The Spinster & The Thief – Bonus Epilogue


This epilogue continues the story of Zovinar and Garreth. Haven’t you read The Spinster & The Thief yet? You can read this steamy fantasy romance novella for free if you sign up for my mailing list!

‘I’m starting to see why they call this place Tanglewood,’ Garreth said, slapping aside an overhanging branch like he had done at least a dozen times in the past five minutes. ‘Not the most creative genius who came up with it, hm?’

Zovinar chuckled, bending over in the saddle to avoid another vine dangling from the trees along the path. On this familiar road, finally surrounded by the smell of old earth and young twigs again, even the persistently unhelpful foliage only brightened her mood. 

‘You’re from a kingdom with red dunes called Copper Coast,’ she said. ‘You really aren’t allowed to say anything about creativity when it comes to names.’

He grinned. ‘Are you getting clever again?’

The sound of the word still came trailing through her in warm, satisfied gushes – clever. Clever. A month since she had dashed into Crisanta’s office and declared she would be leaving the king’s castle before sunset, a month in which Garreth had called her clever at least five times every single day, and still the word caught her by pleasant surprise at each occasion.

This morning, though, there was another feeling to it – a sudden tension itching in her guts at the thought of what was waiting for her.

‘I think I might better feel too clever than too stupid today,’ she said 

Garreth threw her a questioning look. She turned away, swallowed her nervousness away and added, ‘It’s only about half an hour from here.’

‘Good,’ he said.


‘You’ve had to wait long enough.’

Wait. Not only the past two weeks, nights they had spent in a quiet hostel just over the Redwood border, where she had written the people she had wanted to write and waited for their answers. She knew he was speaking about the past four years as well.

‘Yes,’ she said.

But even with the letters burning in her pocket, even with  home barely miles away, she didn’t manage to feel impatient for what she was about to do.

The three square towers of Tanglewood Castle emerged between the treetops first, the rough blocks of black stone overgrown with briars and brambles that had been meticulously pruned around the windows. Garreth abruptly held his horse next to her, staring at the dark shape before them with wide eyes and the beginning of an incredulous grin around his lips.

Some brambles, you said.’

‘You haven’t seen the best of it yet,’ Zovinar said, unable to suppress a laugh. Nervousness or not; at the sight of those majestic towers, the thorns that had grown on these grounds for generations into the past, laughing seemed to be the only thing she could do. ‘Let’s ride on. We’ll have a better view around the next bend.’

The road was a straight line to the gates of the castle from that last bend – its first part still flanked by gnarled trees and twisting vines, the last few hundred yards running through flat grassland, where the trees had been felled to clear the surroundings of the castle. It was when they left the forest behind that the building finally became fully visible, in all its wild, unruly glory – the walls of the lower floors covered in thornbushes so thickly that one couldn’t have guessed the colour of the rough bricks beneath. As if the castle was growing straight from the earth, the vegetation shaping the rocks into their towering heights.

‘Oh, gods,’ Garreth muttered beside her. ‘This is twice as beautiful as anything I had imagined from your descriptions.’

Zovinar closed her eyes and sucked in the clear forest air. Home. She was home. Even her breath seemed to feel more familiar to her lungs here, a sensation more comforting than any of the memories she had clung to in Copper Coast…

And the castle was hers now. 

She clenched her fist to feel the pressure of the silver signet ring around her finger. Uncle Rusuvan had still been her guardian when she had left four years ago. And now – seven rejected marriages and one slightly too charming thief later – 

She was the bloody duchess of Tanglewood, and he should damn well know it too.

In a burst of fury she drove her horse forward and rode on, faster now. Behind her Garreth followed immediately, but she didn’t look back; at the castle’s gate two armed men had appeared, carrying lances and her family’s colours, and now all she could think about was that he must have sent them to welcome the visitors, as if she was some stranger, some threat Tanglewood had to be protected from…

‘Halt there!’ the tallest of them yelled as soon as she was within hearing distance, and she didn’t halt. 

‘Hey!’ He stepped forward, raising his weapon as if to pierce her off her horse’s back. Now she recognised him – his hair slightly greyer and his belly slightly rounder than four years ago, but other than that he didn’t seem to have changed at all. ‘In the name of the duke of Tanglewood…’

Zovinar held her horse, so abruptly that even the guard flinched. Behind her, Garreth hissed something of a most uncomplimentary nature at her uncle’s address. She had been scared of this moment, she vaguely remembered, had been afraid she wouldn’t know what to say and end up stammering like that stupid little girl they still thought she was – but her blood was boiling through her veins now, and knowing what to say had never in her life seemed so easy before.

‘Could you repeat that, Nino?’ she said coldly, as she kicked her feet from the stirrups and lowered the hood of her cloak.

The man stared at her for at least five heartbeats. Behind her she heard Garreth jump from the saddle – his knife, she knew, a single gesture away.

‘Nino?’ she repeated.

‘Lady – Lady Zovinar?’ He staggered two steps backwards, then scraped himself together and stood still again, lowering his lance. ‘You – I beg your pardon, my lady – your uncle didn’t inform us you would be…’

‘No,’ Zovinar said. ‘Probably because I didn’t inform him either. He’s at home, I assume?’

