“Before we sat to eat, I sent out riders. I was worried. They met with mother in her coach just outside of Westwatch. But Harrow wasn’t with her. She said he’d wanted to stop in Carron before coming here and she couldn’t say no—of course not, not to her darling Harrow. So she let him go. His horse and guard were found gutted just outside of Carron. There’s no sign of Harrow.”
“Carron, why was he—”
“Aria,” I stop Eldas. “He went to see Aria perform. She mentioned to me that she was performing in Carron with the Troupe of Masks as the start of performances leading up to the Coronation.” I look between the two men. “How far is Carron?”
“It’s up the wall, an hour from Westwatch,” Drestin answers.
“You should stay here,” Eldas says firmly.
“I’m coming,” I insist with such force that I can almost hear it echoing in their thick skulls. “You two will need me.”
Drestin glances between Eldas and me, eyebrows arched with a somewhat surprised look. Rinni might be familiar with Eldas’s and my comfortable rapport. But it seems Drestin is not yet. “Your Majesty—”
I ignore his surprise and wave off his objection. “Is there a gate to the fae lands in Carron?”
“No,” Eldas answers.
“No way to cross the wall?” I press.
“No,” Eldas repeats.
“Well…” his brother starts, earning an arched brow from Eldas. “There were reports of places where the wall has been weakened. Farmers talking, spreading rumors of fae getting through. But I’ve yet to confirm…”
My mind is moving as fast as my frantic hands. While the men speak, I finish off the potion I was making and jar it, placing it in a leather satchel I steal off of a peg by the doors out to the gardens. I leave them for a moment to search the gardens for anything fresh I might need for magic or emergency healing.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any heartroot. It seems Willow’s early mention of the plant being incredibly rare holds true.
“Luella, stay—” Eldas tries to say as I reenter the laboratory.
“I already told you both, I’m coming.” I stare both elves in their cerulean eyes, trying to communicate with my wide, planted stance alone that this isn’t a negotiation. “I have information you may need.”
“What could that possibly be?” Drestin asks.
“We’re wasting time, just trust me.” I look to Eldas. “Please.”
He gives a small nod and holds out his hand. “To Carron.”
My fingers close around Eldas’s. Together, we step into the dark mist that rises from underneath Eldas’s feet. We Fadewalk to a muddy road a short walk away from a town about the size of Capton. Drestin emerges from a plume of mist at our side. Dark swirls whorl in the air for just a moment before dissipating on the wind and leaving a man where they once were.
Carron is snug against the wall, just as Drestin said. Much like Westwatch, there’s a bridge that crosses this thinner span of river. If I were a fae looking to sneak something into the elves’ territory, this would certainly be the place I’d try and do it.
In the fields to the far right of town, tents have been erected. They glow from within, their colors shining like candy in the glittering darkness that follows in the night after rain. Flags made small by distance flutter in the nighttime breeze. We can hear cheers faintly across the fields.
“Go and investigate the Troupe of Masks,” Eldas commands his brother. “Look for any signs of foul play there.”
“I’m going to the scene of the crime.” Eldas doesn’t wait for Drestin to respond; we’re already moving through the Fade again.
We emerge a little bit down the road at a scene of butchery. One horse has been flayed open, its entrails spilled out. Its rider—a guard whose face I don’t recognize, but wears the city armor of Quinnar—has been ripped nearly in half.
“Wolves?” I ask, noting the claw marks.
“This is no wolf,” Eldas says darkly. “Those are fae claws.”
I shudder and think back to the antlered creature in the alleyway. So fae can have wings, and horns, and claws. They’re the creatures that haunted my nightmares, not elves.
Eldas crouches down, looking for any hints as to who might have done this or what happened to Harrow. I keep staring at the dead elf: eyes wide, blood pooled in the mud. I pull my gaze away and sweep it across the plains that surround the road. In my mind, I try and recreate the scene that transpired.
There is no place to hide, which means Harrow and his guard would’ve had to see their attackers coming. Fae glamour? I look down at the road. No.
“Eldas, something isn’t right here.”
“Yes,” he growls. “My brother might be dead!” Eldas rises with his voice. “Something is very wrong. We need to search the area. They can’t have made it far.”
