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The Iron Knight, Page 41

Julie Kagawa

Page 41


  She jumped like a startled deer but, as I had predicted, made no move to run. I let her stare at me, waiting for the shock to fade. Knowing humans found us beautiful, I'd dressed the part of the prince in black-and-silver, my cape fal ing over one shoulder and my sword at my waist. She gaped at me like a landed fish, her dark eyes wide with fear, but also with a little wonder and excitement.

  Very careful y, I let my glamour settle over her, taking away her fear, leaving only the awe behind. Human emotions were fickle things, easy to inf luence. I could have enchanted her, made her fal completely in love at first sight, but that would be cheating, according to Rowan.

  That was fabricated love, where the mortal was no more than a fawning, glassy-eyed slave. To completely own her, body and soul, took careful manipulation and time.

  Still, there was no reason I couldn't level the field a bit.

  “Forgive me,” I said in a cool, soothing voice as the girl continued to stare. “I didn't mean to startle you. I've been watching you for some time, and I couldn't stay away any longer. I hope you didn't find my gifts il -mannered. ”

  The girl opened her mouth, but no sounds escaped. I waited two heartbeats, then turned away, bowing my head.

  “What am I saying?” I continued before she could respond. “Here I am, acting like an uncivilized barbarian, stalking you from the woods.

  Of course, you don't want to see me like this—I should go. ”

  “No, wait!” the girl cried, just as I had planned. I turned back with a “dare I hope” expression, and she smiled at me across the water. “I don't mind,” she said, suddenly bashful and coy, twisting her hands behind her back. “You can stay… if you want. ”

  I hid my smile. Easier than I thought.

  The girl's name, she told me, was Brynna, and she was the daughter of the druid priestess who led the vil age. Her grandmother was a very powerful shaman, and very strict, forbidding anyone to go into the forest or even near its borders, for fear of the Good Neighbors that lurked within the trees. But the f lowers that grew along the edge of the forest were the most beautiful, and Brynna loved beautiful things, so she waited until her grandmother was napping before she slipped out of the vil age and down to the stream.

  “And why does your grandmother hate the Good Neighbors so?” I asked, smiling at the mortals' odd name for us, which they used because, supposedly, voicing our real names might draw our attention.

  I smiled at the girl, feigning curiosity while tinting the air with glamour, subduing any fears she might have.

  “She…she doesn't hate them,” Brynna went on, nervously pushing her hair back. “She fears them. She's afraid of what they might do—kil our livestock, steal our children, make the women unfertile. ”

  “And, are you afraid of them?” I asked in a low voice, closing the final few feet between us. Very gently, I reached for her rough, work-cal used hands, holding them to my chest. “Are you afraid of me?”

  She gazed up at my face, dark eyes shining with foolish trust, and shook her head.

  “I'm glad. ” I smiled and kissed the back of her hand. “May I see you again tomorrow?”

  I knew the answer even before she nodded.

  It was easy after that, though I took my time with her, wanting to play the game right. Every afternoon, right before twilight, I met her at the stream.

  Sometimes with trinkets, sometimes with f lowers, always with some sort of gift that would keep her returning to me. I showered her with compliments and tender kisses, playing the smitten fool, smiling as she melted under my touch. I never pushed too far, being sure to end each meeting before it got out of hand. When I eventual y took her, at the stone circle on the night of the ful moon, I wanted there to be no doubts in her mind.

  As the game progressed, I even found myself enjoying these little encounters. Humans, I discovered, loved so passionately, without reservation, and the stronger the emotion the brighter their glamour became. The glamour aura of a mortal in love outshone anything I'd ever seen before, so pure and intense it was almost addictive. I could see why the Summer Court pursued these emotions with such passion; there was nothing like them in any of the courts.

  Still, it was only a game. I might've mimicked the words and gestures of a man in love, but emotion, as the Winter Court taught me, was a weakness. And when the ful moon rose over the trees on the last night of the game, I knew she was mine.

  She approached eagerly through the grass under the pale light of the ful moon, so eager in her haste to reach the stream she tripped a few times and went sprawling. She didn't spare any glances back at the vil age, despite the unusual time I'd requested to meet. A few days ago, she might've balked at the thought of meeting a virtual stranger alone in the woods in the dead of night. But now she hurried eagerly forward, no doubts in her mind. She trusted her prince, completely and without reservation. What love will do to a mortal.

