Turning to me, he took my face in his hands. “I’m sorry I can’t take you to Isolte. But . . . I can take you to Eradore.”
I sucked in a breath. “We’re going? Do you mean it?”
He nodded. “I have to turn in two hunting knives by the end of next week, and once they’re done, we’re setting off for the coast.”
I flew at him, draping my arms around him. “Thank you!”
“I told you, I want to give you everything I can. This is only the beginning.”
“Hollis, might I borrow you for a moment?” Lady Eastoffe asked, coming up behind me.
“I can go greet more guests,” Silas offered.
“You’re going to have a very spoiled wife,” I warned him.
“Good!” he called, walking cheerfully to greet the closest couple.
“My Lady Eastoffe,” his mother greeted me, and I giggled with delight.
“It’s true! I’m finally an Eastoffe.”
“Just as you should be.” She wrapped an arm around me. “Before things get too hectic in here, I wanted to talk a moment. Would you join me outside?”
She nodded her head toward the door, and we made our way into the garden. The sections toward the back were still a little overgrown, but anything a guest might see looked pristine. The tall, thick walls of shrubs made a perfect place to wander and think, and I had spent much of my time out here in the sun over the last two weeks. Now that very sun was setting over the horizon, leaving the sky a beautiful shade of purple.
“It does my heart good to see you and Silas settled. Now no one can argue over your place, and I think it helps us, too. We’re tied to Coroa forever,” she said with a smile.
“It felt like such a tangled mess to get here, like it was going to be impossible. But look! It’s done. And people came to witness it, to be friendly. My parents are here. . . . It’s unbelievably perfect.”
“It is,” she agreed. “And I hope you remember this moment for the rest of your life. Marriage can be challenging, but if you can always come back to this place, to the love, to the vows, then everything will work itself out.”
“I’ll remember that. Thank you.”
She smiled, stopping. “Anytime. Now, the wedding makes things official, but there are other traditions that need to be honored as well. And it’s good luck to have something old, so I’m passing this on to you.”
Lady Eastoffe reached down to her right hand and slid a large sapphire ring off her finger, holding it up in the fading daylight. “This ring was once worn by a great man in Isolte. It was given to his fifth-born child—his third son—and it has been passed down through the Eastoffe family for generations. I know our past means little here, but it is deep and rich. One day, I will sit and tell you all the old stories. For now, you must wear this, and you must wear it with pride.”
She had stories for me. And I suspected Silas had tales of his own. Soon, they would be woven into my life as our histories became intertwined.
My fingers trembled as I reached out for this ring, one more thread in the tapestry. “It’s beautiful. But are you sure? Shouldn’t Scarlet have this?”
“I have other things to pass to her. But you are the wife of my eldest son, as I am the wife of an eldest son. It’s a tradition. And we Isoltens are nothing if not traditional.”
“So I’ve seen.” As I spent more time in the Eastoffes’ home, I saw how they did everything they could to preserve their way of life. There were dozens of little details in how they executed day-to-day tasks, and each one was accompanied by an explanation of its importance, delivered with great care. “If this is the custom, then I will take it. As long as you’re positive Scarlet won’t be upset.”
Lady Eastoffe embraced me. “Putting this on your hand establishes you as part of our line; she will be overjoyed.”
“You make it sound so—”
We were pulled away from our moment by a high-pitched wave of screams.
“What’s that?” I asked.
We had wandered farther out into the tall bushes of the garden than I’d realized, and we couldn’t see the house. As the screaming continued, we raced through the bushes, trying to understand. We crept up to the edge of a high wall of shrubbery, peeking around the side. There were at least a dozen horses by the entryway.
“They came for us,” Lady Eastoffe breathed in horror. “They finally came.”
THEY. THANKS TO VALENTINA, I knew exactly who they were.
“The Darkest Knights,” I breathed so quietly I didn’t think Lady Eastoffe heard me.
There were more screams, and I impulsively started running again. Silas was in there. Before I could get too far I was thrown to the ground. I heard my veil rip as I fell.
“What are you doing?” I asked, beginning to cry. “We have to help them!”
“Shhh!” she insisted, covering my mouth until I settled long enough to hear her. “What do you think you could do? We have no horses, no swords, no nothing. My husband and yours would command us to stay in place if they could, and so we shall.”
“That’s our family in there!” I insisted. “That’s our family!”
She dragged me back behind the cover of some topiaries, and I kicked the whole way. I would not be kept from Silas.
“Look at me, Hollis!” I stopped fighting long enough to meet her eyes, and what I saw shook me to my core. How quickly she had gone from proud to broken, from lovely to disheveled. “If you think this isn’t breaking me, you’re wrong. But Dashiell and I, we made a deal. We made plans. And if one of us could ever make it out alive, that was what we had to do. . . .”
She pulled back skinny branches to see what she could. It was a shocking contrast, the beautiful sky, the scent of the flowers . . . and the violent shouts filling the air.
“Why won’t you run? Why would you even make such a plan?”
When she didn’t answer, I moved to stand, but she was on top of me again in an instant.
“I made promises to Silas, too. Now stay down!”
At the sound of his name, I stilled. Why in the world would Silas have a plan for me? Why didn’t I know about it? Why was I cowering in the grass when he might be dying?
I covered my ears. I could hear the grunts of fighting still, and I wished I could yell out, to tell everyone to stop. But it seemed I’d already risked too much, and I couldn’t bring danger to someone who had made vows to protect me.
“I don’t understand,” I insisted, over and over, whimpering out the words. “Why aren’t we helping?”
She said nothing, only carefully looking beyond the bushes when she thought it was safe and then quickly darting back. Her hands were safely locked on to me, ready to hold me down again if I threatened to run.
I remembered what Silas had said. He’d told me the Darkest Knights’ destruction was absolute. I wanted to vomit at the thought of Silas enduring absolute destruction.
The horror felt like it went on for an eternity. I tried to will Silas into living, into surviving whatever had just happened. Then I felt instantly guilty that my thoughts were of him and not anyone else. Saul still had so much living to do, and Sullivan was such a gentle soul that being in the room alone was probably enough to ruin him. And maybe my parents weren’t perfectly content, but that didn’t mean they didn’t deserve more time to try.