The iron queen, p.3
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       The Iron Queen, p.3

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

 

  I felt cold. And sick. “I can’t go home,” I whispered, feeling Ash’s gaze on me. “Not now. I can’t bring this madness home to my family. ” I stared at the house for a moment more, then shut my eyes. “The false king won’t stop here. He’ll keep sending things after me, and my family will get caught in the middle. I can’t let that happen. I…I have to leave. Now. ”

  “Where will you go?” Ash’s steady voice broke through my despair. “We can’t go back to Faery, and the Iron fey are everywhere in the mortal world. ”

  “I don’t know. ” I covered my face with my hands. All I knew was that I couldn’t be with my family, I couldn’t go home, and I couldn’t have a normal life. Not until the false king gave up looking for me, or miraculously keeled over and died.

  Or I keeled over and died. “It doesn’t matter now, does it?” I groaned through my fingers. “No matter where I go, they’re going to follow me. ”

  Strong fingers wrapped around my wrists and gently tugged my hands down. I shivered and looked up into glittering silver eyes. “I will keep fighting for you,”

  Ash said in a low, intense voice. “Do what you must. I’ll be here, whatever you decide. If it takes one year or a thousand, I will keep you safe. ”

  My heart pounded. Ash released my wrists and slid his hands up my arms, pulling me close. I sank into his embrace and buried my face in his chest, using him as a shield against disappointment and grief, against the knowledge that my wandering wasn’t over yet. The choice loomed clear before me. If I ever wanted this endless running and fighting to stop, I would have to deal with the Iron King. Again.

  I opened my eyes and stared at the place where the Iron fey had fallen, at the slivers of metal glinting in the weeds. The thought of such monsters stealing into my room, turning their murderous eyes on Ethan or my mom, made me cold with rage. All right, I thought, clenching my fists in Ash’s shirt, the false king wants a war? I’ll give him one.

  I wasn’t ready. Not yet. I had to get stronger. I had to learn to control my magic, both Summer and Iron glamour, if it was actually possible to learn both. And for that, I needed time. I needed a place where the Iron fey couldn’t follow. And there was only one place I knew that was safe, where the false king’s servants would never find me.

  Ash must’ve sensed the change. “Where are we going?” he murmured into my hair.

  I took a deep breath and pulled back to face him. “Leanansidhe’s. ”

  Surprise and a flicker of alarm crossed his face. “The Exile Queen? Are you sure she’ll help us?”

  No, I wasn’t. The Exile Queen, as she was called among other things, was capricious and unpredictable and, frankly, quite terrifying. But she had helped me before, and her home in the Between—the veil separating the mortal world from Faery—was the only potentially safe haven we had.

  Besides, I had a score to settle with Leanansidhe, and more than a few questions I needed answered.

  Ash was still watching me, his silver gaze concerned. “I don’t know,” I told him truthfully. “But she’s the only one I can think of who can help, and she hates the Iron fey with a fiery passion. Besides, she is Queen of the Exiles. That means we qualify, right?”

  “You tell me. ” Ash crossed his arms and leaned against a tree. “I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her. Though I have heard the stories. Terrifying as they are. ” A tiny furrow creased his brow, and he sighed. “This is going to be very dangerous, isn’t it?”

  “Probably. ”

  A rueful smile quirked his lips. “Where to first?”

  A cold resolve tightened my stomach. I looked back at my home, at my family, so very close, and swallowed the lump in my throat. Not yet, I promised them, but soon. Soon, I’ll be able to see you again. “New Orleans,” I replied, turning to Ash, who waited patiently, his eyes never leaving my face. “The Historic Voodoo Museum. There’s something there I have to take back. ”

  CHAPTER TWO

  OF TOKENS AND CHURCH GRIMS

  Any tour guide worth his badge in New Orleans will tell you not to go gallivanting around the city streets alone in the middle of the night. In the heart of the French Quarter, where street lamps and tourism had a firm hold, it was fairly safe, but just outside the district, the dark alleyways hid thugs and gangs and predators of the night.

  I wasn’t worried about the human predators. They couldn’t see us, except for one white-haired homeless man who cringed against a wall and chanted “Not here, not here,” as we went by. But the darkness hid other things as well, like the goat-headed phouka who watched us from an alley across the street, grinning madly, and the redcap gang who trailed us through several neighborhoods until they got bored and went looking for easier prey. New Orleans was a faery city; mystery, imagination and old traditions blended perfectly here and drew scores of exiled fey to this spot.

