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One Dark Window: Part 2 – Chapter 24

Tell them. Tell them the truth. When your children ask, do not lie—do not hide the risk of magic. Children are strongest when their eyes are clear. Only then can they make their own choices. Only then are they truly free.

Tell them. Tell them the truth.

I stared at myself in the foggy looking glass, trying to recall my mother’s face. Her dress was long and richly made, deep crimson—like heart blood. Across its breast was embroidered a tangle of golden branches that wove together into a long, delicate spindle tree.

I’d inherited the dress, along with a few other trinkets, at her death. I’d brought it to Equinox but had left too early to wear it. The style was older, but I did not begrudge the gown its draping sleeves. They would help hide my bandaged, aching wrist.

When my maid reached for my wooden comb, I stopped her, pointing to the flower crown on my nightstand. “The rose will do,” I said, plaiting my hair into a long, plain braid and fastening the rose just above the nape of my neck.

Out of habit, I placed my charm in my skirt pocket. I smiled into the looking glass, searching for energy I did not feel.

The woman reflected in the glass matched my smile, her feline yellow eyes flashing.

Jespyr waited at the foot of the stairs, her injured foot stuffed into a thick black boot. She wore her black Destrier tunic, her brow covered in an intricate felt mask of the same color—a Market Day tradition. When she glanced my way, her brows rose above her mask. “You look lovely,” she said, offering her arm. “I’ve never seen you in your house color before.”

As always, Jespyr’s smile was contagious. “I didn’t bring a mask,” I said. “I almost never go to Market Day.”

“Thistle will find you one,” she said, offering me her arm. “Shall we?”

We stepped through the ancient doorway into morning sunlight. My mask was a deep green but for the gold trim painted along the edges of the eyes. It tied in a silk ribbon behind my head, covering my face from my brow bone to just below the apples of my cheeks.

I saw Ione up ahead in a cream-colored mask, her gold dress hemmed in Hawthorn white. Fenir and Morette Yew stood together in matching green, their yew trees embroidered ornately up the spine of their cloaks. Hauth, who wore no mask—his Princely face on display—had abandoned his black Destrier’s cloak for a rich tunic, the gold branches of several prominent trees woven into a strange, complex pattern along his chest, shadowed by the Rowan insignia.

He stood with Ione near Elm and Ravyn, who, with matching masks, remained adorned in Destrier black.

They stopped speaking as Jespyr and I approached, their eyes turning to me.

Warmth moved across my chest, swimming up my neck into my cheeks. When no one spoke, Jespyr let out a snort. “Clearly they’ve never seen a woman before.”

I tried not to look at Ravyn, the memory of last night encasing me, the feel of his hand in my hair—his mouth on mine—still a shadow on my skin. I felt his eyes tracing me. When I finally raised my gaze, I caught the tail of a smile roving across his mouth, his eyes lingering on the rose in my hair.

But before Ravyn could greet me, Hauth stepped in his way.

The High Prince’s voice was smooth—charming once more. “Miss Spindle,” he said, offering me his uninjured hand.

I took it hesitantly, bowing. “Your Highness.”

“You must forgive my brutish manners. Yesterday was a trying day.”

The High Prince did not let go of my hand, his gaze tight on my face. “You’re very striking, even under that mask,” he said. He pulled me closer. “I wonder,” he said, shooting Ravyn a pointed look over his shoulder, “what it is you see in my cousin.”

I could tell by the sly tones of Hauth’s voice that I held little interest for him—I was merely a toy to steal from his cousin. Still, my gaze turned to the Captain of the Destriers. I noted the shadow of the beard and the flex of muscle beneath it along Ravyn’s jaw. The sharp contours along the ridge of his distinct nose. The way his hair, neither long nor short, framed his stern brow. His gray eyes—stark beneath his black mask—so sharp they cut at me.

