Chapter no 12

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

LIVING IN THE CASTLE IS STRANGE. It should feel like a dream come true. Every day I am pampered, fed delicious foods, and dressed in beautiful gowns. Though I continue to try to convince my servants to find me pants, there’s no real need for them amid this luxury. At night I sleep in a warm bed covered by the softest blankets.

I’ve never known a life like this and never thought I would, but I can’t enjoy it. Every day that I fail to find the mirror is another day my sister is locked away. The king says she’s safe, but what does he consider safe?

I’ve been at the castle for five nights, and despite the splendor, I’m ready to crawl out of my skin. I go to meals with the other girls, take dancing lessons, listen to long lectures about the history of the Seelie Court and the crimes of the lawless Unseelie. In short, I do what I must to continue this

charade of being a potential bride while using every free moment to search for ways into the queen’s chambers. I observe the guards and the comings and goings of the servants.

I may be temporarily stuck on the mirror, but I hope everything I learn

about the castle now will make my next task that much easier. The sooner I can finish this mission and get Jas home, the better.

I stare out my bedroom windows and scan the garden below. The day lilies stretch their heads to the sun and make me think of Sebastian. “Any word on when the prince will return?” I ask my maids. Sebastian’s rarely at

the castle, much to the girls’ dismay, and I’m not sure how he’s finding time to get to know his potential brides when he’s gone so often.

“He’s not away,” Tess says, braiding my hair out of my face. “He’s spending the day with one of the other girls.”

Jealousy sits like a rock in my stomach. “Oh. A favorite, then?”

My face must give me away because Tess tsks and smiles at my reflection in the window. “You have nothing to worry about. Everyone knows he favors you.”

And yet we haven’t spoken since our discussion over tea in the kitchen. There’s no reason he would spend his limited time with me when he knows

I’m not interested in being his bride. I should be glad for that—I’ve had more time to search—but it’s hard to let go of feelings I’ve harbored for Sebastian for two years.

“I’m sure he’ll spend time with you soon,” Tess says. She ties off the braid and starts on the other side. “And anyway, he probably knows you’re not available.”

“I’m not?”

“You’ll meet your tutor today.” I frown. “Tutor? For what?”

“All the girls are assigned tutors. Should the young prince choose you as his bride, you’ll need to be prepared. Your tutor will refine your habits and manners, attending to you on a personal level.”

“Can’t you do that?” I ask. I like my maids, and I’ve become accustomed to them. I don’t want to have another person watching me.

Emmaline laughs from the bathroom, where she’s cleaning the tub. “We are not ladies,” she says, poking her head out the door. “Simply servants.”

“But I bet you could teach me anything my tutor could.”

The twins look at each other. I can’t tell if they’re amused or baffled by me. Perhaps both. “In any case,” Tess says, “your tutor will arrive any minute. Her name is Eurelody, and she’s worked with the queen’s historians for over a century. You’re lucky to have her.”

Over a century. Maybe she’ll know about the queen’s schedule and when Arya’s expected to travel away from the castle. If I can find a discreet way to inquire . . .

“Can we get you anything before we go?” Emmaline asks. “No, I’m fine. Thank you.”

I don’t know why I assumed that Sebastian was out of the castle just because he hasn’t been to see me. Maybe I offended him with my

comments about his sacred traditions.

Or maybe he’s trying to find a bride.

“Lost in thought, I see,” a soft voice says behind me.

I turn to see a short, chubby faerie with rosy cheeks and pointed ears. Her translucent wings barely fit through the doorway. I make myself smile. It’s not her fault that I have no interest in our time together. “Hello. You must be Eurelody. I’m Abriella.”

The woman gives me a quick once-over and, seeming to find my attire acceptable, turns back to the door. “Very good. Let’s get out of the palace for a while, shall we?”

My breath catches. Until this moment, I hadn’t realized how

claustrophobic I was feeling being stuck inside these walls. After nearly dying in the forest, I didn’t dare disobey Sebastian’s order to stay within the palace gates, but surely I’ll be safe if I’m with Eurelody.

She’s already heading down the hall, and I have no choice but to follow. “Where are we going?”

She doesn’t bother slowing or looking back at me as she answers. “If you want to be a princess, you need to meet your future subjects.”



