The castle was brimming with laughter and dinner preparations when Cartier and I entered the hall, blue passion cloaks on our backs, the night breeze tangled in our hair. I came to a stop in the heart of the grand room to admire the hanging tapestries, the high arch of the ceiling that melted into smoky shadows, the mullioned windows on the eastern wall. There was a fire roaring in a glazed hearth, and the women of the castle were setting the best pewter and silver on the trestle tables. They did not take note of me, for I was still a stranger to them, and I watched as a group of young girls decorated the table spines with a current of pine boughs and dark red flowers. A boy was rushing behind them to light a mountain range of candles, his eyes clearly taken with one of the auburn-haired girls. For a moment, it would almost seem as if this castle and these people had never known the darkness and oppression of the Lannon family’s reign. And yet I wondered what wounds remained in their hearts, in their memories after surviving a tyrannical king for twenty-five years. “Brienna.” Cartier came to a gentle stop at my side. He stood a safe distance away from me—a full arm’s length—although I could still feel the memory of his touch, I could still taste his lips on mine. We stood together quietly, and I knew he too was soaking in the clamor and rustic beauty of the hall. That he was still trying to adjust to what our lives were about to become now that we had returned home to the queen’s realm of Maevana. I was the adopted daughter of Davin MacQuinn—a fallen lord who had been in hiding for the past twenty-five years—who had finally returned to light his hall and restore his people. And Cartier, my former instructor, was the lord of the House of Morgane. The lord of the Swift— Aodhan Morgane.
I could hardly find the will to call him by such a name. It was one I would have never imagined him possessing throughout all the years I had known him in the southern kingdom of Valenia, when I had been his pupil and he had been my teacher, a master of knowledge. I thought of how our lives had intertwined, from the very first moment I had met him when I was accepted into the prestigious Magnalia House, a Valenian school for the five passions of life. I had assumed that he was Valenian—he had taken on a Valenian name, was polished in etiquette and passion, and had lived nearly all of his life in the southern kingdom. And yet he had been far more than that. “What kept you?” I startled, Jourdain taking me by surprise as he stepped into my view, his eyes sweeping me from head to toe, as if he expected me to have a scratch. Which almost struck me as humorous, because three days ago, we had ridden into battle with Isolde Kavanagh, Maevana’s rightful queen. I had donned armor, streaked blue woad across my face, braided my hair, and wielded a sword in Isolde’s name, not knowing if I was going to live through the revolution. But I had fought for her, as had Cartier and Jourdain, and with her to challenge Gilroy Lannon, a man who should never have been king of this land. Together, we had brought him and his family down in the span of a morning, a bloody yet victorious sunrise.
And now Jourdain was acting as if I had been darting through battle once more. All because I was late for dinner. I had to remind myself to be understanding. I was not accustomed to fatherly fussing—I had lived my entire life not knowing who my blood father was. And, oh, how regretfully I knew now who I had descended from; I pushed his name from my mind, focusing instead on the man standing before me, the man who had adopted me as his own months ago, when the two of us joined our knowledge to plot a rebellion against King Lannon. “Cartier and I had much to talk about. And don’t look at me like that, Father. We’re back in time,” I said, but my cheeks warmed under Jourdain’s attentive scrutiny. And when he shifted his eyes to Cartier, I think he knew. Cartier and I had not been merely “talking.
” I irresistibly thought back to that moment when I had stood with Cartier in his dilapidated castle on Morgane lands, when he had given me my passion cloak at last. “Yes, well, I told you to be back before dark, Brienna,” Jourdain said, and then he softened his tone when he addressed Cartier. “Morgane. Nice of you to join us for a celebratory feast.” “Thank you for extending the invitation, MacQuinn,” Cartier returned with a respectful bow of his head. It was odd to hear such names spoken aloud, for they didn’t align as such within my mind. And while others would begin to address Cartier as Lord Aodhan Morgane, I would always think of him as Cartier. Then there was Jourdain, my patron-turned-father. When I had met him two months ago, he had introduced himself as Aldéric Jourdain, his Valenian alias. But, like Cartier, he was far more than that.
