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The Iron Daughter, Page 19

Julie Kagawa

Page 19

  “The Scepter of the Seasons?” Puck looked at me aghast. “Oh, man. So that’s where the war rumors are coming from. Winter really is going to attack Summer. ” He glared at Ash. “So, we’re at war. Perfect. Shall we save time and kill each other now, or did you want to wait until later?”

  “Don’t start, Goodfellow. ” Ash matched Puck’s glare. “I didn’t want this. And I have no time for a fight. ” He sighed, deliberately avoiding my gaze. “In fact, now that you’re here, you can do us both a favor. I want you to take Meghan back to the Summer Court. ”

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  Partings and Memories

  “That’s it?” Puck asked, as I stared at Ash, unable to believe what I’d just heard. He still wasn’t looking and me, and Puck rattled on without noticing. “Take her back to Court? That’s easy. I was going to do that anyway, whether you liked it or not. Comes with the whole rescue thing, you know—”

  “What are you talking about?” I yelled, making Puck jump. “The hell with going back to Summer! We need to get the scepter back from the Iron fey! It’s the only way to stop the war. ”

  “I’m aware of that. ” Ash finally met my eyes, and his gaze was cold. “But this is Winter’s problem. Retrieving the scepter is my responsibility. I want you to return to your own court, Meghan. You’ll be safer there. You can’t help me this time. Go home. ”

  Hurt and betrayal stabbed me in the chest. “You were going to dump me on Oberon all along, weren’t you?” I spit at him. “You liar. I thought we were going after the scepter together. ”

  “I never told you that. ”

  Puck glanced from me to Ash and back again, looking confused. “Erm, so you’re saying you don’t want to go back home?” he asked me. I glared at him, and he shrugged. “Wow, so that totally makes the whole rescue plan a wash. You wanna throw me a bone here, Princess? I feel somewhat out of the loop. ”

  “We have to go after the scepter,” I told Puck, hoping he would back me on this. “Ash can’t do it by himself. We can help—”

  “No, you can’t,” Ash broke in. “Not this time. You’d be no use to me, Meghan, not with your magic sealed—” He caught himself, looking guilty, and Puck’s eyes narrowed.

  “Sealed?” Puck stepped forward threateningly. “You put a binding on her?”

  “I didn’t. ” Ash stared him down, defiant. “Mab did. When she first came to Winter. Mab was afraid her power would be too great, so she sealed her magic to protect the Court. ”

  I remembered the wall I kept hitting whenever I tried using more than the simplest glamour, and my temper flared. How dare she! “And you knew,” I accused Ash. “You knew about the seal, and you didn’t bother telling me?”

  Ash shrugged, unrepentant. “Mab ordered us not to. Besides, what difference would it make? I can’t do anything about it. ”

  I turned to Puck, who glowered at the prince as though he might attack him right then. “Can you break it?”

  Puck shook his head. “Sorry, Princess. Only Mab, or someone of equal power, can remove a binding once it’s been placed. That makes your choices Oberon, or Mab herself. ”

  “All the more reason that you should return to Summer. ” Ash pushed himself off the pillar, wincing. Behind him, the column was smeared with red.

  “Where are you going?” I asked, suddenly afraid that he would walk out that door and not return.

  He sheathed his sword without looking at me. “There’s a spring a few yards behind this tower,” he replied, walking slowly toward the door. I sensed he was trying hard not to limp. “Unless either of you object, I’m going to bathe. ”

  “But you’re coming back, right?”

  He sighed. “I’m not going anywhere tonight,” he promised, and swept a hand toward a far wall. “There’s a trunk with blankets and supplies in that corner. Make yourselves comfortable. I think we’re all going to be spending the night here. ”

  The trunk held several quilts, a few canteens, a quiver of arrows, and a bottle of dark wine I didn’t recognize and immediately left alone. Puck went hunting for firewood and came back with an armful, plus a branch bearing strange blue fruits he swore were safe to eat. Together, we cleared away flowers to make the campfire, though I felt a stab of guilt every time I yanked one up. They were quite beautiful, the petals so thin and delicate they were almost transparent.

  “You’re awfully quiet, Princess,” Puck said as he arranged the firewood into a tepee. His slanted green eyes shot me a knowing look. “In fact, you haven’t said a word since his royal iciness left. What’s wrong?”

