But try as I might, I couldn’t remember from where. The memory taunted me, keeping just out of reach, a gaping hole where the image should be. But the melody, mysterious and devastatingly familiar, pulled at my insides, filling me with sadness and a gaping sense of loss.

Tears flowing freely down my skin, I watched Charles’s lean shoulders rise and fall with the chords, his head so low it almost touched the keys. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought his cheeks were wet, too.

When the last note died away, neither of us moved for several heartbeats. Charles sat there, his fingers resting on the final keys, breathing hard. My mind was still spinning in circles, trying to remember the tune. But the longer I sat there, trying to recall it, the farther it slipped away, vanishing into the walls and carpet, until only the instruments remembered it at all.

Charles finally pushed the seat back and rose, and I stood with him, feeling faintly guilty for eavesdropping.

“That was beautiful,” I said as he turned. He blinked, obviously surprised to see me there, but he didn’t startle or jump. “What was the name of the song?”

The question seemed to confuse him. He frowned and cocked his head, furrowing his brow as if trying to understand me. Then a sorrowful expression crossed his face, and he shrugged. “I don’t remember.”

I felt a pang of disappointment. “Oh.”

“But…” He paused, running his fingers along the ivory keys, a faraway look in his eyes. “I seem to recall it was a favorite of mine. Long ago. I think.” He blinked, and his eyes focused on me again. “Do you know what it’s called?”

I shook my head.

“Oh. That’s too bad.” He sighed, pouting a bit. “The rats said you might remember.”

Okay, now it was time to leave. I stood, but before I could make my escape, the door creaked open, and Warren entered the room.

“Oh, hey, Meghan.” He licked his lips, eyes darting about in a nervous fashion. One hand was tucked into his jacket, hiding it from view. “I…um…I’m looking for Puck. Is he here?”

Something about him put me off. I shifted uncomfortably and crossed my arms. “No. I think he’s in the library with Ironhorse.”

“Good.” He stepped in farther, pulling his hand out of his jacket. The lights gleamed along the black barrel of a gun as he raised the muzzle and pointed it at me. I went stiff with shock, and Warren glanced over his shoulder. “Okay,” he called, “coast is clear.”

The door swung open, and a half-dozen redcaps poured into the room behind him. The one with the fishhook in his nose, Razor Dan, stepped forward and leered at me with a mouthful of jagged teeth.

“You sure this is the one, half-breed?”

Warren smirked. “I’m sure,” he replied, never taking the gun, or his eyes, off me. “The Iron King will reward us handsomely for this, you have my word.”

“Bastard,” I hissed at Warren, making the redcaps snicker. “Traitor. Why are you doing this? Leanansidhe gives you everything.”

“Oh, come on.” Warren sneered and shook his head. “You act like it’s a total shock that I want something better than this.” He gestured around the foyer with his free hand.

“Being a minion in Leanansidhe’s sorry refugee cult hasn’t exactly been my life goal, Princess. So I’m a little bitter, yeah. But the new Iron King is offering half-breeds and exiles part of the Nevernever and a chance to kick the pure-blooded asses of all the dicks who stomped on us if we just do him a teensy favor and find you. And you were nice enough to drop into my lap.”

“You’ll never get away with it,” I told him desperately. “Puck and Ironhorse will come looking for me. And Leanansidhe—”

“By the time Leanansidhe gets back, we’ll be long gone,” Warren interrupted. “And the rest of Dan’s crew is taking care of Goodfellow and the iron monster, so they’re a little busy at the moment. I’m afraid that no one is coming to your rescue, Princess.”

“Warren,” snapped Razor Dan with an impatient glare. “We don’t have time to gloat, you idiot. Shoot the crazy and let’s get out of here before Leanansidhe comes back.”

My stomach clenched tight. Warren rolled his eyes, swinging the barrel of the gun around to Charles. Charles stiffened, seeming to grasp what was happening as Warren gave him a crooked leer.

“Sorry, Charles,” he muttered, and the gun filled my vision, cold, black and steely. I saw the opening of the barrel like Edgebriar’s iron ring, and felt a buzzing beneath my skin. “It’s nothing personal. You just got in the way.”

Tighten, I thought at the pistol barrel, just as Warren pulled the trigger. A roar shattered the air as the gun exploded in Warren’s hand, sending the half-satyr stumbling back. Screaming, he dropped the mangled remains of the weapon and clutched his hand to his chest as the smell of smoke and burning flesh filled the room. The redcaps stared wide-eyed at Warren as he collapsed to his knees, wailing and shaking his charred hand. “What are you waiting for?” he screamed at them, his voice half shout and half sob. “Kill the crazy and get the girl!”

The redcap closest to me snarled and lunged. I shrank back, but Charles suddenly stepped between us. Before the redcap could dodge, he grabbed a cello off the wall and smashed it down over its head. The instrument let out a shriek, as if in pain, and the redcap crumpled the floor.

Razor Dan sighed.

