The iron queen, p.10
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       The Iron Queen, p.10

         Part #3 of The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa
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Page 10

 

  “So, darling. ” Leanansidhe took a drag off her cigarette and blew a smoke fish at me. “You’ve been banished from the Nevernever, in a most spectacular show of defiance, I’ve heard. What are you planning to do now?”

  “Why do you care?” I asked her, trying to keep my emotions in check. “We returned the scepter and stopped the war between the courts. What do you care what we do now?”

  Leanansidhe’s eyes glittered, and her cigarette bobbed in annoyance.

  “Because, darling, there are disturbing rumors circulating the streets. Strange weather is plaguing the mortal world, Summer and Winter are losing ground to the Iron Realm, and there is a new faction of Iron fey that have popped up recently, looking for you. Also…” Leanansidhe leaned forward, narrowing her eyes “…there are stories about a half-breed princess who controls both Summer magic and Iron glamour. That she has the power to rule both courts, and she is raising an army of her own—an army of exiles and Iron fey—to overthrow everything. ”

  “What?”

  “Those are the rumors, darling. ” Leanansidhe sat back and puffed out a swarm of butterflies. They flittered around me, smelling of smoke and cloves, before writhing into nothingness. “So, you can see why I would be concerned, pet. I wanted to see the truth for myself. ”

  “But…that’s…” I sputtered for words, feeling Ash’s gaze on the back of my head, and Puck’s curious stare. Only Grimalkin, washing his tail on the armrest, seemed unconcerned. “Of course I’m not raising an army,” I burst out at last.

  “That’s ridiculous. I have no intention of overthrowing anything!”

  Leanansidhe gave me an unreadable look. “And the other claims, darling?

  About the princess using both Summer and Iron glamour? Are those fabricated, as well?”

  I chewed my lip. “No. They’re real. ”

  She nodded slowly. “Like it or not, dove, you’ve become a major player in this war. You’re balanced on the edge of everything—faery and mortal, Summer and Iron, the old ways and the march of progress. Which way will you fall?

  Which side will you choose? You’ll forgive me if I’m not a little concerned with your affairs and state of mind, darling. What are your plans, exactly, for the future?”

  “I don’t know. ” I buried my face in my hands. I just wanted a normal life. I wanted to go home. I wanted… I sat up, looking her straight in the eye. “I want my father back. I want to know why you stole him from me eleven years ago. ”

  Silence fell. I could feel the tension mount as Leanansidhe stared at me, her cigarette flute halfway to her mouth, trailing blue smoke. Ash gripped my shoulders, tense and ready to spring into action if needed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Grimalkin had disappeared, and Puck was frozen on the edge of the couch.

  For a few heartbeats, nobody moved.

  Then Leanansidhe threw back her head and laughed, making me jump. The lights flickered once, went out, and returned as the Queen of the Exiles swung her gaze down to me.

  “Stole?” Leanansidhe sat back and crossed her long legs. “Stole? I’m quite certain you mean saved, don’t you, pet?”

  “I—” I blinked at her. “What are you talking about?”

  “Oh, so you haven’t heard this story. Puck, darling, shame on you. You never told her. ”

  I glanced sharply at Puck. He fidgeted on the armrest, not meeting my gaze, and I felt my stomach sink all the way down to my toes.

  No, no. Not you, Puck. I’ve known you forever. Tell me you had nothing to do with this.

  Leanansidhe laughed again. “Well, this is an unexpected drama. How fabulous! I must set the stage. ” She clapped, and the lights abruptly went out, save for a single spotlight over the piano.

  “Lea, don’t. ” Puck’s voice surprised me, low, rough, and almost desperate. My stomach sank even lower. “Not this way. Let me explain it to her. ”

  Leanansidhe turned a remorseless gaze on Puck and shook her head. “No, darling. I think it’s time the girl knew the truth. You had plenty of time to tell her, so this is no fault but your own. ” She waved her hand, and music started, dark, ominous piano chords, though no one sat at the bench. Another spotlight clicked on, this time over Leanansidhe as she rose in a billowing of cloth and hair. Standing tall, her hands raised as if embracing an audience, the Dark Muse closed her eyes and began to speak.

  “Once upon a time, there were two mortals. ”

  Her musical voice shivered into my head, and I saw the images as clearly as if I was watching a movie. I saw my mom, younger, smiling, carefree, holding hands with a tall, lanky man whom I recognized now. Paul. My dad. They were talking and laughing, obviously in love and oblivious to the world. A lump rose in my throat.

