“I’M not wearing the dress,” said Ora when the boy, Pons, tried to reason with her. Almost as soon as Wynn left the washroom, she had flown to the door and discovered the thachwing locked it. Now, she stood twisting at the doorknob with both hands.
“At least bathe,” Pons said. “You do sort of … smell.”
With a growl, she let go of the handle and spun to face him. She didn’t like the boy. He seemed incapable of looking her in the eyes, and he did whatever was asked of him. Or rather, whatever the fae asked of him. She could not sway him. “Why should I do anything they tell me to? They’ve—well, they’ve stolen me away! Same as you. You’re a human like me, aren’t you?”
His cheeks turned bright red. “I don’t have a choice. They have my name. Don’t they have yours?” It was then that he glanced up. The anger in Ora’s dark, glittering eyes made him inch backward.
She thought of her uncle’s many warnings, and the difference between her and the boy became clear. Rather than let on, she nodded in response to his question. “They do,” she said.
Whether or not Pons believed her, he fell silent. In the stillness, she studied him. He looked to be about her age but a head taller. He had auburn hair, freckled skin, and hazel eyes that glistened green and gold. He reminded her of a trader that came to Fel once, eager to procure fine furs for the royalty in Merin. It had been unusual. Merinians rarely ventured past Port Besil, but he had wanted to see the Hy Borea for himself.
“Are you Merinian?” Ora asked.
“I was,” he said, voice sullen.
“I’m from Fel,” she said. “In Nor.”
He did not answer at first but appeared stricken by her want for conversation. At least he spoke common, and she did not have to struggle with her limited knowledge of the Merinian language. When he did not respond right away, she turned to the windows.
“I could guess that you’re Norrish. You have an accent,” he said, watching her push against the panes with all her might. “Those won’t open, you know. They don’t even have latches.”
A furious cry burst from Ora’s lips, and she slammed her fist against the glass. The pane rattled. She pressed her forehead against it, gazing upon an interior courtyard. A single tree with pale, white bark grew in the middle. Wooden benches circled its trunk. Curled in a patch of sunlight beneath the tree was a black cat, the tip of its tail tapping the earth.
“It’s not worth all the trouble,” Pons said. “They can do much worse than bind your name.”
“Oh, I’ve seen what they can do.” Ora refused to look at him as she spoke. She focused on the cat instead, her heart wrenching with each word. “They changed my brother. He’s all alone in the Hy Borea, and I’m the only one who knows what’s become of him. I have to find a way back to help him. Don’t you understand?” The cat lifted its head. She thought for a moment that it noticed her standing in the window.
“Ora, I do understand. I—”
Surprised to hear her name fall from the boy’s lips, she turned around, but before he could finish speaking, the door to the washroom thudded against the wall. They both jumped as the dren who woke her stormed inside.
“Get out,” Tyg said as she brushed past Pons. He fled without a word, pulling the door shut behind him. She towered over Ora. “Why haven’t you done as you’re told?”
Ora did not shrink away. Instead, she crossed her arms and lifted her chin defiantly. “Dresses are useless.”
Tyg looked at the gown Wynn had draped across a wooden chair. It had three layers of fabric: crisp white, sage green, and apple red. Beside the chair was a pair of soft leather slippers. Under different circumstances, Tyg might have agreed with Ora’s assessment of the garment. However, with the mandated court appearance rapidly approaching, the fine clothing would be a vast improvement on the girl’s current attire.
“Ora,” she said, her voice dripping with a powerful energy. “You will bathe and dress for court this evening.”
But the girl stood firm, tight-lipped, and angry as ever. It was enough to push Tyg over the edge. Her hand shot out in a swift movement and wrapped around Ora’s throat. She pushed the girl against the wall. “You will not make a fool of me.”
Ora tried to dig her fingers beneath Tyg’s grip, but the dren was much stronger. She gasped silently for air. When her face started to darken, Tyg released her, and she dropped to the dusty, wood floor, coughing and grasping at her throat. Despite this, Ora glowed with pride when she looked up.
“Your name, girl, what is your true name?”
