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The Iron Knight, Page 46

Julie Kagawa

Page 46


  Human weddings have nothing on fey weddings, at least not the ones I've seen over the years. I wore the black-andsilver uniform of a Winter prince, as I had when I first saw Meghan at Elysium, so long ago. Though I was no longer part of the Unseelie Court, I wanted everyone to remember that I was stil Ash, that I stil belonged here, in the Nevernever. Mab and the Winter Court stood behind me, and I could feel their chil against my back, the frost coating the f lowers around me. On the opposite side, Oberon, Titania and the Summer Court loomed tal and proud, glaring at Winter over the aisle separating them. And surrounding us all , the Iron fey, the third court of Faery, looked on. Gremlins and wood nymphs scampered through the grass and the trees, snarling and hissing at each other. Iron knights, their armor polished to a blinding metal ic sheen, stood at attention down the aisle, opposite the sidhe knights of the Summer and Winter courts, awaiting the procession. For a moment, I marveled at the im-possibility of it all ; not long ago, the Iron fey were the deadliest threat the Nevernever had seen, and no one would tolerate them to live, much less share space within the wyldwood. But gazing around at the gathered faces of Summer, Winter and Iron, I felt a f licker of hope. It had taken a determined, halfhuman Summer princess and an ancient prophecy to mend the rift between the three courts, but she had done it. It would be hard, and it would take a lot of work, but maybe we could live in peace with each other, after all .

  Movement in the crowd caught my attention. Directly opposite of me, on the Seelie side, a familiar redhead poked his head from the crowd and saluted, giving me a devilish grin. I suppressed a wince. Puck and I hadn't spoken much since the wedding announcement, and though he'd never show it, I suspected this day was going to be hard for him. I also had the sneaking suspicion that the Great Prankster had a few surprises in store for us, and that the after-party was going to get a little wild. I hoped that, whatever happened, the party wouldn't turn into a riot and then a bloodbath.

  But when the music started, I forgot about all of that. I didn't think of the crowd and the courts and their endless squabbles. I didn't see Puck and Mab, Oberon and Titania, or the Iron fey. I didn't see anyone but her.

  Meghan was stunning in her long white gown, bright gray embroidery scattered about like stars, catching the light. Her hair had been pinned up beneath the veil, with a few wispy, silver-blond strands hanging down to brush her bare shoulders. A satin train bil owed behind her, a rippling river of white, carried over the grass by a trio of packrats. Her adoptive human father, Paul, stood beside her, his young-old face beaming with pride and a little fear. As the trumpets blared and the knights raised their swords, the faeries around us howled, raising their voices in a joyful cacophony, the tumult echoing over the trees and making the air shiver. As my brideto-be drew closer, our eyes met through the veil, and I nearly stopped breathing. This was it. This was really happening.

  I couldn't keep the smile from my face as she reached the front, taking her place at my side. Meghan smiled back, and for a moment, we just stood there, lost in each other's gaze. The howling fey, the stares of Summer, Winter and Iron, the blaring trumpets, all that faded away until it was just me and Meghan and nothing else.

  Then Grimalkin leaped onto the old stump between us and sighed.

  “I stil do not see the point of my presiding over this ridiculous spec-tacle, but very well . ” The cait sith yawned and sat down. “Of all the favors I have granted, this is by far the most tiresome. Shal we get it over with then?” Grimalkin sat up straighter and raised his voice, somehow being heard over the crowd. “We are gathered today,” he began in a lofty tone, “to witness the joining of these two in the completely useless, ostentatious ceremony of marriage. For reasons beyond me, they have decided to make their love official, and—”

  “Grimalkin. ” Meghan sighed, though she wore a faint, exasperated smile. “Just this once, could you please not be an ass?”

  The cat twitched an ear. I could sense he was secretly amused. “I make no promises, Iron Queen. ” He sniffed, and looked at me. “You have your own vows, then?”

  We both nodded.

  “Thank the heavens. ” Under Meghan's glare, he blinked and nodded sagely. “Very well . Let us get on with it. You may proceed when ready, prince. ”

  I reached for Meghan's hand, exhaling slowly as I made my oath.

  “Meghan Chase,” I began, gazing into her eyes, “from this day forth, I vow to be your husband and your knight, to stand with you when no others will , to protect you and your kingdom with everything I have for the rest of my life. I swear I will be faithful, and I will love you until the very last breath leaves my body. Because you have more than my heart and my mind—you also own my soul. ”

  Meghan gave me a bril iant smile, her eyes going misty behind the veil.

