Home > The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey #2)(2)

The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey #2)(2)
Author: Julie Kagawa

“Hey!”

I spun around, but the cat was no longer a cat. Tiaothin the phouka stood there, grinning at me, canines glinting. Of course. It would be the phouka; they didn’t follow social rules. In fact, they seemed to take great pleasure in breaking them. Furred ears peeked out of her dreadlocked hair, twitching sporadically. She wore a gaudy jacket that sparkled with fake gems and studs, ripped jeans and combat boots. Unlike the Seelie Court, the Unseelie fey actually preferred “mortal” clothing. Whether it was in direct defiance of the Seelie Court, or because they wanted to blend in more with humans, I wasn’t sure.

“What do you want?” I asked cautiously. Tiaothin had taken a keen interest in me when I was brought to court, the insatiable curiosity of a phouka, I suppose. We’d talked a few times, but she wasn’t exactly what I’d call a friend. The way she stared at me, unblinking, like she was sizing me up for her next meal, always made me nervous. The phouka hissed, running her tongue along her teeth. “You’re not ready,”

she said in her sibilant voice, looking me over skeptically. “Hurry. Hurry and change. We should go, quickly.”

I frowned. Tiaothin had always been difficult to understand, bouncing from one subject to the next so quickly it was hard to keep up. “Go where?” I asked, and she giggled.

“The queen,” Tiaothin purred, flicking her ears back and forth. “The queen has called for you.”

My stomach twisted into a tight ball. Ever since I’d come to the Winter Court with Ash, I’d been dreading this moment. When we’d first arrived at the palace, the queen regarded me with a predatory smile and dismissed me, saying that she wished to speak to her son alone and would call for me soon. Of course, “soon” was a relative term in Faery, and I’d been on pins and needles ever since, waiting for Mab to remember me. That was also the last time I saw Ash.

Thinking of Ash sent a flutter through my stomach, reminding me how much had changed. When I first came to Faery, searching for my kidnapped brother, Ash had been the enemy, the cold, dangerous son of Mab, Queen of the Unseelie Court. When war threatened the courts, Mab sent Ash to capture me, hoping to use me as leverage against my father, King Oberon. But, frantic to save my brother, I made a bargain with the Winter prince, instead: if he helped me rescue Ethan, I would return with him to the Unseelie Court without a fight. At that point, it was a desperate gamble; I needed all the help I could get to face down the Iron King and save my brother. But, somewhere in that blasted wasteland of dust and iron, watching Ash battle the realm that was poisoning his very essence, I realized I was in love with him.

Ash had gotten me there, but he almost didn’t survive his brush with Machina. The King of the Iron fey was insanely strong, almost invincible. Against all odds, I managed to defeat Machina, rescue my brother, and take him home. That night as per our contract, Ash came for me. It was time to honor my end of the bargain. Leaving my family behind once more, I followed Ash into Tir Na Nog, the land of Winter.

The journey through Tir Na Nog was cold, dark, and terrifying. Even with the Winter prince at my side, Faery was still savage and inhospitable, especially to humans. Ash was the perfect bodyguard, dangerous, alert and protective, but he seemed distant at times, distracted. And the farther we went into Winter, the more he drew away, sealing himself off from me and the world. And he wouldn’t tell me why.

On the last night of our journey we were attacked. A monstrous wolf, sent by Oberon himself, tracked us down, intent on killing Ash and spiriting me back to the Summer Court. We managed to escape, but Ash was wounded fighting the creature, so we took refuge in an abandoned ice cave to rest and bind his wounds.

He was silent as I wrapped a makeshift bandage around his arm, but I could feel his eyes on me as I tied it off. Releasing his arm, I looked up to meet his silvery gaze. Ash blinked slowly, giving me that look that meant he was trying to figure me out. I waited, hoping I would finally glean some insight into his sudden aloofness.

“Why didn’t you run?” he asked softly. “If that thing had killed me, you wouldn’t have to come back to Tir Na Nog. You would’ve been free.”

I scowled at him.

“I agreed to that contract, same as you,” I muttered, tying off the bandage with a jerk, but Ash didn’t even grunt. Angry now, I glared up at him, meeting his eyes. “What, you think just because I’m human I was going to back out? I knew what I was getting into, and I am going to uphold my end of the bargain, no matter what happens. And if you think I’d leave you just so I wouldn’t have to meet Mab, then you don’t know me at all.”

“It’s because you’re human,” Ash continued in that same quiet voice, holding my gaze, “that you missed a tactical opportunity. A Winter fey in your position wouldn’t have come back. They wouldn’t let their emotions get in the way. If you’re going to survive in the Unseelie Court, you have to start thinking like them.”

“Well, I’m not like them.” I rose and took a step back, trying to ignore the feeling of hurt and betrayal, the stupid angry tears pressing at the corners of my eyes. “I’m not a Winter faery. I’m human, with human feelings and emotions. And if you want me to apologize for that, you can forget it. I can’t just shut off my feelings like you can.”

I whirled to stalk away in a huff, but Ash rose with blinding speed and gripped my upper arms. I stiffened, locking my knees and keeping my back straight, but struggling with him would have been useless. Even wounded and bleeding, he was much stronger than me.

   
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