The River Kings’ Road

Chapter Two

There had never been a lovelier day in the world, Odosse decided as she walked back to Willowfield. The autumn afternoon was crisp but pleasant. Sunlight lancing through the leaves of ash and maple turned the forest into a cathedral of gold and crimson; she felt grand as a queen beneath such glory. And soon, she promised herself, soon she would be beautiful as one too.

Her fingers closed around the little bottle that the charm-crafter had sold her that morning. Its dark blue glass was warm to the touch, promising power that she could only imagine. Even the ingredients that the charm-crafter listed sounded like secrets: mulberry and musk, amber and myrrh. The Tears of the Empress, from faraway Ardashir, and a drop of red wine to arouse the blood.

As she would arouse it, once she was beautiful.

“And then I’ll marry a rich man,” she told the baby strapped to her back, “and you’ll have a new cradle, and a room of your own, and you’ll learn your letters and numbers and someday you’ll be a great man too.”

Aubry burbled and Odosse laughed, taking her child’s coos for agreement.

She had just reached the last waystone when she heard something large crashing through the brush. Wary, but not yet afraid, Odosse readied her iron-capped walking stick and moved to the center of the road, where she’d have more room to swing.

Every child old enough to walk knew the dangers of the road. Wolves, bears, and great tawny hunting cats roamed Bayarn Wood, and sometimes hunger drove them to attack. Bandits terrorized the lonelier stretches of the River Kings’ Road, preying on travelers who strayed too far from the protection of the Wayfarer’s riders.

And, of course, this close to the river there was always the risk of raiders. The rival kingdoms of Langmyr and Oakharn stared hard at each other across the Seivern River. There was no love lost on either side; there hadn’t been for a hundred years, since Uvarric’s Folly. Both lands traced their heritage back to the ruined glory of Rhaelyand, both worshiped under the Bright Lady’s pillared domes, and yet Langmyrne and Oakharne hated each other with the ferocity of estranged brothers. One could never be sure when a group from one side might cross over to visit bloody horror on the other. It was that way when Odosse’s grandmother was a girl, and she expected it would still be the same when Aubry’s children grew gray. People held their hatreds dearer than their loves.

Today, however, she was not worried about Oakharne raiders. It was the wrong time of year: professional soldiers would be hard in training for the Swordsday matches, and farmers would be busy with the harvest. More importantly, it sounded like only one person was rustling through the leaves, and no raider in his right mind crossed the border alone.

“Who’s there?” Odosse called, keeping her walking stick raised.

The rustling stopped. A man’s voice answered, sounding tired and, she thought, a little angry. His accent marked him as a stranger; from where, she could not say. Not from the border lands. She knew all the local village dialects, and he had none of those. “I should ask you the same.”

“I have a stick,” she said, “and I don’t have any money, so if you’re looking for a traveler to rob, you’d best look elsewhere.”

“I'm not.” The rustling picked up again, becoming louder as the man came nearer. Before long he stepped out onto the road, shaking yellow leaves from his cloak.

He was a big man, broad-shouldered, with a face that could not have been harder if it had been hewn from stone. His bright green eyes were sharp and pitiless as a hunting cat’s, and he moved with that great predator’s grace. An angry red line scarred his jaw; it looked like the wound was freshly inflicted. A pair of dead rabbits dangled from his belt, and long knives in well-worn sheaths hung on each of his hips.

Another woman, meeting him in another place, might have thought this man handsome. But Odosse was alone on the River Kings’ Road with her baby on her back and nothing but a stick in her hands, and she felt only fear.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I don’t see how that’s your concern.”

“I’d say it is, if you plan to get there.”

She lowered her stick slowly, looking for a reason to avoid answering and finding none. He already had her on the open road; it was not as though she had to worry about an ambush ahead. “Willowfield,” she said, reluctantly.

“That the little village about two leagues west?”


“Is that where you’re from?”


He nodded, and for an instant it seemed that he looked through her, as if his thoughts had gone somewhere beyond their meeting in the wood. Then his eyes fixed back on her, unsettlingly bright, and she felt pinned like a mouse beneath a snake’s gaze. “You can’t go back there.”

Odosse stiffened. Aubry, sensing her tension, made little plaintive noises and waved his fists in the air. Her hands tightened on the iron-capped stick and she brought it up defensively, though the man had not moved. “Why not?”

