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

M‌y coronation comes a week later, and I am stunned at how many of the low Court rulers, along with subjects of the realms, travel to witness it. Interestingly, many take great pains to bring mortals as their guests, changeling children and human artists and lovers. It’s utterly surreal to see this attempt to curry favor, and it’s gratifying all the same.

Cardan chose three faerie makers to be given places in the household of Elfhame. One is Mother Marrow. The second is an ancient-looking hob who seems to hide behind an enormous and heavily braided beard. I am surprised to find that the third, a mortal smith, corresponded with my human father. when I meet him, Robert of Jersey spends some time admiring Nightfell and tells me a funny story about a conference they both attended a decade before.

Since the makers have settled in, they’ve been busy.

The ceremony begins at nightfall, and we have it under the stars on the new Isle of Insear. Braziers blaze, and the sky is thick with sea spray and incense. The ground beneath us is moon-blooming phlox.

I am in a gown of deep forest green with crow feathers covering the shoulders and sleeves, while Cardan wears a doublet ornamented with bright beetle wings. Baphen, in one of his long blue robes—with many celestial ornaments in his beard—will conduct the ceremony.

Oak is outfitted in white with gold buttons. Taryn kisses him on the forehead, for courage, since he will have to put the crowns on both of our heads.

“Long has the Greenbriar tradition been held in the High Court,” Baphen begins. “Blood crowns blood. And while the crown is gone and vows of obedience with it, we will yet follow tradition. And so, High King, accept your new crown from Oak, your blood and your heir.”

Oak looks unhappy about being called the heir, but he takes the crown from the pillow, a circlet of rich gold with nine points in the shape of leaves around the band. Being High King, Cardan isn’t supposed to kneel to anyone, so Vivienne lifts Oak. with a laugh, my brother places a new crown on Cardan’s head to the delight of the crowd.

“Folk of Elfhame,” Baphen says, using the ritual words that Cardan never received before, rushed as our last ceremony was. “will you accept Cardan of the Greenbriar line as your High King?”

The chorus goes up. “we will.”

Then it’s my turn. “It is uncommon for any Court to have two rulers. Yet you, Jude Duarte, High Queen, have shown us why it can be a strength instead of a weakness. when the High Court was threatened, you stood against our enemies and broke the spell that might have destroyed us. Come forward and accept your crown from Oak, your brother and your heir.”

I walk forward, standing as Vivienne swoops my brother back into her arms. He plops the crown on my head. It is a twin to Cardan’s, and I am surprised by the weight of it.

“Folk of Elfhame,” he says. “will you accept Jude Duarte as your High Queen?”

For a moment, in the silence, I believe that they will renounce me, but the ritual words come from their many mouths. “we will.”

I grin irrepressibly at Cardan. He smiles back, with a little surprise.

It’s possible I don’t smile like that very often.

Cardan turns to the crowd before us. “Now we have boons to distribute and betrayals to reward. First the boons.”

He signals toward a servant, who brings forth Madoc’s sword, the one that split the throne of Elfhame.

“To Grima Mog, our Grand General,” he says. “You shall have Grimsen’s final work and wear it for so long as you should remain in our service.”

She receives it with a bow and a clasped hand to her heart.

He continues. “Taryn Duarte, our tribunal was never formally concluded. But consider it concluded now, in your favor. The Court of Elfhame has no quarrel with you. we grant all of Locke’s estates and land to you and your child.”

There are murmurs at that. Taryn comes forward to make a low curtsy.

“Last,” he says. “we would like our three friends from the Court of Shadows to step forward.”

The Ghost, the Bomb, and the Roach walk onto the carpet of white flowers. They are shrouded in cloaks that cover them from head to toe, even covering their faces with thin black netting.

Cardan beckons, and pages come forward, carrying pillows. On each is a silver mask, denoting nothing of gender, just a gently blank metal face with something slightly impish about the curve of the mouth.

“You who dwell in shadows, I wish for you to stand with us sometimes in the light,” says Cardan. “To each, I give a mask. when you wear it, no one will be able to recall your height or the timbre of your voice. And in that mask, let no one in Elfhame turn you away. Every hearth will be open to you, including mine.”

They bow and lift the masks to their faces. when they do, there’s a sort of distortion around them.

“You are kind, my king,” says one, and even I, who know them, cannot tell which is speaking. But what no mask can hide is how, once they give their bows and depart, one masked figure takes another’s gloved hand.

