মুখ্য The Cruel Prince
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nice and ok
06 August 2020 (10:41)
This book is magnificent, the beginning is a bit slow but I swear it gets soo much better
14 October 2020 (02:50)
Married to the devil's son is one of the most beautiful book I've read..
17 October 2020 (21:28)
The female lead is very ambitious and strategic, managed to surprise me quite a few times.If you’re looking for the kind of books where girls aren’t princessy but driven and cunning warriors this is ideal. The ‘cruel prince’ is also such a witty and complex character, there’s way more to him than he lets to be seen at the beginning and I love him. Overall, the plot twists are unbeliavable, the story telling is very atmospheric in general and the romance had me on my toes the whole time. Would definitely recommend. :)))
06 November 2020 (02:54)
This is about the series in general though, during this specific book you might wabt to stangle the poor guy at times. ????
06 November 2020 (02:56)
Uhh typos ... want* strangle*
06 November 2020 (02:58)
i read this one for the first time and I hated it , I liked the wicked king though and I LOVED queen of nothing . so I might give this a second chance soon, see the characters from a different angle. i hope I enjoy it this time
26 November 2020 (18:04)
This series is the best honestly
23 December 2020 (00:36)
If you're doubting to read this, don't. It's the best, I promise
23 December 2020 (11:04)
Books in this Lightroom are very interesting
24 December 2020 (02:16)
This books started my love for morally grey/gray characters.
10 January 2021 (17:32)
This book series got me into reading. The characters are all great, with their own hardships and challenges. Over reading this series you’ll see characters grow and become more confident. I know the first book is slow with but after you’ll be own your heels with every page. Jude and Cardan through out the book grow into such a strong bond. Amazingly written, and worth the hype.
16 January 2021 (19:14)
I downloaded this book but it appears that there are only 306 pages instead of 416?? Is that for everyone?
18 January 2021 (00:53)
Alguien sabe como cambiar el libro a español ??
02 February 2021 (05:40)
This is one of the best books I've ever read!! it's filled with humour, enemies to lovers and so much more!!! IF YOU HAVE NOT READ IT, READ IT NOW
. I read it in a day, and since then have read it so many more times
. I read it in a day, and since then have read it so many more times
03 February 2021 (12:14)
OMG. it took me about a day to read it and it became my favourite book. the character development was perfectly written, and each chapter brought me a new perspective to the fairie world. and the ending was just so unexpected. to all who havent read it, read it NOW!
19 February 2021 (20:07)
bruh i normally stay away from the whole furry boy sort of thing but cardan greenbriar and his tale can step on me any day and i will personally thank him
21 February 2021 (03:47)
Sou nova aqui, alguém sabe dizer se consigo ler traduzido?
21 February 2021 (22:31)
Acabula6 eu acho que não, só tem disponível em inglês
27 February 2021 (04:53)
I thought I will be 'annoyed' by the main character because a lot of people said she is annoying...but dang. Me now feels like she can stab me all day and I'd thank her. Morally gray is, indeed, the way.
25 March 2021 (10:31)
No matter how careful I am, eventually I'll make another misstep. I am weak. I am fragile. I am mortal.
I hate that most of all.
It is extremely compelling. Even before the real drama kicks off in the later chapters, I was so wholly pulled into Jude's world. The bullying she endures at the hands of her fey classmates adds a heavy dose of unfairness to keep you pissed enough to turn the pages. Then we get to the spying, secrets, betrayals, side-switching and, oh wow, can I just have the next book please?
I hate that most of all.
It is extremely compelling. Even before the real drama kicks off in the later chapters, I was so wholly pulled into Jude's world. The bullying she endures at the hands of her fey classmates adds a heavy dose of unfairness to keep you pissed enough to turn the pages. Then we get to the spying, secrets, betrayals, side-switching and, oh wow, can I just have the next book please?
28 March 2021 (13:27)
I loved it. But the first few chapters only kept me turning pages because of the unfairness Jude endured. I read the second book too, and i loved it. The first book can be hard to get through, but i promise its worth it.
29 March 2021 (18:26)
Why am i not able to download this book?
30 March 2021 (10:37)
i love the enemies to lovers trope so i devoured this series. the protagonist goes through many challenges and the angst is *chef’s kiss*
05 April 2021 (10:19)
i loved this book, i have just started to get into book but i loved this one so much and i couldn't stop reading. I finished it in like two days.
29 April 2021 (20:38)
5/5 star. Such a fun and pretty book.
29 April 2021 (20:44)
i can't begin to explain the love i have for this book. it introduced me to the world of fae, morally grey characters and and amazing female leads. this book is a huge comfort book and got me out of my reading slump. 10/10 would recommend if you're interested in thoses type of books
02 May 2021 (01:22)
Amazing, just amazing.
The love Jude has for her sisters is just amazing.
The love Jude has for her sisters is just amazing.
03 May 2021 (14:55)
this book is confusing
07 May 2021 (06:48)
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09 May 2021 (20:22)
i love this book so much i read the whole series in 10 hours and then reread it the next day
19 May 2021 (16:33)
I made a mistake of starting this book at about 9 PM. Needless to say, I finished the whole series at 9 AM. It’s that good. Overall, I gave the whole series a five-star review. The political drama in this book is *chef’s kiss*. I love the writing, the world building, the romance. Jude and Cardan will forever have a special place in my heart.
20 May 2021 (08:34)
who is here from tiktok
22 May 2021 (22:24)
not a big fan of this series. The characters and their romance are the only enjoyable parts, the rest is just confusing and a bit aimless.
23 May 2021 (03:57)
This plot and characters seem a lot like the ones in Sarah J. Maas's books. Has anyone read hers too?
23 May 2021 (21:28)
Holly Black and Sarah j maass are polar opposites in terms of their writing style in my opinion
25 May 2021 (02:20)
Absolutely LOVE this book! Honestly, I devoured it in a few mere hours. It really focuses on the aspect of being different and attempting to fit in. The main character, Jude, is a bad-ass heroine who will not hesitate to kick your ass. The love interest, Cardan, really improves as a character and we get to know him on a deeper level. 10/10 will recommend for anyone who likes fantasy, romance or fae.
01 June 2021 (17:05)
Love this book so much ❤❤❤
05 June 2021 (22:22)
I can't thank you enough for helping me get my hands on The Throwback by L. Sprague de Camp. After months of disappointing search. You have also opened up the stargate to countless astounding Sci Fi reading materials. Love u all so much. Thanks again.
06 June 2021 (09:21)
This book is so sexy waou
07 June 2021 (08:53)
i wonder it a lot.. i'm sure i will love it.
08 June 2021 (21:13)
Contents Title Page Dedication Map Book One Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Book Two Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Epilogue Acknowledgments Copyright For Cassandra Clare, who was finally lured into Faerieland On a drowsy Sunday afternoon, a man in a long dark coat hesitated in front of a house on a tree-lined street. He hadn’t parked a car, nor had he come by taxi. No neighbor had seen him strolling along the sidewalk. He simply appeared, as if stepping between one shadow and the next. The man walked to the door and lifted his fist to knock. Inside the house, Jude sat on the living room rug and ate fish sticks, soggy from the microwave and dragged through a sludge of ketchup. Her twin sister, Taryn, napped on the couch, curled around a blanket, thumb in her fruit-punch-stained mouth. And on the other end of the sofa, their older sister, Vivienne, stared at the television screen, her eerie, split-pupiled gaze fixed on the cartoon mouse as it ran from the cartoon cat. She laughed when it seemed as if the mouse was about to get eaten. Vivi was different from other big sisters, but since seven-year-old Jude and Taryn were identical, with the same shaggy brown hair and heart-shaped faces, they were different, too. Vivi’s eyes and the lightly furred points of her ears were, to Jude, not so much more strange than being the mirror version of another person. And if sometimes she noticed the way the neighborhood kids avoided Vivi or the way their parents talked about her in low, worried voices, Jude didn’t think it was anything important. Grown-ups were always worried, always whispering. Taryn yawned and stretched, pressing her cheek against Vivi’s knee. Outside, the sun was shining, scorching the as; phalt of driveways. Lawn mower engines whirred, and children splashed in backyard pools. Dad was in the outbuilding, where he had a forge. Mom was in the kitchen cooking hamburgers. Everything was boring. Everything was fine. When the knock came, Jude hopped up to answer it. She hoped it might be one of the girls from across the street, wanting to play video games or inviting her for an after-dinner swim. The tall man stood on their mat, glaring down at her. He wore a brown leather duster despite the heat. His shoes were shod with silver, and they rang hollowly as he stepped over the threshold. Jude looked up into his shadowed face and shivered. “Mom,” she yelled. “Mooooooooom. Someone’s here.” Her mother came from the kitchen, wiping wet hands on her jeans. When she saw the man, she went pale. “Go to your room,” she told Jude in a scary voice. “Now!” “Whose child is that?” the man asked, pointing at her. His voice was oddly accented. “Yours? His?” “No one’s.” Mom didn’t even look in Jude’s direction. “She’s no one’s child.” That wasn’t right. Jude and Taryn looked just like their dad. Everyone said so. She took a few steps toward the stairs but didn’t want to be alone in her room. Vivi, Jude thought. Vivi will know who the tall man is. Vivi will know what to do. But Jude couldn’t seem to make herself move any farther. “I’ve seen many impossible things,” the man said. “I have seen the acorn before the oak. I have seen the spark before the flame. But never have I seen such as this: A dead woman living. A child born from nothing.” Mom seemed at a loss for words. Her body was vibrating with tension. Jude wanted to take her hand and squeeze it, but she didn’t dare. “I doubted Balekin when he told me I’d find you here,” said the man, his voice softening. “The bones of an earthly woman and her unborn child in the burned remains of my estate were convincing. Do you know what it is to return from battle to find your wife dead, your only heir with her? To find your life reduced to ash?” Mom shook her head, not as if she was answering him, but as though she was trying to shake off the words. He took a step toward her, and she took a step back. There was something wrong with the tall man’s leg. He moved stiffly, as though it hurt him. The light was different in the entry hall, and Jude could see the odd green tint of his skin and the way his lower teeth seemed too large for his mouth. She was able to see that his eyes were like Vivi’s. “I was never going to be happy with you,” Mom told him. “Your world isn’t for people like me.” The tall man regarded her for a long moment. “You made vows,” he said finally. She lifted her chin. “And then I renounced them.” His gaze went to Jude, and his expression hardened. “What is a promise from a mortal wife worth? I suppose I have my answer.” Mom turned. At her mother’s look, Jude dashed into the living room. Taryn was still sleeping. The television was still on. Vivienne looked up with half-lidded cat eyes. “Who’s at the door?” she asked. “I heard arguing.” “A scary man,” Jude told her, out of breath even though she’d barely run at all. Her heart was pounding. “We’re supposed to go upstairs.” She didn’t care that Mom had told only her to go upstairs. She wasn’t going by herself. With a sigh, Vivi unfolded from the couch and shook Taryn awake. Drowsily, Jude’s twin followed them into the hallway. As they started toward the carpet-covered steps, Jude saw her father come in from the back garden. He held an axe in his hand—forged to be a near replica of one he’d studied in a museum in Iceland. It wasn’t weird to see Dad with an axe. He and his friends were into old weapons and would spend lots of time talking about “material culture” and sketching ideas for fantastical blades. What was odd was the way he held the weapon, as if he was going to— Her father swung the axe toward the tall man. He had never raised a hand to discipline Jude or her sisters, even when they got into big trouble. He wouldn’t hurt anyone. He just wouldn’t. And yet. And yet. The axe went past the tall man, biting into the wood trim of the door. Taryn made an odd, high keening noise and slapped her palms over her mouth. The tall man drew a curved blade from beneath his leather coat. A sword, like from a storybook. Dad was trying to pull the axe free from the doorframe when the man plunged the sword into Dad’s stomach, pushing it upward. There was a sound, like sticks snapping, and an