“All right, lads,” he growled, as I grabbed Charles’s hand and pulled him back behind the piano. “All together now. Get them!”


Behind them, the door burst open with a furious roar, and two redcaps were hurled through the air, landing face-first into the wall. The pack spun around, their eyes going wide as Ironhorse barreled into them, swinging his huge fists and bellowing at the top of his lungs. Several redcaps went flying and the rest swarmed him with bloodthirsty cries, biting at his arms and legs. They fell back, shrieking in pain, teeth shattered, mouths blackened and raw. Ironhorse continued to hurl them away like he’d gone berserk.

“Hey, Princess.” Puck appeared beside me, grinning from ear to ear.

“Grimalkin said you were having redcap trouble. We’re here to help, although I must say Rusty is doing fine on his own.” He ducked as a redcap flew overhead, landing with a crunch against the wall. “I’ll have to remember to keep him around. He’d be great fun at parties, don’t you think?”

The redcap Ironhorse had thrown into the wall staggered to his feet, looking dazed. Seeing us, he bared a mouthful of broken teeth and tensed to lunge. Puck grinned and pulled out his dagger, but there was an explosion of light between them, and a ringing voice filled the hallway.

“Everyone freeze!”

We froze.

“Well,” Leanansidhe said, striding over to me and Puck. “Turns out this game was a rousing success. Although, I must say, I was hoping to be surprised. It gets rather boring when you’re right about everything.”

“L-Leanansidhe,” Razor Dan stammered, all the blood draining from his face as she regarded him with her fearsome smile. “H-how…? You’re supposed to be in Nashville.”

“Dan, darling.” Leanansidhe shook her head and tsked. “Did you really think I was blind to what was going on? In my own house? I know the rumors circulating the streets, pet. I know the Iron King has been offering rewards for the girl. I had the feeling there was a traitor in my house, a so-called agent of the Iron King. What better way to flush him out than to leave him alone with the princess and wait for him to make his move? Your kind is so very predictable, darling.”

“We…” Dan glanced around at his crew, clearly looking for someone else to blame. “This wasn’t our idea, Leanansidhe.”

“Oh, I know, darling. You’re too dull to organize something like this. Which is why I’m not going to punish you.”

“Really?” Dan relaxed a bit.

“Really?” I blurted, looking up at her. “But they attacked me! And they were going to kill Charles! You’re not going to do anything about that?”

“They were only following their base instincts, pet.” Leanansidhe smiled at me. “I expected nothing less of them. What I really want is the mastermind. Why don’t you stick around…Warren.”

We all turned to where Warren was trying to sneak down the corridor without being seen. He froze, wincing at the sound of his name, and gave Leanansidhe a feeble smile.

“Leanansidhe, I…I can explain.”

“Oh, I’m sure you can, darling.” Leanansidhe’s voice made my stomach curl.

“And you will. We’re going to have a little chitchat, and you’re going to tell me everything you know about the Iron King and the scepter. You’re going to sing, darling. Sing as you’ve never sung before, I promise.”

“Come on,” Puck told me, taking my elbow. “You don’t want to hear this, Princess, trust me. Lea will give us the information when she has it.”

“Charles,” I said, and he turned from Leanansidhe to me, his eyes blank and empty once more. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

“Pretty lady’s sparkly,” Charles muttered. I sighed.

“Yeah,” I said sadly, taking his hand. “She is.”

With Ironhorse glowering and Puck leading the way, we fled the music room and Leanansidhe’s presence, leaving Warren to his fate.


Royal Treatment

“A software corporation?” Puck repeated, brow furrowing. “Really. That’s where they’ve been hiding it all this time?”

“Apparently, darling.” Leanansidhe leaned back in her chair, crossing her long legs. “Remember, the Iron fey aren’t like us. They’re not going to be hanging around parks and museums, singing to flowers. They like high-tech places that attract the cold, calculating mortals we care so little for.”

I shared a glance with Puck. We’d been talking about that strange, cold glamour I’d used on the gun before Leanansidhe came in. Though we were only guessing, we’d both come to the conclusion that it had indeed been iron glamour that I’d used on Warren, and that Leanansidhe, with her obvious hate and contempt for the Iron fey, definitely should not know about it yet.

I wished I knew more about it. I had the feeling this had never happened in the faery world before, that I was a first, and there was no expert to talk to. Why did I have iron glamour? Why could I use it sometimes and not others? Too many questions, and no answers. I sighed and decided to focus on the problem at hand, instead of the one I had no hope of unraveling yet.

“What’s the name of this place?” I asked Leanansidhe, not pointing out that I was one of those cold, calculating mortals who liked gadgets and computers and high-tech. I still missed my poor drowned iPod, the victim of a river crossing the first time I came to Faery, and this was the longest I’d ever gone without television. If I ever got back to having a normal life, I’d have a lot to catch up on.

Tags: Julie Kagawa The Iron Fey Book Series
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