The Iron Queen, Page 57Julie Kagawa
I could feel them, all of them. I could feel every heartbeat, sense the Iron glamour coursing through them, pulsing in time with the land, flowing through me. I knew the edges of my realm, brushing against the Nevernever, not spreading, not corrupting, content to sit within its new boundaries. I felt every tree and bush and blade of grass, spread before me like a seamless patchwork quilt. And, if I closed my eyes and really concentrated, I could hear my own heartbeat, and the pulse of the land, echoing it.
What will you do now, Meghan Chase?
I understood. This was my fate, my destiny. I knew what had to be done. Pulling myself upright, I took a step forward, away from the trunk, standing on my own. As one, every Iron fey, rank upon rank of them, bowed their heads and sank to their knees. Even Glitch, bending down awkwardly, holding on to a kneeling Spikerail for support. Even Razor and the gremlins, burying their faces in the grass. The Iron knights clanked in unison as they drew their swords and knelt, the sword points jammed into the earth.
In the silence, I gazed out over the mass of kneeling fey and raised my voice. I don’t know why I said it, but deep down, I knew it was right. My words echoed over the crowd, sealing my fate. It would be a hard road, and I had a lot of work ahead of me, but in the end, this was the only possible outcome.
“My name is Meghan Chase, and I am the Iron Queen. ”
MIDNIGHT AT 14202 CEDAR DRIVE, LOUISIANA
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Glitch asked me, his spines glowing electric-blue in the darkness. We stood at the edge of the trees, looking out over an overgrown front yard and gravel driveway, a battered Ford at the top. I nodded wearily. The night was warm, humid, and no breeze stirred the branches of the tupelo trees around us. I wore jeans and a white top and it felt strange, being back in normal clothes. “They deserve to know the truth. I owe them that much. They need to understand why I can’t come home. ”
“You can visit,” Glitch said encouragingly. “No one’s going to stop you. No reason you can’t go back from time to time. ”
“Yeah,” I agreed softly, but I wasn’t convinced. Time flowed differently in Faery, in the Iron Kingdom I now found myself ruling over. The first few days had been hectic, as I frantically did everything I could to keep Mab and Oberon from declaring another war on the Iron fey, now that Ferrum was gone. Several meetings had been called, new treaties drawn up and signed, and strict rules had been placed on the boundaries between our kingdoms, before the rulers of Summer and Winter were appeased. I had the sneaking suspicion that Oberon was slightly more lenient because we were related, and I had no problem with that.
Puck had been at these meetings, gregarious and unchangeable as always. He made it clear that he would not be treating me any differently just because I was a queen now, and proved it by kissing me on the cheek in front of a squad of angry Iron knights, whom I had to yell at to stand down before they tried skewering him. Puck had flounced off, laughing. Around me, he was cheerful and flippant, but overly so, as if he wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore. There was a wariness to him now, an uncertainty that went beyond our easy friendship, making us awkward and uncomfortable with each other. Perhaps it was his very nature, as the incorrigible Robin Goodfellow, to defy kings and queens and make a mockery of those in authority. I didn’t know. Eventually, Puck would come around, but I had a feeling it would be some time before I got my old best friend back.
I did not see Ash, ever.
I shook myself, trying to put him from my mind as I had done these past few days. Ash was gone. I’d made sure of that. Even if I hadn’t used his True Name, there was no way he could venture into the Iron Kingdom, no way he could survive there. It was better this way.
Now, if I could only convince my heart of that.
“Sure you’ll be all right?” Glitch asked, breaking through my thoughts. “I could come with you, if you’d like. They won’t even see me. ”
I shook my head. “Better if I do this alone. Besides, there’s one member of that household who can see you. And he’s seen enough scary monsters to last him a lifetime. ”
“Begging your pardon, your highness,” Glitch smirked, “but who are you calling a scary monster?”
I swatted at him. My first lieutenant grinned, a constant shadow since the day I’d taken over the Iron Kingdom. The Iron fey looked up to him, listened to him, when I couldn’t be there. The Iron knights had accepted his position easily, almost relieved to be back under his command, and I didn’t question it. “I’ll be back before dawn,” I said, glancing up at the moon through the trees. “I trust you can handle things until then?”
