Chapter 13

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Maelyn tugged open the castle’s main door and wondered where the Door Princess had gone. Arialain should be doing this. The townspeople shuffled out, most looking happier than when they arrived. The sun hung just above the treetops of Lumen Forest. Maelyn inhaled the cool air and caught the scent of blackbird pie baking for supper.

She stood on the doorstep, watching the people trek the dirt road back to town. The road cut a wide path through the trees, but otherwise Lumen Forest wrapped Castle Hill like a dark green skirt, with a round clearing on top for the castle and their gardens.

As she turned to go in, a man emerged from the forest. He’d taken the Wending Way, coming out near the corner of the castle. Maelyn waved. “Hello, Willow!”

When he crossed the clearing, her smile sagged. He still held The Carnivorous Carriage.

“The miser didn’t want it,” said Maelyn. It wasn’t a question. Even if Willow had hidden the book, the reluctance in his walk would have told her.

“I’m sorry, my lady.” Willow’s face drooped with disappointment. “I failed you again.”

Maelyn suddenly felt tired. She sat on the doorstep and rested her forehead on her fingertips. After a moment, Willow sat beside her. He laid the book between them and stretched out his legs, digging his boot heels into the dirt.

“I really thought he would take it,” said Willow. “He said he didn’t know the story and flipped through the pages a long time. But then he said it looked unpleasant.”

“It is.” Maelyn sighed. “That’s why I thought he would like it.”

Willow gave a slight smile. “Is it a scary story?”

“Very! It’s about an enchanted carriage that draws itself without horses. It can take you anywhere in the world. But there is a risk.”

Willow raised his eyebrows. “Well?”

Maelyn smiled and shook her head. “The carriage draws its energy from human flesh. Every so often, it must consume one of its travelers to keep going.”

“Holy Toes!” said Willow.

“No one knows when or how often the carriage feeds. So when you step inside, you take a gamble. You may arrive safely at your destination. Or… you might be the carriage’s next meal.”

“How does it eat them?” Willow asked eagerly.

Maelyn laughed. “I don’t know! But when the carriage arrives, all that’s left is a skeleton. Fully clothed, still seated. And the walls and ceiling inside the carriage are spattered with fresh blood.” She shuddered, remembering how she’d slept with all the candles burning for almost a month. And began traveling everywhere on foot.

“May I borrow this book?” Willow asked. Maelyn laughed again. “Please, keep it! I never want to read it again.”

“Thank you, my lady!” Willow tucked the book under his elbow. “If I may ask, what do you like to read?”

Maelyn watched the sun lean closer to the trees. “Stories that take me to wonderful places. Where everything is magical and unexpected. That make me forget where I am… and who I am.”

Willow watched her quietly. When Maelyn looked over, his eyes held concern. “What’s troubling you, my lady?”

Maelyn stood up. She had spoken too much. “Thank you, Willow. Return tomorrow and I’ll give you another book to trade with the miser. I wish you a good evening.”

She stepped inside but a thought turned her back. “Did you happen to see Ari on the Wending Way?”

Willow twisted to look up at her. “Princess Arialain? Yes, walking with a short fellow. They looked quite happy.”

Maelyn looked toward the Wending Way and ground her teeth. “Not for long.”

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