The Iron Knight, Page 55Julie Kagawa
He swal owed, going even paler as Puck continued to smile at him, obviously enjoying himself. “What can I do for you today, sir?”
“Hello, Rudy. ” Grimalkin leaped onto the counter, and the half satyr yelped, stumbling back. “I see you are stil limping along with this fire hazard you cal a store. ”
“Oh, wonderful. ” Rudy gave the cat a sour look, grabbing a cloth from below and wiping the countertop. “Look who's here. Back to plague me again, are you? You know that information you traded nearly got me kill ed?”
“You wanted the location of the giant ruins. I gave it to you. My end of the bargain was upheld. ”
“I thought they were deserted! You didn't say they were stil occupied. ”
“You did not ask if they were. ”
While they were talking, I took the moment to look around the store, fascinated by all the mortal items hanging on racks and from the shelves. I knew what they were, of course, but this was the first time I could really touch them without fearing the burn of metal. Wandering behind the weapons counter, I gazed at all the different guns and fire-arms lining the wall s. So many different types. There was so much I didn't know about the mortal world. I would have to remedy that soon.
Grimalkin sniffed, his voice drifting back from the counter. “If one is going to go traipsing around ancient giant ruins hunting for treasure, one should first make sure they are abandoned. In any case, it matters not. I believe we stil have unfinished business. ”
“Fine. ” Rudy waved his arm dismissively. “Fine, let's get it over with. I assume you want something from the back, is that it? Hey!” he yelped suddenly, as I grabbed a pistol from the rack of guns, the same kind that had been fired at me before. “Careful with that! Geez, since when can faeries handle guns, anyway?”
“Ice-boy. ” Puck grimaced at me, looking nervous. “Come on. Let's not freak out the nice gun dealer. We're almost home. ”
I replaced the gun and walked back to the front, where Rudy eyed me suspiciously. “Uh, right. So, you need something from the ‘special room,' is that it? I've got monkey paws and hydra poison and a pair of cockatrice eggs came in yesterday—”
“Spare us your dealings with the goblin market,” Grimalkin interrupted. “We need to use the door to the wyldwood. ”
“Door?” Rudy swal owed, looking at each of us in turn. “I, uh, don't know of any door. ”
“Liar,” Grimalkin stated, narrowing his eyes. “Do not seek to deceive us, half-breed. Who do you think you are speaking to?”
“It's just…” Rudy lowered his voice. “I'm not supposed to have direct access to the Nevernever,” he admitted. “You know how the courts are.
If they find out that a stinkin' halfbreed owns a trod, they'l turn me in-to a goat and feed me to the redcaps. ”
“You owe me,” Grimalkin said bluntly. “I am col ecting that debt now.
Either give us access to the trod, or I will turn Robin Goodfel ow loose in your store and then we will see how much of it is left to protect. ”
“Goodfel ow?” Rudy's face turned the color of old glue. He glanced at Puck, who grinned and waved cheerfully. “S-sure,” he whispered, moving away from the counter in a daze. “Fol ow me. ”
He unlocked a door and led us into an even smal er, more crowded room. Here, the merchandise lining the wall s and piled in corners was even stranger then the stock outside, but more familiar to me. Basilisk fangs and wyvern stingers. Glowing potions and toadstools of every color. A huge tome of puckered f lesh rested beneath a headdress made of griffin feathers. Rudy maneuvered through the clutter, kicking things out of the way, until he came to the back wall and pushed back a curtain. A simple wooden door stood on the other side.
“Open it,” Grimalkin ordered.
Sighing, Rudy unlocked the door and pushed it open. A cold breeze, smel ing of earth and crushed leaves, f luttered into the smal room, and the gray, murky expanse of the wyldwood came into view through the frame.
Puck blew out a long breath. “There she is. ” He sighed, sounding wistful. “Never thought I'd be so happy to see her again. ”
Grimalkin was already through the door, tail held straight up as he vanished into the mist. “Hey,” Rudy cal ed, frowning through the doorway. “No more favors, okay, cat? We're even now, right?” He sighed and eyed us as we started to fol ow. “I, uh, I'd appreciate it if this didn't get out, your highnesses. Seeing as I helped you and all …uh…” He trailed off as Puck gave him an appraising look in the door.
“That is, if it's okay with you. ”
“I don't know. ” Puck frowned and crossed his arms. “Didn't you hear Oberon saying something about a certain pawnshop, ice-boy? And redcaps?
Or was that something else?”
