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The Iron Daughter, Page 14

Julie Kagawa

Page 14


  “By orders of Her Majesty, Queen Mab,” one knight shouted, his voice somehow rising over the cacophony of music and snarling voices, “the Winter Court has officially declared war on Oberon and the Summer Court! For the crime of killing Crown Prince Sage and the theft of the Scepter of the Seasons, all Summer fey will be hunted down and destroyed without mercy!”

  The Winter fey roared, screeching and howling into the night. It was not a roar of rage, but rather one of ecstasy. I saw redcaps laughing, goblins dancing for joy, and spriggans grinning madly. My stomach heaved. They wanted blood. The Winter Court lived for violence, for the chance to rip into their ancient rivals without mercy. The knight let them howl and carry on a few moments before holding up his hand for silence.

  “Also,” he roared, bringing the chaos to a murmur, “be aware that Prince Ash is now considered a traitor and a fugitive! He has attacked his brother, Prince Rowan, gravely wounding him, and has fled the palace with the half-breed daughter of Oberon. Both are considered extremely dangerous, so it would do you well to be wary. ”

  Ash sucked in a breath. I saw relief cross his face, as well as guilt and concern. Rowan was still alive, though our escape through the city had become much more dangerous.

  “If you see them, by order of Queen Mab, they are not to be harmed!”

  bellowed the knight. “Capture them, or report their whereabouts to any guard, and you will be greatly rewarded. Failure to do so invites the queen’s wrath upon your head. Spread the word, for tomorrow we march to war!”

  The knights spurred their mounts into action and galloped off, amid the roars of the Unseelie crowd. Ash looked deep in thought, his eyes narrowed to gray slits.

  “Rowan isn’t dead,” he breathed, and I couldn’t tell if he was pleased with this news or not. “At least, not yet. This will make things considerably more difficult. ”

  “How will we get out?” I whispered.

  Ash frowned. “The gates will be guarded,” he muttered, looking past me into the street, “and I don’t trust the regular trods if Rowan knows we’re out here. ” He paused, thinking, then sighed. “There is one more place we can go. ”

  “Where’s that?”

  He glanced at me, and I suddenly realized how close we were. Our faces were just inches apart and I felt his heartbeat quicken, matching my own. Quickly, he turned away, and I ducked my head, hiding my burning face.

  “Come on,” he whispered, and I thought I caught a tremor in his voice.

  “We’re not going far, but we have to hurry. The Market keeps its own hours, and if we don’t reach it in time, it will disappear. ”

  A wild howl rang out of the darkness, and we looked back at the crowd. The Winter fey had gone back to their partying as if nothing had happened, but there was a meaner, desperate edge to their revels now, as if the promise of war had only whetted their appetite for blood. A pair of redcaps and a hag squabbled over the body of the dead goblin, and I turned away before I was sick. Ash took my hand and pulled me on, into the shadows. WE FLED THROUGH the city, keeping to the shadows and darkness, somehow avoiding the mobs in the street. At one point, we very nearly tripped over a redcap exiting a hole in the wall. The creature snarled an insult, but then its beady eyes widened in recognition and it turned to shout a warning instead. Ash gestured sharply, and an ice dagger thunked into the creature’s open mouth, silencing it forever.

  We reached a circular courtyard on the banks of a huge underground lake, mist writhing off the water to drift along the ground. Colorful booths and tents stood empty as we passed through, flapping in the breeze like a dead, abandoned carnival. An enormous white tree stood in the very center, bearing fruit that looked like human heads. A narrow door was embedded in the thick trunk, and Ash quickened his pace as we approached.

  “The Market is through here,” he explained, pulling me behind the tree as an ogre lumbered past, its steps slow and ponderous. “Now, listen. Whatever you see in there, don’t buy anything, don’t offer anything, and don’t accept anything, no matter how much you want it. The vendors will try to make a deal with you—ignore them. Keep silent, and keep your eyes on me. Got it?”

  I nodded. Ash opened the narrow door with a creak and led me inside, shutting it behind him. The interior of the trunk glowed softly and had a putrid sweet smell, like decaying flowers. I looked around for another door or way out, but the trunk was empty except for the door we came in.

  “Stay close,” Ash whispered, and he pushed the door open again.

  Noise exploded through the doorway. The circular courtyard now thronged with life; the booths overflowed with merchandise; music and faery fire drifted through the night, and fey milled about in huge numbers, buying, talking and haggling with the vendors. I shrank back against the trunk, and Ash gave me a reassuring smile.

  “It’s all right,” he said, leading me forward again. “In the Market, no one questions why you’re here or where you came from. The only thing they’re concerned about is the deal. ”

  “So, it’s safe, then?” I asked, as a faery with a wolf’s head stalked through the crowd, carrying a string of severed hands. Ash chuckled darkly.

