Glavna The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3)
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i really enjoyed this book!
04 June 2020 (02:55)
How can i read it, i can't open it when downloaded. It always says, cant open. Pls help!
27 June 2020 (01:04)
Jushaq, download a reader
11 July 2020 (11:14)
Or convert it to a pdf file. Thats what I do.
09 September 2020 (00:47)
A very great book pls let me dowload it
12 September 2020 (01:54)
download an epub reader app or Lithium app
03 October 2020 (17:41)
This is such a great book! Finished it in a day. Fast-paced with amazing plot-twists
30 October 2020 (22:43)
it can't download...?but how.......
18 January 2021 (16:12)
Cómo puedo hacer para descargar en español
01 February 2021 (19:18)
Download it,you won't regret..
04 February 2021 (14:41)
i would like to get this book
15 February 2021 (09:00)
Good book series in general, ending wasn't as good s i thought it'll be
05 March 2021 (03:48)
Omg im in love with this site..?
27 March 2021 (03:38)
"By you, I am forever undone."
Please tell me that the only reason why this books was so short is that Holly Black is planning an elaborate new Faerie series with equally backstabbing, ruthless characters and vaults filled with rotten magic. Because I don't think I can make myself accept this was the last we heard of Faerie.
Please tell me that the only reason why this books was so short is that Holly Black is planning an elaborate new Faerie series with equally backstabbing, ruthless characters and vaults filled with rotten magic. Because I don't think I can make myself accept this was the last we heard of Faerie.
28 March 2021 (13:33)
Idk is it really good or not
01 April 2021 (16:10)
All books amaazing?
09 April 2021 (22:07)
THE ENDING AHHHHH...no words. I love ice cream
14 April 2021 (10:19)
for those that cant open the book, maybe you should try install the google play books (if you havent already) .. it works for me :)
25 April 2021 (12:55)
You can download books and then upload them on Google Play books, it's easy and convenient too.
08 May 2021 (11:17)
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09 May 2021 (20:25)
if you like this, you should read How to Be a Motherfucking Pimp
11 May 2021 (10:27)
This book is amazing i really would love for the saga to continue !!!
30 May 2021 (01:16)
this should definitely not be the last book *cries*
31 May 2021 (08:35)
Does this copie have the letters to jude from cardan?
08 June 2021 (16:07)
last book and was definetly my favourite one in the series. loved the ending they wrapped it up well. forever will be in my heart
15 June 2021 (00:58)
i loved this series with the bottom of my heart, its actually the first series i read. i totally reccomend this for other readers.
20 June 2021 (08:30)
Now that its over I feel kinda empty but it was a good read!
13 July 2021 (00:03)
For those you can't read the book, you can download ReadEra:) You will click download (in this app) and then open readera, you can read it there. It works 100% and it is made for reading cause it have bookmarks and more ! Enjoy<88 Imma read this first:)
13 July 2021 (07:45)
one of the best book series i have ever read, the plot is amazing
21 July 2021 (02:59)
This book was literally amazing and I adored every second of it! this is definitely my favourite book
24 July 2021 (01:16)
Contents Title Page Praise for THE FOLK OF THE AIR series The Folk of the Air series Dedication Map Book One Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Book Two Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Epilogue Acknowledgements Copyright Praise for THE FOLK OF THE AIR series ‘Brilliantly enjoyable … Definitely Holly Black’s best so far.’ Amanda Craig ‘An enticing world that’s as sinister as it is appealing … Shadowhunters fans should read this at their earliest opportunity.’ SciFi Now magazine ‘A veritable queen of dark fantasy, Holly Black spins a thrilling tale of intrigue and magic … Unmissable for fans of Sarah J. Mass and the Grisha trilogy.’ Buzzfeed UK ‘Whatever a reader is looking for – heart-in-throat action, deadly romance, double-crossing, moral complexity – this is one heck of a ride.’ Booklist ‘Complex, nuanced characters, frank sensuality and thorn-sharp, intricate storytelling all conspire to ensnare.’ Guardian ‘Lush, dangerous, a dark jewel of a book … This delicious story will seduce you and leave you desperate for just one more page.’ Leigh Bardugo, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom ‘Holly Black is the Faerie Queen.’ Victoria Aveyard ‘A lush, immersive experience … where little is what it seems.’ Books for Keeps ‘This tale of a kingdom and deadly power struggles as seen through human eyes is an absolute must-read.’ Irish Independent The Folk of the Air series The Cruel Prince The Wicked King The Queen of Nothing For Leigh Bardugo, who never lets me get away with anything The Royal Astrologer, Baphen, squinted at the star chart and tried not to flinch when it seemed sure the youngest prince of Elfhame was about to be dropped on his royal head. A week after Prin; ce Cardan’s birth and he was finally being presented to the High King. The previous five heirs had been seen immediately, still squalling in ruddy newness, but Lady Asha had barred the High King from visiting before she felt herself suitably restored from childbed. The baby was thin and wizened, silent, staring at Eldred with black eyes. He lashed his little whiplike tail with such force that his swaddle threatened to come apart. Lady Asha seemed unsure how to cradle him. Indeed, she held him as though she hoped someone might take the burden from her very soon. “Tell us of his future,” the High King prompted. Only a few Folk were gathered to witness the presentation of the new prince—the mortal Val Moren, who was both Court Poet and Seneschal, and two members of the Living Council: Randalin, the Minister of Keys, and Baphen. In the empty hall, the High King’s words echoed. Baphen hesitated, but he could do nothing save answer. Eldred had been favored with five children before Prince Cardan, shocking fecundity among the Folk, with their thin blood and few births. The stars had spoken of each little prince’s and princess’s fated accomplishments in poetry and song, in politics, in virtue, and even in vice. But this time what he’d seen in the stars had been entirely different. “Prince Cardan will be your last born child,” the Royal Astrologer said. “He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.” Lady Asha sucked in a sharp breath. For the first time, she drew the child protectively closer. He squirmed in her arms. “I wonder who has influenced your interpretation of the signs. Perhaps Princess Elowyn had a hand in it. Or Prince Dain.” Maybe it would be better if she dropped him, Baphen thought unkindly. High King Eldred ran a hand over his chin. “Can nothing be done to stop this?” It was a mixed blessing to have the stars supply Baphen with so many riddles and so few answers. He often wished he saw things more clearly, but not this time. He bowed his head so he had an excuse not to meet the High King’s gaze. “Only out of his spilled blood can a great ruler rise, but not before what I have told you comes to pass.” Eldred turned to Lady Asha and her child, the harbinger of ill luck. The baby was as silent as a stone, not crying or cooing, tail still lashing. “Take the boy away,” the High King said. “Rear him as you see fit.” Lady Asha did not flinch. “I will rear him as befits his station. He is a prince, after all, and your son.” There was a brittleness in her tone, and Baphen was uncomfortably reminded that some prophecies are fulfilled by the very actions meant to prevent them. For a moment, everyone stood silent. Then Eldred nodded to Val Moren, who left the dais and returned holding a slim wooden box with a pattern of roots traced over the lid. “A gift,” said the High King, “in recognition of your contribution to the Greenbriar line.” Val Moren opened the box, revealing an exquisite necklace of heavy emeralds. Eldred lifted them and placed them over Lady Asha’s head. He touched her cheek with the back of one hand. “Your generosity is great, my lord,” she said, somewhat mollified. The baby clutched a stone in his little fist, staring up at his father with fathomless eyes. “Go now and rest,” said Eldred, his voice softer. This time, she yielded. Lady Asha departed with her head high, her grip on the child tighter. Baphen felt a shiver of some premonition that had nothing to do with stars. High King Eldred did not visit Lady Asha again, nor did he call her to him. Perhaps he ought to have put his dissatisfaction aside and cultivated his son. But looking upon Prince Cardan was like looking into an uncertain future, and so he avoided it. Lady Asha, as the mother of a prince, found herself much in demand with the Court, if not the High King. Given to whimsy and frivolity, she wished to return to the merry life of a courtier. She couldn’t attend balls with an infant in tow, so she found a cat whose kittens were stillborn to act as his wet nurse. That arrangement lasted until Prince Cardan was able to crawl. By then, the cat was heavy with a new litter and he’d begun to pull at her tail. She fled to the stables, abandoning him, too. And so he grew up in the palace, cherished by no one and checked by no one. Who would dare stop a prince from stealing food from the grand tables and eating beneath them, devouring what he’d taken in savage bites? His sisters and brothers only laughed, playing with him as they would with a puppy. He wore clothes only occasionally, donning garlands of flowers instead and throwing stones when the guard tried to come near him. None but his mother exerted any hold over him, and she seldom tried to curb his excesses. Just the opposite. “You’re a prince,” she told him firmly when he would shy away from a conflict or fail to make a demand. “Everything is yours. You have only to take it.” And sometimes: “I want that. Get it for me.” It is said that faerie children are not like mortal children. They need little in the way of love. They need not be tucked in at night, but may sleep just as happily in a cold corner of a ballroom, curled up in a tablecloth. They need not be fed; they are just as happy lapping up dew and skimming bread and cream from the kitchens. They need not be comforted, since they seldom weep. But if faerie children need little love, faerie princes require some counsel. Without it, when Cardan’s elder brother suggested shooting a walnut off the head of a mortal, Cardan had not the wisdom to demur. His habits were impulsive; his manner, imperious. “Keen marksmanship so impresses our father,” Prince Dain said with a small, teasing smile. “But perhaps it is too difficult. Better not to make the attempt than to fail.” For Cardan, who could not attract his father’s good notice and desperately wanted it, the prospect was tempting. He didn’t ask himself who the mortal was or how he had come to be at the Court. Cardan certainly never suspected that the man was beloved of Val Moren and that the seneschal would go mad with grief if the man died. Leaving Dain free to assume a more prominent position at the High King’s right hand. “Too difficult? Better not to make the attempt? Those are the words of a coward,” Cardan said, full of childish bravado. In truth, his brother intimidated him, but that only made him more scornful. Prince Dain smiled. “Let us exchange arrows at least. Then if you miss, you can say that it was my arrow that went awry.” Prince Cardan ought to have been suspicious of this kindness, but he’d had little enough of the real thing to tell true from false. Instead, he notched Dain’s arrow and pulled back the bowstring, aiming for the walnut. A sinking feeling came over him. He might not shoot true. He might hurt the man. But on the heels of that, angry glee sparked at the idea of doing something so horrifying that his father could no longer ignore him. If he could not get the High King’s attention for something good, then perhaps he could get it for something really, really bad. Cardan’s hand wobbled. The mortal’s liquid eyes watched him in frozen fear. Enchanted, of course. No one would stand like that willingly. That was what decided him. Cardan forced a laugh as he relaxed the bowstring, letting the arrow fall out of the notch. “I simply will not shoot under these conditions,” he said, feeling ridiculous at having backed down. “The wind is coming from the north and mussing my hair. It’s getting all in my eyes.” But Prince Dain raised his bow and loosed the arrow Cardan had exchanged with him. It struck the mortal through the throat. He dropped with almost no sound, eyes still open, now staring at nothing. It happened so fast that Cardan didn’t cry out, didn’t react. He just stared at his brother, slow, terrible understanding crashing over him. “Ah,” said Prince Dain with a satisfied smile. “A shame. It seems your arrow went awry. Perhaps you can complain to our father about that hair in your