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One Dark Window: Part 2 – Chapter 21


A man is not measured by magic alone. His scruples must extend beyond infection, beyond Providence Cards. Rather, how he wields magic shall determine his character. Does he keep our words? Does he bear his seal with loyal intent? Or is his heart overgrown as the depths of the wood—full of darkness and thorns?

A man is not measured by magic alone.

Ione looped her arm in mine as we stepped into the midday light, trailing behind Ravyn and Elm on our way to the yard. “Did you hear?” she said. “A group of highwaymen attacked Hauth on the road last night.”

I tried not to squirm. “How would I have heard that, Ione?”

“I assumed your new suitor told you.”

There it was again—the edge in her lullaby-soft voice. “What’s the matter, Ione?”

She bit the inside of her cheek and did not look at me. “Nothing. I was simply surprised when Father told me Morette Yew had made a match between you and her son, and that you’d been invited here to court him.” A low laugh rumbled in her chest. “I hardly believed it.”

“No more than I was surprised to hear you were betrothed to Hauth Rowan.”

“Dark horses, the pair of us,” she said, the midday light casting a glow along the apples of her cheeks. “Be careful, Elspeth. Don’t let yourself be swayed by a handsome face. There is so much you don’t know about the world. About powerful men. I worry for you. Truly, I do.”

But she didn’t sound worried. She sounded cold.

I slipped my arm out of her grasp. “You needn’t bother,” I said. “I can handle myself.”

Darkness plumed ahead. We stepped through the broad gate into the yard. There, ten men-at-arms waited, their Black Horses darkening the sky, their tunics bearing no insignia.

Destriers.

My cousin pressed a finger into her bottom lip. “Speaking of powerful men, Hauth was furious when the highwaymen got away last night.” A smile I was unfamiliar with crossed her lips. Almost wicked. “He was injured quite grotesquely by the cutpurses, you know.”

My eyes shot to the High Prince. “How terrible.”

Hauth Rowan stood with the other Destriers, his Scythe and Black Horse Cards in his pocket. Four lines of scabbing red flesh trailed down his neck, disappearing just below the collar of his tunic. It looked as if a giant cat had swiped at him, the claw marks distinct.

But it hadn’t been a cat. Not by a long shot.

I stared at the High Prince’s neck. Did I… did I really do that?

The Nightmare’s laughter filled my head, echoing eerily in the cavernous black. If you have to ask, you’re not ready to know.

Ravyn and Elm waited at the lip of the yard. Ione and I came up next to them. Ravyn said nothing, keeping his eyes on the Destriers. But he lowered his hand to his side, his knuckles dragging against mine, answering my unspoken question. “I called them,” he said.

I looked up. “Oh?”

“We train here when we’re away from Stone. Clearly, we’re in need of training. It seems four of my men, including the High Prince, defied my orders and, instead of returning to town, prolonged their stay at Stone. They were ambushed in the Black Forest.” His lips curled. “Hauth is rather… unnerved.”

“As he should be,” Elm said, picking dirt from beneath his fingernails. “Looks like something took a piece out of him in the wood last night.”

Hauth crossed the yard to us. With him came Royce Linden, a broad, muscular Destrier with cropped brown hair and a stern brow bone. I’d seem them together many times, Hauth and Linden, alike in their severity and loud, crude voices.

Hauth’s green eyes jumped between Ravyn and Elm. “Where’s Jespyr?”

Ravyn tilted his head, smooth as stone. “Sick in bed,” he said. “I gave her the morning off.”

“Get her up,” Hauth demanded. “We need everyone here.”

Ravyn did not move. “We’re fine as we are.”

Ione peered over my shoulder, drawn by the tension between the Captain of the Destriers and her future husband. When her gaze landed on Hauth, I thought I caught a glimpse of something in her narrowed hazel eyes—something more than coldness.

Something that looked a great deal like hatred.

But a moment later, it was gone, her eyes the shape of waning moons, eclipsed by her dark, full lashes.

Hauth barely glanced at her, his eyes lowering to me.