He didn’t answer. Instead his eyes flicked to the baby carrier on her back, and, more slowly, back to her. The man looked her over carefully, appraising, as if he were considering a goat at the market.

Odosse felt herself reddening against her will. She knew what he saw. It was the same thing every man saw: a thick-legged, plain-faced baker’s girl with hair and eyes the color of mud. Her nose was too broad, her mouth too wide, her hands coarse with calluses. She had a strong back and good arms and she could haul water or chop wood all day without tiring, but she was not beautiful and she never had been and she never would be. The dreams of the morning crumbled to ashes under the reality of his gaze.

“Is that your baby?” the man asked.


“Who’s his father?”

“I don’t see how that’s your concern either,” she snapped, her cheeks hot.

“No,” he agreed, smiling faintly, “I don’t suppose that one is. Are you still giving milk?”

The indecency of the question shocked her. “What?”

He ignored her outrage. “Listen,” he said, as if he had decided something, “because I will only explain this once. You can’t go back to Willowfield. Your village is dead. A Thornlady and a company of armsmen killed everyone there. Everyone, do you understand me? They used bloodmist. No one survives that. Even the barn mice are dead. I don’t know who sent them or why, and I don’t know what they wanted in Willowfield. I intend to find out. But first I need to get somewhere safe, and I need to get a child safe too.”

He paused, looking hard at her, but Odosse was too astonished to respond. After a moment the man went on. “I don’t know how to care for a baby. I don’t have milk and I don’t know what else he needs. I trust that you do. I will take you to the nearest town and see that you reach it safely. In return you will tend to the baby. Do we have an agreement?”

Still Odosse said nothing. Mistaking her stunned silence for hesitation, the man added more kindly: “I don’t mean to make light of your loss. My friends died there too. But your village is dead, and the border roads are dangerous enough without Thorns on the hunt. I am your best — your only — hope of safety.”

Odosse nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Aubry began to whimper behind her.

The man gave her another brief half-smile and started down the road. After a few steps he paused and looked back over his shoulder. “Do you have any questions?”

Yes, Odosse wanted to shout, yes. What is a Thorn and who are you and how can Willowfield be dead? How can an entire village die? Mother and Father and little Aileth with her new twins, and Vostun the ostler who told japes to his horses, and the skinny old solaros who drank himself stupid after every funeral — how could they be dead? They were all well this morning.

She said none of these things. Instead she clamped her lips shut until the urge to laugh or sob or scream at the stranger had passed, and then — proud that her voice barely shook — she asked: “What is your name?”

“Brys Tarnell,” he said, and there was the beginning of respect in his eyes.


His horse was waiting by a small, crooked stream that Odosse had never seen before, though she knew Bayarn Wood as well as the palm of her hand. He’d left the animal saddled while he hunted his rabbits, and as Odosse came nearer, she was horrified to see that Brys had stuffed the baby into one of his saddlebags. The child had been bundled up in blankets until he was fat as a dumpling, dropped into the bag, and left hanging with his head poking out from the top. Miraculously, by the Bright Lady’s mercy, he appeared to be peacefully asleep.

Brys shrugged at her scandalized look. “I couldn’t take him with me, and I couldn’t leave him lying on the ground either. He seemed comfortable enough in there. Besides, he needed the sleep. He was crying all day.”

“Small wonder why,” she said darkly, and pushed past him to pull the child out.

Something was wrong with the baby. Odosse recognized that even before she had unwrapped his swaddling. The child barely moved as she pulled him from the saddlebag. His head lolled limply against her arm, and he made no sound beyond the soft whimpering shudders of his breath. Her own son was a quiet child, but Aubry had never been this still, and he had never failed to open his eyes and demand a breast when she lifted him from slumber.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

Brys raised a black brow at the worry in her voice. “Wistan.”

She made a cradle of her arms, rocking the infant to rouse him. “Wistan? Wake up, dearling, you must be hungry.”

The baby did not stir. Gently, fearfully, Odosse pried open his eyelids with the tips of her fingers. His pupils were dark and so enormous that they swallowed up the pale blue of his irises. A thin line of red stained the white of his right eye like a blood trail crossing fresh snow.

She let go of the baby’s lids. Dread thundered in her chest.