  “In mortal eyes,” Leanansidhe continued, “they were unremarkable. Two souls in a throng of identical humans. But to the faery world, they were fountains of glamour, beacons of light in the darkness. An artist whose paintings almost sang with a life of their own, and a musician whose soul was intertwined in his music, their love only heightened their talents. ”

  “Wait,” I blurted, interrupting the flow of the story. Leanansidhe blinked and dropped her hands, and the stream of images stumbled to a halt. “I think you have it wrong. My dad wasn’t a great musician, he was an insurance salesman. I mean, I know he played the piano, but if he was so good, why didn’t he do anything with it?”

  “Who is telling the story here, pet?” The Exile Queen bristled, and the lights flickered again. “Don’t you know the term ‘starving artist’? Your father was very gifted, but music did not pay the bills. Now, do you want to hear this story or not, pet?”

  “Sorry,” I mumbled, sinking back in the couch. “Go on, please. ”

  Leanansidhe sniffed, flipping back her hair, and the visions started again as she continued.

  “They got married and, as humans do, began to drift apart. The man took a new job, one that required him to leave home for long periods of time; his music dwindled and soon ceased altogether. His wife continued to paint, less frequently than before, but now her art was filled with longing, a yearning for something more. And perhaps that was what drew the eye of the Summer King. ”

  I bit my lip. I’d heard this story before, from Oberon himself, but it still didn’t make it any easier. Ash squeezed my shoulder.

  “Not long after, a child was born, a child of two worlds, half faery and half mortal. During that time, there was much speculation in the Summer Court, wondering if the child should be taken into Faery and raised as Oberon’s daughter, or if she was to stay in the human world with her mortal parents. Unfortunately, before a decision could be made, the family fled with the child, spiriting her far away and out of Oberon’s reach. To this day, no one knows how they accomplished this, though there was a rumor that the girl’s mother somehow found a way to hide them all, that perhaps she was not as blind to Faery as she first appeared.

  “Ironically, it was the human’s music that gave them away again, when the father of the girl began composing again. Six years after they fled from the courts, Queen Titania discovered the location of the child’s family, and was determined to take her revenge. She could not kill the girl and risk Oberon’s wrath, nor did she dare strike at the mother, the human who caught the eye of the Summer King. But the girl’s mortal father had no such protection. ”

  “So, Titania took my dad?” I had to interrupt, though I knew it would probably piss Leanansidhe off again. She glowered at me, but I was too frustrated to care. “But, that doesn’t make sense! How’d he end up with you?”

  Leanansidhe gave a dramatic sigh and picked up her cigarette holder, sucking on it with pursed lips. “I was just getting to the climax, darling,” she sighed, blowing out a blue panther that bounded over my head. “You’re probably a horror to take to the movies, aren’t you?”

  “No more stories,” I said, standing up. “Please, just tell me. Did Titania
steal my father or not?”

  “No, darling. ” Leanansidhe rolled her eyes. “I stole your father. ”

  I gaped at her. “You did! Why? Just so Titania couldn’t?”

  “Exactly, dove. I’m not particularly fond of the Summer bitch, pardon my French, since the jealous shrew was responsible for my exile. And you should be grateful it was I instead of Titania who took your father. He doesn’t have a bad life, here. The Summer Queen probably would have turned him into a toad or rosebush or something similar. ”

  “How did you even know about it? Why did you get involved?”

  “Ask Puck,” Leanansidhe said, waving her cigarette flute toward the end of the couch. “He was your appointed guardian at the time. He was the one who told me all about it. ”

  I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. Incredulous, I turned to Puck, who was studiously studying the corner, and felt breathless. “Puck? You told her about my dad?”

  He winced and looked at me, scrubbing the back of his head. “You don’t understand, princess. When I got wind of Titania’s plans, I had to do something. Oberon didn’t care, he wouldn’t have sent any help. Lea was the only one I could ask. ” He shrugged and offered a meek, apologetic grin. “I can’t take on the Queen of the Seelie Court, princess. That would be suicide, even for me. ”

  I took a deep breath to clear my thoughts, but my mood veered sharply to anger. Puck had known. He’d known all along where my dad was. All those years of being my best friend—of pretending to be my best friend—watching me struggle with the pain of losing a father, the nightmares that followed, the confusion and isolation and loneliness, and he’d known all along. Rage flared, tinting my vision red, as eleven years of grief, confusion, and anger flooded in all at once. “Why didn’t you tell me!” I burst out, making Puck flinch again. Clenching my fists, I stalked over to where he sat. Glamour flicked around me, hot and furious. “All that time, all those years, of knowing, and you never said anything! How could you? You were supposed to be my friend!”