Chapter no 9

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

‌Tatterfell is waiting for me when I get back to my rooms, her beetle eyes disapproving as she picks up the High King’s trousers from my couch.

“So this is how you’ve been living,” the little imp grumbles. “A worm in a butterfly’s cocoon.”

Something about being scolded is comfortingly familiar, but that doesn’t mean I like it. I turn away so she can’t see my embarrassment at how untidy I’ve let things get. Not to mention what it looks like I’ve been doing, and with whom.

Sworn into Madoc’s service until she worked off some old debt of honor, Tatterfell could not have come here without his knowledge. She may have taken care of me since I was a child—brushed my hair and mended my dresses and strung rowan berries to keep me from being enchanted—but it is Madoc who has her loyalty. It’s not that I don’t think she was fond of me, in her way, but I’ve never mistaken that for love.

I sigh. The castle servants would have cleaned my rooms if I let them, but then they’d notice my odd hours and be able to rifle through my papers, not to mention my poisons. No, better to bar the door and sleep in filth.

My sister’s voice comes from my bedroom. “You’re back early.” She sticks her head out, holding up a few garments.

Someone you trust has already betrayed you.

“How did you get in?” I ask. My key turned, met resistance. The tumblers moved. I have been taught the humble art of lock picking, and though I am no prodigy, I can at least tell when a door is locked in the first place.

“Oh,” Taryn says, and laughs. “I posed as you and got a copy of your key.” I want to kick a wall. Surely everyone knows I have a twin sister. Surely everyone knows mortals can lie. Ought someone not have at least asked a question she might find tricky to answer before handing over access to palace rooms? To be fair, though, I have myself lied again and again and gotten away

with it. I can hardly begrudge Taryn for doing the same.

It’s my bad luck that tonight is when she chooses to barge in, with Cardan’s clothing scattered over my rug and a heap of his bloody bandages still on a low table.

“I persuaded Madoc to gift the remainder of Tatterfell’s debt to you,” Taryn announces. “And I’ve brought you all your coats and dresses and jewels.”

I look into the imp’s inkdrop eyes. “You mean Madoc has her spying for him.”

Tatterfell’s lip curls, and I am reminded how sharply she pinches. “Aren’t you a sly and suspicious girl? You ought to be ashamed, saying such a thing.” “I am grateful for the times you were kind,” I say. “If Madoc has given

your debt to me, consider it paid long ago.”

Tatterfell frowns unhappily. “Madoc spared my lover’s life when he could have taken it by right. I pledged him a hundred years of my service, and that time is nearly up. Do not dishonor my vow by thinking it can be dismissed with a wave of your hand.”

I am stung by her words. “Are you sorry he sent you?” “Not yet,” she says, and goes back to work.

I head toward my bedroom, picking up Cardan’s bloody rags before Tatterfell can. As I pass the hearth, I toss them into the flames. The fire flares up.

“So,” I ask my sister, “what did you bring me?”

She points to my bed, where she has spread my old things on my newly rumpled sheets. It’s odd to see the clothes and jewels I haven’t had in months, the things Madoc bought for me, the things Oriana approved. Tunics, gowns, fighting gear, doublets. Taryn even brought the homespun I used to sneak around Hollow Hall and the clothes we wore when we snuck to the mortal world.

When I look at it all, I see a person who is both me and not. A kid who went to classes and didn’t think the stuff she was learning would be all that important. A girl who wanted to impress the only dad she knew, who wanted a place in the Court, who still believed in honor.

I am not sure I fit in these clothes anymore.

Still, I hang them in my closet, beside my two black doublets and a single

pair of high boots.

I open a box of my jewels. Earrings given to me for birthdays, a golden cuff, three rings—one with a ruby that Madoc gave me on a blood moon revel, one with his crest that I don’t even remember receiving, and a thin gold one that was a present from Oriana. Necklaces of carved moonstone, chunks of quartz, carved bone. I slide the ruby ring onto my left hand.

