short-lived quarrel. He showed her how to prepare the plums for wine and distracted her with comedic stories of failed romances, drunken nights with friends, and his childhood with Cyn. To her relief, he did not pry her for stories of Fel. She did not think she could bring herself to speak of home or family.
When Renna and Ora parted for the day, she once again wished she could stay with the affable kitchen master. He had managed to soften her anger, but as she stepped into the Valor’s quarters, it all flooded back.
Callum did not bother looking up from a letter in his hands as she shut the door. She stood in front of him and waited. When he at last finished, he folded the letter in half and tossed it aside.
“Now, what to do with you?” he said, studying her from the other side of the table.
“I have a few ideas.”
“Is that so?”
“Returning me to the Hy Borea would be a start.”
“Had it been up to my wife, you would have shared your brother’s fate. Instead, I brought you here and bound your name to Mysanhal. You should consider yourself fortunate,” Callum said and rose to his feet.
“So I’ve been told.”
Amusement tugged at the fine lines that creased his face. He did not possess the same permanent malice as his wife, and in his golden eyes, Ora saw nothing but mirth. “I must admit, I enjoy your boldness,” he said.
“You enjoy it because you do not see me as a threat.”
“Of course not. You’re thin as a willow branch and bound to do as I say.” He motioned to the door. “Shall we? Or must I bother with your name?”
Walking alongside Callum was different than being with Tyg. He would linger at street stalls to talk to merchants, kiss the hands of beautiful dren women, and receive gracious offers to dine with well-dressed lords and their wives. Ora despised the way the people of Tirnan revered him. She stood behind him, glowering, as he chatted with old friends and acquaintances. Soon, she realized they had been drifting through unfamiliar plazas and streets. They were not returning to the Marigen house right away.
Eventually they came to a yellow door. Hanging above it was a sign that read: NO MAGIC & NO SPRITES. It led to a narrow staircase that descended into a crowded tavern. To Ora’s great disappointment, she saw Renna’s brother lift his chin at Callum from the far side of the room.
They did not have to push their way through the crowd. In the presence of the Valor, the fae parted and bowed their heads in a respectful greeting. When they reached the table, he clapped Ora on the back. “Sorry, had to bring her along. Running late.”
Ora sat beside the Valor, resentful and silent. Cyn eyed her. “Should I order her one as well? She looks ready to murder someone.”
Callum laughed. “Why not?”
“Kyrjac!” Cyn shouted over his shoulder. The elven barkeep lifted his head up from a conversation. “Two more here!”
“I don’t want one.” Ora crossed her arms. “I’m not here for the fun of it.”
“Does she talk like this around Tyg?” Cyn asked.
“Clearly not,” said the Valor, leaning back in his chair.
“I imagine you find it amusing.”
“I do, as a matter of fact. She’d make a fine Yewolyn were she a dren. She even tried to stab me that first night.”
Cyn’s brow rose in surprise. “This little thing?”
Glad to have taken him off guard, Ora gave a self-satisfied smirk. “I did, but the blade was dull. You’d think a couple of Yewolyns would keep their knives sharpened.”
Both looked down at her, and she could not tell if they were impressed or taken aback by her words. Before either could speak, Kyrjac slammed two more frothing mugs of ale on the table before them. “Who brought the human?” the barkeep asked.
“I did,” said Callum. “Is there a problem?”
Kyrjac glanced at Fyn in the corner. The old elf gave a nod. “Suppose not,” said the barkeep before ambling away.
“I admit, I am more inclined to agree with Tyg. Why not turn her into a pig as well?” asked Cyn.
“It’s not often we have good reason to bind a human’s name, and her brother shouted hers loud enough for all of us to hear, didn’t he?”
The turn of conversation made Ora dig her nails into her palms beneath the table. If only she had silver.
“Seems a waste. You can clean a little piglet up all you like, but it won’t change her nature,” Cyn replied before tipping his mug back.
Ora’s mind churned with dark thoughts. Perhaps she had been wrong to focus her hatred on Callum. Compared to Tyg and Cyn, he was far more discerning. She glared at Cyn and wondered how he could possibly share the same blood as Renna. Part of her wanted to fling the ale in his face. A buzzing ignited in her veins, spreading along her arms to the tips of her fingers. Her eyes flickered to the mug, but she drew in a deep breath instead, trying to hold back her sour words. As she exhaled, she relaxed her curled fists.
The air shifted. She felt it like a cool gust of wind or icy water sliding across her skin. Then, the chair Cyn sat in flew back. The Yewolyn dropped to the floor, mug still in hand. Ale spilled all over his shirt, and worse, his elk cloak. Beneath the table, Ora’s hands shook. She felt a prickle of energy still dancing across her fingertips.
For a moment, she felt faint, and the world appeared clouded, the lamplight dimmed. It had to be in her head. How could she cast a spell without meaning to? No. It couldn’t have been her. Someone must have played a prank on the Yewolyn.
Cyn jumped to his feet, his eyes wild. “Was it you?” he shouted and pointed at a rough-looking thachwing who was missing one of his wings as well as the tip of an ear.
The fae man turned and growled, “What if it was, Yewolyn?”