  “Ash,” she murmured, and even though she didn't say it out loud, I heard the echo of my True Name in her voice. “It's because of you that I can be here today. You have always been there, never wavering, protecting me with no thought for yourself. You've been my teacher, my knight and my only love. Now, it's my turn to make that promise. ” She squeezed my hand, her voice soft but never faltering. “Today, I vow that we will never be apart again. I promise that I will be forever by your side, and I will be ready to face everything the world has to offer us. ”

  “Very touching,” remarked Grimalkin, scratching behind an ear. We both ignored him, and he sat up with a sniff. “Wel , then. Shal we end this exercise ad nauseam? If there are any here who object to this joining, let them speak now or forever hold their peace. And if you do object, please have a valid reason for the objection so I do not have to stay here while you debate the problem. ”

  I could sense the rulers of both courts wanting to say something, argu-ments and objections ready to burst forth. But what could they offer? I wasn't part of the Winter Court, a mere mortal, and Meghan was a queen. There was nothing they could say that was a valid argument.

  Grimalkin knew it as well , for after only a moment or two of strained silence, he stood up and raised his voice.

  “Then let it be known, before these witnesses and the courts, that these two are joined forever as husband and wife, and let no force in the mortal world or Faery tear them apart. I now present to you the Queen and Consort of the Iron Court. ” He yawned and looked at us affectionately. “I suppose now is the part where you kiss the—wel , never mind, then. ”

  I had already raised Meghan's veil and drawn her close. And beneath the great tree, in the midst of a roaring, hooting faery crowd, I kissed my new bride until everything around us faded away.

  Time passed, and I slowly adjusted to life in the Iron Court. I became used to the gremlins scurrying around the castle, trailing Meghan like faithful dogs yet stil managing to wreck havoc where they passed. I no longer went for my sword when a squad of Iron knights approached Meghan.

  The curious, suspicious stares when I passed grew less and less frequent, until I became just another presence in the castle.

  The Iron fey, I discovered, were a much more structured group than the faeries of Summer and Winter. Except for the ever-chaotic gremlins, they welcomed order, understood rank and hierarchy and the chain of command. I was prince consort to their queen, second only to Meghan herself: therefore, I was to be obeyed. Even Glitch, Meghan's First Lieutenant, rarely questioned me. And the Iron knights obeyed my orders without fail. It was strange, not having to constantly watch my back for fear someone might stick a knife in it. Of course, there were always squabbles and politics within the Iron Court, as there were in any court of Faery. But for the most part, the fey here were more straightforward and businesslike, not seeking to trap me in a deadly game of words just for the fun of it.

  Once I figured that out, I began to appreciate the Iron Realm a lot more.

  Especial y when, as a mortal, I could do things I never would've dreamed of doing as a fey.

  Not long after the wedding, I a
woke alone in the bed, with light coming from the room adjacent to us—Meghan's office. Rising, I wandered into the room to find Meghan sitting at her desk with the smal , f lat screen she carried around like a tablet. It was a truly foreign device to me; with a mere touch of the screen's face, she could pul up “files” and

  “email,” make pictures bigger or smal er, or whisk them away with a f lick of her hand. I, of course, thought it was Iron glamour that all owed such magic, though when I mentioned this to Diode, a hacker elf in charge of the castle's computer systems, he laughed so hysterical y he couldn't answer me, and I left in annoyance.

  “Hey,” I murmured, slipping my arms around her from behind. “What are you doing?”

  She paused a moment, resting her head against my arm, then reached up and pulled a pair of thin white wires from her ears. “Checking the itinerary for the day. Seems the Cog Dwarves have been having trouble with disappearances in the Undercity. I'll have to get Glitch to see what's going on down there. Diode wants me to ban all gremlins from the security rooms, saying he can't think with them running around getting into everything. ” She sighed and leaned back in the chair, lacing an arm around my neck while the other hand stil held the tablet.

  “And there are a ton of requests from the northern territories, saying knights from the Winter Court are causing trouble, harassing the locals on this side of the border.

  Looks like Mab and I need to have a talk. That's going to be a fun conversation. ”

  She sighed and laid the tablet f lat on the desk. I stared at the words f lashing across the screen, a completely foreign vocabulary to me, even if I understood the language. Meghan glanced up at me, and a mischievous smile crossed her face.

  “Here. ” Rising, she plucked the screen off the desktop and shoved it toward me. “Take it. I'll show you how it works. ”

  I balked, taking a step backward, eyeing the tablet as if it was a venom-ous snake. “Why?”

  “Ash, you're human now. ” Meghan smiled and continued to hold the screen toward me. “You don't have to be afraid of this anymore. It can't hurt you. ”