Chapter no 29

These Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, 1)

“THANK YOU,” SEBASTIAN SAYS, releasing the goblin’s hand.

“I’m here to serve, Your Highness.” The goblin purses his lips and gives me one final knowing smile before disappearing.

There are beaches in Elora, but I’d seen the sea only once when I was young. I almost can’t remember that trip, riding on a horse with my mother, my father riding beside us, then my first tentative steps into the water, laughing as the waves knocked me over.

Sebastian’s white hair blows in the breeze as he looks out toward the horizon and the sun sinking into the sea. “Walk with me?” he asks.

I turn away from the palace and toward the sea. “I would like that.”

He leads me down the beach, clutching my arm to his side the whole time as if he’s afraid I might disappear. “This is my favorite spot,” he says,

walking slowly. “The sound of crashing waves has always brought me comfort. The Golden Palace is continually bustling with servants and

courtiers. I preferred it here from a young age, but didn’t get to come nearly as often as I’d like.”

“It’s beautiful. Very peaceful.”

He nods. “I’ve come out here a few times in the weeks since you came to the palace.” He cuts his eyes to me for a long beat. “I’ve had a lot to think


I swallow, my eyes burning. I feel so close to saving Jas, and more than ever I’m terrified that the moment I save her, I will lose everything else. Or worse, that Mordeus will somehow get out of the bargain and I’ll lose her.

Hadn’t Lark said that, when I saw her in my dream? I told her I didn’t

want to be a queen with so much when others have nothing, and she said I’d lose everything. Was that really the child visiting me or just a dream?

“Hey,” he whispers. “Why the tears?” I swallow. “Jas would love it here.”

He bows his head. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to get her. Mordeus . . .

He’s used his essence to hide your sister.” He says this like it’s terrible news.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that as long as he’s alive, we will not be able to physically reach her.” He rolls his shoulders back. “It means the only way I can save your sister is if someone kills the king.”

“But you can’t,” I blurt. “The Seelie can’t harm the Unseelie.” His eyes go wide, and I realize what I’ve said. “Isn’t that true?”

His breath quickens, and he licks his lips. “Tell me what you know.”

Can it hurt to admit what I’ve learned? I hate lying to Sebastian, and pleading ignorance after blurting what I did is pointless. “I know that the Unseelie lost their magic and immortality to the curse your mother put on them.”

I watch him as I say this, but he has no reaction. No denial or confirmation. He can’t talk about the curse.

“I always believed the Unseelie were evil,” I say, continuing, “but I don’t believe that anymore. Some shadow fae are evil and some are good. And

some golden fae are evil and some are good. But maybe . . . maybe the

Unseelie who seem evil are just trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

Sebastian stops walking and turns his head toward the ocean. “I never told you this, but there was an assassination attempt on my mother on the night of Litha—made by a member of my grandparents’ court who defected after my mother took the throne.” He shakes his head. “The traitor was

captured before he could hurt her, but somehow . . . somehow Finn’s people were able to infiltrate the castle, get past my guards and our wards, and free the traitor who’d planned to put a blade in the heart of his own queen.”

I bow my head, but I’m terrified that he can smell my guilt.

“But . . . apparently you knew about that,” he says. The hurt in his voice grates against my conscience. “You knew Jalek wanted to kill my mother, and you didn’t say a thing to me.”

“I didn’t know about Jalek’s plans.” It’s true, and yet . . . I soften my tone before I continue. “But I won’t pretend I would have stopped him if I had.” I lift my chin and look him in the eye. “I know what it’s like to work nonstop and still be a prisoner of your circumstances. Your mother’s

camps? It’s hard to not wish worse than death on someone who would do that to innocents.”

“I won’t defend those camps,” he says, his voice shaking. “But with so many Unseelie fleeing Mordeus’s rule, our court has been overrun. Our

people are suffering, and the queen is putting her subjects first, protecting them from the shadow fae.”

“What if the shadow fae are the ones who need protecting?”

“Finn told you about the camps, but did he tell you about the hundreds in my court who’ve been slaughtered in cold blood so those running from the mess in his could take over their homes?”

