Chapter no 15

A Dawn of Onyx

Without thinking I moved toward him, hands outstretched.

No, no, no, no

Griffin grabbed me by the arm, yanking me backward. “What do you think you’re doing?” he whispered.

I felt frantic. The tent was far too hot, the candles suffocating.

“I know him!” I whispered back. “He’s a friend, there has to be some kind of mistake.”

I couldn’t believe he was alive. And here in Onyx. And imprisoned. And

Griffin’s hold on my arm tightened. “You have to get out of here, now.” He stepped in front of me, shielding me behind him, but it was too late.

“Arwen?” croaked Halden. His hair was a dirty mop on his head, painted red with blood. His nose was swollen, his cheek bruised—but his brown eyes looked just as they had the day he left for battle. Round, sincere, and pained.

“Shut up.” The soldier behind him smacked him across the back of his head.

“Stop that!” I couldn’t stand to see Halden like this. I lunged forward again.

Kane whirled to me. “You know this boy?”

Before I could speak, Halden answered. “She was going to be my wife.” I went still.

The entire tent did.

Halden, you Stones-damned idiot.

Kane looked positively livid, and even Griffin had gone pale.

“No, that’s not…It’s not exactly—” Words were not coming to my brain in time.

Kane didn’t even wait for me to finish. He stalked over to Halden, eerily calm. “You love this woman?”

Halden looked right at me with fervor. “More than anything.”

Bleeding. Stones.

Kane nodded curtly. “Good.” Then he looked to the soldiers behind Halden, “Kill him.”

“No!” I shouted.

Did anyone else hear that ringing in their ears? What was happening right now?

“Are you out of your mind?” I pleaded.

But Kane had stopped looking at me. He sauntered over to his leather chair and picked up a glass of dark liquid, sipping slowly. Leisurely, as I struggled.

The soldiers began to drag Halden and the other two young men away. “Stop!” I raged. “Right now!”

But Griffin’s hold on my arm was like a metal cuff. He wasn’t even straining to keep me in place.

Kane studied my face, cold and unfeeling as tears brimmed in my eyes. The boy to Halden’s right began to plead and the one on his left loosed urine down his leg as he shook. Kane said nothing as I wailed in earnest.

No, no, no. Please, no—

Finally, Griffin interjected. “My King. May I suggest we discuss the benefits of keeping even one of these rodents alive? They may have some information of value. Shall we let them rot in the dungeon while we confer?”

Kane rolled his eyes and tensed his jaw, taking another sip of his drink, but eventually he nodded to the lieutenant. “As the commander wishes. Take them to the dungeons for now.”

All three prisoners let out tandem exhales. Halden’s eyes never left mine. He mouthed something to me before being pulled out of the tent, but I couldn’t see through the blur of saltwater in my eyes. Kane seemed to catch

whatever it was though and sneered in disgust.

“Everyone out,” Kane said with a snarl. The room quickly emptied, leaving just Kane, Griffin, and myself.

I was going to pummel Kane’s cruel, bored face.

Griffin let go of my arm, and I launched myself at him.

“You are a monster. What is wrong with you?” I seethed. “You were going to kill those boys? They’re barely men! And you knew I knew him? Cared for him? I can’t even look at you.” I just barely managed to stop myself from throwing my fist into his arrogant, despicable face. I would not stoop to his level again.

Kane studied me with cruel indifference. The only signs of his rage were his hands balled into fists, the skin of his knuckles white with pressure.

“They killed my men. They killed innocents. That doesn’t bother you?” he asked with quiet venom.

I shook my head. “You don’t know anything for sure. You sentenced them to die without a second thought. How can anyone who rules a kingdom be so impulsive?”

“The healer’s right, actually,” Griffin interrupted. “That was supremely stupid, my friend.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “Thank you!” I turned back to the king, emphatic. “We can’t just kill people whenever we feel like it, Kane.”

Griffin shook his head. “No, now we absolutely have to kill them.” “Exactly. Wait—what?” I spun back to Griffin. “Why?”

Griffin sighed and poured himself a glass of whiskey. “Kane just showed his hand. Your lover tested him, and he failed. Now all three men know that the king of the Onyx Kingdom cares for his healer, and that gives Kane a weakness. They can’t live knowing that information, I’m sorry.”

My head was swimming. There was far too much going on. Was Griffin right? Was Kane’s violence due to Halden’s implication that he and I had been in love back in Abbington? And did Halden do that on purpose? In hopes of saving his own skin? Did he know, somehow, in just the few minutes he was in here, that Kane valued me?