animal cry. Dad fell to the vestibule carpet, the one Mom always yelled about when they tracked mud on it. The rug that was turning red. Mom screamed. Jude screamed. Taryn and Vivi screamed. Everyone seemed to be screaming, except the tall man. “Come here,” he said, looking directly at Vivi. “Y-you monster,” their mother shouted, moving toward the kitchen. “He’s dead!” “Do not run from me,” the man told her. “Not after what you’ve done. If you run again, I swear I—” But she did run. She was almost around the corner when his blade struck her in the back. She crumpled to the linoleum, falling arms knocking magnets off the fridge. The smell of fresh blood was heavy in the air, like wet, hot metal. Like those scrubbing pads Mom used to clean the frying pan when stuff was really stuck on. Jude ran at the man, slamming her fists against his chest, kicking at his legs. She wasn’t even scared. She wasn’t sure she felt anything at all. The man paid Jude no mind. For a long moment, he just stood there, as though he couldn’t quite believe what he’d done. As though he wished he could take back the last five minutes. Then he sank to one knee and caught hold of Jude’s shoulders. He pinned her arms to her sides so she couldn’t hit him anymore, but he wasn’t even looking at her. His gaze was on Vivienne. “You were stolen from me,” he told her. “I have come to take you to your true home, in Elfhame beneath the hill. There, you will be rich beyond measure. There, you will be with your own kind.” “No,” Vivi told him in her somber little voice. “I’m never going anywhere with you.” “I’m your father,” he told her, his voice harsh, rising like the crack of a lash. “You are my heir and my blood, and you will obey me in this as in all things.” She didn’t move, but her jaw set. “You’re not her father,” Jude shouted at the man. Even though he and Vivi had the same eyes, she wouldn’t let herself believe it. His grip tightened on her shoulders, and she made a little squeezed, squeaking sound, but she stared up defiantly. She’d won plenty of staring contests. He looked away first, turning to watch Taryn, on her knees, shaking Mom while she sobbed, as though she was trying to wake her up. Mom didn’t move. Mom and Dad were dead. They were never going to move again. “I hate you,” Vivi proclaimed to the tall man with a viciousness that Jude was glad of. “I will always hate you. I vow it.” The man’s stony expression didn’t change. “Nonetheless, you will come with me. Ready these little humans. Pack light. We ride before dark.” Vivienne’s chin came up. “Leave them alone. If you have to, take me, but not them.” He stared at Vivi, and then he snorted. “You’d protect your sisters from me, would you? Tell me, then, where would you have them go?” Vivi didn’t answer. They had no grandparents, no living family at all. At least, none they knew. He looked at Jude again, released her shoulders, and rose to his feet. “They are the progeny of my wife and, thus, my responsibility. I may be cruel, a monster, and a murderer, but I do not shirk my responsibilities. Nor should you shirk yours as the eldest.” Years later, when Jude told herself the story of what happened, she couldn’t recall the part where they packed. Shock seemed to have erased that hour entirely. Somehow Vivi must have found bags, must have put in their favorite picture books and their most beloved toys, along with photographs and pajamas and coats and shirts. Or maybe Jude had packed for herself. She was never sure. She couldn’t imagine how they’d done it, with their parents’ bodies cooling downstairs. She couldn’t imagine how it had felt, and as the years went by, she couldn’t make herself feel it again. The horror of the murders dulled with time. Her memories of the day blurred. A black horse was nibbling the grass of the lawn when they went outside. Its eyes were big and soft. Jude wanted to throw her arms around its neck and press her wet face into its silky mane. Before she could, the tall man swung her and then Taryn across the saddle, handling them like baggage rather than children. He put Vivi up behind him. “Hold on,” he said. Jude and her sisters wept the whole way to Faerieland. In Faerie, there are no fish sticks, no ketchup, no television. I sit on a cushion as an imp braids my hair back from my face. The imp’s fingers are long, her nails sharp. I wince. Her black eyes meet mine in the claw-footed mirror on my dressing table. “The tournament is still four nights away,” the creature says. Her name is Tatterfell, and she’s a servant in Madoc’s household, stuck here until she works off her debt to him. She’s cared for me since I was a child. It was Tatterfell who smeared stinging faerie ointment over my eyes to give me True Sight so that I could see through most glamours, who brushed the mud from my boots, and who strung dried rowan berries for me to wear around my neck so I might resist enchantments. She wiped my wet nose and reminded me to wear my stockings inside out, so I’d never be led astray in the forest. “And no matter how eager you are for it, you cannot make the moon set nor rise any faster. Try to bring glory to the general’s household tonight by appearing as comely as we can make you.” I sigh. She’s never had much patience with my peevishness. “It’s an honor to dance with the High King’s Court under the hill.” The servants are overfond of telling me how fortunate I am, a bastard daughter of a faithless wife, a human without a drop of faerie blood, to be treated like a trueborn child of Faerie. They tell Taryn much the same thing. I know it’s an honor to be raised alongside the Gentry’s own children. A terrifying honor, of which I will never be worthy. It would be hard to forget it, with all the reminders I am given. “Yes,” I say instead, because she is trying to be kind. “It’s great.” Faeries can’t lie, so they tend to concentrate on words and ignore tone, especially if they haven’t lived among humans. Tatterfell gives me an approving nod, her eyes like two wet beads of jet, neither pupil nor iris visible. “Perhaps someone will ask for your hand and you’ll be made a permanent member of the High Court.” “I want to win my place,” I tell her. The imp pauses, hairpin between her fingers, probably considering pricking me with it. “Don’t be foolish.” There’s no point in arguing, no point to reminding her of my mother’s disastrous marriage. There are two ways for mortals to become permanent subjects of the Court: marrying into it or honing some great skill—in metallurgy or lute playing or whatever. Not interested in the first, I have to hope I can be talented enough for the second. She finishes braiding my hair into an elaborate style that makes me look as though I have horns. She dresses me in sapphire velvet. None of it disguises what I am: human. “I put in three knots for luck,” the little faerie says, not unkindly. I sigh as she scuttles toward the door, getting up from my dressing table to sprawl facedown on my tapestry-covered bed. I am used to having servants attend to me. Imps and hobs, goblins and grigs. Gossamer wings and green nails, horns and fangs. I have been in Faerie for ten years. None of it seems all that strange anymore. Here, I am the strange one, with my blunt fingers, round ears, and mayfly life. Ten years is a long time for a human. After Madoc stole us from the human world, he brought us to his estates on Insmire, the Isle of Might, where the High King of Elfhame keeps his stronghold. There, Madoc raised us—me and Vivienne and Taryn—out of an obligation of honor. Even though Taryn and I are the evidence of Mom’s betrayal, by the customs of Faerie, we’re his wife’s kids, so we’re his problem. As the High King’s general, Madoc was away often, fighting for the crown. We were well cared for nonetheless. We slept on mattresses stuffed with the soft seed-heads of dandelions. Madoc personally instructed us in the art of fighting with the cutlass and dagger, the falchion and our fists. He played Nine Men’s Morris, Fidchell, and Fox and Geese with us before a fire. He let us sit on his knee and eat off his plate. Many nights I drifted off to sleep to his rumbling voice reading from a book of battle strategy. And despite myself, despite what he’d done and what he was, I came to love him. I do love him. It’s just not a comfortable kind of love. “Nice braids,” Taryn says, rushing into my room. She’s dressed in crimson velvet. Her hair is loose—long chestnut curls that fly behind her like a capelet, a few strands braided with gleaming silver thread. She hops onto the bed beside me, disarranging my small pile of threadbare stuffed animals—a koala, a snake, a black cat—all beloved of my seven-year-old self. I cannot bear to throw out any of my relics. I sit up to take a self-conscious look in the mirror. “I like them.” “I’m having a premonition,” Taryn says, surprising me. “We’re going to have fun tonight.” “Fun?” I’d been imagining myself frowning at the crowd from our usual bolt-hole and worrying over whether I’d do well enough in the tournament to impress one of the royal family into granting me knighthood. Just thinking about it makes me fidgety, yet I think about it constantly. My thumb brushes over the missing tip of my ring finger, my nervous tic. “Yes,” she says, poking me in the side. “Hey! Ow!” I scoot out of range. “What exactly does this plan entail?” Mostly, when we go to Court, we hide ourselves away. We’ve watched some very interesting things, but from a distance. She throws up her hands. “What do you mean, what does fun entail? It’s fun!” I laugh a little nervously. “You have no idea, either, do you? Fine. Let’s go see if you have a gift for prophecy.” We are getting older and things are changing. We are changing. And as eager as I am for it, I am also afraid. Taryn pushes herself off my bed and holds out her arm, as though she’s my escort for a dance. I allow myself to be guided from the room, my hand going automatically to assure myself that my knife is still strapped to my hip. The interior of Madoc’s house is whitewashed plaster and massive, rough-cut wooden beams. The glass panes in the windows are stained gray as trapped smoke, making the light strange. As Taryn and I go down the spiral stairs, I spot Vivi hiding in a little balcony, frowning over a comics zine stolen from the human world. Vivi grins at me. She’s in jeans and a billowy shirt—obviously not intending to go to the revel. Being Madoc’s legitimate daughter, she feels no pressure to please him. She does what she likes. Including reading magazines that might have iron staples rather than glue binding their pages, not caring if her fingers get singed. “Heading somewhere?” she asks softly from the shadows, startling Taryn. Vivi knows perfectly well where we’re heading. When we first came here, Taryn and Vivi and I would huddle in Vivi’s big bed and talk about what we remembered from home. We’d talk about the meals Mom burned and the popcorn Dad made. Our next-door neighbors’ names, the way the house smelled, what school was like, the holidays, the taste of icing on birthday cakes. We’d talk about the shows we’d watched, rehashing the plots, recalling the dialogue until all our memories were polished smooth and false. There’s no more huddling in bed now, rehashing anything. All our new memories are of here, and Vivi has only a passing interest in those. She’d vowed to hate Madoc, and she stuck to her vow. When Vivi wasn’t reminiscing about home, she was a terror. She broke things. She screamed and raged and pinched us when we were content. Eventually, she stopped all of it, but I believe there is a part of her that hates us for adapting. For making the best of things. For making this our home. “You should come,” I tell her. “Taryn’s in a weird mood.” Vivi gives her a speculative look and then shakes her head. “I’ve got other plans.” Which might mean she’s going to sneak over to the mortal world for the evening or it might mean she’s going to spend it on the balcony, reading. Either way, if it annoys Madoc, it pleases Vivi. He’s waiting for us in the hall with his second wife, Oriana. Her skin is the bluish color of skim milk, and her hair is as white as fresh-fallen snow. She is beautiful but unnerving to look at, like a ghost. Tonight she is wearing green and gold, a mossy dress with an elaborate shining collar that makes the pink of her mouth, her ears, and her eyes stand out. Madoc is dressed in green, too, the color of deep forests. The sword at his hip is no ornament. Outside, past the open double doors, a hob waits, holding the silver bridles of five dappled faerie steeds, their manes braided in complicated and probably magical knots. I think of the knots in my hair and wonder how similar they are. “You both look well,” Madoc says to Taryn and me, the warmth in his tone making the words a rare compliment. His gaze goes to the stairs. “Is your sister on her way?” “I don’t know where Vivi is,” I lie. Lying is so easy here. I can do it all day long and never be caught. “She must have forgotten.” Disappointment passes over Madoc’s face, but not surprise. He heads outside to say something to the hob holding the reins. Nearby, I see one of his spies, a wrinkled creature with a nose like a parsnip and a back hunched higher than her head. She slips a note into his hand and darts off with surprising nimbleness. Oriana looks us over carefully, as though she expects to find something amiss. “Be careful tonight,” Oriana says. “Promise me you will neither eat nor drink nor dance.” “We’ve been to Court before,” I remind her, a