The Iron Daughter, Page 28Julie Kagawa
Movement in the shadows, muttering and low shuffles, as a group of little men edged into the light. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. They were redcaps, evil-eyed and shark-toothed, with their hats dipped in the blood of their victims, but they were also dressed in matching butler suits with pink bow ties. Sullen and scowling, they emerged from the darkness, glaring for all they were worth. Laugh and die, their eyes warned, but Puck took one look at them and started cracking up. The redcaps glared at him like they were going to bite his head off.
One of them caught sight of Ironhorse and let out a piercing hiss that sent all of them scrambling back. “Iron!” he screeched, baring his jagged fangs. “That’s one of them stinking Iron faeries! Kill it! Kill it now!”
Ironhorse roared, and Puck’s dagger flashed out, a devilish grin stretching his face at the thought of violence. The redcaps surged forward, snarling and gnashing their teeth, just as eager. I grabbed a silver knife from the table and held it ready as the redcaps lunged forward. One of them leaped onto the table, gathering his short legs under him to launch himself at us, fangs gleaming.
“That is enough!”
We froze. It was impossible not to. Even the redcap on the table locked up, then fell into a bowl of fruit salad.
Leanansidhe stood at the end of the table, glowering at us all. Her eyes glowed amber, her hair whipped away from her face, and the candelabra flames danced wildly. For a heart-stopping moment, she stood there, alien and terrifying. Then she sighed, smoothed back her hair and reached for her cigarette holder, taking a long drag. As she blew out the smoke, things returned to normal, including our ability to move, but no one, least of all the redcaps, had any aggressive thoughts left.
“Well?” she finally said, looking to the redcaps as if nothing had happened.
“What are you minions standing about for? My seat isn’t going to move itself. ”
The largest redcap, a burly fellow with a bone fishhook through his nose, shook himself and crept forward, pulling Leanansidhe’s chair away from the table. The others followed suit, looking like they’d rather beat us to death with our own arms, but wordlessly drew out our chairs. The one attending Ironhorse growled and bared his teeth at the Iron faery, then darted away as quickly as he could.
“I apologize for the minions,” Leanansidhe said when we were all seated. She touched her fingers to her temple, as if she had a headache. “It’s so hard to find good help these days, darlings. You have no idea. ”
“I thought I recognized them,” Puck said, casually reaching for a pear near the center of the table. “Isn’t the leader Razor Dan, or something like that? Caused a bit of a stir during the Goblin Wars, when they tried selling information to both sides?”
“Nasty business, darling. ” Leanansidhe snapped her fingers twice, and a brownie melted out of the darkness with a wine flute and a bottle, scrambling onto a stool to fill her glass. “Everyone knows you don’t cheat the goblin tribes if you know what’s good for you. Like poking a stick down an ant nest. ” She sipped the wine the brownie poured her and sighed.
“They came to me for asylum, after pissing off every goblin tribe in the wyldwood, so I put them to work. That’s the rule here, darling. You stay, you work. ”
I glanced in the direction the redcaps left, feeling their hateful gaze staring out from the darkness. “But aren’t you afraid they’ll get mad and eat someone?”
“Not if they know what’s good for them, darling. And you’re not eating anything. Eat. ” She gestured at the food, and I suddenly realized how hungry I was. I reached for a platter of tiny frosted cakes, too hungry to care about glamours or enchantments anymore. If I was munching on a toadstool or a grasshopper, so be it. Ignorance is bliss.
“While you’re here,” Leanansidhe continued, smiling as we ate, “you leave all personal vendettas behind. That’s my other rule. I can easily deny them sanctuary, and then where will they be? Back in the mortal realm, dying slowly or fighting it out with the Iron fey who are gradually infesting every town and city in the world. No offense, darling,” she added, smiling at Ironhorse, implying the exact opposite. Staring blindly at the table, Ironhorse didn’t respond. He wasn’t eating anything, and I figured he either didn’t want to be indebted to Leanansidhe, or he didn’t eat regular food. Thankfully, Leanansidhe didn’t seem to notice.
“Most choose not to take the risk,” she went on, stabbing her cigarette holder in the direction the redcaps had fled. “Take the minions, for example. Every so often, one will poke his nose back in the mortal realm, get it hacked off by some goblin mercenary, and come crawling back to me. Exiles, half-breeds and outcasts alike. I’m their only safe haven between the Nevernever and the mortal world. ”
“Which begs the question,” Puck asked, almost too casually. “Where are we, anyway?”