I remain calm in the face of his rage and panic. I’ve had families take out their grief over sick relatives on me. Worry twists the hearts of men into something unrecognizable. But better sense ultimately prevails, sooner or later.
“Look.” I point to the road. “It rained during dinner, which means any fae glamour wouldn’t have worked. You said fresh water washes it away, right?” He pauses, slowly nodding. I continue, “Additionally, any footprints should have also been washed away. Here’s ours. Then, there’s these…” Deep divots of pooled water collect in two sets of footprints. One set are boots, the other are paws larger than any I’ve ever seen. Larger than Hook’s.
Speaking of… I raise my fingers to my lips and give out a shrill whistle.
“Hook, come,” I command. The wolf bounds from between the shadows of the night. It’s good to see him again after a few days—good to know he’ll still come when I call. But this is not the cuddly Hook I know. He lets out a low growl at the carnage. His eyes are alert and his ears press flat to his head. “Hook.” I draw his attention to me. “Can you find Harrow for us?”
Per usual, Hook seems to understand my command. He walks over to the horses, sniffing around them. As I presume—hope—Hook is picking up Harrow’s scent, Eldas asks, “What’re you getting at?” I can see him trying to shake the worry from his mind so he can think clearly once more.
“I think the bodies were put here.”
“To throw us off and have us waste time searching along the fields and roads.” I look back to Carron. “Harrow was off to see Aria perform. Aria, presumably, knew he would come. She could’ve tipped off a fae party he was on his way.”
“Aria wouldn’t act against her family. Harming Harrow hurts her father’s chances.”
My suspicions persist strongly despite this reminder. But airing them now won’t help. “She might have done it unintentionally, said the wrong thing to the wrong person?”
Eldas grumbles at the idea of his brother being betrayed, but finally doesn’t object.
“We need to search the city.” I grip the bag at my side tightly and the jars of herbs I brought with me clank softly around lose plants. When do I tell Eldas that I’m worried about what state we might find Harrow in? How much longer can I keep Harrow’s secret before it’s a detriment to him? “Take us there.”
Eldas says nothing and grasps my hand. I bury my free fingers into Hook’s fur and we three step through the Fade onto the muddy streets of Carron. Immediately, Hook’s nose is to the ground.
He sniffs along the road, tracking back and forth until he seems to have a scent.
“I can go with Hook, you can search—”
“I’m not leaving you,” Eldas says firmly and strides off after Hook.
The small town is eerily silent. Every resident has locked up and gone to see the Troupe of Masks perform. The liquid shine from lamplights catches on dark windowpanes and hangs on corners, casting alleyways in darker, more ominous shadows than I have ever seen.
It would be a perfect time to attack a prince. Harrow was lured in by Aria and, if my suspicion is correct, the appeal of glimmer she might have been providing him. I can imagine him walking these silent streets, telling his guard to hang back while the deal was done to preserve his secret. I imagine his shadow lingering in the alleyway Hook leads us down. I imagine money exchanging hands for glimmer while his guard was gutted. Aria smiling sweetly, knowing she’d joined the Troupe of Masks for the sole purpose of this first performance venue—to get Harrow so close to the fae lands.
By the time Harrow knew anything, it was too late.
“I don’t understand.” Eldas keeps his voice hushed. He moves with almost cat-like grace and quiet. “Harrow should have been able to overpower a few fae. He has as much of a connection with the Veil as Drestin does and, while he might be dense, he’s smart enough not to fall for their half-truths.”
“Unless it was more than a few fae?” And unless he’d ingested so much glimmer that it put him out of his right mind.
“With his guard—”
“Unless he told his guard to wait elsewhere.”
“Why would he do that?” Eldas stops to face me. My expression must betray something, because his eyes narrow. “What do you know?”
I’ve said too much, and I know it. “I don’t know anything other than we have to find Harrow.”
“You’re lying to me,” he hisses. His brow is furrowed with anger, but his eyes are wounded. “I know you well enough that I know how the air shifts around you when you try to deceive.”
I swallow hard. “There’s no time now—”
“Tell me the essentials, then.”
“I’m trying to respect my patient,” I say weakly.
“This is a command.”