THE sun had just set. Tirnan’s street lamps sparkled beneath the lodge like pale, blue stars. A full, golden moon loomed above the city, and crisp air swept down from the mountains. Once the doors closed behind them, Ora drew in a deep breath and asked the question that had burned in her mind since the copper ball sprang to life. “What was that thing?”
“You are not to ask questions,” Tyg said as they descended the stone steps.
Ora hurried to catch up to the Yewolyn and fell into pace at her side. “Why did it come toward me?”
“You insolent girl, I should be asking you that.”
Tyg ignored her. Once the lodge was no longer in sight, the dren turned down a staircase that led to one of the many riverways in Tirnan. Wedged between the crashing water and a long, retaining wall, the path they followed had no streetlamps or storefronts. Even the moonlight did not reach the deep shadow cast by the wall. As Ora peered along the dark pathway, the thought struck her. Tyg wanted to be hidden.
Still, the dren’s sudden movement startled her. Before she could run, Tyg had her pinned against the wall with an arm across her throat. The tip of a blade pricked her side. She did not dare struggle.
“Who are you?” Tyg growled.
“I’m just a Nor from Fel.”
“Did you wake it?”
A frantic pitch crept into Tyg’s words. “I’ve known Gallant Myrdah my entire life. That idiot can hardly cast a spell. And Callum? He doesn’t trouble himself with sylvn artifacts. It had to be you.”
“Casting spells? Are you—” Ora almost accused the dren of madness but swallowed her words. She could not stop her voice from quivering. “Magus Marigen, humans cannot use magic.”
Fuming, Tyg withdrew the knife and gave Ora a harsh shove against the stone before pulling back. “You’re right. Humans can’t.”
Ora pushed herself away from the wall, remembering how the Yewolyn first woke her in the palace. “You think I’m something else. That’s why you asked if I was born to human parents, isn’t it?”
“We’ll settle it now,” Tyg said. “Ayluma. It’s a simple spell for light. Even a child can manage it. Cast it. Now.”
“You want me to cast a spell?”
“I want you to prove that you can’t.”
Shaking, Ora lifted her hand and squeezed her eyes shut. Before she could utter the spell, Tyg grabbed her wrist and turned her hand so that her palm faced up.
“Do it properly,” the Yewolyn said.
“Ay—luma?” Ora mumbled. A breeze tugged at her smock, and cold spray from the river wet her cheeks. When nothing happened, she opened her eyes.
“Say it with intention,” Tyg ordered.
“If you can’t, there’s nothing to fear.”
Once more, she held up her hand. “Ayluma!” she shouted. Warmth spread through her palm, and she waited, terrified that the spell had worked. But the world around them remained dark. Relieved, she lowered her arm.
Neither of them moved. Ora’s entire body felt taut, ready to spring if the Yewolyn came after her a second time. Even if escape meant jumping into the river. But when Tyg raised her hand, it was a simple gesture to motion for Ora to follow. Silent and tense, they returned to the cobbled streets and lamplight.
Once they reached the palace, they were greeted by Wynn. Ora’s legs wobbled with relief at the sight of the familiar fae. However, Wynn paid her no mind. She nervously informed Tyg that the queen was busy entertaining guests. The Yewolyn regarded the thachwing with an icy gaze. “Then I will join them,” she said. “I assume they are in the main dining hall?”
“Yes, Magus,” Wynn said and stepped aside.
They made their way through several corridors before reaching the dining hall. A savory aroma spilled into the hallway. After a day of working alongside Renna, Ora’s stomach growled at the idea of food.
The royal spread was even more impressive than the smell. Every inch of the table was covered with food—roasted pheasant, pork, steaming pies, flatbreads, thick gravies, nuts, cheeses, mushrooms, berries. Half a dozen fae, Queen Innes included, sat around the feast, but none of them were eating. All their heads were turned toward one dren, whose energetic and charming speech had spun them into trance.
“One does not easily escape the attention of an angry fire imp. They are persistent creatures, driven by a destructive desire. But, you see, that is precisely what you must use against them if you wish to retrieve their heart.” The dren’s eyes twinkled as he spoke, and he held up what looked to be a jagged, black stone. The surface glittered as he turned it to catch the lamplight. His audience gasped in awe. “I woke the little bastard with an ember. Oh, he roared to life! Set half the forest to flame trying to come after me. He didn’t notice that I was—”
Tyg cleared her throat. The storyteller lowered the stone, and the dinner party turned their attention to the Yewolyn. “I apologize for the interruption,” she said with a slight bow to the queen. “Wynn mentioned that I might be able to join you for dinner.”
“Magus Marigen! Of course, of course. Have a seat,” Queen Innes said, still giggling from the tale. “Oh, and you brought the girl! She’s been on my mind today. Please, let her eat with us.”
Mortified by the queen’s request, Ora glanced up at Tyg. She did not want to linger anywhere near Innes, the only fae who knew her true name. The idea that her secret could slip out and fall into Tyg’s hands made her stomach churn. But the Yewolyn only gave the slightest of nods, and they sat down beside each other at the table.
“You are Ullkyrin elves,” Tyg said, having a look around the table. “Well, most of you.”
For the first time, Ora noticed the guests did not dress in the bright silks the fae of Tirnan favored. The women wore white cotton dresses, cinched high on the waist with belts made of hammered gold plates. The men donned tunics of the same material. The sides of their heads were shaven, and their long flaxen hair was braided back from their broad, sun-kissed faces. The dark-haired dren storyteller stood out among them, though he wore the same style of clothing.