eyes.” After, though he protested, no one would hear Prince Cardan’s side. Dain saw to that. He told the story of the youngest prince’s recklessness, his arrogance, his arrow. The High King would not even allow Cardan an audience. Despite Val Moren’s pleas for execution, Cardan was punished for the mortal’s death in the way that princes are punished. The High King had Lady Asha locked away in the Tower of Forgetting in Cardan’s stead—something Eldred was relieved to have a reason to do, since he found her both tiresome and troublesome. Care of Prince Cardan was given over to Balekin, the eldest of the siblings, the cruelest, and the only one willing to take him. And so was Prince Cardan’s reputation made. He had little to do but further it. I, Jude Duarte, High Queen of Elfhame in exile, spend most mornings dozing in front of daytime television, watching cooking competitions and cartoons and reruns of a show where people have to complete a gauntlet by stabbing boxes and bottles and cutting through a whole fish. In the afternoons, if he lets me, I train my brother, Oak. Nights, I run errands for the local faeries. I keep my head down, as I probably should have done in the first place. And if I curse Cardan, then I have to curse myself, too, for being the fool who walked right into the trap he set for me. As a child, I imagined returning to the mortal world. Taryn and Vivi and I would rehash what it was like there, recalling the scents of fresh-cut grass and gasoline, reminiscing over playing tag through neighborhood backyards and bobbing in the bleachy chlorine of summer pools. I dreamed of iced tea, reconstituted from powder, and orange juice Popsicles. I longed for mundane things: the smell of hot asphalt, the swag of wires between streetlights, the jingles of commercials. Now, stuck in the mortal world for good, I miss Faerieland with a raw intensity. It’s magic I long for, magic I miss. Maybe I even miss being afraid. I feel as though I am dreaming away my days, restless, never fully awake. I drum my fingers on the painted wood of a picnic table. It’s early autumn, already cool in Maine. Late-afternoon sun dapples the grass outside the apartment complex as I watch Oak play with other children in the strip of woods between here and the highway. They are kids from the building, some younger and some older than his eight years, all dropped off by the same yellow school bus. They play a totally disorganized game of war, chasing one another with sticks. They hit as children do, aiming for the weapon instead of the opponent, screaming with laughter when a stick breaks. I can’t help noticing they are learning all the wrong lessons about swordsmanship. Still, I watch. And so I notice when Oak uses glamour. He does it unconsciously, I think. He’s sneaking toward the other kids, but then there’s a stretch with no easy cover. He keeps on toward them, and even though he’s in plain sight, they don’t seem to notice. Closer and closer, with the kids still not looking his way. And when he jumps at them, stick swinging, they shriek with wholly authentic surprise. He was invisible. He was using glamour. And I, geased against being deceived by it, didn’t notice until it was done. The other children just think he was clever or lucky. Only I know how careless it was. I wait until the children head to their apartments. They peel off, one by one, until only my brother remains. I don’t need magic, even with leaves underfoot, to steal up on him. With a swift motion, I wrap my arm around Oak’s neck, pressing it against his throat hard enough to give him a good scare. He bucks back, nearly hitting me in the chin with his horns. Not bad. He attempts to break my hold, but it’s half-hearted. He can tell it’s me, and I don’t frighten him. I tighten my hold. If I press my arm against his throat long enough, he’ll black out. He tries to speak, and then he must start to feel the effects of not getting enough air. He forgets all his training and goes wild, lashing out, scratching my arms and kicking against my legs. Making me feel awful. I wanted him to be a little afraid, scared enough to fight back, not terrified. I let go, and he stumbles away, panting, eyes wet with tears. “What was that for?” he wants to know. He’s glaring at me accusingly. “To remind you that fighting isn’t a game,” I say, feeling as though I am speaking with Madoc’s voice instead of my own. I don’t want Oak to grow up as I did, angry and afraid. But I want him to survive, and Madoc did teach me how to do that. How am I supposed to figure out how to give him the right stuff when all I know is my own messed-up childhood? Maybe the parts of it I value are the wrong parts. “What are you going to do against an opponent who wants to actually hurt you?” “I don’t care,” Oak says. “I don’t care about that stuff. I don’t want to be king. I never want to be king.” For a moment, I just stare at him. I want to believe he’s lying, but, of course, he can’t lie. “We don’t always have a choice in our fate,” I say. “You rule if you care so much!” he says. “I won’t do it. Never.” I have to grind my teeth together to keep from screaming. “I can’t, as you know, because I’m in exile,” I remind him. He stamps a hoofed foot. “So am I! And the only reason I’m in the human world is because Dad wants the stupid crown and you want it and everyone wants it. Well, I don’t. It’s cursed.” “All power is cursed,” I say. “The most terrible among us will do anything to get it, and those who’d wield power best don’t want it thrust upon them. But that doesn’t mean they can avoid their responsibilities forever.” “You can’t make me be High King,” he says, and wheeling away from me, breaks into a run in the direction of the apartment building. I sit down on the cold ground, knowing that I screwed up the conversation completely. Knowing that Madoc trained Taryn and me better than I am training Oak. Knowing that I was arrogant and foolish to think I could control Cardan. Knowing that in the great game of princes and queens, I have been swept off the board. Inside the apartment, Oak’s door is shut firmly against me. Vivienne, my faerie sister, stands at the kitchen counter, grinning into her phone. When she notices me, she grabs my hands and spins me around and around until I’m dizzy. “Heather loves me again,” she says, wild laughter in her voice. Heather was Vivi’s human girlfriend. She’d put up with Vivi’s evasions about her past. She even put up with Oak’s coming to live with them in this apartment. But when she found out that Vivi wasn’t human and that Vivi had used magic on her, she dumped her and moved out. I hate to say this, because I want my sister to be happy—and Heather did make her happy—but it was a richly deserved dumping. I pull away to blink at her in confusion. “What?” Vivi waves her phone at me. “She texted me. She wants to come back. Everything is going to be like it was before.” Leaves don’t grow back onto a vine, cracked walnuts don’t fit back into their shells, and girlfriends who’ve been enchanted don’t just wake up and decide to let things slide with their terrifying exes. “Let me see that,” I say, reaching for Vivi’s phone. She allows me to take it. I scroll back through the texts, most of them coming from Vivi and full of apologies, ill-considered promises, and increasingly desperate pleas. On Heather’s end, there was a lot of silence and a few messages that read “I need more time to think.” Then this: I want to forget Faerie. I want to forget that you and Oak aren’t human. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. If I asked you to make me forget, would you? I stare at the words for a long moment, drawing in a breath. I can see why Vivi has read the message the way she has, but I think she’s read it wrong. If I’d written that, the last thing I would want was for Vivi to agree. I’d want her to help me see that even if Vivi and Oak weren’t human, they still loved me. I would want Vivi to insist that pretending away Faerie wouldn’t help. I would want Vivi to tell me that she’d made a mistake and that she’d never ever make that mistake again, no matter what. If I’d sent that text, it would be a test. I hand the phone back to Vivi. “What are you going to tell her?” “That I’ll do whatever she wants,” my sister says, an extravagant vow for a mortal and a downright terrifying vow from someone who would be bound to that promise. “Maybe she doesn’t know what she wants,” I say. I am disloyal no matter what I do. Vivi is my sister, but Heather is human. I owe them both something. And right now, Vivi isn’t interested in supposing anything but that all will be well. She gives me a big, relaxed smile and picks up an apple from the fruit bowl, tossing it in the air. “What’s wrong with Oak? He stomped in here and slammed his door. Is he going to be this dramatic when he’s a teenager?” “He doesn’t want to be High King,” I tell her. “Oh. That.” Vivi glances toward his bedroom. “I thought it was something important.” Tonight, it’s a relief to head to work. Faeries in the mortal world have a different set of needs than those in Elfhame. The solitary fey, surviving at the edges of Faerie, do not concern themselves with revels and courtly machinations. And it turns out they have plenty of odd jobs for someone like me, a mortal who knows their ways and isn’t worried about getting into the occasional fight. I met Bryern a week after I left Elfhame. He turned up outside the apartment complex, a black-furred, goat-headed, and goat-hooved faerie with bowler hat in hand, saying he was an old friend of the Roach. “I understand you’re in a unique position,” he said, looking at me with those strange golden goat eyes, their black pupils a horizontal rectangle. “Presumed dead, is that correct? No Social Security number. No mortal schooling.” “And looking for work,” I told him, figuring out where this was going. “Off the books.” “You cannot get any further off the books than with me,” he assured me, placing one clawed hand over his heart. “Allow me to introduce myself. Bryern. A phooka, if you hadn’t already guessed.” He didn’t ask for oaths of loyalty or any promises whatsoever. I could work as much as I wanted, and the pay was commensurate with my daring. Tonight, I meet him by the water. I glide up on the secondhand bike I acquired. The back tire deflates quickly, but I got it cheap. It works pretty well to get me around. Bryern is dressed with typical fussiness: His hat has a band decorated with a few brightly colored duck feathers, and he’s paired that with a tweed jacket. As I come closer, he withdraws a watch from one pocket and peers at it with an exaggerated frown. “Oh, am I late?” I ask. “Sorry. I’m used to telling time by the slant of moonlight.” He gives me an annoyed look. “Just because you’ve lived in the High Court, you need not put on airs. You’re no one special now.” I am the High Queen of Elfhame. The thought comes to me unbidden, and I bite the inside of my cheek to keep myself from saying those ridiculous words. He’s right: I am no one special now. “What’s the job?” I ask instead, as blandly as I can. “One of the Folk in Old Port has been eating locals. I have a contract for someone willing to extract a promise from her to cease.” I find it hard to believe that he cares what happens to humans—or cares enough to pay for me to do something about it. “Local mortals?” He shakes his head. “No. No. Us Folk.” Then he seems to remember to whom he’s speaking and looks a little flustered. I try not to take his slip as a compliment. Killing and eating the Folk? Nothing about that signals an easy job. “Who’s hiring?” He gives a nervous laugh. “No one who wants their name associated with the deed. But they’re willing to remunerate you for making it happen.” One of the reasons Bryern likes hiring me is that I can get close to the Folk. They don’t expect a mortal to be the one to pickpocket them or to stick a knife in their side. They don’t expect a mortal to be unaffected by glamour or to know their customs or to see through their terrible bargains. Another reason is, I need the money enough that I’m willing to take jobs like this—ones that I know right from the start are going to suck. “Address?” I ask, and he slips me a folded paper. I open it and glance down. “This better pay well.” “Five hundred American dollars,” he says, as though this is an extravagant sum. Our rent is twelve hundred a month, not to mention groceries and utilities. With Heather gone, my half is about eight hundred. And I’d like to get a new tire for my bike. Five hundred isn’t nearly enough, not for something like this. “Fifteen hundred,” I counter, raising my eyebrows. “In cash, verifiable by iron. Half up front, and if I don’t come back, you pay Vivienne the other half as a gift to my bereaved family.” Bryern presses his lips together, but I know he’s got the money. He just doesn’t want to pay me enough that I can get choosy about jobs. “A thousand,” he compromises, reaching into a pocket inside his tweed jacket and withdrawing a stack of bills banded by a silver clip. “And look, I