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The Harvest Moon Gathering, Kingdom of Mir
Three Years Ago

 “After this, dear brother, you owe us.”

Valenden, Trei, and Rangar—the three teenage princes of the Baersladen—crouched in the brambles at the edge of Saint’s Forest. The wheat field beyond, harvested a few days before, was now the site of the Mirien’s fabled Harvest Moon Gathering. An enormous bonfire licked orange flames high into the night sky. Sparks floated up and blended in with the stars. Residents of the Mirien, as well as Ruma and the forest kingdoms, danced and drank mead in the warm glow.

Valenden elbowed his young brother, Rangar. “I’m quite serious—you’ll owe us. If our father learns we came here instead of to Rossen, he’ll skin all three of us. Even though you are the only reason we’re here. You and that thing between your legs.”

Trei, the eldest brother, burst out laughing.

Rangar growled, “Shut it, Val. You wanted to come, too.”

“Only because I’ve heard the mead cannot be rivaled. Speaking of, we have to figure out a way to get our hands on a bottle or two…"


The brothers watched the festival with longing in their eyes. Though technically the Baersladen royal family was always invited to attend, their father forbade it, and for good reason. Seven years ago, Rangar had saved the life of the youngest Mir princess, which made her his—though her family hadn’t seen things the same way, and ever since, violence threatened to break out if they returned.

Trei slapped Rangar. “Look. Your girl. There.”

A young lady, not quite a woman, dressed in a dusty rose-colored gown and a crown of wheat berries and dried flowers clasped hands and spun in circles, laughing, with two other young royals.

Rangar felt his breath still. Bryn.

It had been seven years since he’d seen her. Since he’d fought off the wolves attacking her and earned grotesque scars across his face in return. Whether he liked to admit it to himself or not, he’d thought of Bryn almost every day since then. Especially at night, when his mind was free to wander—it always seemed to wander back to her.

“Well, go on, then,” Valenden prodded. “Go confess that you’re hopelessly enthralled by her. And nab a few bottles of mead while you’re at it.”

“I cannot approach her,” Rangar growled. 

“Well then why the hell did we travel half a day to come?” Valenden asked.

Trei rested a hand on Val’s shoulder. “Rangar is right. The risk is too great. He wanted to see her again and now he has. We’ve got what we came for.”

Valenden again protested about sampling the mead, while Rangar couldn’t take his eyes off of Bryn. Laughing and dizzy, she broke away from the other girls and stumbled a ways away from the bonfire to catch her breath. She turned away from the crowd and unfastened a button from the top of her gown to help herself breathe. Rangar was just close enough to see the silver button pop off, fall into the field. Bryn didn’t seem to notice.

Trei gave his brothers a tap. “Let’s go. It’s a long ride back to Rossen.”

“You go,” Rangar said. “I’ll catch up.”

Trei raised his eyebrows, but he and Valenden headed back to where their horses waited deeper in the forest.

Rangar waited until Lady Bryn was called by her brother to hand out prizes for the greatest harvests, and ducking low, crept to where she had stood. It took him some time, but he found the silver button gleaming amid the wheat stalks.

He slipped it into the lining of his cloak before going to rejoin his brothers.

Not much. Just a token.

But until she could truly be his, until she was of age, it was as much of her as he could have.


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