Faerie nonanswer if ever there was one. “You may think salt is sufficient protection, but you children are forgetful. Better to go without. As for dancing, once begun, you mortals will dance yourselves to death if we don’t prevent it.” I look at my feet and say nothing. We children are not forgetful. Madoc married her seven years ago, and shortly after, she gave him a child, a sickly boy named Oak, with tiny, adorable horns on his head. It has always been clear that Oriana puts up with me and Taryn only for Madoc’s sake. She seems to think of us as her husband’s favored hounds: poorly trained and likely to turn on our master at any moment. Oak thinks of us as sisters, which I can tell makes Oriana nervous, even though I would never do anything to hurt him. “You are under Madoc’s protection, and he has the favor of the High King,” Oriana says. “I will not see Madoc made to look foolish because of your mistakes.” With that little speech complete, she walks out toward the horses. One snorts and strikes the ground with a hoof. Taryn and I share a look and then follow her. Madoc is already seated on the largest of the faerie steeds, an impressive creature with a scar beneath one eye. Its nostrils flare with impatience. It tosses its mane restlessly. I swing up onto a pale green horse with sharp teeth and a swampy odor. Taryn chooses a rouncy and kicks her heels against its flanks. She takes off like a shot, and I follow, plunging into the night. Faeries are twilight creatures, and I have become one, too. We rise when the shadows grow long and head to our beds before the sun rises. It is well after midnight when we arrive at the great hill at the Palace of Elfhame. To go inside, we must ride between two trees, an oak and a thorn, and then straight into what appears to be the stone wall of an abandoned folly. I’ve done it hundreds of times, but I flinch anyway. My whole body braces, I grip the reins hard, and my eyes mash shut. When I open them, I am inside the hill. We ride on through a cavern, between pillars of roots, over packed earth. There are dozens of the Folk here, crowding around the entrance to the vast throne room, where Court is being held—long-nosed pixies with tattered wings; elegant, green-skinned ladies in long gowns with goblins holding up their trains; tricksy boggans; laughing foxkin; a boy in an owl mask and a golden headdress; an elderly woman with crows crowding her shoulders; a gaggle of girls with wild roses in their hair; a bark-skinned boy with feathers around his neck; a group of knights all in scarab-green armor. Many I’ve seen before; a few I have spoken with. Too many for my eyes to drink them all in, yet I cannot look away. I never get tired of this—of the spectacle, of the pageantry. Maybe Oriana isn’t entirely wrong to worry that we might one day get caught up in it, be carried away by it, and forget to take care. I can see why humans succumb to the beautiful nightmare of the Court, why they willingly drown in it. I know I shouldn’t love it as I do, stolen as I am from the mortal world, my parents murdered. But I love it all the same. Madoc swings down from his horse. Oriana and Taryn are already off theirs, handing them over to grooms. It’s me they’re waiting for. Madoc reaches out his fingers like he is going to help me, but I hop off the saddle on my own. My leather slippers hit the ground like a slap. I hope that I look like a knight to him. Oriana steps forward, probably to remind Taryn and me of all the things she doesn’t want us to do. I don’t give her the chance. Instead, I hook my arm through Taryn’s and hurry along inside. The room is redolent with burning rosemary and crushed herbs. Behind us, I can hear Madoc’s heavy step, but I know where I am going. The first thing we have to do when we get to Court is greet the king. The High King Eldred sits on his throne in gray robes of state, a heavy golden oak-leaf crown holding down his thin, spun-gold hair. When we bow, he touches our heads lightly with his knobby, be-ringed hands, and then we rise. His grandmother was Queen Mab, of the House of the Greenbriar. She lived as one of the solitary fey before she began to conquer Faerie with her horned consort and his stag-riders. Because of him, each of Eldred’s six heirs are said to have some animal characteristic, a thing that is not unusual in Faerie but is unusual among the trooping Gentry of the Courts. The eldest prince, Balekin, and his younger brother, Dain, stand nearby, drinking wine from wooden cups banded in silver. Dain wears breeches that stop at his knees, showing his hooves and deer legs. Bale-kin wears the greatcoat he favors, with a collar of bear fur. His fingers have a thorn at each knuckle, and thorns ridge his arm, running up under the cuffs of his shirt, visible when he and Dain urge Madoc over. Oriana curtsies to them. Although Dain and Balekin are standing together, they are often at odds with each other and with their sister Elowyn—so often that the Court is considered to be divided into three warring circles of influence. Prince Balekin, the firstborn, and his set are known as the Circle of Grackles, for those who enjoy merriment and who scorn anything getting in the way of it. They drink themselves sick and numb themselves with poisonous and delightful powders. His is the wildest circle, although he has always been perfectly composed and sober when speaking with me. I suppose I could throw myself into debauchery and hope to impress them. I’d rather not, though. Princess Elowyn, the second-born, and her companions have the Circle of Larks. They value art above all else. Several mortals have found favor in her circle, but since I have no real skill with a lute or declaiming, I have no chance of being one of them. Prince Dain, third-born, leads what’s known as the Circle of Falcons. Knights, warriors, and strategists are in their favor. Madoc, obviously, belongs to this circle. They talk about honor, but what they really care about is power. I am good enough with a blade, knowledgeable in strategy. All I need is a chance to prove myself. “Go enjoy yourselves,” Madoc tells us. With a look back at the princes, Taryn and I head out into the throng. The palace of the King of Elfhame has many secret alcoves and hidden corridors, perfect for trysts or assassins or staying out of the way and being really dull at parties. When Taryn and I were little, we would hide under the long banquet tables. But since she determined we were elegant ladies, too big to get our dresses dirty crawling around on the floor, we had to find a better spot. Just past the second landing of stone steps is an area where a large mass of shimmering rock juts out, creating a ledge. Normally, that’s where we settle ourselves to listen to the music and watch all the fun we aren’t supposed to be having. Tonight, however, Taryn has a different idea. She passes the steps and grabs food off a silver tray—a green apple and a wedge of blue-veined cheese. Not bothering with salt, she takes a bite of each, holding the apple out for me to bite. Oriana thinks we can’t tell the difference between regular fruit and faerie fruit, which blooms a deep gold. Its flesh is red and dense, and the cloying smell of it fills the forests at harvest time. The apple is crisp and cold in my mouth. We pass it back and forth, sharing down to the core, which I eat in two bites. Near where I am standing, a tiny faerie girl with a clock of white hair, like that of a dandelion, and a little knife cuts the strap of an ogre’s belt. It’s slick work. A moment later, his sword and pouch are gone, she’s losing herself in the crowd, and I can almost believe it didn’t happen. Until the girl looks back at me. She winks. A moment after that, the ogre realizes he was robbed. “I smell a thief!” he shouts, casting around him, knocking over a tankard of dark brown beer, his warty nose sniffing the air. Nearby, there’s a commotion—one of the candles flares up in blue crackling flames, sparking loudly and distracting even the ogre. By the time it returns to normal, the white-haired thief is well gone. With a half smile, I turn back to Taryn, who watches the dancers with longing, oblivious to much else. “We could take turns,” she proposes. “If you can’t stop, I’ll pull you out. Then you’ll do the same for me.” My heartbeat speeds at the thought. I look at the throng of revelers, trying to build up the daring of someone who would rob an ogre right under his nose. Princess Elowyn whirls at the center of a circle of Larks. Her skin is a glittering gold, her hair the deep green of ivy. Beside her, a human boy plays the fiddle. Two more mortals accompany him less skillfully, but more joyfully, on ukuleles. Elowyn’s younger sister Caelia spins nearby, with corn silk hair like her father’s and a crown of flowers in it. A new ballad begins, and the words drift up to me. “Of all the sons King William had, Prince Jamie was the worst,” they sing. “And what made the sorrow even greater, Prince Jamie was the first.” I’ve never much liked that song because it reminds me of someone else. Someone who, along with Princess Rhyia, doesn’t appear to be attending tonight. But—oh no. I do see him. Prince Cardan, sixth-born to the High King Eldred, yet still the absolute worst, strides across the floor toward us. Valerian, Nicasia, and Locke—his three meanest, fanciest, and most loyal friends—follow him. The crowd parts and hushes, bowing as they pass. Cardan is wearing his usual scowl, accessorized with kohl under his eyes and a circlet of gold in his midnight hair. He has on a long black coat with a high, jagged collar, the whole thing stitched with a pattern of constellations. Valerian is in deep red, cabochon rubies sparkling on his cuffs, each like a drop of frozen blood. Nicasia’s hair is the blue-green of the ocean, crowned with a diadem of pearls. A glittering cobweb net covers her braids. Locke brings up the rear, looking bored, his hair the precise color of fox fur. “They’re ridiculous,” I say to Taryn, who follows my gaze. I cannot deny that they’re also beautiful. Faerie lords and ladies, just like in the songs. If we didn’t have to take lessons alongside them, if I didn’t know firsthand what a scourge they were to those who displeased them, I’d probably be as in love with them as everyone else is. “Vivi says that Cardan has a tail,” Taryn whispers. “She saw it when she was swimming in the lake with him and Princess Rhyia this past full moon night.” I can’t imagine Cardan swimming in a lake, jumping in the water, splashing people, laughing at something other than their suffering. “A tail?” I echo, an incredulous smile starting on my face and then fading when I remember that Vivi didn’t bother to tell me the story, even though it must have happened days ago. Three is an odd configuration of sisters. There’s always one on the outside. “With a tuft on the end! It coils up under his clothes and unfurls like a whip.” She giggles, and I can barely understand her next words. “Vivi said she wishes she had one.” “I’m glad she doesn’t,” I say firmly, which is stupid. I have nothing against tails. Then Cardan and his companions are too close for us to safely talk about them. I turn my gaze to the floor. Though I hate it, I sink to the ground on one knee, bend my head, and grit my teeth. By my side, Taryn does something similar. All around us, people are making obeisances. Don’t look at us, I think. Don’t look. As Valerian passes, he grabs one of my braided horns. The others move on through the throng as Valerian sneers down at me. “Did you think I didn’t see you there? You and your sister stand out in any crowd,” he says, leaning in close. His breath is heavy with the scent of honey wine. My hand balls into a fist at my side, and I am conscious of the nearness of my knife. Still, I do not look him in the eye. “No other head of hair so dull, no other face so plain.” “Valerian,” Prince Cardan calls. He is glowering already and when he sees me, his eyes narrow further. Valerian gives my braid a hard tug. I wince, useless fury coiling in my belly. He laughs and moves on. My fury curdles into shame. I wish I had smacked his hand away, even though it would have made everything worse. Taryn sees something in my face. “What did he say to you?” I shake my head. Cardan has stopped beside a boy with long copper hair and a pair of small moth wings—a boy who isn’t bowing. The boy laughs and Cardan lunges. Between one eyeblink and the next, the prince’s balled fist strikes the boy hard across the jaw, sending him sprawling. As the boy falls, Cardan grabs one of his wings. It tears like paper. The boy’s scream is thin and reedy. He curls up into himself on the ground, agony plain on his face. I wonder if faerie wings grow back; I know that butterflies that lose a wing never fly again. The courtiers around us gape and titter, but only for a moment. Then they go back to their dancing and their songs, and the revel spirals on. This is how they are. Someone gets in Cardan’s way, and they’re instantly and brutally punished. Driven from taking lessons at the palace, sometimes out of the Court entirely. Hurt. Broken. As Cardan walks past the boy, apparently done with him, I am grateful that Cardan has five more worthy brothers and sisters; it’s practically guaranteed that he’ll never sit on the throne. I don’t want to think of him with more power than he has. Even Nicasia and Valerian share a weighted glance. Then Valerian shrugs and follows Cardan. But Locke pauses by the boy, bending down to help him to his feet. The