Home > The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey #3)(15)

The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey #3)(15)
Author: Julie Kagawa

Evenings were the hardest. Ash was as good as his word and never pushed, keeping all interactions between us light and easy. He never turned me away; when I needed someone to vent to after an exhausting day with my father, he was always there, quiet and strong. I would curl into him on the couch, and he would listen as I poured out my fears and frustrations. Sometimes we did nothing but read together, me lying in his lap while he turned the pages—though our tastes in books were vastly different, and I usually dozed off in the middle of a page. One night, bored and restless, I found a stack of dusty board games in a closet, and bullied Ash into learning Scrabble, checkers and Yahtzee. Surprisingly, Ash found that he enjoyed these “human” games, and was soon asking me to play more often than not. This filled some of the long, restless evenings and kept my mind off certain things. Unfortunately for me, once Ash learned the rules, he was nearly impossible to beat in strategy games like checkers, and his long life gave him a vast knowledge of lengthy, complicated words he staggered me with in Scrabble. Though sometimes we’d end up debating whether or not faery terms like Gwragedd Annwn and hobyahs were legal to use.

Regardless, I cherished our time together, knowing this peaceful lull would come to an end someday. But there was an invisible wall between us now, a barrier only I could break, and it was killing me.

And, even though I didn’t want to, I missed Puck. Puck could always make me laugh, even when things were at their bleakest. Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of a deer or a bird in the woods and wonder if it was Puck, watching us. Then I’d become angry at myself for wondering and spend the day trying to convince myself that I didn’t care where he was or what he was doing. But I still missed him.

One morning, a few weeks later, Ash and I were finishing up our daily practice session when Grimalkin appeared on a nearby stone, watching us.

“You’re still telegraphing your moves,” Ash said as we circled each other, blades held up and ready. “Don’t look at the spot you’re trying to hit, let the sword go there on its own.” He lunged, cutting high at my head. I ducked and spun away, slashing at his back, and he parried the blow, looking pleased. “Good. You’re getting faster, too. You’ll be a match for most redcap thugs if they tried to start anything.”

I grinned at the compliment, but Grimalkin, who had been silent until now, said, “And what happens if they use glamour against her?”

I turned. Grimalkin sat with his tail around his feet, watching a yellow bumblebee bob over the grass in rapt fascination. “What?”

“Glamour. You know, the magic I tried to teach you once, before I discovered you had no talent for it whatsoever?” Grimalkin swatted at the bee as it came closer, missed, and pretended no interest at all as it zipped away. He sniffed and looked at me again, twitching his tail. “The Winter prince does not just use his sword when fighting—he has glamour at his disposal as well, as will your enemies. How are you planning to counter that, human?” Before I could answer, he perked up, his attention riveted on a large orange butterfly flitting toward us, and leaped off the rock, vanishing into the tall grass. I looked at Ash, who sighed and sheathed his blade. “He’s right, unfortunately,” he said, raking a hand through his hair. “Teaching you the sword was supposed to be only half of your training. I wanted you to learn how to use your glamour, as well.”

“I know how to use glamour,” I argued, still stinging from Grimalkin’s casual statement about my lack of talent. Ash raised an eyebrow, a silent challenge, and I sighed. “Fine, then. I’ll prove it. Watch this.”

He backed up a few steps, and I closed my eyes, reaching out to the forest around me.

Instantly, my mind was filled with all manner of growing things: the grass beneath my feet, the vines slithering along the ground, the roots of the trees surrounding us. In this clearing, Summer held full sway. Whether through Leanansidhe’s influence or something else, the plants here had not known the touch of winter, or cold, or death, for a long time.

Ash’s voice cut through my concentration, and I opened my eyes. “You do have a lot of power, but you need to learn control if you’re going to use it.” He bent down, plucked something from the grass, and held it up. It was a tiny flower, white petals still tightly closed, curled into a ball.

“Make it bloom,” Ash ordered softly.

Frowning, I stared at the little bud, mind racing. Okay, I can do this. I’ve pulled up roots and made trees move and knocked a barrage of arrows from the air. I can make one teensy little flower bloom. Still, I hesitated. Ash was right; I could feel the glamour all around me, but I was still unsure how to actually wield it.

“Would you like a hint?” Grimalkin asked from a nearby rock, startling me. I jumped, and he twitched an ear in amusement. “Picture the magic as a stream,” he continued, “then a ribbon, then a thread. When it is as thin as you can possibly make it, use it to gently tease the petals open. Anything more forceful will make the bloom split apart and cause the glamour to scatter.” He blinked sagely, then a butterfly near the stream caught his attention and he bounded off once more. I looked at Ash, wondering if he was irritated at Grimalkin for helping me, but he only nodded. Taking a breath, I held the glamour in my mind, a swirling, colorful vortex of emotion and dream. Concentrating hard, I shrank it down until it was a shimmering rope, then even further, until it was only a shining, oh-sodelicate thread in my mind. Sweat beaded and rolled down my forehead, and my arms started to shake. Holding my breath, I carefully touched the flower with the glamour thread, coiling magic into the tiny bud and expanding gently. The petals shivered once and slowly curled open.

