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House of Beating Wings by Olivia Wildenstein

House of Beating Wings

by Olivia Wildenstein

Published by Wildstone Publishing

Book 1 in the Kingdom of Crows Series


Until an oracle predicted my regal future, I'd never imagined myself rising above the curve of my round ears. After all, I was the magicless halfling loved by beasts but loathed by every pure-blooded faerie at court. Well . . . by all but one.

Dante Regio, prince of Luce, had owned my heart since he gave me my first kiss. If gathering a slew of iron relics could help me overthrow the current monarch and crown his brother to rule at my side, then treasure hunting I'd go.If only the oracle had warned me what winged demon I was releasing into the world.And that I'd become this demon's obsession.Fans of Sarah J. Maas and Mary E. Pearson will devour this epic fantasy romance full of deceit, betrayal, and false loves that could swallow a person whole.



Violence, Classism


I have been meaning to read this book since I received a copy through Bookish Box. The cover and art work was beautiful, and the featured quote intrigued me big time. When they announced that they were doing book two and three, I figured I should read it before investing.

And I'm glad I did.

While there were things I really enjoyed about this story, there was something pretty major that ruined the whole thing for me.


Yup, the main character, the most important character in the book, and the one you are meant to root for, ruined the book for me.

I don't expect perfection in characters. Not at all. In fact, if they are flawed, they are more interesting to me. But flawed and annoying are two very different traits, and Fallon was just ... annoying.

If I had to point out what specifically annoyed me about her, was her blind devotion to the prince. He could have literally waved a red flag in her face, and she would have found an excuse for it. It would have been fine if it was just the first part of the book, but it goes on ... and on ... and on.

It's brutal.

Antoni was likeable. I wouldn't have minded her having a relationship with him before meeting Lore. Of course, Fallon was written in a way that made me like her even less when she essentially uses Antoni to make herself feel better.

Then there was just her blindly doing what this strange woman tells her to do. No matter how insane it sounded, she just took it as truth.

Who does that?

It would have made more sense for Fallon to take Bronwen's prophecy as a joke, and not believe in it until she stumbles upon the first crow and begins to think it's true.

I would have enjoyed that more, because than at least I wouldn't feel like Fallon is a naive character that will literally believe everything told to her.

Frankly, if it wasn't for her friends, I think I would have gave up on this book. Because we don't even get introduced to the most interesting character - Lore - until we are well into the story.

Over 30% of her mooning over a jerk before we get him, and we don't even truly get him till much later.

I can't forget that there was some weird word choices that took me out of the story as well. Like "meet cute". Normal for a rom com, or contemporary ... but a fantasy?

I didn't really get into the story until Fallon left on her journey. When it was just Lore and her, it was interesting. Even though he was a crow for most of it, I loved their interactions. The banter between the two of them was great.

But I don't think I will be finishing the series.

I got 18% into the second book, and Fallon continues to annoy me ... a lot.

I just can't devote time and energy into a series where I can't truly enjoy it.

Which is too bad, because I like the story. I love Lore. I love the idea of the Crows.

I just can't stand Fallon.



Fallon: “Swimming? You swim?”

Antoni: “My element is water.”

Fallon: “True, but no one’s element is mareserpens.”

His gaze is so heavy on my face that my cheeks smolder.

Antoni: “Save you.”

Fallon: “I’ve only ever met one.”

I lower my eyes to the canal, wondering if Minimus is somewhere beneath the moonlit water.

Fallon: “Maybe the others would hate me.”

Antoni: “I don’t think any being could hate you, Fallon.”

Bronwen: “Free the crows, Fallon.”

Fallon: “Free them? These statues are trapped?”

Bronwen: “Yes.”

Fallon: “Where?”

Bronwen: “They’re hidden across the kingdom.”

I toss my hands up in frustration.

Fallon: “Then how in Gods’ names am I supposed to locate them?”

Bronwen stops withdrawing.

Bronwen: “The first will lead you to the others.”

Fallon: “Great. And where is the first?”

She pauses for so long that I blow a breath out the corner of my mouth.

Fallon: “Do keep up the suspense. It’s so very enjoyable.”

Nonna: “Have you slept with him?”

Although my grandmother has very few wrinkles, her forehead is so puckered she suddenly looks all three hundred and forty-seven years of her age.

Fallon: “Not that that’s any of your business, Nonna, but no.”

Nonna: “That man has a reputation.”

Up till that moment, I only teetered on the edge of insolence. Now, I dive right in.