And because of the queen’s curse, those golden fae wouldn’t be able to protect themselves from the Unseelie. It’s a sickening image. “I won’t argue that all the Unseelie are good,” I say, “or that terrible situations don’t

sometimes bring out the worst in people, but—”

“They still have free will. They make their own choices, and through those choices they’ve proved who they really are.”

“But you can’t define a whole court on the actions of the worst of them. I believe Finn is good.”

Sebastian’s eyes blaze as he turns back to me. “If you think he’s so good, you should use those powers of yours to find his catacombs in the Wild Fae Lands. See what he keeps there and tell me if you still believe him so noble.”

What could Finn keep in his catacombs that would prove he’s as evil as Sebastian wants me to think?

“I can’t stand how he’s gotten to you, made you think you can trust him.” “He’s become . . . a friend.

“That’s what he wants you to think. I’m begging you not to fall for it.” “I don’t understand. Why are you so against Finn and his people when

your own mother is the cause of their suffering?”

“I’m not against the Unseelie.” He shakes his head. “Not at all, Brie. I hate what is happening to them under Mordeus’s rule. Faerie can’t exist without the light and the dark, the sun and the shadow. My mother knew

that, and if it weren’t for her, thousands of fae would continue to die every day in the Great Fae War.”

“She ended the war?”

“Through her sacrifice, the fighting stopped.”

He wants to believe she’s good. Can I fault him for that? She’s his mother. But he’s too smart to turn a blind eye to all she’s done. “I don’t see it the way you do.”

“You don’t know the whole story.”

“Then tell me—tell me what you can.”

He swallows. “Once, my mother was the golden faerie princess. Young and inexperienced, she was seduced by King Oberon. She fell in love with him, but their kingdoms had battled for hundreds of years, and her parents were sworn enemies of the king and his kingdom. As long as the golden queen and golden king ruled, the princess could never freely be with her

shadow king. But when they were able, they would sneak away from their lands and disguise themselves as humans to meet in the mortal realm.

There, they wouldn’t be condemned for their love. Their power was so great and their magic so intense that their love could move the sun and the moon, creating what the humans called an eclipse.”

I know this story. My mother used to tell us the story of the shadow king and the golden princess. When he doesn’t continue, I continue for him.

“And one day Oberon came to the human realm, but Arya couldn’t make it. Her parents had discovered what she’d been doing, and they combined their magical powers to lock all portals between the human world and Faerie— keeping their daughter from reaching her lover and preventing the shadow king from returning home. The humans sacrificed innocents in an attempt to appease their gods and get the sun back.”

Is that what Bakken meant when he referred to the long night? The same long night I heard stories of when I was a child?

Sebastian waits as his eyes will me to go on.

“But no matter the prayers or the sacrifices, the humans couldn’t end the long night. They had no power over the portals, and the shadow king remained locked outside his world, searching for another way home. His magic grew weaker with every day, until he could no longer disguise his true form. With no magic to protect him from the humans and their prejudice, he was beaten and brutalized, the tips of his ears cut off and his face pulverized with their fists. It was then that he met the human woman. She found him outside her house and took pity on him, giving him the healing tonics she had. She couldn’t stand to see any creature suffer. She gave him a place to stay, tended to him, and used her potions to heal him.

As the long night dragged on, they fell in love. He never forgot the golden fae princess, but his love for the woman was too intense to deny. When the portals reopened, he knew he had to return home, but the human refused to join him. She didn’t want to leave her world. Even so, the shadow king

knew he could no longer be with the princess. His heart belonged to the human.”

Sebastian’s eyes flash with anger, and he picks up the story for me. “Meanwhile, in the Court of the Moon, the shadow king’s brother had swept in to take over his empire, capitalizing on his brother’s absence.

Oberon returned to find that his brother had won the allegiance of half of the Unseelie court, and Oberon couldn’t return to his throne without risking a civil war his people couldn’t afford as the Great Fae War raged on.