He was Lord Davin MacQuinn the Steadfast. And while others would begin to address him as such, I would call him “Father,” and would always think of him as Jourdain. “Come, the two of you.” Jourdain led us up to the dais, where the lord’s family was to sit and sup at a long table. Cartier winked at me when Jourdain’s back was angled to us, and I had to swallow a smile of pure joy. “There you are!” Luc cried as he entered the hall through one of the side doors, his gaze finding me on the dais. The young girls paused in their pine-and-flower arrangements to giggle and whisper as Luc passed them. His dark brown hair was in disarray, which was a daily occurance, and his eyes were bright with mirth. He clomped up the dais stairs to sweep me into an embrace, acting as if we had been apart for months although I had seen him earlier that afternoon. He took me by the shoulders and turned me about, so he could see the silver threads stitched upon my passion cloak.
“Mistress Brienna,” he said. I turned back around and laughed, to finally hear the title linked to my name. “It’s a beautiful cloak.” “Yes, well, I waited long enough for it, I should think,” I replied, helplessly glancing to Cartier. “Which constellation is it?” Luc asked. “I fear I am rather horrible with astronomy.” “It is Aviana.” I was a mistress of knowledge now, something I had labored years at Magnalia House to achieve. And in that moment, standing in Jourdain’s hall in Maevana, surrounded by family and friends, wearing my passion cloak, with Isolde Kavanagh about to return to the northern throne … I could not have been more satisfied. As we all sat down, I watched Jourdain, a golden chalice in his hands, his face carefully guarded as he surveyed his people entering the hall for dinner.
I wondered what he was feeling, to finally come home after being gone for those twenty-five years of terror, to wade back into his role of lord to these people. I knew the truth of his life, of his Maevan past as well as his Valenian one. He had been born in this castle as a noble son of Maevana. He had inherited the lands and people of MacQuinn, striving to protect them as he was forced to serve the horrible King Gilroy Lannon. I knew Jourdain had witnessed terrible things in the king’s hall—he had seen hands and feet cut off of men who could not pay the full amount of their taxes, had seen old men lose an eye for looking at the king for too long, had heard women scream from distant chambers as they were beaten, had seen children scourged for making a sound when they should have been quiet. I watched it, Jourdain had once confessed to me, pale from the memory. I watched it, afraid to speak out. Until he had finally decided to rebel, to take down Gilroy Lannon and put a rightful queen back upon the northern throne, to snuff out the darkness and the terror that had become the once-glorious Maevana. Two other Maevan Houses had joined his secret revolution—the Kavanaghs, who had been the one magical House of Maevana and the origin of queens, and the Morganes. But Maevana was a land of fourteen Houses, as diverse as the land, each holding their own strengths and weaknesses.
Yet only three dared to defy the king. I think it was doubt that held most of the lords and ladies back, because two precious artifacts were missing: the Stone of Eventide, which gave the Kavanaghs their magical power, and the Queen’s Canon, which was the law that declared no king was to ever sit upon Maevana’s throne. Without the stone and the Canon, how was the rebellion ever going to completely overthrow Gilroy Lannon, who was deeply rooted on the throne? But twenty-five years ago, MacQuinn, Kavanagh, and Morgane had united and stormed the royal castle, prepared to wage war. The success for the coup depended on taking Lannon by surprise, which was spoiled when my biological father, Lord Allenach, learned of the rebellion and ultimately betrayed them. Gilroy Lannon was waiting for Jourdain and his followers. He targeted and killed the women of each family, knowing it would take the heart out of the lords. But what Gilroy Lannon did not anticipate was for three of the children to survive: Luc. Isolde. Aodhan. And because they did, the three defying lords fled with their children to the neighboring country of Valenia.
They took on Valenian names and professions; they discarded their mother tongue of Dairine for the Valenian language of Middle Chantal; they buried their swords and their northern sigils and their anger. And they hid, raising their children to be Valenian. But what most did not know … Jourdain never stopped planning to return and dethrone Lannon. He and the other two fallen lords met once a year, never losing faith that they could rise again and be successful. They had Isolde Kavanagh, who was destined to become queen. They had the desire and the courage to revolt once again. They had the wisdom of years on their side, as well as the painful lesson from the first failure. And yet they were still missing two things that were vital: the Stone of Eventide and the Queen’s Canon. That was when I joined them, for I had inherited memories from a distant ancestor who had buried the magical stone centuries ago. If I could recover the stone, magic would return to the Kavanaghs, and the other Maevan Houses might join our revolution at last.