Fallon: “And so do Rossi women. I guess Antoni and I are perfect for one another. Especially since he’s no prince. At least, now, I’m not overreaching, right?”

Sybille: “You read too many books.”

Fallon: “And you read too few.”

A hummingbird zips in front of my window to quench its thirst on our wisteria, wings pumping so fast its body appears suspended. It reminds me of my life-changing iron crows.

Sybille: “I live; you dream.”

Because dreams are safe, and life . . . well, life isn’t.

Fallon: “Syb, if someone gave you a key to open a door you’ve always fantasized about opening, would you open it?”

A small vertical groove appears between her thin black eyebrows.

Sybille: “I’d knock first.”

Fallon: “It’s a hypothetical door.”

Sybille: “Then I’d hypothetically knock.”

Phoebus: “I should ask you for pointers, since I’ve yet to snag a man’s heart with my kisses.”

Fallon: “Perhaps because you kiss them below the belt, and hearts are higher up.”

Phoebus grins.

Phoebus: “Did my favorite maiden just make a dirty joke?”

Fallon: “How much do soldiers make?”

I muse aloud.

Cato: “Women cannot become soldiers.”

Fallon: “Right. Because we’re so governed by our whims.”

Cato side-eyes my waterlogged dress. Fine.

Fallon: “I admit I acted a tad impulsively tonight, but at least, I acted. Can you imagine me using that impetuosity and courage in battle?”

Cato fights off a smile.

Cato: “I’d pity the opposing army.”

Fallon: “He does seem nice.”

Phoebus smiles.

Phoebus: “You spoke to him for all of thirty seconds.”

Fallon: “I would’ve spoken to him longer if you hadn’t sent him on his merry way.”

Phoebus: “My friend needed me. Friends always trump boyfriends.”

Fallon: “Boyfriend, huh?”

He shrugs.

Phoebus: “Maybe. We’ll see.”

Fallon: “You really like him, don’t you?”

Phoebus: “I really like his mouth.”

Fallon: “He does have a pretty mouth.”

Fallon: “I broke things off with Antoni last night.”

Phoebus’s blond eyebrows shoot way up.

Phoebus: “Damn. I had a bet going with Syb about which man you’d choose.”

I look away from the looming checkpoint.

Fallon: “You thought I’d choose Antoni?”

Phoebus: “I actually bet on a ménage.”

I choke on my next swallow.

Fallon: “You bet that I’d have a threesome with a prince and a fisherman?”

He grins.

Phoebus: “A Fae can dream.”

Fallon: “You dream of me with two men?”

Phoebus: “In my dream, I’m the one standing in your shoes.”

Fallon: “What did you bet?”

Phoebus: “Swapping lives for a day.”

I smile.

Fallon: “No . . .”

Phoebus: “Yes . . .”

My cheeks ache from how wide I grin.

Fallon: “You agreed to wake up before noon, sweep the tavern, and serve obnoxious customers? Oh my Gods, Pheebs, you. Will. Die.”

Phoebus: “I didn’t think I’d lose.”

Fallon: “Clearly.”

I snort.

Fallon: “Why in the world would your virginal friend not want to lay with two men for her first time?”

Phoebus: “Exactly. Why choose?”

By the time we reach the porticoed entrance of the Acolti manor, I’ve rearranged my concerns by urgency—debt to Timeus, gathering of crows because I do want to rule Luce (if only to browbeat spikey-eared idiots), Dante’s bedroom skills.

My friend bursts with natural charm, and none of it is artificial. He genuinely cares about round-eared citizens.

Fallon: “You’d make such a great king,”

I say, still clinging to his arm.

Phoebus: “Agreed.”

I smack his pec.

Fallon: “Careful, your pointy ears are showing.”

Fallon: “Why are we in your sister’s room?”

Phoebus: “Because you need shoes. I know I said I’d buy you a pair, and I will, but it’d be criminal of me to allow you to put those boots back on, even if it’s only to walk to the cobbler’s. I wouldn’t want to ruin my chances of obtaining a dukedom.”

Fallon: “Um, what do my boots have to do with you becoming a duke?”

Phoebus: “If you bag a prince, I expect a full ride to Isolacuori.”

I smirk.

Fallon: “Naturally.”

Phoebus grunts and groans.

Fallon: “You sound like a copulating boar.”

Phoebus: “I’d love to invite another man to share our bed tonight, my sweets. Do you have anyone in mind?”

I blink up at my friend, perplexed, until I catch the twinkle in his eye. The guard from earlier steps in front of us, gray eyes drawn to the bag.

