standing before the largest willowbark tree he’d ever seen, where his mother had been buried. The tree was next to the river where she’d taught him how to swim when he was so young he had only barely begun to walk.
Maddox knelt down by her grave, the dirt still fresh, and placed a silverlily he’d picked from his mother’s garden on top of it. They were her favorite flower.
He wasn’t sure exactly how long he’d been there, only that the day had turned to dusk and the sky had begun to darken.
“Maddox, my sweet.” Camilla, Barnabas’s witch friend, placed her hand on his arm. “Can you hear me?”
“Give him another moment,” Barnabas said.
That moment passed. Then another, and another.
“It’s night, Barnabas. He needs to sleep,” Camilla said.
“Very well.” Barnabas let out a long sigh. “Maddox, come on. It’s time to go.”
Maddox nodded shallowly. He tried to push himself up from the hard ground, but he faltered on legs that had gone numb. Camilla was at his side in an instant, smiling at him comfortingly as she helped him to his feet.
“Up you go,” she said. “We’ll get you into a nice warm bed. Tomorrow will be a better day, I promise.”
There had been three tomorrows since his mother had been killed, and none had been better than the last. In that time, Barnabas had sent word to Camilla to join them in Silvereve. She’d arrived quickly, although Maddox had been too wrapped up in grief to register her presence. Camilla and her sister, Sienna, had tried to help Barnabas and Maddox in their confrontation with Valoria. Sienna had spent years working her way into the goddess’s circle of trust, all for the chance to use her own secrets to vanquish her.
But their plan hadn’t worked. Valoria was still out there, still after Maddox and the infinite power she believed he could offer her, still ready to kill any innocent who stood in her way.
Finally they returned to his mother’s house, and Camilla personally put Maddox to bed. He was so tired, more exhausted than he’d ever been before, but his body was fighting sleep. As he was lying there with his eyes closed, he could hear Barnabas and Camilla talking, most likely thinking he was asleep.
“You barely go near him,” Camilla whispered in an accusatory tone. “What’s wrong with you? You should be
the boy. He just lost his mother.”
“And I lost my sister,” Barnabas said. “That doesn’t change the fact that Maddox is—that we
are—in grave danger. I’ve no other choice but to be strong right now.”
“He hasn’t been hardened like you have. He hasn’t been through the same struggles. Traveling around with that nasty con man was nothing compared to what you’ve seen. You know this, and yet you’re still cold.”
“Camilla, I don’t know how to behave with him. Ever, and especially now. I don’t know how to be a father, all right?”
“You’ve had sixteen years to learn.”
“And yet I still fail.”
“Fine. Then don’t be a father to him. Be a
“I’ll try my best.”
“Of course you will. I have no doubt.”
Barnabas didn’t know how to be a father. Maddox took some solace in this since he didn’t really know how to be a son to anyone but Damaris.
But he also would try his best to be Barnabas’s friend.
Slowly, finally, sleep found him.
• • •
The next morning, it was time to bid farewell to Maddox’s village and his mother’s grave. He had no idea if he’d ever return. As soon as he woke up, he steeled himself against this day and promised himself he wouldn’t shed a tear—not today or any day after. He’d given in to crying too many times over the last few days and knew Barnabas must have thought him weak for it. He swore he’d never cry again.
He wasn’t a child anymore, was no longer innocent. Innocent children didn’t think of nothing but vengeance.
“I’m ready to go,” Maddox announced, his voice strong and steady, but it had a