“Not if they know what’s good for them, darling. And you’re not eating anything. Eat.” She gestured at the food, and I suddenly realized how hungry I was. I reached for a platter of tiny frosted cakes, too hungry to care about glamours or enchantments anymore. If I was munching on a toadstool or a grasshopper, so be it. Ignorance is bliss.
“While you’re here,” Leanansidhe continued, smiling as we ate, “you leave all personal vendettas behind. That’s my other rule. I can easily deny them sanctuary, and then where will they be? Back in the mortal realm, dying slowly or fighting it out with the Iron fey who are gradually infesting every town and city in the world. No offense, darling,” she added, smiling at Ironhorse, implying the exact opposite. Staring blindly at the table, Ironhorse didn’t respond. He wasn’t eating anything, and I figured he either didn’t want to be indebted to Leanansidhe, or he didn’t eat regular food. Thankfully, Leanansidhe didn’t seem to notice.
“Most choose not to take the risk,” she went on, stabbing her cigarette holder in the direction the redcaps had fled. “Take the minions, for example. Every so often, one will poke his nose back in the mortal realm, get it hacked off by some goblin mercenary, and come crawling back to me. Exiles, half-breeds and outcasts alike. I’m their only safe haven between the Nevernever and the mortal world.”
“Which begs the question,” Puck asked, almost too casually. “Where are we, anyway?”
“Ah, pet.” Leanansidhe smiled at him, but it was a frightening thing, cold and vicious. “I was wondering when you would ask that. And if you think you should run and tattle on me to your masters, don’t bother. I’ve done nothing wrong. I haven’t broken my exile. This is my realm, yes, but Titania can relax. It doesn’t intrude upon hers in any way.”
“Okay, totally not the question I asked.” Puck paused with an apple in hand, raising an eyebrow. “And I think I’m even more alarmed now. Where are we, Lea?”
“The Between, darling.” Leanansidhe leaned back, sipping her wine. “The veil between the Nevernever and the mortal realm. Surely you’ve realized that by now.”
Both Puck’s eyebrows shot up into his hair. “The Between? The Between is full of nothing, or so I was led to believe. Those who get stuck Between usually go insane in very short order.”
“Yes, I’ll admit, it was difficult to work with at first.” Leanansidhe waved her hand airily. “But, enough about me, darlings. Let’s talk about you.” She took a drag on her cigarette and blew a smoky fish over the table. “Why were you tromping around the Briars when my streetrats found you? I thought you were looking for the Scepter of the Seasons, and you certainly won’t find it down there, darlings. Unless you think Bellatorallix is sitting on it.”
I started. Ironhorse jerked up, sending a bowl of grapes clattering to the floor. Brownies appeared from nowhere, scurrying to recover the lost fruit as it rolled about the tile. Leanansidhe raised a slender eyebrow and took another drag on her cigarette as we recovered.
“You knew?” I stared at her, as the brownies set the bowl on the table again and scampered off. “You knew about the scepter?”
“Darling, please.” Leanansidhe gave me a half scornful, half patronizing look.
“I know everything that happens within the courts. I find it unforgivable to be so out of the loop, and it’s terribly boring here otherwise. My informants clue me in on all the important details.”
“Spies, you mean,” Puck said.
“Such a dirty word, darling.” Leanansidhe tsked at him. “And it doesn’t matter now. What matters is what I can tell you. I know the scepter was stolen from under Mab’s nose, I know Summer and Winter are about to go to a bloody war over it, and I know that the scepter is not in the Nevernever but in the mortal realm. And—” she took a long drag on her cigarette and sent a hawk soaring over our heads “—I can help you find it.”
I was instantly suspicious, and I could tell Ironhorse and Puck felt the same.
“Why?” I demanded. “What’s in it for you?”
Leanansidhe looked at me, and a shadow crept into her voice, making it dark and ominous. “Darling, I’ve seen what’s been happening in the mortal realm. Unlike Oberon and Mab, who hide in their safe little courts, I know the reality pressing in on us from every side. The Iron fey are getting stronger. They’re everywhere: in computers, crawling out of television screens, massing in factories. I have more exiles under my roof now than I’ve had in the past century. They’re terrified, unwilling to walk in the mortal realm any longer, because the Iron fey are tearing them apart.”
I shuddered, and Ironhorse had gone very still. Leanansidhe paused, and nothing could be heard except the faint skittering of things unseen in the pressing darkness.
“If Summer and Winter go to war, and the Iron fey attack, there will be nothing left. If the Iron fey win, the Nevernever will become uninhabitable. I don’t know what that will do to the Between, but I’m sure it will be quite fatal for me. So you see, darling,”
Leanansidhe said, taking a sip of wine, “it would be advantageous for me to help you. And since I have eyes and ears everywhere within the mortal realm, it would be prudent of you to accept.”
