The Iron King

By: Julie Kagawa


“Rob, if you don’t tell me what’s going on—”

Robbie looked at me. His eyes gleamed, impish and feral. “Tell you? Are you sure?” His voice went soft and dangerous, and goose bumps crawled up my arms. “Once you start seeing things, you won’t be able to stop. People have gone mad with too much knowledge.” He sighed, and the menace dropped from his eyes. “I don’t want that to happen to you, princess. It doesn’t have to be this way, you know. I can make you forget all of this.”

“Forget?”

He nodded and held up the wine bottle. “This is mistwine. You just had a swallow. A cup will make everything go back to normal.” He balanced the bottle on two fingers, watching it sway back and forth. “One cup, and you’ll be normal again. Your brother’s behavior will not seem strange, and you won’t remember anything weird or scary. You know what they say—ignorance is bliss, right?”

Despite my uneasiness, I felt a slow flame of anger burning my chest. “So, you want me to drink that…that stuff, and just forget about Ethan. Just forget about my only brother. That’s what you’re saying.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Well, when you put it like that…”

The burning grew hot and furious, searing away the fear. I clenched my fists. “Of course I won’t forget about Ethan! He’s my brother! Are you really that inhuman, or just stupid?”

To my surprise, a grin spread over his face. He dropped the bottle, caught it, and put it on the floor. “The first,” he said, very softly.

That threw me. “What?”

“Inhuman.” He was still grinning at me, the smile stretching his whole mouth so that his teeth gleamed in the fading light. “I warned you, princess. I’m not like you. And now, neither is your brother.”

Despite the fear prickling my stomach, I leaned forward. “Ethan? What do you mean? What’s wrong with him?”

“That wasn’t Ethan.” Robbie leaned back, crossing his arms. “The thing that attacked you today is a changeling.”





CHAPTER FOUR




Puck

I stared at Robbie, wondering if this was another one of his stupid pranks. He sat there, observing me calmly, watching my reaction. Though he still wore a half grin, his eyes were hard and serious. He wasn’t joking around.

“Ch-changeling?” I finally stammered, looking at him like he was insane. “Isn’t that some kind of…of…”

“Faery,” Robbie finished for me. “A changeling is a faery offspring that has been switched with a human child. Usually, a troll’s or goblin’s, though the sidhe—the faery nobility—have been known to make the switch, as well. Your brother has been replaced. That thing is not Ethan, any more than I am.”

“You’re crazy,” I whispered. If I wasn’t sitting, I’d be backing away from him toward the door. “You’ve gone off the deep end. Time to cut back on the anime, Rob. There’s no such thing as faeries.”

Robbie sighed. “Really? That’s what you’re going with? How predictable.” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “I thought better of you, princess.”

“Thought better of me?” I cried, leaping off the couch. “Listen to yourself! You really expect me to believe that my brother is some kind of pixie with glitter dust and butterfly wings?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Rob said mildly. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re thinking ‘Tinker Bell,’ which is a typical human response to the word faery. The real fey aren’t like that at all.” He paused a moment. “Well, except for the piskies, of course, but that’s a different story altogether.”

I shook my head, my thoughts spinning in several directions at once. “I can’t deal with this right now,” I muttered and staggered away from him. “I have to check on Ethan.”

Robbie only shrugged, leaned back against the wall, and put his hands behind his head. After one final glare at him, I rushed up the stairs and opened the door to Ethan’s bedroom.

It was a mess, a war zone of broken toys, books, and scattered clothes. I looked around for Ethan, but the room appeared empty, until I heard a faint scratching noise under his bed.

“Ethan?” Kneeling down, pushing away broken action figures and snapped Tinkertoys, I peered into the space between the mattress and the floor. In the shadows, I could just make out a small lump huddled in the corner with his back to me. He was trembling.

“Ethan,” I called softly. “Are you all right? Why don’t you come out a second? I’m not mad at you.” Well, that was a lie, but I was more shaken than angry. I wanted to drag Ethan downstairs and prove that he wasn’t a troll or a changeling or whatever Robbie said he was.

The lump stirred a little, and Ethan’s voice drifted out of the gap. “Is the scary man still here?” he asked in a small, frightened voice. I might’ve been sympathetic, if my calf wasn’t throbbing so much.

“No,” I lied. “He’s gone now. You can come out.” Ethan didn’t move, and my irritation sparked. “Ethan, this is ridiculous. Get out of there already, will you?” I stuck my head farther under the mattress and reached for him.