Home > The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey #3)(8)

The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey #3)(8)
Author: Julie Kagawa

“You have to understand, princess.” Glitch shrugged as he backed away from me, into the circle of fey. “This is for your own safety. We cannot allow you to fall into the false king’s hands, or he’ll win and everything will be lost. We have to keep you hidden, and safe. Nothing else matters now. Please, come quietly. You know there’s too many of us to fight. Even the Winter prince cannot defeat this many.”

“Really?” called a new voice, somewhere behind and above us all. “Well, if that’s the case, why don’t we level the field a bit?”

I whirled around, gazing up toward the rooftops, my heart leaping in my chest. Silhouetted against the moon, with his arms crossed and his red hair tousled by the wind, a familiar face grinned down at us, shaking his head.

“You,” Puck said, locking eyes with me, “are extremely difficult to track down, princess. Good thing Grimalkin came and found me. As usual, it looks like I have to rescue you and ice-boy from something. Again. This is starting to become a habit.”

Ash rolled his eyes, though his attention didn’t leave the fey surrounding us.

“Stop yapping and get down here, Goodfellow.”

“Goodfellow?” Glitch stared at Puck nervously. “Robin Goodfellow?”

“Oh, look at that, he’s heard of me. My fame grows.” Puck snorted and leaped off the roof. In midair, he became a giant black raven, who swooped toward us with a raucous cry before dropping into the circle as Puck in an explosion of feathers. “Ta-daaaaaaaaaa.”

The rebels backed off a step, though Glitch held his ground. “There’s still only three of you,” he said firmly. “Not enough to fight us all. Princess, please, we only want to protect you. This doesn’t have to end in violence.”

“I don’t need your protection,” I said. “As you can see, I have more than enough.”

“Besides,” Puck said, grinning his evil grin, “who says I came alone?”

“You did,” called another Puck from the rooftop he just left. Glitch’s eyes bugged as the second Puck grinned down at him.

“No, he didn’t,” said a third Puck from the opposite roof.

“Well, I’m sure they know what he meant,” said yet another Puck, sitting atop a street lamp. “In any case, here we are.”

“This is a trick,” Glitch muttered, as the rebels shot nervous glances at the three Pucks, who waved back cheerfully. “Those aren’t real bodies. You’re screwing with our heads.”

Puck snickered. “Well, if that’s what you think, you’re welcome to try something.”

“It won’t end well for you, either way,” Ash broke in. “Even if you manage to beat us, we’ll make sure to decimate your little band of rebels before we fall. Count on it.”

“Get out of here, Glitch,” I said quietly. “We’re not going anywhere with you or your friends. I’m not going to hide from the false king and do nothing.”

“That,” Glitch said, narrowing his eyes, “is exactly what I’m afraid of.” But he turned and signaled his forces to back off, and the Iron fey melted into the shadows again. “We’ll be watching you, princess,” he warned, before he, too, turned and disappeared into the night.

Heart racing, I turned to see Puck staring at me, lopsided smirk firmly in place. Tall and gangly, he looked the same as always, eager for trouble, forever ready with a sarcastic quip or witty comeback. But I saw the flicker of pain in his eyes, a glint of anger he couldn’t quite conceal, and it made my gut clench. “Hey, princess.”

“Hey,” I whispered, as Ash slipped his arms around my waist from behind, drawing me close. I could feel his glare aimed at Puck over my head, a silent, protective gesture that spoke louder than any words. Mine. Back off. Puck ignored him, gazing solely at me. In the shadow of his gaze, I remembered our last meeting, and the ill-fated decision that brought us here.


Oberon’s voice cracked like a whip, and a roar of thunder shook the ground. The Erlking’s voice was ominously quiet, eyes glowing amber through the gently falling snow. “The laws of our people are absolute,” Oberon warned. “Summer and Winter share many things, but love is not one of them. If you make this choice, daughter, the trods will never open for you again.”

“Meghan.” Puck stepped forward, pleading. “Don’t do this. I can’t follow you this time. Stay here. With me.”

“I can’t,” I whispered. “I’m sorry, Puck. I do love you, but I have to do this.”

His face clouded with pain, and he turned away. Guilt stabbed at me, but in the end, the choice had always been clear.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered again, and followed Ash through the portal, leaving Faery behind me forever.

THE MEMORY BURNED like bile in my stomach, and I closed my eyes, wishing it didn’t have to be this way. I loved Puck like a brother and a best friend. And yet, during a very dark period when I was confused and lonely and hurt, my affection for him had led me to do something stupid, something I shouldn’t have done. I knew he loved me, and the fact that I’d taken advantage of his feelings made me disgusted with myself. I wished I knew how to fix it, but the barely concealed pain in Puck’s eyes told me no amount of words would make it better.