She’d only seen one infant with blood in its eyes like that: Erisse, the swineherd’s daughter, who had been laid to rest by the chapel when Odosse was a girl. Everyone knew that the swineherd beat his wife and children when he was drunk, so it was no surprise when his baby daughter suffered the same. Odosse and her mother had been paying their respects to the village solaros when the swineherd’s wife burst into the chapel, her baby barely breathing and clutched tight in her arms. The solaros had been powerless to help her, and Erisse had died before nightfall. Odosse still remembered the mother’s wailing and the baby staring blankly at the darkening sky, her eyes filling slowly with blood.

Wistan had the same emptiness in his eyes. The sight of it sent a chill down her bones.

“He’s not well,” she told Brys, carrying the infant over to the big man. She handed the baby to him while she unslung Aubry’s wicker carrier from her back and took her own son out, surreptitiously studying Brys’ handling of the infant Wistan while she did.

Brys held the child awkwardly but competently, supporting the baby’s heavy head against his arm and keeping the body secure. He looked as uncomfortable as a man handed a jar of lit clingfire, but she didn’t think he was responsible for the baby’s condition.

That was a relief, if only a small one. She still had no idea how to help the child.

Odosse untied the straps of her nursing blouse and gave Aubry a breast. She took Wistan back to offer him the other, but the baby showed no interest. When she tried to help him suckle, he turned his head away weakly as if disturbed in some deep and unpleasant dream. Seeing nothing else she could do, Odosse simply held him and crooned a soft, wordless song while Aubry fed.

After her son had finished, she took both babies down to clean and change them by the stream. Aubry shrieked and flung his fists in protest at the splash of cold water on his skin. Wistan only rolled his head from side to side and hiccuped little sobs. He never opened his eyes.

A medallion glinted from the tangled folds of Wistan's blankets. She hadn’t noticed it while preoccupied with his condition, but when she unraveled them to dry off the babies and wrap Wistan up again, it fell loose from the cloth. The medallion showed a black bull rearing on a disc of blood-red enamel set in gold. A noble’s sign, and one she knew: the emblem of Lord Ossaric of Bulls’ March, a border lord from hostile Oakharn.

That was a knight’s medallion. Why would a child have such a thing?

Brys had gutted his rabbits and gone upstream to refill his waterskin while Odosse tended to the infants. She was waiting grimly, the medallion cold and heavy in her hand, when he came back. “Who is this baby?”

His lips thinned in annoyance when he saw the medallion, but he brushed it off with a shrug. “Thought I’d taken that out. Must’ve been more distracted than I realized.”


“I didn’t lie. Wistan is his name. Wistan Galefring of Bulls’ March, if you’re feeling formal.”

Lord Ossaric’s grandson. Odosse felt faint. She didn’t recognize the child’s name, but his father’s… “Oh.”

“Does it change anything?”

“No.” It didn’t, truly. Whoever he was, the baby was a baby, and he needed her help. “You said he was crying earlier. What did it sound like?”

Brys shrugged. “Quiet. Like what he’s doing now, that little hiccupy noise. That’s not normal? I thought he just knew we might be followed.”

“He’s a baby. He can’t know that.” Odosse shook her head in wonderment at the idea. Did the man know anything about children? “No, it’s not normal. The child needs a healer. A good one, and quickly. He won’t eat, he doesn’t cry, and there’s blood in his eyes. I’ve only seen one baby like this before. She was crying too loudly, and her father grew angry. She died within hours.”

Perhaps he had suspected the same, or perhaps he had already come to trust her judgment that far, because Brys did not question her. He nodded, taking Wistan from her, and strapped the child into a makeshift carrier that looked like it had been pieced together out of a horse’s nosebag and a whip. “How good?”

“One of the Blessed,” she said quietly, knowing what an impossible thing that was to ask. “I don’t believe anyone else has the power to help him.”

Brys nodded again. He did not seem surprised. “East, then. Tarne Crossing.”


That day he led her further east than she had ever been. East was Oakharn; east was danger. The charm-crafter’s cottage was as far as any of the village girls dared go, and that was considered a journey for the foolish and desperate. But Brys Tarnell seemed utterly unconcerned by the possibility of crossing paths with armsmen from Oakharn, so Odosse tried to ignore the tension knotting her shoulders and her nervousness at every snapped twig. If he wasn’t worried, then she shouldn’t be — but it was easier to say that than to believe it. Her stick was scant protection against arrows.