Guard: “That was a quick lunch.”

Even though my battered arm is twisted around Phoebus’s, the bloodied bandage peeks out.

Guard: “And a brutal one.”

Phoebus shoots the man a tight-lipped smile.

Phoebus: “Keeping track now, are we?”

Guard: “Part of my job.”

The guard’s eyes rove over the lumpy shape of the leather.

Phoebus: “If you must know everything, it turns out my entire family has left for Tarespagia and forgotten to inform me, so I took my girl shopping instead, and she brushed up against a rusted hook, and— Hmm.”

Phoebus looks the male from gilt stand-up collar to polished boot.

Guard: “Might you be interested in joining us tonight? We were looking for an extra cock to spice things up.”

The guard’s attention jolts off our bulky satchel, and a blush steals across his jaw.

Guard: “I don’t—I—”

He shakes his head as though to toss off the heat filling it.

Guard: “Just cross.”

Phoebus chuckles at the man’s discomfiture and flings him a wink as he tugs me past him.

Phoebus tosses me a gold coin that flips head over tails as it arches through the air toward me. I cup my palms, just managing to catch the gold piece.

Phoebus: “And no paying me back.”

He starts for my door, but then his attention drops to my feet.

Phoebus: “Merda, we forgot about the cobbler.”

Fallon: “No cobbler. You’ve gone above and beyond. As for the coin . . .”

He plugs his ears as I insist on paying him back, then blows me a kiss and leaves.

As I unfasten my dress, I try to calculate how to capture the thing. If it starts flapping around my room, the men on the docked vessel will spot movement through my too-thin curtain.

I step out of my dress, and I swear the crow’s gaze drops to my bare ankles and rises slowly up the length of my body. I almost want to hide but crows are birds, not men. Even males.

Is it a male? Probably not. Nothing protrudes between his legs. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen anything protrude between the legs of cranes or ducks or any other winged animal. Why am I contemplating bird genitalia? Oh, right . . . because this creeper is staring.

Fallon: “What the Cauldron are you? First metal, then feathers, now smoke? What’s your next party trick, Crow? You’ll morph into a man?”

The crow glares at me. I glare right back.

Fallon: “I commit so many crimes, Commander. May I know which one has earned me a trip to the palace, escorted by my grandfather’s favorite right hand?”

Silvius smiles, oblivious, or more likely, impervious to my sarcasm.

Silvius: “Your diabolical choice of friends.”

Is he speaking of Phoebus?

Silvius: “Ptolemy Timeus is positively seething.”

I don’t even attempt to stifle my exhale.

Fallon: “High Fae have such tender egos.”

The corners of Silvius’s mouth rise as he leads me to a seat at the heart of the boat. Although I don’t want to sit, a stray wave coupled with his proximity forces my knees to bend.

Silvius: “And low Fae have such wicked tongues.”

He presses himself back to his full height.

Silvius: “In the royal harbor. A decade ago. Don’t think anyone’s forgotten.”

Fallon: “I wasn’t aware clumsiness was against Lucin law.”

He widens his stance as the boat merges onto open water, arrowing toward the looming island upon which resides the king, and ironically, the second of the five crows I need to collect.

Silvius: “It isn’t your clumsiness that worries our king.”

Fallon: “It’s my sympathy toward animals?”

Silvius: “You are troublingly humane.”

Silvius: “May I impart some wisdom with you, youngling?”

Fallon: “I’d save your breath, Commander.”

Silvius: “Commander.”

He gives my neck a harsh squeeze to convey his displeasure before finally removing his hand and straightening.

Silvius: “I’m neither your friend nor your equal.”

Fallon: “Cauldron forbid.”

Silvius leans over to whisper.

Silvius: “Look who awaits, Fallon.”

Without breaking eye contact with my grandfather, I deadpan,

Fallon: “Signorina Rossi. Like you said, Commander, we’re neither friends nor equals.”

Silvius: “Signorina Rossi, please proceed onto the quay.”

I glance from my grandfather to the commander, whose posture is as taut as a bow string and yet whose face ripples with nerves. Incredible how the presence of a superior can impact even the greatest brute’s composure.

Silvius: “Signorina Rossi, did my command not reach your ears?”

Silvius all but growls.

Fallon: “Hmm. Which one? You give many.”

Even though his nostrils are slimmer than my beast’s, Silvius pulses air as loudly as Minimus.

Silvius: “The one to disembark.”

Fallon: “Oh. I did hear that one but wasn’t certain whether I was, in fact, welcomed onto Isolacuori.”

