The iron queen, p.18
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       The Iron Queen, p.18

         Part #3 of The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa
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Page 18

 

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  UNDERSTANDING MEASURES

  So, there we were again, the three of us: me, Ash, and Puck, together once more but not really the same. I practiced sword drills with Ash in the morning, and Summer magic with Puck in the afternoon, usually around the hottest part of the day. In the evenings, I listened to the piano or talked to my dad, while trying to ignore the obvious tension between the two faeries in the room. Paul was doing better, at least, his moments of confusion fewer and farther between. The morning he made breakfast, I got teary-eyed with relief, although our resident brownies threw a fit and nearly left the house. I was able to woo them back with bowls of cream and honey, and the promise that Paul wouldn’t intrude on their chores again.

  My glamour use didn’t get any better.

  Every day, when the sun was at its zenith, I’d leave the lunch table and wander down to the meadow, where Puck waited for me. He showed me how to call glamour from plants, how to make them grow faster, how to weave illusions from nothing, and how to call on the forest for help. Summer magic was the magic of life, heat, and passion, he explained. The new growth of Spring, the lethal beauty of fire, the violent destruction of a summer storm—all were examples of Summer magic in the everyday world. He demonstrated small miracles—making a dead flower come back to life, calling a squirrel right into his lap—and then instructed me to do the same.

  I tried. Calling the magic was easy; it came as naturally as breathing. I could feel it all around me, pulsing with life and energy. But when I tried to use it in any way, nausea hit and I was left gasping in the dirt, so sick and dizzy I felt I would pass out.

  “Try again,” Puck said one afternoon, sitting cross-legged on a flat rock by the stream, chin in his hands. Between us, a mop handle stood upright in the grass like a naked tree. Puck had “borrowed” it from the broom closet earlier that morning, and would probably incur the wrath of the brownies when they discovered one of their sacred tools missing.

  I glared at the mop handle, taking a deep breath. I was supposed to make the stupid thing bloom with roses and such, but all I’d done was given myself a massive headache. Drawing glamour to me, I tried again. Okay, concentrate, Meghan. Concentrate…

  Ash appeared at the edge of my vision, arms crossed, watching us intently.

  “Any luck?” he murmured, easily breaking my concentration. Puck gestured to me. “See for yourself. ”

  Annoyed with them both, I focused on the mop. Wood is wood, Puck had said that morning. Be it a dead tree, the side of a ship, a wooden crossbow, or a simple broom handle, Summer magic can make it come alive again, if only for a moment. This is your birthright. Concentrate.

  Glamour swirled around me, raw and powerful. I sent it toward the mop, and the sickness descended like a hammer, making my stomach clench. I doubled over with a gasp, fighting the urge to vomit. If this is what faeries experienced every time they touched something made of iron, it was no wonder they avoided it like the plague.

  “This isn’t working,” I heard Ash say. “She should stop before she really gets hurt. ”

  “No!” Pulling myself upright, I glared at the mop, wiping sweat from my eyes. “I’m going to get this, dammit. ” Ignoring my roiling stomach, the sweat that ran into my eyes, I took another deep breath and concentrated on the glamour swirling around the mop. The wood was alive, pulsing with energy, just waiting for the push that would make it explode with life.

  The wooden pole trembled. Nausea crawled up my stomach. I bit my lip, welcoming the pain. And suddenly, roses burst into bloom along the handle, red and white and pink and orange, a riot of color among the leaves and thorns. As quickly as they had bloomed, the petals shriveled and fell off, littering the ground around the mop handle, bare and naked once more. But it was a clear victory, and I whooped in triumph—right before I collapsed.

  Ash caught me, kneeling in the grass. How he knew exactly where to be whenever I fell was mystifying. “There,” I panted, struggling upright, bracing myself against his arms. “That wasn’t so hard. I think I’m getting the hang of this. Let’s do it again, Puck. ”

  Puck raised an eyebrow. “Uh, let’s not, princess. Judging by the glare your boyfriend is shooting me, I’d say our lesson is officially over. ” He yawned and stood, stretching his long limbs. “Besides, I was about to die of boredom. Watching flowers bloom isn’t exactly riveting. ” He glanced at us, at Ash’s arms around me, and sneered. “See you tomorrow, lovebirds. ”

  He hopped the stream and vanished into the woods without looking back. I sighed and struggled to my feet, leaning on Ash for balance.

  “You all right?” he asked, steadying me as the last of the nausea faded. Anger flared. No, I wasn’t all right. I was a freaking faery who couldn’t use glamour! Not without fainting, throwing up, or getting so dizzy I was practically useless. I was allergic to myself! How pathetic was that?

