ORA tossed and turned in the dusty little room, thinking of Hademar and her family. Her mother would be sick with worry, and Uncle Lupin would be searching the Hy Borea for them. He would be the only one to suggest fae were involved. All the other men of Fel would likely credit their disappearances to a mountain lion or a sinkhole. How long, she wondered, would it take before they declared the Widogast siblings dead? Her heart ached for the small, familiar world she had been taken from. This was not the adventure she had longed for.
As early morning light pooled across her bed, the door to her room swung open. Tyg snapped at her to get up. She pulled on her shoes and followed the dren to the front door. There, Tyg paused and met her gaze.
“Do not stray from me,” she warned, and then opened the door.
They walked across the plaza and began to wend through Tirnan’s cobbled streets. Tyg took Ora to an open-air market, where she paid a clothier for less frilly attire. Ora stood in the corner of the stall, her eyes drinking in all the spectacular silks and patterns. Compared to Norrish dress, fae cloth was rich and colorful. It reminded her of the people of Galgoa, the desert country south of Nor. Though she had never been there herself, she had met a couple of Galgoans while visiting Port Besil with her uncle.
“There you are,” said Tyg, handing over an undyed linen smock. “We’ll get rid of that ridiculous thing you’re wearing.”
Ora did not know whether to speak or keep her mouth shut, but Tyg pushed her out of the stall without a word more. She hugged the smock against her chest, happy that she would be rid of the layered skirts. Still, she could not, would not, feel grateful toward Tyg.
They ascended another set of stairs, and Ora’s stomach growled as the homey smell of fresh baked goods met her nose. They stopped at a stall for warm flatbread stuffed with spiced sweet potatoes. She devoured the meager breakfast as Tyg pressed on.
“Where are you taking me?” Ora asked as they crossed yet another plaza.
“To an Elder. Valor Marigen finds interpreting your language exhausting.”
Confused, Ora stumbled over her words. “I can’t speak your language. I can’t learn it overnight.”
“Of course not. We’ll be needing an enchantment.”
The idea of more magic made Ora’s skin crawl. Still, she hurried alongside Tyg at a brisk pace. The streets of Tirnan had become crowded and noisy. Strange fae brushed against her. Those who bothered to look at her did so with haughty glances. The rising summer heat, the swirl of bright skirts, the smell of spices, and the foreign words made her head spin.
Tyg stopped at a corner building with a bright blue door and stained-glass windows. She knocked a few times and then waited. Ora had her back turned to the dren, still taking in all the unusual sights and sounds of Tirnan. When she felt Tyg’s hand tighten around her shoulder, she sucked in her breath.
“Hurry up,” said the Yewolyn.
The door had opened to reveal an old elven man no taller than Ora. His long, gray beard was braided and tossed over his shoulder. He wore what looked to be a green bathrobe and seemed, overall, disheveled. As he stepped aside, he waved them both into a dimly lit shop filled with odd instruments. Some ticked and hissed, some caught the sunlight in an array of rainbow spots, some hovered impossibly a few inches off the shelves. They created a cacophony of soft whispers, and Ora sensed the same energy she felt when touching the fae books crackling in the air of the strange shop.
Tyg spoke to the shopkeeper in fae, and they both looked at Ora. She backed herself against the shelves, nearly knocking a large crystal orb from its stand.
“Come here, come here,” said the elf, waving her closer.
She cautiously stepped toward the Elder and stood in front of him. He took her face in his calloused hands and turned it, first one way and then the other, to study her ears.
“Elder Kavyn is a master of enchantments and charms. He will see to it that you understand the fae tongue,” Tyg said.
“It’s a complex enchantment you’re asking for,” said Elder Kavyn, not bothering to slip back into the fae language. “It will be costly, of course.”
“How much?” she asked. When he told her the price, Tyg cursed under her breath but relinquished the coins. Then, she leaned on the edge of a display table covered in dusty trinkets and crossed her arms. “Get on with it.”
He pocketed the coins with a smile and took a seat behind his desk. “Sit right there,” he said to Ora, indicating the chair across from him. He put on a pair of wireframe glasses and began rummaging through the drawers.
“If you’re a master of enchantments, why do you need glasses?” Ora asked.
“You are quite observant.” The elf laughed. “Enchantments require an object to work properly. I can no more enchant my eyes than enchant your ears. Not without certain consequences, at least. As for these glasses, they are quite powerful. They allow me to see even the most minute details.”