It was all of those things—and none of them at once. Something else drew me to the Captain of the Destriers. Something I had, caught up in our game of pretend, overlooked. Something ancient—born of salt. We were the same, he and I. Gifted with ancient, terrible magic. Woven in secret, hidden in half-truths. We were the darkness in Blunder, the reminder that magic—wild and unfettered—prevailed, no matter how desperately the Rowans tried to stamp it out. We were the thing to be feared.

We were the balance.

But I could not say that in front of Hauth Rowan. Instead, I offered Ravyn a rare, unconstrained smile. “He’s very… tall.”

Ravyn’s eyes flared. He caught my smile and matched it with his own, stepping forward. When he squared off with the High Prince, I noticed Hauth straighten, his spine rigid, chin held high.

But it was to no avail. Ravyn was taller than him. And, given the condescending turn of his mouth, it wasn’t the only thing Ravyn felt superior to his cousin over. He offered me his hand and I took it, grateful to be free of Hauth’s touch. “If you’re done peacocking,” Ravyn said to his cousin, lacing his fingers in mine, “Market Day awaits. Best put a glove over that mangled hand before your subjects see it, Prince.”

Hauth’s nostrils flared. Not reticent to be outdone, he caught my other wrist—my injured wrist. “You’ll save me a turn on the square, won’t you, Miss Spindle?”

So acute I saw stars, pain shot through my wrist up into my arm. It took all my effort not to cry out in pain. And while my bandage was obscured by my sleeve, there was no hiding the strain on my face.

Hauth’s expression shifted from bravado to surprise, his green eyes wide, lowering to my sleeve. “Something wrong with your arm, Miss Spindle?”

Next to me, Ravyn froze. But before he could speak, someone shifted in my periphery, a flurry of gold, long yellow hair catching the light.


“Careful, darling,” she said, stepping between me and Hauth, forcing him to drop my arm. Her voice was pitched higher than normal—sickly sweet. “Elspeth and I went riding yesterday morning. She fell off a horse, poor dear.” Her hazel eyes turned to me, narrow, keen—opposite of the sweetness in her voice. “Isn’t that right, Bess?”

For a moment I thought I caught a glimpse of the old Ione—the one who would block me from my stepmother’s frigid glares. Shield maiden, Ione Hawthorn, ever my protector. I nodded, my wrist still throbbing. “Indeed.”

Hauth’s gaze skipped from me to Ione. When it landed on his betrothed, something cold slid into his green eyes.

But I had no time to work out what it meant, or why Ione had lied to him for me. Elm and Jespyr swooped upon us. Jespyr slid her arm into Ravyn’s, and Elm did the same to mine, pulling both of us away from Hauth and Ione. “You know what they say,” Elm said. “Don’t mix horses and drink. Now, if we’re done with pleasantries, let’s go. It’s practically midday, and on the subject of drink, I’m behind on my daily quotient.”

He pulled me through the statuary toward the gate. I felt Hauth and Ione watching me, but I did not turn. I couldn’t let them see all the fear welling in my eyes. Ravyn shot me a fleeting glance, but his sister kept him at a steady pace ahead of us, her head close to his in conversation.

“Do you think Hauth recognized my injury?” I whispered to Elm.

Elm ran a hand through his tangled hair, leading me out the gate onto the cobbled street. “My brother’s not half as clever as he thinks he is,” he said. “By the trees, Spindle, wipe all that apprehension off your face.”

But I wasn’t convinced. There was something about Hauth Rowan that deeply unnerved me. Just like in the wood, I could not shake the feeling he was hunting me. With every look—every touch—he was seeking me out for the kill.

The street sloped, busier the closer we got to the square on Market Street. We were close to Spindle House. I could see the red flag at the gate. A guard stood sentry, one I’d never met before.

I slowed my pace, an idea sharp in my mind. But when I tried to step beyond the crowd to the gate, Elm held me back.

“Keep walking,” he said.

“I was just going to—”

“I know what you were doing,” he snapped. “Now’s not the time.”

“Why not?” I demanded, pulling out of his grasp. “My father won’t be home. We can look for his Well Card.”