“Darling,” Ione said, her voice swelling like music. “You remember my cousin Elspeth. She’s visiting the Yews.”

My heart drummed in my ears. I slid my swollen wrist into my cloak and fixed my face with a vague, demure expression. I had worn a mask. Still, there was keenness behind the Prince’s green eyes—sharp, violent, intelligent.

When Hauth spoke, his voice was distant, cold—so different from his Equinox charm. “We met at Stone.” He glanced at Ravyn. “I’ve heard she’s the reason you’ve been so difficult to find of late.”

Ravyn’s composure was unflinching. “I don’t owe you a reason, cousin.”

The muscles beneath Hauth’s scabs flexed. “You heard what’s happened?”

“That four Destriers and a handful of men couldn’t withstand a pack of ruddy highwaymen?” Elm winked. “I wouldn’t broadcast that too loudly, brother. Doesn’t exactly look Princely.”

“It was an ambush,” Hauth snapped. “Wayland Pine and Erik Spindle were traveling from Stone. We happened upon them on our way to town. It was them the highwaymen were after. Three men were injured and Pine’s Iron Gate stolen.” He ran a hand up the cuts on his jaw. “One of them did this to me,” he said.

Hauth’s jaw was lined with stubble, the skin too raw to shave. I traced the injury, the memory of him catching my arm, my scream, the Nightmare’s fury flashing across my mind.

He had felt my wrist—heard the cry of my voice. Strange, that he did not tell them it was a woman who had attacked him.

The Nightmare’s laugh was like a match struck in the dark, nearly making me jump. Pride, he said. A fool’s pride at that.

Ravyn and Elm stared at Hauth’s injury. “Get a look at who did it?” Elm said.

“I caught him in the wood,” Hauth said. “The rest were gone, but he was lost, stupid bastard.” He puffed his chest. “I broke his wrist.”

The air turned hot in my lungs, the Nightmare’s hate melding with mine.

Next to me, Ravyn and Elm had gone still. The only one who moved was Ione. Her head turned a fraction, her hazel eyes leaving her betrothed, falling to my sleeve, just above my broken wrist.

I did nothing. I didn’t even breathe. “Did you arrest him?” Ravyn asked, his voice laden with frost.

“No,” Hauth said. “He must have had blades in his gloves because the next minute he was slashing my face.”

Elm toyed with his Scythe Card, flipping it between his fingers. “I’m surprised you let someone get the best of you. And ruin your pretty face, at that.”

Ione covered her mouth, but not before I caught the edge of a smile dancing along her lips. Elm noticed, too, and his own smiled widened.

Hauth’s neck reddened. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his arms. “I’ll have my fun when we catch them and string them up in the square. The highwayman meets the hangman. If they meet him in pieces, so be it.”

The Destriers muttered their agreement. Ravyn watched them, his face unreadable but for a flex of muscle along his jaw. For the first time, I considered Ravyn Yew more than disliked pretending to uphold the King’s laws as Captain of the Destriers.

He loathed it.

“Let’s begin the training,” Ravyn said, brushing past Hauth into the yard. “How about you and I demonstrate how best to thwart a highwayman, cousin?” he called. “Unless you’re worried I’ll mark up more of that pretty face.”

Hauth hesitated. “Linden will demonstrate.”

Linden’s nostrils flared. “I’m not sparring him.” He lowered his voice. “Infected bastard.”

Elm’s hand closed in a fist around his Scythe. “What did you say?”

Linden stepped back, his eyes lowering to the red Card in Elm’s hand. “Nothing.”

Hot air shot out Elm’s nose. He crossed his arms over his chest, his gaze turning to his brother. “You’re not scared to spar him, are you?”

Corralled once more by his own pride, Hauth gritted his teeth, shot his younger brother a murderous glance, and tromped into the yard after Ravyn.

The Destriers circled their Captain and the High Prince. I stood between Elm and Ione, my wrist burning and my muscles tight. Members of the Yew household gathered, drawn by the King’s men and the promise of violence.

“Remember,” Ravyn called to the Destriers, “a highwayman does not bear the law in mind. He—or she—may even carry the infection. You cannot be too careful.” He eyed me briefly over his cousin’s shoulder. “Highwaymen can be far more formidable than the mask shows.”