Ironhorse shifted, then spoke for the first time. To his credit, he tried to keep his voice down, but even then it echoed around the room. “YOUR OFFER IS
APPRECIATED,” he rumbled, “BUT WE ALREADY KNOW WHERE THE SCEPTER IS
“Do you now?” Leanansidhe shot him a vicious smile. “Where?”
“Lovely. Where in Silicon Valley, pet?”
A pause. “I DO NOT—”
“And how do you plan on getting to the scepter once you find it, darling?
Walk in the front door?”
Ironhorse glowered at her. “I WILL FIND A WAY.”
“I see.” Leanansidhe gave him a scornful look. “Well, let me tell you what I know about Silicon Valley, pet, so the princess has an idea of what she’s up against. It’s the gremlins’ spawning ground. You know, those nasty little things that crawl out of computers and other machines. There are literally thousands of them down there, perhaps hundreds of thousands, as well as some very powerful Iron fey who would turn you into bloody strips as soon as look at you. You go down there without a plan, darling, and you’re walking into a death trap. Besides, you’re already too late.” Leanansidhe snapped her fingers, holding out her glass for more wine. “I’ve been keeping tabs on the scepter’s movements ever since I heard it was stolen. It was being held in a large office building in San Jose, but my spies tell me it’s been moved. Apparently, someone already tried to get in and steal it back, but didn’t quite succeed. Now, the building has been cleared out, and the scepter is gone.”
“Ash,” I whispered, glancing at Puck. “It had to be Ash.” Puck looked doubtful, so I turned back to Leanansidhe, a cold desperation spreading through my stomach.
“What happened to him, the one who tried to take the scepter? Where is he now?”
“I’ve no idea, pet. Ash, you say? Am I right in assuming this is Mab’s Ash, the darling of the Unseelie Court?”
“We have to find him!” I stood up, causing Puck and Ironhorse to blink at me. “He could be in trouble. He needs our help.” I turned to Leanansidhe. “Could you get your spies to look for him?”
“I could, dove.” Leanansidhe twiddled her cigarette lighter. “But I’m afraid I have more important things to find. We’re after the scepter, remember, darling? The prince of the Winter Court, scrumptious though he is, will have to wait.”
“Ash is fine, Princess,” Puck added, dismissing the idea immediately. “He can take care of himself.”
I sat back down, anger and worry flooding my brain. What if Ash wasn’t fine? What if he’d been captured, and they were torturing him, like they had in Machina’s realm? What if he was hurt, lying in a gutter somewhere, waiting for me? I became so worked up over Ash, I barely heard what Puck and Leanansidhe were discussing, and a small part of me didn’t care.
“What do you suggest, Lea?” This from Puck.
“Let my people search the valley. I know a sluah who is simply fabulous at finding things that don’t want to be found. I’ve sent for him today. In the meantime, I have all my minions scouring the streets, keeping their heads down and their ears to the ground. They’ll turn up something, eventually.”
“Eventually?” I glared at her. “What are we supposed to do until then?”
Leanansidhe smiled and blew me a smoke rabbit. “I suggest you get comfortable, darling.”
It wasn’t a request.
Charles and the Redcaps
I hate waiting. I hate standing around with nothing to do, cooling my heels until someone gives me the go-ahead to move. I hated it while I was at the Winter Court, and I certainly didn’t like it now, in Leanansidhe’s mansion, waiting for complete strangers to bring word of the missing scepter. To make things worse, there were no clocks anywhere in the mansion and, even weirder, no windows to see the outside world. Also, as most faeries did, Leanansidhe hated technology, so that of course meant no television, computers, phones, video games, anything to make time pass more quickly. Not even a radio, although the crazy humans wandering the mansion would often spontaneously burst into song, or start playing some kind of instrument, so the house was never without noise. The few exiled fey I saw either fled my presence or nervously told me that I was not to be bothered, Leanansidhe’s orders. I felt like a mouse trapped in some kind of bizarro labyrinth. Add in my constant worry for Ash, and it started to drive me as crazy as Leanansidhe’s collection of gifted but insane mortals. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one going nuts.
“THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE,” Ironhorse announced one day—night?—as we lounged in the library, a red-carpeted room with a stone fireplace and bookshelves that soared to the ceiling. With an impressive collection of novels and mostly fashion magazines at my fingertips, I managed to keep myself entertained during the long hours that we waited for Leanansidhe’s spies to turn something up. Today, I was curled on the couch with King’s The Dark Tower series, but it was difficult to concentrate with a restless, impatient Iron faery in the same room. Puck had vanished earlier, probably tormenting the staff or getting into some kind of trouble, and Grimalkin was with Leanansidhe, swapping favors and gossip, which left me alone with Ironhorse, who was getting on my last nerve. He was never still. Even in a human body, he acted like a flighty racehorse, pacing the room and tossing his head so that his dreadlocks clanked against his shoulders. I noticed that even though he wore boots, he still left hoof-shaped burn marks in the carpet, before the glamour of the mansion could smooth it out again.
“PRINCESS,” he said, coming around the couch to kneel in front of me,