I was an idiot. Of course he did. Why else would I be in this tent with the

King’s army, seated directly next to Kane, draped in an Onyx dress, black ribbons in my hair, sipping lavender whiskey with the rest of them…unless Kane had valued me?

I was a dirty traitor.

I slumped down into a leather chair and stared at the floor. Kane turned to Griffin. “They were dead men walking, regardless. If they made it to the vault, they already know too much to be allowed to go back to Gareth.”

I began to weep.

I couldn’t help it. I hadn’t thought of Halden at all in quite some time, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him dead.

It was too horrible to fathom, the ending of his life. And it somehow being my fault.

Kane considered me with a quiet rage. “I’m sorry, Arwen. About the man you love.”

I peered up at him through tears, furious. “I never said I was in love with him. He is one of my oldest friends from childhood. One of my brother’s best friends.”

“No wonder he’s a thief too,” Griffin mumbled into his drink. I ignored him.

“He’s like family,” I continued. “I haven’t seen him since the day he was sent off to battle your soldiers in your bleeding, pointless war!”

I was getting hysterical, my pulse ratcheting up in my ears.

“But he’s in love with you and planned to wed you?” Kane pressed. “That’s not the point!”

“I’m curious.”

Too bad, I thought. But I took a deep breath. As my mother always said, more flies with honey than vinegar. If there was ever a time to coax out the best part of Kane, the version of him from our day in the pond, it was this very moment.

“Yes, fine. We were—romantic. But then he left, and I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. I thought it was just for fun, not that he ever thought that way about me.”

Kane softened slightly. “How could he not?”

“Please,” I begged. “Don’t kill him.”

Griffin looked nauseated. “I think it’s time the healer returned to her quarters, don’t you?”


After a fitful night of sleep, I woke before daybreak and made my way down the stairs. My cloak fought against the morning chill, and I blew hot air into my hands. I had smuggled a few slices of bread, some dried meats, a needle and some bandages with me and wrapped them in the fur draped around my body.

I had to find a way to see Halden, and I figured sticking as close to the truth as possible was likely my best way in.

“Morning,” I chirped to the young guard on duty. “Just visiting the prisoner.”

“Which prisoner?”

I feigned confusion. “Mathis. The one with the festering wound.” Enough time spent in a kingdom run by a liar, and the lies were coming to me easily now.

“Who are you again?”

“I’m Arwen. The healer. Commander Griffin sent me here to stitch Mathis up.” I waved my medical supplies at the guard.

His brows knit together, lips pursed in doubt.

“All right, suit yourself,” I said with a sigh. “I don’t want to be working this early anyway.” I turned to leave, then spun around. “If Mathis dies of blood loss before they can get information out of him, just tell Commander Griffin you didn’t recognize the prison healer. I’m sure he’ll understand. He’s such a warm, forgiving man.”

I started walking and held my breath. After a slew of grumbling, the guard finally shouted after me. “Fine, fine, just make it quick.”

I was delighted, but plastered a mask of boredom on my face before turning around. “Thanks, shouldn’t be too long.”

Inside, the cells were as soggy and miserable as I remembered. My heart ached for Halden—it had been the most hopeless I had ever felt, inside

these walls.

I found his cell faster than I could have hoped. His white-blond hair stood out among all the grey. He was sleeping in a heap, shivering and caked in dried blood. I hissed his name until he woke with a start.

“Arwen, what are you doing here?” He looked dreadful. His eye was now swollen shut and a bruise the size of a squash blossomed on his chin.

“I brought you some things.”

I pulled out the contraband and slipped it through the bars, not unlike what Kane had done for me so long ago. I pushed the memory from my mind.

Halden reached for the bundle and his bruised knuckles brushed over my fingers. My hands itched to hold him, to comfort him.

“Thank you.” He looked over the items and tucked them behind a bucket. “But I didn’t mean what are you doing down here in the cells. How did you end up at the Onyx Kingdom’s outpost?”

“It’s a long story. But I’m safe. I’ll tell you all about it when we have more time.”

“I doubt I have much time left at all.”

“Don’t think like that. We’ll figure something out.” He studied me curiously. “You seem different.”

I felt my cheeks go hot. “How so?”

He looked uncomfortable. “I’m not sure. What have they done to you?”

Something like defensiveness bubbled up. Halden had a way of reminding me of Powell on occasion. Making me feel small. “Nothing. They’ve been surprisingly kind, actually.” It was the truth.

“Yeah, I saw that,” Halden’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe you can reason with the king. He cares for you, you know. You should have seen his face when I called you my wife. He looked like I’d killed his pet.”

