Chapter no 17

A Dawn of Onyx

Despite my love for the warm, fragrant evening breeze I had come to know as summer wind, it wasn’t doing much to calm my nerves. I had finally gotten Mari to share her ‘plan’, which turned out to be a complex

spell she needed to get just right.

Today she was ready to give it a try.

“All right. One more time please,” I said, voice low, twisting my sweaty hands in my skirts. We were hidden behind a hedge by the dungeon stairs where we had agreed to meet.

“Calm down. I’ve practiced over and over. It’s second nature now.” Mari sounded confident, and I wanted to believe her. She had been working on the spell for weeks and was delighted when she was able to use it successfully on a squirrel. He hadn’t been able to see a walnut right in front of him for hours.

She clutched at the violet amulet. “It’s a simple cloaking spell. I’ll perform it on the guard and, to him, you’ll be invisible for a little while.”

“How long is ‘a little while’?”

Mari stared straight ahead, raising her head high. “I don’t know.” “What!”

“Shh!” she hissed. “It’s fine! How long could it take for you to get in and out? And I’ll be here waiting for you.”

“Mar,” I tried. “You know it’s all right if you aren’t perfect at this the very first time. We can always try something else.”

She gave me a look that said don’t you dare, so I nodded, but couldn’t stop shifting beside her.

“Stand still, or I’ll be too distracted to get this right.” Mari closed her

eyes and brought her hands out in front of her as if she could touch the guard in the distance. She hummed a low tune and whispered words in a primeval language I couldn’t understand. The tall grass at her feet began to rustle in the sudden wind, a wind that smelled of rain and earth, despite the sunny day. A few of her long hairs gradually rose around her, encircling her in red strands that mimicked flames. Her knuckles cracked as she clenched her outstretched fingers.

And then she stopped.

She blinked her eyes open, looking a bit disoriented. She reached a hand out to hold on to me and I grasped her tightly. “Are you all right?”

She stared at me, dazed. “Who are you?” My heart dropped into my stomach.

A wide smile grew on her face. “Kidding!”

I let out a breath that was almost a laugh. Almost. “You’re the worst.” “Go on,” she said.

I hurried toward the bearded guard, never succumbing to a run, which might have appeared suspicious to anyone else who could actually see me.

The guard was about my age. Ruddy pink cheeks, scruffy blond beard and brows. When I stood before him, an eerie sensation licked down my neck. He looked into my eyes and yet saw right through me. I waved a tentative hand in his face, but he just rubbed his nose in boredom and continued to stand watch. I wasn’t going to stick around to count my luck.

Sneaking past him, I ran through the dark spiral once more. I had the fleeting thought that if I was truly lucky, this would be the last time I ever had to come down here.

I rapped the bars on Halden’s cell. “Pst! Halden!” He was asleep under the fur that I had brought him, curled up in a dark corner like a wounded animal, his white-blond hair now almost grey with dirt and soot.

“You made it back,” he said, voice coated in sleep. He sounded almost reverent.

“Yes, but I have to be quick.” I passed him some more food I had smuggled. “In one week, the night before the eclipse, there will be a banquet at sundown. That will be the best time for you to attempt your


Halden nodded, “Who’s the banquet for?”

“King Eryx of Peridot. I’d assume they’re trying to make an alliance.”

He bit at his nail and spit the clipping to the left. It was a nasty habit I somehow used to find attractive.

“Have you met any halflings here at Shadowhold?”

My brow creased. Halden believed in Fae now? And their descendants?

“What? Not that I know of.” Though now that I thought of it, some of the soldiers I had healed or passed by had seemed so powerful and so menacing… But it wasn’t worth sharing that with Halden. “I don’t even know how to tell a halfling from a mortal.”

Halden sighed, sitting back on his heels. “You can’t really. It’s hard to know without researching a person’s ancestry. They say Onyx is filled with them.”

“Why do you ask?”

He gave me a half-grin. “Morbid curiosity, I guess. Has the king said anything to you about something he is looking for? A relic of some kind?”

Unease dipped in my belly. “Halden, why are you grilling me? You know I would tell you anything that could help you escape.”

“Of course. Just another tall tale I was told by some soldiers in my battalion. Too much empty time to think down here is all.”

My mind flashed to the night I had heard Kane talking with Griffin about the seer, about whatever he had been searching for. It felt like a lifetime ago. Could that be the same thing Halden was talking about?

“Since when do you care about Onyx and their secrets? You were more reluctant to serve than anyone else in Abbington.”

I recalled my displeasure, well over a year ago, when he had cared so little about fighting the wicked kingdom in the north. How his apathy had made me feel irritated and alone.