“Get on with it,” Elm called.

Hauth’s Black Horse darkened the yard. He tapped it three times, then placed it back in his pocket. The Scythe he did not touch. Ravyn’s mouth twisted into a knowing grin. “Focus on his hands,” he called. “A highwayman may have a knife at your throat with one hand, but you can be sure he’s picking your pocket with the other.”

He slapped Hauth’s hand. Elm snickered under his breath. Before Hauth could skirt away, Ravyn landed another slap across his face, splitting one of his scabs.

“Use your Black Horse well,” Hauth instructed the Destriers, wiping the blood from his scabs onto his sleeve. “Speed and accuracy are your greatest attack.”

The High Prince moved with unearthly quickness, jolting across the yard, striking Ravyn in the stomach with his fist.

“I thought most Providence Cards could not be used against Ravyn,” I whispered to Elm.

“Hauth can still use the Black Horse to enhance his own speed,” Elm said under his breath. “But see how he doesn’t touch his Scythe? He knows it won’t work on Ravyn.”

“Highwaymen are most lethal in packs, like wolves,” Ravyn called to the Destriers. “Separate them and they’re nothing more than rabid dogs that stalk the forest road.” He closed his eyes, and this time, when Hauth moved with unearthly speed, he reached out and caught his cousin’s cloak, slamming the High Prince onto cold dirt.

Hauth rolled before Ravyn’s boot could collide with his shoulder. A moment later he was on his feet, a snarl on his lips.

“What did he look like?” Ravyn asked, thwarting a brutal jab. “The man who tore up your face.”

“Couldn’t tell, could I?” Hauth said, blocking Ravyn’s slap. “He wore a mask.”

“Anonymity,” Ravyn called to the Destriers, landing hits along Hauth’s ear. “Anonymity is the highwayman’s greatest advantage. Tear it away, and you’ve already killed him.”

“Or her,” Ione whispered, her voice so quiet I might have imagined it.

Hauth took a dagger from his belt. Ravyn narrowed his eyes and bent his knees, moving in rotation with the High Prince’s steps. He stepped on light feet, as if walking on glass, and when Hauth slashed his dagger, Ravyn dodged it.

They moved about the yard in a river of steps, dodges, and clashes.

“Stop playing around,” Elm heckled from the sideline. “We came to see a proper thrashing.”

Hauth spat blood and toppled over in a failed attempt to clip Ravyn’s legs. Next to me, neither Ione nor Elm bothered to hide their smiles as they watched the Captain of the Destriers make a spectacle of the High Prince.

When Hauth missed another jab, he swore, the veins in his neck bulging.

“You broke a wrist,” Ravyn said to his cousin. “You should at least be able to make me bleed.”

Hauth launched the dagger through the air, clipping Ravyn’s jerkin just shy of the collar. I flinched, searching Ravyn’s tunic for blood. But the Captain of the Destriers pivoted, his foot loud as it landed on Hauth’s ribs and sent the heir to the throne back into the dirt.

Then Ravyn stomped, full force, on the High Prince’s hand.

A sickening snap echoed through the yard, followed by Hauth’s brutal scream. I flinched and looked away. Elm leaned in with wide eyes. The Nightmare hissed with gratification.

Ione merely laughed.

It took three Destriers to peel Ravyn away from the High Prince. “Get off me,” Ravyn barked, pushing his way out of the yard, his smooth control cracked by anger. “Training concluded.”

I watched the Destriers escort the High Prince out of the yard. Hauth swore mercilessly, cradling his bloody hand as he and the Destriers disappeared into the castle under a plume of darkness.

“He’ll live,” Ione said, her voice flat. She turned her heel and sauntered out of the yard, her long yellow hair catching the fading light.

My heartbeat did not slow until the yard was quiet once more. Only Elm and I remained. “What just happened?”

The Prince shrugged, his green eyes lingering on Ione’s shape in the distance. “Hauth broke your wrist, Ravyn mangled his hand. Balance.”