The carriage is comfortably appointed with cushions, and draperies across the windows for privacy. Eurelody and I sit knee to knee as we leave the

castle grounds, and I’m well aware of her attention on me as I watch the changing landscape outside. I don’t bother filling the silence, and neither does she. Instead, I focus on the rolling green hills, the forest in the distance, and the mountains beyond. Even knowing how dangerous those

woods are, I can’t help but find them lovely. Everything in Seelie territory glows with the lush green of late spring. I wonder if Unseelie territory is the same or if the shadow fae suffer perpetual winter.

Miles from the castle, we turn into a quaint village. The carriage jostles on the cobblestones, jarring me this way and that before coming to a sudden stop.

“We’re here,” Eurelody says.

Half-timbered houses line streets where faeries of all kinds hawk their wares to passersby. The smell of fresh bread and pastries fills the air from one merchant’s cart. Another merchant pours a sample of wine for a patron while others sell flowers, beautiful fabrics, and jewelry.

Fairscape has a market like this. When I was a child, my mother would take us along when she ran errands for the wealthy family who employed her. They would send her for candles and clothing, for art for the walls of their massive home. If we behaved, Mother would buy us a tiny candy each.

I used to imagine that we were shopping for ourselves, that we were the ones who could afford such luxuries.

“What are those little faeries?” I ask Eurelody, nodding to the tiny airborne creatures with butterfly wings.

“Hush, girl.” She shakes her head and tugs me by the arm toward a narrow lane opposite the village market. Nearly identical houses line the road, and she leads me up the front steps of the third. The door creaks as it opens, and she drags me inside and throws herself against it to shut it.

“Sprites,” she says, wagging a finger at me, “do not like being called little.” “But they—”

“Are more powerful than they look and more spiteful than you can imagine,” she says. “In fact, some call them spites for just that reason, but that’s slang, and many sprites consider it derogatory. If you offend a sprite, you just might find yourself attacked by fire ants or with a swarm of bees charging at you.”

“They’re not all so spiteful,” a deep voice says. “Some are quite docile.”

I turn to my right and scramble backwards toward the door when I spot the male emerging from a dimly lit room. Kane. The red-eyed, horned faerie who carried me over his shoulder to meet Finn.

I spin away from Kane and smile at my tutor. I don’t know where we are, but I can’t let one of Queen Arya’s people think I’ve been associating with the enemy. “We should go.”

Eurelody smiles at me, and then the air around her shimmers and her skin glows. Suddenly she’s not Eurelody but Pretha. This faerie has many faces, it seems.

“Pretha . . . you—” I seethe.

She smiles in response and gives me a little curtsy. “So kind of you to remember me by name, Abriella.”

“Where’s Eurelody?”

“She left the queen’s service years ago, but I show up in her form now and again to maintain easy access to the castle. The queen has so many in her service that she doesn’t even notice that her old scholar is rarely researching.”

My eyes dart to the door. Did the carriage we arrived in belong to Pretha or the queen? If I run outside, I can’t assume that my driver will take me

anywhere. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t return to the castle and tell them who you really are.”

She rolls her eyes and turns to Kane. “Prince Ronan thinks she’s so smart and so special, but if she truly were those things, I think she’d want to know all the reasons she shouldn’t tell the queen, not just one.”

“The prince is young and blinded by her beauty,” Kane says. “The night she ran from the tavern, she proved how lacking she is in the intelligence department.”

I fold my arms. “Insulting me will get you nowhere but the queen’s oubliette.”

This threat doesn’t faze either of them. Instead, Pretha casually shrugs out of her robe and hangs it on the hook by the door. She adjusts her leather vest and the scabbard at her side. “I am not your enemy, Abriella.”

“And yet the last time I got away from you, a death dog nearly made me his dinner. Am I supposed to believe that was a coincidence?”

“You think sent the Barghest after you?” The silver webbing on her forehead seems to pulse with outrage.

“You, Finn, Kane? Does it make a difference?” Kane grunts. “Why would we do that?”

“Because I refused to work with you. I’m not clueless. I know the Unseelie sometimes take Barghests as animal companions.”

Kane barks out a laugh, then shakes his head and walks away. “I’ll tell Finn she’s here—and that she thinks we’re murderers who command vicious and powerful monsters. Awesome start to a new partnership, I think he’ll agree.”

