Chapter no 17

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

I ‌am on the High King’s enormous bed, bleeding on his majestically appointed coverlets. Everything hurts. There’s a hot, raw pain in my belly, and my head is pounding.

Cardan stands over me. His jacket is thrown on a nearby chair, the velvet soaked through with some dark substance. His white sleeves are rolled up, and he’s washing my hands with a wet cloth. Getting the blood off them.

I try to speak, but my mouth feels like it is full of honey. I slide back into the syrupy dark.



I don’t know how long I sleep. All I know is that it’s a long time. when I wake, I am afflicted with a powerful thirst. I stumble out of bed, disoriented. Several candles burn around the room. By that light, I can tell that I am still in Cardan’s chamber, in his bed, and that I am alone.

I find a pitcher of water and bring it to my lips, not bothering with a glass. I drink and drink and drink, until finally I am satisfied. I sag back onto the mattress and try to think over what’s happened. It feels like a fever dream.

I can’t stay in bed any longer. Ignoring the aches in my body, I head to the bathing room. The tub is filled, and when I touch it, the water shimmers as my fingers trail through it. There’s a chamber pot for me to use as well, something for which I am immensely grateful.

I gingerly peel off my clothes and get into the bath, scrubbing with my nails so the water can wash away the grime and crusted blood of the last several days. I scrub my face and wring out my hair. when I emerge, I feel much better.

Back in the bedroom, I go to the closet. I look through rows and rows of Cardan’s absurd garments until I determine that even if they fit me, there’d be no way I could wear any of them. I put on a voluminous puffy-sleeved shirt and take his least ridiculous cloak—black wool trimmed in deer fur and embroidered with a border of leaves—to wrap around myself. Then I make my way through the hall to my old rooms.

The knights outside his door notice my bare feet and bare ankles and the way I am clutching the robe. I am not sure what they suppose, but I refuse to be embarrassed. I summon my newly minted status as the Queen of Elfhame and shoot them such a withering look that they turn their faces away.

when I enter my old rooms, Tatterfell looks startled from where she sits on the couch, playing a game of Uno with Oak.

“Oh,” I say. “whoops.” “Hi,” Oak says uncertainly.

“what are you doing here?” He flinches, and I regret the harshness of my words. “I’m sorry,” I say, coming around the couch and bending down to pull him into a hug. “I’m happy you’re here. I’m just surprised.” I do not add that I am worried, although I am. The Court of Elfhame is a dangerous place for everyone, but it is particularly dangerous for Oak.

Still, I lean my head against his neck and drink in the scent of him, loam and pine needles. My little brother, who is squeezing me so tightly that it hurts, one of his horns scraping lightly against my jaw.

“Vivi’s here, too,” he says, letting me go. “And Taryn. And Heather.” “Really?” For a moment, we share a significant look. I’d hoped

Heather might get back together with Vivi, but I am stunned she was willing to make another trip to Elfhame. I figured it was going to be a long time before she was okay with more than a very cursory amount of Faerie. “where are they?”

“At dinner, with the High King,” says Tatterfell. “This one didn’t want to go, so he had a tray sent up.” She injects the words with a familiar disapproval. I am sure she thinks rejecting the honor of royal company is a sign that Oak is spoiled.

I think it’s a sign he’s been paying attention.

But I am more interested in the dinner tray, with half-eaten portions of delectable things on silver plates. My stomach growls. I am not sure how long it’s been since I had a real meal. without asking for permission, I go over and begin to gobble up cold strips of duck and chunks of cheese and figs. There’s some too-strong tea in a pot, and I drink that, too, straight from the spout.

My hunger is great enough to make me suspicious. “How long have I been asleep?”

“well, they drugged you,” Oak says with a shrug. “So you’ve woken up before, but not for too long. Not like this.”

That’s disturbing, partially because I don’t remember it and partially because I must have been hogging Cardan’s bed this whole time, but I refuse to think too much about it, the way I refused to think about sweeping out of the High King’s chambers in nothing but his shirt and cloak. Instead, I pick out one of my old seneschal outfits—a gown that is a long column of black with silver-tipped cuffs and collar. It is perhaps too plain for a queen, but Cardan is extravagant enough for both of us.

when I am dressed, I go back into the living space. “will you do my hair?” I ask Tatterfell.

She huffs to her feet. “I should hope so. You can hardly walk around the way you came in here.” I am swept back into the bedroom, where she shoos me toward my dressing table. There, she braids my brown locks in a halo around my head. Then she paints my lips and eyelids in a pale rose color.

“I wanted your hair to suggest a crown,” she says. “But then I suppose you’ll have a real coronation at some point.”

The thought makes my head swim, a sense of unreality creeping in. I do not understand Cardan’s game, and that worries me.

I think of how Tatterfell once urged me to marry. The memory of that, and my certainty that I wouldn’t, makes it even stranger that she is here, doing my hair as she did then. “You made me look regal anyway,” I say, and her beetle-black eyes meet mine in the mirror. She smiles.

“Jude?” I hear a soft voice. Taryn.

She’s come in from the other room, in a gown of spun gold. She looks magnificent—roses in her cheeks and a brightness in her eyes.

“Hey,” I say.

“You’re awake!” she says, rushing into the room. “Vivi, she’s awake.” Vivi walks in, wearing a suit of bottle-green velvet. “You nearly died,

you know? You nearly died again.”

Heather follows in a pale blue gown with edges of the same pink that sits in her tight curls. She gives me a sympathetic grin, which I appreciate. It’s good to have one person who doesn’t know me well enough to be angry.

“Yes,” I say. “I know.”

“You keep rushing into danger,” Vivi informs me. “You’ve got to stop acting as though Court politics is some kind of extreme sport and stop chasing the adrenaline high.”

“I couldn’t help that Madoc kidnapped me,” I point out.

Vivi goes on, ignoring me. “Yeah, and the next thing we know, the High King is on our doorstep looking ready to tear down the whole apartment complex to find you. And when we finally hear from you through Oriana, it’s not like we could trust anyone. So we had to hire a cannibal redcap to come with us, just in case. And it’s a good thing we did—”

“Seeing you lie in the snow—you were so pale, Jude,” Taryn interrupts. “And when things started budding and blooming around you, I didn’t know what to think. Flowers and vines pushed right up through the ice. Then color came back into your skin, and you got up. I couldn’t believe it.”

“Yeah,” I say softly. “I was fairly surprised myself.”

“Does this mean you’re magical?” Heather asks, which is a fair question. Mortals are not supposed to be magical.

“I don’t know,” I tell her.

“I still can’t believe you married Prince Cardan,” Taryn says.

I feel an obscure need to justify myself. I want to deny that desire came into it, want to claim that I was entirely practical when I agreed. who wouldn’t want to be the Queen of Faerie? who wouldn’t make the bargain I made?

“It’s just—you hated him,” Taryn says. “And then I found out he was under your control the whole time. So I thought maybe you still hated him. I mean—I guess it’s possible that you hate him now and that he hates you, too, but it’s confusing.”

A knock on the door interrupts her. Oak runs over to open it. As though summoned by our discussion, the High King is there,

surrounded by his guard.

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