“She doesn’t need a lesson in enchantments,” Tyg snapped.
“Of course not,” he said. “Forgive me, Magus Marigen.”
As he spoke, he produced a gold chain, then a polished, white crystal pendant. For all the supposed complexity of the enchantment, it took mere seconds. He held the crystal between his hands and muttered a stream of fae words, his eyes fixed on Ora. She squirmed in the chair, uncertain of what the elf was up to. Finally, he snaked the pendant onto the chain and held it out to her.
“Put that on. You shouldn’t have any trouble with the fae tongue as long as you wear it,” he said.
She took the pendant and glanced at Tyg. The dren only scowled, and Ora quickly pulled it over her head. The weight surprised her, and the crystal felt warm against her chest.
“Simple enough,” said Elder Kavyn as he dusted off his hands.
Tyg frowned. “I thought you said it was a complex enchantment.”
“It is!” he snapped. “It took years to master. Transforming language into a deeply felt understanding that transcends mere speech is no small task. It requires not only an understanding of sound but a strong grasp of how a mind turns and how culture inflicts itself upon the meaning of words. It requires a shifting of perspective, not just simple translation.”
The dren rolled her eyes. Though Ora knew they were not speaking Norrish, the words rang clear in her mind. Dazed, she said, “It works.” As soon as the words fell from her lips, she drew in a sharp breath and clasped her hands over her mouth. Her tongue and lips had formed words in an unfamiliar way. Ora had spoken fae.
“Of course it works! An elf dedicates his life to an art, and this is all the respect he gets? I should start charging more. Honestly.” He went on grumbling to himself as he shooed them both out of the shop.
The voices whirling around her were now clear, and she realized she had been a topic of conversation more often than not. Someone called her a smelly little human as they passed, making Tyg smirk. Ora wrinkled her nose at the insult. If she had not been within inches of the Yewolyn, she might have been bold enough to shout an insult back.
They eventually came to an enormous stone building not far from the palace. The large double doors had noble cliff elk engraved into the wood. Ora’s eyes lingered on them as they passed through the doorway, and she had to hurry her steps in order to stay close to Tyg.
Inside was a flurry of activity. Yewolyns passed through the main hall with stony faces. Others sat around tables speaking in low voices. She could hear swords scraping against each other, shouting, and floorboards creaking above them. Tyg walked swiftly past her fellow Yewolyns and stepped into a portico surrounding a large courtyard. The sounds of combat amplified as the door closed behind them. A few dozen dren warriors practiced hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship, and archery on the dusty, blood-splattered earth.
The flash of metal made Ora yearn for the silver sword her uncle had gifted her only two days before. Would he find it in the brush and guess what had become of his niece? Without meaning to, she paused to watch as two Yewolyns wrestled to gain control of a knife. One drew his fist back and struck the other in the face with a sickening crack. Blood flooded from the dren’s nose, but neither slowed in their movements.
“A Yewolyn who struggles more in training sheds less blood in battle.”
It was Callum. She turned to see a proud smile upon his face. Unamused and bitter, she said, “Your training does not take into account small river stones and Norrish girls with good aim.”
“Perhaps not.” His smile became a smirk, and he lifted the crystal that hung from her neck. “I see Tyg took you to Elder Kavyn.”
The Magus had retraced her steps by then and did not share Callum’s good humor. Despite her impassive expression, Ora did not miss the cruel gleam in Tyg’s eyes. “Come, Ora,” she said. “There is work to be done.”
Tyg led her through a door on the far end of the training yard. They passed through a sunlit hallway and into a small, dusty courtyard. In the center stood a stone fountain with four metal spouts. A dren, who looked to be Hademar’s age, held a pitcher beneath one of the free-flowing streams of water. When he noticed the Magus, he snapped to attention.
“Magus Marigen,” he said. “Well met.”
Tyg gave Ora a push forward. “This is Ora. Put her to work.”
“Return her to me before the dinner bell,” Tyg said. Before she left, she added, “She’s been to Elder Kavyn. No need to trouble yourself with human tongues.”
Neither the dren nor Ora moved until the Magus disappeared into the hallway. Both sighed. Their shoulders fell. For a few brief moments, they stared at each other.
“I’m Renna,” said the dren. When Ora did not speak, he tapped the side of the pitcher. “Well, come with me then.”