boy’s friends come over to lead him away, and at that moment, improbably, Locke’s gaze lifts. His tawny fox eyes meet mine and widen in surprise. I am immobilized, my heart speeding. I brace myself for more scorn, but then one corner of his mouth lifts. He winks, as if in acknowledgment of being caught out. As if we’re sharing a secret. As if he thinks I am not loathly, as though he does not find my mortality contagious. “Stop staring at him,” Taryn demands. “Didn’t you see—” I start to explain, but she cuts me off, grabbing hold of me and hauling us toward the stairs, toward our landing of shimmering stone, where we can hide. Her nails sink into my skin. “Don’t give them any more reason to bother you than they’ve already got!” The intensity of her response surprises me into snatching back my hand. Angry red half moons mark where she grabbed me. I look back toward where Locke was, but the crowd has swallowed him up. As dawn breaks, I open the windows to my bedroom and let the last of the cool night air flow in as I strip off my Court dress. I feel hot all over. My skin feels too tight, and my heart won’t stop racing. I’ve been to Court before many times. I’ve been witness to more awfulness than wings being torn or my person insulted. Faeries make up for their inability to lie with a panoply of deceptions and cruelties. Twisted words, pranks, omissions, riddles, scandals, not to mention their revenges upon one another for ancient, half-remembered slights. Storms are less fickle than they are, seas less capricious. Like, for example, as a redcap, Madoc needs bloodshed the way a mermaid needs the salt spray of the sea. After every battle, he ritually dips his hood into the blood of his enemies. I’ve seen the hood, kept under glass in the armory. The fabric is stiff and stained a brown so deep it’s almost black, except for a few smears of green. Sometimes I go down and stare at it, trying to see my parents in the tide lines of dried blood. I want to feel something, something besides a vague queasiness. I want to feel more, but every time I look at it, I feel less. I think about going to the armory now, but I don’t. I stand in front of my window and imagine myself a fearless knight, imagine myself a witch who hid her heart in her finger and then chopped her finger off. “I’m so tired,” I say out loud. “So tired.” I sit there for a long time, watching the rising sun gild the sky, listening to the waves crash as the tide goes out, when a creature flies up to alight on the edge of my window. At first it seems like an owl, but it’s got hob eyes. “Tired of what, sweetmeat?” it asks me. I sigh and answer honestly for once. “Of being powerless.” The hob studies my face, then flies off into the night. I sleep the day away and wake disoriented, battling my way out of the long, embroidered curtains around my bed. Drool has dried along one of my cheeks. I find bathwater waiting for me, but it has gone tepid. Servants must have come and gone. I climb in anyway and splash my face. Living in Faerie, it’s impossible not to notice that everyone else smells like verbena or crushed pine needles, dried blood or milkweed. I smell like pit sweat and sour breath unless I scrub myself clean. When Tatterfell comes in to light the lamps, she finds me dressing for a lecture, which begins in the late afternoons and stretches on into some evenings. I wear gray leather boots and a tunic with Madoc’s crest—a dagger, a crescent moon turned on its side so it rests like a cup, and a single drop of blood falling from one corner embroidered in silk thread. Downstairs, I find Taryn at the banquet table, alone, nursing a cup of nettle tea and picking at a bannock. Today, she does not suggest anything will be fun. Madoc insists—perhaps out of guilt or shame—that we be treated like the children of Faerie. That we take the same lessons, that we be given whatever they have. Changelings have been brought to the High Court before, but none of them has been raised like Gentry. He doesn’t understand how much that makes them loathe us. Not that I am not grateful. I like the lessons. Answering the lecturers cleverly is something no one can take from me, even if the lecturers themselves occasionally pretend otherwise. I will take a frustrated nod in place of effusive praise. I will take it and be glad because it means I can belong whether they like it or not. Vivi used to go with us, but then she became bored and didn’t bother. Madoc raged, but since his approval of a thing only makes her despise it, all his railing just made her more determined to never, ever go back. She has tried to persuade us to stay home with her, but if Taryn and I cannot manage the machinations of the children of Faerie without quitting our lessons or running to Madoc, how will he ever believe we can manage the Court, where those same machinations will play out on a grander and more deadly scale? Taryn and I set off, swinging our baskets. We don’t have to leave Ins-mire to get to the High King’s palace, but we do skirt the edge of two other tiny islands, Insmoor, Isle of Stone, and Insweal, Isle of Woe. All three are connected by half-submerged rocky paths and stones large enough that it’s possible to leap your way from one to the next. A herd of stags is swimming toward Insmoor, seeking the best grazing. Taryn and I walk past the Lake of Masks and through the far corner of the Milkwood, picking our way past the pale, silvery trunks and bleached leaves. From there, we spot mermaids and merrows sunning themselves near craggy caves, their scales reflecting the amber glow of the late-afternoon sun. All the children of the Gentry, regardless of age, are taught by lecturers from all over the kingdom on the grounds of the palace. Some afternoons we sit in groves carpeted with emerald moss, and other evenings we spend in high towers or up in trees. We learn about the movements of constellations in the sky, the medicinal and magical properties of herbs, the languages of birds and flowers and people as well as the language of the Folk (though it occasionally twists in my mouth), the composition of riddles, and how to walk soft-footed over leaves and brambles to leave neither trace nor sound. We are instructed in the finer points of the harp and the lute, the bow and the blade. Taryn and I watch them as they practice enchantments. For a break, we all play at war in a green field with a broad arc of trees. Madoc trained me to be formidable even with a wooden sword. Taryn isn’t bad, either, even though she doesn’t bother practicing anymore. At the Summer Tournament, in only a few days, our mock war will take place in front of the royal family. With Madoc’s endorsement, one of the princes or princesses might choose to grant me knighthood and take me into their personal guard. It would be a kind of power, a kind of protection. And with it, I could protect Taryn, too. We arrive at school. Prince Cardan, Locke, Valerian, and Nicasia are already sprawled in the grass with a few other faeries. A girl with deer horns—Poesy—is giggling over something Cardan has said. They do not so much as look at us as we spread our blanket and set out our notebooks and pens and pots of ink. My relief is immense. Our lesson involves the history of the delicately negotiated peace between Orlagh, Queen of the Undersea, and the various faerie kings and queens of the land. Nicasia is Orlagh’s daughter, sent to be fostered in the High King’s Court. Many odes have been composed to Queen Orlagh’s beauty, although, if she’s anything like her daughter, not to her personality. Nicasia gloats through the lesson, proud of her heritage. When the instructor moves on to Lord Roiben of the Court of Termites, I lose interest. My thoughts drift. Instead, I find myself thinking through combinations—strike, thrust, parry, block. I grip my pen as though it were the hilt of a blade and forget to take notes. As the sun dips low in the sky, Taryn and I unpack our baskets from home, which contain bread, butter, cheese, and plums. I butter a piece of bread hungrily. Passing us, Cardan kicks dirt onto my food right before I put it into my mouth. The other faeries laugh. I look up to see him watching me with cruel delight, like a raptor bird trying to decide whether to be bothered devouring a small mouse. He’s wearing a high-collared tunic embroidered with thorns, his fingers heavy with rings. His sneer is well-practiced. I grit my teeth. I tell myself that if I let the taunts roll off me, he will lose interest. He will go away. I can endure this a little longer, a few more days. “Something the matter?” Nicasia asks sweetly, wandering up and draping her arm over Cardan’s shoulder. “Dirt. It’s what you came from, mortal. It’s what you’ll return to soon enough. Take a big bite.” “Make me,” I say before I can stop myself. Not the greatest comeback, but my palms begin to sweat. Taryn looks startled. “I could, you know,” says Cardan, grinning as though nothing would please him more. My heart speeds. If I weren’t wearing a string of rowan berries, he could ensorcell me so that I thought dirt was some kind of delicacy. Only Madoc’s position would give him reason to hesitate. I do not move, do not touch the necklace hidden under the bodice of my tunic, the one that I hope will stop any glamour from working. The one I hope he doesn’t discover and rip from my throat. I glance in the direction of the day’s lecturer, but the elderly phooka has his nose buried in a book. Since Cardan’s a prince, it’s more than likely no one has ever cautioned him, has ever stayed his hand. I never know how far he’ll go, and I never know how far our instructors will let him. “You don’t want that, do you?” Valerian asks with mock sympathy as he kicks more dirt onto our lunch. I didn’t even see him come over. Once, Valerian stole a silver pen of mine, and Madoc replaced it with a ruby-studded one from his own desk. This threw Valerian into such a rage that he cracked me in the back of the head with his wooden practice sword. “What if we promise to be nice to you for the whole afternoon if you eat everything in your baskets?” His smile is wide and false. “Don’t you want us for friends?” Taryn looks down at her lap. No, I want to say. We don’t want you for friends. I don’t answer, but I don’t look down, either. I meet Cardan’s gaze. There is nothing I can say to make them stop, and I know it. I have no power here. But today I can’t seem to choke down my anger at my own impotence. Nicasia pulls a pin from my hair, causing one of my braids to fall against my neck. I swat at her hand, but it happens too fast. “What’s this?” She’s holding up the golden pin, with a tiny cluster of filigree hawthorn berries at the top. “Did you steal it? Did you think it would make you beautiful? Did you think it would make you as we are?” I bite the inside of my cheek. Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever. Valerian’s hair shines like polished gold. Nicasia’s limbs are long and perfectly shaped, her mouth the pink of coral, her hair the color of the deepest, coldest part of the sea. Fox-eyed Locke, standing silently behind Valerian, his expression schooled to careful indifference, has a chin as pointed as the tips of his ears. And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest, with black hair as iridescent as a raven’s wing and cheekbones sharp enough to cut out a girl’s heart. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe. “You’ll never be our equal,” Nicasia says. Of course I won’t. “Oh, come on,” Locke says with a careless laugh, his hand going around Nicasia’s waist. “Let’s leave them to their misery.” “Jude’s sorry,” Taryn says quickly. “We’re both really sorry.” “She can show us how sorry she is,” Cardan drawls. “Tell her she doesn’t belong in the Summer Tournament.” “Afraid I’ll win?” I ask, which isn’t smart. “It’s not for mortals,” he informs us, voice chilly. “Withdraw, or wish that you had.” I open my mouth, but Taryn speaks before I can. “I’ll talk to her about it. It’s nothing, just a game.” Nicasia gives my sister a magnanimous smile. Valerian leers at Taryn, his eyes lingering on her curves. “It’s all just a game.” Cardan’s gaze meets mine, and I know he isn’t finished with me, not by a long shot. “Why did you dare them like that?” Taryn asks when they’ve walked back to their own merry luncheon, all spread out for them. “Talking back to him—that’s just stupid.” Make me. Afraid I’ll win? “I know,” I tell her. “I’ll shut up. I just—I got angry.” “You’re better off being scared,” she advises. And then, shaking her head, she packs up our ruined food. My stomach growls, and I try to ignore it. They want me to be afraid, I know that. During the mock war that very afternoon, Valerian trips me, and Cardan whispers foul things in my ear. I head home with bruises on my skin from kicks, from falls. What they don’t realize is this: Yes, they frighten me, but I have always been scared, since the day I got here. I was raised by the man who murdered my parents, reared in a land of monsters. I live with that fear, let it settle into my bones, and ignore it. If I didn’t pretend not to be scared, I would hide under my owl-down coverlets in Madoc’s estate forever. I would lie there and scream until there was nothing left of me. I refuse to do that. I will not do that. Nicasia’s wrong about me. I don’t desire to do as well in the tournament as one of the fey. I want to win. I do not yearn to be their equal. In my heart, I yearn to best them. On our way home, Taryn stops and picks blackberries beside the Lake