have half on me right now. You can take it.” “Fine,” I agree. It’s a decent paycheck for what could be a single night’s work if I’m lucky. He hands over the cash with a sniff. “Let me know when you’ve completed the task.” There’s an iron fob on my key chain. I run it ostentatiously over the edges of the money to make sure it’s real. It never hurts to remind Bryern that I’m careful. “Plus fifty bucks for expenses,” I say on impulse. He frowns. After a moment, he reaches into a different part of his jacket and hands over the extra cash. “Just take care of this,” he says. The lack of quibbling is a bad sign. Maybe I should have asked more questions before I agreed to this job. I definitely should have negotiated harder. Too late now. I get back on my bike and, with a farewell wave to Bryern, kick off toward downtown. Once upon a time, I imagined myself as a knight astride a steed, glorying in contests of skill and honor. Too bad my talents turned out to lie in another direction entirely. I suppose I am a skilled enough murderer of Folk, but what I really excel at is getting under their skin. Hopefully that will serve me well in persuading a cannibal faerie to do what I want. Before I go to confront her, I decide to ask around. First, I see a hob named Magpie, who lives in a tree in Deering Oaks Park. He says he’s heard she’s a redcap, which isn’t great news, but at least since I grew up with one, I am well informed about their nature. Redcaps crave violence and blood and murder—in fact, they get a little twitchy when there’s none to be had for stretches of time. And if they’re traditionalists, they have a cap they dip in the blood of their vanquished enemies, supposedly to grant them some stolen vitality of the slain. I ask for a name, but Magpie doesn’t know. He sends me to Ladhar, a clurichaun who slinks around the back of bars, sucking froth from the tops of beers when no one is looking and swindling mortals in games of chance. “You didn’t know?” Ladhar says, lowering his voice. “Grima Mog.” I almost accuse him of lying, despite knowing better. Then I have a brief, intense fantasy of tracking down Bryern and making him choke on every dollar he gave me. “What the hell is she doing here?” Grima Mog is the fearsome general of the Court of Teeth in the North. The same Court that the Roach and the Bomb escaped from. When I was little, Madoc read to me at bedtime from the memoirs of her battle strategies. Just thinking about facing her, I break out in a cold sweat. I can’t fight her. And I don’t think I have a good chance of tricking her, either. “Given the boot, I hear,” Ladhar says. “Maybe she ate someone Lady Nore liked.” I don’t have to do this job, I remind myself. I am no longer part of Dain’s Court of Shadows. I am no longer trying to rule from behind High King Cardan’s throne. I don’t need to take big risks. But I am curious. Combine that with an abundance of wounded pride and you find yourself on the front steps of Grima Mog’s warehouse around dawn. I know better than to go empty-handed. I’ve got raw meat from a butcher shop chilling in a Styrofoam cooler, a few sloppily made honey sandwiches wrapped in foil, and a bottle of decent sour beer. Inside, I wander down a hall until I come to the door to what appears to be an apartment. I knock three times and hope that if nothing else, maybe the smell of the food will cover up the smell of my fear. The door opens, and a woman in a housecoat peers out. She’s bent over, leaning on a polished cane of black wood. “What do you want, deary?” Seeing through her glamour as I do, I note the green tint to her skin and her overlarge teeth. Like my foster father: Madoc. The guy who killed my parents. The guy who read me her battle strategies. Madoc, once the Grand General of the High Court. Now enemy of the throne and not real happy with me, either. Hopefully he and High King Cardan will ruin each other’s lives. “I brought you some gifts,” I say, holding up the cooler. “Can I come in? I want to make a bargain.” She frowns a little. “You can’t keep eating random Folk without someone being sent to try to persuade you to stop,” I say. “Perhaps I will eat you, pretty child,” she counters, brightening. But she steps back to allow me into her lair. I guess she can’t make a meal of me in the hall. The apartment is loft-style, with high ceilings and brick walls. Nice. Floors polished and glossed up. Big windows letting in light and a decent view of the town. It’s furnished with old things. The tufting on a few of the pieces is torn, and there are marks that could have come from a stray cut of a knife. The whole place smells like blood. A coppery, metal smell, overlaid with a slightly cloying sweetness. I put my gifts on a heavy wooden table. “For you,” I say. “In the hopes you’ll overlook my rudeness in calling on you uninvited.” She sniffs at the meat, turns a honey sandwich over in her hand, and pops off the cap on the beer with her fist. Taking a long draught, she looks me over. “Someone instructed you in the niceties. I wonder why they bothered, little goat. You’re obviously the sacrifice sent in the hopes my appetite can be sated with mortal flesh.” She smiles, showing her teeth. It’s possible she dropped her glamour in that moment, although, since I saw through it already, I can’t tell. I blink at her. She blinks back, clearly waiting for a reaction. By not screaming and running for the door, I have annoyed her. I can tell. I think she was looking forward to chasing me when I ran. “You’re Grima Mog,” I say. “Leader of armies. Destroyer of your enemies. Is this really how you want to spend your retirement?” “Retirement?” She echoes the word as though I have dealt her the deadliest insult. “Though I have been cast down, I will find another army to lead. An army bigger than the first.” Sometimes I tell myself something a lot like that. Hearing it aloud, from someone else’s mouth, is jarring. But it gives me an idea. “Well, the local Folk would prefer not to get eaten while you’re planning your next move. Obviously, being human, I’d rather you didn’t eat mortals—I doubt they’d give you what you’re looking for anyway.” She waits for me to go on. “A challenge,” I say, thinking of everything I know about redcaps. “That’s what you crave, right? A good fight. I bet the Folk you killed weren’t all that special. A waste of your talents.” “Who sent you?” she asks finally. Reevaluating. Trying to figure out my angle. “What did you do to piss her off?” I ask. “Your queen? It must have been something big to get kicked out of the Court of Teeth.” “Who sent you?” she roars. I guess I hit a nerve. My best skill. I try not to smile, but I’ve missed the rush of power that comes with playing a game like this, of strategy and cunning. I hate to admit it, but I’ve missed risking my neck. There’s no room for regrets when you’re busy trying to win. Or at least not to die. “I told you. The local Folk who don’t want to get eaten.” “Why you?” she asks. “Why would they send a slip of a girl to try to convince me of anything?” Scanning the room, I take note of a round box on top of the refrigerator. An old-fashioned hatbox. My gaze snags on it. “Probably because it would be no loss to them if I failed.” At that, Grima Mog laughs, taking another sip of the sour beer. “A fatalist. So how will you persuade me?” I walk to the table and pick up the food, looking for an excuse to get close to that hatbox. “First, by putting away your groceries.” Grima Mog looks amused. “I suppose an old lady like myself could use a young thing doing a few errands around the house. But be careful. You might find more than you bargained for in my larder, little goat.” I open the door of the fridge. The remains of the Folk she’s killed greet me. She’s collected arms and heads, preserved somehow, baked and broiled and put away just like leftovers after a big holiday dinner. My stomach turns. A wicked smile crawls across her face. “I assume you hoped to challenge me to a duel? Intended to brag about how you’d put up a good fight? Now you see what it means to lose to Grima Mog.” I take a deep breath. Then with a hop, I knock the hatbox off the top of the fridge and into my arms. “Don’t touch that!” she shouts, pushing to her feet as I rip off the lid. And there it is: the cap. Lacquered with blood, layers and layers of it. She’s halfway across the floor to me, teeth bared. I pull out a lighter from my pocket and flick the flame to life with my thumb. She halts abruptly at the sight of the fire. “I know you’ve spent long, long years building the patina of this cap,” I say, willing my hand not to shake, willing the flame not to go out. “Probably there’s blood on here from your first kill, and your last. Without it, there will be no reminder of your past conquests, no trophies, nothing. Now I need you to make a deal with me. Vow that there will be no more murders. Not the Folk, not humans, for so long as you reside in the mortal world.” “And if I don’t, you’ll burn my treasure?” Grima Mog finishes for me. “There’s no honor in that.” “I guess I could offer to fight you,” I say. “But I’d probably lose. This way, I win.” Grima Mog points the tip of her black cane toward me. “You’re Madoc’s human child, aren’t you? And our new High King’s seneschal in exile. Tossed out like me.” I nod, discomfited at being recognized. “What did you do?” she asks, a satisfied little smile on her face. “It must have been something big.” “I was a fool,” I say, because I might as well admit it. “I gave up the bird in my hand for two in the bush.” She gives a big, booming laugh. “Well, aren’t we a pair, redcap’s daughter? But murder is in my bones and blood. I don’t plan on giving up killing. If I am to be stuck in the mortal world, then I intend to have some fun.” I bring the flame closer to the hat. The bottom of it begins to blacken, and a terrible stench fills the air. “Stop!” she shouts, giving me a look of raw hatred. “Enough. Let me make you an offer, little goat. We spar. If you lose, my cap is returned to me, unburnt. I continue to hunt as I have. And you give me your littlest finger.” “To eat?” I ask, taking the flame away from the hat. “If I like,” she returns. “Or to wear like a brooch. What do you care what I do with it? The point is that it will be mine.” “And why would I agree to that?” “Because if you win, you will have your promise from me. And I will tell you something of significance regarding your High King.” “I don’t want to know anything about him,” I snap, too fast and too angrily. I hadn’t been expecting her to invoke Cardan. Her laugh this time is low and rumbling. “Little liar.” We stare at each other for a long moment. Grima Mog’s gaze is amiable enough. She knows she has me. I am going to agree to her terms. I know it, too, although it’s ridiculous. She’s a legend. I don’t see how I can win. But Cardan’s name pounds in my ears. Does he have a new seneschal? Does he have a new lover? Is he going to Council meetings himself? Does he talk about me? Do he and Locke mock me together? Does Taryn laugh? “We spar until first blood,” I say, shoving everything else out of my head. It’s a pleasure to have someone to focus my anger on. “I’m not giving you my finger,” I say. “You win, you get your cap. Period. And I walk out of here. The concession I am making is fighting you at all.” “First blood is dull.” Grima Mog leans forward, her body alert. “Let’s agree to fight until one of us cries off. Let it end somewhere between bloodshed and crawling away to die on the way home.” She sighs, as if thinking a happy thought. “Give me a chance to break every bone in your scrawny body.” “You’re betting on my pride.” I tuck her cap into one pocket and the lighter into the other. She doesn’t deny it. “Did I bet right?” First blood is dull. It’s all dancing around each other, looking for an opening. It’s not real fighting. When I answer her, the word rushes out of me. “Yes.” “Good.” She lifts the tip of the cane toward the ceiling. “Let’s go to the roof.” “Well, this is very civilized,” I say. “You better have brought a weapon, because I’ll loan you nothing.” She heads toward the door with a heavy sigh, as though she really is the old woman she’s glamoured to be. I follow her out of her apartment, down the dimly lit hall, and into the even darker stairway, my nerves firing. I hope I know what I’m doing. She goes up the steps two at a time, eager now, slamming open a metal door at the top. I hear the clatter of steel as she draws a thin sword out of her cane. A greedy smile pulls her lips too wide, showing off her sharp teeth. I draw the long knife I have hidden in my boot. It doesn’t have the best reach, but I don’t have the ability to glamour things; I can’t very well ride my bike around with Nightfell on my back. Still, right now, I really wish I’d figured out a way to do just that. I step onto the asphalt roof of the building. The sun is starting to rise, tinting the sky pink and gold. A chill breeze blows through the air, bringing with it the scents of concrete and garbage, along with goldenrod from the nearby