“It’s Ora,” she croaked. “It’s always been Ora.”
Tyg crouched before the girl. She snatched up one of Ora’s hands, drew her knife, and pressed the blade against one of her fingers. A drop of blood welled up against the cold metal. “If you wish to keep your true name from me, know this: I will slice off one of your fingers for every time you disobey.”
Ora swallowed hard. She did not doubt for an instant that Tyg meant what she said. She stared at the blade, at her own blood, and then gave one quick nod. “I’ll bathe. And wear the dress.”
Tyg pressed the knife harder into the girl’s finger, and a small, frightened cry escaped her lips. “And if you let anyone know that your name is not bound, I will see to it that you return to your family a gutted pig like your friend. Do you understand?”
The dren’s threat made her blood turn to fire as her brother’s gruesome transformation flashed in her mind. “It was you? You changed my brother into a pig?”
Rather than answer, Tyg only said, “Clean up. Now.”
Ora jerked her hand away as soon as Tyg loosened her grip. To her great relief, the dren left her alone in the washroom. For some time, she stood shaking beside the tub, trying to decide what to do. She wanted to keep all her fingers, and she certainly did not want to be turned into a pig. But she had to escape. She had to find Hademar and help him before he was hunted down himself.
At last, she shed her thick winter coat and her clothes—hand-me-downs from her brother. Though they were worn, she folded them and placed them gently on the chair. As she did, she saw the bright yellow smudge of the handkerchief poking out from her pocket. Aching for home, she pulled it free. The soft fabric still smelled like the warm, sweet bun her mother sent.
She eyed the extravagant dress, wondering where she could hide the handkerchief. “No pockets. This is why dresses are useless,” she grumbled to herself as she searched the layers of skirts. Finally, she resolved to knot the handkerchief to the innermost layer and prayed that it would not come loose.
Knowing she would have a piece of home close by made Ora feel lighter. She dipped one leg into the tub. The bathwater was tepid but tolerable. It had been mixed with scented oils that were far too floral for her taste. She rubbed the dirt off her arms and face, enjoying the feeling of being clean despite herself. If she had returned home, she would have bathed with nothing more than a washbasin and rough cloth.
As she cleaned off, her elbow bumped against a knob. There came a high pitched whine, and her heart flickered. But the whine gave way to a steaming stream of water. Fascinated, she ran her hand beneath the faucet. The water was hot enough to sting her hand. Torn between delight and irritation, she turned the water off and forced a frown. She did not want to be in awe of the fae.
Ora stood to crawl out of the tub, but the fae from earlier, Wynn, stepped inside the washroom. “Tyg says she has you behaving,” said the thachwing as she came to the side of the tub. “I hope you don’t consider that clean. You still have pine needles in your hair. Sit back down, Ora.” She said her name in a slow, deliberate way.
Embarrassed to be standing naked before a stranger, Ora crossed her arms over her chest. Reluctant as she was, she sank back down into the tub, thinking of Tyg’s sharp blade the whole time.
“There,” said Wynn, sounding pleased with herself. “I must have been saying it wrong after all.”
She began scrubbing at Ora’s thick hair with a sweet-smelling soap. It took several rounds of dunking and scrubbing for Wynn to be satisfied. After that, Ora had to grit her teeth as the fae pulled tangle after tangle out of her curls with a brush. By the time she finished, the water was freezing cold.
Wynn handed her a towel to dry off as she stood shivering beside the tub. Then, she helped pull the dress over Ora’s head and fastened a braided leather belt around her waist. Despite the layered fabric, the skirt felt light and comfortable.
The thachwing picked up a strand of her wet hair. “Now, what to do with this? Some ribbons perhaps?”
“I’m not some sort of doll,” Ora said bitterly.
“Of course not, dear. But ribbons are fashionable, Ora,” Wynn said, dismissing the outburst without so much as a raised brow. “Come with me. I have just the thing.”
Ora followed behind Wynn’s shimmering wings. They walked too fast for her to get a good look into any of the open rooms they passed, though her quick glimpses didn’t reveal anything unusual. Most of the rooms appeared to be like hers, holding nothing more than a bed with a colorful quilt and a wooden chair with a tidy pile of folded clothes.