of Masks. I sit on a rock in the moonlight and deliberately do not look into the water. The lake doesn’t reflect your own face—it shows you someone else who has looked or will look into it. When I was little, I used to sit at the bank all day, staring at faerie countenances instead of my own, hoping that I might someday catch a glimpse of my mother looking back at me. Eventually, it hurt too much to try. “Are you going to quit the tournament?” Taryn asks, shoveling a handful of berries into her mouth. We are hungry children. Already we are taller than Vivi, our hips wider, and our breasts heavier. I open my basket and take out a dirty plum, wiping it on my shirt. It’s still more or less edible. I eat it slowly, considering. “You mean because of Cardan and his Court of Jerks?” She frowns with an expression just like one I might make if she was being particularly thickheaded. “Do you know what they call us?” she demands. “The Circle of Worms.” I hurl the pit at the water, watching ripples destroy the possibility of any reflections. My lip curls. “You’re littering in a magical lake,” she tells me. “It’ll rot,” I say. “And so will we. They’re right. We are the Circle of Worms. We’re mortal. We don’t have forever to wait for them to let us do the things we want. I don’t care if they don’t like my being in the tournament. Once I become a knight, I’ll be beyond their reach.” “Do you think Madoc’s going to allow that?” Taryn asks, giving up on the bush after the brambles make her fingers bleed. “Answering to someone other than him?” “What else has he been training us for?” I ask. Wordlessly, we fall into step together, making our way home. “Not me.” She shakes her head. “I am going to fall in love.” I am surprised into laughter. “So you’ve just decided? I didn’t think it worked like that. I thought love was supposed to happen when you least expected it, like a sap to the skull.” “Well, I have decided,” she says. I consider mentioning her last ill-fated decision—the one about having fun at the revel—but that will just annoy her. Instead, I try to imagine someone she might fall in love with. Maybe it will be a merrow, and he will give her the gift of breathing underwater and a crown of pearls and take her to his bed under the sea. Actually, that sounds amazing. Maybe I am making all the wrong choices. “How much do you like swimming?” I ask her. “What?” she asks. “Nothing,” I say. She, suspecting some sort of teasing, elbows me in the side. We head through the Crooked Forest, with its bent trunks, since the Milkwood is dangerous at night. We have to stop to let some root men pass, for fear they might step on us if we didn’t keep out of their way. Moss covers their shoulders and crawls up their bark cheeks. Wind whistles through their ribs. They make a beautiful and solemn procession. “If you’re so sure Madoc is going to give you permission, why haven’t you asked him yet?” Taryn whispers. “The tournament is only three days away.” Anyone can fight in the Summer Tournament, but if I want to be a knight, I must declare my candidacy by wearing a green sash across my chest. And if Madoc will not allow me that, then no amount of skill will help me. I will not be a candidate, and I will not be chosen. I am glad the root men give me an excuse not to answer, because, of course, she’s right. I haven’t asked Madoc because I am afraid of what he will say. When we get home, pushing open the enormous wooden door with its looping ironwork, someone is shouting upstairs, as though in distress. I run toward the sound, heart in my mouth, only to find Vivi in her room, chasing a cloud of sprites. They streak past me into the hall in a blast of gossamer, and she slams the book she was swinging at them into the door casing. “Look!” Vivi yells at me, pointing toward her closet. “Look what they did.” The doors are open, and I see a sprawl of things stolen from the human world, matchbooks, newspapers, empty bottles, novels, and Polaroids. The sprites had turned the matchbooks into beds and tables, shredded all the paper, and ripped out the centers of the books to nest inside. It was a full-on sprite infestation. But I am more baffled by the quantity of things Vivi has and how many of them don’t seem to have any value. It’s just junk. Mortal junk. “What is all that?” Taryn asks, coming into the room. She bends down and extracts a strip of pictures, only gently chewed by sprites. The pictures are taken one right after the other, the kind you have to sit in a booth for. Vivi is in the photos, her arm draped over the shoulders of a grinning, pink-haired mortal girl. Maybe Taryn isn’t the only one who has decided to fall in love. At dinner, we sit at a massive table carved along all four sides with images of piping fauns and dancing imps. Fat wax pillar candles burn at the center, beside a carved stone vase full of wood sorrel. Servants bring us silver plates piled with food. We eat fresh broad beans, venison with scattered pomegranate seeds, grilled brown trout with butter, a salad of bitter herbs, and, for after, raisin cakes smothered in apple syrup. Madoc and Oriana drink canary wine; we children mix ours with water. Next to my plate and Taryn’s is a bowl of salt. Vivi pokes at her venison and then licks blood from her knife. Oak grins across the table and starts to mimic Vivi, but Oriana snatches the cutlery from his grasp before he can slice his tongue open. Oak giggles and picks up his meat with his fingers, tearing at it with sharp teeth. “You should know that the king will soon abdicate his throne in favor of one of his children,” Madoc says, looking at all of us. “It is likely that he will choose Prince Dain.” It doesn’t matter that Dain is third-born. The High Ruler chooses their successor—that’s how the stability of Elfhame is ensured. The first High Queen, Mab, had her smith forge a crown. Lore has it that the blacksmith was a creature called Grimsen, who could shape anything from metal—birds that trill and necklaces that slither over throats, twin swords called Heartseeker and Heartsworn that never missed a strike. Queen Mab’s crown was magically and wondrously wrought so that it passes only from one blood relation to another, in an unbroken line. With the crown passes the oaths of all those sworn to it. Although her subjects gather at each new coronation to renew their fealty, authority still rests in the crown. “Why’s he abdicating?” Taryn asks. Vivi’s smirk has turned nasty. “His children got impatient with him for remaining alive.” A wash of rage passes over Madoc’s face. Taryn and I don’t dare bait him for fear that his patience with us stretches only so far, but Vivi is expert at it. When he answers her, I can see the effort he’s making to bite his tongue. “Few kings of Faerie have ruled so well for so long as Eldred. Now he goes to seek the Land of Promise.” As far as I can tell, the Land of Promise is their euphemism for death, although they do not admit it. They say it is the place that the Folk came from and to which they will eventually return. “Are you saying he’s leaving the throne because he’s old?” I ask, wondering if I’m being impolite. There are hobs born with lined faces like tiny, hairless cats and smooth-limbed nixies whose true age shows only in their ancient eyes. I didn’t think time mattered to them. Oriana doesn’t look happy, but she isn’t actively shushing me, either, so maybe it’s not that rude. Or maybe she doesn’t expect any better than bad manners out of me. “We may not die from age, but we grow weary with it,” Madoc says with a heavy sigh. “I have made war in Eldred’s name. I have broken Courts that denied him fealty. I have even led skirmishes against the Queen of the Undersea. But Eldred has lost his taste for bloodshed. He allows those under his banners to rebel in small and large ways even as other Courts refuse to submit to us. It’s time to ride to battle. It’s time for a new monarch, a hungry one.” Oriana furrows her brow in mild confusion. “By preference, your kin would have you safe.” “What good is a general with no war?” Madoc takes a large, restless swallow of wine. I wonder how often he needs to wet his cap with fresh blood. “The new king’s coronation will be at the autumn solstice. Worry not. I have a plan to ensure our futures. Only concern yourselves with making ready for a great deal of dancing.” I am wondering what his plan might be when Taryn kicks me under the table. When I turn to glare at her, she raises both brows. “Ask him,” she mouths. Madoc looks in her direction. “Yes?” “Jude wants to ask you something,” Taryn says. The worst part is, I think she believes she’s helping. I take a deep breath. At least he seems to be in a good mood. “I’ve been thinking about the tournament.” I imagined saying these words many, many times, but now that I am actually doing it, they don’t seem to come out the way I planned. “I’m not bad with a sword.” “You do yourself too modest,” Madoc says. “Your salesmanship is excellent.” That seems encouraging. I look over at Taryn, who appears to be holding her breath. Everyone at the table has gone still except for Oak, who taps his glass against the side of his plate. “I am going to fight in the Summer Tournament, and I want declare myself ready to be chosen for knighthood.” Madoc’s brows go up. “That’s what you want? It’s dangerous work.” I nod. “I’m not afraid.” “Interesting,” he says. My heart thuds dully in my chest. I have thought through every aspect of this plan except for the possibility that he won’t allow it. “I want to make my own way at the Court,” I say. “You’re no killer,” he tells me. I flinch, my gaze coming up to his. He looks back at me steadily with his golden cat eyes. “I could be,” I insist. “I’ve been training for a decade.” Since you took me, I do not say, although it must be in my eyes. He shakes his head sadly. “What you lack is nothing to do with experience.” “No, but—” I begin. “Enough. I have made my decision,” he says, raising his voice to cut me off. After a moment when we both are silent, he gives me a conciliatory half smile. “Fight in the tournament if you like, for sport, but you will not put on the green sash. You’re not ready to be a knight. You can ask me again after the coronation, if your heart’s still set on it. And if it’s a whim, that will be time enough for it to pass.” “This is no whim!” I hate the desperation in my voice, but I have been counting down the days to the tournament. The idea of waiting months, just so he can turn me down again, fills me with wild despair. Madoc gives me an unreadable look. “After the coronation,” he repeats. I want to scream at him: Do you know how hard it is to always keep your head down? To swallow insults and endure outright threats? And yet I have done so. I thought it proved my toughness. I thought if you saw I could take whatever came at me and still smile, you would see that I was worthy. You’re no killer. He has no idea what I am. Maybe I don’t know, either. Maybe I never let myself find out. “Prince Dain will make a fine king,” Oriana says, deftly shifting the conversation back to pleasant things. “A coronation means a month of balls. We will need new dresses.” She seems to include Taryn and me in this sweeping statement. “Magnificent ones.” Madoc nods, smiling his toothy smile. “Yes, yes, as many as you like. I would have you look your finest and dance your hardest.” I try to breathe slowly, to concentrate on just one thing. The pomegranate seeds on my plate, shining like rubies, wet with venison blood. After the coronation, Madoc said. I try to focus on that. It only feels like never. I’d love to have a Court dress like the ones I have seen in Oriana’s wardrobe, opulent patterns intricately stitched on skirts of gold and silver, each as beautiful as the dawn. I focus on that, too. But then I go too far and imagine myself in that dress, sword at my hip, transformed, a true member of the Court, a knight in the Circle of Falcons. And Cardan watching me from across the room, standing beside the king, laughing at my pretension. Laughing like he knows this is a fantasy that won’t ever be real. I pinch my leg until pain washes everything away. “You’ll have to wear out the soles of your shoes, just like the rest of us,” Vivi says to me and Taryn. “I bet Oriana’s sick with worry that since Madoc encouraged you to dance, she can’t stop you. Horror of horrors, you might have a good time.” Oriana presses her lips together. “That’s not fair, nor is it true.” Vivi rolls her eyes. “If it wasn’t true, I couldn’t say it.” “Enough, all of you!” Madoc slams his hand down on the table, making us all jump. “Coronations are a time when many things are possible. Change is coming, and there is no wisdom in crossing me.” I can’t tell if he’s talking about Prince Dain or ungrateful daughters or both. “Are you afraid someone is going to try for the throne?” Taryn asks. Like me, she has been raised on strategy, moves and countermoves, ambushes and upper hands. But unlike me, she has Oriana’s talent for asking the question that will steer a conversation toward less rocky shores. “The Greenbriar line ought to worry, not me,” Madoc says, but he looks pleased to be asked. “Doubtless some of their subjects wish there was no Blood Crown and no High King at all. His heirs ought to be particularly careful that the armies of Faerie are satisfied. A well-seasoned strategist waits for the right opportunity.” “Only someone with nothing to lose would attack the throne with you there to protect it,” Oriana says primly. “There’s always something left to