Or how the third turns his shiny metal face toward Taryn.

Then it’s my turn to step forward. My stomach flutters with nerves. Cardan insisted that I be the one to pass judgment on the prisoners. You won the day, he told me, and the lion’s share of the hard worP along with it. You choose their fate.

whatever punishment I see fit, from execution to exile to a curse, will be considered just—the more so if it’s witty.

“we will see the petitioners now,” I say. Oak has moved to one side and stands between Taryn and Oriana.

Two knights come forward and kneel. One speaks first. “I have been tasked to plead for all those whose story is as mine. Once we were part of the army of Elfhame, but we knowingly went with General Madoc to the North when our vows were lifted. we betrayed the High King and

—” Here he stumbles. “we sought to end his reign. we were wrong. we wish to atone and to prove we can and will be loyal from this day forward.”

Then the second speaks. “I have been tasked to plead for all those whose story is as mine. Once we were part of the army of Elfhame and we knowingly went with General Madoc to the North when our vows were lifted. we betrayed the High King and sought to end his reign. we have no wish to atone. we followed our commander faithfully, and though we will be punished, still we would not have chosen otherwise.” I glance again at the crowd, at the denizens of Elfhame who fought and bled, at those who sorrowed for lost lives—lives that might have stretched on through centuries if they hadn’t been cut down. I take a


“It is the parlance of the High Court that the soldiers are called falcons,” I say, and am surprised by the steadiness of my voice. “For those who do not wish to atone, become falcons in earnest. Fly through the skies and hunt to your heart’s content. But you will not have your own true form back until such time as you hurt no living thing for the space of a full year and a day.”

“But how will we eat if we can hurt nothing?” asks the knight.

“The kindness of others will have to sustain you,” I say, my voice as cold as I can make it. “To those who would atone, we will accept your vow of loyalty and love. You will be once again part of the High Court. But you will be marked by your betrayal. Let your hands always be red, as though stained with the blood you hoped to shed.”

Cardan gives me an encouraging smile. Randalin looks annoyed that only I am making pronouncements. He clears his throat, but he dares not actually interrupt me.

The next petitioner is Lady Nore from the Court of Teeth. Queen Suren trails behind her. Suren’s crown is still sewn to her head, and while no leash binds her, the hole in her wrist is still there, the skin around it still raw.

I call for a servant to come forward with the bridle, still unused.

“we would have followed you,” says Lady Nore, going down on one knee. “we made you an offer, and it was you who rejected it. Let us return to the North. Have we not been punished enough?”

“Lord Jarel tried to trick me into bondage. Did you know of it?” I ask, indicating the bridle.

Since she cannot lie, she does not speak. “And you?” I ask Suren.

The girl gives a frightening, savage little laugh. “I know all the secrets they think they hide away.” Her voice is thin and rough, as from disuse.

There’s a tug on my sleeve, and I am surprised to find Oak beside me. He signals for me to bend down and let him whisper in my ear. Randalin’s frown deepens when I do.

“Remember when you said we couldn’t help her,” he reminds me. “we can help her now.”

I pull back, looking at him eye to eye. “So you want to intercede for Queen Suren?”

“I do,” he says.

I send him back to Oriana, slightly more optimistic that he will one day want to sit on the throne of Faerie. “My brother has asked for leniency. Queen Suren, will you swear your loyalty to the crown?”

She glances at Lady Nore as if looking for permission. Lady Nore nods.

“I am yours, High Queen,” the girl says. Her gaze shifts. “And High King.”

I turn to Lady Nore. “I would like to hear you make a vow of loyalty to your queen.”

Lady Nore looks startled. “Of course I give you my fealty—”

I shake my head. “No, I want you to give it to her. Your queen. The Queen of the Court of Teeth.”

“Suren?” Her eyes dart around as though looking for an escape. For the first time since coming before me, Lady Nore appears afraid.

“Yes,” I say. “Swear to her. She is your queen, is she not? You can either make your vow or you can wear the golden bridle yourself.”

Lady Nore grits her teeth, then mutters the words. Still, she gets them out. Queen Suren’s expression becomes strange, remote.

“Good,” I say. “The High Court will keep the bridle and hope it never needs to be used. Queen Suren, because my brother interceded for you, I send you on your way with no punishment but this—the Court of Teeth will be no more.”

Lady Nore gasps.