‘Yes – he is, my lady – but he’s in a meeting with the town representatives – should I go warn him?’

‘Don’t bother.’

‘But my lady…’

‘And please take care of our horses.’

He shut his mouth as she strode past him, an amusingly bashful silence for a man broad enough to stir envy in a bull. His colleague appeared to have realised he might better keep quiet entirely. Behind her back, even Garreth received no more than a rather meek ‘Welcome, my lord?’

‘Not a lord,’ he said, ‘but thanks nonetheless. Zovinar?’

‘Up the stairs,’ she said without looking back. ‘Meeting hall.’

Around them, knights and servants uttered shocked cries and gasps as she passed; in the edges of her sight she could see the turning heads and the widening eyes. None of them could stop her with the fury searing through her limbs – the duke of Tanglewood! For the gods’ sake, if she had ever done anything stupid, it was believing a single world her uncle had told her. Four years, and clearly he had used the time exactly as Garreth had predicted he would have… 

Her feet found their way over the irregular staircase as if she had never left the castle for longer than a day. With fluttering cloak and skirts she stormed around the corner, passed the row of her ancestors’ statues, and found the closed door of the meeting hall – the hall where her uncle had publicly announced his decision to send her to Copper Coast without having told her in advance, the hall where he had never allowed her to speak except with his express permission.

For a moment she hesitated, her hand inches away from the door handle.

‘Still not stupid, Zovinar,’ Garreth muttered behind her.

She stepped forward and flung the door open.

It slammed against the wall behind with the most satisfying bang, abruptly silencing the voices inside. A dozen of people around the table, most of them familiar – but she skimmed over them until she found that one face she was looking for at the far end of the room, dressed in gold and purple, his bald head glimmering in the sunlight. 

‘What in the world…’ he started – and met her gaze.

For a moment his words caught in the back of his throat. Around them, the room froze, as if the men and women present didn’t even dare to think in the silence that fell. Uncle Rusuvan blinked. He blinked again. He sat up straighter in his chair, opened his mouth, shut it again.

Then he repeated, and now not nearly so haughtily, ‘What?’

‘Hello, Uncle,’ Zovinar said.

The look in his eyes hadn’t changed. For a single heartbeat she wanted to flinch as the full force of it hit her, with all the coldness and the disappointment and the impatience he seemed to reserve exclusively for her – and then she remembered the ring at her finger, the letters in her pocket, the presence of Garreth just behind her. She didn’t flinch, and again he seemed taken aback for the shortest moment.


‘Ah, you still remember me?’ She gave him a cold smile. ‘I’m glad to hear. When Nino started speaking about the duke of Tanglewood, I feared for a moment you had declared me dead already.’

Garreth sniggered behind her. That, more than the rising confusion in her uncle’s eyes, kept her from collapsing under that cold stare.

‘I’ll have a word with Nino about that,’ he said, with a joyless chuckle. ‘A rather silly notion, of course, for him to call me…’

‘You didn’t ask him to?’

‘Of course I didn’t ask him to.’ Another sharp laugh, but this one came out with a little more confidence. ‘What a ridiculous idea, Zovinar. Just because you don’t immediately understand…’

‘No,’ she interrupted him. ‘No, I didn’t understand immediately. Which is a shame, really. It gave you four years too many to continue this idiocy, didn’t it, Uncle?’

He stared at her for a moment, taxing eyes, looking for an explanation, a strategy, a plan. Then he stood up, with a brusque movement, and folded his arms.

‘My dear girl, you seem upset. It’s a little nonsensical to storm into a meeting this way just because a single guard has trouble keeping his titles straight, isn’t it? I suggest you go find your room, calm down and then explain to me what in the world you were thinking to leave Copper Coast without my…’

‘Permission?’ She snorted. ‘I don’t need your permission, Uncle. I haven’t needed your permission for years. The only reason I thought I did was because you locked my ring away, in case you forgot.’

Some shocked murmurs arose around the table. Her uncle’s quick glance around didn’t escape her, and his voice sounded even more soothing when he spoke again.

‘As usual, Zovinar, you seem to have misunderstood the situation. Lock your ring away – why in the world would I…’

‘To keep me in Copper Coast.’

‘The only thing that kept you in Copper Coast was your regrettable inability to catch the interest of even a single suitable man,’ he said sharply, ‘and that can hardly be…’

‘Ah,’ she interrupted him. ‘Yes. Let’s speak about that. Quite unfortunate, isn’t it, that nobody could be bothered to ask for my hand in four long years?’

‘As I said, but again, you can hardly blame me for your…’

She pulled the folded pile of parchment from the inner pocket of her coat. ‘I received a letter from the duke of Summervale last week, Uncle.’

He went silent, too abruptly to pretend the name didn’t ring at least a few alarm bells. Zovinar unfolded the parchment, running her eyes over the tight scribbles without truly reading them.

