Chapter no 28

The Cruel Prince

The Ghost is up when we return. He had been out and brought back with him a handful of tiny apples, some dried venison, fresh butter, and several dozen more bottles of wine. He’s also brought down a few pieces of furniture I recognize from the palace—a silk-embroidered divan, satin cushions, a shimmering spider-silk throw, and a chalcedony set of tea things.

He looks up from the divan where he is sitting, appearing both tense and exhausted. I think he’s grieving, but not in a human way. “Well? I believe I was promised gold.”

“What if I could promise you revenge?” I ask, conscious once again of the weight of debts already on my shoulders.

He trades a look with the Bomb. “So she really does have a scheme.”

The Bomb settles herself on a cushion. “A secret, which is far better than a scheme.”

I grab an apple, go to the table, and then hoist myself onto it. “We’re going to walk right into Balekin’s feast and steal his kingdom out from under him. How’s that for vengeance?”

Bold, that’s what I need to be. Like I own the place. Like I am the general’s daughter. Like I can really pull this off.

The corner of the Ghost’s mouth turns up. He takes out four silver cups from the cupboard and sets them before me. “Drink?”

I shake my head, watching him pour. He returns to the divan but rests at the edge as though he’s going to have to jump up in a moment. He takes a big swallow of wine.

“You spoke of the murder of Dain’s unborn child,” I say.

The Ghost nods. “I saw your face when Cardan spoke of Liriope and when

you understood my part in it.”

“It surprised me,” I say honestly. “I wanted to think Dain was different.”

Cardan snorts and takes the silver cup that was meant for me as well as his own.

“Murder is a cruel trade,” says the Ghost. “I believe Dain would have been as fair a High King as any prince of the Folk, but my father was mortal. He would not have considered Dain to be good. He would not have considered me good, either. You’d do well to decide how much you care for goodness before you go too far down the road of spycraft.”

He’s probably right, but there’s little time for me to consider it now. “You don’t understand,” I tell him. “Liriope’s child lived.”

He turns to the Bomb, clearly astonished. “That’s the secret?” She nods, a little smug. “That’s the scheme.”

The Ghost gives her a long look and then turns his gaze to me. “I don’t want to find a new position. I want to stay here and serve the next High King. So, yes, let’s steal the kingdom.”

“We don’t need to be good,” I tell the Ghost. “But let’s try to be fair. As fair as any prince of Faerie.”

The Ghost smiles.

“And maybe a little fairer,” I say with a look at Cardan. The Ghost nods. “I’d like that.”

Then he goes to wake the Roach. I have to explain all over again. Once I get to the part about the banquet and what I think is going to happen, the Roach interrupts me so many times I can barely get a sentence out. After I’m done speaking, he removes a roll of vellum and a nibbed pen from one of the cabinets and notes down who ought to be where at what point for the plan to work.

“You’re replanning my plan,” I say.

“Just a little,” he says, licking the nib and beginning to write again. “Are you concerned over Madoc? He won’t like this.”

Of course I am concerned about Madoc. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing any of this. I would just hand him the living key to the kingdom.

“I know,” I say, gazing at the dregs of wine in the Ghost’s glass. The moment I walk into the feast with Cardan on my arm, Madoc will know I am running a game of my own. When he discovers that I am going to cheat him out of being regent, he’ll be furious.

And he’s at his most bloodthirsty when he’s furious.

“Do you have something appropriate to wear?” the Roach asks. At my surprised look, he throws up his hands. “You’re playing politics. You and Cardan need to be turned out in splendor for this banquet. Your new king will

need everything to look right.”

We go over the plans again, and Cardan helps us map out Hollow Hall. I try not to be too conscious of his long fingers tracing over the paper, of the sick thrill I get when he looks at me.

At dawn, I drink three cups of tea and set out alone for the last person I must speak with before the banquet, my sister Vivienne.



I go back to my house—Madoc’s house, I remind myself, never really mine, never mine again after tonight—as the sun rises in a blaze of gold. I feel like a shadow as I climb the spiral stairs, as I pass through all the rooms I grew up in. In my bedroom, I pack a bag. Poison, knives, a gown, and jewels that I think the Roach will find to be properly extravagant. With reluctance, I leave behind the stuffed animals from my bed. I leave slippers and books and favorite baubles. I step out of my second life the same way I stepped out of my first, holding too few things and with great uncertainty about what will happen next.