Before either could make a move, Fyn roared from the corner, “No magic in my alehouse!”
The old elf’s words did little good, but Ora’s eyes were not on Cyn as he drew his fist back. A few tables away, a dren man had settled his gaze on her. He was not a Yewolyn. He wore plain, dark clothes and had long, uncut hair and an unshaven beard. The look in his eyes confirmed what she feared. She had used magic. Right beside the Yewolyn Valor. Right in front of everyone. Why had no one else noticed?
As she rested her hands on her knees, she heard the sickening crack of Cyn’s fist connecting with the thachwing’s jaw. All at once, chairs and tables shifted. An explosion of shouting, swinging fists, and wrestling bodies ensued. Beside her, Callum drank his ale. No one dared to pick a fight with him.
Ora searched the mess of bodies for the dren man. He had vanished. The panic must have shown on her face because Callum leaned close and said, “Don’t worry. It’ll settle down as soon as Fyn has—”
“Enough!” The old elf climbed on top of his table and stood with his hands outstretched. “I’ll set the lot of you on fire if I have to!”
Every fae in the tavern grew still. Some stared down at their feet as if they were children caught performing a small act of disobedience. Others shuffled back to their tables, picked up their chairs, and grumbled under their breaths. Cyn wiped his bloodied lip on his sleeve as Fyn’s squinty eyes fell on him.
“I don’t much care if you’re a Yewolyn. One more antic like that and you’ll never be welcome back here.” With that, old Fyn hopped down from the table in a surprisingly nimble movement.
Still searching for the dren, Ora did not notice when Callum stood up. He touched her shoulder, and she flinched. “Come, Ora. I think it’s time we leave.”
Indeed, Cyn’s angry outburst had caused many glares to slide their way. The Valor left a stack of coins on the table and nodded at Cyn. As they passed through the tavern, all remained tense and watching. A few chairs had been broken. Glass crunched beneath their boots. At the door, Callum turned and said, “Apologies, Fyn. I will repay you for any damages tomorrow.”
The old elf gave an approving nod.
Cyn trudged up the stairs ahead of them. When they stepped into the street outside, Callum suddenly lurched toward the young Yewolyn and pinned him against the wall.
“Thirty lashes tomorrow, and you will be the one paying for whatever you broke. Understood?”
“Yes, Valor Marigen,” Cyn said, his expression stony.
“Do not act so foolishly again. When you wear an elk cloak, your reputation is not your own.” Callum pulled him back from the wall and gave him a push down the street. “Go. Before I make it twice as many lashes.”
Ora could not help but feel pleased as Cyn ambled away, his head bent. Served him right. A smile crept into place, and she had to turn her head to be sure the Valor did not notice. It was then that she saw the long-haired dren farther down the street. He was leaning against a wall with a pipe in hand, the red ember glowing as he inhaled. Though he stood in shadow, she knew his eyes were fastened on her.
As she followed Callum along the narrow passage, she could not help but glance over her shoulder several times. The dren still stood in the same spot, and aside from lowering his pipe, he did not move. She kept expecting him to call out to Callum, to tell him what he had witnessed. And then what? Would they imprison her? Kill her? These fears followed her as they turned the corner and made their way back to the Marigens’ townhouse.
Despite the mysterious dren, Ora took consolation in the fact that she could use magic. It meant she stood a chance of helping Hademar. Still, it was a grim hope. She could not risk casting a spell in front of another fae, especially Tyg. But how could she be sure it would not happen again? She had no idea how to control the power that flowed through her veins.
She had to leave Tirnan as soon as possible, and it had to be before Tyg returned. Callum thought she was name bound. He did not watch her as closely. All she needed was a chance to sneak away, and she would find a wayfarer and cross the Ether.
That night, Ora sat beneath the window with The Transformative Arts and Reversals propped against her knees. She turned page after page, skimming each for anything pig-like. At last, she came to a section titled On Porcine Character and Anatomy, beneath which was a diagram of a boar with huge tusks and large, fuzzy ears. It was nothing like the brush pigs of the Hy Borea, but surely it was similar.
There was a note scrawled in the margin. She turned the book so she could read the pointed, narrow letters. Try Casyan’s visualization method to enhance effect. Proven by Auldymere. It might as well have been gibberish. She rubbed at her eyes, wishing the answer could be simple.
She turned a few more pages, trying to discern where the writing on pigs ended. Then, she tore out the entire section, folded the pages in half, and tucked them beneath her smock with the handkerchief. At least she could take the chapter with her.
Home haunted Ora through the night. The longing in her heart felt like a rope pulled by a distant hand. She wished she could wrap her arms around her brother, kiss her mother’s cheek, curl up before Lupin’s fire. She craved the scent of sea wind and the damp, dark Hy Borea. She wanted to tilt her head back, breathe in the air of storms. Run her hand along a mossy rock. Search tide pools for treasures. Climb into the thick branches of an ancient pine.
With these thoughts, her determination to escape grew. She held her palm open in the moonlight and thought of how she wrestled with the burning falcon. If the cliff elk had been a warning, then surely Farig’s messenger bode well.