Ora followed him through a set of open doors that led to a kitchen. A savory smell curled up from the cast iron pot that sat atop a clay oven in the corner. Skillets, pots, and bundles of drying herbs hung from hooks on the ceiling. A long wooden table with barrels tucked beneath it sat against one wall. A sack of open flour spilled across one end. Bottles of wine, tin boxes, and baskets of bread and fresh fruit crowded the shelves on the opposite wall. Ora could picture her ma bustling about the space, and a pang of homesickness pricked her heart.
“I was just about to make bread,” Renna said, pushing back thick, black hair from his forehead.
“Do you cook? For all of them?”
“You mean all of the Yewolyns?”
“Of course. An enchanted pot can feed an army,” he said.
“Are you a Yewolyn?”
The dren laughed. “No, I prefer ladles to swords. Now, why don’t you change and help me with the dough.”
Ora glanced around. “Change here?”
“Ah, you humans are strange about that, aren’t you?” He went to the doors and pulled them shut. Then, he cast a spell that produced a glowing orb. It rose above their heads and filled the windowless kitchen with light. “Better?”
“Yes,” Ora said and began to unfasten the belt around her waist. As she struggled to pull the layered dress over her head, she heard Renna’s muffled voice through the fabric.
“Would you like some help?”
“Ah, no, no!” She wriggled free of the skirts only to discover that he sat atop a barrel watching her. Blood rushed to her cheeks, and she held the dress against her chest.
“Sorry!” Renna covered his eyes. “I heard Valor Marigen brought back a human, but I didn’t think the Magus would bring you here. She’s … well, how do I put it? Not fond of humans?”
“I noticed,” said Ora as she draped the layered dress across a stool. She lifted up the skirt to retrieve her mother’s handkerchief. The linen smock did not make it any easier to hide the bright, yellow square of cloth. She tucked it beneath the smock at her waist and then grabbed the belt to hold it in place.
“I’m dressed now,” she said as she smoothed out the fabric.
“Good!” Hopping up from the barrel, Renna snuffed out the light with a spell and then flung the doors open once again. “Come here, Ora. I’ll show you how we make bread in Tirnan,” he said, waving her over to the long table. He pushed a wooden bowl toward her. “Leftovers from yesterday. Try some.”
Ora lifted a cold, flaky piece of flatbread from the bowl and nibbled at the edge. Salt and oil melted on her tongue. “This is bread?” she asked, thinking of the fluffy buns her mother baked. “Is it … deflated?”
A twinkle of amusement in his eyes, Renna shook his head. “No, not deflated, but it is better hot.”
He instructed her with the utmost patience on how to form flour and water into a firm dough. As she attempted to emulate his efforts, Ora’s mind wandered. It would be easier to sneak away from Renna. Much like Wynn, this dren had a warmer, less threatening demeanor.
“Why does she hate humans?” Ora asked without looking up from the dough forming beneath her hands.
“History, I suppose.”
“Did something happen?”
“Ha!” The question made Renna take pause. He peered down at Ora’s work. “More flour than that.”
“Well?” said Ora as she sprinkled more flour into the mixture. “Clearly something happened.”
“I thought you were joking.” Renna’s brow wrinkled. “Tell me, what do humans say about the fae in their histories?”
“We think you’re nothing but stories. Well, most of us. My uncle doesn’t.”
“I forget. Lives are shorter in the human realm. To you, it’s ancient history, but our great grandfathers still pass down what happened in Himil.”
“That’s what we call the human realm. We were once friends to humans, but you grew to envy our magic. When humans realized they could not possess such power for themselves, they tried to destroy ours. We call it the Silver War. Many fae had magic sliced from their veins.”
As Renna told this story, Ora kneaded the bread with increasing forcefulness. “Perhaps if you didn’t steal names and turn us into pigs, we would have stayed friends. Magic is horrible.” To her surprise, she felt a gentle touch on her arm, and she lifted her head to meet the dren’s gaze. Like Tyg, his eyes were bright blue.
“Magic is a tool, just like a knife. There are many ways to use it. It does not become a weapon without intent,” he said.
She scowled and went back to kneading. “Magic is not just like a knife. You must drive a blade into someone for it to hurt. A spell can take all you have in just a few words.” She paused to dust more flour onto her hands. “You’re frightened of Tyg too, aren’t you?” she asked but already knew the answer.
