Chapter no 15

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air, 3)

I ‌force myself to move. Step after step, each one making my side scream with pain.

“Dad,” Vivi says. “Stay where you are. If you try to stop her, I’ve got plenty more arrows, and I’ve been waiting half my life to put you in the ground.”

“You?” Madoc sneers. “The only way you’d be the end of me is by accident.” He reaches down to snap the shaft sticking out of his chest. “Have a care. My army is just over the hill.”

“Go get them, then,” Vivi says, sounding half hysterical. “Get your whole damn army.”

Madoc looks in my direction. I must be quite a sight, blood-soaked, hand on my side. He hesitates again. “She’s not going to make it. Let me


Three more arrows fly toward him in answer. None of them hit, not a great sign for Vivi’s marksmanship. I just hope that he believes her missing is intentional.

A bout of dizziness overcomes me. I sag to one knee.

“Jude.” My sister’s voice comes from close by. Not Vivi. Taryn. She’s got Nightfell drawn, holding the sword in one hand and reaching toward me with the other. “Jude, you have to stand up. Stay with me.”

I must have looked as though I was going to faint. “I’m here,” I say, reaching for her hand, letting her support my weight. I stagger forward.

“Ah, Madoc,” comes Grima Mog’s tart voice. “Your child challenged me just a week back. Now I know who she really wanted to kill.”

“Grima Mog,” Madoc says, dipping his head slightly, indicating respect. “However you have come to be here, this is nothing to do with you.”

“Oh, no?” she counters, sniffing the air. Probably catching the scent of my blood. I should have warned Vivi about her when I had the chance, but however she has come to be here, I am glad of it. “I am out of work, and it seems the High Court is in need of a general.”

Madoc looks momentarily confused, not realizing that she has traveled here with Cardan himself. But then he sees his opportunity. “My daughters are out of favor with the High Court, but I have work for you, Grima Mog. I will heap you with rewards, and you will help me win a throne. Just bring my girls to me.” The last was a growl, not actually in my direction but at the lot of us. His betraying daughters.

Grima Mog looks past him, toward where the mass of his army is assembled. There’s a wistful expression on her face, probably thinking of her own troops.

“Have you cleared that offer with the Court of Teeth?” I spit out with a backward glance at him.

Grima Mog’s expression hardens.

Madoc sends an annoyed look in my direction that turns to something else, something with a bit more sorrow in it. “Perhaps you’d prefer revenge to reward. But I could give you both. Just help me.”

I knew he didn’t like Nore and Jarel.

But Grima Mog shakes her head. “Your daughters paid me in gold to protect them and fight for them. And I mean to do just that, Madoc. I have long wondered which one of us would prevail in battle. Shall we find out?”

He hesitates, looking at Grima Mog’s sword, at Vivi’s large black bow, at Taryn and Nightfell. Finally, he looks at me.

“Let me take you back to the camp, Jude,” Madoc says. “You’re dying.”

I shake my head. “I’m staying here.”

“Good-bye, then, daughter,” Madoc says. “You would have made a good redcap.”

with that, he withdraws through the snow, never turning his back to us. I watch him, too relieved at his retreat to be angry that he’s the

reason I am in so much pain. I am too tired for anger. All around me the snow looks soft, like heaped-up feather beds. I imagine lying down on it and closing my eyes.

“Come on,” Vivi says to me. She sounds a little like she’s begging. “we’ve got to get you back to our camp, where the rest of the horses are. It’s not far.”

My side is on fire. But I have to move. “Sew me up,” I say, trying to shake off the creeping lethargy. “Sew me up here.”

“She’s bleeding,” says Taryn. “A lot.”

I am struck with a dull certainty that if I don’t do something now, nothing will be left to do. Madoc is right. I will die here, in the snow, in front of my sisters. I will die here, and no one will ever know there was once a mortal Queen of Faerie.

“Pack the wound with earth and leaves and then stitch it,” I say. My voice sounds as though it’s coming from far away, and I’m not sure I am making any sense. But I remember the Bomb talking about how the High King is tied to the land, how Cardan had to draw on it to heal himself. I remember she made him take a mouthful of clay.

Maybe I can heal myself, too.

“You’ll get an infection,” Taryn says. “Jude—”

“I’m not sure it will work. I’m not magic,” I tell her. I know I am leaving out parts. I know I am not explaining this the right way, but everything has become a little unmoored. “Even if I am the true queen, the land might not have anything to do with me.”