And that was exactly what I had done. All of this had happened mere days and weeks ago, and yet it felt like it had happened very long ago, like I was looking back upon all of it through fractured glass, even though I was still bruised and battered from battle and secrets and betrayals, from discovering the truth of my own Maevan heritage. I sighed, let my reveries fall away as I continued to regard Jourdain sitting at the table. His dark auburn hair was pulled back by a ribbon, which made him look Valenian, but a circlet crowned his head, a glimmer of light. He was dressed in simple black breeks and a leather jerkin with a golden falcon stitched over the breast, the proud sigil of his House. There was still a cut on his cheek from the battle, slowly healing. A testament of what we had just endured. Jourdain glanced down into his chalice, and I finally saw it—the flicker of uncertainty, the doubt in himself, the haunting unworthiness—and I took a goblet of cider and drew out the chair close to his, to sit at his side. I had grown up in the company of five other ardens at Magnalia House, five girls who had become like sisters to me. Yet these past few months surrounded by men had thoroughly taught me about their natures, or, more important, how fragile their hearts and egos were.
I remained quiet at first, and we watched his people bring forth steaming platters of food, setting them down on the tables. I began to notice it, though; quite a few of the MacQuinns talked in hushed tones, like they were still afraid to be overheard. Their clothes were clean but threadbare, their faces deeply grooved from years of hard labor, decades absent of smiles. Several of the boys were even sneaking slivers of ham from the platter, stuffing the food in their pockets, as if they were accustomed to being hungry. And it was going to take time for the fear to fade, for the men and women and children of this land to heal and find restoration. “Does this all feel like a dream to you, Father?” I eventually whispered to Jourdain, when I felt the weight of our silence. “Hmm.” Jourdain’s favorite sound, which meant he was agreeing in half. “Some moments it does. Until I look for Sive and realize she is no longer here.
Then it feels like reality.” Sive, his wife. I could not help but imagine what she had been like, a woman of valor, of bravery, riding into battle all those years ago, sacrificing her life. “I wish I had known her,” I said, sadness filling my heart. I was familiar with such a feeling; I had lived with it for many years, this longing for a mother. My own mother had been Valenian, having died when I was three. But my father had been Maevan. Sometimes, I felt broken between these two countries: the passion of the south, the sword of the north. I wanted to belong here with Jourdain, with the MacQuinn people, but when I thought of my paternal blood … when I remembered that Brendan Allenach, lord as he was traitor, was my blood father … I wondered how I could ever be accepted here, in this castle that he had terrorized. “What does this feel like to you, Brienna?” Jourdain asked.
I thought for a moment, savoring the golden warmth of the firelight and the happiness that swelled in Jourdain’s people as they began to gather around the tables. I listened to the music Luc spun on his violin, melodious and sweet, rousing smiles from the men and women and children, and I leaned toward Jourdain, to rest my head upon his shoulder. And so I gave him the answer that he needed to hear, not the one that I fully felt yet. “It feels like coming home.” I didn’t realize how ravenous I was until the food was set down, platters of roasted meats and herbsprinkled vegetables, breads softened by butter, pickled fruits, and plates of sliced cheese with different-colored rinds. I piled more food than I could possibly handle onto my plate. While Jourdain was preoccupied with speaking to the men and women who continually ascended the dais to formally greet him, Luc pulled his chair around so he could face Cartier and me. “Yes?” I prompted when Luc continued to smile at us. “I want to know the truth,” he said. “About what, brother?” Luc cocked his brow.
“About how the two of you knew each other! And why you never said anything about it! During our planning meetings … how did you not know? As far as the rest of our rebel group went, we all believed you two were strangers.” I kept my eyes on Luc, but I felt Cartier’s gaze shift to me. “We never said anything because we did not know of the other’s involvement,” I said. “In the planning meetings, you called Cartier Theo D’Aramitz. I didn’t know who that was. And then you called me Amadine Jourdain, and Cartier didn’t know who that was.” I shrugged, but I could still feel the shock of the revelation, that heady moment when I had realized Cartier was Lord Morgane. “A simple misunderstanding caused by two aliases.” A simple misunderstanding that could have destroyed our entire mission to restore the queen. Since I had known where my ancestor had buried the Stone of Eventide, I had been sent to Maevana, to seek Lord Allenach’s hospitality while I covertly recovered the stone on his lands.