“It’s true. She does frighten me,” Renna admitted, then lowered his voice. “Ora, listen. Magus Marigen sees utility in violence. It’s how she rose to her position, and it’s how she maintains control. Be wary around her. I do not know why she wishes to keep you close. Tyg would sooner welcome a family of sprites into her house than a human, bound or not.”
The warning made Ora all the more uneasy, but she did not want him to notice. Quick to change the subject, she said, “Tyg told me not to stare at sprites. What’s so bad about them?”
“You don’t want to draw their attention. They’ll follow you home. Steal odds and ends.” Renna wiped his hands off on a rag. “You still need more flour. Let me show you.”
Ora stepped aside so the dren could fold more flour into the dough. “I’ve never been very good at making bread,” she said as she tried to pick the sticky goop from her hands.
“You’ll learn with practice.”
She watched him for a while. Sunlight streamed through the open doors and warmed her back. The kitchen felt tranquil, a far cry from the training yard. “Renna, can I ask you something?”
He formed the dough into a ball and set it aside. “Yes, of course.”
“Why are you here?”
“It’s how I make my living.”
“But why work for the Yewolyns? Couldn’t you work in the palace or somewhere else?”
“My older brother is a Yewolyn. He got me this job. Of course, he’d probably like it better if I joined the ranks, but I never liked combat.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, leaving behind powdery, white smudges. “He was there, in the Hy Borea.”
A knot tightened in Ora’s stomach. She edged away from Renna. “You aren’t the Valor’s brother, are you?”
“No. My brother is Cynaca. Most call him Cyn.”
“If he was there, then you know what happened.” A cold edge clipped her words, and the dren winced.
“Yes, I heard what happened to your friend. I truly am sorry, Ora. No one should suffer a transformation. It was a—”
She cut off his words. “Tyg changed my brother.”
Silence stretched between them. She did not know what else to say, though a hundred thoughts clouded her mind. She could tell by the pained look in Renna’s eyes that he wished he could help her, but she also knew he would not. His brother was a Yewolyn. He made their bread. He was fae.
When he spoke again, his voice sounded distant. “You cannot return to Himil without magic. There is no other way to cross the Ether.”
Tears burned in her eyes, and she wrinkled her nose to stop them from falling. “I must find a way.”
“You know I cannot aid you.”
“I know. I—”
“But,” he said, placing his hands on her shoulders. “I will not stop you either. It is my job to put you to work. I am not your keeper.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
A shadow stretched across the kitchen as a Yewolyn appeared in the doorway. “You soft-hearted fool. You’re not making friends with humans now, are you?”
In an instant, Renna’s expression shifted. He turned away from Ora with a frown, carefully placing himself between her and the Yewolyn. “What brings you to my kitchen, Cyn?”
Of course. They could not look more alike. Each had blue eyes, the same straight-cut nose, and a square jaw. But Renna appeared small and wiry compared to his stronger, warrior brother.
“Food, of course.” Cyn grinned and sauntered in to stand before the shelves. He took a plum from one of the baskets, then leaned against the end of the table to eat it. “Come on, Ren. Let me have a proper look at her.”
Renna’s shoulders tensed, but he stepped aside all the same. Behind him, Ora had been seething. Her hands were curled into fists and a furious gleam lit her dark eyes.
“Doesn’t she look docile,” Cyn said around a mouthful of plum. “Are you certain you can handle this little Nor?”
“Her name is bound, isn’t it? What harm can she do?”
Having devoured the plum in a few bites, Cyn tossed the pit into a bowl of scraps and approached Ora. “You looked like a little beast last I saw you, all covered in mud.”
“Only because I was flung into a mudbank,” she said.
“And here I thought all you humans lived like pigs in that wretched forest.”
“Cyn,” Renna said, but his brother ignored him.
“Your friend is fortunate that his arrows missed Pyri’s heart, or he might have been the pork in our stew.”
Ora’s eyes slid to a nearby knife. She did not care if Cyn was Renna’s brother. Hatred rushed through her blood, a dark venom that dissolved her senses. She wanted to lash out, to fight back. What did it matter if she was smaller? She could take them by surprise. She felt her fingers twitch at her sides, but Renna spoke again.
“Don’t taunt her, Cyn. They were not her arrows. Valor Marigen bound her name and brought her here. That is a suitable punishment, is it not?”
