Chapter 4

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“You can’t be his younger brother,” said Maelyn. “Rowan had only a sister.”

“I was not born his brother,” said the young man before her throne. “His mother took me in as a child.”

“You were an orphan?” Maelyn asked.

“Yes, my lady. We have that in common.”

Maelyn blinked, stunned at his boldness. Though all of Runa knew her birth story, no one spoke of it. Ever. “And what do they call you?” she asked to change the subject.

“Willow, my lady.” The young man grinned. “The family is fond of trees.”

Maelyn pinched her smile before it spread. The sister was Maple. The father was Spruce. Even Rowan’s infant son had been called Lumen for the ancient trees native to Runa.

Still she felt suspicious. “Why have I never seen you before?” Though she’d noticed him at the burial, he looked too unlike Rowan to be taken for family. Slender and tall. Yellow hair in careless waves. Barely older than herself, she guessed.

"I don’t venture out much,” said Willow. “I work best in solitude.”

“Yet you wish to be Royal Messenger?” Maelyn lifted her eyebrows. “That means venturing out quite a bit.”

“I do wish it.” Willow’s face grew earnest. “My brother served as your messenger, and his father before him. It would honor me to do the same.”

His voice rang true but Maelyn groaned inwardly. A new messenger meant her uncle’s question must be answered. She wished she had another task for Willow, something to delay sending him to Grunwold….

Maelyn pressed her scepter to her lips for a long moment. “Willow… do you know the Book Miser who lives in Creaklee?”

Willow looked taken aback. “I – I do, my lady. I’ve dealt with him.”

“Does he like you?”

Willow smirked. “Does he like anyone?”

Maelyn laughed, ashamed that she did. “I have your first task.” She reached beneath the legs of her throne and withdrew The Finicky Fairy. “I’m in need of something new to read. Take this to the Book Miser and trade it for whatever he will give you.”

Willow took the book from her outstretched hand and bowed. “My deepest thanks, my lady. I will not fail you.”

He strode for the arched doors at the far end of the throne room. Maelyn relaxed in her chair. How perfect. Her uncle would receive no message. And she would gain a new book without a verbal tussle with that wretched miser.

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