“Aren’t human girls like you supposed to love ribbons and dresses?” asked Wynn as they began to ascend a narrow staircase tucked behind a wooden door.
Ora, despite her best efforts, could not help but like this fae woman. She was not vicious like Tyg and even seemed a bit simple-minded, humming and swaying as she walked. “I don’t wear dresses or ribbons,” she said.
“Hm. How very odd.”
They reached the top of the stairs and stood on a small landing. The door before them was painted bright green and had a swirling, blue glass window with sunlight swimming through it. Wynn pulled out an ornate barrel key and unlocked the door. How come her dress has pockets? Ora thought ruefully.
“Alright, dear, in you go.” This time, she didn’t use Ora’s name but guided her with a gentle hand on the small of her back. “Have a seat over there,” she said, gesturing to a wooden stool by the window.
They entered a large bedroom with a canopy bed and floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with countless rolls of fabric. A big wooden table on one end had scissors, pincushions, and needles strewn across it. Ora passed all this with an inquisitive eye, even daring to run her hand across a piece of deep, violet silk that cascaded over the side of a shelf.
“Fae silk,” Wynn said as she dug through a drawer. “You can only find it in Mysanhal, of course.”
“Mysanhal?” asked Ora.
“Yes, dear. More specifically, you are in Tirnan, the royal city of Mysanhal.” She tapped her chin. “Let’s go with this red to match your dress.” She pulled the ribbon from the drawer and turned to Ora, who stood by the window, peeking down at another courtyard.
In the center was a huge stone circle. Beyond that grew stunning gardens with bright flowers, winding paths, and ornate fountains. A waterfall flowed down from the mountainside, fed the reflecting pools, and continued beneath intricate walkways. Ora spotted a group of well-dressed ladies strolling the grounds. They each had wings that glistened in the sunlight.
“Sit, sit, sit.” Wynn waved the girl away from the window and onto the stool. Then, with a flurry of words, she mustered up a gust of air and wove it through Ora’s wet hair.
It felt like nothing more than a tickle and took mere seconds. In wonder, Ora ran a hand through her hair, now dry and soft, and tilted her head back to look at the smiling thachwing. “How’d you do that?”
“Fae magic. Not so bad, is it?”
Ora did not mention Hademar, even as flashes of his transformation came to mind. She turned pale and looked down at her hands.
“You will become more accustomed to our ways as time passes.” Wynn’s voice was sweet as honey as she lifted the girl’s chin with the tips of her fingers. “You are blessed to walk the fae realm.”
“Blessed?” she scoffed, jerking her chin back. “I was stolen from my home.”
With a sad smile, Wynn squeezed Ora’s shoulder and stepped around her to begin braiding ribbons into her hair. “You were spared a worse fate.”
“My brother was not.” When the thachwing said nothing, Ora twisted around to face her. “It was an accident. We were hunting a cliff elk.”
“You crossed paths with Yewolyns. Count yourself lucky to be alive,” Wynn whispered.
“Yewolyns?” she asked.
“They are our queen’s finest warriors. They could have just killed you both, but Valor Marigen caught your name. It is the only thing that saved you, do you understand?”
Ora thought of the golden-eyed dren, and her heart filled with resentment. At least he did not know the truth. She fell silent as the thachwing began to pin her braids into place.
“I must apologize for earlier,” Wynn said as she finished Ora’s hair. “I had intended to fetch Valor Marigen, not his wife.”
“What do you mean?” Ora asked and stepped down from the stool.
“The dren who got you to, erm … bathe. That would be Magus Tyg Marigen, the head war mage of the Yewolyns. I wouldn’t wish her on anyone, but when you wouldn’t do as told, I had to—”
Ora cut her off. “She is his wife?”
“Yes.” Wynn paused. “She did not harm you, did she?”
Though the small cut on Ora’s finger could hardly be seen, she tucked her hand behind her skirts and shook her head. “No,” she said, remembering the dren’s threat. “No harm done.”