How much things had changed, in so little time.

He shook his head. “I was a child then, Arwen. I’ve learned more about King Gareth since, of what he fights for. There’s just a lot you wouldn’t understand.”

I was so, so sick of men that I was romantically interested in saying that to me. I made a face.

“And what about you? You don’t care about our kingdom anymore?”

“No, of course I do,” I said, my face growing hot. “I care about the people who are dying because of senseless greed for land and coin.”

“I don’t want to argue. The night of the banquet—where will I find you?” Halden asked.

It was the question I was dreading. It would be the night before the eclipse. When I needed to make it back into the woods for the burrowroot. And, truthfully, I wasn’t sure if I was any more likely to reach my family if I fled with Halden.

“The king is trying to track down my family. If he finds them, and I’m gone…” I wasn’t sure how to finish that thought. Would Kane harm them out of anger?

“I can protect you, Arwen. King Gareth’s spies are just as good if not better than Onyx’s. We can find your family together.”

Some part of me still softened at his comforting words. His self-assured smile, even behind bars. “I know. But how are you going to get out of your cell? Even if most of the guards are caught up in the revelry, how will you get through the woods?”

Halden snorted. “The woods aren’t as dangerous as I’m sure they’ve led you to believe. Just trust me. The night of the feast, when you hear an explosion, you’ll have a few minutes to get to the North Gate. Can you do that?”

But shock had my heart rattling in my chest, making it hard to respond. “An explosion? What in the Stones are you planning?”

“The less you know, the better,” he said with sincerity.

“I need more than that. You cannot hurt the people of this castle. They are innocents.”

He shook his head. “Of course not. Is that really what you think of me?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. Guilt seeped in like red wine on a white dress—sticky and spreading and impossible to ignore.

Halden exhaled, and bit at his thumbnail again. “One of my men is a

warlock. He can blow these cell doors open anytime. The explosion will free a path for us out of here and barely rattle the great hall above us,” he gestured upward. “But even then, we’d never make it past the soldiers that guard the North Gate. The night of the banquet they’ll be underprepared and overwhelmed with people. It’s our best shot. I promise, nobody will get hurt.”

It seemed like a fine plan. Not foolproof, but the best they could do on such short notice.

“I have to go. I don’t have much time.” I stood to leave but Halden grabbed my hand through the bars.

“Wait.” He pulled me so I was pressed into the railing, and his rough hands enclosed my own through the bars. “Do you remember when we watched those shooting stars on the roof of the Tipsy Boar?”

I pictured the chilly night, bundled up in his arms atop the local tavern. He had seen the stars falling and wanted a better view. Somehow, he had convinced me to climb up there with him. I was sure at any moment the whole structure would crumble under our weight and we would land in a heap of ale and glass.

“Of course,” I said.

His russet eyes had gone heavy-lidded and seeped in lust. “And do you remember what we did when the last star had faded from the sky?” His voice took on a huskier tone, and my cheeks warmed.

“Of course,” I repeated.

“I think of that night constantly… Just in case something goes wrong, I’d never forgive myself for not kissing you one last time.”

Before I could register his intent, Halden pulled me toward him until the cool iron pressed against the sides of my face, and his warm lips brushed mine. It was a tentative kiss. Safe and familiar. I had missed him so terribly after he left, and fantasized of a moment like this—well, without the dungeon element. But now… I couldn’t place the feeling exactly. It was soothing to be so close to him again. My toes still curled at his touch. But something was missing.

He pulled away, his gaze holding mine, and squeezed my hands tightly.

“You’ll meet me there, at the North Gate?”

Would I?

Halden could help me find the burrowroot in the woods, more likely than I could ever find it alone. He cared about me, and always would. And I couldn’t stay here another minute with Kane after who he had revealed himself to be, time and time again. I doubted he ever really planned to find my family for me. He was a liar, and always had been, so what kind of future did I have here in Shadowhold? It was safer to stick with the man I knew than the king I didn’t.

“Yes,” I finally answered. “Good luck.”

I made my way up the stairs two at a time and exhaled a breath I wasn’t even aware I was holding when the guard from earlier was still standing watch. I breezed past him and didn’t slow until Mari and I had made it all the way back into the apothecary.


The slice of the sword sailing through the air next to my head was a little too close for comfort.

“Watch it!” I said, dodging just in time.

Dagan continued his attack, coming at me with a ferocity I hadn’t seen from him before. But I wasn’t afraid. I parried each blow and used my size and agility to my benefit. Dagan was older, taller, and slower than me. Which meant I could be scrappy and move around him with ease. With a second to spare, I caught my breath and swung at him, nipping his leather armor.

