Summer's Crossing(2)By: Julie Kagawa
“Well, then.” I crossed my arms. “If you have a better suggestion, Prince, I’d love to hear it.”
Before he could answer, a ripple of glamour shivered through the air. Glitter and streamers of light swirled around us, and a chorus of tiny voices sang out a single note. I winced, knowing there was only one person who thought a normal entrance, like walking through a door, wasn’t good enough for her; she had to announce her presence with sparkle and glitter and St. Peter’s choir.
Sometimes, it sucks being right all the time.
“Leanansidhe,” Ash grumbled, sounding about as thrilled as I felt as the Queen of the Exiles stepped out of the glitter and light and smiled down at us. She looked like she was going to a party where the theme was Most Sparkly Evening Gown, or maybe Quickest Way to Blind Someone. She paused a moment, striking a dramatic pose for her sadly unimpressed audience, before waving her hand and dispersing with the fireworks.
“Lea,” I echoed, smirking at her. “This is a shock. To what do we owe the pleasure of your company, away from the Between and all?”
“Puck, darling.” Leanansidhe gave me a smile that was about as welcoming as a viper eyeing a mouse. “Why am I not surprised to see you here? It seems I just got rid of you, pet, and here you are again.”
“That’s me.” I raised my chin. “The bad penny that always pops up. But you didn’t answer my question. What do you want, Lea?”
“From you? Nothing, darling.” Leanansidhe turned to Ash, and he stiffened. “Ash, darling,” she purred. “You are a trooper, aren’t you, pet? I was certain, after you made your knightly oath, that you and the girl would go all Romeo and Juliet on me. But you survived the final battle after all. Bravo, pet, bravo.”
I snorted. “So what am I, chopped liver?”
Leanansidhe shot me an annoyed glance. “No, darling,” she sighed. “But the Winter prince and I have unfinished business, or didn’t he tell you?” She smiled and looked at Ash again. “He owes me a favor—a rather large favor—for helping him out, and I have come to collect.”
A bargain with the Exile Queen? For a second, I wasn’t sure I’d heard right. “Ice-boy.” I shook my head, exasperated. “Really? You made a deal with her? Are you crazy? You, of all people, should know better.”
“It was for Meghan.” Ash’s voice was low, defensive. “I needed her help.” He looked at Leanansidhe, quietly pleading. “Can this not wait?” he asked in a calm voice, and the question surprised me. Ash rarely made deals, but when he did, he was religious about upholding them. It was a point of personal honor, I guessed, to keep his bargains without fail, without complaint, even if he’d managed to get the bad end of one. This was the very first time I’d heard him ask for more time, the first I’d heard him plead for anything.
But he’d find no sympathy with the Exile Queen. I could’ve told him that. “No, darling,” Leanansidhe said briskly. “I’m afraid it cannot. I know you and Goodfellow are about to go tromping off after Grimalkin, and that, I fear, might take a long time. A very long time. Time I do not have. I am calling in this debt now, and you will help me now. Besides, darling.” Leanansidhe sniffed, making a dramatic gesture with a gloved hand. “After you are done with this, I might be able to help. Finding Grimalkin if he does not wish to be found is a near impossible task. I could, at least, point you in the right direction.”
Ash sighed, looking impatient, but there was nothing he could do. Even I couldn’t wiggle my way out of a contract, though if I had to strike a deal, I always left myself some kind of loophole. You’d get screwed eight ways from Sunday, otherwise. In the courts, the nobles all loved this game, each one trying to pull a fast one on the other, though most of them knew better than to make a deal with me anymore. Especially after the fiasco with Titania and the donkey ears. Being a legend does have its advantages sometimes.
Ash knew his way around the fey courts, too; he’d grown up having to watch his back. I was surprised he’d allowed himself to strike a bargain with Leanansidhe; he should’ve known it would come back to bite him.