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Two Twisted Crowns: Epilogue

I have submitted to the Chalice, the truth heralded for all of Blunder to hear. Hauth Rowan committed regicide, thus ending the reign of our King, Quercus Rowan, who was buried beneath his namesake tree at Stone. Upon Solstice, when the mist did finally lift, Blunder began a new day. Our borders are open, the kingdoms and queendoms beyond the mist welcome to our home.

To all infected who desire a cure, seek the Shepherd Card at Castle Yew. To any displaced, Stone is no longer a fortress, but a refuge. To those who wish to remain as they are, christened by the fever, gifted with old magic, you are safe.

Let us not hold The Old Book of Alders as our steadfast law. Rather, let us cherish it for what it is—Blunder’s twisted tale. A book of time, written by a man who knew magic like his own name, and bent to its sway.

But remember, though the mist is gone, the Spirit of the Wood remains, watching, measuring. To my kingdom, my Blunder, my land—be wary. Be clever. Be good.

—The King of Elms

Castle Yew’s bells chimed on spring Equinox morning. A peal of jubilation.

The houses of Blunder answered, and the ringing of bells echoed down the street deep into town. The clamor rose, the chimes high and low, near and far. They sounded so much louder now that the mist did not confine their noise.

I wore my mother’s red dress and tarried through the ruins behind the castle gardens. The meadow was beautiful, quilted in grass. I waited under a yew tree, for though I could no longer see the purple light from his Mirror Card, I knew Ravyn was near.

He appeared next to me a moment later. “They’re there,” he said, tucking the Mirror Card Elm had gifted him from Stone’s vault into his pocket. “All of them. Even Ayris this time. Even Bennett. All of them, with him.”

I nodded, and a tear fell down my cheek. Ravyn’s calloused thumb brushed it away. He wrapped me back in a hug he’d been reluctant to break since the night he’d destroyed the Nightmare Card. “Time to go,” he whispered into my hair. “He’ll kill us if we’re late.”

We gathered outside Hawthorn House’s aged door. My aunt hugged me and danced on her toes, tears in her eyes. My half sisters Dimia and Nya ran through the shrubs, followed by my young cousins Lyn and Aldrich. My stepmother hissed at them to behave, but her voice was drowned out by Jon Thistle’s booming laugh. My stern, severe father had told him a joke. When I caught his eye, he reached behind his back and offered me a blooming stem of yarrow.

I put it in my hair.

“You’re meant to throw those after the ceremony,” Ravyn said to Jespyr, who was busy with her own flowers, strewing them first along Petyr’s, then Emory’s collar.

“Just dressing them up a bit,” she replied, pinching her brother’s cheek. “Handsome devils.”

Petyr puffed his chest proudly and Emory swatted Jespyr away, muttering something about abject humiliation as he handed Filick Willow a handkerchief from his pocket. “Trees, Filick, it hasn’t even begun yet and you’re already blubbering.”

Ione wore a white dress and no shoes. Elm, the King, bore no crown upon his head—no adorned robes—just a plain black tunic. I could not prove it, but I was certain it was the same one he’d worn guised as a highwayman. Only now, the Shepherd King’s sword christened his belt.

When the ceremony began, Ravyn stood at Elm’s side and I at Ione’s. Ravyn’s hands were clasped in front of him, unshaking. When he glanced my way, the corner of his mouth lifted as it often did. Only this time, he let his smile bloom until it took over his entire face.

Thistle cried. My aunt cried. Morette and Fenir and even my uncle, who had been relegated to the back of the room, away from those of us who had not yet forgiven him for what had happened to me at Spindle House, shed tears.

When Filick handed them their gold bands, Elm looked into Ione’s eyes. “A hundred years,” he said to her, as if she were the only one in the room. “I’ll love you for a hundred years—and an eternity after.”

Ione didn’t wait for him to slip the ring over her finger. She threw her arms around him, kissed him unabashedly, earning a jubilant shout from Emory and many more tears from the rest of us.

When they stepped out of Hawthorn House arm in arm, King and Queen of Blunder, we threw yellow irises in the air. Irises, for my mother. And yellow because…well, Elm had been particular about that.

Ione caught my arm—hugged me tightly. Over her shoulder, Elm put his hand on the Shepherd King’s hilt. Winked at me.

“None of this might have happened without you, Elspeth,” Ione whispered. “And isn’t that such a beautiful thing.”

We walked the forest road together.

It seemed strangely poetic that I had once thought the world would end should my cousin Ione marry the heir to Blunder’s throne. There was so much balance in everything that had happened since the last Equinox. It was as if all of our lives, drawn in long, separate lines, had curved together. Curved so much that all of us had become interlocking circles. As if we had been destined together. Shepherded together.

All the trees were in bloom. The forest filled with our voices as we walked into town. It was the same stretch of road I had, months ago, walked with Ione on my nameday. The same place I’d met Ravyn and Elm for the first time. They’d been highwaymen then. And I—

I’d changed since then, too.

Laughter echoed through the trees, and sunlight caught the blooming wood, plants and thorns so much larger now that they were no longer guarded by mist. Someone would have to hack them back soon, lest the road be overrun by greenery.

I hoped it did become overrun. I liked the wild parts of Blunder best. I felt at home in the untamed wood.

A twig snapped to my left, and my gaze shot to the trees. And I must have been slow to understand, after a lifetime of gray mist, just how brilliant the sunlight was. Because for a moment—a fleeting, wonderful moment—I thought I saw him. Yellow eyes, peering at me through the trees.

But it was only the sun, shining through a rotted-out log.

Ravyn waited for me at the bend in the road.

“Thinking about the last time we were here?” he said, offering me his hand. “When you pummeled me to the ground?”

I pulled him close, stood on my toes, whispered into his lips. “One of my fondest memories.”

He kissed me, fingers weaving into my hair. “Mine too, Miss Spindle.”

Ravyn had not tapped the Shepherd Card. He did not cure himself with Emory and Jespyr and the others that came to Castle Yew. He’d used his magic to destroy the final Scythe Card. And though he had only said it to me in the quiet of our room, he did not wish to be cured. He, in his own small way, was still holding on to what had happened in the alderwood. To his magic, his secret legacy. To Taxus.

Which was why, when I looked back up the forest road, clenching and unclenching my jaw—clickclickclick—Ravyn didn’t shy away from me. He knew as well as I did that the Nightmare was gone. But Aemmory Percyval Taxus had bled into me for so long that, somewhere in the dark, listless shore of my mind, he remained with me. For it was we who had drawn the circles. We, who had shepherded the others toward their destinies. We, who had rearranged the kingdom like trees in our very own wood.

And though it had taken slow, painful time, I knew who I was without him. I was more than the girl, the King, and the monster of Blunder’s dark, twisted tale.

I was its author.


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