Chapter no 4

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

A‌drenaline floods my body, despite my stiffness and soreness and bruises. I’d like to put my hands around Taryn’s neck and squeeze until her head pops off.

Vivi stands, maybe because of my murderous look, but probably because Heather is right beside me.

“You,” I say to my twin. “Get out.”

“wait,” Taryn says, standing, too. “Please.” Now we’re all up, looking at one another across the small living room as though we’re about to brawl.

“There’s nothing I want to hear out of your lying mouth.” I’m glad to have a target for all the feelings Grima Mog and Heather stirred up. A deserving target. “Get out, or I’ll throw you out.”

“This is Vivi’s apartment,” Taryn counters.

“This is my apartment,” Heather reminds us. “And you’re hurt, Jude.” “I don’t care! And if you all want her here, then I can go!” with that, I

turn and force myself to walk back to the door and down the stairs.

The screen door bangs. Then Taryn rushes in front of me, her gown blowing in the morning breeze. If I didn’t know what a real princess of Faerie looked like, I might think she resembled one. For a moment, it seems impossible that we’re related, no less identical.

“what happened to you?” she asks. “You look like you got into a fight.”

I don’t speak. I just keep walking. I am not even sure where I am going, as slow and stiff and sore as I am. Maybe to Bryern. He’ll find me

a place to crash, even if I won’t like the price later. Even bunking with Grima Mog would be better than this.

“I need your help,” Taryn says.

“No,” I say. “No. Absolutely not. Never. If that’s why you came here, now you’ve got your answer and you can leave.”

“Jude, just hear me out.” She walks in front of me, causing me to have to look at her. I glance up and then start to circle the billowing skirts of her dress.

“Also no,” I say. “No, I won’t help you. No, I won’t hear you explain why I should. It really is a magical word: no. You say whatever bullshit you want, and I just say no.”

“Locke is dead,” she blurts out.

I wheel around. Above us, the sky is bright and blue and clear. Birds call to one another from nearby trees. In the distance, there’s the sound of construction and road traffic. In this moment, the juxtaposition of standing in the mortal world and hearing about the demise of an immortal being—one that I knew, one that I kissed—is especially surreal.

“Dead?” It seems impossible, even after everything I’ve seen. “Are you sure?”

The night before his wedding, Locke and his friends tried to ride me down like a pack of dogs chasing a fox. I promised to pay him back for that. If he’s dead, I never will.

Nor will he ever plan another party for the purpose of humiliating Cardan. He won’t laugh with Nicasia nor play Taryn and me against each other again. Maybe I should be relieved, for all the trouble he caused. But I am surprised by feeling grief instead.

Taryn takes a breath, as if steeling herself. “He’s dead because I killed him.”

I shake my head, as though that’s going to help me understand what she’s saying. “What?”

She looks more embarrassed than anything else, as though she were confessing to some kind of dumb accident instead of to murdering her husband. I am uncomfortably reminded of Madoc, standing over three screaming children a moment after cutting down their parents, surprise on his face. As though he hadn’t quite meant for it to go so far. I wonder if that’s how Taryn feels.

I knew I’d grown up to be more like Madoc than I was comfortable with, but I never thought she and he were anything alike.

“And I need you to pretend to be me,” she finishes, with no apparent worry that suggesting the very trick that allowed Madoc to march off with half of Cardan’s army, the very trick that doomed me to agreeing to the plan that got me exiled, is in poor taste. “Just for a few hours.”

“why?” I start, and then realize I am not being clear. “Not the pretending part. I mean, why did you Pill him?

She takes a breath, then looks back at the apartment. “Come inside, and I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you everything. Please, Jude.”

I look toward the apartment and reluctantly admit to myself I have nowhere else to go. I don’t want to go to Bryern. I want to go back inside and rest in my own bed. And despite being exhausted, I can’t deny that the prospect of sneaking into Elfhame as Taryn has an unsettling appeal. The very thought of being there, of seeing Cardan, speeds my heart.

At least no one is privy to my thoughts. Stupid as they are, they remain my own.

Inside, Heather and Vivi are standing in a corner of the kitchen near the coffeepot, having an intense conversation that I don’t want to disturb. At least they’re finally talking. That’s one good thing. I head into Oak’s room, where the few clothes I have are shoved in the bottom drawer of his dresser. Taryn follows, frowning.

“I’m going to take a shower,” I tell her. “And smear some ointment on myself. You’re going to make me some magical healing yarrow tea from the kitchen. Then I’ll be ready to hear your confession.”

“Let me help you out of that,” Taryn says with an exasperated shake of her head when I’m about to object. “You have no squire.”