“And I brought some sketches,” she says, taking out a pad of paper and sitting cross-legged on my bed. Neither of us are great artists, but her drawings of clothing are easy to understand. “I want to take them to my tailor.”

She’s imagined me in a lot of black jackets with high collars, the skirts slashed up the sides for easy movement. The shoulders look as though they’re armored, and, in a few cases, she has drawn what appears to be a single shiny sleeve of metal.

“They can measure me,” she says. “You won’t even have to go to the fittings.”

I give her a long look. Taryn doesn’t like conflict. Her manner of dealing with all the terror and confusion in our lives has been to become immensely adaptable, like one of those lizards that changes color to match its surroundings. She’s the person who knows what to wear and how to behave, because she studies people carefully and mimics them.

She’s good at picking out clothes to send a certain message—even if the message of her drawings appears to be “stay away from me or I will chop off your head”—and it’s not like I don’t think she wants to help me, but the effort she’s put into this, especially as her own marriage is imminent, seems extraordinary.

“Okay,” I say. “What do you want?”

“What do you mean?” she asks, all innocence.

“You want us to be friends again,” I say, sliding into more modern diction with her. “I appreciate that. You want me to come to your wedding, which is great, because I want to be there. But this—this is too much.”

“I can be nice,” she says, but does not meet my eyes.

I wait. For a long moment, neither of us speaks. I know she saw Cardan’s clothes tossed on the floor. Her not immediately asking about that should have been my first clue that she wanted something.

“Fine.” She sighs. “It’s not a big deal, but there is a thing I want to talk to you about.”

“No kidding,” I say, but I can’t help smiling.

She shoots me a look of vast annoyance. “I don’t want Locke to be Master of Revels.”

“You and me both.”

“But you could do something about it!” Taryn winds her hands in her skirts. “Locke craves dramatic experiences. And as Master of Revels, he can create these—I don’t even know what to call them—stories. He doesn’t so much think of a party as food and drinks and music, but rather a dynamic that might create conflict.”

“Okay…” I say, trying to imagine what that means for politics. Nothing good.

“He wants to see how I’ll react to the things he does,” she says.

That’s true. He wanted to know, for instance, if Taryn loved him enough to let him court me while she stood by, silent and suffering. I think he’d have been interested in finding out the same about me, but I turned out to be very prickly.

She goes on. “And Cardan. And the Circles of the Court. He’s already been talking to the Larks and the Grackles, finding their weaknesses, figuring out which squabbles he can inflame and how.”

“Locke might do the Larks some good,” I say. “Give them a ballad to write.” As for the Grackles, if he can compete with their debauches, I guess he ought to have at it, although I am clever enough not to say that out loud.

“The way he talks, for a moment, it all seems like it’s fun, even if it’s a terrible idea,” Taryn says. “His being Master of Revels is going to be awful. He will take lovers and be away from me. And I will hate it. Jude, please. Do something. I know you want to say you told me so, but I don’t care.”

I have bigger problems, I want to tell her.

“Madoc would almost certainly say you don’t have to marry him. Vivi’d say that, too, I bet. In fact, I bet they have.”

“But you know me too well to bother.” She shakes her head. “When I’m with him, I feel like the hero of a story. Of my story. It’s when he’s not there that things don’t feel right.”

I don’t know what to say to that. I could point out that Taryn seems to be the one making up the story, casting Locke in the role of the protagonist and herself as the romantic interest who disappears when she’s not on the page.

But I do remember being with Locke, feeling special and chosen and pretty. Now, thinking about it, I just feel dumb.

I guess I could order Cardan to strip the title from Locke, but Cardan would resent my using my power for something so petty and personal. It would make me seem weak. And Locke would figure out that the stripping of his title was my fault, since I haven’t made my dislike a secret. He’d know that I had more power over Cardan than quite made sense.

And everything Taryn is complaining about would still happen. Locke

doesn’t need to be the High King’s Master of Revels to get into this kind of trouble; the title just allows him to manage it on a grander scale.

“I’ll talk to Cardan about it,” I lie.

Her gaze goes to where his clothes were scattered across my floor, and she smiles.

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