  I hung back a few minutes, observing her as she reached the stream, gazing around for my shadow. She wouldn't see me, of course, even though I was standing but a few yards across the stream. Glamoured and invisible, just another shadow in the trees, I watched her. Though her eagerness soon turned to concern at my absence, and she began walking up and down the stream, looking for me, her confidence never wavered, never turned to doubt. She was certain her prince would be there, or that something had detained him from coming. Foolish mortal.

  Finally, as she hovered on the verge of tears, I shed my glamour and stepped out of the trees. She gasped and brightened instantly, love fil ing her eyes and making them shine, but I didn't cross the stream and go to her. Feigning sorrow, I stood on the opposite bank, with the woods at my back, and gave her a gentle smile.

  “Forgive me for being so late,” I said, putting the right amount of remorse in my voice. “But I wanted to see you one last time. I'm afraid this will be our last meeting. I've come to realize we are from two different worlds, and I cannot give you the kind of life you'd want. You are beautiful and kind, and I would only take that away. So, it is best that I leave. After tonight, you will not see me again. ”

  The result was devastating, as I knew it would be. Her eyes fil ed with tears, and her hands f lew to her face, covering her mouth in horror.


  She gasped, a thread of panic in her voice. “Oh, no! Please, you can't! What…wil I do…if you are gone?” And she col apsed into shaking sobs.

  I hid a smile and crossed the stream, gathering her into my arms.

  “Don't cry,” I whispered, stroking her hair. “Truly, it's better this way.

  Your people would never accept me—they would drive me away with iron and torches and do their best to kill me. They would do it to protect you. I am only being selfish, meeting you like this. ”

  Brynna sniff led and gazed up at me, ugly black despair swirling with fierce determination. “I don't care what anyone says! Take me away with you. I'll do anything, anything you want. Just please don't leave. I'll die if you go!”

  We embraced, the girl resting against my chest, her glamour aura shimmering around us. Finally, I drew back, gazing into her eyes. “Do you love me, Brynna?”

  She nodded without hesitation. “With my whole heart. ” “Would you do anything for me?”

  “Yes. ” She clutched at my shirt. “I would, my love. Ask me. Anything. ”

  I drew back, beyond the fence, until the shadows of the trees fel over my face. “Come, then,” I murmured, holding out a hand to her. “Come with me. ” And I waited. Waited to see if years of upbringing, of fears and cautionary tales and countless warnings about fol owing a beautiful prince into the forest, would be forgotten in a heartbeat.

  She didn't hesitate. Without even a backward glance at her vil age, she stepped forward and put her hand in mine, smiling up at me with childlike trust. I smiled back, and led her into the forest.

  “Where are we going?” she asked a bit
later, stil holding my hand as we hurried through the trees. Shadows clawed at us, and branches reached out, trying to snag her clothes with twiggy talons. They knew a human in the forest didn't belong, but Brynna remained blissful y unaware, only happy to be with her prince even as he dragged her through a dark wood where the very trees took offense at her presence.

  “You'l see,” I replied, deftly pul ing her sideways to avoid a thornbush that lurched into her path. And, because I knew she would continue to pester me until I gave in, I added, “It's a surprise. ”

  A will -o'-the-wisp trailed behind us, bobbing through the trees, attempting to catch her attention. I glared at it and it spun away, faint laughter echoing through the branches. A goblin raised a warty head and glared at us through the bushes, running a black tongue over jagged teeth, but didn't dare approach. Brynna seemed blind to any of this, humming softly as she followed me through the woods.

  The forest opened into a tiny, round clearing, where stone pil ars stood in a circle around a marble altar. It was used for many things—dancing, bloodletting, sacrifices—and tonight it would be used for something else. Brynna cast one curious glance at the circle of stone before turning her attention back to me, smiling. She suspected nothing.

  Rowan stood nearby, leaning against one of the pil ars with his arms crossed, smirking at me. He was glamoured, invisible to mortal eyes, and the sight of him fil ed me with resolve. I'd come this far. It was time to finish the game.

  Gently, I drew Brynna toward the altar, and she followed without hesitation, stil trusting her prince to keep her safe. Lifting her up, I sat her on the altar, taking her hands in mine, gazing into her eyes.

  “Do you love me?” I asked again, my voice very, very soft. She nodded breathlessly.

  “Then, prove it,” I murmured. “I want your body, and your soul and everything you have. I want it all . Tonight. ”

  She hesitated for a moment, puzzled, but then understanding dawned in her eyes. Without a word, she leaned back and slipped out of her dress, baring young, naked skin to the moonlight. Reaching back, she pulled out the tie that held her hair back, letting it fal about her shoulders in a dark cascade. I let my eyes roam down her slim, pale body, so fragile and untainted and stepped up beside her.