Everwylde

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The village was like all the others she had seen before. But this time, Ravyn was close to locating the woman responsible for wiping out her loved ones.

Every time she closed her eyes, she dreamed of the night her family was killed.

And she heard the witch’s laughter.

“This is a mistake,” Margery muttered for the hundredth time.

Ravyn looked at her traveling companion as she maneuvered her horse to a stop. “I told you not to come.”

“As if I would let that happen after what Leoma went through.”

“She was not alone.”

Margery sighed loudly. “Braith does not count.”

“Oh, I would not say that,” she replied with a smile before dismounting.

“Do you ever think about anything other than lying with a man?” Margery asked irritably.

Ravyn came around the front of her horse and raised a brow at her friend. “Let us find you a man tonight so you can rid yourself of your maidenhead and learn the truth for yourself.”

Margery’s russet-colored eyes quickly lowered to the ground as she adjusted her skirts and smoothed her hand along her sandy blond braid. “Nay.”

“I was terrified my first time.” Ravyn tied her mount to a post and ran a hand down the mare’s neck. “You need to find the right man. Someone who knows what he is doing, and who will make sure you feel pleasure, as well.”

“Enough,” Margery said and turned her back to Ravyn.

She came up alongside her friend. “Stop being a prig. I have seen the way you look at men. There is nothing wrong with being curious about your body.”

Margery nervously licked her lips before shooting her a glance. “I am not like you, Ravyn. You have always been confident in yourself and your abilities. Men recognize that and flock to you.”

“They come to me because I let them know I am interested,” she said with a laugh. “And once you have a taste of pleasure, you will, as well.”

“I want what Leoma and Braith have.”

Ravyn ignored the small pain in her heart at the mention of love. She didn’t wish for such things because she knew it would never find her. “Then I wish you luck.”

“You speak as if you do not want that.”

She clasped Margery’s hand and gave it a squeeze before releasing her and facing the village. “I only want one thing.”

“Revenge.”

“Justice,” Ravyn corrected.

Margery shrugged. “Same difference.”

“You came to Edra as a baby without any knowledge of your family, so do not think to tell me there is no difference,” Ravyn declared as she walked past her.

She didn’t slow until she came to the tavern. If there was one place to learn what was going on in a village, it was a pub. Ravyn nodded to the serving girl as she entered and took a seat.

The establishment was full with patrons. The noise that bordered on chaos might put some off, but she found it comforting. It reminded her of home, of her large family before it had all been taken away.

“I apologize,” Margery said as she stood beside the table.

Ravyn motioned to the vacant chair. She’d been in a foul mood for the past two weeks, though she couldn’t explain why. It wasn’t Margery’s fault that she didn’t understand the need for justice. Though, honestly, few at the abbey could.

They were the lucky ones.

Then again, Ravyn knew how fortunate she was to have been found by Radnar and Edra. The witch and her knight took in many homeless and abandoned children. The abbey deep within the forest was hidden by Edra’s magic, and for years, it was the only place Ravyn felt safe.

With Radnar’s help, Ravyn turned that fear into strength. He’d offered to train her to be a Hunter. At first, the thought of going after witches from the Coven terrified Ravyn, but the more she trained, the less afraid she became.

The day she’d helped track down a witch from the Coven was the dawn of a new era for Ravyn. She recognized the power she wielded, and she knew then that she could find the witch responsible for ruining her life—and finally get justice for her family.

Ravyn might not have magic of her own, but that didn’t stop her. She was a skilled Hunter, the best at the abbey. Each arrow she used with her specialized crossbow was imbued with Edra’s magic to help kill witches.

Because it took more than a weapon to bring them down. It took magic.

It was one reason everyone feared witches. They were nearly impossible to kill. It was also why the Hunters were needed. Someone had to bring the Coven under control. Because whatever it was they wanted couldn’t be good.

Leoma and Braith had stumbled upon the Blood Skull, the head of the very first witch. Braith was now the Warden of the skull.

While they knew very little of what the relic could do, it had brought Braith back from the dead. And the Coven wanted it. That was enough for Ravyn to want to keep it away from them, regardless of whether the skull could help the Hunters or not.

Ravyn pulled herself from thoughts of the past and focused on the conversations around her. She glanced at Margery to find her friend talking. While Margery was a good Hunter, she worried about everything and wasn’t always comfortable in her role.

No one was forced to become a Hunter. It was their choice. Anyone could stay at the abbey, but they had to pull their weight. Whether it was being a Hunter, forging weapons, training others, or caring for those who sought shelter, there was always work to be done.

After ordering drinks and food, Ravyn sat back, nodding as Margery continued to talk. But she wasn’t listening. Her attention was on the others around her.

It took her less than a minute to learn that the lord of the keep near them, a John Atwood, had gone back on his word to the neighboring baron, Randall Bryce, over a plot of land between their two estates. Now the two were at war.