My grandfather’s pupils constrict to dots no larger than the gold and ruby studs skimming the shells of his ears.

Ptolemy: “What of the immaterial damage the girl has caused me? We haven’t agreed on a price for that.”

My eyes widen in time with my mouth.

Fallon: “Immaterial damage?”

Ptolemy: “To my person.”

I scan his body, seeking injuries. When I find none, I level my gaze back on his face.

Fallon: “Oh . . . you meant to your ego?”

Dante: “No trouble, all right, Fallon the Charmer?”

Fallon: “You make me sound like a sorceress.”

Dante: “Would explain why I’m under your spell.”

I roll my eyes.

Fallon: “A minute ago, you wanted to strangle me.”

Dante: “And now I want to kiss you.”

Fallon: “Have you ever done something stupid for love, Nonna?”

Nonna: “I married your grandfather.”

Marcello: “Has Ceres met this friend of yours?”

His tone is strained.

Fallon: “Do you really think he’d still want to rendezvous with me if he’d met Nonna? She just may be more frightening than Justus.”

Sybille: “I wish you’d tell me where exactly you were going.”

Fallon: “Where the winds blow me.”

Sybille: “What if the winds blow you off a cliff?”

Fallon: “I’ll make sure not to stand too close to one’s edge.”

Guard: “Commander thinks the girl’s behind the birds,”

comes a voice I’ve never heard before.

Antoni: “He’s an imaginative man, the commander.”

Guard: “You think it impossible? Word is she can communicate with serpents.”

Antoni: “So can most females who work at Bottom of the Jug.”

Bronwen: Tà, Mórrgaht.”

Bronwen nods, pallid gaze fastened to the space the crow occupies.

Morrgot? Is that the creature’s name?

Apparently, I’ve asked my question out loud because Antoni says,

Antoni: “Creature?”

Fallon: “The crow.”

When his eyebrows stay knitted, I add,

Fallon: “The mythical, winged thingamajig perched up there. Is Morrgot his name?”

Antoni: “Thingamajig?”

Is he daft?

Fallon: “Oh my Gods, Antoni. What is wrong with you? Why do you keep repeating everything I say?”

Although Antoni’s mouth opens, Bronwen speaks first.

Bronwen: “Yes. Mórrgaht is his name.”

It’s an odd-sounding name.

Fallon: “It’s very . . . exotic?”

Antoni: “Common in Crow tongue.”

What feels like a decade later, I crawl out of the ditch onto a loamy embankment that’s cool to the touch. I could lie here a fortnight. But of course, Morrgot won’t let me. He hops until he’s standing right by my face, his molten eyes leveled on mine. I sigh.

Fallon: “I’m getting up. I’m getting up.”

I roll onto my back, my bones cracking like the wooden floor of Bottom of the Jug. My desire to pry myself up rivals my desire to succor a mystical crow from a ravine.

Fallon: “I’ve got an idea, Morrgot. A brilliant one. How about you fly down there, grab your friend, and carry him up to me, then I’ll remove the obsidian arrow that felled him?”

When I get no answering vision, I tear my gaze off the gauze of clouds and set it on the large black spot beside my head. The crow neither looks amused nor enthusiastic about my suggestion.

Fallon: “Should I take your complete apathy as a no?”

Fallon: “When I sit upon the Lucin throne, I swear to be a beacon for justice and equity.”

Morrgot: “The throne? What an ambitious woman you are.”

Fallon: “Will all five of your crows do what those two just did?”

Morrgot: Yes.

Fallon: “And all their names are Morrgot?”

Morrgot: Yes.

Fallon: “And Lore is your master?”

A beat of silence slips between us and then the word, Yes.

Fallon: “And this Lore, are we looking for him as well? Is he currently a statue spurting water into the king’s bath?”

The crow doesn’t smile, yet I feel his smile. How? I cannot explain it. Perhaps it’s the slow-churn of citrine ringing his pupils that are fastened to me. Perhaps it’s my imagination.

Morrgot: He’s not spitting water into anyone’s tub, no.

Fallon: “You have gold?”

Morrgot: Why is this so shocking?

Fallon: “Because you’re a bird! How can a bird possess coin? Did your master give it to you?”

Morrgot: No one gave me a thing, Fallon.

Morrgot’s eyes gleam darkly against the pitch-black sky, as though maddened I’ve relegated all he is to his physical nature.

Morrgot: I earned every coin of my wealth through lucrative treaties and hard work.