“Where would you get such an idea?” Pretha asks, ignoring Kane. “Did your prince tell you we were behind the Barghest?”

“He didn’t have to.”

“You wanted to leave, and we let you.” Pretha frowns. “After you ran from the tavern, I followed you to the forest. Finn forbade me to follow you too closely. He just wanted to make sure you made it safely to wherever you were going.”

“Oh? And did you tell him I was nearly torn to bits?”

“Yes.” She cocks her head to the side. “It’s a good thing those wolves came along to distract the creature.”

“It’s a good thing Sebastian came along to save me.”

“So you’ve already forgiven your golden prince for his deceptions?” Finn says, stepping out of the dark hallway and into the foyer. I was so distracted by Pretha that I didn’t hear his steps in the hall. Or maybe I wouldn’t have

even if I’d tried. He looks to Kane and Pretha. “I told you it would take less than a week. Looks like you each owe me five gold.”

“We don’t owe you a damn thing, Finn,” Kane says, entering the foyer behind him. “The girl didn’t answer the question.”

“If she didn’t trust that boy, she never would have gotten into that carriage with Pretha this morning,” Finn says.

Pretha shakes her head. “She can trust him without forgiving him.

They’re entirely separate emotions.”

They’re betting on when I’ll forgive Sebastian. Rude. “I’m glad this is all so amusing to you.”

Finn’s silver eyes harden and glitter like the surface of a frozen pond in the moonlight. “I assure you I’m not amused in the slightest,” he says. “I’m impatient. Considering that my uncle has your sister, I’m surprised you

aren’t as well. But maybe you’re content to enjoy the luxuries of palace life, busy preparing for your life as that boy’s princess.

“How dare you—” I shuffle back a step, spotting two sets of glowing

silver eyes in the dark hallway. Two large wolves prowl forward and stop on either side of Finn.

Finn snaps his fingers, and the wolves sit, sniffing the air in my direction and whining quietly. They’ve healed since I saw them in the forest, but there is no doubt in my mind that these are the same animals that attacked the Barghest.

Their silver-and-gray coats were mottled with blood when they ran away, but today they are clean and shining, and . . . much larger than I remembered. They looked so much smaller compared with the Barghest, but now I can see just how massive they are. Even sitting, they’re only a head shorter than I am.

My eyes flick to Finn. “They’re yours?”

“In a manner of speaking,” he says, absently scratching one behind the ear.

Pretha says, “I told you we aren’t your enemy, Abriella.”

The night it happened, I had wondered whether the wolves were just trying to get the Barghest out of the way so they could get to me. But

looking at them now, panting happily at their master’s affection, I know without a doubt that they saved me. If Sebastian hadn’t shown up, they would have kept fighting—until the Barghest died or they did.

“Are they okay?”

“They are now,” Finn says. “Thanks to my healer.” “What do you call them?”

“Dara and Luna,” Finn says. The wolves’ ears perk up at the sound of their names.

“May I?” I’m aware of all the eyes in the room on me as I inch forward and extend a tentative hand toward each. Finn mumbles a low command, and the wolves rise and approach me slowly. “Thank you,” I say, kneeling

in front of them and offering the back of my hands to smell. “You protected me.”

The wolves lick my hands, then nuzzle my palms like big cats.

When I look up, there’s something like confusion in Finn’s eyes, but he blinks and it’s gone, replaced by the steely cold I’m used to. “Why did they do it?” I ask.

“Because I asked them to.”

“That was a terrible risk. They could have been killed.”

Finn doesn’t deny it. Instead he folds his arms and leans one shoulder against the wall. “They’re very loyal, and now that they’ve protected you once, they would do it again.”

Pretha sighs dramatically. “But it would be much better for everyone involved if you didn’t go running off and need saving again.”

Kane chuckles. “Maybe she likes being rescued by her prince. Sounds like he made quite an entrance when he returned to the palace—running inside with her in his arms and generally playing hero to her damsel in distress.”

My cheeks heat at the picture he paints. I hate the idea that anyone sees me that way, but I don’t bother asking how they know about what happened at the castle. Clearly everyone spies on everyone here. I direct my attention to Finn when I ask, “What do you want from me?”

“I told you before,” he says, his voice a little rough, as if he’s very, very tired. “We want to help you.”