  Peevishly, I turned and kicked the mop handle, sending the pole clattering into the bushes. The wrath of the brownies would be swift and terrible, but at that moment I didn’t care. What good was having Iron glamour if all it did was make me sick? At this point, I was ready to give the false king his stupid Iron magic, for all the good it did me.

  Ash raised an eyebrow at my show of temper but didn’t say anything beyond,

  “Let’s go inside. ” A little embarrassed, I followed him across the clearing, over the stream and up the stairs to the cabin, where Grimalkin lay on the railing in the sun and ignored me when I waved.

  The cabin was strangely quiet as we walked in, the piano empty and still. I looked around and saw Paul sitting at the kitchen table, bent over a mess of scattered papers, pen scribbling furiously. I hoped he hadn’t fallen into creative insanity. But he glanced up, gave me a brief, noncrazy smile, and hunched over the paperwork once more. So today was one of his saner days; at least that was something.

  Groaning, I collapsed to the couch, my fingers numb and tingly with leftover glamour. “What’s wrong with me, Ash?” I sighed, rubbing my tired eyes. “Why does everything have to be so hard? I can’t even be a normal half-faery. ”

  Ash knelt and tugged my hands down, pressing my fingers to his lips. “You were never normal, Meghan. ” He smiled, and my fingers went tingly for an entirely different reason. “If you were, I wouldn’t be here now. ”

  I freed my fingers and stroked his cheek, running my thumb over the smooth, pale skin. For a moment, he closed his eyes and leaned into my hand before brushing a kiss to my palm and standing up. “I’m going to find Puck,” he announced. “There must be something we’re missing, something we’re overlooking. There has to be an easier way. ”

  “Well, if you find it, that would be great. I’m sick of being…sick…every time I make a flower grow. ” I tried for a grateful smile, but think I just grimaced at him. Ash placed a hand on my shoulder, squeezed gently, and left the room. Sighing, I wandered over to the kitchen table, curious to see what Dad was working on so vigorously. He didn’t look up this time, so I perched on the edge beside him. The table was covered with sheets of paper, scribbled with lines and black dots. Looking closer, I saw they were hand-drawn sheet music.

  “Hey, Dad. ” I spoke softly, not wanting to distract or startle him. “What are you doing?”

  “Composing a song,” he replied, glancing at me briefly and smiling. “It just hit me this morning, and I knew I had to write it down quickly before I lost it. I used to write songs all the time for…for your mother. ”

  I didn’t know what to say to that, so I watched the pencil move, scribbling dots along five simple black lines. It didn’t look like music to me, but Dad would stop and close his eyes, swaying the pencil to an invisible tune, before adding more dots to the lines.

  My vision went fuzzy for a moment, and the dots seemed to move on the paper. For just a second, the entire song shimmered with glamour. The strict, straight lines gleamed like metal wires, while th
e various notes, once black and solid, sparkled like drops of water held up to light. Startled, I blinked, and the scribbles became normal again.

  “Weird,” I muttered.

  “What’s weird?” Paul asked, looking up.

  “Um. ” Quickly, I searched for a safer topic. Dad didn’t have a high regard for glamour, seeing it as nothing more than faery tricks and deception. With everything he’d gone through, I couldn’t blame him. “Um,” I said again. “I was just wondering…what all those little dots and lines are for. I mean, it doesn’t look like music to me. ”

  Paul smiled, eager to talk about his favorite subject, and pulled a full sheet of paper from a stack. “They’re measures,” he explained, placing the sheet between us. “See these lines? Each line represents a musical pitch. Every note on a scale is represented by its position on the line or in the spaces between. The higher the note is on the lines, the higher the pitch. Follow me so far?”

  “Ummm…”

  “Now, notice the different dots, or notes,” Dad went on, as if I understood anything he just said. “An open dot plays longer than a closed dot. The little stems and flags you see cut the time in half, and in half again. The appearance of the notes tells the player how long to hold them, and what note to play. Everything is measured by time, pitch, and scale, written in perfect harmony. One note or measure in the wrong place will throw off the entire song. ”

  “Sounds very complicated,” I offered, trying to keep up with his explanation.

  “It can be. Music and math have always been tied closely together. It’s all about formulas and fractions and such. ” Paul stood abruptly with the sheet of music and walked over to the piano. I trailed behind him and perched on the couch. “But then, you put it all together, and it sounds like this. ”

  And he played a song so beautiful it caught in my throat, making me want to smile and laugh and cry all at the same time. I’d heard his music before, but this was different, as if he’d put his entire heart and soul into it, and it had grown a life of its own. Glamour flared and swirled around him, a vortex of the most gorgeous colors I’d ever seen. No wonder the fey were attracted to talented mortals. No wonder Leanansidhe had been so reluctant to let him go. The piece was short and ended abruptly, as if Paul just ran out of notes.