And the battle was not going well for Randall. In fact, based on the talk, it appeared that after only half a day, John’s force had somehow annihilated Randall’s.

Ravyn smiled at those around her. She flirted with one man while listening to the conversation at another table. It was a skill she’d learned from Edra, and it had saved her life multiple times. A discussion caught her attention, and she stopped flirting.

“Did ye see Carac in here earlier?” The man shook his head. “What kind of man leaves his army to come in here for a drink?”

What kind indeed, Ravyn wondered.

“His army was the clear victor,” another retorted. “Without a single one of ‘em dying.”

This Carac was either an imbecile who happened to have capable men—which wasn’t likely—or he knew he would win so didn’t bother to stay around and watch.

“The summons that took him from his drink did not please him,” someone said with a smirk.

Another man said, “He will return. He always does.”

The table laughed, but Ravyn knew she needed to find this Carac. He could lead her to the witch.

“Careful,” Margery murmured before their food was delivered.

Once the server walked away, Ravyn slid her gaze to Margery. “What is your meaning?”

“I heard their discussion, as well. Everyone in here did. You think Carac is working with a witch.”

Ravyn tore off a piece of the bread and nodded. “Did you miss the part where they said the army won without a man being killed?”

“Aye.”

“Magic has to be involved.”

Margery nodded slowly. “I honestly hoped you were wrong.”

“The blond witch was seen near here, and now this news. Without a doubt, we have her.”

“You just need to find her. She’s likely in the castle with Atwood.”

Ravyn grinned. “I came prepared for that.”

Margery looked at the ceiling as if praying for patience. “Please tell me I get to play your maid. I much prefer that role.”

“What? You’re not up to seduction?” Ravyn teased.

“I do think I hate you sometimes.”

Ravyn laughed and took a bite of the stew. “You would not turn your nose up so quickly if you would let me find you a man.”

“How many have you taken to your bed?” Margery asked in a whisper.

“Not nearly as many as you believe I have. Most times, I merely flirt and show a bit of cleavage. I have no idea why men seem to lose their senses when they see breasts, but it is a fact that it loosens their tongues and addles their minds.”

Margery glanced down at her flat chest. “I will not be able to do the same.”

“Sure you will. It is not about what assets you do or do not possess. It is how you hold yourself, the way you talk, and how you look at them. They need to believe that you have eyes for no one else, nor will you ever.”

A frown marred Margery’s brow. “So, you lie.”

“You call it a lie, I call it a skill to gain information. Not only do I use my crossbow, but I also use my body. I do not like harming anyone—unless they are witches. Yet there are those out there who protect the Coven. I can either make them bleed or give them false hope that I will share my body.”

Margery swallowed. “I wanted to be a Hunter.”

“But your heart is not in it.” Ravyn had known for a long time. It was time for her friend to realize it, as well.

Margery shook her head and pushed away her platter of food. “I do not have the drive you or even Leoma have.”

“You know how to fight, and I can use someone watching my back. Once we return to the abbey, you can decide what to do.”

“I will always have your back.”

Ravyn smiled and looked away, only to find a man staring at Margery. She tapped her foot against Margery’s. “You have an admirer. Are you sure you wish to remain untouched?”

“Find me a skilled man, and I might rethink it,” Margery replied with a grin.

Ravyn laughed, accepting the challenge. “By the time we return to the others, you will be a woman in all ways.”

“You assume a man would want me.”

“Look around,” Ravyn told her. “Men are looking at you.”

Margery shot her a hard look. “Nay, my dear friend. They look longingly at you.”

Ravyn sat back and ignored everyone in the pub. She took a drink and slowly lowered the tankard of ale. “I was very much like you once.”

“You were never like me,” Margery said with a shake of her head.

“You were still a babe, but I would hardly leave my chamber. Edra would spend hours coaxing me into the sunshine. It took months before I felt that I could walk about the abbey safely. I feared everything.”

Margery folded her hands in her lap. “Because of what happened to your family.”

“You might not have suffered such a tragedy, but that does not make your anxiety any less genuine. You know what we fight. You have seen them.”

“And what they can do.”

Ravyn drew in a deep breath. “Not all witches are evil. Edra taught us that, but any witch who joins the Coven strengthens their power. We cannot sit idly by and wait to see what happens.”

Margery’s lips twisted. “I was hiding behind the door when you gave that argument to Edra and Radnar a few days ago. While you have a point, we both know why you came here. And so does Edra.”

“Justice.” Ravyn touched the inside of her left wrist.

Beneath the sleeve of her gown was the image of a Norse rune. She’d had Asa tattoo it onto her skin after her first training lesson.

“Radnar’s right. Killing this witch will not return your family.”

Ravyn dropped her hand and met Margery’s russet gaze. “I’m a Hunter. I take out any of the Coven, so no other innocents are harmed. The justice I seek is not only for my family but also for all the other families who do not have a voice.”