  “I wouldn’t go that far. ”

  We joined the throng who, despite the jostling, shoving and snarled insults, paid us little attention. Unearthly vendors stood beside their booths or tents, crying out their wares, beckoning to passersby with long fingers or claws. A warty goblin caught my eye and grinned, pointing to his display of necklaces made of fingers, teeth and bones. A hag waved a shrunken pig’s head in my face, while a hulking troll tried handing me some kind of meat-ona-stick. It smelled wonderful, until I noticed the crispy bird and rat heads stuck on the kebabs between other unidentifiable chunks, and hurried after Ash.

  The oddities continued. Dream catchers made of spider silk and infant bones. Monkey Paws and Hands of Glory. One booth had a prominent display of still-beating hearts, while the tent beside it offered flowers of delicate spun glass. Everywhere I looked, I saw wonders, horrors, and the just plain weird. The vendors were incredibly persistent; if they caught you looking, they would leap in front of you, shouting the marvels of their wares and offering “a deal you can’t refuse. ”

  “A few locks of your hair,” cried a rat-faced imp, holding out a golden apple.

  “Be young and beautiful forever. ” I shook my head and hurried on.

  “A memory,” crooned a doe-eyed woman, waving a glittering amulet back and forth. “One tiny memory, and your greatest wish will be answered. ” Yeah right. I’d done the whole memory thing before, thank you. It wasn’t pleasant.

  “Your firstborn child,” quite a few of them wanted. “Your name. A phial of your tears. A drop of blood. ” With every offer, I just shook my head and hurried after Ash, weaving my way through the crowds. Sometimes, a glare from the Ice prince would cower the more persistent vendors who followed us through the aisles or latched on to my sleeve, but mostly we just kept moving.

  Near the lake, a row of wooden docks floated above the ink-black water. A weathered tavern crouched at the shoreline like a bloated toad. A goblin staggered out holding a tankard, puked all over the sidewalk, and collapsed in it with his face to the sky. Ash stepped over the groaning body and ducked through the swinging doors. Wrinkling my nose at the trashed goblin, I followed.

  The interior was smoky and dim. Battered wooden tables were scattered about the room, hosting a variety of unsavory-looking fey, from the redcap gang in the corner to the single, goat-headed phouka who watched me with glowing yellow eyes. Ash glided through the room, weaving his way to the bar, where a dwarf with a tangled black beard glared at him and spit into a glass. “You shouldn’t be here, Prince,” he growled in an undertone, wiping the tankard with a dirty rag. “Rowan’s got half the city lookin’

  for you. Sooner or later, the Thornguards will show up an’ tear the place apart if they think we’re hidin’ you. ”
r />   “I’m looking for Sweetfinger,” Ash said in an equally low voice, as I pulled myself onto a bar stool. “I need to get out of Tir Na Nog, tonight. Do you know where he is?”

  The dwarf shot me a sidelong glance, his thick face pulled into a scowl. “If I didn’t know you better, Prince,” he muttered, polishing the glass again, “I would accuse you of goin’ soft. Word is you’re a traitor to the Winter Court, but I don’t care about that. ” He plunked the tankard down and leaned across the counter. “Just answer me this. Is she worth it?”

  Ash’s face went blank and cold, like a door slamming shut. “Would this be considered payment for finding Sweetfinger?” he replied in a voice dead of emotion. The dwarf snorted. “Yeah. Sure, whatever. But, I want a serious answer, Prince. ”

  Ash was still for a moment. “Yes,” he murmured, his voice so low I barely caught it. “She’s worth it. ”

  “You know Mab will tear you apart for this. ”

  “I know. ”

  The dwarf shook his head, giving Ash a look of pity. “You an’ your lady problems,” he sighed, putting the glass under the counter. “Worse than the satyrs, I tell you. At least they’re smart enough not to get attached. ”

  Ash’s tone was icy. “Can you find me Sweetfinger or not?”

  “Yeah, I know where he is. ” The dwarf scratched his nose, then flicked something away. “I’ll send someone out to find him. You and the Summer whelp can stay upstairs until he shows up. ”

  Ash pushed away from the counter. His face was still locked into that expressionless mask as he turned to me. “Let’s go. ”

  I hopped off the bar stool. “Who’s Sweetfinger?” I ventured as we made our way across the room. No one stopped us. The other patrons either ignored us or gave us a very wide berth. Which wasn’t surprising; the cold radiating from the Winter prince was palpable.

  “He’s a smuggler,” Ash replied, motioning me up a set of stairs in the corner.