  “Oh. ” I cast about for an excuse. No way was I telling Puck about my feelings for Ash. He’d probably challenge him to a duel the moment he walked through the door. “I…um…I’m just weirded out, you know, with all those wiremen bodies around. It’s kinda creepy, like they might come to life and attack us while we’re sleeping. ”

  He rolled his eyes. “You and your zombie obsession. I’ve never understood your fascination with horror movies, especially when they freak you out so much. ”

  “They don’t freak me out,” I said, grateful for the change of subject.

  “Riiiight, you just sleep with your light on to scare away roaches. ”

  His comment made me smile. Not because he was right, but because it reminded me of another time, a simpler time, when all I had to worry about was homework and school and keeping up with the latest movie trends. When Robbie Goodfell and I could sit on the couch with a huge tub of popcorn and watch a marathon of Friday the 13th movies until the sun came up.

  I wondered how much I’d missed in the time I’d been gone.

  When I didn’t answer, Puck snorted and shook his head. “Fine. Watch this. ”

  And he made a quick gesture with his hand. The air shimmered, and the twisted corpses lying around the room turned into piles of branches. “Better?”

  I nodded, though I knew it was only an illusion. The dead fey were still there, beneath the faery glamour. Out of sight, out of mind didn’t quite work for me, but at least it kept Puck from asking too many hard questions.

  For a little while, anyway. “So, Princess,” he began, once a cheerful fire crackled in the center of the room. I didn’t know how he’d started it, but I’d learned not to question such things, in case it turned out to be an illusion and I only thought I was getting warm. “It seems I’ve missed a lot since I’ve been gone. Tell me everything. ”

  I gulped. “Everything?”

  “Sure!” He sat down on a quilt, leaning back comfortably. “Like, did you find Machina? Did you ever get your brother back?”

  “Oh. ” I relaxed a bit and sat down beside him. “Yeah. Ethan is safe. He’s home, and that stupid changeling is gone for good. ”

  “What about Machina?”

  I bit my lip. “He’s dead. ”

  Puck must’ve noticed the change in my voice, for he sat up and put his arm around my shoulders, pulling me close. I leaned into him, feeling his warmth, taking comfort in his nearness. “I’m sick of this place,” I whispered, feeling like a little kid, as my eyes burned and the world went fuzzy. “I want to go home. ”

  Puck was silent for a moment, just holding me as I leaned against him, fighting back tears. “You know,” he said finally, “I don’t have to take you back to the Summer Court. If you want, I can take you back to your world. If you really want to go home. ”

  “Would Oberon let me go?”

  “I don’t see why not. Your magic has been sealed off. You’d be like an ordinary high school student again. Mab wouldn’t consider you a threat anymore, so the Unseelie would probably leave you alone. ”

  My heart leaped. Home. Could I really go home? Back to Mom and Luke and Ethan, back to school and summer jobs and a normal life? I missed that, more than I realized. I felt a bit guilty for ditching the plan to get the scepter back, but screw it. Ash didn’t want me around. My contract with him was over, and I’d paid my
dues to the Unseelie Court. Our deal said nothing about me staying in Winter.

  “What about you?” I asked, looking up at Puck. “Weren’t you ordered to bring me back to Summer? Won’t you get in trouble?”

  “Oh, I’m in hot water already. ” Puck grinned cheerfully. “I wasn’t even supposed to let you go after the Iron King, remember? Oberon will skin me alive for that one, so I really can’t dig myself any deeper. ”

  His tone was light, but I closed my eyes, guilt tearing at me. It seemed everyone I cared about was getting hurt, risking so much, just to protect me. I was tired of it; I wished I had my magic back, so that I could protect them in return.

  “Why?” I whispered. “Why do you hang around? You and Ash could’ve died today. ”

  Puck’s heartbeat sped up under my fingers. His voice, when it came, was very soft, almost a whisper. “I would’ve thought you’d’ve figured that out by now. ”

  I looked up and found our faces inches apart. Twilight had deepened the room to shadow, though the carpet of flowers glowed brighter than ever. Firelight danced within Puck’s eyes as we stared at each other. Though he still wore a tiny, lopsided smile, there was no mistaking the emotion on his face.

  I stopped breathing. A tiny part of me, somewhere deep inside, was rejoicing at this newest revelation, though I think, deep down, I’d always suspected. Puck loves me, it whispered, thrilled. He’s in love with me. I knew it. I knew it all along.

  “You’re kind of blind, you know?” Puck whispered, smiling to soften his words. “I wouldn’t defy Oberon for just anyone. But, for you…” He leaned forward, touching his forehead to mine. “I’d come back from the dead for you. ”