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Two Twisted Crowns: Part 1 – Chapter 13

Elspeth

When they came back, the weight of my memories dragged me so far down I couldn’t find a way out. Magic. My infection. Providence Cards. What Hauth Rowan had done to me that final night at Spindle House.

The monster who had saved me.

I screamed, calling out to the Nightmare who had taken my place. I was met only with silence. I ran the length of the beach, looking for a way out, only to come back to where I’d started. I swam in the water, only to remain ten paces from the shore. I screamed myself raw and cried until there were no more tears. “I remember, Nightmare,” I shouted at the dark. “Let me out. LET ME OUT!”

Silence was my only answer.


The children came and went as they pleased, never leaving marks upon the sand, nor ripples on the water. Slowly, I learned their names. Tilly, and her brothers Ilyc, Afton, Fenly, Lenor. The eldest—the one with gray eyes—was Bennett.

They didn’t seem to notice each other, passing on the same stretch of beach without ever lifting their gazes or trading words. I’d even witnessed two of the young boys pass through one another.

But they did speak to me.

“Will you come see what I’ve built?” Lenor said, reaching for my sleeve, his hand passing through my arm.

“I—I—”

His face dropped, and so did his yellow eyes. “Another time, then.”

“I’ve trained every day for a fortnight,” Fenly declared—the next moment or hours later, I didn’t know. “Aunt Ayris said you might come see me compete in the tournament on Market Day.” But even as he said it, I could tell he didn’t believe it. Just like Lenor’s, his eyes dropped. “But of course, you are busy.”

“I’m not,” I called after him, but he disappeared out over the water.

Ilyc and Afton, I realized, were twins. My stomach twisted at that. They reminded me of my half sisters. Only, unlike Nya and Dimia, they didn’t speak that secret, knowing language of twins. They didn’t speak to one another at all. Sometimes, their visages blended entirely together, two boys becoming one. “I want a Golden Egg Card,” Ilyc—or was it Afton?—said. “You gave Bennett Providence Cards. I want one as well.”

I held out my empty hands. “I have no Providence Cards to give you.”

Their brows narrowed. When they spoke again, it was to shout at me. “You keep them all for yourself.”

“I don’t.”

“I hate you.”

I clasped my hands over my ears and shut my eyes. When I opened them again, the twins were gone.


Timelessness bled into despair. There was nothing to do on the long, empty shore but think—remember. And even my fondest memories became bitter in that place until, ravenous, my thoughts began to consume me. My family would surely die for hiding my infection. Not even my little cousins, Aldrich and Lyn, would be spared the King’s wrath. Dead, all of them.

Because of me.

And the Yews—I had destroyed their hope of healing Emory. They’d needed Orithe Willow’s blood to unite the dead. And I’d killed him.

My thoughts festered until my mind turned septic.

But even then, a flicker of warmth lingered in the dead cold of my despair. A candle’s worth of light—of hope. The softness of my aunt’s hands as she combed my hair. Ione’s arm in mine, our heels clacking on cobbled streets on Market Day.

Ravyn Yew, holding me in a hug tight enough to blot out all of Blunder.

My black wool dress sopped up water as I walked into the breaking waves. Bennett appeared out of the air and stood next to me. “The children miss you,” he said, fidgeting with the two Providence Cards—Mirror and Nightmare. “Especially Tilly. Come to dinner. Just this once.”

I knew by then he was not talking to me. None of the children had been talking to me. This beach—this dark-sanded oblivion—belonged to the Shepherd King.

I know what I know…

My secrets are deep…

But long have I kept them, and long will they keep.

Here. In the dark, on the shore. Where there was no sun, no moon. Where the mourning dove did not call at dawn and no owl announced dusk. A place of desolation—emptiness and despair. This is where his secrets were kept.

And I was among them.

I looked into Bennett’s gray eyes. “I cannot stay here with you and be forgotten,” I said. “I’m going to get out.”

I walked into the breaking waves. Swam with all my might. Screamed and swallowed brine. Kicked and clawed at the water until my muscles gave out.

I fell beneath the waves—

And sunk deeper into darkness.


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