The drens’ eyes met, and Cyn shrugged. “You know I am not one to question Callum’s judgement,” he said. “But if she gives you any trouble …”
“Don’t let Tyg catch you being soft on her, Renna. You know it would anger her,” Cyn said and at last left the kitchen. They watched as he turned down an open corridor.
“You look murderous,” Renna said.
She crossed her arms. “Wouldn’t you if I told you I wanted to make pork stew out of him?”
“Depends on the day. Now, let’s get back to work.”
Renna sent her to sweep the main hall while he finished the bread. She was happy to be alone with her thoughts. It gave her a chance to study the layout of the lodge and the cadence of activity. The Yewolyns took little interest in her aside from a few curious glances. She imagined they shared Renna’s uncertainty about why their Magus had brought a human to their lodge to begin with.
Being so close to the large, front doors agonized Ora. She swept slowly, shoving the broom beneath tables and into forgotten, dusty corners in the hopes that she might find a moment alone if she took long enough. But there always seemed to be someone new passing through, and she eventually had to return to the kitchen.
Though he did not send her out a second time, Renna kept her busy. She peeled dozens, maybe hundreds, of potatoes and scrubbed countless dishes. By the end of the day, she felt no closer to escape than she had when she awoke. Just as Tyg had requested, Renna returned her to the Marigens before the dinner bell. When they came to the door, she gave him a pleading look.
“Try to stay out of trouble till tomorrow, alright?” Renna whispered, then knocked.
The door opened, and Callum waved her inside. “We’re almost finished. Sit over there.” He pointed to a bench along the back wall.
A large wooden table took up most of the space. A map stretched across it, each corner held down by a brass weight. Tyg and another Yewolyn stood over the table, arguing vehemently between each other.
“It’s a waste of resources, Marigen!” the other bellowed. His hand was curled around the golden hilt of a claymore. A deep rumble reverberated in his words, and along with his enormous stature, he reminded Ora of a bear. She carefully skirted behind him to sit down, and Tyg’s narrowed eyes followed her. “They’re probably half-starved and harmless.”
At those words, the Magus’s eyes latched onto the ursine Yewolyn. “Half-starved means they’re desperate, and desperation is precisely what leads to trouble.” She dug into her pocket and produced a marble-sized, metal ball that hung from a chain. The dull copper necklace was turning green with age. She dropped it onto the map. The bear dren’s eyes widened, and he leaned forward to study it.
A charge blossomed in the air, and Ora felt the hairs on her arm stand on end. She felt certain the necklace held power. Despite wanting to appear disinterested, she could not help but sit forward.
“Where did you get that?” Callum asked.
But rather than answer, Tyg became alert and held up her hand. “Do you hear that?”
They all tilted their ears toward the device. A soft hiss came from the necklace. Then, a click. And eight, delicate metal legs sprung from the side of the copper ball.
With a roar, the bear-sized dren brought his fist down on it. The force of the blow shook the room. When he lifted his hand, the orb had broken free of the chain and was rolling toward Ora. As it dropped onto the floor with a soft thud, she bent down to get a closer look. The legs unfurled a second time, but Tyg was already looming over her.
She shifted to the far end of the bench just as the Yewolyn Magus cast a spell. A glitter of lightning danced across the surface of the orb. The legs shivered, then became still. As Tyg stooped to pick up the metal ball, she shot Ora a puzzled look.
“A scout brought it back this morning,” she said and returned to the table. “It is a sylvn device, and apparently, it’s still in working order, which means—”
“Clear them out,” Callum said, his expression grim. “Take three of your mages.”
“I can spare a few swordsmen,” said the bear dren.
“There’s no need, Gallant Myrdah. It will be swift work for our mages.”
The giant dren looked defeated, but he did not argue. It was only after he left that a triumphant smile spread across Tyg’s face. “What did I tell you?” she said.
“You didn’t tell me about the scout.”
The Magus’s smile turned into a sneer. “Someone has to keep an eye on the borders.”
The dinner bell rang out. Callum hunched over the table, his palms pressed against the wood. As the bell faded, he began to slide the weights off the corners of the map. “Take the girl back. I must send word to Queen Innes. She will want to know of this. I won’t be far behind you.”
Tyg pocketed the copper necklace and said, “Let me deliver the news personally. She will want to see the sylvn artifact.”
“Very well,” he said as he rolled up the map. “But before you go, Magus, I must request that you do not send anymore scouts without direct orders.”
“Understood, Valor Marigen.”