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Song of Sorrows and Fate: Chapter 3

The Memory Thief

Felstad Ruins—Klockglas Region

“I’m just sayin’ they coulda taken me.”

I chuckled as Jonas gave a rather aggressive swipe of his knife against the wood he was whittling. The eldest of our twins, Jonas had the proclivity to pout when his father and Raum left him out of Kryv business.

“It’s dull work today, son.”

He blew out his lips with another swipe of his knife. “That’s what you say when it’s the best work.”

I grinned and closed my eyes, letting the sun heat my cheeks. I’d embraced shadows when I fell in love with the Nightrender, but as of late, I preferred daylight vastly over the night.

A new crimson moon had put every region on edge. Kase had hardly shown his true eyes in days; they were always shadowed, always blackened with fear as he doubled down on the protections of our kingdom.

In truth, the Kryv were adding more spiked gates on this side of Klockglas, not the normal feckless schemes in which they allowed Jonas and Sander to join.

Raum, Isak, and Fiske enjoyed teaching the two princes how to use whalebone picks on locks, or how to read a man’s eyes to tell if they were lying. The rest of the Kryv took it upon themselves to teach my sons to thieve.

Thieving princes. Perhaps in other lands it might be a thing of disgrace. In the East, most folk had a touch of thief in their blood. It’d be a shame if they didn’t make use of their tricky hands. Jonas and Sander only snatched the purses of the Kryv or Falkyns, mostly to prove they could.

They were usually caught and dubbed the failures of the games. Each time they tried harder, grew slier, and attracted more mischief.

While they were raised to be crafty, still we kept Jonas and Sander shielded in a way. Like on days where their father joined his guild to argue over how best to prevent war and death, sights we never wanted our sons to witness.

Sights I wasn’t so certain we could keep from them much longer.

“Maj. Made this for you.” Jonas stood in front of me. Tall for nine, lanky like me, but a face like his father. His tousled brown hair was always on end, and his verdant eyes were always alight with some trouble he planned to make.

Jonas smiled and held out a small wooden trinket.

“Jonas, owls are my favorite.” I took the piece and admired the rough cuts around feathers and a tufted face. “It’s beautiful, my love. Thank you.”

Despite his protests, I clasped his face in my palms and gave him a wet kiss on his cheek.

“Decent, I suppose. Beak’s a little off.” Frigg popped her shoulder across the lawns and held up a handful of wooden beads she’d been carving for a week. “Try making a small shape, Prince Jonas. That’s where knife work gets hard.”

Jonas let his eyes shade over, the same as Kase’s could do, although their mesmer was different. Where Kase worked in the fear of others, our boys worked in creating it. They worked in nightmares.

“Why’d I wanna make stupid beads? Do you see me wearin’ a dress, Friggy?”

“They can be for hair too!”

“Oh.” Jonas snorted and mocked tossing back his short hair. “Like a bleeding girl.”

I swatted the back of his head as Frigg narrowed her eyes in a way that made her look wholly like her father. Hob and Inge took the stronghold at Felstad after the battle of the Black Palace. Their daughter wasn’t much older than the princes, and like Hob and me, they couldn’t seem to do anything but aggravate each other.

I stood, letting them argue, and strode across the lawns to where Sander read near the creek’s edge, back against the stone tower of one of the many warning flame torches.

With a sigh I sat beside my second son. He shared most of Jonas’s same features, from the green of his eyes to the constant mess of his auburn hair. Sander was a thinker. Most took Jonas for the boisterous troublemaker, but if they knew the truth, they’d know most of the schemes were born in this boy’s brain.

“What book today?”

He lifted his head, noticing me for the first time, and proudly held up the leather book.

Blood Herbs: Spell Cast Codex.” I arched my brows. “Have you, all at once, become a spell caster?”

Sander grinned softly. “Uncle Nik gave it to me. Teaches you all the herbs and berries and leaves and such. There’s a nutshell that can cause the tongue to tie up in nonsense words. No matter how you try, you can’t say anything right for at least a clock toll.” He snorted and his smile widened. “I’m gonna do it to Jo sometime.”