“Why would you want to help me when I’m working for the king who wants you dead?”

“You mean the false king,” Kane says, his voice sharp.

Finn snaps his fingers, and his wolves obediently return to his side. “The missing relics make my court weaker. My people are suffering, and I will do anything I can to help them.”

“Even if it means strengthening the . . . your uncle?” I smell something, and it’s not honesty.

“Mordeus,” Finn says with none of Kane’s annoyance, “cannot get any more powerful unless he wears the crown.”

I frown. “Where’s the crown?”

“My father’s crown has been missing from the Court of the Moon for too long now,” Finn says. He pauses a beat. “I take it you haven’t found the mirror yet?”

“I know where it is, but I haven’t been able to get to it,” I admit.

“And have you tried using your magic?” he asks. “You know, that thing that lets you walk through walls and magical wards as if they weren’t even there?”


“How could she do that when she can’t even control it?” Pretha asks, but Finn shoots her a look that shuts her up.

“No,” I say, answering Finn’s question. “Pretha’s right. I don’t have enough control. But that’s not the problem. The queen keeps the mirror guarded and surrounded by light. Even if I had control over my powers, they would be useless there.”

Kane snorts. “She has no idea, does she?”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not in the room,” I snap. “And no idea about what?”

“No idea just how strong you are,” Pretha says. She cocks her head to the side. “No idea what you’re capable of.”

“What if I told you,” Finn says softly, “that your power is never useless. That you’re strong enough to manifest darkness so complete that it would gobble up every bit of her light?”

“How do you know that?” I ask.

“We’ve been watching,” Finn says with a shrug.

“What do you say, Brie?” Pretha asks. “Will you let us help you?”

I don’t know if I can trust Finn and his people, but I can’t afford to be discovered in my attempts to get the mirror. I can’t afford to fail. I look at

the wolves and make my decision.

“I’ll work with you today. Teach me whatever I need to know so I can swap the mirrors.”

Finn arches a dark brow. “The first thing you need to know is not to use the mirror. It’s not a toy for human girls to play with, understood?”

Right. Because I’m just a lowly human and unworthy of his precious mirror. Whatever. “I thought you were going to teach me to use my powers so I can get into the queen’s sunroom.”

“Wait.” Finn holds up a hand. “You didn’t say the mirror was in her


I shrug. “Well, it is. And the hall that leads to her chambers is flooded with light. I assume she keeps her sunroom that way too?”

“The light is the least of your worries,” Finn says.

Pretha’s brow creases with her frown. “If the queen is keeping the mirror in her sacred sunroom, no one but the prince or the queen herself can remove it from its spot.”

“What happens if they try?” I ask.

“Nothing,” Finn says. “You can’t take it. The items in the queen’s

sunroom are immovable even for the strongest hands or the gentlest touch.

You will find, Princess, that the real magic in our world is tied up in free

will. Not even the strongest fae—or the greatest thief—can take that which can only be given freely.”

“Is there a counterspell?” I ask.

“Everything has a counterspell,” Kane says.

Finn looks to Pretha, who shakes her head. “I don’t know it,” she says, “but I’ll do some digging and see what I can find out. In the meantime, we’ll have to think of another way.”

I don’t have time to wait for Pretha to research a counterspell.

No one but the prince or the queen herself can remove items from the

sunroom. “It’s okay. I know what to do,” I say softly, and honestly, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it before.

“Kill the queen?” Kane asks, his hand going to the dagger on his hip. “Me first.”

Finn shakes his head at his . . . his friend? His sentry? “She would carve you up and stake you to the front lawn as an example.”

Kane scowls.

I sigh. “If the only way to get the mirror is to have the queen or the prince give it to me, I will ask Prince Ronan to retrieve it for me.”

“Are you serious?” Kane asks. “You think the prince is just going to hand over a precious artifact?”

“Yes,” I say, and my guilt is already weighing me down. “He cares for me, and he wants to make amends for his deception.”

Pretha smiles slowly, and she nods. “The simplest path is usually the best. In the meantime, we’ll train you as planned, and I’ll look into the

counterspell just in case. If the prince won’t give it to you, we’ll find a way for you to steal it.”

“But ask nicely, Princess,” Finn says. “Trust me when I say you don’t want to have to do this the hard way.”

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