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One Dark Window: Part 1 – Chapter 12

Be wary the gray,

Be wary the sight.

Be wary of visions that come in the night.

You’ll lose all your power.

You’ll weep, plea, and cower.

Be wary of visions that come in the night.

I waited outside the cellar on the stone steps with my head in my hands. It had been only an hour since I’d met the council, but the hour had felt like a lifetime. Above me, I heard the gong strike eleven. The feast was over—the celebration had moved outside for dancing and wine.

Inside the cellar, they discussed my fate.

I spun my charm between my fingers. Behind the cellar door, I could discern Lady Yew’s tone from the others. Someone coughed. I rubbed my eyes. Why didn’t you tell me?

Tell you what?

That the Scythe doesn’t work on you.

A vile scraping sound echoed through my mind. The Nightmare was picking at his teeth. None of them work on me, dear one.

I gaped. Something you casually forgot to mention? For ELEVEN years?

But I have mentioned it, my clueless little companion. His claws grated against his teeth. I cannot, however, be held responsible for your feeble comprehension.

I wanted to reach into the darkness and smack him across his monstrous face. You really know how to make a girl feel special.

He laughed. You’ll understand soon enough. The truth always outs.

Had I not been bone-tired, I might have argued—pressed him for more—hungry for the secrets he guarded like a greedy dragon. There was still so much I did not know about him.

But he had chosen his moment well—dropped a breadcrumb at the top of a mountain. If I wanted to know more, I would have to work for it.

And I was far too tired for that.

Laughter from Equinox rolled down the stairs. I yawned, my eyelids drooping as I frowned at the cellar door. What’s taking them so long?

The Nightmare’s tail made a whooshing sound. Find out.

How am I supposed to do that?

Best stick to the old ways.

Which are?

Pressing a bloody ear to the door, I should think.

The wood was thick, their voices difficult to distinguish. I slipped to the door, praying the dogs on the other side would not betray me. I held my breath and cupped my ear, sliding it against the crease between the wood and stone framework.

“The Hawthorns will need a reason to let her go to Castle Yew,” someone said. “As will Erik.”

“I don’t trust her,” another voice said. Elm. “Her manners are too practiced, her words too careful.”

“Of course they are,” Jespyr said. “She wouldn’t have evaded Destriers and Physicians this long if she wasn’t cautious.”

“She’s supposed to be here,” another voice said. Filick. “Morette saw it. Elspeth is going to help us find the Deck. What’s there to argue about?”

“Aunt Morette saw a shadowy figure on the forest road,” Elm countered. “Forgive me, Aunt, I do not doubt you or your Prophet Card. But your description was vague. Ravyn and I could have stumbled upon anyone that night.”

Fenir spoke. “Yet you happened to find a woman with the ability to see Cards when we’ve only three left to claim?”

“The Prophet showed me a hooded figure with a shadow,” Morette Yew’s voice called above the clamor, stern and sure. “The shadow remained, even when the light faded. The figure walked to the wood, and behind it trailed Providence Cards, one by one—followed by a thirteenth I have never seen before. Behind the figure I saw my Emory, alive and well. That was what I saw. That was why I bade you watch the forest road.”

They were silent for several moments. My heart hammered in my chest, the small piece of the puzzle slow to place itself into an image I could not yet comprehend.

They’d been waiting for me on the forest road, Ravyn and Elm, though they had not yet known it. And I—I was embedded in a prophecy of magnitude so great it had led me to the Yews, one of Blunder’s oldest families… and into the depths of treason.

I bit my lip and pressed my ear tighter to the door, praying for more.

Fenir broke the silence. “There’s no direction to move but forward,” he said. “We’ll bring Elspeth into our household and learn more about her magic. When we move to find the Cards, she will accompany us to retrieve them.”

Someone scoffed. Elm. “We don’t have time to play guardian to a timid girl.”

“Timid?” Jespyr chuckled. “That’s not what you said when you came limping back from the forest road.”

Ravyn’s voice cut through the room. “Whatever she is, it isn’t timid. We’d be fools to underestimate her.”

