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The Iron Queen

Julie Kagawa

Page 11


  “Princess—” Puck began, but fury overwhelmed me, and I slapped him across the face as hard as I could, knocking him off the armrest. He sprawled on the floor in shock, and I loomed over him, shaking with hate and tears. “You took my dad from me!” I screamed, fighting the urge to kick him in the ribs, repeatedly. “It was you all along!”

  Ash grabbed me from behind, holding me back. I shook for a moment, then turned and buried my face in his chest, gasping for air as my tears stained his shirt.

  So. Now I knew the truth, but took no pleasure from it. What do you say when your best friend has been lying to you for eleven years? I didn’t know how I could look at Puck again without wanting to punch him in the face. I did know this, however—the longer my dad remained here in the Between, the more he would forget the real world. I couldn’t let him stay with Leanansidhe. I had to get him out, today.

  When I looked up again, Puck was gone, but Leanansidhe remained, watching me from the sofa with narrowed blue eyes. “So, darling,” she murmured as I stepped away from Ash, wiping my cheeks with my sleeve. “What will you do, now?”

  I took a deep breath and faced Leanansidhe with the last of my remaining calm. “I want you to let my dad go,” I said, watching her arc one slender eyebrow. “He doesn’t belong here, with you. Let me take him back to the real world. ”

  Leanansidhe regarded me with a blank expression; no emotion showed in her eyes or face as she puffed her cigarette and blew a coiling viper into the air.

  “Darling, you know your mother will likely freak out if you show up one night with her long-lost husband. Do you think she will just take him back and things will go back to normal? It doesn’t work that way, dove. You will likely tear your little human family apart. ”

  “I know. ” I swallowed a fresh batch of tears, but they still clogged my throat, making it hard to talk without crying. “I don’t plan to take him home. Mom…Mom has Luke and Ethan now. I know…we can’t be that family again, ever. ” Tears spilled over as soon as I said the words out loud. It had been a fantasy, yes, but it still hurt to see it crushed, knowing the family I lost back then was gone forever.

  “Then what do you want with him, dove?”

  “I want him to be normal, just to have a normal life again!” I threw my hands up in frustrated despair. “I don’t want him to be crazy! I don’t want him to wander around here forever, not knowing who he is or anything about his past. I…I want to talk to him, like a regular person, and see if he remembers me. ” Ash moved closer and touched my back, just to reassure me he was still there. I glanced at him and smiled.

  “I want him to move on,” I finished, looking Leanansidhe in the eyes.

  “And…he won’t be able to do that here, not aging, not remembering anything of who he is. You have to let him go. ”

  “Do I, now?” Leanansidhe smiled humorously, a dangerous edge to her voice. “And just how do you expect to convince me, darling? I’m rather loathe to give up any of my pets, relative of yours or not. So, my dove, what do you have to offer for your father’s freedom?”

  I steeled myself. Now came the most dangerous part, the bargaining. I could only imagine what the Dark Muse might want from me—my voice, my youth, my firstborn child were all things she could ask for. But before I could say a word, Ash took my elbow and pressed something into my palm. Curious, I held up my hand. A small gold ring flickered in my palm, surrounded by a gently swirling aura of blue and green. It looked exactly like the one we’d taken from the tomb. I glanced at Ash sharply, and he winked at me.

  “Remember when the oracle asked if you had the ring’s mate?” he whispered, his breath tickling my ear. “At least one of us was thinking ahead. ”

  “Well, darling?” Leanansidhe called before I could reply. “What are you two whispering about? Does it have anything to do with what you’re going to trade for your father?”

  I gave Ash a brilliant smile and turned to Leanansidhe again. “Yes,” I murmured, and raised the Token so that it gleamed under the lights. Leanansidhe sat straight up in her chair. “I can give you this. ”

  The brief, eager flash in the queen’s eyes told me we had won. “A Token, darling?” Leanansidhe leaned back again, feigning nonchalance. “That might be sufficient. For now, anyway. I suppose I can trade your father for that. ”

  I was weak with relief, but Ash stepped forward, closing his hand over the ring and my fingers. “That’s not enough,” he said, and I gaped at him in disbelief.

  “You know the Iron fey are looking for Meghan. We can’t just wander around the mortal world without a plan. We need a place that will be secure from the false king’s minions. ”

  “Ash, what are you doing?” I hissed under my breath. He gave me a sideways glance and mouthed, “Trust me. ”

  Leanansidhe pursed her lips. “You two are pressing the boundaries of my patience. ” She drummed her nails on the armrest and sighed. “Oh, very well, darlings. I have a quaint little hideaway that I can lend you for the time being. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and fairly safe—I’ve got a few of the local trows keeping an eye on it. Will that be good enough for you, dove?”