Elm glanced up the street, but Ravyn and Jespyr were too far ahead to call out to. He groaned, muttering under his breath. “Don’t leave me with this nitwit.”

I tugged his sleeve, forcing him to face me. “It’s a good idea,” I said.

He looked at me like I was a bug he’d like to squash. “And you think—what? That Erik’s left his Well Card out on the table for us to nab? It’s not the time,” he said again.

“You’re a Prince—you can do as you wish! You carry one of the strongest Cards in the Deck.” I crossed my hands over my chest. “Or are you too afraid to do anything without Ravyn there to help you?”

Elm’s eyes flared, his brow twisting in disdain, and I knew I’d hit a nerve. “No more than you, Spindle,” he said, his voice dangerously low.

“I’m trying to keep things moving and not waste time with pageantry.”

“It’s pageantry that keeps us looking like everyone else,” the Prince said, his hand tight on my arm as he led me away from my father’s house. “Let’s go.”

The Nightmare sat like a caged cat behind the bars of my head—fidgeting, awake, and aware. When we stepped onto Market Street, the long, winding spine of Blunder, Providence Cards emanating colorfully from a few pockets, he clawed through my mind, his oily voice tight in my ears.

Beware. There are more than Destriers here in the King’s service.

I couldn’t see Ravyn. When Jespyr joined us again, cheerful smile intact, Elm rolled his eyes and mumbled something about needing a drink. I watched him and his red light disappear into the crowd, happy to see him go.

Around us, Blunder’s families stood in their house colors, some old and worn, some freshly tailored. They weaved in and out of tents and merchant stalls, their voices culminating in a plume of noise that clamored against cobblestone and brick from every direction.

A pair of girls in lilac dresses brushed past me, giggling as they devoured slices of lemon sweetbread. I felt an ache in my chest, remembering how, before the infection, Ione and I would wander the cobbled streets on Market Day. We would run between merchant stalls and sit by the fountain with crisp autumn apples, Ione clothed in Hawthorn white and I in deep Spindle red.

It felt a lifetime ago.

Next to me, Jespyr paid five coppers for a new pair of sheepskin gloves. “I love Market Day,” she said. “It gives people a chance to step out of their routines—to have a little fun. Life isn’t always about sword fighting and Card stealing, you know.”

I glanced back up the street, the crimson flag at the Spindle House gate still visible. I wanted to tell her that I was running out of time, that the Nightmare in my head was growing stronger by the moment. But I didn’t.

I turned away from Jespyr and ambled through the cobblestone streets. Clamor from the crowd engulfed me—color and noise. I let it toss me back and forth, aimless, my mother’s dress a sail upon a directionless sea.

No one bothered me. I kept walking, wondering what it would feel like if the Nightmare took over my mind completely. Would it hurt, or would it be gentle, like slipping into the wood unnoticed—disappearing into the mist? Perhaps I’d leave my dress behind as a final farewell to the world and steal into the trees like a ghost, absorbed by darkness and moss.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and when I turned, Ravyn was there, his head cocked familiarly to the side.

“I thought I was alone,” I said.

“Here?” he said, gesturing to the mass of people around us.

When I did not reply, the Captain stepped closer, his broad shoulders shielding me from the sway of the crowd. My chest tightened in the confines of my dress, the desire to reach out and touch him just as strong as it had been the night before.

When he offered me his hand, I took it. His fingers flexed around mine, and when I looked up at him, there was strain I had not seen before—tiredness and determination. How handsome he was, beyond the smooth mask of stone. I saw myself reflected in his expression, the brutal world of the infection embedded on our brows alike—all the fear, all the isolation. I saw the world through his gray eyes—felt the weight of his responsibilities and treacheries—as if they were stones sewn into the fabric of my dress.

I leaned into him. “I want to help.”

His fingers found my jaw, his thumb pressing just above my chin. “You are helping, Elspeth. More than you know.”

