The Iron Daughter, Page 26Julie Kagawa
Warren shot him a look that was half fearful, half awe. “Her, of course. The boss of this place. So…if this is Oberon’s daughter, you must be him, aren’t you? Robin Goodfellow? The Puck?” Puck smiled, which caused Warren to swallow noisily. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “But—” he glanced at Ironhorse “—she didn’t say anything about him. Who’s he?”
“Stinks,” rumbled the green-skinned boy, curling his lip to reveal blunt, uneven teeth. “Smells like coal. Like iron. ”
Warren’s eyebrows shot up. “Aw, crap. He’s one of them, isn’t he? One of those Iron faeries! She won’t be happy about this. ”
“He’s with me,” I said quickly, as Ironhorse drew himself up. “He’s safe, I promise you. And who do you keep talking about? Who is this she?”
“Her name is Leanansidhe,” Warren stated, as if I were an idiot for not figuring it out. “Leanansidhe the Dark Muse. Queen of the Exiles. ”
Puck’s eyebrows arched into his hair.
“You’re kidding,” he said, his face caught between a grimace and a smirk.
“So, Leanansidhe fancies herself a queen, now? Oh, Titania will love that. ”
“Who’s Leanansidhe?” I asked.
The grimace won out. He shook his head and turned to me, his face grim.
“Bad news, Princess. At one time, Leanansidhe was one of the most powerful beings in all the Nevernever. The Dark Muse, they called her, because she inspired many great artists, helping them produce their most brilliant works. You might recognize some of the mortals she’s helped
—James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain. ”
“No way. ”
Puck shrugged. “But, as you should know, such help always comes with a price. None whom Leanansidhe inspires lives very long, ever. Their lives are brilliant, colorful, and very brief. Sometimes, if the artist was particularly special, she’d take him back to the Nevernever to entertain her for eternity. Or until she got bored. Of course, this was before…”
He trailed off, giving me a sideways look.
“Titania banished her to the mortal realm,” Puck said quickly, as if he was really going to say something else. “According to some, Leanansidhe was growing too powerful, had too many mortals worshipping her, and there was talk that she wanted to make herself queen. Naturally, this made our good Summer Queen more than a little jealous, so she exiled the self-proclaimed Queen of Muse and sealed off all trods to her, so that Leanansidhe could never return to Faery. That was several years ago, and no one has seen or heard from her since.
“But, apparently,” Puck continued, glancing at the three teenagers listening in rapt fascination, “Leanansidhe has a new following. A new little mortal cult ready to throw themselves at her feet. ” He smothered a laugh. “Pickings must be pretty slim nowadays. ”
“Hey,” said the girl, narrowing her eyes at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Why is Leanansidhe looking for me?” I asked, before an unpleasant thought drifted to mind. “You…you don’t think she wants revenge, for what Titania did to her?” Great. That was all I needed, another faery queen who was out to get me. I must hold some sort of record.
We glared at Warren, who stepped back and raised his hands. “Hey, man. Don’t look at me. I don’t know what she wants. Just that she’s been looking for you. ”
“WE CANNOT GO TO THIS LEANANSIDHE NOW,” Ironhorse boomed,
making the teens jump and the ceiling rattle. God, he couldn’t speak quietly if his life depended on it. “OUR MISSION IS URGENT. WE MUST GET TO CALIFORNIA AS SOON AS
“Well, we’re not going anywhere now, not with ol’ Deathbreath guarding the only way out. ”
“Come with us. ”
I looked up. Warren had spoken and was staring at me intently. The eager look in his eyes made me uncomfortable, as did his sudden change in mood. “Come with us to Leanansidhe’s,” he urged. “She could help. You want to go to California? She can get you there, easy—”
“Warren,” said the girl, grabbing his sleeve and pulling him aside. “Come here a second, would you? ’Scuse us a sec, people. ” Surprisingly strong for her size, she dragged him into a far corner. Huddled against the wall, they whispered furiously to each other, casting suspicious glances at Ironhorse over their shoulders.
“What are we going to do?” I wondered. “Should we wait until the dragon leaves to find our way back through the Briars? Or should we find out what Leanansidhe wants?”