“On the other side of the realm, my mother had taken her place as queen of the golden fae. She begged the shadow king to marry her as they once planned—if not for love, then for the good of their kingdoms. She promised that if they married, she would help him get his brother off his throne and then they could unite their courts and end the war between them. But

Oberon refused. He wouldn’t even do it for peace between their peoples. He was no longer in love with her, and he still believed he might one day

convince his mortal love to join him in his world.”

Sebastian stops his story there, so I finish it for him. “Then the queen cursed the Unseelie.”

I wait for him to confirm it, but he only freezes.

“You do know about the curse,” I say, “but you can’t speak of it.”

Again, it’s as if he can’t even nod in confirmation. “The most powerful magic in Faerie comes from its rulers,” he says. “My mother was the most powerful queen to ever take the throne, but wielding such great magic

comes at a cost, one far worse than having an entire court hate her.” “How could they not?” I ask, trying to keep my tone gentle.

“She ultimately saved thousands of fae lives by ending the war,” Sebastian says. “Oberon cared more about himself than about his people.

He could have ended the war by marrying my mother, such a small

sacrifice, but he refused. Whereas my mother’s sacrifice was enormous and saved thousands, but now she is dying to pay the price of . . .” He flinches, then swallows.

By cursing the Unseelie and making her own people helpless against them, I think, but I keep my mouth shut. The queen is his mother, and she’s dying. I can’t blame him for being blind to her mistakes if he feels like he’s losing her and powerless to stop it. “Why doesn’t she just lift the curse?”

When he only stares at me and doesn’t answer, I remember that he’s not

able to speak so directly to the curse. The torment in his eyes weighs on me, and I wrap my arms around his waist.

His hands slide into my hair, and he pulls back as his fingers tangle with the shorter locks I hide beneath my thick curls. “What happened back here?” I lower my gaze, but he tilts my chin up so I’m looking at him. “You don’t have to hide anything from me.”

I already told him what I know about the curse, so I might as well explain how I learned it. “I gave Bakken some of my hair so he would tell me about the curse.” Again, the word curse makes him flinch—as if the word’s a knife in his back every time.

He slides his hand up the side of my face and toys with the locks of shorter hair framing my face. “And these?”

“Back in Elora. He told me that Mordeus bought Jas.” I shrug at his frown. “There are things you cannot tell me, and there are things I didn’t want you knowing I was doing.” There still are. “And I trust Bakken.”

“Goblins’ secrets aren’t usually so easily bought. He must . . . he must believe he has something to gain by staying on your good side. But be

careful that you don’t rely too much on their kind. If they discover your

weaknesses, they’ll take and take until you find you’ve given everything.”

I pinch his side gently. “Don’t look so worried, Sebastian. I have more where that came from.”

“Not all secrets can be bought with a lock of hair, Brie.”

I thread my fingers through his and smile sadly as I tug on a lock. “I wish they could.”

Sebastian scans the horizon where the golden and red fingers of dusk

stretch low across the water. “We need to move inside.” There’s a note of urgency in his voice.


He nods down the beach, and I see a cluster of ravens swarming. “The Sluagh?” I ask.

“Yes. They roam the beach at night. It’s one of the reasons my mother doesn’t come here much anymore.”

“Why would there be Sluagh here? Who died on the beach?”

Something flashes in his eyes. When he doesn’t answer, I realize it’s not because he doesn’t know, but because he can’t or won’t tell me. Still so

many secrets between us, but at least it’s clearer now that there are at least some that he doesn’t keep by choice.

“Come on.” He tugs me toward the palace and I follow. I know better than to linger with Sluagh about.



Sebastian tells the servants he’ll show me around while they prepare our dinner.

“King Mordeus doesn’t belong on the Throne of Shadows,” Sebastian says when we’re alone, picking up where we left off outside. “And all of

Faerie suffers for it. But he will do anything to wear the crown so the throne will accept him.”

He takes my hand and leads me down a brightly lit staircase. As he pushes through a heavy door, I realize he’s brought me to some sort of

armory. My eyes go wide as I take in all the weapons—the variety of knives and swords, the rows of armor, and the racks of wooden bows.