park. My heart speeds with some combination of terror and eagerness. When Grima Mog comes at me, I am ready. I parry and move out of the way. I do it again and again, which annoys her. “You promised me a threat,” she growls, but at least I have a sense of how she moves. I know she’s hungry for blood, hungry for violence. I know she’s used to hunting prey. I just hope she’s overconfident. It’s possible she will make mistakes facing someone who can fight back. Unlikely, but possible. When she comes at me again, I spin and kick the back of her knee hard enough to send her crashing to the ground. She roars, scrambling up and coming at me full speed. For a moment, the fury in her face and those fearsome teeth send a horrible, paralyzing jolt through me. Monster! my mind screams. I clench my jaw against the urge to keep dodging. Our blades shine, fish-scale bright in the new light of the day. The metal slams together, ringing like a bell. We battle across the roof, my feet clever as we scuff back and forth. Sweat starts on my brow and under my arms. My breath comes hot, clouding in the chill air. It feels good to be fighting someone other than myself. Grima Mog’s eyes narrow, watching me, looking for weaknesses. I am conscious of every correction Madoc ever gave me, every bad habit the Ghost tried to train out of me. She begins a series of brutal blows, trying to drive me to the edge of the building. I give ground, attempting to defend myself against the flurry, against the longer reach of her blade. She was holding back before, but she’s not holding back now. Again and again she pushes me toward a drop through the open air. I fight with grim determination. Perspiration slicks my skin, beads between my shoulder blades. Then my foot smacks into a metal pipe sticking up through the asphalt. I stumble, and she strikes. It’s all I can do to avoid getting speared, and it costs me my knife, which goes hurtling off the roof. I hear it hit the street below with a dull thud. I should never have taken this assignment. I should never have agreed to this fight. I should never have taken up Cardan’s offer of marriage and never been exiled to the mortal world. Anger gives me a burst of energy, and I use it to get out of Grima Mog’s way, letting the momentum of her strike carry her blade down past me. Then I elbow her hard in the arm and grab for the hilt of her sword. It’s not a very honorable move, but I haven’t been honorable for a long time. Grima Mog is very strong, but she’s also surprised. For a moment, she hesitates, but then she slams her forehead into mine. I go reeling, but I almost had her weapon. I almost had it. My head is pounding, and I feel a little dizzy. “That’s cheating, girl,” she tells me. We’re both breathing hard. I feel like my lungs are made of lead. “I’m no knight.” As though to emphasize the point, I pick up the only weapon I can see: a metal pole. It’s heavy and has no edge whatsoever, but it’s all there is. At least it’s longer than the knife. She laughs. “You ought to concede, but I’m delighted you haven’t.” “I’m an optimist,” I say. Now when she runs at me, she has all the speed, although I have more reach. We spin around each other, her striking and my parrying with something that swings like a baseball bat. I wish for a lot of things, but mostly to make it off this roof. My energy is flagging. I am not used to the weight of the pipe, and it’s hard to maneuver. Give up, my whirling brain supplies. Cry off while you’re still standing. Give her the cap, forget the money, and go home. Vivi can magic leaves into extra cash. Just this time, it wouldn’t be so bad. You’re not fighting for a kingdom. That, you already lost. Grima Mog comes toward me as though she can scent my despair. She puts me through my paces, a few fast, aggressive strikes in the hopes of getting under my guard. Sweat drips down my forehead, stinging my eyes. Madoc described fighting as a lot of things, as a game of strategy played at speed, as a dance, but right now it feels like an argument. Like an argument where she’s keeping me too busy defending myself to score any points. Despite the strain on my muscles, I switch to holding the pipe in one hand and pull her cap from my pocket with the other. “What are you doing? You promised—” she begins. I throw the cap at her face. She grabs for it, distracted. In that moment, I swing the pipe at her side with all the strength in my body. I catch her in the shoulder, and she falls with a howl of pain. I hit her again, bringing the metal rod down in an arc onto her outstretched arm, sending her sword spinning across the roof. I raise the pipe to swing again. “Enough.” Grima Mog looks up at me from the asphalt, blood on her pointed teeth, astonishment in her face. “I yield.” “You do?” The pipe sags in my hand. “Yes, little cheat,” she grits out, pushing herself into a sitting position. “You bested me. Now help me up.” I drop the pipe and walk closer, half-expecting her to pull out a knife and sink it into my side. But she only lifts a hand and allows me to haul her to her feet. She puts her cap on her head and cradles the arm I struck in the other. “The Court of Teeth have thrown in their lot with the old Grand General—your father—and a whole host of other traitors. I have it on good authority that your High King is to be dethroned before the next full moon. How do you like those apples?” “Is that why you left?” I ask her. “Because you’re not a traitor?” “I left because of another little goat. Now be off with you. This was more fun than I expected, but I think our game is at a close.” Her words ring in my ears. Your High King. Dethroned. “You still owe me a promise,” I say, my voice coming out like a croak. And to my surprise, Grima Mog gives me one. She vows to hunt no more in the mortal lands. “Come fight me again,” she calls after me as I head for the stairs. “I have secrets aplenty. There are so many things you don’t know, daughter of Madoc. And I think you crave a little violence yourself.” My muscles stiffen up almost immediately, and the idea of pedaling home makes me feel so tired I’d rather just lie down on the sidewalk, so I take the bus. I get a lot of dirty looks from impatient commuters while strapping my bike to the rack on the front, but when people notice I’m bleeding, they decide in favor of ignoring me. My sense of a day’s shape sits oddly with the human world. In Faerie, staggering home at dawn is the equivalent of staggering home at midnight for mortals. But in the human world, the bright light of morning is supposed to banish shadows. It’s a virtuous time, for early risers, not ne’er-do-wells. An elderly woman in a jaunty pink hat passes me a few tissues without comment, which I appreciate. I use them to clean myself up the best I can. For the rest of the ride, I look out the window at the blue sky, hurting and feeling sorry for myself. Raiding my pockets yields four aspirin. I take them in a single bitter mouthful. Your High King is to be dethroned before the next full moon. How do you like those apples? I try to tell myself that I don’t care. That I should be glad if Elfhame winds up conquered. Cardan has plenty of other people to warn him of what’s coming. There’s the Court of Shadows and half of his military. The rulers of the low Courts, all sworn to him. The whole Living Council. Even a new seneschal, should he bother to appoint one. I don’t want to think of someone else standing beside Cardan in my place, but my mind turns idly through all the worst choices anyway. He can’t choose Nicasia, because she’s already the Ambassador of the Undersea. He won’t pick Locke, because he’s already the Master of Revels and because he’s insufferable. And not Lady Asha because … because she’d be awful. She’d find the job boring, and she’d trade his influence for whatever benefited her the most. Surely he knows better than to choose her. But maybe he doesn’t. Cardan can be reckless. Maybe he and his wicked, heedless mother will make a mockery of the Greenbriar line and the Blood Crown. I hope they do. I hope everybody will be sorry, and him, most of all him. And then Madoc will march in and take over. I press my forehead against the cool glass and remind myself that it’s no longer my problem. Instead of trying—and failing—not to think about Cardan, I try not to think at all. I wake to someone shaking my shoulder. “Hey, kid,” the bus driver says, worry etched in the lines of his face. “Kid?” There was a time when my knife would have been in my hand and pressed to his throat before he finished speaking. I realize groggily that I don’t even have my knife. I forgot to scout around the outside of Grima Mog’s building and retrieve it. “I’m up,” I say unconvincingly, rubbing my face with one hand. “For a minute there, I thought you’d kicked it.” He frowns. “That’s a lot of blood. You want me to call someone?” “I’m fine,” I say. I realize the bus is mostly empty. “Did I miss my stop?” “We’re here.” He looks as though he wants to insist on getting me help. Then he shakes his head with a sigh. “Don’t forget that bike.” I was stiff before, but nothing like now. I creak down the aisle like a root woman pulling her limbs from the ground for the first time. My fingers fumble with the mechanics of getting my bike off the front, and I notice the rusty stain on my fingers. I wonder if I just wiped blood across my face in front of the bus driver and touched my cheek self-consciously. I can’t tell. But then my bike is down, and I am able to shuffle across the grass toward the apartment building. I am going to drop the bike in the bushes and take my chances with its getting stolen. That promise to myself gets me most of the way home when I spot someone sitting on the stoop. Pink hair glowing in the sunlight. She lifts a paper coffee cup in salute. “Heather?” I say, keeping my distance. Considering how the bus driver looked at me, showing off my fresh cuts and bruises seems like a bad idea. “I’m trying to get up the bravery to knock.” “Ah,” I say, leaning my bike down on the grass. The bushes are too far off. “Well, you can just come in with me and—” “No!” she says, and then realizing how loud that came out, lowers her voice. “I don’t know if I’m going in today.” I look at her again, realizing how tired she seems, how faded the pink in her hair is, as though she hasn’t bothered to re-dye it. “How long have you been out here?” “Not long.” She glances away from me and shrugs. “I come here sometimes. To check how I feel.” With a sigh, I give up on the idea that I am going to hide that I got hurt. I walk to the stairs, then slump down on a step, too tired to keep standing. Heather stands. “Jude? Oh no, oh holy—what the—what happened to you?” she demands. I wince. Her voice is much too loud. “Shhhh! I thought you didn’t want Vivi to know you’re here,” I remind her. “Anyway, it looks worse than it is. I just need a shower and some bandages. And a good day’s sleep.” “Okay,” she says in a way that makes me think she doesn’t believe me. “Let me help you go in. Please don’t worry about me tripping over seeing your sister or whatever. You’re actually hurt. You shouldn’t have stood there talking to me!” I shake my head, holding up a hand to ward off her offer. “I’ll be fine. Just let me sit for a minute.” She gazes at me, worry warring with her desire to put off the inevitable confrontation with Vivi a little longer. “I thought you were still in that place? Did you get hurt there?” “Faerieland?” I like Heather, but I am not going to pretend away the world I grew up in because she hates the idea of it. “No. This happened here. I’ve been staying with Vivi. Trying to figure things out. But if you move back in, I can make myself scarce.” She looks down at her knees. Bites a corner of a fingernail. Shakes her head. “Love is stupid. All we do is break one another’s hearts.” “Yeah,” I say, thinking again of Cardan and how I walked right into the trap he set for me, as though I were some fool who’d never heard a ballad in her life. No matter how much happiness I wish for Vivi, I don’t want Heather to be the same kind of fool. “Yeah, no. Love might be stupid, but you’re not. I know about the message you sent Vivi. You can’t go through with it.” Heather takes a long sip from her cup. “I have nightmares. About that place. Faerie. I can’t sleep. I look at people on the street, and I wonder if they’re glamoured. This world already has enough monsters, enough people who want to take advantage of me or hurt me or take away my rights. I don’t need to know there’s a whole other world full of monsters.” “So not knowing is better?” I ask. She scowls and is silent. Then, when she speaks again, she looks out past me, as though she’s looking at the parking lot. “I can’t even explain to my parents what Vee and I are fighting about. They keep asking me if she was kicking it with someone else or if having Oak around was just too much, like I can’t handle him being a kid, instead of whatever he is.” “He’s still a kid,” I say. “I hate being afraid of Oak,” she says. “I know it hurts his feelings. But