Ash nodded approval. I smiled, but before I could celebrate, a bout of dizziness hit me like a tidal wave, nearly knocking me down. The world spun violently, and I felt my legs give out, as if someone had pulled a plug and let all my magic drain away. Gasping, I pitched forward.

Ash caught me, holding me upright. I clung to him, feeling almost sick with weakness, frustrated that something so natural was this hard. Ash lowered us both to the ground, pulling back to watch me with troubled silver eyes.

“Is…is it normal to be this tired?” I asked, as feeling slowly returned to my legs. Ash shook his head, his face dark and grim.

“No. That little amount of glamour should have been nothing for you.” He stood, crossing his arms over his chest, regarding me with a worried expression.

“Something is wrong, and I don’t know enough about Summer magic to help you.” Holding out his hand, he pulled me to my feet with a sigh. “We’re going to have to find Puck.”

“What? No!” I let go of him too fast and stumbled, nearly falling again.

“Why? We don’t need Puck. What about Grimalkin? He can help, right?”

“Probably.” Ash looked over to where Grimalkin was stalking butterflies through the grass, tail twitching in excitement. “Do you really want to ask him?”

I winced. “No, not really,” I sighed. Stupid, favor-collecting cat. “Fine. But why Puck? Do you really think he’ll know what’s going on?”

Ash lifted one lean shoulder in a shrug. “I don’t know. But he’s been around longer than me and might know more about what’s happening to you. The least we can do is ask.”

“I don’t want to see him.” I crossed my arms, scowling. “He lied to me, Ash. And don’t tell me that faeries can’t lie—omitting the truth is just as bad. He let me believe my dad abandoned us, and he knew where he was all along. Eleven years, he lied to me. I can’t forgive him for that.”

“Meghan, believe me, I know what it’s like to hate Puck. I’ve been at it for longer than you, remember?” Ash softened his words with a rueful smile, but I still felt a stab of guilt. “Trust me, I don’t particularly want to go begging for his help, either.” He sighed, raking a hand through his hair. “But if anyone is to teach you Summer magic, it should be him. I can only show you the basics, and you’re going to need more than that.”

My anger deflated. Of course, he was right. My shoulders sagged and I glared at him. “I hate it when you’re reasonable.”

He laughed. “Someone has to be. Come on.” He turned and held out a hand.

“If we’re going to find Goodfellow, we should get started now. If he’s hiding, or if he doesn’t want to be found, we could be searching awhile.”

Taking his hand, I resigned myself as we crossed the meadow and slipped into the thick forest surrounding it.


The woods surrounding the cabin were sprawling and vast, mostly pine and big, shaggy trees with furry trunks. It made me think we were high in the mountains somewhere. Ferns and pine needles littered the forest floor; the air was cool and smelled of sap.

Ash slipped through the woods like a ghost, following some invisible path, keen hunter instincts showing the way. As we hiked, ducking branches and scrambling over needle-covered rocks, my insides churned angrily. Why did Puck have to help us? What would he know? My dad’s face swam before me, tears shining from his eyes as I told him, once again, that Mom was married to someone else, and I clenched my fists. Whether my dad’s abduction was planned or not, Puck had a lot to answer for.

Ash brought us to a grotto surrounded by pine trees and stopped, gazing around. I joined him, taking his hand as we searched the trunks and shadows. It was very quiet. Threads of sunlight slanted in through the trees and dappled the forest floor, covered in mushrooms and pine needles. The trees here were old, thick creatures, and the air seemed filled with ancient magic.

“He’s been here,” Ash said, as a breeze stirred the branches, ruffling his dark hair. “In fact, he’s very close.”

“Looking for something?”

The familiar voice echoed from somewhere above us. I turned, and there was Puck, lying on an overhead branch, smirking at me. His shirt was off, showing a lean, bronzed chest, and his red hair was all over the place. He looked more…I don’t know…fey out here, something wild and unpredictable, more like Shakespeare’s Robin Goodfellow, who turned Nick Bottom into a donkey and wreaked havoc on the humans lost in the forest.

“Rumor going round these parts is that you’re looking for me,” he said, tossing an apple in one hand before biting into it. “Well, here I am. What do you want, your highnesses?”

I bristled at the implied insult, but Ash stepped forward. “Something is wrong with Meghan’s glamour,” he said, brief and to the point as usual. “You know more about Summer magic. We need to know what’s happened to her, why she can’t use glamour without almost passing out.”

“Ah.” Puck’s emerald eyes sparkled with glee. “And so they come crawling back for Puck’s help after all. Tsk tsk.” He shook his head and took another bite of the apple. “How easy it is to forget grudges when someone has something you need.”

I swelled indignantly, but Ash sighed, as if he’d expected this. “What do you want, Goodfellow?” he asked wearily.

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