  I looked at Ash, and he nodded. “All right,” I told Leanansidhe, putting the Token on an end table, where it glimmered like a stray firefly. “You have a deal. Now, where’s my dad?”

  Leanansidhe smiled. Rising gracefully, she floated over to the baby grand in the corner and sat at the bench, running her fingers over the keys.

  “Right here, darling. After you left, I’m afraid your father became inconsolable. He kept trying to leave the manor, so I’m afraid I had to put an end to those silly notions of escape. ”



  “Change him back!” I cried, horror pinning my feet to the carpet.

  “Oh, don’t fret, darling. ” Leanansidhe stroked a nail over the keys, releasing a mournful, shivery note. “It’s not permanent. However, you will have to take him out of the Between to change him back. The spell dictates that as long as he stays here, he remains as he is. But look at it this way, darling—at least I didn’t turn him into a pipe organ.

  “Now,” she said, rising with a catlike stretch, oblivious to my horrified stare,

  “I simply insist you join me for dinner, darlings. Cook is making hippocampus soup tonight, and I’m dying to hear how you got the scepter back from Virus. And of course, your little declaration in front of Mab and Oberon and the entirety of the courts. ” She wrinkled her nose in an almost affectionate manner. “Ah, young love. It must be wonderful to be so naive. ”

  “What about my dad?”

  “Pish, darling. He’s not going anywhere. ” Leanansidhe waved her hand airily. If she saw me bristle, she didn’t comment on it. Ash put a hand on my arm before I could explode. “Now, come with me, dove. Dinner first, maybe a little gossip, and then you can run off if you like. I believe Puck and Grimalkin are already in the dining hall. ”

  Anger flared again at the mention of Puck. Bastard, I thought, following Leanansidhe down her many red-carpeted hallways, only half listening to her chatter. I’ll never forgive him. Never. Not telling me about my dad was unforgivable. He’s gone too far this time.

  Puck wasn’t in the dining room with Grimalkin when we came in, which was a good thing because I would’ve spent the whole evening shooting him poisonous glares over my bowl. Instead, I ate an extremely fishy soup that turned everything weird swirly colors with every swallow, answered Leanansidhe’s questions as to what happened with Virus and the scepter, and eventually came to the part where Ash and I were banished from the Nevernever.

  “And what happened then, dove?” Leanansidhe prodded when I told her how I’d given the scepter back to Mab.

  “Um…” I hesitated, embarrassed, and snuck a peek at Ash. He sat in his chair, fingers laced under his chin, pretending no interest in the conversation.

idn’t Grimalkin tell you?”

  “He did, darling, but I’d much prefer to hear it firsthand. I’m about to lose a very costly wager, you see, so I’d love it if you could give me a loophole. ” She scowled at Grimalkin, who sat on the table, washing his paws in a very smug manner. “He’ll be simply insufferable after this, I’m afraid. Details, darling, I need details. ”



  Fortunately, I was saved a reply by the noisy arrival of Razor Dan and his redcaps. Still dressed in matching butler suits with pink bow ties, the redcaps filed into the dining room, every one of them scowling at me. Ash’s eyes widened, and he quickly hid his mouth under his laced fingers, but I saw his shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

  Luckily, the redcaps didn’t notice. “We delivered the piano to the cabin, like you ordered,” Razor Dan growled, the fishhook in his nose quivering indignantly.

  “And we stocked it with supplies, like you asked. It’s all ready for the brat and her pets. ” He glared at me and bared his fangs, as if remembering our last little encounter. He had been in cahoots with Warren, the bitter half satyr who’d tried to kidnap me and take me to the false king the last time I was here. Leanansidhe had punished Warren (I wasn’t sure how, and I didn’t want to know) but spared the redcaps, saying they were only following their base instincts. Or maybe she just didn’t want to lose her free slave labor. In any case, they’d just provided me with a much-needed distraction.

  I leaped from my chair, drawing surprised looks from everyone in the room.

  “We really should go,” I said, not needing to feign my impatience. “My dad is there, right? I don’t want him to be alone when he turns back from being a piano. ”

  Leanansidhe snorted with amusement, and I realized how odd that sentence sounded, even to me. “Don’t worry, dove. It will take time for the glamour to wear off. But I understand if you have to go. Just remember, my door is always open if you want to come back. ” She waved her cigarette at Grimalkin, sitting on the other side of the table. “Grim, darling, you know the way, right?”