I snort. I cannot help it. I’m picturing Morrgot tapping on doors with his beak, rolled parchments clamped between his talons. And then, more ludicrous still, I imagine him dragging a plow through a field.

Fallon: “Are you telling me that you used your built-in iron extremities to amass wealth in honest ways?”

Morrgot: You got me. Thanks to my arsenal of Crow powers, I’ve managed to loot, eavesdrop, and murder to my heart and people’s content.

A beat of silence.

Morrgot: How else could a bird commandeer so much loyalty?

Fallon: “Some would say having a queen in your corner would be useful.”

Morrgot: Depends whose queen she is.

Fallon: “You aren’t speaking of people, are you? This was your . . . birddom?”

Kingdom sounds too human for a nest. The word wins me a hefty side-eye from Morrgot, who clearly disapproves of being zoomorphized.

Fallon: “Did you plant that moss to keep away intruders?”

He scoffs.

Morrgot: And poison my people?

His people? Antoni mentioned mountain dwellers domesticated crows, but Morrgot makes it sound as though it’s the other way around.

Fallon: “I suppose poisoning your human followers and their pet birds wouldn’t be all that smart.”

Morrgot: Pet birds?

He spits the words inside my mind.

Fallon: “My apologies. I shouldn’t have called them pets.”

Note to self: refer to his crows as people.

Fallon: “My grandfather is going to murder me,”

I muse out loud.

Morrgot: The dead can hardly murder.

The blood deserts my upper body.

Fallon: “My grandfather—he’s . . . you—you killed him?”

Is that what Morrgot stole off to do in the middle of the night? I cannot decide if I’m relieved or appalled.

Morrgot: Not yet, but rest assured, Fallon, that anyone who so much as wishes you harm will be dealt with accordingly.

I sigh.

Fallon: “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

The horse flutters its nostrils. I take it as an agreement.

Morrgot: Any day now, Fallon.

Fallon: “I’m glad you’re not as moody as he is. I don’t think I could’ve dealt with two grumpy companions.”

Fallon: “I’m so happy right now, I could kiss you.”

Morrgot turns his head as though the idea is so preposterous he can’t stand to look at me. His disgust merely makes me want to taunt him further. Especially since I have no one else to talk to.

Fallon: “Have you ever had a crow girlfriend?”

His eyes return to me.

Morrgot: I had many female friends.

Fallon: “Because of your status, or is there actual charm beneath that gruff exterior of yours?”

His pause is so great that I sense that I’ve either baffled him or piqued him.

Morrgot: What need would a king have for charm?

I’m not certain whether to laugh or frown. Is he serious?

Fallon: “I suppose you’re right, even though it makes me sad for you.”

Morrgot: Why would it make you sad?

I stare at him a moment longer before salvaging my brassiere and setting it to dry beside my shirt, then pluck off my socks and roll down both my pants and underwear.

Fallon: “Because of the type of friends power brings you. They’re not always the honest or loyal type.”

Morrgot: Once you make me whole, I will owe you my life, Behach Éan. You’ll have nothing to fear from me.

Fallon: Again with that nickname . . .

If he’s calling me names, then I demand he shares their meaning so I can make up some of my own.

Fallon: “What does Beyockeen mean?”

Morrgot: Are you averse to coconuts?

Fallon: “It means that?”

A distinct snort resonates through my mind as the crow takes off toward a palm tree, latches onto something.

I expect he’s going to wolf it down, but instead he lengthens his neck to offer it to me. I take it from him with a slow,

Fallon: “Thank you.”

As I chew it, he says,

Morrgot: Cúoco. That’s how we say coconut in Crow.

I swallow, then try out the word,


He peels out another chunk, which I pluck carefully from his beak, careful not to graze the razor-sharp iron.

Fallon: “And those delicious pink berries you brought me earlier?”

Morrgot: Beinnfrhal.

Fallon: “Benfrol.”

Morrgot: Literally, mountain berry.

Fallon: “And Beyockeen? What does that mean? Annoying one?”

His beak can’t twist into a smile, and yet, it feels like he’s smiling when he asks,

Morrgot: However did you guess?

I fake-glower at him. I’m certain it means something not great, but I really doubt I guessed correctly.

Fallon: “You’re such an ass.”

The chuckle that resounds between my temples widens my eyes.

Fallon: “Did you just . . . laugh, Morrgot?”

Morrgot: A charmless ass like myself laugh? You must be hearing things.

Fallon: “Selvatins are cannibals?”

