Chapter no 8

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

W‌hen I wake, I am in woods I don’t recognize. I don’t smell the ubiquitous salt of the sea, and I don’t hear the crash of the waves. Everything is ferns, leaf mold, the crackle of a fire, and the hum of distant voices. I sit up. I am lying on heavy blankets, with more on top of me—horse blankets, albeit elegant ones. I see a solidly built carriage nearby, the door hanging open.

I am still in Taryn’s dress, still wearing her gloves.

“Don’t mind the dizziness,” says a kind voice. Oriana. She is sitting nearby, dressed in a gown of what appears to be felted wool over several layers of skirts. Her hair is pulled back into a green cap. She looks nothing like the diaphanous courtier she’s been the whole time I’ve known her. “It will pass.”

I run a hand through my hair, come loose now, the pins still in it. “where are we? what happened?”

“Your father didn’t like the thought of your staying on the isles to begin with, but without Locke’s protection, it was only a matter of time before the High King came up with an excuse to make you his hostage.”

I rub a hand over my face. By the fire, a spindly, insectile faerie stirs a big pot. “You want soup, mortal?”

I shake my head.

“You want to be soup?” it asks hopefully. Oriana waves it off and takes a kettle from the ground beside the fire. She pours the steaming contents into a wooden cup. The liquid is redolent of bark and mushrooms.

I take a sip and abruptly feel less dizzy.

“was the High King captured?” I ask, recalling when I was taken. “Is he alive?”

“Madoc was unable to get to him,” she says, as though his being alive is a disappointment.

I hate how relieved I feel.

“But—” I start, meaning to ask how the battle ended. I remember myself in time to bite my tongue. Over the years, Taryn and I have occasionally pretended to be each other at home. we mostly got away with it, so long as it didn’t go on for too long or we weren’t too obvious about it. If I don’t do anything stupid, I have a good chance of pulling this off until I can escape.

And then what?

Cardan was so disarmingly casual, as though sentencing me to death was some shared joke between us. And talking of messages, messages I never got. what could they have said? Could he have intended to pardon me? Could he have offered me some kind of bargain?

I cannot imagine a letter from Cardan. would it have been short and formal? Full of gossip? wine-stained? Another trick?

0f course it was a tricP.

whatever he intended, he must believe I am working with Madoc now. And though it shouldn’t bother me, it does.

“Your father’s priority was to get you out,” Oriana reminds me.

“Not just that, right?” I say. “He can’t have attacked the Palace of Elfhame for me alone.” My thoughts are unruly, chasing one another around. I am no longer sure of anything.

“I don’t question Madoc’s plans,” she says neutrally. “Nor should you.”

I forgot how it felt to be bossed around by Oriana, always treated as though my curiosity would immediately create some scandal for our family. It’s especially galling to be treated this way now, when her husband stole half an army from the High King and is planning a coup against him.

Grima Mog’s words echo in my mind. The Court of Teeth have thrown in their lot with the old Grand General—your father—and a whole host of other traitors. I have it on good authority that your High King is to be dethroned before the next full moon.

That seems a lot more pressing now.

But since I am supposed to be Taryn, I don’t respond. After a moment, she looks repentant. “The important thing is for you to rest. I am sure being dragged out here is a lot to take in on top of losing Locke.”

“Yes,” I say. “It is a lot. I think I do want to rest awhile, if that’s all right.”

Oriana reaches over and smooths my hair back from my brow, a fond gesture that I am sure she wouldn’t have made if she knew it was me, Jude, that she was touching. Taryn admires Oriana, and they’re close in a way that she and I are not—for many reasons, not the least of which is that I helped hide Oak in the mortal world, away from the crown. Since then, Oriana has been both grateful and resentful. But in Taryn, I think, Oriana sees someone she understands. And maybe Taryn is like Oriana, although the murder of Locke has called that and everything else I thought I knew about my twin sister into question.

I close my eyes. Although I mean to puzzle through how to get away, instead I sleep.

The next time I wake, I am in a carriage, and we are on the move. Madoc and Oriana sit on the opposite bench. The curtains are drawn, but I hear the sounds of a traveling camp, of mounts and soldiers. I hear the distinctive growl of goblins calling to one another.

