Harrow drinks slowly. His throat bobs and color begins to return to his cheeks. I can almost see his fever breaking. He sits straighter and wipes his brow.
I move back to the pot to scoop out the second cup. I just performed magic without issue. Last night, this morning…the fizzle when I tried to make a branch in the Fade aside, I’m getting better. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. When I’m not overthinking things or panicked, my hands seem to know what to do.
Though I know I’d be a fool to think the redwood throne will be conquered so easily. Still, it’s nice to have something go right for once.
Harrow is far more skeptical of this mug than the first. I hate the fact that I must take it as a good sign that he’s back to his ornery self.
“What’s in it?” He sniffs the mug.
“You saw everything I put in it. I doubt you’d understand the why. But you don’t need to; just drink. The more you get in you the better.”
“It’s foul.” Harrow scrunches his nose as he takes a sip of my infusion.
“But it’s clearly helping.” I fold my arms.
He resigns himself to sipping the concoction in silence. I turn my back to him and return to the journals. I pretend to flip through them, but I’m too on edge with Harrow’s presence to focus. And I keep glancing at him to make sure my magic isn’t going to unexpectedly kill him.
“Why did you heal me?” His question interrupts my thoughts and I meet his eyes. He looks much younger when he doesn’t have that wicked smile he’s been wearing since the first time we met.
“Because it was the right thing to do,” I say finally. “Because that’s my job.”
“I think my eldest brother would disagree on it being your ‘job.’”
“Eldest brother?” I arch my eyebrows, focusing on that instead of lingering on Eldas and his control over my circumstances. I’m not going to let Harrow, of all people, shake the level foundations Eldas and I are currently standing on. “There are more of you?”
“At least pretend to hide your disappointment at the fact.” He rolls his eyes. “Eldas is the oldest, then Drestin, and then me.”
“Do you all have the same mother and father?”
“What kind of a question—yes we all have the same mother and father.”
“I know your mother wasn’t the last Human Queen.” I rest my hand lightly on Alice’s journal. She seemed to have a…strange relationship with the former Elf King.
“Aww, are you looking into our parentage because you want to know if you’ll have to birth Eldas’s little screaming spawn? Don’t worry, the Elf King takes lovers for his heirs.”
I ignore the remarks. I’m not going to be here long enough to broach the topic of who’s dealing with siring heirs. Fortunately, the subject of consummating our marriage hasn’t come up either in conversation or in the journals I’ve read. I’m pleased to see that the people’s investment in the nighttime couplings of their rulers was also greatly exaggerated in the stories I read as a girl. “Where’s Drestin?”
“He’s out in Westwatch.” Harrow takes another sip of his drink. “Oh, that’s right, you know nothing about us. Let me explain.”
“I can find out on my own,” I say curtly.
“Westwatch is the fortress along the great wall that borders the fae forests,” he explains anyway. “It was built a few hundred years ago and helps keep their infighting out from our lands. Such an honorable appointment for the noble Drestin.” Harrow looks at the corner of the room, angry at something I can’t see.
I laugh softly and shake my head.
“What’s so funny?”
“You remind me of a friend, is all. She has two sisters and the fights they got into are legendary.” I wonder how Emma is. I hope her heart is holding up enough that Ruth isn’t flying off the handle at every turn. She should have enough potion in stock to last a few days…but she’ll have to take the ferry to Lanton for more when she runs out. Now it’s my heart that’s aching on her behalf.
“Don’t compare me to you humans and your pathetic plebeian problems.”
I laugh, loudly. “Forgive me, mighty elf prince. Because you sound so far above us lowly folk when you’re clearly just jealous of your brothers.”
“You don’t know anything about me.” Harrow throws the mug across the room. What little liquid was left in it splatters across the floor before it lands with a loud crash, shattering.
I jump, but immediately work to keep my composure.
“Clean that up, human.” He points at the mess he made and storms toward the door.
Harrow freezes when Hook’s growl turns into an angry bark. He turns, and the moment his eyes meet the wolf’s, Hook lunges.
“Hook, no!” I shout. Magic thrums within me. I see the potion I made for Harrow steam off the floor and disappear. Balance heeds my demands on instinct—potion in exchange for a barrier.
