THE MORNING AFTER King Oberon named me the Queen of the Carraig Sidhe, I woke to the jarring sound of insistent knocking. My eyes popped open, and I took in the unfamiliar canopy above the large bed I was sprawled across. I pushed up to sitting, my pulse speeding to an alarmed sprint as I swung my gaze around wildly, seeking anything familiar. It took me a few seconds to remember I was still in the castle of the Summerlands, the realm of Oberon and Titania. Flopping back and hoping whoever was at the door had given up and left, I groaned long and loud. I’d probably only slept an hour or two, and at that moment, it almost felt worse than no sleep at all. The knocking started up again, more rapid now, like a woodpecker demanding entrance. I pushed stiffly up to my feet and looked down at my wrinkled clothes. Apparently, I’d collapsed across the bed still fully dressed. “Your Majesty!” came a loud, too cheerful female voice from the corridor outside my quarters. “Your Majesty!” I almost shouted that she had the wrong room, that there was no monarch to be addressed as Majesty in these quarters, but I couldn’t hide from my new status. More knocking. Swearing under my breath, I went to see who it was. “Queen Petra!” a plump woman with the feathery lashes of a Sylph exclaimed. “Top of the morning to you.
I’ve come to bathe and dress you.” I winced as she bellowed each sentence. The woman must have been hard of hearing. She bustled past me, and a tiny, meek little mouse of a girl followed, straining to tug a rolling trunk along behind her. They both turned to me, stopped, and dropped into curtsies. I just stared at them dumbly for a few seconds. When the Sylph woman peeked up at me with an expectant look, I gave my head a shake. Right. They were waiting for me to say something. “Please rise,” I said, feeling ridiculous.
“Your Majesty! I am Claudine.” The plump woman placed her hand on her chest. “And I am happy to be at your service, at the behest of the lovely High Queen Titania who sent me to dress you for the day. She and the regal High King Oberon have requested your presence at half past the hour. As I said, I’m here to bathe and dress you.” Oh gods, why did royals think anyone needed help with things such as washing themselves and putting on clothes? I’d been doing both just fine without assistance since I was a child. I informed Claudine as politely as I could that I’d bathe and dress on my own and to please just leave my fresh clothes. She complied, though I could tell she was scandalized by my refusal of her services. I quickly bathed and dressed in the clothes the servant had left. As I put on the faux leather riding pants, white tunic blouse, jacket, and boots, the wisps of a dream I’d had flashed through my mind.
The rolling green hills in the dream reminded me of the strange hallucination that’d happened when I’d killed Marisol Lothlorien. Just before I’d run my sword into her, both of us had seemed to transport into a different place and into different bodies that wore ancient armor. I still didn’t know what the strange vision had meant, if anything, but my stomach twisted at the thought of the former Stone Order monarch. She’d sent assassins to kill me and my twin sister Nicole, and Marisol wouldn’t have stopped until we were dead. In spite of that, there was no real satisfaction in ending her life, even if it had been necessary to ensure my and my twin’s survival. Marisol Lothlorien was the only Fae ruler I’d ever sworn to, her domain the stone fortress was my childhood home, and her son Maxen was my longtime friend. In the whole mess, Maxen was the source of my deepest regret. Marisol was his only family, but in sending assassins after me and Nicole, she’d also tried to kill the woman he loved. I’d only just learned that Nicole was pregnant with Maxen’s child. And to add extra stress to the mix, my poor sister was still in the Duergar kingdom, captive of our blood father Kind Periclase.
Maxen’s feelings on all of this had to be in turmoil. The thing was, I didn’t want to be hard-hearted about what Maxen was going through, but I needed him to forgive me for killing Marisol. Or at least be able to work with me. I just hoped that for the sake of his unborn child and his love for our people, he’d be able to stand the sight of me. Because whether either of us liked it or not, Oberon had named me the ruler of our people, and I was going to fail spectacularly as Queen without Maxen. Truth be told, I was dreading having to ask him for anything. But I had no choice. And running under all of my concerns was the gut-twisting undercurrent of grief that I was trying hard not to acknowledge. I was almost certain my father, Oliver, was dead. Periclase had threatened to kill Oliver if I didn’t cooperate, and I’d had to make a terrible choice.