I look over at the redcap who raised me, my father and the murderer of my father. I take in the whiskers from a few days of not shaving. His familiar, inhuman face. He looks exhausted.

“Finally up?” he says with a smile that shows too many teeth. I am uncomfortably reminded of Grima Mog.

I try to smile back as I straighten. I don’t know whether something in the soup knocked me out or the deathsweet Madoc made me inhale isn’t out of my system, but I don’t remember being loaded into the carriage. “How long was I asleep?”

Madoc makes a negligent gesture. “The High King’s trumped-up inquest is three days past.”

I feel fuzzy-headed, afraid I will say the wrong thing and be discovered. At least my easy slide into unconsciousness must have made me seem to be my sister. Before I became a captive of the Undersea, I’d trained my body to be immune to poisons. But now I am exactly as vulnerable as Taryn.

If I keep my wits about me, I can get away without either of them knowing. I consider what part of Madoc’s conversation Taryn would focus on. Probably the matter of Locke. I take a deep breath. “I told them I hadn’t done it. Even glamoured, I insisted.”

Madoc doesn’t look as though he sees through my disguise, but he does look as though he thinks I am being an idiot. “I doubt that boy king ever intended to let you walk out of the Palace of Elfhame alive. He fought hard to keep you.”

“Cardan?” That doesn’t sound like him.

“Half my knights never made it out,” he informs me grimly. “we got in easily enough, but the brugh itself closed around us. Doorways cracked and shrank. Vines and roots and leaves obstructed our way, closed like vises on our necks, crushed and strangled us.”

I stare at him for a long moment. “And the High King caused that?” I can’t believe it of Cardan, whom I left in his chambers, as though he was the one in need of protecting.

“His guard were neither poorly trained nor poorly chosen, and he knows his power. I am glad to have tested him before going against him in earnest.”

“Are you sure it’s wise to go against him at all, then?” I ask carefully. It is perhaps not exactly what Taryn would say, but it’s not exactly what I would say, either.

“wisdom is for the meek,” he returns. “And it seldom helps them as much as they believe it will. After all, as wise as you are, you still married Locke. Of course, perhaps you are wiser than even that— perhaps you’re so wise you made yourself a widow, too.”

Oriana puts her hand on his knee, a cautioning gesture.

He gives a great laugh. “what? I made no secret of how little I liked the boy. You can hardly expect me to mourn him.”

I wonder if he would laugh so hard if he knew Taryn had actually done it. who am I kidding? He would probably laugh even harder. He would probably laugh himself sick.



Eventually, the carriage stops, and Madoc jumps down, calling to his soldiers. I slide out and look around, at first disoriented by the unfamiliar landscape and then by the sight of the army before me.

Snow covers the ground, and huge bonfires dot it, along with a maze of tents. Some are made of animal skins. Others are elaborate affairs of painted canvas and wool and silk. But what is most astonishing is how big the camp is, full of soldiers armed and ready to move against the High King. Behind the encampment, a little to the west, is a mountain girded in a thick green pelt of fir trees. And beside it, another tiny outpost—a single tent and a few soldiers.

I feel very far away from the mortal world.

“where are we?” I ask Oriana, who steps out of the carriage behind me, carrying a cloak to place over my shoulders.

“Near the Court of Teeth,” she says. “It’s mostly trolls and huldra up this far north.”

The Court of Teeth is the Unseelie Court that held the Roach and the Bomb prisoner, and who exiled Grima Mog. The absolute last place I want to be—and with no clear path to escape.

“Come,” Oriana says. “Let’s get you settled.”

She leads me through the camp, past a group of trolls skinning a moose, past elves and goblins singing war songs, past a tailor repairing a pile of hide armor before a fire. In the distance, I hear the clang of steel, raised voices, and animal sounds. The air is thick with smoke, and the ground is muddy from trampling boots and snowmelt. Disoriented, I focus on not losing Oriana in the throng. Finally, we come to a large but practical-looking tent, with a pair of sturdy wooden chairs in front, both covered in sheepskin.