lose,” Vivi says, and then makes a hideous face at Oak. He giggles. Oriana reaches for him and then stops herself. Nothing bad is actually happening. And yet I see the gleam in Vivi’s cat eyes, and I’m not sure Oriana’s wrong to be nervous. Vivi would like to punish Madoc, but her only power is to be a thorn in his side. Which means occasionally tormenting Oriana through Oak. I know Vivi loves Oak—he’s our brother, after all—but that doesn’t mean she’s above teaching him bad things. Madoc smiles at all of us, now the picture of contentment. I used to think he didn’t notice all the currents of tension that ran through the family, but as I get older, I see that barely suppressed conflict doesn’t bother him in the least. He likes it just as well as open war. “Perhaps none of our enemies are particularly good strategists.” “Let’s hope not,” Oriana says distractedly, her eyes on Oak, lifting her glass of canary wine. “Indeed,” says Madoc. “Let’s have a toast. To the incompetence of our enemies.” I pick up my glass and knock it into Taryn’s, then drain it to the very dregs. There’s always something left to lose. I think about that all through the dawn, turning it over in my head. Finally, when I can toss and turn no more, I pull on a robe over my nightgown and go outside into the late-morning sun. Bright as hammered gold, it hurts my eyes when I sit down on a patch of clover near the stables, looking back at the house. All of this was my mother’s before it was Oriana’s. Mom must have been young and in love with Madoc back then. I wonder what it was like for her. I wonder if she thought she was going to be happy here. I wonder when she realized she wasn’t. I have heard the rumors. It is no small thing to confound the High King’s general, to sneak out of Faerie with his baby in your belly and hide for almost ten years. She left behind the burned remains of another woman in the blackened husk of his estate. No one can say she didn’t prove her toughness. If she’d just been a little luckier, Madoc would have never realized she was still alive. She had a lot to lose, I guess. I’ve got a lot to lose, too. But so what? “Skip our lessons today,” I tell Taryn that afternoon. I am dressed and ready early. Though I have not slept, I do not feel at all tired. “Stay home.” She gives me a look of deep concern as a pixie boy, newly indebted to Madoc, braids her chestnut hair into a crown. She is sitting primly at her dressing table, clad all in brown and gold. “Telling me not to go means I should. Whatever you’re thinking, stop. I know you’re disappointed about the tournament—” “It doesn’t matter,” I say, although, of course, it does. It matters so much that, now, without hope of knighthood, I feel like a hole has opened up under me and I am falling through it. “Madoc might change his mind.” She follows me down the stairs, grabbing up our baskets before I can. “And at least now you won’t have to defy Cardan.” I turn on her, even though none of this is her fault. “Do you know why Madoc won’t let me try for knighthood? Because he thinks I’m weak.” “Jude,” she cautions. “I thought I was supposed to be good and follow the rules,” I say. “But I am done with being weak. I am done with being good. I think I am going to be something else.” “Only idiots aren’t scared of things that are scary,” Taryn says, which is undoubtedly true, but still fails to dissuade me. “Skip lessons today,” I tell her again, but she won’t, so we go to school together. Taryn watches me warily as I talk with the leader of the mock war, Fand, a pixie girl with skin the blue of flower petals. She reminds me that there’s a run-through tomorrow in preparation for the tournament. I nod, biting the inside of my cheek. No one needs to know that my hopes were dashed. No one needs to know I ever had any hope at all. Later, when Cardan, Locke, Nicasia, and Valerian sit down to their lunch, they have to spit out their food in choking horror. All around them are the less awful children of faerie nobles, eating their bread and honey, their cakes and roasted pigeons, their elderflower jam with biscuits and cheese and the fat globes of grapes. But every single morsel in each of my enemies’ baskets has been well and thoroughly salted. Cardan’s gaze catches mine, and I can’t help the evil smile that pulls up the corners of my mouth. His eyes are bright as coals, his hatred a living thing, shimmering in the air between us like the air above black rocks on a blazing summer day. “Have you lost your wits?” Taryn demands, shaking my shoulder so that I have to turn to her. “You’re making everything worse. There’s a reason no one stands up to them.” “I know,” I say softly, unable to keep the smile off my lips. “A lot of reasons.” She’s right to be worried. I just declared war. I’ve told this story all wrong. There are things I really ought to have said about growing up in Faerie. I left them out of the story, mostly because I am a coward. I don’t even like to let myself think about them. But maybe knowing a few relevant details about my past will make more sense of why I’m the way I am. How fear seeped into my marrow. How I learned to pretend it away. So here are three things I should have told you about myself before, but didn’t: When I was nine, one of Madoc’s guards bit off the very top of the ring finger on my left hand. We were outside, and when I screamed, he pushed me hard enough that my head smacked into a wooden post in the stables. Then he made me stand there while he chewed the piece he’d bitten off. He told me exactly how much he hated mortals. I bled so much—you wouldn’t think that much blood could come out of a finger. When it was over, he explained that I better keep what happened secret, because if I didn’t, he’d eat the rest of me. So, obviously, I didn’t tell anyone. Until now, when I am telling you. When I was eleven, I was spotted hiding under the banquet table at one of the revels by a particularly bored member of the Gentry. He dragged me out by one foot, kicking and squirming. I don’t think he knew who I was—at least, I tell myself he didn’t. But he compelled me to drink, and so I drank; the grass-green faerie wine slipping down my throat like nectar. He danced me around the hill. It was fun at first, the kind of terrifying fun that makes you screech to be put down half the time and feel dizzy and sick the rest. But when the fun wore off and I still couldn’t stop, it was just terrifying. It turned out that my fear was equally amusing to him, though. Princess Elowyn found me at the end of the revel, puking and crying. She didn’t ask me a single thing about how I got that way, she just handed me over to Oriana like I was a misplaced jacket. We never told Madoc about it. What would have been the point? Everyone who saw me probably thought I was having a grand old time. When I was fourteen and Oak was four, he glamoured me. He didn’t mean to—well, at least he didn’t really understand why he shouldn’t. I wasn’t wearing any protective charms because I’d just come out of a bath. Oak didn’t want to go to bed. He told me to play dolls with him, so we played. He commanded me to chase him, so we played chase through the halls. Then he figured out he could make me slap myself, which was very funny. Tatterfell came upon us hours later, took a good look at my reddened cheeks and the tears in my eyes, and then ran for Oriana. For weeks, a giggling Oak tried to glamour me into getting him sweets or lifting him above my head or spitting at the dinner table. Even though it never worked, even though I wore a strand of rowan berries everywhere after that, it was all I could do for months not to strike him to the floor. Oriana has never forgiven me for that restraint—she believes my not revenging myself on him then means I plan to revenge myself in the future. Here’s why I don’t like these stories: They highlight that I am vulnerable. No matter how careful I am, eventually I’ll make another misstep. I am weak. I am fragile. I am mortal. I hate that most of all. Even if, by some miracle, I could be better than them, I will never be one of them. They don’t wait long to retaliate. For the rest of the afternoon and early evening, we receive lessons in history. A cat-headed goblin named Yarrow recites ballads and asks us questions. The more correct answers I give, the angrier Cardan grows. He makes no secret of his displeasure, drawling to Locke about how boring these lessons are and sneering at the lecturer. For once, we’re done before dark has fully fallen. Taryn and I start for home, with her giving me concerned glances. The light of sunset filters through the trees, and I take a deep breath, drinking in the scent of pine needles. I feel a kind of weird calm, despite the stupidity of what I’ve done. “This isn’t like you,” Taryn says finally. “You don’t pick fights with people.” “Appeasing them won’t help.” I toe a stone with a slipper-covered foot. “The more they get away with, the more they believe they’re entitled to have.” “So you’re going to, what—teach them manners?” Taryn sighs. “Even if someone should do it, that someone doesn’t have to be you.” She’s right. I know she’s right. The giddy fury of this afternoon will fade, and I will regret what I’ve done. Probably after a good, long sleep, I’ll be as horrified as Taryn is. All I have bought myself is worse problems, no matter how good it felt to salve my pride. You’re no killer. What you lack is nothing to do with experience. And yet, I don’t regret it now. Having stepped off the edge, what I want to do is fall. I begin to speak when a hand claps down over my mouth. Fingers sink into the skin around my lips. I strike out, swinging my body around, and see Locke grabbing Taryn’s waist. Someone has my wrists. I wrench my mouth free and scream, but screams in Faerie are like birdsong, too common to attract much attention. They push us through the woods, laughing. I hear a whoop from one of the boys. I think I hear Locke say something about larks being over quickly, but it’s swallowed up in the merriment. Then a shove at my shoulders and the horrible shock of cold water closing over me. I sputter, trying to breathe. I taste mud and reeds. I shove myself up. Taryn and I are waist-high in the river, the current pushing us downstream toward a deeper, rougher part. I dig my feet into the muck at the bottom to keep from being swept away. Taryn is gripping a boulder, her hair wet. She must have slipped. “There are nixies in this river,” Valerian says. “If you don’t get out before they find you, they’ll pull you under and hold you there. Their sharp teeth will sink into your skin.” He mimes taking a bite. They’re all along the riverbank, Cardan closest, Valerian beside him. Locke brushes his hand over the tops of cattails and bulrushes, looking abstracted. He does not seem kind now. He seems bored with his friends and with us, too. “Nixies can’t help what they are,” Nicasia says, kicking the water so that it splashes my face. “Just like you won’t be able to help drowning.” I dig my feet deeper into the mud. The water filling my boots makes it hard to move my legs, but the mud locks them in place when I manage to stand still. I don’t know how I am going to get to Taryn without slipping. Valerian is emptying our schoolbags onto the riverbank. He and Nicasia and Locke take turns hurling the contents into the water. My leather-bound notebooks. Rolls of paper that disintegrate as they sink. The books of ballads and histories make an enormous splash, then lodge between two stones and will not budge. My fine pen and nibs shimmer along the bottom. My inkpot shatters on the rocks, turning the river vermilion. Cardan watches me. Although he doesn’t lift a finger, I know this is all his doing. In his eyes, I see all the vast alienness of Faerie. “Is this fun?” I call to the shore. I am so furious that there’s no room for being scared. “Are you enjoying yourselves?” “Enormously,” says Cardan. Then his gaze slides from me to where shadows rest under the water. Are those nixies? I cannot tell. I just keep moving toward Taryn. “This is just a game,” Nicasia says. “But sometimes we play too hard with our toys. And then they break.” “It’s not like we drowned you ourselves,” Valerian calls. My foot slips on slick rocks, and I am under, swept downstream helplessly, gulping muddy water. I panic, snorting into my lungs. I thrust out a hand, and it closes on the root of a tree. I get my balance again, gasping and coughing. Nicasia and Valerian are laughing. Locke’s expression is unreadable. Cardan has one foot in the reeds, as though to get a better look. Furious and sputtering, I push my way back to Taryn, who comes forward to grab my hand and squeeze it hard. “I thought you were going to drown,” she says, the edge of hysteria in her voice. “We’re fine,” I tell her. Digging my feet into the murk, I reach down for a rock. I find a large one and heft it up, green and slick with algae. “If the nixies come at us, I’ll hold them off.” “Quit,” Cardan says. He’s looking directly at me. He does not even spare a glance for Taryn. “You should never have been tutored with us. Abandon thoughts of the tourney. Tell Madoc you don’t belong with us, your betters. Do that and I’ll save you.” I stare at him. “All you have to do is give in,” he says. “Easy.” I look over at my sister. It’s my fault she’s wet and scared. The river is cold, despite the heat of summer, the current strong. “And you’ll save Taryn, too?” “Oh, so you’ll do what I say for her sake?” Cardan’s gaze is hungry, devouring. “Does that feel noble?” He pauses, and in that silence, all I hear is Taryn’s hitched breath. “Well, does it?” I look at the nixies, watch them for any sign of movement. “Why don’t you tell me how you want me to feel?” “Interesting.” He takes another step closer, squatting and regarding us from eye level. “There are so few children in Faerie that I’ve never seen one of us twinned. Is it like being doubled or more like being divided in half?” I don’t answer. Behind him, I see Nicasia thread her arm through Locke’s and whisper something to him. He gives her a scathing look, and she pouts. Maybe they’re annoyed that we’re not currently being eaten. Cardan frowns. “Twin sister,” he says, turning to Taryn. A smile returns to his mouth, as though a terrible new idea has come to delight him. “Would you make a similar sacrifice? Let’s find out. I have a most generous offer for you. Climb up the bank and kiss me on both my cheeks. Once that’s done, so long as you don’t defend your sister by word or deed, I won’t hold you accountable for her defiance. Now, isn’t that a good bargain? But you get it only if you come to us now and leave her there to drown. Show her that she will always be alone.” For a moment, Taryn stands still, as if frozen. “Go,” I say. “I’ll be fine.” It still hurts when she wades toward the bank. But of course she should go. She will be safe, and the price is nothing that matters. One of the pale shapes detaches from the others and swims toward her, but my shadow in the water makes it hesitate. I mime throwing the rock, and it jolts a little. They like easy prey. Valerian takes Taryn’s hand and helps her out of the water as if she were a great lady. Her dress is soaked, dripping as she moves, like the dresses of water sprites or sea nymphs. She presses her bluish lips to Cardan’s cheeks, one and then the other. She keeps her eyes closed, but his are open, watching me. “Say ‘I forsake my sister Jude,’ ” Nicasia tells her. “ ‘I won’t help her. I don’t even like her.’ ” Taryn looks in my direction, quick and apologetic. “I don’t have to say that. That wasn’t part of the bargain.” The others laugh. Cardan’s boot parts the thistles and bulrushes. Locke starts to speak, but Cardan cuts him off. “Your sister abandoned you. See what we can do with a few words? And everything can get so much worse. We can enchant you to run around on all fours, barking like a dog. We can curse you to wither away for want of a song you’ll never hear again or a kind word from my lips. We’re not mortal. We will break you. You’re a fragile little thing; we’d hardly need to try. Give up.” “Never,” I say. He smiles, smug. “Never? Never is like forever—too big for mortals to comprehend.” The shape in the water remains where it is, probably because the presence of Cardan and the others makes it seem like I have friends who might defend me if I were attacked. I wait for Cardan’s next move, watching him carefully. I hope I look defiant. He scrutinizes me for a long, awful moment. “Think on us,” he says to me. “All through your long, sodden, shameful walk home. Think on your answer. This is the least of what we can do.” With that, he turns away from us, and after a moment, the others turn, too. I watch him go. I watch them all go. When they’re out of sight, I pull myself onto the bank, flopping onto my back in the mud next to where Taryn is standing. I take big, gulping breaths of air. The nixies begin to surface, looking at us with hungry, opalescent eyes. They peer at us through a patch of foxtails. One begins to crawl onto land. I throw my rock. It doesn’t come close to hitting, but the splash startles them into not coming closer. Grunting, I force myself up to begin walking. And all through our walk home, while Taryn makes soft, sobbing sounds, I think about how much I hate them and how much I hate myself. And then I don’t think about anything but lifting my wet boots, one step after another carrying me past the briars and fiddleheads and elms, past bushes of red-lipped cherries, barberries and damsons, past the wood sprites who nest in the rosebushes, home to a bath and a bed in a world that isn’t mine and might never be. My head is pounding when Vivienne shakes me awake. She jumps up onto the bed, kicking off the coverlets and making the frame groan. I press a cushion over my face and curl up on my side, trying to ignore her and go back to dreamless slumber. “Get up, sleepyhead,” she says, pulling back my blankets. “We’re going to the mall.” I make a strangled noise and wave her away. “Up!” she commands, leaping again. “No,” I moan, burrowing deeper in what’s left of the blankets. “I’ve got to rehearse for the tournament.” Vivi stops bouncing, and I realize that it’s no longer true. I don’t have to fight. Except that I foolishly told Cardan I would never quit. Which makes me remember the river and the nixies and Taryn. How she was right, and I was magnificently, extravagantly wrong. “I’ll buy you coffee when we get there, coffee with chocolate and whipped cream.” Vivi is relentless. “Come on. Taryn’s waiting.” I half-stumble out of bed. Standing, I scratch my hip and glare. She gives me her most charming smile, and I find my annoyance fading, despite myself. Vivi is often selfish, but she’s so cheerful about it and so encouraging of cheerful selfishness in others that it’s easy to have fun with her. I dress quickly in the modern clothes I keep in the very back of my wardrobe—jeans, an old gray sweater with a black star on it, and a pair of glittery silver Converse high-tops. I pull my hair into a slouchy knitted hat, and when I catch a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror (carved so that it seems like a pair of bawdy fauns are on either side of the glass, leering), a different person is looking back at me. Maybe the person I might have been if I’d been raised human. Whoever that is. When we were little, we used to talk about getting back to the human world all the time. Vivi kept saying that if she learned just a little more magic, we’d be able to go. We were going to find an abandoned mansion, and she was going to enchant birds to take care of us. They would buy us pizza and candy, and we would go to school only if we felt like it. By the time Vivi learned how to travel there, though, reality had intruded on our plans. It turns out birds can’t really buy pizza, even if they’re enchanted. I meet my sisters in front of Madoc’s stables, where silver-shod faerie horses are penned up beside enormous toads ready to be saddled and bridled and reindeer with broad antlers hung with bells. Vivi is wearing black jeans and a white shirt, mirrored sunglasses hiding her cat eyes. Taryn has on pink jeggings, a fuzzy cardigan, and a pair of ankle boots. We try to imitate girls we see in the human world, girls in magazines, girls we see on movie screens in air-conditioned theaters, eating candy so sweet it makes my teeth ache. I don’t know what people think when they look at us. These clothes are a costume for me. I am playing dress-up in ignorance. I no more can guess the assumptions that go along with glittering sneakers than a child in a dragon costume knows what real dragons would make of the color of her scales. Vivi picks stalks of ragwort that grow near the water troughs. After finding three that meet her specifications, she lifts the first and blows on it, saying, “Steed, rise and bear us where I command.” With those words, she tosses the stalk to the ground, and it becomes a raw-boned yellow pony with emerald eyes and a mane that resembles lacy foliage. It makes an odd keening neigh. She throws down two more stalks, and moments later three ragwort ponies snort the air and snuffle at the ground. They look a little like sea horses and will ride over land and sky, according to Vivi’s command, keeping their seeming for hours before collapsing back into weeds. It turns out that passing between Faerie and the mortal world isn’t all that difficult. Faerie exists beside and below mortal towns, in the shadows of mortal cities, and at their rotten, derelict, worm-eaten centers. Faeries live in hills and valleys and barrows, in alleys and abandoned mortal buildings. Vivi isn’t the only faerie from our islands to sneak across the sea and into the human world with some regularity, although most don mortal guises to mess with people. Less than a month ago, Valerian was bragging about campers he and his friends had tricked into feasting with them, gorging on rotten leaves enchanted to look like delicacies. I climb onto my ragwort steed and wrap my hands around the creature’s neck. There is always a moment when it begins to move that I can’t help grinning. There is something about the sheer impossibility of it, the magnificence of the woods streaking by and the way the ragwort hooves kick up gravel as they leap up into the air, that gives me an electric rush of pure adrenaline. I swallow the howl clawing up my throat. We ride over the cliffs and then the sea, watching mermaids leap in the spangled waves and selkies rolling along the surf. Past the fog perpetually surrounding the islands and concealing them from mortals. And then on to the shoreline, past Two Lights State Park, a golf course, and a jetport. We touch down in a small tree-covered patch across the road from the Maine Mall. Vivi’s shirt flutters in the wind as she lands. Taryn and I dismount. With a few words from Vivi, the ragwort steeds become just three half-wilted weeds among others. “Remember where we parked,” Taryn says with a grin, and we start toward the mall. Vivi loves this place. She loves to drink mango smoothies, try on hats, and buy whatever we want with acorns she enchants to pass as money. Taryn doesn’t love it the way Vivi does, but she has fun. When I am here, though, I feel like a ghost. We strut through the JCPenney as though we’re the most dangerous things around. But when I see human families all together, especially families with sticky-mouthed, giggling little sisters, I don’t like the way I feel. Angry. I don’t imagine myself back in a life like theirs; what I imagine is going over there and scaring them until they cry. I would never, of course. I mean, I don’t think I would. Taryn seems to notice the way my gaze snags on a child whining to her mother. Unlike me, Taryn is adaptable. She knows the right things to say. She’d be okay if she were thrust back into this world. She’s okay now. She will fall in love, just as she said. She will metamorphose into a wife or consort and raise faerie children who will adore and outlive her. The only thing holding her back is me. I am so glad she can’t guess my thoughts. “So,” Vivi says. “We’re here because you both could use some cheering up. So cheer up.” I look over at Taryn and take a deep breath, ready to apologize. I don’t know if that’s what Vivi had in mind, but it’s what I’ve known I had to do since I got out of bed. “I’m sorry,” I blurt out. “You’re probably mad,” Taryn says at the same time. “At you?” I am astonished. Taryn droops. “I swore to Cardan that I wouldn’t help you, even though I came with you that day to help.” I shake my head vehemently. “Really, Taryn, you’re the one who should be angry that I got you tossed into the water in the first place. Getting yourself out of there was the smart thing to do. I would never be mad about that.” “Oh,” she says. “Okay.” “Taryn told me about the prank you played on the prince,” Vivi says. I see myself reflected in her sunglasses, doubled, quadrupled with Taryn beside me. “Pretty good, but now you’re going to have to do something much worse. I’ve got ideas.” “No!” Taryn says with vehemence. “Jude doesn’t need to do anything. She was just upset about Madoc and the tournament. If she goes back to ignoring them, they’ll go back to ignoring her, too. Maybe not at first, but eventually.” I bite my lip because I don’t think that’s true. “Forget Madoc. Knighthood would have been boring anyway,” Vivi says, effectively dismissing the thing I’ve been working toward for years. I sigh. It’s annoying, but also reassuring that she doesn’t think it’s that big a deal, when the loss has felt overwhelming to me. “So what do you want to do?” I ask Vivi to avoid any more of this discussion. “Are we seeing a movie? Do you want to try on lipsticks? Don’t forget you promised me coffee.” “I want you to meet my girlfriend,” Vivienne says, and I remember the pink-haired girl in the strip of photos. “She asked me to move in with her.” “Here?” I ask, as though there could be any other place. “The mall?” Vivi laughs at our expressions. “We’re going to meet her here today but probably find a different place to live. Heather doesn’t know Faerie exists, so don’t mention it, okay?” When Taryn and I were ten, Vivi learned how to make ragwort horses. We ran away from Madoc’s house a few days later. At a gas station, Vivi enchanted a random woman to take us home with her. I still remember the woman’s blank face as she drove. I wanted to make her smile, but no matter what funny faces I pulled, her expression didn’t change. We spent the night in her house, sick after having ice cream for dinner. I cried myself to sleep, clinging to a weeping Taryn. After that, Vivi found us a motel room with a stove, and we learned how to cook macaroni and cheese from the package. We made coffee in the coffeepot because we remembered how our old house had smelled like it. We watched television and swam in the pool with other kids staying in the motel. I hated it. We lived that way for two weeks before Taryn and I begged Vivi to take us home, to take us back to Faerie. We missed our beds, we missed the food we were used to, we missed magic. I think it broke Vivi’s heart to return, but she did it. And she stayed. Whatever else I can say about Vivi, when it really mattered, she stuck by us. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that she didn’t plan to stay forever. “Why didn’t you tell us?” Taryn demands. “I am telling you. I just did,” Vivi says, leading us past stores with looping images of video games, past gleaming displays of bikinis and flowing maxi dresses, past cheese-injected pretzels and stores with counters full of gleaming, heart-shaped diamonds promising true love. Strollers stream past, groups of teenage boys in jerseys, elderly couples holding hands. “You should have said something sooner,” says Taryn, hands on her hips. “Here’s my plan to cheer you up,” Vivi says. “We all move to the human world. Move in with Heather. Jude doesn’t have to worry about knighthood, and Taryn doesn’t have to throw herself away on some silly faerie boy.” “Does Heather know about this plan?” Taryn asks skeptically. Vivi shakes her head, smiling. “Sure,” I say, trying to make a joke of it. “Except that I have no marketable skills other than swinging around a sword and making up riddles, neither of which probably pay all that well.” “The mortal world is where we grew up,” Vivi insists, climbing onto a bench and walking the length of it, acting as though it were a stage. She pushes her sunglasses up onto her head. “You’d get used to it again.” “Where you grew up.” She was nine when we were taken; she remembers so much more about being human than we do. It’s unfair, since she’s also the one with magic. “The Folk are going to keep treating you like crap,” Vivi says, and hops down in front of us, cat eyes flashing. A lady with a baby carriage swerves to avoid us. “What do you mean?” I look away from Vivi, concentrating on the pattern of the tiles under my feet. “Oriana acts like you two being mortal is some kind of awful surprise that gets sprung on her all over again every morning,” she says. “And Madoc killed our parents, so that sucks. And then there are the jerks at school that you don’t like to talk about.” “I was just talking about those jerks,” I say, not giving her the satisfaction of being shocked by what she said about our parents. She acts like we don’t remember, like there’s some way I am ever going to forget. She acts like it’s her personal tragedy and hers alone. “And you didn’t like it.” Vivi looks immensely pleased with herself for that particular riposte. “Did you really think that being a knight would make everything better?” “I don’t know,” I say. Vivi swings on Taryn. “What about you?” “Faerie is all we know.” Taryn holds up a hand to forestall any more argument. “Here, we wouldn’t have anything. There’d be no balls and no magic and no—” “Well, I think I’ d like it here,” Vivi snaps, and stalks off ahead of us, toward the Apple Store. We’ve talked about it before, of course, how Vivi thinks we’re stupid for not being able to resist the intensity of Faerie, for desiring to stay in a place of such danger. Maybe growing up the way we have, bad things feel good to us. Or maybe we are stupid in the exact same way as every other idiot mortal who’s pined away for another bite of goblin fruit. Maybe it doesn’t matter. A girl is standing in front of the entrance, playing around on her phone. The girl, I assume. Heather is small, with faded pink hair and brown skin. She’s wearing a t-shirt with a hand-drawn design across the front. There are pen stains on her fingers. I realize abruptly that she might be the artist who drew the comics I’ve seen Vivi pore over. I begin a curtsy before I remember myself and awkwardly stick out a hand. “I’m Vivi’s sister Jude,” I say. “And this is Taryn.” The girl shakes my hand. Her palm is warm, her grip nearly nonexistent. It’s funny how Vivi, who tried so hard to escape being anything like Madoc, wound up falling in love with a human girl, as Madoc did. “I’m Heather,” the girl says. “It’s great to meet you. Vee almost never talks about her family.” Taryn and I glance at each other. Vee? “You want to sit down or something?” Heather says, nodding toward the food court. “Somebody owes me coffee,” I say pointedly to Vivi. We order and sit and drink. Heather tells us that she’s in community college, studying art. She tells us about comics she likes and bands she’s into. We dodge awkward questions. We lie. When Vivi gets up to throw away our trash, Heather asks us if she’s the first girlfriend Vivi has let us meet. Taryn nods. “That must mean she likes you a lot.” “So can I visit your place now? My parents are ready to buy a toothbrush for Vee. How come I don’t get to meet hers?” I almost snort my mocha. “Did she tell you anything about our family?” Heather sighs. “No.” “Our dad is really conservative,” I say. A boy with spiky black hair and a wallet chain passes us, smiling in my direction. I have no idea what he wants. Maybe he knows Heather. She’s not paying attention. I don’t smile back. “Does he even know Vee is bi?” Heather asks, astonished, but then Vivi returns to the table, so we don’t have to keep making up stuff. Liking both girls and boys is the only thing in this scenario Madoc wouldn’t be upset with Vivi about. After that, the four of us wander the mall, trying on purple lipsticks and eating sour apple candy slices crusted in sugar that turn my tongue green. I delight in the chemicals that would doubtless sicken all the lords and ladies at the Court. Heather seems nice. Heather has no idea what she’s getting herself into. We say polite farewells near Newbury Comics. Vivi watches three kids picking out bobblehead figurines, her gaze avid. I wonder what she thinks as she moves among humans. At moments like that, she seems like a wolf learning the patterns of sheep. But when she kisses Heather, she is entirely sincere. “I am glad you lied for me,” Vivi says as we retrace our steps through the mall. “You’re going to have to tell her eventually,” I say. “If you’re serious. If you’re really moving to the mortal world to be with her.” “And when you do, she’s still going to want to meet Madoc,” Taryn says, although I can see why Vivi wants to avoid that for as long as possible. Vivi shakes her head. “Love is a noble cause. How can anything done in the service of a noble cause be wrong?” Taryn chews her lip. Before we leave, we stop by CVS, and I pick up tampons. Every time I buy them, it’s a reminder that while the Folk can look like us, they are a species apart. Even Vivi is a species apart. I divide the package in half and give the other portion to Taryn. I know what you’re wondering. No, they don’t bleed once a month; yes, they do bleed. Annually. Sometimes less frequently than that. Yes, they have solutions—padding, mostly—and yes, those solutions suck. Yes, everything about it is embarrassing. We start to cut across the parking lot toward our ragwort stalks when a guy about our age touches my arm, warm fingers closing just above my wrist. “Hey, sweetheart.” I have an impression of a too-big black shirt, jeans, a chain wallet, spiky hair. The glint of a cheap knife in his boot. “I saw you before, and I was just wondering—” I am turning before I can think, my fist cracking into his jaw. My booted foot hits his gut as he falls, rolling him over the pavement. I blink and find myself standing there, staring down at a kid who is gasping for air and starting to cry. My boot is raised to kick him in the throat, to crush his windpipe. The mortals standing around him are staring at me in horror. My nerves are jangling, but it’s an eager jangle. I am ready for more. I think he was flirting with me. I don’t even remember deciding to hit him. “Come on!” Taryn jerks my arm, and all three of us run. Someone shouts. I look over my shoulder. One of the boy’s friends has given chase. “Bitch!” he shouts. “Crazy bitch! Milo is bleeding!” Vivi whispers a few words and makes a motion behind us. As she does, the crabgrass begins to grow, pushing gaps in the asphalt wider. The boy comes to a halt as something rushes by him, a look of confusion on his face. Pixie-led, they call it. He wanders through a row of cars as though he has no idea where he’s going. Unless he turns his clothes inside out, which I am fairly confident he doesn’t know to do, he’ll never find us. We stop near the edge of the lot, and Vivi immediately begins to giggle. “Madoc would be so proud—his little girl, remembering all her training,” she says. “Staving off the terrifying possibility of romance.” I am too stunned to say anything. Hitting him was the most honest thing I’ve done in a long time. I feel better than great. I feel nothing, a glorious emptiness. “See,” I tell Vivi. “I can’t go back to the world. Look what I would do to it.” To that, she has no response. I think about what I did all the way home and then, again, at school. A lecturer from a Court near the coast explains how things wither and die. Cardan gives me a significant look as she explains decomposition, rot. But what I am thinking about is the stillness I felt when I hit that boy. That and the Summer Tournament tomorrow. I dreamed of my triumph there. None of Cardan’s threats would have kept me from wearing the gold braid and fighting as hard as I could. Now, though, his threats are the only reason I have to fight—the sheer perverse glory of not backing down. When we break to eat, Taryn and I climb up a tree to eat cheese and oatcakes slathered with chokecherry jelly. Fand calls up to me, wanting to know why I didn’t attend the rehearsal for the mock war. “I forgot,” I call back to her, which is not particularly believable, but I don’t care. “But you’re going to fight tomorrow?” she asks. If I pull out, Fand will have to rearrange teams. Taryn gives me a hopeful look, as though I may come to my senses. “I’ll be there,” I say. My pride compels me. Lessons are almost over when I notice Taryn, standing beside Cardan, near a circle of thorn trees, weeping. I must not have been paying attention, must have gotten too involved in packing up our books and things. I didn’t even see Cardan take my sister aside. I know she would have gone, though, no matter the excuse. She still believes that if we do what they want, they’ll get bored and leave us alone. Maybe she’s right, but I don’t care. Tears spill over her cheeks. There is such a deep well of rage inside me. You’re no killer. I leave my books and cross the grass toward them. Cardan half-turns, and I shove him so hard that his back hits one of the trees. His eyes go wide. “I don’t know what you said to her, but don’t you ever go near my sister again,” I tell him, my hand still on the front of his velvet doublet. “You gave her your word.” I can feel the eyes of all the other students on me. Everyone’s breath is drawn. For a moment, Cardan just stares at me with stupid, crow-black eyes. Then one corner of his mouth curls. “Oh,” he says. “You’re going to regret doing that.” I don’t think he realizes just how angry I am or how good it feels, for once, to give up on regrets. Taryn won’t tell me what Prince Cardan said to her. She insists that it had nothing to do with me, that he wasn’t actually breaking his promise not to hold her accountable for my bad behavior, that I should forget about her and worry about myself. “Jude, give it up.” She sits in front of the fire in her bedroom, drinking a cup of nettle tea from a clay mug shaped like a snake, its tail coiling to make the handle. She has on her dressing gown, scarlet to match the flames in the grate. Sometimes when I look at her, it seems impossible that her face is also mine. She looks soft, pretty, like a girl in a painting. Like a girl who fits inside her own skin. “Just tell me what he said,” I press. “There’s nothing to tell,” Taryn says. “I know what I’m doing.” “And what’s that?” I ask her, my eyebrows lifting, but she only sighs. We’ve gone three rounds like this already. I keep thinking of the lazy blink of Cardan’s lashes over his coal-bright eyes. He looked gleeful, gloating, as though my fist tightening on his shirt was exactly what he would have wished. As though, if I struck him, it would be because he had made me do it. “I can annoy you in the hills and also the dales,” I say, poking her in the arm. “I will chase you from crag to crag across all three islands until you tell me something.” “I think we could both bear it better if no one else had to see,” she says, then takes a long pull of her tea. “What?” I am surprised into not knowing what to say in return. “What do you mean?” “I mean, I think I could stand being teased and being made to cry if you didn’t know about it.” She gives me a steady look, as though evaluating how much truth I can handle. “I can’t just pretend my day was fine with you as a witness to what really happened. Sometimes it makes me not like you.” “That’s not fair!” I exclaim. She shrugs. “I know. That’s why I’m telling you. But what Cardan said to me doesn’t matter, and I want to pretend it didn’t happen, so I need you to pretend along with me. No reminders, no questions, no cautions.” Stung, I stand and walk to her fireplace mantel, leaning my head against the carved stone. I can’t count the number of times she’s told me that messing with Cardan and his friends is stupid. And yet, given what she’s saying now, whatever made her cry this afternoon has nothing to do with me. Which means she’s gotten into some kind of trouble all on her own. Taryn might have a lot of advice to give; I am not sure she’s taking al