“You’re not poisoning your brother.” I reclined on my hands.

“Maj,” he whined. “I’m not poisoning him. But you gotta admit it’d be funny to hear him go on about nothing and not be able to help it.”

I wasn’t going to survive my sons.

“That,” Sander went on, voice softer. “Or I’ll use something to kill that sea creature and the shadow man.”

“Kill what?” A groove shaped between my brows. “What sea creature, what shadow?”

Sander eyed the creek warily. “I don’t . . . I don’t know if I should say. You’ll think I’m losing my mind and—”

“Sander.” I gripped his arm. “What are you talking about?”

For the first time, I noticed the shadows buried in his young eyes. Not from mesmer, from true fear. “I saw something in the water and she brought . . . a man with her.”

My blood froze. Instinct took hold, and I dragged Sander behind me as I peered into the creek.

“Not today. But . . . yesterday. I didn’t want to say since I thought it might’ve been my mesmer playin’ tricks with me.”

I wheeled on him. “Tell me what you saw.”

Sander’s chin quivered. “Why do you look so afraid, Maj?”

Dammit. Kase and I grew in a world that held little kindness. I praised the gods our children did not know the same world. But the downside of it all was they did not know how to react to dangers and tended to panic if a look of fright crossed our faces.

I smoothed his hair and forced a smile. “You’ve done nothing wrong, but tell me what you saw.”

“A monster in the shadows,” he whispered. “Not as frightening as the ones I’ve made in dreams, but the shadow man came with the sea creature. I think it was a girl, but sorta like a fish with needles as teeth.”

“What . . . what did they do?”

“Laughed at me.” Sander licked his lips and clung to the book until his knuckles turned white. “Said I was a dead earth fae. Told it I’m not a fae. Said I was an Alver, and it only laughed harder.”

Three hells. There were many creatures in our wood. Cats with jagged teeth. Wolvyn with black claws. Snakes with four eyes. All dangerous, but there were no sea creatures that spoke. Not that I knew.

“May I see?” I held out my palm. Sander didn’t hesitate, and pressed his forehead against my skin.

Smoke and shadows came at once. With the ring on my finger, pulling memories was swift. Once, it took a great deal of my mesmer, now it was as though a story played out in my mind. A dream of sorts.

Ribbons of misty shadows coiled around my son as he searched for his brother near the lakes Valen had helped shape behind the Black Palace. Sander cursed in the memory, words that would make Kase seek out Ash and Raum for teaching the boys that sort of language.

Another time, I might laugh, but I was bleeding panicked.

Sander paused in the memory and kneeled beside the lake. True enough, beneath the surface, bulbous eyes stared back at him.

“What are you?” Sander asked. His eyes darkened with his mesmer.

“Prepared to die, earth fae?” her voice was wet and soft.

“I’m not a fae. I’m an Alver. Get gone, or I’ll give you all the nightmares you don’t want.”

She laughed, a strangled kind of sound, and rose from the water, revealing a jagged grin with those sharp, pointed teeth, and fins where her legs ought to have been. “Perhaps you’d like to swim with me. Or perhaps . . . with him?”

In the memory, the strange sea fae pointed over Sander’s shoulder. My blood turned to ice as I watched my son spin around and face a dark, looming shadow.

“Daj?” Sander whispered.

From the darkness appeared a face, pale as stone, a sneer cruel as a rabid wolf. The creature said nothing, and in the next moments, the clearing was doused in a dark shadow.

By the gods—Davorin.

He’d stepped onto our land. How had he avoided Niklas’s wards? I wanted to scream for Sander to run, but he was in my arms, he was here. Clearly, he’d managed to flee.

“Maj, you’re squishing me.” Sander’s distant voice carved through the memory. I ignored him and clung to my boy as I observed, helplessly watching the sleek, horridly appealing features of our enemy peer at my son.

“Hello,” Davorin said, voice like a chill in the frosts. “Would you like to use your power on me, body worker?”

“Alver,” Sander shouted. His eyes turned black as pitch.