My gaze is drawn to an elaborate pavilion nearby. It sits off the ground on golden clawed feet, looking for all the world as though it could scuttle off if its owner gave the command. As I stare, Grimsen steps out. Grimsen the Smith, who created the Blood Crown and many more artifacts of Faerie yet hungers for greater and greater fame. He’s arrayed so finely that he might be a prince himself. when he sees me, he gives me a sly look. I avert my eyes.

The inside of Madoc and Oriana’s tent reminds me uncomfortably of home. A corner of it works as a makeshift kitchen, where dried herbs hang in garlands beside dried sausages and butter and cheese.

“You can have a bath,” Oriana says, indicating a copper tub in another corner, half-filled with snow. “we place a metal bar on the fire, then plunge it into the melt, and everything heats up swiftly enough.”

I shake my head, thinking of how I need to continue to hide my hands. At least in this cold, it will be no surprise for me to keep my gloves on. “I just want to wash my face. And maybe put on some warmer clothes?”

“Of course,” she says, and bustles around the small space to gather up a sturdy blue dress, some hose, and boots. She goes out and comes back. After a few minutes, a servant arrives with steaming water in a bowl and places it on a table, along with a cloth. The water is scented with juniper.

“I will leave you to freshen up,” Oriana says, putting on a cloak. “Tonight we dine with the Court of Teeth.”

“I don’t mean to inconvenience you,” I say, awkward in the face of her kindness, knowing that it isn’t for me.

She smiles and touches my cheek. “You’re a good girl,” she says, making me flush with embarrassment.

I am never that.

Still, when she is gone, I am glad to be alone. I snoop around the tent but find no maps or battle plans. I eat a little cheese. I wash my face and pits and everywhere else I can reach, then rinse my mouth with a little peppermint oil and scrape my tongue.

Finally, I put on the new heavier, warmer clothes and rebraid my hair simply, into two tight plaits. I replace my velvet gloves with woolen ones—checking to make sure the stuffing at the tip of my finger looks convincing.

By the time I am done, Oriana has returned. She has brought with her several soldiers carrying a pallet of furs and blankets, which she has them arrange into a bed for me, curtained with a screen.

“I think this will do for now,” she says, looking at me for confirmation.

I swallow the urge to thank her. “Better than I could have asked.”

As the soldiers depart, I follow them through the tent flap. Outside, I orient myself by the sun as it is about to set and look over the sea of tents again. I am able to pick out factions. Madoc’s people, flying his sigil, the crescent moon turned like a bowl. Those from the Court of Teeth have their tents marked with a device that seems to suggest an ominous mountain range. And two or three other Courts, either smaller ones or ones that sent fewer soldiers. A whole host of other traitors, Grima Mog said.

I can’t help but think like the spy I was, cannot help but see that I am perfectly positioned to discover Madoc’s plan. I am in his camp, in his very tent. I could uncover everything.

But that’s absolute madness. How long before Oriana or Madoc realizes that I am Jude and not Taryn? I remember the vow Madoc made to me: And when I best you, I will maPe sure I do it as thoroughly as I would any opponent who has shown themselves to be my equal. It was a backhanded compliment, but it was also a straightforward threat. I know exactly what Madoc does to his enemies—he kills them and then washes his cap in their blood.

And what does it matter? I am in exile, pushed out.

But if I had Madoc’s plans, I could trade them for the end of my exile. Surely Cardan would agree to that, if I gave him the means to save Elfhame. Unless, of course, he thought I was lying.

Vivi would say I ought to stop worrying about kings and wars and worry instead about getting home. After my fight with Grima Mog, I could demand better jobs from Bryern. Vivi is right that if we gave up the pretense of living like other humans, we could have a much bigger place. And given the results of the inquest, Taryn probably can’t return to Faerie.

At least until Madoc takes over. Maybe I should just let it happen.

But that brings me to the thing I cannot get past. Even though it’s ridiculous, I can’t stop the anger that rises in me, lighting a fire in my heart.

I am the Queen of Klfhame.

Even though I am the queen in exile, I am still the queen.

And that means Madoc isn’t just trying to take Cardan’s throne. He’s trying to take mine.

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