Home > The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey #2)(5)

The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey #2)(5)
Author: Julie Kagawa

Tiaothin ambled through the crowds of Unseelie fey, who paid her little attention. Most of their interest was directed at me as I followed, my heart thudding against my ribs. I felt the hungry stares, the eager grins and the eyes on the back of my neck, and concentrated on keeping my head up and my step confident. Nothing attracts faeries more than fear. A sidhe noble with a face that was all sharp angles caught my gaze and smiled, and my heart contracted painfully. He reminded me of Ash, who wasn’t here, who had left me alone in this court of monsters.

The Winter Queen’s chill grew more pronounced the closer we got; soon it was so cold it hurt to breathe. Tiaothin reached the foot of the throne and bowed. I did the same, though it was hard to do so without my teeth chattering. The Unseelie fey crowded behind us, their breath and murmuring voices making my skin crawl.

“Meghan Chase.” The queen’s voice rasped over the assembly, making my hair stand on end. Tiaothin slunk away and disappeared into the crowd, leaving me truly alone.

“How good of you to join us.”

“It’s an honor to be here, my lady,” I replied, using every ounce of my willpower to keep my voice from shaking. A tremor slipped out anyway, and not just from the cold. Mab smiled, amused, and leaned back, observing me with emotionless black eyes. Silence fell for a few heartbeats.

“So.” The queen tapped her nails with a rhythmic clicking sound, making me jump. “Here we are. You must think you are very clever, daughter of Oberon.”

“I—I’m sorry?” I stammered, as an icy fist gripped my heart. This wasn’t starting well, not at all.

“You’re not,” Mab continued, giving me a patient smile. “But you will be. Make no mistake about that.” She leaned forward, looking utterly inhuman, and I fought the urge to run screaming from the throne room. “I have heard of your exploits, Meghan Chase,”

the queen rasped, narrowing her eyes. “Did you not think I would find out? You tricked a prince of the Unseelie Court into following you into the Iron Realm. You made him fight your enemies for you. You bound him to a contract that nearly killed him. My precious boy, almost lost to me forever, because of you. How do you think that makes me feel?” Mab’s smile grew more predatory, as my stomach twisted in fear. What could she do to me? Encase me in ice?

Freeze me from the inside out? Chill my blood so I would never be warm again, no matter what I wore or how hot it became? I shivered, but then noticed a faint shimmer, like heat waves, around me, and suddenly realized Mab was tinting the air with glamour, manipulating my emotions and letting me imagine the worst fate possible. She didn’t have to threaten or say anything; I was terrifying myself quite well.

In a lucid moment of distraction, I wondered if Ash had done the same to my emotions, manipulating me into falling for him. If Mab could do it, I’m sure her sons had the same talent. Were my feelings for Ash real, or some sort of fabricated glamour?

Now’s not the time to wonder about that, Meghan!

Mab stared at me, gauging my reaction. I still shook in fear, but a part of me knew what the queen was doing. If I lost it and begged for mercy, I would find myself trapped in a faery contract before I knew what was happening. Promises are deadly serious among the fey, and I wasn’t going to let Mab strong-arm me into pledging something I would instantly regret.

I took a furtive breath to collect my thoughts, so that when I did answer the Queen of the Winter fey, I wouldn’t start bawling like a two-year-old.

“Forgive me, Queen Mab,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “I meant no harm to you or yours. I needed Ash’s help to rescue my brother from the Iron King.”

At the mention of the Iron King, the Unseelie fey behind me stirred and growled, glancing around warily. I felt hackles rise, teeth bare and claws unsheathe. For normal faeries, iron was deadly poison, draining their magic and burning their flesh. An entire kingdom made of iron was horrible and terrifying to them; a faery ruler called the Iron King was blasphemous. For a moment, I had the satisfying thought that the Iron fey had become the bogeys and bogeymen of the faery world, and bit down a vindictive smile.

“I would name you a liar, girl,” Mab said calmly, as the growls and mutterings behind me died down, “if I had not heard the same from my son’s own lips. Rest assured, the Iron King’s minions are no threat to us. Even now, Ash and his brothers are scouring our territory for these Iron fey. If the abominations are within our borders, we will hunt them down and destroy them.”

I felt a rush of relief, but not because of Mab’s claim. Ash was out there. He had a reason not to be at court.

“And yet…” Mab regarded me with a look that made my stomach squirm. “I cannot help but wonder how you managed to survive. Perhaps Summer is in league with the Iron fey, plotting with them against the Winter Court. That would be terribly amusing, wouldn’t it, Meghan Chase?”

“No,” I said softly. In my mind’s eye, I saw the Iron King, reeling back as I drove the arrow through his chest, and clenched my fists to stop them from shaking. I could still see Machina writhing in pain, felt something cold and serpentine slithering under my skin.

“The Iron King was going to destroy Summer as well as Winter. He’s dead, now. I killed him.”

Mab narrowed her eyes to black slits. “And you would have me believe that you, a half-human with virtually no power, managed to kill the Iron King?”

“Believe her,” a new voice rang out, making my stomach twist and my heart jump to my throat. “I was there. I saw what happened.”

   
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