I also hate that he and Vee have magic, magic that she could use to win every argument that we could ever have. Magic to make me obsessed with her. Or turn me into a duck. And that’s not even considering why I’m attracted to her in the first place.” I frown. “Wait, what?” Heather turns toward me. “Do you know what makes people love one another? Well, no one else does, either. But scientists study it, and there’s all this bizarre stuff about pheromones and facial symmetry and the circumstances under which you first met. People are weird. Our bodies are weird. Maybe I can’t help being attracted to her the same way flies can’t help being attracted to carnivorous plants.” I make an incredulous sound, but Balekin’s words echo in my ears. I have heard that for mortals, the feeling of falling in love is very like the feeling of fear. Maybe he was more right than I wanted to believe. Especially when I consider my feelings for Cardan, since there was no good reason I should have had any feelings for him at all. “Okay,” Heather says, “I know I sound ridiculous. I feel ridiculous. But I also feel afraid. And I still think we should go inside and bandage you up.” “Make Vivi promise not to use magic on you,” I say. “I can help you say the exact right words to bind her and then—” I stop speaking when I see that Heather is looking at me sadly, maybe because believing in promises sounds childish. Or maybe the idea of binding Vivi with a promise sounds magical enough to freak her out more. Heather takes a deep breath. “Vee told me that she grew up here, before your parents were murdered. I’m sorry to even mention it, but I know she’s messed up about it. I mean, of course she is. Anyone would be.” She takes a breath. She’s waiting to see how I react. I think about her words as I sit on the stairs, bruises coming up beside sluggishly bleeding slashes. Anyone would be. Nope, not me, not messed up at all. I remember a much younger Vivi, who was furious all the time, who screamed and broke whatever she touched. Who slapped me every time I let Madoc hold me in the crook of his arm. Who seemed as though she would bring down his entire hall with her rage. But that was so long ago. We all gave in to our new life; it was just a matter of when. I don’t say any of that. Heather takes a shaky breath. “The thing is, I wonder if she’s, you know, playing house with me. Pretending her life went the way she wanted. Pretending she never found out who she was and where she was from.” I reach out and take Heather’s hand. “Vivi stayed so long in Faerie for me and Taryn,” I say. “She didn’t want to be there. And the reason she finally left was because of you. Because she loved you. So yeah, Vivi took the easy way out in not explaining stuff. She should definitely have told you the truth about Faerie. And she should have never, ever used magic on you, even if it was out of panic. But now you know. And I guess you have to decide if you can forgive her.” She starts to say something, then stops herself. “Would you?” she asks finally. “I don’t know,” I say, looking at my knees. “I am not a very forgiving person these days.” Heather stands. “Okay. You rested. Now get up. You need to go inside and take a bath in Neosporin. You probably should see a doctor, but I know what you’re going to say about that.” “You’re right,” I say. “Right about everything. No doctor.” I roll onto my side to try to push myself to my feet, and when Heather comes over to help me, I let her. I even lean my weight on her as we limp together to the door. I have given up on being proud. As Bryern reminded me, I am no one special. Heather and I go together through the kitchen, past the table with Oak’s cereal bowl sitting on it, still half-full of pink milk. Two empty coffee mugs rest beside a box of Froot Loops. I note the number of mugs before my brain gives meaning to that detail. Just as Heather helps me into the living room, I realize we must have a guest. Vivi is sitting on the couch. Her face lights up when she sees Heather. She looks at her like someone who just stole a giant’s magnificent talking harp and knows consequences are on the horizon but can’t bring herself to care. My gaze goes to the person beside her, sitting primly in a fanciful Elfhame court dress of gossamer and spun glass. My twin sister, Taryn. A drenaline floods my body, despite my stiffness and soreness and bruises. I’d like to put my hands around Taryn’s neck and squeeze until her head pops off. Vivi stands, maybe because of my murderous look, but probably because Heather is right beside me. “You,” I say to my twin. “Get out.” “Wait,” Taryn says, standing, too. “Please.” Now we’re all up, looking at one another across the small living room as though we’re about to brawl. “There’s nothing I want to hear out of your lying mouth.” I’m glad to have a target for all the feelings Grima Mog and Heather stirred up. A deserving target. “Get out, or I’ll throw you out.” “This is Vivi’s apartment,” Taryn counters. “This is my apartment,” Heather reminds us. “And you’re hurt, Jude.” “I don’t care! And if you all want her here, then I can go!” With that, I turn and force myself to walk back to the door and down the stairs. The screen door bangs. Then Taryn rushes in front of me, her gown blowing in the morning breeze. If I didn’t know what a real princess of Faerie looked like, I might think she resembled one. For a moment, it seems impossible that we’re related, no less identical. “What happened to you?” she asks. “You look like you got into a fight.” I don’t speak. I just keep walking. I am not even sure where I am going, as slow and stiff and sore as I am. Maybe to Bryern. He’ll find me a place to crash, even if I won’t like the price later. Even bunking with Grima Mog would be better than this. “I need your help,” Taryn says. “No,” I say. “No. Absolutely not. Never. If that’s why you came here, now you’ve got your answer and you can leave.” “Jude, just hear me out.” She walks in front of me, causing me to have to look at her. I glance up and then start to circle the billowing skirts of her dress. “Also no,” I say. “No, I won’t help you. No, I won’t hear you explain why I should. It really is a magical word: no. You say whatever bullshit you want, and I just say no.” “Locke is dead,” she blurts out. I wheel around. Above us, the sky is bright and blue and clear. Birds call to one another from nearby trees. In the distance, there’s the sound of construction and road traffic. In this moment, the juxtaposition of standing in the mortal world and hearing about the demise of an immortal being—one that I knew, one that I kissed—is especially surreal. “Dead?” It seems impossible, even after everything I’ve seen. “Are you sure?” The night before his wedding, Locke and his friends tried to ride me down like a pack of dogs chasing a fox. I promised to pay him back for that. If he’s dead, I never will. Nor will he ever plan another party for the purpose of humiliating Cardan. He won’t laugh with Nicasia nor play Taryn and me against each other again. Maybe I should be relieved, for all the trouble he caused. But I am surprised by feeling grief instead. Taryn takes a breath, as if steeling herself. “He’s dead because I killed him.” I shake my head, as though that’s going to help me understand what she’s saying. “What?” She looks more embarrassed than anything else, as though she were confessing to some kind of dumb accident instead of to murdering her husband. I am uncomfortably reminded of Madoc, standing over three screaming children a moment after cutting down their parents, surprise on his face. As though he hadn’t quite meant for it to go so far. I wonder if that’s how Taryn feels. I knew I’d grown up to be more like Madoc than I was comfortable with, but I never thought she and he were anything alike. “And I need you to pretend to be me,” she finishes, with no apparent worry that suggesting the very trick that allowed Madoc to march off with half of Cardan’s army, the very trick that doomed me to agreeing to the plan that got me exiled, is in poor taste. “Just for a few hours.” “Why?” I start, and then realize I am not being clear. “Not the pretending part. I mean, why did you kill him?” She takes a breath, then looks back at the apartment. “Come inside, and I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you everything. Please, Jude.” I look toward the apartment and reluctantly admit to myself I have nowhere else to go. I don’t want to go to Bryern. I want to go back inside and rest in my own bed. And despite being exhausted, I can’t deny that the prospect of sneaking into Elfhame as Taryn has an unsettling appeal. The very thought of being there, of seeing Cardan, speeds my heart. At least no one is privy to my thoughts. Stupid as they are, they remain my own. Inside, Heather and Vivi are standing in a corner of the kitchen near the coffeepot, having an intense conversation that I don’t want to disturb. At least they’re finally talking. That’s one good thing. I head into Oak’s room, where the few clothes I have are shoved in the bottom drawer of his dresser. Taryn follows, frowning. “I’m going to take a shower,” I tell her. “And smear some ointment on myself. You’re going to make me some magical healing yarrow tea from the kitchen. Then I’ll be ready to hear your confession.” “Let me help you out of that,” Taryn says with an exasperated shake of her head when I’m about to object. “You have no squire.” “Nor any armor for her to polish,” I say, but I don’t fight when she lifts my shirt over sore limbs. It’s stiff with blood, and I wince when she tugs it free. I inspect my cuts for the first time, raw and red and puffy. I suspect Grima Mog of not keeping her knife as clean as I’d like. Taryn turns on the shower, adjusting the taps and then guiding me over the tub’s edge to stand in the warming spray. Being sisters, we’ve seen each other naked a bajillion times over the years, but as her gaze goes to the messy scar on my leg, I recall she’s never seen it before. “Vivi said something,” Taryn says slowly. “About the night before my wedding. You were late, and when you came, you were quiet and pale. Sick. I worried it was because you still loved him, but Vivi insists that isn’t true. She says you got hurt.” I nod. “I remember that night.” “Did Locke … do something?” She isn’t looking at me now. Her gaze is on the tiles, then on a framed drawing Oak did of Heather, brown crayon for her skin bleeding into pink for her hair. I grab the body wash that Vivi buys at the organic store, the one that’s supposed to be naturally antibacterial, and smear it liberally over the dried blood. It smells bleachy and stings like hell. “You mean, did he try to kill me?” Taryn nods. I catch her eye. She already knows the answer. “Why didn’t you say something? Why did you let me marry him?” she demands. “I didn’t know,” I admit. “I didn’t know it was Locke who’d led a hunt for me until I saw you wearing the earrings I lost that night. And then I got taken by the Undersea. And soon after I got back, you betrayed me, so I figured it didn’t matter.” Taryn frowns, clearly torn between the urge to argue and an effort to stay quiet to win me over. A moment later, arguing triumphs. We’re twins, after all. “I just did what Dad said! I didn’t think it mattered. You had all that power and you wouldn’t use it. But I never wanted to hurt you.” “I think I prefer Locke and his friends chasing me around the woods to you stabbing me in the back. Again.” I can see her visibly stopping herself from saying anything more, taking a breath, biting her tongue. “I’m sorry,” she says, and slips out of the bathroom, leaving me to finish my shower alone. I turn up the heat and take a long time. When I come out, Heather has left, and Taryn has gone through the fridge and constructed some kind of nervous-energy tea party out of our leftovers. A big pot of tea sits at the center of the table, along with a smaller pot of the yarrow. She has taken our last half sleeve of gingersnap cookies and arranged them on a tray. Our bread got turned into two kinds of sandwiches: ham and celery, peanut butter and Cheerios. Vivi is brewing a pot of coffee and watching Taryn with a worried expression. I pour myself a mug of the healing tea and drink it down, then pour myself another. Clean, bandaged, and dressed in new clothes, I feel a lot more clearheaded and ready to deal with the news that Locke is dead and that my twin sister murdered him. I pick up a ham sandwich and take a bite. The celery is crunchy and a little weird, but not bad. Suddenly, I am aware of how hungry I am. I shove the rest of the sandwich into my mouth and pile two more onto a plate. Taryn wrings her hands, pressing them together and then against her dress. “I snapped,” she says. Neither Vivi nor I speak. I try to crunch my celery more quietly. “He promised he would love me until he died, but his love didn’t protect me from his unkindness. He warned me that the Folk don’t love as we do. I didn’t understand until he left me alone in his great, awful house for