“Spindle House is close by,” Filick said. “Why not put her with her own family?”

“No,” Ravyn said, hasty.

“If she’s going to be privy to our plans, she needs to be kept close to us,” Fenir said. “We can’t have the Spindles or anyone else delving into our business.”

“Which again raises the question—what are we going to tell her family? They’ll need a reason to send her our way.”

A strained silence followed. It was hard, keeping my breath quiet. Harder still to be kept out of the room like a petulant child while they discussed my fate.

“I’ve got an idea,” Jespyr said, her voice slow, gentle, as if to soothe an angry animal. “But you’re not going to like it.”

“Because everything up until this point has been so enjoyable.”

“I didn’t mean you, Elm,” Jespyr said. “I meant Ravyn.”

I pressed so hard against the gap in the door my head began to ache.

Ravyn’s voice was a growl. “What, Jes?”

“Just don’t say no right away.”


She paused. “What if we tell Erik Spindle and the Hawthorns that we’ve invited Elspeth to stay at Castle Yew… so that you might court her?”

I skipped a breath, my fatigue suddenly gone. I felt wide awake, my pulse quickening, an unwelcome flush sliding across my neck and into my face.

Behind the door, Elm barked a laugh.

But there was no laughter in Ravyn’s voice. “No. Absolutely not.”

“It’s a good idea! You’ve already been seen together today—no one will suspect the real reason we’ve asked her to stay with us at Castle Yew.” To the biting silence that followed, Jespyr heaved a sigh. “You don’t actually have to woo her, merely give the impression of wooing her. Just, I don’t know, smile at her once in a while. You remember how to smile, don’t you?”

They all began to speak at once, their voices a chaotic buzz. “We needn’t elaborate much,” Fenir said. “There will be gossip, of course. Ravyn’s never taken time to properly court anyone before.”

“Trees,” Ravyn muttered, his voice dripping irritation.

There was excitement in Morette’s voice. “It could work. If anyone asks, I can tell them I invited Miss Spindle on Ravyn’s behalf,” Morette said. Her tone turned scolding. “He needn’t pretend to initiate the courtship if the prospect is so loathsome to him.”

“I suppose I don’t have much of a say in this,” Ravyn said on a harsh exhale.

“No,” Jespyr said, sounding far too delighted. “None whatsoever.”

Fenir cleared his throat. “What exactly do you object to, Ravyn? She’s clever, striking.”

I wondered the same thing. The Captain’s adamant refusal to court me—not even court me, pretend to court me—felt like a dozen wasp stings, leaving me wounded, hot with anger.

“Make no mistake, she’s beautiful. Only, I—” Ravyn’s voice cut out. Then, as if the words were bitter in his mouth, “If the ruse will help…” He heaved a sigh. “I’ll try. Though I doubt I’ll play a convincing suitor.”

I huffed hot air out my nostrils. “Don’t do me any favors,” I said into the din. As if I would ever deign to court someone like him. I had enough struggles of my own without adding the chore of coaxing a smile out of Ravyn Yew to my list.

Somewhere in the darkness, a wicked purr echoed. What’s the old adage, my dear? Something about ladies and protesting far too much?

I hissed him into silence. But just as I was convincing myself that playing at courtship with Ravyn Yew was the last thing in the world I wanted, they’d come to the opposite conclusion on the other side of the door.

“Then it is settled,” Morette called firmly. “She’ll remain at Castle Yew under the assumption of an arranged courtship with Ravyn. I’ll ask her father and the Hawthorns tonight. They won’t deny her an extended stay if I assure them I will be there to chaperone.”

There was a rustling, a noise of agreement. “We should bring her there tonight.”

Elm’s snicker was becoming easy to recognize. “Shouldn’t the Captain be seen at the celebration with his new leading lady?”

I couldn’t make out Ravyn’s reply. But it sounded undeniably threatening.

“Let’s take an hour to show our faces at Equinox,” Fenir said. “Then we’ll return to Castle Yew.” A pause. “Care to fill her in, Ravyn?”

Footsteps shuffled.

“Don’t forget to smile!” Jespyr called as the handle turned.