Fresh growth springs up impossibly from the wooden floorboards. Hook stops suddenly, barking at the wall of saplings I’ve erected between him and Harrow. He looks back at me with his golden eyes as Harrow glances between us.
“Hook, no,” I repeat, somehow managing to keep my voice steady despite the magic I just performed. How did I do that? Luckily Hook backs down.
“You…” Harrow’s eyes take up almost as much space on his head as his massive ears.
“That was the second time I saved your life today. A thank you would be appropriate,” I say with narrowed eyes.
All I get is a glare, and Harrow’s swift departure, leaving me with the thrill and awe of the magic still tingling in my fingers.
I never tell Willow what happened with Harrow. I’m not quite sure why. I know Willow would take my side and I know, if anything, he’d be proud of me for how deftly I used my magic.
But something about the exchange felt private. I have a wriggling notion that Harrow wouldn’t want people to know about his vulnerable state. As much as I want to ignore that sense, I can’t. The privacy of my patients is sacred to me, in the Natural World and in Midscape.
So Willow and I part ways with him none the wiser, some excuse made about a potion attempt gone wrong to explain away the floorboards Willow fixed with his wild magic.
That night I burn the midnight oil and I’m up with the dawn. I scour the journals I’ve taken from the laboratory, searching for any clues as to how equilibrium is created between the queen, the redwood throne, and the seasons. I start with Alice’s journal, but the quality of her entries diminishes with age.
Her pen lines are shaky. The once masterful drawings are rough sketches, wobbly and hard to decipher. Without warning, they stop altogether.
It fills my chest with a deep pain unlike any other I’ve felt. I can see her in that laboratory, working the last energy from her fingers while they will cooperate. I imagine her hands trembling without her permission until she can no longer hold a pen. I imagine her alone, longing for her brother—the comfort of family—and to smell the salt air of Capton just once more.
I imagine myself, ninety years from now, withering in this cold place with nothing but the agony of the redwood throne filling my days. It’s a cold and bleak thought, one I try and put away with Alice’s journal.
After that, I read the writings of the queens before Alice. It’s easier to thumb through the pages that lead up to their ultimate demises when I don’t have any kind of personal connection with them. I succeed in hardening my emotions after the third journal—the journal with the loving notes about the roses.
She had been heartbroken by the thought of leaving her king’s side, even in death.
A knock on my door jolts my eyes from the page. I rub them. Hook has curled up at the foot of my bed yet again. He’s long since given up on trying to place his muzzle over my book pages or nudge me for attention.
“Are you awake?” Rinni asks through the door.
“Yes.” I stretch my arms overhead and my spine pops in several places.
Rinni enters. “I came to let you know that an urgent matter has arisen.”
“It seems a delegation from the Fae King arrived last night,” she reports.
“I thought there wasn’t a Fae King, just a bunch of infighting between clans?”
“Every now and then they scrape together enough unity to declare someone king and swear to the rest of the world they’re presentable. This one has lasted the longest, but we’ll see if he can keep it up. No king has ever kept his power long enough to make it to the Council of Kings.” Rinni shrugs. “Regardless, Eldas has sent me to inform you that he will not be able to meet with you this morning as planned.”
“Oh well.” I hop off my bed. “What’re you up to today?”
“What am I…up to?”
“Are you busy?” I rephrase.
Hook stretches with a low whine and shakes out his fur.
“Usually, I would be assisting Eldas with the delegation…but he has appointed me to your care.”
“I can’t tell if you’re upset about that or not.” I grin.
Rinni bristles. “I—” she clears her throat “—Your Majesty, guarding you is an honor.”
“Is it?” I arch my eyebrows and walk to my closet. I leave the door open while I change so I can talk to her. “I still can’t tell if you like me or not.”
“It’s not my job to like you, it’s my job to serve you.”
“Yes, but—” I pop my head out and Rinni promptly glances askance at my bare shoulders. “I would much prefer if you liked me. If not, I’m sure we can find another guard who does.”
She huffs and purses her lips. “I think I’ve told you already; I like you fine.”
“Oh, good. And you’re sure I’m not keeping you? You seem like you’re someone pretty important.”