He goes straight to the far wall and selects a shining black dagger before turning back to me. “This is made of adamant and iron.” He offers it to me. “It was sharpened with diamond blades by the queen’s own blacksmith, and its magic will leave traces of iron behind in anyone you use it on.”

I take it. It’s heavy but not clumsily so. When I wrap my fingers around the hilt, a strange jolt of power rocks through me. It feels like it was made for my palm.

“Only this can kill the king,” Sebastian says. “Keep it on you at all times.”

My eyes flick up to meet his. He doesn’t know I’ve been working for the king, so why would he think I need a dagger than can kill him?

“Riaan told me that you two talked last night,” he says softly. “He said you admitted to having secrets. Secrets that you’re forced to keep or risk losing your sister.” He pulls a scabbard from a drawer and unbuckles the

small belt attached to it. “Maybe the same secrets that made you give me a fake and keep the Mirror of Discovery for yourself.”

I gasp. “You knew?”

“Yes. And I waited for you to explain—to trust me—but now I understand that you can’t.”

“I . . .” He knew. “I can’t believe you didn’t say anything.” “I trust you, Brie. Whether or not you trust me in return.”

Heart heavy, I watch as he kneels before me, lifting the hem of my skirt from the ground. His fingers brush my skin as he wraps the scabbard

around my calf and buckles it in place. When he turns a palm up for the dagger, I gently hand it to him by the hilt. “Keep this on you at all times for protection. Use your magic to hide it if you can.”

“I . . .” How much does he know about my magic? About my secrets? “I can. I’ve gotten better.”

He slides it into place, and there’s something comforting about the hug of the belt, the weight of the blade at my calf. When he stands, his face is

solemn. “This blade will also work against Finn.”

I swallow hard. Maybe that’s why he gave this to me after all—not so much because he thinks I’ll need it against Mordeus but because he hopes I’ll use it against Finn. “You said you don’t want Mordeus on the Throne of Shadows, but who would you have take his place if not Finn?”

He shakes his head. “Faerie has been divided too long, and it’s time the halves unite under one ruler.”

I bite my bottom lip. I don’t want to argue about Finn or who should or

shouldn’t be on the Throne of Shadows. All I care about is saving my sister.

But that’s not true anymore. Maybe it hasn’t been true for a while.

I care about the realm I once sneered at and the creatures that reside here, and now I’m torn between warring kingdoms when I never wanted to feel

allegiance to either.

“Would you like me to show you the rest of the palace?” Sebastian asks.

I nod, but through his whole tour I’m thinking about the adamant blade

strapped to my leg and Sebastian’s hushed words, This blade will also work against Finn.

I’m so distracted that I’m unprepared when he leads me into the library on the top floor of the palace.

“This is the jewel of Serenity Palace,” he says just inside the doors. “It’s best seen when the sun is shining through the skylights, so I’ll bring you back tomorrow.”

But I like it as it is now, with the silvery moonlight dancing off the glass and barely illuminating the center of the room. I could explore the stacks of books in the darkness. I imagine it would feel like going to the library with

my mother when I was a child—that feeling of safety and endless possibility.

I stroll into the room, looking around and letting my gaze skip over the pedestal at the center of the space. I don’t want to seem too interested in it, but Sebastian seems to sense it anyway.

“That’s the Grimoricon,” he says. He takes my hand and leads me to the center of the room until we are a single step from the book. So close I could reach out and touch it.

“What is it?” I ask, as if I don’t know.

“It’s the great book of our people. The Court of the Moon once claimed it as their own, but I’m loath to imagine the havoc Mordeus would bring to our world if he had it.”

My heart sinks. I may be confused about many things, but I am clear on Mordeus’s character. He is evil, cruel, and conniving, and Faerie will not fare well if a male like that has even more power. I’ve been on a mission to save Jas at any cost, but for the first time, I see that I’m endangering the fate of an entire realm in exchange for my sister’s life. But the alternative? It’s unfathomable.

I tamp down my newfound doubt and focus on the book. “What’s inside?”

“It holds the spells of our Old Ones and guidance for tapping into their powers. Once I take the throne, this is the book that will lead me in ruling my kingdom. My grandparents went to great lengths to retrieve it, and they lost many good faeries in doing so. Now it may be the only thing keeping my mother alive.”