I smoothed my long hair back into a loose bun, trying my damnedest to focus on my reflection in the vanity mirror rather than on thoughts of my father. I couldn’t afford to grieve. With Aurora slung across my back to complete my ensemble, I was off to meet with the Seelie High King and Queen. I arrived at Oberon’s office, which was decorated with heavy furniture, paintings of hunting scenes, and other masculine touches. But it seemed I was late to the party, as there was already a crowd gathered. Titania stood near the fireplace mantle, her peaches-and-cream skin and strawberryblonde hair looking as fresh and youthful as if she were barely past twenty, though she’d been alive for many generations. Standing next to her was Melusine, a study in contrast to the High Queen’s summery beauty. Melusine, the Fae witch, was clad in black satin that matched her dark hair. Her strange orange eyes darted around shrewdly as Titania spoke in her ear. Melusine and Titania had a falling out long ago, as often happened between Old Ones, but the dire situation with the Summerlands under attack had brought them together.
Surprisingly, they didn’t seem to be putting on a front only for the sake of the Summerlands and the future of Faerie. They genuinely appeared to have mended their differences, as their heads were bent together, and they whispered back and forth like a couple of school girls. The rest of the rulers, except for Oberon who stood silently off to the side, were arguing boisterously. I tried to get the gist of the situation as I approached them. A quick glance around revealed the absence of Jasper Glasgow, the Duergar man I was romantically involved with, which sent a little ping of disappointment through me. It was quickly followed by trepidation as I realized my kingdom was the topic of discussion. The voice of Moreau Maclean, King of the canine shifter Dobhar Sidhe, boomed above the others. “. must aid the efforts of the Carraig Sidhe to establish and maintain their independence. How can you not see that? King Oberon himself said it was foretold that the Carraig must not fall under Unseelie rule.
” My senses sharpened at the mention of Carraig. Those were my people, formerly called New Gargoyles of the Stone Order, but now an official kingdom: the Carraig Sidhe. But at this point it was in name only, as the Duergar King Periclase, who also happened to be my blood father, still occupied my people’s stone fortress. And that, apparently, was what the kings and queens in Oberon’s office were arguing about. From what I gathered, Moreau was trying to persuade King Lawrence, the stocky, barefoot ruler of the Gnomes, to help me in my efforts to take the stone fortress back from Periclase. My pulse bumped with a little swell of adrenaline. This wasn’t the kind of fight I was used to, but it was one I needed to win. I needed to oust Periclase from my realm, but he had the place on lockdown. I wasn’t going to be able to force him out unless I had help. But I was among rulers, now, and everything I said carried weight.
Missteps could cost my people everything. Five-foot-tall Lawrence huffed and glared up at the Dobhar king, unintimidated by Moreau’s stature. “But if Finvarra takes the Summerlands, it won’t matter what happens to the Carraig,” the Gnome insisted. “Our forces need to be concentrated here, not in the stone fortress.” Moreau shook his head. “But it does matter, that’s exactly what I’m trying to say.” Voluptuous and long-lashed Queen Vida, monarch of the Sylphs, stepped in. “Gentlemen, you’re both correct. We can’t let the Summerlands fall, and we also have to ensure the Carraig Sidhe get out from under Unseelie control.” Several of them spotted me approaching and inclined their heads in acknowledgement.
I nearly stumbled, on the verge of dropping into a curtsy, before I remembered that I was one of them. Moreau flashed me a winning, if slightly wolfish, smile. “Queen Petra,” he said. “I was just attempting to gather some support for you.” I glanced at Oberon, trying to gauge where he stood in the argument. But he’d remained on the sidelines, his arms crossed. “Uh, that’s very generous of you, King Moreau,” I said, my mind spinning as I tried to work out what I needed, who I might piss off, and what unintended consequences could come out of whatever I said in this room. “I’m going to be frank with you. I need aid. Whatever you can spare.