The sun slid to the horizon behind them, reddening the autumn leaves and filling the trees’ boughs with fire. The slanting light drew out the faded, timeworn runes etched into the waystones they passed, heightening the starkness of that ancient and angular script. Not for the first time, Odosse wondered who had planted the waystones by the road, and what they had written on their markers. Rhaelyand, people said, speaking the name like a veneration: the old empire had laid them there. But could that be true? How could an empire capable of building a road that would last a thousand years vanish so completely? No one in her world could even read the marks anymore; no one knew what warnings or blessings they held. The stones were simply there, old as the road, strange as the bends that it took toward cities long gone.

A chill wind picked up as the day waned, bearing a hint of smoke from the west. The road curved up a high bald hill, bringing them above the forest. A broken tower crowned the hill, the weathered gray of its stones flecked with luminous white like droplets of moonlight trapped in the rock. That was no local stone; it was the same curious rock as the waystones and the half-buried blocks that paved the River Kings’ Road. The stones seemed to glow with reflected radiance, holding warmth and the memory of light a little while longer into the dark.

“We’ll stop here,” Brys said when they reached the hilltop and its jagged tower. A crow perched among the stones at its top looked down on them with a black, unfriendly eye. “We’ll find no better shelter tonight, and the walls will hide our fire.”

“They say these ruins are haunted,” Odosse said.

“So they do. Its ghosts are welcome to haunt me as much as they like, so long as they haven’t got swords.” Brys took Wistan down from his carrier and handed the baby to Odosse. He watered his horse and tethered it on the lee side of the tower, where there was grass for it to browse and some shelter from the wind. Afterward he went down to the forest to gather deadwood while Odosse saw to the babies and threaded Brys’ rabbits onto sharp sticks for roasting.

The scent of smoke was stronger up here. A foulness seemed to taint the far-off smells of woodsmoke and burnt meat. Odosse was a country girl; she was no stranger to slaughter, and she knew the smells of blood and offal and rot. There was something worse on the wind, though it was so faint that she half-thought she imagined it.

In the distance to the west she could see tiny black specks circling over the trees. Ravens, or crows, or mere figments of her imagination drifting in the blue dusk. A hazy grayness seemed to cling to the wood there, melting into shadow so that it was difficult to separate one from the other. She could see none of the tiny lights that should have burned in Willowfield after dark: none of the fires of home or hearth or temple, however hard she strained her eyes to find them.

She was still standing there, staring into the night, when Brys came back with an armload of wood. She thought he gave her an odd look as he passed, but the darkness made it hard to tell. Whatever he thought, he said nothing.

A few minutes later a spark of firelight warmed the hollow tower. Odosse turned her back on the night and went in.

Brys took the rabbits from her and set them to roasting over a small fire. Wordlessly, Odosse took out the bread and hard cheese that she’d packed for herself that morning, a seeming lifetime ago, and handed half of each to the big man. She sat on the opposite side of the fire, and they ate in silence broken only by the crackle of the flames.

He added another few chunks of deadwood to the fire after they had eaten, choosing thick, heavy pieces that would burn slow into the night.

“You were hoping it wasn’t true,” he said. “About the village.”

She nodded, although she had not fully grasped the truth of that thought until she spoke the words that gave it form. “I hoped.”

“And now?”

Odosse didn’t answer. The enormity of the question was too great for words. It was like wondering how many mouthfuls it would take to empty the sea: she knew that her grief was there, vast as that endless, never-seen water, but it did not seem possible that she would ever be able to make it small enough to swallow.

This morning she’d had a home and a hearth and a family who loved her. Now it was night, and if she believed Brys, she had nothing outside this tower. Her family, her entire world, was gone as surely as the vanished empire that had built the roads she’d walked today. In a handful of seasons, no one would remember where they had been. The forests would reclaim their stump-fringed fields, the foxes and sparrows would make nests in their houses, and no one would remember their names.

If she believed him. She didn’t want to. But there’d been no lights in the dark. Not a candle for her village. And that left her here, wondering how long it would take to drink down the sea.

She picked up Aubry and rocked him slowly to sleep, watching the firelight on his round peaceful face. In that moment she loved him with a fierceness that threatened to bring tears to her eyes. At the same time she knew that her love was a fragile thing, no greater than their tiny fire holding back the dark. Love hadn’t stopped her village from dying.

No matter. While she was there, the night would not have him.