“Ah, pet. ” Leanansidhe smiled at him, but it was a frightening thing, cold and vicious. “I was wondering when you would ask that. And if you think you should run and tattle on me to your masters, don’t bother. I’ve done nothing wrong. I haven’t broken my exile. This is my realm, yes, but Titania can relax. It doesn’t intrude upon hers in any way. ”
“Okay, totally not the question I asked. ” Puck paused with an apple in hand, raising an eyebrow. “And I think I’m even more alarmed now. Where are we, Lea?”
“The Between, darling. ” Leanansidhe leaned back, sipping her wine. “The veil between the Nevernever and the mortal realm. Surely you’ve realized that by now. ”
Both Puck’s eyebrows shot up into his hair. “The Between? The Between is full of nothing, or so I was led to believe. Those who get stuck Between usually go insane in very short order. ”
“Yes, I’ll admit, it was difficult to work with at first. ” Leanansidhe waved her hand airily. “But, enough about me, darlings. Let’s talk about you. ” She took a drag on her cigarette and blew a smoky fish over the table. “Why were you tromping around the Briars when my streetrats found you? I thought you were looking for the Scepter of the Seasons, and you certainly won’t find it down there, darlings. Unless you think Bellatorallix is sitting on it. ”
I started. Ironhorse jerked up, sending a bowl of grapes clattering to the floor. Brownies appeared from nowhere, scurrying to recover the lost fruit as it rolled about the tile. Leanansidhe raised a slender eyebrow and took another drag on her cigarette as we recovered.
“You knew?” I stared at her, as the brownies set the bowl on the table again and scampered off. “You knew about the scepter?”
“Darling, please. ” Leanansidhe gave me a half scornful, half patronizing look.
“I know everything that happens within the courts. I find it unforgivable to be so out of the loop, and it’s terribly boring here otherwise. My informants clue me in on all the important details. ”
“Spies, you mean,” Puck said.
“Such a dirty word, darling. ” Leanansidhe tsked at him. “And it doesn’t matter now. What matters is what I can tell you. I know the scepter was stolen from under Mab’s nose, I know Summer and Winter are about to go to a bloody war over it, and I know that the scepter is not in the Nevernever but in the mortal realm. And—” she took a long drag on her cigarette and sent a hawk soaring over our heads “—I can help you find it. ”
I was instantly suspicious, and I could tell Ironhorse and Puck felt the same.
“Why?” I demanded. “What’s in it for you?”
Leanansidhe looked at me, and a shadow crept into her voice, making it dark and ominous. “Darling, I’ve seen what’s been happening in the mortal realm. Unlike Oberon and Mab, who hide in their safe little courts, I know the reality pressing in on us from every side. The Iron fey are getting stronger. They’re everywhere: in computers, crawling out of television screens, massing in factories. I have more exiles under my roof now than I’ve had in the past century. They’re terrified, unwilling to walk in the mortal realm any longer,
because the Iron fey are tearing them apart. ”
I shuddered, and Ironhorse had gone very still. Leanansidhe paused, and nothing could be heard except the faint skittering of things unseen in the pressing darkness.
“If Summer and Winter go to war, and the Iron fey attack, there will be nothing left. If the Iron fey win, the Nevernever will become uninhabitable. I don’t know what that will do to the Between, but I’m sure it will be quite fatal for me. So you see, darling,”
Leanansidhe said, taking a sip of wine, “it would be advantageous for me to help you. And since I have eyes and ears everywhere within the mortal realm, it would be prudent of you to accept. ”
Ironhorse shifted, then spoke for the first time. To his credit, he tried to keep his voice down, but even then it echoed around the room. “YOUR OFFER IS
APPRECIATED,” he rumbled, “BUT WE ALREADY KNOW WHERE THE SCEPTER IS
“Do you now?” Leanansidhe shot him a vicious smile. “Where?”
“SILICON VALLEY. ”
“Lovely. Where in Silicon Valley, pet?”
A pause. “I DO NOT—”
“And how do you plan on getting to the scepter once you find it, darling?
Walk in the front door?”
Ironhorse glowered at her. “I WILL FIND A WAY. ”
“I see. ” Leanansidhe gave him a scornful look. “Well, let me tell you what I know about Silicon Valley, pet, so the princess has an idea of what she’s up against. It’s the gremlins’ spawning ground. You know, those nasty little things that crawl out of computers and other machines. There are literally thousands of them down there, perhaps hundreds of thousands, as well as some very powerful Iron fey who would turn you into bloody strips as soon as look at you. You go down there without a plan, darling, and you’re walking into a death trap. Besides, you’re already too late. ” Leanansidhe snapped her fingers, holding out her glass for more wine. “I’ve been keeping tabs on the scepter’s movements ever since I heard it was stolen. It was being held in a large office building in San Jose, but my spies tell me it’s been moved. Apparently, someone already tried to get in and steal it back, but didn’t quite succeed. Now, the building has been cleared out, and the scepter is gone. ”