A Yewolyn rushed toward Ora. She had just finished mending worn tunics, a task that took her most of the morning. Still, she feared she had done something wrong, and she pressed a hand against her waist to be sure pages from The Transformative Arts had not fallen from her belt.
The Yewolyn sprinted past with a wide-eyed look of alarm. Ora edged along the passage, watching as the dren woman neared Callum’s quarters. Intrigued by the dren’s urgency, she did not notice Renna approach, and when he touched her arm, she drew in a sharp breath.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said. “I need your help.”
Her gaze lingered on the Yewolyn, who now stood pounding at the Valor’s door. “Something’s happened,” she said, turning to Renna. “What’s going on?”
He shook his head. “I’m not sure.”
The Yewolyn stopped banging on the door, and she turned to them instead. “Where’s Valor Marigen?” she asked, her words rushed and breathless.
With an uncharacteristically bitter expression, Renna pointed along a passage bright with midday sun. “He’s sparring with Gallant Myrdah.”
The Yewolyn left without a word more.
“Please, let’s hurry,” said Renna. “I don’t want to waste any more time.”
The anxious pitch in his words made her forget about the commotion. They walked at a fast pace toward the kitchen. When they arrived, she was surprised to see the doors closed.
“Ora, do not mention this to anyone,” he warned her and cracked open one of the doors just enough to squeeze inside.
Candlelight and flames from the stove lit the small space. The air was thick and hot. Hunched over on one of the barrels sat Cyn. He wore no shirt, and his head hung heavy between his hands. He did not look up as they entered.
“Clear off the table,” Renna said.
She watched as he pulled a mortar and pestle from the shelf. “What’s this about?”
“Do as he says, Ora,” Cyn hissed without lifting his head.
Irritated, she stepped past the Yewolyn. It was then that her eyes fell on his back. The skin had been shredded by a cane, and blood glistened in the flamelight. Her stomach twisted, and she remembered the Valor’s sentence.
So, this was what thirty lashes looked like.
She bowed her head in guilt, thinking of how she had relished the idea of Cyn’s punishment the night before.
“A Yewolyn is expected to endure pain,” Cyn said. “If you tell anyone of this, I will slit your throat.”
Without turning, Renna said, “No need to threaten. Her name is bound.”
Ora cleaned off the table in silence. Once she finished, Cyn slid off the barrel. He gritted his teeth, and with pained, slow movements, he laid himself across the surface. Renna had begun to grind at an herbal mixture, each strike of the pestle louder than the last. Anger sat on his shoulders, making his form square and rigid.
“Water,” said Renna as he worked. “I need clean water.”
This time, Ora did not hesitate. She grabbed a pitcher and slid into the courtyard. As she closed the door, her eyes fell on a dren who had just bent over to drink from the fountain. He was not a Yewolyn. His black hair was long, his clothes worn and plain.
A jolt of recognition struck her. It was him. The dren from the alehouse. The dren who saw her use magic.
She pressed herself against the door as if it would make her invisible. Why had he come to the lodge? Had he spoken to Callum?
He straightened. Water dripped from his beard. “Ah, it’s you,” he said, brow raising. “I wondered if I’d run into you here.”
“What do you want?”
“I came to join the Yewolyns, but …” He tilted his head toward the training yard. “It seems there’s a commotion.”
Uncertain of what to say next, she waited for him to leave. He had come to drink water, and he was finished. Why was he still standing there? He scratched at his beard as if wrestling with a thought. Then, he held out his hand.
“You needed water, right?”
Ora hugged the pitcher against her belly. “I can get it on my own.”
“I insist,” he said.
Realizing he would not budge, she stepped toward him. He took the pitcher from her hands. As it filled, he spoke under his breath.
“In all my years, I have never seen a human cast a spell.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
With a crooked grin, his eyes flickered to hers. They were a stunning shade of green, as deep and dark as the Hy Borea’s ancient pines. Like Maol, magic shimmered across his skin. Had the self-declared son of a god taken on a new disguise?
“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” the dren said and held out the full pitcher.