For whatever reason, I thought of the Strix. My lips twitched thinking of Kane’s relationship with the foul beast—teaching it to come when called and how to do tricks. Bleeding Stones, how did I still feel anything warm and gooey for the man?

Halden. I had to focus on Halden.

“Why did you say I was to be your wife? We never spoke of things like that.”

Halden bit his nail in thought. “I did hope when I returned, we might be married.” I waited for him to continue. “But when I saw you in there, unchained, not as a servant, seated directly next to the king… I knew you were in some kind of position of power here. I thought if I tied myself to you, I might be spared.”

Something like unease spread through me, oily and cloying. So Griffin had been right. Halden was surprisingly more manipulative than I thought. I never knew that side of him. I guessed he was doing what he needed to survive.

“Maybe.” I let the thought linger, unsure how to finish. I wasn’t sure if I wanted Halden to be right, if I wanted Kane to feel that way about me, anymore.

“Trust me. If he didn’t care for you, I’d be dead right now.” Something about his assertion drained the color from my face. “Why? What did you do?”

Halden jerked back as if I had slapped him. “What did do? I’m fighting for our home.”

But still, my gut told me his words had meant more than he intended to share with me. “Last night. They said you killed three innocent bystanders. Is that true?”

“Arwen,” his eyes were so wounded. “Of course not. How can you believe anything those beasts say? And about me?”

Shame heated my face. “I don’t know. Why would they lie?”

Halden bit at his nail again. “Why? Because they’re demons, Arwen. They’ve clearly gotten to you already. I don’t know why you’re here, but I promise, I’ll get you out. I told you last night I’d save you.” He looked at me earnestly and I tried to feel something positive: hope, love, relief. But all I felt was nausea.

“We have a plan,” he continued, nodding toward the cells to his right in which the other two Amber men slept. “We just need some kind of commotion. Can you think of anything that might spread the guards out?”

I wracked my brain, but nothing came to mind. “It’s pretty isolated here.

What’s your plan?”

He shook his head as if to calm his own frantic thoughts. “Once something comes up that might work, you’ll find a way to tell me, yeah? I can explain then. And get us both out of here.”

Footsteps echoed down into the cells from the top of the stairs.

“Yes. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open. In the meantime, stay alive.” I turned to run.

“Arwen!” he rasped. I turned and looked back at his hands curled around the cell bars. “I’ve really missed you.”

I waited for my heart to leap at his words, but it never did.

Instead, I gave him an almost-smile and hurried out, winding my way up the musty stairs and past the young guard.

“Handled?” he asked.

“What?” My mind was still reeling from my encounter with Halden. It had not been at all what I was expecting… “Oh. Oh! Yes, Martin is all healed. Thanks.”


Shit. “Mathis! Oops. Too early for me, back to bed I go!” I scurried away before the suspicious look on his face could become anything else.

Halfway back to my quarters, I slowed down to catch my breath.

Halden didn’t seem the same. But hadn’t he said the same about me, too? How could I judge him? Who knew what horrors he had seen on the battlefield? My heart hurt for him. For all he had been through.

Crossing the stone courtyard, I noticed the sun peek over the castle spires. A soft, lilac-scented wind blew my hair from my face. Despite the horribleness of the past few hours, the quiet dawn brought me some strange peace.

“This is my favorite time of day,” a deep voice crooned behind me. “The sun rising over the castle feels like a fresh start. A rebirth.”

I closed my eyes. I did not have the mental energy for this man right now. “Please,” I whispered. “Leave me alone.”

“I behaved abominably last night. I let my rage consume me. It wasn’t

befitting of a king. Or a man, frankly.” I hesitated, then turned to face Kane.

My heart almost couldn’t take the sight of him.

He looked as if he hadn’t slept all night, his hair disheveled, his eyes red. And still he was nearly too handsome to behold.

Exhaustion lined his expression as he regarded me. “I am so sorry,” he said, his voice weary. “And for whatever it’s worth, you were incredible in the forum. As brilliant as you are beautiful.”

My traitorous heart tried to soar, but I caught it and crammed it back down. No warm feelings for the sweet-talking king today. Absolutely none. “Did you follow me this morning?”

“No.” He paused. “But I know you went to see the boy. Arwen, he’s not who you think he is.”

I was so tired of there being so much I didn’t know. “Really? Enlighten me.”

Kane’s brows creased, troubled. He weighed his words carefully before answering. “I’m not sure I can trust you, bird.”

If I rolled my eyes any harder, they would have lodged in my skull. “You can’t trust me?”

He laughed bitterly. “I’m aware of our history. But I have never lied to you.”

“What? What about the entire ‘I’m a prisoner, too’ façade?” “I didn’t mention my royal lineage, but I never lied.”