In addition, Jourdain’s rebel group had planned for Lord Morgane to masquerade as a Valenian noble visiting Castle Damhan for the autumnal hunt. His true mission was to prepare the people for the queen’s return. “And who told you about it?” I asked Luc. “Merei,” my brother said, taking a quick sip of ale to hide how his voice softened when he spoke her name. Merei, my best friend and roommate at Magnalia, who had passioned in music and had also known Cartier for what I had always believed him to be—a Valenian master of knowledge. “Mm-hmm,” I said, relishing the fact that my brother was now the one to flush beneath my scrutiny. “What? She offered the truth to me after the battle,” Luc stammered. “Merei said, ‘Did you know Lord Morgane taught Brienna at Magnalia? And we had no idea he was a Maevan lord?’” “And so—” I started, but was cut short by Jourdain, who suddenly rose to his feet. At once, the hall fell quiet, every eye going to him as he held his chalice, gazing over his people for a few moments. “I wanted to speak a few words, now that I have returned,” he began.
“I cannot tell you how it feels to be home once more, to be reunited with you. For the past twenty-five years, I have thought of you upon rising, and upon lying down at night. I spoke your names in my mind when I could not sleep, remembering your faces and the sound of your voices, the talents of your hands, the joy of your friendship.” Jourdain paused, and I saw the tears in his eyes. “I have done wrong by you, to abandon you as I did that night of the first rising. I should have stayed my ground; I should have been here when Lannon arrived, seeking me …” A painful lull overcame the hall. There was only the sound of our breaths coming and going, the crackle of the fire burning in the hearth, a child cooing in its mother’s arms. I felt my heart quicken, as I had not expected him to say this. I glanced at Luc, whose face had gone pale. Our eyes met; our thoughts united as we both thought, What should we do? Should we say something? I was one moment away from rising myself when I heard the steady footsteps of a man approaching the dais.
It was Liam, one of Jourdain’s remaining thanes, who had escaped Maevana years ago to search for his fallen lord and who had eventually found Jourdain in hiding, joining our revolution. We could not have fully revolted without Liam’s insight. I watched him now ascend the steps and set his hand on Jourdain’s shoulder. “My lord MacQuinn,” the thane said. “Words cannot describe what we feel to see you return to this very hall. I speak for all of us when I say that we are overjoyed to be reunited with you. That we thought of you every morning upon rising, and every evening as we lay down to sleep. That we dreamt of this very moment. And we knew you would return for us one day.” Jourdain stared at Liam, and I saw the emotion building in my father.
Liam continued. “I remember that dark night. Most of us here do. Coming around you in this very hall after the battle, bringing your lad into your arms.” He glanced to Luc, and the love in his eyes nearly stole my breath. “You fled because we asked and wanted you to, Lord MacQuinn. You fled to keep your son alive, because we could not bear to lose the both of you.” Luc rose, walking around the table to stand on the other side of Liam. The thane set his right hand upon my brother’s shoulder. “We welcome you both back, my lords,” Liam said.
“And we are honored to serve you once more.” The hall came alive as everyone stood, holding up their cups of ale and cider. Cartier and I stood as well, and I held my cider up to the light, waiting to drink to my father’s and brother’s health. “To Lord MacQuinn—” Thane Liam started, but Jourdain abruptly turned to me. “My daughter,” he rasped, extending his hand for me. I all but froze, surprised, and the hall fell silent as everyone looked at me. “This is Brienna,” Jourdain said. “My adopted daughter. And I could not have returned home without her.” I suddenly was flooded with the fear that the truth from Castle Damhan had spread—Lord Allenach has a daughter.
Because I had certainly announced myself as Allenach’s long-lost daughter last week in his hall. And while I did not know the extent of the terror and brutality that had happened on this soil, to this people, I did know that Brendan Allenach had betrayed Jourdain, and had taken Jourdain’s people and lands twenty-five years ago. I was their enemy’s daughter. When they looked at me, did they still see a shade of him? I am no longer an Allenach. I am a MacQuinn, I reminded myself. I stepped to Jourdain’s side, let him take my hand and draw me even closer, beneath the warmth of his arm. Thane Liam smiled at me, an apologetic gleam in his eyes, as if he was sorry to have overlooked my presence. But then he raised his cup and said, “To the MacQuinns.” The toast bloomed throughout the hall, scattering the shadows, soaring as light up to the rafters. I hesitated for only a moment before I lifted my cider and drank to it.
