Chapter no 4

The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air, 2)

Taryn’s hair is dressed with a halo of laurel, and her gown is a soft brown, woven through with green and gold. She has dressed to accentuate the curves of her hips and chest, both unusual in Faerie, where bodies are thin to the point of attenuation. The clothes suit her, and there is something new in the set of her shoulders that suits her as well.

She is a mirror, reflecting someone I could have been but am not.

“It’s late,” I say clumsily, unlocking the door to my rooms. “I didn’t expect anyone to be up.” It’s well past dawn by now. The whole palace is quiet and likely to stay so until the afternoon, when pages race through the halls and cooks light fires. Courtiers will rise from their beds much later, at full dark.

For all my wanting to see her, now that she is in front of me, I am unnerved. She must want something to have put in all this effort all of a sudden.

“I’ve come twice before,” she says, following me inside. “You weren’t here. This time I decided to wait, even if I waited all day.”

I light the lamps; though it is bright outside, I am too deep in the palace to have windows in my rooms. “You look well.”

She waves off my stiff politeness. “Are we going to fight forever? I want you to wear a flower crown and dance at my wedding. Vivienne is coming from the mortal world. She’s bringing Oak. Madoc promises he won’t argue with you. Please say you’ll come.”

Vivi is bringing Oak? I groan internally and wonder if there’s a chance of talking her out of it. Maybe it’s because she’s my elder sister, but sometimes

it’s hard for her to take me particularly seriously.

I sink down on the couch, and Taryn does the same.

I consider again the puzzle of her being here. Of whether I should demand an apology or if I should let her skip past all that, the way she clearly wants.

“Okay,” I tell her, giving in. I’ve missed her too much to risk losing her again. For the sake of us being sisters, I will try to forget what it felt like to kiss Locke. For my own sake, I will try to forget that she knew about the games he was playing with me during their courtship.

I will dance at her wedding, though I am afraid it will feel like dancing on knives.

She reaches into the bag by her feet and pulls out my stuffed cat and snake. “Here,” she says. “I didn’t think you meant to leave them behind.”

They’re relics of our old mortal life, talismans. I take them and press them to my chest, as I might a pillow. Right now, they feel like reminders of all my vulnerabilities. They make me feel like a child, playing a grown-up game.

I hate her a little for bringing them.

They’re a reminder of our shared past—a deliberate reminder, as though she couldn’t trust me to remember on my own. They make me feel all my exposed nerves when I am trying so hard not to feel anything.

When I don’t speak for a long moment, she goes on. “Madoc misses you, too. You were always his favorite.”

I snort. “Vivi is his heir. His firstborn. The one he came to the mortal world to find. She’s his favorite. Then there’s you—who lives at home and didn’t betray him.”

“I’m not saying you’re still his favorite,” Taryn says with a laugh. “Although he was a little proud of you when you outmaneuvered him to get Cardan onto the throne. Even if it was stupid. I thought you hated Cardan. I thought we both hated him.”

“I did,” I say, nonsensically. “I do.”

She gives me a strange look. “I thought you wanted to punish Cardan for everything he’s done.”

I think of his horror at his own desire when I brought my mouth to his, the dagger in my hand, edge against his skin. The toe-curling, corrosive pleasure of that kiss. It felt as though I was punishing him—punishing him and myself at the same time.

I hated him so much.

Taryn is dredging up every feeling I want to ignore, everything I want to pretend away.

“We made an agreement,” I tell her, which is close to the truth. “Cardan lets me be his advisor. I have a position and power, and Oak is out of danger.”

I want to tell her the rest, but I don’t dare. She might tell Madoc, might even tell Locke. I cannot share my secrets with her, even to brag.

And I admit that I desperately want to brag.

“And in return, you gave him the crown of Faerie.…” Taryn is looking at me as though struck by my presumption. After all, who was I, a mortal girl, to decide who should sit on the throne of Elfhame?

We get power by taking it.

Little does she know how much more presumptuous I have been. I stole the crown of Faerie, I want to tell her. The High King, Cardan, our old enemy, is mine to command. But of course I cannot say those words. Sometimes it seems dangerous even to think them. “Something like that,” I say instead.

“It must be a demanding job, being his advisor.” She looks around the room, forcing me to see it as she does. I have taken over these chambers, but I have no servants save for the palace staff, whom I seldom allow inside. Cups of tea rest on bookshelves, saucers lie on the floor along with dirty plates of fruit rinds and bread crusts. Clothes are scattered where I drop them after tugging them off. Books and papers rest on every surface. “You’re unwinding yourself like a spool. What happens when there’s no more thread?”

“Then I spin more,” I say, carrying the metaphor. “Let me help you,” she says, brightening.

My brows rise. “You want to make thread?”

She rolls her eyes at me. “Oh, come on. I can do things you don’t have time for. I see you in Court. You have perhaps two good jackets. I could bring some of your old gowns and jewels over—Madoc wouldn’t notice, and even if he did, he wouldn’t mind.”

Faerie runs on debt, on promises and obligations. Having grown up here, I understand what she’s offering—a gift, a boon, instead of an apology.

“I have three jackets,” I say.

She raises both brows. “Well, then I guess you’re all set.”

I can’t help wondering at her coming now, just after Locke has been made Master of Revels. And with her still in Madoc’s house, I wonder where her political loyalties lie.

I am ashamed of those thoughts. I don’t want to think of her the way I have to think about everyone else. She is my twin, and I missed her, and I hoped she would come, and now she has.

“Okay,” I say. “If you want to, bringing over my old stuff would be great.” “Good!” Taryn stands. “And you ought to acknowledge what an enormous act of forbearance it was for me not to ask where you came from tonight or

how you got hurt.”

At that, my smile is instant and real.

She reaches out a finger to pet the plush body of my stuffed snake. “I love you, you know. Just like Mr. Hiss. And neither of us wants to be left behind.”

“Good night,” I tell her, and when she kisses my bruised cheek, I hug her to me, brief and fierce.

Once she’s gone, I take my stuffed animals and seat them next to me on the rug. Once, they were a reminder that there was a time before Faerieland, when things were normal. Once, they were a comfort to me. I take a long last look, and then, one by one, I feed them to the fire.

I’m no longer a child, and I don’t need comfort.



Once that is done, I line up little shimmering glass vials in front of me.

Mithridatism, it is called, the process by which one takes a little bit of poison to inoculate oneself against a full dose of it. I started a year ago, another way for me to correct for my defects.

There are still side effects. My eyes shine too brightly. The half moons of my fingernails are bluish, as though my blood doesn’t get quite enough oxygen. My sleep is strange, full of too-vivid dreams.

A drop of the bloodred liquid of the blusher mushroom, which causes potentially lethal paralysis. A petal of deathsweet, which can cause a sleep that lasts a hundred years. A sliver of wraithberry, which makes the blood race and induces a kind of wildness before stopping the heart. And a seed of everapple—faerie fruit—which muddies the minds of mortals.

I feel dizzy and a little sick when the poison hits my blood, but I would be sicker still if I skipped a dose. My body has acclimated, and now it craves what it should revile.

An apt metaphor for other things.

I crawl to the couch and lie there. As I do, Balekin’s words wash over me: I have heard that for mortals the feeling of falling in love is very like the feeling of fear. Your heart beats fast. Your senses are heightened. You grow light-headed, maybe even dizzy. Is that right?

I am not sure I sleep, but I do dream.

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