‘Quite interesting,’ she added. ‘Because you told me you’d never heard from him when he left Copper Coast so abruptly, do you remember? But he tells me that he did write you to ask for my hand four years ago, and that you wrote back to let him know that you were not opposed to a marriage per se, but that he should know I had already been unfortunately involved with a young man from exactly that same duchy of Summervale, and that you weren’t entirely sure whether it would be wise to bring me in his vicinity again.’

All eyes around the table were pointed at her uncle now. Under those quiet, suspicious looks, his broad figure seemed not nearly as intimidating all of a sudden.

‘And in case anyone here was wondering,’ Zovinar said sharply, ‘there existed no such affair. Which can be proven quite easily if we look at the story I received from the marquis of Lionhall, who wrote that his proposal was answered with a rather alarming tale about some tryst between me and a Lionhall knight.’ She leafed through the file – five different letters, two of them with her uncle’s original message attached as well. ‘I seem to have been sleeping with people all through the Five Kingdoms before I even turned sixteen. Quite impressive if we all know I never even left Tanglewood for longer than a week, isn’t it?’

‘I have no idea…’ Uncle Rusuvan coughed, stepped back from the table as if to avoid the piercing eyes, regained his balance. ‘These men – why they would make up such lies – obviously they just want to justify their own hurried departure from…’

‘Five of them, Uncle? All with exactly the same story?’

‘You can’t honestly accuse me of…’

‘After you ignored my requests to return home for years? After you made me lock away my ring? After you made Nino call you the duke of Tanglewood?’

‘He said you had given him permission to, my lady,’ a tanned man at the table abruptly said. ‘He said you decided to stay in Copper Coast for some more years and wanted him to take over your function in the meantime, so…’

‘I was desperate to come home! And in case it wasn’t clear yet, I definitely didn’t give anyone permission to take over anything.’

‘This is ridiculous,’ Uncle Rusuvan snapped, with nearly desperate sharpness. ‘Just because you now realise your stupidity – good gods, we can’t let Tanglewood be ruled by a silly little girl who changes her mind every other week if…’

‘In all fairness, my lord,’ the tanned man interrupted, ‘the duchess doesn’t look particularly silly to me.’

‘Can assure you she isn’t,’ Garreth dryly said behind her, and Rusuvan flashed him another furious look.

‘And who for the world might you be?’

‘A friend,’ Zovinar said.

‘A… friend.’ 

Who had admittedly shared her bed every single night of the past month. Who had admittedly introduced her to activities most people wouldn’t associate with their friends. Then again – he was also a friend.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘So?’

‘So?’ He bit out a laugh, sauntering closer. If not for the reassuring presence behind her, she would have shrunken back – but Garreth was here, he would keep her safe, and she didn’t move. ‘What do you mean, so? I won’t allow my own bloody niece…’

‘There’s nothing you can allow me to do. I don’t need your advice.’

‘What – you think it will end well if that sorry excuse of a brain of yours will take the decisions from now on?’

‘Yes,’ Zovinar said coldly. ‘I think that will go just fine, to tell you the truth. Also, the first of my decisions happens to be that you will leave, Uncle.’

He abruptly stood still, ten feet away from her. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘You’ll leave,’ she repeated, more slowly now, her tone a surprisingly accurate imitation of the contemptuous patience he had so often employed when speaking to her. ‘You’ve got a single hour to pack whatever you feel you need to pack, and then you will be out and never show your face in Tanglewood again. ’

‘What in the world…’ He threw a bewildered look around, but around him none of the attendants spoke up to defend him. ‘I raised you, you brat! You can’t force me to leave, after all…’

‘Oh, please allow me to try,’ Garreth said, and even though the words came out in that amiable tone she knew so well from him, the threat shimmering through was undeniable. Uncle Rusuvan fell silent, staring at him. Whatever it was that he read in Garreth’s eyes – his next word came out significantly more composed.


‘I really suggest you start packing, Uncle. Your hour has started already.’

He stared at her – dazed, bewildered eyes, as if he still hoped she would burst out crying and confess she was just being stupid, that she had no idea what she was doing, that of course she would believe he had always acted in her favour and forgive him. Zovinar did no such thing. The reality of it didn’t seem to come through to him.

‘My lady?’ the tanned man said, rising from his chair. ‘Do you want a few of us to accompany him on his way out? Might be good to make sure he doesn’t run of with anyone he doesn’t have a right to.’

‘Oh, that’s very kind! If any of you…’

At once six other volunteers jumped up, with grim expressions on their faces. Only at that moment did Uncle Rusuvan appear to realise what was happening; with a growled curse he burst forward, elbowed Zovinar aside and strode out in the direction of his bedroom. Three other men sprinted after him with some quick promises to be back in an hour, leaving the rest of the meeting hall behind in a silence that was equal parts baffled, angry and triumphant.

‘Well,’ Zovinar said, taking a deep breath. Her heart was pounding in her chest, sending warm waves of pride through her veins. ‘That was that. Thank you so much for your assistance – I’m really…’ Now suddenly her grin was growing on her face, and it felt as if it wouldn’t come down for the next week at least. ‘Good gods. I’m really, really glad to be home again.’

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