“Not parading around like this,” I said, gesturing to the crowd. “I felt less disguised dressed as a highwayman than I do in family colors.”

“It’s easier, being a highwayman. Cards, the infection—they don’t matter. Family—duty—everything is obscured by the black mask. Things are simpler.”

I sighed. “But things are never simple for people like us, are they?”

Ravyn’s eyes traveled to the rose in my hair. He didn’t say anything, silence tugging between us like invisible wire, painful, taut.

Behind my eyes, the Nightmare’s voice was coy. You’re running out of time, dear one, he said, slithering past my ears. Tell him how you feel. If you don’t say it aloud, can it ever be real?

I flinched. Ravyn watched me, his eyes tight on my face. I tried to turn away, but his thumb atop my chin would not let me. “What is it?” he said.

Guilt settled over me like a thick fog. No matter how deeply I yearned to stop pretending, secrets remained. Mine, and the monster’s. And I had no idea how to include Ravyn in them. “About last night…” I said. “When I ran off.”

He inhaled. “Perhaps it’s good you did.”

The rejection stung. I tried to pull away. “Oh?”

Again, Ravyn’s hand held me in place. His eyes lowered to my mouth, twin furrows drawn between his brows. “When my sister suggested I court you at Equinox, I resisted.”

I frowned up at him. “Adamantly, as I recall.”

He traced the curve of my chin. “I resisted, Elspeth, because I was already imagining how I might press my finger against your wet lips again, like I had in my room.” He took in a breath, his mouth dropping to my ear. “And that was nothing to the wicked things I was imagining after we argued in the garden.”

I let out an abrupt breath, warmth twisting deep in my stomach.

“I resisted,” Ravyn said, “because I haven’t stopped thinking about you since that first night on the forest road. And I realized at Equinox that the closer I let myself get to you, the less I’d want to be the King’s Captain—the less I’d want to pretend. And it’s dangerous for me, for my family, to stop pretending.” He pressed his lips to the shell of my ear, a low, scraping whisper. “It’s not safe to draw too close to me. I’m a liar, Elspeth. A traitor. And someday, there will be a reckoning.” He pulled back, his gray eyes tight with strain. “The highwayman meets the hangman. Always.”

His voice startled me. It shattered the stone I’d so long envisioned around him—the visage of the severe, untouchable Captain of the Destriers crumbling. This was him, letting me in—showing me the true Ravyn Yew.

A man just as terrified of the future as I was.

I stood on my toes and pressed my forehead against his, my voice so quiet my lips hardly moved. “Then be a liar, Ravyn. Betray. Upturn the kingdom that would see you and me and Emory killed. The King keeps you close so he can control you. But you are the only one who can withstand his Scythe Card.”

I pulled back and looked him in the eyes. “It is not they who bring the reckoning, Ravyn. It is you. It is us.”

His chest rose and fell, his gaze locked with mine. For a moment I thought he might be angry, my words too direct—too hot-blooded. I was still learning to decipher emotions behind his well-guarded eyes.

But he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me against his chest in a hug so deep it blotted out Market Day entirely. He held me, resting his cheek against the crown of my head, his heart drumming against my ear. I inhaled him, leather and smoke and cedar, settling into his arms like a rabbit in its warm, safe den.

I had not fit into anyone’s arms like that since childhood. And even then, no one had ever held me so tightly—as if they needed me in their arms as much as I needed to be held. As if nothing else mattered but to hold one another.

As if we had all the time in the world.

A familiar voice ripped me from my comfort. “There she is,” it called, too loud, too bubbly. “With the Captain, like I told you.”

Ravyn exhaled into my hair. When he pulled away from me, all four of them stood before us, their eyes wide, curiosity and shock and disbelief all trapped behind icy blue irises.

My father, my stepmother, my half sisters.

My father, former Captain of the Destriers, clasped hands with his replacement, their palms bearing matching calluses from years of swordplay. He and Ravyn stood a head above my half sisters, Nerium, and me, shoulders broad. When their hands fell apart, my father’s eyes jumped to me.