I whisper, afraid my voice will carry and alert them to a fresh meal traveling their way.

Morrgot: Not all of them.

That does nothing to reassure me.

Fallon: “I slept enough to last me a full week. No need to laze about Selvati. I’ll just get a cloak with a hood and—”

Morrgot: You have nothing to worry about, Fallon.

Fallon: “You just told me Selvatins chomp on people. I don’t want to be chomped on! I don’t know about you, but my extremities and limbs don’t regen—”

Fallon: “Whore?”

Liana: “We heard where you work, girl.”

Liana’s lips are curled in disgust. I huff in annoyance.

Fallon: “I work in a tavern, not a brothel.”

Why does everyone believe Bottom of the Jug is a pleasure house? It’s not like it’s called Bottoms and Jugs. The only bottom most patrons ever see is that of a bottle.

Fallon: “Where did it come from?”

And no, I’m not planning on stealing from him, which isn’t to say that if he hands me a coin or three, I’ll turn any down. I have endured a lot.

Morrgot: From—how did you put it?—my nest full of libidinous birds.

Fallon: “Maybe you should ask your avian god to turn you into a hundred crows next.”

That earns me a robust side-eye.

Fallon: “Sure, it would make your next crow-collector’s job tedious, but it would greatly increase your chances of escaping your curse. Imagine how small you’d be if divvied up into a hundred crows. I’ve never tried driving a toothpick into a wasp, but I’m guessing it’d be quite tricky.”

He soars high, eyes on the horizon, large wings slicing through the inert heat. I cannot read his mind, yet feel he’s contemplating his future also. Once he’s achieved all of his and Lore’s political ambitions, will he settle with a female friend? Or five female friends, one for each of his crows?

He slants me a droll look.

Morrgot: Your shirt.

Morrgot and I haven’t talked once since our spat, if the heated words we exchanged could be considered a spat.

Fallon: “Ask nicely and I might unknot it.”

I thought we’d arrived at an understanding, he and I, but the only place we’ve reached is another impasse. He doesn’t trust me; I don’t trust him. What a team we make. I think he swears, but unlike Lucin, which sounds melodious even shrieked, every word in Crow sounds guttural and angry.

Fallon: “And keep your voice down. My brain hurts.”

That makes him quit his muttering.

I wait for him to ask me to unroll my shirt.

And wait.

How proud can a bird be?

Morrgot: If you don’t untuck your fucking shirt, I’ll inflict bodily harm on every Selvatin who leers at you. Is that truly what you want?

I pick open the knot and let the shirt drift back in place over my stomach.

Fallon: “That wasn’t nicely.”

Morrgot: I’m not a nice person.

Fallon: You’re not even a person.

Man: “You’re a girl?”

The man’s gaze snaps off Furia and onto me.

Fallon: “No.”

The man’s eyes drift to my chest and don’t move. Rude.

Morrgot: What part of keeping to the shadows didn’t you understand, Fallon?

Man: “But you’ve got titties,”

the observant bloke says.

Fallon: “I’m top-heavy. We’ve all got our flaws,”

I deadpan.

Sewell: “Can I bring you anything, sire?”

Fallon: “A bird bath and a bowl of seeds, perhaps?”

I suggest pleasantly. The smile drops from Sewell’s face.

Sewell: “What?”

Morrgot: Don’t taunt this man. He is good.

My cheeks warm.

Fallon: “I was taunting you, not him.”

Morrgot: Fallon. Bed.

Fallon: “Hmm . . .”

Morrgot: Fallon.

My lids pull up. The rods of light poking from around the window are brighter, whiter.

Morrgot: Don’t fall asleep in the bath.

Fallon: “Why not?”

Morrgot: You could drown.

Fallon: “In this much water?”

I brush my palms over the sudsy puddle, popping the lingering bubbles.

Fallon: “I may like defying the odds, but—”

Morrgot: Please.

That single word makes me heft myself out of the bath and crawl into bed. I moan when the sheets kiss my skin and my cheek meets the pillow.

Fallon: “I’m broken, Morrgot. You broke me.”

I think I hear him sigh, but that sound could very well have come from my lips.

Morrgot: Rest, Behach Éan.

Morrgot: Sewell has no female companion. Unless you care to become his, then I suggest you attempt to dress yourself. If you prove incapable of lacing your own gown, I’ll assist you.

Fallon: “Usually, it’s the undressing that leads to companionship, not the dressing,”

I mutter under my breath.

Fallon: “Not that I expect a bird to know anything about people courtship.”

Fallon: You can read my thoughts?!

