The Witch Collector (Witch Walker #1)

Of all the names I might’ve written on my list, hers has never been a possibility. Not until this morning anyway, now that Nephele has decided to turn her sister into an asset.

Nephele has always been honest with me, or so I believed, but although she’s told me much of her younger sister, she’s never mentioned this valuable and hidden talent. Rather, she’s done everything in her power to protect Raina from ever making the journey with me along Winter Road. I’ve always understood and agreed to leave Raina alone. In truth, I’ve never sensed strong enough power inside her to make her useful—not a witch’s mark one. But gods know a Seer would’ve been a precious addition at Winterhold.

Why would Nephele deny the entire kingdom such rare protection? And if the girl is all Nephele claims, why isn’t her power visible with one glance?

I remind myself that Raina has long been a woman, not a girl. A woman whose face lingers in my mind when it has no reason to.

Colden fists his hand against his mouth for several long moments, knuckles tight and white as snow. “She’d better be worth the risk I’m taking by allowing this.”

I pull my hand away from his knee. “You don’t trust Nephele’s word?”

I can’t blame him if he doesn’t. I even find myself doubting her, though the thought twists my insides. The truth I can’t ignore is that if Raina held that sort of power, her skin would show it.

Unless there’s greater magick at work.

“Of course I trust Nephele,” Colden answers. “But time blurs reality, or have you forgotten? Her and Raina have been apart for a long time. What Nephele remembers of her sister may not be the truth that exists now.”

Colden isn’t lying about Nephele’s wishes—I would sense it if he were—but it would help if Nephele were here. After eight years of swearing on my life to spare her sister the fate of duty at Winterhold, I don’t know how to feel about breaking my word.

I drag my hand over my beard. “The question is, are you willing to ignore the possibility that Raina has Sight, thanks to a bad feeling and a bad dream? If she is a Seer, and if the rumor about the Prince of the East betraying your agreement holds even a grain of truth, then we need her. Unwarranted concern for my safety cannot stand in the way of that. I’ve faced far worse things than another Collecting Day. I’ll be careful.”

“I could ride with you,” Colden offers, eyes unguarded. “Alone, you’re formidable. Together, we’re a force of nature.”

“Absolutely not. If there’s danger, we’re both safer if you’re home, and all of Tiressia is safer if you’re shielded by the Witch Walkers’ protections. Please do not argue with me on this. You will not win.”

He leans forward, resting his forehead on steepled fingers, and exhales a long, chilled breath that hangs in the air before floating away. I know his dilemma. I can feel his turmoil. It’s impossible not to worry about someone with whom you’ve shared so much. We are, after all, like two halves of the same whole.

“Go then.” He lifts his head. “Ride fast. Go straight to Silver Hollow. Find the girl and get back to the forest as soon as possible. I don’t want you in the vale after full dark.”

He likes to think he rules me, but we both know I’m only still here because he needed me to be.

“Yes, my lord and mighty king. I was born to grant your every desire.” With as much of a smile as I can muster, I stand and give a spurious bow, hoping to lighten his mood before I go. When I rise, I half expect Colden to roll his eyes at my antics, but his face is still serious, perhaps more so. Any humor in my voice vanishes. “Fine. But tell me you’ll head back to Winterhold. Don’t wait for me. I want you as safe as you want me.”

“I know you do.” He gives me a look I know well. “And yes, I’ll go. I won’t like it, but I’ll go.”

We stare at one another for a long beat, then I put out the fire and set to strapping on my baldric, scabbard, and blades.

“At least all you must do is get the girl.” Colden stands, sounding like he’s convincing himself. “Easy enough task.”

“That is the hope. I can’t imagine the woman I remember causing me any trouble.”

Colden gives me a dark half-smile. “If she’s anything like her sister, you might be very wrong about that.”

We head outside and mount our horses, facing one another under the weak light filtering through the forest’s canopy.

Colden wraps those deadly fists in his animal’s reins. “Before I left, I instructed Nephele and the others to focus their attention on the boundaries come sundown. If anyone enters the wood, my Witch Walkers will know. If they sense a threat, they’ll make sure the enemy regrets ever stepping foot in our vale.” Ice branches over the leather straps within his grasp. “They won’t leave Frostwater Wood—at least not until they’ve endured me.”

His eyes are black as soot, his face stone. Any vulnerability he permitted to creep beneath his skin moments before has now been buried in his bones.

Colden Moeshka, frigid Frost King, has returned.

“I’ll see you soon,” I tell him, and after he pounds a fist to his chest, his way of saying, “Until we meet again,” we part ways.

I dig my heels into my horse’s sides and bear down for a stealthy ride. “Like the wind, Mannus. Let’s find Raina Bloodgood.”



With the sharpened knife and stolen dagger belt tucked in my pocket, I return to the cottage and spend the rest of the morning helping Mother prepare for the harvest feast. After dumping the last of the apples into a pot, I place them over the fire.

“I’m sure the hunters are fine.” Mother stands from her chair and wipes her hands on the towel cinched at her waist. With a slight frown, she glances out the window. “Probably enjoyed a little too much ale and wine last night.”

A few hours ago, I would’ve agreed, but I find myself less sure with every passing minute.

Gods, I need to be alone with my scrying dish. The thought to look for Finn’s father has struck more than a few times, but Mother is constantly at my side. I can’t risk her catching me, even now. The hurt she’d feel—the betrayal at knowing all I’ve kept from her—might undo my resolve.

Later, I occupy my nervous hands by making myself useful outside. I help Mr. Foley haul wood for the bonfires and assist old Mena in setting stones for our ceremony circle. Mena moved here from Penrith after she lost her daughter many years ago on Collecting Day. She has no family now, but she and I have always shared a sort of kinship.

As we press the rocks into the ground, she eyes me more keenly than I like. Her wrinkled, pale skin is covered in witch’s marks—blue like veins, shimmery like fish scales. With age, her skill has developed, but the degree of magick supposedly required at Winterhold is said to be too depleting for the old. I have to think that means the Frost King finds the elders useless because the only other option is that he and the Witch Collector actually care what happens to the Northland people.

I know better.

Mena goes to the cart, and I hold out my dirty hands for another stone, but she hesitates.

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