“NO,” thundered Ironhorse, his voice bouncing off the walls. “I DO NOT
TRUST THIS LEANANSIDHE. IT IS TOO DANGEROUS. ”
He shrugged. “Under normal circumstances, I’d agree with the toaster oven,”
he said, earning a hard glare from Ironhorse. “Leanansidhe has always been unpredictable, and she has enough power to make that dragon look like a cranky Gila monster. But…I always say the enemy you know is better than the enemy you can’t see. ”
I nodded. “I agree. If Leanansidhe is looking for us, I think we should meet her on our own terms. Otherwise, I’d just worry about what she’s sending after us. ”
“Besides…” Puck rolled his eyes. “I think we have another problem. ”
“Our trusty guide has gone AWOL. ”
I looked around, but Grimalkin had vanished, and he didn’t respond to my hissed calls for him to show himself. The street kids were watching us now, eager and hesitant at the same time. I sighed. There was no telling where Grimalkin was, or when he’d return. Really, there was just one option.
“So. ” I gave them a hopeful smile. “How far is Leanansidhe’s?”
TURNS OUT, we were in the basement of her mansion.
“So, Leanansidhe has you guys steal from dragons?” I asked the girl as we walked down the dimly lit corridors, torchlight flickering over the damp stone walls. Whatever the house looked like, the basement was huge. It reminded me of a medieval dungeon, complete with heavy doors, wooden portcullises, and gargoyles leering at us from the walls. Mice scurried over the floor, and other things moved in the shadows, just out of sight. The girl, Kimi, grinned at me. “Leanansidhe has lots of clients with very unusual tastes,” she explained. “Most of them are exiles, like her, who can’t go back into the Nevernever for some reason. She uses us—” she gestured to herself and Nelson “—to fetch things she can’t get herself, like that thing with the dragon. Apparently, a banished Winter sidhe in New York is paying a fortune for real dragon eggs. ”
“You stole its eggs?”
“Only one. ” Kimi giggled at my stunned expression. “Then the stupid lizard woke up and we had to book it. ” She giggled again, smoothing down her ears. “Don’t worry, we’re not going to decimate the dragon population. Leanansidhe told us to leave a couple behind. ”
Puck made a noise that might’ve been appreciation. “And what do you guys get out of this?”
“Free room and board. And the rep that goes with it. We’d be out on the streets, otherwise. ” Kimi and Nelson shared a secret glance, but Warren was staring at me. He’d been doing that since we left to meet Leanansidhe, and it was making me very uncomfortable.
“The pay’s not bad, either,” Kimi went on, oblivious to Warren’s scrutiny.
“At least, it’s better than the alternative—being hunted down for what we are, getting stepped on by the exiles and the fey who just like it better in the mortal realm. Leanansidhe’s made it safer for us—you don’t screw around with the queen’s pets. Even the redcap gangs know to leave you alone. For the most part, anyway. ”
“Why?” I asked. “You’re exiles, too, right? Why should it be different for you?” I looked at her furry, tufted ears, at Nelson’s swamp-water skin and Warren’s horns. They weren’t human, that much was certain. But then I remembered Warren
holding out the iron cross, his fearful damned faeries, how they could get through the door when Grimalkin couldn’t. And I knew what they were even before Kimi said it.
“Because,” she said cheerfully, twitching her ears, “we’re half-breeds. I’m half-phouka, Nelson’s half-troll, and Warren is part-satyr. And if there’s one thing an exile hates more than the fey who banished him, its half-breeds like us. ”
I hadn’t thought of that before, though it made sense. I suspected half-breeds like Kimi, Nelson and Warren had it pretty tough. Without Oberon’s protection, they would’ve been left to the whims of the true fey, who probably made life very difficult for them. It wasn’t surprising they would make a deal with this Queen of the Exiles, in exchange for some degree of protection. Even if it meant stealing dragon eggs right out from under the dragon.
“Oh, and by the way,” Kimi went on, with a quick glance at Ironhorse, clanking along behind me. “Leanansidhe knows about…um…his kind. They’ve been killing off lots of exiles lately, and it’s making her mad. Your ‘friend’ should be really careful around her. I don’t know how she’ll take an Iron faery in her living room. I’ve seen her throw a fit for less. ”
“Shut up, Kimi,” Warren said abruptly. We had reached the end of the hall, where a bright red door waited for us atop a flight of stairs. “I told you, it’s not a big deal. ”
I frowned at him, but something caught my attention. Strains of music drifted down the steps, the low, shivery chords of a piano or organ. The music was dark and haunting, reminding me of a play I’d seen a long time ago, The Phantom of the Opera. I remembered Mom dragging me to the theater when the play came through our little town, shortly before Ethan was born. I remembered thinking I’d have to sit through three hours of absolute boredom and torture, but from the first booming organ chords, I was completely entranced. I also remembered Mom crying through several of the scenes, something she never did, even with the saddest movies. I didn’t think anything of it then, but it seemed a little odd, now.