The Iron Daughter, Page 29Julie Kagawa
“Ash,” I whispered, glancing at Puck. “It had to be Ash. ” Puck looked doubtful, so I turned back to Leanansidhe, a cold desperation spreading through my stomach.
“What happened to him, the one who tried to take the scepter? Where is he now?”
“I’ve no idea, pet. Ash, you say? Am I right in assuming this is Mab’s Ash, the darling of the Unseelie Court?”
“We have to find him!” I stood up, causing Puck and Ironhorse to blink at me. “He could be in trouble. He needs our help. ” I turned to Leanansidhe. “Could you get your spies to look for him?”
“I could, dove. ” Leanansidhe twiddled her cigarette lighter. “But I’m afraid I have more important things to find. We’re after the scepter, remember, darling? The prince of the Winter Court, scrumptious though he is, will have to wait. ”
“Ash is fine, Princess,” Puck added, dismissing the idea immediately. “He can take care of himself. ”
I sat back down, anger and worry flooding my brain. What if Ash wasn’t fine? What if he’d been captured, and they were torturing him, like they had in Machina’s realm? What if he was hurt, lying in a gutter somewhere, waiting for me? I became so worked up over Ash, I barely heard what Puck and Leanansidhe were discussing, and a small part of me didn’t care.
“What do you suggest, Lea?” This from Puck.
“Let my people search the valley. I know a sluah who is simply fabulous at finding things that don’t want to be found. I’ve sent for him today. In the meantime, I have all my minions scouring the streets, keeping their heads down and their ears to the ground. They’ll turn up something, eventually. ”
“Eventually?” I glared at her. “What are we supposed to do until then?”
Leanansidhe smiled and blew me a smoke rabbit. “I suggest you get comfortable, darling. ”
It wasn’t a request.
Charles and the Redcaps
I hate waiting. I hate standing around with nothing to do, cooling my heels until someone gives me the go-ahead to move. I hated it while I was at the Winter Court, and I certainly didn’t like it now, in Leanansidhe’s mansion, waiting for complete strangers to bring word of the missing scepter. To make things worse, there were no clocks anywhere in the mansion and, even weirder, no windows to see the outside world. Also, as most faeries did, Leanansidhe hated technology, so that of course meant no television, computers, phones, video games, anything to make time pass more quickly. Not even a radio, although the crazy humans wandering the mansion would often spontaneously burst into song, or start playing some kind of instrument, so the house was never without noise. The few exiled fey I saw either fled my presence or nervously told me that I was not to be bothered, Leanansidhe’s orders. I felt like a mouse trapped in some kind of bizarro labyrinth. Add in my constant worry for Ash, and it started to drive me as crazy as Leanansidhe’s collection of gifted but insane mortals. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one going nuts.
“THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE,” Ironhorse announced one day—night?—as we lounged in the library, a red-carpeted room with a stone fireplace and bookshelves that soared to the ceiling. With an impressive collection of novels and mostly fashion magazines at my fingertips, I managed to keep myself entertained during the long hours that we waited for Leanansidhe’s spies to turn something up. Today, I was curled on the couch with King’s The Dark Tower series, but it was difficult to concentrate with a restless, impatient Iron faery in the same room. Puck had vanished earlier, probably tormenting the staff or getting into some kind of trouble, and Grimalkin was with Leanansidhe, swapping favors and gossip, which left me alone with Ironhorse, who was getting on my last nerve. He was never still. Even in a human body, he acted like a flighty racehorse, pacing the room and tossing his head so that his dreadlocks clanked against his shoulders. I noticed that even though he wore boots, he still left hoof-shaped burn marks in the carpet, before the glamour of the mansion could smooth it out again.
“PRINCESS,” he said, coming around the couch to kneel in front of me,
“WE MUST ACT SOON. THE SCEPTER IS GETTING FARTHER AND FARTHER AWAY, WHILE WE SIT HERE AND DO NOTHING. HOW CAN WE TRUST THIS
LEANANSIDHE? WHAT IF SHE IS KEEPING US HERE BECAUSE SHE WANTS THE
SCEPTER FOR HERSEL—?”