“The true queen?” Taryn echoes.

“Because she married Cardan,” Vivi says, sounding frustrated. “That’s what she’s talking about.”

“what?” Taryn says, astonished. “No.”

Then Grima Mog’s voice comes. Rough and scratchy. “Go on. You heard her. Although she must be the most foolish child ever born to get herself in this fix.”

“I don’t understand,” Taryn says.

“It’s not for us to question, is it?” Grima Mog says. “If the High Queen of Elfhame gives us an order, we do it.”

I grab for Taryn’s hand.

“You’re good at needlework,” I say with a groan. “Stitch me up.


She nods, looking a bit wild-eyed.

I can do nothing but hope as Grima Mog takes the cape from her own shoulders and spreads it out on the snow. I lie down on it and try not to wince as they rip my dress to expose my side.

I hear someone draw a sharp breath.

I look up at the dawn sky and wonder whether the Ghost has made it to the Palace of Elfhame. I recall the taste of Cardan’s fingers pressed against my mouth as fresh pain blooms at my side. I bite back a scream and then another as the needle digs into the wound. Clouds blow by overhead.

“Jude?” Taryn’s voice sounds like she’s trying to fight back tears. “You’re going to be okay, Jude. I think it’s working.”

But if it’s working, why does she sound like that?

“Not …” I get the word out. I make myself smile. “worried.”

“Oh, Jude,” she says. I feel a hand against my brow. It’s so warm, which makes me think I must be very cold.

“In all my days, I have seen naught the like of this,” Grima Mog says in a hushed voice.

“Hey,” Vivi says, her voice wavering. She doesn’t sound like herself. “wound’s closed. How are you feeling? Because some strange stuff is going on.”

My skin has the sensation of being stung all over with nettles, but the fresh, hot pain is gone. I can move. I roll onto my good side and then up onto my knees. The wool beneath me is soaked through with blood. way more blood than I am ready to believe came from me.

And around the edges of the cloak, I spot tiny white flowers pushing through the snow, most of them still buds, but a few opening as I look. I stare, not sure what I am seeing.

And then when I do understand, I can’t quite take it in.

Baphen’s words about the High King come to me: When his blood falls, things grow.

Grima Mog goes to one knee. “My queen,” she says. “Command me.”

I can’t believe she is speaking those words to me. I can’t believe the land chose me.

I had half-convinced myself I was faking being the High Queen, the way I faked my way through being the seneschal.

A moment later, everything else comes roaring back. I push myself to standing. If I don’t move now, I will never get there in time. “I’ve got to get to the palace. Can you watch over my sisters?”

Vivi fixes me with a stern look. “You can barely stand.”

“I’ll take the ragwort pony.” I nod toward it. “You follow with the horses you have at the campsite.”

“where’s Cardan? what happened to that goblin he was traveling with?” Vivi looks ready to scream. “They were supposed to take care of you.”

“The goblin called himself the Roach,” Taryn reminds her.

“He was poisoned,” I say, taking a few steps. My dress is open on the side, the wind blowing snow against my bare skin. I force myself to go to the horse, to touch its lacy mane. “And Cardan had to rush him to the antidote. But he doesn’t know that Madoc sent the Ghost after him.”

“The Ghost,” Taryn echoes.

“It’s ridiculous the way everyone acts like killing a king is going to make someone better at being one,” Vivi says. “Imagine if, in the mortal world, a lawyer passed the bar by killing another lawyer.”

I have no idea what my sister is talking about. Grima Mog gives me a sympathetic glance and reaches into her jacket, drawing out a small stoppered flask. “Take a slug of this,” she says to me. “It’ll help you keep going.”

I don’t even bother asking her what it is. I am far beyond that. I just toss back a long swallow. The liquid scalds all the way down my throat, making me cough. with it burning in my belly, I heave myself up onto the back of the horse.

“Jude,” Taryn says, putting her hand on my leg. “You have to be careful not to pull your stitches.” when I nod, she unclasps the sheath from around her waist, then passes it to me. “Take Nightfell,” she says.

I feel better already with a weapon in my hand.

“we’ll see you there,” Vivi warns. “Don’t fall off the horse.”

“Thank you,” I say, reaching out my hands. Vivi takes one, and then Taryn clasps the other. I squeeze.

As the pony kicks its way into the frigid air, I see the mountains below me, along with Madoc’s army. I look down at my sisters, hurrying through the snow. My sisters, who, despite everything, came for me.

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