“My friends, this is Magus Marigen. She is our most talented war mage and one of our finest Yewolyns,” Innes said. Then, she began to gesture to each of her guests. “Magus, we are honored to have guests from Ullkyrin for a holiday in our mountains. This is Lord Cyprian of Ullkyrin and his wife Tola. They have brought along his cousin, Jarek, and his wife, Palegia. The dren is their dear friend—I apologize, what was your name?”
“Maol, Your Highness. Maol Becanan.” The dren winked at Tyg as he introduced himself. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Magus Marigen. Now, I must ask, who is this girl of yours that has been on Queen Innes’s mind?”
“Ora,” said Tyg.
With all eyes on her, Ora shrank back against her chair, but Maol was persistent. “And what is so interesting about her?”
It was Innes who answered. “We do not often bring humans into Mysanhal, but Valor Marigen caught her name. She is Norrish. Quite pretty, don’t you think?”
“Ah, I see,” said Maol. “You’ve only just arrived in the fae realm, haven’t you?”
“I didn’t arrive. I was stolen from my home,” said Ora.
The Magus glared down at her as if she had spat on the table. “I apologize for her ill manners. She is … spirited.”
Nervous laughter trickled from the elves’ lips, and Innes shifted the topic of conversation. They began to discuss the beautiful gardens and bathhouses of Tirnan. Though stunning, Tirnan was vastly different from Ullkyrin’s capital. The company spoke at length about the beauty of their royal city, which sat on a rocky coast far to the south. The mention of ocean air made Ora long for home all the more, and she hardly touched her food after that.
Once Queen Innes’s guests had their fill, she rose and invited Tyg into a parlor so they could speak in private. “Stay here, Ora,” the Yewolyn said, her words sounding more like a warning than a command.
With the queen absent, the Ullkyrin visitors dispersed to wander the palace gardens. Only Maol remained at the table, still sipping wine. He eyed Ora and tilted the glass toward her. “Tell me about Nor.”
“I don’t want to talk about my home.”
“Then tell me about you.”
“I don’t want to talk about myself either.”
“You are a horrible dinner guest, you know that?”
Ora crossed her arms. “I am not a guest.”
He tapped at the table, seemingly lost in thought. “Does she have another half?”
“Yes, is she …” He waved his hand about as if trying to conjure the right word. “Coupled with another?”
“You’re asking about Magus Marigen?”
“She’s a powerful dren, Ora. You can’t blame me for wondering. So, tell me, is she taken?”
“Yes, she’s the Valor’s wife.”
“Fascinating. I would not think it proper to let a Magus marry a Valor.” He poured himself more wine, and Ora began to laugh. “What do you find so funny?”
“I haven’t known Magus Marigen long, but I’m certain that she will not fancy you.”
“Ah, but you haven’t known me long either.” He reached across the table and took up Ora’s glass. “Wine?”
“Of course.” He filled the cup to the brim and held it back out.
Her laughter faded, but she accepted the wine all the same. Cautious, she smelled the burgundy liquid. The scent of alcohol made her head spin. “I’ve never had wine,” she said.
“Ullkyrin wine is the finest you could wish for. Try it!”
The dren’s insistence made her feel even more uncertain. She set the glass on the table. “What was that stone you were talking about when we arrived?” she asked, hoping to distract him from the full glass before her.
“You mean the imp heart?” He dug it out of his pocket. “Go on. Take it.”
As he dropped the stone into her hand, she cried out in surprise and let it fall onto the table. “It’s hot,” she said, picking it up more carefully. “What’s it for?”
“Imp hearts have unique properties, but they aren’t easy to come by. I’m sure it will fetch a fair price if I find the right fae to take it off my hands,” he said.
“So, you want to sell it?”
“I am a merchant by trade, my dear.”
“Then why are you travelling with the elves?” she asked, placing the heart back on the table before him.
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“I suppose you are in a strange, new place, aren’t you?” Maol stood and walked around the table to sit beside her, the wine glass still perched in his hand. He leaned in close to her, his face looming before her own. “Look carefully, Ora, and do not speak of what you see to anyone.”
Disgusted by the scent of wine on his breath, she leaned away from him, but as she studied his face, she saw a glimmer across his skin. Her uncle had told her many times that the fae could conceal their identity with glamour magic. The longer she gazed at him, the more the effect of the magic began to fade until she no longer saw a dren. Instead, to her horror, a strange being sat before her. His skin was weathered and old. His eyes were the color of red embers. And sprouting from his head were two goat-like horns.
“What are you?” she whispered.
“Not a fae. A faun. Well, the faun as far as I know. I amone of the delightful bastard sons of Cree,” he said, voice bright with verve. As he leaned back in the chair, the glamour settled into place, and he became a handsome dren once again.
She frowned. “You truly expect me to believe that you’re the son of a fae god?”
“I do, but let’s keep that between us, Ora. I have far more fun when I blend in,” he said. “Anyway, you are not what you seem either, are you?”
Tired of insisting on her humanity, she instead asked, “What makes you say that?”
“Because you exude a certain energy, dear girl. It’s such a shame that you are name bound. What’s that like?”
Before Ora could answer, she saw a streak of black fur out of the corner of her eye. The cat she spotted in the courtyard the day before had jumped onto the table. Its bright green eyes swept over her, then it bit into a leftover pheasant wing.
“Ora!” Tyg burst back into the dining hall. The cat leapt down from the table, taking the wing with it. “Come. It’s time to go.”
“Ah, the lovely Magus Marigen.” Maol rose to his feet and gave an extravagant bow. “It was a pleasure to meet you. May we cross paths again.”