  Ash walked next to me, a silent, watchful shadow, one hand resting casually on his sword hilt. Everything, from his eyes, to the chill in the air as he passed, to the calm lethality on his face, was a warning: this wasn’t someone you wanted to mess around with. Even though he had been exiled and was no longer a prince of the Unseelie Court, he was an imposing warrior, still the son of Queen Mab, and few dared challenge him.

  At least, that’s what I kept telling myself as we ventured deeper into the back alleys of the French Quarter, moving steadily toward our goal. But at the mouth of a narrow alley, the redcap gang I thought had given up appeared, blocking the exit. They were short and stout, evil dwarves with bloody red hats, their eyes and jagged fangs shining in the darkness.

  Ash stopped and in one smooth motion eased me behind him and drew his sword, bathing the alley in flickering blue light. I clenched my fists, drawing glamour from the air, tasting fear and apprehension and a hint of violence. As I drew the glamour to me, I felt the nausea and dizziness and fought to remain steady on my feet.

  For a moment, no one moved.

  Then Ash gave a dark, humorless chuckle and stepped forward. “We can stand around looking at each other all night,” he said, locking gazes with the biggest redcap, who had a stained red bandana on his head and was missing an eye. “Or would you like me to start the massacre?”

  One-Eye bared his fangs. “Keep your pants on, prince,” he spat, his guttural voice like a dog’s snarl. “We got no quarrel with you. ” He sniffed and brushed his crooked nose. “Just heard the rumor you was in town, see, and we’d like to have a few words with the lady before you go, that’s all. ”

  I was instantly suspicious. I had no love for redcaps; the ones I’d run into were trying to kidnap, torture, or eat me. They were the mercenaries and thugs of the Unseelie Court, and the exiled ones were even worse. I wanted nothing to do with them.

  Ash kept his sword out, his eyes never leaving the redcaps, but his free hand reached back and gripped mine. “Fine. Say what you came to say and get out of here. ”

  One-Eye sneered at him, then turned to me. “Just wanted to let you know, princess—” he emphasized the word with a toothy leer “—that there’s a bunch of Iron faeries sniffing around the city looking for you. One of them is offering a reward for any information concerning your whereabouts. So I’d be really careful if I were you. ” One-Eye pulled off his bandana and gave me a ridiculous, mocking bow. “Just thought you’d want to know. ”

  I tried to hide my shock. Not that the Iron fey were looking for me, that was a given, but that a redcap would take it upon himself to warn me about it. “Why are you telling me this?”

  “And how can I be certain you won’t run to them with our location?” Ash chimed in, his voice flat and cold.

  The redcap leader gave Ash a half disgusted, half fearful look. “You think I want these Iron bastards on my turf? You really think I’d want to bargain with them? I want every one of them dead, or at least out of my territory. I sure as hell ain’t going to give them exactly what they want. If there’s any wa
y I can throw a wrench in their plans, I’ll take it, even if that means warning you to spite them. And if you manage to kill them all for me, hey—that’ll make my evening. ”

  He stared at me with a hopeful expression. I squirmed uncomfortably. “I’m not going to promise anything,” I warned, “so you can stop threatening me. ”

  “Who said I was threatening you?” One-Eye held up his hands with a quick glance at Ash. “I’m just giving you a friendly warning. I thought, hey, she’s killed the Iron bastards before. She might want to do it again. ”

  “Who told you that?”

  “Oh, please. It’s all over the streets. We know about you—you and your Unseelie boyfriend here. ” He curled a lip at Ash, who stared back stoically. “We heard about the scepter, and how you killed the Iron bitch who stole it. We know you returned it to Mab to stop the war between Summer and Winter, and that they exiled you for your trouble. ” One-Eye shook his head and gave me a look that was almost sympathetic. “Word travels fast on the streets, princess, especially when the Iron fey are running around like chickens with their heads ripped off, offering rewards for ‘the daughter of the Summer King. ’ So, I’d watch my back, if I were you. ”

  He snorted, then turned and spat on one of his flunky’s shoes. The other redcap snarled and cursed, but One-Eye didn’t seem to notice. “Anyway, there it is. Last time I checked, the bastards were nosing around Bourbon Street. If you do manage to kill them, princess, tell them One-Eyed Jack says hello. Let’s go, boys. ”

  “Aw, boss. ” The redcap who was spit on smiled at me and licked his fangs.

  “Can’t we chew on the princess, just a little?”

  One-Eyed Jack slapped the offending faery upside the head without looking at him. “Idiot,” he snapped. “I have no desire to pick your frozen guts off the pavement. Now move, you stupid lot. Before I lose my temper. ”