I jerked away from the door, unsteady on my heels. I fell backward with a thud. When Ravyn Yew opened the cellar door, I looked up at him from a heap on the floor, cheeks red, guilty as sin.

He perked a brow, glaring down at me. “Didn’t your aunt ever tell you not to listen at doors, Miss Spindle?”

I shot to a defiant stand, dusting off the backside of my dress. “I wasn’t listening.”

The Nightmare laughed. We’re going to have to work on your lying.

Ravyn shut the door behind him. “How much did you hear?”

I moved to the step above him, where we stood almost eye to eye. Almost. “Enough.”

He gazed down his nose at me. “And is the plan to your satisfaction?”

The sting I felt in my chest returned. I narrowed my eyes. “If the ruse will help, I’ll try.”

He did not appear keen to have his own words used against him. Ravyn stared back at me, his gray eyes severe as they traced my face, landing momentarily on my mouth before flickering away. “What about Laburnum?”

“What about him?”

Ravyn tilted his head. “He’s in love with you.”

I winced and shook my hands, as if to fling what he’d said off me. “We’re not attached. A”—I struggled to say the word—“courtship would bear no weight. I’ve promised him nothing.”

Ravyn said nothing, watching me. He lowered himself to a seat, rubbing his eyes. For a moment he seemed spent, tired to the bone. It was the first time I considered that someone else’s day had been as grueling as mine.

Eyes red from rubbing them, Ravyn looked up at me. “I assume being under the Scythe is not a pleasant sensation. Are you all right?”

I kicked my foot against the stone floor. “Your cousin is a complete—”

“Ass. I know. But it was either the Scythe or the Chalice, considering the Nightmare is off the table.”

I did not miss the edge in his voice. My lips sealed in a tight line as the Captain of the Destriers watched me. When I offered no explanation, he continued. “Finding the Cards will be dangerous, Miss Spindle. You realize that.”

I tried to shrug, but there was no hiding the apprehension pooling in my stomach.

“Fortunately, we’ve been toeing this line of lawlessness for some time now. We know how to keep you safe.”

“And if I’m caught? If your uncle finds out I’m infected?”

He rose to his feet. “Then you’re back in the situation I found you in this morning. The difference is, you’ve gained some considerable allies.”

I stared at the King’s nephew, searching for something I could not find. Fear—apprehension—anything I might relate to my own disquiet. But Ravyn Yew was still, smooth as glass, untouched by the horrendous risk he’d thrust upon me.

My voice faltered. “And if I should like to leave?”

He held my gaze. “You’re not a prisoner.”

There are many different kinds of cages, the Nightmare said.

I tried to ignore him. “I’m free to go—back to my aunt’s house—should I wish to?”

“Of course,” Ravyn said. “Only, I thought you wanted to find a cure.”

“I do.”

“Then help us. Help us, so we might help you.”

I reached into the darkness, my mind snagging the gristly hair along the Nightmare’s spine. I won’t get out of this unscathed without your help.

He twisted, his ears perked. You’re giving me a free hand?

I gritted my teeth. I’m asking you to keep me alive, Nightmare. If only long enough so that I can finally get rid of you.

His laughter twisted through my mind like a ghost combing a corridor, near and far at the same time.

I looked up at Ravyn. For eleven years, the infection had been a leash around my throat. I had cowed under that leash, the hope for a cure beyond the scope of my imagination.

But as I gazed into the Captain’s gray eyes—a man who, by law, should see me dragged to the dungeon—the leash around my throat loosened. He had opened a door—taken a key from his belt and unlocked a part of Blunder I had not allowed myself to believe in. I was a child again, wrapped up in The Old Book of Alders. There was magic in the world. Terrible, wonderful magic. Magic great enough to undo magic. A cure for the infection.

And a way to get the Nightmare out of my head.

“When do we start?” I asked.

The Captain of the Destriers took a step up. We stood toe to toe, his shadow swallowing me whole. “I’d say we’ve already begun.”