“Nor any armor for her to polish,” I say, but I don’t fight when she lifts my shirt over sore limbs. It’s stiff with blood, and I wince when she tugs it free. I inspect my cuts for the first time, raw and red and puffy. I suspect Grima Mog of not keeping her knife as clean as I’d like.

Taryn turns on the shower, adjusting the taps and then guiding me over the tub’s edge to stand in the warming spray. Being sisters, we’ve seen each other naked a bajillion times over the years, but as her gaze goes to the messy scar on my leg, I recall she’s never seen it before.

“Vivi said something,” Taryn says slowly. “About the night before my wedding. You were late, and when you came, you were quiet and

pale. Sick. I worried it was because you still loved him, but Vivi insists that isn’t true. She says you got hurt.”

I nod. “I remember that night.”

“Did Locke … do something?” She isn’t looking at me now. Her gaze is on the tiles, then on a framed drawing Oak did of Heather, brown crayon for her skin bleeding into pink for her hair.

I grab the body wash that Vivi buys at the organic store, the one that’s supposed to be naturally antibacterial, and smear it liberally over the dried blood. It smells bleachy and stings like hell. “You mean, did he try to kill me?”

Taryn nods. I catch her eye. She already knows the answer. “why didn’t you say something? why did you let me marry him?” she demands.

“I didn’t know,” I admit. “I didn’t know it was Locke who’d led a hunt for me until I saw you wearing the earrings I lost that night. And then I got taken by the Undersea. And soon after I got back, you betrayed me, so I figured it didn’t matter.”

Taryn frowns, clearly torn between the urge to argue and an effort to stay quiet to win me over. A moment later, arguing triumphs. we’re twins, after all. “I just did what Dad said! I didn’t think it mattered. You had all that power and you wouldn’t use it. But I never wanted to hurt you.”

“I think I prefer Locke and his friends chasing me around the woods to you stabbing me in the back. Again.”

I can see her visibly stopping herself from saying anything more, taking a breath, biting her tongue. “I’m sorry,” she says, and slips out of the bathroom, leaving me to finish my shower alone.

I turn up the heat and take a long time.



when I come out, Heather has left, and Taryn has gone through the fridge and constructed some kind of nervous-energy tea party out of our leftovers. A big pot of tea sits at the center of the table, along with a smaller pot of the yarrow. She has taken our last half sleeve of gingersnap cookies and arranged them on a tray. Our bread got turned into two kinds of sandwiches: ham and celery, peanut butter and Cheerios.

Vivi is brewing a pot of coffee and watching Taryn with a worried expression. I pour myself a mug of the healing tea and drink it down, then pour myself another. Clean, bandaged, and dressed in new clothes, I feel a lot more clearheaded and ready to deal with the news that Locke is dead and that my twin sister murdered him.

I pick up a ham sandwich and take a bite. The celery is crunchy and a little weird, but not bad. Suddenly, I am aware of how hungry I am. I shove the rest of the sandwich into my mouth and pile two more onto a plate.

Taryn wrings her hands, pressing them together and then against her dress. “I snapped,” she says. Neither Vivi nor I speak. I try to crunch my celery more quietly.

“He promised he would love me until he died, but his love didn’t protect me from his unkindness. He warned me that the Folk don’t love as we do. I didn’t understand until he left me alone in his great, awful house for weeks on end. I cultivated hybrid roses in the garden and commissioned new curtains and hosted month-long revels for his friends. It didn’t matter. I was sometimes louche and sometimes chaste. I gave him everything. But he said that all the story had gone out of me.” I raise my eyebrows. That was an awful thing for him to say, but not necessarily what I expected to be his last words. “I guess you showed


Vivi laughs abruptly and then glares at me for making her laugh.

Taryn’s eyelashes sparkle with unshed tears. “I guess so,” she says in a flat, dull voice that I find hard to interpret. “I tried to explain how things had to change—they had to—but he acted as though I was being ridiculous. He kept talPing, as if he could talk me out of my own feelings. There was a jeweled letter opener on the desk and—you remember all those lessons Madoc gave us? The next thing I knew, the point of it was in Locke’s throat. And then he was finally quiet, but when I took it out, there was so much blood.”

“So you didn’t mean to kill him?” Vivi asks. Taryn doesn’t answer.

I get what it feels like to shove things down for long enough that they erupt. I also get what it’s like to shove a knife in somebody. “It’s okay,” I say, not sure if that’s true.

She turns to me. “I thought we were nothing alike, you and I. But it turns out we’re just the same.”

I don’t think she believes that to be a good thing.