Then I go to Vivi’s door. I rap softly. After a few moments, she sleepily lets me inside.

“Oh good,” she mumbles, yawning. “You’re packed.” Then she catches sight of my face and shakes her head. “Please don’t tell me you’re not coming.”

“Something happened,” I say, resting my bag on the ground. I keep my voice low. There is no real reason to hide that I am here, but hiding has become habit. “Just hear me out.”

“You disappeared,” she says. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for you, trying to act like things were fine in front of Dad. You made me worry.”

“I know,” I say.

She looks at me like she’s considering giving me a swift smack. “I was afraid you were dead.”

“I’m not even a little bit dead,” I say, taking her arm and pulling her close so I can speak in a whisper. “But I have to tell you something I know you’re not going to like: I have been working as a spy for Prince Dain. He put me under a geas so I couldn’t have said anything before his death.”

Her delicately pointed eyebrows rise. “Spying? What does that entail?” “Sneaking around and getting information. Killing people. And before you

say anything else, I was good at it.”

“Okay,” she says. She knew something was up with me, but from her face,

I can tell that in a million years she wouldn’t have guessed this.

I go on. “And I discovered that Madoc is going to make a political move, one that involves Oak.” I explain once more about Liriope and Oriana and Dain. By this point, I have told this story enough that it’s easy to hit only the necessary parts, to run through the information quickly and convincingly. “Madoc is going to make Oak king and himself regent. I don’t know if that was always his plan, but I am sure it’s his plan now.”

“And that’s why you’re not coming to the human world with me?”

“I want you to take Oak instead,” I tell her. “Keep him away from all this until he gets a little older, old enough not to need a regent. I’ll stay here and make sure he has something to come back to.”

Vivi puts her hands on her hips, a gesture that reminds me of our mother. “And how exactly are you going to do that?”

“Leave that part to me,” I say, wishing that Vivi didn’t know me quite as well as she does. To distract her, I explain about Balekin’s banquet, about how the Court of Shadows is going to help me get the crown. I am going to need her to prep Oak for the coronation. “Whoever controls the king, controls the kingdom,” I say. “If Madoc is regent, you know that Faerie will always be at war.”

“So let me get this straight: You want me to take Oak away from Faerie, away from everyone he knows, and teach him how to be a good king?” She laughs mirthlessly. “Our mother once stole a faerie child away—me. You know what happened. How will this be any different? How will you keep Madoc and Balekin from hunting Oak to the ends of the earth?”

“Someone can be sent to guard him, to guard all of you—but, as for the rest, I have a plan. Madoc won’t follow.” With Vivi, I feel forever doomed to be the little sister, foolish and about to topple over onto my face.

“Maybe I don’t want to play nursemaid,” Vivi says. “Maybe I will lose him in a parking garage or forget him at school. Maybe I would teach him awful tricks. Maybe he would blame me for all this.”

“Give me another solution. You really think this is what I want?” I know I sound like I am pleading with her, but I can’t help it.

For a tense moment, we look at each other. Then she sits down hard in a chair and lets her head fall back against the cushion. “How am I going to explain this to Heather?”

“I think Oak is the least shocking part of what you have to tell her,” I say. “And it’s just for a few years. You’re immortal. Which, by the way, is one of the more shocking things you have to tell her.”

She gives me a glare fit to singe hair. “Make me a promise that this is going to save Oak’s life.”

“I promise,” I tell her.

“And make me another promise that it’s not going to cost you yours.” I nod. “It won’t.”

“Liar,” she says. “You’re a dirty liar and I hate it and I hate this.” “Yeah,” I say. “I know.”

At least she didn’t say she hated me, too.



I am on my way out of the house when Taryn opens her bedroom door. She’s dressed in a skirt the color of ivy, with stitching picking out a pattern of falling leaves.

My breath catches. I wasn’t planning to see her.

We regard each other for a long moment. She takes in that there’s a bag over my shoulder and that I’m in the same clothes I wore when we fought.

Then she closes her door again, leaving me to my fate.

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