“Yes, your majesty,” Glitch replied, no longer smirking, and I winced, still getting used to the idea of being called “your majesty,” by everyone. “Princess”
had been bad enough. “Mag Tuiredh will be safe and secure until your return. And your…father…will be well looked after, do not worry. ”
I nodded, thankful that Glitch understood. After I became queen and set Mag Tuiredh as the site of the new Iron Court, I kept the promise to myself and returned to Leanansidhe’s cabin for Paul. My human father was almost recovered, clear-minded most of the time, his memories fully intact. He knew me, and he remembered what had happened to him, all those years ago. And now that his mind was finally his own, he was going to do everything in his power to keep it that way. I made it clear that he was free to leave the faery world at any time, that I wasn’t about to keep him here if he wanted to go. For the moment, Paul refused. He wasn’t ready to brave the human world, not yet. Too much had changed in the time he’d been away, too much had happened, and he’d been left behind. One day he might rejoin the real world, but for now, he wanted to know his daughter again.
He’d refused to come with me tonight. “Tonight is for you,” he’d told me before I left. “You don’t need any distractions. One day, I’d like your mother to know what happened, but I hope to explain it myself. If she even wants to see me again. ” He sighed, looking out the window of his room. The sun was setting behind the distant clock tower, casting his face in a reddish light. “Just tell me this. Is she happy?”
I hesitated, a lump forming in my throat. “I think so. ”
Paul nodded, smiling sadly. “Then she doesn’t need to know about me. Not yet, anyway. Or not ever. No, you go and see your family again. I really don’t have any business being there. ”
“Majesty?” Glitch’s voice interrupted my musings. He’d been doing that a lot lately, bringing me back to the present when I drifted off. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. ” I faced the dark house again, pushing my hair back. “Well, here I go. Wish me luck. ” And before I lost my nerve, I stepped onto the gravel driveway and forced my steps in the direction of the house. For as long as I could remember, the middle step of the porch had creaked when trod upon, no matter where you put your foot or how lightly you stepped on it. It didn’t creak now, not even a squeak, as I glided up the steps and came to a halt at the screen door. The windows were dark, and moths fluttered around the porch light, flicking shadows over the faded wooden steps. I could have easily opened the locked door. Doors and locks were no barrier to me now. A few whispered words, a push of glamour, and the door would swing open on its own. I could’ve entered the living room unhindered, invisible as the breeze.
I didn’t glamour the door. Tonight, at least for a little while, I wanted to be human. Raising my fist, I knocked loudly on the faded wood. There was no response at first. The house remained still and dark. A dog barked, somewhere in the night.
A light flicked on inside, footsteps thumping over the floor. A silhouette against the curtains, and then Luke’s face appeared in the window, peering out suspiciously.
At first, my stepfather didn’t appear to see me, though I was staring right at him. His brow furrowed and he dropped the curtains, stepping back. I blew out a sigh and pounded the door again.
It swung open this time, quickly, as if whoever was on the other side expected to catch the prankster banging on his door at 12 a. m. Luke peered at me. He looked older, I thought, his brown eyes wearier than before, his face grizzled. He regarded me with a puzzled look, one hand still on the doorknob. “Yes?” he prompted when I didn’t say anything. “Can I help you?”
He still didn’t recognize me. I wasn’t surprised, or even angry really. I wasn’t the same girl who vanished into Faery a year ago. But before I could say anything, the door was yanked open all the way, and Mom appeared in the frame. We stared at each other. My heart pounded, half-fearful that Mom would turn that blank, puzzled gaze on me, not recognizing the strange girl on the porch. But a second later, Mom let out a small cry and flew through the door. Another moment and I was in her arms, hugging her tightly as she sobbed and laughed and asked me a thousand questions all at once. I closed my eyes and let this moment swirl around me, holding on to it for as long as I could. I wanted to remember, for just a few heartbeats, what it was like to be, not a faery or a pawn or a queen, but just a daughter.
“Meggie?” I pulled back a bit and, through the open door, I saw Ethan standing at the foot of the stairs. Taller now, older. He must’ve grown at least three inches while I was gone. But his eyes were the same: bright blue and as solemn as the grave.
He didn’t run to me as I entered the living room, didn’t smile. Calmly, as if he knew I’d be back all along, he walked across the floor until he was standing a foot away. I knelt, and he watched me, holding my gaze with an expression far too old for his face.
“I knew you’d come back. ” His voice was different, too. Clearer now, more sure of himself. My half brother was no longer a toddler. “I didn’t forget. ”
“No,” I whispered. “You didn’t forget. ”
I opened my arms, and he finally stepped into them, fisting his hands in my hair. I hugged him to me as I stood, wondering if this was the last time I would hold him like this. He might be a teenager when I saw him next.