“Who would kill Willowfield?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” Brys drew one of his knives, honing its blade by the flames. After every few strokes he ran it against his thumbnail to test its edge. “Whoever they were, they had a Thorn.”

“What’s a Thorn?”

“A Maimed Witch. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of them, though perhaps you’re too far west to have seen many of them yet. They come out of Ang’arta, where they are trained in the Tower of Thorns by her bloody highness Avele diar Aurellyn, wife to the Golden Scourge and whore to the world.” Distracted, Brys cut himself too deeply with the razor-sharp knife; he sucked blood from his thumb and spit it into the fire. “They’re sadists and killers and very, very dangerous. And not human anymore, not when they come out of that tower. The Thorns worship Kliasta, the Maiden of Pain, and the ones who survive their training have no more mercy than their mistress.”

“You know them.”

“I know of them,” he corrected, sheathing the first knife and sharpening another. “When I was younger I sold my sword around Thelyand. We had our troubles with Ang’arta’s ironlords and their pet witches there. I’ve fought them three times and those were the worst campaigns of my life, but I know they can die.”

Odosse stared at the flames, trying to make sense of what she was hearing. She knew the name of Ang’arta, but only as a distant, unreal danger, like a monster in some childhood tale. The Iron Fortress lay hundreds of leagues south and east, all the way past the Sunfallen Kingdoms. She had never laid eyes on any of its reavers, nor did she know of anyone who had.

She knew the stories, though. Everyone knew the stories. The reavers of Ang’arta went blood-mad in war, fighting past wounds that would kill ordinary men. After battles they spitted their victims on their own broken swords, so that they could die on the weapons that had failed them, and carried children back to their fortress to become reavers in turn.

Religion united them, not birthplace or language. The soldiers of Ang’arta could, and did, come from anywhere in the world. They went into the Iron Fortress as children, and they came out as the hardest soldiers in the world — fanatics willing to fight and die for Baoz, their iron-fisted god, who accepted no sacrament but war.

Those were the stories, at least, and the stories were all she knew of them. The stories made no mention of Thorns. “What would they want in Willowfield?”

“I don’t know. Thorns will kill villages, sometimes, if they need that many deaths for a spell. But there’s no reason they’d have come all the way to Langmyr for that. They’ve plenty of slaves in Ang’arta to use, and plenty of villages in what they conquered in Thelyand. Something else must have brought them here. Someone else.

“As for what that person wanted… my lord’s life, I presume. And his wife’s, and his son’s.” Brys nodded toward the tower wall, where Wistan lay quiet in his swaddling. Whether the baby slept, or languished in some fevered delirium brought on by his ailment, Odosse could not say. The red in his eye hadn’t spread, but every time she glanced in the baby’s direction she was afraid that he might have stopped breathing. “They haven’t had that last one. Yet.”

“Why?” she murmured, as much to herself as to him. She knew the name of Sir Galefrid Ossaring of Bulls’ March. Everyone on the borders did, even in a hamlet as tiny as Willowfield. Lord Ossaric of Bulls’ March held one of the most important castles on the Oakharne side of the Seivern River, and Galefrid was his eldest son. Together with his grandson Wistan, he represented the succession of a crucial domain.

And, perhaps, a turning in the politics of this part of the world. It had been rumored for weeks that Sir Galefrid might pay a visit to Langmyr. Some claimed he intended to go all the way to High King Theodemar's castle at Craghail. Others said that he was only going to Lord Inguilar’s stronghold at Thistlestone for the Swordsday matches — not so deep into Langmyr, but still enough to show a wish for reconciliation between the two nations. The details remained a mystery to Odosse, but like everyone else in her village, she had heard the rumors and understood, vaguely, that Sir Galefrid’s visit meant a small step toward peace.

If he was dead, and dead on Langmyrne soil, those hopes would wither on the vine. More: the deaths could be taken as a provocation toward war, not just on the border but all the way to King Raharic’s seat in Isencras. The murder of a new mother, and her baby, and an entire village on the border… the atrocities could easily inflame either side. Or both.

“Who profits by war?” she asked.

Brys looked up from his blade and gave her a half-smile, grimly pleased she had worked it out so far. “I do. So do all my kind. Little call for sellswords in peaceful times. Nor for arms out of Ironfell, or horses from Mirhain, or any of a thousand other needs of war. Ang’arta will sell you companies of the cruelest mercenaries in Ithelas, and Seawatch will loan you coin to pay them. Everyone profits save the lands being fought upon, so we’ve no shortage of suspects there — and that supposes the killings were done to plunge the border into war. Might just be that a Langmyrne lord with money to match his resentments saw an opportunity and hired a Thorn to seize it.”