I go on. “Your lands belong to the High Court, your titles are abolished, and your strongholds will be seized. And should you, Nore,

attempt to defy this command, remember that it will be Suren, to whom you swore, that punishes you in whatever way she sees fit. Now go forth and be grateful for Oak’s intercession.”

Suren, no longer a queen, smiles in a way that’s not friendly at all, and I notice that her teeth have been filed into small points. Their tips are stained a disturbing red. I consider for the first time that perhaps Suren was being restrained for fear of what she might do if she were not.

The last penitent brought forth is Madoc. His wrists and ankles are bound in a heavy metal that, from the pain in his face, I worry has iron in it.

He does not kneel. Nor does he beg. He only looks from one of us to the other, and then his gaze moves to Oak and Oriana. I see a muscle in his jaw move, but no more than that.

I try to speak, but I feel as though my throat has closed up.

“Have you nothing to say?” Cardan asks him. “You had so much before.”

Madoc tilts his head toward me. “I surrendered on the battlefield. what more is there? The war is over, and I have lost.”

“would you go to your execution so stoically?” I ask. From nearby, I hear Oriana’s gasp.

But Madoc remains grim. Resigned. “I raised you to be uncompromising. I ask only for a good death. Quick, out of the love that we had for each other. And know that I bear you no grudge.”

Since the battle ended, I have known I would be called upon to pass judgment on him. I have turned over the question of punishment in my mind, thinking not just of his army and his challenge, not just of our duel in the snow, but of the old crime, the one that has forever been between us. Do I owe him revenge for the murder of my parents? Is that a debt that must be paid? Madoc would understand that, would understand that love could not stand before duty.

But I wonder if what I owe to my parents is a more flexible view of love and duty, one that they themselves might have embraced. “I told you once that I am what you made me, but I am not only that. You raised me to be uncompromising, yet I learned mercy. And I will give you something like mercy if you can show me that you deserve it.”

His gaze comes to mine in surprise and a little wariness.

“Sire,” puts in Randalin, clearly exasperated by my handing down every final decision. “Surely you have something to say about all—”

“Silence,” says Cardan, his manner utterly changed, his tongue a lash. He looks at Randalin as though the next sentence might be passed on the Minister of Keys. Then he nods to me. “Jude was just getting to the interesting bit.”

I don’t take my gaze off Madoc. “First, you will swear to forget the name that you know. You will put it from your mind, and it will never again fall from your lips or fingers.”

“would you like to hear it first?” he asks, the faintest smile at the edges of his lips.

“I would not.” This doesn’t seem the place to tell him I know it already. “Second, you must give us your vow of loyalty and obedience,” I say. “And third, you must do both of those things without hearing the sentence for your crimes, which I will nonetheless bestow on you.”

I can see him wrestling with his dignity. A part of him wants to be like the soldiers who denied the desire for atonement. A part of him would like to go to his grave with his back straight and his jaw set. Then there’s a part of him that doesn’t want to go to a grave at all.

“I want mercy,” he says finally. “Or, as you said, something like it.”

I take a deep breath. “I sentence you to live out the rest of your days in the mortal world and to never put your hand on a weapon again.”

He presses his mouth into a thin line. Then he bows his head. “Yes, my queen.”

“Good-bye, Father,” I whisper as he is led away. I say it softly, and I do not think he hears me.



After the coronation, Taryn and I decide to accompany Vivi and Oak, who are heading back to the mortal world. Now that the war is over, Oak could return to Faerie and go to the palace school just as Taryn and I did. But he wants to live a little longer among humans, not just because he’s been there for the better part of the last year, but because Oriana has decided to move with Madoc—and Oak misses his parents.

Vivi has been back and forth for the last week, going on dates with Heather, to whom she’s just reintroduced herself. But now that she’s leaving for good, she gathers up rose hip jams, spider-silk jackets, and

other things she wishes to take back from Faerie. As she does, she speculates about all the aspects of the mortal world she’s going to have to explain to Dad. “Like cell phones,” she says. “Or self-checkout in the grocery store. Oh, this is going to be amazing. Seriously, his exile is the best present you ever got me.”

“You know that he’s going to be so bored that he’s going to try to micromanage your life,” Taryn says. “Or plan your invasion of a neighboring apartment building.”

At that, Vivi stops smiling. It makes Oak giggle, though.