He blinked, deep lines etching into his furrow. I squirmed beneath his gaze, our struggle on the forest road—the Nightmare’s strength, the look of fear in my father’s eyes—twisting my thoughts. But when I summoned enough courage to meet his gaze, I realized my father was not looking at me at all.

He was looking at my mother’s dress.

His shoulders slumped a moment. The muscles in his jaw flexed, as if he were forcing all his teeth together. And his eyes, brilliant blue, had gone glassy. At last, his gaze met mine. “Hello, Elspeth,” he said. “You look like your mother in that dress.”

Nerium shot me an icy look but swiftly corrected it to a reticent smile when she noticed the Captain of the Destriers staring daggers at her. I shifted next to Ravyn, our fingers grazing.

My half sisters glanced at one another, speaking a silent language only they knew. I did not miss the way they looked at Ravyn, their eyes wide and upturned, their pink lips slack.

Dimia turned to me, dragging Nya with her. When the twins linked their arms in mine, begging for a turn around the square, I did not have a ready excuse. I shot Ravyn a glance over my shoulder, but the twins were rapid in their steps, their voices in my ears so alike they harmonized.

They marched me down Market Street, Blunder’s bustling crowd moving around us like a herd of colorful sheep. I felt anger without truly knowing why, steeling myself against the questions I knew were coming. And though they were young, ruled mostly by fancy, I held my half sisters at great length.

They were still Nerium’s daughters.

Dimia stopped us near the fountain. “Elspeth,” she said, her voice quick, loud. “You are courting Ravyn Yew.”

I looked away. “And?”

Nya blinked at me. She was not as soft as Dimia. She crossed her thin arms over her chest, her words sharp. “He’s Captain of the Destriers. He could have his men at our door in moments if he found out you had the fever as a girl.”

She sounded too much like her mother. I gave Nya an icy glare. “He isn’t going to do that.”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

A familiar red light danced along my periphery.

Dimia picked at her fingernails, her eyes bright, voice dreamy. “Perhaps because he likes her far too much to arrest her.” She put a hand to her heart. “How romantic.”

This is insufferable, the Nightmare muttered.

Beyond, the red light grew closer. “Not every story is a fairy tale, Dimia,” I said.

Nya’s eyes narrowed. “Then explain why he was embracing you.”

But I was already slipping away. When my half sisters shouted after me, I merely waved, trailing the tall man in black and the red light emanating from his pocket.

I reached Elm in several leaping steps. When I clung to his arm, he jumped, spilling half his goblet of wine onto the street.

The Prince looked down at me with wide green eyes. I found myself almost smiling. “I’ve a favor to ask,” I said, glancing back. “You’ll need your Card.”

A moment later, Nya and Dimia were giggling like maniacs, their blue eyes wide as they let out long, singsong giggles. “Such a beautiful day!” Nya gleamed, her smile so wide I could count every tooth.

“Let’s go find the wine cart,” Dimia twittered, offering Elm and me a swooping wave before skipping with her twin out of the square, the red ribbons of their masks flickering in the midday light.

I laughed, watching them go. “Silly little things.”

Destriers passed us, nodding to Elm before dispersing throughout the square. The Prince tapped his Scythe Card, releasing my half sisters from its compulsion, and drained the remnants of his goblet. “Terribly annoying, your clan.”

“Can’t choose family, can we?”

He chuckled, hoisting a new goblet off a nearby merchant’s table. “Sadly, no.”

I didn’t push it—didn’t ask what had tipped the King’s youngest son over the edge into lawlessness and treason—what had made him betray his own father. There was an unevenness to the Prince’s temperament that made me nervous, and I did not think he would react kindly to the violation of his privacy.

“Wine?” he said, retrieving a second goblet.

“It’s a bit early, isn’t it?”

“You intend to endure Market Day sober?” He looked up and down the stalls, his voice low. “You don’t see any… you know… Chalice Cards, do you?”