“Shh! Ironhorse, be quiet,” I hissed, and he immediately fell silent, looking as contrite as his expressionless face would allow. “You can’t say those things out loud. She could hear you, or her spies could rat us out. I’m pretty sure she has them watching our every move. ”
A quick glance around the library revealed nothing, but I could still feel eyes on me, peering unseen from cracks and shadows. “She already has it in for all Iron fey. Don’t add to it. ”
“MY APOLOGIES, PRINCESS. ” Ironhorse bowed his head. “I CANNOT
ABIDE THIS WAITING. I FEEL AS IF I SHOULD BE DOING SOMETHING, BUT I AM
USELESS TO YOU HERE. ”
“I know how you feel,” I told him, placing a hand on his bulky arm. His skin was hot to the touch, and the tendons beneath were like solid steel. “I want to get out of here, too. But we have to be patient. Puck and Grim are out there—they’ll let us know if anything turns up or if we have to leave. ”
He looked unhappy, but nodded. I sighed with relief and hoped Leanansidhe’s spies found something soon, before Ironhorse started tearing down the walls. The door banged open, and we both jumped, but it was only a human, the scruffy piano player we’d seen when we first came to the mansion. He ambled into the room, blank eyes scanning the floor, until they spotted me. With an empty smile, he stumbled forward, but stopped when he saw the huge Iron faery kneeling in front of me. Ironhorse rose with a growl, but I smacked his arm, wincing as the rock-hard bicep bruised my knuckles. “It’s all right,” I told him when he gave me a puzzled look. “I don’t think he’ll hurt me. He looks pretty harmless. ”
Ironhorse gave the human a suspicious glare and snorted. “IF YOU NEED
“I’ll yell. ”
He nodded, shot the man one last dark look, and retreated to the other side of the room to glower at us.
With Ironhorse at a distance, the man seemed to relax. He inched up to the couch and perched on the edge, staring at me curiously. I smiled at him over my book. He seemed much calmer now, not so crazy. His eyes were clear, though the way he stared at me, unblinking, was making me a bit uncomfortable.
“Hi,” I greeted, squirming a bit under that unrelenting gaze. “You’re Charles, aren’t you? I heard your playing earlier. You’re really good. ”
He gave me a confused frown, tilting his head. “You heard me…play?” he murmured, his voice surprisingly clear and deep. “I don’t…remember that. ”
I nodded. “In the foyer. When we first came here. You were playing for Leanansidhe and we heard the end of it. ”
“I don’t remember,” he said again, scratching his head. “I don’t remember a lot of things. ” He blinked and looked up at me, suddenly contemplative. “But…I remember you. Isn’t that strange?”
I glanced at Ironhorse, hovering in the corner and pretending not to listen to us. “How long have you been here, Charles?”
He frowned, scrunching his forehead. His face, though lined and worn, was curiously childlike. “I…I’ve always been here. ”
“They can’t remember anything. ” Grimalkin popped into existence on the back of the couch, waving his tail. I started and dropped my book, but Charles simply looked at the cat, as if he had seen far stranger. “He’s been here too long,” Grimalkin continued, sitting down and curling his tail around his legs. “That’s what being in Faery does to mortals. This one’s forgotten everything about his life before. Same as all the other mortals wandering around this place. ”
“Hi, kitty,” muttered Charles, reaching a hand toward Grimalkin. Grimalkin bristled and stalked to the other end of the couch.
“How many of them are there?” I asked.
“Humans?” Grimalkin licked a paw, still keeping a wary eye on Charles. “Not so many. A dozen or so, I’d guess. All great artists—poets or painters or other such nonsense. ”
He sniffed and scrubbed the paw over his face. “That’s what keeps this place alive, all that creative energy and glamour. Not even the redcaps will lay a finger on them. ”
“How can she keep them here?” I asked, but Grimalkin yawned and settled down on the couch back, burying his nose in his tail and closing his eyes. Apparently, he was done answering questions. I’d poke him, but he would just swat me or disappear.
“Here you are, darlings. ” Leanansidhe breezed into the room, trailing a gauzy black dress and shawl behind her. “I’m so glad I caught you before I left. Charles, darling, I must speak with my guests now. Shoo shoo. ” She fluttered her hands, and with a last glance at me Charles slipped off the couch and out the door.
“You’re leaving?” I eyed her dress and purse. “Why?”
“Have you seen Puck, darling?” Leanansidhe gazed around the library, ignoring my question. “We need to have a little chitchat. Cook has been complaining that certain dinner items keep going missing, the head maid is mysteriously in love with a coatrack, and my butler has been chasing mice around the foyer all evening. ” She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes. “Anyway, darling. If you see Puck, be a dear and tell him to reverse the glamour on my poor maid, and to please stop stealing cakes from the oven before Cook has a meltdown. I shudder to think of what I might return to, but I simply cannot stay. ”
“Where are you going?”
“Me? I’m off to Nashville, darling. Some brilliant young songwriter is in need of inspiration. It’s horrible to be so blocked, but not to worry. Soon, everyone will be in love with his muuuusic. ” She sang the last word, and I bit my lip to kill the urge to dance. Leanansidhe went on without notice. “Also, I need to pay a visit to a night hag, see if she has any information for us. I’ll be back in a day or two, human time. Ciao, darling. ”