But Ora did not take it. She stared hard at him. “You’re using glamour,” she whispered.
His smile faded. “How did you guess that?”
Before she could think of how to respond, the door opened behind her. “Ora, what’s taking so long? It’s just …” Renna’s voice trailed off as he realized they were not alone. “Who are you?”
“Berengar Lyllwn,” said the stranger. “I’ve come to join the ranks.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
Emboldened by Renna’s words, she snatched the pitcher from the dren’s hands and hurried back to the kitchen. When the stranger followed, Renna stepped around her, crossed his arms, and positioned himself in front of the doors. Ora peered through the crack.
“What’s happening?” Cyn groaned.
She ignored him and watched as the bearded dren loomed over Renna. “You’re the kitchen master, aren’t you?”
“My kitchen is closed.”
Berengar, if that was truly his name, looked past Renna and caught Ora’s gaze. She leapt back from the door, almost spilling the water. He squinted into the dark kitchen, then said, “I’m a mage.”
Renna did not budge. “Then you should come back when Magus Marigen returns.”
“I know healing spells.”
Cyn shifted and sucked in a sharp breath as he lifted his arm to catch hold of Ora’s wrist. “Tell Renna to let him in,” he said, his voice strained. She could feel him shaking. The sight of the gashes along his back made a needle-sharp sensation prickle across her skin. “Ora, tell him.”
She pulled away and set the pitcher down atop a barrel before creeping back to the door. Renna was trying to turn the dren imposter away again. She tried to steady her nerves with a deep breath.
“Cyn asked that you let him in,” she said, pushing the door open further.
“No. This is none of his concern.”
“Renna, please.” The desperation in Cyn’s voice summoned another pang of sympathy from Ora.
“Let him help,” she said softly.
Renna shoved a finger against Berengar’s chest. “Breathe a word of this, and you will regret it.”
“You will meet few dren who can keep a secret better than I.”
The earnestness in his voice made Ora wonder if he meant to reassure her as well. Renna stepped aside, and Berengar brushed past her to inspect the wounds. As soon as the doors closed, he started singing, but the words were not fae.
Renna shook his head groggily and leaned against the table. “What sort of spell—” he began to ask, but then his knees buckled. He sank to the floor. Cyn’s body relaxed.
An intense weariness crept into Ora’s mind and tugged at her eyelids. She fought against it, thinking of how easily Callum sang her to sleep in the Hy Borea. She would not be fooled by the same spell twice. Blinking back exhaustion, she edged toward the stove. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Renna’s cleaver. It hung from a hook within arm’s reach. It was not silver, but it was sharp.
She wrapped her hand around the wooden handle, and as she lifted it, the blade scraped against the wall. Berengar whirled around. The last word of the song hung in the air, as sweet and heavy as warm milk.
She brandished the cleaver, ready to strike if he made a move toward her or tried to cast another spell. “What did you do to Renna?”
“He’s asleep.” He gave a slight nod toward the cleaver. “You can put that down. I won’t hurt you.”
“Tell me who you are. I mean who you really are.”
“Do not use my name.”
He held his hands up in defeat. “Very well. My name is truly Berengar, and I am no more a dren than you are an ordinary human girl. Will that do for now?”
“No. Why are you using glamour?”
“To disguise myself. Why else?”
“You’re evading my questions.”
As they spoke, he had been inching toward her. Determined to hide her uncertainty, she held her ground, but he soon stood within arm’s reach. He gently took hold of the hand she held the cleaver in. “Give it here, Ora,” he said.
Knowing she could not risk revealing the truth about her name, she swallowed the lump in her throat and loosened her grip. He drew the cleaver from her hand. Then, he reached around her and hung the blade back in its place. Each movement was slow and measured as if to avoid startling her.
“There,” he said. “I find conversation much easier without sharp objects involved.”
“And I find conversation much easier without magic.”
“I wasn’t directing that nodding spell at you. In fact, I had hoped we could chat.”
Ora frowned. “I meant the glamour.”
To her surprise, Berengar took a step back and said, “Very well, a secret for a secret.”