I cast my eyes about for the telltale turquoise color. “No. Why?”

“Can’t be too cautious,” he said, taking a deep swill. “Truth serum is the last thing I need these days.”

The wine was sweeter than I’d imagined. I sipped it slowly, my eyes on the shifting crowd. “What happens now?”

“A few families will be gifted some worthless trinkets from one of my father’s merchants. My brother and a few knights will drone on about the Card trade and the decline of crime—maybe parade Ravyn and the Destriers around for good show. Same old, same old.”

I tapped my finger on my goblet. “We could be in my father’s house right now, doing something of actual use.”

“Hauth and the Destriers would notice our absence. Besides,” Elm said, taking another deep swill, “you seem to be having a lovely time reconnecting with your sisters.”

I rolled my eyes. “Half sisters.”

“What did they want?”

“Nothing,” I said. Then after a pause, “They think Ravyn’s going to find out what I am and arrest me.”

Elm smiled into his goblet. “He might not arrest you,” he said, “but he’ll eventually find out what you are. The truth always outs.”

Something in his voice caught me. “What do you mean?”

Elm turned to me, his green eyes narrowing. “It’s different for Ravyn,” he said. “He’s not skeptical of your infection, your magic. When he looks at you, he feels he knows you—wants to help you. You make him remember why he’s done everything he’s done, and why he must continue on doing it.”

The Prince took small, purposeful sips from his goblet, savoring the wine. “But when I look at you, Spindle, I see something else,” he said. “I see someone secretive, guarded. I see someone who hasn’t been forthright with us.”

To the color draining rapidly from my face, he merely smiled.

“A woman who’s spent most of her life hiding in her uncle’s house, quiet and secluded, can stand in combat against trained men-at-arms? Can catch knives midair and maim my brother without the aid of a Black Horse?”

He brushed the hair from my forehead, tucking it behind my ear. “And your eyes,” Elm said. “Black as ink. Only, when the light is just right, I can see yellow in them. The same yellow I saw two nights ago in the wood, when you knocked your father to the ground.”

I felt as if I’d swallowed my tongue.

In the darkness behind my eyes, the Nightmare slithered, his claws scraping against bone. Let me out.

Absolutely not.

He’s already seen my eyes. Why not let me speak to him?

They’re my eyes, I stammered. Mine, not yours! They should be black, not yellow.

Should they? he purred. You said so yourself. I’m getting stronger.

When I remained silent, the Nightmare swaddled my mind in darkness. What’s yours is mine when the shadows draw near. You asked for my help—and now I am here. With your eyes I do see, with your ears I do hear. There’s no going back—this is payment, my dear.

I felt sick, the wine turning to bile in my stomach. What do I tell him?


Tell him the truth.

I can’t do that.


I jerked away from the voice in my head and set my goblet down, forcing my shaking hands into my sleeves.

Elm watched me fixedly, some of the levity drained from his features. “You still there?” he asked.

But I had no time to respond. I’d barely a moment to brace myself before I was knocked aside by three Destriers pushing into the center of the square, their weapons drawn.

“Make way!” one called, his voice ripping through the crowd. “Make way!”

Elm was upon them in a moment, all hint of intoxication faded from his voice. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded.

“An infected child, sire,” a Destrier answered, out of breath. “He’s been collected by Physician Orithe, and his parents arrested. High Prince Hauth wants an example made of them.”

Suddenly the square was filled with the dark color of Black Horses. Five more Destriers stepped forward, a man and a woman—bloodied—carried between them. The crowd opened up, engulfing them.

Shouts echoed, and I was pushed with the rest of the onlookers to the edge of the square, Hauth Rowan and the Destriers were busy at work tying the prisoners by their hands. A hush fell over the crowd, all joy and camaraderie evaporated, replaced with sickening silence. I wrapped my arms across my chest, retreating into my mind, searching for courage.

But I felt only darkness.


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