He paused to study the nick, wiping sweat from his brow. A smile played on his lips, but he said nothing. I wanted terribly to gloat or jump in the air at my slight victory, but overexertion forced me to brace my hands on my knees and catch my breath instead.

“Last lesson for the day,” he said.

Thank the Stones. It was only morning, but the week had flown by, and I had too much to do before the banquet tonight. Dagan unstrapped his outer armor, dropping it on the grass unceremoniously. He sat down and

motioned for me to sit across from him. The grass was cool on my palms, and I inhaled the scent of blossoming gardenia. There was so much I took for granted about these mornings out here. Now that this was my last one, I realized I would miss it quite terribly.

“What are we doing?” I asked.

“Using a different kind of weapon. Close your eyes.”

I did as I was told. I had learned not to question Dagan. When it came to self-defense, the man knew what he was talking about.

“Think of your greatest strength. Tell me what you feel.”

My brows knit together. My greatest strength? Nothing really came to mind. I was proud of my ability to heal people, but it wasn’t as much a strength as an ability. A gift, maybe. I felt strong when I ran, but did that qualify as a strength? I had never thought of it as such. My family came to mind—how taking care of them made me feel strong. But I had never been as good at it as Ryder had.

“I can’t think of anything,” I admitted. It was more shameful than I cared to admit.

“That’s not what I asked. What do you feel?”

I sat stubbornly still. Something about having my eyes closed brought emotions I wasn’t aware of to the surface. “Sad. And alone. Which makes me feel afraid.”

“Stay with that feeling. What does the fear make you feel?”

I sighed. “Trapped. Sometimes it’s just hard. To wake up each day knowing how much of my life will be ruled by it, by being afraid.”

“That feeling you have when your heart is racing, chest is tight, mouth is dry. Do you know what that is?”

I nodded. “Terror.”

“No, Arwen. It is power.”

I was trying to follow his guidance, but it didn’t really make any sense.

“Dagan, I don’t think this is working. Whatever this is. Can we stop for today?” I peeked one eye open.

His words were instantaneous. “Eyes closed.” “How—?”

“Eyes. Closed.”

The wind was howling through the trees in our training field. With my eyes shut the noises of the keep preparing for tonight were heightened— carts being loaded and furniture being moved in the distance.

“When you are afraid,” Dagan continued. “Your body fuels you to run or to fight. Filling you with the power to protect yourself, one way or another. You are an excellent runner. Now you are becoming an excellent fighter as well. I cannot say those feelings of fear will ever dissipate. But you can harness them. Make them work for you. Turn that fear into courage. After all, they are one and the same.”

There was some truth to his words. The panic attacks I suffered, medically speaking, were just a torrential influx of adrenaline. But when I was ensnared by them, it was nearly debilitating. Very hard to see that as some kind of untapped power.

I sat in silence as instructed until my back ached and my tailbone went numb. When whatever Dagan hoped for hadn’t happened, he stopped us.

“We’ll try again tomorrow.”

I pushed myself up with a groan. “Somehow I think I’ll miss the sword fighting.” It didn’t come out playful like I’d hoped.

Dagan considered me.

“Who do you think is more courageous when charging into battle? The knight who has nothing to fear, surrounded by hundreds of his fellow men, armed with all the weapons on the continent, or the lone knight, with no one beside him, nothing but his fists, and everything to lose?”

For reasons that I couldn’t comprehend, the question made me feel like crying. “The latter.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because he knows he can’t win, and he chooses to fight anyway.”

“There is only true courage in facing what frightens you. What you call fear is indeed power, and you can wield it for good.”

I looked down, deflecting his searching gaze.

I felt doomed to fail him. Whatever he hoped was within me, I was sure it was not.

“You remind me of… I would have been very proud to see my daughter grow up like you, Arwen.”

For a moment I was speechless. It was the kindest thing I’d ever heard him say. It was maybe the kindest thing anyone besides my own mother had ever said to me.

“What happened to her?” I asked tentatively. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

Dagan bent down to pick up the swords and wrap them in their coverings. “My wife and infant daughter were killed by the very man that Kane wages war against.” I staggered back at the horror of his words. “That grief, that anger. I find a way to harness it each morning to face the day, and each night to go to sleep. We all have demons. What defines us is how we choose to face them.”

My heart twisted and cracked inside of me. “I am so sorry.” It was all I could find.

“Thank you,” he nodded to me, and we headed back to the keep in our usual silence.

I felt sick to my stomach. For Dagan, and for the fact that I was planning to leave tonight, and possibly to return to the kingdom responsible for his loss? All of it suddenly felt very wrong.

You'll Also Like