Speaking into someone’s mind is one thing, but eavesdropping on someone’s thoughts without their knowledge of it? That’s . . . that’s—I feel duped. And stupid. And angry. Oh, so angry.

Morrgot: We’ll discuss the matter later, Fallon.

Fallon: Oh, you bet your feathery ass we will.

Insults may roll off our round ears, but they also trickle inside and round other parts of us. I will not be rounded.

My thoughts drift to Morrgot. Is he witnessing this from some shadow, or is he busy overseeing Sewell’s digging? I wish he’d flock to my shoulder and stare down these horrid people. Maybe even run a claw down their pretty gowns and nick their skin.

What am I thinking? I blow out my wickedness, ashamed. Nonna taught me better.

Morrgot: Although I will never sit on your shoulder, once I’m whole, we can revisit teaching them some manners.

Xema: “I see Ceres’s gaudy sense of fashion rubbed off on you.”

Xema holds her head so high that I can see up the narrow slits of her nose.

Gaudy? My grandmother’s frocks are as plain as the ones humans wear in Rax.

Fallon: “Sadly, the money she makes from selling tea and poultices doesn’t allow for gaudy gowns. Not that she’d have anywhere to wear them. You know, what with her being persona non grata for not turning her back on her daughter, or me, however sordid we both may be.”

Morrgot: Fallon, play nice. We aren’t quite done.

Fallon: They’re wretched.

Morrgot: I know, Behach Éan.

The crushed shell inserts between the slabs of sandstone blur. I blink the blur away, then raise my fingers to the collar of Dante’s jacket and undo the button.

Fallon: “I’m suddenly too warm, Altezza.”

He doesn’t extricate the military coat I dangle between us. Does he consider it dirty now that it’s touched my skin?

Fallon: “Shall I have it burned, or will laundering it be enough?”

Dante: “Fal, stop. You’re acting—you’re acting unlike yourself.”

Except I’m not. I’m speaking my mind and heart.

Fallon: “I’m sorry you preferred the doormat version of me best.”

Nonno: “If I learn this is your doing, Fallon . . .”

He lets his threat hang in the deathly quiet reception room.

Fallon: “Please.”

I roll my eyes.

Fallon: “If I sank the royal fleet, Nonno, I’d make sure you were on board one of the boats.”

Fallon: I really despise running.

Morrgot: You’ve almost arrived.

I hope he’s not pulling a Nonna. Whenever I complained that something dragged, she’d tell me it was almost finished. It was never even close to being done.

There’s a definitive smile to his voice.

Morrgot: I’m not pulling a Nonna.

Fallon: Now that we’ve made up, why don’t you tell me what Beyockeen means?

Morrgot: Made up? Were we fighting?

Even though I’ve tried to keep up my pace, I’m lagging.

Fallon: I was mad at you.

Morrgot: You’re often mad at me.

Fallon: Stop deflecting.

Fallon: What should I do? Run?

Morrgot: Do nothing.

Fallon: Nothing?

My heart halts its marathon.

Fallon: Dante just threatened to alert my great-grandmother, who will gladly run me through with a steel blade. Or set me on fire.

Morrgot: Shh, Behach Éan.

Fallon: Don’t shush me! My life is on the line.

Morrgot: You have such little faith in me.

That startles a bitter laugh from my singed larynx.

Fallon: It’s not a question of faith in you; it’s a question of knowing the loyalty of the males around me. They’ll do anything to protect their prince. Anything.

Morrgot: And I’ll do anything to protect you.

Morrgot soars higher. And then, only then, releases the detestable Fae. Tavo’s body smacks the moss with a satisfying crunch. Finally . . . something broke. Probably, his ego. Hopefully, his dick.

Fallon: Is that true?

Morrgot: That I’ve spilled blood? Yes.

Fallon: But how much?

Morrgot: As little as possible; as much as necessary.

Fallon: “Since when does refusing some soggy cloth make one bitter?”

Dante: “I’m not talking about you snubbing my help. I’m talking about your lies and your attitude. The girl I knew before going to Glace was sweet and soft.”

As I scan the dome, I spot him making a vague gesture.

Dante: “The girl I returned to is calculating and barbed.”

I tilt my head back and hold his gaze.

Fallon: “Tell me, Dante, who has the best odds of survival? A pink, newborn porcupine with lax quills or an adult with hardened ones?”

Morrgot: Hold onto me. I’ll lead you to him.

Fallon: Should you be in here?

Morrgot: It’s uncomfortable, but I’ll live.