Finally, I found my voice. “What are you doing here?” I whispered, suddenly grateful for Ash’s arms around me, a barrier between me and Puck. Puck shrugged and rolled his eyes.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” he replied, sounding a bit sharper than normal. “After you and ice-boy got yourselves exiled, I was worried that the Iron fey were still looking for you. So I came to find out. Good thing I did, too. So, who is this newest Iron fey you pissed off? Glitch, was it? Machina’s first lieutenant—you sure know how to pick ’em, princess.”

“Later.” Grimalkin appeared from a shadow, bottlebrush tail waving in the wind. “Human, your attempted kidnapping has set off a riot among the New Orleans fey,” he announced, his golden eyes boring into me. “We should get moving before anything else happens. The Iron fey are coming for you, and I have no wish to do this entire little rescue again. Talk when we get to Leanansidhe’s. Let us go.”

He trotted down the street with his tail held high, pausing once to peer at us from the edge of an alley, eyes glowing in the darkness, before slipping into the black.

I slid out of Ash’s embrace and took a step toward Puck, hoping we could talk. I missed him. He was my best friend, and I wanted it to be like it was before, the three of us taking on the world. But as soon as I moved, Puck slid away, as if being near me was too uncomfortable to bear. In three long strides he reached the mouth of the alley, then turned to grin at us, red hair gleaming under the street lamps.

“Well, lovebirds? You coming or not? I can’t wait to see the look on Lea’s face when you both come strolling in.” His eyes glinted, and his grin turned faintly savage. “You know, I heard she does horrid things to those who annoy her. Here’s hoping she won’t rip out your guts and use them for harp strings, prince.” Snickering, he waggled his eyebrows at us and turned away, following Grimalkin into the shadows.

I sighed. “He hates me.”

Ash grunted. “No, I think that particular sentiment is reserved for me alone,”

he said in an amused voice. When I didn’t answer, he motioned us forward, and we crossed the street together, coming to the mouth of the alley. “Goodfellow doesn’t hate you,” he continued as the shadows loomed dark and menacing beyond the street lamps. “He’s angry, but I think it’s more at himself. After all, he had sixteen years to make his move. It’s no one’s fault but his own that I beat him to it.”

“So it’s a competition now, huh?”

“If you want to call it that.” I had started to follow Puck and Grimalkin into the corridor, but he caught my waist and drew me close, sliding one hand up my back while the other framed my face. “I’ve already lost one girl to him,” Ash murmured, tangling his fingers in my hair. Though his voice was light, an old pain flickered across his face and vanished. “I won’t lose another.” His forehead bumped softly against mine, his brilliant silver gaze searing into me. “I plan to keep you, from everyone, for as long as I’m alive. That includes Puck, the false king, and anyone else who would take you away.” One corner of his mouth quirked, as I struggled to catch my breath under his powerful scrutiny. “I guess I should’ve warned you that I have a slight possessive streak.”

“I didn’t notice,” I whispered, trying to keep my voice light and sarcastic, but it came out rather breathy. “It’s all right—I’m not giving you up, either.”

His eyes turned very soft, and he lowered his head, brushing his lips to mine. I laced my hands behind his neck and closed my eyes, breathing in his scent, forgetting everything, if only for a moment.

“Oi, lovebirds!” Puck’s voice shattered the quiet, bouncing through the darkness. Ash pulled back with a rueful look. “Get a room, would ya? We’ve got better things to do than watch you suck face!”

“Indeed.” Grimalkin’s voice echoed Puck’s irritation, and I winced. Now even the cat was agreeing with Puck? “Hurry up, or we shall leave you behind.”

WE FOLLOWED GRIMALKIN through the city, down an unusually long, curving alleyway that turned pitch-black, and suddenly we were back in a familiar dungeonlike basement with torches set into the walls and leering gargoyles curled around stone pillars.

Grimalkin set a brisk pace down several hallways, where torchlight flickered erratically and unseen things growled and scurried about in the darkness. I remembered the first time we came here, the first time we’d met Leanansidhe. Back then, there were more of us. Me, Puck, Grim, Ironhorse, and three halfbreeds named Kimi, Nelson, and Warren. We were a much smaller group now. Ironhorse was gone, as were Kimi and Nelson, all victims of Machina’s cruel lieutenant Virus. Warren was a traitor, working for the false king. I wondered who else I would lose before this was over, if everyone around me was destined to die. I remembered the oracle’s grim prophecy, about how I would end up all alone, and fought down my apprehension.

Ash’s fingers curled around mine and squeezed. He didn’t say anything, but I clung to his hand like a lifeline, as if he could vanish at any moment. We followed Grimalkin up a long flight of stairs to Leanansidhe’s magnificent foyer, with the double grand staircases sweeping toward the roof, the walls covered with famous paintings and art. Instinctively, my eyes were drawn to the baby grand piano in the corner of the room. Where I’d first seen my father, sitting at that bench, hunched over the keys, and hadn’t even known him. The baby grand was empty, but the plush black sofa near the roaring fireplace was not. Reclining against the cushions, one slender hand gripping a sparkling wine flute, was Leanansidhe, Queen of the Exiles.

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