The glamour began to fade. His hair turned ashen blonde. The sharp, angular features of a dren softened. His skin took on a darker, olive tone. Somehow, he seemed taller too. Only his eyes remained the same.
He was definitely not Maol.
“What are you?” Ora asked.
Rather than answer, Berengar shrugged, dug a pipe out of his pocket, and lit it with a spell. A sharp scent filled the kitchen as he exhaled. In disbelief, she edged closer and sniffed the air.
“That’s mageweed,” she said. She thought of Uncle Lupin, his smoky cabin, his stories. Her hand found its way to her waist, and she felt the hidden bundle beneath her belt. “You’ve been to Nor.”
“Indeed, but that’s not important.” He spoke with the pipe between his teeth. “I would like to propose a mutual agreement between us.”
Suspicious of the fae man, Ora narrowed her eyes. “An agreement?”
“Yes. You will relay to me anything you hear the Marigens discuss in private, and I—” Berengar blew smoke through his nostrils. “Well, what would you like?”
“Take me back to Nor.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“Then we do not have an agreement.”
“In that case, Ora, I insist that you tell me anything the Marigens discuss in private.”
“That’s my business.”
She considered refusing, but what did she care if this stranger spied on the Marigens? Besides, she did not want to give away the truth about her name, and he might be swayed to help her return to Nor later. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll tell you what they say, but I still want something out of it.”
“As long as it doesn’t involve returning to Himil,” he said.
“Teach me a spell.” She reached down into her smock, pulled out the folded pages from The Transformative Arts, and held them out. “This one.”
Pipe still in one hand, he took the pages. As he unfolded them and skimmed through the first few lines, his eyes widened. “You want me to teach a little twig like you a transformation spell?”
“No,” she said. “A reversal.”
Small puffs of smoke rose from the corner of his lips as he studied the text. Then, his head snapped up. “Ask for something else.”
Ora snatched the pages from his grip. “No. This is what I want.”
“I will owe you a favor … when you think of something more reasonable.”
“I think teaching me a spell is more than reasonable. You’re asking me to spy on Tyg Marigen. She’ll kill me if she finds out.”
“You don’t understand. That type of magic takes years to learn,” he said and pointed at the pages in her hand. “You would have to learn the basics of alteration first. Even then, I don’t have years to teach you.”
“But you can cast this spell?”
“I can cast a spell akin to it.”
“Then here is what I ask. Tyg transformed my brother into a pig. He’s in the Hy Borea. Even if you will not return me to Nor, you can change him back, so he can at least go home.” Despite her firm words, the idea that she would be stuck in Tirnan for the rest of her life felt like a clawed hand curling around her heart. The longing for her family swelled, and she felt tears gathering in her eyes.
Berengar became solemn. “I will consider it, little twig. That is as much as I can promise at this present moment.”
Unable to bear talk of home and Hademar any longer, she sniffed and nodded toward Cyn. “What about him?”
“Yes, I nearly forgot. I suppose I should make this convincing.” As he stepped past her, he ruffled her hair. Annoyed by the gesture, she ducked away and stashed the pages beneath her smock once again.
Berengar held his hands over Cyn’s back. His chest rose with a deep breath. Then, he began to chant. His face became taught with concentration, and the words fell from his lips at a steady rhythm. Ora crept closer to watch as the flesh began to weave back together. It took longer than she imagined, but at last, Berengar stepped back from the dren. Though the deep gashes had scarred over, blood still caked Cyn’s back.
With another spell, Berengar’s glamour returned, and he looked indistinguishable from any other dren, aside from his uncut hair. He lifted the nodding spell next. Neither Cyn nor Renna seemed aware they had been under. They reasoned away the slumber. Cyn fell unconscious from the pain. Renna fell asleep waiting for Berengar to finish the spell. And that was that.
Rather than offer thanks, Renna opened the kitchen doors and said, “Magus Marigen will return tomorrow.”
“Then I will return tomorrow,” said Berengar as he stepped into the sunlit courtyard.
Not until he was out of sight did Renna meet Ora’s gaze and say, “I don’t trust him.”
She shrugged. “I don’t trust any of you.”