My military people are most likely imprisoned, if not worse, so I have no forces to work with. Even if I had the full might of the Carraig, Periclase has a formidable army many times larger than mine, and it wouldn’t be easy to extract him from the stone fortress. That isn’t what worries me the most, however. Finvarra and Periclase have the Fae sorcerer Eldon on their side, and he was almost singlehandedly responsible for the hostile takeover of the fortress, though of course Periclase took credit.” That set off another round of exclamations through the group. Oberon had gone to his desk and was scribbling something on a notecard. With practiced movements, he rolled the note, sealed it with wax, and imbued the wax with a bit of magic. A messenger raven appeared at the half-open window behind the desk, and the High King passed the scroll to the bird, who flew away with it. “Let’s allow Petra to speak,” the Fae witch Melusine cut in through the din. Everyone quieted and turned to me.
Trying not to fidget under their attention, I recounted how the banished Unseelie High King Finvarra had brought Eldon, a sorcerer, and working with Periclase the three of them had forced me to let them into the stone fortress. There, Eldon had used his unnaturally powerful magic to take control of my body, march me into Marisol Lothlorien’s shelter, and murder her. When the image of Marisol’s dead form—her head severed from her body—tried to rise in my mind’s eye, I shoved it down. Right behind that memory was the look on Maxen’s face after I’d killed his mother. I pushed that away, too. “So, you see,” I said quietly. “It was hardly a true Unseelie victory. With Eldon on their side, they were unbeatable. It should be obvious that I can’t go in and take the fortress back on my own. And King Oberon’s oracle said that for the sake of keeping Seelie control of Faerie, it’s imperative the Carraig remain free of the Unseelie.
” There was a long moment of silence. More than one ruler’s face had gone stony, clearly not liking the way I’d stated my case. I didn’t enjoy invoking Oberon’s oracle in my attempt at persuasion—it made me feel like a child using a “Daddy said you have to” argument—but another part of me was surprised and even a little disgusted that so many of the rulers were so unwilling, watching out for themselves or focusing on the Summerlands, not wanting to commit resources to the Carraig struggle. Didn’t they care that it could likely spell doom for all of us? Melusine snorted. “Eldon’s not unbeatable,” the Fae witch muttered under her breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear. In spite of the weight of recent events, Melusine’s sulky words brought a ghost of a smile to my lips. She was the only one I knew of who might possibly compete with Eldon in magical skill and sheer power. She clearly didn’t like the implication that he had no competition. “Even more reason to give aid to the Carraig,” Moreau said with a charming smile, opening his arms wide as if inviting the other rulers over to his side. That set off another burst of arguing.
My gaze ping-ponged around as I tried to take in what everyone was saying, but the conversation seemed to be spinning out of control. “Rulers, come now!” Melusine called out, once again forcing the room to quiet. “Let the new queen speak.” I blinked a couple of times and swallowed hard, quickly trying to think of what more I could say to gain support. I desperately needed help taking back the fortress. But as a queen who was literally only a few hours on the throne and ruled the smallest realm in Faerie by at least ten-fold, I couldn’t push too far in making demands or sounding entitled. “I don’t want to cause a rift among us,” I said, striving to sound diplomatic but internally irritated that I was going to have to take such a soft line. When no one interrupted me, I continued. “We need to stand together. But I can’t take the fortress single-handedly.
The Carraig will fall to Periclase without your aid. For all I know, my entire military may be slaughtered. I don’t even know the state of things in the stone fortress right now, but it would be stupid not to assume the worst.” “There’s someone who can help us with that, at least,” Oberon said. I looked up at him, surprised. He lifted a muscled arm and pointed at the room’s entrance. I twisted around. Maxen Lothlorien stood in the doorway.