I whip my head around to look at him. “What?”

“Magic is life. And this”—he nods at the book—“this is some of our most powerful magic. My mother’s been dying for years now. She’s probably only alive today because her life has been magically linked to this book.”

Slowly, I reach out, but he grabs my hand before I can touch it.

“Don’t.” His eyes are wide, his pulse fluttering quickly in his neck. “Is it dangerous?”

“I don’t know what would happen to you if your mortal skin came into contact with such great magic. And if the book is disturbed . . .” He

swallows. “If the book is disturbed, I fear what would happen to my mother.”

Is this why Mordeus wanted me to steal it? Yes, for the powerful magic, but also because he knows it’s tied to the queen’s life? Is that why Finn

wants me to steal it?

I swallow back the uncomfortable lump in my throat. “You really love your mother, don’t you?”

He blinks, and his expression is pained. Conflicted. “I’m not blind to her faults, but she is my mother, and she’s sacrificed so much for our court . . . perhaps even more so for me.”

If I give the book to Mordeus and Arya dies, the curse will be broken and Jas will be safe. But Sebastian will never forgive me. And if Mordeus uses the book to destroy the lives of more innocent fae, I may never forgive myself.



When the palace staff serves us dinner, I’m still thinking of Finn and the Throne of Shadows and Sebastian’s warnings that whatever Finn keeps in his catacombs will prove his true nature.


I lift my head at the sound of my name and find Sebastian staring at me across the table. How long has he been waiting for me to answer? Judging by his half-empty plate, I’ve been zoning out for a while.

“Where is that mind of yours?”

I blow out a breath. “I’m so sorry, Sebastian. I’m lost in my thoughts tonight.” I look around the dining room and realize that I haven’t even taken in the details of the romantic dinner that was probably prepared to impress me.

Candles line the table, and day lilies overflow from vases in every corner of the room. I’ve pushed my food around more than eaten it, and I’m more than a little disgusted with myself. The old me would be disgusted too. Not only am I eating mouthwatering dishes while children in the human realm go without, I’m here with Sebastian. How many times before entering the portal did I wish we could have more time together? And it seemed we

never were alone. If Jas wasn’t with us, my cousins were close by, ready to report anything they heard or saw to my aunt.

“What are you thinking now?”

“I’m thinking how quickly I’ve come to take these luxuries for granted.” I wave a hand, indicating my plate. “I know better than to disregard the blessing of a full belly, yet after only a few weeks, I can sit here feeding myself and not even taste the delicious flavors. Meanwhile, my sister . . .” My throat squeezes tight at the words.

Sebastian reaches across the table and takes my hand. “Despite all he does to maintain his power, the king is weaker than ever. It’s only a matter of time until we’re close enough to act. I haven’t given up.”

But what happens to us after Jas is safe? I don’t give voice to the question. He’s as eager for an answer as I am, and I don’t have one yet. Do I want to stay with Sebastian? Do I want to live in a castle with the queen

who is responsible for the curse and the horrible treatment of the Unseelie in her camps? If what Sebastian says is true and she’s dying, perhaps that means the curse will soon be broken. If her possession of the Grimoricon is the only thing keeping her alive . . .

To end the curse and live, you must kill the queen. The memory of

Bakken’s words makes my stomach heave. If I kill his mother on top of everything else, I will truly lose Sebastian.

“I can practically see you drifting away on your thoughts.” Chuckling, he wipes his mouth with his napkin, then reaches for a decanter of wine, tilting it to fill our glasses. “Drink with me and let go for an hour.”

After he goes to bed, I will have to go to the library and make a plan for the Grimoricon. I initially planned on taking it immediately—it kills me to wait—but Sebastian might be suspicious if it’s missing when he takes me back to the library tomorrow. And since I have no replica of this relic, I will need to wait.

I can give him an hour. After all he’s done for me, all he’s endured and is likely to endure, he deserves that and more. And maybe I deserve it too. An hour.

I lift my glass to my lips and drink. Within minutes, my worries fall away.

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