weeks on end. I cultivated hybrid roses in the garden and commissioned new curtains and hosted month-long revels for his friends. It didn’t matter. I was sometimes louche and sometimes chaste. I gave him everything. But he said that all the story had gone out of me.” I raise my eyebrows. That was an awful thing for him to say, but not necessarily what I expected to be his last words. “I guess you showed him.” Vivi laughs abruptly and then glares at me for making her laugh. Taryn’s eyelashes sparkle with unshed tears. “I guess so,” she says in a flat, dull voice that I find hard to interpret. “I tried to explain how things had to change—they had to—but he acted as though I was being ridiculous. He kept talking, as if he could talk me out of my own feelings. There was a jeweled letter opener on the desk and—you remember all those lessons Madoc gave us? The next thing I knew, the point of it was in Locke’s throat. And then he was finally quiet, but when I took it out, there was so much blood.” “So you didn’t mean to kill him?” Vivi asks. Taryn doesn’t answer. I get what it feels like to shove things down for long enough that they erupt. I also get what it’s like to shove a knife in somebody. “It’s okay,” I say, not sure if that’s true. She turns to me. “I thought we were nothing alike, you and I. But it turns out we’re just the same.” I don’t think she believes that to be a good thing. “Where’s his body now?” I ask, trying to focus on the practical. “We need to get rid of it and—” Taryn shakes her head. “His body was already discovered.” “How? What did you do?” Before, I was frustrated she came to ask for help, but now I’m annoyed she didn’t come sooner, when I could have taken care of this. “I dragged his body down to the waves. I thought the tide would carry him away, but he just washed up again on another beach. At least, um, at least some of him was chewed. It was harder for them to tell how he died.” She looks at me helplessly, as though she still can’t conceive how any of this is happening to her. “I’m not a bad person.” I take a sip of my yarrow tea. “I didn’t say you were.” “There’s going to be an inquest,” Taryn goes on. “They’re going to glamour me and ask questions. I won’t be able to lie. But if you answer in my place, you can say honestly that you didn’t kill him.” “Jude is exiled,” Vivi says. “Banished until she gets the crown’s forgiveness or some other high-handed crap. If they catch her, they’ll kill her.” “It will just be a few hours,” Taryn says, looking from one of us to the other. “And no one will know. Please.” Vivi groans. “It’s too risky.” I say nothing, which seems to be the thing that tips her off that I am considering it. “You want to go, don’t you?” Vivi asks, fixing me with a shrewd look. “You want an excuse to go back there. But once they glamour you, they’ll ask your name. Or ask something else that will tip them off when you don’t answer the way Taryn would. And then you’ll be screwed.” I shake my head. “I had a geas placed on me. It protects me from glamours.” I hate how much the idea of returning to Elfhame thrills me, hate how much I want another bite at the everapple, another chance at power, another shot at him. Maybe there’s a way around my exile, too, if only I can find it. Taryn frowns. “A geas? Why?” Vivi fixes me with a glare. “Tell her. Tell her what you really did. Tell her what you are and why you can’t go back there.” There’s something in Taryn’s face, a little like fear. Madoc must have explained that I’d gained a promise of obedience from Cardan—otherwise, how would she have known to order him to release half the army from their vows? Since I’ve been back in the mortal world, I’ve had a lot of time to go over what happened between us. I am sure Taryn was angry with me for not telling her about my hold over Cardan. I am sure Taryn was even angrier that I pretended I couldn’t persuade Cardan to dismiss Locke from being Master of Revels, when, in fact, I could have commanded him. But she had a lot of other reasons to help Madoc. After all, he was our father, too. Maybe she wanted to play the great game. Maybe she thought of all the things he could do for her if he were sitting on the throne. “I should have told you everything, about Dain and the Court of Shadows, but—” I begin, but Vivi interrupts me. “Skip that part,” she says. “Cut to the chase. Tell her what you are.” “I’ve heard of the Court of Shadows,” says Taryn quickly. “They’re spies. Are you saying you’re a spy?” I shake my head because I finally understand what Vivi wants me to explain. She wants me to say that Cardan married me and made me, effectively, High Queen of Elfhame. But I can’t. Every time I even think about it, I feel a rush of shame for believing he wasn’t going to play me. I don’t think I can explain any part of it without seeming like a fool, and I am not ready to be that vulnerable with Taryn. I need to end this conversation, so I say the one thing I know will distract them both, for very different reasons. “I’ve decided to go and be Taryn in the inquest. I’ll be back in a day or two, and then I’ll explain everything to her. I promise.” “Can’t you both just stay here in the mortal world?” Vivi asks. “Screw Faerie. Screw all this. We’ll get a bigger place.” “Even if Taryn stays with us, it would be better for her not to skip out on the High King’s inquest,” I say. “And I can bring back stuff we can pawn for some easy cash. We’ve got to pay for that bigger place somehow.” Vivi gives me an exasperated look. “We could stop living in apartments and playing at being mortal whenever you like. I did this for Heather. If it’s just us, we can take over one of the abandoned warehouses by the waterfront and glamour it so no one ever comes inside. We can steal all the money we need to buy anything at all. Just say the word, Jude.” I take the five hundred dollars I fought for out of my jacket and place it on the table. “Bryern will be by with the other half later today. Since we’re still playing at being mortal. And since Heather is apparently still around. Now I am going to go take a nap. When I get up, I’m going to Faerie.” Taryn looks at the money on the table with some confusion. “If you needed—” “If you get caught, you’ll be executed, Jude,” Vivi reminds me, interrupting whatever offer Taryn was about to make. I’m glad. I might be willing to do this, but it certainly doesn’t mean I forgive her. Or that we’re close now. And I don’t want her acting as though it does. “Then I won’t get caught,” I tell them both. Since Oak is at school, I curl up in his bed. As hurt as I am, sleep overtakes me quickly, sucking me down into darkness. And dreams. I am at lessons in the palace grove, sitting in the long shadows of the late afternoon. The moon has already risen, a sharp crescent in the cloudless blue sky. I draw a star chart from memory, my ink a dark red that clots on the paper. It’s blood, I realize. I am dabbing my quill into an inkpot full of blood. Across the grove, I see Prince Cardan, sitting with his usual companions. Valerian and Locke look strange: their clothing moth-eaten, their skin pallid, and only inky smudges where their eyes ought to be. Nicasia doesn’t seem to notice. Her sea-colored hair hangs down her back in heavy coils; her lips are twisted into a mocking smile, as though nothing in the world is wrong. Cardan wears a bloodstained crown, tilted at an angle, the sharp planes of his face as hauntingly beautiful as ever. “Do you remember what I said before I died?” Valerian calls to me in his taunting voice. “I curse you. Three times, I curse you. As you’ve murdered me, may your hands always be stained with blood. May death be your only companion. May you—That’s when I died, so I never got to say the rest. Would you like to hear it now? May your life be brief and shrouded in sorrow, and when you die, may you go unmourned.” I shudder. “Yeah, that last bit really was the zinger.” Cardan comes over, stepping on my star chart, kicking over the inkpot with his silver-tipped boots, sending the blood spilling across the paper, blotting out my marks. “Come with me,” he says imperiously. “I knew you liked her,” says Locke. “That’s why I had to have her first. Do you remember the party in my maze garden? How I kissed her while you watched?” “I recall that your hands were on her, but her eyes were on me,” Cardan returns. “That’s not true!” I insist, but I remember Cardan on a blanket with a daffodil-haired faerie girl. She pressed her lips to the edge of his boot, and another girl kissed his throat. His gaze had turned to me when one of them began kissing his mouth. His eyes were coal-bright, as wet as tar. The memory comes with the slide of Locke’s palm over my back, heat in my cheeks, and the feeling my skin was too tight, that everything was too much. “Come with me,” Cardan says again, drawing me away from the blood-soaked star chart and the others taking their lessons. “I am a prince of Faerie. You have to do what I want.” He leads me to the dappled shade of an oak tree, then lifts me up so I am seated on a low branch. He keeps his hands on my waist and moves closer, so that he’s standing between my thighs. “Isn’t this better?” he says, gazing up at me. I am not sure what he means, but I nod. “You’re so beautiful.” He begins to trace patterns on my arms, then runs his hands down my sides. “So very beautiful.” His voice is soft, and I make the mistake of looking into his black eyes, at his wicked, curving mouth. “But your beauty will fade,” he continues, just as softly, speaking like a lover. His hands linger, making my stomach tighten and warmth pool in my belly. “This smooth skin will wrinkle and spot. It will become as thin as cobwebs. These breasts will droop. Your hair will grow dull and thin. Your teeth will yellow. And all you have and all you are will rot away to nothing. You will be nothing. You are nothing.” “I’m nothing,” I echo, feeling helpless in the face of his words. “You come from nothing, and it is to nothing you will return,” he whispers against my neck. A sudden panic overtakes me. I need to get away from him. I push off the edge of the branch, but I don’t hit the ground. I just fall and fall and fall through the air, dropping like Alice down the rabbit hole. Then the dream changes. I am on a slab of stone, wrapped in fabric. I try to get up, but I can’t move. It’s as though I am a carved doll made of wood. My eyes are open, but I can’t shift my head, can’t blink, can’t do anything. All I can do is stare at the same cloudless sky, the same sharp scythe of a moon. Madoc comes into view, standing over me, looking down with his cat eyes. “It’s a shame,” he says, as though I am beyond hearing. “If only she stopped fighting me, I would have given her everything she ever wanted.” “She was never an obedient girl,” says Oriana beside him. “Not like her sister.” Taryn is there, too, a delicate tear running over her cheek. “They were only ever going to let one of us survive. It was always going to be me. You’re the sister who spits out toads and snakes. I’m the sister who spits out rubies and diamonds.” The three of them leave. Vivi stands beside me next, pressing her long fingers to my shoulder. “I should have saved you,” Vivi says. “It was always my job to save you.” “My funeral will be next,” Oak whispers a moment later. Nicasia’s voice travels, as though she is speaking from far away. “They say faeries weep at weddings and laugh at funerals, but I thought your wedding and funeral were equally funny.” Then Cardan comes into view, a fond smile on his lips. When he speaks, he does so in a conspiratorial whisper. “When I was a child, we would stage burials, like little plays. The mortals were dead, of course, or at least they were by the end.” At that, I can finally speak. “You’re lying,” I say. “Of course I’m lying,” he returns. “This is your dream. Let me show you.” He presses a warm hand against my cheek. “I love you, Jude. I’ve loved you for a long time. I will never stop loving you.” “Stop it!” I say. Then it’s Locke standing over me, water spilling from his mouth. “Let’s be sure she’s really dead.” A moment later, he plunges a knife into my chest. It goes in over and over and over again. At that, I wake, my face wet with tears and a scream in my throat. I kick off my covers. Outside, it’s dark. I must have slept the whole day away. Flicking on the lights, I take deep breaths, check my brow for fever. I wait for my jangling nerves to settle. The more I think about the dream, the more disturbed I am. I go out to the living room, where I find a pizza box open on the coffee table. Someone has placed dandelion heads beside the pepperoni on a few of the slices. Oak is trying to explain Rocket League to Taryn. Both of them look over at me warily. “Hey,” I say to my twin. “Can I talk to you?” “Sure,” Taryn says, getting up from the couch. I walk back into Oak’s bedroom and perch on the edge of his bed. “I need to know if you came here because you were told to come,” I say. “I need to know if this is a trap set by the High King to lure me into