Taryn and I help Vivi pack four saddlebags of stuff, even though Vivi has planted plenty of ragwort in the woods near her apartment building and can return for more supplies anytime she wants. Grima Mog gives Vivi a list of things she’d like sent back to Elfhame, which appears to be mostly instant coffee and hot sauce.

what I don’t expect is that Cardan offers to journey with us.

“You should absolutely come,” says Taryn. “we can throw a party.

You two got married, and no one did anything to celebrate.” I am incredulous. “Oh, we’re fine. we don’t need any—”

“It’s settled, then,” Vivi says, forever my older sister. “I bet Cardan has never even tried pizza.”

Oak looks scandalized by this pronouncement and starts explaining about different toppings, from pineapple to sausage to anchovies. we’re not even in the mortal world and already I am filled with dread. Most likely, Cardan will hate it, and the only question is whether he’s going to be awful about it.

Before I can think of a way to dissuade him, we’re loading the saddlebags onto ragwort steeds. Then we’re flying over the water. Before long, we touch down in a patch of grass near the complex, but not so close to the apartment that Vivi’s neighbors are likely to recognize her.

I climb off and take note of the dullness of the grass and the scent of car exhaust in the air. I look over at Cardan warily, worried he will be wrinkling his nose, but he appears merely curious, his gaze going to the lit windows and then toward the roar of the nearby highway.

“It’s early,” says Vivi. “And the pizza place is close enough to walk.” She looks us over. “we should go to the apartment and change first, though.”

I guess I can see what she means. Cardan looks as though he just stepped off the stage at a playhouse, and while he can glamour himself, I am not at all sure he knows what it is he’s supposed to wear in the illusion.

Vivi lets us into the apartment and puts on a pot of coffee, adding cinnamon to the grounds. Oak goes in the back and gets some kind of electronic game, immediately immersing himself in it on the couch while we sort out clothes.

Cardan’s tight pants and boots are passable, and he finds a T-shirt a human friend left there that fits him well enough to wear instead of his fancy doublet. I borrow a dress from Vivi that’s loose on her. It’s a lot less loose on me.

“I told Heather about you guys,” Vivi says. “I am going to call her and see if she can come over and bring some supplies. You can meet her— again. And Oak will show you the way to the pizza place.”

Taking my hand with a laugh, my little brother starts pulling Cardan and me down the stairs. Vivi chases after us to give me some money. “This is your cash. From Bryern.”

“what did you do?” Cardan asks. “Beat Grima Mog in a duel,” I say.

He looks at me incredulously. “He ought to have paid you in gold.”

That makes me grin as we walk along the sidewalk. Cardan doesn’t appear to be at all discomfited, whistling a tune and goggling a bit at the humans we pass. I hold my breath, but he doesn’t curse them with a tail to match his own or tempt them with everapple or do anything else that a wicked faerie king might.

we go into the pizza place, where Oak orders three extremely large pies covered with a bizarre array of toppings that I am almost entirely sure no one has ever let him order before: half meatball and half prawn, garlic and tomatoes, goat cheese and black olives, and mushroom and bacon.

when we return to the apartment with our stack of steaming cardboard boxes, Heather and Vivi have tied up a silvery banner that reads CONGRATULATIONS, NEwLYwEDS! in bright colors. Under it, on the kitchen table, is an ice-cream cake with scattered gummy snakes on it and several bottles of wine.

“It’s so nice to meet you,” I say, going over to Heather and giving her a hug. “I just know I’m going to love you.”

“She’s told me some wild things about you all,” Heather says.

Vivi blows a noisemaker. “Here,” she says, passing out paper crowns for us to wear.

“This is ridiculous,” I complain, but put mine on.

Cardan looks at his reflection in the door of the microwave and adjusts his crown so it’s at an angle.

I roll my eyes, and he gives me a quick grin. And my heart hurts a little because we are all together and safe, and it wasn’t something I’d known how to want. And Cardan looks a little shy in the face of all this happiness, as unused to it as I am. There will be struggles to come, I am certain, but right now I am equally sure we will find our way through them.

Vivi opens pizza boxes and uncorks a bottle of wine. Oak takes out a slice of the prawn pizza and digs in.

I raise a plastic glass. “To family.”

“And Faerieland,” says Taryn, raising hers. “And pizza,” says Oak.

“And stories,” says Heather. “And new beginnings,” says Vivi.

Cardan smiles, his gaze on me. “And scheming great schemes.”

To family and Faerieland and pizza and stories and new beginnings and scheming great schemes. I can toast to that.

You'll Also Like