“And I haven’t lied to you, Kane.”

He stepped closer and I flinched back reflexively. His face fell.

“Last night, you arrived at the forum in Onyx colors, referred to my people as ours and this kingdom as we.”

My stomach twisted. He was right. Before Halden’s capture, I had been starting to feel like a part of this land. I had made an unexpected home here. Kane noticed the shift in my attitude and continued, outrage twisting his face.

“Then, your lover shows up at my home, kills my people, and tries to take what is mine. You fight for him, steal for him, and plot to help him escape,

and tell me that isn’t lying?”

My stomach jumped into my throat. “I thought you weren’t following me.”

“I have eyes all over this castle. How could you have expected any less?” Kane stalked past me, fury rippling off of him.

Heat lit my face. I should have known he’d never actually leave me unguarded. I clenched my teeth against the rage.

“I’m not ‘yours,’ by the way.” I wasn’t even sure why I said it. I wanted him to hurt, too.

He faced me, but his expression gave nothing away. “Of course not.” “You just said, ‘take what is mine.’

Kane pinned a cruel grin on me. “Well, aren’t we cocky? I wasn’t actually referring to you. Would you like me to have been?”

The words stung more than I anticipated they would.

“No, of course not,” I said, shaking my head emphatically to further prove my point. “I don’t even know you.”

The corner of his mouth quirked in a sly grin. “Well, when you’ve forgiven me for my outburst, we’ll have to remedy that.”

I was never going to forgive him for sentencing Halden to die. “So you aren’t going to kill them, even after what Griffin said?”

“Not yet.”


Dinner hour in the great hall was boisterous and full of life, but I could barely look up from my stew of eggplant and bell peppers. Mari watched me carefully, as she had all day, until she couldn’t take it anymore.

“All right, Arwen. Enough. What is going on with you?”

I laid my head down on the cool wood and made a guttural noise into the table.

“Sorry, I don’t speak miserable. Talk to me.”

I looked up at Mari. Her freckle-dusted face was stern, but underneath that I only felt empathy and warmth. I heaved a sigh. “It’s kind of a lot.”

Mari looked relieved. “I’m all ears.”

I told Mari the entire saga. How maybe, despite my realizing it, I had developed a slight crush on the king. How much I had appreciated his wartime forum, and the respect I felt for his egalitarian process. How I was just starting to find my footing here, and with him, when Halden was captured. How much I despised him now, more than I ever had before. How Kane had agreed to spare his life for the time being. How I knew I had to help Halden escape before he changed his mind.

“There’s no other way. He’ll die here if I don’t help him get out somehow.”

Mari chewed her food slowly, processing. “The king hasn’t been seen with any women in weeks. It’s all over the castle. I wonder if that’s because of you.”

“Yeah, right,” I chided. “I haven’t heard any such thing.”

“Yeah, because you don’t talk to anyone but me. I’m telling you: there is no shortage of beautiful women around here who would love to be the Queen of Onyx. Or just to sleep with him. They have been throwing themselves at him ever since he arrived at the keep. His reputation was well known, and they are very disappointed.”

I tried with every cell in my body to feel nothing at all.

“Well, that’s not the point, Mar. Forget Kane. What about Halden?”

Mari rolled her eyes. “Didn’t I say the king’s wartime tactics weren’t foolproof? Now his own subject,” she pointed at herself with theatrical flair. “Is going to help commit treason to save a boy’s life. We’ll get him out, don’t worry about it.”

I raised a brow. “Please, do share.”

She gave me a classic Mari look, equal parts coolly self-assured and itching with excitement. “I was actually dying to tell you this all day, but you were in a funk. I was waiting until I could get the full range of Arwen excitement. The night before the eclipse, King Eryx of Peridot is coming here with his daughter. King Ravenwood is throwing a banquet for their arrival. There will be food, wine, liquor—everyone will be caught up in the revelry, if not completely smashed!”

I must have been missing something. Mari watched me eagerly waiting

for my ‘full range of excitement’ to kick in. When it didn’t, she continued impatiently. “Everyone, including most of the dungeon guards! We never have festivals or celebrations out here in the middle of the woods. They will be preoccupied and Halden can make his escape.”

I shot her a stern glance and looked around to make sure nobody in the great hall had heard us, but the rowdy dinner crowd kept the long tables nearby at a high decibel.

“Whoops,” she said sheepishly.

“Now I just have to figure out how to tell Halden.” “I think I can help with that too.”

“Mari, you’re a lifesaver.”

“Quite literally, huh?” she laughed, but I didn’t have high enough hopes yet to join her.

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