Davorin chuckled. “What a delightful boy you are. Like your father. Like your mother. Have you been told tales of them? Have you been told fate chose them?” His voice took on a bitter tone, sharp as new steel.

Sander ignored the bastard and reached for a stone hidden in the reeds. “Get gone or you’ll find out yourself. My daj has better shadows than you, and my maj’ll rip your brains to bits.”

I held my breath. To taunt such a man should surely bring his rage. Instead, the memory of the ghostly spectral, like a mist of Davorin, laughed. As though my son were an utter delight.

“I’m sure you think so. Tell them I look forward to meeting again, won’t you boy?” Davorin slid back toward the dark billows of his glamour. “Tell them to watch their shores. They might get a bit dodgy.”

In the memory, Sander threw the rock in his hand with all his might at the darkness. All that was left was the distant echo of Davorin’s laughter.

I let out a short gasp when the memory faded. Sander wrapped his arms around me, squeezing. Gods, he was trembling.

“You were so brilliant,” I whispered against his hair. “But why did you not tell me?”

When I pulled him back, his mouth was tight. “I thought I might’ve made it up since I was reading so much, but . . . I looked it up, Maj. I think that thing was a merfolk. Don’t know who the shadow man was, though. Maybe a haunt. Fiske thinks there’s haunts in Jagged Grove.”

I didn’t care what the fish creature was. She could be a goddess of the deep, and if she returned to threaten my son, I’d pluck out those bulging eyes and wear them around my damn neck.

What I cared about was the sight of Davorin. He’d slipped past the wards, and I didn’t understand how. A spectral? A projection? He hadn’t looked whole.

“We’re going to speak with Daj, all right?” I kissed his forehead, smiling as though this was another day. It wasn’t.

Every kingdom needed to know what had happened here. Why were we to watch our shores? Sea fae? It was possible, the sea folk hadn’t shown their faces since the Ever King had been slaughtered and Valen pulled a wall from the seafloor just beyond the Howl Sea.

But hadn’t King Thorvald’s brother made some threat about ten turns? We were months into the eleventh turn since our battle of the Black Palace. Late, perhaps, but if they were preparing to return to make good on their threats, if Davorin was behind it, war was near.

A shout snapped my eyes toward Jonas and Frigg. Hob sprinted out of Felstad. Lanky as always, but his beard was a great deal longer, and his eyes were filled with a strange fear.

“Mal!” Hob yanked his daughter behind his back, Jonas next, and pointed behind us.

All. Gods. The warning tower beside the creek spluttered and hissed, then a tall, red flame, rich as blood, flared at the top. Distant screams rose through the trees from the shore. No mistake, all the towers had ignited.

In the next breath, billows of dark shadows wrapped around Felstad. I gripped Sander’s hand and reached out my other until the long, callused fingers of the Nightrender grabbed hold and Kase stepped through. Kryv, warriors, and Falkyns followed.

Kase had his arms around me in the next breath, crushing both me and Sander against him. He looked about frantically until Jonas sprinted across the lawn and Kase had both his sons clasped tightly.

“Sander saw Davorin,” I whispered against Kase’s ear. “Yesterday. Like a ghost of him.”

Kase’s eyes went wide. “You’re certain?”

“I saw it.”

Jaw tight, Kase looked to the flame, then to his sons.

“The warning,” I asked, a tremble of hesitation in my voice. “Which direction?”

Kase’s fingers dug into my spine. “From the North.”

“That’s Livie and . . . and . . . Alek! That’s Uncle Hagen and . . . Auntie Herja,” Jonas wailed. “Daj, we gotta go help ‘em. We gotta go. Shadow walk, and—”

Kase silenced him by scooping him up. Too long to be held like a tiny boy, but Jonas crushed his father’s neck and wrapped his legs around his waist, true tears on his cheeks as the boy cried for his friends and family in Etta.

Kase rubbed Jonas’s back and strode toward Felstad. “They’ll be safe, boy. They’ll be safe.”

He kept assuring the princes their playmates and cousins were unharmed, but when his blackened eyes met mine, I knew the truth—he feared he was dead wrong.


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