“where’s his body now?” I ask, trying to focus on the practical. “we need to get rid of it and—”

Taryn shakes her head. “His body was already discovered.”

“How? what did you do?” Before, I was frustrated she came to ask for help, but now I’m annoyed she didn’t come sooner, when I could have taken care of this.

“I dragged his body down to the waves. I thought the tide would carry him away, but he just washed up again on another beach. At least, um, at least some of him was chewed. It was harder for them to tell how he died.” She looks at me helplessly, as though she still can’t conceive how any of this is happening to her. “I’m not a bad person.”

I take a sip of my yarrow tea. “I didn’t say you were.”

“There’s going to be an inquest,” Taryn goes on. “They’re going to glamour me and ask questions. I won’t be able to lie. But if you answer in my place, you can say honestly that you didn’t kill him.”

“Jude is exiled,” Vivi says. “Banished until she gets the crown’s forgiveness or some other high-handed crap. If they catch her, they’ll kill her.”

“It will just be a few hours,” Taryn says, looking from one of us to the other. “And no one will know. Please.”

Vivi groans. “It’s too risky.”

I say nothing, which seems to be the thing that tips her off that I am considering it. “You want to go, don’t you?” Vivi asks, fixing me with a shrewd look. “You want an excuse to go back there. But once they glamour you, they’ll ask your name. Or ask something else that will tip them off when you don’t answer the way Taryn would. And then you’ll be screwed.”

I shake my head. “I had a geas placed on me. It protects me from glamours.” I hate how much the idea of returning to Elfhame thrills me, hate how much I want another bite at the everapple, another chance at power, another shot at him. Maybe there’s a way around my exile, too, if only I can find it.

Taryn frowns. “A geas? why?”

Vivi fixes me with a glare. “Tell her. Tell her what you really did. Tell her what you are and why you can’t go back there.”

There’s something in Taryn’s face, a little like fear. Madoc must have explained that I’d gained a promise of obedience from Cardan—

otherwise, how would she have known to order him to release half the army from their vows? Since I’ve been back in the mortal world, I’ve had a lot of time to go over what happened between us. I am sure Taryn was angry with me for not telling her about my hold over Cardan. I am sure Taryn was even angrier that I pretended I couldn’t persuade Cardan to dismiss Locke from being Master of Revels, when, in fact, I could have commanded him. But she had a lot of other reasons to help Madoc. After all, he was our father, too. Maybe she wanted to play the great game. Maybe she thought of all the things he could do for her if he were sitting on the throne.

“I should have told you everything, about Dain and the Court of Shadows, but—” I begin, but Vivi interrupts me.

“Skip that part,” she says. “Cut to the chase. Tell her what you are.” “I’ve heard of the Court of Shadows,” says Taryn quickly. “They’re

spies. Are you saying you’re a spy?”

I shake my head because I finally understand what Vivi wants me to explain. She wants me to say that Cardan married me and made me, effectively, High Queen of Elfhame. But I can’t. Every time I even think about it, I feel a rush of shame for believing he wasn’t going to play me. I don’t think I can explain any part of it without seeming like a fool, and I am not ready to be that vulnerable with Taryn.

I need to end this conversation, so I say the one thing I know will distract them both, for very different reasons. “I’ve decided to go and be Taryn in the inquest. I’ll be back in a day or two, and then I’ll explain everything to her. I promise.”

“Can’t you both just stay here in the mortal world?” Vivi asks. “Screw Faerie. Screw all this. we’ll get a bigger place.”

“Even if Taryn stays with us, it would be better for her not to skip out on the High King’s inquest,” I say. “And I can bring back stuff we can pawn for some easy cash. we’ve got to pay for that bigger place somehow.”

Vivi gives me an exasperated look. “we could stop living in apartments and playing at being mortal whenever you like. I did this for Heather. If it’s just us, we can take over one of the abandoned warehouses by the waterfront and glamour it so no one ever comes inside. we can steal all the money we need to buy anything at all. Just say the word, Jude.”

I take the five hundred dollars I fought for out of my jacket and place it on the table. “Bryern will be by with the other half later today. Since we’re still playing at being mortal. And since Heather is apparently still around. Now I am going to go take a nap. when I get up, I’m going to Faerie.”

Taryn looks at the money on the table with some confusion. “If you needed—”

“If you get caught, you’ll be executed, Jude,” Vivi reminds me, interrupting whatever offer Taryn was about to make. I’m glad. I might be willing to do this, but it certainly doesn’t mean I forgive her. Or that we’re close now. And I don’t want her acting as though it does.

“Then I won’t get caught,” I tell them both.

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