Fallon: You’re immortal, so that’s a nonissue.

Fallon: At this rate, you’ll be able to carry me home on your back.

I smile to myself, and I swear I feel Morrgot smile back, as though daring me to straddle him.

Fallon: I’d love to see Luce from way up high.

Morrgot: Then you best learn to fly, Behach Éan.

I snort because growing wings is sadly impossible. A defiant smile sharpens my lips.

Fallon: If you don’t tell me what Beyockeen means, I’ll hop on your back when you least expect it.

Morrgot: Have you forgotten that I can morph into smoke?

Fallon: Fine. No riding you. I’ll just have to get one of your bird friends to allow me to ride them.

Morrgot’s pupils become pinpricks as though my suggestion has enraged him more than the prior one.

Cauldron, he’s a moody one.

Morrgot: You, Fallon, are incapable of blending in.

Tavo: “Serpent-charmer. Horse-charmer. Crow-charmer.”

Tavo’s face is glossed in sweat, like his horse’s maroon coat.

Tavo: “Is there an animal that can resist your charm?”

Fallon: “No. I control them all. Better watch your back.”

I throw in a saccharine smile that makes his eyes narrow.

Fallon: “And your front.”

Fallon: “What? No. I am a Crow’s daughter, but not”

—I nod to the sky—

Fallon: “his. Lorcan’s just protective because I’m the only person who can free him.”

Tavo: “The only person, huh?”

Tavo says, right before his face contorts with such pain that I think Lorcan planted his iron talons into a soft area on his body.

Tavo: “I wasn’t planning on killing her, you godsdamned psycho.”

Gabriele is looking at me, too, but he has the good sense, or the good manners, not to speak.

Dante: “A Crow . . .”

Dante murmurs, eyes slightly glazed. Since his grip stays slack, I mutter,

Fallon: “It’s not contagious.”

He glances at my face, something hard and guarded in his eyes. He’ll eventually see past it, but in the meantime, it hurts.

Fallon: “I’m still me.”

The silence becomes as thick and sticky as the humidity. Ugh. I shouldn’t have told him.

Lorcan: Never be ashamed of who you are, Fallon.

Lorcan: I’d murder him first, Behach Éan.

I snort. Of course he would. Anything for his precious Crows. My lashes sag under the weight of my harrowing disappointment.

Lorcan: You forget that you’re one of them, Fallon. One of my precious Crows.

A smile flips up a corner of my mouth as I imagine myself petting him. I bet that would keep him away.

Lorcan: You must truly work on your intimidation tactics, Behach Éan.

What I need to work on is guarding my thoughts. But aside from that . . .

Fallon: You’d enjoy being petted?

Lorcan: It depends by whom. And where.

Lorcan: Tell the princeling to fucking concentrate on the road instead of on your body, Fallon.

Lorcan: O ach thati, Behach Éan.

Inky smoke coalesces around me, knitting into a gossamer face before unraveling and hardening into black feathers and eyes that hold an unfair amount of power.

Lorcan: Thu leámsa.

Fallon: “What in Luce does that mean?”

Lore’s beak doesn’t curve, and yet I can feel his dark smile.

Lorcan: That you, Little Bird, belong to the sky.

The crow emerges fully from the rocking surf, dark and huge, larger than I’ve ever seen it, a monster of down and iron.

Lorcan: And that the sky . . . it belongs to me.

Where is he? Where did he go? If he left without saying goodbye, I’ll—

Lorcan: You’ll what, Behach Éan?

The sound of his voice soothes the erratic muscle pounding behind my ribs.

Fallon: Get really angry at you.

Lorcan: Ah . . . for a change. Makes me impatient to return.

Fallon: “Move.”

The Crow King does not budge.

Fallon: “I’m done here.”

I refuse to fall back.

Fallon: “You and I are done, Lorcan Reebyaw.”

The gold ringing his pupils seems to churn.

Lorcan: “You and I are just beginning, Fallon Báeinach.”

Lorcan: “Wasn’t your dream to live in a castle and sit upon a throne?”

The tide of her anger swells like the breakers dashing against the foundations of my home. Even though I am its mark, I can appreciate its beauty.

Fallon: “Are you offering me your throne, Lore?”

Her answer takes me by such surprise that a sound my lungs haven’t produced in years . . . in centuries . . . erupts from me—laughter. And Fallon . . . She spoils me with a smile intended to maim my dark heart, and I devour it beat by beat.

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I totally agree. Fallon is so damn annoying and has a one track mind

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