In a savage world inspired by medieval Hungary, seventeen-year-old Évike can’t heal a snakebite or forge a sewing needle. The only girl in her pagan village without magic, she is considered worthless, and sent as a sacrifice to the cruel king. But a twist of fate forces her to ally with her enemy, a soldier from the king’s holy order, to protect her people from a cleric who wants to purge the kingdom of magic.
The trees have to be tied down by sunset. When the Woodsmen come, they always try to run.
The girls who are skilled forgers fashion iron stakes to drive through the roots of the trees, anchoring them in place. With no gift for forging between the two of us, Boróka and I haul a great length of rope, snaring any trees we pass in clumsy loops and awkward knots. When we finish, it looks like the spiderweb of some giant creature, something the woods might cough up. The thought doesn’t even make me shiver. Nothing that might break through the tree line could be worse than the Woodsmen.
“Who do you think it will be?” Boróka asks. The light of the setting sun filters through the patchy cathedral of tree cover and dapples her face. Tears are pearled in the corners of her eyes.
“Virág,” I say. “With any luck.”
Boróka’s mouth twists.
“Though I suspect halfway through their journey the Woodsmen will tire of her babbling about weather omens and dump her in the Black Lake.”
“You don’t mean that.”
Of course I don’t. I wouldn’t wish the Woodsmen on anybody, no matter how much they lashed me, or how many times I scraped their cold gulyás out of yesterday’s pots. But I’d rather pretend to loathe Virág than worry I might lose her.