Rudy looked faint, until Puck slapped him on the shoulder with a laugh, making him jump three feet in the air. “You're a good guy. ” He grinned, walking backward through the frame. “I might come back to visit someday. Hurry up, prince. ”
“Prince?” The half satyr blinked as I stepped forward. “Robin Goodfel ow and a prince, come to my shop?” He stared hard at me, then his eyebrows shot up as something clicked into place. “Then…you must be…are you Prince Ash?”
The wyldwood breeze was cool against my face. I paused in the doorway and glanced over my shoulder, giving my head a smal shake.
“No,” I told him, and walked through the door. “I'm not. ” CHAPTER
THE IRON KNIGHT
The wyldwood was exactly as I remembered it—gray, dark, misty, with huge trees blocking out the sky—and yet, it was vastly different. I used to be a part of this world, part of the magic and the energy that f lowed through all living creatures in the Nevernever. I wasn't now. I was apart, separate. An intruder.
But now that I was back in the Nevernever, I could feel the glamour swirling within me, familiar and strange at the same time. Winter glamour, but different. As if…as if it wasn't my magic anymore, but I could stil reach it, stil use it. Perhaps it was part of this soul I had gained, the part that Ariel a had given up, freely and without reservation. And, if that was true, then in some smal way, she was stil with me.
I found that thought very comforting.
“So. ” Grimalkin appeared out of the mist, jumping onto a fal en log, his plumed tail waving behind him. “Here we are at last. I trust the two of you can manage the rest of the way without me?”
“Running off again, cat?” Puck crossed his arms, but his grin was an affectionate one. “And here I was just getting used to having you around. ”
“I cannot look over your shoulder every step of the way, Goodfel ow,”
Grimalkin replied in a bored tone. “It was a good adventure, but now it is done.
And, as difficult as it is to believe, I have things of my own to attend to. ”
“Yeah, that nap must be terribly pressing. How do you survive?”
Grimalkin ignored him this time, turning to me. “Farewel , knight,” he said formal y, startling me with the term he'd never used before. “I wish you luck on your journey, for I fear it will not be easy. But you have been through much, more then anyone could reasonably have hoped to survive. I suspect you will be all right in the end. ”
I bowed to the cat, who blinked but seemed pleased with the gesture.
“Couldn't have done it without you, Grim,” I said quietly, and he sniffed.
“Of course not,” he replied, as if it were obvious. “Give the Iron Queen my regards, but tel her not to cal on me too soon. I find pul ing you both out of sticky situations increasingly tiresome. ”
Something rustled in the bushes a few yards away, drawing my attention for a split second. When I glanced back at the log, Grimalkin was gone.
Puck sighed. “Cat sure knows how to make an exit,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Wel , come on, ice-boy. Let's get you to the Iron Realm. You're not getting any
The journey took us two days, mostly due to the goblin border skir-mish we ran into in the Gnashwood. Because, as nothing ever came easily in the wyldwood, the goblin tribes were at war again and were even more intolerant of trespassers through their territory. Puck and I had to f lee from several angry war parties, eventual y fighting our way through the lines to reach the outskirts of goblin lands. For a while, it was like old times again, the two of us, fighting side by side against much greater odds. My body felt like my own again, my sword f luid and natural in my hands. A poisoned goblin arrow hit me once in the thigh, and I spent an evening in pain trying to stave off the effects, but I was able to shake it off by morning and continue.
But despite the thril of battle and the excitement of simply being alive, I was anxious to get to the Iron Realm. I could feel the seconds ticking away, like grains fal ing through the hourglass, each day that brought me closer to my inevitable end. Whether it was an ordinary mortal life span, or if I was stil faery enough to slow the advance of time, I wanted to spend the days I had left with Meghan. With my family.
The last night before we reached the border of the Iron Realm, Puck and I camped on the edge of a smal lake, having finally escaped the Gnashwood and the territory of angry, bloodthirsty goblins. We were so close—I could feel it, and it was difficult for me to relax, much to Puck's amusement. I finally dozed, leaning back against a tree, facing the water.
Sometime during the night, I dreamed. Ariel a stood on the banks of the water smiling at me, her silver hair glowing in the starlight. She didn't speak, and I didn't say anything, having no voice in this dream, but I think she wanted me to know that she was happy. That her quest was fulfil ed, and that I could finally let her go. I could put her memory to rest at last. I woke with blurry eyes and an ache in my chest, but for the first time since that fateful day, I felt lighter. I would never forget her, but I no longer felt guilty that I had moved on, that I could be happy with someone else. I finally knew that's what she would want.