violating the terms of my exile.” Taryn looks surprised, but to her credit, she doesn’t ask me why I would think such a thing. One of her hands goes to her stomach, fingers spreading over her belly. “No,” she says. “But I didn’t tell you everything.” I wait, unsure what she’s talking about. “I’ve been thinking about Mom,” she says finally. “I always thought she left Elfhame because she fell in love with our mortal dad, but now I’m not so sure.” “I don’t understand,” I say. “I’m pregnant,” she says, her voice a whisper. For centuries, mortals have been valued for their ability to conceive faerie children. Our blood is less sluggish than that of the Folk. Faerie women would be fortunate to bear a single child over the course of their long lives. Most never will. But a mortal wife is another matter. I knew all that, and yet it never occurred to me that Taryn and Locke would conceive a child. “Wow,” I say, my gaze going to her hand spread protectively over her stomach. “Oh.” “No one should have the childhood we had,” she says. Had she imagined bringing up a child in that house, with Locke messing with both of their heads? Or was it because she imagined that if she left, he might hunt her down as Madoc hunted down our mother? I am not sure. And I am not sure I should push her, either. Now that I am better rested, I can see in her the signs of exhaustion I missed before. The red-rimmed eyes. A certain sharpness to her features that marks forgetting to eat. I realize that she has come to us because she has nowhere else to go—and she had to believe there was every chance I wouldn’t help her. “Did he know?” I ask finally. “Yes,” she says, and pauses as though she’s recalling that conversation. And possibly the murder. “But I haven’t told anyone else. No one but you. And telling Locke went—well, you already heard how it went.” I don’t know what to say to that, but when she makes a helpless gesture toward me, I come into her arms, leaning my head on her shoulder. I know there are a lot of things I ought to have told her and a lot she ought to have told me. I know we haven’t been kind. I know she’s hurt me, more than she can guess. But for all that, she’s still my sister. My widowed, murderer sister with a baby on the way. An hour later, I am packed and ready to leave. Taryn has drilled me in the details of her day, about the Folk she talks to regularly, about the running of Locke’s estate. She has given me a pair of gloves to disguise my missing finger. She has changed out of her elegant dress of gossamer and spun glass. I am wearing it now, my hair arranged in a rough estimation of hers while she wears my black leggings and sweater. “Thank you,” she says, a thing the Folk never say. Thanks are considered rude, trivializing the complicated dance of debt and repayment. But that’s not what mortals mean by thanking one another. That’s not what they mean at all. Still, I shrug off her words. “No worries.” Oak comes over to be picked up, even though at eight he is all long limbs and gangly boy body. “Squeeze hug,” he says, which means he jumps up and wraps his arms around your neck, half-strangling you. I submit to this and squeeze him back hard, slightly out of breath. Setting him down, I pull off my ruby ring—the one Cardan stole and then returned to me during our exchange of vows. One I can definitely not have with me while posing as Taryn. “Will you keep this safe? Just until I get back.” “I will,” Oak says solemnly. “Come back soon. I’ll miss you.” I am surprised by his sweetness, especially after our last encounter. “Soon as I can,” I promise, pressing a kiss to his brow. Then I go to the kitchen. Vivi is waiting for me. Together, we walk out onto the grass, where she has cultivated a small patch of ragwort. Taryn trails after us, pulling at the sleeve of the sweater she’s wearing. “You’re sure about this?” Vivi asks, plucking a plant at the root. I look at her, shrouded in shadows, her hair lit by the streetlamp. It usually looks brown like mine, but in the right light it is woven through with strands of a gold that is almost green. Vivi has never hungered for Faerie as I have. How can she, when she carries it with her wherever she goes? “You know I’m sure,” I say. “Now, are you going to tell me what happened with Heather?” She shakes her head. “Stay alive if you want to find out.” Then she blows on the ragwort. “Steed, rise and bear my sister where she commands.” By the time the flowering stem falls to the ground, it is already changing into an emaciated yellow pony with emerald eyes and a mane of lacy fronds. It snorts at the air and strikes the ground with its hooves, almost as eager to fly as I am. Locke’s estate is as I remembered it—tall spires and mossy tiles, covered in a thick curtain of honeysuckle and ivy. A hedge maze crosses the grounds in a dizzying pattern. The whole place looks straight out of a fairy tale, the kind where love is a simple thing, never the cause of pain. At night, the human world looks as though it’s full of fallen stars. The words come to me suddenly, what Locke said when we stood together at the top of his tallest tower. I urge the ragwort horse to land, and swing down from its back, leaving it pawing the ground as I head toward the grand front doors. They slide open at my approach. A pair of servants stand just inside, mushroomy skin so pale that their veins are visible, giving them the appearance of a matched set of old marble statues. Small, powdery wings sag from their shoulders. They regard my approach with their cold, inkdrop eyes, recalling to me all at once the inhumanity of the Folk. I take a deep breath and draw myself to my full height. Then I head inside. “Welcome back, my lady,” the female says. They are brother and sister, Taryn informed me. Nera and Neve. Their debt was to Locke’s father, but they were left behind when he departed, to serve out the rest of their time taking care of his son. They snuck around before, staying out of sight, but Taryn forbade them from doing so after she came to live there. In the mortal world, I have become acclimated to thanking people for small services and now have to bite back the words. “It’s good to be home,” I say instead, and sweep past them into the hall. It’s changed from what I remember. Before, the rooms were largely empty, and where they were not, the furniture was old and heavy, the upholstery stiff with age. The long dining table had been bare, as had been the floors. Not anymore. Cushions and rugs, goblets and trays and half-full decanters cover every surface—all of them in a riot of colors: vermilion and umber, peacock blue and bottle green, gold and damson plum. The coverlet of a daybed is smeared with a thin golden powder, perhaps from a recent guest. I frown a moment too long, my reflection mirrored back to me in a polished silver urn. The servants are watching, and I have no cause to study rooms with which I am supposed to be familiar. So I try to smooth out my expression. To hide that I am puzzling out the parts of Taryn’s life she didn’t tell me about. She designed these rooms, I am sure. Her bed in Madoc’s stronghold was always massed with bright pillows. She loves beautiful things. And yet, I cannot miss that this is a place made for bacchanalia, for decadence. She spoke of hosting month-long revels, but only now do I imagine her spread out on the pillows, drunk and laughing and maybe kissing people. Maybe doing more than kissing people. My sister, my twin, was always more lark than grackle, more shy than sensualist. Or at least I thought she was. While I walked the path of daggers and poison, she walked the no-less-fraught path of desire. I turn toward the stairs, unsure that I am going to pull this off after all. I go back over what I know, over the explanation that Taryn and I came up with together for the last time I saw Locke. He had been planning to meet with a selkie, I will say, with whom he was carrying on an affair. It was plausible, after all. And the Undersea had so recently been at odds with the land that I hope Folk will be inclined against them. “Will you take dinner in the grand hall?” Neve asks, trailing behind me. “I’d prefer a tray in my room,” I say, unwilling to eat alone at that long table and be waited on in conspicuous silence. Up I go, fairly sure I recall the way. I open a door with trepidation. For a moment, I think I am in the wrong place, but it is only that Locke’s room has changed, too. The bed is bedecked in curtains embroidered with foxes stalking through tall trees. A low divan sits in front of the bed, where a few gowns are scattered, and a small desk is cluttered with paper and pens. I go to Taryn’s dressing chamber and look at her dresses—a collection less riotous in color than the furnishings she chose, but no less beautiful. I choose a shift and a heavy satin robe to wear over it, then strip off her dress of gossamer and glass. The fabric shivers against my skin. I stand in front of the mirror in her bedroom and comb out my hair. I stare at myself, trying to see what might give me away. I am more muscular, but clothes can hide that. My hair is shorter, but not by much. And then, of course, there’s my temper. “Greetings, Your Majesty,” I say, trying to imagine myself in the High Court again. What would Taryn do? I sink into a low curtsy. “It’s been too long.” Of course, Taryn probably saw him quite recently. For her, it hasn’t been long at all. Panic drums in my chest. I am going to have to do more than answer questions at the inquest. I am going to have to pretend that I am a cordial acquaintance of High King Cardan to his face. I fix myself with a look in the mirror, trying to summon the correct expression of deference, trying not to scowl. “Greetings, Your Majesty, you betraying toad.” No, that wouldn’t work, no matter how good it felt. “Greetings, Your Majesty,” I try again. “I didn’t kill my husband, even though he richly deserved it.” There is a knock on the door, and I startle. Nera has brought a large wooden tray, which he sets on the bed and then departs with a bow, barely making a sound as he goes. On it are toast and a marmalade with a cloying, strange scent that makes my mouth water. It takes longer than it ought for me to realize it’s faerie fruit. And they’ve brought it as though it’s nothing to Taryn, as though she eats it regularly. Did Locke give it to her without her knowing? Or did she take it deliberately, as a sort of recreational blurring of the senses? Once again, I am lost. At least there’s also a pot of nettle tea, soft cheese, and three hard-boiled duck eggs. It’s a simple dinner, other than the weirdness of the faerie fruit. I drink the tea and eat the eggs and toast. The marmalade, I hide in a napkin that I tuck in the very back of the closet. If Taryn finds it moldering weeks from now, well, that’s a small price to pay for the favor she’s getting out of me. I look at the dresses again, try to choose one for the day ahead. Nothing whimsical. My husband is supposed to be dead, and I am supposed to be sad. Unfortunately, while Taryn’s commissions for me were almost entirely black, her own closet is empty of the color. I push past silk and satin, past brocade in the pattern of forests with animals peeking out from between the leaves, and embroidered velvets of sage green and sky blue. Finally, I settle on a dark bronze dress and drag it over to the divan, along with a pair of midnight blue gloves. I rifle through her jewelry box and pull out the earrings I gave her. One a moon, the other a star, crafted by the master smith Grimsen, magicked to make the wearer more beautiful. I itch to sneak out of Locke’s demesne and back into the Court of Shadows. I want nothing more than to visit the Roach and the Bomb, to hear gossip from the Court, to be in those familiar underground rooms. But those rooms are gone—destroyed by the Ghost when he betrayed us to the Undersea. I don’t know where the Court of Shadows operates out of now. And I can’t risk it. Opening the window, I sit at Taryn’s desk and sip nettle tea, drinking in the sharp salt scent of the sea and the wild honeysuckle and the distant breeze through fir trees. I take a deep breath, at home and homesick all at the same time. The inquest is set to happen when the first of the stars is visible in the sky. I arrive at the High Court in Taryn’s bronze dress, with a shawl over my shoulders, gloves on my fingers, and my hair swept into a loose chignon. My heart races, and I hope that no one can sense the nervous sweat starting under my arms. As the High King’s seneschal, I was accorded a certain kind of deference. Although I lived eight years in Elfhame without it, I got very used to it very quickly. As Taryn, I am watched with suspicion when I push my way through a crowd that no longer automatically parts for me. She is the daughter of a traitor, the sister of an outcast, and the suspected murderer of her husband. Their gazes are greedy, as though they hope for the spectacle of her guilt and punishment. But they still are not afraid of her. Even with her alleged