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Two Twisted Crowns: Part 1 – Chapter 8

Ravyn

Ravyn’s words tasted like ash in his mouth. He stared at Ione Hawthorn and she stared back, her hazel eyes masked by indifference. The knot in Ravyn’s chest tightened. Elspeth’s cousin. Her favorite cousin. Ione was meant to be far away from Stone. And now that she was here—

She would surely die.

He didn’t know where to look. Ione Hawthorn—hair soaked, eyes cold, wearing one of Elm’s tunics. Or his cousin, who looked half-drowned.

“She was at Hawthorn House,” Elm said, already defensive. “Gorse and Wicker saw her. They’ll be here soon. I had no choice but to bring her.”

Ravyn’s attention returned to the dress on the floor. Even in the dimly lit room, the bloodstains were unmistakable. His eyes flew back to Elm, then his right hand, the knuckles swollen and dark with bruises. “What happened?”

“Highwaymen attacked us on the forest road. Three of them.”

When Ione spoke, her tone was hollow, fringing on bored. “Rest easy, Captain. The bloodstains aren’t ours.”

Ravyn kept his gaze on Elm. “You’re all right, then?”

His cousin’s face was drawn. “Never better. Where the hell have you been?”

“At Castle Yew.”

“Why?”

“Digging under a particular stone.”

Elm stiffened. “And?”

“It’s true. All of it.”

Ione was perfectly still, listening. For a reason he didn’t fully understand, Ravyn wanted to shout at her. “The King has begun his inquest. He’s just seen—” His throat closed on the name. “The prisoner. Now he’ll have the others.”

Elm’s cheeks went bloodless.

“Captain,” a voice called from the open doorway.

Royce Linden was a shadow in the hall, the light from Elm’s hearth reaching only the edge of his browbone and nose. “The King has requested I wield the Chalice at his inquest.”

Elm crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s Jespyr’s job.”

“She’s gone to the dungeon to put the bitch back in her cell.”

Ravyn bit down. Hard.

Linden shifted under his gaze, eyes dropping to his boots. “I saw the Prince and Miss Hawthorn arrive some moments ago and volunteered to summon them. I did not know you had already come to do so, Captain.”

Elm’s voice went low. “Did the King summon Miss Hawthorn specifically? Or were you just feeling terribly eager?”

Linden opened his mouth, but Ravyn cut him off. “She’s the kin of an infected.” He pushed ice into his voice. “Miss Hawthorn will submit to the Chalice, same as her father and uncle.”

He could feel Elm’s gaze burning into his back. Ravyn ignored it. Elm wasn’t the only one who got to be angry. Ione Hawthorn was supposed to be gone—disappeared into the night alongside her mother and brothers and cousins.

But Ravyn was out of options. If he was going to convince the King to keep trusting him, despite his flagrant attachment to Elspeth Spindle, he needed to be beyond reproach. He would have to wear the mask of the Captain of the Destriers—the cold, unfeeling leader of Blunder’s ruthless soldiers—just a little while longer.

“Lead the way,” Ravyn said to Linden.


No one spoke, Stone’s tall, shadowy corridors echoing with their footfall. The torches were lit, illuminating ancient tapestries that lined the castle walls.

Linden took the lead. Ione followed behind him, her steps silent beneath her wool socks. Ravyn wondered where her shoes had gone.

Elm walked beside him. When Ravyn tapped the Nightmare Card once more and called his cousin’s name, Elm jumped.

What? he snapped.

Why didn’t Ione Hawthorn disappear with the others?

I don’t know. Elm kept his gaze forward. She must not have been in Spindle House when I compelled the others to flee.

Then why not use your Scythe on her today?

I couldn’t with Gorse and Wicker there, could I?

Ravyn’s left knee popped as they took the stairwell. What happened on the road?

I told you. Highwaymen.

Ravyn was four years older than his cousin, but the difference had always felt slight. Mostly because Elm had been taller than Ravyn since he’d turned seventeen. Like the fox carved above his chamber door, Elm was cunning, and slow to trust. With only a few glances, he could map body language—hear the shift of breath just before a lie—sense a person’s energy without having to speak to them.

But Ravyn had ignored his cousin’s talents, his warnings. Elm had all but begged him to keep his guard up against Elspeth Spindle. Ravyn hadn’t listened. If he had, he might have sensed what Elm had all along, hidden behind two charcoal eyes that flashed yellow.

Danger.

Perhaps, had Ravyn heeded Elm’s warnings, they might not be on their way to an inquest. Hauth might never have had the chance to get Elspeth alone.

And Shepherd King might have been kept at bay.

Ione cast a backward glance. Elm shifted, his shoulders tensing, something strained and unspoken passing between them.

They reached the second landing. But before they could descend to the throne room, Ravyn caught his cousin’s arm, holding him back.

What’s going on, Elm?

She saved my bloody life, all right? Elm ripped his arm out of Ravyn’s grasp. I didn’t have time to reach for my Scythe. She took it from my pocket. His stared down the stairs and ran a hand through his tangled auburn hair. The rest happened…swiftly.

Ravyn stared at his cousin. SHE killed them?

“The King is waiting for us, Captain,” Linden called from below, his fingers now wrapped around Ione’s arm.

Ravyn held up a menacing finger to Linden and kept his gaze on Elm. “There’s nothing you can do for her now,” he said under his breath. “She made her bed when she said yes to Hauth.”

Elm’s expression went cold. “Do you really think she knew what she was saying yes to?”

“She knew Elspeth was infected. And I—” Ravyn dragged a hand over his jaw. “If I’m to leave for the Twin Alders Card, I can’t afford any more of your father’s distrust. I can’t lie for Ione Hawthorn.”

Something flashed in those brilliant green eyes. “Then I will.”

Ravyn shook his head. “No, Elm.”

“I owe her.”

“She hasn’t earned your kindness.”

“It’s not kindness,” he bit back. “It’s balance.”

Ravyn took a deep, steadying breath. She will never leave this place, Elm. Either by the dungeon’s frost or the King’s command, she will die. He put at hand on his cousin’s shoulder. Don’t be turned by her beauty. We’ve enough on our plate already.

Elm’s smile did not touch his eyes. He rolled his shoulder, and Ravyn’s hand fell. Because you’ve never been turned by a beautiful woman, have you, Captain?


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