After the feast, I found myself being ushered by Jourdain with Cartier and Luc up the grand stairs to the room that had once been my father’s office. It was a wide chamber with walls carved deep with bookshelves, the stone floors overlaid with furs and rugs to mask our footsteps. An iron chandelier hung above a table set with a beautiful mosaic face, the beryl, topaz, and lapis lazuli squares depicting a falcon in flight. On one wall was a large map of Maevana; I took a moment to admire it before joining the men at the table. “It’s time to plan the second step of our revolution,” Jourdain said, and I recognized the same spark that I had seen in him when we had plotted our return to Maevana in the dining room of his Valenian town house. How distant those days felt now, as if that had occurred in another life entirely. On the surface, it would seem that the hardest leg of our revolution was over. But when I began to think upon all that sprawled before us, exhaustion began to creep up my back, weigh upon my shoulders. There was plenty that could still go wrong. “Let’s begin by writing down our concerns,” Jourdain suggested.
I reached for fresh parchment, a quill, and a stopper of ink, preparing to scribe. “I’ll go first,” Luc volunteered. “The Lannons’ trial.” I wrote The Lannons on the paper, shivering as I did so, as if the mere scratch of the quill’s nib could summon them here. “Their trial is in eleven days,” Cartier said. “So we have eleven days to decide their fate?” Luc asked. “No,” Jourdain replied. “We will not decide it. Isolde has already made it known that the people of Maevana will judge them. Publicly.
” I wrote that down, remembering that historic event three days ago when Isolde had entered the throne room after battle, splattered with blood, the people standing behind her. She had removed the crown from Gilroy’s head, struck him multiple times, and then made him slither down to the floor, to lie prostrate before her. I would never forget that glorious moment, the way my heart had beat with the realization that a queen was about to return to the Maevan throne. “We arrange a scaffold on the castle green, then, so all may attend,” Cartier said. “We bring forth the Lannons one at a time.” “And we have our grievances read aloud,” Luc added. “Not just ours, but anyone who wishes to testify against the Lannons’ transgressions. We should send word to the other Houses, to bring their grievances to the trial.” “If we do so,” Jourdain warned, “the entire Lannon family will most likely face death.” “The entire Lannon family must be held accountable,” Cartier said.
“That is how it has always been done in the north. The legends call it the ‘bitter portions’ of justice.” I knew that he was right. He had taught me the history of Maevana. To my Valenian sensibilities, this merciless punishment felt dark and harsh, but I knew this had been done to prevent resentment growing in noble families, to hold those with power in check. “Lest we forget,” Jourdain said, as if he had read my mind, “Lannon has all but annihilated the Kavanagh House. He has tortured innocent people for years. I do not like to assume that Lannon’s wife and his son, Declan, supported him in such endeavors—perhaps they were too afraid to speak out. But until we can properly interview them and those around them, I think it is the only way. The Lannon family as a whole must be punished.
” He fell quiet, deep in thought. “Any public support we can gather for Isolde is vital and needs to happen quickly. While the throne is empty, we are vulnerable.” “The other houses need to publicly swear fealty to her,” I said. “Yes,” my father replied. “But even more so, we need to forge new alliances. Breaking an oath is far easier to do than breaking an alliance. Let’s sort through the alliances and rivalries we know of— it’ll give us an idea of where we need to begin.” I wrote House Alliances first, creating a column to fill. With fourteen Houses to consider, I knew this could quickly become a tangled mess.
Some of the older alliances were the sort of relationships that had originated when the tribes became Houses and received their blessings from the first queen, Liadan, centuries ago. And they were often alliances forged from marriage and from sharing borders and similar foes. But I also knew that Gilroy Lannon’s reign had most likely corrupted some of those alliances, so we could not wholly depend upon historical knowledge. “Which Houses support Lannon?” I asked. “Halloran,” Jourdain said after a moment. “Carran,” Cartier added. I wrote those names down, knowing there was one more, one final House that had fully supported the Lannons during the terror. And yet the men were not going to say it; it would have to come from my own mouth. “Allenach,” I murmured, preparing to add it to the list. “Wait, Brienna,” Cartier said gently.
“Yes, Lord Allenach supported Lannon. However, your brother, Sean, has now inherited the House. And your brother joined us in the battle on the green.” “My half brother, but yes. Sean Allenach threw his support behind Isolde, even if it was lastminute. Do you want me to persuade Sean to publicly support the Kavanaghs?” I questioned, wondering how I could even go about such a conversation. “Yes,” Jourdain said. “Gaining Sean Allenach’s support is vital.” I nodded, eventually writing Allenach off to the side. We conversed through the remaining alliances that we knew of: Dunn—Fitzsimmons (through marriage) MacFinley—MacBran—MacCarey (covers the northern half of Maevana; alliance shared from a common ancestor) Kavanagh—MacQuinn—Morgane