crime, they see her as a mortal and weak. Good, I suppose. The weaker she seems, the more believable her innocence. My gaze darts away from the dais even as I move toward it. High King Cardan’s presence seems to infect the very air I breathe. For a wild moment, I consider turning and getting out of there before he spots me. I don’t know if I can do this. I feel a little dizzy. I don’t know if I can look at him and not show on my face any of what I am feeling. I take a deep breath and let it out again, reminding myself that he won’t know I’m the one standing in front of him. He didn’t recognize Taryn when she dressed in my clothes, and he won’t recognize me now. Plus, I tell myself, if you don’t pull this off, you and Taryn are both in a lot of trouble. I am suddenly reminded of all the reasons Vivi told me this was a bad idea. She’s right. This is ridiculous. I am supposed to be exiled until such time as I am pardoned by the crown, on pain of death. It occurs to me that maybe he made a mistake with that phrasing. Maybe I can pardon myself. But then I remember when I insisted I was the Queen of Faerie, and the guards laughed. Cardan didn’t need to deny me. He only had to say nothing. And if I pardoned myself, he would only have to say nothing again. No, if he recognizes me, I will have to run and hide and hope that my training with the Court of Shadows wins out over the training of the guard. But then the Court will know that Taryn is guilty—otherwise, why have me stand in her stead? And if I don’t manage to escape … Idly, I wonder what sort of execution Cardan might order. Maybe he’d strap me to some rocks and let the sea do the work. Nicasia would like that. If he’s not in the mood, though, there’s also beheading, hanging, exsanguination, drawn and quartered, fed whole to a riding toad … “Taryn Duarte,” says a knight, interrupting my morose thoughts. His voice is cold, his chased silver armor marking him as one of Cardan’s personal guard. “Wife of Locke. You must stand in the place of petitioners.” I move there, disoriented at the thought of standing where I had seen so many before when I was the seneschal. Then I remember myself and make the deep curtsy of someone comfortable with submission to the High King’s will. Since I cannot do that while looking at his face, I make sure that I keep my gaze on the ground. “Taryn?” Cardan asks, and the sound of his voice, the familiarity of it, is shocking. With no more excuses, I raise my eyes to his. He is even more horrifically beautiful than I was able to recall. They’re all beautiful, unless they’re hideous. That’s the nature of the Folk. Our mortal minds cannot conceive of them; our memory blunts their power. His every finger sparks with a ring. An etched and jeweled breastplate in polished gold hangs from his shoulders, covering a frothy white shirt. Boots curl up at his toes and rise high over his knees. His tail is visible, curled to one side of his leg. I suppose he has decided it is no longer something he needs to hide. At his brow, of course, is the Blood Crown. He regards me with gold-rimmed black eyes, a smirk hovering at the corners of his mouth. His black hair tumbles around his face, unbound and a little messy, as though he’s recently risen from someone’s bed. I can’t stop marveling at how I once had power over him, over the High King of Faerie. How I once was arrogant enough to believe I could keep it. I remember the slide of his mouth on mine. I remember how he tricked me. “Your Majesty,” I say, because I have to say something and because everything I practiced began with that. “We recognize your grief,” he says, sounding annoyingly regal. “We would not disturb your mourning were it not for questions over the cause of your husband’s death.” “Do you really think she’s sad?” asks Nicasia. She is standing beside a woman it takes me a moment to place: Cardan’s mother, Lady Asha, done up in a silvery dress, jeweled tips covering the points of her horns. Lady Asha’s face has been highlighted in silver as well—silver along her cheekbones and shining on her lips. Nicasia, meanwhile, wears the colors of the sea. Her gown is the green of kelp, deep and rich. Her aqua hair is braided up and adorned with a cunning crown made of fish bones and jaws. At least neither of them is on the dais beside the High King. The position of seneschal appears still to be open. I want to snap at Nicasia, but Taryn wouldn’t, so I don’t. I say nothing, cursing myself for knowing what Taryn wouldn’t do, but being less sure what she would. Nicasia steps closer, and I am surprised to see sorrow in her face. Locke was her friend, once, and her lover. I don’t think he was particularly good at either, but I guess that doesn’t mean she wanted him dead. “Did you kill Locke yourself?” she asks. “Or did you get your sister to do it for you?” “Jude is in exile,” I say, my words coming out dangerously soft instead of the regular kind of soft they were intended to be. “And I’ve never hurt Locke.” “No?” Cardan says, leaning forward on his throne. Vines shiver behind him. His tail twitches. “I lov …” I can’t quite make my mouth say the words, but they are waiting. I force them out and try to force out a little sob, too. “I loved him.” “Sometimes I believed that you did, yes,” Cardan says absently. “But you could well be lying. I am going to put a glamour on you. All it will do is force you to tell us the truth.” He curves his hand, and magic shimmers in the air. I feel nothing. Such is the power of Dain’s geas, I suppose. Not even the High King’s glamour can ensorcell me. “Now,” says Cardan. “Tell me only the truth. What is your name?” “Taryn Duarte,” I say with a curtsy, grateful at how easy the lie comes. “Daughter of Madoc, wife of Locke, subject of the High King of Elfhame.” His mouth curves. “What fine courtly manners.” “I was well instructed.” He ought to know. We were instructed together. “Did you murder Locke?” he asks. Around me, the hum of conversation slows. There are no songs, little laughter, few clinks of cups. The Folk are intent, wondering if I am about to confess. “No,” I say, and give a pointed look to Nicasia. “Nor did I orchestrate his death. Perhaps we ought to look to the sea, where he was found.” Nicasia turns her attention to Cardan. “We know that Jude murdered Balekin. She confessed as much. And I have long suspected her of killing Valerian. If Taryn isn’t the culprit, then Jude must be. Queen Orlagh, my mother, swore a truce with you. What possible gain could she have from the murder of your Master of Revels? She knew he was your friend—and mine.” Her voice breaks at the end, although she tries to mask it. Her grief is obviously genuine. I try to summon tears. It would be useful to cry right now, but standing in front of Cardan, I cannot weep. He peers down at me, black brows drawn together. “Well, what do you think? Did your sister do it? And don’t tell me what I already know. Yes, I sent Jude into exile. That may or may not have deterred her.” I wish I could punch him in his smug face and show him how undeterred I am by his exile. “She had no reason to hate Locke,” I lie. “I don’t think she wished him ill.” “Is that so?” Cardan says. “Perhaps it is only Court gossip, but there is a popular tale about you, your sister, and Locke,” Lady Asha ventures. “She loved him, but he chose you. Some sisters cannot bear to see the other happy.” Cardan glances at his mother. I wonder what has drawn her to Nicasia, unless it is only that they are both awful. And I wonder what Nicasia makes of her. Orlagh might be a ferocious and terrifying Queen of the Undersea, and I never want to spend another moment in her presence, but I believe she cherishes Nicasia. Surely Nicasia would expect more of Cardan’s mother than the thin gruel of emotion she has served her son. “Jude never loved Locke.” My face feels hot, but my shame is an excellent cover to hide behind. “She loved someone else. He’s the one she’d want dead.” I am pleased to see Cardan flinch. “Enough,” he says before I can go on. “I have heard all I care to on this subject—” “No!” Nicasia interrupts, causing everyone under the hill to stir a little. It is immense presumption to interrupt the High King. Even for a princess. Especially for an ambassador. A moment after she speaks, she seems to realize it, but she goes on anyway. “Taryn could have a charm on her, something that makes her resistant to glamours.” Cardan gives Nicasia a scathing look. He does not like her undermining his authority. And yet, after a moment, his anger gives way to something else. He gives me one of his most awful smiles. “I suppose she’ll have to be searched.” Nicasia’s mouth curves to match his. It feels like being back at lessons on the palace grounds, conspired against by the children of the Gentry. I recall the more recent humiliation of being crowned the Queen of Mirth, stripped in front of revelers. If they take my gown now, they will see the bandages on my arms, the fresh slashes on my skin for which I have no good explanation. They will guess I am not Taryn. I can’t let that happen. I summon all the dignity I can muster, trying to imitate my stepmother, Oriana, and the way she projects authority. “My husband was murdered,” I say. “And whether or not you believe me, I do mourn him. I will not make a spectacle of myself for the Court’s amusement when his body is barely cold.” Unfortunately, the High King’s smile only grows. “As you wish. Then I suppose I will have to examine you alone in my chambers.” I am furious as I walk through the corridors of the palace, steps behind Cardan, followed by his guard to keep me from trying to slip away. My choices now are not good. He will take me back to his enormous chambers and then what? Will he force a guard to hold me and divest me of anything that might protect me from glamour—jewelry, clothing—until I am stripped bare? If so, he cannot fail to notice my scars, scars he has seen before. And if he peels off my gloves, there can be no doubt. The missing half digit will give me away. If I am undressed, he will know me. I am going to have to make a break for it. There’s the secret passageway in his rooms. From there, I can get out through one of the crystal windows. I glance at the guards. If they were dismissed, I could get past Cardan, through the secret passageway, and out. But how to get rid of them? I consider the smile Cardan wore on the dais when he announced what he was going to do to me. Maybe he wants to see Taryn naked. He desired me, after all, and Taryn and I are identical. Perhaps if I volunteer to undress myself, he’ll agree to dismiss his guard. He did say he’d examine me alone. Which leads me to an even more daring thought. Maybe I could distract him thoroughly enough that he wouldn’t know me at all. Perhaps I could blow out the candles and be naked only in the half light. … Those thoughts occupy me so completely that I barely notice a hooved servant carrying a tray supporting a carafe of a pale celery-green wine and a collection of blown-glass goblets. She is coming from the opposite direction, and when we pass, the tray digs into my side. She gives a cry, I feel a shove, and we both tumble to the floor, glass shattering around us. The guards halt. Cardan turns. I look over at the girl, baffled and surprised. My dress is soaked with wine. The Folk are seldom clumsy, and this doesn’t feel like an accident. Then the girl’s fingers touch one of my gloved hands. I feel the press of leather and steel against the inside of my wrist. She is pushing a sheathed knife up my sleeve under cover of cleaning up the spilled contents of the tray. Her head dips close to mine as she brushes shards of glass from my hair. “Your father is coming for you,” she whispers. “Wait for a signal. Then stab the guard closest to the door and run.” “What signal?” I whisper back, pretending to help her sweep up the debris. “Oh no, my lady, your pardon,” she says in a normal voice with a bob of her head. “You ought not lower yourself.” One of the High King’s personal guard catches my arm. “Come along,” he says, lifting me to my feet. I press my hands to my heart to keep the knife from slipping out my sleeve. I resume my walk toward Cardan’s rooms, my thoughts thrown into even more confusion. Madoc is coming to save Taryn. It’s a reminder that while I am no longer in his good graces, she helped him wriggle out of his vows of service to the High King. She gave him half an army. I wonder what plans he has for her, what rewards he’s promised. I imagine he will be pleased to have her no longer encumbered with Locke. But when Madoc comes, what’s his plan? Whom is he expecting to fight? And what will he do when he comes for her and finds me instead? Two servants open heavy double doors to the High King’s chambers, and he goes inside, throwing himself down on a low couch. I follow, standing awkwardly in the middle of the carpet. None of the guards so much as enter his chambers. As soon as I step over the threshold, the doors shut behind me, this time with a grim finality. I don’t have to worry