With that, he strode up the steps two at a time, the Cards in his pocket casting eerie light along the dark stone walls. When I didn’t follow, he turned and said, “An hour, Miss Spindle. Just so we’re seen. After that, we can be free of this wretched castle.”

The drinking and dancing had moved into the gardens. The clamor of dozens of families echoed across the castle grounds, cloistered by mist that rested just beyond the hedges.

Ravyn led us through the great hall, back up the main stairwell.

“The celebration is that way,” I said gesturing to the wide gilded door that led out into the gardens.

“I want you to see why we’ve gone down this path, Miss Spindle,” Ravyn said. “Why we’re risking everything to get the last three Cards.” He glanced over his shoulder at me. “Emory,” he said. “We’re going to see Emory.”

Dread coiled with curiosity in my stomach. It seemed too dark and cruel that the King would sacrifice his own nephew—even if the outcome could forever change Blunder for good.

A King’s reign is wrought with burden, the Nightmare whispered, his voice uncharacteristically heavy. Weighty decisions ripple through centuries. Still, decisions must be made.

“Why Emory?” I asked. “I know the infection is rare… but surely there is someone else…”

“Blood must be spilled,” Ravyn said, his voice far away. “Could there ever be an easy choice?”

We were already a flight higher than the rooms I shared with my father, stepmother, and half sisters. So steep my knees ached, Stone felt like one long, endless staircase. I heaved my dress and tried to keep from panting. Anything to avoid another scrutinous look down Ravyn Yew’s narrow nose. When we reached the fourth floor, I rested a hand on the banister, pretending to admire a Golden Egg tapestry as I sucked in lungful after lungful of air.

If Ravyn noticed my breathlessness, he was decent enough not to mention it. “This is the royal wing,” he said. “Emory’s kept comfortable. As comfortable as he can be.” When I said nothing, he lowered his voice. “But he’s dying.”

My gaze jerked to his face, my breathlessness forgotten.

Ravyn continued. “That’s why the King has chosen Emory’s blood to unite the Deck. He thinks he’s saving my brother from a long, painful degeneration. A mercy killing.” He ground his boots into the carpet beneath our feet. “My uncle could have sent him to the Physicians—killed him outright as soon as he learned of Emory’s infection. But he didn’t. He bent the rules—let Emory live.” He ran a hand over his brow. “And I’ve repaid him with lies.”

I felt the sudden urge to reach out and touch his arm. But the gesture seemed far too intimate. “You wouldn’t have to lie if the King withdrew his Physicians and let people like Emory and me walk free,” I said.

“I’ve tried to work it out a hundred ways. But the King will brook no argument. Emory has been conspicuous with his magic—too many people have guessed at his infection.” He gritted his teeth. “My uncle is bound to his Rowan lineage. Everyone infected by magic must die.” Ravyn ran his hand over his face. “And so we have no choice. If we want to save Emory, we must collect the Deck ourselves. By winter Solstice.”

“Why Solstice?”

“Emory’s magic flares at the shift of seasons. And The Old Book of Alders states the Cards should be joined at the darkest part of the year.” He took a deep breath. “Emory may not survive another turn of the year. I may be a liar and a traitor,” he said, “but at least I can say there is nothing I would not do to save my brother.”

We walked on through a brightly lit corridor. The rug beneath my feet was a heavy wool, richly embroidered and dyed a crimson red.

Two guards stood beneath the torches on either side of a tall, narrow door. They were armed with swords and a long, ominous cord of rope. When they saw Ravyn, they shrank back into shadow.

Ravyn ignored them and opened the door. By its groan, I could tell it was heavy—fortified. I filed into the chamber behind the Captain of the Destriers, my eyes wide as I took in my surroundings.

The candles in the room were not lit. They’d been blown out by the strong wind that caught just below the window. Ravyn sealed the shutters as I stepped to the old oak table in the center of the room, my eyes wide.

The hearth was lit. The smell of wine and the must from the hundreds of books atop mahogany shelves filled my nose. Across from the table along the far wall was a large bed, covered with blankets and more books.

But for its warmth and rich furnishings, the room was still—lifeless. Empty.

Emory Yew, the King’s captive, was gone.


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