“No,” Odosse whispered, shaking her head.

“No?” Brys echoed, his green eyes glittering with mockery. “You grew up on the border. Can you truly tell me the old hatreds don’t run that deep?”

She could not. There wasn’t a family in Willowfield that hadn’t been scarred by the enmity between Oakharn and Langmyr; there wasn’t a soul she knew who couldn’t tell a story about a crippled relative, or a dead friend, or a proudly held ancestor who’d done worse to the Oakharne in revenge. But it was still impossible that anyone could hate so fiercely that he would kill a village of his countrymen to get at a baby from the wrong side of the border.

“No,” she said again, but this time she could barely hear the word.

Brys didn’t seem to hear her at all. He yawned and stretched out by his side of the fire, wrapping himself in his dark green cloak. “Get some sleep,” he advised, pulling a saddlebag under his head as a pillow. “It’ll be a longer day tomorrow.”

Odosse tried to follow his lead, making herself as comfortable as she could with what she had. She kept Aubry cradled to her chest, and brought Wistan close to share the warmth of her body. Sleep eluded her, though. She watched the fireshadows dance on the tower walls, and looked up at the moon shining bright through wind-tattered clouds, and wondered how her world had changed so much in a day.

Again her thoughts brushed against the vastness of loss and recoiled from it. She wasn’t ready to grapple with that yet. Instead she found herself thinking of smaller things, simpler ones, something closer to routine in a life where that word no longer had meaning.


Tomorrow would find her on the road, one day closer to Tarne Crossing. Odosse wasn’t sure how far that was, exactly; it lay across the river, in enemy land, and she had never been there. But others in her village had, and she had heard their tales.

In good years, when there hadn’t been any killings to stir up tempers, people from Willowfield sometimes went to Tarne Crossing to trade. They said it wasn’t as bad as the little villages where the people had a lifetime of grievances to nurse, or the towns deeper in Oakharn where they’d never seen a Langmyrne except when their lords called them to war. In Tarne Crossing were travelers and traders and people who lived on the border but didn’t have roots in its blood-soaked soil. It was as safe as anywhere in Oakharn.

She was a fool for going to Oakharn at all, though. Odosse shook her head at the thought. Aubry burbled sleepily, and she chided herself for disturbing the babies’ rest.

Still. It was foolish. Outside of Willowfield she had neither kin nor friends, but at least in a Langmyrne village she didn’t have to worry about being thrown into the river with a millstone necklace for having the wrong accent. Brys seemed competent, but she barely knew the man and she could hardly rely on him. He would take her to the next town; that was the extent of their bargain. So why had she agreed to go?

Because of Wistan.

It was that simple, Odosse realized as she lay awake in the night. She was willing to travel with Brys, to go into the kingdom of her enemies at a time when they would be calling for Langmyrne heads, because a baby needed her help. Unwise as it was, she looked at Wistan and saw a child like her son. She couldn’t refuse his need.

That he was the child of her enemies didn’t matter. That her people might be blamed for the death of his family didn't matter. Wistan was a baby; he had no part in such things. He needed her — and, like her, like Aubry, he had no one else to help.

She would go to Oakharn for that.

A small lump poked into her side. Odosse reached down, expecting to find a pebble under her cloak, but it was the charm-crafter’s bottle instead. She pulled out the tiny blue bottle, almost black in the firelight, and tilted it so that the liquid sloshed inside. A whisper of fragrance, rich as a king’s incense, stole out into the night.

She had wanted so badly to be beautiful. She had been so happy to hand the wrinkled old charm-crafter her hard-earned pennies, so happy to listen with a heart full of hopes to her promises… but all along she had known, in the secret depths of her soul, that what she was buying was more wish than truth. There was no magic in the world. Not for someone like her. Still, it had been nice to hold that dream, to tell herself that story while walking with her baby through an autumn wood.

Odosse squeezed the bottle tighter, feeling her heartbeat against the glass, and pushed it deep to the bottom of her pocket. Autumn was failing, and Aubry didn’t need her to be beautiful. He needed her to be clever and careful and strong.