I searched for Ione, but I heard the low rumbles of Hauth’s voice coming from her room and quickly steered myself in the opposite direction. Her gaze along my arm in the yard had shaken me. And though she had no way of knowing what had happened in the wood last night, wariness dogged me. There was so much I did not understand about this new version of Ione.

And it frightened me, not trusting the person, nigh a fortnight ago, I had known best in the world.

Ravyn and Jespyr and Elm took dinner with the other Destriers. It was just me and Fenir and Morette seated at the long, crooked tree of a dinner table. When they decided to turn in early, I did not complain.

I walked the long corridor back to my room, humming one of the Nightmare’s tunes to myself. The Cards. The mist. The blood, he called in the dark. You’re getting closer. Can you smell the salt?

Footsteps sounded up ahead, followed by low voices. I would have gone into my room, anxious not to be caught eavesdropping, if I hadn’t heard one of the voices say my name.

Elm’s words were half whispered, half hissed. “We have no idea what happened in the wood,” he said. “Spindle—her abilities—”

“Are incredible. She saved your life. I think she’s earned a reprieve from your usual hostility, don’t you?”

“I’m not saying I’m not grateful to live another day at the edge of a sword, Ravyn. Only that we should be careful. Hauth looked like he’d been attacked by an animal, not a woman. There is too much we don’t know about her.” Elm paused a moment. “Your Nightmare Card could help with that.”

I felt myself go cold.

Ravyn’s voice was rough. “No. I’m not going to do that.”

“You don’t have a problem using it on the rest of us. Why not her?”

“The rest of you have consented. She hasn’t.”

“And you don’t think maybe that’s because she has something to hide?”

“She’s had things to hide most of her life.” Ravyn’s voice cut. “Can’t you see that?”

“Not as well as you, it seems.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing,” Elm said. “But we can’t afford to make mistakes, not when we’re this close. Breaking Hauth’s hand—enjoyable as that was for me—was reckless.”

Ravyn was quiet a moment. “I know.”

“You shouldn’t let your guard down, Ravyn. Especially not for her.”

“Duly noted,” the Captain said, frost in the low notes of his voice. “Good night, cousin.”

Footsteps sounded. I fumbled at my latch, making far too much noise. I’d hardly stepped into my room and shut the door behind me when three sharp knocks rattled against the wood.

The Nightmare sighed. You do make it hard for yourself, my dear.

“Who is it?” I called, my voice pitching, too high and breathless.

“Ravyn.”

When I pulled the door open, the knot in my stomach constricted, the Captain of the Destriers startlingly handsome in a deep green tunic. He leaned against the doorframe, his calloused fingers drumming a static rhythm on the old wood. He regarded me, tilting his head like an inquisitive bird of prey.

“I thought you’d still be at dinner.”

“None of us were very hungry. I just got back.”

“Yes. I heard you.”

He didn’t ask if I’d been listening to his conversation. No doubt he already knew. He heaved a heavy breath. “I’m sorry about today,” he said. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy, seeing Hauth after last night.”

The Nightmare’s claws clicked across my mind.

“It wasn’t about you,” Ravyn said, “when I broke his hand. I mean, it was about you—but it’s more than that.”

“Oh?”

“We’ve a remarkably hostile relationship, my cousin and I.”

I snorted. “I’ve noticed.”

“Hauth hates the infection. More than most. And he hates that his father made me Captain.” Ravyn bit his lip, his posture stiffening. “He’s the one who told the King about my infection. Ten years later, he did the same when Emory caught the fever.”

I could almost feel the strain in his shoulders. I wanted to reach out and touch his hand—tell him I understood, better than perhaps anyone. But I didn’t.

“But that isn’t why I came to see you,” Ravyn said.

“No?”

“There’s something I meant to show you yesterday, only there wasn’t the time,” he said. “But if you’re tired, it can wait.”

I was tired. But something stirred in my stomach—something without a name that, if ignored, would gnaw at me all night. I leaned up against the opposite side of the doorframe, my brows perked. “What is it?”

The corner of Ravyn’s lips lifted. “You’ll see.”


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